The Causeway – Unknown Chapter

Posted in science fiction on February 22, 2014 by Alex

Behind the main skyscraper of CTC industries, a young homeless woman slept. She appeared comfortable, lying on top of a pile of cardboard boxes, beneath a pile of magazines and newspapers. She was not supposed to be here, however.

A young security guard came out and gave her a gentle nudge with his foot. “Sorry, miss. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the area.” The woman bolted to an upright position, still half in a dream state. “NOOOOOOOO!!! Where are they?! Who?! What?! AAAGGHHH!!” She swung her head left, didn’t find what she was looking for, then swung it to the right, then up, then down. Her eyes seemed like they were about to shake loose from their sockets.

The security guard patiently waited for the homeless woman to come to her senses. He stood still as a statue, not twitching a single muscle in his face. He had spent some time practicing standing perfectly still for hours at a time. When he was a child he had dreamed of becoming a guard at Buckingham Palace, only for that dream to be dashed by his lack of Britishness. In time, he hoped to create a tradition of stoicism amongst security guards in the States. He had only had this job for two months, but his ability to keep calm in potentially dangerous situations had already become a legend with the other security guards at the company. Or so he was told. The other guys may not have been entirely serious when they told him about that part. If he was a less dedicated security guard, thoughts like that would have caused him to wipe sweat off his forehead or shuffle his feet nervously. Not this security guard, however. Economy of movement was a way of life for him.

The homeless woman finally stopped gibbering and looked up at the statue standing patiently in front of her.  “I’m sorry, sir. I… I just have nowhere else to go.”

This security guard was not an uncompassionate man, but he did have to do his job. “Miss, there are plenty of spaces behind plenty of other buildings all over town. This one is off limits.”

The woman lurched at the security guard and grabbed his shirt. In an instant, the security guard assessed the woman’s strength and determined how to support her weight with the least amount of movement. To the untrained eye, he would have appeared perfectly still while this happened. “You don’t understand! This is… or was… my home. I’ve lived here all my life.” Enough tears poured down her face to end a drought.

 

A look of puzzlement and confusion failed to appear on the security guard’s face. He was, however, extremely confused. Surely she didn’t mean she had spent all her life in a back alley behind a skyscraper. Rationalizations raced through his head until he came to the conclusion that she was simply crazy. “Well, you don’t live here anymore, come on.”

More tears poured down the desperate woman’s face. A small reservoir which in the right hands could have provided the water needs for a small village began forming around her feet. “Where? I don’t even exists anymore. I went to the police, and they found no record of me, my house, or anyone in my neighborhood. Nobody even remembered that there used to be houses here. I’ve been erased!”

 

The security guard was beginning to think that this woman’s case of the crazies was going to affect his ability to not move. This was quickly turning into the challenge of a lifetime. “I don’t know about any of that, miss. I just know that you have to go somewhere else. Otherwise I will have to call the police.”

 

The woman began to beat her fists against the security guard’s chest out of desperation. His shirt became soaked with her tears. “Please, please. Talk to the police. Talk to the people who have lived here a long time. Something very, very wrong is going on here and nobody seems to notice. All the people who used to live here are gone. My children disappeared. I thought I saw one of them, little Bobby, last week but it turned out to be a forty year old man. I’ve got no one to turn to!” The woman ungracefully slid down the security guard’s torso and curled up in a ball around his feet, drenching herself in the puddle of her own tears.

 

The security guard knelt down and patted the young woman on the head. This was completely out of character for him, and broke exactly sixty-two of his own personal rules, as detailed in a notebook he had kept since he was a child. “If I look into this, will you get out of here? There’s a homeless shelter three blocks down on Broadway. They’ll get you some food, and hopefully a place to sleep, and maybe even some work. I’ll even check in with you from time to time and let you know how my investigation is going. Does that work for you?”

 

The homeless woman attempted to stop crying. She sniffed. “Yes, thank you, thank you, thank you. Are you really going to investigate what’s going on here? Promise?”

 

“I promise.”

 

As he escorted the young homeless woman off the premises, the security guard contemplated just ignoring the whole incident and not pursuing the ravings of this lunatic any further. After all, he had simply done what he had to do. But his sense of honor and duty got the better of him. He had made a deal with her. He had made a promise, and security guard Carl Snyder never broke his promises.

 

 

The Causeway – Chapter 5

Posted in science fiction on January 3, 2014 by Alex

WHO’S THE BOSS?

