Ours Is Not To Reason Why

Sure, I'd read lots of science fiction novels when I was a kid. Got eyestrain too, had to have glasses. I was so into sci-fi I asked the doctor if I couldn't just have bionic eyes? Nobody told me the technology wasn't that far ahead.

Of course, three out of every ten science fiction stories have time travel in them; its one subject nobody under stands and therefore safe to muck around with. By the time I was eighteen I knew everything about time-travel theory: the no-paradox theory, the alternate time-line theory, the infinite dimensions theory, you name it, I had read about it. Changed my lens prescription four times that year.

Naturally, when I had the opportunity to participate in a research project, I jumped at the chance. Who wouldn't? Every body, it turned out. I was the only one that showed up; they were forced to take me. Anyway, these engineers were looking for a guinea pig to test their "temporal displacement module", a fancy way of saying they had invented a time machine.

These bright boys had honestly tried to create a machine to better mankind. Real altruists. However, they couldn't spare anyone from their research team to test it out. You see, this wasn't any high-budget Government Experiment. This was a basement operation, with only a handful of engineers, and a minuscule budget. These scientists were brilliant, too brilliant. Their friends in the scientific community hadn't understood their work, and so used a common defense: they ridiculed it. Cast out by their colleagues, they continued their work through private funds.

Now they needed someone to act as guinea pig, someone who wasn't too bright. This person need do only two simple things: (1) travel back in time one day, and (2) wait in a specified room until contacted.

A not too bright volunteer was needed because an intelligent person with an open mind would see at once the billion-dollar potential this thing had. Low intelligence was also necessary so that volunteer could be properly indoctrinated against certain no-nos: no sneaky running off and telling press, no polluting time line. I won't tell you how I fooled their I.Q. tests and psychoanalyst, you wouldn't believe me. But I passed their requirements.

I remember the day I was to go back. I woke up an hour early and got all ready. I had spent the night in a motel room, and a rather tiny one at that. There was barely enough room to pace back and forth. I was so excited. The phone rang, and I raced over to pick it up. "Hello. Tim? Yeah, I'm ready. Yeah. Come get me." Tim was the one I talked to most of the time. Others couldn't be bothered. To them I was lab animal, nothing more. Suited me fine, as most of the rest had zero personalities.

Tim finally came to get me. I just about ran out the door. "Hey, you want to hold on just a minute?" he asked. "Slow down. We need you relaxed."
"Why do I have to relax now?" I muttered. "I'll have time to relax while I'm in that blasted room for a day, waiting for you guys to show up."

The plan was, I would be transported back, then spend the day filling out forms in which I answered questions about what had happened. It's kind of confusing; when re searchers transported me, they would go at once to special room, open it up, and find me there with forms all filled out, questions answered, et cetera.

They had this room all set up, and had very strict rules that no one must look in before I was sent back. This was because there is, theoretically, a paradox inherent in time travel. Look at it this way: You go back in time and kill your father before you are born. Now he's dead, you are never born, so how can you go back in time to kill him? That's a paradox. It messes with your mind.

Of course, there are other theories. One holds that there can't be a paradox because the past time stream isn't malleable for those from the future. Another says . . . well, who cares. The point is, there's lots of theories, and no one knows which is right, if any of them are. But the safest course of action is to try and avoid a paradox, in case they do exist.

Their plan was well thought-out. They were simply going to test their device while taking every precaution and safeguard they could think of. That was their plan. Mine was a little bit different. My reasons for being in this project were purely selfish; I was on my own agenda. Since they figured me for a dolt, they would never suspect that I was going to double cross them and do a little research of my own, on behalf of science-fiction readers everywhere! I planned on going back a day, then intentionally trying to mess up the time line and cause a paradox. That way, we would finally know the truth. The engineers were all nice guys, but a little chicken. They were so anal they even drew up the "Canon for Temporal Displacement Agents". They all talked that way, except for Tim. I think he had some Public Relations training; he could switch jargon from slang to tech in a microsecond.

Tim and I walked out and got in the car. "Listen," he said to me, leaning in close. "This is an important project. You do exactly as we say, and you'll get your share. This has got to go smoothly, understand?"

"Sure Tim," I replied jovially. I was in the habit of always plastering a big, goofy, grin on my face when talking with these engineers. Helped convince 'em I was an idiot (which I am actually, let's face it, compared to those geniuses. But genius has a hard time thinking down to an idiot's level, which is why I "outsmarted" them).

"Uh, Tim," I went on. "Do I really have to wait a whole day? I'll be, uh, bored."

