A Scientific Romance

Overview

It is 1999, and David Lambert, jilted lover and museum curator, is about to discover the startling news of the return of H. G. Wells's time machine to London. Motivated by a host of unanswered questions and innate curiosity, he propels himself deep into the next millenium. As he sets foot in the luxuriant but menacing new landscape, he soon begins to explore the ruins of his life, a labyrinth of erotic obsession and remorse involving his old friend Bird, and Anita ? the beautiful, eccentric Egyptologist they both...

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Overview

It is 1999, and David Lambert, jilted lover and museum curator, is about to discover the startling news of the return of H. G. Wells's time machine to London. Motivated by a host of unanswered questions and innate curiosity, he propels himself deep into the next millenium. As he sets foot in the luxuriant but menacing new landscape, he soon begins to explore the ruins of his life, a labyrinth of erotic obsession and remorse involving his old friend Bird, and Anita — the beautiful, eccentric Egyptologist they both loved, mysteriously dead at thirty-two.

A Scientific Romance is a book of surpassing creativity and intelligence, as evocative as it is cautionary.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Ronald Wright's A Scientific Romance looks even further into the past -- all the way back to H. G. Wells's The Time Machine and other futuristic romances from the Wells era. A museum curator named David Lambert learns from an old manuscript of Wells's that the machine was real, and is due to arrive in London at midnight at the turn of the millennium. Lambert waits for the machine -- which arrives empty -- and takes off for adventures in a future England reverted to jungles and barbaric tribes. There's a strong mainstream element to the novel as well, with Lambert interspersing his narrative with memories of an affair with a beautiful archaeologist who died prematurely. This is a first novel from a well-respected writer of nonfiction travel books, and it's a fitting tribute to Wells in this centennial year of The War of the Worlds.

—Gary Wolfe

From the Publisher
Powerful . . . cunningly fashioned . . . The novel works on all levels . . . . its flair for description can be positively Dickensian."—John Vernon, The New York Times Book Review

"Witty, ambitious and thoughtful . . . an original and memorable first novel."—San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

"Wright's vision of a lushly catastrophic future is both mesmerizing and grimly plausible, establishing him as a distinguished new voice in speculative fiction."—Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
English-born historian Wright, who lives in Canada, is the author of several celebrated works of nonfiction, including Time Among the Maya and Stolen Continents, but his first novel is such a triumph that it's a wonder he didn't get around to writing one earlier. The plot is something of a curiosity: English archeologist David Lambert stumbles upon a Victorian time machinethe very one, it turns out, that H.G. Wells described in his famous novel. When Lambert discovers that he may have the same disease that killed his lover, he lights out for the future: A.D. 2500, to be exact. There Wright creates for him a vivid, compelling world, a depopulated, tropical dream of what had once been England. The book's central drama is Lambert's struggle to excavate and uncover the exact nature of the calamity that erased London. At the same time, he sifts through the shards of his own unhappy personal historywhich he is, of course, tempted to touch up a little with the help of the time machine. The narrative bristles with fascinating characters, both fictional and historical, and Wright furnishes it with a rich store of enthralling scientific Victoriana. His writing is charming, unpretentious and wonderfully literate. J.G. Ballard explored this same territory in his disaster novels of the 1970s, but never with Wright's psychological insight or pathos. Mar.
Kirkus Reviews
An era-hopping first novel takes a lovelorn London curator on an escape to the future via an H.G. Wellian time machine—only to find humankind not at home. Canadian Wright (Stolen Continents, 1992, etc.), born in England, builds on his award-winning nonfiction and travel writing in this fast-forward fantasy. Though it's long since ended, the romance of curator David Lambert with enigmatic archaeologist Anita has been the defining experience in his life—until a letter from Wells himself falls into his hands, leading him to be there when the time machine makes its fiery return in the first moments of the new millennium. Keeping his find of the machine secret, David works feverishly to understand and modernize it, spurred on in his desire to surge ahead by a chance reading of Anita's obituary (dead of mysterious causes at age 32) and by his own illness, diagnosed as mad-cow disease. Brought forward a half-millennium in a flash, he arrives in a now- tropical England and discovers London burned and overtaken by the jungle. David sets off for Edinburgh, hopeful that some people can be found in the cooler Highlands, keeping a journal all the while in which he ruminates about his former life with Anita and Bird, her other lover and his best friend. Still farther north, a herd of llamas leads him at last to the human contact he's so craved. Imprisoned and treated with suspicion at first, since he's fair-skinned and everyone else is black, David persuades his captor, Laird Macbeth, that he's harmless. Ultimately, he learns the fate of civilization, but not before renewed suspicions among Macbeth's devoutly Christian folk compel him to play Christ in a literal reenactment of theCrucifixion. Vividly elegiac in style and enveloping enough in its mystery, but for long stretches this remains a one-man roadshow—and suffers from a lack of substance in the supporting cast.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312199999
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald Wright was born in England and lives in Canada. A Scientific Romance was a bestseller in Canada and won England's prestigious David Higham Award. It is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Dear Bird:

