To time-travel, Professor Smith needs a significant emotional anchor to get him back. His colleague holds the key if she agrees to his indecent proposal.
As Torta plodded across campus, gusty fall winds whirled amber and crimson leaves about his chinos and lifted his fine shoulder-length brown hair. Invigorated by crisp fall smells, the almost-thirty assistant professor forgot the obtuse freshmen of Physics 101 and focused on his real love, a little project that mixed philosophy, logic, and engineering. He stopped to watch a large oak leaf cluster plop into the black pond water and spread a circle of ripples. “A perfect illustration of causality,” he announced to a squirrel. When his listener didn’t respond, he continued, “My transport theory has become reality. Now I just have to convince Crib.”
He’d known Cribella Sands for ten years. They’d met as college freshman, kept in touch during graduate school, and now taught at the same school, he in physics, she in philosophy. It mystified him why he liked her, since she spent most of their time together poking fun at him. But she never discouraged him and that, he hoped, meant she’d help. Torta hoped their long friendship would make her receptive to his rather indecent proposal.
His flat was just off campus in a tree-filled neighborhood. Torta tossed the briefcase and jacket on the cot and went to a workbench where a jumble of electronic innards vied for space with soldering irons, tape, and clamps. His prize, a tiny headset with an array of electrodes, gleamed in a shaft of late day sun.
He gingerly donned the headset. “Activate,” he commanded, and a nearby brick-sized, silver block winked a green light and extended a small cone-shaped wire basket. The display panel showed the exact time, from year to seconds, in yellow digits. “Deactivate,” he intoned, and the brick beeped and slept.
He removed the headset and brought his open hands, fingertip to fingertip, before his face. At five-second intervals, the fingers separated and then returned. Deep in thought, Torta failed to notice a crow outside cawing in the exact same tempo. He focused on the one thing he desperately needed: a significant near-event to come back to. And that was where Crib came in.
At seven that evening, Crib entered Torta’s apartment bearing egg rolls, moo shu pork, and fortune cookies. She was dressed in well-worn jeans, sweatshirt, and sneakers, and her short black hair had mutated to orange. “Torta, this place smells like burnt solder and ozone.” She placed the food on the coffee table and flopped onto the cracked leather couch. “So, what’s so damn urgent that you had to have me over here tonight and even agreed to pay for dinner?” Crib held her hand out, palm up, and tossed her head to the side, causing the orange mop to fluff.
Torta eyed the new hair as he fished a bill from his wallet and placed it in her palm. He fetched two beers and returned to sit carefully on his end of the couch. He looked at Crib, ran his palms down his thighs, and then returned his gaze to the beer. “You know that project I’ve told you about?”
“Would that be the Dr. Wacko-Goes-Back tinkerdoodle you’ve been drooling on for the past year?” Crib cast a mischievous smile.
“That’s right, the Causality Project.”
“You can give it a fancy name, Torta, but we chickens know it as time travel.” Crib forked noodles into her mouth.
“I’ve explained why that term is not really correct. It’s causality travel.”
“That takes you back in time.”
Torta sighed. “I repeat. Not along a time axis. The trick is to use a causality axis. One event leads to another and another. Has to do with string theory. To go backwards one has to trace the causality links, which, it just so happens, zip along a rather erratic time axis.” He picked up a ruler and slapped his hand like a conductor signaling for the first chord.
Crib looked up from her food. “So you’re telling me that after a year of fiddling, bouncing from one energy source to another, and re-doing everything twenty times, you have come up with a way to move along an event path?”
Torta smiled. She seemed finally to be actually listening, maybe even thinking about what he’d said. “Right. But only into the past. No future events have occurred yet. All you do is program in a current condition and ask what caused it. My invention will take me to the event that explains that condition.”
Crib put down the food carton and turned toward him. She closed her hands on his cheeks. “You need to shave.”
Confused, Torta plowed ahead. “There is a little problem. In order to get back, you have to link yourself to a personal, proximal event. That’s the delicate part. The traveler has to input a fact of his own life whose cause exists right about the time he left. Then he can follow that cause back to the here and now.”
Crib gave him her dark eyes stare. “I could shave you, including your head. Then the fact of your being bald would closely follow the cause—my scalping you.”
“The event has to be of emotional significance to the traveler, something that stimulates the limbic system. I don’t think your knicking me up, probably on purpose, would qualify.”
