A Brief History of Time Machines

It was a Tuesday afternoon. I remember, because the day before had been a Monday, and I’d recently confirmed my suspicions on the order of these things. Professor Montmorency Robinson-Heath, the learned boffin with whom I had long been acquainted, called me on the telephone, and requested my most immediate presence. Within the hour I had finished my third cup of tea, so made preparations to visit.

Time MachineUpon his door being answered, (which was curious for a start, I’d never had a door ask me a question before) I was shown through to the drawing room, where I found the Prof, festooned with drawings. He sprang from his seat, eager to show me his latest contraption. Monty bade me to cover my eyes with my hands. I was initially reluctant, as I had fallen for that trick once before in Samarkand, and had finished up five shillings lighter. The Prof assured me he wasn’t interested in my filthy lucre, so I duly obliged. I heard a trundling noise, somewhat akin to the sound of something being, well, trundled. “Ta-dah” he trilled, after the trundling had ceased. “Very impressive,” said I. “Splendid trundle. Well done, old thing.” “Captain, you may remove your hands,” he said. “I don’t think I can,” I replied, “pretty sure they’re attached to my wrists!” “From your eyes, Skirmish. You may take your hands from your eyes,” said Monty, with a definite hint of despair, I thought. A cloaked object sat in front of me, roughly chair shaped, and chair sized in appearance. What the deuce could it be, I wondered? The Prof, seeing I could contain my curiosity no longer, lifted the cloak away and revealed what lay beneath. Good heavens! It was a chair! Well, I hadn’t seen that one coming. I’d heard it, it trundled. I noticed each arm of the padded be-castored swivelling study chair appeared to sport an attachment which bore the resemblance to something not unlike a carriage clock. Monty could obviously contain himself no longer. “Presenting,” he announced, like a circus ringmaster or common costermonger, “the Professor Montmorency Robinson-Heath Time Travelling Device, patent applied for.” “Gracious!” I proclaimed. “You’ve actually perfected the time machine?” The Prof was cautious with his response. “Well, perfected may be slightly over-egging the pudding somewhat,” he replied. “Where would you like to go?” Well, I had often considered what I would do if ever the dream became reality, and had three good responses. I could go to ancient Troy, and warn the Trojans that this is one gift horse they really should look in the mouth. I could go to the heyday of the Roman Empire, and say to Julius, never mind all this cryptic Ides of March nonsense, just watch your back. Or I could go to last Michaelmas, see where I put my pearl-handled letter opener. I sat in the chair and looked at the two clock dials. I had a new idea. “So, how do I set it for the Crimea?” I enquired. “”I’d like to put paid to all that charging around willy-nilly silliness.” The Prof gave me one of his infamous withering looks. “I’m afraid that shan’t be possible, old bean,” said he. “Of course, silly me,” said I. “Butterfly effect and all that. Can’t alter the events of history. Terribly bad form. Don’t know what I was thinking. Bang goes the chance of me ever finding that letter opener, then.” “No, no – it’s not that,” said the Prof. “It’s just that I haven’t quite got the direction schematics worked out yet. As it stands, it can only move forwards in time.” “Oh, I see,” I said, with just a hint of dejectedness. “Well, in that case, I should like to go to Dewbury & Finch, Gentleman’s hatmaker of Bond Street, a year from now, see if their Bowlers have come down in price or if I need to stock up before the season.” “The machine travels in time alone, not space and time,” said Monty, “so however far in time you travel, you shall remain in the same space.” “And how fast does she go?” I asked. “The machine travels at 60 m.p.h.,” said the Prof. “How can it travel at sixty miles per hour if she’s not actually travelling?” I enquired, somewhat befuddled. “The dial on the right shows the time now,” said Monty, “and the dial on the left is manually adjusted to show the time in the future to which you wish to travel. The mechanism from that clock has been removed, so the time set remains constant.” I was not much the wiser. “The machine travels at sixty minutes per hour, so if you want to travel, say, one hour into the future, you set the clock on the left for that time, and keep checking the clock on the right until they match. Voila, you have travelled in time.” “So to travel to an hour into the unknown, I would have to sit in the machine for sixty minutes?” I asked. “That seems like rather a long while. How would I pass the time?” “That’s the beauty of time,” said Monty. “It sort of just passes regardless of our involvement. You can just sit and watch the world go about its business.” “Well, I’m not going to see an awful lot of the world from your drawing room, Monty!” I laughed. “No, but I do have some business with which I have to attend, Captain,” he replied. The time was now a quarter past three in the afternoon, so I set the left hand dial to four fifteen and watched the Prof file his blueprints. The hour passed in sixty minutes, as they so often do, and I rose from the device, and examined the future. It looked pretty much like the past, to be honest. Though the absence of morlocks was something of a relief. “Professor, it has to be said,” I said, “that so far, what you’ve invented, is rather less of a time machine, and rather more of a chair, which, to be fair, has already been on the market for a number of years now.” The Professor looked a little downhearted. “I mean, it’s a very comfy chair, and it does have the benefit of an on-board clock,” I added. “But I feel the ratio of one minute to one minute bears room for improvement.” The Prof shrugged. “Oh well,” he countered, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” “Well, it may not have been,” I smiled wryly, patting him on the back. “And I don’t suppose we shall ever be able to prove otherwise!”

Captain Skirmish – A Biography

Captain Nathaniel Tennyson Skirmish served with Majesty’s Last Huzzahs, a non-combatant military outfit whose primary role was entertainment, with a modest scholastic outreach project. Upon his official retirement he joined The Magnetic South, a Steampunk collective of poets, writers and entertainers, and began to perform his Tales from The Captain’s Log Book, as recounted in the occasional publication Old News. He often appears alongside Lady Evangeline Maudlin, a collector and performer of vulgar ditties from the Steampunk music hall.

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