A message in a bottle. Well, a disk in a jar. Hope you find it all right. Should be easy enough to spot, bobbing in my wake. For your eyes first but not necessarily your eyes only. Do what you like. Think of this as a little gift of intellectual property to go with the other things I've left. You'll be hearing from my solicitors (an ill phrase for you, I shouldn't wonder) but fear not, they bring tidings of material gain. The flat mainly.

Some of what follows may be stuff you know, but I thought it best to leave a fullish account in case you need it for evidence or publication. Forgive the bits about you, about Anita. You're the only one of us left now, Bird. I've forgiven you, and I'm sure Anita did. Perhaps you haven't forgiven us. That's up to you. Bear with me if one or two things seem wrong or unfair; you may as well know how I see (saw?) things. I'm trying to be an honest ghost.

Some of what I've told you since reappearing in your life isn't exactly right. I've brought you here to the Thames marshes on expectations that won't be fulfilled. All that work for nothing but a disappearing act. Well, not quite; you'll have my worldly goods.

To my good friend Charles Gordon Parker. I still wonder about the name. Was your mother really watching Charlton Heston in Khartoum on the night you were conceived? Or was she a bop fanatic, as you told Anita? (And who was listening to bop in Millwall in 1967? Anyway, you could hardly be less like Charlton Heston, and I mean that as a compliment. It takes more than a cheesy smile to catch a woman like Anita. And more than your music to keep her as long as you did, despite what you used to think. Anita may have been crazy about jazz, but we both knew she had a tin ear. Between you and me, Dave -- you said to me once -- I sometimes wonder if she can tell Buddy De Franco from Acker Bilk. Jazz for her was an accessory, like that ridiculous pipe. While for you it was the only thing you never joked about.

I didn't know she'd given you the pipe. I saw it land with your handful of earth. That was a fine thing to do, Bird. Anita believed in an afterlife (doesn't every Egyptologist?). I can see her there beside Osiris, fugging up the underworld with Borkhum Riff.

Odd how we spent our whole first year at Cambridge without bumping into one another. We must have attended some of the same lectures (if you ever attended any); we must have danced at the same dances, got drunk in the same pubs. We all liked the Rose when we felt genteel and the Loco when we didn't. But it took that crummy summer job flogging Old Master lithographs door to door for the South African with the rusty Jag. Forgotten the guy's name, but I remember his pep talk in the car that cold June night in -- what, 1986? -- the night we met. The immense policeman pulling us up: Is this your vehicle, sir? His torchlight on moth-eaten steel and poultices of fibreglass. Reckon that'll take my weight, sir? And the South African in his poshest voice, weedy with Capetown vowels no matter how hard he cultivated: Be my guist, officer.

The Jag bouncing under the weight of the law. Anita bouncing between us in the back, so slim and light, her face ochre in the streetlamps, sitting upright on her splendid mane, which seemed in the sodium glare like incandescent iron. You dark, trim, and sleek in your leather jacket and tie, poised like a kingfisher.

Devid meet Anita and Bird -- Charlie Parker, his real name believe it or not, and he ectually blows a tolerable alto sax. My con artist of the week! Learn from success, Devid. Bird's tidy. Bird's clean. Charming. Maybe not as charming as the lovely Anita here, but close. Not a fucking hairy like you. No offence, man. Just my training style.

I caught him in the mirror, grinning to himself because the Jag didn't break and the copper let us off, saying Mind how you go, and we had to bite our tongues. Or more likely he was trying to catch Anita's eye. Her large eyes with fine dark rings around those irises that could be blue or green or grey. Seascape eyes, our northern sea, not her reefs and palms.

