The Light Fantastic

A teenager borrows his father’s time machine for a trip to the far-flung future, where he hopes to return with a piece of cool technology. The future, however, isn’t quite as bright as he’d expected.

—EXCERPT—

Pulse racing, Ryan slid a hand over the machine’s cool exterior, a shiver running to the tips of his red Converse sneakers. A sprinkling of lights overhead provided the lab’s only illumination—a constellation of stars guiding his way. No one ever questioned the comings or goings of the inventor’s son, even after hours.

The time machine resembled the cockpit of an F-14 fighter jet, a carven capsule of black hematite rather than boring forged steel—some benefit derived from the mineral’s electron density, as his father liked to drone on about. Whatever the scientific reason, the end result was a lot cooler than a DeLorean.

He knew the controls well enough, even if his father’s theories were beyond his grasp. Most people just stared with eyes like glazed donuts at Patrick Sean O’Connor, Professor of Quantum Physics at M.I.T., whenever he explained how the contraption worked. All anyone really wanted to know was if it actually would.

“Ryan Adam O’Connor,” he drawled, flicking a few switches. “The first time traveler.” He grinned, wondering if he should have worn his Star Trek costume. The looks on the photographers’ faces when he returned would be priceless, especially when he scanned the crowd with his tricorder. Instead, he’d opted for impressing the babes—leather trench coat, Genesis Holo-Tour 2063 t-shirt, strategically torn Levis. And mirrored sunglasses, of course. Time travelers always wore shades.

The sleek, lustrous machine hummed to life, filling the air with a softly fluctuating light—something in the violet range, with a hint of the light fantastic. Thousands of tiny hydro-magnets whispered as they whirled at some improbable speed, creating a crapload of gigawatts. Giordi La Forge himself would have been impressed.

The first trip would be the most important, to satisfy Congress that the machine would operate without blowing anything up or putting a dent in the space-time continuum. At the same time, it had to spark the imagination of the public, who was funding the $8.8 billion price tag with their hard-earned tax dollars. Disappoint either group and the project would die with an expensive whimper.

Ryan had put forth several first-rate suggestions: stop Hitler, save John Lennon, or prevent the Red Sox from trading Babe Ruth. All worthy goals, which his father even tacked to a caulk board in his office. The professor couldn’t attempt any of those things, however, without the feds’ approval, and Congress was meeting tomorrow to decide on a “suitable” first voyage.

The government sucked the life out of everything. It seemed doubtful the feds would be overly concerned with a peacenik like Lennon, or willing to attempt something as tricky as stopping der Führer on the first go. And more than one member of Congress was probably a stinking Yankees fan. Congress was more likely to opt for a purely symbolic journey, like securing an autographed photo of George Washington, or punching Genghis Khan in the face.

As far as Ryan was concerned, there was only one major problem with the whole thing: his father—Sean as he liked to be called—insisted on piloting the machine himself. Despite his brilliance, dear Sean often had trouble backing out of the driveway. In a stressful moment, he could easily make a fatal error and poof—Ryan would be an orphan. If their mother were alive, maybe Sean would listen to reason, but he was being stubborn, as usual.

So be it.

Ryan entered the security code—swiped from his father’s brilliantly unlocked briefcase—and the F-14’s bubble canopy rose. Heart thumping, he leaped into the control seat.

“Welcome my son,” he sang. “Welcome… to the machine!” Duffle bag flung onto the co-pilot’s seat, he strapped himself in. The bubble hummed shut, sealing with a pneumatic hiss. Cool, minty air flowed into the cockpit. Nice, but pizza-scented had been his personal preference.

If things went smoothly, good old Sean would eventually forgive him and Ryan would be famous—elevated to instant hero status alongside Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Carl Yastrzemski, and without any mucking about with degrees in physics and engineering.

Down to business.

He’d given a lot of thought to what time period he should visit. Saving John Lennon was his first choice—his father would be pleased, and who could be angry at rescuing the fallen Beatle? Yet, a small voice whispered, it was the future he needed to explore, not the past. The past was old news. History, as they say. Real explorers broke new ground, boldly going where no one had gone before. If he were to bring back a piece of advanced technology—food replicator, warp coil, light saber—it would not only validate the success of the time machine, but it would make Congress very, very happy.

And then he could save Lennon.

Since there were no historical precedents for a trip to the future, Ryan chose 2344—the year of the Klingon alliance with Starfleet. It seemed as good a year as any. He set the date to noon on July 13th—Jean-Luc Picard’s birthday, and why the hell not? Latitude and longitude he set for a cozy nook of Buena Vista Park, Cole Valley, San Francisco. A nice, safe place with lots of friendly people, some percentage of which would be California girls. Yummy.

Despite his flaws, Sean believed in making things as simple to use as possible. In keeping with this philosophy, a friendly green button shone beneath the “year” indicator. It was simply marked Go.

Ryan took a deep breath, settling himself into the cool leather seat. The machine hummed in a whisper of awesome technologies, awaiting the utterance of his soon-to-be historic words. He switched the recording module on.

“To infinity and beyond!”

He pushed Go.

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