“Bauer,” Avrom said, “your work consists of the discovery of new particles and their interaction with other particles. There is always a measure of control with the particle collider in setting up experiments. I have absolutely no control over my observations. The universe is going to do what it will. That is the difference between the microcosmos and the macrocosmos .”
“Why don’t you see for yourself up close, “ said Bauer, “Just pay the macrocosmos a visit.”
“Very funny,” answered Avrom, “ just like science fiction –you always had a wild imagination—I’m surprised that you don’t make up some of those results that you profess to have published”
“I’m serious—we are on the verge of interstellar flight as you know. The restrictions of speed of light has been partially worked out because the restriction only applies to the space-time continuum as we know it. If you are unsure, speak to Dr. MacKenna at the Astronautical Research Center—he will update you on what has been happening recently. It is no military secret –he will be glad to share some information with you.”
Dr. MacKenna was just finishing some calculations on the design of his theoretical interstellar model that was eventually to become a ship somewhere down the road. Avrom entered and watched the astrophysicist for a while before he cleared his throat. Dr. MacKenna was startled in spite of the fact that he was expecting Avrom.
“Good afternoon.” Avrom greeted him politely knowing that MacKenna’s time was precious and it was very good of him to see him on short notice.
“Dr. Avrom Nichols, what a pleasure it is to see you again—how long has it been—two years? How has your work been going?”
“That is what I’ve come to see you about. I have a problem that maybe you can help me with. Actually it is a big problem—as big as the whole universe.”
“As big as all that,” MacKenna exclaimed with mock surprise, “well, you better give me the monumental details.”
Avrom explained his problem to MacKenna leaving out none of the personal angst that he had experienced as well as the feeling of hopelessness of such an endeavor. MacKenna understood the problem but was concerned because of the risks that would be taken not to mention the sacrifice.
“You know of course the vast amounts of time spent even if the speed of light restriction is somehow overcome. If you were to make a journey of this magnitude there would be a large risk of you and your colleagues never returning and then the knowledge that you gained would be lost—not to mention possibly your lives.”
“I know the risks,” Avrom replied, “but this would be the greatest adventure ever undertaken because this involves a hands on experience for the theory of everything. What are the possibilities of interstellar flight that would make a journey like this a reality?”
“We and the astrophysicial engineers working with us are considering the concept of negative energy which appears to work outside of normal space-time. Remember, the speed of light limit applies to objects of mass—if somehow we are able to subtract mass from an object we are free to exceed that limit.”
“You’re saying that negative energy will be a key concept to moving out of space-time. But how could a ship be built that would use negative energy in such a manner?”
“A bubble of negative energy would surround the ship,” MacKenna explained, “and that would act as a barrier—the same as a hovercraft uses a cushion of air.”
“Then the use of negative energy along with the use of wormholes would make these vast distances feasible?” Avrom asked.
“I’m not sure you could use both.” MacKenna said, “it might not be possible for massless objects to make use of these space tunnels we call wormholes. You might only be able to use one or the other.”
Avrom was excited. “How close are we to being able to build a ship based on these theories? This would be the greatest adventure of all time.”
“Very close, Avrom. we are testing models now and will soon have the ability to design a real interstellar ship. After all, we have had interplanetary space travel for three hundred years now and the last eighty years have seen the infancy of interstellar voyages. Although we have been restricted by the light speed—we have actually only been able to reach about sixty per cent of the maximum speed. We have managed, with the help of stasis, to send stellar travelers to one of the most earthlike exoplanets that revolves around a orange star called Epsilon Eridani. It is, of course, too early to learn the outcome of that voyage. It will be another sixty years until the travelers return from this extraordinarily long expedition. We will work together, however, to make this dream of interstellar and even intergalactic exploration a reality—the mystery of the macrocosmos will have the possibility of a partial solution. At least as far as our poor minds can fathom it.”
