By James Christensen
An object can move along a line until it is blocked by another object. In fact, it can move along a line in any of three dimensions until it is blocked by another object occupying that space. In fact, an object also moves along the line of time… that is, until it is blocked by something else.
“But why?” asked Joel, again.
“Oh, come on! It’s science!” replied Nick. “Did Louis Pasteur ask ‘why’ when he invented penicillin?”
“Alexander Fleming invented penicillin, and I’m pretty sure that he had a goal in mind for his experiments.”
“The goal is science! We have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experiment with the fourth dimension, and you’re scared.”
“Well, it does seem kind of like meddling.”
“Joel, Joel, we’ve gone over this a hundred times, and still don’t have a plan. What’re we going to do when the time device arrives this weekend?”
“The proper place to start is-”
“Is observation,” Nick mimicked in a sarcastic tone. “You can stare at it all day if you want, but I’m going to poke it. I bet the guys from Montaburg Tech have a plan.”
“You know, you have a point. We should communicate with them before forming definite ideas,” said Joel.
“We should get rid of the competition before forming definite ideas,” muttered Nick. “They literally know nothing about science.”
“Don’t be dense, Nick. David Montaberg founded that school, and they are the top two students,” countered Joel.
“The traitor. Montaburg was president and taught science here way before he went bonkers and started that school.”
“Show some respect,” said Joel shooting a reproachful look to his friend. “It was during his so called ‘eccentricity’ that he invented the time device.”
“Yeah, and now we have to share it with them.”
“Yes. So, you spend the day getting used to it, and I will send an email inviting our partners to coffee tomorrow afternoon. If you have any ideas you want to share, please be prepared to present them in an organized and respectful fashion.”
“Hmph,” snorted Nick. “Well, tell them to get ready to learn the true nature of time.”
They parted ways, Joel to the computer lab and Nicholas to the dorms, muttering all the way. His last comment was a reflection of the long-standing controversy between the two colleges, Latinus Fisicus and Montaburg Tech, regarding the relation of time and space. The traditional Einsteinian theory of time and space led to what was officially taught at all the best schools: time is the fourth dimension, a natural extension of the first three, and able to be described in the same terms. At Montaburg Tech, the teachers allowed a little more free thinking, and each student had a personal pet theory of the nature of time and its relation to space. Any theory supported by sound thinking would be considered just as valid as any other until it could be proven one way or another. Now that the esteemed David Montaburg had passed away, his final research project, the Tolerably Realistic Architecture for Dimensional Identity Simulation, had been left to both schools to be shared between the two.
The next day, Nick stepped into the coffee shop his usual fifteen minutes late. He stepped over to the table occupied by three college students. Joel stood up to introduce the other two.
“Joel, meet Chloe Liberty and Thomas Miller. Chloe, Thomas; this is Nicholas Jaques.”
“You can call me Nick,” said Nick with a smile as he suppressed an instinct to smooth down his hair. He could recall with perfect accuracy what he had seen in the mirror just before heading out, and knew that his dark hair needed no adjustment. Nevertheless, this was Chloe’s first impression of him. Oh, and Tom’s.
“Pleased to meet you, Nick,” said Chloe.
“What’s up?” said Tom as he looked Nick over closely.
After ordering a coffee, the group began to discuss the plans for the experimental device.
“We’re going to give Joel paper and a pen to make observations, while the rest of us who want to learn about time do something to it,” began Nick.
“We don’t actually know what the device does,” said Chloe. “Observation may be the safest way to learn about it.”
“If you need protection, I know karate, but I want to experiment, not stand and meditate.”
Tom spoke up. “Do you have a specific plan of action?”
“I doubt it,” commented Joel, quietly.
“Well, if there’s any buttons, I’m pushing them.”
Joel rolled his eyes. “Seriously,-”
“I am serious,” continued Nick. “Are you going to learn more about a car with a magnifying glass or a wrench?”
“You want to take it apart?” questioned Tom with an amused smirk.
Nick sat back and sipped his coffee. “Look at it this way,” he replied. “We need to change the state of it. Psychologists learn how people work from abnormal behavior, not just looking at normal people.”
“You want to break it?” said Tom, with raised eyebrows.