“Time now for your Wall Street Minute. There was a flurry of trading activity just before the closing bell today, as record numbers of stocks exchanged hands. The largest numbers of shares involved major American auto manufacturers GM and Ford. Every oil company saw record numbers of shares sold, sparking accusations of insider trading. The cause of all this activity is still unknown, but watchdog groups are suspicious. Environmental activist Rainbow Kirkegaard claims that the oil companies have finally depleted all of the world’s oil reserves, and that the executives are bailing themselves out, saying ‘I’ll bet they all have private island paradises where they’ve stockpiled supplies for the coming apocalypse. I wouldn’t put it past them.’ That’s your Wall Street Minute, here on KRIP, your home for news, weather, and the greatest folk songs of the sixties.”

“To everything turn, turn, turn…”

Charlie was back in the limousine wearing his skeptical face. He enjoyed being skeptical.  He enjoyed analyzing data and arguments based off that data and finding ways to poke holes in the logic. It was almost enough to make him forget that the last time he was in this limo there was a dead body in the trunk. Almost. Tex sat across from him, eager to show off what CTC Industries was made of.. He had explained on the way down that he didn’t get to do this very often, what with corporate secrets and all.

“So, Mr. Littlefield…”

“Please, just call me Tex.”

“Okay, Tex. You said you’ve only been here about a year. I take it you didn’t found the company and you don’t own it.”

“No, I’m just the personnel man.  But I’m about as high up in the company as anyone ever sees. The ownership group is quite mysterious.”

Doesn’t sound like the greatest work environment, Charlie thought. Then again, he never did like talking to the higher ups when he was in academia. “So who owns all this, who founded it?”

Tex took a deep breath. He closed the little window to the driver. The little asian woman was driving, thankfully it wasn’t the mystery man.  He spoke quietly, which clearly did not come naturally to him. “Well, that’s one of the things I was hoping you could find out. I was hired to meet and greet the new employees, but I’ve never seen the owners. Oh, the paychecks come on time, and they’re friendly with the bonuses, but my instructions all come through emails and memos, and, one time, a message written in a bathroom stall.”

Good, Charlie thought. This day was starting to round into something sane, and we couldn’t have that. “Wait a minute, how did they hire you?”

Tex’s voice went back up to full volume. He couldn’t sustain all that whispering. “Well, I used to be in the oil business, you see. One day I found out that my company was being bought out by this CTC Industries. Apparently they bought out all the oil companies. You’d best keep that last bit to yourself, what with anti-monopoly laws and all. I found myself out of a job when BAM! I find in my mailbox the next morning a ticket to Monterey, the deed to a mansion in Pebble Beach, instructions on where to report to work, and some dos and don’ts for how to respond to the letter, along with the consequences for doin’ said don’ts. I thought it was suspicious, to say the least, but I came anyway, and did not regret it for a single minute. Other than the strange way I communicate with my superiors, this has been the best job I’ve ever had. Hell, retirement would be more work than this.”

Hmm. Suspicious unknown bosses that treat their employees well? It could be worse. Although the consequences for doing the don’ts didn’t sound encouraging. “Has anyone in the company ever crossed the owners, or disobeyed orders, or just got on their bad sides?”

“Oh no. Not that I’ve ever heard of. Like I said, they’ve been extremely generous with the pay and the bonuses and the mansions and what not. Did you know that over 40 per cent of the residents of Pebble Beach are now employees of CTC Industries? We all have plenty of motivation to do our jobs, and to do ‘em well… Of course, we are dealing with time travel here. It can be very dangerous. I don’t know if this is the way it works, but I’ve heard tale of people being erased from existence by time snipers who go back and kill their parents. Probably just a company legend, though.”

Charlie’s skeptical face was unfazed. It was only a matter of time before he heard a grandfather paradox story. You simply cannot have time travel around engineers and scientists without bringing up that old chestnut. Charlie’s mental plausibility meter was firmly stuck at a two out of one hundred. Whatever could happen with time travel, causal paradoxes had to be ruled out.

The limousine came to a halt. “Fantastic, looks like we’re here at the factory. Get a towel ready, Dr. Calloway, ‘cause you might have to clean your brains off the floor after you see this! YEEEE-HAWWWW!!”

