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Sept/Oct Winner: Yesterday's Tomorrow


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Yesterday's Tomorrow
“Our people have never had it so good.” Harold Macmillan, 1957
Charles Warrington couldn’t help but smile as he opened the curtains and gazed upon the new day. A bright yellow summer sun was already shining in the clear blue sky making the River Thames positively sparkle.
Only a decade on from the end of the war and London was rebuilt bigger, brighter and more beautiful than she had ever been before the blitz. Charles smiled again, relishing his not-insignificant part in that restoration.
But there would be time for such happy thoughts later - right now Charles had to prepare for a busy day.
The offices of the Federated Industries Company loomed over their surroundings. The rapid growth of the building over the last seven years or so echoing the fortunes of the company itself. The post-war years had seen a massive appetite for new products and new technology and FICo had been the ones to provide both. And now their designs were everywhere. Quite literally.
Charles smoothed the creases from his all-in-one pinstripe UniFit as he stepped out of the tube station and gazed up at the building. A quick check of the time on his PIDD showed he was running exactly ten minutes early. Perfect. Today was a big day, a board meeting to discuss the development of their latest invention, one which Charles was especially proud of. It was no exaggeration to say that FICo had already changed the world, but this was the big one. After this, things would never be the same again.
* * *
“This, gentlemen, this is the big one!”
Charles took the opportunity to share a smile with the assembled board members.
“It gives me great pleasure to present to you…” he paused for effect. “The InstaReplimaker!”
He gestured to his assistant and she unveiled the poster with a practiced flourish. The image of a large, bulky, complicated piece of machinery sat in the centre, surrounded by smiling families as a queue of happy people lined up to receive items from a hatch in its side - a toy plane, a new pipe, a steaming casserole.
The board members sat around the table applauded appreciatively as Charles gave a slight bow and beamed.
“Well I must say the chaps in advertising have done a sterling job once again.” This was Masterson, from accounting, a reliable old stooge. “And I for one am very keen to know exactly what it does.”
“Of course, Mr Masterson. Simply put, the InstaReplimaker is capable of producing anything you wish for, instantly!” Charles held up his hands to bring quiet to the sudden eruption of excited voices. “Now, I know that sounds far-fetched, but didn’t people say the same about the Teleconferencer? Or the Translator-tron? And look at them now! Haven’t we always excelled at providing tomorrow’s technology today?”
Sir Bainbridge was the next to speak up, of course. The head of the company had been knighted three years ago after the success of the Translator-tron in re-establishing the League of Nations.
“Alright, Warrington, you’ve certainly got our attention. Now, this device, does it just create things out of thin air?”
“No Sir, that would indeed be a little far-fetched. No, the InstaReplimaker simply transforms matter, any matter really, into new shapes. But the possibilities are quite dazzling. Imagine if the toy stores have run out of the one present little Billy truly wants for Christmas, why simply replimake your own! Or perhaps you have unexpected house guests for Sunday lunch and your wife doesn’t have time to pick up another roast, then why not replimake some extra dinner?”
“Really? This thing can make food, too?” Chapman, head of HR.
“Oh yes,” Charles nodded. “I myself had a cup of tea from the prototype this morning. What’s more, as it transforms matter, it will also revolutionize the waste disposal industry. No more landfills, just put your rubbish into the InstaReplimaker and turn it into something useful instead.”
“Well, that is quite remarkable.” Chapman frowned. “Hold on, though, if this machine can do all these things won’t that put people out of work? Farmers, shopkeepers, factory workers. My word! Won’t this change the whole economy?”
“I imagine so, Mr Chapman. And Federated Industries will be at the forefront of those changes. But I’ll leave such matters to you, gentlemen. Rather out of my league, I fear.”
Sir Bainbridge cleared his throat. “How soon will your boys be able to produce these, Warrington?”
“Some time yet, Sir. We’re having difficulty with the size and the power source. It uses quite a phenomenal amount of energy. I’ll be speaking to Dr Hope this afternoon. But we hope to have some factory models ready by the end of the year.”
“Very good. I’ll be expecting regular updates. Thank you, Warrington, you may go. Masterson, do you have the growth figures for the second quarter?”
Charles was still smiling happily as he watched his assistant gather together the presentation items.
* * *
The scientific research centre formed the central core of FICo’s building. Charles wound his way up the stairs to the top floor development laboratory, or the ideas room as they liked to call it, pausing to exchange brief pleasantries with the security guards along the way.
The room was the usual quiet hum of activity, lit as always by the bright white glow emanating from behind the partition at the far end. Dr Hope himself was already there, flicking through something on a clipboard, and gave a warm smile when Charles entered.
