By eight-fifteen on August 23rd, a bright morning without a cloud in the sky, Professor Edward Brenham had already eaten breakfast, read the Sunday edition of The Boston Globe, and then returned to the sanctuary of his campus office to drink one last cup of coffee. He gazed out through his window, a bar of sunlight warming the side of his grizzled face, and looked down on Vassar Street, wondering, as he often did, how it would look afterwards. There wasn't anything he could find to indicate one way or the other, no pictures or sketches, so its relative condition was unknown. There were many unknowns, but in a few hours the curtain would be pulled back, the mysteries revealed, and Edward would see them all for himself. It was too bad he wouldn't be able to share them with anyone else here.
He turned and looked over at his desk, a metal grey relic of academia, and then at the letter he had received from the Foundation. After two years of trial and errors and successes, they decided to "...more aggressively explore other visions as well as his own," a nice euphemism to say they were basically tightening down the financial spigot. Of course there would be some funding left for his vision, a trickle for papers and speaking opportunities, but that was more like life support in case the patient made a miraculous turn for the better. For all intents and purposes, his dream and vision were dead. Edward turned back to the window. What a lack of faith they showed.
To Edward, faith was more a metaphor than an actual spiritual confidence. He wasn't religious. Over the course of his life, being the professional skeptic that he was, Edward had made his own explorations into the various beliefs—from the pudgy Buddha to the centipede-like Shiva to the suffering Christ, and on and on—and found each one lacking. They were nothing like science, where theorems could be proved or disproved; all it took was some determination and testing. A lot of testing at times. But reincarnation or the existence of heaven and hell? Well, those things weren't quite as easy to scratch out as a formula on a chalkboard, now were they? No, religions didn't fit into the equations of the educated, rational man any more than truth fit into a politician's vernacular. About the only thing Edward did believe in was the reality of fate. The letter on his desk was a perfect example. Just as he had made a break-through, they had pulled the funding. If that wasn't proof of bad karma, then what was?
He tried to convince the Foundation about his successes, he even tried to show a few of them on one occasion with the disappearance of a coffee mug and then a whole tea set. They thought he was crazy. He saw it in their eyes. In their questions, too. Where did the items go? How could he be sure? Where was the evidence, the data? And that was the rub: once things left this realm, they never came back, so he couldn't prove it. As such, from the Foundation's perspective the disappearance of a couple of items was a neat trick. What would he do next, perhaps give the illusion of walking on water? Really, was this what the Foundation paid an MIT professor for?
Edward sighed and looked at his watch. Eight-twenty-five. A good enough time if any, he supposed. He placed the coffee mug on top of the Foundation's letter and left the office. Fifteen minutes later, he entered the lab on the other side of the building and locked the door. For this, his exit strategy, there would be no interruptions. In the next few minutes, he would walk through the portal, exchanging one realm, one time, for another. He would leave a world of ridicule and enter another as a god, with a capital G. Armed with his knowledge and wisdom, he would show them all. He would re-write history. He would be the one to offer the world relativity and the power of the atomic bomb. Einstein would be nothing but a piker.
The dials turned up, the capacitors at full charge—it was going to take everything to push a live human through—Edward set the timer for one minute. Once the portal opened, he would only have three seconds. After that, he doubted if anything here could ever be used again.
By nine-fifteen, almost thirty minutes after Edward left this time, first responders surrounded the facility, their emergency lights bathing nearby campus buildings in bursts of red and blue. An early morning jogger told detectives what he saw, strange as it was. A ball of blue light, humming and crackling with electricity, enveloped the building's corner. He heard a pop as the sphere imploded. Then what sounded like a blast of thunder shook the earth, as if God Almighty had slammed down His fist. Windows belched out glass, covering the lawn in a blanket of shards. Car alarms cried out like whimpering dogs. After that, the corner of the building was gone. Just gone. They all stared at the dangling wires, the perfectly-cut brick, like a wrecking ball had come out of nowhere and took out the bottom two floors, as quick and easy as a finger flick through soft butter. Some in the media were already calling it an act of terrorism.
Thirty miles away, in a small museum in the city of Salem, on a plaque listing the names of those either burned at the stake or hung from the gallows, Edward's own name mysteriously appeared. Of those who had testified against him, one claimed that he came out of nowhere, "...the blue flames of hell licking the ground beneath his feet."
No one in this time ever knew the difference.