by S. Michael Leier
part 1 of 2
January 14, 2006: JFK Dies in Peace at 82 — Boston, MA “America's flags are flying half-staff. A two-term president who led the United States in a Cold War victory over the Communist bloc, died peacefully at his Boston home...”
“My God, it worked,” Walter Branigan, shouted. Fire blazed in his brown eyes as he read the headline in the newspaper.
“... At his bedside was his brother Ted Kennedy, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, and Bobby Kennedy, who also served two terms in the White House...”
“Bobby?” thought Walter. “Somehow I saved Bobby from being shot, too. History has completely changed.” Walter slumped down into the overstuffed chair behind him as he folded the paper and closed his eyes. A deep sigh rolled through his barreled chest as he began to relax with the smile still etched across his dirt stained face.
* * *
His mind wandered back to how it started several days earlier when as a records technician for the Pentagon he came across a file that changed his life. He was tasked by his supervisor to scan several boxes of old documents into the departmental database and then shred them.
He was doing this due to a new departmental policy to place old declassified documents into an electronic file so as to free up storage space and expedite the retrieval process, thus saving taxpayer money.
It was basically a budgetary issue and Walter was not happy that his talents were being wasted on such a menial project. After all, Walter hadn’t spent years in college to receive a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science only to be a glorified file clerk.
He had only joined the department six months prior with aspirations of espionage and other super spy work. All he had done since he arrived was shuffle computer files and do case research. Hardly work commensurate with his skills and intelligence. So, he sat miserable, taking old folders stamped “declassified” and scanning them page after page into the computer.
Most of the pages had nothing but stats and schematics of different weapon systems tried and failed, or improvements on existing weapons such as one that outlined a new fuel pump for a tank. Walter laughed as he read it, shaking his head at the fact that it had been classified top secret and the tank hadn’t even been made for twenty years. “That’s military bureaucracy in action,” he laughed to himself as he placed the paper into the scanner.
The next folder he took out of the box was different, although it did have Top Secret in bold black letters stamped across the front; this folder was orange with several signatures scribbled across the front. He couldn’t make out the names except for one and his eyes widened as he saw the unmistakable swirl of the “T” in the last name.
“Truman,” he gasped as he read the full name. “Harry S Truman. This must have been important for the President to sign off on it.”
Walter pulled out several papers from the file along with a blueprint and schematic drawing. He quickly scanned the prints and then grabbed the schematic with a look of total awe as he absorbed the information.
“I can’t believe it,” he said aloud. “This is incredible... but how did they... this is way beyond...” He set down the drawing, picked up the papers, and read the title of the report.
“Project Gateway... they were actually trying to build it.” He sat back in his office chair and stared at the file contents scattered in front of him unwilling to believe such a thing was possible. “They were trying to build a time machine.”
He finally allowed himself to complete the thought aloud and the sound of his voice startled him. He leaned forward to re-examine the papers when the door to the office opened and a short balding man leaned into the room.
“Hey Walter, you taken a lunch or are you too busy saving the world?” the man asked.
Walter turned and saw the smiling face of Bill Cole, the only friend he had made since he was hired.
“Very funny, Bill,” Walter sneered. “Ah... I brought my lunch so...”
“You sure, I heard the commissary has chicken today.”
“Yeah you go ahead I’ll catch up to you later,” said Walter as he unconsciously laid his arm across the papers covering them.
“Hey, whatcha got there?” asked Bill as he moved further into the room.
“Nothing,” said Walter as he haphazardly folded the papers. “You know just boring stuff like fuel pumps and stuff.”
“Yeah it’s amazing what they classified back then. All right I’ll catcha later,” said Bill as he started out of the room. “By the way I’m riding home with you tonight so don’t leave without me, okay.”
“Oh, about that...” said Walter, thinking quickly. “My car’s been acting funny lately; maybe you’d better find another ride tonight.”
“Great, that means riding with smelly Harold,” Bills nose wrinkled at the thought. “Thanks a lot, buddy, you owe me for this. That guy only takes a shower once a year I think.”
“Whether he needs it or not,” added Walter smiling. Bill grumbled something inaudible and left the room closing the door.
Walter quickly turned his attention back to the file and spent the rest of the day pouring over the information. He grabbed a calculator from his desk and began working the equations as he made several notes on the blueprint. Finally, after many hours he sat back exhausted and amazed.
