TIME SPIKE – snippet 21:



Chapter 17



            “You’re sure about this?” Margo asked, peering at the graphics display on Leo Dingley’s laptop screen. “I mean… it seems…”

            “Really weird?” Dingley chuckled. “As opposed to everything else about these…” He turned his head to half-glare at Richard Morgan-Ash, who was sitting next to Malcolm O’Connell on the couch in the living room of the large suite he’d rented at the hotel in Collinsville. “Whatever we’re going to call these things, which we’ve never been able to decide because Mr. Fussbudget over there shoots down every proposal I make.”

            Morgan-Ash smiled thinly. “I have probably ruined my reputation as it is, associating with you heretics. I will be damned, however, if I will hammer the nails into my own professional coffin by presenting a paper entitled ‘Some Observations on the Mystery Bombs from Outer Space.’ Much less ‘Some Observations on the Bizarre Bolides from Beyond.’”

            “They’re good names,” insisted Leo. “’Myboos’ and ‘Bibobs’ are right up there with quarks.”

            “’Myboos’ will be turned into ‘Myboobs’ within eight seconds of reaching the blogosphere,” said Morgan-Ash. “I shudder to think what would happen to ‘Bibobs.’”

            “Will you two quite clowning around?” Margo said crossly, still peering at the graphics. “Dammit, this new data you brought down here with you just doesn’t make sense. Why would there be a time dilation? We’ve never seen it before.”

            Malcolm O’Connell shook his head. “That doesn’t mean anything, Margo. The data that exists on the Grantville event is sketchy, to say the least. None of the equipment that detected anything at the time was designed for the purpose, the way our stuff is now. And all the other events since Grantville have been tiny in comparison. The energy levels either weren’t high enough to produce this phenomenon, or—more likely, in my opinion—the phenomenon existed but we simply weren’t able to detect it. The fact that you can track a jumbo jet’s trajectory from miles away doesn’t mean you can track a sparrow’s from the same distance.”

            He heaved himself up from the couch and came over. “And it’s weirder than you think.” He pointed to a sidebar in one corner of the screen. “See this? If I’m interpreting it correctly, it means the time bolide or whatever the hell we wind up calling it isn’t simply speeding up—so to speak—relative to our own timeline. It’s… I’m not sure what it’s doing, exactly. Call it stuttering.”

            “What do you mean?” asked Nick Brisebois. He was sitting on the other couch in the room next to Timothy Harshbarger, his friend from the state police. Every time Margo looked at the two of them next to each other she had to struggle not to smile. Where the air transport specialist was stocky and on the short side, Harshbarger was at least six feet, four inches tall, and as lean as a rail. The effect was even more striking when they were standing next to each other. Mutt and Jeff, absent the facial hair and the antique costumes.

            Neither man had said anything, since Richard explained the gist of what The Project had been doing in Minnesota for the past few years. Brisebois seemed interested, at least. Harshbarger’s expression had been completely neutral. Margo wondered if the policeman thought they were all half-nuts.

            O’Connell looked over at him. “What I mean is that—if I’m interpreting this correctly, mind you—the bolide’s timeline isn’t speeding up steadily in relation to our own. It’s stuttering. Stopping and starting. At various points, it seems to suddenly slow down and match our own. Or slow down even further. It’s hard to know, of course.  And there seems to be a wobble in the spacial dimension. If I’m right about that, what it means is that the area of impact as the bolide moves back in time isn’t holding steady. It’s moving around. Not much, but some. And it keeps getting bigger too. Well. I think.”

            Brisebois looked a little cross-eyed, as if he were trying to visualize the process. Margo had tried that herself and suspected she looked cross-eyed too, when she did.

            “In other words,” Nick said, “it’s like a spike being driven back in time. But the penetration isn’t steady. It stops or slows down at points. And the—tip of the spike, I’ll call it—is shifting around. And spreading out.”

            “Hey, that’s not bad!” said Malcolm. “What if we call them ‘time spikes,’ Dick? You can’t possibly object to that.”

            “Oh, I can manage to object to almost anything. To start with, there doesn’t seem to have been anything ‘spiky-ish’ about the Grantville event. That was more like a time scoop.” He shook his head. “But forget that, for a moment. Nick’s translation—yes, yes, it’s a layman’s attempt to put mathematical concepts into words, with all the usual imprecisions but it’s still damn good—brought something into focus for me. Is there a correlation between these stutters, as you call them, and the shifting of the spacial locus?”

             “Huh!” O’Connell frowned. “I dunno. Actually, I’m not sure exactly how you’d match the two.” He peered at the screen. “I mean, the way these figures are generated…”

            “Sure we can,” said Leo, sounding excited. “Hold on a minute.” For just about that period of time, he typed furiously at the keyboard. Not the laptop’s own, which Dingley found a nuisance, but a full-sized keyboard he’d brought with him and had connected to one of the computer’s USB ports.

            He finished whatever he was doing and, quite dramatically, pressed the “Enter” key. A completely new graphic appeared on the screen.

            “God damn. Will you look at this?” He lifted the laptop a few inches off the table and swiveled it so that everyone could see.

