A Date in November
"That's him." Brigadier General Lucius Clay, United States Army Time Corps, shoved the photo of the late 35th President of the United States across the desk.
I looked at the black and white glossy. The same features I knew from childhood: the confident smile, the firm jawline, the crowsfeet around the eyes, the gently tousled hair. I caught myself murmuring his name. "John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
"The one and the same," Clay nodded, chomping down on his stale cigar. Even after all these years, the mantra still worked its charm. "We're sending you back to him, Stubbs. That's where it starts. That's where everything went off the tracks."
I said nothing. Instead, I looked past Clay to the little Geiger counter mounted on the cool grey concrete wall of the office. Every office, lab, workshop, corridor and barracks in the bunker complex had one. And they were all clicking. A little more louder each day.
A decade ago, just before the missiles flew, the broad principles of time travel - quantum theory, anyway – were understood.
And then the world ended.
All you should know is that we miserable few survivors are all slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Live births are almost a thing of the past... not that there's much of a world left to bring a child into. The sky is always the same colour as the ash-grey ground, and the wind blows cold and hard. And the times when the sunlight pokes through the clouds, you couldn't stand in it for more than a few minutes before burning your skin off.
All we have is our history.
And our last chance.
Clay stood with me on the gantry-bridge to the time machine. It doesn't look like anything H.G. Wells would've built: two five-story superconducting terawatt magnetic plates standing parallel to each other, ten feet apart on a raised metal gantry twenty feet high. Below, lay what could've been mission control from when we still had a space program, with a forest of winking idiot lights and monitors and a small army of technicians to watch them. Between them and the magnets, there was enough coaxial cable coming and going for us to start our own phone company. And all of it was parked in a nice underground chamber of its very own.
"All set, Stubbs?"
"Just be sure to drop me at the right co-ordinates... sir." They'd actually gotten better in the last six months. The early tests were literally shots in the dark. Now, through calibrating the plates, they could at least aim me in the right direction. I looked at them. The giant magnets still had a little of that white liquid nitrogen frosting on them. The whole rig was cooled by the stuff. I shivered a little. Cold.
Clay grinned confidently. "You should come out in Dallas, on November 21st, 1963, plus or minus one day."
"The day before... that's too tight, General."
"You know we don't have the power to focus the wormhole any longer. Besides, you're not the only one going back."
I knew that other men were also getting ready for their rides in the machine. We had a team going to 1968 and another to 1980.
"God, Stubbs, you look so... normal," grunted Clay. Normal for a pre-war world. I wasn't wearing the usual threadbare uniform everyone else around here wore. I wore a smart black suit that looked like it had come from the tailors. The Samsonite briefcase I carried had all the tools I needed for my job.
"I envy you in way, Stubbs," he said.
The warning klaxon hooted. You could see the blue flashes rippling across the plates as they came to life.
"Good luck," said Clay as we shook hands. "Good luck to us all."
Preview copyright 2010 Michael Cnudde
Preview copyright 2010 Michael Cnudde
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