Due to the unwavering support of my six readers and the success of Space Madness, I am proud to present another story of a science fiction bent. This one is titled THE CAUSEWAY and is not in space. It is, however, quite mad.
Charlie woke up in his usual state. He was completely disoriented, his mouth was dry, and it was seven minutes before his alarm clock was set to go off. Why was his alarm set so early? It was still dark out, for Christ’s sake. He turned off the alarm, flopped out of bed, and wobbled in place for a moment as all the blood rushed from his head into the rest of his body.
Charlie flipped on the television to drown out the ringing in his ears. Was he drinking last night? He couldn’t remember, which was always a bad sign. As Charlie stumbled into the bathroom to clean himself up, the TV tried to sell him things.
“Do you have difficulties getting to work on time? Do you wish you could sleep in for an extra hour or two, but are afraid of getting fired?”
The screen showed a man rushing out the front door of his house, wearing an unevenly buttoned white dress shirt, an untied necktie hanging loosely around his neck, and little pieces of toilet paper stuck to his face and neck. The man started frantically searching through his pockets, presumably for his keys, then darted back inside his house.
“Boy, do we have just the thing for you! The brand new On Time Tunnel.”
Charlie’s head was beginning to clear up. The scene on the television screen began to look familiar. The man hurrying back into his house encountered something completely unfamiliar. A giant vortex was hovering in front of him, where his front door used to be. A wooden sign reading “Take Your Time” was staked into the ground at the base of the vortex.
“Located at the junction of the 1 and 68 freeways, the On Time Tunnel will transport you up to TWO whole hours back in time, so you’ll never need to feel rushed getting to work again.”
Charlie watched the commercial in bewilderment. His toothbrush fell out of his mouth. This could not possibly be real. Time travel was not possible. Even if it was possible, nobody was wihin a hundred years of developing technology to implement it on a commercial scale. Even if anyone was close to creating a time travel device, it would have been known to all the scientists around the world, and all the news agencies would have written front page stories on it that grossly misrepresented how it actually worked. But, just supposing, if some lone genius did manage to build a time travel device without anyone from the scientific community knowing about it, surely there would be a better use for it than getting people to work on time. Surely a device so revolutionary that it would rewrite a good chunk of what humankind thought it knew about the universe would not be advertised via a cheesy six A.M. infomercial usually reserved for unnecessary kitchen accessories. This had to be a joke, but Charlie could not take his eyes off the TV set.
An important looking man was now addressing Charlie, the cartoonish vortex swirling behind him. “It is well known that danger lurks among morning commuters. Men and women often perform their morning grooming tasks in the car, causing accidents that could be avoided if only everyone had a little more time.”
On the screen now was a young, professional looking woman applying eyeliner in her rearview mirror while weaving in and out of traffic. Horns were honking all around her. The camera went to a close up, and she promtly screamed. The sounds of screeching tires and the horn from a semi truck and colliding metal and shattering glass. The screen went black, then faded into an empty freeway, the view close to the ground. A hubcap rolled across the screen, and the camera followed it past the feet of the important looking man. The camera panned up to his face.
“Your friends at CTC Industries are here to prevent tragedies like this. For a mere five dollars, the same price as the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge, you can avoid all the congestion and danger that you would normally encounter on your daily commute.”
Charlie couldn’t take this anymore. He flipped the television off and sauntered over to the kitchen to make some coffee.
The fog obscuring the events of last night began to clear from Charlie’s head. He had been drinking the night before. He had been approached by an executive from some company he had never heard of. This mystery man seemed to know everything about him.
“How’s the job search going, Charlie?” It was jarring to be approached by a complete stranger on the opposite coast of the university where Charlie recently finished his physics PhD in a local British pub called “Hooligan’s” and asked about his job search. He had only recently decided to take a break from his search and return home to Monterey. He hadn’t told anyone about his decision except his mother, who was currently letting him stay at her house while she went off to South America for a month long bird watching excursion.
“I’m not searching right now, I’m just having a beer and watching my football team lose.” Charlie was not in the mood to talk about physics. His thesis on precision measurements of gravitational waves had been viewed as good enough to get him his degree, but not good enough to get him a postdoc or a research grant anywhere. His options at the moment consisted of doing coding for a military contractor, or getting a gig as a waiter or bartender.
“You don’t have to search. I happen to know that there is a local company that fits your skill set perfectly.”
Charlie thought he would humor this guy. Monterey wasn’t exactly a center of industry. Its chief moneymakers were tourism and golf. He wanted to hear this guy explain how a five mile long laser interferometer could be built on a mountainous coastline.
“Let me buy you a drink and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Charlie poured himself a cup of coffee and reviewed in his mind what the mysterious stranger had told him the night before. The man clearly had a sales background as opposed to a science one. He waxed poetic about “singularity generators” and “causal loop detectors” in an underground facility up in Prunedale. Causal loop detectors? What a bunch of crap. Entertaining crap, to be sure, but crap nonetheless. He had handed Charlie his business card at closing time, which Charlie planned on taking and never looking at again. Just for the hell of it, Charlie opened his wallet and took out the card. CTC Industries, “Take Your Time.” No phone number or email address written on the card.
“That’s one hell of a business model they’ve got,” Charlie muttered to himself. He finished his cup of coffee and was ready to spend the day pretending to be scouring the internet for job openings.
The doorbell rang. It was only a single ring, but it still managed to sound aggressive. “Just a second!” Charlie shouted as he slowly made his way over to the front door. He opened the door, revealing a tall, grizzled looking police officer. He wore a thick police officer mustache with little sprinklings of white hair and possibly a few bacon bits in there. Between the mustache covering both of his lips and the aviator sunglasses covering his eyes it was hard to make out any precise facial expressions. It was possible that this man simply looked angry no matter what mood he was in, but he certainly looked angry right now.
“Are you Charles Trevor Calloway?”
Charlie toyed with telling him no, but the policeman appeared to be looking for an excuse to use his nightstick. “Yes.”
“Come with me, sir. We have some questions we need to ask you downtown.” This sounded more serious than Charlie was prepared to deal with. He had been in town for all of two days. He had never been in trouble with the law before. Now he was going to be dragged out of his mother’s house in a pair of sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt with a cartoon reading “Whatever Bitch, I’m Einstein” to be questioned or possibly interrogated by this stereotype of a cop? “Am I in some kind of trouble, Officer?”
“Not yet, kid. Let’s keep it that way. Now come with me and get in the squad car.”
STAY TUNED FOR CHAPTER 2, WHERE YOU WILL EITHER FIND OUT WHAT MADE THIS OFFICER SO ANGRY OR YOU WILL BECOME MORE CONFUSED!