“It could actually work,” he said with shock in his voice. “It’s all there, the particle acceleration, the mass to energy quotient, everything to send someone back into time except one thing.” He picked up a report dated 15 October 1950 and read the final analysis statement.
“Fundamentally the device will theoretically function as previously described, but the laws of physics demand that a similar device must have been present in the past for us to test the validity of our findings. Without a device to travel to, we cannot verify that the device will work in practicality. There for it is with regret that I recommend suspending further study in this matter and that the prototype be dismantled. Signed Dr. Thomas Radenheimer.”
“They had a working device, but they couldn’t test it because there was no such device in their past to send someone too,” said Walter. “That means that if such a device existed today someone could go back to 1950 and appear in the original machine.” A burning excitement flowed through Sam’s body as he contemplated the possibilities. “All I would have to do is build a device from these drawings and...”
He hesitated for a moment and then nodded his head in affirmation as he gathered the papers and stuffed them quickly into his briefcase. He grabbed his suit jacket and walked swiftly down the hallway to the elevators. He proceeded to the lobby and slowly made his way to the security desk to check out. He handed the officer at the desk his name card to swipe through the reader.
“Thank you,” he said to the officer as he was handed back his card. Walter could feel the sweat forming on his brow and hoped that the officer didn’t notice how nervous he was. He turned and headed for the double doors when he heard his name called out.
“Mr. Branigan,” the security officer called.
Walter slowly turned around holding his briefcase firmly to his chest as beads of sweat began to roll down his cheeks.
“It’s a bit chilly out there you might want to button your jacket, sir.”
Walter nodded, smiled, and quickly headed out the door to the parking lot. He felt as though he hadn’t taken a breath until he finally unlocked his car and sat behind the steering wheel. With a deep sighed he started his car and drove straight home to his third floor apartment in Alexandria, just outside of Washington, D.C . Once there he immediately pulled the file from his briefcase and began listing the materials he would need to build the machine. He laughed as he saw the schematics for the circuit boards.
“I forgot all they had was vacuum tubes back then. But I should be able reduce it by using modern technology.” Walter quickly finished his list, folded the piece of paper, and stuck it in his pocket. “Now to do a little shopping.”
Several hours later Walter returned home with a dozen boxes. He stripped off his coat and went to work in his small living room putting the pieces together. The time went quickly as he soldered on circuit boards and placed them one by one into a metal box.
He then took a large reel of one inch copper tubing and created a spiraling cage that looked similar to a metal Christmas tree. Dragging a coffee table next to the metal cage, he began wiring together all the electronic equipment. Finally, he hooked up his computer and began entering the program that would control the machine and send him back into time.
When he was done, he stood back and looked with pride at the machine he built. All around the living room bit and pieces of wire, tubes, and other trash laid scattered about. The morning sun was peeking through the window and the light glistened off the metal structure that stood in the middle of the room covered in thickly wrapped wires.
“There, the only thing left now is a source of power to fire it up,” mused Walter. “The only problem is I need more power then a standard 110 outlet can supply.”
He thought for a moment and then something out the window caught his attention. He looked out and saw the main power supply for the building connected just above his apartment. He fashioned a thick cable, put on some heavy gloves he had purchased, and then leaned out and connected the cable to the power line. A low hum could be heard from the machine as power surged through its circuits.
“That should do it,” stated Walter. He watched the boards glow with energy and he thought about what he was about to do. “I can’t just go back to 1950 without doing something important. There must be something I can do, something...”
He looked over at a stand on the far side of the room and saw an old color photo in a standing frame. Walter walked over a picked up the frame and stared at a picture of a young man in uniform. It was a picture of his father who was killed in Vietnam when Walter was only three years old in 1971.
“If I could do something that would save my father,” he thought. “But what could I do in 1950 that would affect things in 1971?” He stood thinking for a moment then looked down and saw a half dollar lying on the floor. He picked it up and saw the face of John F. Kennedy in silhouette.
“That’s it!” he screamed. “If I can somehow save Kennedy from being assassinated it may stop the war from ever happening and if the war doesn’t happen then my father can’t be killed. But what can I do in 1950, thirteen years earlier that could prevent it?”
Walter sat down on the floor holding the half dollar in one hand and his father’s picture in the other. He thought about warning Kennedy, but quickly realized that it wasn’t practical.
