Return to the Stone Age: A Short Story in Honor of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Return to the Stone Age

By George S. Svokos

Copyright September 2014

The young corporate executive smiled wolfishly in his mahogany paneled and sumptuously appointed office. It was a dog eat dog world, and he would be doing the eating, he thought to himself as he puffed contentedly on his quite illegal Cuban cigar, and leaned back in his all camel-leather chair. Illegal? Laws were for the “common” people, the masses, the hoi-polloi, the lower castes of society. Which, to him, meant most of humanity: they were after all, little more than talking animals to him (or “dogs” to be “eaten.”) Such thoughts as legality rarely troubled him. He was the young heir to a massive corporation – the deceptively simply named “Time Travel Corporation” or TTC. His father had started a travel agency some fifty years before. Now the agency was a multi-billion dollar consortium. The corporate executive was wondering when that doddering old fool of a father of his would finally croak. He poured himself another expensive French brandy and continued his ruminations about his father. It was he, not his father who had turned this little “mom and pop” style travel agency into a mighty consortium. What did the old fool know about modern technology? Especially the new and highly experimental (but promising) “Chronology Dilation Device” that his engineers were perfecting in secret. Ever since string theory had connected general relativity with quantum mechanics, the corporate executive, even as boy harbored thoughts of time travel. Screw the world, now he had eleven dimensions in which to travel. What if he could go back in time to say 1928 just before the stock market crash and bought out all the stocks that would eventually rebound after the war? He’d be a trillionaire, not just a billionaire. There were enough of those in the world already. And after all, what was life all about besides the money – mountains of it as far as the eye could see. He dreamed of shitting on a 24-carat solid gold toilet bowl that wiped his ass for him. Why, the Federal Reserve banks would have to print new currency just to feed his bank accounts. Especially those numbered Swiss accounts the Government knew nothing about. Why let the Feds get their grubby hands on HIS money. Yes, that’s right, the young executive thought of TTC as his, not his father’s. After all, his father barely graduated high school, while he had sailed through Wharton’s business school. Why should he be his father’s errand boy? Although he had been appointed a “senior vice-president” after his graduation a few years before, he was little more than a salaried peon in his father’s company, just like the other peons who worked for him. Just this thought alone was enough to send the young executive into a blind rage. Thus, it was time for another Cuban and a brandy. “Work” was for losers. And “his” company had plenty of those to spare. He spent his time more fruitfully thinking about which expensive car he would add to his collection: a big plush touring sedan, or another sports car? And which of his many women would he take on his first test drive? Would he wear some comfortable French made sports clothes, or one of his $10,000 custom-made Italian suits? And how can he forget his alligator skin shoes? Three grand for those babies! Such thoughts preoccupied him all morning. He had told his slave of a secretary to hold all calls today, as he had “important” business to attend to and did not want to be disturbed. Hmmm, would he take his private jet to the French Riviera this weekend? Alas no, his engineers had told him that the Chronology Dilation Device would soon be ready for its maiden voyage. He wasn’t going to miss that for the world. Not that he was a big fan of the asshole academics, museum geek specialists, and anal-retentive engineers. But he tolerated them for the sake of the project. HIS project. For it sprang only from his fertile mind. What did they know of the future, of runaway cumulative technological change? A wild swing of the pendulum, indeed. And within the next few days, the “Time Machine” as it was affectionately dubbed, would be ready for its first trials.

