Beyond Time Chapter 2
Peter returns to the condo and decides to take a shower. Its early afternoon in a day that seems eternal. As he stands in the shower, the water relaxes him as it rolls down his thin six-foot frame.
His mind wanders to his work and the Electro Magnetic Spectrometer, known now simply as the EMSM. Sometimes he wished he had never even seen one. For Peter the machine had a strange addictive magnetism. The gleam of all that shining metal and massive components would draw the attention of any boy’s heart, no matter how old. It looks like a futuristic giant machine gun on a swerving pedestal. Like a magnet it calls out to the male heart to sit in the commander’s perch and fire highly intensified laser pulses into the far expanses of the known universe.
But it’s what the EMSM can do that has captured Peter’s passion. Even the most imaginative scientific mind would have scoffed at the possibility even a couple of years before. And among all the scientists in the world, he heads up a small team to use it. Along with an atomic level power source, the EMSM is capable of sending any electro magnetic frequency far into the outer reaches of space and receiving it back.
What added to the excitement was a recent increase in the number of comets that impacted Jupiter in the Kuiper Belt. This increase is unusual enough to investigate further, and it provided a very particular application for the EMSM. In the last few weeks this discovery had changed Peter’s focus.
Peter is now using the EMSM at its full capacity, testing with every single range of electro magnetic frequency to discover the source of the comets.
Again, lost in the intoxicating fascination of his research, Peter loses track of time. The steamy hot drops of water mesmerize him as they flow over his smooth head and down his neck.
Finally he gets out of the shower and dries himself off. He unpacks his supplies from the store and brews some dark hazelnut coffee. Then he cuts himself a chocolate brownie. When the coffee is ready, he pours a cup of rich roast and tops it off with cream, raw sugar, and a pinch of cocoa.
He then pulls out his laptop and begins an e-mail to a friend in the Physics Department at the university:
I’m away for a few days. Found my best friend from childhood days dead from a drug overdose. I drove by the crime scene and had to get away. I’m at the coast; rented a condo at Garden City. I’ve told you how I love the wind and sound of the ocean. I’m sitting on the back porch as I write. There’s a clear view right down to the ocean, save for a few sea oats. A cool breeze is whipping around and splashing my face. And as you might expect I can hear the waves crashing. Got George Winston playing in the background and I’m enjoying a deep, rich cup of your favorite coffee and a fudge brownie. Just thought I’d rub it in a bit.
Seriously, Jimmy, if I didn’t try to lighten it up, I’d be crying. I’m dying here. My best friend is dead. He told me before that he felt worthless and unloved.
Jimmy, if you knew the kind of friend he was, you wouldn’t believe it. I’m the one who’s worthless. Just ask my wife. She’ll tell ya. Elizabeth asked me to leave this morning too. Mark this day in my Hall of Fame for sure.
Anyway, I could use a friend to talk to right now. Could you meet me here to talk? The condo is at the south end of the beach, number 312. Take a right when you come in at the pier. I’ll probably be here for at least a couple of days.
Hope you can make it, but if you’re busy, I’ll understand.
June 15, 1968
Peter and Ben kept running until they reached the observatory in the middle of the woods behind Ben’s house. The observatory had become a refuge for Ben and Sarah when things got unbearable at home. Nothing more than a tree house, it was fashioned so that Peter and Ben could lie on the roof and look up between the branches at the stars.
The two boys had pooled their allowance and the monies they earned collecting soda bottles together and purchased a quality telescope. Both had become fascinated with identifying and following different constellations and planets. For Peter, these evenings served as the beginning of his love affair with science, a love affair that would influence his college studies and eventually his career.
Peter and Ben scrambled up the rope ladder and pulled it up after them. They both felt safe and secure almost completely hidden from view in the crook of a spacious oak tree. The two buddies grabbed some crackers from their secret stash, a wooden box next to the door. As the early evening dusk darkened, they pulled out their telescope from under its tarp protection and started searching the skies for their favorite constellations.
Peter and Ben had developed a bond that was unusual for young boys of twelve. Divorce was a rare thing in the late 1960s. Couples stayed together through extremely difficult circumstances, but the trend was beginning to change. Within the next couple of years both boys would experience the heartless ripping of divorce, along with other family horrors.
The signs were already there. Ben’s dad had begun to beat his family. When the beatings occurred, Ben experienced heart-wrenching turmoil. His very manhood and worth were shaken to the core. Why his father would hurt his family was inconceivable. But what loomed even larger, eating at the core of his heart like a cancer, was why he couldn’t stand up to him. Was he that weak?
