Professor Sid Weaver paused briefly, his finger hovering over a deceptively nondescript button. When pressed, it would send him on what was sure to be the greatest journey ever undertaken by a human, one that would rewrite history. Very soon—or a long time ago, rather—he was going to become an emperor. No, a god.
Maybe I’m Jesus, he thought.
He chuckled. Coming from anyone else, that thought would have been a sure symptom of lunacy. But for Sid, the idea that he might be Christ was no psychotic delusion; it was a very real possibility. He could actually be Jesus—the historical Jesus, not a mere imposter.
Only time will tell.
He laughed a little harder at this second thought, wheezing with delight. It was a marvelous pun. Or maybe it was some other literary device. It didn’t matter; he was a physicist, not a writer. The important point was that Sid’s fate—and the world’s—hinged on time; and time was quite literally in his hands.
The button beneath his fingertip controlled what was, in trite words, a “time machine.” It was nothing like those silly things depicted in novels or films, of course. It wasn’t shaped like a rocket or a shuttle; it didn’t have flashing lights, propellers, or any kind of engine; and it didn’t even move. Rather, it was an assembly of high-voltage field generators that filled the three-story laboratory at Stanford that he shared with his colleague, Ken Phelps.
The government, which had funded the machine’s construction, believed it to be a device for generating and observing microscopic black holes for the purpose of developing a better understanding of the big bang. And indeed, it was capable of doing so. Sid and Ken had published several papers together on the topic. But its true purpose—of which even Ken was unaware—was time travel.
From the beginning, Sid’s plan had been quite simple. He would travel ten thousand years into the past, impress the ancients with his knowledge and technology, and set himself up as the greatest god in all of history. He would introduce them to the magic—and it was magic, truly—of the written alphabet, the internal combustion engine, and the electric power generator.
Of course, it wouldn’t do to remain among troglodytes indefinitely; eventually, he would miss the comforts of modernity. No, Sid’s ultimate goal was to rule the future, not the past. Thus, at the peak of his glory, he would orchestrate his own “ascension” to the spirit world. In reality, of course, he would merely be traveling back through time to his home century—arriving at precisely the moment foretold in the prophecies that he himself would leave behind for his primitive subjects.
That was plan A, at any rate. The other option was to go back and assume the identity of an already-known god—Jesus being the obvious choice. That’s what he would be forced to do if Ken’s theory about the immutability of time turned out to be correct. It was something they had argued about on many occasions. If that was the case, Sid would assume the identity of Jesus, and the Second Coming would be his moment of glory.
He fervently hoped that his first plan worked, though, if for no other reason than the fact that becoming Jesus would require significantly more work. One couldn’t simply show up in ancient Galilee and preach sermons in Aramaic and Hebrew without considerable study and preparation. Learning the culture would be as important as learning the language. Who knew how long such preparations would take? No, his first plan was by far the better option.
Confident in his decision, Sid adjusted the straps of his hiking backpack, double-checked the safety on his AR-15, and pressed the button on the control panel. The time machine’s high-voltage electronics hummed, and within seconds, he felt his body begin to disintegrate.
A moment later—and ten thousand years earlier—Sid was standing in a prairie, surrounded by grass that was nearly as tall as he was. The air was clean and humid, and the ground beneath his feet was solid. Yes. He was on Earth—at the surface. That was important; tracking the Earth’s motion over a period of ten thousand years had been crucial. After all, it would have been a sad end to his grand scheme if he had found himself floating in space, millions of miles and thousands of years from home. Not a good way to die.
Time to get started, he thought.
Choosing a direction, he took his rifle in hand and switched off the safety, reminding himself that he must be prepared at all times. Wild beasts were sure to abound, though perhaps the greatest threat would be humans. He would have to approach them carefully when it was time to make contact. But for now, his first order of business was to set up a camp.
* * * * *
Erg peak through brush and see strange man move at edge of forest. Maybe not man. Maybe monster. Monster-Man wear strange skins, have strangely-cut hair, bare face. Monster-Man wear giant bag on back and carry straight, black branch in hand.
Erg follow Monster-Man at safe distance. Monster-Man come to stop in stupid location near bear den. Monster-Man examine ground in surrounding area, take giant bag off back, and sit down. Monster-Man remove round box from giant bag, hold box to mouth, and tip head back. Perhaps round box contain water, Erg think.
