Saturday, June 29, 2024

Null Infinity - Chapter 8

 Previous chapters can be found under the Forgotten Earth tab above.

Chapter 8

The departmental budget would let them get started on the experiment but eventually they would have to find a backer with more money. Lauren found a couple of used mobile field offices that could be shipped to the site. These would serve as shelter and maybe an overnight room if needed. She and Harry and anyone else they could find in support of the experiment would be staying at the Lacey Motel in Lacey, Georgia. Lauren had booked a block of rooms at a good price, apparently the city of Lacey wasn't much of a tourist destination. Harry and Lauren could see why when they made their first visit.

That part of the state of Georgia was once known as the wiregrass region and extended across approximately the bottom third. It was known for its longleaf pine trees and the eponymous wiregrass. The flat leaves of the grass appear cylindrical because they curl inward at the edges, like wires. The perennial grows in clumps to a length of about a twenty inches. It provides a carpet for the forest floor and an extensive open range for wild game. The region is probably still the most undeveloped of the state.

Harry and Lauren could be expected to share their research area with deer and gophers, bears and rattlesnakes, wolves and wild hogs. They would also share the area with harvester ants which have a stinger that could produce a rather painful sting. Harry and Lauren were suburban kids, so this was a new experience (after New Mexico) for them.

They arrived in Lacey late in the afternoon having started their drive before dawn from Atlanta. Lacey had a small downtown of about a dozen buildings on one side of main street and a railroad line on the other. Two restaurants including a pizza place were present, Harry especially noticed the pizza place.

They checked into the motel and left their luggage, they wanted to find the forestry site before dark. Heading west of town they drove for fifteen minutes before seeing the sign for the university forestry department. Harry turned right onto the narrow dirt road and drove a short distance before finding the office which was in a short trailer.

Getting out of the car they saw a young man approaching. He introduced himself as Jimmy Stubbs. He was a graduate student in forestry.

After introductions Harry said, “Has anyone told you where we'll be setting up our experiment?”

Yeah, I'll take you over there,” said Stubbs.

They got on the four-wheeler with Stubbs driving and Harry beside, Lauren was on the back seat which faces backward. Stubbs took off through the woods, the only sound was the tires of the electric. The late day sun was throwing long shadows across the path. Flashes of sunlight, almost a strobe-like effect, shone as Stubbs had the four-wheeler maxed. After about five minutes they emerged from the forest onto an open field of wiregrass. Stubbs stopped the electric.

This is it,” he said.

Where's the power?” asked Lauren.

At the upper end,” said Stubbs, pointing that way. “They've got the box all run.”

This will work,” said Harry. “We'll put the trailers up there along with the laser. We've got two-forty volts, right?”

As far as I know,” said Stubbs. “You'll have to ask Professor Darlington to be sure. He's managing the project. You can see him tomorrow.”

Good,” said Harry. “Are there any extra electrics we can use?”

I think so,” said Stubbs. “Again, that's a question for the Professor. You're trailers are already here, just need to finish moving them to where you want.”

Great,” said Harry. “Well, I guess that's all we can do today. Thanks Jimmy.”

Sure,” said Stubbs as he started the four-wheeler back through the woods as fast as they had come.

Back in the car Harry said, “Well, I guess there's only one thing left to do.”

What's that?” asked Lauren.

Try that pizza place back in town,” he said.

Digger's Pizza was in an old building downtown. Brick front, two story with high wooden doors at the entrance. It didn't hide its age which Harry figured was a hundred years old. Inside there were wood floors, wood walls, high wood ceilings, making for a comfortable welcome and the smell of pizza also helped.

Harry and Lauren ordered their usual pizza with two sweet teas. The music wasn't quite as old as the building and the sound system was definitely up to date. Harry thought he could get use to the town of Lacey.

What do you think?” he said.

I like it,” said Lauren. “If the pizza is any good it will be just what we need after a long day.”

Harry nodded yes.

So, once we get set up I think the first thing we need to do is reproduce the subluminal experiment that I participated in. We know a lot about what to expect and it will allow us to calibrate the SCR before we move on into more unknown tests,” he said.

Agree,” said Lauren.

They were quiet a minute, listening to the music.

I hope we can get one of those electric four-wheelers,” said Harry. “They can get us from the cars to the field easily.”

You mean fast, don't you?” asked Lauren.

Yeah, they're fast, so?” he said.

So, I noticed how much you enjoyed that ride today,” she said.

It was good,” he said, not sure what she was meaning.

It was fast. That's what you liked. Well, as long as I'm not on board. But I don't think you should drive as fast as Jimmy. He's been doing it a long time,” she said.

I've been driving for some time myself. Remember the truck?”

Yeah, I remember and I'll never ride with you again if you drive like that.”

I had to,” he said.

Lauren was quiet, finally she said, “Poor Mr. Lawer. We've got to do something Harry.”

What?” he asked.

I don't know,” she said.

The pizza arrived, it was good, but Lauren was still thinking about Marsh Lawer.

Professor Darlington was helpful and before the month was out, enough progress had been made on the site to allow experiments to begin. The first experiment reproduced Dr. Zee's original except at a much lower energy level. From there the energy was ramped up each time as Harry and Lauren became more confident that they knew what they were doing and that it was safe. It wasn't long before they were wondering if it wasn't time to run a superluminal experiment.

It is, after all, the whole reason to be doing the experiments. I mean there are other ways to get around spacetime if you're willing to go subluminal,” said Harry.

I agree,” said Lauren. “I just want to be sure it's safe.”