Yes—Gerald Parker had a sense of adventure. That was one of the reasons that he had been selected for the interstellar voyage using the new stardrive system which makes use of negative energy for propulsion. At first Gerald had refused the offer. Solar system travel had a sense of “home”—you were always connected to Sol no matter how far out you were. Interstellar travel would be a whole new ballgame. Our “home” would be our galaxy—the Milky Way—and that is a big place. However he wasn’t getting any younger and here was a chance to do something really big—to put his mark in the history books of space exploration—it was unlikely that a chance like this would come a second time. Besides he had researched the project and found that the individuals involved were absolutely the best in their field. How could he refuse an opportunity like this? And he was the only spacer on board—except for Anne Hauser.
Anne Hauser did not take risks—this was a good thing since she was the pilot on this experimental ship. She was experienced in piloting the old style starships and had gotten a reputation for exceptional self-discipline and skill. She was only a teen-ager when the Epsilon-Eridani ship had set out and ever since then had the ambition for high adventure in interstellar exploration. She had been first in her class in mathematics and astronautics and went on to be one of the very best in her field. The rest of the ship’s complement consisted of Professor Avrom Nichols and Professor Elliot MacKenna—two spacers and two scientists setting out on the greatest adventure of all time.
Gerald had thoroughly weighed the risks of the project before he agreed to sign on and knew some of the background of the incredible work involved. It had taken ten years to develop the new stardrive but it was worth the wait. Much testing had to be done with models before one could actually use human beings in a full-size ship. MacKenna and the team of astrophysicists had worked steadily on solving the problems of harnessing negative energy for starship propulsion. They had even found a solution to the wormhole problem by finding a way of periodically suspending the use of negative energy which would temporarily allow the ship to exist in our normal space-time therefore entering the wormhole as an object of mass.
Gerald remembered when the ship was, piece by piece, assembled in orbit. It was about that time that he was approached to serve as astrogator on the project. He remembered his ride on the space elevator up to low orbit that he had already experienced many times. But this was different. He would be leaving the solar system without any idea of when he would return.
He also remembered that, at first, the ship accelerated slowly because the use of the stardrive would disrupt the gravitational network inside the solar system. They had to travel three months at the velocity used for interplanetary travel. Even the use of the old stardrive, which only gave them about sixty per cent of the speed of light, was risky until they reached the Kuiper Belt.
Avrom had told him that their first goal was to reach Epsilon Eridani II, the second planet in that system, before the original expedition arrived in order to leave a care package for the explorers when they finally reached their destination. It was determined that this package would be a major asset in insuring their survival on this distant planet
When the time came to use the new negative energy system Gerald remembered the trepidation of not being sure how his body would react to being thrown out of space-time. Captain Hauser set the controls and everyone braced themselves for whatever effect they would undergo. Gerald immediately experienced a feeling as if he were in a dream state—a feeling of not being in real time as he knew it. This dream feeling lessened but did not entirely disappear while the stardrive was engaged.
When they arrived at the Epsilon-Eradni star system Gerald was pleased that he and Professor MacKenna were to deliver the package to the surface of Eradni II. It was his first chance to actually experience an exoplanet. When he emerged from the landing craft he was not prepared for what he saw. Gerald would never forget his first sight of the planet. Its orange sun illuminated the surface of the planet in such a manner that other colors appeared as grey or black in contrast. Gerald remembered MacKenna commenting that if any sentient or even animal life existed here they would need a visual range shifted to the red and infrared part of the electromagnetic field in order to make use of the part of the spectrum that was most prevalent in this star system. Gerald remembered the crimson river bordered by black vegetation and had wondered if the plant life here even depended on photosynthesis and chlorophyll for their survival.
The package that they were to leave included technology developed after the original explorers had left Earth years ago. They enclosed the items in a well-marked pyramid that would advertise, without a doubt, that the supplies were from Earth.
Gerald was quickly adjusting to the day by day systematic life style aboard the starship. His services of astrogator were constantly in demand since Avrom and MacKenna were intending to see a good cross section of what our Milky Way had to offer. As Avrom put it—we would be looking into the face of God.
It is to be noted that wormholes are not readily visible to the naked eye. They do not look like some kind of snake-like object. Their appearance is subtle and instruments sensitive to time distortions are the only way of being sure of their existence.
