Anchors No More: #46 –Finale–: The Problem With IndecisionsDec 1, 2014
Setting his pack down, Gary closed the door behind him. It was stuffy inside the small rounded chamber, he adjusted the wetsuit around his crotch while Holly entered the code and fine-tuned the mixture.
Finishing the preparations, she turned to him, saw the questions in his eyes. She gave a slight smile, “It’s too late now,” she said, pausing a moment before leaning forward and giving him a kiss on the cheek. It’s too late, she thought, taking a deep breath, her eyes lingering on Gary, it’s now or nothing.
Holly pressed the green button.
The chamber grew brighter and brighter, searing white light, Gary closed his eyes, felt the pressure rising, his heart thrashing in his chest… and then something went wrong. He was pushed back, the light split, shattered, the pressure shifted from a vacuum to a plenum and back to a vacuum, his ears popped, there was a whining sound, it grew, the pitch scalding his brain…
Holly jerked back, wincing as the pain grew. She held her ears, gasped for breath. She made the mistake of looking around in a panic, trying to find Gary, and the light scorched her eyes. She buried her head between her legs, expecting to be blown to pieces, or at least torn into them as the temporal device exploded or the wormhole destabilized or any number of horrible, horrible things.
But then it stopped. The machine grew quiet, the pressure normalized.
The lights went out, smoke began filling the chamber. “Oh shit,” Gary said, quickly reaching out and pulling the emergency release handle. The door unlocked but it was stuck shut. He had to give it a hard shove. The door squeaked on its swollen hinges and Gary and Holly crawled out of the device and lay on the floor, breathing heavily, coughing up the carcinogens in their lungs. When he was finally able to think clearly, Gary rolled over to face Holly, “What the hell was that?”
She shook her head, “I have no idea,” she said, “Something…” she intended to say more but nothing came out. It was abnormal was all she could muster in her mind, abnormal and irrational. She sat up, watching the smoke curl from the device, “Everything was right,” she said, “it was precise, to the letter. Nothing should have gone wrong.” Anger infiltrated her faculties as she stood and begin pacing.
Gary was slower to his feet, “Unless it just doesn’t work,” he said, swiftly realizing how easy it was to take his statement wrong when Holly shot him her disgusted look, “No, not your machine or your physics, your math is on the button, it’s just…” he paused and walked to Holly’s machine, “I mean, maybe the numbers add up but the concept we’re basing them on doesn’t exist in the way we had imagined. What if we need to start with something else as a base? Maybe our theory of the general mechanics of relativity isn’t accurate enough to physically allow the continuum jump to happen? What if science is just wrong?”
“It’s right,” she said, getting pissed, glaring at the temporal device, “Something else happened.”
Watching the smoke tendril to the ceiling, Gary realized he should make it stop. He dashed over to the corner and grabbed a fire extinguisher, spraying the foam over the interior and exterior of the machine. He unscrewed access panels and sprayed, dousing the smoldering wires and computer boards. Walking around the back of the machine he sprayed the smoking power couplet and paused, staring hard, trying to understand what he was seeing. “Holly,” he said, bending down closer to where the cable should have been, “Come look at this.”
Holly stopped pacing, drawn out of her dark and desperate pit by the depth of disbelief in Gary’s voice. She walked around the temporal device and looked where Gary was kneeling. When she saw what he was pointing at, she forgot about Gary, she forgot about the failed trial run of her temporal device, she forgot about the basement and the lab and the worry and fatigue.
She bent down, touched the cable-shaped sac, drew her hand back and examined her fingers, “It’s sticky,” she said, “this is…” she touched the sac again, pinched it, “It’s some kind of membrane, I don’t…” Holly followed the curve of the membrane and saw it ended near the wall where the plug of the power chord was secure in the socket, a few centimeters of its cable hanging down limply, cut cleanly a half-millimeter from the floor.
“What the hell?” she muttered, her eyes slowly meeting Gary’s. He had no ready answer to offer so he just shook his head and stared at her.
They left the basement, climbing the long staircase back to their lab and talked until dawn, finding no answers, only more and more questions. Holly’s disappointment in her failure was twisted with her curiosity about the fact of the membrane, the concrete actuality of it. Nothing could explain it. It was some side effect of the temporal misfire, but what? How? They decided to go home, shower, eat dinner or breakfast or whatever it would be.
They took the elevator up and strolled through the ARLIS compound as the early shift was coming in, coffee cups clutched in hands, small talk about the game last night. Out the front door they went, walking into the slight chill of the sunny morning. They did not speak, not from the moment they left the lab, each of them buried in the tangle of their thoughts.
Passing through the security gate, they walked through the quad, heading for the footpath that led towards the main parking lot. Holly noticed a man walking towards them, tall with dark hair, a handsome face framed by a slight beard. He has beautiful eyes, she thought gazing into them as they passed one another smiling. Holly fought the urge to look back as he went by and Gary played off the pang he felt. He knew the man, Daniel Hobbes, a senior researcher, a legend in Gary’s eyes. “So,” he said, hoping he sounded casual, “you want to meet for dinner at your place before we go back? Try to work out some details before we get to the lab?”
Holly shook off her crush, turned to Gary with an unexpected enthusiasm, “Yeah, let’s do it,” she said, “I have some ideas but I need to sleep on them.”
At home later, sleeping on it. Time passed, speculations were raised and dismissed as Holly brooded over tea and buttered toast. The barrier Holly could not get through was the fact that she had failed to send them forward. All of her calculations and formulas were correct, the device itself was perfect: if she couldn’t explain why they did not travel in time then she couldn’t define the function that would explain the membrane. But there was nothing, everything was the same in her numbers and conclusions, there was nothing to account for the appearance of the…
It was four twenty-three in the afternoon when she realized what happened. She burned her tongue when the thought hit, her brain forgetting that she had just poured the tea as her body felt the instinct to sip while she pondered. She set the cup down and stared at the table for a minute before leaping up and grabbing her notebook. The world fell away as she got into her zone, scribbling, jotting, noting, sketching. When Gary came to pick her up for their shift, she pulled him inside by the coat sleeve, ignoring his protests and questions, excitedly muttering, “Come here, look at this… just come on…”
She pointed to the notebook, “Look. Just… “ she drew him down to see what she had done, “This equation, this is the sac, this is why…” she jammed her finger down on a particularly long equation, “the chord shifted position, it was there,” slam, “and then it moved,” slam, “the membrane is where the second chord would have been. The contact, the rejection of the intrusion.”
He understood but he didn’t, it was heavy theory, deep mathematical abstraction, but he was convinced immediately and he sat down. She joined him, and they stayed there all night, calling off their shift, grateful for their relative autonomy of schedule. They worked at Holly’s kitchen table until they had it solved.
When they did, they set their pencils down and sat back. Holly felt a clarity, grounded by certainty and understanding. She turned to Gary, a smile spreading across her face.
“So, what do you think,” she asked, taking a deep breath as her eyes filled with wild wonder and dream, “should we do it?”
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.