The Truth About Time Travel

An hour ago, Jane was with Dr. Clarke in his lecture hall. He was the closest thing to a father figure she had ever known. She had come to Berkeley to witness his demonstration of time travel. Now, instead of celebrating his breakthrough, she was looking at his dead body. All she could think of was, where is the time probe?

*

At 10:45, Dr. Clarke made his way from his lab to the lecture hall. He was beaming. It had been a long time since he spoke at a press conference, and never with this many attendees. With no online presence, in an age where YouTube followers rather than published works determined success, he was an anomaly. Widely respected by colleagues and students alike, he was unknown to the public. This demonstration would change that.

Dr. Clarke went to the lectern. “Good morning, thank you for coming. For those who don’t know me, I am Dr. Charles Clarke. Today I will make history.”

Clarke holds up a small metal box. “At noon today, I will place this probe into the time chamber in my lab, sending it back one hour in time, to appear in the chamber at eleven o’clock, about ten minutes from now. . . . We can view the event on this monitor. ” Gesturing to the monitor at the front of the hall.

“While we wait, I would like Dr Jane Seymour from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in Cambridge, England, to join me at the lectern. Dr. Seymour assisted me in developing the theory on the nature of time, which led directly to this demonstration of time travel.”

Jane rankled at ‘assisted’, but said nothing. It was my postdoc work that led to the theory. She bore Clarke no ill will. That was just the way it was, the man would get the credit, the woman, an assist. Reluctantly, she accompanied Dr. Clarke at the lectern.

“Jane, just so people don’t think there are two probes, could you please put a mark on the front of the probe with this marking pen that I just happen to have here.”

A smattering of laughter. Jane draws Δt, the symbols for change and time.

“Thank you. . . . . Some of you may know that Jane wrote an article saying sending the probe back in time would create a paradox—the same object existing in two places at the same time. I can assure you, as long as the other probe remains in the time chamber, there isn’t a paradox.”

Jane and Dr Clarke, along with everybody else in the room, turn to watch the time chamber on the monitor. At precisely eleven o’clock–nothing happened. The probe failed to appear. Jane looked at Clarke. The arrogant fool has never done this experiment before.

Pandemonium erupted in the room. Members of the media yelled questions. Dr Clarke stood there slack-jawed shoulders slouched, unwilling to accept what he was seeing.

Jane went to the mic. “Please, please, could we have a little calm?”

Someone in the audience yelled, “Dr. Seymour, does that mean that time travel is impossible?”

“No! . . . There are many reasons the probe failed to appear. Dr. Clarke may not have been able to start the experiment or something may have gone wrong. . . . We won’t know until he starts the experiment and analyses the results. . . . We will have to wait for an hour to see what went wrong.”

Clarke regained his composure. Surprised that Jane had come to his defence, he goes to the lectern. “Dr. Seymour is correct. I still need to conduct the experiment before I can determine why the probe failed to appear.”

As noon approached, Clarke could feel the eyes of the media on him as he placed the probe into the chamber. He waited in the lab, eager to see what had gone wrong. With him were John Wilson, his research assistant, and Richard Thompson, the electrical engineer.

Two minutes before noon, a high-speed video camera started recording the events in the time chamber. It might give a clue to what went wrong. The video file would be automatically sent to the workstation in the lecture hall to be viewed later.

At noon, as everyone watched the monitor, an explosion rocked the lab. The video feed went dead; lights in the lecture hall flickered, then went out; emergency lights came on; the scream of the uninterruptible power supplies filled the room.

After a moment of shock, panic set in. Everyone rushed to the door. Most ran to the building exit. A few, including Jane, rushed towards the lab.

Thompson stumbled into the hall with severe burns to the front of his body. The emergency lighting showed the bodies of Dr. Clarke and John Wilson trapped under a fallen cabinet. They appeared to be dead. The acrid smell of burning electrical equipment filled the hallway. Two men helped Thompson towards the exit. Everyone, except Jane, hurried out.

