The Time Tablets
Roger Lee Vernon
Elgin IL 60124
This story does not begin with "Once upon a time," but it should.
Terry Thomas first thoughts about the Time Tablets hit him like a tidal wave while he was working on his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University in Los Angles. Later he had forgotten this mystery only to have the problem forced upon him again in a really strange way. At the time the adventure began, Terry Thomas was still a University student sitting in his tiny carrel at the school library with the door closed, reading back and forth from six open books at once, cross-referencing, searching. He knew the joke about how copying from one book was plagiarism, but copying from six books was research! After hours of suppressing yawns, he had put his head on his arms and taken a nap right there. He awoke in a few minutes to make a startling discovery.
There on the desk, atop his open books, was a printed note on a large sheet of his own paper. "Don't take the Time Tablets!" the words read in great block letters.
Terry blinked, glanced at his wristwatch, to verify that he had slept only a few minutes, and then finished the coke on his table, coming wide-awake with the caffeine and the astonishing mystery. He looked back at the carrel door and it was still shut. He was not a sound sleeper and the door squealed embarrassingly whenever he opened it.
How had anyone entered, written a note on his own paper, placed this note in front of him, and then left without his seeing them? It seemed as close to a magic trick, a grand illusion, as anything he had ever witnessed.
He had no idea what the note meant, then. He did not have friends who were fiendish practical jokers. Indeed, Terry Thomas was rather withdrawn, introverted, shy, bookish, a loner, a nerd in the parlance of the 90's. He was tall, good-looking in spite of thick glasses, but especially now, in graduate school, he had few friends outside of his classes. He had left the small western town of his birth and the friends he had there. Terry was one of those people who always thought wild parties and happy carousing might be fun, but he did nothing to even get to know his college classmates better.
Did the note lead to the experiment, in spite of the admonition? It seemed later to be one of those 'which came first questions,' as in: "Is a chicken just an egg's way of making another egg?"
* * *
Two years later, when he had landed the job as a chemist with the Los Angles branch of Ersatz Drugs International (EDI) and was experimenting on new products, Terry Thomas came to sampling some hallucinogens naturally. Here again he had plenty of warnings.
Peggy Windsor, the project manager of his section, had come into his cubicle and sat down on the chair beside him one day. Peggy had left the outside door completely open
with a gesture that was full of meaning; this was not a social call. But then, as if feeling it was safe to taunt him, she crossed her magnificent legs far too invitingly.
His boss was beautiful, but this conversation was all business. She told Terry bluntly: "You know these are controlled substances you are working with, Thomas."
Somehow by calling him by his last name, Peggy distanced herself from Terry even further. "Every gram must be accounted for," she continued. "Every test must be recorded. Be careful in sampling. A lot of doctors and pharmacists become addicts, because they believe they can play god. They feel they are so smart, they are above natural laws. No one is." Here was the second warning.
At the time it was difficult to take Peggy Windsor seriously as his boss, though she was probably a bit older than Terry. That might have been a sexist attitude, Terry told himself. But she was such an obvious mammal, yet possessed a trim figure, such long dark hair, a perfect oval face, full lips that teased, lovely deep blue eyes one could dive into and take a swim.
Bob Posak, who was a chemist on the same team as Terry, and indeed occupied the very next cubicle, had quite a different view of the beauteous Peggy Windsor. Terry often ate lunch with Bob in the company cafeteria and they talked of their boss. Terry had declared Peggy was too gorgeous to be a manager.
Bob was a great bear of a man, as tall as Terry, but wide with ample belly. How could Bob really understand? But Bob had opinions and did not mind voicing them while eating heartily: "Watch out for her. She's a man killer, Terry old boy. The guy you're replacing made some mistakes, and she got him. She's hard on the men under her."
Bob Posak made a throat cutting gesture across his double chins. "She's all business. How do you think she got to be manager?"
"Talent," Terry suggested casually.
"Using her body. She has eyes for the Vice President, Harry Powell. Besides she's five years older than you, probably."
"Age is irrelevant," Terry replied.
"My grandmother was beautiful once," Bob declared, with his mouth full, in what he thought was a joking voice. "She's a widow and available." Bob's bulging eyes twinkled in merriment.
Still Terry Thomas persisted in his fantasies. Every time Peggy Windsor came into his cubicle her perfume seemed to linger there for hours afterwards, remaining in time after the persona left. He asked her advice often, and finally nerved himself to invite her to dinner the following Friday. Amazingly she agreed and for two days Terry walked on air.
Friday night began auspiciously enough. The restaurant and the food were perfection. The wine was fruity and audacious. Afterwards they talked across the dinner table, Terry running through his limited store of jokes. He suggested some further drinks at Nesbitts, a fancy bar nearby, as he reached clumsily to grip her hand. Then Peggy punctured his balloon with an ease that was sad indeed.
She withdrew her hand gently and offered an analysis of their situation. "I want to thank you for the dinner, Thomas," she indicated. "It was great. I don't usually go out with people in my department, but you are a very attractive man. However, Thomas, you
are working for me, and I don't really date such people. I have access to personnel records. I am not only two years older than you are; I am earning $20,000 a year more.
Your clothes are rumpled and you picked me up in an old car. You are not a good people-person, and while you are a very competent chemist, I don't see you rising in the company. If you want an after dinner drink at Nesbitts, we can go, and then you will escort me home please." It was hello and goodbye in one sweep.
That Peggy Windsor had correctly analyzed the situation, Terry could not deny. He was not a good mixer. He was interested in his time in the chemistry laboratory much more than any human chemistry, except that exhibited by Peggy Windsor. She had been cruel to him, but Terry did not see it that way.
When Bob Posak asked him at lunch on Monday how his "date with the Beast from the Black Lagoon" had gone, Terry was not really amused.
"We had fun. But there's no chemistry, I guess," he admitted.
"You better stick to the chemistry you know. She's bad news. Leave her alone," Bob warned.
It seemed to Terry that his timing for the date with Peggy had been poor. If he could make a breakthrough on his experiments, Peggy Windsor would see him in a different light. He was working with controlled substances, but Terry Thomas was really
not desirous of trying hallucinogens. He was wary of Jekyll and Hyde effect. Terry was testing painkillers and the great discovery came almost as a side effect.
