In December 2009, Murdoch Ross and his friend Lee Francis Walker visit
Murdoch's grandfather, Sir Charles Ross, in his castle in Storbannon,
Scotland. Sir Charles is a Nobel Prize winner for his work in particle
physics — more specifically the isolation of free quarks.
In this novel, when a nucleon decays into three quarks, the first two
quarks appear immediately and the third quark appears on the order of
a few millionths of an "yoctosecond" later. A widely accepted theory
is that the original decay produces two quarks and also a third
unknown particle, dubbed the "quason". This is subsequently
transformed into a third quark.
Sir Charles offers a different and radical explanation: all three of
the quarks are created at once, but the first two are "propagated back
in time". Charles dubs the energy which had allowed the propagation
through time as "tau waves". Although his theory is seemingly valid
and consistent, the physicists of his time refuse to accept it because
of its implications — namely the failure of some of the physical laws
of conservation. Sir Charles then retreats to his family's castle in
Scotland to continue his research in private. There, he succeeds in
building a time machine capable of sending messages to the future and
After Murdoch and Lee have gotten over their initial amazement, they
decide to experiment with the machine. Murdoch tries to fool the
machine into creating a causality paradox, by deliberately receiving a
message from the future, and not sending the message back at the due
time. Suddenly, the entire system turns bizarre, and they are flooded
with messages from all over the ten-minute range of the machine. Then
they abruptly turn off the machine and leave.
While outside, Murdoch and Lee talk about the implications of the
machine's existence and how the space-time continuum could allow for
time travel without introducing a paradox. They formulate theories
similar to the many-worlds interpretation, finally deciding that none
of the theories they discuss fit their previous observations.
The next day, Ted Cartland, a friend of Charles and a former Royal Air
Force officer, arrives to examine the machine he had helped build.
They repeat the experiment, and Ted is bewildered as well. Ted,
however, has a trick up his sleeve. He writes a computer program to do
what Murdoch had done the day before, to remove the human element from
The machine picks up an unexpected message, telling the experimenters
that a glass jar had been broken. True enough, Lee was on the verge of
accidentally pushing a jar off a shelf. However, they are unable to
contact their future selves with the broken jar, since they apparently
no longer exist. Sir Charles decides that upon sending the message
back, the copies of themselves in the future had changed their past
and thus had been erased from existence. The altered timeline, with
its unbroken jar, overwrote the old one rather like recording over an
old TV program on a videotape. Thus causality had been preserved. The
fear of being erased chills them, and so they quickly disable the
As time goes by, they establish an experimental protocol, and they set
up automated tests to gain more information about the physics behind
the machine. The machine is upgraded to allow for more data throughput
and a time range of about 24 hours. Murdoch also meets a young woman
named Anne Patterson when she trips over Sir Charles's kitten while
she was out shopping in Kingussie.
They immediately fall in love. It turns out later that she is a
physician at the site of the new fusion reactor in Burghead. Elizabeth
Muir, another close friend of Sir Charles, works there as well, and he
invites her to his castle to investigate the peculiar machine.