Peter’s dad was more like a zombie when he drank. He would sit in his chair in front of the TV with his head propped on his fist. He just wanted to be left alone. Peter and his brother and sister were distractions to be corralled into other places. Though Peter was not beaten, he felt pain as well. His was the pain of disinterest and of the slow tearing of his heart in two, as his parents grew further and further apart, watching television in different rooms and sleeping in separate beds.
The boys looked through their telescope for a while, tracking Orion and forming their own constellations out of the surrounding stars.
Eventually they settled into their sleeping bags. As they faded off to sleep they played the gas station game, taking turns naming gas stations until they could name no more.
A few hundred yards back through the woods at Ben’s house, a tragedy was unfolding. Someone was stumbling down the basement stairs to look for a secret stash of liquor.
July 17, 2002
As the heat of the midsummer afternoon begins to fade, Jimmy Boullion knocks on Peter’s rented condo at Garden City. He’s a handsome young man in his early thirties and absolutely brilliant. He stands six-foot-three with thick, light brown hair and a square chin. A Cajun from Lafayette, Louisiana, his talents in physics and chemistry are referred to as gifts by his colleagues.
Jimmy almost made it as a major league pitcher. A left-handed curve ball specialist, he made it as far as double-A ball in the Red Sox organization. His baseball career ended when he got hammered by a line drive into his pitcher’s hand, breaking three fingers. After recovery, his curve ball was never the same. Eventually he gave up on his baseball career and returned to school to finish his undergraduate degree in physics. The pursuit of a master’s degree, and eventually his doctorate, brought him to the University of South Carolina.
“Jimmy! That was quick. You must have been ‘flying low’!” Peter says, as he opens the door. Just seeing Jimmy brings some relief to his battered heart.
“Yeah, Doc, I got my bonus for the meteorite research project and used it for a down payment. Take a look.”
Jimmy stands aside so he can see. Peter peers out past the small grassy front yard to a new shiny red Mustang. “That’s nice. Good job!”
“It’s only a six-cylinder, but it will go!” Jimmy says as he moves past Peter into the condo. “Nice place you got here!”
“Thanks. Can I get you something to drink or eat?”
“Well, you made some mention of coffee and a fudge brownie in your e-mail. That’s really the reason I came,” Jimmy says, grinning.
Jimmy and Peter are colleagues at the university and have become close friends. Peter is inspired by Jimmy’s enthusiasm and raw intelligence. And Jimmy often looks to the seasoned professor for advice with his career and other life issues, seeing him as kind of a father figure.
Peter and Jimmy currently work on different funded projects, but they have done research together in the past. Jimmy is part of a team from local universities who have been given a government grant to do research on a meteorite deposit discovered in the Antarctic by a team of international scientists.
After the coffee and brownies are prepared, the two colleagues retreat to the back porch.
“Great view, Doc! What a birthing place for inspiration!”
“I’m enjoying it, but my life is in shreds. Like I mentioned in the e-mail, Elizabeth and I are not doing well. We had a huge fight this morning, and she asked me to leave. Then, as I was packing, I got this call about Ben. I think I could have helped him, Jimmy, but I was too late.”
“Wow, Doc, that’s horrible! Two blows one right on top of the other! Do you have any idea why your friend Ben killed himself?”
Peter takes in Jimmy’s question, thinking a few moments before answering. “As long as I knew Ben, he never thought he was worth anything. I heard his dad tell him so over and over again. My dad was not the greatest role model, but he never yelled at me the way Ben’s dad did. Can you imagine what it would do to you to be told by your own dad that you were a mess-up and not worth the cost of groceries to feed you?”
“I can’t even imagine that!” Jimmy responds with a look of disbelief. “My dad was just the opposite. He wasn’t perfect, but when he messed up, he apologized. He let me know all the time that he was proud of me and that he loved me.”
“That’s rare to have a dad like that, Jimmy. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I’m appreciating him more and more the older I get. Having your parents in your corner, and especially your dad, is huge if you’re a guy. I think it shapes how you feel about yourself.”
“No doubt,” agrees Peter. “And for Ben, the message that he was worthless that he got from his dad was reinforced by the circumstances of his life, especially what happened to him one night when we were twelve. Maybe I’ll tell you about it one day. I have trouble talking about it because of what it did to Ben. The circumstances of that night set off a horrible chain of events that sent Ben through hell on earth.”
