art by Richard Gagnon
Professor Jennifer Magda-Chichester's Time Machine
by Julian Mortimer Smith
Professor Jennifer Magda-Chichester stood on the stage of Stockholm Concert Hall, smiling proudly into a sea of tuxedos: "It is a great honor to receive this most prestigious of awards," she said, a cluster of ubiquitous nano-microphones reproducing her every word in perfect fidelity, in the minds of a million listeners worldwide. "A very great honor, the greatest that any scientist can ever hope to achieve. I am very proud of my team, and of course I am indebted to all the brilliant minds who laid the foundation for my work. If I have seen further than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.
"And yet, my near-perfect happiness on this day is tainted by the tiniest speck of regret. I am an old woman and, as you all know by now, the device can only travel backwards through time. I therefore stand here before you today in the full knowledge that I will never live to see my invention reach its full potential. I can only imagine all the wonderful uses that future generations will find for the thing. Did Alan Turing imagine all the benefits of today's sentient quantum computers? Did Neil Armstrong imagine the wonders of Luna Colony Alpha?"
The professor paused for a moment, letting her audience consider the potential of backwards time-travel, letting them consider how limited their own imaginations were, letting them imagine how much they couldn't imagine. She had always believed that the most important quality in a scientist was an awareness of how much was beyond one's understanding.
Then she delivered her punch line, gesturing to the machine with a grin: "Well, I guess we'll just have to go back and ask them."
And yet it didn't happen like that. It happened nearly a decade earlier, and someone entirely different had stood on that stage in Stockholm, graciously accepting the prize, dispensing words of wisdom and bon mots to the enraptured crowd. Jennifer Magda-Chichester had wasted the last ten years of her career working stubbornly on an invention that her one-time mentor Professor Maxwell Honksworthy had invented and patented years earlier. She had simply refused to believe that he had gotten there first. The Nobel Prize was nothing but a fantasy, born of envy and denial.