"Yeah, well, for what you're getting paid, you shouldn't complain."

The landscape flew by as he increased the speed. He was as excited as I was. We went down a long, lonely road, and finally came to a halt outside a grove of old office buildings.

"Hey pardner, this is it. Out you go." He motioned for me to go into the building.

"Is this it?" I asked. I hadn't ever been to the actual lab before, for security reasons.

"Sure is. Get a move on, we haven't got all the time in the world." We laughed slightly at his utterly hilarious joke. But I didn't have to fake any enthusiasm.

We entered the building and were met by three anxious looking people in lab coats: Helen, Joan, and Arnold. I always called them by their first names instead of their ridiculously long titles they called each other by. It annoyed them and made them speak to me as little as they could, which was fine with me.

"Come this way, " said Helen. "We've got to get you prepped for your 'little journey.'"

"May I suggest a muscle relaxant, Dr. Bollinger, " said Tim. "He is extremely excited and I think we all will agree that he ought to be calm and stress-free for the displacement; we are not yet aware how over-stimulated brain waves affect the calibration of the machine." See how quick Tim can switch languages? They all talked like this to each other.

"A reasonable suggestion, Dr. " replied Helen. "Dr. Rubis, please contact Dr. Jamison and alert him to our decision."

Need I go on? They jabbered on and on about things I neither understood nor cared about. We got in a green elevator and started down. I couldn't see the device that told what floors we were passing, but I think we went down a long way. We finally got out and passed through two huge metal doors, with thick bars going in sideways, like at a bank vault. We went into the lab.

"Well, the gang is all here!" I shouted as we walked in. "Nice to see you all. Don't all rush to shake my hand at once."

Most were not amused. I honestly don't think any of them really liked me.

"Please sit here, " said Arnold. He pointed to a large metallic chair up on a platform about three feet high.

"Now, Dr. Jamison, " ordered Helen. Ray came over and gave me a jab with a needle. They didn't say what for, I assumed it was muscle relaxant. I would have broken character to ask what was going on. I did ask one question, though.

"Well, where is the time machine?" I inquired impatiently. They looked at me like I said a dirty word.

"You are now in the temporal displacement module, " said Helen.

"What, this thing?" I exclaimed. I actually was surprised. Where was the thing with all the dials and the little red button that I pressed to whisk me back? All that was there was the metallic chair I was seated on, and some strange ridges on the floor of the platform surrounding the chair.

"Classic two-dimensional thinking, " Helen muttered. Dr. Nelson, commence phase one." Somebody somewhere did something, because next thing I knew, a very large metal cylinder came down from the ceiling and clamped down over the chair. It hooked into those curious ridges.

"What are you doing?" I screamed. I really was scared, and this was no act. I was in complete darkness, sitting on a chair inside a cylinder maybe three feet in diameter, with no windows and no controls. (And what about air? Was this thing air-tight?)

"Relax." The voice came from a small speaker in the headrest of the chair. "You are perfectly safe."

"No offense, Helen, but I don't think your definition of safe is the same as mine. Please explain what is going on!" I said as calmly as I could.

"We are preparing for phase two," she said. "And call me Dr. Bollinger!" she almost snapped. "We will alert you when phase two is ready to begin. Once you hear that, make sure you are seated back in the chair. This radio contact will cease at that point. The chamber must be perfectly sealed. You will then experience temporal-displacement."

Now, I must admit, I wasn't as smart as I had figured. What I thought of as a time machine was a glass bubble with little dials and things. But their time machine was real. It wasn't some author's fantasy. Because of this, it worked a little differently than I had supposed. See, the time machine doesn't travel in time. It makes other things travel in time. The cylinder transported anything in it (anything that wasn't made out of that special metal) in time. But it can't transport itself in time. To do that, it would have to be anchored outside of the space-time continuum, which is impossible. The downside is, of course, that if one goes back in time, there isn't any way to return to the present unless there is a time machine in existence at that point too. That, as I found out later, was why I was going back one day and waiting it out.

Of course I didn't find all this out until later. All I knew at that point was that I was in the dark, with no control over anything. Then I heard the dreaded words: "Prepare for phase two."

I waited a few agonized seconds, which seemed like eternity. Then I thought, what if it doesn't work? I'll probably be disintegrated, and since this is an underground experiment, no one will ever know what happened to me. I'll just be forgotten. My pondering was abruptly interrupted. I heard a deep rumble. Then every molecule in my body tried to move every direction at once. There aren't any words to describe it; I felt split apart, like every single atom of me had its own separate consciousness. I was in an infinite number of places. Then the feeling reversed and I felt . . . cohesion. All my myriad parts slapped themselves together. It was quite a shock.