“Ah, the primitive lizard part of your brain. So what exactly would you be thinking of, Little Lizard Man?”
Torta glanced at Crib’s face, then at the cot, and finally settled on a spot a foot in front of her shoes. “Well … I was sorta thinking we could have sex.”
Eyes wide and mouth open, Crib was silent for several seconds. In a low voice, drawing out each syllable, she said, “In yer dreams, Wet Pants.”
“It would be my first time, so it would quite naturally be really significant for me.”
Crib’s mouth opened even wider. “Would it really be your first time? Why?”
“I just haven’t had the time. First the seminary, and then I decided to become a physicist.”
“So you’re gay.” She made it a statement.
“I am not gay.”
“How do you know? Or are you trying to find out?”
“I know. Let’s not get off track here. I only mentioned virginity to show you how suitable it would be for these purposes. And it would be an act of real affection. We’ve always been the best of friends. We like each other, right? Hell, we’ve even necked a little.”
“I pet my dog, too. But we don’t have sex.” Crib scanned the room as if looking for a weapon.
Torta didn’t like the direction this was going and tried to inject reason. “You would be contributing yourself in the cause of science. And helping me get back here.”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘sacrificing myself’? I might consider the former reason, but hardly the latter, as justification. But, frankly, both sound like bullshit. And your claim about being friends? Give me a break. The only time we’ve been on dates is when I’ve dragged you out. And our necking has only been during TV commercials. Weeks go by and I don’t hear from you. Better think of some other significant event, like the end of bed-wetting. I don’t want to hear any more. I have an exam to prepare.” Crib stamped toward the door, pulled it open, and turned to face him. “You’re such a jerk, Torta. You didn’t even notice my hair.”
Crib thrust herself, chest first, into the apartment. “What if I just show you my tits?” She wore a new sweatshirt and new jeans. The sneakers were blue and white. Her hair had turned pinkish.
“No offense, Crib, but you don’t have big tits. Not that I wouldn’t relish them, but I have seen pictures of memorable mammaries. Not significant enough, I’m afraid.”
“You’re such a little shit, Torta.”
Crib arrived wearing a pepperoni-colored buttoned blouse over tan shorts with brown leather sandals. She looked cold, but that could have been due to the frosted blue hair and blue nails. She placed a pizza box on the desk and drummed her fingers on the lid. “Have you found a significant event you can have with your pants on?”
“Come on, Crib. This is my life we’re talking about. I can’t cut corners.” Torta wanted to warm her with a hug, but he realized he was eyeing her as a wolf might a snow hare.
“Why don’t you try a little trip with a little event and see if your little butt gets back here?” Crib asked.
“I’m not sure what the effects are on the traveler. One trip may be all anyone can stand.”
“What am I supposed to do while you’re flitting to God-knows-where?” Crib selected the biggest slice of pizza and moved pepperoni from adjacent slices onto it. “I mean, if we do this—that’s a big ‘if’—and you pop back here at the event that caused you such bliss, I get thrown back onto the cot and I lose all the time you spent in the past, right?”
Torta couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Was she actually considering having sex? He had to assure her. “You don’t have to be here to allow my reentry, no pun intended—”
“God, you’re a prick!”
“But you will be here because the theory says not much time passes in the traveler’s origin zone. Sort of a one-to-a-thousand ratio. So you just wait here.”
“Your theory. The only thing not theoretical is that you get laid.” Crib stood and stepped into her sandals. She grabbed another piece of pizza and slammed the door as she left.
Crib arrived in a short blue skirt, white blouse, and a pink cardigan. The blue hair had been replaced by something yellow. She didn’t seem to be wearing a bra and her feet were in expensive tan loafers. She sat on the couch, crossing her legs.
Torta sat next to her, unsure of what to say. His mouth decided to work with only lizard brain guidance. “You look…beautiful.”
Crib smiled. “What causality are you going to investigate, Torta?”
He’d thought long and hard about what it should be. Something significant. Something no one else could figure out. Something that would give him the answer to a profound question. But the query was his baby, and he felt very possessive. “Just a question that interests me.”
“That’s bull. You get to feel my ass and I don’t get to know what great quest I’m supporting. If I’m in on this, I want all the way in.” She swung her leg over his and sat on his lap, pinning him to the couch. She grabbed his shirt collar and pulled his head close. “Spell it out.”
