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'Time travel!' Fred snorted. 'Tell me you're joking.'
'You don't believe it's possible?'
Sometimes, I like dancing near the edge. This was one of those times.
I was sitting in the Poulson's dining room in Castlemaine. We had finished the main course and Jan and my wife, Susan were in the kitchen, preparing dessert. I heard them quietly talking and laughing. Why is it that the best conversations generally take place in another room?
I don't like Dr.Fred Poulsen. He's free with his opinions and mean with his wine. Devilry or simple boredom had suggested a topic that I knew he'd dismiss.
'Time travel is a load of nonsense,' he declared with academic certitude.'Padenski, Farrell and many other experts have dismissed the subject. I could lend you their books, but I doubt a layman like yourself could follow their reasoning.'
I lunged across the table and helped myself to the bottle of Merlot. No point in waiting until Poulson noticed my glass was empty and had been so for the last 40-minutes.
'I'll grant a little movement back or forward in time is possible,' he conceded loftily. 'An atomic clock in a plane traveling at supersonic speed will lose seconds, compared to the same clock on earth. Also there's the classic theory of the twins. One stays on earth, while the other jets off into space, traveling at the speed of light. After an interval of some years, the twin who returns from space will be younger than his or her twin.'
'Doesn't that support the idea of time travel?'
'Only if you're talking about changes of weeks or perhaps a month. To travel back or forward centuries, you would need to go much faster than the speed of light. Einstein demonstrated that nothing can travel faster than light. Case closed.'
'Warp speed?' I suggested innocently.
Poulsen seized the bottle and set it down firmly out of my reach.
'Escape into another universe through a worm hole or black hole?'
'Only if you're willing to emerge on the other side, squashed as flat as a licorice strap!'
Watch it, I warned myself. The temptation to say something that would wipe the smug smile from Poulsen's face was almost overpowering.
'Some scientists claim to have teleported simple objects through space. Disbursed and reassembled molecular structures. I'm sceptical until I see their experiments replicated.
'Time travel,' Poulsen concluded, 'Has always been and will always be science fiction. Trust me, it's impossible.'
'Did you have a nice talk with Fred?' Sue asked as we drove back to Maldon.
'The man's a pompous ass! We got onto the subject of time travel.'
'You didn't say...,' she trailed off.
'No, of course not. But I felt tempted. Tell me what Jan had to say. Any gossip?'
The next day, Andrew Chapulin drove out to my farm. I felt glad that the property is set far off a lightly used dirt road, the house screened by the dense cover of a cypress hedge. I like to keep a low profile and the sight of a gleaming black Jensen 'Interceptor' sports car would turn heads in Melbourne central, much less our quiet rural village.
I met Andy in Melbourne. We both subscribed to the U.K. magazine 'The New Scientist' which had organised one of its popular 'Frontiers of Science' conferences at 'The Hyatt'. The conferences bring together laymen and scientists together every second year to learn the latest advances in subjects such as genetic shearing, molecular computers, the expanding universe and my favorite topic, time.
Andy and I were seated together. We began chatting before the conference, our animated conversation continuing over lunch. At the end of the proceedings, I invited him to Maldon. This was unusual for I'm normally wary with strangers.
In time as our friendship grew and I learnt to trust him, I revealed the great project I had been working on for almost 10 years since my retrenchment from the notoriously fickle electronics industry.
Andy was thrilled at my discovery. A natural businessman, he immediately saw its commercial possibilities.
'Andy, how are you?' Susan asked, emerging from the house, wiping her hands on her apron. 'Do you have time for a glass of wine?'
'Just a quick one, thanks. I promised the old man I'd pick up Cameron and return to 'Avonleigh' as soon as possible. I don't remember the last time I saw Dad looking so excited.'
'Boys and their toys,' Sue laughed. 'Well, don't hang around out on the verandah. Come in. You've come at a good time. I've just cooked some biscuits that we can have with the wine.'
Andrew Chapulin is aged in his twenties - tall, handsome and well dressed. He likes to laugh and finds a swift sympathy with almost everyone. Perhaps I should have felt a little jealous introducing him to Sue, but I know that her loyalty runs deep after 20 years of happy marriage.
Most people looking at Andy would envy him. Knowing just a little of his father, I feel pity. Jules Chapulin, Andy's father is a success as a tycoon and a failure as a man, being a ruthless bully and domestic tyrant. A fact that doubtless contributed to his wife's suicide. True, Andy is wealthy but he's also idle and under-employed. Although Jules insisted his son became second in command of the Chapulin empire, the 78-year old founder takes every decision.