I groaned. After a few moments which I spent recollecting my thoughts, I opened my eyes. I was in the same room. The cylinder was back in its normal position above me.

I yet out a yelp. I understood it intellectually, but this was the first time I really grasped it emotionally. I was the first person to go back in time! It worked! I danced a little jig around the room, then sat down to catch my breath.

Now I had to follow their very careful instructions. They had given me a set of three by five cards with every thing written down. I had not been allowed to read them be forehand. I read them now:

"Congratulations! If you are reading this, then that means you have successfully been temporally displaced and you were not vaporized. Guess I lost that bet I had with Dr. Bollinger."

Very funny, Tim. It had to be his writing, though there was no name.

"You will now proceed with your instructions. Step one: Exit this room through the brown metal door on the Eastern wall."

There was only one door; I never will understand scientists and their penchant for such minute details.

"Step two. . ."

I never got beyond step one. I felt bad for Tim, but I never had any intention of following their plan. My plan was to escape this place and then proceed with my own agenda.

I stepped out through the door very cautiously. I needn't have bothered; all the scientists and engineers would stay away from this area to insure protection against a possible paradox. I didn't want to meet them, I wanted to meet myself. I would have to sneak out, find a way back to the motel room I had been in--or was in now, actually--and figure out what to do from there.

My plan was to simply walk in the motel room and say hello. I knew that had not happened to me; therefore it would create a paradox. I was tired of listening to all those theorists. I wanted to find out once and for all. What would happen if you met yourself? I was going to find out at last. I only hoped I didn't destroy the universe in the process.

I crept along the hall, listening for any footsteps. I found a utility closet, donned a janitor's uniform, and sauntered out. No problems.

Well, one. When I got to the back gate, I was stopped by a guard. He was short, bald, and scowling.

"Let's see your I.D., buddy," he said, looking me in the eye.

"Sure. Hold on just a minute." I pulled out my wallet and looked for my driver's license. He would never connect me with the time machine project, as I had never been in that building before, well, tomorrow. Get's a little confusing, doesn't it?

"Not that, I need your special I.D. to be in this building," the man insisted, frustrated. It's a shame when a man doesn't enjoy his job.

"Uh, I must have left it back in my locker," I stalled. I didn't even know if the maintenance crew had lockers. The guard eyed me suspiciously.

"Hold on while I phone this in." He gave me a look, like I ruined his whole day. He walked over to the phone in his little booth.

"Oh, wait, I found my I.D. after all," I called. When he turned around, I clipped him on both sides of his neck, right at the carotid arteries. Some of those science fiction stories are violent, you know. I guess I picked up a few things.

I didn't wait to appreciate my handiwork. I bugged out the gate and legged it around the corner. I ditched the janitor's uniform. The beauty of time travel, I thought, is no one will recognize me because they won't see me until to morrow.

I walked about four miles before I found a bus stop. I had to take the bus back to my motel room, since Tim had driven me to the compound. I raced up the stairs, not bothering with the elevator. I couldn't wait to see the look of surprise on my face when I busted in the door and said howdy to an earlier version of me.

Except, when I opened the door, there was nobody there. I stared at the empty room. I know that I was in this room all day yesterday . . . today . . . whatever. I closed the door, sat down, and thought about it for a while. History has been changed. Somehow, my coming back had altered things. I looked around. Not only was "I" not in the room, none of my belongings were either. Now I was worried. Well, I would talk to Tim. He was the time travel theorist, and since my plan wasn't working like I thought, I guess I would ask his advice. I know when I'm licked.

I phoned Tim, and when he picked up the phone, I just blurted out, "Listen, I made it back in time, but I didn't go to the room, I escaped and went back to my motel room, but I wasn't here, I mean I should have been here, since I remember being here yesterday, or rather today. . ." He didn't ask me to repeat myself. He said, "Who IS this?"

I told him. He said, "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number. I don't know any one by that name."

"But this is about the time-travel project. The Temporal-Displacement Device" I said, using his word for the thing. His voice grew cold.

"How do you know about that?" he said.

"Because I'M the test subject!" I shouted. What was wrong with him?

"We haven't even picked a subject yet. Look, I don't know who you are, but this is a top-secret project. Now I want to know how you know about-- "

I hung up the phone. Something was wrong here, very wrong. I left to find out what it was. I went to my car, but it wasn't there. Wonderful. I didn't bother reporting it stolen, because I had things rather more important to worry about. I figured I had better rent a car, so I went over to Hertz. The clerk ran my credit card through their little machine, and it made a funny blerp noise. I was told it wasn't a valid card number. I called the credit card company.

