Thursday, January 23, 2014

First Chapter, New Book

Well, I finally started on my newest novel.  It's tentatively titled The Onyx Cluster, although that could change if I discover something more appropriate over time.  The first chapter is posted below for your amusement.



            John Forsythe smirked.  It was something he did a lot, especially when he felt he was dealing with an idiot.
            He waited several seconds for the windbag to burn himself out before responding.  After a pause designed more to create the impression of weary patience rather than that of thoughtful response, Forsythe said, “I’m not surprised by your close minded view of things, Dr. Strassen.  However, your insistence on Presentisim, as well as your adherence to the outmoded belief that time is illusory, ignores the basic fundamentals of Relativity that have guided physics for the past century.”

            Forsythe was a young man, at least insofar as how those in the Eastern Mountain University’s Physics Department measured age.  At 32, he was far more accomplished than those more than a decade his senior.  He was published in several journals and recognized as one of the leading minds of the next generation of physicists.  Unfortunately for him, his was not a field that appreciated youth.  Such adherence to rumpled old men in horn rimmed glasses was one of the reasons he maintained a light beard and wore sports coats with the patches at the elbows – they gave him the appearance of being older and more distinguished, helping him gain street cred in a world dominated by dinosaurs.
            Still, not all dinosaurs approved.  One of them was the gasbag seated in the auditorium’s first set of seats, and his name was Jim Strassen.

            “What I think you’re forgetting is that even Einstein said that time is illusory.  Our perception of time can be altered by the curvature of space, but the passage of time itself cannot be altered, for it is not a force that truly exists.”  Strassen was a fat old man, with thin wisps of hair combed over a shiny bald spot.  He and Forsythe had been sparring ever since the younger man arrived four years ago.
            “The curvature of space/time here is not an illusion, and its existence is acknowledged in any number of competent journals.  I think it’s the uncertainty of overlapping strands of time and the implications of that which makes you uncomfortable.”

            Strassen chuckled.  “I can hardly be made uncomfortable by that which is not real.”
            Forsythe knew he could continue sparring here for another hour, but that would drive the audience to boredom.  Granted, there may not have been many here today – the auditorium held over 600 seats, but everyone who attended today’s lecture could easily fit in the first few rows – but Forsythe knew they were eager for a show, so a show he would give them.

            On the stage behind him sat his white boards filled with the calculations he’d made, as well as a rectangular table where his department chair and two other colleagues sat to help with questions.  It was his department chair, Dr. Harold Liscewski, who broke in to calm things down.
            “Dr. Strassen, I don’t think this is the forum to continue your feud with Dr. Forsythe.  His equations are here for everyone to see, and if you have issue with where he’s going with them, then I suggest you take issue with that.”

            Forsythe’s smirk returned as Strassen looked briefly nonplussed, though he quickly recovered.  Strassen remained standing and adjusted his glasses before saying, “Okay, let’s assume for a moment that I bought into this outlandish theory of the curvature of space/time allowing for travel along its axis, absurd though it may be.  The equations themselves are fuzzy even in accordance with the theory.  For example, you’ve calculated the variable coefficient too high.  Even if you could produce the power necessary to warp time and travel through the breach, the point in time you’d reach would be in motion, making it impossible for you to return to the present.  Further, the power levels as shown are insufficient to store enough for the return trip – temporal radiation levels, if they existed, would drain what you had.”
            This was the moment Forsythe had been waiting for.  Scratching his chin, he said, “You know what?  Let’s find out.”

            The boards behind him split, and a spotlight from the rafters lit up on the platform now advancing towards the front of the stage(at least Carol, his graduate assistant had gotten that one right; she might not grasp String Theory, but she had a penchant for the dramatic).  On the raised platform stood a thin silver sphere suspended by metal poles between a pair of curved metal rods.  A series of wires ran from the back of the poles and towards an unseen destination.
            Without waiting for Strassen, or anybody else, to say anything – their bewildered silence was enough for the moment – Forsythe announced, “Allow me to introduce you to my latest project, a device that will change the way we perceive time.  I call it TADS, or the Temporal Adjustment and Displacement System.  I believe the hipper amongst us would simply call it a time machine.”