Everyone had known for years that certain drugs caused people to experience time differently. There was an apparent speed-up or slow-down in activity caused by various
drugs. In some cases this effect had produced a frightening reaction in people who had tried the drugs. Experimenters had taken some drugs, which caused them to feel as if it would take forever to just walk out of the room. Time-frame perceptions had altered. Trying some of these drugs led Terry to wonder anew about that apparently immutable dimension: TIME.
The conception of time was different for various people. Could the time-bending features of the drugs be isolated and understood? Would time-altering drugs be of value in slowing down disease or easing pain?
Terry personally sampled the drugs in such minute quantities that he received little stimulation and saw no danger in addiction. When the danger was perceived, it was too late. He was testing his own concoctions, trying out various formulas upon himself.
The breakthrough, when it did come, astonished Terry completely.
One particular formula showed promise and he had produced some tiny blue tablets. There he sat alone in his cubicle at work, using himself as a guinea pig, swallowing the tablet, testing a new designer drug. The first effect he noted, was a ringing in his ears, a vacuum like sensation, as if he were leaving his body behind. The feelings intensified. This would never be a popular drug, he decided. The noisy ringing in his ears, the feeling
of being alone in the universe, the isolation, were all unpleasant. He waited a moment for the effect to pass. It seemed to linger.
Perhaps there would have been nothing else, only an entry in a journal, information which another researcher later might have used to make the real discovery. Then Terry Thomas noticed his digital electric clock on the desktop. It read: "2:58, 14 seconds."
For a moment he thought the clock had stopped. But then the "15 seconds" number came gradually into view, only much too slowly.
He thought that perhaps the clock was going bad. Terry glanced at his wristwatch, which he always kept five minutes ahead, so he would get to work on time. It was silly, because he certainly knew it was exactly five minutes ahead, and so he allowed for that discrepancy, but so his mind worked. Only while the watch was five minutes later than the clock and had old-fashioned hands, the sweep second dial was also scarcely moving. The seconds appeared to be passing at maybe one-tenth normal speed.
Of course, all observers are at the center of their own universe, Terry told himself. The universe was not slowing down; it was Terry, himself.
He rubbed his eyes, arose, and walked to his door, determined to get some air. He seemed to be walking all right, though perhaps a little unsteadily. It was akin to learning to walk all over again. The doorknob turned very hard. Was this difficulty with the door just his perception, or also some change in Terry, himself? Suddenly he was frightened. What was happening to him? He pulled on the door hard and it opened as if it were a great vault portal weighing tons.
Terry looked out into the corridor. Bob Posak was the only one in close view down the hallway. Bob was heading for his own little office, his back to Terry. But Bob was moving much too leisurely, out of phase, taking a long time to put his foot down, to turn slowly in front of the door. Terry started to call out: "Bob," but even the one word did not seem to come from his lips, lost in the ringing in his ears.
Now Terry was really frightened. He gripped the doorframe for support, watching as Bob Posak laboriously, apparently in slow motion, reached for a key ring attached to his belt to open his door. Terry turned back into his room, without trying to shut the door, and sat back down at his desk.
* * *
What had he done to himself? He came around to a more philosophical question: What was TIME? Sure we all spend time, use time, take time, have time, and run out of time. Only analogies seemed to suffice. Time was a river, sweeping us along. At some point we entered the great river of time-life and at some point we would be washed ashore and leave the Time River. Had he slowed himself down in the river? Perhaps he had climbed right out of the river of time and was observing it from the shore.
This was perhaps why some people in the drug culture talked about drugs being a "trip," a good trip or a bad trip. Was it permanent? He had taken only a small, precisely
measured amount of the new drug, a tiny tablet. Again he looked at his digital clock. It read: "2:58, 23 seconds." He estimated he had been sitting and thinking for perhaps 10 minutes, yet less than ten seconds of real-time had passed.
What was real? What did it all mean? There was a ringing in his ears, a great feeling of existing in an empty void. Terry had always disliked drinking too much. Being high gave him a disjointed unpleasant feeling of not being in control, not being able to do things as he wished. That feeling was present now.
How could he determine the passage of real-time for himself, the observer? One way out was not to think of the consequences, but record everything he was thinking in his journal. He began writing. Writing was almost archaic, but he had never trusted what he might put on his computer. People might come into his cubicle on weekends or at night and steal his research. The ballpoint pen seemed to push hard, but he managed. He finished a whole page, before glancing again at the clock. It read "2:58, 33 seconds." There was no way he could have written that whole page in 10 seconds. But he could copy it as rapidly as possible later, and see how long this took in real-time. If there ever were a real-time for him again! Certainly this effect must pass. The drug would wear off. He hoped.
What could he do? Was there an antidote? Perhaps he could dilute the preparation. He picked up the glass of water he had used to take the "Time Tablet" originally. And then the memory of the note on his desk so long ago at the university came back to him with a rush: "Don't take the Time Tablets." He sat at his desk, the glass of
water in his hand, shaking, thinking: The story of his life: Bright small town boy, enormous overwhelming University, big city job as a research chemist at a giant multinational company. That was his life. What was success? Here was a key question everyone must answer. And now? What was the meaning of that mystery message on his desk at the University, four years ago?
He was shaking, but the water in the glass did not seem to move much. He put it to his lips, and the liquid came too gradually toward him, slower than mercury in a vial. Water did not behave that way naturally. Natural laws operated only in standard time.
Suddenly he was afraid of choking on the drink, and put the glass down. If the water went down his throat too gradually, he could be in trouble. He was breathing more slowly. Were all his bodily functions decelerated?
What was happening outside? He had no window in his cubicle. Terry arose again and walked back to the open door, to look out. Bob Posak was just closing his door. All that time ago when Bob started to enter the room and now he was just closing his door. Terry walked out down the corridor. Just ahead were a series of windows, which offered a view of a mall and the street below. His manager, Peggy Windsor, was also looking out of another window of the corridor, much further down. She stood almost immobile, her hand gradually rising to stroke her hair. Almost without meaning to Terry walked toward her and then paused, looking out of the window.
