"It doesn't count if you're already planning your defeat, Doctor."
"Don't you think I know that?" Dr Ellery-Staton took off his reading glasses, turning so his interlocutor could see the expression on his face. It was not encouraging.
The royal-messenger-turned-research-assistant gave him what he hoped was a reassuring look. “You can do it, Doctor. If anybody can, it’s you.”
Dr Ellery-Staton sighed. “That’s just the trouble. I don’t think anybody can do it. The thing is an impossibility. If even one person could do it, the thing would be already done.” He began to close the books and organise the papers on his table. “All my research indicates that it should be possible, theoretically speaking, but common sense dictates that were such a thing possible on any level, we should know of it long before now.”
“If people relied only on common sense, Doctor, we would probably still think the Earth was flat.”
The doctor gave the messenger a sharp look. “Perhaps that’s so. What did you say your name was?”
“Bolton, sir. Ambrose Bolton.”
“Look, Bolton. I can’t take this job. I’m a scientist, not a miracle worker.”
“Your king requires it, Doctor. We must be the first to this discovery. At least give it a shot.”
Dr Ellery-Staton sighed again. “You know as well as I do that I cannot. You’ve been here this past hour, watching and helping me research. I have already ‘given it a shot’. And I say that it cannot be done. Any further attempts or research would simply be a waste of time.”
Bolton smirked. “A ‘waste of time’ is exactly what we are trying to prevent with this project, Doctor.” He tapped the top page in the doctor’s stack of notes. “You had me researching wormholes for you, Doctor. Begin with that.”
The doctor frowned and began spreading his papers out again. “There’s no practical way to construct an Einstein-Rosen bridge, nor is there any impractical one, nor is there any scientific proof that such a thing even exists. Even if it did exist, it would be wildly unstable. Furthermore—”
Here Bolton cut him off. “Spare me the lecture, Doctor. I must return to the king to tell him of your decision to help. I have stayed too long as it is. You are of course welcome to use any of the resources at His Majesty’s disposal.” With those words, Bolton got up and made for the door. Dr Ellery-Staton stood up and hurried to follow him.
“I haven’t agreed to help,” he protested, but Bolton ignored him, striding off down the street. Dr Ellery-Staton saw that he had no choice. “Very well. I shall accompany you. Perhaps the Royal Library has a book that will prove useful." Privately, Dr Ellery-Staton doubted there was a useful book in His Majesty’s library that was not in the doctor’s own extensive collection, but it couldn’t hurt to look. And he could do with a change of scenery.
The crisp, early-spring air refreshed the doctor, and by the time he was stepping through the vaulted doors of the Royal Library, he was willing to give the whole business another go.
A clerk met Dr Ellery-Staton at the door and beckoned him inside. “Doctor! How good to see you! You are here for research on the Time Project, I presume?”
“You are correct,” the doctor told the woman. “His Majesty thinks I may be able to help due to my fascination with theoretical physics. Do direct me to the 530s, please.”
“Very good, Doctor. If you will follow me?” The clerk led him to the appropriate section and lingered as he walked to the shelves and began to pull books out. “If there is anything specific you would like, Doctor, we do have a significantly sized computer database as well.”
“I prefer books, thank you.” The doctor gathered an armload and made his way to a table where pen and paper had been laid out for him. He waited for the clerk to take her leave. When it became obvious that she was not going to, he cleared his throat loudly. “Tell me, what do you know about relativity?”
It worked just as he intended. The clerk, instead of answering, immediately remembered a different important task and scurried away, mumbling apologies. Dr Ellery-Staton grinned and began making a list of problems that would need solving if he was to complete his mission.
Some time later, the doctor’s work was interrupted by a loud noise from across the library. He waited a minute to see if anyone else was going to deal with it, but as nobody else seemed to be there at all, he dragged himself from his work and went to investigate.
It was a young girl, hanging upside-down off the edge of a comfortable reading-chair, who was making the noise. “It is not a waste!” She was screaming at something that was hidden from the doctor’s view by the folds of the girl’s disarranged skirt.
Dr Ellery-Staton cleared his throat. “What is not a waste?”
The girl looked up and flushed. She struggled to sit up, but slipped, instead winding up on the floor. “It’s the chap in my book,” she explained, a trifle embarrassed. “Someone was telling him that his talents are a waste because he’s not using them the way the other guy would have, but that doesn’t make it a waste because his way is actually better. If I could just get my hands on that colonel—”
Who was this girl? “What are you doing in the Royal Library?”
“My mother works here. I come sometimes because I like to read. There are more books here than we have back home…”
Dr Ellery-Staton supposed this girl did look rather like the clerk who had met him at the door. He could see the family resemblance. “Do try to keep it down. I am trying to get some work done here.”
She was embarrassed again. “I get kind of involved when I read. I’ll be quieter. Sorry.” She climbed back onto the chair and curled up in a corner, taking her book with her.
As Dr Ellery-Staton crossed the library to go back to his work, he considered what the girl had said. Just because he wasn’t using his talents the way the other people wanted him to didn’t mean they were wasted… ‘We must be first to this discovery,’ Bolton had said. But there wasn’t going to be a discovery. Dr Ellery-Staton was sure that it was impossible, and he would do everything in his power to keep it that way.
Dr Ellery-Staton stood in front of the king. He was nearly done presenting his work. “...so you see, Your Majesty, that while the theory may be solid, time travel is quite impossible. If it will ever be possible to travel back in time, the nature of time is such that it would have already happened and we surely would know about it. It is true that it may be theoretically possible to travel forward in time, but seeing as there would certainly be no coming back, it is inadvisable to pursue such travel. The effects of time travel upon a human would certainly be horrific; it could lead to disfigurement or obliteration of the individual or of the entire timeline at the worst. At the very least, it would certainly wreak havoc on the internal processes of the body, specifically in terms of the internal clock. In plain terms, Majesty, that means that time travel would at the very least induce a severe form of jet lag.” Dr Ellery-Stanton paused for breath and to see how his words were being taken.
The king and those of his advisors who were present for the presentation were engaged. Bolton had a question. “People won’t necessarily leave it alone just for a little jet lag, Doctor. If you are so sure the effects would be catastrophic, you must make certain nobody else experiments with time. How do you propose to do that?”
The doctor grinned. This was his favourite part. “As I have said many times, I am not worried about anybody else unravelling the enigma of time travel, as the thing is quite impossible. However, I have come up with a device to ensure that nobody will attempt it. We must not underestimate how annoying jet lag is. I propose that twice a year, we change all the clocks, once back an hour, and once forward an hour to make up the difference. This way, everyone will experience mild jet lag on a regular basis and will be reminded of how annoying it is. If we keep reminding the people that this is a very mild form of the very least that could happen to those who meddle with time, there is no way anybody will intentionally meddle with time.” The doctor paused and looked around the room. The king was nodding. Even Bolton looked impressed. “I propose,” the doctor finished, “that we call the period of changed time ‘Saving Time’, because through it we are saving the world from the dangers of messing with time.”