“Discovering Time Travel” By Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari

Discovery Time Travel


A brightly lit, white walled room.

Two men are sitting, facing each other across a legless table.

One man is dressed in a white coverall, the other is wearing a black uniform.

One man has a story to tell, the other is eager to listen.

The blue chairs they are sitting on also have no legs.

Everything in the room defies gravity.

The story the man in white is about to tell defies logic.


“Please state your name and official designation for the record.”

“Dr. Kehinde Obaseki. GND57903. Research Scientist, Gondwanan Institute of Light.”

“Former Research Scientist, you mean.”

“Yes, of course … former.”

“Okay Doc’, tell me the truth. Where is the inertium? We both know you took it. We …”

“I have never denied that.”

“Okay then, where is it?”

“It’s lost in time.”

“Lost in time? …. You think this is funny?”

“I’m not trying to be funny. It’s the truth.”

“Okay then, give me a blow by blow account. Tell me how did nine ounces of the most precious metal known to man get lost in time?”

“First and foremost, inertium is not a metal. It’s a xenide series acatenon.”

“Not everyone has a Ph.D.”

“Apparently not.”

“Okay, correction taken, it’s not a metal but where is it?”

“Four years ago, I received an encoded message from my uncle, Dr. Michael Obaseki.”

“The Astrogeologist?”

“Yes. He was about to complete his tour of duty on the Leviathan. They had spent the last six months strip mining the Jovian moon, Europa, of its Earth-like minerals and like we both know, they never made it back home.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“You said the message was encoded.”

“What? … emm … yes, I decoded it using a key we had agreed upon before he left.”

“Why the secrecy?”

“My uncle had many enemies.”

“Really, a scientist?”

“Of course, people trying to steal his ideas, people trying to discredit his ideas, people who thought his ideas were dangerous … believe me, scientists of my uncle’s calibre have many enemies.”

“I see.”

“Anyway, the message contained a summary of his thesis on the feasibility of time travel.”

“I thought your uncle specialised in interplanetary mining?”

“Yes, he did. But that was just his job, a means to an end. His main passion had always been time travel.”

“Which is impossible.”

“Was impossible.”

“Doc, even the best Quantum-Chronologists in the world all agree that time travel is impossible.”

“They are wrong!”

“Okay, calm down, did you show this thesis to anyone else?”

“Of course.”

“And … ”

“They laughed at it. The narrow-minded fools said it had too many holes … but they were wrong!”

“Okay then, tell me about this thesis. Now remember, speak English. Not everyone …”

“Has a PhD, I know.”

“Just saying.”

“Alright it’s like this, we all know Albert Einstein was wrong about many things. Time and science have dispelled most of his theories and made him a bit of a laughing stock. But crucially, old Albert was right about one thing, E=mc2. If an object can travel faster than the speed of light, it will no longer exists as particulate matter, it will cross the relativity bridge, shed all its mass and exist purely as energy. Energy as pure as light. Thus, energy that can travel unhindered through time.”

“Okay, but what does this have to do with your uncle’s thesis?”

“Everything. You see, ever since a German rocket broke the sound barrier in 1943, many attempts had been made to break the light barrier but they had all been unsuccessful. Even after almost 300 years of space travel the light barrier remained unbroken. The reason for this was simple, an object in motion cannot travel faster than light. The amount of energy needed to propel an object faster than the speed of light is virtually unattainable.”

“So you agree that time travel is impossible?”

“Was impossible. We have actually been observing time travel for over 200 years. As far back as 2013, many subatomic particles in the Large Hadron Collider were observed ‘jumping through time’, disappearing and reappearing as they travelled faster than the speed of light then slowed down. The only problem was scientists at the time didn’t really know what they were looking at, so they dismissed the jumps in time they observed as anomalies, misreadings caused by their computer’s inability to keep pace with the hyper-accelerated particles. But they were wrong, those jumps in time were the first instances of time travel ever recorded.”

“But surely there is a difference between particles disappearing and reappearing in a collider and actually travelling through time.”

“Actually, there isn’t. If a particle no matter how small can cross the relativity bridge, it’s only a matter of time before that process is replicated on a larger scale.”

“And you have replicated it?”

“Yes.”

“Then why do all the Quantum-Chronologists at the Arusha Institute still say time travel is impossible?”

“It’s like dinosaurs and spheres.”

“What?”

“People around the world have been digging up dinosaur bones since the time of the ancient Egyptians but blinded by dogmatism and superstition, they were always thought to be the bones of dragons or some other mythical creature. It wasn’t until the 1950s that most scientists and the general public accepted the fact that giant reptiles walked the earth millions of years before we even existed. Likewise, every day we look to the sky and see spheres, the sun is a sphere, the moon is a sphere, the planets closest to us are all spheres yet it took us almost 5000 years of geography and astronomy to finally accept that the earth is a sphere.”