Then Terry saw the view outside and froze in horror. Here were people in the open mall, eight floors below, standing to talk, walking, but moving in a kind of pantomime slow
motion, deliberately, like mimes. Even a running dog was almost stagnant. The cars and trucks in the street were scarcely changing position.
Terry held the window-frame for support. His hands were shaking. Then the ringing in his ears seemed to quiet down. It was good to just hold on. The disorientation subsided. The effect was going to end! He was returning to real-time. As he waited, watching, the people in the mall below came back into phase, moving normally.
"Thomas, you gave me a start. You really creep up on a person. I didn't see you approach." It was Peggy talking. "How is your work coming?"
The last message was obvious. It was back to work for him. "Sorry, I . . . I just needed to get out for a moment." Without a word more he turned back and walked to his cubicle. He felt unsteady. And he could sense Peggy's eyes burning into his back, watching him return. Would she think he had been drinking because he swayed around?
Inside, Terry shut the door, which closed easily. The door and knob must have been difficult before because he was moving them in such a small amount of time. The glass of water had splashed over one end of his desk and onto the floor. He had moved it too rapidly through time. The water had seemed steady going up or down, but when real-time returned the liquid had reacted in a wide spill.
It was obvious he had made a momentous discovery. But here was a drug he better not even mention to others as yet. The effect lasted for awhile and then came to an end, as with any other drug moving through the body. Aspirin relieved a headache for three or
four hours and then its effect ended. But some drugs could kill or permanently alter the body when they paid their visit.
But what good would this drug do? How might it be useful? That was a key question for a pharmaceutical company such as the one for which Terry was working. Certainly in the field of time study, it would be valuable. The drug might well have anti-aging qualities, which was the center of intense effort right now by many chemical companies and had been the focus of his original intention in developing the potion. A person might slow down their time-frame and live for a long while almost in the present, without aging. Perhaps. Or would you grow old anyway within the few seconds that elapsed while you took the Time Tablets?
Would two people who took the tablets simultaneously be in the same phase together? That was doubtful. Even fractions of a second might separate them forever in time.
Only by experimentation, could any of this be verified. He might try it upon old dogs or old mice, and see if it prolonged their life, and what the effect might be. But if the animals lived in another time, what would his view of them be?
Now that he had returned to real-time, as it were, Terry Thomas had a great desire to try the drug again himself. His fear had been that of being trapped in time, a worry about the unknown. But the effect had ended and was probably measurable. The process seemed to have parameters, beginning and ending. In real-time, the whole experiment had lasted less than a minute. Yet he felt that he had been "away" for almost an hour.
His mind ranged back and forth, thinking about these Time Tablets. Bob Posak had not noticed Terry coming out of his cubicle. Peggy Windsor had not seen him come up and stand less than ten feet away at the window. And he had been there awhile, looking out at that strange view below. Part of Peggy's annoyance with him may have been because she did not want to be seen by anyone as wasting time, looking out of the window. She was a company woman all the way.
For the rest of the afternoon Terry just sat thinking about the use of the Time Tablets. He had a discovery! What good was it? The tablets might slow down aging, but they could never be marketed, he realized with a start. Production would never be allowed because of the way the tablets might be used. FDA approval could never be secured. There were many problem products that never had been allowed on the market.
For instance, athletes were always looking for ways to run faster in races. Many had gotten into trouble for drug use. A runner who took Time Tablets, could beat everyone in real-time, but no one would even see him run the race or believe it had really happened. A runner who took a Time Tablet at the start of a race would appear to have covered a mile in seconds. The speed would seem such as to be an unbelievable illusion.
If the athlete was to run four times around a quarter mile track, no one would be sure he had really gone around and passed the field four times. What would the cameras show? Probably just a blur.
A racehorse taking a Time Tablet could win a race. But no one would accept it. From the point of view of the observers, the horse would appear to vanish abruptly from
view after starting and then arrive suddenly at the finish line. And how could you feed the tablet to a horse at just the moment needed?
A spy, under the influence of the drug, could enter any top-secret office, if the doors were open, walk past guards, and steal documents. There were so many possibilities. It was scary. No. Production would never be allowed on these pills. It was best to keep these out of the hands of secret organizations. Terry Thomas mind whirred with the possibilities.
People could creep up to others and do bodily harm. Murder could be committed without a clue. Thieves could enter banks and take the money without anyone knowing. This last was worth thinking about. Aside from pure research, robbery seemed to be the most likely effect.
Terry Thomas was the only one with the Time Tablet formula. He could make more. One question in science always was: "Is this replicable?" Could the experiment be
repeated with the same results? Also, what were the long-term effects? Were the tablets harmful? Would they kill him? He felt shaky and his head throbbed as if from a hangover. He better not put his body through any more until tomorrow. But there would be a next time! He had already decided.
Animal experiments did not seem to be the answer. Yes, by a series of animal tests, he could determine if his drug would kill an animal. He did not really believe that would happen. The animal might experience time differently, but the human viewer would not know. He went to the washroom and looked at himself in the mirror. There were no
changes in his wide face or strong chin. His brown eyes were clear. Even his freckles seemed the same.
Was he addicted already? He felt a need to repeat the experiment, but no driving compulsion to take the drug. But then everyone who took habit-forming drugs and turned over first their body and then their soul to a craving, began by saying they could handle it. He needed to be careful. The greatest lies were the ones you told to yourself.
The first thing to do was to make some more Time Tablets, triple the original dose for a real experiment. When he left work, Terry packed a dozen new Time Tablets into his attaché case, along with his journal, which contained the formula and his notes. On the way out he caught a glimpse of Peggy Windsor watching him appraisingly. She was wondering about him, and that wasn't good. Would she really fire him?
Peggy Windsor wanted money and power. Perhaps money was the key to Peggy. If he had plenty of money, the age difference between them would mean nothing. It was odd how he had fastened his thoughts on this one female. She had really become the epicenter
of his feelings. Her refusal of him had greatly intensified his desires. He had heard of bonding and now he felt it. There was a compulsion here, an obsession, a feeling that gripped his very being. Terry returned to thinking of banks and money. He remembered reading how once someone asked a famous thief why he robbed banks. "Because that's where the money is," the bandit had replied.
