Doc Science and the Time Machine

I hadn’t even pulled out my money prior to sitting down before Tommy pitched a couple of books of matches on the bar in front of the chair I was staking out. He knew me well. The Doc was in the corner as usual with two bottles of Blatz, his only brand, one full and one he was working on standing like soldiers at attention in front of him. He had a pile of chips I reckoned would last till closing as a tactical reserve.

“How ya been Wes?” he volunteered.

“Been good Doc, seven more week of winter and we can shoot the ground hog for dinner and get on to another year.” I had to speak up a little to be heard over the sounds of an old Johnny Mercer tune playing the background. Only reason it seemed loud was we were so close to the speaker. I admit that the old tunes were one of the reasons I keep coming here.

“Let me buy you a drink son,” he said giving a nod to Tommy and placing the wooden chip from on top of his pile into the bar’s gutter. This was unusual. The Doc wasn’t shy about by the odd round here and there but usually he paid with entertainment. No one could tell a story like he did.

“Why you buying Doc? Win the Lottery? Guilty conscience?”

“Not a bit of it, I’m just sold a little device I cobbled together and I figure to spread the wealth.”

Tommy sat a Lunkinkrugles down in front of me took two chips from me and plopped a dollar next to the Doc’s stack. We had worked this routine out in the past and it was usually good for a chuckle but today Doc didn’t seem to care. Didn’t even seem to notice.

The door to the side of the bar opened in came this tall gaunt looking fellow I was didn’t think I had ever seen before. But he did look kinda’ familiar, like from a dream, poorly remembered. The Doc waved him over.

“Who’s that?” I asked in a low voice while he made his way past the tables that were still out on the dance floor left over from last nights fish fry.

“Guys name is Pat — Pat O’Donnell — out of state, I just met him the second time an hour ago at the hardware. He’s got a story to tell I think you might find interesting,”

I had told the Doc that I had taken to jotting down some of the things we talked about, his yarns, and he had said he didn’t mind. “No one important much believed me before so just you scribblin’ down notes ain’t gonna’ change things.”

By that time this Pat fella had made it down to the end of the bar and took the corner stool at the 90 degree angle where the long part broke towards the wall. His expression seemed to me a mixture fear with a hint of relief due to the fact that he had found us, or at least had found the Doc, who like me, was holding down one of the two seats on the bar’s short side. Then the Doc introduced us, signaled Tommy for a beer, and said, “Well you didn’t find your car now did you Pat?”

“You were right and the thing is gone, what do I do now”

“Why not tell Wes here the whole thing? Calm your nerves and we can go on from there.”

“You really think I should tell him?” He looked at me like I was some kind of a mistake about to happen.

“Get right on with it. Wes has known me for a while and has heard stranger.”

“Ok then. You see Wes; I come from not exactly the future but from an alternate history. One where time travel is part of the natural order of things. The Doc invented it there too but we were just learning how to use it when the aliens threw us for a loop.”

“Hold on,” I said, and signaled for still another round. This story was not going to be interrupted once it got going. After delivery the time traveler took it up where he had left off.

“When the aliens first landed I not only thought they were a bunch of rubes but I had proof. The first week I sold three of them the Brooklyn Bridge. And my neighbor down the street sold off the Empire State building and the White House. But we were small time. These guys out West sold them the Rocky Mountains, imagine that! “

“Everything was going smooth and we were all making money hand over foot.”

“Is that anything like ‘hand over fist?’ And Money? — What were they paying with?” I asked.

“Anything you wanted, they had this replicator thing that would make whatever you thought of, least if it was something they could get a hold of and take a sample. Wasn’t long till gold was worthless but a prime steak was always good for a meal. And speaking of prime, I don’t know if the Doc ever mentioned it,” He looked right at the smiling figure and paused.

“Never till now, but go ahead, Wesley can take it.”

“You see the way this time travel thing works if every time you do something the path to the future splits, alternate realities.”

“I heard about it.” I was staying non committal; the Doc might have set this whole thing up. Wouldn’t put it past him.

“That’s how it is, ‘ceptin’ for this place right here.”
“This bar?”

“No! This time line! Your Doc. Our Doc. He’s the one that got it all in motion. So this is the anchor line so to speak.”

Now I could see the Doc—his Doc—our Doc—or whatever. . . was so pleased as to feel no need to put a word in for himself. If this was a set-up it was a good one.

“Not only that but except for a note or two every now and then the Doc here in this line is the only one who can control what gets in or out of the local time stream. He had to let me in or I wouldn’t be talking to you.”

“How does he do that?”
“Shoot me! I should look like a scientist or something?”
“Ok again,” I said, “finish up with the aliens.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. They got everything they paid for, bridges, mountains, everything. Took it all, even got my car, took it all and then they left. Now I just wish they would bring all the stuff back and we could start over again.”

After the time machine guy left the bar I asked the Doc why that it being the case he knew so much about time machines and such, how come he didn’t go off and make himself rich? Like in the stock market or something, maybe betting on sporting events, picking lottery winners? There must be a thousand ways.

“Oh far more ways than that I assure you. But it just won’t work”
“For the Life of Riley then . . . Why not?”

“Because this is science we’re dealing with here and not magic! Not like those stories you write. You see to go back in time you pick up energy, a lot of energy, and have to give it all back when you return. To go forwards in time takes energy, more than we produce on the entire planet if we want to go further than a few seconds up-time. We would get it all back again when we returned to the past, but that doesn’t help if you don’t have enough to get moving in the first place.”

I had kind of skipped the second part of the explanation after the Doc mentioned the stories I write. Always good to find a reader and the Doc was the kind of reader I hoped that I appealed to.

“You’re not the only one that wonders why I write things the way I do. The guy that runs the servers on a couple of the web sites asked me the same thing, What I told him was this: that I am writing Space Opera, not trying to predict the future or even write the thing like I think it will turn out. Space Opera, pure, plain, and simple!”

“Look here Wes, I have some idea of the numbers of readers that follow your stories, and not to put too fine a point on it . . . no let’s just say you might could do better with a little more realism.”

“Easy for you to say!”

“Well yes it was,” and he took another swallow and called for another Blatz. “I can tell you from certainty that someday we are going to have computers smarter than we are, robots to take over all the things that we don’t want to do for our selves. After that why even illegal Mexicans are going to be redundant. Now there is something to write about.”

“No point in writing about robots Doc. Sure in the future we are going to have them and I figure not too much beyond that and we give them the vote and everything that goes with it. That’s the part that depresses me.”

“Okay,” the Doc said, looking like he regretted it or soon would. “Why does that depress you Wes?”

“Isn’t it obvious! They’re robots after all. Machines! With all the rights we have I know what will happen because who can stop them from making as many more robots and as fast as they want. And what happens next? Why they vote in the welfare state for the rest of the robots and then where does that leave us who are merely human?

“Really Wes, you worry too much. Any robot smart enough to vote will be smart enough not to fleece the geese that lay the golden eggs.”

“They’ll be smart alright, smart enough to know just how far to go. It’s gonna’ be just like Roman times, Bread and Circuits, and people getting the crumbs! Are you really going to want to welcome your Robot Overlords?”