“But what? What now? I have had enough shocks for the day, Mr Darcy.”, I stood still, confused at his sudden change in behaviour.
“I’d like something in return too.”, he said, carefully measuring his words.
“If it’s practically possible from my side, I’d definitely help you. Go ahead. Ask.”, I was praying he didn’t ask for anything stupid or something close to me which I couldn’t part ways with.
“You already know that I’m a big fan of you and your work, Mr Bernard. It’s my dream since the day I read about you to work or even assist on one of your projects, Sir. Please consider this as a humble request from one of your ardent followers.”
I was in a fix. I didn’t want the time machine to garner public attention. Also, I don’t know how smart of a scientist Mr Darcy is. Too many cooks will only spoil the broth. But the good thing was that the machine is almost complete. The addition of the time dampener, fixing its connections with other components – especially the wormhole finder and some remaining calculations was all that was left. So, it’d not affect the time span left to complete the machine in any way; instead, if Darcy is bright enough and gets accustomed to the system soon, things will wrap up sooner than expected. But why did he offer me help? I’m sure Irene would come to know about the missing component sooner than before. That’s when it hit me hard.
What if this was one of Irene’s ploy to know more about the time machine?
But I had seen him before too.
Wait a minute.
What if he is a spy from her side?
My mind was rumbling with possibilities. And I know I can’t ignore the most remote of them. I had to be shrewd in my dealing here, in stark contrast to how I screwed up a while ago.
“See, I’m okay with you joining me as an assistant till we complete this project. There’s not much work left, but I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Also, there are certain clauses that you must abide, without which I can’t let you in.”
“1. You must leave your job at Irene’s factory. Working in my lab as a part-time assistant doesn’t make any sense to me. You must commit only to this job for that brief period of time. Also, I don’t want to take any risks when it comes to Irene. I’m sure you must have understood what I meant, Mr Darcy.”
“Hmm…Yes, Mr Bernard. I do.”
“2. I don’t want the time machine project to garner public or worldwide attention till it works completely fine and is successful against some of our pre-decided tests. So, you can’t speak about it to anyone else until its hundred per cent complete.”
“3. You’d have to stay at my place till the project is finished. I can’t take the risk to let you loose and then make efforts to track you down and check what you talk with whoever you socialise with.”
“4. Depending upon your contribution in the lab, you’d be given due credit when the project reaches its completion.”
“Sure, Mr Bernard. I agree with all the four mentioned clauses. The first one is a bit harsh, but your concern sounds legitimately fair. I’d lose my well-positioned stable job for sure, but I guess a scientist has enough places to explore in these times.”
“That’s the spirit, Mr Darcy! You can join us tonight at 10. You know the place.”
“Sure! I’d bring the dampener as I join tonight so that we can start on a common note. You might even complete all the pending stuff related to the dampener if I give it to you now, and that’d mean nothing would be left for me to work on. Looking forward to a great experience working alongside you, Mr Bernard!”
“Fine.”, we parted ways with a firm handshake.
The first thing I did after reaching the lab was narrating the entire incident to an over-curious Hannah who too seemed to be shocked
“How did Irene know about Project Chronos?”, she held her head in her hands, tensed.
“That’s the question to which even I couldn’t figure out an answer Hannah.”, I read her reactions.
“There has to be a loophole somewhere. But..”
“But even you know that you’re the only person except me who knows about Project Chronos, Hannah.”, I state the obvious.
After some moments of tension in the air, she spoke up.
“I hope that you don’t start doubting me now, Augustin. I know you believe me.”, she said in a low nervous tone.
That was one of the very few times I heard her calling me by my first name. The last time when she called me Augustin was two years ago when she asked for a leave on her mother’s demise. I had accompanied her to her home at Clermont. I’m bad when it comes to consoling someone, and it didn’t help at all during the 2-hour bus journey. She had gone silent for a month after. That was one of the saddest phases in our lives.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you Hannah, but currently, I can’t say anything about this. I don’t have proof nor do I have any clues about the same.”
“I feel Irene might have deployed some spies around you, the way she said those words.”
“Spies? That sounds a bit extreme, but she’s Irene. Can’t say the heights to which she can go. Hate can make people do crazy things.”
“And what about Raymond? When is he joining us? How is he as a person? Never heard about him as such before.”, she was quite excited about the prospect of a new member joining the lab, although for a few days.
“Seems like someone is too excited here!”
“Just asking Mr Bernard!”, she blushed a little before going back to her room.
Raymond joined us precisely at 10. Punctual.
