On the clear virtual screen in front of him, he saw that all of the readings were normal and ready for the first flight. The last technician had been fired, so Mr. Tacketh did all of the last-minute check-ups and reviews ahead of the final press conference. The lab was very quiet with just his thoughts and the soundless loops and swirls on the screen. This would have to work; it simply had to be effective when the moment of launch took place. He had dreamed of this for most of his life and the world wanted to see this come true. It simply had to work.
Jason Tacketh, math prodigy, technological entrepreneur and inventor, writer (the ‘How to Do Better’ series, now at thirteen books), dreamer and the first man about to travel into the future. Now, that last thought was one that he did not think of sharing with anyone until he was certain the math and the science would actually make it happen. And it would happen. Early experiments with rats and cats tested the ability of living mammals to head out there and come back. So far, they all made it back, but they were not humans. When these first tests leaked out to the press, some critics warned about sending out test subjects just to see how safe it was for the rest of us. So, he kept the press in the loop as much as possible. But there had to be a real test with a real person. And whom else could it be? He had made so many of his other dreams come true. This was the next big one.
- Are you on schedule for the launch?
-Oh, yes. We are going to have this ready for the launch date as planned. No problems appear on the horizon.
-And you will be the first one to head into the future?
-That is the plan. I refuse to let anyone else take responsibility for my errors. And since there are none, I will be taking the trip.
-And how does this work?
This was the only part of these conferences that Mr. Taketh, CEO and founder of multiple companies, enjoyed and put his social energies into. He brought the press into the lab, showed them the devices and equipment needed to get things working, and then the teleportation device itself. By design, he wanted it to appear as something completely harmless and dull. A clear panel for the occupant to see where they were heading was a necessity for Mr. Taketh. The view of time passing by in such a machine would be too irresistible to ignore. It would also be filmed, recorded and shared during the trip. But there was always one thing that the reporters mentioned that he would have to explain again and again.
-There is no chair.
-Ah, I am glad you noticed! We have done some tests with dummies and animals and realized that a seated figure might undergo certain…changes.
-Changes? What kind of changes?
-Spinal readjustments; lower back damage and even torn ligaments in hips, thighs and shoulders. So, with an inclined and cushioned platform, we have less chance of damage to the body during the trip.
-Just a follow-up on that…
And so on. It surprised him that the press would be so focussed on this one particular point. No long inquiries about food, power supply, direction tracking or even the possible difficulties with language; only questions about that lack of a seat. Very strange…
-Any other questions?
He was not scared.
This was a surprise. A moment like this, one that he had prepared himself for since he was a child and won a citywide science competition above his age group, and he was not scared. His staff were keeping a close eye on his vitals as he waited for the trip to commence. There was very little press inside the lab, but the cameras there would record any responses visible through the panel.
And he still was not scared.
-Sir, are you ready to proceed?
Bancliff was looking over the printed chart and monitors connected to his boss’ vitals. A good man that he once thought he would have to fire once they decided to invest in this journey. He was not scared, either.
-Yes. Let us proceed…oh wait…
He cleared his throat and looked out through the panel at the assembled staff. Everyone was standing around the dais where he would soon depart. Not a soul was left in their seats.
-Everyone here and watching this live at home: I want you to know that this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and that I can only say that I hope the future is filled with people as talented and imaginative as the ones here at JT Inc. This machine is stocked with food and water, but I suspect this will not be a great problem for me when the journey ends. I will be heading exactly one hundred years into the future, travelling through time without leaving this particular location, and returning with any possible information and stories I deem important to share. And who knows? Maybe I will meet some of your ancestors and relatives in that unknown brave new world.
Good Shakespeare quote, he thought. Finally found a reason to remember his work.
-I bid you goodbye.
The staff applauded as he leaned back on the cushioned platform. He nodded at Bancliff and the assistant powered up the machine. It would take a few seconds and he would have to press a button to leave.
Why was he still thinking about that last press conference? Maybe he should have added…
He looked at the virtual screen.
-No future without friction…
He always said that before any of the big launches he steered to completions (had the cameras caught that?).
He pressed the button.
It was very cold.
He woke up and looked out the panel. Mr. Taketh could not remember much about the actual trip. It was supposed to be filmed as he travelled, but he still wanted to be able to recount the experience. Instead, he had passed out and now, inside the machine built for the journey, he felt a little dazed. And it was very cold.
He opened the door and looked around.
The room looked the same, apart from the lack of artificial light. He checked the readings and saw that he had done it. He was here, one hundred years into the future.
The first man to time travel.
He smiled and looked around once again.
No one was here. He recognized the machines and the monitors and the design of the place. They at least kept the building so that he could recognize it. But there was no one around.
He zipped up his jacket and searched for the thermostat. When he designed the building, he made sure that temperature controls existed in every room. They could be controlled by remotes handed out to the lead operator on each level. But he controlled the main switch; he was still responsible for it, and the running of the building. So, he went to the main control panel.
He stared at the wall for a moment. The machine travelled through time, not space, so there was no chance that he was in a different part of the building. And he recognized this area too well to be surprised by anything, except that missing section.
So, he was still cold.
The hunger and thirst he expected to overwhelm him did not hit him yet. Searching for the rations in the building, he noted that they were also missing. No food or water was in the now quiet cafeteria. No one had brought in extra supplies.
He was now tired. After walking through most of the building, he finally felt how drained he was. That was the main reason why he noticed what he would never have bothered himself with as an entrepreneur.
He walked up and down the rooms, through different spaces and closets, in and out of laboratories filled with nothing but empty space.
Not a chair to be seen.