* * *
At home that evening it was a time of thinking and finally decisions. He would go downtown during his lunch hour and take another Time Tablet. He was planning no robbery as yet, just reconnoitering. Terry did a lot of agonizing concerning right and wrong, about good and evil.
It was easy to rationalize and see evil in big banks. Banks borrowed money from people at low interest rates, then loaned it back at higher interest rates and pocketed the difference. Banks could even borrow money from people and indulge in risky ventures on land deals, and if the investments failed, the government (which was everyone in the country) bailed out the banks with public funds. Terry's own parents had struggled to send him to school while fighting a rear guard action to keep a big bank from foreclosing on their house. These past events in his life made robbery rationalizations easier.
Terry felt uncommonly tired and went to bed at 9:00 P.M. that night instead of his
usual 10:30. When his alarm erupted at 6:00 A.M., he still felt tired. He turned off the alarm and went back to sleep for an hour. Then Terry phoned his company saying that he
was not feeling well and would need the day off. He had decided against trying this on his lunch hour.
He was an experimenter, right? Therefore, he should experiment. It would be just a test. Terry took a taxi downtown, walking around, giving his workplace, the EDI
Building, a wide berth. He bought a stopwatch at a store and tried it out, pushing and clicking.
After a bit he found a fitting location, a small cafe with wide open doors and great windows looking out on the avenue in the warm Spring. Finding an empty table at a large window, Terry put his attaché case down and ordered a coke from the waitress. Here he could observe the passersby, the busy street, and record everything.
He opened his case and took out a Time Tablet almost tenderly. Terry reflected that if he were falling in love with his drug, he would not be the first to do so. But in the interests of science, the test must be made, he told himself. He swallowed the tablet with his drink, and set the stopwatch. Two minutes passed before the potion dissolved and he heard the first ringing sensation in his ears. The effect of the ringing was known now and not as frightening. The feeling of being out of phase, alone in the universe, still was unnerving. He recorded this all in his journal. Terry watched as the stopwatch appeared to slow down and the motion of the people in the cafe grew more lethargic. Finally the moving customers and waitresses seemed absurd, taking slow steps that took forever to complete. How would they see him if they were looking in his direction?
The dose he had taken was three times the amount of the one he had consumed yesterday. Still the Time Tablets were tiny. He had needed to see what the effect was of a
larger dose. Outside the cafe window, the moving traffic had apparently come to a halt. A piece of trash paper flying in the wind seemed stationary in the air; a man who had dropped a package looked absurd, with his parcel falling at a glacial speed even as he reached to try and catch it.
Terry Thomas sat a long time at the cafe window watching the scene outside, thinking of "TIME." It was too bad he could not feed another stopwatch a taste of his time tablet and see how much time was actually passing for him.
Perceptions of time differ. Everyone commented on how Time creeps when we perform tasks we hate and rushes by when we are having fun. An old guy told Terry once: "I want on my tombstone: 'THERE NEVER WAS ENOUGH TIME FOR ANYTHING.'" We are unable to grip an instant of time, to hold the sands falling in the hourglass. Until now. He alone of all humankind was removed from the time dimension, savoring an instant, an "augenblick," the Germans called it, the blink of an eye.
At last Terry shut the attaché case, which closed only with extreme difficulty, and he arose, walking around the customers in the aisles, people who were moving so slowly they appeared to be frozen. Here was his first crime; he was not going to pay his bill for the coke drink.
Yes, the slowdown was even greater than with the original dose. Now the people were not laboriously raising and lowering their feet as they walked, moving in very slow motion, today they had completely stopped. He paused before pedestrians on the sidewalk and looked directly into their unseeing eyes. He stood facing a pretty woman, just inches away. It would be unfair to take liberties. He reached into a man's flapping, yet stationary
suitcoat, lifted out a wallet from the inner pocket, and then returned it. So easy. He danced between the fast moving traffic on the road, which appeared stationary, leaping about exuberantly. Yesterday these frozen objects in time had been terrifying, today he
literally took it in his stride. Humans learn to adapt so quickly, he decided. A prehistoric man brought to this city and shown moving traffic for the first time would have been frightened also.
Walking about in the city gave Terry a godlike feeling. He alone was able to do these things. He was alone in the whole universe; he alone was in complete control. Then he paused. Ahead was a bank. It possessed revolving doors, with people in the doors, entering and leaving, but unmoving. There was no way past them. He would have to try it again and start from the inside. Besides, how much longer did he have before the effect of this tablet wore off? Tomorrow he could skip work again.
Terry Thomas paused at a fountain, suspended water, waves in the air, moving yet still, in great splashes, so slowly. The effect of the Time Tablet was certainly more pronounced than the first time. The stopwatch showed only the passage of five seconds so far. Time was passing, but so slowly on this occasion, that no one could notice the apparent blur of motion as Terry went along. The whole city seemed to be wide open to his grasp.
How long he walked the streets he did not know. The stopwatch showed only eight seconds had passed, but he estimated the last time he had been "under the influence" while almost a minute of real-time elapsed.
Then the ringing in his ears seemed to subside, a signal, he was about to return to real-time. Terry had barely time to move from a street, where he was playing with moving
cars, to the sidewalk and stand flat against a wall out of the way, before the time came back on with a rush. People who had not seen him standing there before jumped and felt their eyes were playing tricks.
For his part, Terry felt tired, shaky, and leaned against a building wall for support. But after a few moments he hailed a taxi to drive him home. There was a need now to rest and to arrive at a final decision.
* * *
Back home, his answering machine red light was blinking. The messages were so few that he wondered why he had the machine. Peggy Windsor's voice came on: "Thomas, I'm surprised if you are sick, that I don't find you at home. I just called to see how you were." That was a ridiculous statement. She was checking on him.
He phoned work and asked to speak to Peggy Windsor. He told her he had slept through the phone message, still wasn't feeling well, and wouldn't be in tomorrow either. She told him to get well. It was an order.
Terry awoke in the morning with a headache that under other circumstances would have led to aspirin. Now he was going to experiment with the Time Tablets, and he did not want to mix drugs. He took the telephone off the hook for the day. Let Peggy Windsor call to check now!
