Central Oregon Coast, August 2120
Ow!” Georges exclaimed with hurt surprise. “Why did you do that?” he asked with a mildly injured expression. I had merely punched him softly, almost affectionately, in the arm. And he was asking for it. “So brutal. Quelle bête.” He sulked.
“Georges, look alive. I’m getting some very unusual readings from the wormhole this morning. It seems to be in flux or something. Come look.” Georges, rubbing his arm (big baby!!) rolled his chair over to examine the data on my monitor.
“Yes, that is very unusual.” We had taken a baseline reading of the wormhole energy output, spatial displacement and density every day, several times a day and the output seldom deviated from the average. Now the new data was showing a significant variation. “What do you think is causing it?” He queried. I quickly skimmed through the various data sets collected by PoESA and other commercial space outfits.
“Here!” I cried and pointed to a disturbing readout from Cosmology. “Solar flares. Big ones.” Georges nodded as he examined the report. I downloaded and queued up the simulation that Cosmology had put together for “non-technical personnel” (like quantum physicists, apparently).
It was a CGI video of the sun and then at various intervals a huge flare with a potential geomagnetic wave front. Which was, I think, a nice theatrical touch. The sun’s normal huge flares (that 50 earths could fit inside) were already little bit frightening. These, however, were not your typical plain vanilla flares; Cosmology was calling them “Super Flares”. I may not be an astrophysicist but it seemed to me that any astrological phenomena that is a close to this planet as our sun and being referred to as “super” cannot end well. Cosmology reported that a few of the flares had reached halfway to Mercury and they were scrambling to find out why that was happening and what it might mean for planet earth if the solar storm also produced a coronal mass ejection (and subsequent geomagnetic wave front). A geomagnetic storm of this magnitude, were it to interact with our planet’s magnetic field, could, in theory, completely disable every unprotected electronic device on Earth. Computers, satellites, cellular and microwave equipment, space stations in orbit, PLCs that control factory equipment, every electrical grid, everywhere. Scientists and engineers around the world were compiling instructions for minimizing the damage, but the possibly of widespread damage was still there. Cosmology was excited. I was freaking out. And the wormhole seemed very unhappy as well. It was vibrating and shimmying. The opening stayed fixed, but the edges seemed smoky and wispy every now and then.
“Georges, what’s the baseline for the-” I was interrupted by the lights in the lab blinking off and on several times, then the wormhole suddenly shrinking to about half its diameter. “Shit! Get the Wand!” I shrieked. Georges was already across the room to the cradle where the Wand lived. He scooped it up and manipulated the Wand by holding it at the 135-degree angle and slowing rotating it clockwise. It vibrated in a strange way that we had not yet encountered. Hchhhhhhhctttt chhht chhhht. That was not the correct haptic feedback. If it was a voice, I’d say it was stuttering. Georges held the Wand steady and after a few seconds we heard the reassuring and expected spzzzzzzz and the wormhole opening returned to its former two-meter diameter.
“Omigod. Georges. What the hell just happened?” My heart was still pounding and, although Georges looked calm, he did have a bit of sweat on his upper lip. Which meant that he was extremely ruffled as well.
“I am not sure, but I think it must be related to the solar activity. Jules, what if a geomagnetic storm causes the wormhole close completely while the Anthropology team is on the other side? There is no guarantee the EMP won’t short circuit this thing.” He said grimly. “I think we need to tell PoESA admin. We should probably pull them out until the flares desist.” He was most assuredly correct; however, I did have a bit of feeling for Anthro group who had only been at their surveillance camp for a few weeks. I got the distinct vibe from some of the researchers that they might not be too distraught if they were trapped in 1490. However, as an employer, PoESA would probably get slapped with a rather steep fine from OSHA if they allowed their employees to be lost in time. Is there even a violation code for that? Negligent Temporal Displacement in the Workplace, or similar.
George used the holo-tel to contact our PoESA liaison. Her name was Janus Ming, and she had cropped gray hair and a featureless gray pantsuit, as such was the current fashion among mid-level bureaucrats.