His mind was spinning. Was she saying she’d give in? “Does this mean that…that we can…can do it?”
“You’re really swift, Bucko.”
“Thanks, Crib. You’re a true friend.”
She looked at him with liquid eyes for a long minute. Slowly she removed his glasses and placed them on the back of the couch. She leaned very close. “We’ve been more than just friends all along, Torta.” She kissed him.
Torta embraced her, distracted by a sudden feeling of excitement. His hands went to her hips.
She pushed him back and stood up. “Calm down, Torta. There are a few conditions.”
“Conditions? Like what?” He was confused.
“First, I want to know the destination.”
Torta looked for several seconds at the large crucifix over his cot. With an air of resignation, he took a deep breath and said, “I want to know why God is silent. I need to go back to the time when God last spoke.”
“What kind of question is that? Something left over from seminary days? It’s interesting, but the underlying premise could be wrong. Maybe God is not silent. What happens if the question is nonsense?”
“The program aborts. And there are other safeguards. The answer has to lie in a destination in this world where conditions are commensurate with human life. There’s no danger.”
“But you get your rocks off. How far back is this supposed to take us?”
Torta had tried to figure that out. “I guess if I knew that I’d have the answer. But I’m thinking we may wind up in the Garden of Gethsemane two thousand years ago. Or maybe in the Garden of Eden.” He’d decided to keep other possibilities to himself when Crib’s word struck him. “Us? What the hell do you mean?”
“If I’m to be sacrificed, I want to go, too.” She was fingering the buttons on her blouse.
“No way. It’s too dangerous. It’s bad enough I’m risking this. I don’t want you in danger.” Torta shook his head. “Absolutely not. No, no, no.”
Crib stood, turned slowly, and sauntered to the desk. She sat on the edge, looking like a poker player holding four aces. “And just why, Torta, why wouldn’t you want me in danger?”
Torta lifted his eyes from her legs. When he saw the intense look on her face, he realized this was a test. His mind scrambled to come up with the right answer. Crib waited, looking prettier as seconds passed, distracting him, making it hard to think. Torta pushed his hair back and licked his lips. Suddenly, he knew the answer. “Because I love you.”
“Thank you, Torta. I love you, too. Now get to work on that other headset. I’ll be back tomorrow night with wine and candles.” She swished out the door.
Crib arrived in a white ruffled blouse, a pleated skirt, nylons, and low-heeled black dress shoes. Luxuriant gleaming chestnut hair framed a face lightly made up, with a faint blush of rouge, pink lipstick, and mascara that made her big eyes look doe-like. She placed candles on the coffee table and lit them. After they’d eaten brie and finished a bottle of Chablis, Crib pulled Torta to the cot. They kissed. They necked. They made love.
Minutes later they scrambled into clothes and donned the head sets. Torta seemed stunned. “So what are we waiting for?” Crib asked.
“I’m just making sure that I experienced a significant event.”
She punched him in the arm.
“Ouch! I was just kidding. You were wonderful. My heart is still racing and I will never forget. I guess we are ready to go.”
Crib held up her hand. “And you are just assuming that I have had a significant event?”
Torta’s mouth opened. “What?”
“Just do it, you idiot.”
The apartment vanished, replaced by a lush grass slope next to a reed-filled lake. To one side a small thicket of lavender ferns and tan thorny plants grew before a pile of moldy gray rocks. The tropical air's moist thickness tasted of jungle growth and smelled of a mixture of decay and new life. Insects buzzed persistently. Torta did not have to say that this was not a Middle Eastern landscape. The gigantic clue was in the water: a dinosaur.
“Why is there a brontosaurus here?” Crib was crawling in a circle. “I’ve lost the damn headset.”
“Actually it’s an apatosaurus. How the hell could you lose the headset? Don’t worry about him. Where is it? They are eaters of plants, not flesh.”
“Not to worry, he says. I don’t care what salads he eats, Torta. He’s friggin’ big. We gotta skedaddle.”
Torta roused a dragonfly as big as a model airplane from the fern bed. It zipped by on translucent orange wings at least a foot across. The dinosaur watched its progress.
“What the hell are we doing here, Torta? What could the silence of God possibly have to do with the Cretaceous period?”
