James led the blindfolded Helen out of the back door, across the garden and into the converted railway carriage he used as a workshop. There was a grating sound as he dragged an old stool across the floor and positioned it behind her. With his hands on her shoulders, he guided her into it. Once she was seated to his satisfaction, he moved across the workshop and began switching on various pieces of equipment. The usual hums and whines filled the air, and very many coloured lights began to blink, flash or just glow. James waited a few minutes, checked everything was working, then returned to Helen to remove the scarf he’d used as a blindfold.
He stood back triumphantly, waving the scarf like a banner. “What do you think?” he asked with a grin.
Helen looked at the various devices packed tightly on the stout bench, all linked together with a bundle of thick cables. Above them all was an item like a long electric heater element, but it wasn’t glowing. “It’s got lots of lights, and I’m seriously concerned about the electricity bill, and the equipment bill as well.”
“Don’t worry about that, the royalties from my last invention are rolling in. And don’t forget I have solar panels on the roof.”
“Ok, maybe I’ll be more impressed when I know what it is?”
“Can’t you tell?” he teased.
“It’s an extremely over-engineered workshop light?”
“No, it’s a time machine!”
“Really? Where’s the spinning wheel, or the huge pod thing and all the clocks going backwards?”
“It’s not that kind of time machine.”
“Oh,” Helen sounded disappointed. “I was hoping we could go back to last Monday and get the lottery numbers, that was one huge payout.”
“No, sorry, that’s not how it works.”
“What is it then?”
“It is a time machine, just not for travelling in time, which of course is impossible unless you count the fact, we’re travelling into the future one second at a time, but that’s a human contrivance. Anyway, time travel, by definition, is impossible, and, in my opinion, an oxymoron.”
Helen looked puzzled. “So, what does it do?”
James pulled over another stool, this one salvaged when their local pub shut down. “So, I was reading something online the other day. There’s this urban myth that some computer programmers have been able to steal money by rounding down transactions in customers’ accounts, then gathering those fractions of a penny into their own accounts. It’s only tiny amounts, but over millions of transactions it all adds up.”
“Yes, wasn’t there a film about it?” Helen asked.
“There’s been a few, I think. Anyway, I got to thinking I might be able to do the same thing with time. If I could collect time at the quantum level, we’re talking about nanoseconds here, I could gather them up and emit them locally. As you know, that’s a billionth of a second, but if I had a billion, I’d have gained a second.”
Helen laughed, “well, you can get a lot done in a second. Imagine if you had, say, three
“Hey, I didn’t do too bad last night.”
“I’m joking. What were you saying?”
“Ok, so this machine gathers up those nanoseconds that no one is using and adds them all together. It turns out there are a lot of people wasting a lot of time, even in this one small area.”
“Won’t people notice?”
“Would you notice if even a hundredth of a second went missing?”
“No, probably not.”
“Most of what I have so far is from just the houses around us, including ours, by the way. I’ve managed to tune the machine better and add more power to gather from a wider area. Once I switch the emitter on,” James pointed to the heating-element contraption, “it will create a bubble of time around us and we can use that time in a meaningful way. Or maybe just have fun with it. Once we’ve used it the time goes back into the general flow and no one will be any the wiser.”
“And what sort of amounts are we talking, minutes, hours?”
“If I can keep the efficiency up and the power flowing and extrapolating from previous results, around 23.8 hours per week.”
“Wow, as much as that? So, what can we do with it? If we can’t go anywhere, what’s it for.”
“It’s for us. We both spend a lot of time working, this will give us some time together.”
“What? You spent all that time and money building this just to spend more time with me?”
“Yes.” James grinned.
Helen grabbed James and pulled him into a hug. “You old fool. I love you.”
“I love you too, eight days a week.”