Somehow, somewhere, someone figured out how to travel in time. I don't know who it was; I suppose that I could find out, if I wanted to. But I don't, probably for the same reason why I haven't gone back to see just what really started Time itself. Some things ought to remain a mystery.
Although I don't know his name, I do know his method. I learnt it when I was a boy, from a crazy old man who knew a little too much about the Civil War. And the Revolutionary War. And the Hundred Years' War, too. He lived on the edge of town in a creepy old house, the kind with cobwebs made from cotton candy across the windows and the door that screams obsceneties at you if you dare to disturb it. I was an adventurous child who didn't believe in ghosts, not even after I'd met a couple. The old man was a ghost, of sorts, although you would never have known it unless you chanced to catch him out in bright sunlight, which incidentally he was very careful to avoid.
It's funny how, when you're a little kid, you tend to believe all this stuff, sort of swallow it wholesale, about ghosts and talking teddy-bears and monsters under the bed. I guess that's why I didn't think twice when the old man asked if I'd like to travel in time. Though I'm not really sure if I simply didn't believe it possible, or expected that it was, I agreed that travelling in time would be neat. I reckon I expected us to get in some fancy machine and go whooshing off, just like in that movie, and be home in time for dinner.
The old man laughed, as I remember, a dry sound like bats taking a stretch, and murmured something about having to learn the trick. "What mind can imagine, the spirit can do," he chortled, and since he was beginning to frighten me I made some excuse about company at my mom's place and beat a hasty retreat.
Well, to make a long story short, I eventually got my courage back and went to the old man's house, asking about time travel. He smiled a wicked grin and plucked a paperweight off the table. It made an impression on me because it was so very shiny and sparkly, the only thing in the parlour which didn't have a thick nap of dust on it.
"See this?" he queried, waving it under my nose. "This was in 1843 this morning. It's my crowning achievement. They said it couldn't be done, but I brung it. This is proof that you can bring inorganic material through!"
"Through where, sir?" I asked, because I was a well-bred boy.
"Through time, lad!" he hissed, drawing out the "i" into six or seven syllables. He tossed the paperweight into the air and caught it. "Everyone thinks the only stuff you can bring with you is stuff that was alive at one time. I suppose it's true enough for the novices, but I've been at it so long, I've finally gotten the power to bring through inorganic matter!"
It may all have been moonshine, but I was ten years old and hooked. He sat me down in a broken Morris chair and strutted around like a banty cock as he unfolded the most outrageous tale I have ever heard. I have since come to know that there was not a shred of truth in it.
As the story goes, this unknown person--The Pioneer, as he's referred to--had a brain a few sizes too big for his position in life. He was one of those philosophical sorts who had solved the argument of Free Will versus Predestination before he was out of short pants and spent most of his time concocting answers to the puzzles of Life. Well, one day, he got to thinking on how neat it would be if people were able to travel through time--not *all* people, mind you, because that would take the fun out of it. I guess in his egotism he supposed that only those few persons with intellects comparable to his own would deserve to know the secret of the Trick, and to jump ahead a bit that is precisely what happened.
Anyway, using the theory that a human being is made up of a dual entity, a Spirit which infests a Body, he postulated that if there was some way to disengage the Spirit from the Body it would be possible to visit any place--or any time--one pleased, without the bother of having to lug the Body around. He had heard--and believed--in "out-of-body" experiences, and thought that there had to be a way to control this apparently random phenomenon. It took several years of trying, but eventually he discovered that, if the body were lulled into a state of complete relaxation, a properly-trained brain could then imagine a destination for the Spirit to visit, and thus project a three-dimensional image of the person to a chosen spot. Usually the image takes the shape of the projectionist's body, simply because that shape is indelibly remembered and thus requires little additional thought to maintain, but others who followed in his footsteps discovered that it was also quite possible to project one's Spirit in any form desired.
The way the process works is that you have to achieve this state of total physical relaxation--without falling asleep. It takes some years of mental excercises to learn the proper, safe way to disengage the mind from the body and send it off into time and space. One also has to be extremely careful about where one leaves the "sleeping" body, for if it should be awakened, or if any harm should come to it, there is a possibility that the Spirit will be unable to return to it. That is why we have ghosts and vegetables--somewhere along the line the Spirit and the Body got seperated. The Spirit sadly drifts around until its predetermined time of death arrives, while the Body, deprived of its Spirit, assumes its true animal intelligence and becomes something less than human.
People sometimes manage The Trick by accident, and believe they have had a near-death experience or a very intense dream. But there are those few people who have the proper qualifications, who have been hand-picked and hand-trained by their predecessors, who know The Trick and can employ it at will. We have taken up calling ourselves Teleks, short for "telekinetics," although it really isn't true telekinesis as the guy who bends spoons will readily tell you.
Somehow a Telek can always spot another Telek regardless of where or when we happen to meet. But it's against the Code to give each other away, no matter what the circumstances. Oh, yeah, there's a Code of Conduct all right, adhered to and jealously guarded. See, it takes so much effort to become a Telek, and involves so much risk, that a set of rules had to be drawn up to keep us out of trouble. You would not believe how narrow-minded some ordinary people can be about folks who can project themselves in and out of time. A few of the clumsier Teleks have gotten themselves burned at the stake, or staked through the heart, and it only takes a few to serve as examples for intelligent people.