After taking a taxi downtown, he bought some thin plastic gloves and put them in his attaché case. He was going to try the banks. Anything might have dissuaded him, but
all seemed to work well. He bought a small coke, opened the bottle, took a sip, and made for a large bank.
Inside the bank, he eyed the guards and people. Here teller's windows were all around a circular enclosed area. A guard was watching him. Let him watch. Terry examined the interior of the bank. There were video cameras everywhere, pointing, recording, some sweeping back and forth. The pictures would really be examined if a loss of money was discovered. If they saw a man who was in the pictures and then vanished, it might cause them to look for Terry. That must not happen. He had to try to think of everything. Quickly he walked back to the customer service area where there were desks, bank officers, no money, and especially no video cameras. He sat down on a plush chair around the corner.
Terry took out a Time Tablet, swallowed it, and washed the pill down with the coke. After a few minutes the familiar process of the drug effect swept over him. He set the stopwatch even as he noted the moving people seemed to slow down and then stop. Yes, stop. This time the stopwatch did not appear to move at all. He waited for the next second to come up, but nothing seemed to happen.
Here was a factor worth noting in his journal. The first time the digital clock on his cubicle desk had moved almost a minute, though he had not accurately timed the experience. The next time only eight seconds had passed altogether. And it certainly seemed that he had been under longer with the second Time Tablet. On this occasion there appeared to be no movement at all. The second time, he had taken the Time Tablet, he judged the difference to be due to the size of the dose. He had increased the Time Tablet
size from the first to the second time. But this time, the tablet was exactly the same as the second dose. So the effect was growing.
That could be worrisome. Perhaps he should not do this many more times. He felt like the hero in some of the old fairy stories, the person with three wishes, who managed to foul up and get nothing. Well, this was his third time, and it would be the charm. He was about to take advantage of the situation.
Terry put on the plastic gloves, shut his attaché case, and walked back to the main banking section. The moving video cameras appeared to have stopped in their surveillance swings back and forth. They would record him as a blur or less. He walked boldly up to one of the tellers, who had just finished with a client. Easing around the departing customer, Terry reached over the cage bars and helped himself to some paper money. If he did this to just one teller, the employee could get into trouble. But if all the tellers suffered a loss at once, there would be no explanation. He had to get inside the cage.
Terry walked around the circular ring of tellers. There was a closed door leading in, only about four feet high. It was locked. A stationary, now unseeing guard was standing nearby. Terry put his attaché case on the circular ledge, and clamored up over the door. He was inside. He wandered from teller to teller, taking only stacks of $50 and $100 bills, filling the attaché case. Some of the bills were loose, most were neatly banded.
It would be amusing. Every teller would be missing some money, and no one would know how it happened. Some had their cash drawers closed, and he had to pull hard to open them in the fraction of a second he was living through. Some of the cash drawers were locked, and there was no easy way in. He gave up on those.
He had completed a full circle of the tellers and the attaché case was not full. In the center of the room he noticed a safe, partly open, with an attendant standing beside it. She no doubt dispersed the cash to the tellers. Inside were stacks of $100 and $50 bills all in their wrappers. Nearby was a guard pushing a money cart. The whole scene looked like people in a wax museum. He finally filled his attaché case to the top with bills.
At last he closed his attaché case. He was sweating out of fear. He climbed up on a desk near the exit door of the central cashier's cages and jumped over. Then he glanced at his stopwatch. It indicated that less than a second had passed since he pushed the "start timing" button.
There was no time for philosophy now. He walked to the bank exit. There were revolving doors, but also doors that could be pulled open. Unfortunately these exit doors were filled with people coming in and going out. Abruptly he was gripped by fear. He had to get out. Absolutely, he didn't want to be around when the fireworks broke loose here. He chose a small woman and tried to push past her. Pushing, sliding, he worked his way through the door, which just did not seem capable of opening wider.
Outside, he walked rapidly away. Two blocks off, he slowed down. Here was a park, with some benches. Terry sat down on an unoccupied bench. He took off the plastic gloves and put them in his pocket. Next he recorded all the effects in his journal. Well, the Time Tablet effect could wear off anytime now. He counted the stacks of bills and loose money in the attach case; he had over $200,000.
Terry sat idly, looking about. There was a bird, on the wing, as they say, literally, appearing to float in the air. Over there was a fly heading toward a trash basket, immobile, in mid-air. He reached up and plucked the fly from the sky. The insect was oddly resistant, as he moved it rapidly through not just space, but time. Everywhere he looked, it was like a still picture of the earth.
Things could start to move anytime, now. He examined the stacks of currency. The banded labels seemed standard enough, but perhaps there would be some way of tracing them back to the bank. He put the plastic gloves back on, removed the paper wrappers over the banded stacks of bills, and found a partly empty bag in the garbage to put them all in. He closed the bag tightly.
Terry sat back down on the park bench. Still less than a second had passed according to the stopwatch. He was definitely at ground zero, now. No time at all was passing. His apartment was only three miles from downtown. He might as well start back. He began walking, avoiding the pedestrians, who appeared to be stationary statues on the street, moving easily between the vehicles that seemed frozen. Here was a black dog, caught in mid-air, bounding up to a curb, and he stroked its back in passing.
He felt hungry and walked through an open door to help himself to some food at a deli. He seized a sandwich from the tray a waitress was carrying. That was amusing, but when he bit into the sandwich, it did not feel right. He could chew, but had great difficulty swallowing. It was frightening. He walked outside and discarded the sandwich.
Terry was becoming panicky, about the length of time that he was in the dimensional warp. Or wherever he was. The stopwatch still remained immobile, showing
less than a second had passed. At last, the high rise building where his apartment was located loomed ahead, and only then he felt the ringing in his ears begin to subside. He was growing so accustomed to this ringing effect, he had almost forgotten it. He was returning to real-time. Whatever real-time was! Was time all an illusion?
Terry had the "never again" feeling of the weekend alcoholic who promises to quit every Monday. But now it seemed all right again. Yes, he had approached zero time passage, or probably had reached it. No time at all had elapsed from when the Time Tablet actually took effect until the end when real-time returned. And he had been under the influence longer each time, perhaps even geometrically longer. But the effect of the pills did wear off. And then it was over.