“Welcome to our lab, Raymond. This is Hannah Paul – been working alongside me for six years now.”
“Hey!”, Hannah greeted him with a warm handshake.
“My name is Raymond Darcy. Frequent wanderer, scientist, a big fan of Mr Bernard’s work and now – an ex-employee from Irene’s factory.”, he gave his introduction to which we shared a small laugh.
“I will give you a quick tour of the lab and the apartment if you want to.”, Hannah offered.
“Sure, why not!”
“Also, show him his room for the next few days until Project Chronos gets completed. Get comfortable and meet me in twenty.”
“Project Chronos? That’s what you call the time machine experiment?”, Raymond asked Hannah, to which she nodded.
“Has got a nice ring to it. Also, symbolic.”
“True.”, she agreed.
“This is the ground floor – looks like a normal home, serves as the waiting room for guests. Floor 1 is where the geeky stuff begins. The first floor consists of a huge library which boasts of over a thousand books – ranging in anything from fiction to annual science journals. Besides, it has the postal room where we store all the letters and parcels Mr Bernard receives via post..”
“You have a dedicated room just for letters? How many letters does he get every month?”, Raymond was surprised.
“Around 200 per month from different parts of the globe from enthusiastic fans – like you.”, Hannah smiled.
“Fans are undoubtedly the biggest form of moral support.”
“True! The floor also houses the guest room where you’ll be lodged for the upcoming few days. The second floor has my room plus some of the archived experiment documents – be it the blue coloured calculation journals or the green observation ones – you’ll find them there. Mr Bernard’s room is on the third floor. It also has the study room which is exclusively accessible to him. Even I haven’t seen what’s inside that room. I tried once but failed to get through. Eventually, he caught me trying to sneak in and let me off with a warning. There’d be no further chances he had said. But curiosity got the better of me, and I tried again a few months back when he left for his usual evening walk to the cafe, but in vain.”
“But why are you taking such a risk, Hannah? He has already said he will expel you if you get caught again.”
“Some risks are worth taking even though it may prove lethal in the end. Such risks are what we all live for Ray.”, she winked.
“Continuing the tour, here’s the fourth floor which houses all the expensive as well as the brittle apparatus; above which is an open terrace where we house a small garden of sorts. Lilies, roses, tulips.”
“Too much to explore! This place is just amazing.”
“I had the same reaction when I came here six years ago!”
“But where do you conduct the experiments? Where is the time machine? I didn’t see it anywhere.”, he was puzzled.
“I was waiting for you to ask this Ray. Floor -1 and -2 is where we conduct all these experiments.”
“Oh my goodness. The main lab is underground! I feel so lucky to be right here, right now. Getting to know and work in my idol’s laboratory.
“So much that you stole a limited, expensive device from his rival and also dumped down your stable job.”, Hannah reminded him.
“Some risks are worth taking even though it may prove lethal in the end. Such risks are what we all live for Hannah.”, he smiled before leaving for his room.
“Here’s the time dampener, Mr Bernard.”, he handovers the device for which I had blown up my self-respect a while ago.
“We will set up the time dampener. Meanwhile, you complete the rest of the calculations.”, I instruct Hannah.
“On it.”, she was already deep in her calculation journal.
“This is a magnificent piece of scientific art, Mr Bernard! No one would have ever tried something like this before.”
“I hope this works after fitting in the time dampener. Imagine how fast mankind will progress if Project Chronos becomes successful.”
“On an exponential scale for sure! But on which direction the graph goes – only time will tell.”
“I didn’t quite get you, Mr Darcy.”
“There are two sides, Mr Bernard. Imagine Project Chronos being successful. You will get the title of ‘father of time travel’ and will permanently seal yourself a spot in the history of mankind. The Government will give you funds to commercialise, and mass-produce these machines for military and research purposes. Now think what’d happen if it somehow reaches the wrong hands. So much power. Power of total destruction in exchange for selfish benefits.”, he reasoned as he connected the time dampener to the wormhole finder.
“I know this would be the most possible course of action, but I won’t give in to those funds. I won’t allow them to commercialise time travel or take advantage of it on the pretext of military research purposes. I aim to lay a solid foundation for the study of time travel as a concept in itself. This would greatly benefit the future generations and would eventually lead to better time travel machines and technologies.”, I feel guilty as I speak these words.
“Where’d you time travel first? The past? Or the future?”
“Why not the future, Mr Bernard? The past is already dealt with. The future sounds so exciting. We have no idea how it would be.”
