Larry Schmidt, assistant to Ernest Haptig PhD, was contemplating the biggest risk of his life. It might cost him his life, but he felt he owed Haptig at least that much. It was Haptig who brought him into a prestigious national laboratory. Haptig took him on as his assistant, despite the serious shortcomings in Schmidt’s education in the science they were exploring. Haptig was patient with Schmidt’s questions, and always managed to answer in a manner Schmidt could understand. Haptig even went so far as to list Schmidt as a co-author on several papers, though they were entirely the result of Haptig’s genius and hard work.
After many years of dissecting Einstein’s theory and all its nuances, after numerous false starts and dead ends, Haptig discovered how to make time like the spatial dimensions. Any of the spatial coordinates can be explored in positive and negative directions: up, down, left, right, forward and back. But time had always appeared to march inexorably forward, never back, carrying the universe with it. Haptig discovered how, under certain very specific conditions, one could travel both forward and back in time.
Schmidt stood by Haptig through years of difficult work, successes and failures as he worked to convert the principle to practice. Not only had the two men spent all their waking hours building the machine that would prove their theory, but they invested their entire life savings as well. At last they were ready to test the machine, to prove that Haptig was the greatest scientist since Einstein. Schmidt reveled in the knowledge that he would go down in history with the likes of Bell’s Watson and Kepler’s Brahe. Far more important to Schmidt was the knowledge that Haptig would be immortal, forever a member of the pantheon of science.
Schmidt told Haptig that he wanted to be the first test subject, but Haptig wouldn’t have it. He would risk no human life in the machine until he was certain it wasn’t harmful They would test the machine on inanimate objects first, gradually working up to small animals. Only after several such successful tests would they risk a human life.
In the first trial, the scientists placed a block of wood in the machine. When they activated the machine, the wood block instantly disappeared. Haptig and Schmidt had no way of knowing what became of the block. Did it travel through time, or did it simply disappear? Perhaps the machine somehow annihilated it. But the theory said it travelled through time.
Perhaps they made an error in their analysis. Perhaps they failed to implement the physics correctly. Hopefully, the block was somewhere, no, sometime else. But how could they know?
Haptig and Schmidt struggled with schemes, some totally hairbrained, others less so, to determine whether or not the subjects of their experiments were time travelers. They finally settled on the idea of sending an object into the future with a note asking that it be returned back in time. Certainly, if the machine worked, it would exist in the future. The note was just a precaution: having conceived the scheme in the present, the future versions of Schmidt and Haptig would know to send the object back to prove the machine works. They drafted the note and placed it into a small box. They placed the box in the machine, set the controls to send the box one year into the future, and activated the machine. Like the block of wood, the box vanished instantly.
It occurred to Haptig that they had not specified precisely the time and date to which their future selves should return the box. That shouldn’t matter, he reasoned, as their future selves would have the laboratory notebooks, and would know when the box was sent. They settled down to wait.
At the end of the day, Haptig showed no disappointment that the box did not reappear. He reasoned that his future self would send the box back to a point significantly after the time when the box was sent to the future, to allow for any imprecision in the machine. If the time to which the machine delivered the box was off, the box might be sent to a time prior to its being sent to the future. In that case, their past selves would not know its significance, and the evidence of their success might be lost.
For several days, the scientists occupied their time documenting the machine’s design and construction. Then they mapped out their next steps to prove the machine. Haptig pored over his theory, looking for some aspect he could refine. Then he examined the machine’s design, finding no apparent error. He disassembled the machine and rebuilt it.
After several weeks, Haptig had to admit defeat. Somehow his theory was wrong; the machine was a failure. He went over his calculations again and again, but couldn’t see where he went wrong. Despondent, Haptig suggested they abandon the theory.
As they waited for proof of the validity of their invention, Schmidt could see the wear on Haptig. Throughout the enormous effort to understand the physics and build the machine, Haptig was energized. But now, after the work to build the machine, trying to prove it worked and failing, Schmidt could see Haptig sinking. New gray hairs, lines and wrinkles in his face, even a stooped posture told Schmidt that if the proof didn’t appear soon, Haptig could pay with his life, as he was already paying with his health. Schmidt couldn’t let that happen. The world needed to see the brilliance of his mentor and friend. But how could the world accept Haptig’s great invention without proof?
Schmidt resolved to prove the validity of Haptig’s invention the only way he could imagine. He would send himself through time. He would be living proof of Haptig’s momentous achievement. But which way? Past or future? How far? Eventually, Schmidt reasoned that sending himself into the future was dangerous. What if the world changed in some way he hadn’t anticipated? What if the world came to an end the day before his destination? Even worse to Schmidt’s thinking, what if something happened to Haptig before the time Schmidt chose as his destination?
Schmidt reasoned that travelling backward in time was safe. He knew what happened yesterday, and he knew what the world was. If he appeared in the past, able to predict future events, that would serve as proof positive that he had travelled through time. He leaped with joy, believing that his effort would make Haptig the most famous scientist of all time. Einstein told us how the time and space behaved - Haptig made time do his bidding!
Schmidt decided to play it safe. He set the machine to send him back just one day. He entered the machine and activated it
If his brain had time to assess the situation before it boiled in the harsh vacuum, Schmidt would have realized that he went back one day in time, but remained at the same point in space. The machine was developed for travel through time, not space. Over one day, the earth’s rotation would have brought the laboratory back to where it started. But, in addition to the earth’s rotation, the laboratory travelled 1/365th of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, about 1.6 million miles. On top of that, the Earth followed the sun around the galaxy at a fantastic speed, and the galaxy rushed through space at an even more incredible pace. Going back one day, Schmidt was left behind in empty space; the Earth had moved on.
Bio: E. B. Fischadler has been writing short stories for several years, and has recently begun publishing. His stories have appeared in Mad Scientist Journal, Bewildering Stories, eFiction, and Beyond Science Fiction. In addition to fiction, Fischadler has published over 30 papers in refereed scientific journals, as well as a chapter of a textbook on satellite engineering. When he is not writing, he pursues a career in engineering and serves his community as an EMT. You can learn more about Fischadler and access his other publications at: https://ebfischadler.wordpress.com/