The First Time

Written autumn 1994


The first time Anton alone made a travel in time everything went wrong. His teacher in tempology (latin: tempus = time, logos = science) was ill and the substitute, a small, thin man who looked almost as exciting as a toothbrush, knew nothing about time travels. He was as lost as a gerbil in the Antarctic.
Anton, on the other hand, knew everything about the structure of the time atoms, from which time molecules you easiest extracted them and how you in practice used them in a Time Atom Disruptor.
Anton usually found tempology to be the Science School's most interesting subject. But today, when he for the first time would travel in time, helped only by a bald, spectacle-clad, baking- powder-dry, substituting tempology professor, nothing worked properly.
The Science School was a comparatively new invention, a boarding school whose object was to produce an elite among geniuses. Anton was one of the school's most accomplished students. That may have been due to his great example:
Arnold Jones.
Arnold was the German-American who thirty-two years ago, in the middle of the year 2026, discovered the time atom. This occurred by pure accident when he exercised the dog in a shut down sulphur mine. For some obscure reason he brought one kilo nitroglycerine (a common explosive by that time) with him that he happened to drop. The entire mine blew up and so did he.
The nuclear physicist Adolf Jones, the brother of Arnold, discovered a rare time molecule deposit where the mine had been, when he was going to bury Arnold. Adolf immediately understood the prospects a such would involve. He proved to be right.

Anton woke up the usual time in the morning by the piercing, brisk voice of the alarm clock.
"It's time to raise now", it bellowed dashingly in his ear.
"Shut up", he mumbled and walloped a tuft decorated slipper on it.
"Oh, what WONDERFUL weather", smiled the clock and began to hum a jolly little tune. Those who once have heard an alarm clock humming jolly tunes, know that you very soon leave its presence, screaming wildly.
Anton sought shelter in the bathroom and realized with a sight, deep as the Marian Grave (11035 metres), that the rest of the day was ruined. Little did he know, that the problems, like the day, had only just begun...

With a tired sigh he met his harebell-blue eyes in the mirror. He splashed some water in his honey-blonde hair and combed it to one side. That made him look intelligent and somewhat absent-minded as usual. After cleaning his small, plastic-rimmed (a common material by that time) glasses he left the room and began to walk towards the dining room.
The first class was nuclear physics, one of his worst subjects. He slept through the lesson. When he once in a while woke up, he got annoyed at his deskmate August - as alert and keen as ever. The fluorescent tube always dawned on him and he absorbed every syllable of the monotonous, persistent voice of the professor. It was a lecture on the principles of nuclear fission, but Anton had tempology as optional subject and already knew all about it.
Next class was - fortunately - just tempology and now the fatal, memorable time travel would take place.
His first big mistake was that he never programmed the Time Atom Disruptor in advance. Its object was partly to split the correct number of time atoms depending on how far you wanted to travel, and partly to, through the addition of electricity, put them together again when you wanted to get back.
"Oh, never mind, I'll program it manually when I'm going home", thought Anton. Preoccupied as he was, it didn't occur to him that he couldn't possibly reach the time atom disruptor once he had left. So he continued the preparations and made his second big mistake: He forgot to make a safety copy on a time disc.
The safety copy was made to let those still in the classroom bring the time traveller back if something went wrong. Had Anton's ordinary teacher been there, such details would of course have been carefully controlled. Instead was there an absent-minded substitute who hardly knew the difference between East and West.
Thus Anton dissolved into atoms on their way to a Swedish city in the end of the twentieth century. One tenth of a second later he was put together again and brushed away some time dust from his cloudberry-yellow, fashionable jacket. The dust made him feel a hot scent of fresh coffee served in a Turkish coffeeshop in 1974, the stale stench of a Siberian camel's unwashed right foot, the inviting, salt-tasting breeze from a windswept English coast in 2008, before the oceans became so polluted that you couldn't stay within a radium of ten kilometres from them, and many other smells and feelings he couldn't quite identify.
He looked around.
He found himself be in a small, hopelessly primitive town. "This must be Ottval, the city I tuned in", thought Anton. Vehicles (after extensive research, the conclusion has been reached that the vehicles must have been so called "cars") in different colours snailed their way along the street and amazed he discovered that the mopeds hadn't even jet engines!
"Dull place", he thought and prepared himself for returning home. As you know, this was impossible as he couldn't reach the Time Atom Disruptor.
There he was now, in another century and his only contact with his own time was cut off. He didn't even know if he could communicate with the natives here. Of what he could see on all signs their language was very archaic. Certainly he had studied ancient Swedish in school, but he was never especially good at it.
"Uddevalla", he read on a sign. Hum, he thought. The name sounded familiar somehow...
A girl, about eighteen years old, passed by him.
"What date is it today?", he asked her. Surprised she looked at him. Interested he studied her. She kept her long, black hair in a, in his eyes, very un-modern style. Her clothes were old-fashioned (the girl was probably very trendy dressed, but Anton wasn't from the twentieth century and thus ignorant of the fashion of that time), but the face was nice with coconut-brown, half-moon shaped eyes. Her accent when he replied was dreadful:
"August 25th", she said and continued walking.
"What year?", Anton wanted to know.
"What?" She looked at him as if he wasn't quite sane. "It's 1994 of course, are you making fun of me?"
"Oh no", answered Anton kindly. "Do you know what day of the week it is?", he asked then.
"It's Thursday", she replied. "Anything else you want to know?", she continued sarcastically.
"Yes, what is this city called? That could be good to know", said Anton curiously. His new acquaintance didn't answer. She only tapped her head with her knuckles and left. Anton wondered if the gesture was the name of the city expressed in domestic sign language or if it was a local greeting gesture.

He passed the evening planlessly wandering through the city. In the evening he decided to try to get work somewhere the next morning so he could afford food. The night Anton spent on a very uncomfortable bench in a park.
Next morning he washed himself in the fountain and went to the employment office. Unfortunately you needed education to get work, so Anton decided to start school. He was accepted by one of the high schools of the city, Östrabo, where they studied much mathematics. Math was one of his favourite subjects, next to tempology.
Anton knew all that the school could teach, and quite a lot more in addition, so he graduated (to graduate meant that you finished school. The graduation was often celebrated in very animated forms with flowers, festivities and liquor. Liquor was a kind of intoxicant) soon afterwards. He had applied for study support and housing allowance (money that time's youth got if studying) and could now afford an apartment in Ottval (by that time the city was called Uddevalla). When he had become a professor at the university within a week or so, he was employed as atom specialist in a research laboratory in Stockholm (a city in Uppland, nowadays a village called Sthlm. Since Svanesund became capital its importance has decreased).

Left in the classroom were the other nine students, wondering what had happened to Anton. The substitute feverishly tried to find Anton's safety copy, which he, as you might remember, never made. When the real teacher gradually recovered a fruitless search for Anton began.
Yet he was rather satisfied with the existence in the twentieth century Sweden. At the turn of the century he was a happy father of six children in Ottval. Although he now had invented the tempology in advance (and received the Nobel Prize for the discovery), he had no plans of using it for a time travel home. He was happily ignorant of his former classmates' eager searching, and if they haven't found him yet, he's probably in Ottval still.


MORALE: Make sure that you never, never have a substitute!


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1998 Jemima & Carl-Henrik Hammarlund. All rights reserved.