Monster-Man stand up again. Monster-Man put straight, black branch behind back, using flat skin strap. Then Monster-Man begin gather wood. Much time pass, and Monster-Man make big pile of wood. Sun begin to set. Erg grow hungry but continue to watch Monster-Man. Monster-Man sit down again and remove small bag from inside of giant bag. From small bag, Monster-Man remove item and put in mouth. Small bag contain food, Erg realize. Erg stomach growl.
As Erg watch, bear emerge from den. Monster-Man not notice at first, and bear approach Monster-Man from behind. But then bear make noise, and Monster-Man turn to see bear. Monster-Man panic and run backwards. Bear growl and stand on rear legs. Monster-Man fumble straight, black branch off of back. Monster-Man point branch at bear. Bear come down on four legs and run toward Monster-Man.
Strange thunder roar. Small flash of light. Bear stop. Bear on ground, not moving. Monster-Man stand, panting, pointing black branch at bear. Bear still not move. Monster-Man look around warily. Perhaps check for other bear.
More time pass, and Monster-Man clear small space on ground and build small stack of wood from big pile. Then Monster-Man remove small box from giant bag and kneel beside stack of wood. Monster-Man open box and take out small stick. Monster-Man move suddenly and stick catch on fire. Erg stare in awe as Monster-Man hold small burning stick at bottom of stack of wood. Fire spread. Fire big now.
Monster-Man now remove sharp, shiny tool from bag and approach bear. Monster-Man kneel beside bear and begin to cut. Erg begin to think as Erg watch Monster-Man. Erg want Monster-Man’s power. Start fire. Kill bear with branch. Erg silently approach Monster-Man from behind. Erg’s heart beat loud and fast. Erg’s fear very strong.
Erg take quiet breath and raise club over head. Erg slam down club on Monster-Man’s head. Monster-Man scream loudly. Monster-Man scramble halfway to feet, turn to look at Erg. Monster-Man’s eyes full of terror. Erg swing club again, crush Monster-Man’s head second time.
Swing club hard! Crush! Crush!
Erg finally stop crushing Monster-Man’s head. Erg look down at Monster-Man. Monster-Man no longer move. Head broken. Blood on ground. Erg now have all of Monster-Man’s tremendous power. Erg celebrate by yelling and jumping so high.
After some time, Erg calm down. Erg examine Monster-Man’s things.
Monster-Man took fire-starter from small box. Where was box? Erg search. Yes. There. Erg pick up box and shake. Box rattle like snake tail. Startled, Erg drop box. Box fall open and small sticks spill out onto ground. Erg pick up one stick and examine it. Stick have small red ball at one end. Maybe fire magic in red ball, Erg think. Erg pick up sticks and put them back in box.
Then Erg turn attention to straight, black branch. Memory of thunder and fire coming out of branch strong in Erg’s mind. Memory of dying bear strong too. Erg pick up branch and examine it. Branch cold to touch in some places. Thin, flat length of animal skin hang from branch. Erg touch small hook on branch. Hook move.
Thunder roar suddenly. Branch jump out of Erg’s hands and land on ground. Erg run away in fear but then stop and turn around. Branch sitting still on ground. Quiet now. Smoke curl upward from end of branch. Erg’s heart beat fast again. Slowly, Erg approach branch.
Erg pick up branch. Erg look at smoke coming from end of branch. Erg notice branch hollow on inside. Erg look inside end of branch. Erg look at small hook again. Erg look inside end of branch and move small hook again.
* * * * *
Ken took his place at the time machine’s controls. He knew where—or when, rather—Sid had gone. Sid may have thought that his plans were secret, but he was far more transparent than he believed. He had given everything away during their debates about the mutability of history. Whereas Sid believed that one could go back and change the past, Ken knew it to be impossible; and so Ken had concocted the superior plan.
It was going to be the biggest irony the world had ever known. Ken knew perfectly well that there was no god. And yet, when he returned to the modern age to fulfill the prophecies, he would convince the world—atheists included—that those fools, the Christians, were right. They were idiots for believing that Jesus would return within their lifetime, but that was exactly what was going to happen. Getting around the crucifixion would be tricky, of course, but he had a plan.
After years of study—carried out within the space of a month, thanks to the time machine—Ken was ready to execute his plan. In time, he would be enjoying his millennial reign. He would likely die in far less than a thousand years, of course—he hadn’t yet found a way to achieve true immortality via time travel—but until then he would be the King of Kings. Ken smiled to himself at the thought.
“I am Jesus,” he said in Aramaic.
Then, without hesitation, he pressed the button on the control panel and braced himself for the familiar sensation of disintegration. He had years of work to do yet—one could not build a following overnight, of course—but in the end, it would be worth it. He was going to become a god.