Authors: Simon Hawke
“It’s alive! It’s alive!” “Darling... come to bed.” “Just a minute,” replied Marvin Brewster, staring raptly at the television set where Colin Clive, in the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, was gripped in a paroxysm of unholy glee as his creation twitched to life on the laboratory table.
“Darling...” Her voice was low and throaty with a British accent. “I’m waiting...” “Ummm.” Brewster didn’t turn around. If he had, he would have seen a sight that would have reduced most men to drooling idiots. His fiancee. Dr. Pamela Fairbum, was standing in the bedroom doorway, dressed in nothing but a slinky negligee that was so sheer, it looked like a soft mist enveloping her lush, voluptuous curves. She stood in a pose of calculated seduction, one long and lovely leg bent at the knee, one arm stretched out above her, pressed against the door frame, her long auburn hair worn loose and cascading down to her ample, perfumed cleavage....
Whoa, wait a minute. Let me catch my breath.
Sorry about that. Narrators are only human too, you know. Okay, now where were we? Oh, right. This gorgeous, incredibly desirable woman is exuding premarital lust all over the place and that fool, Brewster, is simply sitting there and watching a monster movie on TV. Any other red-blooded male would know exactly what to do, right? You betcha. Hit that remote control and make a beeline for the bedroom. Any normal, sensible man hearing that incredibly sultry and seductive voice would turn around, take one look, and experience the hormonal equivalent of a nuclear meltdown. (And considering how beautiful Dr. Pamela Fairbum was, a lot of women would, as well.) However, Dr. Marvin Brewster was not exactly normal. Or sensible. That is to say, he was incredibly intelligent-a genius, in fact-but he didn’t have a lot of street smarts.
Nor was this just any movie. To Marvin Brewster, it was the movie, the one that had the single most significant impact on his formative years. The one that had made him realize exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. He first saw it at the age of nine and from that moment on, he knew. He was going to be a mad scientist.
It wasn’t Boris Karloffs portrayal of the monster that had so affected him, nor the idea of creating life from sewn together pieces of dead bodies, it was that laboratory. All that marvelous equipment. The bubbling vials and beakers, the intricate plumbing and wiring, the spinning dials, the Jacob’s ladder arcing electrical current.... He took one look at that wonderful laboratory and he fell in love, a love far deeper and more abiding than he would ever feel for any woman, even a woman as undeniably womanly as Pamela Fairbum.
She knew and understood this. Earlier that evening, when she had spotted the listing for the film, she’d realized what was liable to happen and she had hidden the TV Guide, but Brewster had just happened to turn on the tube after their late-night dinner, and scanning through the channels, he’d stumbled on the film. Now Pamela knew there’d be no prying him away till it was over.
‘She sighed with resignation and walked over to the couch where he was sitting, settled down onto the floor beside him, and leaned her head against his knee. Without turning from the television, he offered her the bowl of popcorn. She took a handful and popped it in her mouth. Even in her sexiest lingerie, she knew she couldn’t compete. She didn’t really mind, however. She understood about obsession. She had one of her own, and that was her career as a cybernetics engineer, which was how she had met Brewster.
It had been during a symposium at Cambridge. She’d spotted him at once. He was the only American present, but that wasn’t what had made him stand out. There was just something about him, about his rumpled, tweedy, and hornrimmed appearance, his curly and unkempt blond hair, his rather shambling and distracted manner, and his total unselfconsciousness that had struck her as incredibly endearing. He was part little boy, part unmade man. He had gotten to her where she lived, where most women live, in fact. Right smack in her maternal instinct. She wanted to pull him to her breast and hug him to pieces.
