LC Aggie Sith posted a thing or two over at Sithy Things a bit over a week ago. She asked for a short story from anyone who was interested.
Note: The reader may skip ahead if desired. The next section isn’t critical and could cause psychological damage.
I said to myself, Well, this could be fun and I would finally get this damnable idea out of my head.
And it poured and poured and poured.
I have one editor who says post it, and another who says it is stilted but post it anyway. Somewhere between could lie the truth, and it is difficult to see because being objective is… uh… difficult. Since I actually did kind of want an H.P. Lovecraft feel to it without going full-tilt some stilting was essential. How much stilting of the delivery is right? Good question. Should we sprinkle it sparingly or should we shake epileptically with that salt? Will the high blood pressure of bad prose cause the reader to immediately stroke out? Hell if I know.
I’ve nagged Cruel Wife mercilessly to read it and offer critique. Sith acted as editor on a pro bono basis. Perhaps I should send her money for booze…
No, it is not done. It is roughly 70-75% of the way to completion. It might be further if I decide to take a machete to parts of it. I’ll let you know what I decide. Or you, the reader, you can influence matters. Feel free to shout out ideas or suggestions. Be critical but be constructively so, please.
Criticism with constructive feedback can take the form of “Bury it, and salt the earth so it can never rise again” as long as you say it kindly.
Installment #2 of Starkness of Being… It has changed a great deal so start from the beginning if you please…
The Starkness of Being
The harsh moonlight sliced through the wrought-iron gates in front of the house. The ancient-seeming mansion was mostly dark except for the glow of a few oil lamps on the ground floor and the gas lamps along the drive.
The only sound was the diminishing hoofbeats and creak of the carriage and the horse’s tack as the driver headed back into town.
I picked up my bags from the curb and slipped inside, following the cobblestone drive to the front doors. It was the only place large enough to be the Seymour House. Halfway up the drive I resolved to never pack more than two spare sets of clothing regardless of the length of stay.
Three knocks on the door brought an agitated middle-aged woman in a servant’s uniform. She ushered me inside and closed the door.
“You must be Dr. McNaughton,” she said without a trace of a smile. She did not pause for a reply and went on. “I am Isabelle. Dr. Anderson is waiting for you in his study. If you’ll leave your bags here I’ll have them taken up. When you wish to retire someone will show you the way to your room. Would you please follow me?”
“I am, ok, I will, and yes, thank you. You can call me Andrew, by the way.”
“I’d prefer not,” said Isabelle.
There’s a lovely attitude.
The house smelled unmistakably old, if a place so huge could be called simply a home. It wasn’t mold or dust that assaulted the senses, it was simply age. The entrance hall was enormous. High ceilings with gas fixtures intermingled with the newer electric fixtures here and there. All the paneling was done dark-stained cherry wood and contemporary craftsman style furniture. Some might say that the combination was a trifle peculiar in such a house but I rather liked the effect – it seemed warmer and more welcoming.
Our progress was marked by only the faintest of footfalls as we passed several long shadowy hallways leading to other parts of the building. The atmosphere was subtly surreal because the place seemed almost designed to swallow sound and light, as if dark held light at bay and not the other way around.
Presently we came to a brass-bound polished mahogany door and Isabelle cleared her throat “Mr. Anderson is inside and asked that you be shown in immediately.”
“All right, thank you Isa…” but then she was gone, moving down the corridor and around a corner.
The room beyond the bound door was the archetype of the perfect classical study. On one end was a coal-fed fireplace burning brightly. On the opposite end was a large desk covered with books and diagrams. Several benches in the room held various items of interest – an astrolabe, sextant, a large globe, planimeter, a galvanometer, some sort of interferometer (Michelson-Morley it appeared), telescopes, and more, some of it recognizable and some items that I could only guess at. Tucked in the center of the room and between a curio cabinet and a chest-high stack of books was a medium-build well-dressed man who I took to be my host, Dr. Anderson.
“Dr. McNaughton, so glad you could come,” said Dr. Anderson as he approached. He smiled warmly as we shook hands. “I trust your travel was uneventful?”
“Please call me Andrew. It was a quite long train ride followed by a very bumpy carriage ride, but otherwise it was uneventful. I don’t suppose you have something to drink? Perhaps you have whiskey or gin, neat?”
“Sorry lad, but I’m a bit of a teetotaler, I’m afraid. My time in Africa left me with too great a love of gin and tonic. I should say that I’m not much of a smoker, either, and I’d appreciate it if you restricted it to your room if you indulge in the habit. I’ve never been a fan of it, myself. Tea will be arriving shortly if you’re interested.” He leaned forward to inspect some parchment on his desk, tapping it distractedly.
