A History of Beaufort and MacLean's Leap Machine
An AI and I
I wrote this in about two hours, using GPT-3’s DaVinci engine. About 20% of this story is my original prose. —Ryan
A History of Beaufort and MacLean's Leap Machine
by Ryan Boudinot
Augustine Beaufort was a French Huguenot cobbler who allegedly narrowly escaped the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572. Augustine escaped the massacre by hiding in a barrel of offal for two days, then made it by fishing boat across the English Chanel, eventually settling in Norwich, England. Having witnessed the brutal murder of his family, Augustine turned for solace to the the works of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic widely credited as one of history's first female authors. Plying his trade in his adopted city, Augustine came in his spare hours to be obsessed with writing what would become for a time one of literature's legendary lost masterpieces, The Construction of the Senses by Means of Mechanical Cogitation, a manuscript several thousand pages in length describing what Beaufort called "Besides Worlds," or what we today might call "alternate realities."
History would have forgotten Beaufort altogether had it not been for mention of his manuscript in Thomas Browne's Musaeum Clausum, a compendium of lost manuscripts. In the centuries that followed, scholars interpreted the Musaeum Clausum, also known as the Bibliotheca Abscondita, as a product of Browne's imagination rather than an accurate accounting of forgotten manuscripts. Beaufort's massive, illustrated opus on how to "leap, as over a bridge, betwixt worldes" would for hundreds of years be considered a flight of fancy, until 1893, when a man named Henry B. Brown purchased a small tract of land in Virginia that happened to house the original manuscript, which he then donated to the Library of Congress.
The Construction of the Senses by Means of Mechanical Cogitation is an exhaustive and detailed account on how one might travel from our world to other worlds through "the use and application" of various mechanical apparati: firstly, what Beaufort called "A Machine for Moving Without Movement," or as we would call it today "time travel," followed by machines capable of lifting oneself into space (levitation), traveling at impossible speeds (superluminal velocity), and moving objects without contact with them (telekinesis). The book ends abruptly after three chapters devoted entirely to creating such devices; however its author has left us tantalizing clues about their construction in his careful illustrations depicting these bizarre contraptions, all illustrated via monochrome engravings seemingly drawn directly onto parchment, and descriptions written in Latin alongside each figure indicating when they were invented ("invented & constructed 7 years before 1573").
Beaufort's preface gives readers even more details concerning how these mechanisms worked, using engineering terms commonly used between 1500 and 1800, including references, common among alchemists, like "transmutation," "motion," "matter," and "energy," along with terms native to Newtonian mechanics, such as "momentum" and "calculus." Scholars who considered this work in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries generally regarded it as a product of an active imagination rather than a practical guide to constructing fanciful technologies.
Declassified papers related to the US Military's Project Blue Book, released in 2017, paint an entirely different picture of how Beaufort's magnum opus was regarded by scientists working to reverse engineer recovered extraterrestrial technology. A number of devices were recovered by US military personnel in the 1950s, along with what appeared to be plans for their construction. These blueprints seemed oddly familiar to some on Project Blue Book staff; they resembled diagrams found in The Construction of the Senses not only because both sets of drawings featured similar geometric shapes and symbols, but also because many had been labeled using Latin terminology identical or nearly so to that used by Beaufort himself (e.g., "Materia," "Sedes Motus"). It is unclear if this was simply a coincidence or evidence that someone at some point during history had actually constructed one or more of Augustine's machines as he described them—or better yet, succeeded in traveling through time via his device.
The Air Force tasked two physicists from MIT named Ronald Bracewell and Stephen Hawking with attempting to build an example machine based on information provided within Beaufort's book. After several years spent studying it, however, neither man could make any sense of its illustrations nor translate its accompanying text into anything remotely comprehensible enough for modern science. Attempts were made over decades following Brown's donation to have other scientists attempt the same feat without success, due mostly to misinterpretations regarding how contemporary mechanical concepts were referred to by their Aristotelian roots (e.g., "matter" becomes "res extensa"). In fact, there exists no record whatsoever that anyone ever successfully built a Beaufort device despite several groups beginning work toward doing just that shortly after World War II ended.