            He spread his hands and bowed while moving several steps to the rear.  He was expecting applause, so when nothing but silence greeted his bow, he looked back up at the audience.  Some were fidgeting with their chairs, looking almost embarrassed for him, while others had wide eyes of wonder.
            Strassen was the first to speak.  “Is this supposed to be a joke?  I thought this was a lecture on the anomalies of time and its points of intersection, silly as that may be, but have we moved into some elaborate prank?”

            “I can assure you that this is no prank,” Forsythe said while doing what he could to keep the glee out of his voice.  “Once the equations were complete, building the machine to act on them wasn’t hard.”
            Liscewski broke in again.  “I know this sounds crazy, but this is as real as it gets.  Assuming Dr. Forsythe’s calculations are correct, you are about to witness the world’s first confirmed time travel event.”

            Now applause broke out, even if they were scattered.  Strassen looked at Liscewski and said, “Were this real and not some elaborate ruse, why are we the only ones in attendance for this supposedly monumental event?”
            “This lecture was open to everyone,” Liscewski reminded him.

            “You know what I mean,” Strassen replied shortly.  “Where are the reporters?  Where’s the fanfare?  If this could plausibly be real, why the no muss, no fuss attitude?”
            Now it was Forsythe’s turn to break in.  “Because this isn’t the big event.  I plan to depart today, but in order to prove that this is real, I won’t rematerialize until next week at exactly 1pm.  One week will have passed for you, but for me, the trip will be instantaneous.  I believe that will be when the pomp and circumstance you desire will be present.  Am I right, Dr. Liscewski?”

            The department chair nodded.  “Upon Dr. Forsythe’s departure, we will be sending out press releases to all the relevant organizations.”  Left unsaid was that if things didn’t go as planned, not having the press here didn’t open them up to an embarrassment.
            “The amount of energy required for such a foolish venture is extreme,” Strassen noted.  “Where are you going to get that kind of power?”

            “We’ve been siphoning small amounts out of the university’s cyclotron for weeks,” Forsythe said with a wave of his hand.  Nodding towards Liscewski, he noted, “All with the university’s permission, of course.”
            Anticipating Strassen’s next question, Liscewski said, “Don’t worry – we haven’t endangered the cyclotron or the research into small particle collisions.  That’s why I’ve allowed Dr. Forsythe to take small amounts at a time – so that he could store the necessary power without interfering in any research.”

            There was a new silence in the auditorium.  Strassen looked nearly beside himself, which Forsythe took no small amount of pleasure from.  Finally, the rumpled old professor said, “I don’t think anyone doubts that I find this whole project silly, and that I think Dr. Forsythe is a buffoon who wastes his talent on fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I want him vaporized.  If you’re wrong, the energy output alone will tear through him like a hot knife through butter.”
            Liscewski shifted uncomfortably.  However, his voice was steady as he said, “We’ve considered that and think the risk is small.  Dr. Forsythe has demonstrated enough safety features that let me know the machine itself will trip like a breaker before it reaches that point.  However, if he’s correct, and I’ve always been impressed with the amount of detail he puts into everything, most especially his calculations, the rewards for the university will be extreme, to say nothing of the impacts on the world at large.”

            Forsythe knew but ignored the implication in Liscewski’s voice – if this should fail – a ludicrous notion in his eyes – then the university loses next to nothing.  The safety features will prevent harm, and no reporters were yet on scene to witness any failures.  In fact, it wasn’t until after Forsythe suggested that they wait until he vanished that they call the press that Liscewski dropped his final objections.
            Before Strassen could say anything else, another audience member called out from her seat.  “Dr. Forsythe, what if Dr. Strassen is right about the coefficient calculations?  If time, per your theory, is moving, then won’t the points of intersection also be moving?  You could get caught up in a slipstream of some kind and be deposited anywhere along the space/time continuum.”