When Avrom and MacKenna learned of the extraordinary event they wanted to make use of it in order to explore another part of the galaxy. Anne Hauser was not in favor of this decision. She said quite rightly that we had no idea where the wormhole would lead us. It could even be connected to a section of space-time completely outside of our galaxy—to Andromeda or even a galaxy completely beyond our known universe. Without further information it would be like jumping into water without knowing what is beneath the surface. Avrom and MacKenna were, however, keen on exploring the wormhole and since the purpose of the expedition was scientific Captain Hauser reluctantly agreed. Gerald, always keen on adventure, was clearly ready to take the chance and couldn’t wait to enter the wormhole.
Hauser said to Avrom, “I am not comfortable in your decision but, at least, give Gerald some time to do some extra calculations on the statistics of the wormhole before we actually go beyond the point of no return.” Avrom agreed to put off entering the anomaly for six hours letting Gerald do some essential calculations and, at the same time, ascertaining that the wormhole was more or less a permanent one that wouldn’t disappear in the near future and leave them stranded.
They entered the wormhole and Gerald commented on an extreme feeling of disorientation. “It is as if I can’t tell the difference between a memory and a premonition,” he said.
MacKenna replied, “That is because time is no longer experienced as a past and future. It is a continuous NOW that we are feeling. Who is to say that time is not anything but a constant present. Linear time is only a human concept.”
After what seemed to have been less than an hour they arrived at the other end of the wormhole. All four began to make an effort of adjusting to what lay before them. The density of the stars and dust were incredible. At first no one understood the ramifications of where they were. Captain Hauser was not comfortable and immediately told Gerald to make some quick calculations as to where they had actually ended up. She already suspected the truth and was hoping she was wrong. They were, in fact, close to the center of our galaxy and Captain Hauser saw with horror the edge of the event horizon beyond the massive cluster of stars and space debris. She only pointed in that direction—she didn’t have to utter a word. The rest of the crew saw exactly what lay beyond the visible stars—the enormous black hole that constituted the center of the Milky Way. Captain Hauser immediately tried to regain entrance to the wormhole in order to return to their previous position but it was too late—the wormhole was too far away and they had already fallen into the gravity well that would eventually pull them beyond the event horizon and into the gaping void of the singularity.
MacKenna realized, however, that the black hole in the galaxy’s center might be a source of power for the ship. If they could get an acceleration boost by aiming the ship at the pole of the galaxy and using the gravitational energy of the black hole to slingshot the ship out the “top” of the Milky Way they might have a chance of counteracting the gravitational pull of the black hole. Gerald asked, “Do we have a chance at escaping? Our direction of travel is almost directly toward the singularity—it will be difficult to change direction with this force already pulling on our mass.” Avrom and MacKenna spoke almost simultaneously. “When we are on the verge of changing direction, shift immediately into the negative energy stardrive—our bubble will render our ship massless and will not, at that point, be affected by the gravitation.”
Captain Hauser continued, “We will slingshot toward the ‘upper pole’ of the black hole and then hopefully we will be ejected by way of the “fountain” emanating from the singularity.”
“Make the necessary calculations,” Captain Hauser told Gerald, “and find out exactly when we have to engage the stardrive at the point where we change our trajectory.”
The black hole in the Milky Way’s center was immense. The travelers had not seen anything even close to resembling a complete void as this group of collapsed stars. The only thing that saved them from being completely crushed by the enormous gravity field was their velocity on emerging from the wormhole. The centrifugal force balanced the gravity while they navigated around the black hole toward its “upper pole.” The velocity was close to the speed of light and the ship was hopefully to be ejected out of the Milky Way at its “top end” if Gerald could get the mathematics fed to the computer in time.
Gerald was busy on the calculations when MacKenna pointed out that the physics of black holes was not the same as Einsteinian physics. The intense gravitational field might render his calculations meaningless much the same as an intense electromagnetic field would affect sensitive instruments in ordinary space-time. Nevertheless MacKenna aided in the more complex of the mathematics hoping that their calculations would be close enough in the ballpark to ensure success.
