Dr. Daniel Glenn knew he was in trouble when the error light on the time sync calibrator came on. The entire time navigation system relied upon orienting its vector relative to the time anchors that the inventor, Ron Barth, had embedded every few months in the current timeline.
As the time machine came to a stop, he secured it and emptied his pockets, assuring he had no anachronisms. He had one objective—establish the exact time so he could manually enter the differentiation to the nearest anchor, point the calibrator toward it, and orient his destination with some back-of-the envelope calculations.
He checked his watch, flipping open the fake dial, and noted that the synchronization index matched with the time machine. The watch was a replica of a cheap one made in the ’80s, but it was rigged with state-of-the-art time travel features.
Dan took a deep breath and opened the door. Woods. Way outside the boundaries of their control mechanisms. He should have arrived inside the secret time travel room in the basement of UNO’s science building, but it clearly hadn’t been built yet. At least he could hear traffic, hopefully Dodge Street if the location system was still working right.
He closed up the machine and walked toward the traffic, not far to go. When he broke from the woods he saw the steep stain-glassed peak of the First Christian Church Disciples of Christ sanctuary. He let out a growl of relief. He didn’t know how old it was, but the cars in the lot were at least as late as the ‘70s.
He decided against looking around the university because he would likely flounder around and make himself obvious, so he walked in the other direction toward 72nd street where there would be plenty of businesses, maybe a restaurant or a convenience store.
He passed a short stint of residential neighborhoods on each side, but it opened up into businesses that went as far as he could see. A Sinclair gas station with a green dinosaur logo was closed and boarded up across the street. The small office buildings still looked old, but the Wolf Brothers was brand-spanking new. A grocery store named ‘Hinky Dinky’ across the street made him chuff a laugh.
He saw the perfect place. A doughnut shop called ‘Dippy Donuts,’ a little, mustachioed, alpine German on the rotating sign, dunking a donut into an Irish-style mug almost as tall as he was. The sight of a go-go bar named ‘Heet’ next to it took him aback, hardly believing they’d ever had such a thing in the area.
The doughnut shop had windows from about knee high to the ceiling. A long, brown counter extended out from the register, the doughnut case behind it. A few customers sat on round, red-upholstered seats on silver poles that lined the counter on each side. A skinny fellow with black hair and a mustache picked at a cake doughnut and nursed a coffee mug like on the sign. Two policemen gabbed with their own coffee, and a man with a stetson read a paper.
A cigarette machine stood to the left of the door and a wire newspaper stand to the right. Dan entered, and a real bell next to the door startled him.
The sweet, bready smell reminded him of old bad habits. To his right was an entry to the back. Further right of that was a big brown doughnut with a mirror inside. Written in fancy calligraphy were the words: ‘As you wander on through live, brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.’
He grabbed one of the papers, the Omaha World Herald, and noted the date. May, 24, 1979.
“You spring a leak, tiger?” A short, very fat Greek woman, her accent a bit thick, came out from the back, a red smock with the Dippy Donuts logo.
“What can I get you?”
“Do you happen to have the time?”
“Sure, honey. She looked at her watch. Three fifty-five.”
Dan’s watch showed twelve forty-two. He quickly set it and thanked the lady, pushing open the door.
“You don’t want nothing?”
He tried to keep from rushing to avoid getting the policemen’s attention.
Dan turned around to see the source of the voice.
The man with the stetson stood before him. He took off his hat. Dr. Jacobson.
“I’m very sorry, old friend. I’ve been looking for you for months.”
Jacobson handed him a sync cartridge. “We got an alert just before you disappeared. You’re not going to be able to use the manual adjustments to get back, the machine’s too far out of alignment. Swap that with cartridge number six, and the calibrator can do the rest.
“Fantastic,” said Dan.
“I’ve got to get back to my machine. It’s quite a way. Daniel, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s really not a big deal. I’m good.”
“See you back at the lab.”
“Hey—how’d you find me?”
“That cartridge is rigged with emitters that will chirp signals to the anchors when you activate it. They’ll attenuate a little as they go, so they won’t be perfect, but it was enough for me to know about when to look. I’ve been combing a two-week, two-mile radius all this time. Today was the lucky day.”
“So you found me by using something that hasn’t happened yet, and only because you provided the means to me when you found me.”
Dan scoffed. “How did you know it would work?”
“I detected the signals.”
“But that means… ah, forget it. See you back at the lab.”