Faith.

Almost everyone at the university knew he had been building the machine, no one knew what it was for. There was enormous speculation among the students about what it was.

The teaching staff were however for the most part disinterested. For most academic staff university life was too busy to worry about what was happening in other departments. All his academic and research commitments were being met, the machine was something he had funded and built in his own time, with his own money. I suppose I wasn't the only one who was curious, but it felt like I was the only one who was consumed by my curiosity.

I knew him well, a man of great faith: he attended church regularly, gave freely of his time to the work of the church. He was a man dedicated to promoting the work of the christian Freedom university. He was considered a great catch by the University authorities,  a talented physicist with a strong grounding in engineering. It was felt he leant weight to the universities academic credentials. This was important because those credentials always seemed to be under attack, due to the Universities courageous stance over the ridiculous notions, of the theory of evolution, in the face of the prejudices of the academic establishment.

Over months the machine seemed to become more complex and he gave the impression of a man increasingly excited as though an important moment was about to arrive. Some of the students even speculated it was a time machine: that he was going to travel backwards in time and prove evolution false.

Then one day he was simply gone, and the machine smashed beyond all recognition, as if it was not only supposed never to work again, but that no one should ever discern how it was originaly constructed.

For most people that was the end if it, a really smart person had gone a little off the rails, and that was the end of it. It happenes sometimes. For a day or two it was the talk of the campus, before people's minds moved on to other things. The wreckage of the machine was cleared away. After a week a temporary replacement for his teaching duties appeared. And the work of the university returned to normal.

But for some reason I could not let it go. I wanted to know the truth of what had happened. So: I set about finding out where he had gone.

It took me the best part of a month to discover enough personal details to find out where his home town was. Then on the next term break I went down there. He wasn't there, and his mother, a stern faced woman, refused point blank to talk to me. Asking around I found some childhood friends, who suggested he might be in a cabin he had built in the wilds as a teenager. I must admit at that point I wondered if he was going to turn out to be Freedom university's version of Ted Kaczynski.

In retrospect I wish it had been that simple.

It was a long hike up to the cabin, and I packed a rucksack with 2 days of food and water before I treked up the valley to where the cabin was supposed to be. When I got there, I could see him from a fair way away, busy chopping wood. I doubted this was because he actually needed to, because there was a very large pile of chopped wood there already.

I don't know when he saw me, only that when I was close enough to see his expression,  it wasn't either the outright hostility, or the welcome relief I had imagined encountering. It was more an expression of ambivalence.

When I was within a few yards I stopped, and said hello, he just nodded. I told him that people at the church missed him and all the work he used to do.

He responded to this with a cynical laugh I hardly recognised. He walked towards the cabin and gestured to me to accompany him. As I followed him into the cabin there was a strong smell of Coffee from a pot brewing on an old Iron stove. I looked around the cabin, it was quite spartan and there was no evidence of his faith anywhere, no cross, not even as far as I could see a bible.

"Coffee?" He asked abruptly.

"Er, yes please." I responded.

He poured some out into a odd wooden cup, more of a bowl he had milk but no sugar, and the coffee tasted as if it had been brewing for a week Or more. He sat down opposite me, "You want to know don't you?" He said.

"Well yes." I replied, "who wouldn't?" I was shocked by the change in him, not just because he was unshaven, and by the look of him unwashed, he was brusque, his eyes seemed angry and though his features were naturally the same, it was like talking to a completely different person.

"What if I told you it was a simple loss of faith?" He asked.

Although I had expected something of this sort,  now it had been said, at first, I wasn't quite sure how to respond. At last I said,  "We could pray together," I said.

The loud guffaw he gave in response to this was unsettling, from a man I knew had prayed with people for their sick and dying relatives, with people suffering a crisis of faith.

It was unnerving to see pity in his eyes as he looked at me, "What was that machine?" I asked.

"Oh, the students were right." he said, "it was a time machine." There was a very far away look in his eyes as he spoke.

"How on earth did you conceive of it?" I asked, adding "And why did you destroy it?"

"I will never tell of the design, it's far too dangerous a thing to ever be built again, and that's why I destroyed it. It needed to be destroyed, although I did so for all the wrong reasons," he paused, drank some coffee, grimaced a little at the bitterness, " but I will keep its secrets for all the right reasons." He added.

I struggled to put my next question into words, "You, er, you found, or saw dinosaurs?"

He was midway through another mouthful of coffee as I said this, and his involuntary guffaw, unpleasantly sprayed Coffee over the floor, thankfully missing me. Appart from a little on my boots and the cuff of my jeans.