She was later to discover that Brewster often had that effect on women and part of his charm was that he was totally oblivious to it. He was simply clueless. He was the kind of man women wanted to mother into bed, only he was so preoccupied and absentminded that if they succeeded, he would probably forget why he was there. Pamela Fairbum could have had any man she wanted. She could walk into a crowded room and every man present would immediately go on point. All she’d need to do to insure most men’s undying and slavish devotion would be to flutter her eyelashes and act stupid. But with Marvin Brewster, she could be herself. Her intelligence did not intimidate him. More often than not, it was the other way around. She could talk about her work with him, and he could easily follow the discussion and make acute and often brilliant observations, but then his eyes would suddenly go dreamy and he’d launch into a flight of technical verbosity that would leave her absolutely breathless as his words tumbled over one another until he became hopelessly tongue-tied and had to resort to scribbling complicated equations on whatever surface was available. Even on the rare occasions when she was able to make out his cramped scrawl, most of the time she could make no sense of it.
Often, it was because his mind simply worked so quickly that it would outrace his written calculations and he’d leave things out, jumping on ahead, with no awareness that she couldn’t follow him. His brain would simply shift into warp speed and he would rocket off into that rarified atmosphere where only geniuses and angels fly and he’d finish off with a triumphant, “There, you see?” And, of course, she wouldn’t see at all, but she would simply stare at him, eyes shining, and she would say, “I love you.” They became engaged one year after their first meeting. She had proposed to him, primarily because she’d realized the thought would never have occurred to him. He needed her, but he was simply too preoccupied to notice. The ordinary details of everyday life were not Marvin Brewster’s strong point. He was the classic absentminded professor. His socks hardly ever matched. He wore loafers because he would often forget to tie his shoelaces. He was simply hopeless about clothes. Until she came along, he was dressed by an understanding local haberdashery. He would come in and simply say, “I need some ties,” or a sport coat or a shirt or two, and the helpful female sales clerk would pick out something appropriate for him.
It was the same with groceries. There was a young woman who managed the local market who would call from time to time and say, “Dr. Brewster? This is Sheila. You haven’t been in for a while and I thought you might be running out.” And he would walk over to the refrigerator or the cupboard, stare into it absently for a moment or two, then say distractedly, “Yes, I suppose I must be.” Sheila would then take the shopping cart around during her lunch break, pick out his groceries for him, and have them delivered. He never had to pay for them, either. The branch manager at the local bank, also an attractive young woman, had seen to it that he had accounts everywhere and that the bills were sent directly to the bank.
The multinational conglomerate that employed Brewster for an astronomical salary (that was still a pittance compared to the profits they took in from the dozen or so patents he’d turned over to them) always deposited his checks directly into his accounts, so that Brewster never had to deal with the various mundane tasks of shopping and record keeping and checkbook balancing that plague most lesser mortals.
How does one get a deal like this? The answer is, one doesn’t. It’s not the sort of thing you can manage to arrange, unless you happen to be born with a certain indefinable and helpless charm that women find simply irresistible. Ask any woman in London who knows him how she feels about Dr. Marvin Brewster, and whether she’s sixteen or sixty, she’ll sigh and her eyes will get all soft and misty and she’ll say, “He’s such a dear man....” When Pamela discovered just how many women felt this way about her intended, she became a bit alarmed. She seized the reins and took firm control of Marvin Brewster’s life. If there was any mothering to be done here, by God, she was going to be the one to do it! She moved in on Marvin Brewster like Grant moved in on Richmond. Now all she had to do was figure out how to get him to the altar. He had already missed three scheduled weddings.