Jane assessed the scene. An implosion, not explosion, had buckled the chamber walls inward. A layer of debris covered the floor, drawn towards the chamber by the implosion. Glass covered the chamber floor—the probe was gone.

She took a few shots with her phone, then glanced up at the high-speed camera. The lens was smashed. A red light showed that it still had power. I need to get the video file.

The lecture hall was unlocked, the room empty. Locking the door, she retrieved her laptop and went to the workstation.The technician hadn’t signed off before leaving the room, she could access the workstation; she connected her laptop to the workstation and copied the file.

The fire department arrived within minutes

Finished copying the file, she unplugged her laptop; edited the workstation system log, removing evidence of the file transfer; logged off the workstation and started towards the door. A quick glance through the safety window in the fire door showed the hall filled with smoke.

Trapped, Jane unlocked the door and sat down, waiting to be rescued.

She used the time to text Janice Holland, her best friend and Head of Science Information Services, at the Betty & Gordon Moore Library in Cambridge.

‘Accident at Berkeley experiment. Save any images and videos posted before everything gets locked down.’

Then she copied the pictures on her phone to her laptop. Using her phone to create a hotspot and the untraceable Tor network, she uploaded all the files to her private server. With the files safe on her server, she deleted them from her laptop. Expecting to be questioned about the accident, she left the pictures on her phone. No one would believe that I didn’t take any pictures. 

Fifteen minutes later, the door opened. A firefighter, the mask of his Scott pack hanging loose, came in.

Jane smiled, putting on her, I’m just a dumb girl look. “I came back to get my laptop.”

The firefighter shook his head. He had seen people run back into burning buildings before. He brought some out in body bags. “You are lucky to be alive. . . . The hallway is safe now. You can leave.”

As she leaves the building, a medic and a rather large man in a dark suit greet her.

While the medic gave her oxygen and checked her blood pressure, she eyed the other man. MI5 or FBI, government agents dress the same, she thought. MI5 have better tailors.

After the medic finished, the other man came.

“Dr. Jane Seymour?”

“Yes”

He showed her his badge. “Agent Devon Walsh, Homeland Security. You need to come with me.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

Walsh led her to his car. They drove in silence. Jane wondered if she missed anything in the lecture hall.

I didn’t see cameras—but you never know. The only trace I was on the computer is the timestamp on the system log. If I knew I had that much time, I could have fixed that before I logged off.

An hour later, Jane was in a large room in the Phillip Burton Federal Building. A window to her left looked out over the bay. To her right, a bookcase filled with books meant only for show; along the far wall, an American flag in one corner,  the California state flag in the other, the Seal of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the centre. A large oak desk with a single chair in front dominates the room. The room was designed to impress and intimidate.

In her dealings with MI5, Jane came to believe there were two types of government agents. Men like Walsh, honest, brave, loyal and completely without guile. You always knew where you stood with them. Then there were those, like the one sitting behind the desk, shrewd, manipulative and ruthless. Put on a brave face; this man is dangerous.

The man looks up from the papers scattered on the desk—“Sit down, Dr. Seymour.”

Summoning all the bravado she could muster, “Please, call me Jane.”

“Jane, I am Special Agent Donald Roberts, Homeland Security”

It didn’t surprise her. Since the cyber-attacks, Homeland Security had their fingers in everything—an explosion at a university would trigger a response.

Roberts finished reading her dossier. He was impressed, but tried not to show it.

“Born in Penang; father, John Seymour, British; mother, Jai Li Khoo, Chinese. Moved to Bournemouth when you were two. Your father abandoned you when you were three, didn’t he?” Roberts looked up. He expected a reaction—he didn’t get one.

Walsh, standing by the door, shuffled his feet.

Bastard. Jane hid her rage. Speaking softly, “Malaysian.”

Roberts looked up again. “What?”

“My mother is Malaysian.”

Roberts glowered. “PhD. in Applied Mathematics, Master in Advanced Computer Science, speak Russian, French and Chinese.“

Jane interrupted again, more forcefully, “FooChow. . . . I speak FooChow and Mandarin. Chinese is not a language.” Walsh suppressed a snicker.