After he had stopped coughing and spluttering, he asked, "Is that really the first place you think a christian with a time machine would go?"

It suddenly dawned on me where he had gone, and I was amazed I hadn't thought of it before. "You saw him?"

He guffawed again, "sort of."

I found my heart sort of hurt, and there were tears in my eyes, "What, er, why," I paused, composing my thoughts a little before saying, "Just tell me."

"You want the gospel according to the time traveller?" He asked?

"Yes." I said emphatically.

He smiled, a little less cynically this time, "Then your faith is almost as weak as mine was, perhaps there is hope for you?"

Now I was puzzled again.

"If my faith was so strong, why did I need to build a time machine to go look for myself? And if yours is so strong, why did you follow me here?"

This hadn't occurred to me.

"And of course, if my faith had been strong enough, to resist the temptation to learn the truth, I would still believe in a lie." He said.

"You didn't find him?" I asked, now beginning to feel a little hollow.

"Oh no, I found him. A man called Yeshuah, in first century Palestine. In many ways very like the figure in the gospels. But emphatically just a man. Enjoying his role as leader of his band of anti Roman revolutionaries. Preaching hell fire and damnation, to those who would not join him to one minute, and love thy neighbour the next. He wasn'the that hard to find they were well known."

"You found all this out in one night?" I asked.

"I built a time machine. Just because I returned just after I left doesn't tell you how long I was away. I spent months following them as they wandered aimlessly around Judea."

He went on, "I spent an age learning Koine Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, before I left, but it still took ages to understand what people said. They called themselves Nazoreans but I couldn't get my head round their answers at first when I asked where Nazareth was. They had never heard of the place, Nazorean means 'keeper if the covenant' apparently. Even so I bought into this, I was there witnessing it, I was excited. But there was nothing I could think of as a miracle, there were lots of times people came to listen to him speak, and people shared their food with each other. But it didn't appear miraculously. I never saw water turn to wine, but wine sure enough flowed like water often enough, though it was more like beer than wine"

"Prehaps you were not patient enough? if you had stayed longer?" A thought occurred to me, "Did you see the passion?" I said, seeing opportunities to try and preserve my own faith which felt under trial.

"No." he replied "I left before any of that."

"But why?" I asked, "Why build the machine, find him and then make a judgement before the most important part of the story?"

"Because of Mary." He said.

"Jesus's mother?" I said incredulously.

"No, Mary magdaline," he replied. "She was always there, he kissed her often, shamelessly, and that I found I could accept. But not one night seeing them together. Everything else I had rationalised away, but them together like that. All the rationalisation crumbled. And I was angry, so angry that I was going to attack them with a rock. And that's when I knew I had to leave."

"You just got too close," I said, "you could have kept your distance more, just watched. Perhaps you misunderstood."

"Do you think I'm a child? They were having sex, And anyway that wasn't the reason I knew I had to leave, nor why I knew I had to destroy the machine."

I was lost, the only explanation was that what I was hearing was delusion, had he imagined it all. He'd built a machine, it didn't work, smashed it out of frustration, and this delusion was how he justified it all to himself. Yes, that must be it, it was all just some kind of break down. Now I was looking for a way out. And almost without thinking I found I was standing. "I should leave." I said.

He laughed that cynical laugh again, "Yes perhaps you should," he said, adding, "Truth is always hard to hear."

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"Don't be," he replied, "I would rather know the truth."

I opened the door, I don't know why but before I left, I asked, "Why did you destroy the machine? "

"Because when I came to thinking of destroying this man who had failed to live up to my expectations and running to hide in history, I knew how much of history I could change, I knew beyond a doubt I could change everything that happened from that moment on. No speculation about a small action having a big result in a thousand years. Everything would change. And I knew who god was at that moment, and it wasn't the man in front of me that I wanted to kill a moment before."

I looked at him, convinced he was insane, not speaking.

He smiled at me, "and no man should truly have the power of God in his hands, not him, and not me, so when I returned I smashed the machine utterly."

"Goodbye" I said.

"Goodbye" he replied, "Thank you for hearing my story, even if you don't believe it, it was good to tell someone at least."

"I will pray for you." I said.

"I know," he paused before adding, "but you really shouldn't waste your effort."

I left the cabin closing the door behind me, I had walked for half an hour down the mountain before I realised I was still carrying the odd wooden coffee cup. I thought of taking it back, but half an hour downhill was a good hour or more going up. I'd return it to his mother's house. I'my sure that if he could make one he could make another, and he had drunk his own coffee from a similar one.

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