A collection of short time travel fiction
Any Mother’s Son
The Doctor’s Wife
Home Is Where . . .
The Secret Life of Gods
There was silence in the Operating Room except for Shiro Tsubaki’s soft voice counting elapsed time. Behind the broad expanse of duo-glass that looked down on the Theatre the technicians’ faces flickered with reflected data from their computer displays. The video monitors each showed the scene from the Theatre below—a static scene in which a small cylindrical robot sat in a shimmering field of dancing motes.
Trevor Haley watched the same scene through the window, waiting tensely for something to happen.
“Shifting,” said Shiro’s voice.
Trevor blinked, his eyes straining to see any change in the bot. There was a change, all right. The little machine’s solid lines began to waver and bleed into the shimmer around it. Before he could blink again, it was gone. He pulled his attention back to his console.
“Shifting to Green minus one,” said Shiro. The counter on her monitor ticked off a series of numbers that looked like seconds, but were not. “Shifting Aqua minus one . . .” Another silence followed. “Shifting Blue minus one . . . minus two. Stop Shift at . . . Blue minus six. That’s negative thirty-six.”
Someone said, “Wow,” and the entire Operating Room breathed a sigh of relief.
“Halfway there,” murmured Magda Oslovski. “Five minutes, Shiro.”
Oslovski shifted in her seat. “Video status?”
“Fully functional.” George Wu shook his head, trying to clear the sense of unreality. “The video carousel is at thirty degrees. We ought to have some great footage.”
“Let’s hear Toto’s stats, Trev.”
Trevor stirred. “Temperature: eighteen degrees Celsius; humidity: sixty percent—a little higher than normal for the time of year; attitude: five degrees from upright and adjusting.”
Oslovski nodded. “It’d be nice if we could maintain video contact.”
George Wu snorted. “Right. Maintain an optic link across a temporal spectrum. Piece of cake.”
“There was a time,” said Oslovski in her when-I-was-an-eager-young-scientist voice, “when an optic link between cities was science fiction. Now it’s just science—old science. Mark my words, George, given enough time—”
“Movement,” said Trevor. “Thirty degrees, three meters distance. Object reads . . . less than a meter in height, about a meter long. Damn, I wish we could see . . .” He peered at the shifting readings on his display. “This is weird. The object is moving and part of the object is moving independently. Closing to two meters. Independent movement is rhythmic, uh . . . It’s like, uh—” He waved his hand back and forth.
“Someone waving?” suggested Shiro.
“One meter tall?”
“Not waving, wagging,” suggested George. “It’s a—It’s a dog!” He shrugged when everybody turned to look at him. “Well, it sounds like a dog.”
“Object at one meter.”
“You know if that is a dog,” said George, “it just might mistake Toto for a fire hydrant.”
Oslovski grimaced. “Great. We may get to see how well he withstands precipitation.”
“I don’t think that’s what the Techs had in mind,” George murmured.
“Two minutes,” announced Shiro.
They continued to spout data intermittently for another three minutes, watching the progress of the “dog-like object” carefully. At the end of a full five minutes, Oslovski gave the order to reverse the field.
“Reversing field,” announced Shiro.
Trevor laughed. “Object radiating percussive audio vibration and receding rapidly at 30 degrees.”
“Ah,” said George. “What is the sound of one dog barking?”
“Shifting to Blue minus one,” said Shiro. “Aqua minus ten . . . Green minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one and zero.”
Every eye in the room went to the monitor that displayed the contents of the Theatre. In the shimmering field, the bot appeared, looking no different than it had when it left.
“Welcome back to Oz, Toto,” someone murmured.
The O.R. exploded in a spontaneous cheer. Hugs and laughter and silly dances followed in a ritual celebration of accomplishment so ancient it had probably marked the creation of the first successful Folsom point.
It lasted for all of thirty seconds. Then the backslaps dwindled to pats, the laughter died to throat clearing coughs, the flushed faces drained of color and hilarity. Six pairs of eyes swung to Magda Oslovski.
She read the questions in them and sighed, feeling suddenly and incongruously depressed. “Okay,” she said. “We did it. Presumably we did it successfully. Now we gather up our data and study it. We write our lab reports and . . . and move on to Phase Five.”
People looked at their shoes. People looked at their handcomps. People frowned.
“Magda,” said Trevor Haley tentatively, “when are we going to report to the Chiefs? You’ve been holding them off for the better part of a year with ‘steady progress is being made.’ We’ve shown them disappearing fruit tricks and talked about it being years before we dare Shift human subjects. At some point they’ve got to be brought up to date.”
