I stood staring at the junk heap that was Professor Cline’s office. The Professor had had a fascination with Victorian clockwork toys. He didn’t care the condition, he bought every bit of spring and gears he could lay his hands on, even odds and ends that were obvious much newer. My task seemed impossible.
“There is a Time Machine in Professor Cline’s office,” the department head had said. “You were the closest thing he had to friend. Find it.”
“A time machine?” I asked.
“Yes, a Time Machine. It was a deathbed confession. The reason he had produced more than the next five researchers combined was his efficient use of his Time Machine. That’s almost an exact quote. He said he kept it in his office.”
“Was the time machine the reason he shot himself?” I asked.
“That is the only thing we could figure out. Now find it.”
At first I held up hope for an H. G. Wells type of contraption with a chair and a dial. The office was cramped and cluttered, there was no space. If not a chair, perhaps it was like a pocket watch. There was a large display cabinet full of watches. I examined each one. Fascinating though they may have been, none seemed to have anything that would indicate a use for traveling in time.
I thought about Professor Cline’s strange habits. I thought about his research, in particular the mathematical puzzles based on long sequences of numbers that he was best known for. Although the puzzles seemed silly to most, Professor Cline had also found a way to tie the results in to product sales. He called each new puzzle a “pitch”, since it could be used as the basis for the advertising pitch.
Why would he need a time machine to create new puzzles, new “pitches”? How would it work for him? He didn’t need to travel in time to create them. Perhaps he meant a device to stop time so he had more time to work? It didn’t seem right. If he could stop time, there were so many other things he should have been able to do which he never accomplished.
I sat at down and without thinking started to play with the objects on his desk. I noticed what was in my hand and let out a laugh.
“This is no time for jokes,” the department head said. A red vein on his temple was pulsating.
“Jokes? Wasn’t having me look for a time machine a joke? Well I found one,” I said.
The department head crossed his arms. “Show me.”
I placed a blank template in front of me. I place a revolver on a stand close to the small contraption I had found on Professor Cline’s office and then wound up the device. Several seemingly random numbers were dialed in as I wound it. I now had five minutes to create and then solve the puzzle. I worked furiously at it, trying to ignore the whirr of gears and the ticking of time. After finally creating a new puzzle and finding the answer I went to key it in. I was too late, the time was up. A lever came out of the machine and pulled the trigger of the revolver. I hadn’t loaded it, so nothing happened.
The department head looked confused.
“Don’t you see?” I asked. “Professor Cline gave himself a strict time limit, a real deadline, to finish each puzzle, each pitch. He was racing the clock. He used his spare clockwork parts to create a puzzle gizmo. He had a starting point based on his templates and an end point based on the numbers on the gizmo. The machine didn’t care what the real puzzle or real solution was as long as Professor Cline typed in something. He was more efficient because his life literally depended on it. And in the end, he missed a true deadline.”
The department head squinted his eyes at the contraption for a moment then suddenly nodded.
“I get it,” he said. “A Pitch in time saves Cline.”
I will not apologize for this ;)