The Causeway – Chapter 4

Posted in science fiction on December 23, 2013 by Alex

THE COMFY CHAIR

 

Water. Hands. Face. Charlie rubbed the smell of death off himself. He found himself in a large suite on the top floor of a building in Sand City. This building wasn’t here six months ago, the last time he was in the area. He could have sworn there was a city regulation against buildings this high. Yet here he was, with a beautiful view of the Monterey Bay that stretched up the coastline all the way to Santa Cruz. He could see a large facility a little less than halfway up the coast. Must be the power plant at Moss Landing. He didn’t remember being able to spot it from a distance, though. It must be twenty miles north of here. Something seriously weird was going on in this town.

 

Shower. Hot water. Steam. This was the headquarters of CTC Industries. Supposedly a huge operation, with factories all over the county producing equipment with names like singularity generators, causal loop detectors, temporal scrubbers and vortex scaffolds. It all sounded like nonsense to Charlie, and when he asked the mystery man in the limo about it all the response he got was “You’ll familiarize yourself with the equipment soon enough. I’m sure the big guy is anxious to give you a tour of the facilities.”

 

Soap. Shampoo. Hair. Eyes. Ouch. Charlie didn’t know what to make of his mysterious new friend. He seemed the sort of person who would happily carry out any task assigned to him by the boss, be it driving a new recruit around in a limo, murdering a policeman, or fetching coffee. He must be the ultimate personal assistant. At one point Charlie asked for his name. “Names are not important,” he said, “it’s probably best you don’t know mine.” Fair enough.

 

Towel. Comb. Mouthwash. Suit. There was a closet full of suits, with a note on the door reading “pick your favorite!” Charlie tried on a random suit from the rack. He wasn’t one for formalwear, and never could tell the difference between a nice suit and a fashion faux pas. The suit he tried on fit nicely, however. Arms and legs just the right length, if a little loose about the midsection. His instructions from the mystery man were to go down to floor 13 when he was ready. He figured he was as ready as he would ever be for a job interview with a boss he didn’t know at a company he had never heard of in a building that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in a town where skyscrapers were never built after almost being killed by a crazed policeman seeking revenge for something that didn’t happen. It’s not like his day could get any weirder, right?

 

The elevator arrived the instant Charlie hit the button. Wow, the penthouse suite had its own dedicated elevator. Why was he receiving the VIP treatment for a job interview? Why did it take all the way until he figured out that the penthouse had a private elevator for Charlie to notice he was getting the VIP treatment? Stop wondering, Charlie. Nothing about today has made even a little bit of sense, and there is no reason to believe that things would start making sense now. Just hang along for the ride.

 

Charlie hit the 13 button on the panel. It beeped at him, and the button promptly disappeared from the panel. Well, it didn’t disappear, exactly. It slid into a hatch in the panel and the hatch closed over it. That’s cute. A building with a secret 13th floor. The door opened and revealed a long hallway with marble floors. The walls were lit up by compact fluorescent bulbs made to look like torches in an ancient dungeon. Each torch illuminated a photograph. Some of the pictures were of people that Charlie didn’t recognize, some were of places that looked vaguely familiar. There was a picture of Candlestick Park, or whatever it was being called these days. Another of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A nuclear power plant. The facade of the New York stock exchange. Some horse racing track. The last one really caught Charlie’s eye. It was an aerial view of a several mile long building, shaped like an L. This couldn’t be an interferometer, could it? Was that why this company was so interested in him? Had they got ahold of his grant proposal?

 

He approached a large desk in front of a large door. Behind the desk was a little Asian woman. “Are you Dr. Calloway?” Charlie nodded. “Mr. Littlefield will see you now.” The large door opened dramatically on its own. It creaked a little as if struggling against the large swaths of sunlight now pouring through the opening. Charlie never liked dramatic entrances, but even he was impressed by this display. Charlie stepped through the threshold onto the other side.  The door creaked again and shut solidly behind him.

 

A cigar smoking man in his seventies was leaning back in a chair behind an even bigger desk than the one outside, facing away from Charlie, and enjoying his view of the bay. “Have a seat, my boy!”

