By Presidential Order

By Presidential Order

This excerpt occurs midway through the book. At this stage, they have just built their prototype two-way time travel machine and are about to test it.

September 5, 2050
New Buildings
Arizona Research Facility

Director Bill Watson paced anxiously as the technicians completed their final checks. The prefabricated structure had been assembled in record time, but that meant that the interior was undecorated. In the center of the room sat a grey box. Featureless on all sides, the lid was open and a cable ran to the front of the control room wall, through which he knew that the instructions for the trip were being fed into the internal computer.

Beside the box sat a small rover, similar to the Mars rovers from decades before, but smaller, with a single camera and microphone on a telescopic pole. Beneath both, the floor was sand in a circle some twenty feet in diameter. Above, the ceiling was slowly retracting, and the gentle moonlight was gracing the far wall in a gently descending line. He shivered in the cold desert air.

The control room door opened and Gerry Greenfeld came out.

"Director, we're about to launch if you'd care to come into the control room. We really have no idea what will happen."

He walked across to the grey box, removed the cable and closed the lid, which snapped shut with a satisfying click. Taking the cable with him, he wound it around two screws fixed roughly in the wall, and once satisfied it was secure, climbed the steps behind the Director and closed the door.

Inside, the incomplete room was only deep enough for a few spectators standing on the edge of the half-installed floor with a three-foot drop to the sand behind. Bill stood next to Alison McCabe watching Gerry adjusting the controls.

A beep came from a speaker fixed to the wall above the viewing window. Gerry flicked a switch and the window went dark. Five seconds later, the beeps started again, repeating every second until the tenth, which continued sounding until a final, higher pitched beep coincided with a bright flash of light from the other side of the window. Then silence.

After a few seconds, they all felt the building lurch slightly.
"What the fuck was that," asked Bill.
Alison looked behind her.

"I'm not sure, but it was disturbing. It would be too much of a coincidence if we were to get a tremor at that exact moment, so it must be connected somehow." She pushed her way to the door and went out to examine where the box and rover had been.

"Ah. I see. The transfer is a sphere, which is why we left a hole in the floor. But when it took the sand and rock away with it, the sides have caved slightly. Before we send the next test out, we need to concrete that part of the floor. Probably best to concrete an entire square there to stop it happening again."

"But if we do that, wherever it lands it will be on a hemisphere of concrete. Very unstable, and any people within will have a seven-foot drop to get out, unless we have actually inserted the platform into the ground, which will itself cause some form of ground movement."

"Very true. Sand is therefore our best solution until we can come up with a better solution. But we still need to concrete in around the sphere here."

Gerry joined the conversation.

"Just an idea, but wouldn't it be better to concrete in the sphere outline, then have a sand base to about one third of the way up. Put a solid platform on that and put the box on legs to the exact center?"

There was silence as the idea was digested. Finally, Bill responded.

"I like that idea. We'll do it. But after the test phase. For now, we'll have to put up with the mini earthquakes."

April 3, 27 AD
Near Qatsrin, Judea

Jeremiah sat comfortably, his head and face covered against the burning sun as his donkey slowly made its way along the road to Capernaum. There was little to see out here in the desert, but it was always wise to keep an eye open for bandits, who plagued this and all roads throughout Judea. He just hoped that they too would be heading for Jerusalem for the Passover.

He was checking the hills ahead to his left when the light suddenly brightened and his donkey abruptly stopped. Frowning, he looked around him, just in time to see an intensely bright light fading on top of a hill ahead and to his right. He watched for a while, wondering if bandits were signaling to each other.

When nothing happened, he urged his donkey forward, keeping a careful eye on the spot. As he drew near, he could see something up there, just sitting on top of the hill so he turned his mount aside and carefully guided him up the hill.

Just below the top, an old, long dead tree lay prone so he dismounted and tied the old donkey to the wood. Carefully, quietly, he clambered up the remaining hill until he could peer over the brow.

Directly in front of him, about ten amot [seventeen feet] away he saw a grey box, about two amot by three. The sand around it was a different color and piled up as if someone had dumped it there. He was about to scramble up over the lip when he heard a scrunching sound away to his left. Abruptly, he ducked his head down out of sight and withdrew slightly from the edge. When he looked up, he saw another, smaller grey box, but this one had an eye on a stalk which was looking directly at him.

Screaming in terror, he leapt to his feet and ran down to his donkey, released him and urged him into as much of a trot as the aged ass could manage on the treacherous slope.

He looked back. The eye had not followed him. He heaved a sigh of relief and wiped his brow.

Once the donkey reached the road again, he slowed it to a steady plod, glancing nervously over his shoulder lest the eye follow him. It didn't. A few minutes later he again saw the light brighten but this time, he didn't look back.

September 6, 2050
New Buildings
Arizona Research Facility

The bright light was followed by a muffled thump. Alarmed, everyone ran from the control room.
In the launch room, the main grey box lay across the rover.
"What happened?"
Dan Broad hunkered down beside the pit.
"Is it supposed to be at a lower level?"
"It wasn't when it left. We seem to have lost some of the sand."