“Very well, in any event, I don’t smoke,” I said, “But I would like some tea, thank you.” King’s house, king’s rules, but still I could wish for a drink.
“I came as soon as I got your cable. You said you had a matter that needed help with, something to do with physical applications of n-dimensional mathematics? Without more information than that it was only your reputation that convinced me to come. That, and the fact that you refused to discuss the matter via letter or telegram. Your paper “Beyond Esoteric Extra-Dimensional Analyses” was excellent, if a bit unorthodox. Combining those facts, well… As the great bard said, ‘Care will kill a cat,’ and as with any mystery, I was bound to come. So here I am. How may I help you?”
He stood up and turned to face me, suddenly he was quite animated. “Well! I had hoped that you would…”
My complaining feet and back won out over etiquette and I interrupted him. “I’m sorry, but may I sit? It has been an extremely long journey.”
He suddenly looked quite abashed. “Oh I am terribly sorry, forgive my bad manners – yes, yes, please do sit. Take this seat here,” he said, pointing to a worn leather chair. ”It may not look like much, that chair, but it is the best of the lot and my personal favorite.”
“Andrew, explaining everything properly may take a while, but it will be worth it.”
I nodded to him to show that I comfortable and urged him to continue.
“Let’s get started then. Where shall I begin?” He leaned against his desk and thought for a moment. “Well, as a start let me tell you what part of your curriculum vitae most interests me, and then when I give you more details it will become clear where you can help.”
I nodded, as if to say, as you wish.
Anderson went around his desk and began speaking. “I have followed your work with great interest. Your work in complex-manifold theory is exemplary. Your rather interesting incorporation of Ricci’s work into your presentation as a guest-speaker at the American Physics Society was a surprise and frankly a stroke of genius. It was your assertion that certain assumptions made the projection of the space more easily integrable that was the key to solving certain… issues… that my team and I have been wrestling with. You’ve a doctorate in physics and have only to defend your work in higher mathematics for a second degree. That is no small achievement.”
I was a bit surprised. “You’ve certainly done your investigative work. You are correct on all counts.”
Without realizing it he had risen to his feet behind his desk and leaned towards me, looking very intent, and said “Have you ever considered a marriage between n-manifolds and spinor ‘transformations’, if you will allow me the turn of phrase, and how one might quickly travel vast distances?”
I thought about this for a while and seriously considered that this trip may have been a pointless exercise. On the other hand, Anderson did not have the look of a man suffering from dementia nor was he obviously feverish with consumption, so I decided to reserve any quick judgment I might have and give him a chance to explain.
Anderson moved around me to a large table covered entirely with papers and books, and pulled out a large leather journal with many loose documents interleaved with the pages. He extracted an incredibly complex diagram that was densely covered with notes and equations. “Come here, lad, and have a look at some sketches and proofs, which is about as far as I can take them. I hope you can glean some additional insights, as Dr. Christophe and Herr Doktor Wagner are at wit’s end making sense of this much – they are the practical-type fellows, you follow?”
It appeared to be part formal proof and part instructions for a device, meticulously diagrammed and neatly laid out stepwise in exquisite detail, just one of many pages documenting his work.
Turning towards me Anderson pointed at the illustration of some device on another parchment. It was incredibly detailed. “The theory is quite complex, the construction is expensive and quite involved, and it is the work of many years, but it works. And with your help, I think we can make something that changes the world.”
Still not able to make sense of what he was trying to tell me I shrugged. “But what is it?”
He reached over and tapped what was written in neat writing along the edge. It was titled simply “The Matter Projector”.
“Show me,” I said.
And he did.
Through the night, with him as the teacher and myself as a class of one, he described to me the genesis of the project starting with an idea two decades before. He explained how he had traveled, much as I did during the last three days to New England a great many times and every time he reached his destination he wished that there were an easier way.
No, he reasoned, there must be a way to eat up the miles without having to work so bloody hard for it – a scientific principle leading to the invention of seven-league boots.
I reminded him, “You do remember who used seven-league boots, don’t you?”
He stole an amused glance at me “No, my boy, I may at times be impish but I don’t rise to that level.”
For my part I was caught in the uncomfortable position of knowing that his work was pure bunk yet unable to refute his well-reasoned logic. I had seen nothing in his proofs to allow me an expedient escape. Maybe there was a simple error that would be more obvious after some well-earned rest.