“Ah, Charles! Tell me, how was the meeting? Did the board like the design?”
“How could they not, Doctor?” Charles replied. “Sir Bainbridge is keen to be kept informed. Have you made any progress on the power problem at all?”
“Not so far.” Hope shook his head. “It’s causing some problems, but now we have the prototype running I have a few ideas for items which might help.”
“You never cease to amaze me, Doctor.” Charles marvelled. “You have such a knack for getting these things to work. Speaking of which, have we received anything new today?”
The pair of them turned to look down the room towards the light. Dr Hope drew a large collection of keys from his pocket and started forward.
“Let’s see, shall we?”
It took some time to navigate the locks before they opened the door and stepped behind the partition. The light here was almost blinding, pouring from the object which floated in mid-air in front of them. It always made Charles uncomfortable to look at it directly, it was like a large funnel much wider at one end and shrinking to a point at the other. It undulated slowly, constantly moving, a waterspout of pure energy disappearing eternally down a giant plug hole, although there was certainly no plug to be seen or any indication of what might be on the other side of the portal.
But items would appear out of it from time to time, items of such fantastic technology they had the power to change the world. FICo’s main job was trying to adapt that technology for public consumption.
“Nothing new yet, Charles. Although I must admit I’m rather glad. I have enough on my plate as it is!”
Charles merely nodded absently. Nobody asked where the objects came from anymore, that simply wasn’t the done thing, and speculation tended to make Dr Hope rather upset. But everyone wondered, of course. Charles had formed his own opinion some time ago but for some reason today, staring into the portal, he felt particularly ill at ease, his previously cheery disposition seeming to evaporate in the white light.
“Doctor, do you ever wonder if there’s someone on the other side there deliberately sending us these things, or is it merely chance?”
“Not only do I not wonder, Charles, neither do I care.” He gestured towards the glowing portal. “I cannot begin to explain the science behind this thing, but I hardly think there is a person at the other end popping these things in! No, it is merely some sort of cosmic chance and a very fortuitous one at that.”
He fixed Charles with a penetrating look.
“I regard it as a gift, and so should you, Charles. If we didn’t make use of it I’m sure somebody else would have done. And it’s unlike you to be questioning this providence, is there something on your mind?”
“I’m sorry, perhaps it’s just the excitement of the new Replimaker. It just started me thinking of what the future holds. For the company, I mean.” He hurriedly added.
“Of course, dear boy, of course.”
Hope placed a friendly arm around Charles’s shoulder and guided him back towards the door.
“We’re all interested in the company’s fortunes, of course. But don’t you worry, I’ll sort out this power problem in no time, you’ll see, and we’ll soon get back to our good work.”
“In no time… Yes, yes of course Doctor Hope. Thank you for you time, I’ll be sure to let Sir Bainbridge know how you’re getting on.”
Charles glanced over his shoulder at the portal once more before Dr Hope pulled the door closed with a resounding clang. He seemed eager for Charles to be leaving and Charles, for his part, was eager to distance himself from that thing. Something had felt different about it today and Charles couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps there was some significance in that, as if he was missing something important.
Shaking his head he put the thought to the back of his mind and hurried down the stairs. He still had plenty of work to be done to prepare the world for the InstaReplimaker, after all.
* * *
Charles’s smile had been replaced by a thoughtful frown that evening as he made his way home, the train travelling to the very outskirts of the city. The station tended to be deserted at this hour, but tonight there was someone stood on the platform, waiting. As Charles stepped off the train the figure spoke.
“Mr Warrington?”
“Yes?” Charles frowned. The figure was a woman, quite short and with a peculiar accent. As the train pulled away the carriage lights flashed across her revealing the UniFit she was wearing. Charles noted the design; black with teal-coloured shoulders and three curious brass buttons on the collar. Some cheap version from overseas he surmised, only made more obvious by the triangular knock-off Translator-tron broach pinned to the front of her clothing.
“Do I know you, miss?”
“No yet, but I do know you and I know what you’ll do.”
“What I’ll do?” Charles asked, confused. “I’m sorry but I have no intentions other than getting home, having a cup of tea and running a hot bath.”
“I’m not talking about tonight, Mr Warrington. I’m talking about the future.” She took a step closer, the light falling across her short blond hair. “My name is Charlotte Carr and I’m from a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.”
“An alien?” Charles scoffed “I trust you are not being serious!”
“No, not an alien, I’m as human as you. I’m a time traveller.” The woman narrowed her eyes as Charles hesitated. “You find that easier to believe, don’t you, Mr Warrington? Because you know such a thing is possible.”
Charles somehow found his voice again.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His tone was curt. “Now I really must bid you good night, miss.”
