The Time Scanner (Part 1)

Many scientific inventions came along before their time, only to be lost, vanishing into obscurity before being rediscovered, sometimes centuries later. 

Take, for example, antibiotics; we tend to think that the antibiotic penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but 2,000 years before Fleming was born, the antibiotic tetracycline was being taken by the ancient Nubians who had a kingdom located in modern-day Sudan, just south of Egypt. 

The tetracycline these ancient people took (to cure all manner of ills) was made palatable by infusing it into beer and the substance is still being found in the bones of the Nubians unearthed by archaeologists. 

The inventions of that gifted Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci - the tank parachute, helicopter, submarine, bicycle - and even a robot - were mostly confined to his sketchbooks and no one took the ideas any further for hundreds of years. 

In 1755 a far-sighted Frenchman named Du Perron presented King Louis XVI with a machine gun, but the monarch branded the invention and the inventor as enemies of mankind and the machine gun and its blueprint were consigned to the dustbin of history. 

It was the same with the first steam engine, not the one James Watt improved upon in 1776, but the steam engine Hero of Alexandria made sixteen centuries before. No one could see any useful application for the model of the steam engine and it was dismissed as a mere novelty.

Another invention that has allegedly appeared - only to be lost again in the mists of time - is the so-called ‘Camera of Past Events’ a device which allows scenes from history to be captured as a snapshot or a movie. 

The origins of photography can be traced back to an Italian alchemist named Giambattista della Porta, who invented the pinhole camera in 1550, and when the image projected by this crude camera was made permanent by projecting it onto light-sensitive chemicals in the early 19th century, the resulting photographs were viewed as a kind of time travel – the freezing of scenes from long ago. 

Then some scientists allegedly discovered that certain crystals housed between mirrors could also produce strange images of the past and future, and the secret of the camera that could photograph images from other times was discovered, but both the Vatican and the Church of England suppressed the device because it supposedly made a mockery of religious and political history. 

The time-camera has surfaced now and then only to be lost or banned. In December 1966, a young policeman named Barry was on his beat in Huyton one snowy evening when he saw a spectacled woman across the road waving frantically at him. 

He went to see what the matter was and she said she’d seen a man with a gun near Cartmel Road. She then looked at her watch, and there was an almighty crash as a car slid on black ice and skidded onto the pavement across the road - where Barry would have been walking. 

The policeman ran to the car, now impacted into a lamp post, and when he glanced back he saw the woman running off. He had the sneaking suspicion she had known the crash was going to happen and had saved his life. 

Barry later saw the mysterious woman in February 1967 as he was on his evening beat. He followed the her as she walked down Primrose Drive with her dog, and as she reached her home on Blue Bell Lane he tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Did you see any more of that man with the gun?”

The woman, named Barbara, pretended she couldn’t recall the incident at first but Barry persisted in finding out the truth and said, “Did you foresee that car crash?”
Barbara invited Barry in and told him a bizarre story. She was a widow, and her husband, a research physicist, had invented a device that could focus on scenes in the future and the past and show them on a monitor. 

After her husband’s death, Barbara had kept his discovery secret for she knew it would be misused by the military. 

She showed Roy the ‘time-scanner’ in a garden shed, and the young policeman was bewildered by all of the equipment and monitors.

“I saw you being killed that night by that car, and recognised the location as Fairclough Road, so I prevented it with my cock and bull story of a gunman.”

“This could revolutionise crime detection” gasped Barry, “it’s incredible.’
“The military would use it to predict what the enemy was going to do and then they’d use it to control their own people, so I’d appreciate it if you kept all this a secret for now,” said Barbara. 

She then gravely announced: “Around the 21st of this month, a lorry will crash into a bus shelter at the junction of Longview Lane and Liverpool Road and kill twenty people. Not sure what time it happens but it looks like it could be in the morning.”

Barry and Barbara went to the concrete bus shelter on the predicted day of horror. They tried to scare people away from the bus shelter that morning with a story about a bomb threat and some walked away, but most ignored them. 

A lorry then collided with a van near Hillside Road and came hurtling towards the shelter - Barry and Barbara jumped out of its path and the lorry smashed into the shelter, injuring 14 people, but no one was killed.

• Continued next month

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