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It's true. You can't use a time machine to visit the 13th century; I tried and it didn't work.

Centuries before the time I entered graduate school in 2345, physicists had already worked out the theory of time travel; it remained for the engineers to put it into practice. Time travel was the life's work/obssession of my thesis adviser, Dr Slump. Slump had figured out a way to generate enough negative energy to make wormholes big enough to send something the size of, oh, a cocktail olive through. In fact, in his first practical demonstration, he sent a cocktail olive from the Alumni Club to the Physics Lab.

Unfortunately, in addition to the martini that olive had come from, he'd drunk four others, and the olives had to go somewhere. First, he sent an olive to Tibet, surprising the bejeezus out of a yak that happened to be passing by. His next stunt was to put an olive in an unspeakable part of the college president's wife's anatomy. Fine control demonstrated there.

And then, Ol' Slumpy outdid himself. He decided to send the last two olives to Alpha Centauri. With three sheets to the wind, we all forgot that space was a vaccum. And that wormholes contained a bit more space than they appeared to. So Slumpy turned the dials, opened up the wormhole, and sure enough, the olives went through, as did a jar of toothpicks on the bar, then a bottle of vermouth, then my wallet, then the whole bar, followed by the hapless Professor Slump. Fortunately for the rest of us, the wormhole slammed shut when the wormhole generator went through.

Anyway, the College President shut the project down. Of course the military bought it all up but that made everything classified.

So there we were, Slumpy's students with our half-written theses, and all of our equipment, confiscated by Marines. One of my friends was lucky enough to emigrate to India and get one of the few jobs a bachelor's degree in physics qualifies you for, technical review of science fiction movie scripts. Some of us worked on synthesizing element 200 for awhile but most couldn't stand the tedium and flunked out.

While waiting for my Indian work visa, I was working as a short-order cook in the next town over. One day, a really weird guy walked into the diner. A magenta pinstripe suit really stood out in a place catering to hoverdrivers, waldo operators, and utility bots, the kind they use to clean out the sewers. As Mr Magenta walked up to the counter, Sid, my boss, asked, "Whaddya want, we only got plain coffee, no fancy ass crap."

"I'm not here to order anything.", said Magenta. "I'm looking for a Philip Haplax." Meaning me.

Sid lit up a CancerStik and furiously puffed clouds of smoke in my face. "This one of your friends from over at the college, Haplax?"

"Never seen him before, Mr Sid."

"That's a line of bull. What're you gonna do. try to thrill the waitresses with olives?"

"I'm looking for the owner of this." Magenta threw something on the counter. My wallet.

I was about to say something original like "My wallet!" when one of the bots rolled up and put a grappler on Magenta's shoulder. WE DON~T SERVE NO NOVELLE CUISINE HERE BUDDY. it voked. ALTHOUGH I~M SURE SID IS WILLING TO CHARGE YOU 50 CREDITS FOR ONE SHRIMP ON A PLATE. Magenta knocked the bot over, setting off its gyro alarm. Not a small feat considering it weighed two tons.

DBIONTG DAIBNUGSWEH!I!R RID~IMN GPDRIENSGSW IHNIGR RCDHIANRGGDEISN!G wailed the bot as its treads futilely spun. Two of its friends came over and grappled Magenta's arms; he threw them both. Now there were three bots on (or, rather, in) the floor, dinging and whirring and calling for their lawyers.

"Now just waitaminute!" yelled Sid over all the whirring and dinging. "You wanna start the Bot Wars all over again? Lookit the hole in my floor!" He picked up the phone, to dial the police I suppose. "You brought this purple goofball in here, Haplax, you can go to jail withim! Not only that, you're fired!"

Magenta grabbed my wallet and then hauled me over the counter. I almost regained my balance but he pulled me over one of the flailing bots, and then into a table. As he dragged me across the pavement, other parts of my body met (among other things) a light pole, a FidoHydrant, and a NylaTree. Eventually I was pulled into a hovercar.

Now, this was no ordinary hovercar. This almost looked like it could be something generated in Hyderabad for a science fiction movie: sleek black with a million small protrusions, tapering to a point forward or backward. Fastened to the back seat, with half my body screaming at me in pain, I could see the controls were like no hovercar I'd ever been in. A tremendous acceleration hit me and I passed out.

I awoke to a sudden jar, and a stream of curses in a language I'd never heard.

"Where are you taking me?" I asked. Not very original, but I had just been kidnapped and lay glued to a seat, in excrucuating pain. You can understand why I was not up to my usual standard of witty banter.

"You're going to undo the mess you made of my life."

"I've never done anything to you! I've never even met you!"

"Damn ignorant Earthling. Let me tell you just how you screwed up my life."

"For years now, FLrnQSHP has been the only girl (or reasonable analogue) in my life." Like something out of a bad science fiction movie. The guy was obviously nuts, but I was glued to my seat, so there was nothing to do but humor him. "One night, the very night I was to propose to her, I was cruising past Alpha Centauri when something holed my hull. Running to get the patch, I tripped over this." Magenta held up a half-empty bottle of vermouth. "Later, I found the thing that caused it." Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out something that looked exactly like a toothpick. Well, actually, it was a toothpick. I was beginning to get a bad feeling.

"It only took ten timespans to fix the hole, but the incident put me far off course. By the time I reached FLrnQSHP's planet I was thirty timespans late. FLrnQSHP demands puncutality, so the date was off to a bad start to begin with. I thought the ring might cheer her up. Her eye lit up as I handed her the box." Magenta's face took on an almost wistful look, but soon darkened, to a rather dreadful mauve. "She opened the box and found...this." He waved the wallet in my face.

