Time travel is a one-way trip, or at least that’s what received wisdom tells us. My colleague, Dr.Yelport, had other ideas though.
Although her lab door was always locked, it was pretty obvious that her experiments didn’t involve the near-light speed travel that classical scientists like Einstein had suggested were required for altering the passage of time.
Occasionally, you’d get a sign that something was going on in there. The frosted glass windows in the door would occasionally flicker bright blue or the cleaners would whisper about some kind of mysterious bleeping sound when they were mopping the corridors at night.
Once, the entire building trembled and shook. Our in-house seismologist had been quick to dismiss it as the results of an illegal hydraulic drilling operation somewhere within a three-mile radius. He’d even gone so far as to report it to the police. But, there was nothing in the papers about it, and public radio was oddly silent about the matter.
Over time, Dr.Yelport’s appearances in the staff canteen became less and less frequent. Although she looked more and more dishevelled every time I happened to spot her in the corner, there was no denying that there was something in her eyes. A keen brightness that hadn’t been there when she’d first pulled me to one side and muttered wearily about how the only real funding left was for temporal research.
One day, curiosity got the better of me. Getting an extra cup of tea, I sat at her usual table in the corner and waited. My algae cultures were in a dormant phase, so it wasn’t like I’d have to rush back to the lab or anything like that.
I was halfway through the second cup when she showed up. After filling a metal tray with food, she shambled over to the table like one of the robots on the ground floor. With a flash of her keen eyes and a wonky smile, she said: ‘Emily, your timing is perfect.‘
‘Did you travel into the future and see me here?‘ I laughed ‘Am I talking to a version of you from two weeks ago?‘
Dr. Yelport let out a crackly chuckle: ‘It’s theoretically possible, but no. Still, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m nearly finished – in fact, I’ll be running the first full test tonight.‘
‘Oh, wow. Can I watch?‘ I finished my tea.
Dr.Yelport ate in silence for a few seconds, before sighing: ‘I wish you could. I really do. But, it’s all a bit hush-hush. I’ve probably said too much already.‘
‘Military contract?‘ I said.
She sighed lightly: ‘I can’t say. But, you should really apply for a temporal research grant. Your talents are wasted on that algae. Let’s just say that I never have to look at the expiry dates on petri dishes or anything like that.‘
‘I’ll think about it. But, good luck with your test… unless, of course, you’ve already done it and I’m talking to you from the future.‘
Dr. Yelport smiled at me before glancing at her watch. ‘I’m afraid not. Anyway, I should be getting back to the lab. Tempus fugit, and all that. I’ll see you.. in the future.‘
Leaving her meal unfinished, she got up and waved goodbye. I waved back. She scurried out of the canteen. I looked at my own watch, I was already late for the next status report on culture seven.
When I arrived at the facility the next morning, the doors of Dr.Yelport’s lab were wide open. Nervously, I poked my head inside. The sharp smell of disinfectant caught my nostrils as I stared at the bare shelves and the deserted desks.
Barely even thinking about it, I rushed to the canteen and made a beeline for the table in the corner. Dr. Yelport sat in front of a steaming cup of coffee. The spark had vanished from her eyes. Nervously, I said: ‘I just saw your lab. What… what happened?‘
With a heavy sigh, she turned to me. ‘I scrapped it. Put my notes in the furnace. Dismantled the equipment and sent it back to stores. Scrubbed all traces from every surface. They aren’t expecting a report for another two days. I’ve still got enough grant money for a ticket out of here. You should go too.‘
‘Why? What happened?‘ I stuttered.
Staring blankly into space, she just said: ‘It worked. I saw the future.‘