Central Oregon Coast, August 2120
“You are making too large of a circle, Julia. We are all going to die.” Georges announced dryly. I continued my intense concentration, my focus, my zen.
I said without looking at him, “I’m trying to work here, Georges. Do be silent.” Georges sighed as if very put out. I rotated the wand in a circle about the size of a walnut. The haptic crunch was intermittent, then became constant. Spzzzt, spzzzzzzt, spzzzzzzzzzz… then it happened. Voila, wormhole! The tiniest, cutest little wormhole you ever did see sprang into existence in front of us, hovering in the air, just off the tip of the wand. Looking at it was like peering through a distorted peephole, with the outer circumference bending the scene around it as if made of water. The inside was distorted. I rotated the Wand again, clockwise in a growing outward spiral, and the wormhole diameter grew larger with each cycle. When it was about the size of a basketball, I stopped and lowered the Wand. Bvzzzzzm. The wormhole remained intact, floating a meter or so above the floor. I nodded my head at the scanner on the table, and Georges analyzed the opening to see if there was any compulsive force to it (lest it suck the room into itself). It did not seem to have any extraordinary gravitational effect beyond that of Earth, which, while occasionally inconvenient for humans, was perfectly normal.
How, then, were the luckless astrotechs “sucked in” as purported by the crew leader? We were going to have to determine the cause of the preceding lunar suckage before we made this baby wormhole any larger.
“Georges, let’s watch the vid from the moon team. We need to see this thing in action.” We sat down at one of the monitors and replayed the mission video log as captured by the mission leader’s helmet cam. The action was from the leader Rob’s point of view as he approached Jens standing over the alien box. He tells Jens to investigate the artifact and then he returns to the shuttle and continues recording the minutiae of crates being unloaded. Georges muttered, “Boorrring…” and fast forwarded to the frame where the leader approaches the two astrotechs.
“Slow it…to .10 times.” Georges complied and we watched as the two techs stood opposite each other, their helmets almost touching, Jens gesticulating wildly with the Wand in his left hand. “Georges, stop vid. Now enhance this section,” I made a circle on the video touch screen with my finger, which highlighted the part of the still frame that showed Jens’ hand clutching the object. “Ok start vid.” As the video played at 1/10th speed, we could see Jens gesturing with the Wand, then the wormhole forming right off its tip. The techs appeared to remain oblivious to it. As the leader came closer to the pair, the wormhole grew to about 2.5 meters. The opposite tech, Anjelica Reyes, appeared to be reaching for the object when she fell on Jens, causing them both the trip over the box and then fly into the wormhole. Their passage through the wormhole caused a ripple in it, but it remained in existence until the Wand hit the ground. Then we saw the wormhole shrink into nothing. But not exactly- it was more like the wormhole was retreating away from the camera until it became too small to see. We watched the clip from Rob’s approach three or four more times, but we just couldn’t make out whether they toppled in accidently or were pulled in by an unseen force.
“Julia, the ‘walls’ of the wormhole might exert traction. Maybe they came into contact with one of the inner surfaces and pulled them along, like a treadmill.” Georges proposed. I agreed, as opposed to my normal contrary reaction to his suggestions. To be completely honest, sometimes I dissented just see Georges have a tantrum. But this was not one of those times, as I not only agreed with his premise, butdecided to let him know I agreed.
“I’m going to test an object on the event horizon and see if it slides in.” I informed Georges as I pulled out a case full of various testing blanks. They were oblong cylindrical lozenges of various lengths and thickness and made of titanium. I selected one that was 10cm long and 3cm thick and approached the bottom outer edge of the wormhole, then placed the blank gently inside it. It remained unmoving where I had placed it. I pushed it in further and my hand brushed the “wall” of the wormhole. It felt like the force of moving water, like when you put your hand into a river rapid or a waterfall. I expected my hand to be wet when I withdrew it but, of course, it wasn’t. I put my hand inside the wormhole again and this time I felt the sensation of tingling water, like mineral hot spring. It was not entirely unpleasant. Georges gave me a puzzled look. “You gotta try this, man.” I said. We spent the next 5 minutes sticking our hands into the wormhole and oohing over the various sensations that we could produce by placing our hands at different angles. At length, we noticed that the blank was advancing toward the “inside” of the wormhole, but in a somewhat leisurely fashion. We agreed on the most likely scenario- that the techs’ momentum carried them into the wormhole. The other possibility was that the terminus of the wormhole landed some place where the gravitational pull was much higher, but we didn’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about the grim possibilities of locations with massive gravity- neutron stars, pulsars, black holes, gas giants. In the back of our minds I think we were always somewhat hopeful that we could recover the moon techs once we learned more about the Wand and wormholes and how we might control the location of the terminus and figure out where they went. For now, however, we were fairly satisfied that we would not be sucked down the BWH.
