The Revolutionary War was over but the victor had changed. The British successfully stomped out the Americans dreams of becoming a sovereign nation. It was the battle of Saratoga, originally won by the Americans, which turned the tide of the Revolution. I say originally, like that makes any sense to anyone reading this, not yet anyways; but to me it is part of my distorted reality. Without the Americans winning this battle the French never joined the Americans in defeating the mighty British army, thus, the Americans never got that first major victory that would spark morale and turn the momentum turning the tide for the American’s. This time it was the British who reigned victorious over the primitive Americans. But how did this happen? What have I done?
This is a long story I feel compelled to relay to you now that history has changed. You don’t have to believe it. You can think I’m a nut, that’s fine. Most people here wouldn’t know the difference because it never happened the way it happened in my history books. My name is Johnson Sterling ex-professor and lead researcher of the physics department at the University of Washington. I had led a successful research team for the University of Washington for five years. Mostly, we worked on top-secret projects. The government started to sniff around when rumors started swirling around that we were working on a time-travel type device. They wanted to shut us down the moment they found out not because what we were doing was illegal. Mainly, they just wanted a piece of what had been discovered to that point. There was no way we were going to let that happen so about two years ago we moved to a warehouse in downtown Chicago where anyone could be doing anything and no one really cares or wants to know. It was the perfect setting for completing our top secret research.
I was a well-respected professor and according to my colleagues a brilliant scientist. I’m not so sure about that assessment now. We were attempting to develop a method for time travel, unsuccessfully, when the breakthrough occurred. We had found a glitch in the physics theory of time continuum. All things up to this point had been utter failures and we were quickly losing faith in the theory of time travel. Looking back I wish that glitch hadn’t been there. But as it is, it was.
We step-by-painstaking-step developed the new and first ever time travel method and the machine that would get us there. The method is what took the longest to figure out. We worked for most of six straight years on exacting the formula that would send us back. We neglected our families and some of us lost them altogether. For the most part we thought we had such an extraordinary opportunity that it was worth the sacrifices; sad, and at times, difficult but worth it. With the breach found in the continuum and the formula perfected we spent the next two years in Chicago actually coming up with designs for whatever contraption would be able to handle the type of power we had to extract from it. Something that could also handle, safely, the volatile materials we were going to have to use to disrupt the time continuum. Finally after a total of eight grueling years we had done it. At least we had developed a machine that could do everything we needed it to. Would we actually go back in time with it? Well, only time could tell. Pun intended there.
Once we completed the construction we excitedly began testing the new equipment with the potentially volatile formulas and they worked, they actually worked! At least they worked in the sense that the machine started up and the functions were able to be inputted into the system. Also, as far as we could tell, all of the materials were safely stored inside the machine. We had no explosions, no leaks, and no weird emissions so we knew we could run it. We were hoping, running at full throttle while trying to break the time divide that everything would hold up just as well. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to tell that until we had a human test subject to send back in time. Naturally, I volunteered to be the first ever to be sent back in time. This was a really exciting time for all of us on the development team. Plus, who doesn’t love a bit of infamy!
Anyways, since I was the first ever human to hopefully be going back in time I was poked and prodded and tested to my limits in order to ensure my body was going to be able to handle the excursion. See, we weren’t sure what kind of effects the time travel would have on my body. We had many theories as to what might happen but we wouldn’t know for sure until I came back intact. So our tests included everything from zero G testing to stuffing me into the quietest room you have ever heard padded with so much soundproofing it could have registered negative decibels. It was so quiet it could drive you insane if it lasted for more than a few minutes.
After the examination results were returned it was determined that my body would be able to withstand the theoretical journey as well as anyone, so we started prepping the trip. The machine was set up, the formulas triple checked and a couple more dry runs were attempted with the machine. Everything continued to hold together. When everything was done and prepped I sat down in the only seat present in the device.
I never imagined time travel to be this clunky. We designed this it in the most practical way we could with everything that had to be done with it and put into it. The machine was gargantuan but extremely shiny on the outside, however it was lacking a comfortable space on the interior. We left little room inside the cab of the thing because we didn’t know if whoever was going back would be bouncing around or stuck in place but this was meant to prevent as many injuries as we could. When I was sitting in the seat my knees were basically touching my chest. I felt claustrophobic and disoriented but also excited. There were lights and numbers and buttons everywhere to be used during my return trip but for the departure my colleagues Mike, Michelle, and Stanley would be in control. Before the door was closed they had asked what destination period I had been expecting to see. I chose the Revolutionary War because as a patriotic American this meant a lot to me. Specifically I chose the period just before the beginning of the Battle of Saratoga. My goal was to witness this major turning point in history before I headed back to the present. That then is where they said I would be sent. They worked there magic outside while I patiently waited cramped with a smidge of anxiety creeping up on me.