You've got to make the punters lahk you, Devid. Develop a role. Watch Bird. What are we tonight, Bird? Poor art student earning an honest crust? A little bit arty's okay -- goes with the image, makes you interesting to the wife. But not a dishonourable discharge from the Mixican army. Leave the poncho at home next time. Doesn't suit a big blond joker like you anyway. People might wonder what you've got on underneath.

Fourteen years ago, Bird; and the images are still brighter, I'll bet, than any of those lithographs we sold. But I must get on with what I owe you: an explanation, an apology. You're going to walk out of the King Canute, down to the boat with a jug of bitter in your hand and two Scotch eggs in your pocket, and look over the water to my 'human torpedo,' and what are you going to see? The fata morgana, St Elmo's fire, corposants jiving on the waves? I'm not exactly sure. But you'll see enough to know that what you're about to read is the truth. I hope you remembered to keep the camcorder running. With that you'll stand a chance of getting someone to believe you.

This business in which you've been obliged to take part began, in a way, the summer after we graduated and you left. I decided to stay on in archaeology, go for a Ph.D. That June I turned twenty-one and came into my parents' estate, the proceeds from the farm. Not riches (because of debts) but enough to follow a university career.

I suppose the main motive for staying on was Anita's staying on. But I'd also been truly bitten, on Clive Skeffington's dig at Alexandria, by what she called her gnawing rat. She meant a sleek, inquisitive, tenacious creature -- the Rat of the Chinese calendar, perhaps -- who burrows into the skeleton of time to answer Gauguin's questions: What are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Only Anita carried on with Egypt, as you probably know. Skef's efforts failed to dislodge you from your Classics, and that salty dust gave me a sweeter tooth -- for mossy statues by warm seas, or florid temples in a dripping forest. I remember you at the Pyramids when we first arrived: All that sweat. A mountain of slave-sweat piled up for eternity. So many lives spent only to negotiate with death. And Anita: Come off it, love. You can spoil anything that way. You were right, though. Ancient Egypt is a bore on the subject of mortality: no theatres, no gymnasia, no ball-courts, scarcely a palace or a fort; but enough tombs and funeral rites to last the human race forever.

It was Easter Island I wanted, or Angkor, Kuelap, -- Copan -- anywhere far from the centres of our world. But they would have taken me too far from her, and who gets funding, let alone permission, to work in places like that now? Over the years I have made it to some of them, though to visit, not dig (I've become keen on trees and birds). And of course they're no longer quite as advertised. Son et lumiere has been installed, there are five-star hotels just off camera, and the 'enveloping jungle' is confined inside the fence like a rare beast.

So what could I do? What could I substitute for stone colossi on a lonely island? What besides those Yogi Bear faces frowning at the Pacific would draw me through another four years' paperchase? The answer surprised me. It came one sunny afternoon in the garden of that riverside pub near your old rooms on Jesus Green (the George? -- the one where a rugby club tried to see how long man could live on beer alone). You'd left town in disgrace by then. Anita was working quietly, recuperating -- forgive me for bringing it up -- from the May Ball incident. Her wrist had healed but she still cried and rambled in her sleep, more than she knew.

I was in a deckchair, soaking up ale and sunlight, watching tourists on the water, idly listening to what I thought was an English conversation I couldn't quite overhear. It turned out to be Dutch -- you know how it sounds: Would you like coffee or go snogging? Have five raw oysters in my pocket. Was that your mother or an Irish wolfhound? At that moment a puntload of Germans, the musical type Anita used to call lagermorphs, burst into 'Jerusalem' -- End did zoze feet -- putting me in mind of two old loves: literature and primitive machines. (Yet another love we shared, come to think of it, though my taste ran to Romantics and satanic mills rather than Cicero and dodgy old motorbikes.) I saw a way to make it work: industrial archaeology with a head of theoretical steam.

You may think that a poor substitute, a mere toe in the oceans of the past. But the strange half-modern world of the Victorians had always intrigued me. I wanted to see the mechanical dragons of the Coal Age as they were seen when they were first seen. What dreams and nightmares they inspired, what hopes and dreads and intimations.

My bookshelf filled with titles like The Semiotics of Steam and The Early Locomotive: A Gendered Discourse. I became au fait with the machine as metaphorical body: piston as penis (eighteenth century), railway as nervous system (nineteenth), brain as telephone exchange (early twentieth), mind as software (late twentieth), and on we go to the fraying border between humanity and artefact. I did like the hardware, though. The Victorians' iron monsters, like Easter Island statues, were monuments to unexamined truths. Or so it seemed that river afternoon.

