Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.
A trio of men in white lab coats were talking earnestly with the president of the United States. Nearby, a man reclined in a chair surrounded by a clear glass wall. He was semi-conscious.
The scene was unfolding in an underground bunker below the White House. The country was in a state of chaos. The government was fighting two wars on different continents and was running out of money trying to maintain supplies for its beleaguered military. The economy was staggering, and sinking into an irreversible depression.
The world was at war. No continent was spared. Local, national, and international wars were being waged with no end in sight. Thus far no nukes were used, as all parties knew that it was an endgame move with little chance of survival for anyone.
That could change at any moment as China was becoming more unpredictable…threatening the US with a nuclear holocaust. It was during these desperate times that a secret government project was being developed; a time machine.
The lab, a mile beneath the White House, was so secret only the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House knew about it. The dozen scientists involved were all sworn to secrecy and were monitored by a special FBI unit created for the purpose as a backup. There were four people in the covert unit. Two men, and two women.
“We can’t wait any longer Mr. President,” the vice president said.
“Has this time machine been tested yet?” the president asked one of the scientists.
“Not with a human, sir,” the scientist admitted.
“With what then?” the president pushed.
“A monkey. A chimpanzee to be exact, sir,” said the scientist.
The president, who was a compassionate, but realistic man, asked, “Does Major Reed know this?”
“Yes, sir. He still volunteered.”
“Why does he look so sleepy?” the vice president wondered.
“He’s on a little twilight to calm his nerves and relax him before the journey. We have to put him completely asleep when it’s time for him to travel. My colleagues and I believe that the sensory shocks that would come from being conscious might drive him crazy. We’ve calculated that he only needs to sleep for forty-two minutes during the time slippage and he’ll wake up in the year 2035,” the scientist assured him.
“Plenty of time to reverse some bad things,” another scientist spoke up.
“Does Major Reed have his hit list?” the President asked.
“All programmed into the mini-computer implanted in his skull,” the first scientist said.
“Would you like to say a few words to the major, sir?”
The president went up to the glass and looked at the major who was hooked up to various tubes leading into what looked like a round steel ball encased by clear digital components that blinked on and off rapidly. The chair he sat in was equipped with a safety harness and had an electronic keyboard that popped up in front of him when he hit a button on his arm rest.
“Good luck Major Reed” the president said into an intercom. “Your country will never forget what you’re doing here. Your service, and sacrifices, are beyond the call of duty. You are a true patriot.”
“Thank you, sir...” Reed responded. “An honor…” His head dipped down for a moment. It popped back up. “Sorry, sir…sleepy.”
“No problem major! Thank you!”
He turned away and looked over at one of the scientists who was standing by a large control panel. By the look on his face he was ready to go. First he typed something into a master computer and they all watched Major Reed fall asleep.
A beeping sound in major Reed’s right ear woke him up. His eyes snapped open and he looked around the room. He was still encased behind thick glass and sitting in the chair. As he unbuckled his safety harness he noticed a pile of bones near the main computer panel.
After entering the code with the help of his personal computer, an opening appeared in the glass. He went over to the pile of bones and scrapes of clothing. He guessed it was one of the scientists. But what happened?
As per his instructions, he went over to a small closet and opened it. Inside was an assault rifle and automatic pistol, boxes of ammunition, a k-bar knife, a field First Aid kit, a canteen of water, and vacuum-sealed food packages. There were also a pair of jeans, underwear, a t-shirt, a heavy long-sleeve shirt, and black watch cap.
Following the program in his head, he opened a door that led to a long tunnel. Instead of going up the elevator and alerting authorities when he came out in the south lawn of the White House, he took the tunnel. It was big enough to stand upright in, and there were LED lights strung in the ceiling, casting an eerie glow on the concrete and steel walls.
The tunnel was ten miles long and came out in a wooded area of a community forest and park. As Major Reed walked along he couldn’t help think something was wrong. It was the bones. They didn’t add up.
Just ahead he could see a row of yellow lights and a stairway. It led up to a trap door. He took a deep breath and tapped out the code to unseal the door. A bright shaft of light blinded him as he crawled out. A foul stench hit his nostrils and his stomach heaved involuntarily.
“What the hell“, he grumbled.
As his eyes adjusted his jaw dropped in growing horror. The devastated landscape before him looked like a photo of Berlin in WWII after the allies reduced it to ruins. The bleak and rugged horizon in front of him looked endless.
There were no signs of life as he walked through the debris. He walked for two days without seeing a trace of life. Man, nor animal. The blazing sun burnt the wounded land and the remnants of a once great civilization.
Finally, Major Reed sat down on a pile of rubble. He realized what must have happened. His trip wasn’t successful, and this is what the planet would look like in the future. He went forward, instead of back in time. His sacrifice was in vain.
He looked at the bleak tortured landscape around him and sighed. He only had enough food and water for a week – if he stretched the water. There was nothing left to do but keep walking…hoping for one last chance.
As It Stands, like Alexander Pope once said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”