“Hmm …”

“So, you see, evidence of something’s existence can stare us in the face for a very long time before we accept it.”

“Okay, but you still haven’t told me about your uncle’s thesis.”

“It’s simple, it’s like testing Vimanas.”

“Vimanas?”

“You see, when Vimanas and other flying cars are being tested in wind tunnels, gusts of wind travelling faster than the speed of sound are poured over them until they give off a sonic boom, indicating that the Vimanas, though stationary, had broken the sound barrier. The crux of my uncle’s thesis is- if a stationary Vimana placed in a wind tunnel and bombarded with gusts of wind can break the sound barrier, then maybe a stationary object placed in a photorium and bombarded with tachyon lasers can break the light barrier.”

“Tach …”

“Tachyon lasers are lasers that travel faster than the speed of light. The only problem was tachyons travel so fast and give off so much energy that they completely denature everything in their path. Steel, lead, gold, everything …”

“Except inertium.”

“Exactly. Inertium is the least reactive and least radioactive element in the world- these qualities make it the only substance that can withstand large doses of tachyons without being denatured. That’s why my uncle sent me his thesis, he knew I worked at the Institute of Light, one of the few places on earth with both a photorium and a laser powerful enough to produce tachyons. So, all I had to do was get some inertium and prove his thesis right.”

“But of course, inertium isn’t that easy to come by. I mean it’s worth over 10 billion units an ounce, it’s not exactly the type of thing people leave lying around.”

“Yes, and obtaining it almost proved impossible until I …em … received some help.”

“From who?”

“Dr. Emalaba.”

“The Space Federation’s Assistant Director?”

“Yes.”

“But he said he didn’t help you, he said you just went crazy that night and forced him to open the vault at laserpoint.”

“I understand why he is denying his involvement now that everything has … em … gone south but I can assure you he was not at laserpoint when he opened the vault.”

“So he opened the vault and just handed you nine ounces of inertium?”

“Yes.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he believed in my uncle’s thesis. Last year, when I gave a presentation at the Space Federation, he was one of the few people who didn’t burst out laughing or subject my uncle’s thesis to ridicule. So, after the presentation, he approached me and said he had been my uncle’s classmate at Arusha and maybe we should get together sometime and talk.”

“The way he remembers it, it was you who approached him. He said you were badgering him about tachyons or something.”

“It was a cocktail party. People were moving around. We probably bumped into each other. What difference does it make who approached who?”

“Doc, believe me, it makes all the difference at this stage. It’s your word against his so I have to point out all discrepancies.”

“Okay, fine, I approached him. I saw him at the party after the presentation and introduced myself.”

“Good. I just want to make sure cos’ you know it’s all on record.”

“I understand.”

“Good. So, did you meet up after the party?”

“Yes. I called him a few days later and we met up and talked about everything except my uncle’s thesis. We talked about life, family, football, cyber-chess, tsunamis, you know, everything except the elephant in the room. It was only when the Leviathan came up that we finally began talking about my uncle. At first, we swapped stories about his life. I told him how when I was growing up it took me a long time to realise that my mother’s brother, ‘Uncle Mike,’ who was always goofing around in our house and the world famous astrogeologist I was always hearing about were the same person. Then he told me what ‘Micholo’ was like back in their student days at Arusha, far from being the model student I had always imagined, it turns out my uncle was a bit of a lout and troublemaker in his early years.”

“Even great scientists were once schoolboys.”

“Yeah, schoolboys doing the most juvenile, irresponsible things. Anyway, it wasn’t until … I think … our third meeting. That we began talking about my uncle’s work. Then we began meeting regularly, you know, talking and building trust until we came up with a plan to experimentally prove his thesis right.”

“What was the plan?”

“It was simple. We agreed to wait until the Unity Day holidays when everyone would have gone home and I would have the laser and the photorium to myself then he would open the Space Federation’s vault and hand me a few ounces of inertium to use for the experiment.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah … basically … you know he had the codes and everything.”

“Really? The Assistant Director of the Gondwanan Space Federation just agreed to open one of the most secure vaults in the world and hand you 90 billion units worth of government property. Really? You really expect me to believe that?”

“Believe it or not, that’s what happened.”

“Well he remembers it differently. He said after befriending him for five months, you finally lured him to the Space Federation on a holiday and threatened to vaporize him if he didn’t open the vault.”

“Why don’t you check the cameras?”

“Doc, we both know you disabled the cameras before calling him.”

“I never touched the cameras.”

“You didn’t need to. The last recording available shows you walking into the building, then you must have used some kind of jamming device because all the cameras stopped working.”

