‘Thank you, Vice Chancellor. Although you should be careful waving that champagne around. There’s a lot of sensitive equipment in here.’
‘Yes, it’s an impressive array… I’m just amazed that you managed to secure the funding for a Temporal Displacement Research Facility, given the financial straits the university finds itself in.’
‘Oh, there’s always funding for a project that grabs the public’s attention. Big name brands like to see themselves as supporting big ideas.’
‘And the big idea is… time travel?’
‘Aha, well, yes, that is of course the ultimate goal,’ said the professor, flicking a used cocktail stick into a nearby bin. ‘But don’t hold your breath. I certainly don’t expect any concrete results within my lifetime. Realistically, it could be hundreds of years before -’
A fizzing noise, the splutter of electric sparks, and finally a damp plop that sounded like boiling custard: and there in the corner of the room, wreathed in blue smoke, stood a tall, anaemic-looking young man with a mohican haircut, wearing a white tailcoat over a dark pink skirt. He blinked twice, peering around the room in the sudden silence.
‘Uh… Professor Armstrong?’
The entire room gaped in astonishment, before the professor stepped forward uncertainly.
‘I’m Armstrong,’ he said in a shaky voice. ‘And you are?’
‘I’s offa da future,’ said the young man. ‘I’s da boss scibod o da Tempo Displace Res Fac. Me name Oswo. An Professor Armstrong, we bin done it man! We bin done da time trav man innit! An I’s come back in da historic, where it all of begin, to give up da goodnews.’
Somewhere, at the back of the room, someone began to clap: tentatively at first, then with greater conviction, and before long the whole room was cheering and applauding.
‘That’s… that’s incredible,’ said the professor, shaking his head. ‘What’s the date where you come from? How long did it take?’
‘I’s o da year 1046, post Newage,’ said Oswo. ‘An I can stay in but a tenmin, else no go back, but I want giving you a view o da futurings.’
‘Post New Age,’ replied the professor. ‘When is that? How long into the future for us?’
‘Um donno,’ said Oswo. ‘Newage, like is thouyear over. Long back.’
‘So how did you solve it? What was the equation that put you on the right track? What was the -’
But the Professor was elbowed aside by the Vice Chancellor, who could envision the TV interviews, the bottomless funding, the chat shows, the vastly improved ranking; the gongs, the honours, the fame that would surely follow the revelations that would clearly need to be prised out of this academic halfwit.
‘So, Mr Oswo,’ he said confidently, ‘Welcome to the 21st Century. AD, ha ha,’ he added after a pause. ‘And what can you tell us about our own future? What happens to the planet? Do we beat global warming? How do we solve the energy crisis? Who will lead our nations?’
Oswo shook his head sadly.
‘Um soz, man, I’s scibod innit, I’s no histobod. No politibod. Donno da dates, da names, soz.’
The Vice Chancellor looked nonplussed, but decided to change tack.
‘OK, well, you must have some exciting new technology in 1046, whenever that is. Do you have anything you can show us?’
A broad grin spread over Oswo’s face. ‘Why sho, man, I’s got da MixMakr, for sho.’ He slid back his sleeve to reveal a broad bracelet-like device that encased most of his forearm. It resembled a piece of Roman armour, and was madd of a substance that looked like smoky brown glass. It featured a single blue light beneath its otherwise featureless surface.
The assembly crowded round for a better look.
‘That’s… most interesting,’ said the Vice Chancellor. ‘What does it do?’
‘It make everyting, innit,’ said Oswo. ‘Looky, I’s gon cook yez a meatoburger.’ He tapped the side of the device, and the blue light increased in intensity, then ran up and down the length of his arm; and then it returned to its original position, and began flashing a dull orange.
‘Um,’ said Oswo, ‘What’s yez EmZee login?’
‘Our what?’ said the Vice Chancellor.
‘EmZee innit… yez gots no EmZee net?’
‘I think it’s some kind of network,’ said the professor, ‘perhaps an advanced form of wifi. No, Mr Oswo, we have no EmZee network here.’
‘O jeez man, suck yes. Well looky, I’s got da PenGo, yez love that.’ And from his inside pocket he drew a slim, penlike object that sported a steel ball at one end, and a twisting knob at the other. ‘O jeez,’ he said, ‘Da power gone. Yez gots fusion? Two secs, da PenGo up an run.’
‘I’m sorry, Mr Oswo. We have not yet developed fusion power in this century.’
‘O man. Jeez no. Soz man. Everybod got fusion inna 1046.’
‘But not here,’ said the Vice Chancellor. ‘Look, there must be something you can show us, or tell us. Anything. Anything at all?’
‘Soz man,’ said Oswo. ‘But looky, me tenmin gone… I’s just grab vidlike for da homeguys.’ Oswo touched a finger to his temple, and a faint whirring sound accompanied a shift in his eye as the iris opened to reveal a tiny lens.
‘Smile, innit!’ he commanded. And the crowd of scientists, university officials and freeloaders all smiled gamely as Oswo swept his gaze left to right across the room, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.