Dr. Ellis had nearly given up on time travel.
He had built a solid theory, as well as a solid machine (several in fact,) but it was all useless. The machine sat in his laboratory, and the theory sat in his head because he had not yet devised a method to power them with. He had tried nuclear power, solar power, hydrogen fuel and even a wood-burning stove. None of it worked.
The answer came to him one day when he was very hungry. He was considering a slice of cherry pie in a store window, the sweet goo pouring out of the flaky crust, yellowed with butter under a large swirl of cream. For what seemed like an hour he stared, tried to remember how much cash he had in his pocket and stared some more. When the bakery manager came out, Dr. Ellis was startled out of his trance. Wiping a little drool from the corner of his mouth he apologized, blushed, and hurried away, but not before catching sight of the clock.
"That's it!" he shouted, then blushed again as passers-by stared. We've had the power source with us all this time, he thought, silently this time.
And so they–that is to say, people–had. For as he walked away from the store and the cherry pie, he noticed that barely two minutes had passed, yet surely it was an hour! He knew then: the mind powers time.
And we are the machine! he thought in triumph.
Upon arriving home, he scrapped all his old work and began to work on a new theory using the human mind as both the vessel and power source. He experienced great success in this venture. Soon he could, in theory, make hours race ahead, allowing, for example, a person to experience the end and beginning of a dull dinner party without any of the in-between parts that made it dull. Or, he could slow seconds down to a near stand still allowing more time for enjoyable things, like love-making, cherry pie, and good books.
There were two problems with his research. First, though he could slow down time or speed it up into the future, he had not yet figured out how to go backwards. He hypothesized, however, that this was possible, and kept working at it. Perhaps a combination of factors could exert enough force on the mind to make it turn backwards.
He tried many formulas to achieve this. For example: a lecture on the tree-ant's sleeping patters plus full logarithm tables plus a twelve foot pile of manila folders to be filed. That one was pretty close; it managed to bring time to a near standstill. But still it would not go backwards.
The second problem was the interference of the subconscious. If left alone, it would drag the host through the dull moments, expanding seconds into hours, and collapse hours into seconds during the fantastic moments.
Dr. Ellis theorized that this was an evolutionary mechanism, and quite a powerful one. Nature wanted the organism to realize just how boring the boring moments were, so it would avoid those in the future. The organism also needed to get through the fantastic moments quickly so that they could seek out more and more of these. While no doubt a biological advantage, this was exactly the tendency he wished to counter.
The subconscious problem was a particular beast. The doctor worked obsessively on it. He thought it was rather as if the subconscious controlled walking. One could try all morning to arrive at work, only to end up at the theater or the bakery.
To solve the problem, he tried many methods of distracting the subconscious. (Would it falter for a raspberry torte? Or a well-proportioned blonde?) If only it were distracted long enough, then the conscious mind could sneak off through time. He also tried tricking the subconscious mind into inverting its natural patterns (would a caramel cheesecake make work meetings fly by? Would a persistent itch make a holiday last forever?) The subconscious, however, was a stubborn and well-disciplined creature. It had made its patterns and stuck with them like cement.
Still, he worked and he worked. One night, as he was fiddling with a distraction contraption he'd built, he cut his finger on a piece of aluminum foil. He tried to ignore it, but the blood dripped all over the contraption and ran onto his notes. He went to the bathroom to find a bandage.