"Well, the transmission occurred just as it did with the ball-bearing, Senator," Tilston explained as he led McNeil further into the complex. "We had already sent animals into the past - simple-celled organisms, mice, primates - so we knew that time travel was possible for a living organism. Even before we had set a test date, our time-travel subject appeared in the laboratory one morning, having arrived from three weeks in the future. Needless to say, we kept the present-and-future test subjects apart, since we didn't know what mental ramifications might occur from meeting your future-self," Tilston giggled at this, clearly impressed with the project's developments thus far.
"Couldn't you just send the future time-traveler back to the future?" McNeil asked as the two continued down another long hallway.
"We haven't experimented with future transmissions," Tilston admitted, shaking his head, "We don't even know if it is theoretically possible, honestly."
Conversation ceased for the moment, as the corridor ended into a large room that stretched for hundreds of yards in all directions. McNeil marveled over the support beams and wires running towards the gigantic central structure which filled the cavernous space. The device resembled a giant metallic cone, hung upside and fully suspended above the floor. Underneath its tip was placed a platform, onto which technicians were welding a metal chair.
"Here she is, Senator," Tilston announced, walking quickly towards the machine, "The Argonaut. We named it after an early H.G. Wells novel that considered the notion of time-travel long before the Time Machine novella."
McNeil could only marvel at the contraption, unable to fully comprehend that he was staring at an honest-to-god time machine. Instead of one solid cone, McNeil could discern seams in the device, where one layer of cone was separated from the next. "How does it work, Dr. Tilston?"
"Haha..hmm, well..." Tilston paused for a moment before continuing, "You see, in order to understand the Argonaut, I'm afraid you would need some expertise in nuclear physics just as a basic starting point. However, I suppose the best way to think about this device is to imagine history as a timeline, laid out in a straight path. This machine is able to create a temporary tunnel that stretches outside time itself and connects the present moment with the past."
McNeil stared blankly at the scientist. "Right..haha, um - well just think of this machine as a window to another time, and we are able to emerge through this window into the past."
Further explanation was interrupted by the entrance of four armed guards escorting a shirtless young man into the room. As McNeil watched, the man was led over to the platform which lay beneath the time machine. He sank into the metal chair where technicians began to attach sensors and wires to his chest and arms.
"Excellent," Tilston beamed, "Everything is right on schedule for the experiment!"
"Tilston," McNeil's voice was tinged with concern, "Why do you need armed guards?"
Tilston turned towards the armed guards walking away from the platform, as if noticing them for the first time, "Oh...well, originally it was unclear what kind of dangers time travel held in store for human test subjects, so we didn't want to risk our own personnel," Tilston mumbled, refusing to meet McNeil's gaze. "So we outsourced...we contacted certain US prisons with death row inmates and made a deal - offer prisoners the chance to participate in our program, as test subjects, or remain in prison and suffer their lethal punishments."
"Damnit, Tilston," McNeil hissed under his breath, "Are you telling me you've been sending murderers and...and rapists through time?!"
"No! Well..." Tilston stammered, "But-but we pick only the most, um...rehabilitated prisoners for our program and we put them through our own review program! They undergo psychological evaluations, therapy, rudimentary language seminars, even theology education!"
"...theology?" McNeil asked.
"Well, of course," Tilston answered confidently, "Everything is possible only with the help of God, Senator - surely you believe this by now? Look at all we have accomplished!" Tilston said, sweeping his hands towards the gigantic machine before them. "It is important that our test subjects learn of the Lord which makes this glorious program possible."
McNeil decided not to press the issue, fearing a lengthy Christian diatribe would be the result. Instead, he simply nodded his head and walked towards the time machine, Tilston trailing behind him.
"So who is our time traveler today?" McNeil asked, trying to change the subject.
"Our traveler today is Joshua, Subject A1103. He has been our best pupil thus far - completely rehabilitated, in my opinion," Tilston explained, sounding like a proud father, "That's why he has been selected for today's important mission."
"And what is that?"
"Today, Senator, we are going to test the limits of time travel - to see how far a person can be transmitted," Tilston voice rose with excitement. "We've sent back objects thousands of years into the past, but we have no way of determining if the trip was successful - even if those objects survive the thousands of years until our present time, we have no idea where to look for them."
"So we decided to send a human back in time," Tilston continued, "Someone who can leave a permanent mark somewhere in the past for us to find. Subject A1103's goal is to create some sort of durable sign or...memorial that will stand the test of time - one that we can eventually locate in the present, as proof that the transmission was successful."
"So, you're telling me that he'll be stuck thousands of years in the past?" McNeil glanced at the young man strapped into the platform's chair.
"Is that any worse than being strapped down in the gas chamber, Senator?" Tilston argued, confident that the man's sacrifice was acceptable. McNeil remained silent.
"Anyway," Tilston continued, "We're sending Subject A1103 back to the reign of Emperor Augustus. He'll arrive in this very spot, thousands of years in the past. Luckily our geological reports indicate that this region has undergone a surprisingly small number of changes in its topography. In fact, soil samples have proven that this cavern was a valley during this specific time period, so our traveler won't be transmitted directly into a mountain or underwater."
"Thank god for small favors," McNeil said sarcastically, but Tilston did not seem to notice.
"Yes, exactly! We were very lucky in selecting this network of caverns for our facilities," he said, glancing at his watch, "Ah - it's almost time!?" Tilston hurried over to the platform, McNeil following in his wake.
"A1103," Tilston called out, "Are you ready, son?"
"Yes, sir," the man was shockingly calm sitting beneath the behemoth machine, "With the Lord as my shepherd, I shall not stray from my mission."
"Excellent! Excellent, my boy!" Tilston beamed, "Remember that always, and we shall succeed. Go with God, son."