            “Janice” – he thought her name was Janice and that she was an adjunct professor in the physics department, but she hadn’t been around long enough for him to know or yet care – “don’t you think I’ve considered that?  This has been my life over the last three years, and I’m certainly aware of the danger in the slightest calculation.  Don’t worry – I promise that this will work as advertised.”
            He smiled at her.  He was sure of what he’d done.  Yes, he enjoyed a martini on occasion while working, but the values always came out the same(or close enough as to make no difference).  Instead of questioning him, they should be congratulating him.

            Stepping over to the table just as the three behind it stood, he shook Liscewski’s hand before turning back to the audience and saying, “Now witness our next step into the future, this one quite literally.”
            Liscewski and the others strode off of the stage and Forsythe stepped to the platform and his baby.  He unlocked the highly polished yet transparent metal – an aluminum oxynitride compound – and climbed inside the machine.  There was but a single seat, and that barely wide enough for one man(Strassen, with his girth, would never have fit).  At his fingertips was a control panel for him to control the energy flow and manipulate the breach he wanted to create in space/time.  Over his head and behind him, flowing into the poles that held his device, were a series of wires designed to warp space/time so that the machine could slip through it and spin towards its new destination.

            He keyed the startup sequence and the display in front of him lit up.  Most of what he saw were readouts – power consumption, temporal velocity, space/time conjunctions, etc – as well as a series of dials that would allow him to manipulate the energy so he could control where he went.  Those dials would allow him to funnel the necessary 297.4 terajoules of energy required for the palladium loops to crack space/time and allow the machine to slip along the coils of the fourth dimension(for contrast, the bomb that leveled Hiroshima exploded with 63 terajoules of power).
            He knew that the department chair and his associates were now off the stage and gaping at him from the seats.  Assuming his calculations were correct, and they always were, they should be far enough back to not be caught in the torrent of dangerous but well contained energy that would follow his trip.

            Forsythe manipulated the dials and began pumping energy stored from the university’s cyclotron into the coils.  The outer ring of the silver sphere began to spin, slowly at first, but with increasing momentum.  He couldn’t bring in the energy too quickly, for that would indeed risk either vaporization or a much wider breach in space/time than he wanted, so he inched the dial around.
            The first indication that his experiment was working was a blue pop outside the machine that he saw from his seat.  A second, much louder pop followed a few seconds later.  The ring around the machine was now spinning at a rate approaching the speed of sound, and it would soon approach the speed of light(where the magic would really happen).  The sphere lifted from its position to a place in parallel with the rails that held it.  A low hum was now audible, and the blue flashes of light outside the machine were growing more frequent.

            All at once, Forsythe felt himself pulled forward at the chest, as if a series of hooks were latched underneath his ribcage and pulling him towards an unknown destination.  At the same time, he felt as though his head was being squeezed through a small pipe.  The hum he heard previously was now a ringing of deafening proportion.
            And the lights!  A blue glow pervaded everything, while spirals of red and yellow seemed to emanate from his hands and feet.  Outside the machine, streaks of green and blue flew past like he was passing the reflectors on some blackened highway.

            However, at the end of the journey, Forsythe would say that the strangest sensation he felt was that of being in several places at once.  He brought his hands up to plug his ears against the ringing he heard, only to see that his hands were also still on the dials in front of him.  He looked out of the window to see the streaks of light, only to discover he was also still looking at the controls.
            The feeling of traveling was also an unpleasant surprise.  He felt like someone was trying to turn him inside out while jabbing needles into his flesh.  Suddenly, as if someone slammed on the brakes, he lurched forward and everything stopped.  He knew that if he survived, this would not be an experience he would care to go through again.

            Then there was silence.

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