Quiet Please: The Future of History
CLIFTON - A bit overemotional, deeply in love but in a somewhat narcissistic way.
REGINALD - A bit of a grump and very self-confident, with some justification. Looks down on others.
ELIZABETH - Well-meaning, selfless, not always as assertive as she could be. Too in love with Clifton to realize he's a little bit of a controlling jerk.
JOSE - Employee of Reginald, who Reginald basically treats as an object and doesn't value the contributions of. Formal and respectful on the surface to the boss in order to keep his job, but slips in some sarcastic over-formality out of disdain, knowing Reginald is too caught up in himself to notice.
PRISHA - A physicist who went on a date with Reginald.
CHAPPELL: Quiet, please. ... Quiet, please.
SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR
ANNOUNCER: QuietPlease.org presents "Quiet, Please!" which is written by and features Paul Knierim. "Quiet, Please!" for tonight is called "The Future of History."
SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... END
SFX: soft nature sounds and light rain?
CLIFTON: I'll bet you're wondering what this machine is and what it's doing in a cemetery.
REGINALD: If you want to know about it, you'd better ask me. I built the thing.
CLIFTON: But it doesn't really matter how it works. Nobody will understand that anyway. It's enough to know that it does work.
What is it?
SFX: Clifton taps the machine for emphasis
CLIFTON: A time machine.
REGINALD: It uses a quantum negative mass fluid, oscillating on a frequency that flips a single occupant to another part of their personal timeline, in a defined manner that brings --
CLIFTON: Nobody cares, Reggie. Just sounds like a jumble of sciency words.
REGINALD: *sighs* And I suppose people care about what *you* have to say?
CLIFTON: Of course they do. I have the human story here, the emotional story people can relate to. And I'm the one who set events in motion -- who's setting events in motion.
REGINALD: [sarcastic] I'm just a man from 1985 who built the world's first time machine and took it 37 years into the future. Nothing interesting there.
CLIFTON: Glad we agree. Anyway, I always come out here to Union Cemetery on new year's day. Even when it's raining like this. It's a gentle, peaceful place -- an oasis of the past. Almost outside time, if you think about it. Below your feet there's a hundred and seventy years of our neighbors, from the gold rush days onward.
REGINALD: But you're not here for the hundred and seventy year old graves.
SFX: footsteps approaching on grass
ELIZABETH: [mildly irritated] I thought I'd find you here, Clifton.
CLIFTON: I know you don't approve, dear. [aside to listener] This is my wife, Elizabeth. Just as well that she's here now, because she's the center of this whole story.
ELIZABETH: I don't want to be the center. I'd rather be a footnote.
CLIFTON: That's not your choice, dear.
ELIZABETH: But shouldn't it be?
REGINALD: Hold on, I think they're getting confused already. Let's get back to telling the story. Since I'm not interesting enough, Clifton was about to explain why he comes here on the first of January every year.
CLIFTON: I'm visiting a grave.
ELIZABETH: My grave. He's visiting my grave.
SFX: ominous short sting
REGINALD: Except it's not actually here. It's just a patch of grass.
CLIFTON: But it will have been here for five years if I don't go back.
SFX: longer ominous music
ELIZABETH: It's a confusing sensation, looking at a patch of grass and knowing you'll have been buried there for five years shortly.
REGINALD: [sadly] I didn't anticipate this when I made the machine. It's all Clifton's fault though, none of this would've happened if he hadn't stolen it. I mean, if he weren't about to steal it.
ELIZABETH: Let's try to explain this from the beginning for all these patient people. For me the beginning was five years ago. Cliff and I were dating.
CLIFTON: It was new year's eve and you came by my place for a little private celebration, just the two of us.
SFX: footsteps and door open
SFX: embrace, kissing
ELIZABETH: Cliff, is something wrong? You're acting like you haven't seen me in years!
CLIFTON: [emotional] You don't know how right you are!
ELIZABETH: [concerned] What's wrong?
CLIFTON: Have you noticed I look different today? Older? More gray hair, new lines on my forehead? Look at me closely, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH: Honestly Cliff you look fine, don't worry about it. We all have days where we look older.