Roberts hesitated, not used to being corrected. “. . . part of the Go team that shut down last year’s cyber-attacks, consultant for MI5 on cryptography, close connections to the British Home Office—did I miss anything?”

Jane shakes her head. Fuck you. You are wrong about my connection to the Home Office. . . . If you want to believe that, go for it 

Roberts put the papers back into their folder. “I have been told you were the leading expert on time travel. . . . What can you tell me about Dr. Clarke’s experiment?”

Trying to sound cheerful,  “Some might disagree with my being the leading expert. . . . As for the experiment, not much. Dr Clarke was very secretive about his work. . . . Except for areas around a Black Hole, it is my opinion that time travel is impossible. Dr Clarke said it was. I may have been wrong.”

“So you think it is possible to send something back in time?”

Codswallop, time travel to the past is impossible—timelines are fixed. “Without seeing Dr Clarke’s work, I’m only guessing. But, yes, it does seem to be possible.”

“Do you have a theory about what caused the explosion?”

Jane knew she needed time to investigate what had happened. Let’s see if I can lead him down a rabbit hole.

“If your techs were doing their job, you will know it wasn’t an explosion. The walls buckled inward, an implosion. As for the cause, whatever caused the probe to disappear probably sucked out all the air as well—creating a vacuum.”

From the look on Roberts’ face, she knew she had said something that surprised him. Shit—He didn’t know the probe was missing.

’“And you think that was because of the probe travelling back in time?”

“Like I said, just guessing. . . . But, yes. Assuming Dr Clarke created the conditions to form a field capable of sending an object back in time, that would also create a paradox. . . . At some point, as the field formed, the probe from the past and the probe in the present would exist in the same place at the same time. . . . They would destroy each other. Which means the probe from the past wouldn’t exist.”

Roberts could see where this was going. “With no probe from the past, the probe in the present would still exist to be sent back in time. So, that is the paradox. The probe exists and doesn’t exist at the same time. . . . The Schrödinger’s cat of time travel.”

Jane grinned and nodded. He’s buying this.

“Again, only guessing, but it seems right.” Her nerves settled, she enjoyed manipulating the conversation. “I don’t suppose you will give me access to Dr. Clarke’s work.”

Roberts just grins. “All Dr. Clarke’s work is now classified Top Secret.”

Of course it is. Jane worked with MI5 enough to know anything they didn’t understand was classified Top Secret. It didn’t surprise her that Homeland Security would do the same.

“May I see your phone?” Roberts asked.

Jane hands him her mobile. “It’s not locked.”

“And your laptop.”

Jane enters her password and hands him her laptop. Let’s see if he knows his way around Linux.

Roberts scrolls through the phone. “Not much here?”

With Homeland Security tracking all foreign nationals in real time using their social media accounts and the 5G network, Jane takes an untraceable pay-as-you-go phone on trips to the US. She uses it sparingly. “Only what I need for my trip.”

“Do you always delete your call logs?”

“Always.”

“I assume you uploaded everything to a server somewhere.” Jane shrugs. He deletes the files anyway, then hands it back.

There was less on her laptop. He doesn’t waste any time searching the files. He opened a terminal window and typed in the Linux command to delete all her files.

“OOPS—It looks like I accidentally deleted all your files.” Smirking, he hands the laptop back.

Jane looked at him with feigned concern. Asshole.

Roberts was in a quandary. He knew the ‘crazies’ will build some kind of conspiracy theory around the explosion. The last thing he needed was Jane talking to the press about time travel. He could control the media and the American scientists. She would be harder to control.

Roberts signals Walsh. “Agent Walsh will drive you back to your hotel to collect your things, then to the airport. I am booking you on the next flight back to the UK. Agent Walsh will stay with you until the flight leaves. . . . Don’t talk to the press and don’t publish those pictures.”

Roberts knew getting Jane out of the country would give him time to find out what really happened. He thought she had been much too quick at suggesting time travel caused a paradox. The most important thing now was to locate the probe—it held the answers.

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