It was in the late summer of 2021 I seem to recall, when it was announced to the world that the problems surrounding time-travel had finally been cracked.
I suppose, looking back on it now, it was inevitable that, of all the industries that could have backed the Wyndham Project, as it was called, none had the motives to do so more than the tourist industry.
You see, the world had grown smaller, thanks to the new generation of sonic pulse jets, and even trips to the Moon and to Mars were, if not commonplace then, at least, realistically priced. People were becoming blasé, jaded. The concept of holidays in the past was novel, to say the least.
But, consider for a moment if you will, the practical applications of time travel; at least, within current constraints.
These are the little beggars that make time-travel possible at all. Photons are, basically, quantums of electromagnetic radiation. They're generally regarded as particles with zero rest mass and charge. Their unit spin and energy is equal to the frequency of the current radiation and the Planck constant (basically, the energy divided by frequency)
The practical upshot of all this is that, basically, photons can travel both up and down the time stream. And, the stronger the frequency of the photon beam, the further back into the past the photons travel. And for every photon that goes back in time, one comes forward, and thus equilibrium is maintained.
So, in theory, if you design something that can trap these photons, and convert them into a picture, then hey presto, you have a viewing port into history.
Secondly, and this is the sticker; nothing with physical mass can travel, either forwards or backwards.
Of course, this makes things awkward. After all, what's the point in having time-travel capabilities, if you can't send things backwards or forwards. After years of research, and spending millions of Euros (and Dollars) it was officially decreed that time travel was impractical.
All that had been achieved were a few hours of hazy video from various high points of history. And who, after all, could forget that memorable footage of Lincoln's assassination; dark, barely seen figures rushing jerkily across the screen, gesticulating at each other. (And I hear that was the enhanced version.)
Granted, it was dark in the theatre, but even those images were far better than those of the actual crucifixion. Apparently, the further forward the photons have to travel, the harder it is to coalesce them into a coherent image.
So, apart from a few dusty old professors of history, it seemed that the whole concept of time-travel was doomed to be consigned to some dark and mouldy corner of the history books, if you'll pardon the pun.
But in 2019, out of left field, a scientific think tank calling themselves the Wyndham group announced that they had found a practical use for time travel. Until now, nobody had heard of them. They were named apparently, after the great science fiction writer of the mid twentieth century.
According to their spokesperson, a new substance had recently come off the drawing board; an electrolytic gel. The composition of the Gel was, and still is, a trade secret. Several of its components were, apparently, also new to science. What was known about the stuff however, was that it was semi-organic in composition and had some very interesting properties, not the least of these being of a psychotropic nature. But by far the strangest of these properties was the fact that it reacted to the presence of photons in some very useful ways.
An immersion tank was fitted with banks of photon transmitters and receivers, and linked to a super-computer; a top of the line Denizen Deep Thought model 9800. Then the tank was filled with this new super gel; Wellsian Gel they called it. (Named after another great writer of speculative fiction)
The first person to (draw the short straw?) immerse himself in the tank was a member of the group by the name of Jones.
Jonas Jones was a professor of ancient history who had volunteered to be the guinea pig on man's first voyage into the past. Rumour has it that, when he first got into the tank, he almost froze to death. You see, for maximum effect, the traveller had to go into the tank naked, apart from an air tube; apparently, the gel possessed some sort of symbiotic aptitude for naked skin. Add to that, the fact that the optimum working temperature for the gel was a degree or so below zero and, well, you get the picture.
So anyway, Jones strapped himself in, figuratively speaking, and they fired up the Deep Thought. After checking that all systems were green, the computer asked Jones where he wished to travel.
Now, Jones's passion was early medieval history. I'm not sure if the choice was his, or the group as a whole, but, whatever the reason, I'm sure they could have come up with something better than the fourteenth of October, 1066, at Senlac Hill, near to Hastings.
There was a pause of at least three or four seconds, while the Deep Thought computer worked through the complex calculations of relative spatial and chronological positioning, then beams of photons were sent off into wherever it is photons go to.
Almost instantly, the receivers in the tank began to pick up the echoes of the returning photons, and relayed them into the gel. Seconds later, the gel began to feed Jones's mind with psychotropic images of the relevant time zone.
After a few moments, there was a muffled scream of agony from the tank, followed almost immediately by a banging from inside.
By the time they had managed to unfasten all the clasps, and raise the lid, the thumping had diminished, and by the time they had pulled the shivering scientist from the tank, his teeth were chattering so badly, he was unable to speak clearly.