“Hello, Julie! Hello George!” she began as if we were just old friends, calling to have a little catch-up. Georges was used to his name being mispronounced by Americans (with a J sound at the beginning and the end as opposed to the French zh.) I, on the other hand, tend to bristle when people presumptuously alter my name by truncating the third syllable. The Diana’s and Christina’s of the world are with me on this.
“Hi, Janus. We’ve got a problem.” I said bluntly before she could drown us in small talk and vacuous pleasantries. She wore a brief visage of annoyance but then quickly donned her serious, let’s get to the bottom of this face.
“Okay, what’s happening?” she asked briskly. Georges and I described the erratic behavior and readings from wormhole which we thought were being caused by the solar storms. She nodded, “I saw the Cosmology report. Do you think the wormhole is going to remain stable? I would really hate to pull the Anthropology team back now. Their research is absolutely fascinating. You know, some of them have actually gotten jobs in the village. It’s very exciting!” She put her hands together in front of her like a child who was waiting to blow the candles out on an amazing, super-cool dinosaur birthday cake. Fun! “This project is very important to POESA and its member nations, Julie.” Janus lectured. My eye twitched. “They are all counting on us to produce results. If you knew the size of the budget on this project-” she held her hands apart as if illustrate the sheer magnitude of the budget, “-you would understand. We really need to make this wormhole work.” Her tone suggested that it was merely a matter of Georges and me calmly persuading the wormhole to remain stable but instead we were obviously shirking our responsibilities like a couple of lazy assholes.
“Right.” I can’t say that I was shocked at Janus’s complete lack of concern over the possibility of nine researchers being irrevocably marooned in time before toilets were invented and hygiene was considered a trapping of Satan. I was completely horrified, but not necessarily surprised. “Janus, the problem here is that the team may become trapped in that time period if the wormhole destabilizes and we cannot re-form it.” She stared at me as if waiting for me to continue, hoping I’d say “But! We have it all figured out. Isn’t that nice??” But of course I just said, “Like, forever trapped.” She gave me a look that communicated that I was most definitely a big fucking drag and that I was not telling her the happy rainbow bullshit she wanted to hear– but just for a millisecond. Then the administrator façade snapped back into place and she presented us with a not-at-all-convincing, artificial, and frankly, slightly creepy smile.
“Well, of course the safety of the team is numero uno!” she said cheerfully. Stop. Stop speaking Spanish. Stop it, Janus!! She continued, “I’m going to alert Admin of our status. Let’s get the Anthropology team packed up and ready to return quickly and have them stay close by the terminus. Then we’ll give the word to move out if the situation deteriorates further. In the interim, please find a way to fix this. Thanks!!” Her holo-image fizzed out.
I turned to Georges and said, “You heard her. I guess we’d better fix this fucking thing.”
Georges and I worked late into the evening with several members of Cosmology to devise a way to shield the lab, and the wormhole, from the solar activity. Jim, the lead Cosmologist, a mellow, gangly fellow with a gray-blond ponytail and a penchant for wearing ponchos, and another team member named Rachael, a cute little pixie of a person, brought in a holo-generator (repurposed from its original duty as a star field projector) that they had modified with power modules to produce its own magnetic field. Their theory was that the generator would act as a mini-magnetosphere and protect the wormhole from the solar ejection (much like Earth’s magnetic field protects us from most of the lethal stuff in space). We powered it on and it projected a sphere of sparkly stars about 4 meters in diameter to illustrate where the field boundaries were. The wormhole shimmered a bit and Georges and I exchanged worried glances.
“Julia, this device looks a little hokey, no? I am not sure if the solar flares are going to be fooled by a planetarium light show.” Georges whispered. Sarcastic jackass! I jabbed him with my elbow.
“Shhh!” Jim and Rachael continued to fiddle with the interface on the side of the projector. After about 20 minutes of adjustments, Rachael turned to us.