Abruptly he felt very shaky and extremely tired. When he got back to his apartment he slept much of the day.
* * *
The next day was Friday and Terry called in one more time, to absent himself from work. How to dispose of the money, was the question. He had read that to foil drug dealers, the government demanded banks report cash deposits of over $10,000. This was also a problem for bank robbers, Terry reflected. The morning newspapers were full of the mysterious, unexplained, major daylight downtown bank robbery. Authorities were saying little. And there were no clues.
He drove out to some suburban banks, and deposited $8,000 in each. Counting out the bills in advance, he entered the banks, with just that much. Establishing an account and getting blank checks took time. After a whole day he had only opened nine accounts. Again there was not enough time. And he was leaving a paper trail all over town. No one asked him where he had obtained all this money, yet! They probably believed he was a gambler or a drug dealer.
Los Vegas might be the answer. He could fly out tonight and gamble. If he played for high stakes, he could always claim he had won big and that was the source of his money. He paid cash for the first class air ticket, and no one questioned that. He could fly right away, if he were willing to pay enough for the privilege. The Vegas hotel was delighted to accept cash in advance also. Los Vegas loved cash.
He had been to Vegas before; it was only 300 miles from L.A.. Previously he had tried the nickel slots and the dollar crap tables as a bit of vacation fun one weekend. Now he felt exuberant. The Casinos were wide open for a wild time. He played with hundred dollar bills on roulette and craps. At first he had a winning streak, and then his luck seemed to sour. By the time he went to bed in the latenight, he had lost $10,000 as easily as he had lost $100 on other occasions. Easy come, easy go.
In the morning Terry concluded he did not really enjoy losing money, even when he had plenty. Furthermore, while Vegas deserved to be robbed, even more than the banks, there was little real cash in evidence for a "Timewalker" to seize. If he brought time to a standstill for himself, there still seemed little opportunity to do what he had in the banks. Vegas played with chips. The hundred dollar notes at the craps and roulette wheel tables
were slid down the slots into safes as quickly as were the dollar bills, all to be exchanged for chips. The cashier cages had money, but it would be difficult to get into these areas as a Timewalker. Vegas liked to hold on to its winnings.
Terry made some deposits in Vegas banks in the morning, until the banks closed at noon, since it was Saturday. Then he flew back to L.A..
Back in L.A., Terry drove to a downtown tailor shop. He bought several expensive new suits, some of which needed alteration, but others he could just bring home. He paid cash.
Terry looked at new cars the next day, deciding to buy a top of the line Cadillac. It was certainly less of a trauma than his usual car buying; since he accepted the sales staff inflated price and paid cash. He negotiated in only a perfunctory manner. The dealers took cash and the salesmen tried hard not to raise their eyebrows. He explained that he had won big in Vegas.
He mailed his parents some checks on the banks where he had deposited funds and told them in a note he had received a big raise. He still had all this money left in the attaché case.
On Monday it was back to work. Peggy Windsor came by his little office, as he knew she would, to check on him. She told Terry his new suit looked very professional. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Fine now," he replied. And then he made the pitch he had decided upon. Peggy was standing there, in his office, the door left wide open behind, her perfume already permeating the air, her enormous blue eyes upon him as he sat at his desk.
"Peggy," he began slowly, "I was ill three days last week because a favorite aunt of mine died. It upset me, and I did not want to talk about it. She left me a great fortune, Peggy. I bought some new suits and a Cadillac car yesterday. You could say I've been thinking of what you told me about my car and clothes. I am planning on quitting this job and doing some traveling. Now that I am independently wealthy, I would like to date you as an equal." He arose, to confront her. "If that's all too fast, think it over," he added as she backed away.
Peggy Windsor flushed. Her eyebrows seemed to go up to her hairline. Maybe she liked him better as her employee. What was she thinking? And then the flood of words burst forth from her: "Congratulations on your inheritance Terry. But you don't get it, do you? I want to succeed on my own. I have a degree in chemistry just as you do. I enjoyed the research here, but this company gave me a major promotion as a manager. Are you just going to scrap your degree and travel the rest of your life? I like this job. I don't want a free ride." And then she turned on her heel and was gone.
Terry Thomas sat back down stunned. She had called him "Terry" for the first time. They were equals now. And she had problems, which he had never considered.
He could put a down payment on a house and travel for a while. But he had misled Peggy, in that he didn't have enough money to travel for the rest of his life. A trip with Peggy Windsor, a honeymoon, would be terrific. But he enjoyed the research himself. He didn't want to just travel the rest of his life, running away from himself and everything. He ought to do something beyond the Time Tablets to make this life meaningful.
If he had enough money, he could open his own small chemical research company. Professional pharmaceutical drugs could be produced and sold. He would enjoy that, and he could hire Peggy to help him at an enormous salary. Would she go for it?
There were more experiments that occurred to him. Would he age if he kept taking Time Tablets? It was too early to tell? He had the formula. He could always make a severely reduced dose, and see if he could live forever that way. But wait. There was always time for that.
Robbing the bank had been easy, and he had to admit it, that while the exploit was frightening, yet it was exciting fun. He walked down to the personnel office at his company and asked for a week's leave without pay to settle his aunt's estate. They agreed. Then he bought two larger atache cases.
One more really big haul from several banks would do it. He could then fly to various other big cities and make bank deposits all over the country in amounts of $8,000. He might even start buying EDI stock in large amounts from brokers. He could force his way onto the board of directors or be made a vice president. Pipe dreams! That might take many more millions than he was likely to obtain from this or any other robbery. Terry was still doing a lot of soul searching. In spite of all his rationalizations, this was wrong. So, he was doing wrong! The whole society was at fault in worshipping money. That's what all the criminals believed. It was the fault of society. His thoughts went around and around. Maybe he could even pay the banks back later if he made money. How many felt that way when they did wrong?
But first things first. That very afternoon he walked into a big bank, one with rows of tellers along the side and of course plenty of video cameras. Again he rounded a corner out of sight of the cameras and found a table to set down his attaché cases. He swallowed the Time Tablet and sipped the coke he carried, waiting for it to take effect.