In spite of the growing body of proofs of various aspects of Anderson’s work I wanted to; needed to, dismiss his work as the ravings of a lunatic. I began to mentally build a ragged lattice of irrational rationalizations to do just that. And each time I did so, Anderson tore it down.
Anderson was currently explaining how one could transition from theory into the real-world embodiment of same and suddenly his voice trailed off in mid-sentence. He dropped his hands in his lap and said “This is obviously the hard way to go about it. To save time, would you like to just go see it?”
I gaped at him like a simpleton. “See what? Oh, no, Good Lord in Heaven above, don’t try to tell me that you’ve actually managed to build something that really is capable of this.”
“I have and I will show you. Please, you have already come all this way,” he pleaded. “I promise that that once you have seen it, if you still think my device is a monument to self-deception, I will gladly pay you for your troubles with no ill will and then never bother you again. You surely have nothing to lose besides a few more hours of your time and everything to gain.”
I was exhausted beyond what I had ever experienced before but I agreed to accompany him to his lab to see his device. Even if his claims were quite fantastical, bordering on unbelievable, there was no harm in looking at an old man’s folly.
He gathered the stack of papers under one arm and moments later I was following him down a long hall then down a shadowy staircase to what I assumed to be a passage to a basement laboratory. We continued on down a gentle slope and shortly arrived at a copper-clad door. “Faraday cage construction about the lab entire. It seemed prudent although I doubt the cage would have even the slightest effect on something projected outward from within. It is purely to contain electrical events.”
Anderson fumbled through his pockets and produced an ornately wrought key. As he turned the key I thought I heard over the sound of the tumblers a wavering humming noise unlike anything I had ever heard before.
Inside the labs one half of the room had nothing to distinguish it from any other laboratory, but I was rendered speechless by the huge device on the other end of the room. The construct was the terminus of a complex spiderweb of conductors, coils, oscillation circuits, and spark gaps. The hair on my arms was standing up and the humming I had heard before was much louder, made all the more surreal by the powerful smell of ozone.
“Quite a sight, isn’t she?” said Anderson with a satisfied expression after seeing my face.
Two young men, in their late 20’s by my guess, were moving around the machine and once Anderson got their attention they paused in their adjustments and note-taking and ventured over to speak with us.
Anderson introduced us in turn. “Fritz, Frederic, I would like you to meet Dr. Andrew McNaughton. Andrew, meet Dr. Fritz Wagner and Dr. Frederic Christophe. Gentlemen, if I may make a prediction, I believe Dr. McNaughton will be here for a while to provide some theoretical insights and a fresh perspective in general.” He smiled at me and said, “Andrew, would I be correct?”
Frederic stepped forward to shake my hand. “It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Fritz merely nodded coolly and made no pretense of observing social niceties.
“I don’t know with complete certainty what my decision will be until you prove your claims to my satisfaction. If I were the type to judge a book by its cover, I would say that the odds of my involvement have grown rapidly in your favor.” As I said this I realized that my desire to discount his body of work had turned into a hope for belief. It goes to show you that you can never predict the future, not even in when it is a matter of the heart and the time scale is in terms of minutes. I was extremely interested.
Anderson said something that I was only peripherally aware of as I continued to study his device carefully. “What was that?” I asked him absent-mindedly.
“I said, I would request that until you are more familiar with my creation, you touch nothing. I cannot stress enough, Andrew, that there are forces at work in this area that will shuffle you off this mortal coil in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Those forces will extinguish you more easily than I can blow out a candle. Can you do that, Andrew?” he said with one raised eyebrow.
This had the effect of dousing my dreamy fascination with a bucket of cold water. I blinked and looked at him, nodding. “Yes, I can do that. Is this to be merely a visual tour or an actual demonstration?”
“Fritz, Frederic? What do you say? Are the circuits tuned sufficiently to provide Andrew with a demonstration of what we can do?”
Fritz shrugged disinterestedly, and I decided that Frederic’s estimation would be the better assessment of the two. “Yes, we just got the inputs synchronized. It’s not perfect, obviously, as you know – you hear the signals that are not quite in resonance?”
I blurted out “It would be hard not to when your teeth vibrate,” and then excused myself for my thoughtless remark. Frederic merely grinned at me.
Anderson thought for a moment. “Yes, the input frequencies are slightly off but it should be fine. Even if it doesn’t project properly, rodents are cheap. I think it will work, however.”
What is this about the cost of rodents?