The machine started whirring and whizzing, beeping and bleating, flashing and shaking. I started to feel a bit nervous. Then everything became silent, not as quiet as that soundproof room, but close. It was as if time had come to a stop. Nothing seemed to be moving. I started to yell out in panic almost out of desperation hoping someone would hear me but in this near deafening silence I could barely hear myself. Then all of a sudden a loud boom and a hard jolt and the world seemed to be moving again. Then just as suddenly the door automatically popped open. I was no longer in a lab with my friends. I was in the middle of a forest in who knew where, hopefully I knew but I couldn’t be sure yet. I stretched my legs out and took my first step back in time. The ground was soft as if there had been a recent rain. It wasn’t muddy just soft. I had a few moments of panic thinking I may have got sent back much further. During my few minutes of panic I became discombobulated. I didn’t know where I was or if I was where I wanted to be. Hell, I barely knew who I was in the moment.
I didn’t want to traverse far from my travelling companion but I had to know if I made it to the right era. If I got too far, I would not be able to make a quick escape if the need arose.
I stood in the stillness of the forest trying to hear anything. At first I thought maybe the silence in the time machine is what it was going to sound like for my whole trip. Then I realized I could hear a fire crackling in the not too far distance, maybe two hundred feet, by the sound of it, from my current location. I decided to head in that direction for the time being. I was moving slowly and quietly so as not to arouse any notice. The last thing I wanted to do was to disturb or anger someone that may or may not be an enemy, plus I was still in my future street wear. I did manage to stash a bag of Revolution era clothing with me back at the machine thinking I would have time to change when I arrived. Call it naivety, excitement or whatever you must but apparently my haste and excitement had gotten the better of me and now I was regretting it. I should have changed back at the lab or as soon as I stepped out of the apparatus.
As it was, I had finally gotten to within fifty feet of the fire and witnessed eight to ten men standing around the fire. They appeared to be in American army uniform. I was pretty confident that they were American not British. I also began to grasp that I had actually made it to 1777. What an experience. I shouldn’t have been daydreaming. I should have stayed focused. The silence was broken by a loud snap under my foot that sounded like thunder in the stillness of the forest. This clearly brought the men to attention. A branch, I was so off in my own amazed thoughts I lost focus on my footing and put my right foot down on top of what seemed to be the loudest breaking branch ever. Instantly, I knew I was going to have to think of a way to explain my way out of this.
The men came charging in my direction. I tried to turn and find a spot to hide but these guys were quick. They were on me before I even got turned around. They had their weapons drawn and ready to fire. My excitement turned into disappointment then very quickly into fear. One of the men yelled out in a southern drawl “Halt, don’t you even so much as move another limb or we got eight guns that will stop ‘em from movin’ for ya!” So much for explaining my way out of anything; I froze in place and damn near pissed myself at the same time. I didn’t dare turn to even look at them. They began whispering to each other obviously suspicious of me. Then the apparent leader of the group asked “Why you sneakin’ up on a group of armed soldiers that way? Are you plottin’ an ambush? Are you with the Redcoats, maybe a spy?” in a thick, burly and heavily accented voice.
Suspicions grew as I couldn’t produce an answer so they began circling me. Then one of them said “You better talk now boy or we’ll put you up on a noose and hang you right here, right now with a sign readin’ traitor on it!” Finally I was able to produce a sound. “I…I am from somewhere far away I arrived here for a scientific exploration of sorts. I don’t want any trouble I was simply exploring and would prefer to leave with myself and my research all in one piece.” Now the only thing I could think about was them finding the time machine. What would happen if they found that? What would they think? “You sneakin’ up on a General like that a’ready got you trouble. Now we need some real good answers or your fate’s as good as sealed.” Trying to think quickly on my feet failed me. I was speechless yet again. I didn’t recognize this man whom they claimed to be a General. I finally spoke “Like I said, I really don’t want any trouble. I was not trying to sneak up on you. I was out exploring in the woods and I heard a fire crackling and came to investigate. It’s as simple as that and I apologize for startling you. Can I please just be on my way?” “Sit down and shut up you sneak!” yelled the guy they addressed as the General.
