TO ABSENT FRIENDS

TO ABSENT FRIENDS

It was a wet June day; the beginning of another English summer. Filby read the day's edition of The Times with mild interest. The American Calvary was fighting Pancho Villa in Mexico; anarchists had sent bombs to prominent figures in the United States; but most of the news dealt with the Treaty of Versailles which had finally ended the Great War.

"You look sad, James," his wife said.

"What?" Filby had been listening to the steady drumming of the rain on their roof. "Ah, I'm sorry; I was just thinking."

"About the war?" Mrs. Filby nodded. "At least it's over, and pray to God we don't have another one like it."

"Oh, not the war-although I am glad it's over. No, I was just thinking about an old friend of mine."

"The inventor? The one who disappeared back at the turn of the century?" Mrs. Filby had often heard the strange story from both her husband and his friends. "Didn't Mr. Wells write a book about it?"

Filby chuckled. "Yes. The Time Machine. He embellished somewhat. Still, it was very close to the truth." Filby looked up at the ceiling. "Except for one small but important part…"

1909

Filby had decided to check on the Inventor's old house out of habit. It had been abandoned since the death of his housekeeper, old Mrs. Watchett. There was no logical reason for him to expect anyone to be there, yet Filby continued to be drawn back to this place, year after year.

Filby saw the table where the Inventor had demonstrated his model. Touching the dust-covered cloth with his fingers, Filby could almost sense that it was still there, travelling on its endless journey forward. Well, from his perspective it was, wasn't it?

Filby then made his way into the Inventor's laboratory. Not much remained of the Inventor's original equipment, most of which Filby, as the executor of the Inventor's estate, had sold off to pay the Inventor's remaining debts. But some of his tools were still there, and something else-a crudely shaped piece of crystal; most likely intended for the original machine. Filby held it up. Was this what the Inventor had used to take his first, fateful journey into the distant future?

Filby was about to leave when the room began to vibrate with a steady hum that grew louder, causing the dusty racks of test tubes and beakers that sat on the shelves behind him to rattle. Filby instinctively backed away from the middle of the lab as something began to take form. It was small, delicate but intricately designed. As it solidified, Filby's eyes widened in shock.

"My God," he exclaimed to no one in particular.

It was the model-the same one the Inventor had shown them on that first night when he proudly told them of his Machine. There was something in it-a scrap of paper. Filby reached down and carefully picked it up. There was a brief note written on it, in small handwriting.

Dear Filby, it read. If you have found this note it means that I was successful in making contact with you. To make certain, I would appreciate it greatly if you would leave your signature at the bottom of this letter and hen send the machine forward by pressing gently on the lever. I have adjusted the controls so it will arrive here in the future. As you might guess, this is the very same model which I demonstrated on one of the last nights we were all together. Please tell the others-if you can-that I'm all right and not to worry. By my calculations ten years should have passed since I was able to finally repair this model. The Eloi helped. They've been very good to us-Weena and I-here at the end of Man's history. Weena and I have children now; perhaps they can be the ones to help the Eloi reclaim their place in the world, and Mankind's descendents can breathe free air again. I won't be coming back-not yet, anyway-but you and the others will always be in my thoughts. May you enjoy the new century, in the age when Men are still Human and able to create and build their futures.

Sincerely,

The Time Traveler

Filby nodded as he reread the note. As it so happened he did have a newfangled ballpoint pen, which he often carried with him for use in his work. Filby scratched his name on the paper, folded it up, placed it on the model's seat, and used the tip of his pen to push the small lever forward. Then he stood back as the machine hummed and winked out of existence.

Filby looked solemnly at the now-empty floor and walked out of the long-abandoned lab.

1919

"He was a curious chap," Filby mused as he and his wife ate dinner. "A brilliant mind, no doubt about that-but still, what he could have done if he'd remained here, where his ideas might have prevented the world from descending into the Morlocks and the Eloi!" Filby shook his head. "I hope he's happier now. Maybe he can do what he says-help the Eloi start from scratch. Still, it was all such a curious business."