Sensing my unease he waved me over to stand next to him. “Please, if you would, stand next to me here; this is the best vantage point.”
We stood in a rectangle roughly painted on the floor and I watched closely as Frederic nodded to Fritz to engage the system. Slowly a third audible tone started up. Frederic selected a squirming rat from a cage by the back wall and walked over to a thick ring situated about a foot above the worktable. The ring had massive cables connected radially and regularly spaced helical conductors.
I squinted at the ring and then opened and shut my eyes several times rapidly. Was the entire ring shimmering like a mirage or was I just seeing things?
“All right Andrew, please watch closely. Let us see what becomes of Br’er Rat.”
I could feel Fritz’s eyes on me as he made adjustments on a panel of switches and altered the settings on a liquid rheostat. For no reason that made any sense at all, he had taken an immediate and strong dislike to me. However, I had no interest in wasting my time even acknowledging it. He would have to be satisfied with a one-way personality conflict.
I focused again on Frederic, the ring, and the rat, which was now beginning to struggle violently. Frederic nodded to Fritz, who made some additional adjustments to a control in front of him and he muttered “Sehr gut”. The hum grew louder and Frederic held the rat over the ring and let go of its tail.
The rat squealed as it fell through the ring.
Several things did and didn’t happen immediately. First there was a popping noise and a very faint whooshing sound. Astonishingly, there was the complete absence of a rat on the table beneath the ring. Lastly, there was the continued squeak from the rat and a soft plop.
Nothing unusual about that squeak and soft impact, except the sound of the nervous rodent landing on something had come from across the laboratory.
Anderson nodded at me and pointed with his chin to the best path through the maze of cables for me to use to look for the rat. Numbly, I walked back to a grinning Frederic a few moments later and handed him the now-docile but quivering rat. “Could we please try that again?”
From across the lab Anderson called over to me. “I should tell you now Andrew that you shouldn’t expect the rat to end up in the same location but he will indeed travel.”
That is interesting.
We repeated the experiment twice more with similar results.
It happened slowly enough that I did not at first notice it, but what was initially a slow undulation, the beat frequency of the input signals was increasing as the inputs drifted even further away from each other. It was quite pronounced now that my attention was drawn to it.
Anderson called out loudly to be heard over the droning of the machine. “Andrew, the next thing to observe is what can happen when things are not optimal, such as the relative frequency shift between the modulated inputs that you now hear. Let us give thanks in advance for the sacrifice Br’er Rat’s is about to make in the pursuit of our increased knowledge.”
That sounded ominous.
Frederic held the rat over the ring again and let it go. There was a squeak, a pop, and a sound like the contents of a cup of coffee hitting the ground. It came from over by the east wall…
I stepped around a bench and saw a violently splattered glistening puddle of gore on the floor. The air tasted of copper and excrement.
About the size of splash a rat might make if it was liquid, which it mostly is…
I gritted my teeth, waiting for a swell of nausea to pass, and quickly pinched the skin of my right nostril with my fingers, hard. The acid lapping the back of my throat subsided.
The machine was powered down at nod from Anderson and he came to stand behind me, “And that sad example, Andrew, perfectly demonstrates why we could use your help. Without your help we cannot hope to reliably control the focus of the projection, we cannot scale the projector in size, and it most certainly cannot safely transport a person. I hate the idea of killing even a rat for this demonstration but it was necessary to show you.”
“What has happened is exactly what I have claimed up to this point, that we can project objects through space through a ‘back door’ of sorts.” Anderson pointed his finger at the mess, “Also, what you saw is what happens when we don’t get the frequencies in several places just right. My theory is that objects projected under the wrong circumstances are sheared apart along several dimensions at once by unbalanced forces in the manifold. Obviously, that’s one of the things we’d earnestly like have your thoughts on, hmmm? What do you think, lad? Do we have some things to discuss?”
As it turned out, we had a great deal to discuss.
The events of that morning added to the long night and days of travel suddenly left me exhausted and dizzy with fatigue. I asked my host if I could rest for a while and then dive into the problem refreshed.
I was a complete and total convert.
Isabelle appeared at the door of the laboratory to take me to my room and although I was groggy the last thing I saw as I left the lab and turned the corner was Fritz staring at me intently.
I followed Isabelle as she strode briskly back up to the ground floor. Partially curious and partly as an attempt to make conversation I asked her, “Isabelle, you seem nervous. Is it something I’ve done without realizing it? ”
“No,” she said. “You’ve done nothing, Dr. McNaughton. I’m just on edge. We all are, more or less.”
