My name is Ray.
God, it feels funny to say that. I mean, yes, Ray is my name. But nobody’s called me that in a long, long time now. They call me Raymond. Well, they try to call me Raymond but it comes out Reimon.
The Queen on the Mountain has asked me to transcribe my tale for the benefit of the Library and the Marble City on the Mountain. I will try to the best of my ability to relate my story as I remember it. Please bear with me as I am many years separated from some of the events.
I was — excuse me, someday I will be — born in a city called Los Angeles, in an place called California, which was in turn in a country called the United States of America. I suppose I was pretty smart as kids go. I did the normal things kids do: play games, learn to read and do math, take music lessons, make friends, fall hopelessly in love with girls who don’t notice you exist. My family was by no means wealthy, but they were well off enough that I had advantages many other children did not. In school I studied hard. Eventually I earned money called a “scholarship” and finished my education in San Francisco, a city further north in California. I loved it there: cool weather, people of many cultures, great food, an interesting history, no shortage of things to do. I studied something called physics.
Somehow or another I got involved in a fellow grad student’s project. He called it “Project Wells” after a famous author of a previous era, H.G. Wells. He wrote several science fiction books, including one called “The Time Machine.” The idea was to build a device that could take you to next week, or last month, or years in the past and future. In an ideal world, enough mobility could be added to the device to move in space as well as time all at once. My colleague insisted that would be a later project, one he called “Centurian” after a character in a somewhat popular fiction series involving such a device.
One of the difficulties I am having is expressing things as I remember them without necessarily explaining my entire culture and history. After all, strictly speaking my history hasn’t even happened yet. If I say too much, I might influence your future and my history. How am I to explain what happened without explaining television, English literature, Star Trek, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, street gangs, internal combustion engines, rock music, Wikipedia, the internet, Chinatown, and dozens of other things that my people would take for granted?
After a few years of effort and countless cups of a drink called “coffee,” we finished the prototype. All our work was done on our spare time outside of classes and jobs, in a rented garage. The prototype itself was beautiful: roughly conical, with a nice wide base for stability, a solid door with a thick shatterproof window in case the traveler ended up someplace undesirable. Half the interior was taken up by the traveler’s command chair, and the other half was control panels. Theoretically, the traveler could control when he would arrive using the various dials and buttons.
Now then, maybe you noticed that I said “theoretically.” Maybe you also noticed that I mentioned that I was born in your future. In my culture’s literature, we call this “foreshadowing.”
If memory serves, my friend talked me into going on the maiden voyage of the device. He said he’d be remembered for inventing the thing, so it was only fair I be remembered for piloting it. He also pointed out that I was in much better physical shape than he — I was very athletic for a “nerd” — and would be better able to get out of trouble in strange times. This seemed logical at the time. However, as I look back, I have moments where I wonder if he was just using me to save his own skin if something went wrong.
So I climbed in, turned it on, smiled, and started turning the dial to visit an hour from then.
I frowned and tried to adjust the dial.
That’s when everything went wrong.
I heard a spark, then saw a little smoke. Suddenly the world outside the device became unnaturally colorful, blurry, and my stomach lurched within me. I was plunged into darkness, illuminated only by electricity dancing across the control panel. Then a bright light. Darkness and light alternated several times before things returned to normal.
I looked out the window and saw another age. The garage we’d worked in wasn’t there anymore. Or rather, it wasn’t there yet. People in old-fashioned get-ups roamed the sidewalks, and horses dragged wheeled vehicles around the hilly streets. I gawked for several minutes before the earth began to shake. That’s when I realized when and where I was.