SHORT STORIES

Hindsight

“By God it worked!”

Dr. Raymond Ford: mathematician, physicist, eccentric, hack, drain on university resources, and now revolutionary inventor. Inventor of a device that would forever change the concept of space-time and its interaction with humanity. His colleagues couldn’t dream of creating something as monumental as what he had just made physical and real and whole. All they could muster was ridicule.

Time Glasses!

“OK, work on the name later,” he spoke to himself.

Ford removed the bulky, black glasses from his face and turned them over in his hands. Obviously, once he fiddled around some more, they would be much more compact and user-friendly when they hit the market. Consumers, military, police, scientists; he didn’t care. This invention would be the defining moment of his life.

Who’s laughing now? he thought.

He returned the time glasses to his face. Everything in the room took on a subtle shade of aqua as if he swam through a clear Aegean Sea. Looking forward, Ford only saw the world as it was, at that very instant. Miscellaneous scientific equipment, workbenches, and chalkboards.

The present!

If—while keeping his head in place— he looked to the periphery on his left, he saw hundreds of iridescently framed slices of space-time. Infinitely tall, infinitely wide, and imperceptibly thin. With a few moments practice, he was able to flip back through those slices, creating a motion picture of the past. He could see a slice of himself—from his point of view—staring at the back wall, a few more back he held the time glasses in his hand. With enough practice, he could watch himself eat breakfast.

While Ford could venture some benefits for looking back in time, it could also be done by a video camera. In fact, anyone could do it using a cellphone. Unlike cellphones, the glasses would only show the view point of the wearer. Since no one living today walked through the ancient pyramids while they were built with the glasses, it was unlikely historians would be busting down his doors waving wads of cash in his face.

When he gazed to the right, however, that’s when the naysayers would lose all words of contempt.

As with his left periphery, the right periphery held similar slices of space-time. However, these slices were not infinite. In fact—by his calculations—the slices only represented fifteen seconds.

Into the future!

This is where the beauty of his invention laid.

He watched his future self remove the glasses and write a few final notes in his journal. Pleased with his creation, Ford removed the glasses and wrote in his journal, it worked!!

Before he left for the night, he carefully placed the glasses into his jacket pocket, turned off the overhead lights, then proceeded out the door. While striding down the vacant hallway, echoes of his shoes reverberated back to him and into him. It reminded him of his loneliness not just at the university, but in his own life.

A thought occurred to him.

Did I remove the glasses and make that final note because I saw it in the glasses, or was I going to do that anyway?

 

***

He stood there underneath the last throes of a dying rainstorm. Solitary water drops pelted his jacket leaving small, wet bullet wounds.

Waiting at the bus stop, Ford attempted not to stare too long at the woman. His was a life of involuntary solitude. She stood silently under her umbrella, taking no notice of him; not one glance or thought. If she could only see what he’d created, see his worth, then he would never be alone again, and she could live the life of her dreams

Ford surreptitiously removed the time glasses from his pocket. Still, she didn’t notice him. He glanced, ever so carefully, into the future. In fifteen seconds, a taxi, hastily speeding past looking for a fare, would send a cascade of filthy city water, up and out of the gutter.

These glasses will pay off even more than I thought!

He grabbed the woman, cruelly ripping her from her vacant day dreams, and pulled her close.

“Hey, what the hell?” she gasped, briefly struggling to escape.

The taxi sped past as a golden streak, and as Ford had seen, a wave of oily, street water splashed high, then came down as a solid wall. Only a few, inconsequential drops, fell on her shoe.

“I’m sorry!” he spat out, releasing the woman from his grip.

She stared down at the grand deluge in the street, bits of litter and miscellaneous flotsam tumbling downstream. She turned and gauged the extent of the damage this man had just saved her from.

“Oh,” she started, words slowly working their way out into the open, “wow, uh…”

“I didn’t mean to scare you! I just saw the taxi, and the puddle…”

“No, thank you! I would’ve had a miserable ride if not for you.”

“Well then,” Ford breathed a sigh of relief, “I’m glad I could help!”

She looked at him. He couldn’t tell if it was him, she was looking at, or the glasses.

“I’ve actually had a really terrible day.” She breathed a sigh. “Seems you’ve saved me from the cherry on top. God, I need a drink. You wanna join?”

He couldn’t believe the words he was hearing.

“Yes, of course,” he hastily replied. “You just gave me another reason to celebrate tonight!”

“Another? You’ll have to tell me all about it!”

***

He walked alone down the darkened city streets. The waning euphoric buzz of alcohol left him in a state of contentment. Years of work paid off; years of mockery erased. The voices of his parents, teachers, colleagues, all saying he lacked any quality that would push him past mediocrity. None of that mattered to him anymore. He had harnessed time.

