‘I've done it - I've finally built a time machine.’ Dr Nigel Bluett stepped back from his shining creation, finally free to relish a few sweet moments, time to admire the fruit of years of concentrated sweat, toil and supreme mental effort. This was it, his triumphant guarantee of everlasting fame after fifteen years of grinding, lonely work.
Bluett pulled a new yellow duster from the pocket of his overalls, flicked it lovingly over the polished, car-sized bulk of the complex machine filling most of his garage.
Of course time travel would always be a one-way journey into the future, because his theories proved travel into the past to be impossible. Time travel was strictly a one-way trip.
In fact the Bluett Theory of Time would be another secure foundation for his lasting fame. As compensation for never coming back to his own time, there was the glow of knowing he was the first person to travel in time. Plus the fact that he would be leaving behind complete details of his plans and theories for other, lesser mortals to follow. He was sure that history books of the future would be full of his life and works.
Nigel Bluett - Father of time travel.
There was only one thing left to do now, pack his bags, arrange for his plans to be sent by registered post to the world’s top ten universities, then off to the future.
Bluett sent off his parcels of plans and posted the manuscript of his book to six publishers - let them fight over it. His instructions were that profits from the book should go to the Nigel Bluett Foundation. The Foundation didn't exist yet, but someone was bound to set it up sooner rather than later.
Finally he packed a holdall with a change of clothes, a toothbrush and shaving tackle. He locked the door of his house with only the slightest pang of regret that there was nobody in his life to say goodbye to -
‘Morning Doctor Bluett.’
‘Good morning Mrs Davies.’ Damn, Mrs Davies was peering over the hedge, trying to poke her sharp nose into something that certainly didn't concern the likes of her.
‘Are you working in your garage again today, Doctor Bluett?’
‘Not today or any other day Mrs Davies, I’m going away for good.’
‘Going away Dr Bluett? Are you selling your house then?’
‘I leave my house to posterity Mrs Davies because I'm travelling two hundred years into the future. You won't ever see me again.’
‘The future Doctor Bluett? You usually go to Eastbourne.’
Bluett suppressed a surge of anger as Mrs Davies turned away, smiling and tapping her forehead with a bony index finger. Unfortunately Mrs Davies was going to be the last person who ever spoke to the Father of Time Travel in his own time. He would have preferred Mrs Davies to be someone more significant like a major celebrity, but there was no time to do anything about it now.
The time machine worked first time, just as Bluett knew it would. He tapped the co-ordinates for the year 2212 into the Temporal Location Computer and pressed the red button. There was a kind of queasy lurch and a terrific blinding flash.
When Bluett recovered his senses, the garage, his house, everything outside the time machine was gone. Through the windows he could see only gentle hills and grassy fields with a few mature trees under a blue, cloudless sky. He checked the temporal reading - 2212 - spot on.
For a moment or two, Bluett wished he’d brought along a bottle of champagne to celebrate. No matter, surely his reception committee had laid on a few cases. He opened the door, stepped out onto a grassy field and looked around for the crowds of dignitaries who ought to be greeting him. He couldn’t see a soul, just a blackbird perched on a hawthorn bush.
‘HELLO – I’M OVER HERE,’ Bluett shouted into the silence.
‘HELLO – IS ANYBODY THERE.’
Still no reply.
‘Oh... Well I thought my house might have been preserved at least,’ he muttered. ‘Perhaps they chose the house where I was born as a hub for Bluett Museum and Educational Centre...’
Startled, Bluett turned to see a rather shabby, rustic person strolling towards him along a path by the time machine. ‘Good morning,’ he replied frostily. This man clearly wasn't part of his reception committee.
‘You another of them time-travellers?’ The man stared at Bluett's machine, his hands in his pockets.
‘What?’ Bluett was stunned but after a few startled seconds he realised that time travel must have become quite common by now.
‘Yes... you are one of them right enough. No point denying it.’
‘Deny it? I'm the very first time traveller. I'm Doctor Nigel Bluett – THE Doctor Nigel Bluett.’
‘Oh aye? My name's Drago.’ The man said nothing more for a while, just scratched his chin. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, ‘fancy a beer?’
‘Ah yes... I suppose so.’ Bluett realised he would have to make himself known one way or another. Even so - journeying all the way to the twenty-third century to drink beer with a farm labourer was a bit much.
‘Come on then.’ Drago set off down the path.
‘Down here is it?’ Bluett wavered uncertainly, still hoping for the reception committee. Still, if he went with this Drago person he would meet more people and one thing would lead to another. After all, the whole world should know when he was due to appear because he had said in his book that he would travel exactly two hundred years. Two centuries was a long time though -
‘You coming then?’ Drago asked.