“I know about the replimaker.” She smiled slightly as Charles stopped in his tracks. “Although where I come from we call it a replicator. Semantics, I suppose, it still does the same thing, turning one form of matter into another.”
“How did you find out about that?” Charles tried to make his voice angry to hide his fear.
“I told you, I’m a time traveller. Replicators have been common place since the twenty-third century but that’s the reason why I’m here, really. They don’t belong in the middle of the twentieth century. You’ve been cheating, Mr Warrington, you and Sir Bainbridge and all the people at your Federated Industries.”
Guilt crept over Charles’s face as he chewed his lip. He’d seen so many wonders since the end of the world war, things he would never have even dreamed possible, so a strange woman claiming to be from the future seemed far from incredible.
“Very well, I suppose there can’t be denying things from someone who knows my future. But why are you here?
“You’re not ready for this technology yet, you’ve not earned it.” She paused a moment before continuing. “Maybe it’s not all about the money. Maybe you have lofty goals. After all, ridding the world of hunger and drought is a pretty big thing. But it doesn’t work like that, the world needs to be prepared first otherwise there will be consequences that you cannot even begin to fathom.”
“But why now? If you’re from the future I assume you could have picked any time to return. Why not when we invented the Universal Outfit? Or the Personal Information Data Device? Or the Translator-tron? They were pretty disruptive, weren‘t they? Changing the way we communicate with each other.”
“Oh yes,” Charlotte agreed. “But your replimaker will be the one that really tips the scales. What happens when everyone suddenly has everything they ever wanted, without restraint? Well, give it a few years and you’ll find out. You never developed these things so you don’t understand their dangers, you just want to put them out there and make a sale while claiming that you’re ‘doing good’. That makes you very naïve or very greedy, or both. But actually it’s not the technology which brought me here, now. It’s you.”
“Me? What difference do I make?”
“All the difference in the world, Mr Warrington. This is the exact day you started having doubts, isn’t it? Questioning the source of all these technological marvels?”
“How could you possibly know that?!” Charles blanched. “Oh Lord, are you some sort of physic mind reader?”
“Not quite.” Charlotte smiled slightly. “I’ve just read your biography.”
“Ah, really? I write a book? Well now that is…”
“Never mind.” Charlotte cut him off. “I’m here because your actions are changing the future. Your future that is, my past. And the changes are not for the better, believe me. You say you want to change the world? Well, believe me, you succeed on that front. You’re an educated man, Mr Warrington, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that every action has a reaction.”
“I see. But what about the things we have already invented?”
“For starters, you didn’t invent them, you stole them. Secondly, if all goes to plan they won’t matter. If you reverse the damage then time will heal itself and you’ll have never got your hands on those things in the first place.”
“But we’ve already sold millions of them. How can…”
Charlotte held up a hand to stop him. “Just trust me on this. Temporal affairs tend to be very complicated and it’ll only give you a headache.”
Charles sighed and nodded.
“Alright, let us say I believe you. What can I do to put it right?”
“In your offices there’s a portal, right? The source of all this technology? What you have there is an artificial wormhole. It was created in the future by someone who wanted to interfere with your recent war. Maybe that worked, maybe it didn’t, but now it’s being used for this personal gain and causing a lot of damage.”
“I’ve seen it, today in fact.” Charles said. “Dr Hope is…”
Charlotte interrupted. “Dr Hope? Is that what he’s calling himself now? That has a certain irony, I suppose.”
“You.. you know him?” Charles was bewildered, just when he thought he was getting to grips with the conversation.
“You could say we’re old friends. I’ve known your doctor for longer than you’ve been alive.” She paused. “Longer than I’ve been alive, too, come to think of it. But that’s not your problem, I need you to deal with the wormhole. Simply closing it won’t undo the problem, we need to get creative, prevent it from ever having existed in the first place. Luckily, that sort of thing isn’t so hard when you’re already dealing with fractured time.”
“And how, exactly, am I supposed to do that?” Charles folded his arms. “I’m no scientist, let alone a time traveller. Why don’t you do it?”
“Because you can get into the building, tonight, and I’ll guide you through it. Don’t worry about Dr Hope, I’ll take care of that.”
“What?” Charles forced a laugh, trying to inject some humour into a world which seemed to be rapidly going mad. “I suppose you’re going to shoot him with your ray gun?”
“Yes.” Charlotte gave him a flat look.
“Oh.”
“Now come along, Mr Warrington, we have a lot to do and only all the time in the world in which to do it.”
Charlotte turned smartly on her heel and vanished into the dark street beyond the platform. Charles hesitated, considering the implications of everything she’d said. After a moment he straightened his back and smoothed the creases out of his Universal Outfit once again before striding resolutely after her.
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