"Quite logical, actually," interjected Alison, "think of the shape it was when it landed; the bottom half of a sphere. As soon as the field dropped out, a lot of it would have simply fallen, and so when it left, a lot of the space was just air. There'll be a ring of Arizona sand left in the Israeli desert."

"OK, that makes sense. We'd better fix the box to a flat plate to stop it falling. I just hope the rover isn't too damaged. I promised NASA I'd return it intact."

Carefully, Dan clambered down into the pit and lifted the grey box off the rover. He rocked it back and forth to give it a secure footing, then gently gathered the rover and passed it out to Gerry.

Scrambling back out, he reclaimed the precious rover from Gerry and took it to a room down a short corridor, followed by Alison, Caroline and the director while Gerry stayed behind and went back to the pit to open the lid of the grey box.

In the viewing room, Dan placed the rover on a table at the back of the room and squatted down to examine it minutely. Finally satisfied, he reached underneath to press a concealed button, causing a section of the top to pop open. Reaching inside, he extracted three small cards which he took to a computer sitting in the far corner.

He pushed the cards into three slots, waited a moment and then typed something into the computer. Several horizontal graphs appeared on the screen and he studied them for a moment.

"I see no excessive radiation, temperatures look nominal and sound levels were within the boundaries we set. Although there is a bit of a spike in sound at one point-ah well, we'll find out."

He typed into the computer again, and this time, they saw an arid scene on the screen. In the distance, they could see a small figure on a donkey plodding along a dusty road. Then the picture lurched a little before pointing down to the dry, dusty surface as the rover moved forward.

"Why so close to the road?" asked Bill.
"We didn't know there was a road there."

After a few seconds, it levelled out and they could again see the figure on the road. The image panned left as the rover turned and trundled around to the side. Next, they saw the steep hill below before the rover again moved around behind the box.

"It was programmed to circle the box, take in the view every ninety degrees and look down the hill," commented Dan, "it has a sensor underneath to prevent it falling off the edge."

They watched as it repeated the exercise at each point, but when it returned to the starting point and looked down, they saw a terrified face at a range of about three feet. The audio, which to this point had mostly been the sound of the rover's wheels on the loose sand and gravel, erupted in a loud scream as the man turned and ran back down the hill to his donkey, almost jumped aboard and urged it down the hill, glancing behind him.

Laughter erupted in the room as they watched, then the panoramic view returned and the rover turned and trundled up a small incline to take up its spot next to the grey box.

"Well, we'll have to check the data more minutely, but it looks to me as if the first test run was an unqualified success. I suggest drinks in the dining room this evening."

April 7, 27 AD.
Golan Heights

Katie Bareham blinked as the searing light faded. As she had been instructed, she lowered the grey box and placed her hand beside the red emergency escape button. Finally, she lifted her head and gasped.

Before her she saw the sea of Galilee spread out in a panorama which spread to the hazy horizon. The sun burned down fiercely, making her grateful that protocol had insisted that she wear a protective suit, virtually a spacesuit. Over to her right, she could see some sizeable settlements clinging to the shores of the sea and fishing boats ranged around the surface of the water attested to their primary trades.

She remembered her training and after a quick look around to make sure there were no threats, lifted her arm and started checking her instruments. Satisfied that her suit had suffered no harm during the transit, she lifted a box of instruments and checked the readings. Finally satisfied that she had not encountered any harmful radiations, and that the immediate environment was equally harmless, she put the box down and looked around carefully to make sure that she was not being observed.

Checking the elapsed time display on the side of the grey box, she unclipped her helmet and shook out her thick blonde hair. The costume concealed her lithe figure from view but could not conceal the fact that she was rather short. Stepping carefully, she climbed the slope to fully take in the view, then lifted the camera hanging around her neck and took photographs in every direction. A beep from the box behind her told her that she had two minutes left, so she hastily returned, extended the legs on the box and only remembered at the last minute to replace her helmet.

September 15, 2050
New Building
Arizona Research Facility

The light faded and the crowded control room let out a collective gasp as they saw Katie standing calmly beside the boxes in the pit. After a moment, she lifted her hands and released her helmet before climbing the steps up the side of the sphere pit.

Gerry Greenfeld was busily checking his control panel, but everyone else crowded from the room to greet the first human to travel through time.

"How was it, Katie?" asked Bill Watson.
"Fine, absolutely fine. I'm glad you put the box on retractable legs or I'd have had a lot of problems, but with that, no problems that I could detect."

"Well, after the mouse cage toppled over on the last test, we had no choice, really. If it had fallen another few inches, it would have been outside of the sphere. But now we know-a human being can successfully transit through time. I think a celebration is in order. Drinks on me in the dining room tonight. I placed an order for a case of champagne-real, French champagne-just in case."