"Spacecab" by Andy McCann

Yesterday the World
by Tony Thorne


Tonight I'm celebrating and finally typing these notes to go with my technical design data and the working drawings!

Right at the beginning I recall considering this proposition. Take that bottle of Scotch I have on the table. Suppose I leave it for a few hours before I drink it. Then I get into a time machine and go back to say five minutes before I began to drink it. It would ALL still be there, so I could drink it all up again. Then if I went back further, say another five minutes, it would again still be there. What an alcoholic's paradise of an idea!

If it was possible, I could keep on repeating the process, right back to when the bottle was first put on the table. Why not thousands of times, if I left it there long enough? If I didn't drink it I could take it and put it in the time machine each time I went back, even if it was only for about two minutes; I could fill up the machine with full bottles. I could start and soon fill a warehouse!

A further thought … Suppose if on my return to the present with a bottle, I simply took it back in the machine again, right back to when it was first put on the Table? I could put it next to the original one, then do the same thing again. That would really speed things up! Perhaps if I went back minutes before that I could even hand the bottles to myself! No, there's an insurmountable paradox there. My calculations show it's not possible to alter an original event. Anything later though, appears to be OK.

Then I had another idea. I could keep going into shops with the same money and buy things with it again and again. I could even keep putting it into a bank account. What's more, if I went back carefully timed and often enough, I could even keep getting on to the end of a queue where everyone in front was me. All with the same money!

After considering those light-hearted paradoxical thoughts, I nevertheless decided that the idea of going back in time was really attractive. With Honours Degrees in Physics and Electronics behind me, I was very confident of success. However, it would be important not to try to change anything that's already happened. I wouldn't want to go back in time and have an accident while I was there, especially a serious one.

Then I had a better idea. How about going back to last week with the numbers that won the State Lottery? Then again, and again, over the weeks before. I guess though, I'd soon get recognised and possibly be disqualified, so I'd have to spread things out a bit, over the time since when the biggest Lottery first started. After all, how many millions does one need for a really good life?

It's taken me some time to get all the parts I needed. Money was the main problem, my lack of it, that is. Once the machine was up and running, I knew I'd have no more financial problems. I'd be able to build up a big bank balance in no time … relatively speaking. Even the same small amount would soon mount up. Then I could take out a large amount and put it back in earlier, again and again.

I had to skimp and save and occasionally take chances with my landlord and certain authorities. I also made friends with a few wealthy drunks. Once I even found a bulky wallet and got a nice reward for returning just the photos in it. I kept records of anything I felt uneasy about taking. I knew it would be easy to replace anything when my machine was running … with interest, of course!

Now, after five tough years, I had hoped to be ready to assemble the last few parts of my invention and start testing everything. Unfortunately, I have a serious problem. One vital component is still required, a special kind of chip. That's all I need. I can only get it from Japan and it will cost a lot more than I have left. Without it, my calculations show that the machine will only be able to travel back in time about ten minutes. That's hardly useful for winning the big Lottery.

However, all is not lost. Some betting shops will take you on up to 5 minutes before a race starts. The problem I was facing yesterday is that my apartment is easily more than ten minutes walk away from the nearest betting shop! Also, I don't even have a telephone; they took it away last week and disconnected me.

To get around the problem I've reduced the size of the machine somewhat, by removing some outer panels and parts of the frame. It's more portable now. I've had to reduce the size and number of the batteries too. The machine uses a lot of power and will probably only work once without recharging. That should be enough for what I need it to do first.

I've made friends with a driver. He's agreed to take me to the betting shop near the bar where I met him, paying at the end of the day. The first race is scheduled for 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. I'll take my pocket radio to be sure of knowing the result in good time. Then I'll switch on the machine and stroll in to make my bet. I've scraped up enough to get things going and hope the winner will be a hundred-to-one outsider!

After collecting my winnings we'll go on to a few other betting shops, to avoid recognition. For as many of the later races as we can fit in. From tomorrow, my fortune will be assured. Once that missing chip is installed in the machine, the big Lottery will be next.

I think the first thing I'll have to buy is a new cartridge for this old printer....

* * *

Extract -- Recovery Report 2009/2 -- International Space Station

We detected the object, initially by radar, in a highly eccentric solar orbit. The navigation computer indicated that it would intercept our orbit just within five-and-a-half days -- i.e., close enough, and with a relative speed slow enough, for capture using a manned escape pod. The retrieval was successful. The object has been identified as the severely scorched remains of an old New York taxi with an expired license. It contains some kind of machine, which appears to have become forcibly impacted inside the roof of the vehicle. Two human bodies in a highly desiccated condition were also recovered, as yet unidentified. The meter in the taxi was shattered but, being of the old mechanically operated type, still displayed some data. We compared the time and date it indicated with a computer analysis of its retraced orbit. We then compared its starting position with where the Earth was in its orbit around the sun, at the same time. The result gave a 10.237 minutes discrepancy, even after several re-runs, which to date we have been unable to explain.

Appendix to this Report: The attached notes have just been found under a seat in the taxi, in a very poor condition. However, after computer enhancement, they are now mostly legible. The technical design drawings and data, referred to therein, have not been found. We have begun examining the wreckage of the machine found inside the vehicle, but it is severely damaged and we may not be able to learn much from it.



Story © 2003 by Tony Thorne tonythorne@aol.com

Illustration © 2003 by Andy McCann andy@planetmag.com

Back to Table of Contents