 

Charlie sat down in an absurdly comfortable chair. The chair seemed to drain all the tension out of Charlie’s body and left him in a blissful state. No, not blissful, but somehow focused, sharp, ready to make decisions and solve problems. Before Charlie could speak up about how amazing this chair was, Mr. Littlefield explained it to him. “The boys in R and D tell me that they had to solve what was previously thought to be an intractable problem in order to design that chair you’re in. They had to figure out how to make it the most comfortable for as many people as possible, while simultaneously helping posture, and blood flow and some other things I can’t recall at the moment. Oh, and this was the tough part: I told them I didn’t want anyone falling asleep in that chair while I’m talking to them. I tend to go on, you see. They somehow designed a material that increases alertness. If I hadn’t seen the results I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Oh, I do tend to ramble a bit in my old age. Forgive my manners, I should properly introduce myself. I’m Tex Littlefield, the proprietor of this establishment, as I like to say. It is an absolute pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”

 

Mr. Littlefield stuck out his hand. Charlie shook it, and tried not to grimace from the extra hard grip that was squeezing his hand. Normally Charlie would have mumbled something like “nice to meet you, too” back at him, but for some reason Charlie felt that for once on this inexplicable day he would take charge in a situation. “If you really want to hire me, you should call me Dr. Calloway.”

 

Tex took a thoughtful puff of his cigar. “Builds confidence, too! I tell ya son, sorry, Dr. Calloway, that chair has been in here a solid week and I still get surprised at what it can do. I’m gonna have to give the boys in research a raise or something. When this thing hits the market in six months, it is gonna change the world! Hooo-whee!!”

 

Charlie did feel more confident, but was a bit discomfited by the thought that a chair could alter his behavior like this. “What is it that you do here, exactly?”

 

“Ah. Yes. Well, I can understand your curiosity. It has been one helluva morning for you, hasn’t it? Trouble is, and I’ve been warned about this, you are probably not going to believe what this company does. Hell, I didn’t believe it when I came on board last year, I’m still not sure I believe it. So I’m gonna have to ask you to keep an open mind, because we want you to be a major cog in this machine.”

 

Charlie knew what was coming. He supposed he knew all morning long, but simply refused to admit it. “Let me guess, you build new gadgets through the use of time travel. I saw your infomercial this morning. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. But since you’ve treated me so nicely today, I’ll hear you out.”

 

Tex took another puff off his cigar. “Well, I must say that the stories are true, you are a sharp one. Fair enough. Tell you what, after we’re through chattin’ here I will take you on a personal tour of the facilities. All our factories, labs, power centers, you name it. I know you are a scientist, so I can appreciate that you need to see some rock solid evidence before you believe anything so fantastic as commercial time travel. But if you are convinced, you’ve got to agree to come work for us. Deal?”

 

Charlie didn’t see a choice here. If he wasn’t convinced, which seemed likely, then he would just go home and keep searching for a postdoc position or a regular job. But if he was, however crazy that might sound, there must be some fantastic new physics discovered here. Not just fantastic, but mind blowing, Earth shattering, rewrite the textbooks kind of stuff. How could he refuse to be a part of that?

 

“Deal.”

 

 

 

 

The Causeway – Chapter 3

Posted in science fiction on December 23, 2013 by Alex

DEAD COPS, LIMOUSINE TRUNKS, AND PETER, PAUL AND MARY

 

“Breaking news. Several casinos in Las Vegas filed for bankruptcy today as an unprecedented amount of longshot sports bets came through for big spenders. The casinos were unable to pay the full amount owed to the bettors, and were forced to file for chapter 11 and close down business. A single casino survived what’s come to be known as The Gambling Apocalypse of 2013, a small shop next to McCaren airport called Uncle Ray’s Sports Book. The owners of the bankrupt casinos are crying foul. One former casino executive, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that sports books all over the city were taken completely by surprise by the heavy influx of long odds bets. Hundreds of big money bets came in just minutes before the events took place, and the bookmakers did not have time to adjust the lines accordingly. He went on to say that he hopes the state of Nevada will conduct a thorough investigation of the timing and circumstances of these events, for what just happened is statistically impossible. Gary Schneider, one of the bettors who was able to be paid before the casinos ran out of money, responded by saying ‘nothing is statistically impossible, there are only things that are very, very unlikely.’ We’ll have more as this story develops. Back to KRIP, your home for news, weather, and all the greatest folk songs of the sixties.”

 

How many roads must a man walk down…”

 

Charlie sat in the back of a limousine, trying to wrap his mind around what just happened. How did Officer Snyder know who he was? Why was he so hell-bent on revenge for things that clearly didn’t happen? Why was the police station empty? Shouldn’t it have been bustling with activity? Shouldn’t there have been someone on duty, manning the phones, the dispatch, the jail? There wasn’t even anyone in the jail cell. No drunks spending the night sleeping off a bender, no junkies or thieves or gang members or teenagers arrested for downloading movies. There should have been someone there.