“Have you thought maybe it’s Dr. Emalaba who disabled the cameras?”

“It’s a possibility but there are more fingers pointing at you than him … Alright, after he gave you the inertium, willingly or unwillingly, then what?”

“We took a Vimana to the Institute of Light and carried out the experiment.”

“We? Did Dr. Emalaba go with you?”

“No.”

“But you said we. What do you mean ‘we’?”

“My uncle and I.”

“Your uncle who died in the Leviathan was with you at the photorium?”

“He was there is spirit.”

“Spirit? That’s a word you rarely hear people use these days.”

“He did most of the work, I can’t take all the credit.”

“Okay, so you’re just being modest not crazy? Cos’ I know you’re not crazy, you passed your psych evaluation and everything.”

“Of course I did!”

“Okay, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t building an insanity defence.”

“Of course not!”

“Okay, go on.”

“I … I arrived at the Institute and placed the inertium in the photorium … inertium is a beautiful thing. Black as space. In fact, if you look at it long enough you can almost see space in it. The rarest of elements. Completely unreactive and unradioactive, it was perfect for the experiment.”

“And expensive.”

“Yes, of course. Its value stems from its rarity.”

“So, where is it?”

“I left it in the photorium then I went back to the control room where I turned the laser on and began bombarding the inertium with tachyons. The laser beams were travelling so fast that they were invisible to the naked eye. At first, the only indication that tachyons were travelling through the photorium were the sounds and sparks they made as they ricocheted off the walls.”

“The tachyons were damaging the photorium?”

“No, not yet, the photorium was built to withstand hyper-photovoltaic bombardment.”

“But not for long?”

“Yes, it took a little longer than I had anticipated.”

“How long?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

“And it says here in the manual that the photorium was designed to withstand five.”

“Ideally, but as soon as I began the experiment I couldn’t stop. It’s not everyday one has nine ounces of inertium in his possession.”

“Even when the photorium was glowing red hot and the Institute’s alarms went off, warning you to evacuate immediately because the energy released by the tachyons was threatening to bring down not just the photorium but the entire Institute with you in it?”

“It was a risk we were willing to take.”

“Sounds suicidal to me.”

“It was worth the risk because just as I was about to lose my nerve and turn off the laser, there was a brief but dazzling flash of light ….”

“Then all the cameras in the Institute mysteriously went off again. Doc, it’s either cameras just stop recording around you or you used a jamming device to stop the Institute’s cameras from recording your activities that night.”

“I never used a jamming device.”

“Then why did the cameras stop recording? Or do you want to blame this one on Dr. Emalaba again?”

“No. It was the EMP.”

“What?”

“The EMP, the electromagnetic pulse that accompanied the flash of light knocked out all the equipment in the lab. The lasers, the light, the cameras, everything. Only the UPS-backed alarms kept blaring in the darkness that reigned between the flash and the restoration of emergency power. Then when the power was restored, I looked into the photorium …”

“And?”

“It was damaged but empty, confirming my uncle’s thesis.”

“How does … I mean where was?”

“The inertium? Gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yes, you see, the flash of light was an optic boom, an indication that the inertium, though stationary, had broken the light barrier, crossed the relativity bridge, shed all its mass and travelled unhindered through time.”

“Really? You really expect me to believe that? I mean I may not have a PhD but …”

“It’s the truth.”

“Okay, then where is it?”

“What?”

“The inertium. Did it travel to the future or the past?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Okay, let me get this straight, you somehow found a way to transport nine ounces of inertium through time but you don’t know where you transported it to?”

“That’s why we need to carry out more experiments!”

“More! … Ohh, so you need even more inertium? Look Doc, we know you used the flash of light as a distraction to take out the inertium from the photorium. If you just … ”

“Are you joking!? Even the Mercury Rover, the most heat resistant robot in the world couldn’t have entered the photorium so soon after it was bombarded with tachyons. Did you even consider that?”

“Then maybe the inertium was never in the photorium. Maybe the space-black brick we saw you placing in the tunnel was leadium or some other inertium-like alloy.”

“It wasn’t leadium. It wasn’t xenium. It wasn’t acatenium. It was inertium! How many times do I have to say it!?”

“Say it as many times as you like, it doesn’t make it true, neither is your story about an EMP accompanying the flash of light, that’s rather convenient since we both know that most jamming devices disrupt signals by emitting EMPs.”

“You are right many jamming devices emit EMPs but I can assure you on that night, that EMP was produced by an optic boom.”

“Alright, what happened next? After the power came back on and you saw the empty photorium, then what?”

“That was when your fellow GIPU agents stormed the building, took me into custody and accused me of theft, assault, battery and all those other charges.”

