By Meghashri Dalvi
Stan was waving at me. “Wait, Riya, I need to talk to you, just a couple of minutes.”
I was not sure about his wide grin. If our last week’s encounter was anything to go by, it was better to stay away from this oddball.
Last Tuesday I had got an unexpected call from the Molecular Lab. The small one-storied red brick building at the east end of the institute where Stan Harper and his five assistants did fundamental molecular research. Not many had ever met them and the obvious vibe their occasional sightings gave was of pure eccentricity.
Someone had conveyed Stan’s message that he wanted to meet me. I had obliged and landed at his lab.
Up close, Stan appeared good looking and nice, except for that sheer streak of madness in his turquoise blue eyes.
“So you are Riya, who will share the 17th July Time Machine slot with me. Right?”
“And what research you want to do in this slot?”
“Well, I am working on the weapons used at the end of the Seventeenth century, and–”
“Aha! Just wanted to see who you were. You can go now.”
With that curt reply, he simply disappeared.
And now, what does he want from me now?
“Listen, Riya,” he came closer, still grinning. “I have got a great idea. Our Time Machine slot is pointed at the time of Newton. Right? Sir Isaac Newton. Guess what I am going to do? I will leave Einstein’s Relativity Theory in that time. What say?”
He laughed out aloud. Several people were already looking at us; their expressions just went more quizzical.
“Yess! Einstein’s Relativity theory! Time can bend, Newton’s classical physics is not applicable everywhere in the universe, and stuff–you know.”
“That is nonsense!”
“Of course not! If scientists in that time can get their hands on that legendary Einstein stuff, who will be bothered with the Newtonian theory?”
“How is this even possible, Stan?” My voice was sharp. “We get the time machine slot for research. Pure research. We are not supposed to do anything else during that period. We are not supposed to meddle with time. We are not supposed to disturb the space-time fabric and the continuum and–”
He was still laughing. “You believe all that Riya? Oh, of course! What do you historians know about space-time, anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, do you know that some people have already attempted that? I mean disturbing the space-time continuum, whatever–”
He was clearly mocking me, and I did not like it a bit.
“Stan, if they had attempted, apparently their attempts have failed.” I tried to reason. “We go back in time just to view. We cannot carry anything with us. Nobody in that era can see us. How can such foolish attempts ever succeed?”
“Obviously their foolish experiments failed. Because they were foolish. But my experiments never failed.”
“What! You have done such things before?” I couldn’t believe the total recklessness his snobbish eyes conveyed.
He spread out on the soft lawn. Looking down on this so-called genius molecular scientist would have strengthened my position. But the Sun was stinging my eyes at that angle.
I sat down near him keeping a meaningful distance as if not to catch his mad thoughts like bad breath.
“Yes, Riya. I have done them.” The grin was still there, although a little soft.
“You mean you have played with time and its arrow?”
“Something you are not supposed to do?”
“Why? Didn’t you know the risks? I mean a small gesture of yours could have made so many changes to the present.”
“They could have. But they did not.”
“What do you mean? You said your experiments succeeded.”
“They indeed succeeded. But not to the extent I wanted.”
“I don’t get you, Stan.” My exasperation could no longer be hidden.
“Look, Riya, you know Leonardo da Vinci. Right? You know about his flying machine, don’t you? How do you think he got it?”
I was dumbstruck.
“It’s true that he did not actually make the flying machine. He probably could not, given that he was only an artist. But do you ever stop and think about it? He was an artist. How did he suddenly get a scientific idea? With a complete concept? Down to its full details?”
“So you, I mean you had given him the sketches?”
Stan started laughing again. Mockingly loud.
“Are you making fun of me, Stanley Harper?” I was red. “I thought so. As it is, you cannot take any physical thing in the past–”
“Why not? I managed. I left them there. Only to get in the hands of Leo.”
“I don’t believe a single word you say. It’s just a pastime for you, maybe. But I have some meaningful work to do–”
“Wait a moment. I did it again, you know. When I went back to the First century. I took a thin paper on which I had put all the information about a cool system with a steam engine, levers, and pulleys–the works. Just on a thin sheet. What efforts I took to manage that feat-”
“Obviously no one got that. Otherwise our industrial revolution would have happened way back!” I snapped and got up to go.