The senior engineer stood before the vast array that was the master control panel for the time machine. He understood most of it (but pretended to know all) though the time calibration unit seemed to be a bit of a problem. No worries he thought, as everyone else thought he was the “expert” in the ways of this complicated device. It was well hidden from most of the rest of the company, and the consortium as a whole, which was the way the corporate executive had planned it from the beginning. This sealed off chamber in the bowels of the main building was unknown outside the corporate executive’s and a few of the scientific personnel’s ken. No need to let the “little people” of the consortium (like his fool of a father) know what was going on. The trials were to begin today and the President’s own son (the corporate executive) would be there for the “launching” ceremony. Giving final instructions to a junior engineer, the senior engineer completed the “pre-flight” checks in preparation for the first full scale trial run. Other engineers were present to make sure the process of operation went smoothly and by the book. The academics and museum specialists hovered nearby like vultures, waiting for the “chrono-naut” to make his appearance and to be debriefed by them. They wanted to make sure the very first time-traveler, or “chrono-naut,” obtained the correct “specimens” for their universities and museums. This would be a historic occasion to claim artifacts from their original context, complete with the chrono-naut’s log to fill in any blanks should the objects obtained be strange in nature. After all, the chrono-naut would either be going to the future, or the past. The physics equations indicated that it was possible only to move in future-time, however, knowing their fearless President’s only son, they expected to have to calibrate the time machine to make the more difficult maneuver into the past. Although the son’s intentions were not completely known by his staff (he didn’t deign to defer to his “juniors,”) they suspected he both wanted to go to the future and collect technologies there to bring back and “invent” and also to go back to the past and make massive profits for the “present.” The senior engineer didn’t particularly care for the young man, but he paid well, and that’s what really counted. Feeling some relief from the pressure of being on schedule, the portly, balding senior engineer was engaging in one of his favorite pastimes: lunch. His one hour of freedom from the tyranny of the bureaucracy. And he certainly savored it. He was in the middle of a “super-sized” special from Taco Bell/KFC. Wow, he thought, three bean burritos, three soft tacos, AND two fried chicken strips in the Colonel’s original recipe. Of course, there were was the obligatory cole-slaw, two buns, and a large order of mashies (with gravy on top) and a super-sized Dr. Pepper to wash it all down with. Why, the senior engineer thought, go traveling hither and thither when nirvana was only two blocks away and a super-sized meal could be had for only ten bucks! Well, that would be his “little secret” even as the President’s son had his own. Just as the senior engineer was dribbling hot sauce and beans down his face and shirt, the corporate executive himself strode in the door. The senior engineer just smiled and waved him in. Well, the stuffed shirt had finally made his grand entrance. Meanwhile, the corporate executive thought to himself: what is this fat old goat doing stuffing himself like a pig again? Didn’t he have work to do? It was nearly time to launch the time machine. But he kept his cool as the academics and museum specialists descended on him. It was time to spring the big surprise on everyone now: that he, the President’s only son, would be the very first chrono-naut; and not only that, but he would travel to the past first, despite the warnings from the physicists about traveling backwards in time. The “science team” of engineers, physicists, academics, and museum specialists all were astounded at this pronouncement as the corporate executive had no experience in these matters. It was pure hubris to be the “first chrono-naut” and everyone, including the President’s son knew that. But he didn’t care what his underlings thought; he would be first, and as immensely famous as the first astronauts on the moon on their triumphant return. He would be a national hero (and a damned rich one at that.) The physicists cautiously tried to warn the President’s son about his travel plans, but the young man just tut-tutted them into a wary silence. By way of the very first trial run, the corporate executive had decided to heed the warnings of the science team – but only to a degree. He was well aware of the past-time traveling conundrum. So, the plan was relatively simple: just go back in time some 33 years to when his parents had their “first date.” The thought amused him. Imagine his old man’s and old lady’s surprise when he hit them with the details of their own first date. Perhaps he would play the role of the waiter serving them their drinks. Or maybe he’d just be a “patron” of the restaurant sitting at the table nearby. Whatever he chose to do, he couldn’t wait to get back and embarrass his parents. He informed the science team of his plans for the short trip into the past (but not its purpose,) and despite the visual warnings of disapproval he was getting from them (for they dared not contradict him in the open a second time,) they hesitatingly followed his orders. The senior engineer could barely hide his contempt for the President’s son, acting in his lord-of-the-manor ways. He hoped the young man hadn’t seen the brief sneer on his face before he turned to the time calibration unit on the master control panel. Why had the corporate executive decided on a dangerous maiden voyage only 33 years into the past? Why not go back in time and meet Einstein, or da Vinci, or Caesar, or Alexander the Great? Besides, what had this “little trip” have to do with making boku money? The senior engineer guessed some ulterior, personal motive. Whatever. His job wasn’t to question, but to obey. The smooth and gentle humming of the Chronology Dilation Device began to fill the small and secret chamber where it was hidden from prying eyes. The senior engineer made the correlations and adjustments to the time calibration unit for the 33 year jump into the past. The unit was functioning perfectly, just as the senior engineer expected, after all, it was his “baby.” He had pride in his work too, even if he had to swallow it in the presence of the President’s darling only son. The corporate executive, for his part, had decided to travel “light” since he could not take his porters with him. The science team advised him on what to bring, to do and not to do (couldn’t risk changing the past, etc.,) and what to wear – for safety and also to blend in with styles of 33 years ago. With fashion changing every few years, the corporate executive decided to wear his favorite Italian made custom suit with his alligator skin shoes. That never went out of style. As for the so-called “safety precautions,” that was pure rubbish. Everyone watched in astonishment as the event horizon flashed before their eyes. Without hesitation, the brash young corporate executive stepped through…