“You know it was Dr. Emalaba who turned you in? He said you whacked him unconscious after he opened the vault so when he came to, he immediately called the GIPU agents who apprehended you.”

“Like I said before, I don’t blame him for denying his involvement now that …”

“You really don’t like Dr. Emalaba, do you?”

“What?”

“Dr. Emalaba, you really don’t like him.”

“What are you talking about? He was my uncle’s friend, he …”

“Yes, I know, you said so before but what you failed to mention was they were no longer friends at the time of your uncle’s death.”

“Yes, they had some disagreements before he left but that was a long time ago, that …”

“Some disagreements? Well that’s putting it mildly, according to most reports, they had the fallout of the century, name calling, discrediting each other’s ideas, patent disputes, accusations of plagiarism, blackmail and libel, I mean you said it yourself, scientists of your uncle’s calibre have many enemies. You only failed to mention that Dr. Emalaba was one of them.”

“This has nothing to do with him.”

“But it does. In fact, I think it has everything to do with him cos’ when your uncle first mentioned his work on time travel, it was Dr. Emalaba who went about discrediting his ideas and making a mockery of his work and his acts of libel were so successful that they made your uncle a laughing stock at the Federation.”

“That was a long time ago. This has nothing to do with him.”

“Ohh, but it does cos’ rumour has it that as soon as Dr. Emalaba became Assistant Director, he got your uncle fired from the Space Federation, that’s why he had to take the job on the Leviathan. You idolised your uncle and I’m sure when you heard the Leviathan had collided with an asteroid, you were angry?”

“Yes, I was but …”

“You blamed Dr. Emalaba for his death?”

“No!”

“You wanted revenge!”

“NO!!! I’ve told you he has nothing to do with it! I can’t believe it, I’ve just made the most significant scientific breakthrough since the isolation of graphene and instead being celebrated, I’m here answering stupid questions!”

“Celebrated? Ohh, so you deserve a medal?”

“Yes!”

“For what, for the greatest act of vandalism in human history or for the greatest lie ever told?”

“Vandalism? What are you talking about?”

“Ohh, you don’t know? You destroyed the Institute. You burnt out the laser and damaged the photorium beyond repair. Three trillion units worth of government property had to be written off as a direct consequence of your stunt.”

“I … emm … I …”

“Let me guess, you didn’t know. Well don’t worry another Institute is being built near Agadez.”

“So the experiment can be replicated?”

“Really? You really think the Institute’s council is going to risk three trillion units worth of equipment again because you believe in time travel? Really?”

“I …”

“You destroyed three trillion units worth of government property just to get back at one man. I mean, that’s the only rational explanation, isn’t it? All this talk of spirits, time travel and tachyons, it’s all just a cover for vengeance. Petty vengeance. Stealing the inertium and destroying the photorium was your warped way of punishing Dr. Emalaba for your uncle’s death, wasn’t it? You …”

“It had nothing to do with him. I would have carried out the experiment no matter who was the Assistant Director.”

“But I’m sure you are happy he is no longer the AD?’’

“He …’’

“Ohh, you don’t know? Well, he has been replaced, accused of everything from incompetence to aiding and abetting your crimes. You should have seen him, he was completely devastated, broken, talking to himself, the man is on suicide watch … Doc’, do you understand me? It’s over. You’ve won. You’ve proven your point. You had your revenge. Now for the last time, where is the damned inertium?!”

“I’ve told you …”

“And please don’t say it’s lost in time. I’ve had enough of that, we both know time travel is impossible.”

“I …”

“Look Doc’, if you give back the inertium I promise, I’ll pull every string I can, we’ll even let you enter an insanity plea and you’ll serve only twelve years in Sector 2. I promise. But if you continue like this, if you keep withholding the inertium, I really don’t think you can survive Sector 5.”

“Then we have nothing else to say.”

“We?”

“Yes, my uncle and I have nothing else to say. We know we will be vindicated in time.”

“Your uncle? Doc’, don’t tell me you a member of one of these strange afterlife cults. Doc’ … Doc’ … Okay you leave me with no choice but to recommend that you be transferred to Sector 5.”


The man in black rose from his chair and walked toward the door, ending the session.

The door slid open.

The man in black left the room while the man in white buried his face in his palms.


Five years later.

Long after the man in white had been transferred to Sector 5.

A space-black brick materialised in an abandoned building, in the open-air ruins that used to be the Institute of Light.

A small child playing hide-and-seek ran into the ruins, picked it up and examined it for a while before throwing it away.

To him, it was just another odd looking stone.


Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari is a full time writer who lives in Nigeria and divides his time between Lagos and Benin. He attended the 2013 farafina writers workshop and has been shortlisted for many prose and poetry awards, including the 2012 creative alliance short story prize. He is currently working on his first novel.