08. November 2014 · Comments Off on THE ULTIMATE PARADOX · Categories: ---

I signed my name, Laurie Wentworth, for the last time at the bottom of the lab notes page, and the date, November 30, 2021. I was excited to realize that the device was finished, and I would need no more lab notes. All the notes now would be in my personal journal, documenting my first trip into time.

As I left the lab late that evening I felt a sense of loss, something I hadn’t really experienced since David died. My late husband, Professor David Wentworth, M.S., Ph.D., and tenured professor of Physics at U C Berkeley for 23 years, had passed away just a year ago. And I was about to complete the work the brilliant Dr. Wentworth had begun when he started his Ph.D. thesis the year I was born.

Aside from the truly devastating sorrow I’d known when David died, since then I had felt only hope, hope that I could someday finish his life work though many years his junior. And tomorrow, after a year of demanding 60-hour work weeks, would be the culmination of his efforts to invent the first true time travel device.

All I felt then was eagerness to begin the final test. The next morning, Sunday, if all went as planned, the device would definitively prove David’s thesis, that there could be no paradox in time travel. He had died before he could prove it, and I believed his heart had given out from the stress of the mockery and disbelief of his colleagues.

In physics, it was always commonly accepted that time travel was impossible because of the Ultimate Time Paradox, the idea that merely entering the time stream of the past would alter it, thereby making it impossible to return to the traveler’s own present. Tomorrow, if all went well, I would prove that my David had been right all along and his detractors had been wrong: there was no such thing as an Ultimate Time Paradox.

Before his heart problems had confined him to bed, David and I had succeeded in sending several items up to six days into the past, and had observed them returning at the time we had set. During this past year, I myself had succeeded in sending both a kitten and a monkey back more than a week in time, and they had returned none the worse for the trip.

The prototype device itself had been designed to look like a wooden bench, its controls embedded in an armrest. There was a sensor within the controls that would allow the traveler to move in space, and to monitor the area of arrival so as to avoid appearing in the midst of a tree or inside the walls of a building.

My lifelong interest in history had given me the necessary basic information for my trip. During the past week, I had collected the right kind of currency, clothing, hairstyle and everything else I might require if the machine worked as I hoped it would. And now I was just about ready to take the next step.

Tomorrow, December 1, 2021, I would jump back eighty years to try and prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated the Second World War.  My grandparents had both perished in this war, as had David’s great-uncle.

*****

I didn’t sleep much that night and, early on Sunday I rushed to the lab, already dressed in my 1940s clothing. I set the machine’s controls for 4:00 p.m., Monday, December 1, 1941, and entered the coordinates for a quiet park I knew of in Manhattan. It was not far from the offices of the New York Times, where I intended to hook a journalist’s interest in my quest.

Wearing a forties-fashionable green calf-length skirt and a white cotton blouse with a Peter Pan collar, I checked the mirror one last time. My hairdo was simple; longish and light brown in color, it was naturally curly so I’d need no hairspray or mousse, two items I was normally never without. I rarely wore makeup, but what could have been a problem were my piercings, two in each earlobe and one in my eyebrow, along with a scarlet rose tattoo on my neck. My grandmother’s pearl clip-on earrings covered the holes, and I removed the jade hoop above my eye which left two tiny holes that most likely wouldn’t be noticed. I would need to use stage makeup on my tattoo and keep an eye on it to be sure it didn’t reappear.

I wore low-heeled black pumps and stockings with seams, and carried a small handbag I’d bought in a vintage shop. My SynthaFur mink-style jacket would be warm enough, and looked real enough that it wouldn’t raise questions.

I couldn’t be sure what effect the transition into the past had had on the kitten and monkey, though they were both still alive and seemingly in good health. Hoping it wouldn’t shake me up too much, I pushed the switch to START, pressed the button and braced myself. Very slowly, the lab walls began to shimmer and a low buzzing, gradually increasing to a thrumming hum, seemed to pierce my ears with needles. But before it became unbearable, it stopped and my bench and I were surrounded by grass and trees. Had I succeeded?  Had I actually traveled in time?

I stood up, grabbed my bag and case from the bench and rushed to the edge of the park where there was a newsstand. The newspaper confirmed that it was indeed December 1, 1941.I had made it! I hadn’t expected to feel quite such a thrill. I braced myself against the side of the news shack as I stood taking it all in.