Even as he stood there waiting, he had to admit that above all he had wanted to take this pill. It was addictive! He would have to call it quits after this time. There must be no more, regardless of how much or little he obtained. His desire to take the Time Tablet for its own sake was a bad sign.
He felt the ringing in his ears, the telltale roaring sound, only somehow different, receding instead of approaching. He snapped the stopwatch to see what it would do. The second dial seemed to be unmoving again, and then instead of "00" the "59" came into place. There was some mistake. He looked about. The people were moving, ever so slowly, but they were going backwards!
Time was in reverse for him. Terry stood, shocked. No, this would pass also. The effect of the pill would wear off. He must do what he came in to do. And he must do it quickly. No one could see him. He was out of phase, not in their time sequence at all. As long as the sound continued in his ears, he was all right. He walked back to the long row of tellers, put his atache cases on a ledge so he could reach them inside, and climbed up over the top. He found a cart with stacks of bills being pushed by a guard.
Again he began to load packs of $100 and $50 bills into his cases. When he had finished, he climbed back up over the top of the teller's cage, which was not very high.
Something was very wrong. The people were moving backwards, but the effect was accelerating. They did not see him, but they appeared to be moving faster. He glanced at his stopwatch. Four minutes had passed, in reverse. Time was speeding up for him, even as it ran backwards.
Frightened now, Terry took both atache cases and moved around people toward the door. They obviously could not see him. It was hard to judge their movements, since everyone appeared to be going contrary to all human movements he had ever witnessed. Running a video in reverse was the closest parallel.
He had checked the door out before he had entered this bank. One door was wide open. He waited while a man and woman appeared to back into the building, and then moving quickly around them, he left the bank. Out on the street, the cars were running backwards, the people everywhere moving in a contrary direction. And the effect was continuing to accelerate! He had to get out of this crowded downtown area before someone ran into him . . . in reverse. He did not know what effect that would have.
A block away he discarded the plastic gloves. The time effect was continuing to accelerate. Cars appeared to be passing at great speed, backwards. The stoplights halted the vehicles for barely enough time for him to cross streets. Ahead was a tiny park and he sat on the cement atop a little hill, away from everything, his back to a wire fence, waiting. Waiting for the Time Tablet effect to cease.
But instead the roaring in his ears had sped up to a constant whine. The effect was increasing rather than slowing. The people and cars were becoming a blur. After a bit the
people passing seemed to diminish. It was early morning. The sun was going down or rather coming up in reverse. And then it was dark. Last night!
Terry thought about his condition. He did not feel hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, or warm. He was simply out of it. He was like a man removed from reality, an observer watching absurdity. Perhaps he had taken the Time Tablets one time too many. He should never have tried the Time Tablets in the first place. Shakespeare said: "Why would you put an enemy in your mouth to steal away your brain." Shakespeare was talking of liquor, the drug of his day.
The stopwatch was moving backwards steadily more rapidly. Terry had a feeling of permanence this time, being caught in a forever timewarp. Maybe he would yet return to real-time. But then it became light again. Last evening, he told himself. And he hadn't even made the walk back to his place. The hours of night had passed in a few minutes. The stopwatch was racing backwards with increasing velocity, a mechanism gone wild, recording his life which was out of control. He did not need to measure seconds now: hours were passing in a twinkling. The minutes were passing like seconds and still the time scale was accelerating.
People in rapid reverse wandered across the park in a blur or sat for what seemed an instant on some benches. The traffic was going so fast, he dared not cross any streets. They might pass right through him or destroy him completely without knowing. Terry felt he was watching a video moving into ever more rapid reverse.
It was new uncharted ground he was entering now. He could go right back to the beginning of time. The philosophers, cosmologists, psychologists, and physicists had all
wondered and theorized about the nature of time. Now, in a very unsophisticated way, Terry Thomas saw three elements to time. It seemed to Terry that Time had three main speeds: forward, call that NORMAL, a condition that most people experienced throughout their lives, NEUTRAL, in which the individual was removed from the time continuum, the time stream, and was free to live a lifetime in an instant, a sort of Time-Stop, and finally, REVERSE, in which the person moved backward in time. There might also be fourth possibility, FORWARD, though how you did that Terry could only guess. There seemed to be gradations, enhanced speeds, no doubt, fast rewind, as the switch says on the video machine.
Night came on again and then in minutes the next day. It was going faster all the time. He had all this money and nothing to do with it. He put his head down on his raised knees. Darkness, light, it went on, still increasing in speed. This time it apparently was not going to end. The roaring in his ears had become a hurricane. He began to count the days backward in a kaleidoscope of day and night in a kind of desperation to clutch on to sanity: "One, two, three, four . . ." as daylight and night interspersed.
* * *
What could he do? How could he alter time? How can anyone change the time frame they are in? May had receded into April by now and April into March. He felt neither heat nor cold or wet from the occasional rain. Several times it seemed to rain upward, but he did not feel wet. He was a mere observer, removed from the space-time
continuum, still held to earth by the force of gravity, still in place, but immaterial perhaps. Possibly he could warn himself, somehow. He tried shouting out, but could not hear his own voice. He might not even be here. One proves one is "here" by the presence of others. Perhaps he had reached the point that he was not making sense. What was the use?
Terry was still miles from his apartment, and it was February already, probably. This was Los Angles so there was no snow. He had moved in to his apartment on the first of February. It was too late to go home and try to warn himself. He wasn't there yet.
If he warned himself, would he change his life and his future, and thus end entirely this timeline in which he was living? It was a wild thought, meaningless. Were there many parallel universes in which the patterns of our lives could be played out differently, if we made differing decisions?
My God, he had tried to warn himself. The note in this University carrel four years before, that was his own note, his warning to himself. But he had not heeded that warning. What to do? The warning should have been more definite. He counted the blur of accelerated passing days and tried to estimate. Day, night only took a few moments now, whatever moments were. It was last January, December, November. A prisoner of time, he took out a notepad and pen and marked off the days - in reverse.