By and by though, they got him warmed up. As his skin returned to its normal color however, bruises began to show up all over his body. When he was finally able to talk, Jones informed them that the experiment had gone better then they had expected.
Jones had been waiting patiently, he told them. Trying his best to ignore the chill of the gel around him, he told the Deep Thought computer where he wished to go.
After a few seconds he had found himself suddenly upon Senlac hill, right in the middle of the battle of Hastings. Visibility was perfect; the returning photons had slammed into the gel as planned, and the gel reacted by emitting visible light, giving Jones the illusion of being in the middle of the battle. Then the enhancement systems linked to the Deep Thought system had kicked in, and the first arrow to hit Jones had caused the first bruise.
You see, anther feature of the gel was its ability to produce sensation, by hardening or softening itself, depending on what was required of it by the computers. Thus, if a person was to say, touch a brick wall, then the gel would harden next to the fingertips, giving the impression of roughness. So, when the first arrow would have hit Jones, the gel next to his skin hardened and caused the bruise.
Within the next few seconds, according to Jones, he was hit by a least a dozen arrows, plus several other weapons that just happened to be occupying the same space as he was.
Once they realised this, the scientists of the Wyndham group were overjoyed. The experiment had worked; and better than they could have hoped for. By the end of the day, every one of them had taken a trip in the tank, and had ridden the photons down the time stream.
So there it was; virtual reality time travel. Almost a thousand years in two minutes.
The main downside at that time was the chill factor. A person could endure no more than several minutes in the tank before risking hypothermia or maybe even frostbite.
Within the space of a year however, the Wyndham group had refined the gel to work within tolerances that where almost tropical. Now, the possibilities were endless. Not only for the academic community, but for the public at large. Once a cloth had been developed that would allow the gel to perform through it (as it turned out, an article of clothing made from natural fibres, such as cotton tended to work best) then the sky was the limit.
The first history resort opened in 2023 in London, to an awestruck world.
Wyndham Leisure Time boasted five hundred tanks, and for sixty euros, a person could spend an hour and a half at any point, or points, of history he or she desired, within the last five thousand years. From the ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean civilisations, to the storming of the Bastille, to the sinking of the Titanic. Wherever a person wished to visit, whatever sight they wished to witness; it was all available at a price. Within two years they had three more facilities in the United States, France and Germany.
Of course, the academic community was outraged. (weren't they always, in those days?) The Wyndham group was accused of cheapening mankind's glorious past, of selling history down the river, of being self-serving and uncaring.
The Wyndham group responded by branching out into virtual reality tanks. Now, if history wasn't your thing, why not visit somewhere like Middle-Earth instead. Spend an hour or so with Frodo and the company of the ring, as they battled orcs in Moria. Or, if fighting wasn't your thing, then there was a choice of over a thousand different scenarios, ranging from fantasy to horror or even eroticism (special clothing required for that one, so I'm told)
Many people of course, tried to copy the gel, but none, to date, has ever succeeded. The stuff defied analysis, outside of the charged environment of the tanks, gel lasts for only a few minutes. Wyndham kept the secret close; it was rumoured that only a handful of people knew what the stuff was, and how it was made. These few scientists made up the board of directors, and each had only a piece of the formula, to be passed on to his successor. Like the secret recipe for a famous fried chicken, Wellsian gel has remained one of the great secrets of our time.
Within five years, by 2029, the Wyndham group was one of the largest companies in the world. Still privately owned, it now runs over five hundred history resorts, on every continent. Time travel, even virtual time travel, is big business, and has now superseded even trips to mars in popularity.
So, why am I writing this? Every child is taught the basics in school, and I'm sure that you've all seen the documentaries and immersion videos at home. Hell, most of you have probably even been on a trip downstream yourselves.
Well, I'm writing this as a warning. Since the initial trip in 2021, it's estimated that over twenty-five million trips are made downstream every year.
Think about it; twenty five million tourists visiting every major point in history over the past five thousand years of humanity's existence. That is a major increase in the natural course of the photonic time-flow.
Several months ago, a major breakthrough in photonic physics discovered that photons don't just echo up and down the time stream once. Like their acoustic counterparts, a photon can reverberate many times, and even slide sideways in time.
Consider this; throughout history, people have reported the sighting of ghosts. Whenever, wherever something important or traumatic has taken place, there is almost always a corresponding ghost sighting.
But, what if, just what if, these ghost sightings are actually echoes from the future? Visual imprints of travellers, but taken as portents and warnings of dire happenings.
And what if these so called apparitions and visitations manage to affect a place so much that history itself changed? What if that has already happened?
Would we know?