CLIFTON: You see this little scar on my left palm? You've never noticed it before, because it wasn't there when you saw me Tuesday.
ELIZABETH: [becoming confused] I... must've forgotten it?
What are you trying to tell me?
CLIFTON: I'm not the same man I was the last time we met.
ELIZABETH: You're starting to scare me, Cliff.
CLIFTON: I've come from the future. Five years in the future. To save your life.
ELIZABETH: [confuzeled] You... to... WHAT?!
CLIFTON: When you drive home tonight, right about 2 in the morning, when you're coming up out of the canyon on 193, there's an accident. Drunk driver. Your car spins and goes over the edge. They fish your body out of the river tomorrow afternoon. Worst day of my life. I've come back to make you stay tonight so it doesn't happen.
ELIZABETH: [laughing] Honestly, you don't have to make up crazy stories to get me to stay the night.
CLIFTON: So you'll stay? Promise me.
ELIZABETH: [lovingly] I promise.
CLIFTON: Thank god! That's the weight of the world off my shoulders.
SFX: happyish bridge music
SFX: cemetery background noise fades in
CLIFTON: And it worked. None of that 'fate' crap you hear in science fiction stories where you can't change the past or something worse happens. I saved her life.
No, I didn't return to the present -- why would I rob myself of those happy days by skipping over them? I stayed in the past, and when I tried the machine again months later, planning just a brief excursion, it didn't work.
REGINALD: [condescendingly] The fluids have to be replaced every couple of weeks. Maybe you shouldn't steal things you know nothing about.
CLIFTON: So I was stuck five years ago, but not the slightest bit bothered by that. Elizabeth and I married and we lived happily ever after.
ELIZABETH: Until now. Now something worse happens.
CLIFTON: [assertively] We'll go on living happily ever after, even if ever after isn't as long as we thought.
ELIZABETH: We can't, Cliff. It's selfish. We need to do what's right.
CLIFTON: It's the only way. A world without you in it doesn't deserve to exist, dear. [sighs] Do you see any way out of this, Reggie? Some way to make everything right?
REGINALD: The way things were before was right, and that's the only way to fix this.
CLIFTON: It wasn't right for me, and it wasn't right for Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH: I'll take it. Better to be dead than to be the reason nothing ever lives again.
CLIFTON: That's a bit of a dramatic way to put it.
ELIZABETH: Is it?
CLIFTON: The universe will live with us.
ELIZABETH: For five years.
CLIFTON: Yes. Who's to say the future is better and the past should be obliterated? Who's to say those five years aren't more deserving of having life again than whatever would've followed?
REGINALD: [irritated and lecturey] Nobody's *supposed* to say, but now you've set yourself up as the arbiter who gets to say the future of the entire universe -- or lack thereof.
CLIFTON: [scoffs] You're one to talk. You built this machine that breaks causality and controls time itself. Why did you do that, if not to control the fate of the universe?
REGINALD: [incredulous] Who could live with knowing he can build a time machine, without actually building it?!?
ELIZABETH: Mr. Iverson, where did you get the idea for a time machine?
REGINALD: Well, it was last autumn -- I mean, 1984. Honestly, the whole thing came to me one evening over dinner.
SFX: flashback music bridge
SFX: restaurant sounds
PRISHA: You seem to dabble in a lot of fields, Reggie.
REGINALD: True enough. I may be an engineer but I like to work on electronics, do some welding, study physics and fluid dynamics. There's ideas that come to you when you dabble in a bunch of stuff that might never occur to you if you're more narrowly focused. How about you, Prisha?
PRISHA: I stick pretty close to theoretical physics. There's plenty of room in there to be creative, to come up with thought experiments and explore related philosophical issues.
REGINALD: [playfully] Like time travel paradoxes?
REGINALD: [playfully] Impress me. Could you design a time machine?
PRISHA: Well, I just think about the physics side of it. And from a physics point of view, I know this is a minority opinion, but I think it's possible as long as you remain within your own timeline. You could switch places with another version of yourself and it wouldn't violate any physical laws.
REGINALD: [intrigued] So you could go back or ahead in your own life but no further? What sort of materials would you need?
PRISHA: [thoughtfully] Theoretically, you'd need a negative mass with a density that can hold and store tachyons. And some sort of translation matrix enzyme.