“No, of course not, not break it.”
“Well, if there are buttons, I hope they adjust speed. Do you know how much money we could make selling a device that changed your perception of time? Waiting for the bus could over in a second, or you could savor your favorite sport in slow motion. Or if you could record and replay…
“The only thing Tom is concerned about is money,” Chloe informed them. “I’m interested in more practical applications, though we really can’t even consider how it could be useful to people before learning what it even is. What’s your perspective, Joel?”
“Like you said,” Joel answered, “We can only guess what the device actually does. However, whatever Montaburg was researching is certainly research worthy of being continued. I only wish to carry on for the sake of science.”
After a few minutes of discussion, it was agreed that Chloe and Joel would focus on observation and bring respective equipment while Tom and Nick would focus on “hands-on observation,” as Tom had so diplomatically put forth.
Back at Montaburg Tech, Chloe and Tom were finalizing their plans.
“We must focus on energy first,” stated Chloe. “How much and what kind does it use? Maybe it generates energy. I’ll bring something to observe the electro-magnetic spectrum.”
“And I’ll bring a battery tester, in case it doesn’t turn on right away,” replied Tom. Getting a scowl from Chloe, he rephrased himself. “An electrometer. It measures the electricity going through something. I’ll use it to measure current in the device. Or in its batteries if need be.”
“Hmph. I suppose that will be more exact than analyzing the electro-magnetic spectrum, if not as thorough,” she replied.
Meanwhile, Joel was at his desk with a piece of paper and a freshly sharpened pencil. “A camera could be useful, to visually record the entire process. And if it emits any form of light, we can capture that on film.”
Nick was laying on his bed, peering through his favorite marble. “I’ll bring something like a prism to see if we can refract the light into more than the usual colors.”
“It should be a high-speed camera, so we can detect the smallest movements that might happen,” continued Joel.
“And bring a seismometer so we can detect when I’m hungry.
“And a timer accurate to the micro-second.”
“Whatever. I’m just going to wing it. Goodnight.” Nick rolled over and promptly fell asleep, leaving Joel to continue muttering to himself and his paper.
The next day, the four met in the large lab at Latinus where the machine was waiting for them. It lay on a central table as the main attraction among many other scientific devices. Observation began immediately.
“It’s about 4 feet long,” began Joel, his gaze intently fixed on the box.
“And about 50 centimeters wide,” continued Chloe.
“Yeah, and about this tall,” said Nick, gesturing with his hands.
“Let them do what they’re good at, and we’ll do our business,” Tom said to Nick.
As they approached, Tom wrinkled his forehead and asked “Why is it made of wood?”
“Montaburg always had a flair for style,” answered Joel. “Look at these ornate knobs on the top.”
“Ha! Handles!” declared Nick, and immediately reached for them. Sure enough, the decorative handles were attached to a lid that, once removed, revealed intricate electronic workings.
“There’s so much space!” commented Chloe.
“It must be for something,” said Tom. “It would be inefficient to have half the box empty.”
Joel spoke up. “Look, this looks like it emits something into the empty space.”
“And this looks like the on switch,” said Nick.
Click. As soon as he flipped the switch, the machine began to pulse a low humming, almost grating sound.
“Wait! We have hardly begun analysis!” shouted Chloe.
The inside of the box began to glow as a beam of light shone from the piece that Joel had pointed out and continued to the end of the box.
“We need a spectrometer,” said Chloe. “Where can we find one?”
“Over here, let me help you move it over,” said Joel.
As they went to the other side of the lab, Tom and Nick continued to poke at the machine.
“That’s odd. There seems to be a current going through the wood,” commented Tom, looking at his electrometer.
“I wonder what the light does,” puzzled Nick as he fidgeted with his marble. “Do you think the light affects the current? I could block the beam with this marble, and you check if the current decreases.”
“I don’t want to break anything…” Tom objected.
Rolling his eyes, Nick replied, “I’ll put the marble here and just roll it across to briefly interrupt the beam. You check for a disruption in the current.”
Nick dropped the marble into the box and gave it a gentle flick with his finger. It rolled toward the middle of the box, blocking the beam of light
Nothing happened. Nothing at all.
Back to Broken Time stories
Other Stories by James Christensen