The Unambitious Time Traveller – Part 1

unambitious1Part I | Part II | Part III

The Present – 23 December 2014, Tuesday

Harvey Belfort had never been satisfied living in the present. Some people advocate for living in the moment, some romantically remember the past, and some look with anticipation to the future. All Harvey knew was that he didn’t want to be when he was. The present was a prison, unable to explore the path which had led him there and unable to see the possibilities ahead.

At the same time, Harvey was a thoroughly unambitious man. His actions were consistently half-hearted. He would take a sip of tea and then let the cup go cold. He would watch a few minutes of a movie and then turn it off. In fact, he had only fallen into working at Fermilab because he had tumbled into studying physics because he had collapsed into high school mathematics. His lack of ambition was so potent that at 47 Harvey was the oldest “junior” lab assistant in the world, still muddling his way through a twenty-year PhD program. His superiors felt so sorry for Harvey that they actually took the unusual step of assigning two senior lab assistants to work under him, another world first.

In 2013 news had broken that a neutrino receiver at CERN had discovered faster-than-light particles. Although a review of that research had revealed it to be the result of a loose cable, Fermilab had no real use for Harvey and so they assigned him the fruitless task of conducting a review of the review of the initial research. Given that Fermilab’s particle accelerator had been shut down a few years prior, it was an even more futile exercise, and so Harvey had approached the task with the same contemptuous attitude he approached everything occurring in the present. But this day was to be a little different.

“All set, Doc?” Lab assistant Phil asked. Of course, Harvey had not completed his doctorate yet but they ordained him with the honorific out of pity.

“I suppose so,” Harvey said with a characteristic sigh. As usual, the present was an intensely joyless time for Harvey. His morning had begun in the typical fashion, feeding his 92 year old mother, whom he lived with, before heading to the lab. Her mental and physical capabilities were deteriorating rapidly and it was only a matter of time before he would no longer be able to care for her. Back at work, things weren’t much better. The laboratory had suffered severe funding cutbacks after the closure of the particle accelerator. That, combined with Harvey’s general lack of ambition led to a constantly somber mood; nobody expected to make any discoveries; in fact, the only mildly exciting thing which had happened there in the past few years was that on this morning Phil had shown up with a fresh haircut, cutting off his unkempt locks for a fashionable quiff. Harvey didn’t bother acknowledging it.

A further complication of the funding cut was the lack of equipment. The higher end devices had been shipped out to MIT and NASA, leaving Harvey and his crew to do their best to improvise their own crude apparatus. Their machine stood about as high and wide as an average doorway and was ugly as sin. On the back, a microwave oven and a can of energy drink were duct taped to the back with several coloured wires shoddily plugged in. A thick black power-cable led to the wall, though there was also a set of two D-cell batteries glued on as a backup.

“Gary, you can do the honours,” Harvey indicated.

The other lab assistant Gary waddled over and opened a hatch on the side of the machine, casually tossing in a daily calendar, opened to the present date. He sealed the hatch and backed away.

“Okay, all clear,” Harvey ordered. He threw a switch on a large control panel which had been co-opted from an NES gamepad. The machine whirred and then whirred some more before stopping. Harvey approached the machine and opened the hatch. The calendar sat inside, unchanged. Harvey gave another sigh.

It’s hard to say where ideas come from. Sometimes the best ones just appear like a flicker of electricity, jolting out from the recesses of consciousness. Whatever the source, Harvey had an idea. He wandered over to the back of the machine, took hold of the can of energy drink with one hand and cracked the tab open with the other, releasing a refreshing hiss.

“Let’s try this again,” Harvey said under a furrowed brow.

He went back to the control panel and again pushed the switch. Again, the machine whirred and then whirred some more, followed by a large clunk.

Harvey froze.

“Guys,” he cautiously asked, “did it make a clunk last time?”

The lab assistants shook their heads.

“It did make a clunk this time, right?”

The lab assistants nodded their heads.

Harvey carefully made his way over to the machine. As he opened the hatch, blue-tinged steam billowed out, causing him to reel back momentarily. He reached in and pulled out the calendar, staring in astonishment. The date now read: 24 December 2014, Wednesday.

“Gary,” Harvey said in a hushed but excitable tone, “did you flip the page on the calendar?”

“No, Boss” Gary replied.

“Phil?”

“Nope.”

“Did I?” Harvey asked.

“I don’t think so,” Phil answered.

“Then there is only one possibility,” Harvey said, his voice rising to a crescendo as a single clap of thunder roared in the background, “the calendar turned itself.”

There was silence in the lab.

“Do you understand what this means?” Harvey continued, “We sent this calendar into the future.”

“Why didn’t the calendar turn back to today when it arrived back in the present?” Gary asked.

“Shut up, Gary,” Harvey snapped.

“Sorry, boss.”

 

The Present – Three Hours Later – 23 December 2014, Tuesday

Harvey excitedly ushered his supervisor, Dave, into the lab. He had worked feverishly for the past few hours, checking and re-checking his results. Now he was sure.

Dave, on the other hand, never expected anything from Harvey. He was the least productive of his researchers and he constantly found himself wondering whether Harvey’s lack of ambition would stop him from doing anything of note, ever.

“You’re telling me that you, you – Harvey Belfortdiscovered the impossible method of time travel? You have found a way to violate the laws of physics?” Dave asked sceptically. “You’re joking, right?”

“No. In fact, it turns out it was actually quite simple.” Harvey replied.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, okay.”

With that, they headed to the machine and Harvey opened the hatch and climbed in.

“Just set the date on the control panel and flip that red switch,” Harvey ordered.

“What date shall I set?” Dave asked.

Harvey paused for a moment, a steely determination crossing his face. “Set it to Wednesday – December 24, 2014.”