'Ah!' said Anita. 'Worship and dread of the machine.' We were in her flat later the same day, having tea. This was the best of times between us -- the summer of 1988, when you'd gone and she was mine as much as she would ever be. Her marine eyes turned glassy, as she dredged for helpful information.

'Dickens of course, Hard Times. And Zola. Laplace's demon might be worth a candle. And the thunder-and-lightning man. What was his name?' Her hand flew to her throat and fluttered like a pale moth about her locket, the one you gave her. 'Crosse? Yes. Andrew Crosse. Friend of Kinglake's. Thought he'd created insect life by passing electricity through stone. Mary Shelley heard him lecture. Don't miss the rebellion of the tools in the Popol Vuh. And there's always my ancestor William, "Astronomye is an hard thynge, and evil forto knowe . . ." Damn! Forgotten. Something about geometry being sinful.'

Her hand fluttered again, impatiently. She went to the window, began to fill her pipe, turned and smiled. 'Sorcerye is the sovereyne book that to the sciences belongeth.'

Was Anita really descended from Langland? I suppose she could have been. (How many Langlands are there?) She certainly had chunks of him by heart. The later things surprised me more. I'd imagined the Victorian age as a time of uncurdled certainties, but you can't think that after reading Butler, or Morris, or Richard Jefferies. And she sent me to H.G. Wells, scientist manque, pupil of Huxley, tutor of A.A. Milne.

1895. Think of it! Wells brings out The Time Machine. The bascule jaws of Tower Bridge have been munching river fog for just one year. Night after night in Covent Garden, Mabel Moll is luring audiences to the Moth and Flame. Wilde's Earnest is a wild success, but he's having a bad year -- prison with hard labour, manuscripts pinched from his Chelsea house. Across the Channel an elderly Jules Verne is seeing predictions from Paris in the Twentieth Century turned down by his publisher thirty years before as too fantastic, take shape before his rheumy eyes. William Morris is near death, finishing The Well at the Worlds End. Groucho Marx is born in New York, and in Abilene, Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower begins first grade.

Anyway, they gave me the doctorate (Mechanism as Meaning: A Portrait of the Engineer as a Young Man -- my thesis title), though it was a close call with Anita's leaving me halfway through. Then Skeffington found me a fellowship in Houston for '93-'95, which put off the matter of gainful employment and gave me a chance to do some travelling and birding in Latin America. I think he hoped Texas would help me get over her. Certainly he hadn't much use for my new field.

Meaning and Gender and All That. Oh dear. Don't you think it's risky to be too modern, David? You might find yourself quite suddenly old-fashioned. The French themselves realize that Parisian theory is an art form; the Americans, poor lambs, take it seriously. What a shame you're too young to remember when gender was a property of foreign languages and we British just bad sex.

Skef's retired now, by the way. Same as ever last I saw him: fit, fussy, feisty, a beard like a nanny-goat's and the old eye still out for a pretty figure and the main chance. Has a new wife half his age and a nice little hobby-farm near Cherry Hinton. Strawberries, I think, and an acre or two of Christmas trees. He had a soft spot for you, Bird, despite your hasty departure. Skef was a lefty from before the flood, so a Cockney in Classics was right up his street. Go and see him, show him this, talk it over. I owe him an explanation too.

He thought I was all set for a teaching post after Houston -- somewhere like LSE or MIT. But the jobs were drying up. I must have sent a hundred applications. Skef got so tired of cranking out testimonials that he told me to write them myself and forge his signature (not hard: it looks like the Arabic for Shell). I ended up a long way from Easter Island or the Maya cities -- as a curator at that iron and nostalgia theme park they made out of St Pancras station, the Museum of Motion. You'd like the early bikes: several Nortons, a Scott, and a rare 1919 BSA V-twin, our youngest exhibit (we're meant to be strictly pre-Great War). Mostly locomotives, of course, standing at the platforms like great cart-horses frozen to death in their stalls.

I could have told you most of this over a pint after Anita's funeral, but the talk didn't exactly flow then, did it? (I've been so evasive lately that secrecy's become a habit.) What follows I could not have told you until now.