“I have not been holding them off. I’ve been . . . cautious. Do you think we should let them in on all Phases of the Project?”
“I didn’t say that. I just . . . wondered . . .”
“When the axe was going to fall?” asked Shiro.
“Falling axes have to do with being fired,” George reminded her. “I don’t think for a moment the Chiefs are going to let us get off that easy.”
“No, they’re not.” Oslovski scratched at the edge of her handcomp with a well-manicured thumbnail. “In fact, General Caldwell and company are due here next Monday to check in on us. I didn’t tell you before,” she added over a chorus of protests, “because I knew it would affect your work . . . and your health.”
She looked up. Her eyes had that steely look she was famous for. “I haven’t decided how much we’re going to tell them yet. Gather up your goodies, people. Staff meeting in half an hour.”
Thirty-five minutes later, a subdued group congregated in the Level 3 Conference Room and took their places around its large oval table. Magda Oslovski was the last to arrive. She seated herself at the head of the table and called the group to order.
“All right, folks. I’m going to turn this over to George and company for show and tell. George?”
George Wu popped a video disc into the console set into the table-top before him. He glanced at his assistant, Louis Manyfeather, then threw the rest of the group a nervous grin. “I’ve got to admit, we peeked,” he said. “This is great!”
He started the playback. Around the table, video displays came to life. The title screen showed first: Project Hourglass—Phase Four—4/21/64. Then they saw a dewy sward of close-cropped grass from roughly the vantage point of a four year old child. About four meters distant, a border of evergreen shrubbery blocked their view of the trunks of a variety of trees. The video image panned slowly, showing more of the same.
Through the trees a building came into view—low and squat and square and composed predominantly of greenish tinted glass and strips of pink granite. The image panned along the building further. Then something else came into view. A chuckle rolled around the table.
“There’s your ‘dog-like object,’ Trev,” said Shiro. “I think it’s an Airdale.”
“Told you so,” said George.
The Airdale disappeared as the video unit continued its sweep. They saw more grass, a metal sprinkler head, the roof of another building.
“Wait! Pause that!” said Oslovski. “That’s the roof of the Library building, isn’t it? You can’t even see that from here, now.”
Heads nodded absently. The slow pan continued and concluded, and the screens went dark. Toto’s audio recorder let out a wild yelp and a short series of barks. There were a few chuckles.
“Now,” said George, “Louis hit the archives and came up with this.” He slid a second disc into the unit. The displays lit up again with a still shot of a very similar scene. “This is the Campus fifty-five years ago. The photo was taken from the steps of what was then the Psychology building. That lawn is now covered by this facility. The white ‘x’ in the grass marks the spot in the O.R. where Toto was Shifting.” He paused, ran a hand through his thick, black hair. “Ladies and gentlemen, we just sent Toto back fifty-six years in time. Chances are we can just as easily send him into the future.”
There was a moment of hushed appreciation while seven people tentatively explored the wonder of what they’d just done. Trevor Haley put a damper on the wonder.
“Our masters aren’t interested in the future,” he said drily. “They’re interested in the here and now.”
Magda Oslovski sighed and took off her glasses, laying them on the table with a solid click. Most people considered her glasses a scientist’s professional affectation. The state of medicine being what it was, there was no reason for anyone to ever have to suffer glasses again. They were, in fact, more expensive than the corrective surgeries available. Oslovski was hard put to make anyone with 20/20 vision understand the mental benefits of being able to make the “real world” go out of focus at will.
The faces of her team were just fuzzy enough that she couldn’t read their expressions. That was good, considering what she was going to say.
“As I mentioned previously, General Caldwell and the Joint Chiefs will be here next Monday. What that means, folks, is that he’s expecting a full report on our accomplishments to date and probably some sort of whiz-bang demonstration. He will, no doubt, be very pleased with today’s progress. And, if the milestones continue to be met, we may have positive reports to offer on Phase Five as well.”
“Oh, joy,” said Shiro, with nothing like joy.
“Do I need to remind you that we are under contract to the Department of Defense and are bound, by that contract, to deliver the fruits of our research?” Oslovski eyed the fuzzy faces.
A combination of mumbles and groans circled the table.
“All right. We’ve penetrated Negative 36. We’re going to march back into our Operating Room, recalibrate our equipment and repeat Phase Four. This time we’ll turn the clock back a little further—see if we can’t extend Toto’s leash into the Violet range. And I want scrapings from his casing to go to analysis for any signs of fatigue.” She glanced down at her wrist watch, grimaced, put on her glasses and glanced at it again. “Let’s take a lunch break. Meet in O.R. in an hour and a half.”