“Is Anderson such a hard employer? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t wish to.”
“Oh, please, you could not be further from the truth. Dr. Anderson is one of the kindest employers I have ever known. No, Dr. McNaughton, it is not Dr. Anderson that distresses me. You just came from the lab so I needn’t describe the strangeness… the way this house carries sound, all of us who work for Dr. Anderson can hear the strange noises and vibrations throughout the entire house at all times of the day or night. It doesn’t sound like anything natural – it sounds like the wailing of tormented souls. They started months and months ago and all I have to say is that we don’t like it, not at all.”
“Isabelle, it’s nothing sinister, trust me. It is quite amazing and good things will come of the work here, I want you to know that.”
She shook her head almost imperceptibly. “I wish I could believe that, I truly do. It is hard to ignore one’s senses and intuition. Please do not take it as a personal affront that for now I choose to keep my own counsel.”
“I’m not offended Isabelle. I can see how it might seem strange or even ominous, but it’s quite safe.”
In retrospect, it is surprising how convincing words can sound to our own ears even when there’s a part of us that isn’t quite convinced either.
I have never slept well on trains and the rest was sorely needed. I slept for over twenty-four hours, awakening the following evening. I made myself presentable and went downstairs to the main hall. I was met by a servant who showed me to the dining room where Anderson was waiting for me.
“Andrew! Good to see you. I gave strict orders that you not be disturbed for as long as you needed to rest. Are you up to talking as we have dinner?” He motioned for me to sit at the right of the head of the table.
I seated myself and waited for him to speak.
“Now, Andrew, you obviously now recognize that we’ve managed to do something extraordinary, something unprecedented in all of history, if I may say so. Would you indulge me and tell me what you’ve seen and also what you think? I’m not looking for what you think I want to hear, as I would rather that you tell me what you think for the sake of your perspective. Regarding the body of work so far, I would love to hear anything that you may feel is lacking.”
I cleared my throat and leaned back as we were served, using the moment to collect my thoughts.
“Well, it appears that you can ‘project’ objects or things some distance, and unless you change things the most likely differences from event to event is a matter of where things end up. I would say that apparently the projection distance is more or less stable. Of the things that I could see a number of controls needed no monitoring, and a like number of inputs required regular adjustments in order to operate properly. Have you ever controlled or even predicted where things end up? Has anything ever projected inside of something else?”
He shook his head slightly and fingered his silverware and napkin. “You are quite right, Andrew. No, we have not figured out how to select a location, only a distance. We’ve found that it requires surprisingly little energy to move something, or rather, it takes a reasonably large amount of energy but less than you might think. Projecting into other objects – no, things do not seem to project inside of other matter of any density. Water, wood, metal, brick, they all seem to prevent other objects from overlapping. I rather think of it as a billiard ball being put on another billiard ball – if they follow their nature they will seek to lie side by side but stacking upon one another is quite un-natural.
I sent a cable to my secretary Marie the next morning and asked her to deliver a message to the head of my department and to the University president. In it I requested an extension of my leave, saying simply that the research opportunities for the University were enormous. I also gave directions for anyone to contact me if the need arose. I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle the matter of disclosure of Anderson’s research in the longer-term. Regardless I would never break confidence without his express consent. For a discovery of this magnitude I was willing to risk my research position if it came to that.
Before I left home it had already required a bit of coaxing on my part to get Marie to agree to handle some of my other affairs such as mail, bills, and making arrangements for the continued watching after my home and my cat. The promise of a nice dinner upon my return worked wonders for Marie’s willingness to help and I resolved to sweeten the deal with a thank-you gift of jewelry before returning home. Even as it was I was reasonably sure that she would continue to handle my affairs until my return.
The next morning I received word back that my request had been approved. Anderson would have to provide some guidance at a later point regarding what could and could not be divulged, but for now matters were under control.
And as simply as that, I had a month’s worth of time to devote to continuing research on the Matter Projector.
We threw ourselves at the task of taming the mysteries of the projector.
Of primary importance was figuring out how to increase the size of the portal. After some refinement of the mathematical relationships I determined that it was significantly more than simply a matter of increasing the size of the portal if we wanted to scale the device.
During the time I was getting familiar with the machine’s theory Anderson and Fritz, acting purely as a result of an ignorant question on my part, discovered that the random locations of the projection were not quite as random as had been thought. The reason that the device even worked in the first place was an amazingly fortuitous consequence of several electrically noisy circuits. If it had been that those high-frequency oscillating circuits were not sufficiently noisy anything projected in the earliest experiments might have – at best – experienced a slight vibration as the object translated extremely minute distances and nothing more.