I had to find a way to calm these guys down before I became part of history. “I am a scientist. I have come a long way just for my research and I would like to stay with you guys for protection. I don’t want to start trouble or be the cause of any trouble I just want to complete my research and be on my way.” The General boomed “I thought I said shut up!” “You did and I’m sorry but I had to explain before I got hurt or killed by your boys.” I said through quivering lips likely showing my high state of panic. “Well you sound like some kind a spy to me. You sure you weren’t sent by them damn Redcoats?” asked, apparently, the second in command. “No, no never I am an American born and raised. I wouldn’t side with them bastards as much as you wouldn’t. I just want to complete my research and be on my way, like I said.” “I ain’t buyin’ it General let’s get ‘im boys!” one of the soldiers screamed excitedly lusting for blood. They no longer had their weapons at the ready as they begin their charge so I chose a drastic move. I took off in the direction of the time machine. If I could just move quick enough back to it I could get back in and head right back home. It didn’t take them long to get their weapons back at the ready though. Within seconds bullets were whizzing past my head and spraying dirt off of the ground by my feet. I ducked behind a large tree in hopes of evading any bullet that may take aim at my brain and I had to collect my thoughts for a few seconds.
In that time someone had snuck up right alongside of the tree in my peripheral, he turned and pointed his musket at me. The son of a bitch fired. The cards fell right for me because the gun backfired and sprayed the guy’s brains on the tree behind him. I heard the other men close behind questioning who fired at who and decided this might be enough of a diversion for me to take off again. I started running as fast as I could through the trees and brush. Not too far behind me I heard one of them exclaim “He’s dead! He’s dead, his own gun killed him! You guys go find that bastard now! This is all that traitors fault!” I had gotten almost a hundred feet ahead of them by that point. I could see the machine about twenty feet ahead now. I was running faster than I had ever run in my life but I felt like I was running in place. I didn’t think I was ever going to get there but I did finally make it back to the machine. They were still about a hundred-fifty feet behind checking behind every tree they came across and under every cover they could see. Every nook and cranny was searched and occasionally shot at when they swore they seen someone. Luckily this bought me time and it meant they hadn’t seen how far I had kept running. I hopped in the machine, slammed the door behind me and began typing in the instructions that would take me back to my time; someone else can definitely volunteer next time, I thought to myself. I had no idea what had actually just happened back there but I was glad to be heading home after my short lived excursion into the past. The device whirred to life as I relaxed a little knowing it would only be a few moments before I would be back in the safe confines of my laboratory…back in the safe confines of my own time. Everything went silent as before then the loud bang and just like that the door popped open and I was back.
As I looked out of the open door everything seemed so bright, excruciatingly bright as a matter of fact, kind of like the bright light the dentist uses when he’s drilling on your teeth. Except for this light wasn’t just above me it seemed to envelope me. I didn’t know what was happening but everything finally began to clear up, the light that had surrounded me slowly seemed to creep away from me. Finally, after a few minutes of adjusting I was able to see again and my surroundings became well-defined rather than whitewashed. I could tell now that I was back in the lab but my partners were nowhere in sight. According to our calculations my time there would seem like only minutes to them, where could they have disappeared to in that short of time. They should have been busy at the computers studying the initial results of our first trip back in time, then sitting here waiting for me to return safely. Of course, our calculations were just theories maybe it had actually been hours or days or maybe even months. Maybe our calculations were just that far off. It didn’t seem likely but theories are what build answers. I had to start somewhere.
I finally had my bearings and slowly stood up out of the machine. At first everything appeared to be exactly as when I had left but upon closer inspection of my immediate surroundings it was evident something went wrong. There were documents scattered across our computers workstation. That wasn’t the odd thing out though. We were scientists things quickly became messy and disorganized as we came closer to a discovery. What were out of place with the documents were the names. They didn’t read Stanley or Michelle or even Mike. The research had all been credited to people with names of which I had never heard of at our lab. Todd, Maxwell, Doreen? Who were these people? And why are they receiving credit for our idea? Although, this is not just an idea, I have been back in time first-hand and I do know that this technology will change humanity forever; this idea had just become a reality. People will be able to go back to witness the most event filled times of our history, meet with ancestors, see dinosaurs in action, anything will be possible now. That is why everyone must know that my colleagues and I discovered this not some government agency that decided to swoop in at the end and take credit for it.