"I'm sorry, but we don't have you down as being a customer."

"What is going on?" I thought. Well, I thought, I guess I can take the bus across town to my mother's house and borrow her car. I called her to let her know I was coming.

"Hello?" she said.

"Listen mom, I'm in a bit of a jam. Can I borrow your car?" I asked.

"Who is this?" she asked incredulously. I told her. What she said next made my blood run cold.

"I'm sorry, but I don't have any children."

Somehow, I made it back to the lab. I went in the front gate and asked to see Dr. Timothy Russell. "Is he expecting you?" asked the guard, glancing at his clipboard. When I told him no, he said he'd have to phone in. He grabbed his little grey phone and turned away for a few moments. "I'm sorry, but he doesn't want to see any visitors today," said the guard.

"Listen, mister, I have to see him. Tell him I'm the one who called earlier about the Temporal Device. Tell him it is imperative that I discuss it with him at once."

The guard made another call and relayed the message. Soon a second guard arrived, to relieve him, I suppose, and the first escorted me up to Tim's office.

I told him the whole story. I didn't leave any out, even about my own duplicitous nature concerning my pitiful "private agenda". I didn't worry; this wasn't the Tim who knew me, so he didn't feel betrayed. After I finished, he just sort of sighed. Then he made me wait in a small room, while he made about fifty telephone calls to his colleagues.

When he came in to see me, he said, "With what we learned from you, we think we have discovered a flaw in some of our work. What we took to be temporal movement along the tau axis appears to be spatial movement along . . ."

Blah, blah, blah. I didn't understand a word. The bottom line: their machine didn't move me through time, it moved me to another dimension. It sent me into a parallel universe, one where I did not exist. I didn't really care at that point. I was just tired of messing with things I didn't understand.

I interrupted him. "Is there a way to send me back?"

"Well, yes. We would have to reconstruct the experiment exactly, only varying the electromagnetic bandwidth." He went on in techno-babble for a while. "However, there is a complication. I don't expect you to understand the complexities of the device, " he said, "but brain waves play an important role. You said that you were injected with a muscle relaxant. Unless we know what kind, and in what amount, we won't be able to calibrate the machine properly."

Great. No one had told me what kind of drug it was. It looked like I was stuck. "Wait!" I shouted. "Ray gave me the shot. Just ask Ray to give me a muscle relaxant. With luck, he'll pick the same kind as the Ray in my universe did!" I started feeling brilliant again.

"It's worth a try. . ." Tim pondered. We got all loaded up, same as before. They moved the metal chair into the room. I sat down, Ray jabbed me again. That arm was going to be sore. Just before the metal cylinder crashed down overhead, Tim handed me a big envelope thick with documents. "Give this to me, the other me, when you see him. It contains the necessary formulas and multi-phase equations for this new turn in events."

He started to walk back to the control panel. "Wait," I said, "You'll never know if this works or not."

"Science isn't about answers, it's about questions," he replied.

The cylinder came down.

At least I wasn't afraid this time. I knew the contraption worked. True, not the way anybody had thought, but at least it left people in one piece when it was done. Of course where it left that one piece was another matter. I started out going back in time, and ended up a world away.

I'd be hard pressed to miss the goal by any farther than that.

I was out of time. The words didn't sound so bad this time: "Prepare for phase two."

Same sensation, no need to go into it all again. After the world stopped moving around and I was more or less in one piece, I opened my eyes and looked around. I shut them again. No. Just what is it with me today, anyway? Why can't things go right just once?

Good old Tim. He's just too smart for his own good. Or my own good. "I don't expect you to understand the complexities of the device, but brain waves play an important role." Forget muscle relaxant. How about the last minute meanderings of my mediocre mind? That was the worst blow of all. I did this to myself. My own thoughts, just before the machine activated, they had affected it somehow. I wish I hadn't walked out on that meditation seminar. If I'd had a clear mind, I would be in a little grey room now, filling out forms, instead of here.

I got to my feet. I was standing in a wide meadow. There was no lab. Just some trees off to the side, and one thing that caught my particular attention. I guess I deserve this, I thought. This is what I get for not listening to people. I just wanted to do everything my own way. There must be a middle ground between blindly following people and blindly ignoring people. Too bad I didn't think about that earlier. But I had little time to waste with recriminations. I had other pressing matters to attend to. Like finding someplace to hide from that Tyrannosaurus.