When you do your first projection, you usually just get to see the place you're thinking of going. It is rather dream-like, if one needed a simile. As your powers of concentration increase, and you learn to believe wholly in your ability to really, truly project your spirit, you become able to hear, then to sense, and lastly, to appear in your chosen destination. The more powerful you become, the more tangible your image gets, until you are able to touch and be touched without anyone noticing that you aren't really "there." The one problem is that, no matter how strong you get, your image is still just an image and can be translucent, especially in bright sunlight. It's sort of like the way a color changes under fluorescent and incandescent light. Into the bargain, the image can never cast a shadow, or show a reflection, so it's wise to remember this and avoid the situation. I bet you've figured out what famous literary character was a Telek. There's some sort of rumor among us that he was the Pioneer, but no one's ever asked him.
One of the limitations to the Trick is that it's hard to accurately imagine the future, and accuracy is everything. So it's a lucky break if you meet up with a Telek from the future who can fill you in on the details--since, of course, the present is the future's past and the past's future, if you follow me.
One of the other rules about being a Telek is that you have to find and train your replacement if you ever get tired of being a Telek. The old man who taught me couldn't remember how long he'd been a Telek, or even what time he was really from. He assumed that his body had died and he was now stuck in my time, literally haunting the house he'd once lived in, and at last had found his replacement and could make the final projection. It didn't occur to me at the time, but I think that he was glad for anything on two legs with and opposing thumb to walk through his door so he could pass on his knowledge and be on his way instead of lingering in the shadows of the eerie old house. So I wasn't a Rhodes scholar or a MENSA finalist, but I was eager to learn and each lesson fired a new desire in me, to learn all the secrets of the Trick.
The places I went! The things I saw! And no one was ever the wiser! I managed some excuse to be left undisturbed in my room, and no matter how long a "journey" took, I could always be back in my body scant moments after I'd left it. It was exactly like a story in a book, only it was real, it was me, and I was doing it with the power of my imagination!
It took me years to perfect, and devoured all my time. I suppose I got a reputation in school as some sort of eccentric recluse, but who needed immature society when I had the whole of the world to play with? I sailed with Captain Cook...explored the wilderness with Lewis and Clark...fought Zulus and Redcoats and Hessians and Bolsheviks. Took turns in Blue and Grey, and didn't much care for either. When I got a mind for it, I danced with every girl from Marie Antionette to Sandra Day O'Connor. It was a grand, magic adventure, and I revelled in it. The present would always be there--it was the past and the future which held my interest!
I also reckon that being a Telek does improve the mind. I started to read more books, about history and geography, hoping to perfect my skills, and then comparing my projected reality with what I'd read. If I wasn't a genius when I began my career, I soon became one.
Now, you might be wondering what a Telek actually does with his unique skill. Well, one of the rules is that we're not supposed to use our power for direct personal gain. Noble, but impractical.
Some of us do just like to look, to materialize just before some great event to find out what really happened, like going to Amelia Earhart's plane just before it vanished, or standing in the Lindbergh garden that tragic night, and not doing anything to alter the course of history. Some of the older Teleks maintain that all events are predestined anyway and will occur on schedule regardless of what you do to try to change it. I kind of go along with that, because I once went back to try to get my grandfather to quit drinking at an early age and spare himself a long and lingering end; and he lived a healthy life right up until the day he had died the first time around, then got hit by a car anyway.
Anyway, the pure Voyeurs are a rare breed. Perfecting the Trick takes so much time, that we need to do something in order to support ourselves. Some Teleks have gone into the literary field, doing "research" and then writing about history. A few have shopped themselves out as advisors to potentates, and in a way do get history to follow their orders. Occasionally you'll get one who pops back in time to "place" an idea which future generations could really use, like the plans for the internal combustion engine, or the way to pour the Pyramids out of reconstituted limestone slurry. Someone once tried to reverse a discovery--I think it was tobacco--but it got domesticated a few years later anyway, so there's that predestination thing again.
And then you have me. I run an antiques shop. You do the math.
The old man showed me the way to make my fortune. It was one of the last things he taught me before he disappeared. He never did teach me how to bring inorganic matter through, but he started me with small handkerchiefs of linen, and eventually I got so good at it that I was bringing through Windsor chairs as fast as my craftsmen in 1789 Boston could make them.
But then I came upon a simpler way. The way it works is so simple that I was amazed to learn that no one else had ever done it. All it takes is a little research.
To get the money to start in business one needs gold. To get the gold, one needs to materialize inside a suitable bank in the time one wishes to visit, since gold can't be brought through. One "borrows" the gold, makes his purchase, leaves the purchase where he can pick it up when he returns to the present, then steps back a little further in time to replace the "borrowed" gold in the bank vault. Then he returns to his body and fetches his booty, which has been sitting, hopefully undisturbed, for centuries, and is in mint condition.
It was a lot of work--especially trying to juggle the gold in and out of the bank vault when the door was opened and no one was looking--but if ever I were on the verge of getting caught, I could always just return to my body, and try again another day. But eventually I got my routine down to a science, and made myself quite wealthy in my own time by supplying museum-quality antiques that hardly looked their age. I did get accused of forgery--mainly by my unhappy rivals--but I was always exonerated by the professionals who examined my wares.
And now, I am ready to retire. It has been a long and interesting career, and I suppose that I will miss it; but unless I miss my guess, there will shortly come a creak at the old front door, as a curious ten-year-old boy comes poking around in this dusty old house; and I have a promise to keep.
And I have to start working on bringing that paperweight through.