I took off my lab coat, which I mistakenly and stupidly wore back to the late seventeen hundreds, and started to wander the halls. If those government assholes had anything to do with it in order to shut us down or take credit for it they got another thing coming. I’d deal with that later though. For now I need to find my co-scientists and find some answers.
I left the semi-secretive corridors where we had been working on this project and went right, then straight down the hall to where our offices were. The halls were lined with pictures and paintings of famous scientists, specifically physicists, throughout history. The carpets were a deep rich red color, while the walls were made to look like they were made of solid mahogany. With all of the décor lining the hallway it had always seemed out of place that the office doors along the way were the basic cheap wooden doors with one opaque window and a name stenciled in black on it. Once I got to Michelle’s door I knew something had gone terribly wrong while I was gone. The black lettering that adorned the door was still there but it read Todd Mackenzie. Who the hell was Todd Mackenzie? This is Michelle Prescott’s office. Two more doors down, the door should have read Mike Mitchell but instead it read Maxwell Foster. OK so far this was creating more questions than it was answering. They wouldn’t have kicked everyone out and replaced them all within the time I was gone, unless of course, it had been months since I left; it just didn’t seem possible.
So I decided to follow the maze of hallways until I got to the director of our building’s office. Of course, it didn’t read Fred Tacker, it read Doreen Lackey. Now I was becoming more and more concerned but I was trying to keep my cool until I could get some definitive answers. I decided I would trot right into this Ms. Lackey’s office and demand some answers immediately. If I had to I would take it straight to the President and demand he give us our operation back.
With the most noble of intentions I grabbed the door handle, flung the door open ready to start screaming when Ms. Lackey yelled out “Who the hell are you and what gives you the right to walk in to my office like you own the place?” I went right up to her and said “You don’t get to ask questions right now. I need some answers. My first question is; why did my colleagues and I get kicked off of our time travel research? Some government bullshit I imagine!” “Now I don’t know what you’re talking about,” quacked Ms. Lackey, “but in about two seconds I will have security come and carry you out of this building with all of the force they can muster! I hope you enjoy getting roughed up!” I screamed out in rage “I don’t care what government agency sent you to shut us down but I at least want to know what happened to my friends and co-inventors Mike Mitchell, Michelle Prescott, and Stanley Fisher?” In the most annoyed voice Doreen said “I’m tired of your games, I don’t know you, I’m pretty sure someone in your mental state invented nothing, and I’ve never heard of them but I do know your time is up I’m calling security.” “Hang on, hang on, you, in all honesty have never heard of us? Or any of the research on time travel we have been doing?” Ms. Lackey explained “We have done research on time travel, me, Todd, and Maxwell; I can tell you genuinely believe you had something to do with it but you didn’t. I don’t know how you would even know about that top secret research. Maybe we can get you some help and find out what is wrong with you.” I said “Nothing is wrong with me. I went back in time to just before the Battle of Saratoga so I could witness what many historians believe to be the turning point in the Revolutionary War for the American Army. Then when I came back no one that I know is still here. You can see how I’m a little confused right now, right?” “I guess so. But what you’re telling me is that you time traveled before me and my colleagues even though we just produced a presumably working time machine.” Ms. Lackey said. I said “Yes that is what I’m saying. This was Fred Tackers office when I left. Back towards your colleagues offices were mine and my friend’s offices.” In utter disbelief she just sighed.
After our little exchange she invited me to sit down with her and discuss, in more detail, what I had just told her. We conversed for more than two hours. I told her everything about our top secret project and how we finally were able to take a test drive of the machine and that I volunteered for that test drive. I told here where I went to. I explained to her how the ride felt because, of course, she was curious. I even told her about the guys trying to gun me down while I was trying to escape back to the time machine. That was when I learned that the Battle of Saratoga didn’t go as the history as I knew it went. She thought I was crazy when I told her my memory of how that battle was supposed to have gone. She claimed there was no way, at least the way the historians tell it, that the Americans stood a chance from the start of the war. It turns out when the battle started the American troops, the ones first engaging the enemy on the front lines, lost their leader General Gates nearly two days before in a tragic accident while hunting down a presumed traitor; therefore, they were unfocused and lackluster in battle. This led to a fairly quick defeat of the American army at Saratoga and quickly. Like dominoes, the rest of the war collapsed for the Americans and the British retained sovereignty of America.