It was not safe to move from this park. Terry did not want this adventure to end with his colliding with many objects moving too rapidly to avoid. If he died, he would return to some past, to be found with an atache case full of money, and leave a silly mystery.
The months of last year were rushing by in reverse as he checked off the days. Time was no longer accelerating, but there was a constant whirl of day and night passing. Every occasion when he had taken the Time Tablets he had been under the effect for longer. He had gone back at least a year, now, 13 months, 14, 15. He must be somehow existent yet. He felt damp as from repeated dew. His back against the park fence and the cement he sat upon were the only reality as he plunged further into reverse. He estimated, with the help of the check off marks he was making on his notepad, that he was back two years now. And still it went on. There was no further acceleration, but the progress backward, the twinkling nights and days continued. Perhaps three years. Now almost four.
And then gradually the days, still moving in reverse, appeared longer. The effect was slowing down. At first Terry felt delighted, but then as the lengthening days moved into a parody of real-time, only in reverse, that effect seemed continuous as well. He arose, unsteady, but feeling all right. He felt his chin. He had no beard, no Rip Van Winkle in reverse. What is the reverse of a beard?
He had to warn himself. And it must be more than just the silly warning placed in his University carrel. That was the place to locate his past self, however. The University was miles away, and there was nothing to do but walk. Perhaps time would come back on before he got there. He knew it would not.
Everything was still moving backwards, but he seemed out of phase, an invisible man moving through a backward universe. Terry's mind tried to come to grips with this new reality.
Still he was carrying hope, the atache cases filled with money. He walked, watching carefully to avoid the backward moving people, rushed across streets before lights changed, in the early morning. He paused at a newsstand and examined the papers. Over four years had indeed elapsed.
The crowds thinned as night came on, and he wandered by streetlights out of the downtown area. By sunset light of the oncoming day he was able to walk on side streets, heading for the University. In the afternoon he was there. The library doors were open, but it was tricky to move in around people who from his viewpoint were entering and leaving apparently backwards. He walked up two flights of stairs; it was useless to try an elevator.
Ahead was his carrel, the door shut. He would be there, in his own past. Terry felt almost a compulsion to write the exact note he had received -- for starters. He had an assignment: to warn himself. But the previous warning had not been heeded. However, if he gave any other warning would he remove himself entirely from the time he was in? He had been thinking about this all the way back to the University. If he did something else to his past life, it would change the future and then he didn't know what would happen. For instance he could throw all his books on the floor to indicate something was wrong or even kill his past self. Then certainly he would disappear in the NOW, whatever that NOW was. He had no intention of suicide. That was just a silly desperate passing thought.
Terry pulled open the carrel door, which required all his strength. There was his earlier, younger self, asleep, his head on his arms on the desk. He took a large sheet of his
own paper and wrote in great block letters. "Don't take the Time Tablets!" He taped it to the computer screen.
Now, came the most important decision of his life. Anything he did now in the way of adding to this note would change the whole of the timeline of his past and create an anomaly that could remove him entirely from time and space. He would be changing the past. Could he alter the past? He would have to change the past, if he wanted to make the situation he was in different now, if he wished to stop moving backwards in time, perhaps forever, if he wished to escape the trap he had gotten into. How far back might he go? Where would it stop? Another ten years or fifty and he would be out of touch with all the progress he knew. True, his movement backward had slowed down, but it was continuing. He stood a long while, thinking, standing in that carrel beside himself. Yes, he was beside himself in more ways than one. He had time to consider all this. He had nothing but time. There was no point to rushing. He had all the time in the world it seemed.
And then he felt the ringing in his ears subsiding! The effect of the Time Tablet was at last wearing off. He rushed outside the carrel and slammed the door. What would happen if he discovered himself? That would certainly change the future. He picked up the atache cases and ran. He remembered silly jokes: "The man found himself. He lost himself in his work. I ran into myself the other day and knocked myself down."
* * *
Terry Thomas was back four years in time, but once again in real-time. Time was going forward from where he had "landed." It was obvious he would have to avoid himself and his haunts until his other persona disappeared and that would be four years hence.
The Time Tablet effect had been like a statistical bell shaped curve on this occasion, first sending time gradually into reverse, then a speed up as the full effect of the pill hit him, and finally a similar gradual slow down as the effect diminished. He walked over to a washroom and threw the rest of the Time Tablets into a toilet. Flush. The experiment was over.
Terry was sweating all over, tired, shaky. "Get a hotel room, sleep it off, and then decide," he told himself out loud, glad to hear the sound of his own voice. He would take a plane to New York or somewhere. There were a lot of things he knew about that had happened in the last four years: sports winners, Kentucky derby winners. Even the company he had worked for, EDI, was a case in point. EDI stock had come under severe attack, fallen enormously, and then risen again. How did you play the securities game by selling stocks short? He would find out. He felt guilty over the bank robberies, but if he made enough money he could pay back the banks what he had taken.
Peggy: Unless she had lied about her age, reliving the next four years again would make him older than Peggy Windsor. Yet she would never know or believe he was older.
If he made enough money, he could buy so much of EDI he could get on the Board of Directors and Peggy would be working for him! There it was. It wasn't about money. He really cared nothing about the money. It was all about Peggy Windsor.
There was a whole life opening up ahead for Terry Thomas, but it did not involve taking Time Tablets. The first pill had been a tiny experimental dose. That pill had caused time to slow down enormously, for him. Then he had made larger pills and tripled the dose. The second pill had caused time to almost completely stop. The third pill had caused time to stop completely. That should have been another warning as to what might happen. The fourth pill had sent him back four years. It was an exponential increase. At that rate, the next pill might send him so far back that he would be in Ancient Egypt and enslaved to build pyramids. In any case he would never dare to take the chance again.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Science Fiction and Fantasy Science fiction is stories of the future or past. It is H.G. Wells The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds. It is Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. though we have now achieved this feat. It is Star Trek and space travel. Fantasy is Harry Potter, witches and goblins, dragons and magic. This blog deals with science fiction only, in its many aspects. I will add a new story every two weeks or so and they all will be different. The first group of stories will be from The World of If. Your comments are welcome.
Roger Lee Vernon
Roger Lee Vernon