As work stalled somewhat last week on my November novel, Slaves to the Lesser Moon, due to real life grabbing me up (giving me work opportunity, stealing a day for lessons in ocular migraines), this old portion from Chapter One doesnʼt seem so distant and unrelated to where Iʼm at as it shoud. Enjoy. The former pieces are here, here, here and here. Our hero, Hunter, is talking to physics nerd Birch Thorstein, who is annoyed that Hunterʼs roomie, Terry, has spilled the beans about a possible secret time machine in development.
Then he gave me the opening I had forgotten: “What do you know about the device?”
“What device?” My drink-stalled brain had also, like Terry, lost the thread of recent conversation. “Do you mean your — Fairchild machine?”
“Thatʼs exactly what I mean, asshole.” Birch was rapid firing his thoughts at me. What do you know? How do you know?” His brain was working very fast indeed, at least relative to mine. “— He told you, right?”
Terry jerked his head from a slump toward his chest at that. He knew he must be “he.”
“I was explaining why you were coming over, Birch.”
“Perfect.” Now Birch was mad, too. “Did you tweet everyone as well?”
“Aw, Birch, his girl dumped him…” Terry whined inanely.
“I donʼt care if his girl screwed the whole football team fifty times over!” Birch roared, the only sober one among us thoroughly losing it. “I want to know who all knows what about my personal, private business!”
His watery gray eyes widened with fierce intensity. “How do you know these things?”
Good guesses, actually. I have always been a good guesser (as with Jen this fall). Sometimes I just donʼt want to acknowledge what my intuition tells me.
Now he grabbed me by my sweatshirt collar, arising from my chair, shoving his acned face very close to mine. “Tell me what you know. Tell me!”
Terry stirred to wakefulness. “He only knows what I told him. Just now.” His diction was very vague, sounds all sloshing together.
Birch turned on him. “I never told you it was a time machine. How did you find out? How!” He wasnʼt asking; he was insisting.
I explained, “You told him Fairchild had come up with some kind of — “ The word temporal still eluded my tongue.
“Breakthrough about time,” Terry chimed in, almost merrily.
“And you built a machine,” I finished. “Time plus machine equals time machine. Big freaking deal. Itʼs garbage, just like everything else sheʼs ever thought was important.” Dr. Fairchild was a huge joke around campus, probably academic circles nationwide, for her continual flood of ridiculously flawed insights.
Birchʼs eyes glanced around, away from me, even as his angry grip on my shirt relaxed. “Yeah. Yeah. Thatʼs right, all right. Just garbage.” He was lying. If Terry hadnʼt been nodding again, even he could have noticed. Birch was a lousy liar, his face and eyes all giveaways, at least to me. “I gotta go,” he added lamely, releasing me, moving away from my chair toward the door and the steps down to outside.
“Birch. Wait.” I didnʼt realize at first it was me that spoke. Why shouldnʼt I be glad to be rid of Birch as easily as this? I usually couldnʼt get him out of our place once Terry had let him in.
He just kept moving, so I did, too, following. “Hold up.” I grabbed his arm, and he turned, looking quickly at Terry, unconscious. “Heʼs out of it, Birch.” I knew what he was thinking. “Itʼs just you and me. Come on, dude. I know youʼre lying, man. But I donʼt get it. What are you trying to hide? I mean, come on, we were just talking about — Fairchild… “ I thought briefly. “Does that mean… “ At first, I couldnʼt identify, pin down the scarcely conceived idea that had drawn me over to stop him. And then I couldnʼt admit it. “Itʼs her thing, isnʼt it? Thatʼs just not possible. Is it? — It works?!” Birch tried maintaining a stolid incomprehension on his face, but his eyes brightened enormously at my question. “Fairchildʼs time machine actually works!?” It sounded more like an accusation than a question, and he responded as though under interrogation, mutely nodding, not meeting my gaze.
“Keep it down, huh? This is all top secret stuff. Even Valjeanʼs not really aware that — “ he checked himself, and then added in a lowered tone, “that the device actually does what it — … does.” He pulled me close, nearer than I ever like to be to him, and whispered. “She thinks that because weʼre operating really low-power, and because it creates such a small aperture, that it only extends maybe a few minutes… but I think itʼs a lot more complicated than she believes. Iʼve run tests without her, when she wanʼt around… “
“What are you talking about?” He was confusing me. To me, time machine suggested H.G. Wells — you hop in, set a date, pull the crystal bar, and go. The movie-inspired image in my mind kind of made me want to see what the real thing was like.
“Itʼs hard to explain. Itʼs all math, you know, physics, spacetime. See, her idea was that we could force a gap in spacetime,” he paused trying to calculate if his words accurately expressed the arcane equations that actually made sense to him.
“A hole?” I offered.
“No, a point — thatʼs what she originally computed could be accomplished… “ My unscientific perspective was frustrating him. “Itʼs like a — gap,” he retreated to the word with which heʼd begun, “where spacetime doesnʼt occur.”
“A vacuum?” I was trying, but I really didnʼt understand.
“No. Yes, kind of. A vacuum of time… space, too, necessarily, I suppose… Einstein insisted they were an identity… Itʼs a point — well, originally probably just a geometric point, but we, really me, I was able to expand the, uh, gap lately…”
He was losing me utterly. Too many ideas too inadequately expressed. “So you can push things through this thing, hole, you make?”
“Not a hole, Hunter. Itʼs nothing. A gap. Where time isnʼt permitted, mathematically, doesnʼt happen… or exist, temporarily… But temporarilyʼs time-based… Damn!” Now he was confusing himself, trying to translate what must have been some powerfully wicked math into words.