Search This Blog

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part One


One of mine. A light look at time travel from the perspective of undergrads in Classics.

* * * * *

“The Kessler twins have it sewn up,” said Brent. “Since their mother started talking about endowing two faculty positions, they’ve been getting straight A’s. The grad students are doing their course work for them.”

Brent, Georgia and I sat in our room in residence, drinking beer and moping. We needed an outstanding fourth-year project to get into grad school. Technically, we weren’t supposed to start work until the following September, but even the worst procrastinators in our class were already thinking about it.

Georgia stared into her beer. “That still leaves eight openings. If only we could find something really spectacular.”

“If only they hadn’t burned the Library of Alexandria,” I said. This is a standard classicist beef. The city of Alexandria had had a huge collection of scrolls on every conceivable subject, lost in 48 BC when Julius Caesar set fire to Ptolemy XIV’s fleet. If it had survived, we’d know a lot more than we do about the ancient Mediterranean. And if I’d been born rich, I wouldn’t be worrying about my fourth-year project—I’d be cruising the Greek islands on my yacht.

 “The Library of Alexandria,” Brent repeated. “My cousin Nate is a grad student in engineering. He’s working with Dr. Deeble on the time machine project.”

“That's been running 50 years,” said Georgia. “At least.”

“Yeah,” I said. “The only thing they’ve learned is how to waste time.”

“Nate agrees. He thinks Dr. Deeble’s theory is off-base. He’s been working on his own and he’s come up with a portable time machine.”

We stared. “Portable?” said Georgia. “How come no one’s heard about this?”

“He wants to keep it under wraps until he’s sure it works. He’s used a prototype on plants and lab rats. Now he needs test subjects who can bring back proof.”

“And how does this help us?” I said.

“We speak several dead languages. We’re familiar with ancient history. We’re the perfect test subjects.”

“Are you crazy? Why would we want to volunteer?”

“You said it yourself, Nikos. The Library of Alexandria,” said Brent. “If we could get there just before it burned...”

“...and take some of the books,” put in Georgia, “our future would be guaranteed and no one in the past would even know they were missing.”

“Exactly,” said Brent. “And Nate would get the fame he deserves.”

“And if it doesn’t work? If we get killed or stranded somewhere in the past?”

“Then we don’t have to pay back our student loans,” said Georgia.

* * * * *

We met Nate in the basement of the undergrad library. I’d discovered the place in my first year. It was quiet, so I could study or sleep between classes. And there was something about books on paper—holding one in my hands and wondering about all the other people who had ever read it.

Brent had been working on Nate, stressing our linguistic skills and general knowledge. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use them. I could speak Greek and Latin, but my modern pronunciation would finger me as a foreigner. Georgia was quick to point out there were lots of foreigners in Alexandria, which made it an ideal spot for time travel. Then Nate threw the first snag at us.

“This Alexandria place is in Egypt or something, right? We’ll have to go to Egypt to use the machine.”

“You can’t just punch in a destination?” Georgia asked.

He got that look on his face that engineers get when explaining something blindingly obvious to us lesser mortals. “It’s not the TARDIS—though that would be seriously cool.”

We stared blankly at him.

He sighed. “It just travels through time, not space. And while the receiver—the part you’ll carry with you—is portable, the transmitter isn’t. It’s got a range of five kilometres—get farther away and I can’t pick you up.”

No comments:

Post a Comment