He thought about it for a moment in the still cold space. If they really changed things that much in the last hundred years, maybe this was a good sign. There was no staff around and the equipment was off, but maybe they had decided to save this space as a reminder of what was; a museum of their accomplishments. To Mr. Taketh, this made perfect sense. He would find an exit and make his way into this new society.
The main doors were on the next level and he soon found them.
They were completely sealed.
No problem, he thought. He had remembered to carry a master key to open up all the doors to the compound when necessary. By their design, he could see that they had not changed much. It was all electronic detection and cryptographic material that only he had absolute control over. Even after these many years, it should work. He found the panel, this one unchanged, and tried his device.
He entered it again.
There was a slight hum and then another virtual screen appeared.
Mr. Taketh had to back up when the image displayed itself across the doorway. And there was a moment when he thought he had imagined the words now clearly in front of him:
BANCLIFF INDUSTRIES INC.
A sick feeling entered his whole body. He tried to open the doors again and the image flickered, but it did not disappear. Instead, more words began to appear:
WELCOME BACK, JASON!
He could have felt offended by the lack of a proper address, but Mr. Taketh wanted to see more of the message first.
THIS MESSAGE WAS PRERECORDED, PRIOR TO YOUR LAUNCH INTO OUR GREAT AND MAGNIFICENT FUTURE! I MADE A POINT OF INVITING CERTAIN ACTORS AND PRESS WHO WOULD PRETEND TO PLAY ALONG WITH MY LITTLE GAME. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THAT A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN ONE HUNDRED YEARS: SOCIETIES RISE AND FALL, WARS TAKE PLACE, DISEASES KILL AND THEN ARE A PART OF THE NATURAL ORDER, CERTAIN FAMOUS NAMES NO LONGER REMAIN FAMOUS…
WE WERE IN THE PROCESS OF TAKING OVER YOUR COMPANY THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED TO VENTURE INTO THE TIME TRAVEL BUSINESS. AND YES, IT WAS A BUSINESS. WE FOUND THAT IF WE SIMPLY SPECULATED ON WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IN THE NEXT CENTURY, WE COULD KEEP STOCK PRICES HIGH AND INVESTORS CONTENTED WITH OUR ENDEAVOURS.
AND NOW, YOU PROBABLY HAVE SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHAIRS…
He said it out loud and the computer responded.
YES, CHAIRS. YOU SEE, WE GOT RID OF THEM.
-What does that even mean?
IT IS SO WONDERFUL THAT I CAN RESPOND TO YOU THIS WAY. YOU SEE, WE NOTICED HOW REPORTERS – THE REAL REPORTERS – RESPONDED TO THE LACK OF A CHAIR IN THE TIME MACHINE (YES, LET’S FINALLY CALL IT THAT). OVER TIME, PEOPLE BEGAN TO EXPERIMENT WITH USING INCLINE DEVICES TO DO WORK, REST, AND EVEN TO AID THE HANDICAPPED (NOT THE WORD WE USE NOW, BUT YOU ARE NEW TO THINGS). AND WE MADE A FORTUNE EXPANDING INTO THIS NEW PIECE OF MODERN FURNITURE:
An inclined table with headrest, foot and hand holds appeared on the screen, all done in silver and grey cushioning with a live model entering the image and showing how it worked.
PEOPLE WERE BECOMING CONCERNED ABOUT THE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT STARING AT A SCREEN AS THEY SAT AT THEIR DESKS. CORPORATIONS THANKED US FOR DEVELOPING SUCH A USEFUL PIECE OF EQUIPMENT, PARENTS DEMANDED THEM FOR THEIR CHILDREN AT SCHOOL. AND SOON, PEOPLE GAVE UP ON THE OLD CHAIR MODEL. FOR THAT, THEY STILL THANK YOU AND YOUR EFFORTS.
Another image appeared, this one a page from some digital catalogue. It advertised several models of incline devices under the name ‘Taketh Incliners’. He did not look too closely at the prices.
A quick flash and the text continued:
SO, YOU MADE IT INTO OUR FUTURE. I DO NOT SUGGEST THAT YOU TRY TO GO OUTSIDE. THE LACK OF OZONE WILL JUST BURN YOUR SKIN WITHIN A DAY AND THE WEATHER IS NOW TOO CHAOTIC TO ALLOW ANYONE TO HEAD ON OUT INTO IT WITHOUT A WELL-FORMED PLAN OF ACTION. IT IS COLD ALL THE TIME NOW, ANYWAY. THIS SIGHT HAS BEEN CORDONED OFF FOR THE GENERAL SAFETY OF THE PUBLIC AND WE HAVE ALL DECIDED TO EXPAND INTO TIME AND SPACE TRAVEL. A LITTLE UNFAIR OF US TO LEAVE YOU WITH ONLY THIS MESSAGE, BUT CLEARLY, NO ONE WANTED TO STAY BEHIND.
SO, THANK YOU AGAIN, AND…NO HARD FEELINGS. YOUR NAME WILL LIVE ON.
A final flash and a chair appeared on the screen, slowly twisting into the shape of an incliner.
It was a very long time before he could stop swearing and head back to the machine. Its circuits had already burnt out and when he did begin to open things up inside to try and repair it, he found his final surprise.
One last note:
If you are reading this, you made the fatal error of opening up the panel and now the machine will self-destruct within the next hour. Don’t try to get away. It will vaporize everything within a country mile. I just hope you got the message at the door first.
Signed, Julien Bancliff, CEO Bancliff Industries, Inc.
P.S. A little presumptuous, I know, but…
P.P.S. You already have your own incliner. Enjoy it!