Time!

Now time was at his mercy. He could anticipate every move, recall anything that was said to him verbatim. This would change his life. This would change the world.

Should he change the world? Should he hand it over to the world like Prometheus giving fire to humans, against the orders of Zeus? Would it be used against his will? Against him?

Did Zeus not punish Prometheus for his act of rebellion?

His racing thoughts crashed violently into a wall of paranoia.

Ford ran.

He ran through the streets, ran past people lugging bags of groceries, people dressed in gawdy fashions ready to start their night of boozing and clubbing, people giving their dogs one more hour of exercise before bed, people huddled beneath oil-stained cardboard cradling a bottle as if it were a child.

He noticed none of them, only his fear of losing his work drove him forward. He said too much at dinner. Far too much. The fool told her everything. He dared not wear the glasses in public.

“Come on, come on!” Ford shouted at the front door as he swiped desperately with his keycard. The insignificant, imperceptible, and inconsequential gap from when the key hit the lock, to the door opening, stretched on like a galactic rubber-band infinitely binding the universe. The time it took for him to race from the front door to his laboratory felt nearly instantaneous.  

Panting in the doorway, Ford was relieved to see his laptop and notes untouched since he’d used them last. Hastily, he shoved scribbled notes into his pockets, erased all the equations off the chalk boards, then grabbed his laptop and secured it under his arm. He turned to leave, but before his hand could reach the doorknob, Ford saw that it was turning on its own.

Before the door opened, Ford quietly set the deadbolt and slipped behind a work bench. Glasses on, he looked to the right and watched in horror as the laboratory doors flew off their hinges. Laminate and wood and metal violently strewn across the room, like a cannonball lancing through a hapless ship’s hull. Through the debris marched in a brute of a man, eyes stern, chest broad, and weapon drawn.

Five seconds later, all that he had foreseen became reality.

In Ford’s glasses, the intruder went for the desk, so Ford went to the opposite side of the lab. A moment later the man hobbled over a broken door, releasing a sickening creak, then made for the desk. Ford could hear the man search through papers and draws. The man must have known what he was looking for. Ford counted seconds. In three seconds, the man would stoop down to inspect underneath the desk, searching for anything hidden. Ford slipped from the workbench and crept carefully and silently along the floor, toward the gaping hole in the wall where once stood his doors.

The glasses worked perfectly. Ford did not.

He had paid so much attention to the invader, that had he kept watching, he would have seen himself crawl onto the door, his weight shifting the massive wooden slab and creating a calamitous bang that reverberated throughout the room.

Twelve seconds later, the man sprang up from behind the desk as Ford scuttled away beside dust-covered equipment carts. Being a disorganized scientist made for many places to hide.

“Come on Ford,” the man bellowed. His voice held no anger, no malice, but simply an air of an individual just doing business. “I’m not leaving without those glasses.” The man slowly walked toward the noise.

“We’ve been watching you for some time now, we know they work, you told us so yourself. The woman at the bus stop? She was going to tail you, but lo and behold you did all the work for her.”  

Ford stopped to berate himself. Of course, she was only after the glasses, I am nothing. But, with these glasses, what am I now?

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” the man yelled.

Ford anticipated the man moving closer to the door. He answered by crawling back to the workbench. “Look, I’m walking outta here, with those glasses and your research. Whether you’re still alive after’s up to you.”

Dammit man think!

His lab was on the third floor yet lacked a fire escape. The windows were so old that there was no way Ford could sneak out of one without signaling the entire planet. The man was blocking the doorway, if Ford could get him to move away from it, maybe he could slip out.

It didn’t matter anyhow.

 Ford let out a low, defeated groan as the future showed the man turning around the corner of the workbench, pointing his cold, deadly firearm right at Ford. As the noise escaped his lips, the man heard where Ford lay hidden and whipped around the corner with his weapon drawn.

“Why?” begged Ford. Small tears streaked his face.

The man gave him a cold, aquiline stare.

“Because,” the man said, “something like this is far too dangerous to be released into the world. Case-in-point, you. You, my friend played too close to the fire.”

The future, had already been written for Ford the moment he played with time. Zeus would get what’s due after all.

The gun fired.

Ford’s shirt turned red.

His death, ruled suicide, was all too easy—for those that knew him—to believe. A man, who never amounted to anything, and whose work was never more than a grandiose idea in his head.

Dr. Raymond Ford: mathematician, physicist, eccentric, hack, drain on university resources, revolutionary inventor, and fallen titan.