What we discovered after more testing and my continued analysis of the new theory was that required power for any range beyond a certain distance did not scale linearly. While this seemed counter-intuitive at first, in retrospect it should not have. Most of the energy requirements were in the initial translation of the object to be projected as it was moved into several higher dimensions in the hyper-dimensional manifold. The rest of the energy was used to guide the trajectory.
A fundamental rule that crops up repeatedly in the universe is that things behave on the principle that energy flows from higher density to lower density, and the behavior of the projector was no exception. Initial power requirements went as the square of the portal size but the energies required were to a point also proportional to the mass of the object being projected.
On poor Frederic’s shoulders rested the herculean task of turning the theory into a reality. He invented several new applications of theory to accommodate the model that I was slowly refining. In so doing we added the capability of targeting the projections.
During a break brought on by a heated disagreement in the group, I had opportunity to talk with Frederic aside, to see if I could discover where this strange one-sided animosity with Fritz sprang from. Frederic said that it was a personal honor aspect of it. The group had been unable to make headway after discovering that portions theory and implementation were directly contradictory. Fritz had taken the matter quite personally. Anderson’s invitation for my involvement had understandably made matters worse.
Unfortunately my attempts to patch matters up were a miserable failure and actually compounded the problems. I resolved to let things resolve themselves naturally since I was completely at a loss as to how to fix things anyway.
The list of changes required to effect desired enhancements was quite extensive and expensive. Had our host not been quite well-to-do as a result of an obscenely large family fortune – and as a result of quite shrewd investments on his part – the machine might never have been made, much less improved upon.
Science throughout history as discovered that without independent capital such sums of money required to develop new ideas would otherwise derive from finding a sponsor to whom we would be beholden, and this we did not want.
After three weeks of manic effort and a never-ending supply of tea, coffee, and various pastries we wearily sat down where we stood at the moment we realized that we were ready to try larger items and truly choose target destinations.
Anderson had taken the time to draw up a preliminary list of tests to perform. He laid it on the table and motioned us to gather around.
“First, I’d like to do short-range tests. That is, I want to build a grid, or several, and compare accuracy with respect to range. We all agreed that this approach made sense.
We tried different sizes and shapes to be projected while aiming for the same coordinates. We projected different materials and mechanisms, some running and some not. We made attempts to determine the duration required to project to another position but after failure to do so with the tools available to us we felt it best to concentrate on other more easily measurable phenomena.
One thing we did notice was that an object could not partially traverse the arch and then be brought back, i.e. one could not push a ruler in and then withdraw it. At a certain point the object was simply no longer there and it was somewhere else.
I most clearly remember sweating profusely and setting up experiments as quickly as I could calculate coordinates while stripped to my undershirt – we were running the machine non-stop and with little down time and it added a significant amount of heat to the room. The smell of ozone was even stronger but it was now mixed with the smell of sour sweat and hot metal.
We revisited the issue of synchronization of the input control signals. Objects that were sent through the mis-tuned arch were not torn apart on a molecular level but were torn apart on a purely physical basis as thoroughly as if they had been run through a coffee-grinder. Depending on the bulk physical characteristics of the object it could be pulverized or liquefied. Imagine taking parts of something and translating them to another dimension (three-plus-one, actually) but mapping them backwards and then performing the transformations wrong. I suppose it would be possible to separate molecules but we didn’t focus our efforts in that direction. We tried mismatched inputs with the carcass of a hog, projecting it to a clear patch of ground outside near the gardener’s shed. The resulting mess was a sobering reminder – even more powerful than that of the rat – of why one did not want to make mistakes with this device.
It did not occur to us to test this behavior as a function of distance to see if a greater degree of synchronization was required for longer projection ranges. Luckily for me, later on this was shown to not be the case. Had it not been so, many ducks and wild animals at my destination would have feasted well upon my remains.
On the third day, Fritz grew increasingly short-tempered and lost his composure. “Could we please do more than stand around pushing things through this machine? We all know that what we really wish to do it test this on living things. We want to travel. You know that we all do.”
If we were to be honest with ourselves, what Fritz was saying was absolutely correct. Inside we were all aching to move on to testing the theory on living things. And if we were truly honest we’d admit to the other thing we all wanted to see – results that meant we could project. We were also a little nervous at the prospect, all the same.