During the next few weeks we practiced growing and shrinking the wormhole, and fine tuning the methods to create it at various distances and to cast it away from us. The String team worked alongside us, producing massive amounts of math that they seemed very excited about. Georges and I wanted to see how large we could make a wormhole, so we stepped onto the sunny deck outside the lab that was suspended precariously over a cliff abutting the Pacific Ocean. While I used an analyzer to record data, Georges, holding the wand like a fishing rod, performed a casting motion, as if he was going to cast a line about 3 meters in front of him, and the wormhole formed at that specific distance. We had learned that the Wand seemed to sense our intentions. If we thought about where we wanted to create a wormhole and then affected a motion that we felt would produce those results, we were usually accurate. It was eerie, but also remarkably convenient.
Georges used the clockwise motion to expand the wormhole, feeling for the haptic crunch that informed him it was responding. But instead of restricting the size of the opening to a meter as we had done in the past, he kept rotating the Wand and the wormhole continued to increase its size until it was touching the ocean below and the top of the opening was higher than the dome, about 20 meters in diameter. The huge swirling disk distorted the sky, the clouds, and the ocean around itself. It hung there silently, like a huge tidal wave suspended in time that might crash on us any second. Georges held the Wand still and turned to me with a frightened look. “I don’t know if there is a limit to the diameter of the wormhole.” What if this thing could become large enough to swallow the lab? A planet? The idea freaked us both out so thoroughly that he collapsed the wormhole and we locked up the lab for the day.
The next day we returned to the lab determined to create a reasonably sized, non-scary wormhole and then send some inert objects through it that would end up somewhere else. That was our primary mission (at least according to the people who signed our paychecks). We formed a fairly standard wormhole (if, indeed, something that we only knew to exist theoretically and was born out alien technology that we didn’t understand can really be referred to as standard) that was 2.5 meters in diameter with its bottom edge touching the floor. We didn’t know where the other end of the wormhole was and for all we knew any object sent through it might emerge in solid rock or under water or inside a sun. Or nowhere. There is whole lot of nowhere in space – more of that anything else – so odds were fairly decent it might terminate in nothing. We started with a large blank, ½ a meter long and connected to a high stress titanium cable which was bolted to a floor joist. Georges lobbed it in like a champion bocce ball player and it disappeared into the eye. The metal cylinder penetrated the center of the wormhole and caused a ripple in the distorted surface, then disappeared, the cable suspended inside. Again we tested for gravitational pull, radiation, heat. All levels were normal.
We pulled the cable, and the blank returned to view, sliding easily out of the center distortion. It was cool to the touch, and it was not blemished in any way. We were fairly satisfied that the blank we threw in had not emerged inside of a star or at the bottom of an ocean under the ice crust of Europa. We notified Engineering that we were ready for the OMV (overland multifunction vehicle). Which is a really boring name (kind of like Charybdis) so we referred to it instead as Baby Rover.
Baby Rover (BR) was basically a miniature version of the Mars Rover. The Engineering team had fabricated it for this project. It was a multifunction instrument about the size of a toaster oven on ATV wheels that could read air pressure, detect atmospheric components and determine whether the air was breathable; measure gravity, velocity, and temperature; analyze light, check for signs of civilization (e.g. EMI, light waves, sounds, smells, pollutants, hydrocarbons); and locate its own position relative to magnetic north (if there was one wherever it landed) or by identifying the relative positions of stars. It was cute little guy, and we hoped it would be okay. We hooked it up to the cable, wished it well, and sent it rolling into the hole.