The four Cro-Magnon hunters watched trepidatiously as the “lightning” appeared out of nowhere, near the ground and on a day without a cloud in the sky. What manner of hunting magic was this? The elder hunter turned to the hunter-shaman with a questioning gaze. He said nothing as he was just as startled as the other hunters. The elder turned back to watch the strange phenomenon. They crouched motionless near the edge of a glade in their downwind ambush position and did not make a sound. The mammoths were not far away now and any injudicious sounds or movement could compromise the hunt. The small mammoth herd was following its traditional migration route through the hunters’ territory, staying close to the river, away from the trees and tall grasses that could hide a lurking predator. A young male was bringing up the rear of the herd. That was their target, as the hunter-shaman had predicted. The hunters waited anxiously, but patiently for the herd to pass near the swamp, where they hoped to mire the young male mammoth. It would be easy to process the meat there, and also to keep any cave hyenas at bay, should they arrive on the scene. It usually did not take much time for the commotion and stink of the hunt to draw these giant hyenas out of their cave refuges. What the hunters saw next astounded and frightened them: a lone male strangely clad figure came stumbling through the lightning flash and promptly fell on his face. Did this figure come from the spirit world? If so, he must be an evil apparition, for his noise (cursing actually) caught the attention of the mammoths which trumpeted their warnings and quickly closed ranks and changed direction. The hunt had been spoiled by this evil spirit, and as dried meat stocks were getting low, this meant the hunting band had a hungry day ahead of them. The women, children, and elders back at the camp would not be pleased either. Thinking of this, the hunters themselves felt an incipient disappointment mixed with irritation at the thought of a failed hunt so carefully orchestrated. Not that the hunters didn’t experience failure before, but this time it was at the hands of a strange specter. Normally patient and circumspect, the hunters were disturbed by the turn of events. The evil spirit was not 20 yards from them, so on the elder’s signal, they prepared their spear-throwers for casting razor-sharp bone-tipped projectile points on their darts. Maybe, the elder thought, they could “kill” this evil spirit which did not belong in their territory, and was causing them more than a bit of trouble. Still in their ambush positions within the perimeter of the glade, the hunters took aim…

The senior engineer farted raucously after enjoying the first half of his “super-sized” lunch from Taco Bell/KFC. One more burrito and two soft tacos to go. It took perhaps several seconds for him to realize the noise and smoke were not due to his self-satisfied gastronomic tour-de-force. Something was wrong with the Chronology Dilation Device, and galvanized into action, he moved quickly (for him) to the time calibration unit; the source of the extra noise and smoke. Fortunately, after the corporate executive had passed through the event horizon, the rest of the science team went to the meeting hall for their discussions. Using the fire extinguisher to clear the smoke and sparks, the senior engineer quickly subdued the ticklish time machine. Well, the time calibration unit had always been a bit twitchy, but he quickly made as if nothing had happened and everything was under control, like the good bureaucrat that he was. One of the asshole academics poked his head in the doorway, but the senior engineer merely assured him that everything was just fine. The academic went back to the conference room to report this to the other team members, who waited on pins and needles for any news. Damn, the senior engineer thought, the reading on the time calibration unit read 33 thousand years, not the originally calibrated 33 years. What the hell had happened? Oh, well, what’s a few thousand years anyway? The corporate executive was getting what he deserved, the snotty fucker. The senior engineer recalibrated the Chronology Dilation Device to bring the precious President’s only son back to the present. No-one would be the wiser. Though he was certain the corporate executive would be angry with him if he didn’t enjoy his time in the past. The senior engineer pondered several excuses as he reached for his “value” meal. He still had half his lunch to savor, salivating at the mere thought of it. The event horizon began to shimmer, brighten, and take form again. See, thought the senior engineer, no worries. He picked up a soft taco and squirted more hot sauce onto his shirt as he took the first bite. Taking the rest of his lunch with him, he neared the event horizon to observe.