Skeffington rang right after last Christmas. Out of the blue. We hadn't spoken since I'd moved back to London. I hadn't told him about the job. We were friends, but never easy -- I'd always had the feeling he thought me a lightweight or a dilettante.

'David. Happy New Year! Happy Millennium!' He must have overdone the cognac; he'd forgotten I drop out around Christmas, prescribe myself a little avoidance therapy, a trip abroad. Usually Muslim countries or South America, anywhere that doesn't make a fuss over Saint Nick. I know I told him years ago about my parents' death -- more than I'd revealed to anyone except Anita. Did I ever tell you that it happened on a Christmas Eve? It was 1978 -- six months after my eleventh birthday. Not my parents' fault. They were careful about drink and driving; the other driver wasn't. More than twenty years ago now, but every December it comes back

Normally I wouldn't have picked up the phone, but I was expecting a call from the airline. I'd just got back from the Red Sea and Jordanian had lost my bags.

Where've you been hiding, David? Lucky thing your number hasn't changed. Nobody stays put these days. It's far too long since we saw each other.' He talked about Sarah, the new wife (a trophy, he let me know) and I confessed about the museum. He said he'd always hoped I'd get over my infatuation with 'gadgets and hot frogs' and devote my gifts to 'the main problem in European protohistory.' His main problem: the barbarian hiatus (since Alexandria his interests have wandered north).

'Think of it, David. Three or four centuries lost in the cracks between the fall of Rome and rise of Christendom. Wideopen field. Room for new blood. Beowulf and Arthur, Gildas and Nennius. Doesn't it tempt you?'Then he got to the point. 'Still doing any work on Wells? I imagine you've already heard about this hoax?'

I hadn't a clue, but wasn't going to say so.

'I'm faxing you. You'll find it amusing. I didn't think anyone apart from you remembered Wells or cared about him. But it seems someone does. Perhaps a rival of yours. Let me know what you find out.'

I picked it up a few minutes later at Paper Tigers, round the corner from my flat -- a badly transmitted copy of what appeared to be a legal document, a sort of testament, bearing the stamp of Riddle and Barclay, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, St John's Wood, and the supposed autograph of a geriatric Herbert George Wells. It was dated May 2, 1946. (You'll find the original at home, along with an earlier draft of this letter. Top left drawer of the desk.)

TO BE OPENED ON DECEMBER 21st, 1999.

To Whom It May Concern:

I do not know what terms of address will be the norm in 1999, so allow me to proceed without formalities. My intention is that this document should find its way into the hands of someone familiar with my work. At the most, I am immodest enough to believe that my name and books will still be known, and that some promising young scholar will be embarking on a career in the field of Wellsiana. At the least, I trust I'm a period curiosity, a flame still guttering in the minds of a few devotees of the literary debris of a century ago. Either way, I beg you to take seriously the preposterous tale you are about to hear, and I must insist that in return for being privy to these thoughts you will at least suspend your disbelief long enough to do what I ask at the end. (It is nothing dangerous, costly, or difficult.) If you can't promise me this, read no further and pass these pages to another.

You will of course be acquainted with my scientific romance, The Time Machine, in which a Traveller constructs a device which enables him to voyage into the future. It has no doubt struck you as a fable, a morality play upon the structure of society, upon our capacity as a species for good and evil, advancement and depravity. It is all that indeed. But unless my voyager has already returned (and I pray to a God in whom I do not believe that she has) and unless the secret is now common knowledge (which it may well be), I am sure nobody over twelve years old will have entertained for one moment the thought that such a voyage could actually have been made.

When the idea for The Time Machine first came to me I had little interest in the scientific detail of the proposition; it was merely a plot device, an armature on which to wind ideas. However, I thought it well to acquaint myself with the latest scientific thinking, so as not to write a tale that would embarrass me among the cognoscenti. I wrote to Nikola Tesla in the United States, newly famous for his discovery of the rotating magnetic field, invention of the alternating current motor, and other less orthodox research into electricity and radiation. Tesla was not merely a genius but a visionary to whom nothing seemed unlikely or impossible. He had, for example, plans to transmit power wirelessly over vast distances, and once proposed electrifying the whole Earth in order to communicate with the inhabitants of Mars, whom he believed to be the source of cosmic signals his equipment had detected.