REGINALD: Maybe a tetrahydroxicate precipitate?
PRISHA: Yeah, maybe.
REGINALD: But how would you determine the date you travel to?
PRISHA: The machine could adjust the relative fluid mixtures to determine the distance to travel along the operator's timeline. We have biological signatures of the passage of time. Theoretically, it's almost as easy as counting tree rings.
REGINALD: [excited] You know, I think I can actually build this thing!
PRISHA: [sarcastic] Great! Use it to jump ahead to when they bring our food, we've been waiting forever.
SFX: musical transition back to Reginald's narration
REGINALD: And I did build it. It took 8 months, but it was remarkably easy considering nobody had even imagined it possible before my flash of insight. By July of '85 I was ready to try it, and I set the machine for one day in the past.
SFX: machine energizes and de-energizes
SFX: footsteps enter
JOSE: Mister Iverson? But I just saw you in the other room, how did you get here??
REGINALD: Jose! Go fetch me and bring me to me!
JOSE: [confused] Excuse me, sir?
REGINALD: Never mind, I'll get me myself.
SFX: quickly crossing room and opening door
REGINALD: I'm not in there.
Oh yeah, Prisha warned me I'd be trading places. Can't meet myself. A shame, that... it'd be nice to converse with somebody on my level. Odd I don't remember going a day in the future yesterday though.
JOSE: I take it you got the machine working then, sir? When are you from?
REGINALD: [dismissively] Tomorrow, I'm from tomorrow. I wanted a short hop to test it out. Now I need to test a change, some small irrelevant change...
SFX: fiddling with equipment on workbench
JOSE: [with a hint of sarcasm] You could rearrange the plants.
REGINALD: [repeating idea as if own] I'll rearrange the plants! Jose, move the peace lilly to the corner and put the spider plant on the cabinet.
SFX: sounds of Jose rearranging plants
JOSE: [dripping with resentment] There, *you've* done it sir.
REGINALD: [oblivious to the resentment, excited] Great! I'll go back to tomorrow and verify their new positions.
SFX: fiddling with switches or typing on old keyboard
SFX: machine energizes
REGINALD: [narrating] But when I got back, the peace lilly was on the cabinet and the spider plant was in the corner. That threw me for a loop. I went back and tried it again, same result. On the third trial I stayed in yesterday for a full day... but when the moment arrived that I'd originally gone back in time from, suddenly the plants reverted to their original positions.
SFX: workshop background. maybe a little metal fiddling
JOSE: What do you mean 'original positions' sir?
REGINALD: Do you remember when I came back in time yesterday and had you move the plants?
JOSE: [barely suppresses outright laughter] No... is that really what you built a time machine for?
REGINALD: It was a *test*, a scientific test. But somehow now it's like I never went.
JOSE: You didn't go... I've been right here all day Mr. Iverson, I know you haven't tried the machine yet.
REGINALD: That's right, this time I didn't go. Hmm. So whenever I relive the moment I time traveled, I have to repeat the time travel to retain the effects.
JOSE: Kind of a useless invention then, sir? If you have to get stuck in a time loop?
REGINALD: But the two times I used the machine to jump ahead just past the moment I traveled from, that should've worked! I wonder...
Ah! I think I have it! Both times I jumped back to the present, I switched places with a version of myself that wasn't motivated to come back and make the same change, because it'd already been done! Those versions of me would want to progress to change something else or go somewhen else. Thus allowing my change to revert.
JOSE: If you say so, sir.
REGINALD: Damn me and my insatiable scientific thirst for progress for thwarting my plans! [chuckles]
JOSE: I could have a word with you, sir.
REGINALD: Best just draw a line under that experiment. I've had enough of yesterday, not going to waste my life revisiting it. It's time for a real trip.
SFX: fiddling with switches or typing on old keyboard
REGINALD: Setting it for the year two thousand and twenty two now.
JOSE: Is that in your lifetime, Mr. Iverson?
REGINALD: Seems so!
JOSE: Is it safe, sir? What if this room is different? What if there's a different building here in 2022, what if you come out inside a wall or something?
REGINALD: Oh, yeah. [pause for thought] I'll set it to materialize in the cemetery, that'll never change.