The first time she’d been left waiting at the altar, the wedding had completely slipped his mind and a frantic search that included a check of half the pubs and all the hospitals in London eventually found him deep in the stacks of the science library-about eight hours too late. The second time, once again, all the guests arrived, and Pamela once more donned her wedding gown, and once again, no Brewster. This time, he had driven off to Liverpool, to an electronics warehouse, to pick up some obscure part for a piece of lab equipment that was “absolutely vital” and somehow he got sidetracked and no one saw or heard anything from him for two days. The last time-“Shall we try for three?” the minister had wryly asked-they located him in his high-security, private laboratory high atop the corporate headquarters building of EnGulfCo International, only no one could get in past the retinal pattern scanner and they couldn’t even take the elevator up to the right floor because the special palm scanner pad would only respond to Marvin Brewster’s hand. They had called and called, but Brewster had been distracted by the ringing of the phone, and absentmindedly, he had simply turned it off. The last time, when the wedding invitations were sent out, most of the guests sent back their regrets and their assurances that they would be with them in spirit-whenever they finally got around to getting married. Pamela’s father still wasn’t speaking to her. Still, she was undaunted. One of these days, she’d get it done, only it would require proper planning. Perhaps next time she’d hire some security guards to baby-sit him and deliver him to church on time.
She sat there with him, munching popcorn while Boris Karloff lumbered through the film in his built-up boots and makeup, and during the commercials, Brewster would become absorbed in double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking some kind of circuit board and switch assembly he had put together on the coffee table.
Perhaps, thought Pamela, if she got pregnant, she could command more of his attention. Marvin was always wonderful with children. Probably because, in many ways, he was still something of a child himself, she thought with a smile. The children in the neighborhood all idolized him, and like most of Brewster’s friends, they called him Doc. Pamela drew the line at that. She never called him Doc, it seemed too flippant. But whenever she introduced him as Dr. Marvin Brewster, he would invariably add, “But my friends all call me Doc.” When they were finally married, she would put a stop to that. A man of his position needed to be treated with proper respect.
What did Brewster think of all this planning for his future? Actually, he gave it very little thought at all. He was more concerned with the past. Not his own past, but the past in general. As in time. Specifically, as in time travel. He did not really discuss this particular obsession with his fiancee, nor with his colleagues, because as any good mad scientist knows, when you get into the sort of stuff that “man was not meant to know,” you’re simply asking for trouble. It was one thing for theoretical physicists to debate whether or not Einstein was right, and to play all sorts of fanciful games (often in science fiction novels) with hyperspace and warps in the space/time continuum, but when you actually came out and said that you could do it, and revealed a working prototype, that was when they broke out the torches and the pitchforks.
No, Marvin Brewster would not make Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s mistake. First he’d do it and make absolutely sure it worked, and then he would publish and take out the patent, which EnGulfCo would at once appropriate, since he’d done it on their premises and with their funding, but that was fine, Brewster didn’t really mind that. The money he would make would not be insignificant and money wasn’t really what the whole thing was about. Proving Einstein wrong. That was what the whole thing was about.
If it had seemed to Pamela that Brewster was much more than typically preoccupied during the past month or two, and letting little things (such as the occasional wedding) slip his mind, then it was because Brewster was wrestling with a problem that had him on the threshold, as it were, of the greatest achievement of his life.
High atop the corporate headquarters building of EnGulfCo International, in his top secret laboratory where no one else, not even the EnGulfCo CEO, could gain admittance, Marvin Brewster had built himself a time machine.
H. G. Wells would have been proud. It even looked right. About the size of a small helicopter, the front of the machine was dominated by a plastic bubble that had, in fact, been lifted from a chopper. It had a door in its left side, edged by a pressure seal, and the frame of the machine was also taken from a helicopter, so that it sat on skids. Brewster had replaced the gearbox with high-power alternators and a turboshaft engine, mounted vertically. The intake for the turbine extended out the top of the machine and just behind it was a can for a ballistic parachute. The back of the machine also housed the tanks for fuel and liquid oxygen and environmental gas. Flanking the power systems were the primary capacitor banks, housed in two cabinets on the sides of the machine.
Externally, the time machine did not appear much different from a helicopter with the rotor blades and tail removed, except for one particular, distinguishing feature. Encircling the entire assembly and the frame, positioned diagonally so that it ran around the top of the bubble and behind the back skids, was a stainless-steel tube three inches in diameter, a torus encircled by loops of superconducting wire, the interior of which was filled with a small amount of a rare substance known by the innocuous name of Buckyballs.