 

The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…”

 

And then there was this mysterious businessman from CTC Industries who conveniently showed up to save Charlie’s life. Not that he wasn’t grateful, Charlie was moments away from being executed. Though it was disconcerting to sit in the back of a limo while his savior happily stuffed Officer Snyder’s body in the trunk. Was he whistling back there? Was Charlie really about to go on a job interview immediately after such a traumatic experience? Was this really part of a time travel paradox?

 

“The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

 

No. That was stupid. Charlie refused to let his mind go down that road. Charlie was an expert in this area, and knew for a fact that time travel was impossible. Even if it was, the power requirements would be so enormous that it would black out California’s power grid for one measly little two hour trip back in time. That would be a steep price to pay for a little extra sleep. Yet the more Charlie ran Snyder’s words through his mind, the more it seemed he was referring to time travel. No, no, and no. Officer Snyder was simply crazy. Period. End of story. He was looking for someone to blame for the death of a family member or wife or ex-partner or…

 

The mystery man opened the driver’s side door. “How you holdin’ up, Chief? I imagine you’re a bit confused. I suppose that’s only natural.” Words failed to form in Charlie’s mouth. He wanted to say so much, wanted to ask so many questions, but all he could do was stare blankly at the stranger with his mouth hanging open.

 

“Tell you what. I’ll drive us back to HQ where you can clean up and compose yourself. I’ll have to make a pit stop to empty the trunk, of course, but it shouldn’t be more than five minutes out of the way.”

 

Charlie’s jaw started to move up and down. It seemed the speech center of his brain was slowly re-establishing contact with his mouth. Soon he would be capable of grunting in confusion. The mystery man started the limo and casually drove off as a row of police cars passed them in the other direction, filing into the parking lot of the receding police station.

 

“After you regain your faculties and put on a nice, proper suit, I can take you up to meet the head honcho. Man, has he been dyin’ to meet you.”

 

Charlie decided to stop trying to apply reason to this day. He stopped wondering why all these complete strangers were so interested in him, whether they wanted to murder him or give him a job at a company he had never heard of that was claiming to provide the impossible. He stopped trying to apply logic to this chaos. He just leaned his head back and drooled on the black leather seat in the back seat of the limousine.

 

“…The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

 

 

The Causeway – Chapter 2

Posted in science fiction on December 7, 2013 by Alex

THE RIDEALONG

The ride to the police station was an unpleasant one for Charlie. Not that rides to the police station are ever pleasant. Charlie had never taken a ride like this before, but no possible ride in the back of a police car could be worse than this. Sure, he could be maced or be shot and left lying in the back seat bleeding out just to wait to be processed or he could be forced to sit next to a detoxing junkie. That would be terrible, but at least Charlie would have a situation appropriate response ready. He didn’t have an answer for what was happening to him now.

 

“Can you at least tell me why you’re taking me in?” The policeman didn’t answer.  He just huffed. “I haven’t done anything, you haven’t read me my rights, I don’t even know your name so I can report you to your superiors.”

 

The policeman turned around and glared at Charlie. He was somehow able to glare at him for an extended period of time while navigating through traffic at at least forty miles per hour in a residential area. “The name’s Snyder. You won’t forget it. You never do. “

 

Officer Snyder could not have offered up a more bewildering response. “What the hell does that mean? I’ve never met you before in my life! “

 

Officer Snyder continued to glare back at Charlie, somehow managing a left turn at a busy traffic light while doing so. “Oh you’ve met me. You just don’t know it yet.”

 

This was not the way a policeman was supposed to behave. Weren’t they supposed to respect peoples’ rights, or at least tell them what they were being hauled in for? They definitely weren’t supposed to drive recklessly without looking while uttering insanely cryptic remarks to complete strangers. That was more of a job for a street preacher at the bus station.

 

Officer Snyder turned his head back to the road just in time to swerve into a parking spot in front of the police station. Somehow the car ended up neatly parked bumper to bumper with police cars front and back. If Charlie wasn’t so frightened at the moment, he would have asked Officer Snyder how he learned to drive like that. All Charlie managed to do instead was swallow loudly.