“Julia, what if the BR is damaged and we pull back a mangled fifteen-million-dollar plant stand?” Georges said as he nervously ran his hands through his hair. I cringed, thinking again about what might have befallen the ill-fated astrotechs. Georges had a valid concern; we had no idea where this little guy was headed or what adventures would greet it. But a few minutes later we started receiving the BR’s telemetry on the computer screens. Air pressure, atmosphere, gravity, and temperature were all Earth normal. Sunlight analysis showed this was definitely Sol. Nearby vegetation was sampled and found to be an Earth species. The images started compiling on our monitors and it was looking more and more like the BR had been transported to somewhere on our own planet.
“It’s Earth. That’s an oak tree. There’s a squirrel. Where the hell is it?” I asked Georges and the otherwise empty lab. I’ll admit that I was rather disappointed that our wormhole terminated somewhere on our own planet. I was hoping for a multi-mooned, exotic, electro-swamp inhabited by tentacled individuals.
Georges said, “You are squeenching your face, which means you are processing a thought. What are you thinking, Chou Chou?” I didn’t know. I did know I wasn’t cream puff, despite Georges propensity for a cutesy nickname. It seemed like we had discovered an alien instant transportation system. But we didn’t know where it would transport us. Kind of like buying an airplane ticket and rolling the dice as to where you would actually land. Could be Las Vegas, could be Reykjavík. How would you know what to pack? (Pack layers, my mother would say.)
“I am not squinching. I do not squinch. Do you think it’s a teleporter?”
Georges shrugged. “For all we know it could be sending us data from up the hill. Maybe we can question the squirrel.” I wish! Sadly, just a regular Terran gray squirrel. In a regular Terran forest…. Wait, something caught my eye on the monitor.
“Um, Georges, we’re getting a reading of the air quality from the sniffers. There’s an anomalously large amount of soot in the air. I’m running the analysis now.” As I fed the data into the computer Georges shouted.
“Mon dieu! Julia, I just received the GPS data and light wave transmission analysis. Nothing. Rien! No satellites in the sky. No EMI. No radio transmissions, no microwaves, no micro-plastics.” He looked up from his screen, his face starting show signs of recognition. “It can’t be…” But I knew it was because my data showed that the soot in the air was caused by the burning of coal and peat.
“Georges, this wormhole terminates in the past. It’s time machine.”
We validated our findings when BR-local nightfall came and we had the Cosmology team examine the images of the stars and extrapolate the date from their locations in the sky. If our analyses were fairly correct, we had a portal into the 15th Century, southern England. We reported our findings to PoESA admin and waited for the approval for a recon mission, which could take several weeks. Meanwhile, the Archaeology, Geology and Meteorology teams studied the incoming data, the BR tootled around and captured video. But now had even more questions. Why wasn’t our terminus located at our analogous space coordinates in our past, but rather on another continent? What determines the space/time location of the terminus? It had to be the Wand, but-
I was jerked out of my thoughts when I looked up at the vid stream from the BR and saw a pair of boots. “Georges! Boots!” George looked up from his bench.
“A person!” The Anthropology group came stampeding in, all clamoring for a glimpse at our new 15th century friend. There he was in all of his glory- about 160 cm, dressed in a gherkin and leggings and hardly a tooth in his head. The sniffers relayed the scent molecules, and we gagged simultaneously. Someone said, “Jeeezus, he smells like dirty socks and meat.” The techs remotely controlling the BR maneuvered it quickly into a pile of leaves and then deployed the camo-net, a holographic projector that reflected the immediate environment, rendering the BR invisible.
A week later, a stuffed suit from PoESA came to the lab to give Project Charybdis the go ahead for a recon mission through the wormhole. They had not yet determined how to cash in on time travel, but it wouldn’t be much longer until some young up-and-coming executive figured out a way to exploit it for profit.
Anthropology went completely bat shit. It turns out that many of them were members of the Society for Creative Anachronisms and already had costumes from various ancient battle re-creations and Renaissance fairs. And that is just super geeky, which is something coming from a science nerd like myself.