Dave gasped. “Are… are you sure?”

Gary dropped a beaker and it smashed on the floor.

“You’re cleaning that up, you know,” Phil jabbed.

“Get fucked, I was in shock,” Gary snapped back, “this lab belongs to all of us, and all of us can clean it up.”

“No way, it was your mistake, idiot,” Phil replied.

“Shut up, you morons.” Harvey yelled with a glare. He looked back at Dave.

“Just do it,” Harvey demanded, pulling the hatch shut.

“If this works, you may just make something of yourself, Harvey Belfort.” Dave said cautiously.

He flipped the switch. The machine whirred and whirred. Then it clunked.

 

The Future – 24 December 2014, Wednesday

Harvey coughed and flailed his arms, shooing away the blue smoke. He opened the hatch and emerged into his lab. Phil and Gary were both on the floor, knelt over the broken beaker.

“Look, I’ve swept up half of it, is it really that fucking hard to clean the other half?” Gary yelled.

They both noticed Harvey and stood in shock.

“Doc?” Gary asked.

“What day is it?” Harvey asked, rubbing his eyes.

“It – it’s Wednesday,” Gary stuttered in disbelief. “Doc, we haven’t seen you since… yesterday.”

“It worked,” Harvey said with a surge of optimism for the first time in his life, “I’m in the future; I’m free!”

Dave wandered into the lab and saw Harvey as the smoke continued to slowly tease its way out of the machine behind him.

“Jesus – well, I’ll be damned,” Dave said full of wonder, “You made something of yourself, Harvey Belfort.”

“Doc, maybe we should get you to a hospital,” Phil said as he eyed Harvey with concern.

“No time,” Harvey replied confidently, “I’ve got the future to explore.”

Harvey strode out of the lab and headed out onto the streets of Batavia, Illinois. The weather was hotter than hell. A stranger was casually strolling down the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt and holding an unfamiliar gadget in his hands, pointing it at things and touching it.

“Excuse me, sir,” Harvey asked the man, “but what is that device you are holding?”

“It’s an iPhone 6S.”

“An iPhone… 6S?” Harvey asked, astonished.

“Yes, it just got released this morning. I was one of the first in line,” the man said before wandering off.

Harvey stood incredulously for a moment, looking at the unfamiliar world around him. He made his way over to a news-vendor and picked up a paper. The date at the top confirmed it: he really was in the future.

Harvey scanned the top headline: Bloodshed in the Middle-East. He looked at the vendor in shock. “How long has this been going on?” He asked.

“Another cease-fire broke this morning,” the vendor replied, a messy man with a greasy green shirt.

“My god…” Harvey muttered. He turned the page to see the other stories: Political Division Increasing in America, one read. Teenagers Engaged in Dangerous New Trend, stated another.

“What has happened to this world?” Harvey cried at the vendor.

“Look, buddy, I just sell the papers, okay?” The vendor replied with a surly attitude.

Harvey dropped the paper and started backing away. “I don’t understand this place…” He said to himself in a scarce whisper.

Immediately, his thoughts turned to his dear mother. What had happened to her in this strange and horrible future, he wondered?

He ran block after block until he reached his crumby apartment building. He bounded up the stairs and entered his home but his mother was nowhere to be found. Harvey frantically headed back down to the lobby and hurried up to the doorman.

“Have you seen my mother?” Harvey urgently asked.

“Huh?” The doorman grunted.

“The elderly lady I live with – do you know where she is?”

“Oh,” replied the doorman, “She was wheeled out of here this morning. Taken to an old folk’s home.”

“Oh my god… who the hell did that?” Harvey demanded.

The doorman stood blankly for a moment before responding. “Why, you did.”

Harvey froze as his stomach dropped and he was consumed by panic. “What do you mean I did?” He screamed.

“I know. Not much of an early Christmas present, if you ask me.”

“Where was she taken?” He yelled furiously.

The doorman told him the location and Harvey ran outside to get on a bus. He climbed aboard, flashing his bus pass at the driver.

“Hey, buddy,” the driver said, halting Harvey, “you need a valid ticket.”

“But this gives me unlimited travel!” Harvey stammered.

“That’s a daily pass. From yesterday. It ain’t no good today.”

Harvey recoiled in shock. The future was becoming more hostile and frightening than the darkest of his nightmares. But he had no time to argue. Instead, he took to sprinting towards the retirement home.

Arriving soaked in sweat and out of breath he demanded the nurse take him to see his mother. She obliged and took him to a small, cramped room where his mother lay on a very uncomfortable looking bed. Her face was pale and wrinkled.

“My god,” Harvey said, aghast, “what have they done to you?”

His mother was unable to respond.

“You look… older,” he said, shaking.

Something in his mind somewhere broke and he began chanting “I don’t want to be here anymore, I don’t want to be here anymore,” in a catatonic manner. He snapped and ran back to the lab.

“There, I swept up a quarter – I think that’s fair, considering it was your fuck up,” Phil said bitterly, hovering over the pile of broken glass.

“A quarter?” Gary recoiled, “You got, like, three shards.”

Harvey burst into the room and the lab assistants abruptly stood.

“Doc?” Gary asked.

Harvey bolted for the machine and climbed inside.

“I don’t understand this new world!” Harvey screamed. “I just wanted to know what the possibilities were. I can’t control this future; things have changed all around me and I don’t understand why!”

Gary and Phil both let their jaws fall open in disbelief.

“What do you want us to do, Doc?” Phil asked.

“I want you to take me back. I need to know how all this happened.”

“What are you saying, Boss?” Gary asked, dumbfounded.

“Set the date,” Harvey ordered.

“For when?” Gary asked.

Harvey began to slam the door shut as he gravely ordered: “Monday, December 22, 2014 – the past.

 

Continued in Part II…

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