"It took me a thousand timespans to figure out where the wallet came from, and another thousand to calculate where the ring had been displaced to. So, you're going to go fetch my ring. If FLrnQSHP doesn't forgive me I'll pulverize your miserable rock."

"So where's the ring?" I asked.

"It's on this miserable excuse of a planet, but not now."

"Not now?"

"No, it's about two hundred million timespans in the past."

Now I knew he was making it all up. "Oh, come on. They make up better plots than this in Bijapur."

"You don't believe me? Look out the window."

We were out in space, looking down on the Earth. Now, I wouldn't have recognized the view below as the Earth except for the fact that I dated a paleogeography major back as an undergrad. A weird paleogeography major, who'd make a little game of playing hard to get unless you recognized the outline of the right ancient continent. I know the Triassic Period like the back of my hand.

"Two...hundred...million?" I thought, with visions of ducking dinosaurs while searching for a little diamond ring.

"Eleven hundred Earth 'years'."

"Then why are we back in the Triassic?"

"Because I can't take my ship to that year! Every time I try to jump there, something makes me bounce back five hundred trillion timespans! Too much of an anachronism, I suppose, So you'll have to do it for me. But after several attempts, I found I can get close, if I get a running start from back here. Here's a picture of the ring." He stuck something in my pocket and turned back to the console. "Prepare for another jolt."

Some jolt. I passed out again.

I awoke with my face in the dirt, and someone prodding me in the back with a stick. I tried to say "Stop poking me" but all that came out was a moan.

"Thae roabearz heafen besmoten thae poarredge neghonto detthe. Heolpenme brothair." Two pairs of arms lifted me; the pain was enough to put me out again.

I returned to consciousness with more Middle English in my ears. "What's a guy gotta do to get an aspirin and a glass of water?" I muttered. The voices stopped.

"Utter not your spells, we have your talismans." In my haze of pain, my brain was converting the voice into some weird Elizabethan dialect.

"I only asked for a glass of water."

"Thou seekest to turn our water to glass?"

"I'm thirsty. For the love of God, give me water."

"For the love of God, indeed. Brother Gilbert."

"Yes, Brother Cymwael?"

"Give the patient some water." Someone poured a moldy-tasting liquid down my throat. "You will soon experience God's wrath, witch."

"I'm no witch!"

A chuckle. "Innocence is the sure cry of the guilty. In this case, a pathetic defense. As I said, we have your talismans. Pieces of bark with writing, and strange symbols as well. Brother, turn the witch so that he can see the proof of his guilt." As Brother Gilbert lifted me, a balding man in a brown robe came into view. He was holding up my driver's license.

"Now, 'Date of Birth' is legible enough, but the arcane symbols beneath are indecipherable." His voice sounded exactly like Ol' Slumpy discussing negative energy. Knowest thou thy birth date? Thou lookest to have about twenty summers, I shall guess "


"Small matter. This other...talisman frigtens me. " He held up a brownish rectangle. "Gold Master Calling Card. This is the device by which your Master calls you to do his vile bidding? The sigil on the front moves as one rotates it."

"You can keep it!"

"No, I shall collect oddities no longer. Brother Abbott has decreed so."

"Witches have killed our good King this very year, and thou hast caused Brother Abbot to take away my pastime."

"Two thousand three hundred twenty."

"I shall enjoy seeing thee burn -- What saist thou?"

"You asked my birth date. The symbols tell you. March 31, two thousand three hundred twenty. They're not magical items, they're simply things from the future - like me!"

"Thou admittest thy guilt! There is no need for a trial. We will burn you tonight so that you do not contaminate the Feast of Jesus Christ tomorrow."

Tied to the bed, I had no choice but to lie still the brothers came for me that night. As the younger brothers tied me to the stake, Brother Gilbert stood there reading from the Bible. But he paused and said, "Young man, we burn thee so that thou hast a chance of reconciling with God. The fire will cleanse the demon from thee, thou wilt feel it. Before thou expirest, accept the Savior into your heart. Here is one of Brother Cymwael's oddities, Brother Abbott has decreed it be unmade in fire." He placed something around my neck. Then he continued in Latin and the brothers started to light the brands. Flames rose around me and I passed out again.

I awoke, briefly, to an immense roaring sound and two immense grey things slammed the ground on either side of me.

Someone held something wonderfully cool to my forehead as I came to. I opened my eyes and a vision appeared before my eyes. The most beautiful woman I'd ever seen was holding a wet cloth to my forehead.

"So, Earthling, you did it." said a familiar voice. Magenta. I was in Magenta's hovercar, or whatever it was. "You almost didn't make it, with that Tryannosaurus nearly stepping on you." "Where'd you find the ring?"

"The ring?"

"It was hanging on a string around your neck!" said Gorgeous.

"Oh, that. Someone gave it to me in the heat of the moment."

"I'll say." said Magenta. "Your uniform has holes burned in it."

"It's not like Sid's going to dock my pay." So I told them what had happened on December 31, 1199.

"Ok, I understand now. Whatever was keeping me out of the year 1200 kept you out, as well. Once the moment arrived, you were kicked back to the Triassic, Wallet, ring, and all."



"Tryannosaurus lived in the Cretaceous. 100 million years - 50 trillion time periods - later."

"Whatever. Anyway, FLrnQSHP loves the ring and has forgiven me. Now I guess I there's no need to pulverize the Earth."

"But it would be so much fun!" said Gorgeous, err, FLrnQSHP.

"You'd rather I not live up to my agreement?"

"From what I hear, you never agreed not to pulverize the Earth."

"Give me that vermouth?" I pleaded.

"OK, then, let's do it.", said Magenta, and cackled diabolically.

"Cut!" yelled Director Mani Hrishikrishnan. "Wrap it kids. Good job, Phil. Slump, try not to cackle diabolically in the future."