The Anthropology team came piling in the next day like a traveling circus of academia pulling field wagons full of surveillance gear, instant food and water, modular shelters, silent solid battery generators, a giant camo-net, and a huge wardrobe of festive Renaissance-style apparel. They set up their base camp about 10 meters from the wormhole and projected the camo-net out around the perimeter to shield the wormhole and themselves from view of passersby, and also create sound dampening outside the net.
Now, here we were, barely six weeks after the original moon incident and the universe as we knew it was forever changed. We had gone from theorizing that wormholes existed to creating them with, literally, the wave of a wand. We were no longer the sole life-forms in the universe; humans were now at least one of two, since it was undoubtable that aliens had manufactured this technology. We were not alone. Who were they and why did they leave this insanely powerful technology for us? We didn’t have those answers, and also it wasn’t our job to speculate since PoESA had other teams to do that.
Georges and I were in the lab that morning when the aforementioned “little fucker incident” occurred. We were arguing about our strategy for opening a wormhole with a targeted terminus location, a purposeful wormhole tunnel. We knew so little about how to operate the Wand and we were still struggling to comprehend how it chose the place/time coordinates of 15th Century England, and how the wormhole tunnel had looped into the past (Einstein-Approved) and whether the time machine can visit a time before the time machine existed (NOT Einstein-Approved), and many other head-exploding theories. The most obvious solution was, I thought, staring us directly in our faces.
“We need to go the moon.” I said with finality. Georges stared at me in disbelief and then shook his head sadly.
“The moon? You get car sick when we drive on the curvy parts of Highway 101 to get a cappuccino, Cherie. How are you going to handle zero G?” I mean, okay, he was right. Infuriatingly correct, actually. But I knew that identifying additional timespace coordinates where a wormhole had already landed would help us figure out how the Wand selected them. If the Wand was only capable of opening a portal to the 15th Century space/time that we discovered, then we would have found the Astrotechs there when Anthropology arrived. In fact, the team had searched for the missing techs and had questioned the locals (while in disguise) and there was no sign of them. Sure, a portal to the past amazing and all, but how could it be that we held the power of the universe (itself!!) in our hands and all we could do is visit a filthy little European village? Boooring! I was still holding out for the friendly and luminous octopeds in the electro-swamp on an exoplanet near the Crab Nebula.
But apart from aiding in our attempt to understand the workings of the Wand, we still held out hope that that missing astrotechs could be found alive. We were all mindful of the fact that no attempt had been made to recover them. At the time of the incident, the shuttle team was in shock and, not understanding what had happened or how, didn’t try to reactivate the wormhole. Once PoESA determined what had caused the disappearance of the techs, they made the decision not to return to the moon until we had more thoroughly researched the Wand’s capabilities in a controlled laboratory here on Earth. Which is probably sensible, but I found it unforgivably cold. Anjelica and Jens were wearing pressure suits so wherever they went they had at least brought their own air with them and were somewhat protected from the many, many things in space that can kill you. However, their suits were only designed for about 48 hours of life support. So if they were transported to some place without an atmosphere- I had to stop thinking about that. It was freaking me out. Besides, our wormhole terminated in the cozy (albeit not very fragrant) past. It was just as likely they were sent somewhere habitable. I mulishly refused to believe that the aliens who left the Wand on the moon did so as a fucked up practical joke. Hello, hairless primates. Here’s a neat toy! Oh look, you’re dead. HA HA. That did not seem likely. Apart from being a flagrant waste of resources for very little return (beyond alien schadenfreude, I suppose) it didn’t feel right.
We had manifested subsequent wormholes to see if the 15th century terminus was just a random setting, but each one landed at the original terminus site. So what was different about the manner in which the Wand was manipulated on the moon? What was the distinctive factor that opened a wormhole with a terminus in a unique physical and temporal location? I stood, eyes closed, unmoving while lost in thought. I thought (felt) that there was a beacon somewhere in spacetime that was anchoring the wormhole terminus. The time machine cannot visit the time before the time machine existed. How the hell was this thing working and not breaking physics? There had to be an anchor. A touch point. A signature. I could almost see it, a bright spot in the murky gloaming of my mind. It was shaped like a-
“Squeenching!” Georges snapped and jerked me out of my (probably brilliant) reverie. Asshole. He was definitely going to get punched.