Dreamed 1973/11/23 by Chris Wayan
My name is Liza Doolittle. Yes, the one Mr. Shaw wrote about in "Pygmalion," though I don't much resemble that silly slipper-fetching girl in "My Fair Lady." I left my insufferably vain language tutor, of course, and no, I didn't marry that upper-class twit Freddy. I set out for America, where any accent, even Cockney, is accepted, and I began a new life. I went to college. There's more to an education than a posh accent, as I know better than most.
I have no intention of telling you how I ended up with Mr. Wells's celebrated Time Machine.
One morning, I wake up in my college dormitory to find that our whole floor has been transported to an alien world. The woods out the windows are none of Earth. And that orange sky! Garish as a perpetual sunset. Already I hunger for blue.
This world, as far as we can see from the roof, is empty of the works of man, or the local beast with reason. Will the next accent I must learn be spider, or bear, or cockatoo?
On the other side of the roof, the same endless green-brown wood, the same orange sky. A great snowy highland looms to the right. Wait! On the horizon stands a tiny silver needle. Surely it is an ethereal vessel! Perhaps we can arrange passage home.
Should we brave the wood, go to meet them? Or wait here, for their attack? For their thoughts make it clear they will attack.
Still, a school-girls' dorm is not the best headquarters for a military campaign. My better-bred classmates indulge in despair, and seem inclined to throw themselves on the mercy of Martians. But having felt the stern will in our enemies, I am inclined to action. It may seem curious that my having led a wretched life should spur me to defend it harder, but I have come far, and perhaps appreciate simple things such as meals, beds, and not being spat upon. I am not ready to give up my new life (except, possibly, exams).
I will not risk the wood, for I do not wish to fight. But I will dare a third choice: the Machine.
I perch on the chair, surrounded by bronze and crystal bars. A long time I sit, looking at the faces of my classmates, until I have mastered my heart; and then I slide the dial.
This world, this time, becomes something like a crowded hall with clocks inset by the million in its walls. Curiously, half of them move backwards. Why I cannot guess, but it is always so. As I glide slowly through the hall, time rushes forward around me. People move en masse; motorcars flow like red corpuscles along great highways. These streams flicker and pause now and then, their numbers lessen a while as things seem simpler, then life turns busy again--a new civilization. A bright flash of war--electric or atomic, no doubt. I cluck in disapproval, but inside, my Cockney da says "Always been this way, love, always will be. Least there's some good times among the bad."
I ride deeper into time, beyond autos, beyond wars. I pause in a huge hall with Oriental characters hung on the walls. All is clean and light, nothing like the corrupt, weak China of my own time. Is this the deep past, Imperial China at its height, or is it a renaissance, a second rise to greatness after all was lost?
I drive on, into the far future. Reach the end of the hall and slide the dial to "park". I step down into the end of time. Or is it? No, there's a door. I walk out of the hall... and the ground dissolves beneath my feet. I'm floating between pale stars. I've gone one step too far. Lost in the ether, at the end.
A shining woman appears. No, not an angel, but good enough for a time-savage like me. A civilized woman, from an age that might as well be one of angels or gods, for all I can grasp of their ways.
She's quite friendly though, and says "Oh, certainly, we can send you back. What era and which star do you want?" We laboriously work out some common units and I describe the size of our sun and the planets. I am indeed glad I took a course in astronomy my first semester, though my dorm-mates all teased me. But small children who WILL wander should at least learn their full home address.
She sends me on a tour of all the possible matches. Riding my Time Machine, in a bubble of air, I orbit dozens of Jupiters, and grander worlds yet, darting around systems curiously like my own, but wrong, subtly or horribly; or worst of all, gloriously wrong, so much better than poor tormented Earth that I'm tempted to lie and beg to stay, like a mongrel whimpering at a manor's back door. But I go on, until, circling the one hundred and seventy-eighth lemon-white star, I stumble on home.
But home in the far future. Too far! Time itself appears to have run down. My Time Machine travels readily through those dimensions we name spatial, but seems disoriented in the temporal. The clock-walled Hall of History appears, but its walls lit by green clock-dials have gone dark. I'm so far in the future that Time itself is dying! My machine needs calibration, a signpost toward the past.
I dismount and in growing panic I hunt the dim halls for a clock running backwards. I find three still living, but ticking only into the useless future. Footsore and frightened, I search on in the endless dark. I am surely lost in time. I went too far.
Then at last, a fourth green glow. A backward clock; the last, perhaps, in the universe. I drag the Machine under it and wait while it absorbs the resonance of that pendulum-swing. I try a small jump back; and another. A few more clocks now light the Hall. When I twist the dial to full speed reverse, the Machine finds its way, kicks its heels, and gallops toward home.
I will not ask myself who winds these clocks through all of time, only to watch them decay and die. I am simply grateful that I can still travel back, due to one survivor. But how close I came! Only one. I was nearly stranded, five billion years from home.
As I travel back to my century and my body and my bed, dropping Liza Doolittle like a work-apron, and putting on Chris Wayan (for a hundred years hence, that is my name) I see a final little vision, one not from Liza's time, but from "Fantasia."
It's autumn, and leaves blow off a branch, flying away, and I follow, soaring into a cold fall sky. Layers of cloud, higher and higher. I brush them away, but there's always one more...
And that, I realize as I wake, is exactly the futility of time travel.
Then, waking fully, I wonder exactly what that means.
What I mean.
WHAT'S IT MEAN?
Along with Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, HG Wells's The Time Machine and the TV series Dr Who, science fiction fans will no doubt recognize Vonda McIntyre's trisexual snakes, small creatures used by healers in her novel Dreamsnake, but here grown large, sensual and... grumpy.
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