SFX: fiddling with switches or typing on old keyboard
REGINALD: I should be back momentarily, Jose, no matter how long I spend in the future.
JOSE: But won't the other you be...
SFX: machine energizing drowns out end of Jose's line
SFX: cemetery background with the rain.
SFX: machine de-energizes
CLIFTON: [cheerfully, knowingly] Hello there.
SFX: several muddy footsteps
REGINALD: [pompously] Greetings. I am Reginald Iverson, the inventor of time travel. What year is it?
CLIFTON: New year's day 2022, just as you planned. I've been waiting for you.
REGINALD: You... what? Oh, I suppose my first trip to the future would be well known by now. Actually there ought to be a whole reception committee, why's it just you?
CLIFTON: [sarcastically] I guess your fan club didn't want to get wet, Reggie.
REGINALD: [obliviously] Tell me, did you learn about me in school? Is time travel common place these days?
CLIFTON: You're the first I've ever heard of it.
REGINALD: But... you were waiting for me?
CLIFTON: That's right. Because I've met you before. Five years ago to me. Right now to you and everyone else.
REGINALD: You've... wait... what?
CLIFTON: I stole your machine, I made a certain change to history, and I'm about to do it again.
[SFX: music bridge]
REGINALD: That brings you up to date.
CLIFTON: Does everyone understand where we're at now?
ELIZABETH: They have questions. So do I.
CLIFTON: There's not much time, but I'll take one of yours, dear.
ELIZABETH: Isn't this a separate timeline, because you're already saying and doing different things than last time Mr. Iverson arrived? So how do you know I'll be dead in this timeline?
CLIFTON: This is more up Reggie's alley. It's a matter of conservation of matter.
REGINALD: The law of conversation of matter-energy, to be precise. The universe doesn't surrender it easily, even with time travel. You can change who you are the second time, but there has to be only one of you at any given time. If Clifton doesn't go back, the old version of him he traded places with goes back and things play out as before. And there are no separate timelines, no alternate universes, just one convoluted timeline with some twists.
CLIFTON: Just where is that old version of me I switched places with, by the way?
REGINALD: Tomorrow, if you'll let tomorrow come.
CLIFTON: There isn't going to be a tomorrow. Or anything past [checks watch] seventy seconds from now.
ELIZABETH: [finally working up some assertiveness] We can't let you do this. You don't have the right.
SFX: pistol gunshot
CLIFTON: Stay back, all of you, or I won't be aiming at the ground next time!
ELIZABETH: [confidently] You wouldn't shoot me, Cliff.
CLIFTON: I don't want to.
ELIZABETH: Then step away from the machine.
CLIFTON: But if I have to kill you to save your life, I will. If I let you stop me, you'll have been dead for five years in a minute. I can't let that happen, can't let our happiness be erased.
REGINALD: [angrily] Clifton, the entire universe is at stake here! Every creature in the whole damn universe is going to be trapped in an endless five year loop just because you can't let go of a woman who's begging you to let her die!
ELIZABETH: [with some panic] 30 seconds left. What can we do?
REGINALD: [angrily] Now, all together, rush him!
SFX: a hail of gunshots, grunts and groans and collapsing bodies, as not just Elizabeth and Reginald but also the audience is shot
CLIFTON: [emotionally overwhelmed by shooting his wife and the enormity of what he's doing] Have you ever read The Great Gatsby? I can't help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous closing line right now: So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
SFX: time machine energizes
SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR
ANNOUNCER: The title of tonight's "Quiet, Please!" story was "The Future of History." It was written by Paul Knierim and the man who spoke to you, Clifton, was Paul Knierim.
CHAPPELL: And John Alan Gaunce played Reginald Iverson. Virginia Hargrove was Elizabeth. [Gary Wallen?] played Jose. Lindsay Townsend was Prisha. Now, for a word about next week, the ghost of Wyllis Cooper.
COOPER: Next time we'll take a little trip to San Francisco, where a group of very odd people are on a very odd journey. I call it "Transit".
CHAPPELL: And so, until next week at this same time, I am quietly yours, Ernest Chappell.
SFX: MUSIC ... THEME ... END