“That should do it. It’s as strong as we can get it. Do you think it’s making a difference?” I examined the wormhole and the shimmering seemed to have stopped. It was as solid as something made of the ethereal qualities of the universe can be and, for what we knew about it—very, very little—it looked pretty good. Georges retrieved the Wand and proceeded to maneuver it in a few predictable ways until he was rewarded with a familiar spzzzzzz and he sighed in relief.
“I think we are okay for now.” He turned to Jim, “But do you really think this field can stand up to a solar mass ejection?” Jim looked thoughtful, shifted from one sock-and-Birkenstock clad foot to the other, and shook his head.
“There is absolutely no way to know. We figured it couldn’t hurt to try this but we’re talking about the possibility of a major solar event that has not occurred on the Earth in almost 300 years. And we’re also talking about a cosmic phenomenon,” He gestured at the wormhole, “that no human has ever encountered. I mean, do you want my best guess?” Georges and I nodded. “Not a chance in hell.” Jim replied, frankly. I blinked really hard and Georges made an “O” with his mouth. “I think we should pull Anthropology out of the village, now, while there’s still time. I wouldn’t want to be involved in them being left behind. Janus can bite me.” We concurred with Jim’s suggestion and his feelings about Janus’ orders. Fuck Janus. I sure as hell didn’t plan on leaving that team to eke out a living as traveling minstrels or fishmongers or mead hall hostesses or whatever the hell else people did for a living in godforsaken 1490 England.
After 20 minutes of arguing with Janus and her colossal sour face, Georges and I entered the wormhole for the first time. It was highly bizarre experience: we felt like we were standing up on a waterslide made of not-water inside of a kaleidoscope while on an acid trip. But only for like half a second, then we were walking out into the camp. Georges and I exchanged glances, and both mouthed “Cool.”
“Huzzah!” The camp erupted in a Renaissance fair cliché cheer when we were spotted.
“You have got to be fucking kidding.” I hissed in a low voice to Georges.
“Greetings, physics team! What news bring ye?” chirped Anne, the project leader, dressed in her Middle Class/Middle Ages glory.
“Well, you all need to pack up and leave or you’ll be stranded here forever.” I replied bluntly. Georges glared at me, and I gave him the what did I do now? look. Anne gasped.
“What happened?” she asked worriedly. Georges explained the solar situation to her and a few others who were gathering around. I wandered over to a man who was ostensibly dressed as the village smithy.
“Tony?” I queried, “Are you smelting iron??” He grinned and nodded.
“Yeah, I’m loving it. I think I missed my calling.”
“That’s a good thing because this wormhole is about to slam shut and if you’re still on this side of it, you’ll need to rely on your new career rather heavily.” His eyes went wide. “I shit you not, Tony. The sun has been spouting out some insane flares, and it’s destabilizing the wormhole.” Tony grimaced, and he and I walked over to where Georges was talking to Anne. Anne addressed the group.
“Listen, everyone. We need to pack it up and get ready to go back through. I don’t know how much time we have, so let’s do this quickly.” She began appointing various personnel to tasks and after talking to several of the team, she returned to where Georges and I were waiting. “Jules, Keiko and Jill aren’t back yet. They went into the village to collect some data. Tony is going after them. We’ll be packed in a few hours.” She grabbed my hand. “Thank you for risking the wrath Janus for us!” I smiled. Anytime I could thwart that bitch, I’d do it for kicks.
The group was busily engaged in breaking camp and hurriedly packing their gear, their samples, and a shit-ton of 15th century souvenirs and tchotchkes. I cannot say that I faulted them for their collections: Tony had a very convincing fake religious relic, and Anne had a fascinating medicine kit full of very stinky herbs and possibly bat parts. Georges and I assisted the team in loading up the cargo cases onto the wagons when Tony returned to camp, a bit out of breath as if he had been running. “I can’t find Jill and Keiko. I looked everywhere.” He panted. Anne looked worried. “Okay,” she said after a few seconds. “I want you and the team to start moving the equipment back through to the lab. I’ll stay here and find them.”
