Professor Christopher Roxbury reeled and fell headfirst against the inner wall of the time travel pod. He stayed there for several minutes, catching his breath and waiting for the insides of his eyelids to stop flashing neon.
"Temporal distortion results in . . . effects similar to . . . ." The audio recorder registed a thick gulping sound, as he choked back some bile. "Feels like a migraine . . . ugh."
He'd moved too fast, he realized- he'd been overly ambitious in trying to leap a year into the future on his very first try- yet, why should he wait? He'd sent a digital scale an hour into the future, a mouse to tomorrow, a rhesus monkey into the middle of next week- it would have been a shame and a waste not to take this next step as far as possible. He remembered his dreams of glory, the exhilaration of stepping into the pod, and then he remembered that the camera was rolling. He cleared his throat, straightened his tie and adjusted his hair before turning toward the lens.
"All gauges indicate normal conditions. The hull is intact. Radiation levels are normal, outside temperature is eighty-six degrees, and the date is November seventh, two thousand six." A gap-toothed smile split his youthful face. He cleared his throat again. "I will now exit the pod and attempt to verify the date." He gathered the camera and a briefcase, inhaled deeply, and pushed the door. It swung exactly 12.53 degrees on its hinges, then stopped.
"Just a minute." He shut the door and opened it again, harder. It only clanged against something and refused to budge another nanometer. "There seems to be an obstruction on the other side. Perhaps the pod has been moved, or some structure has been built outside the door," the professor surmised. Then he gave the door a good kick.
"Hey! What are you doing?" somebody shouted. Professor Roxbury heard rapid footsteps, then a large, ruddy, middle-aged man materialized in the gap between the edge of the door and the door frame. "That's my car! Look at- what did you do to my car?"
Christopher hesitated, then stuck his right hand through the gap. "Just let me explain. I'm-"
"Yeah, I know, Chris Roxbury with your prototype time pod. Will you look at this dent?"
Gradually, Chris's eyes adjusted to the dim light of the parking garage. He could see that he had kicked the pod's door into the side of a red 1998 Dodge Durango, scraping the paint and leaving a dent in the shape of the state of Florida. Then the car's owner's words clicked in his mind.
"You recognised me! I'm famous! It worked! Is this November seventh, two thousand six?"
"Yeah, and you'd better show me some proof of insurance if you want to see November eighth!"
Chris did a little dance. "Don't you get it? It worked! I have a time machine!"
"Yeah, so does my grandson- or, I think he does, unless he gave it away. I don't know. That's not the point! You'd better be able to pay for this dent!"
Chris faltered a little. "You say your grandson has a time machine?"
"Sure," the man shrugged, "it was the hot gift last Christmas. 'Don't Be Left Ahead,' remember that commercial? Wait, I guess you wouldn't." He snickered. Chris didn't see anything funny about it.
"You gave a time machine to a kid. Are you insane? What about the space-time continuum? He could cause a temporal paradox!"
"Yeah, yeah, and cell phones give you brain cancer and video games cause siezures. Right. Quit trying to change the subject."
"'Change the subject!' I've invented a technology that will revolutionize every aspect of human life! You can't just ignore that!"
"I know, your face was all over the news last year. Every channel, man, every newspaper, website, radio station- 'time travel' this and 'time travel' that, so many cute little allusions to Saint Christopher and Christopher Columbus, made me want to puke, I tell you." He shook his head.
Chris leaned on the door. "And then?"
"What do you mean, 'and then?' And then, the President bit his tongue during a fundraising luncheon. And then, some aging punk rocker dropped his pants at the Superbowl. And then, there was a new video game system. Time travel? That was last year. You've had your fifteen minutes, Bud, so move on." The man read his watch. "Man, I have to go. Here." He took a business card and a pen out of his pocket, wrote something on the card and handed it to Chris. "Give this to me when you get back. I mean, come on! You invent one stupid little gadget and you act like you've cured Squirrelpox or something." The man shook his head again, as he walked around to the driver's side of his battered Durango, climbed in and drove away.
Chris stood in his pod for a long time, staring at the card. One side had "Sutton and Sutton Contracting" in a tasteful sans-serif, with an address, phone number, e-mail address, and some other contact information that Chris couldn't identify. On the back, the man had written,
DO NOT USE THE MAPLE STREET GARAGE ON 11-7-06. INVEST IN CRUDE OIL. and signed his name. Chris stuck the card in his breast pocket.
"Crude oil," he muttered, and shut the door.