Since it was early December in New York, I had expected cold, possibly even a blizzard, and wondered why I hadn’t bothered to check the weather for this date. But it wasn’t even snowing, though it obviously had been. It was cold, and I was thankful for the fur coat.

Around me was a typical New York winter afternoon: sludgy snow drifts shoved up against the curbs; dark clouds mixed with the dingy white overcast; and there was enough chill in the air to make me wish I’d worn gloves. I could see a few Christmas decorations, but nothing like what I’d come to expect in my time.

Far fewer people streamed down the sidewalks, many of them carrying heavy bags. The streets were much narrower than in my time, and the few cars and trucks that ambled down the thoroughfare were old even for that time; I knew that few new cars had been built during the Depression.

Once I stopped trembling with excitement and could remove my hand from the support of the newsstand, I set off along Fifth toward West Forty-third, gazing in wonder around me. The store windows in this late-Depression year were so much sparser than in my own time, but I saw a number of dresses similar to those in the vintage store where I had bought my costume.

I passed several men and women who made me think of the droves of homeless in my New York, but they weren’t panhandling and none seemed as aggressive as those in my time. One bag lady came near and smiled at me, put a hand on my fur-covered arm and muttered, “I remember…” as she strolled by.

At the first intersection I came to, I was shocked to see a policeman directing traffic instead of a traffic signal. Just like in the movies, he stood in the center of the road, his white-gloved hands pointing in different directions and his whistle trilling inside his friendly smile. I was tempted to ask for directions just to hear his rich, thick Irish brogue; he looked as if he’d just stepped off the boat from County Cork.

I finally reached 229 West Forty-third, and made my way up the stairs to the editorial offices of the New York Times. The trim, well-dressed receptionist glanced up from her phones and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Jack Mathews,” I said. “Is he in?”

“I’m sorry, but he’s away right now. May I have him call you?”

In my own time, I would have given her my cell number. It was obvious I’d have to stay somewhere nearby, so I quickly decided to find a hotel. “No, thanks,” I told her. “I’ll be back.”

I had brought $400 in 1941 bills, which in those days was a fortune. The idea of getting a room at the Carlton gave me a thrill, but the hotel wasn’t nearly as luxurious as it is now. But there was a comfortable bed, windows overlooking the avenue, and working heaters, so it didn’t bother me much.

*****

Early next morning, wearing the same skirt with a pale yellow sweater I’d stuffed in my bag and my cozy fur, I set out to the Times building. The offices weren’t open when I arrived so I ducked into a café next door to enjoy a plate of ham and eggs, which cost me an amazing seventy-five cents. I tipped the waitress a half-dollar, and felt as if I’d cheated her.

I almost literally ran into Mr. Mathews when I returned to the newspaper office. When the receptionist told me who he was, I put my hand out to shake his. He grinned insolently and ran his eyes up and down my body. Reminding myself that almost all men were chauvinists in the forties, I ignored it and shook his hand.

“Just call me Jacky,” he said with a smirk.

I said, “Jacky, my name is Laurie Wentworth. I have to speak to you in private.”

“Well, I guess my desk is out, then. But we could go to your place,” he said, a cocky grin between the attractive dimples in his cheeks.

When I suggested the café where I’d had breakfast, he shrugged his assent. We were soon settled in a booth and, when the waitress came over, Jacky ordered “a cup of joe.”

Some demon made me say, “A half-caff Mocha Latte, please.”

“Huh?” the waitress said, frowning. I shrugged, with an inner grin.

“Never mind. Just coffee, please.” Smiling as persuasively as I knew how, I leaned over and took Jacky’s hands in mine. “I know you’re not going to believe this,” I said, “but please just listen for a moment. I’m from eighty years in your future, the year 2021, and I’m here to avert the event that set off a second World War in my time.”

Jacky grinned and nodded. “Yeah. You’re from the future. Uh-huh.”

Seeing he was humoring me, I told him, “The Japanese are planning to attack the air base on the Hawaiian Islands early next Sunday morning, and this incident will push America into the European war.”

He smirked. “The Japanese aren’t allied with Germany as far as I know.” A snicker told me he wasn’t willing yet to suspend judgment. So I brought out the big guns.

“For the past few years,” I said, leaning toward him and speaking quietly, “a team of women code-breakers, called the Signals Intelligence Service, have been working with the Japanese diplomatic code.”