“Wow! So how do you think you could have helped him?”
“I was probably the only person who let him know that all that stuff about him being worthless was a lie. The only people who know the real Ben are me and his sister, Sarah.”
“Where has Sarah been lately?” asks Jimmy.
Peter looks at Jimmy sadly. “Sarah escaped from the state mental hospital on Bull Street five years ago. No one has seen her since.”
The two friends sit in silence, both deep in their own thoughts.
After a while, Peter breaks the silence. “I’ve let down the two people who have meant the most to me over the years. I guess my life has become too busy and structured. I’ve detached myself from what really matters, the people I love. Elizabeth told me that I’ve emotionally withdrawn from her for months. I’ve been so caught up in our experiments at work that I didn’t even realize it!”
“How can I help, Doc?”
“Well, the fact that you’re willing to be here means a lot. I felt so alone earlier. I just need someone to talk to.”
“You got it, bro,” Jimmy responds, resting his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I know you’d do the same for me.”
Peter begins to fight back tears. He stops talking, struggling to contain his emotions.
Jimmy remains silent, his hand still resting on his friend’s shoulder.
After a few minutes, Peter changes the subject, mostly to get his mind off of his pain. “How’s your research going? Have you discovered anything interesting? Last I heard you were studying the affects of heat on the meteorite deposit.”
Suddenly Jimmy stands up and looks intently at Peter. “I do have some interesting news. That’s one of the reasons I got here so quickly. I couldn’t wait to tell someone!”
“You certainly didn’t waste any time. Tell me, what did you discover?” Jimmy’s excitement was a welcome salve for Peter’s despairing heart.
“Well, what I suspected proved to be true. I’m almost positive that I’ve stumbled upon something completely new, a particle with potential history-making characteristics. You’ve heard of the experiments of the Dutch physicist Hendrik Casimir and what he did to produce negative density, right?” asks Jimmy, becoming animated, his arms and hands moving with his excited words.
“Yeah, weren’t they able to produce negative density using two electrically charged plates, or something?” Peter asks, searching his memory.
“Indeed.” Jimmy’s excitement builds even more. “You have a good memory. The plates were fixed a fraction of a millimeter apart in a vacuum. Do you remember the potential ramifications of the existence of negative density and Kip Thorne’s theory in 1988 at Cal Tech?”
“I don’t remember exactly. Doesn’t negative density play a part in the possibility of time travel?”
“Yes!” Jimmy yells out. “Thorne and his colleagues suggested that a wormhole could be used to travel into time, but there were several huge obstacles to proving their theory, besides proving the existence of a wormhole.”
The mention of the word wormhole sends Peter’s mind deep into the land of possibilities. Within the last few weeks Peter’s own research with the EMSM to discover the source of the recent increase of comets in the area of the Kuiper Belt had sent a ripple through a very selective portion of the scientific community. His EMSM transmissions at certain frequencies had uncovered an area of immense density, unlike any beyond the theory board. He had repeated the transmissions enough to his satisfaction to confirm the existence of an object of unprecedented mass. Among the possible explanations was the existence of a wormhole in the far reaches of our solar system.
“You OK, Doc?” asks Jimmy.
Peter realizes he’s been staring blankly into space. “Yeah, I’m OK. Please continue.” He decides to hold his news until he hears the rest of what Jimmy has to say.
“As you know,” Jimmy continues, “the curvature from an intensely dense area can become nearly infinite, perhaps opening up a tunnel, a ‘wormhole,’ a distortion of space-time in a region of the universe that would link one location or time with another. And as I said before, if a wormhole could be found, Thorne and his colleagues saw at least two obstacles in the way of using a wormhole for time travel.”
“Yes, I remember one obstacle,” responds Peter, now standing up himself. “The size of the wormhole was microscopic, which would make it impossible for almost anything to enter it.”
“That’s right,” Jimmy answers. “And the second obstacle is the length of time the wormhole remains open. Wormholes tend to open and shut within a fraction of a second. The only way to keep a wormhole open, according to all the theories, is with matter that has negative density. That’s why Casimir’s theory with the electrically charged plates was so significant. But nothing containing negative density has ever been harnessed for use outside of a controlled laboratory setting.”
“That is, until now.” But before Peter can finish his thoughts, however, there is a beeper or cell phone sound to the right of the porch, followed by a rustling in the bushes.
“What was that?” Jimmy cries out.
“Somebody’s over there, beside the condo!” Peter points.
They hear footsteps running toward the front of the condo.
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