I thought the idea of time travel would intrigue him. The great man answered me once courteously enough, but referred my further enquiries to a protegee, a young woman by the name of Tatiana Cherenkova, who, he assured me, was a brilliant mind destined to go far beyond his own accomplishments. 'Already she is trespassing on secret lands beyond my reach,' he wrote in his extravagant English, 'already I see her radiance casting shadows on my feeble glow. I predict that this young woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with her discoveries.' I took this to be the hyperbole natural to Middle Europeans and suspected he was fobbing off a tiresome crank (I was then unknown beyond a small London circle) onto someone with time less valuable than his own.

Miss Cherenkova and I began to correspond. She told me much more than I needed to know about theories of time, electrical fields, gravitation, electromagnetic waves, and so forth. It became rather too much of a good thing, and I employed so little of it in my fantasy that I did not trouble to give her contribution public credit. I did however send her an autographed copy of the first edition, and the poor girl -- for she was only twenty-three -- wrote back in terms of the strongest gratitude and admiration. When Tesla came to London in 1897, about two years after The Time Machine was published, he brought her with him. Tatiana and I arranged to meet.

Now (and this is where my tale becomes increasingly difficult to write, even for eyes unborn) I and my second wife, Amy Catherine Robbins -- Jane, as I called her -- had married in 1895. We were still very much in love. Yet I have never been able to resist the attraction of an exceptional mind in a tender female frame. In short, after a professional association of some months, Tania Cherenkova became my mistress. I found her a small house with a room where she could work -- in a mews off the Brompton Road -- and helped her in every way to continue her research, which took a new and unfortunate direction.

Still obsessed with my fantasy of time travel, she delved deeper and deeper into theories and practicalities surrounding it. I believe she picked Tesla's brains, without letting him know exactly what she was pursuing. One day she announced that she thought it could be done. It was, she told me, so much simpler than anyone had imagined. Indeed, she became haunted by the notion that someone else might succeed before she did. At first I was not very interested in her project, which I thought to be madness born of her infatuation with me and distance from Tesla's guiding hand, but I was still interested in her. I gave her money (the sudden success of my early novels made it easy to be generous). Tesla had put her in touch with Lord Rayleigh and others at the Royal Society, telling them she was another Madame Curie; and such she might indeed have been. They gave her the run of their laboratories and equipment. They even lent her the services of machinists and technicians.

Slowly I became drawn into the project myself. As I write these words, Man has just unleashed the awesome forces of the atom against his own kind. Yet nobody seems to have suspected that there was another path to atomic power, a simple path involving a few coils and jars and electrolytes in the presence of certain rare elements. She discovered this docile yet prodigious source of energy and employed it to drive what she called a 'temporal displacement field generator' -- her Time Machine. In view of where her discoveries led, I have kept silent about them ever since. But I must now break that silence in the hope she may still be alive.

Naturally, I never thought she would succeed. My motive for helping her was to spend time with her. Poor Jane suspected nothing. Indeed, I brought her to see the two of us hard at work in Tania's private laboratory. The scene of pure scientific enquiry was entirely persuasive. This idyll occupied me one or two days a week for more than a year. I would arrive at the mews with flowers and wine, we would work together on her cells and coils, and we would indulge our physical passion. The role of faithful assistant did not come easily to my nature, but I would also bring my work to her -- drafts of new writings -- for her penetrating and adoring eye. If you are a writer you will know that an author must have praise. It is a drug without which he cannot produce. (Jane also read all I wrote, but it was not her praise I craved.)

After about fifteen months the inevitable happened: I began to tire of Tania and her madcap scheme. I went less often to the mews. I became impatient with her disquisitions on the field generator, even with her praise for my own work. Now it was she who had become the crank. I began to withdraw both head and heart. I still saw her occasionally because I feared that if I stopped altogether she might expose our liaison to Jane or, worse, to the press.

The last of these occasions was New Year's Eve, 1899. It was the middle of the afternoon; Jane was taking her nap. Tania summoned me by telephone in the most urgent terms. I could see as soon as I arrived that she was distraught; her eyes burned with a manic excitement mixed with deep apprehension. She made me sit beside her on the cot in the laboratory, the scene of many adulterous pleasures. I'd brought no flowers this time, no wine, no writing for her approbation. 'I've done it!' she said. 'The field generator is built. Today will be its maiden voyage, and I shall be the maiden -- for with this machine it may be possible to return to earlier states of one's being. Today I shall leave you, HG. I shall go back to my youth and innocence.'

