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He could hear the buzz of the fluorescent lights. That was the first sensation. Then someone calling his name, but he was dreaming. Wasn’t he? He was inside a dry white mist. There was something wrong. His left arm throbbed. The voice became stronger. He opened his eyes…
“Daniel? Daniel? Are you OK?”
Deborah knelt over him, concern on her face. He was lying on the lab floor. He sat up and winced. His arm was numb and tingly at the same time, but his fingers stung.
“Daniel, stay down. I’ll get an ambulance.”
“No, no. I’m fine, honestly.” He looked at his fingers. The tips were lightly blistered. Thank God for that. It wasn’t a heart attack.
“What happened?” she asked.
He shook his head. What had happened? He had been checking the circuit boards prior to tomorrow’s experiments, carefully sliding them out, checking the breakers, making sure none of the capacitors had blown their casings.
And then he had been lying here.
“I must have had a jolt from the machine, touched a live contact or something.”
“Oh my God, Daniel! Didn’t you isolate it from the main circuit?”
“Of course I did,” he retorted irritably. “There must have been a capacitor that hadn’t discharged.” Actually, to be fair, she was justified to ask. He had been a tad cavalier with the isolators in the past, but that was only because he knew the system so well. “If it wasn’t isolated I’d be charcoal by now. You know how much energy this thing eats.” He got to his feet and smiled fragilely at her. “I’m fine. What about the machine?”
They walked over to the chamber. There was a circuit board half out of its slot. Daniel noted with satisfaction that all the isolators were in the off position. He stepped into the chamber and pulled the circuit board free, carefully avoiding any of the exposed contacts.
“Looks OK, but we had better replace it before this afternoon’s circus arrives.”
“It might be diplomatic not to refer to the committee that is funding this whole thing as ‘a circus’,” said Deborah dryly, taking the board from him.
“Well, I had better get this thing tested and ticketty-boo for our VIP’s then, hadn’t I.”
Deborah shook her head and moved off towards the storeroom. “Ticketty-boo? Very geek scientist.”
Daniel was in the chamber, testing the final board when Deborah announced the visitors. “Gentlemen, may I present Doctor Daniel Broome, the lead architect on the project.”
Daniel smiled and nodded to the group. “Bear with me, gentlemen. I’m just reversing the polarity, and then I’ll be with you.”
He grinned as he saw Deborah wince behind their backs. They often joked about B movie science.
At least one member of the committee got it, grinning back at him. “If you reverse the polarity, Doctor, are we likely to be eaten by dinosaurs rampaging through your time machine?”
“A good question, sir, but calling it a time machine is over-egging it a little. In theory it can’t actually travel back in time further than the first time we switched it on, but in reality we’ve only been able to manage a fraction of a second. In any case, the wormhole would be so small it’s unlikely anything could ever travel through it.”
“So what’s the point?” This from an older man at the front of the small knot of people.
“Well, sending a man through time is just science fiction. And really the time dilation is just a side-effect. What we are doing here is proving the principle of instantaneous communication. If we can create a wormhole stable enough to send a radio wave through, then the wave will come out of the other end at exactly the same time as it entered it.” He saw the look he had seen from money men so many times before: the look that said ‘I understand,’ stamped on complete confusion.
“Look, you make a phone call from New York to Sydney. As you talk there is a few seconds delay as your message travels to the other side of the world and back again. It makes those sorts of calls difficult, because you keep interrupting each other. Now think about that problem multiplied a hundred times if we send a man to Mars. Imagine that a million times if we want to send a craft to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbour. With a wormhole we can talk to Australia with no delay. We can talk to astronauts with no delay. We don’t even have to spend billions sending a craft four light years away, we can just use a wormhole as the other end of a telescope. Anything that traverses a wormhole covers the trip end to end instantly, no matter how far apart the ends are.”
“So what’s this about time travel?” The first man again.
“It takes a lot of energy. To test the theory what we do is create a very small wormhole, a metre in length. Then we spin the end round and round, unimaginably fast. That end then slows down in time, Einstein’s Theory and all that. After a while the two ends are actually in different times. The fixed end is now, the spinning end a few hundredths of a second in the past. Then we pass a radio signal through the stationary end, which should be out of sync with the spinning end. The signal should come out of the spinning end just before it’s transmitted into the stationary end.”
“Wait!” The older man. “Before it’s transmitted?”
Daniel nodded. “That way we know it’s working.”
“Jesus Christ! We could get share prices an hour before the market does?”
“Well, yes, I guess. But that’s not what this project is about. It’s really about instantaneous communications.”
“It was, maybe, but if we can get messages from the future, that’s what we’re going to fund.”
“But what if we receive a transmission from the future, but then decide not to transmit it?” The intelligent, younger man again.
Daniel grinned. “The grandfather paradox. What if I travelled back in time and killed my grandfather before my father was conceived? Then I wouldn’t have been born, so I couldn’t have killed him, and so on. It’s a nice conceit, but it’s impossible. The laws of the universe prohibit such a paradox. If we don’t transmit it, we won’t have received it. Let me demonstrate.”
Daniel bent back down and slid the final board back home, flicking the circuit open. Suddenly the air around him took on an oily feel. His hairs stood on end. He shot a glance at the isolation switch, the breaker that he had not bothered to switch off. Deborah followed his gaze and her face took on a look of horror.
He could hear the buzz of the fluorescent lights. That was the first sensation. Then someone calling his name, but he was dreaming. Wasn’t he? He was inside a dry white mist. There was something wrong. His left arm throbbed. The voice became stonger. He opened his eyes…
“Daniel? Daniel? Are you OK?”