Jacky suddenly became serious and leaned back, narrowing his eyes and focusing on my face.

“One day last September,” I went on, “one of them found a correlation that no one else had seen. This connection led other code-breakers to some similar links. Shortly after that, the SIS began working with the U.S. Navy to build a ‘Purple’ analog machine, something that could decode Japanese diplomatic messages. Right now some people on the president’s staff know all about this, and have been trying to convince his advisors of Japan’s imminent entry into the war.”

“Who told you that?” he asked, his eyes still narrowed. “I only just learned of the SIS last week, and I didn’t think any other laymen knew about them. Now you’d better tell me who put you up to this, or I’ll call the police. Or are you some kind of fortune-teller?”

“I’m no fortune-teller,” I assured him.

Sitting back on his bench, he barked, “Was it Hank Roberts from the Post?  Or, I know, it was my brother. Mark knows the kind of woman that might influence me; it’s got to be him.”

I shook my head, digging out the copy of an article I’d brought along and handing it to him. As he skimmed it, I pointed out, “You can see that it’s dated 1946. It says a note from Tokyo, instructing the Japanese embassy to destroy their code machines, was intercepted and interpreted to mean that war was to be declared on December 6, 1941.”

“Yeah,” Jacky said, reading. The article also said that warnings had been sent to American military commanders in Hawaii, the Philippines, Panama and San Francisco, but the message to Hawaii had been delayed, not being delivered until after the bombs were dropped on the morning of December 7.

When he finished that article he looked up. “Do you have anything else?” he asked, avoiding my eyes. I couldn’t tell if he still didn’t believe me, but decided to go ahead anyway.

“Well,” I said. “Okay, here.” I pulled out a movie poster I’d brought along from the 2001 film, Pearl Harbor, and slapped it down in front of him, along with some photos I’d cut out of magazines. They were of four U. S. soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima, a dense column of smoke rising over Nagasaki after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, and the USS Arizona burning after an explosion during the attack. I knew they were compelling pictures, but after a brief examination Jacky said, “It’s gotta be Hank. Whoever made up these pictures was very good at faking it. I could even tell you how they did it.”

I sighed, shrugged and shook my head. He was obviously not yet convinced. He got up and left the café without finishing his coffee.

*****

Returning to my room at the Carlton, I sank down on the bed, dejected. I peered at the cars and people three floors below, wondering if I should just give up and go home. As I hunched over the window sill, thinking this whole thing through once again, I realized I knew where to find something that in my time hadn’t been located until after the end of the war. It was an article written in mid-1940, and published in England and Canada.

I took a cab to the New York Library and found it in the Periodicals section. It warned Great Britain, the U. S., and Russia, and their allies, that Japan’s diplomatic postures were faked. I made a quick note as to where I’d found it, located a place to eat lunch, and went back to my hotel. I couldn’t resist doing some window-shopping in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, with time running out, I stopped Jacky outside his office, wishing not for the first time that I had a DVD player, or even a video from the History Channel, to show him. Forcing myself to ignore his ire, I pleaded and begged that he just listen to me. After a while I could see a small grin peeking through his sternness, and he said, “I’ll write the story if you’ll sleep with me.”

I put a teasing note in my voice as I laughed. “I intended that to be my next suggestion.” I took his hands and pulled him close to me, close enough that he could feel the heat of my body. “I’ll even fix your breakfast tomorrow morning,” I murmured, with a sultry smile.

He looked me over once more, his irritation turning to ardor. “All right. I’ll look at your evidence. And you can tell me about that hole in your eyebrow and the rose on your neck.”

I laughed and ignored that, realizing those oddities were adding to my intrigue. “Great. Come with me,” I said. We hurried to the library where I found the article again and showed it to him. It read, in part:

“On the morning of September 3, 1939, Jonathan Creek, a newspaperman and intelligence officer stationed in Toronto, Canada, sent a coded cablegram to the office of Chester Walters, Speaker of the House of Parliament. This message said that Creek had proof positive that the Japanese diplomatic corps had been sending coded messages to their spies inside England, warning them of a likely attack on the islands in the Pacific within two years.”

He finished reading it and turned to me. “Well, I can’t see how you could have faked this article,” he said. “I think I need some time. Okay?”

I nodded and took another long look at him. He was awfully cute, and it had been a year since David died. I let him see me looking him slowly up and down, and he seemed to think I was interesting, too. So I decided to sleep with him while he thought about it.