The President’s son stumbled on something as he passed through the event horizon and fell flat on his face into some large, semi-soft, wettish pile directly in front of him. Fucking-A he thought to himself, it was a huge (mammoth?) pile of shit. He wiped the crap off his face, but his prized custom made Armani suit and alligator skin shoes were ruined. There were going to be many sorry people back at the office when he returned. He would make them pay handsomely for this humiliation. As he looked down at his soggy, smelly, and formerly expensive clothes, some kind of small ground sloth with her babies eyed the stranger curiously. The corporate executive didn’t really know what he was looking at, though he remembered the day his clever father said he’d earned the moniker “lethargic sloth” as a boy. Well, he’d show his father who the “lethargic” one really was as he kicked one of the babies high into the air and some fair distance away. There was a swift and sudden movement in the grass, as a medium sized saber-toothed cat pounced on the hapless baby from a hidden nearby ambush point. This act of wanton cruelty was not unobserved by the four Cro-Magnon hunters waiting in their own ambush point 20 yards away near the edge of the glade. All four hunters were incensed at this violation of nature, and the elder hunter bade the others to put their weapons at the ready. This evil spirit had to be sent back to whichever netherworld it came from. At the same time, the corporate executive looked for a way back to the event horizon which had disappeared behind him with a loud crack and a flash. He hadn’t walked that far into this seemingly barren landscape (this sure as hell wasn’t the place of his parents first date) and could retrace his steps to about where the event horizon should be. The first person to pay for this insufferable situation would be that fat slimy senior engineer with the shifty eyes. Well, the first thing those shifty eyes would see would be his pink slip. After some moments, the President’s one and only son could see the event horizon beginning to form again about ten feet in front of him. He was going to kick some ass when he walked back through to the facility.

The worldly corporate executive was dead before he hit the ground. Sticking out of his chest were four razor sharp boned-tipped darts which had been propelled by the force of a freight train. The four Cro-Magnon hunters emerged from the glade and stealthily approached their prey, for they were not sure he was dead yet. With their heavier chert-tipped thrusting spears, they stalked right up to the body without it noticing. It didn’t matter anyway, the “evil spirit” was dead, though it certainly bled like a man. Temporarily mesmerized by the scene, it took the hunters just a second or two for their vigilance to detect the opening event horizon nearby. Again the lightening flash and the shimmering gateway – though this time nothing came through. The hunters knew that this strange apparition did not belong in their territory either. Forming a small phalanx, they thrust their spears into the event horizon…and felt something squishy and wriggling, like some kind big harpooned fish.

The senior engineer was still stuffing his face with his last bean burrito before he realized that his intestines were spilling out onto the floor. As he collapsed onto the floor, the shocked grimace remained on his face, as did the remnants of his half-eaten burrito. The laboratory was turning into a bloody mess. A startled technician screamed at the horrifying sight of the senior engineer’s lacerated body and the steaming entrails falling out like some kind of overheated, slimy, and spastic bloody snake. After screaming at the top of her lungs, the science team came running in a panic back to the cell which housed the time machine. Something was dreadfully wrong, as they saw four large and colorfully striated spear points recede back into the event horizon. The junior engineer and his cohorts quickly shut the machine down to prevent…what…from coming through? The corporate executive was on his own now, they could not risk opening the event horizon again given the dangers it presented. With the President’s cherished son missing and the senior engineer a gruesome disemboweled carcass on the lab floor, the science team was at a loss regarding their next move. How to hide this disaster from the President and the Chairman of the Board, and the rest of the Board members? Not many people knew about the Chronology Dilation Device, but how to explain a mutilated corpse and a missing corporate executive? The science team needed a solution; they could not jeopardize their positions, or their prizes for their respective institutions. This mess had to be cleaned up quickly and quietly, and then, this time, a proper expedition sent through the event horizon. The universities and museums would be screaming for the exhibits and artifacts the academics and the museum specialists had promised…

As they withdrew their first spear thrust from the shimmering light, it disappeared even as the bloody chert spear points came back into view. The hunters’ uncanny intuition quickly re-routed their attention back to the mammoth herd. To their surprised pleasure, the mammoth herd was actually heading towards the swamp just as the hunter-shaman had prognosticated in his vision. The Cro-Magnons retrieved their spear throwers and quickly, and quietly re-established a new downwind ambush position. This would yet be a successful hunt thought the hunter-shaman with renewed optimism. Just before the “evil spirit” had “died” he had momentarily seen sad, haunted eyes that mirrored a tortured soul. Where had the shaman seen that before?

 

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