While Anne was on her search, the rain had started. It began with a light drizzle while the team was packing up, and now it had become a steady rain. Two hours later the team had completely cleared the camp, but Anne had been unsuccessful in locating the missing members. She limped into the clearing and looking disheveled and muddy, as if she had just crawled out of a ditch. She was near tears as she told me. “I can’t find them, Jules! Something must have happened to them.” I put my arm around her to help her walk.
“Anne, what happened to you?” She told me she was running back to camp and had slipped in the mud and had fallen off the road and twisted her ankle. So I was dead on with the ditch theory. “You need to go back through and have your ankle looked at.” Anne shook her head and sobbed.
“No, no, I have to find them! They might be in trouble.”
“They’re fine.” I attempted to reassure her, even though I wasn’t completely certain I was telling the truth. In my mind, I quickly went through about 8 different ways the 15th century can kill you (and I wasn’t even including the plague.) But I had to keep Anne looking on the bright side. “Go in and get some ice. I’m going to get scanner and go look for them. They can’t be far- it’s not like they hopped on a bus.” Anne nodded and sniffed. I helped Anne back through the wormhole and handed her off to Tony, and I found Georges looking at the monitor with a bit of panic.
“Jules!” he cried. “This is live video feed. The solar flares are increasing. Cosmology is predicting a coronal mass ejection event any time now. We may lose power and there is a high probability it’s going to dissipate the wormhole.” I took a breath and held it, then slowly let it out.
“Georges, I have to find Jill and Keiko, they’re still in the 15th century village.” Georges looked stricken. “I need the DNA scanner so I can find them.” He nodded and retrieved the scanner from the storage cabinet, then handed my waist pouch with some extra gear in it. Each member of the team had their DNA on file so they could be easily located in case of, well, getting lost in a medieval village, or the like. I punched in their ID codes and the scanner screen began blinking blue. I nodded. “Okay, I’m going after them. I’ll be fast.” I was about to enter the wormhole when Tony came running up.
“Anne told me to give you this.” He was holding Anne’s costume, a voluminous thing with layers and laces that wasn’t even sure how to get into. I shook my head,
“Jules, you’ll stand out too much dressed in your skinny jeans and a halter top. You might be questioned and possibly detained by…undesirables.” Great, now I was in danger of being molested by medieval pervs.
“Fuck. Fine. Hold this.” I said as thrust the scanner at Tony to hold. I grabbed the outfit and wriggled into it, then secured the fanny pack under the skirts. Tony handed me the scanner. I turned to Georges. “How do I look?” Georges didn’t miss a beat.
“Like Marie Antoinette, poppette.” He answered. I scowled.
“Jackass! Wrong century!”
“Hurry, Jules!” Georges insisted. “There is not much time. Allez! Allez!” I nodded and traveled through the wormhole and was immediately soaked upon emerging. The rain had become a raging storm with howling winds and stinging sideways rain. I switched on my flashlight and turned up the range of the scanner. Luckily, I had barely gotten into town when I saw Keiko and Jill running down the road, holding shawls over their heads to shelter them from the rain.
“Jules! What are you doing here?” Keiko asked breathlessly. I gave them the abridged version and they immediately started asking questions.
“No time! We have to go!” I was shouting over the storm, the wind and now the thunder. We ran through the clearing of the empty camp, straight for the wormhole. The wormhole was destabilizing I knew that meant we were almost out of time. “Go!” I pushed Keiko through, then Jill. I was already diving into the wormhole as lightning flashed, striking it and lighting it up like a ring of cold fire. I had a feeling the lightning might have been problematic, and I held my breath as I waited to implode or have my molecules dispersed, or other grim yet fantastic fate which befalls those who are inside an electrified wormhole. I would surely be the first to experience that. But, instead, I emerged unscathed on the other side. I sighed in relief. Ok, made it through, no problem here… except it was pitch black. Not surprising, as we were expecting power failure from the CME event. “Georges, do we seriously not have emergency lights? What the fuck??” The EMI from the lightning had temporarily shorted out my flashlight. I shook it a few times and tapped it on my hand and it blinked on. It shone on a wall, then another wall, then another wall, and a door. I was alone, and I was not in the lab.
On second thought, this was most definitely a problem.