 

“Last stop Mr. Calloway.” Charlie was experiencing every negative emotion there was to experience at the same time. He was extremely frightened by this madman who had no regard for the rules that the police are supposed to follow. His disregard for the law made Charlie angry. He was confused about just what the hell was happening to him. He was jealous of the frankly magnificent driving ability this crazy man had. His coffee was kicking in and he had to pee, which made him annoyed.

 

Snyder flung open the passenger door of the police car. “Right this way, Mr. Calloway.” He sneered out Charlie’s last name as if he were spitting out sour milk. He was breathing loudly through his nose, causing the bristles in his mustache to vibrate, dislodging crumbs and whatever other snacks he kept stashed in there. He grabbed Charlie by the arm and yanked him out of the car.

 

Charlie was too frightened to resist. Perhaps he was paralyzed by all those stories of police officers waiting for a perp to resist so they had probable cause to beat him senseless. Perhaps this situation was too unusual for a human brain to process in a normal amount of time, causing him to freeze up like an old computer running the latest graphics intensive shoot ‘em up game while simultaneously simulating a relativistic many body problem. Perhaps Charlie was simply a coward. In any case Charlie followed him inside the police station.

 

The inside of the station was completely empty.  Most of the lights were off. It was pretty early, only 6:30 in the morning, but there should have been somebody here. Charlie timidly wondered about this. “Where is everybody?”

 

Officer Snyder’s grip on Charlie’s arm intensified. He was being dragged to a little room in the back. Probably an interrogation room. “They’re all late for work.” Snyder was very satisfied with that sentence. It was as if he had been waiting all day just to say it. Charlie once again lost the ability to speak.

 

The door of the interrogation room creaked open. Inside were two wooden chairs facing each other. Snyder threw Charlie onto the far chair, causing Charlie to knock it down. “Sit down, Mr. Calloway, we’ve got some things to discuss.”

 

Charlie picked himself up off the ground, shakily picked the chair up and sat down, not once taking his eyes off of this crazed policeman. “Wh-what do you want to talk about?”

 

Snyder laughed a deep, guttural, evil laugh. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to get you. If I have my way, you won’t ever know. They told me it was impossible. That it would cause problems with some kind of space fabric or something. I just know I have to make all this madness stop before it starts. I have to set the world right again. I have to bring back what was lost, I have to bring her back.”

 

Tears were streaming down Snyder’s face from behind his sunglasses. He slowly pulled his gun from its holster. He brought the barrel up to his lips and he kissed the side of it. Then he pointed the gun at Charlie.

 

Charlie wanted to remind this guy that they had never met, that maybe he was thinking of another guy named Charlie Calloway, that killing someone in cold blood never solved anything, that please, wait a minute, I have to pee. All he managed to do was squirm in place and squeal quietly.

 

“That’s right, squirm you little weasel!” Snyder cackled as he cocked his sidearm. “Nobody will ever know that my actions here today will save the world.”

 

BANG!! BANG!!

 

Charlie fell out of his chair. He frantically checked himself for bullet holes. He thought he found one, but it was just an ordinary hole in the armpit of his shirt. He looked up at Officer Snyder, whose face was suddenly disfigured by exit wounds. Snyder’s body promptly collapsed into a heap on the floor.

 

Behind him was the mysterious businessman from the night before. “So, Charlie. You ready for that job interview?”

The Causeway – Chapter 1

Posted in science fiction on November 27, 2013 by Alex

Due to the unwavering support of my six readers and the success of Space Madness, I am proud to present another story of a science fiction bent. This one is titled THE CAUSEWAY and is not in space. It is, however, quite mad.

THE INFOMERCIAL

Charlie woke up in his usual state. He was completely disoriented, his mouth was dry, and it was seven minutes before his alarm clock was set to go off. Why was his alarm set so early? It was still dark out, for Christ’s sake. He turned off the alarm, flopped out of bed, and wobbled in place for a moment as all the blood rushed from his head into the rest of his body.

Charlie flipped on the television to drown out the ringing in his ears. Was he drinking last night? He couldn’t remember, which was always a bad sign. As Charlie stumbled into the bathroom to clean himself up, the TV tried to sell him things.

“Do you have difficulties getting to work on time? Do you wish you could sleep in for an extra hour or two, but are afraid of getting fired?”

The screen showed a man rushing out the front door of his house, wearing an unevenly buttoned white dress shirt, an untied necktie hanging loosely around his neck, and little pieces of toilet paper stuck to his face and neck. The man started frantically searching through his pockets, presumably for his keys, then darted back inside his house.