“I know. But we’ve decided to first test Chronos to the past and then to the future; after which we will perform further tests to check and improve the efficiency and accuracy of the machine.”
“Sounds great! Which era would you go to then? The 1600’s to experience a live Shakespearean play, somewhere around 400 BC to see the Byzantine Empire, or the late 18th century to witness the Industrial Revolution?”, he shot out another question.
“Well, I’d personally prefer going to the recent World War II era. Now you’d ask – out of the thousand available years to explore in the past, why would you go back just thirty years – that too to a war-prone era which I survived and the entire human race is constantly trying hard to forget.”
“I see you have a knack of reading minds as well!”
“It’s because I want to relive my childhood – see my parents when they were alive. I spent my entire childhood at the University and their associated hostels in Bordeaux. I visited my parents just twice a year, thanks to the spring and the autumn breaks. I didn’t get to spend much time with them which I regret till this date. So June 02 1940 it is.”
“In one of your six books published till date, you had mentioned that your parent’s died in the 1940 Paris Blasts by the Germans. The bombings happened on the 3rd of June, and you’re time travelling to just one day before your parent’s death. That doesn’t make any sense.”, his back to back questions were now cornering me down. Perks of having a fan working in your lab, I guess.
“I would have travelled even more backwards, but I don’t know how much this machine can withstand. Also, since it’s bulky, I’d have to extremely careful where I park it.”, I lie plainly without any effort.
“If you are time travelling to a day before your parent’s death, why don’t you just save them instead?”, he smiled.
Where is this conversation heading to?
“Won’t that be morally wrong, Mr Darcy? Misuse of power for selfish intent.”, I wallow myself in guilt as I spoke.
“Can be seen as one, but it doesn’t matter unless it’s harmful. I don’t think saving your parents would be harmful to our planet. If I were in your place, I’d have gone back in time and murdered Hitler instead. No bombings, parent’s saved, personal vendetta against Hitler complete, World War II ends five years earlier, millions of lives saved – the world would be a better place to live in.”
“That’s..that’s true, but how can we be so sure that things will definitely fall in place.”, I felt better to find someone to whom I can relate to. At least someone else felt the same way I felt about my case.
“That’s where we let nature and the game of probabilities take control.”
I reflect on his words as we complete our task at hand.
“Don’t tell me you never thought of doing this before. Hasn’t this thought even crossed your mind, Mr Bernard?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you would have definitely thought about it. Human tendency.”
“There you have your answer, Mr Darcy.”
“I feel you’ll definitely save your parents. It’d become too difficult for you to just stand there and observe them knowing that they’re going to die the very next day.”
“Anyone on this planet would’ve done the same if he/she was in your shoes, Mr Bernard.”
“We’ll continue the rest of the connections tomorrow. It’s high time I sleep.”
“I’ll complete some more calculations before I go to bed.”, Hannah said, her eyes still on the calculator.
“I’ll help her out then.”, Raymond offered help.
“Sure. Good night.”, I retire to my study room.
“Good morning Mr Bernard.”, Hannah greets me as I enter the lab.
“Good morning Hannah. Where’s Mr Darcy?”, I go ahead and have a look at the calculation journal.
“He must be in the library or the garden terrace.”
“It seems you didn’t sleep at all yesterday.”, Hannah said as she offered me a cup of coffee.
“Sleep eluded me after a while, so I decided to read some stuff instead.”
“Fiction or Science Magazines again?”
“This month’s copy of La Recherche, Science et Avenir and Science & Vie.”
“Expected the same.”, she shrugged.
“Good Morning, Mr Bernard.”, Raymond greeted me as he entered the lab.
“Good Morning, Mr Darcy. Where were you all this while?”
“The library. Was reading some fiction. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.”
“Oh, that one! It’s one of my all time favourites. I had got this book as a prize for winning the quiz competition during my college days.”, Hannah was all excited.
“I read around 100 pages, and I have realised already why it won the Pulitzer Prize! Spectacular writing.”
“Yes, the book totally deserved to win the Pulitzer.”, Hannah agreed.
“Let’s continue where we left off yesterday, Mr Darcy.”, I cut in between their conversation.
“Sure.”, he got up and went towards the machine.
“The base of the machine has to be changed since it got damaged when we tried it a few days ago.”, Hannah pointed out.
“Yes, we will repair it tonight. I’ll go and conduct some tests with the engines for now. You check the observation journal and check if we missed correcting any past noted errors.”
“On it, Mr Bernard.”