Frederic and I volunteered to go to a lab at the college in town that performed animal tests and we arranged for various animals – rats (to replace the previous ones who met with gruesome fates), rabbits, a dog, several goats, and a young steer – to be delivered. The steer proved to be most troublesome to maneuver down the stairs, a fact that none of us anticipated. However, it would not have changed our plans other than to dress in a more appropriate fashion for herding cows. Put as delicately as possible, it can be said that scared or nervous cows are sources of copious amounts of manure.
Rats and rabbits were quite useful for testing at short distances inside but when projecting them outside there was a tendency to either outright die of shock from the sudden change of environment or to immediately hide. It was for these unexpected reasons that we found our stocks of smaller test subjects dwindling quite rapidly.
When we moved to the next phase of testing with the dog, humorously named Fideaux, there was a different issue. The fact that the dog was nervous around the equipment was no great surprise. We pushed him through the arch with the controls configured to send him to the back yard where Frederic was waiting. This apparently was a tremendous strain on Fideaux’s psychological well-being and he exhibited serious emotional disturbances thereafter. The dog (rightly) associated us with unpleasant experiences and when it sensed us coming near it would urinate or soil itself. These untidy responses restricted us to not working with him until sometime after his last meal and water. We gave up after several trips with the dog for this and a variety of reasons. Hiking through the house and down the stairs with a howling dog held little appeal for us and ultimately our own fear of being savagely bitten won out.
While we all felt badly, Anderson clearly was the most deeply troubled by the lasting damage we had inflicted on the animal and spent the better part of an afternoon searching for a quiet country home willing to adopt him.
Day twenty-five was the day of the first human projection. While we all agreed that Anderson should be the first one to enter the Matter Projector, it was also felt that the loss if something were to go wrong and he be injured or killed would be insurmountable.
The risk was something we could not ignore. Portions of the device used many amperes of current and there were multiple lightning capacitors (devices of my own invention that were like high voltage lightning bursts across a polymer). I had discovered a way to metallize the channels and then layer them over and over again. The result was a lightning-strike capacitor that behaved as if it were relatively low inductance and they would store and discharge a tremendous amount of energy in a very short amount of time. But the lightning cells could be quirky. If something did go wrong with our setup it would tend towards going wrong very quickly. Since these capacitors had lasted more than two dozen discharges they were very likely to be long-lived but there is always a risk of failure, however small.
Fritz, Frederic, and I drew straws to see who would be the first human subject. We drew our straws without looking to see what we received and waited, staring from one to another and back again, as if to do otherwise would somehow destroy our chances to be the one selected.
Frederic laid his straw on the table in front of him, a long one. Fritz and I stared cooly at one another, daring the other to go first, until finally Frederic said, “On three… one… two… three.”
Before any of the rest of us would be allowed mention, History would celebrate Fritz’s name, for he would the first ever and he would be projected no less than one dozen times. We congratulated him soundly and had a toast of tea in his honor.
For Fritz’s first projection we chose to project him ten feet away but facing to our right to test rotation vectors as well as translation vectors. He looked a bit disoriented and staggered a little but was otherwise fine. He was a tiny bit pale and was breathing as if he had run an exciting race. Frederic asked him a list of questions as I took his pulse.
As we picked more locations for Fritz to project we chose them with greater planning and complexity. All were successful and there was only one noteworthy event. There had been a slight power fluctuation just as he was entering the arch. When we feared the worst we ran upstairs and out back of the house to the location where he was to have projected. Fritz was nowhere in sight.
As we became more and more concerned we discussed what we should do next. As it turned out our fears were unrealized. Just a few minutes later, Fritz walked out of a small stand of trees, shivering and wet from head to toe. He had appeared less than a quarter of a mile ten feet above a small pond.
Fritz grew more short-tempered as the afternoon wore on, which was something we attributed to the stress of the day. But after the last projection he met us with a smile and asked for our understanding that it was a very challenging day regardless of the honor.
Frederic and I checked Fritz’s physical well-being for the last time. I looked at his eyes to see if they were bloodshot and if his pupils were dilated or contracted. Frederic and I did not see anything wrong but all the same as Fritz smiled and looked at me there was a sense that he was a greater part predator and a lesser part Fritz.
It was a chilling sight that continued to settle into my bones. The warm smile of a good friend co-existing with eyes that flashed as cold and sharp as diamonds on a winter night.
Two days later the machine was ready to go and I steeled myself for my second projection. It was easily the longest projection we had yet attempted by three orders of magnitude.
I had painstakingly slogged my way through the math for a third time and I knew my calculations were as precise as they were going to be, as we were limited by uncertainties in the machine’s precision and errors intrinsic to calculations.