“Boy, do we have just the thing for you! The brand new On Time Tunnel.”

Charlie’s head was beginning to clear up. The scene on the television screen began to look familiar. The man hurrying back into his house encountered something completely unfamiliar. A giant vortex was hovering in front of him, where his front door used to be. A wooden sign reading “Take Your Time” was staked into the ground at the base of the vortex.

“Located at the junction of the 1 and 68 freeways, the On Time Tunnel will transport you up to TWO whole hours back in time, so you’ll never need to feel rushed getting to work again.”

Charlie watched the commercial in bewilderment. His toothbrush fell out of his mouth. This could not possibly be real. Time travel was not possible. Even if it was possible, nobody was wihin a hundred years of developing technology to implement it on a commercial scale. Even if anyone was close to creating a time travel device, it would have been known to all the scientists around the world, and all the news agencies would have written front page stories on it that grossly misrepresented how it actually worked. But, just supposing, if some lone genius did manage to build a time travel device without anyone from the scientific community knowing about it, surely there would be a better use for it than getting people to work on time. Surely a device so revolutionary that it would rewrite a good chunk of what humankind thought it knew about the universe would not be advertised via a cheesy six A.M. infomercial usually reserved for unnecessary kitchen accessories. This had to be a joke, but Charlie could not take his eyes off the TV set.

An important looking man was now addressing Charlie, the cartoonish vortex swirling behind him. “It is well known that danger lurks among morning commuters. Men and women often perform their morning grooming tasks in the car, causing accidents that could be avoided if only everyone had a little more time.”

On the screen now was a young, professional looking woman applying eyeliner in her rearview mirror while weaving in and out of traffic. Horns were honking all around her. The camera went to a close up, and she promtly screamed. The sounds of screeching tires and the horn from a semi truck and colliding metal and shattering glass. The screen went black, then faded into an empty freeway, the view close to the ground. A hubcap rolled across the screen, and the camera followed it past the feet of the important looking man. The camera panned up to his face.

“Your friends at CTC Industries are here to prevent tragedies like this. For a mere five dollars, the same price as the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge, you can avoid all the congestion and danger that you would normally encounter on your daily commute.”

Charlie couldn’t take this anymore. He flipped the television off and sauntered over to the kitchen to make some coffee.

The fog obscuring the events of last night began to clear from Charlie’s head. He had been drinking the night before. He had been approached by an executive from some company he had never heard of. This mystery man seemed to know everything about him.

“How’s the job search going, Charlie?” It was jarring to be approached by a complete stranger on the opposite coast of the university where Charlie recently finished his physics PhD in a local British pub called “Hooligan’s” and asked about his job search. He had only recently decided to take a break from his search and return home to Monterey. He hadn’t told anyone about his decision except his mother, who was currently letting him stay at her house while she went off to South America for a month long bird watching excursion.

“I’m not searching right now, I’m just having a beer and watching my football team lose.” Charlie was not in the mood to talk about physics. His thesis on precision measurements of gravitational waves had been viewed as good enough to get him his degree, but not good enough to get him a postdoc or a research grant anywhere. His options at the moment consisted of doing coding for a military contractor, or getting a gig as a waiter or bartender.

“You don’t have to search. I happen to know that there is a local company that fits your skill set perfectly.”

Charlie thought he would humor this guy. Monterey wasn’t exactly a center of industry. Its chief moneymakers were tourism and golf. He wanted to hear this guy explain how a five mile long laser interferometer could be built on a mountainous coastline.

“Let me buy you a drink and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Charlie poured himself a cup of coffee and reviewed in his mind what the mysterious stranger had told him the night before. The man clearly had a sales background as opposed to a science one. He waxed poetic about “singularity generators” and “causal loop detectors” in an underground facility up in Prunedale. Causal loop detectors? What a bunch of crap. Entertaining crap, to be sure, but crap nonetheless. He had handed Charlie his business card at closing time, which Charlie planned on taking and never looking at again. Just for the hell of it, Charlie opened his wallet and took out the card. CTC Industries, “Take Your Time.” No phone number or email address written on the card.

“That’s one hell of a business model they’ve got,” Charlie muttered to himself. He finished his cup of coffee and was ready to spend the day pretending to be scouring the internet for job openings.

