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Déjà vu noun a feeling of having already experienced the present situation. Origin: early 20th century French, literally ‘already seen’.

New Oxford Dictionary


May 2003: The West Lothian Centre, Scotland

From his retirement, Professor David Proctor would see only pieces. Ticks of the clock. Each a tableau, none truly still. Before the explosion, he plucked the last notes of the opening concerto. After it, the blood on Helen’s scalp would be black in the red emergency lighting.

At the coda, he met the eyes of his audience. It was a vain flourish. His wife’s eyes, Helen’s eyes, would be closed, never to open again. Bless him, David thought, now seeing Dr Jeffreys, who sat in the front row with his eyes closed. David would discover his wife in the corridor, grasp her face and shout her name, “Helen, Helen,” because, even as masonry struck his head, he knew that hearing was the last light to fade. He slowed, his arpeggio slowed, and his left hand slipped from the neck of his antique guitar, The Nymph. She had been played by Fernando Sor at the court of Tsar Alexander I. Concrete would concuss him and blood sting his eyes but it wouldn’t be enough because Helen was dead and his survival was treachery. The arpeggio meandered to a stop. David felt the vibration die against his chest. His colleague, Bruce Shimoda, would slap his face and heave him clear of his wife. Choking, they would follow the strip lighting and stand, mute, at an emergency exit. Jeffreys dug a tear from his eye. He would fall on glass and bleed out before help could arrive. He was the first to stand and clap – fingers on palm, oh, quite wonderful – and nod seriously to his neighbour. Bruce and David would climb into the night air and collapse on the grass. Beneath them, the research centre would vibrate like the deepest drum. The applause covered David’s modest smile as he took a sweeping, medieval bow.

Part I

The nightmares had lasted years. In them, David had run through the research centre as if it were a submarine stuck in a crash-dive. Post-traumatic stress, the psychologist had said. But those nightmarish corridors had been faded memories from a younger man’s mind. They were ghosts of something already dead. Here and now, they were more hostile and grotesque.

The Time Machine

The Nevada Center, USA

Friday, 8th September 2023

Twenty years and four months later, Jennifer Proctor heard a splash. She heard it quite distinctly. She stopped mid-stride on the gantry and raised her goggles. Professor Michaels was nearby. He leaned on the rail until his knuckles were white.

“Extraordinary,” he said. “It worked.” He tapped his earpiece. “All sections report.”

On her own earpiece, Jennifer listened to the replies.

“Comcon, green.”

“Powercon, green.”

“Retcon, green.”

“Techcon, green.”

“Wormcon, green.”

Michaels sagged. “I honestly didn’t believe it would happen.”

A voice on the loop said, “Retcon.”

Michaels replied, “Go, retcon.”

“Permission to retrieve, Jack?”

“Negative.” To Jennifer: “Shall we?”

It took them thirty seconds to reach the floor by crane. As they stepped out, a quick-thinking technician took some photos and a group of suited VIPs, mid tour, no coincidence, gave them a round of applause. Michaels blushed but Jennifer curtseyed gracefully.

Michaels headed towards the centrifuge. Jennifer hurried after him. They collected a crowd. Michaels walked so briskly that his ID tag fell off. As they neared the centrifuge, he veered left and began to jog, skipping over the thick electrical cables.

The 1000-gallon tank was vertical and still. It rocked gently on its hinges. Water spilled. Jennifer felt her muscles quiver. She had just witnessed the most significant technological event since the moon landing.

Though the professor was ten years past retirement age, nobody was surprised when he climbed the ladder alongside the tank and jumped in. The closest onlookers were caught by the wave. There were chuckles. Jennifer felt people stare at her.

Michaels’s bald head reappeared. He spat water and wiped his eyes. He threw his arms over the lip of the tank and rested for a moment, panting.

“Professor?” she asked.

Michaels opened his right hand. A camera flashed. In the palm was a polystyrene box. He removed the tape that bound the two halves together. They fell open to reveal an old analogue watch. He was careful to cover the back of it. “What time is it, Jennifer?”

A few voices beat her to it, but Jennifer said, “11:02 a.m.”

“By my watch -” he held it up, to more hearty laughter - “it is 11:32!”

The crowd broke out into full applause and the words that Michaels had been practising for over six months were lost in the noise. Like Armstrong, he’d fluffed it, but Jennifer could see that he didn’t care. Two technicians helped him from the vat.

The professor was reeling from claps on the back when he reached Jennifer. They embraced again. The crowd made a circle around them. Michaels was relaxed. He showed her the watch. In reply, Jennifer produced a small polystyrene box of her own and opened it. There was also a watch inside. Jennifer’s had the correct time. Michaels’s was half an hour ahead.

He looked at the back of his watch without letting anybody see. Then he produced a small notepad and pen, juggled the three, and finally wrote something on the pad. He covered it immediately.

“Generate the code word,” he said.

Jennifer produced her own notepad. Hers was electronic. She said loudly, “I’m now generating a word randomly from the Oxford English Dictionary.” She stared at the screen. She looked at Michaels.

Michaels nodded. “Write it on the back of the watch.”

She reached over and took a magic marker from Michael’s sodden labcoat. He smiled. She wrote the word on the watch. “You done?” Michaels asked.


“Tell folks what the word is.”

Jennifer said, “The word is ‘electron’.” She showed the watch around. Some VIPs nodded solemnly.

Michaels raised his eyebrows. Milked the moment. He held up his own watch. On the reverse, in Jennifer’s own bad handwriting, was the word ‘electron’. The crowd exploded. The younger technicians whooped and hugged. The older

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