“Lee Harvey Oswald,” he said standing quickly. “If I stop Oswald in 1950, he can’t kill Kennedy in 1963 and that may stop the war from ever happening. Unless all the conspiracy theories are true, but I’ll just have to risk it.”
Walter quickly hooked his computer to the internet and found that Oswald was living in Benbrook, Texas in 1950. To his horror, he also realized that Oswald was only eleven years old at the time.
“My God, I can’t kill an eleven year old; even if he’ll grow up an assassin it just wouldn’t be right,” The reality of the situation weighed down on him.
Then an idea struck him. “Wait a minute, Oswald joined the Marines, and that’s where he learned to shot, and meet the people who influenced him resulting in his decision. If I make it so that he can’t join the Marines, then it may just stop the series of events that leads to JFK’s assassination. I’ll just have to find a way to make it so that he never joins the Marines.”
With his mission determined, Walter keyed a command into the computer and stepped in to the center of the metal tower. The machine’s hum grew louder and sparks began to finger between the rings of the metal tower. A strong wind wiped though the room making Sam’s hair lift from his head. He felt as though a force was trying to pull him off the floor as it tugged at every muscle. He fought against it as pain shot through his body. He screamed and then disappeared. A clock that had been counting down on the computer reached 00:00 and everything shut down. The wind calmed and all was silent. Walter had gone back into the past.
In a large-darkened room, several papers on a desk moved as though some unseen force was gently pushing on them. A shallow breeze began to stir forcing the papers off the desk and onto the floor. The breeze grew rapidly into a whirling cyclone whipping the room and shaking the floor. Office chairs started spinning wildly until they were lifted into the air and thrown against the walls. A strobing light began to flash inside a metal structure in the center of the room as fingers of electricity reached out to the air.
From within the metal structure a growing ball of energy appeared as everything in the room began to spark with energy. Paper, which swirled in the air, suddenly burst into flames and the entire room glowed with an eerie incandescent. A distant sound could be heard through the howling wind. It was faint at first but grew louder and louder as though something from far away was quickly approaching.
The sound coalesced as it came closer until it was unmistakably a human screaming. A shape began to appear with the glowing ball of energy that had encompassed the entire metal structure. It formed the outline of a human figure wrapped in sparkling energy. The great ball of light stretched as though it was a balloon expanding until it had reached its limit and then popped.
Suddenly the light in the room faded and the wind stopped, leaving the smoldering papers gently floating to the floor. The metal structure glowed red hot as steam and smoke rose from the metal rings that surrounded it like a cage. Inside, a man stood with his clothes tattered and a look of frightened shock on his face. He shook wildly and then inhaled deeply as though it was his first breath.
“What a rush,” gasped Walter Branigan trying to relax his pounding heart. He reached to steady himself against one of the metal rings and cried out as he burned his hand. Carefully he stepped out of the superheated structure that gave the room a reddish glow.
“That looks almost exactly like the one I built back home,” said Walter as he looked at the metal frame covered in wires. It was almost an exact replica of the time machine he had built from blueprints he had found in a secret file at the Pentagon.
“If that’s the original, then that means it worked and I’m in 1950.” The awe in his voice surprised him as he admired the machine. It was hooked up to a wall of cabinets with various switches and dials. “That must be the computer they used to program the thing.”
Suddenly he stopped and looked around the room as though expecting something to jump out at him at any moment. “Wait a minute, where is everybody? You would think something this important would be heavily guarded.”
Cautiously he approached a door on the other side of the room. The handle was hot so he used part of his torn shirt to turn it. Outside he saw a stairway heading up to another wooden door. At the top of the stairs, he listened at the door, but heard nothing on the other side.
Testing the handle and finding it cool to the touch, he open the door and stepped through. He was amazed when he saw a couch and some stuffed chairs near a large wooden cabinet with a small glass screen that must have been a television.
“I’m in somebody’s house,” said Walter with amazement as he slowly looked around and discovered that apparently no one was home. “Why would the government allow someone to build this in a house?” He looked around some more and found closets full of clothes, but the dressers were empty. He went into the kitchen and discovered that the cabinets and refrigerator were also empty.
“Wait a minute, now I get it,” as the realization came crashing upon him. “This isn’t a real family house. This is a set up home. They made this to look like someone was living here to disguise their experiments in the basement.”
Copyright © 2006 by S. Michael Leier