I knew then she had lost her reason. She herself had told me on several occasions that if time travel was possible at all, it could only be in a forward direction. To enter the past had to be impossible because of the obvious problem, now hackneyed by every writer of 'science-fiction' (how I loathe that term), that a voyager could go back and kill his parents and so prevent himself being born, and so forth.

On that dreadful afternoon she told me she planned a first voyage of exactly one year -- forward to December 31, 1900. If that was a success, she would return to the present for an instant, wave a last goodbye, and then go back to December 31 of 1897, her first winter here, when we were still nothing more than colleagues. She then planned to destroy the device, and that would be the end of the whole affair, with both man and machine. She would resume her work with Tesla in New York.

I reminded her that she herself had said it was impossible to regress in time. She smiled the smile of someone with a great secret.

'I no longer believe so. Time is not the constant I used to think it was. It is not linear in the way you imagine. A traveller in space distorts time. Time is dependent on speed and route. It is even possible, in theory, to arrive before you have left.'

Of course I see now that she had anticipated some of the conclusions that Albert Einstein would publish in 1905. But at the time it sounded like the wildest gibberish. I begged her not to carry out her plan. I said I thought she needed a rest, time for reflection, away from London, away from me. She wouldn't hear of it. I implored her to send the machine empty, or put a dog in it, but she said I would have to kill her on the spot to prevent her going.

She then told me that she'd made certain provisions for her safety. The machine had some sort of fail-safe, settings that would override the operator's coordinates if there was an inconsistency in the calculations, or any mishap. She had set it to return automatically to this very spot, in exactly one century.

Why a century? I demanded to know, grasping her arm so fiercely that she winced. 'Because one hundred years from now no one will remember you and me, no one will care about our affaire, and the march of science will have made these discoveries a common-place. The people of 1999 will have no more trouble bringing me safely in than we would have stopping a runaway brougham.' I contemplated striking her, knocking her out for her own good. But common sense stopped me. The machine couldn't possibly work, so why assault her? And if it did work -- an ignoble voice told me -- I should be rid of her! Suspicious circumstances, perhaps, but no corpus delicti. I could tell the police that, yes, through Tesla I had known her slightly-, that lately she had seemed a little disturbed; that she had probably wandered off in a funk, or taken, as I had suggested she should, a spur-of-the-moment holiday.

I will not attempt to describe the machine, except to say it was an ugly thing, as massive and forbidding as an armoured car. If what I am writing means anything at all, you will soon see it for yourself. I pray you will also see her. She would have been a great woman of science had I not seduced her and then stood by while she cast herself into an unimaginable void. What I wouldn't give now -- old, spent, and near my end -- to take her place on that voyage!

The machine worked. That is to say, it vanished; but it did not reappear, though I waited in that room without sleep until the small hours. I returned exactly one year later, with identical results. I wrote a circumspect note to Tesla, telling him that Miss Cherenkova had disappeared without trace, that the London police feared she had fallen in the river or been the victim of a criminal attack, and asking him to let me know immediately if she should ever contact him. She never did. The only hope for her now is that she did indeed build in some sort of fail-safe. It seems quite likely that that was just a fib she told me -- so I would let her go. But it is the only scrap of hope that remains from this tragic affair.

I have now carried this burden for half a century. I know I shall soon die. Were I to make this public now, it would be dismissed as the raving of a mind at the end of its tether, unable to distinguish fiction from reality, real life from the jejune fantasies of its youth. So I leave it to the end of the Millennium, when, if Man has held his present course without disaster, I assume the principles of her device will be well known. And if they are not, and if this story seems as unlikely in 1999 as it does in 1946, at least do me the kindness of extending the benefit of the doubt.

Go to No. 26, Midnapore Mews, SW3, or as close as you can to the site if it no longer exists. (I have confirmed, however, that it survived the Blitz.) Get there by six at the latest, and be prepared to stay until dawn. She left me at exactly 6.44 p.m., so in theory, taking into account the fact that 1900 was not a leap year, she should return in the first moments of the twenty-first century. You may think me mad if you like, but I beg you again to do what I ask, and to rescue, if such be possible, this unfortunate girl whom I so callously misused.

H. G. W., 13 Hanover Terrace, [signature]

P.S. I need hardly add that retrieval of the machine will amply repay your efforts. The elucidation of its secrets could put you in the company of Einstein; and, if they are no longer secrets, at the very least it will be a priceless artefact in the gallery of science.

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