'More wine?' Sue offered.
'No thanks. I must be careful. I saw a booze bus set up on the side of the Calder Highway, just outside Malmsbury. A car like mine is like a goad to a bull. Are you ready Cameron? Let's get going.'
'I'll be back around six,' I promised, kissing Sue.
We roared into 'Avonleigh', the Chapulin family home in Mt.Macedon around 3p.m. The old man was standing on the verandah, checking his watch.
'What kept you?' he demanded. He sniffed then made a face. 'You've been drinking,' he accused his son.
'Dad, you remember Cameron Forbes?'
'Have you brought it with you?' Chapulin turned to me.
'Of course,' I nodded, patting my pocket.
'Come in to the study,' Chapulin curtly ordered. 'And we'll get started.'
I felt elated as I followed Jules and Andy into the book-lined study. Today, I thought, I'll become rich.
Money isn't my primary interest or concern, but like many retired baby-boomers, I saved little over my working years and alimony I paid following my disastrous first marriage almost cleaned me out. The thought of investing a substantial capital sum and living comfortably off the interest, with plenty of local or overseas holidays was immensely appealing.
Money was also on Jules Chapulin's mind.
'I've read your proposal,' he opened his attack,'And I agree with it, except the sum you ask is absurdly high.'
'Not at all,' I replied calmly. Andy had warned his father would try to chisel me.
'A million dollars for a single trip! Come on, Mr. Forbes.'
'It would cost a great deal more to buy a seat on a space ship,' I pointed out reasonably. 'Yet space travel is not nearly as exciting as time travel. For a very modest fee, you'll enter history as the first tourist in time.
Seeing him waver, I pressed on. 'Anyway, those are my terms. If you don't accept them, there are plenty who will. Take it or leave it.'
Chapulin scowled. Finally, he nodded. '$500,000,' he said, filling out the cheque.
I took the cheque and noted the details.
'With a further and final payment of $500,000 on your return,' I reminded him.
I knew that I would never collect the balance, but the first cheque felt very good as I folded it and placed it in my wallet.
'There is no danger?' Jules asked.
'No. As Andy will confirm.'
'It was fantastic Dad! I was only in the future for 15 minutes, but it was an incredible experience.'
Andy Chapulin had asked to be teleported three centuries ahead. He returned babbling about a world where cities grew organically like vast trees, replacing the soulless glass and steel constructions of our present age.
'I want to take the control with me,' Jules insisted. 'I may wish to return early.'
'No, I've already made that clear. The control remains with me. I won't let anyone take that into the future. Imagine if it was lost or stolen. You must select the century you wish to visit. Dial in the time and date and set how long you wish to stay in the future. Then when the time is up, you'll be automatically returned to this study.'
'Why can't I visit the immediate past or future?' Chapulin asked sulkily.
'I don't know. The device doesn't allow it. Of course, it would be wonderful to revisit the stockmarket and buy up cheap or go into the future and know the winning numbers for next week's lottery draw, but it doesn't work like that. You must choose a time that's at least 100 years before or after today's date.'
Jules looked disappointed. After several minutes however, he agreed and asked what he needed to do.
'Just remain perfectly still,' I advised, removing what appeared to be a small, remote control from my pocket.
Jules told me he wanted to come back to Australia in 500 years time. He agreed to stay in the future a week. Switching on the device, I entered the information on the centric display. I then ran an infrared ray across his body from head to toe. His image grew dimmer and a minute later, disappeared.
'So, he's gone,' Andy breathed. 'No chance of an unexpected return.'
I took the device and placed on the hearth of the cold fireplace. Taking a poker, I smashed the device into a mass of tangled wire, broken plastic and twisted metal.
'Not now,' I said smiling. 'Congratulations Andy. You've just become the sole owner of the Chapulin fortune.'
'Fantastic work!' Andy said. He picked up the cheque book. 'Two million as agreed?'
'I just wish I could see Dad's face when a week is up and he doesn't return!' he laughed. 'I feel sorry for the people in the future.'
'Not your concern,' I shrugged, placing the second cheque in my wallet. 'Can you run me back to Maldon? Sue's organised a little celebratory dinner tonight. You're welcome to join us.'
'You know,' Andrew Chapulin beamed. 'I think I shall.'