“I don’t know.” Torta pulled the lost headset from the grass.
The voice stunned them. “I know you creatures, but this is not your time.”
The sauropod had moved its head to within six feet of the travelers. Torta couldn’t force air out. Crib poked his ribs and squeaked out, “Who are you?”
“I am who I am.”
When she said the word, a tremor seemed to move beneath them. The Lord Lizard lifted his head on a fully extended neck and the green-brown reptilian skin caught the setting sun and sparkled. Crib gripped Torta’s arm and gasped when another small jolt and gust of air hit them. It was Torta’s question, but Crib asked it. “So where have you been, God? Why have you left us alone?”
The beast sniffed the air and finally lowered his head. “Your question implies that God has not been with you. Is that not so?”
Torta found his voice. “Yeah, it’s so. All’s quiet on the human front as far as God is concerned. No appearances, no miracles, no voice, no nothing.”
“So it may be. Why does it concern you? You have all that you need.” The voice sounded kindly but rumbled with authority.
“But you’ve left us all alone,” Crib insisted plaintively.
“The deity nature is rejuvenation. Restarting. That is my gift unto all my creatures. Birth, renewal. It is all you need.”
“How does that explain the big quiet?” Torta asked.
“In your period of existence, a few millions of years, say…”
“A lot shorter than that. Try less than a million years,” Crib corrected.
The immense head moved closer and the right eye, bigger than Crib’s head, stared. “A mere blip. In your blip, I must be in the process of rejuvenating, of coming again. I may not be around during any of human existence.”
“You mean you don’t know what’s going to happen?” Torta felt angry, but deosaurus did not seem to notice.
“If I choose to have that knowledge, it is so.”
“So what’s with the dinosaur thing?” Crib asked.
“This visit to my creation is my will. I will abide with this creature until it dies. At that moment I will depart.”
Something passed before the sun and the swamp darkened. “What if you have no warning of its death?” Crib asked.
“Then God sleeps for a while. In rejuvenation. In time I return.”
“How much time?” Torta had begun to feel insignificant in this strange world view.
“In due course.”
“Like in hours? A few days? Three days?” Torta wanted something to bulwark his faith.
“More like a millennium. And there are so many worlds to visit. I might not return to the same world for quite some time as creatures experience it.”
Torta saw it first. A black ball filled the western sky. The earth rumbled and the wind roared. He knew what it was and grabbed Crib’s arm, shoved the headset at her, and screamed into her ear, “Think of sex.”
“What the hell? Not now, you idiot. We’re in the presence of the Almighty.” Then she saw the meteor blot out the sun.
As the earth turned dark and embraced the mile-wide chunk of metal meteorite that would destroy all dinosaurs, they remembered their love-making. It worked and they lay in each other’s arms, staring face-to-face, eye-to-eye. Torta saw awe on Crib and imagined he looked the same.
It was several minutes before Crib spoke. “That was a dream, right. It was all a scheme to get my pants off.”
“It was real.”
Crib sat on the side of the bed. “No, we just had an hallucination induced by your stupid machine. Did you have the same hallucination I had? God as an apatosaurus? Doesn’t that come from the Greek for deception lizard? That was a nice touch. We never left the apartment, did we? Just a little post-coital dream.”
Torta pushed a sprig of lavender fern at her.
Crib touched the bit of plant and shook her head. “Could it be true that God was playing chicken and lost? That the divine dinosaur took a hit from the big meteor? Is God silent because she’s sleeping?”
Torta sat up. “The apatosaurus was quite masculine, Crib.”
“How do you know? Have you ever sexed a dinosaur? But what does it mean? For us and for humanity? If God is hibernating, how can he answer our prayers? What are we supposed to do?”
“I think we are supposed to do the best we can. It means what we have is within God’s plan. He exists and we just need to wait for the Big Guy to come back. He has already taken care of us and will be with us again.”
Crib’s eyes filled with tears. “Now that you’ve had your way with me, do we go back to being friends? Or enemies? Was this all a mistake?”
Torta brought her close. “How can you say that? We have learned the greatest truth ever revealed. God is rejuvenation and rebirth.”
“Answer the question, Torta. What about us?”
“I want to find my rebirth in you, Crib. I love you.” He kissed the wetness on her cheeks as the rejuvenation urgency filled him.