“So, which is your favourite book, Mr Bernard? Mein Kampf?”, Raymond indeed did continue where we left off yesterday.
“Why do you ask so many questions? At times, I feel you are a journalist.”
“Questions are the medium through which I get to know more about a person.”
“It’s my turn then. We really don’t know much about you anyway.”, I turn the tide over him.
“Sure! Why not! Do ask. I love answering questions.”, he was still enthusiastic.
“Where did you complete your education, Mr Darcy?”
“University of Kansas.”
“How did you start in this field then?”
“My uncle had a factory which dealt mainly with stationery products. So I was in their R&D team for a while. Some more factories here and there around Los Angeles and San Diego before I decided to settle and set up a personal lab at Oklahoma. Worked on a few experiments for about a year after which I worked under the mentorship of the now famous Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman at his lab at New York for a year. Then came the surprise. I got an invitation from a Frankfurt-based German factory which produced small-scale scientific apparatus and types of equipment. After six months, I was asked to head the R&D team at their Monaco branch in France. Eventually, I grew my contacts and got offered a role at Irene’s factory. And now I’m here – at my idol’s laboratory.”
“That sounds like an exciting journey so far, Ray!”, Hannah was in awe.
“Yes, it is definitely! So many people, organisations, technologies and countries in a short span of time.”
But I wasn’t convinced entirely. For a person like me, sometimes my rational mind doesn’t allow me to believe people blindly.
“What do you think Raymond, should we consider the effect of time dilation while setting the date to which we’re going to travel?”, it was now time to test his intelligence.
“It’s complicated Mr Bernard. But are you talking about the velocity time dilation or the gravitational one?”
I was impressed. Not many people knew about the gravitational aspect of time dilation.
“Whichever you feel is apt to our situation, Mr Darcy.”
“Again depends whether you’d like to travel to future or to the past. But as in our case, time dilation is definitely not applicable”, he replied coyly.
“And why is it so?”
“You see Mr Bernard, time dilation is a concept applicable to time travel to the future. In fact, it is one of the means by which one can travel to the future. Travelling at almost the speed of light, time slows down for you, but it increases relatively for others those who are stationary. By the time you complete a few seconds on such a device, a considerable amount of time would have passed here on earth. So practically you’ll be in the future! And regarding the gravitational aspect of time dilation, the theory of relativity says that one experiences time at a much slower rate in a strong gravitational field like that of a black hole as compared to a normal one. But you can never reverse time using this phenomenon, so to answer your question, Mr Bernard, we shouldn’t take into account time dilation in our scenario.”
“It is always refreshing to have a short discussion with intelligent minds”, I patted him, before leaving to test the engines.
“I’m going to the cafe. You can join me if you want, Mr Darcy.”, I invite him as I leave for my evening walk.
“Thank you, Mr Bernard, but I feel sleepy due to yesterday’s night session at the lab. Also, we have to complete repairing the base tonight. I’d like some sleep.”, Raymond yawned as he slumped on the couch.
“Sure then. Will be back in thirty.”
A few minutes later, a half-asleep Raymond is woken up by the melodious symphony of a violin. He instantly realised the song as ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ by Michel Legrand. Following the sound, he eventually reached the second floor of the building where he was amazed to see a graceful Hannah playing the instrument.
She was so engrossed in playing the violin, she didn’t notice Raymond at her door, who was already awestruck by her skills. It was when Raymond entered the room that she came to know of his presence.
“You play the…. Wait. Why do you look upset? What’s the issue?”
“I do not like anyone interrupting me while playing the violin, Ray. It’s my personal time where I write stuff, sing or play the violin to relax and refresh before continuing with the daily workload.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Hannah. I didn’t..”
“You are new here, so you didn’t know about this. That’s why I didn’t lash out at you.”, she smiled, her mood slowly swinging back to normal.
“Which means you’ve lashed out at people before for interrupting your personal time. At whom? Mr Bernard?”
“Once, during the initial days when I came here. Mr Bernard had skipped his usual routine walk that day, thanks to another interesting project we were working on. I needed a break and hence started playing the violin. He came up and asked me to stop wasting time and instead help him with the reaction setup. I yelled at him that I’m not a machine. I need my alone time – no disturbances, no interferences. He was stunned and never after that incident he has interrupted me during my personal time.”
“I’m sorry. I will make sure I won’t come in between you and your violin from now on. But tell me one thing. You play the violin so beautifully! Where did you learn it from? Or did you learn it from someone?”
“Well, I learned it from someone.”
“It’s fine even if he/she isn’t a famous teacher. You can tell.”