As soon as the information was ready, Gerald fed it into the computer. When the results were computed Gerald gave them to Captain Hauser so she could set the controls for the maneuver. For the first hour it seemed that they were headed for the “upper pole” of the Milky Way. After the hour had passed, however, they appeared to be heading directly toward the center of the singularity. Avrom explained, “The massive increase in gravitational pull is unexpected. We obviously don’t have the correct information on how gravity behaves under these abnormal conditions. We will have to redo the math.”
MacKenna exclaimed, “We have no more time. We are under the influence of so much gravitation that we will not be able to change course in time without ripping the ship apart. “
The shock was overwhelming—time had run out. They could do nothing except stare in silence at the immense void facing them—the void which was their doom. Switching into stardrive at this point was not possible. Even if they could engage the stardrive the ship was under the influence of such extreme gravity that negative energy would be useless at this point. It could not counteract the extreme forces for which the black hole was responsible.
They had run out of options. Avrom said something in a low voice about finally discovering the face of God as they gazed into the black hole—the black hole of our galaxy’s absolute center.
Then the unexpected happened. An effect as sudden as a general anesthetic administered in an operating room struck the crew. All of them experienced a loss of light and, in the next instance, a loss of consciousness. When they regained consciousness the view of the singularity was gone and was replaced by myriads of nebulas– –all crowded together like an immense whirlpool.
No one spoke. They realized that they were lucky to be alive but they were all astounded at what was now visible before their eyes. Finally Avrom was the first to break the silence.
“It is clear that this black hole has some of the properties of a wormhole. Obviously it has taken us, in an instant, to another place in the universe.”
Gerald said, “It has certainly done that—but with my limited knowledge of cosmology it seems that the crowding together of the nebulas or galaxies like this has not happened for a very long time.”
MacKenna said, “Very wise comment—perhaps you have an answer or two for us, Dr. Nichols.”
“The only explanation that I can see,” Avrom said, “is that the black hole not only deposited us in a different space but also in a different time. You see, this particular black hole has served as a gateway of sorts. It seems that we have been transported back to the beginnings of the universe—not long after the Big Bang. That is the reason for the spatial density of the nebulas—notice they are not galaxies yet but are only unformed, gaseous whirlpools . These ‘galaxies’ are very young—they haven’t formed the shapes which we are accustomed to seeing. It is possible that the universe as we are now observing it is only a hundred or so million years old. I would say that the face of God is certainly a lot younger now.”
There was now only silence. Everyone pondered the information they had just heard and as they gazed out at this young universe with wonder and awe the space surrounding them changed into a faint milky luminescence. They seemed to be encompassed by glass as if in a fishbowl. MacKenna had tried to analyze this phenomenon but the composition of this milky, glassy substance was beyond the capabilities of their scientific instruments. Was this the edge of the universe? Had they reached the goal of this supreme adventure? Did God stand just outside this glassy barrier?
Seldon called in his colleagues for observation and discussion. “This particle seems to be neither matter nor antimatter,” Seldon said, “and it appears to defy the conditions of mass itself. In fact this particle is behaving erratically as if there were an intelligence behind it allowing it to move against any natural laws that we know of.”
“Well, we could have expected something like this,” Kron said, “after all we have only been working on this micro-universe for less than a solar year and we had no idea what to expect. You know this project was—uncomfortable—like playing God.”
They continued to watch the blip on the screen that signified the erratic particle that had emerged from the milky white globe containing the miniature universe. They remembered all the heat and light that had materialized in an instant as the great explosion and the subsequent expansion of the matter had filled the inside of their reinforced glass globe. Everything had gone according to plan until this minute particle had escaped the globe and was freely travelling in their space.
“Should we destroy it?” Kron said. “It could be dangerous.”
“No, let’s observe it for at least one day and see what it does—it seems, somehow, that it has an intelligence that implies sentient life. But, of course, that would be impossible in such a minute object—although we did create a universe and, along with it, everything that creation implies. After all, a lot can happen in one solar year.”
Stewart started writing science fiction in 2013 and was heavily influenced by Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. A previous work, For the Time Being, has also been published in FUSION.