“You are wrong, baby. One person did pick that sheet up.”
“Ha!” I started to leave.
“And he understood all the technical stuff, too. He must have been a smart guy. Way too smart. For he used the sketches very very cleverly. You know for what? For opening the temple doors. The lamp in the temple provided him with the heat energy, with which he generated steam–”
“Heron! Are you talking about Heron? From Greece? Alexandra temple? And people thought he was a great magician?”
“That is not possible! You are bluffing!”
“No, Riya. Listen, this is what I mean by the limited effect I got. My ideas, my information reached that time. Fell into the right hands, too. But those guys did not take them further.”
“Good. You are anyway not supposed to interfere with the development and evolution of our culture. So the real damage was not done at all! Good! Good to know that time or destiny or whatever takes care of what exactly is supposed to happen and when!”
I simply left him and started walking towards my lab. But I was so giddy with the disturbing exchange that I had to stop and grab a nearby rail.
Stan managed to catch up.
“It happened two more times. I succeeded, but only to a limited extent.”
He certainly wanted to continue bragging.
“Stan, why are you doing this? If all these risky experiments were in vain, why do you want to do it one more time?”
“Because this time it’s special. See the coincidences–the time is right, it’s Seventeenth century. The place is right, it’s Newton’s England! The language is right, too, it’s English. And I can do Seventeenth century English easily. Besides, I have a sound plan this time!”
The arrogant grin was back. So was my ire.
“Look, there is no use explaining Relativity to Newtonian people. Or to Newton, for that matter. He won’t understand it. And even if he does, he will not buy it just because some paper arrives from future. It was a golden era of science. There were discussions, arguments, lots of logic, experiments. How would they do it without quantum theory? It’s of no use. Now please stop and let me go.”
“Want to bet on this, Riya?”
“I tell you, this time I have got a sound plan, and it’s going to succeed! You’ll see.”
“This is illegal, and I don’t want to get into it.”
By the time I reached my lab, I had decided to report Stan.
The next three days I managed to stay away from him. His room, lab, clothes, everything must have gone through a rigorous search. And I wanted to be as far from it as possible.
But on July 17th, I had to face him.
He was whistling coolly when we both approached the Time Machine Centre. I avoided eye contact.
“What was the need to report? They obviously could not find anything. As if! I mean after all the stuff I disclosed to you, would I keep a thin sheet in my possession? I am a veteran at time-travel baby, I know exactly what I am doing!”
I ignored the condescending sneer. It was my very first shot at the Time Machine and I didn’t want to mess it. I looked straight ahead and went through the procedures quietly.
Then it was time.
Just before entering the special chamber, I could not stop myself.
“Stan, I beg you. No pranks please. I don’t want to ruin my chance.”
“Don’t worry baby. No papers. Nothing.”
We went in and waited above in the large space. I tried to concentrate on the stasis arena where something fuzzy was taking shape.
Was it a stone building? And paved lanes? A slim lady in voluminous clothes. A guy in a top hat? Was it really the Seventeenth century? Was I already in there?
I couldn’t believe my eyes!
And then suddenly Stan started talking aloud. By the time I realized that he was reciting Relativity theory, he had said too much. The people stopped in their tracks and listened intently. They could not see us, naturally, but they could hear us after all. Crystal clear.
So this was the sound plan!
I managed to pull the emergency lever. But it was too late.
The next moment there was nothing. Nothing. No Time Machine. No Time Machine Center. No Institute.
Instead, there was a huge speaker of stunning proportions, accompanied by out-of-the world acoustic machinery. The great empty space around us was filled with heavenly musical notes.
Stan was still by my side. But his smirk was gone. With a divine calm on his face, he just mumbled a few well-known facts.
“Apparently, Newton was so thrilled to receive sound waves from the future, that he abandoned all his ongoing research work and directed his entire effort only towards research in sound!”