The doorbell rang. It was only a single ring, but it still managed to sound aggressive. “Just a second!” Charlie shouted as he slowly made his way over to the front door. He opened the door, revealing a tall, grizzled looking police officer. He wore a thick police officer mustache with little sprinklings of white hair and possibly a few bacon bits in there. Between the mustache covering both of his lips and the aviator sunglasses covering his eyes it was hard to make out any precise facial expressions. It was possible that this man simply looked angry no matter what mood he was in, but he certainly looked angry right now.

“Are you Charles Trevor Calloway?”

Charlie toyed with telling him no, but the policeman appeared to be looking for an excuse to use his nightstick. “Yes.”

“Come with me, sir. We have some questions we need to ask you downtown.” This sounded more serious than Charlie was prepared to deal with. He had been in town for all of two days. He had never been in trouble with the law before. Now he was going to be dragged out of his mother’s house in a pair of sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt with a cartoon reading “Whatever Bitch, I’m Einstein” to be questioned or possibly interrogated by this stereotype of a cop? “Am I in some kind of trouble, Officer?”

“Not yet, kid. Let’s keep it that way. Now come with me and get in the squad car.”

STAY TUNED FOR CHAPTER 2, WHERE YOU WILL EITHER FIND OUT WHAT MADE THIS OFFICER SO ANGRY OR YOU WILL BECOME MORE CONFUSED!

Making Time Travel Consistent: Part II

Posted in science fiction, Theory of Time Travel on August 30, 2013 by Alex

Item 2: All observations are probabilistic.

This is true whether we invoke quantum mechanics or not. What quantum mechanics brings to the table is the specific sort of probabilities being used. What must be true is that there is a minimum interval of time measurable by any object. What is this interval? In principle, it is the time it takes for light to pass from one end of the object to the other. For time intervals shorter than this, there is no coherent notion of “before” and “after” which could be used to distinguish between events. There is therefore an inherent uncertainty in the measurement of time. This creates uncertainties in the measurements of all the properties of distant objects. For example, if you wanted to know how fast your semi-truck was bearing down on you, you would have to measure the length of the time interval between successive photons hitting the back of your eye. Ultimately, all types of measurements reduce to measuring the time interval between local events. Most of the time, it’s much worse than this, as more detailed observations require more information, which means more photons hit your detector, which means a compounding of the errors in the measurements being done. Steps can be taken to reduce the compounding of the error, but it definitely cannot be reduced to zero. Every honest observation would be a statement like “I am 99.997 percent sure that the truck is between 25.5233357 and 25.5233359 feet away from me, and I am 99.9982 percent sure that its speed is between 45.213 and 45.214 MPH.”

The mathematically inclined would make a graph of “position of the truck” vs. “probability it is currently THIS distance from me.” This graph is called a probability density function (or sometimes simply a distribution.) We would expect it to look like a bell curve (which is called the ‘normal’ distribution) and if we are very sure of the location of the truck, it will be a skinny curve, whereas if we are not terribly sure of the location of the truck it will be a wide curve. The width of the curve (more specifically, the variance) is what is referred to as the “uncertainty” in the measurement.

I should note that this type of uncertainty is completely unrelated to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which gives us another bound on the accuracy of a measurement due to the specific types of probabilities (more accurately: “amplitudes”) used in quantum mechanics.

In the quantum mechanical picture, the amplitudes of different ways an event might be observed to occur can interfere with one another, potentially creating distributions (which are computed from the absolute value of the amplitudes) that are very different from what one sees with just regular old probabilities. For example, it is entirely possible (if exceedingly unlikely) that the semi-truck bearing down on you could have a 50% chance of being 100 feet from you and a 50% chance of being 2 feet from you, based on your observations of the photons hitting your eyes. A situation like this is called a “discrete” distribution, since there are only two discrete options for the location of the truck. This is in stark contrast to a continuous distribution, which is what we see in the normal, “classical,” picture.

I should point out that in this scenario, the quantum mechanical picture can give rise to either discrete distributions or continuous distributions, or sometimes a combination of the two, whereas the classical picture would only give rise to a continuous distribution. Also, these probabilities do not tell us the “true” position of the truck, just the probability that the truck will be in one position or the other (in the discrete case,) or within a certain interval of positions (in the continuous case.) Information from future photons will help us distinguish between the two cases.

I am going to make an attempt in the next section to use discrete probabilities to create a good-enough-for-science-fiction resolution to the famous “Grandfather Paradox.”

Stay tuned.

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