Doreen had already figured out who the man who blew his brains out was. I was suddenly speechless as it hit me like train. I knew I had to have been the presumed traitor in the story. I didn’t know who that guy was that splattered against the tree as he tried to fire at me but I knew now. I was accidentally responsible for the demise of the great General Gates who would have led the Americans to their first major victory in the Revolutionary War, in turn, jolting the momentum in favor of the U S of A. However, since he had his weapon backfire while trying to shoot me he wasn’t there to give his troops the motivation they needed to push forward and turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. The Americans had been defeated and the Monarchy of the United States was became the law of the land and had apparently remained that way over two hundred years later. By the end of our conversation we had nothing else to say for the time being. I just told her a history she could never imagine. I had just learned that I changed history so the present wasn’t even recognizable to me. It was a lot to digest for both of us so we went our separate ways for a while.
Now that I had figured out what happened it was time to locate my colleagues. I left the office in a state of confusion I didn’t know existed. My wildest dreams of time travel hadn’t envisioned this scenario. So, naturally, I had no idea what to do. I thought the others might be able to help me if I could just locate them. I started by going to each one of their houses. At each house lived someone I had never met or heard of in my life. I also noticed that all of the residents of those houses had very thick English accents. Then thinking back, in my moment of rage and panic, at the lab Ms. what’s-her-face had an accent too. Hers wasn’t as thick as the people I had just met but she did have an accent. I was in shock because, even though I realized what had happened, I was in the middle of Chicago hearing these thick English accents; it was surreal and my senses were having trouble coping. The landscape started to swim as I became faint from this shock to my system. As my head cleared I started to look around towards the skyscrapers downtown but to my surprise they weren’t there. This just added to the surrealist feeling the landscape and situation was already providing. I started to feel a little woozy and faint. I managed to maintain my balance but this was getting harder and harder to take in. I mean, there were some taller buildings there but nothing even remotely close to the likes of what it was when I left. I noticed flags hanging but with the British insignia, though slightly altered for the reason of differentiating between the “homeland” and the America’s, as I would later determine. This just kept adding to the surrealism of my situation.
By this point I finally understood what an insane person might feel like. Everything around me had changed but I hadn’t. I was the only one around who knew everything was different. Although I knew what happened none of these people had any idea of what was going on because they knew nothing different. Their history led to this being the way it had always been. I could have been dreaming for all I knew. It definitely felt like a dream. I even almost convinced myself I was dreaming but I knew that this was reality now.
I had to get back to finding my friends because I really needed them now. They were the only ones who could make sense of this, possibly even help me figure out how to undo what I had done. I wonder if they would even know me if I found them. We never would have met if they didn’t even live in Chicago. That got me thinking if I even existed in this future. Either way I decided to keep searching in hopes that the one-in-a-billion chance happened to lean in my favor. I headed to the phone books to look them up. I thought this might be futile from the start but I had to hope they were at least alive and living in Chicago. Even though everything else had changed I had to hold on to that last shred of hope that they would be living here.
I scoured the phone book only to discover I couldn’t find any of them in it. I decided to find a library so I would be able to use a computer. Maybe I could locate them in another city or even in Great Britain.
Instead of a library I found an internet café of sorts. Luckily it was free because I doubted that I had the right currency with me to pay for anything. I got to a computer to begin my worldwide search for them. This proved almost impossible because there were many people listed with the same names. So I thought of a clever solution; I would find their parents. One of their parents would be able to tell me where they were. It was to no avail. However, I had one last clever idea. Back when Mike and I were in college together we took on a genealogy project. During this project we helped each other out a lot. We both learned a lot about each other’s pasts. It was a good thing I remembered a lot of this project due to the fact we had had so much fun doing it. I remembered he had a great-great-great grandpa who had fought in the Revolutionary War for the Americans. I looked back and found that his three great’s grandpa had died during an early battle in this life. In the life I knew his, three greats, grandpa had become a hero on the battlefield, then married his great-great-great grandma and that is what led to his parents being born. Since he had died before he had a chance to meet her that could only mean that Mike didn’t exist. That could have happened to all of them. The thought of this made me shudder uncontrollably. Unfortunately, I didn’t know anything about the others ancestry so I was unable to see if their lives had disappeared too.
Now that I had found out what I really didn’t want to I would have to go on assuming none of the others were around either. I was alone in Chicago, a city I once loved and knew very well, not knowing anything about it in its present state. That surreal feeling swept over me again. This time I almost fainted right there in the café.
I had to get somewhere but I didn’t know where. My only option at this point was to head back to the laboratory.
© 2018 Phil