The snap of his briefcase clasps shattered the silence like a gunshot. Wordlessly, Nickleback (of Nickleback, Orchard and Furrow) retrieved a sheaf of papers before closing the briefcase. The disorder of the papers was in stark contrast to Nickleback’s meticulous appearance. His jet black hair, parted exactly at the corner of his squarish forehead. He pulled off his frameless spectacles and cleaned them using his handkerchief.
“Mr… Albert Muller?”
The old man sat across the other side of table grunted his acknowledgement. Most of Albert Muller’s hair was no longer there and what remained was an atoll of wispy white strands. A bushy white beard framed his face. Like his lawyer, he wore a suit but his seemed to accentuate Albert’s dishevelled appearance.
“Charged with Criminal Damage?”
Albert swallowed audibly before bridging his fingers in front of his face. As if unhappy with the pose, he immediately folded his arms across his barrel-shaped chest.
Nickleback looked up. “Is that correct?”
Albert didn’t trust his voice in responding. He nodded, once.
“How will you plead, guilty or not guilty?”
Alberts chair flew backwards as he stood and pounded his fist upon the table scattering papers from the pile.
“It is they who are criminals. They stole my whole life from me. Everything I ever worked for, they took from me. They should be locked up!”
Nickleback removed his glasses and sucked on the earpiece, weighing up what Albert said before gathering the scattered papers. He replaced his glasses and read on.
“The errr… subject of the criminal damage was some sort of machine. A machine that they bought from you for £10,000.”
Albert sat down again. “A compulsory purchase is no purchase. It is robbery by the government. They should be sat here as your clients”
“But there’s an accounting here for every single nut, every single screw, every piece of wire, every panel. They paid you a very fair price.”
“Who’s to say that’s a fair price? Every nut, every bolt… What about every bead of sweat, every sleepless night, my painstaking research and experiments, the very essence of my being. What price do you put on that?”
“But they paid you an additional £5,000 for estimated labour costs.”
Albert leaned forward, before lowering his voice. “Five thousand pounds? How much of your labour would I get for five thousand pounds Mr Nickleback?”
“What was the machine Mr Muller?”
“It was a time machine.”
Nickleback leaned forward, curious. “Did it work?”
“Yes, of course it worked. That is why the bastards stole it from me.”
“How did it work?”
“You know nothing of the base principles of temporal science, so it is very difficult to explain. Let’s just say the machine helps to locate the strands of time and follow them backwards into the past and in limited circumstances forwards into the future.”
“Why did you destroy the machine?”
“Because they could not be trusted. They wanted to go back and remove Hitler. They wanted to steer the Titanic round the iceberg. They wanted to stop the terrorists from crashing into the world trade centre. They even wanted to use the machine for financial gain to pay off the deficit – fools. They do not understand the dangers. It is all too easy to blunder into significant changes to the present. If they cause feedback by tying the present to the past, they can cause a temporal causality loop. And then there are paradoxes. Fools as well as criminals!”
Albert sat back in the chair. “Besides, I did not destroy the machine.”
“It says here that all that was left was a pile of twisted metal and wires.”
Albert spoke slowly. “I tell you, I did not destroy the machine.”
“Who did then?”
“I simply moved the machine and left in its place the detritus you describe.”
“Where is it now?”
Albert smiled. “To a man with a time machine, hiding places are limitless.”
Nickleback shook his head, opened his briefcase and cast in the sheaf of papers. “If found guilty, you are looking at a significant custodial sentence.”
Albert’s smile broadened into a wide grin. He began to laugh, slowly at first, but before long, his shoulders shook with exultant laughter.
Catching his breath Albert said “My dear Mr Nickleback, to punish me, a temporal scientist, they intend to give me…”
He descended into hoots of laughter again before gasping out the word “Time!”
Nickleback left the room shaking his head. He could hear Albert’s laughter a long way down the corridor. At the reception desk, he located his name in the ledger to sign out and frowned. He looked at his watch and then looked back at the ledger.
The reception clerk looked up “Everything OK?”
Nickleback stared into space. “Yes – it’s just… I could have sworn today was Friday.”
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