            Brisebois laughed. “Oh, swell. Leo, that spiderweb or whatever it is may mean something to you, but it’s Greek to me.”

            The reaction of the scientists in the room, however, was quite different. All of them immediately understood what was being displayed. And all of them—including Margo herself, she was pretty sure—practically had their eyes bulging out of their sockets.

            “Jesus,” she whispered. “It’s a perfect correlation.”

            Morgan-Ash, naturally, interjected a cautionary note. “Nothing in nature is ‘perfect,’ Margo. Not to mention that this is simply a graphic depiction of some mathematical concepts which may or may not have any correlation to the real world.”

            O’Connell rolled his eyes. “Oh, great. Just the time and place to have another philosophical debate about whether mathematics inheres in nature or is simply hard-wired in the human brain and our way of interpreting data that has no inherent mathematical nature of its own. God, I swear. If the day ever comes that we master this stuff enough to create our own time machines, I vote that the first expedition goes back and shoots David Hume.”

            “You’d probably have to shoot Locke and Berkeley too,” Brisebois said, smiling. “And just to be on the safe side, jog forward a bit and plug Immanuel Kant. I’m afraid that debate’s pretty deeply rooted in the western intellectual tradition. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in the end, you wound up putting out a contract on Plato and Aristotle.”

            Margo stared at him. It would never have occurred to her that a man whose institution of higher learning had been the Air Force Academy would be familiar with the history of philosophy.

            He must have spotted her stare, because he shifted the smile to her and shrugged modestly. “I read Will Durant’s History of Philosophy when I was a teenager and got interested. I don’t have the training to work my way through Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica, but I’ve read most everything else. Even worked my way through Hegel’s Science of Logic once. The Big Logic, too, not the condensation in his encyclopedia.”

            His friend Tim spoke, for the first time in over an hour. “Good thing for him he was just a lowly trash-hauler. They make allowances for such. If he’d been a fighter jock, he’d never have lived it down.”

            Again, Brisebois did that little modest shrug. “What can I say? I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to be a fighter pilot. My reflexes might have been good enough, but I lacked the key temperamental ingredient.”

            “Which is?” Leo asked.

            “You’ve got to be a complete asshole to make a good fighter jock. I’m just not that arrogant. Even my kids admit it.”

            A little chuckle went through the room. Margo joined in, although she wasn’t moved so much by the humor as by a new peak of personal interest. An impulse made her ask: “What did you think of Schopenhauer?”

            “You mean, besides being a misogynistic jerk?”

            She decided that maintaining one’s focus exclusively on professional matters was probably not what it was cracked up to be. She gave Nick a gleaming smile and said: “No, that’ll do quite nicely.”

            Morgan-Ash cleared his throat. “To get back to where we were, I wasn’t actually raising an abstract philosophical issue. I was simply pointing out that even Malcolm will admit that half the principles—if I may be allowed the term—of his invented mathematics—”

            “Discovered mathematics,” O’Connell interjected.

            “—are just first approximations.” Richard pointed to the display on the screen. “What that is, with all its crispness, is simply a display of logic that’s at least partly guesswork. It’s more like a drawing—or a cartoon—than a photograph.”

            O’Connell looked on the verge of exploding. Richard held up his hand in a somewhat placating gesture. “I’m not sneering, Malcolm. I’m simply cautioning against trying to draw too many exact conclusions.”

            Fortunately, Leo came into it—on Richard’s side, where he normally tended to align with O’Connell. “Hey, look, Malcolm, he’s right. Still and all”—here he shot  Morgan-Ash a reproving look—“the fact remains that while Margo was over-shooting to call the correlation ‘perfect,’ it’s awfully damn good. You’re the statistician, Richard. You tell me what the probability is that a display like that would emerge from random correlations.”

            Morgan-Ash grinned. “Oh, there’s none at all. Not worth talking about. I agree that we’re looking at something real. I’d just be a lot happier if we could match the numbers against—dare I say it—some bloody evidence. You know, that filthiest of all filthy four-letter Anglo-Saxon words. ‘Fact.’”

            The state policeman shifted in his seat. “What sort of fact are you talking about?”

            Morgan-Ash tugged his neatly trimmed beard. “Lord, I don’t know. If we could just get our hands on whatever showed up in Grantville! One thing that seems clear about these time impact events is that, in their own way, they adhere to the principles of thermodynamics. Action, reaction. Nothing is free. If they shift something into the past, something gets shifted forward to the present. If we had enough data to find out, I’d be willing to bet we’d discover the mass involved was identical.”

            Harshbarger stared at him, for a moment. Then, suddenly, came to his feet. “All right. I’ve decided you guys are real. Give me a minute. Nick, I’ll need a hand.”

            With no further ado, he left the suite, with Brisebois on his heels. They were back in less than three minutes, carrying something large and heavy into the suite. It was encased in a peculiar sort of wrapping that Margo realized must be one of the storied body-bags she’d heard of, and seen occasionally on television news footage.

            “Clear the table, would you?”

            Hastily, the scientists moved aside the remains of their lunch. Tim and Nick placed the body bag on the table and, with no further ado, Harshbarger slid open the long zipper.

            “Okay. You tell me. Is this the kind of evidence you’re looking for?”