Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Alex stood next to James and tried to make sense of what he was looking at. He had been annoyed at being called from his bed at this ungodly hour, but that feeling was slowly being replaced by curiosity.
“It’s a time machine, kind of,” James was explaining, “it lets me lock onto memories and revisit the time and space they occurred.”
Alex needed coffee. Or sleep. He was on the fence as to which was the better idea at this point.
“I need you to watch me, monitor the journey, if anything goes wrong I need you to pull me out.”
Alex surveyed the room, the seat in the middle of overlapping egg-shaped coils of copper, what looked like a series of high-voltage transformers chained together and the cables tethering them to each other and the rig, massive conductors straining apart as if trying to escape each other’s proximity.
“What are you going to do? No, never mind, monitor how? What’s going to go wrong, and how would I know unless…” he paused and waved at the equipment “unless this all explodes?”
James pointed to the desk, to a bank of green phosphor displays.
“There, watch the log output, if the controller panics, you’ll know, then power it down there.” He pointed to a large red shutoff on a breaker panel by the door. “Then get out.”
Alex shook his head, grunted, then nodded. Too late for coffee, and it was clear he wasn’t getting any sleep now.
“Nadia and I got together the very last time at a bar, right before she ran off with…”, he winced, the name was burned so vividly he couldn’t bring himself to say it, “with Fuckwit von Shit-for-brains.” He paused, remembering. “We had drinks, we ate, we talked until closing time. She came home with me, and we had the most amazing…” He paused again, blushed. “It was amazing. She was amazing. I need to get back there, find out what I did wrong, fix it.”
Alex didn’t say a word. What would be the point?
James keyed the start-up sequence, then as the machine started to hum, he sat in the chair in the middle of the coils, buckled himself in, and closed his eyes.
The hum rose to a whine, then a deafening roar, then silence.
James opened his eyes, he was in a bar. No, the bar. He’d never forget this place. There was a low-frequency buzz, conversation maybe, just out of earshot? Glasses appeared and disappeared on tables, at the bar. The big ornate clock that almost filled one wall spun, the hands a blur.
In the corner, the table they’d sat at. He worked his way across the room, focused only on that space. The closer he got, the harder it became to move, as though the air were getting thicker.
He forged on, leaning now into an invisible gale force, willing himself to that corner until he could reach out and touch the back of the chair he’d sat in, so long ago.
It refused to move, fixed in place as if welded to the floor, and he had to force himself between the arms and the table, to finally slump into the seat itself, the force now pushing him into the seatback making it hard to breathe.
Glasses and plates came and went in a blur, and across the table, where Nadia had sat that entire night, smiling, talking.
The seat was and remained empty.
There was a violent tug, the pushing force now a fist wrapped around his spine, yanking him back, through the chair, the bar, from the past into the present to deposit him, aching and gasping for breath in the seat in his lab.
He looked up into the curious and concerned eyes of his friend.
“Well,” Alex asked, “what happened?”
James struggled with what had just happened.
“I must have missed something, miscalculated something, everything was there, just the way I remember it, but I was alone. She wasn’t there.”
Alex stepped back and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“James,” he said gently, “you know she was already gone long before that night. Why would you expect her to have waited in that memory the way you did?”