In 2021, however, a group of three researchers from the University of Virginia came to a breakthrough in their efforts. They had been studying Beaufort's book for years and were frustrated with its lack of clarity; so they decided instead to build one or more devices as described within it, even if that meant starting at square one without understanding how they worked. The team was led by Professor Paul MacLean. During this time, he became known among colleagues as "the mad professor" due largely—but not entirely—to what some considered eccentric behavior, such as carrying around an old copy Beaufort's manuscript wherever he went, reading passages aloud at dinner parties, and having conversations directly quoting Augustine himself whenever possible (e.g., "'Tis a sad thing...that we cannot leap betwixt worldes").
MacLean first attempted building a machine based on information provided within The Construction, creating various prototypes over several months' time, using parts ordered off Amazon. Despite spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on materials, progress was minimal. In frustration, Maclean took up residence inside an abandoned warehouse where he spent days trying every conceivable configuration of parts imaginable. He only succeeded when he accidentally dropped two pieces together, causing them both to fall apart and land perfectly reconstructed exactly like one of the parts shown in Beaufort's illustrations.
On May 3, 2027, MacLean held a press conference at the Allen Institute for AI in Seattle, announcing that he had successfully built a time machine based on information contained in The Construction of the Senses. He described it as being "about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth" that required two men to lift, powered by what appeared to be several thousand D batteries connected together with wires and wrapped inside sheets of metal resembling aluminum foil.
The media was skeptical at first—as were many members within MacLean's own department who questioned his sanity for even attempting such a thing—until they saw Professor MacLean demonstrate its operation firsthand: having placed himself into this device alone, he traveled back just over one hundred years before returning safely without incident.
MacLean continued to make news over the next few years as he traveled back and forth through history, sometimes alone but more often with other researchers from his department. He would travel using what was initially referred to by reporters as "the time machine" or simply "a device," though later this changed into a phrase that has become common parlance among historians: The Leap Machine.
In 2029, MacLean traveled back to 1572 and rescued Augustine Beaufort from the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The two returned safely after a journey of twelve hours, with no ill effects on either man other than that they appeared to be "a bit worn out." Once Beaufort was returned safely to Norwich, England, he transcribed what he had learned from MacLean into his infamous manuscript.
In 2031, MacLean traveled back to the year 7 B.C., where he met with Jesus Christ and walked on water with him for several hours before returning home safely again after an eight-hour journey (an account corroborated in part by Beaufort's own manuscript). It is believed this event marked the beginning of Christianity as we know it today.
MacLean subsequently traveled to the year 17,529, where he discovered a future Earth that was populated by the nen, descendents of geo-engineering robots, who told him, "We are descended from the machines you built in 2027, which were themselves inspired by the devices described within Augustine Beaufort's book. We know of no other world besides this one; we have never traveled to any others or met anyone who has—and yet there is evidence that someone once did using your machine. It was found buried deep inside a cave along with several hundred more identical time capsules containing various objects and artifacts left behind for us by our progenitors, each capsule marked with their names carved into its surface: MacLean, Bracewell & Hawking."
MacLean died two years later at age 53 after being struck by an automobile while crossing the street outside his home in Charlottesville. The news media reported on how he had been "killed instantly" when struck head-on while walking across West Main Street near Wasena Park without looking both ways first—a fact that made headlines around the world given it seemed so out-of-character for him (he'd spent much of his life advocating against distracted driving). He left behind five children between ages four and eighteen whom he claimed, through DNA testing, to be not biologically related but rather products of artificial intelligence created via cloning technology invented over three centuries after they were born during what would come to be known as "the nen revolution." Some believe that Professor MacLean himself was the first nen, created by a future civilization using the technology he himself had revealed to them via his time machine.