In recalling that first journey in the Time Machine, I will attempt to recount here the sensations I felt when travelling between one time period and another, even though such things may seem peripheral to the central matter of my narrative; in truth, I feel that record should be made for the benefit of those physicists who will come after. There can be no question that the events I am about to relate actually took place; no doubt the impressions were purely subjective, and have much in common with dreams or hallucinations, but I am still amazed by how vivid they appear.
My first sensation, after starting the electric current, was of being suddenly immersed in water. I blinked and saw that the Time Machine was gone, and I was alone and suspended in a lightless, watery place. It was like swimming in a dark, murky lake, with the memory of the womb and those primal seas from which the creatures that were our ancestors had emerged millions of years before. The tube from which I was breathing began to uncoil about me; looking for the place where the tube had been attached to the machine, I saw that it was now floating in darkness, perhaps connected to something out of sight (the water, you will understand, was too murky to see farther than a few feet). No glass panels held me back; I was free to go where I willed.
Of a sudden I felt a shock of disorientation. I had been moving through the water – though water is not the right word, since the substance was nearer cloudy ooze – in what seemed to be the direction the surface lay, mindful of the pressure on my lungs despite the breathing apparatus. Now I realised that in the direction I was headed there was endless watery murk; I could see no light to speak of, no surface separating water from air, and what I had taken for a lightening of the water was in fact a deeper, more nebulous darkness. Instead, righting myself, I kicked with all my might and hoped that through all this dark I would again behold sky above me.
I realised, at last, that somewhere in the far distance and directly above, a light was shining through the gloom. I began to swim towards it. It was true that a part of my fear had dissipated, and some of the exhilaration at finding myself in new surroundings returned. But now, as I thought about it, I realised that even if the surface of the water could be reached, what then? What if there was no end to the waters? The machine had disappeared: was it possible that the professor’s estimations of this new world, this river between Time’s shores, were too scant? Had he sent me to my death?
In any case, I kept swimming, all the while making sure that the mouthpiece of the pipe was attached to my lips. Separation from the tube would surely mean extinction. Some minutes passed. The light still seemed far away; above and below there was only the blue milky ooze. It seemed hopeless: I would eventually tire and sink towards oblivion.
But then I noticed that the light, once remote and faint, had indeed grown brighter. The realisation came to me: buoyancy was pushing me upwards, up towards the light, easing my own efforts. Nonetheless I did not want to remain idle: I pointed myself towards the light – at the horizon of this watery zone – and kicked harder and harder. Sure enough, the surface descended towards me.
The light began to bathe me in radiance, and it was then that I fancied I was floating up through air, as if hybrid of man and bird, like a primitive creature rising up out of its element and evolving towards the sky. All the time I was rising the tube was stretching out below me, uncoiling and uncoiling, still attached to some place in the remote and murky deeps. I dreaded that it would become taut and break away from my mouth, but it seemed the length was greater than I expected, for my movement did not slow down. It came to me then what the tube reminded me of: it was like a great umbilical cord, connecting me to the watery mother, to our origins in the primeval seas.
Strange that I remembered then the words of Father Gregory, my guardian and religious instructor as a child. He had said something of the sort. What was it? “Imagine a great umbilical cord, unsevered, stretching back through Time, connecting us to our first mother.”
I wondered how deep this sea was, the sea into which I had emerged, but I was unable to dwell on the thought; it had become increasingly clear that the light belonged to the rays of sunlight penetrating the surface. That was the last of it, because at that moment I broke the surface and entered the new element.
But whither the sea, and whither the sunlight? I found myself standing in the interior of the machine, tubes and wires surrounding me, my mouth still clinging to the funnel. My body was dry, though as I looked down I saw water draining away through grills in the machine’s base. I had a moment of sudden panic – where was the key? I reached into my pocket, and thank the heavens it was still there. For several minutes I just stood there, stock still, feeling like a traveller who has just returned from some wondrous journey in an uninhabited region of the earth. Then I tried to peer beyond the glass. I could see a dim light shining, but little else.
Taking the key from my pocket, I unlocked the door and stepped out of the machine.
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