‘Oh all right - I suppose so.’ Bluett fell into step with Drago who strolled off without saying anything further.
‘Where exactly are we going?’ Bluett asked after about half a mile.
‘The inn's somewhere round here,’ Drago said easily.
‘The town that used to be here seems to have shrunk a little, have there been any - disasters?’ Bluett asked. He had a sudden horrifying vision of nuclear war and deadly radioactivity. Good lord, he should have foreseen exactly that possibility and brought a Geiger counter. Nuclear war would have destroyed records, set progress back by centuries. The history of his great achievement -
‘No disasters,’ said Drago. ‘There are fewer people around than in your time - far fewer. Folk have more space now and a bit of time for themselves.’
‘Incredible technical advances have given you more leisure, I suppose.’ To Bluett’s vast relief he realised that there wasn’t the slightest sign of nuclear war, what with the lush grass and the mature trees.
‘We turned aside from your kind of leisure about a century or so ago - went in for common sense instead.’ Drago pointed to a road and a low, thatched building about two hundred yards away. ‘There's the inn.’
‘Surely industrial progress hasn’t gone into reverse though?’ Bluett began to feel a sense of dismay, a crawling suspicion of betrayal. There was worse to come when he spotted what seemed to be a steam train in the distance complete with its plume of smoke.
‘Good lord - tell me that’s a piece of nostalgia. It's a day out for antique steam buffs, isn't it?’
‘That thing - that – that steam train.’
‘Nothing nostalgic about a train,’ said Drago, we use them all the time. Oil ran out for the diesels.’
‘Don't you normally travel by three hundred mile-per-hour monorail or something?’
‘Never heard of one.’
‘Sub-orbital rocket plane?’
‘No, nothing like that. That must be the Tuesday express on its way to the south.’
‘The Tuesday express?’
‘I expect so. It runs every Tuesday and it goes south. Only stops at fifteen stations - normally.’
‘You travel by steam train which usually goes south and may or may not stop at fifteen stations but you still call it an express? What on earth are the slow ones like?’
‘Look here Mr Bluetit -’
‘Bluett, Doctor Nigel Bluett, Father of time travel.’
‘Well Mr Bluett, by the twenty second century, folk finally got fed up with trying to zoom around at enormous speed. They only ended up sitting in traffic jams breathing in their own exhaust fumes. We know all about follies of the past.’ Drago shuddered.
‘What about computers and lasers and genetic engineering - all the technical progress from the twenty-first century.’
‘Progress? It wasn’t progress though was it?’ Drago said. ‘What about pollution, flat-pack furniture and TV reality shows.’
‘Let's face it,’ said Drago, ‘a lot of what you in the twenty-first century called progress was plain lunacy.’ They had reached the inn and Drago pushed open the solid oak door. ‘Including fucking time travel,’ he muttered under his breath.
This was all too much for Bluett. He turned and ran back along the path as fast as he could. The time machine was just where he left it, but there was another yokel sitting on top drinking from a brown bottle. Bluett dragged the door open and locked it behind him. He set the Temporal Locator for the year 2412 – another two hundred years into the future. Surely human progress had not ended forever.
There was a flash, a queasy lurch and Bluett saw much the same scene outside his machine. He heard a thump and saw the yokel who had been sitting on his machine had been transported with him and fallen off when they stopped. The yokel was sitting on the grass and staring round, the bottle still in his hand. He got up and ambled off, two hundred years into his own future.
Somehow Bluett knew things were going to be much the same in 2412 as in 2212. He wiped his brow, took a deep breath to quell mounting panic and adjusted the Temporal Locator again.
The year 2612 was more promising. Massive shining spires rose out of a distant haze and the road had become a six-lane highway with odd, bubble shaped vehicles without wheels streaming along it.
‘At last, progress returns,’ said Bluett with huge relief. With a bit of luck Drago's dratted inn had been pulled down to make way for the highway and the railway tracks were rusted away. He rubbed his hands and opened the time machine door.
When Bluett emerged from his time machine, a shining orb about two feet in diameter approached him across the grass. It floated three feet in the air, completely silent like an enormous soap bubble.
‘I’m Doctor Nigel Bluett,’ Bluett said clearly and distinctly. He knew the orb was bound to be a machine with highly developed computer intelligence. He glanced anxiously in the direction of the highway. There was still a chance the machine knew who he was and was summoning that blasted reception committee.
The shiny orb floated up to Bluett's time machine and a thin metal rod shot out from its surface. A square plastic film seemed to extrude from the tip of the rod, sticking itself to the time machine window.
‘Illegal parking on a footpath,’ said the machine as it floated off. ‘Standard fine is five trillion euros. Have a nice day.’