The trouble was a combination of sources of error – the sheer number of variables involved, the limits of surveying accuracy, and the limits of a slide rule’s accuracy. There were a number of things that could go wrong. I might easily end up several hundred feet away and if everything conspired together it was conceivable that I might end up as many as thirty miles from my intended destination. We had already established that there was no danger of projecting inside something but, as Fritz discovered, where you ended up could be just as dangerous if you arrived in the middle of a busy street or over a canyon. It was lucky for Fritz that he had arrived only ten feet above the water.
Soon after Fritz’s “event”, I had concluded that by purposely setting the altitude vector below-ground that an object would simply move to the least-dense surroundings, much like a ball would float on water, and this was proven to be so in several later tests with inanimate objects.
I was as confident as possible that the target I had chosen had a minimum of danger spots. Then I admitted that when it comes to facing potential danger, knowing something rationally and knowing it viscerally are two different things entirely. A certain amount of nervousness would probably always go hand-in-hand with projection.
The butler, Carl, was looking at the machine with great unease as he brought my bags into the laboratory and set them down next to me. “Will that be all, Sir?”
“Yes that is all I need Carl, thank you for your help.” After all this time, this was Carl’s first time to see the machine closely and he actually was the only servant to have been inside the lab in years. I had heard whispers from the staff during my month-long stay. They had made many guesses regarding the work we did at all hours of the day or night, some startlingly close and some were quite preposterous. It was understandable that curiosity would thrive and grow in the absence of fact and without knowledge the fear would never quite go away.
Carl had brought my luggage downstairs and because we had neglected to shut the door he was in the lab before we were able to stop him. Frederic, Fritz, and I were very concerned about the potential of spreading talk of the machine. Anderson was quite calm and took Carl aside as he talked to him about the device, as it did have a rather menacing appearance, almost organically malevolent. He assured Carl that it was to be a device of enormous benefit to mankind but to speak of it prematurely could endanger many innocent people.
Carl was sworn to secrecy by Anderson and as I felt I was a reasonable judge of character and sincerity I believe that Carl was not a risk to the secrecy of the project.
Frederic was uncharacteristically silent, something I attributed to long hours hard at work incorporating changes to entire subsystems. I gave him a short wave of my hand – we would meet up again after I had finished my business back home and made the long trek back to Massachusetts in several weeks.
Fritz on the other hand was still smiling broadly, with a grin that had nothing to do with joy or laughter. I watched him carefully as he made adjustments to the machine and saw nothing that would be a cause for alarm.
I did not bother with what would be an empty gesture of saying a goodbye to him that I did not feel. I was actually quite glad to be getting away from him for a while.
Anderson looked quite distracted as he monitored numerous displays and reminded me to make careful note of what transpired since we had no idea what might be different in a projection of over three thousand miles. He brought a wooden box to me and undid the latch. From it he pulled one of a pair of pocket-watches that we had matched a week before. “Frederic and I synchronized them earlier today. Whatever you do, do not forget to keep it wound. I would like very much to compare them as soon as you return.”
He took off his glasses and wiped them with a cloth and said, “Well, you best be off then. No sense in delay. Good luck, Andrew.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and reassured him. “It will go flawlessly. But, since the world is imperfect, if anything does go wrong, it has been an honor, Sir. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this endeavor.”
“Yes, yes…“ He motioned me away with dismissive gestures in an effort to mask his concern. “Why are you still here? You have places to go.”
I stood in front of the arch and waited for the all-clear sign from Frederic. He made a few adjustments and closed a circuit and the familiar warbling low-frequency sound and third tone filled the laboratory. I nodded as I moved to the arch.
I heard Anderson say to Fritz, “Note in the log that this projection occurred November 9, 1910 at nineteen forty-three hundred hou—“
I experienced an extremely cold shock and a wave of dizziness nearly overcame me as I stepped through the arch and into the dwindling Oregon sunlight.
I was several yards away from Highway 99 and several miles away from my home. Considering the number of calculations involved, my slide rule had served me well. While I had a walk ahead of me at least I did not project over the Willamette River.
And this is where I stopped for this installment. The next section hasn’t played on the movie screen of my mind yet. I’ve gotten sneak previews in the pre-movie barrage of cherry-picked footage. Some of it stuck with me and some of it scrolled by as I stepped out for a jumbo popcorn (extra pee) and a giant diet Mt. Dew.
Note: “extra pee” will only make sense if you are an avid Stephen King fan.