*****

When we went over all of my evidence again on Thursday morning, Jacky just couldn’t help scoffing at first, even after all I told him about my era and what had happened since his own time. But between my sweet smiles, and a few more promising eye contacts, he finally agreed to write the story. He even convinced his editor to run it on page one, though he warned me that he’d lose his job if it didn’t pan out.

His story omitted the time travel aspect and, as he was sworn to secrecy about the SIS findings, he contented himself with summarizing the article I’d shown him. He did a phone interview with Jonathan Creek, who confirmed the details, and ended with a statement that military bases on the Pacific coast should pay particular attention to communiqués warning of airplane sightings. He also wrote of what “could” happen if the attack came.

He typed -30- on the manuscript, and said the story would run in Friday morning’s paper.

I didn’t see Jacky again until early Saturday evening over drinks in his studio apartment. After he’d gone to sleep on Saturday night, knowing the news wouldn’t reach New York until after 2 a.m., I fixed a snack and turned on the radio to see if my plan had worked. There was nothing but music and news, none of which broke a story about a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I listened until after 4 a.m., several hours past the time the announcement should have come. When I realized that there had been no interruption to tell of a Japanese air attack on the Navy base, I was positively thrilled.

“It worked!” I yelled, and Jacky sat up in bed, startled awake at my shout.

He processed what I had said and how I looked, sitting across the room at his kitchen table, and smiled crookedly. “Congratulations!”

I didn’t know if he believed me even now, but I was thrilled that my efforts appeared to have succeeded. Bouncing up from the table, I began dancing round the kitchen. When he joined me, wrapped in his sheet, I kissed him soundly and had to quickly dodge out of his embrace or we would have ended up in bed again.

Jacky narrowed his eyes at me and walked over to his desk. “It didn’t happen?”

“Yes!  Aren’t you glad?”

“Sure, I guess. Unless…” He poured himself a cup of coffee and stood, looking very cute in the sheet.

“Unless what?”

“Well, you could have been wrong about the attack.  Or…”

“Or?” I stood, hands on my waist, waiting for what I knew he was going to say.

“Or, you could have been lying all along.”

“But what about the evidence I showed you?”

“Very compelling,” he admitted, turning back to sit on the bed. “But the only real proof would be if the Japanese admitted they’d been planning an attack.”

“Do you think they will?”

“Do you?”

“I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t wrong. Pearl Harbor wasn’t attacked, and now the Japanese won’t join the war.” He shrugged; how could we know the story had succeeded?

After breakfast and a few more kisses, Jacky walked me back to the Carlton to say a last fond, and slightly regretful, goodbye.

Still thrilled and excited about my success, I forgot to worry about how my own time might have changed. I checked out of the hotel and walked back to the bench I’d left in the park just a week ago. Chasing away a drunk sleeping off his late night, I set the controls to return to my own time. As the white walls of the lab shimmered and took form around me, I couldn’t help shivering with the thought that David’s theory would soon be proven. Maybe they’d award him a posthumous Nobel Prize.

*****

I set out hesitantly to the university administrative offices where the morning paper was always delivered. I read the date, December 7, 2021. I had made it back to my own time and everything looked just the same as when I’d left. My David had been right. There was no Ultimate Time Paradox! The attack had not taken place, but things were just as they had been when I left.

I was excited and pleased; his work had been vindicated! I rushed home to think about which devastating world event I would change next: Warn the people of New Orleans about Katrina? Keep Amelia Earhart from disappearing? I might even witness Jesus’ crucifixion. Maybe I’d visit David before we met, just to see what he was like and to hint about the future of time travel. I shivered with joy. My David’s theory would finally be proven. Oh, the papers I would write!

A few weeks later I walked into the university library to do some research and happened to glance at the headline on a Berkeley newspaper. It was announcing the upcoming eightieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I frowned as I looked at it. Could this be an old edition, or maybe just a typo?

I sat down in the nearest chair and read the article’s opening paragraph which began: “Christmas Day 1941—A Day That Will Live in Infamy.”

About the author: Harriet Darling

A 75-year-old retired Executive Assistant and Research Editor, I live in Lodi, California, and transport foster kids to family visits and court appearances. I have a son, who is married to Cathy, and they live in Sacramento with Sheldon, their cat, and Penny, their dog. No children, so no grandchildren for me.

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