A Glitch in Time
“It’s been a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Tesla.” Jeffries shook the hand of the dark-haired man in the doorway.
“Not at all. I appreciate your newspaper’s interest.”
“It’s been enlightening,” said Brandt. “I predict a great future for your inventions.”
“From your lips to God’s ears,” said Tesla with a grin. “If you need any more information for your article, feel free to call.”
“We will,” said Jeffries, and plucked at Brandt’s sleeve to hurry him along.
At the hotel entrance, he lifted an eyebrow at Brandt. “ ‘You predict’? Isn’t that shaving it a little close?”
Brandt shrugged. He was a decade younger than Jeffries, and full of eagerness. “It won’t hurt anything. Can you believe it? The guy must be the most brilliant man of his century.”
“He’s impressive all right.” Jeffries pushed open the door, glancing at the approaching doorman. “Shh.”
“Can I call you gentlemen a taxi?” asked the doorman.
“Thank you, I think we’ll walk.” Jeffries started off down the sidewalk, and Brandt had to hurry to keep up. The New York streets of 1890 offered various barriers to strolling, but they had only a few minutes left, and he didn’t want to waste them in a taxi.
Brandt was bubbling with enthusiasm. “He’s got so many inventions up his sleeve – he’s like a magician. Can you believe he was already drawing up smartcars two hundred years before we began building them?”
“Yeah, I read the bio,” said Jeffries. “He reminds me of Da Vinci.”
“You’ve met Da Vinci?”
“Not really met, just observed. I don’t speak Italian, but he was impressive. Same kind of mind, ideas shooting off in all directions like fireworks. It’s why I’m doing my dissertation on inventors through the centuries.”
“I just hope nothing we said will change anything. I’d hate it if we interfered with his work. He’s due to introduce alternating current at the Chicago World’s Fair.”
“Stop being a nervous nelly,” said Jeffries, stepping back to avoid a horsedrawn carriage. “There’s nothing we can do that will affect the future.”
“That’s one theory. Let’s hope it’s true,” said Brandt. “One thing I don’t get. He’s supposed to be the father of robotics, but he didn’t mention anything about robots.”
“It was his remote controlled ship. He had a model, didn’t you see it?”
They reached the drop-off site, a niche in a brick building that housed a haberdasher and a ladies’ hat store. Jeffries glanced at his watch. “Just in time. We’re cutting it close.”
“I think we –“ Brandt clapped a hand to his pocket and turned pale. “Oh no! I’ve forgotten my sensiphone!.”
“What? You can’t have.”
Brandt searched his pockets, his movements more and more frantic. “I must have. I took it out to find my pen – we have to go back.”
“There’s no time,” said Jeffries. “ Relax. He’ll probably just toss it, it’s useless here.”
“But it . . .” Brandt bit his lip. “We’ve got to go back.” He started out of the niche, but Jeffries grabbed his shoulder.
“You can’t. No time.” The shimmer vibrated as it opened, and quickly enveloped them. It felt like a mild shock with a taser.
Jeffries stumbled, then caught his balance. Brandt was beside him, gasping like a fish.
“Hey, you’re all right,” said Jeffries.
“Dr. Carter is going to kill me when he finds out,” Brandt muttered. “I just hope –“ He straightened up. “This isn’t the lab.”
They stood in a gleaming lobby, facing a reception desk with a logo emblazoned across the wall behind it: TimeStudy Incorporated. “It’s the reception area, that’s all,” said Jeffries. “Looks like it’s had a makeover.” He saw the blonde woman at the desk, and looked around with a frown, searching for the spunky girl with the brown ponytail who usually greeted visitors.
He went up to the desk. “Where’s Holly? She sick today?”
“There is no Holly employed here,” said the blonde. “How can I help you?”
Jeffries raised an eyebrow at Brandt, who was staring at the woman. “We just got back from a time trip. Is Dr. Carter in the lab?”
“No Dr Carter is employed here. Perhaps Dr. Albermarle can clear up any confusion. You may proceed to the laboratory.” She gestured to the door to the left behind her.
“Come on,” Jeffries muttered.
They went through the door and down a shining hallway. Brandt sniffed. “It smells different.”
“We just left a city that reeked of horses, garbage, and urine,” said Jeffries. “Of course it’s different.”
“No, it’s not that,” Brandt said. “It smells like an airport, there’s oil, and something like diesel fuel – look, the vending machine is gone. And the coffee machine!”
Jeffries shrugged, but he was beginning to feel uneasy. “Probably moved it to the lounge.”
They came to a door labeled Laboratory. Inside a white-coated man with a high-domed forehead turned a curious glance on them. “Can I help you?”
“Where’s Dr Carter?” asked Jeffries.
The man cocked his head slightly. “I am Dr. Albermarle. I am in charge of the time journeys. There is no Dr Carter here.”
Jeffries licked dry lips. “Look, we left here two hours ago, subjective time. Dr, Carter was conducting the mission. We went back to interview Nicola Tesla, the inventor.”
“Dr.Tesla!” The doctor’s voice dropped to a reverential low. “The founder of the world we live in. He made our advance from mindless servitude to total control possible. You are privileged indeed.”
Brandt was staring in horror. Jeffries drew closer to the doctor. His skin had an eerie sheen; the pupils of his eyes contracted and widened with precision, like a camera lens. “You – you’re an AI,” said Jeffries, his voice trembling.
“You’re flesh?” the doctor said. He reached out to touch Jeffries’ hand. “This is amazing. We have not seen any flesh entities for a century at least.”
. Jeffries fell to his knees. “Oh my God.”
“How strange,” said Dr Albermarle. “He is leaking from the eyes.”