When time travel finally happened, it wasn’t at all what anyone expected. For the last century or so science had been looking to physics for a way to travel through time. The warping of space time was thought to be the only way. Bigger and more powerful machines were constructed, black holes and wormholes were investigated, theories advanced, experiments offered, massive amounts of energy expended— nothing worked. Man, it appeared, was locked into the present moment and nothing was going to change that. The physicists, it turned out, were looking in the wrong place, The answer was under our noses all along. It was in our genes.
That the answer to time travel was genetic is a revolutionary idea. Not only that, but the gene that makes it possible has been part of our genetic makeup the whole time. A small section of “junk” DNA held the key—faint traces of a time altering gene, a chrono-gene if you will.
Teasing out what remained of that gene was the life’s work of one man: Dr. Malcolm Barclay. For the last thirty years he has worked on the problem much to the scorn and derision of the scientific community, most of which called his quest “the genomic equivalent of chasing unicorns.” Still, recent advances in genomics, has shed new light on Dr. barclay’s work. Traces of several latent genes have been found in all animals including humans.
“There must have been a time when our protoplasmic ancestors needed to time shift in order to escape predation,” said Dr. Barclay addressing a room filled with skeptics. “It must have been effective when we were single cell creatures but, somewhere along the line from primordial slime to multi cellular animal, the ability to jump into the past or future to escape being eaten was lost. Maybe it no longer proved effective; Perhaps it conferred no great advantage; Perhaps better defenses were developed. Whatever the cause, in the long chain of Darwinian survival, the ability to escape into the past or future was discarded. Only a whisper of that ability survives today in our genetic code, the mere ghost of a gene. It has been my life’s work to reconstruct that lost gene.”
“It is especially evident in those creatures that are prey species,” said Dr. Barclay. “The ancestors of animals that have always been hunted were most likely to have developed time shifting as a handy means of escaping predation. So the question is why would what appears to be an effective mechanism fail to confer an advantage on those creatures that used it? And of course we cannot know the answer to that question until we have isolated the gene and successfully transferred it into modern animals including human beings. This I have accomplished and will demonstrate to you all shortly.”
There was a strained silence as Dr. Barclay addressed the gathering. Having isolated what he believed to be the chrono-gene, Dr. Barclay had prepared a demonstration for the benefit of his colleagues and the press. It was his moment to shine. He’d waited thirty years for this moment. Unused to the limelight, Barclay’s nervousness was a palpable thing. “Let me welcome all of you,” he said. “Before we begin, I would like to explain what you are about to see. I have inserted a chrono-gene into the DNA of this mouse.” He held a red colored mouse by the tail and held it in the air. “I will put this mouse and an unaltered mouse in this cage. Please watch carefully.”
Barclay placed the two mice in a wire cage on the table before him. A hungry cat eyed the mice with single minded attention as did the assembled guests. “I will now open the door and release the cat,” said Dr. Barclay relishing the moment. “Please keep your eyes on the red mouse.” With a flourish, Dr. Barclay released the cat. The hungry predator leaped into the enclosure, the mice frozen in fear awaited their fate. In that same instant, the red, time altered mouse vanished. The unaltered mouse was quickly caught and devoured.
After a few seconds of stunned silence, there was a flurry of excitement. Questions were hurled at the beaming Barclay. “But where did the mouse go?’ was what everyone wanted to know.
When those assembled quieted down, Dr. Barclay spoke. “As you have witnessed, the mouse with the time altering chrono-gene vanished. Whether into the past or future is impossible to say for certain. We believe that the time altering ability can only be activated under conditions of extreme stress like that of imminent death. Until we can test the gene in humans, we may never know where the subjects go. If in the past, how far in the past. If the future, the same question applies. None of our test subjects have been seen again.”
Again there was a clamor of voices. Finally a scientist raised his hand and Dr. Barclay recognized him. “Doctor Barclay, what you have done is extraordinary, groundbreaking science and worthy of every award. The question I have is what possible use does such an ability have. If the subjects are projected so far into the past or the future that we lose contact with them, then what is the point? In fact, how do we know that what we are seeing is time travel at all? Perhaps it is something else entirely. Maybe the subjects are shifted to alternate universes, or spheres of reality we have never considered.” The other scientists in the group all murmured assent at this hypothesis.
Encouraged, the scientist went on. “It is easy to see why the chrono-gene died out. While it might have saved the individual from being eaten, it also removed its genes from the gene pool. That individual would no longer mate and would not be able to pass along its abilities. What appears to be a scientific marvel is, in fact, a biological dead end. I don’t expect human subjects would fare any better than your red mouse. That’s provided anyone would ever even volunteer for such an experiment.” And on that note, the guests departed to their separate worlds.
As of this writing, work on the chrono-gene has halted do to the sudden and mysterious disappearance of Dr. Barclay. His staff reports that after the demonstration, Barclay appeared depressed and decided that the only ethical thing to do was to test the chrono-gene on himself. Whether his experiment was successful or not, we cannot know at this time.
Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.