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Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Alexandria Project by Kate Tompkins - Part Eight


The maitre’d took our coats and escorted us to a private dining room in the back, where Professors Deeble, Robinson, and Rickett were already seated. Dinner was excellent; it was hard to believe the same caterers provided the meals at the student cafeteria. We nervously exchanged small talk, waiting for the profs to make the first move.

At last the waiter wheeled out the dirty dishes, leaving us with clean glasses and a large decanter of port. Dr. Deeble followed him to the door, locking it behind him. Dr. Rickett poured us each a glass of port, then cleared his throat. “My colleagues and I have looked over this ‘problem’ of yours. What do you want from us?”

“An explanation for starters,” said Georgia. “Why did you do it?” Their expressions relaxed subtly, and Dr. Deeble’s hand came away from his back pocket.

“It was an accident,” said Dr. Rickett, tugging on his earring.

“Oh, come on,” said Brent. “We have the whole thing on film. It was clearly deliberate.”

“The math scrolls, yes,” Dr. Rickett said. “But we never meant to destroy the Library.”

“Our professors told us we would be the last graduate students in Classics, and the Department would be phased out, unless someone came up with some highly original work,” Dr. Robinson began. “We found out Dr. Deeble had made a major breakthrough in chronometry and we begged him to let us test his machine by travelling to the Library of Alexandria to retrieve some scrolls. Jon McLean, the University’s biggest donor, had a particular interest in mathematics, so we took some scrolls on geometry and presented them to him.”

“He had his lawyers draw up a perpetual endowment for the Classics Department. We started work on our theses. Everyone was happy.” He sighed.

“Ever heard of the McLean proof? It’s a geometrical proof worked out by Jon McLean’s great grandmother. One of the scrolls showed that the Greeks had already solved it 2,600 years previously. Jon was adamant we destroy every mathematical scroll in the Alexandrian collection to preserve Great Grandma’s reputation. We agreed, thinking we’d go back after he was dead and rectify the damage.”

“Unfortunately, we were interrupted by three, as we thought, Alexandrians. We gave chase and in our absence the fire got out of control.”

I slumped in my chair. We’d distracted them. The greatest library of the ancient world was a charred ruin because I’d wanted a sensational school project. I had to make it right.

“Why didn’t you go back and fix it?” Georgia demanded. “Jon McLean died years ago.”

Dr. Deeble laughed. “We tried, but we could never get closer than twenty hours before or after. And the more we tried, the worse it got. It seems to be an innate law of time travel that you can’t be in the same place and time twice. We’d no choice but to accept our complicity and get on with our lives.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” said Dr. Rickett, “living with the guilt all these years.” The large diamond on his middle finger reflected the light from the ornate chandelier as he reached across to refill our port glasses. “Not easy at all.” His eyes strayed to his watch. “I have to leave soon. My wife and I have tickets to the symphony. Opening night, you know.”

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