Well, we know as much as Dr. Zee did in the subluminal realm and we've had no problems. We are just going far enough into the superluminal to verify our claim,” said Harry. “It really won't be much different from the last test we did.”

Except for the energy shed we'll see when the bubble goes subluminal. Remember, that's why the military has Dr. Zee running experiments, and remember, it's dangerous,” she said.

I agree Lauren. But it is the reason we're down here this semester. We have to do it sometime and I think we are ready.”

Okay, we'll do it tomorrow then,” she said.

They were quiet on the way back to the motel that night. Harry wondered if the stress was getting to them both. After all, as new graduate students they had taken on the most challenging research he could think of. And as he thought, he realized that as far as he knew, they were the only team that had taken it on, though he didn't think that could be correct.

This was the research of a lifetime and Dr. Zee had published enough of his results before he went to work for the military. So, someone somewhere must be pursuing it, just quietly, very quietly, as the physics grapevine would have uncovered any other research teams.

He thought:

Teams, it's two kids, that's the entire team. I wonder what we're doing here? But Lauren's here, that's something.

He was sure that they could eventually get it to work but if there were other teams out there, he bet they were more than two people.

At the motel he said goodnight to Lauren without exchanging the quick kiss that had become their custom, she didn't seem interested or maybe she was just too tired. Harry lay in bed wondering about that also.

The following morning Harry got up, still sleepy but determined. He and Lauren had breakfast at their usual place, a small breakfast shop on the way to the site. They exchanged some talk about the experiment but not much more, both were tense. This time they could expect some of the energy shedding as the bubble went subluminal and although they thought they knew what that meant and that it would be very minor at the speed they intended, they both knew what had happened in the university's stadium, Harry knew from personal experience.

They finished the ride to the site only discussing the sequence of events that would happen during the experiment. Harry would basically be in charge of the laser that would provide the power input needed to change the Hubble factor and develop the bubble and get it moving. Lauren would be operating Harry's SCR and recording the results.

They had taken one of the electric four-wheelers through the forest and were in the trailer they thought of as the control room. No one else was with them, although there were some forestry students and Professor Darlington doing some field work nearby.

Harry started the experiment by powering up the laser. He had made some modifications, using Dr. Zee's theory about vibrational resonance to reduce the energy needed to create and accelerate the spacetime bubble. Calling out to Lauren, who was watching the SCR screen, that he was about to begin, Harry touched the onscreen button that began the operating program for the laser.

Out in the field about twenty yards from the trailer which was within a Faraday cage, that is a kind of electromagnetic screen so that the electronics in the trailer would not be affected by the electromagnetic radiation from the laser, a pulsed power laser began to fire bursts of intense deep green light onto the target ten yards away. The duration of the bursts was measured in quintillions of a second but in that minuscule amount of time a power of almost ten petawatts was concentrated.

The laser itself occupied another trailer sized enclosure in which the heavyweight optics and power could be cooled and maintained in a field setting. Harry wasn't sure but he bet that Dr. Zee's laser on the base was ten times as powerful as this field version. The original version of the laser which was back at the university was often likened to the intensity of a million, million, million forty watt light bulbs compressed into an area one-hundredth the size of a human hair.

Out in the field the intense light from the laser hit the target material and was trapped by its zeolite-like structure, except in this case instead of trapping molecules, the target, containing boron nitride molecules, was trapping, “absorbing,” quanta of light from the laser. Already a highly coherent beam, the quanta thus trapped by the target were even more coherent, with an energy range measured in just a few watts. In other words, the intense, coherent beam of laser light was being further sorted into exactly the right energy quanta needed to affect the size of the compact dimensions and this would control the bubble size and acceleration to almost infinitesimal tolerances. Or that's what was expected and what had been shown in previous experiments.

But this time was different.

Professor Darlington was outside the conference room in which the inquiry was being conducted. He had not been physically injured but was emotionally shaken by the event and had suffered from the resulting disequilibrium that all of them had felt. It had taken a week to recover from its effects. It had been two weeks since the incident at the forestry site.

The board will see you now professor,” said the aide to the university's president.

Professor Darlington rose from his seat and entered the conference room.

Professor Darlington, welcome,” said university president Cheshier. “Please have a seat.”

The only chair available was at the end of the long conference table. Around the table, besides Harry and Lauren's advisors, were some others from the government and military.

First Professor, as we've asked all participants, please explain in your own words what happened to you that day,” said the president.

Well, as you know Mr. President, I was not directly responsible for Mr. Stimson and Ms. Cauley, so I was not with them at the time. I was with some of my forestry students about a mile away from the experiment.”

President Cheshier noticed that all those testifying has so far called the incident, the experiment, as if they had compartmentalized what happened to them that day.

Dr. Darlington continued, “I think the first awareness I had was of a prickly sensation on my neck. This soon spread down my back. It was a clear, bright, humid day so I thought maybe I had wandered into a swarm of gnats. I naturally brushed at my neck and back with my hands. That's when I felt an almost burning sensation. So I turned.

We were in a recently planted quad with a wiregrass forest floor. As I looked at the tufts of wiregrass, which as some of you may know appears cylindrical as its name implies, they began to “wiggle.” That is the best way I can describe it, though I still don't know if the grass stalks themselves were actually moving or it was an optical illusion.”

Excuse me professor,” said one of the government men, “why do you say you can't distinguish between actual motion and an optical illusion of that motion?”

Well sir, it's because my senses were becoming confused also. So much so, that before I blacked out, I was also seeing the forest dissolve. Certainly that must have been an illusion because when I regained consciousness everything in the immediate vicinity seemed to be normal again. So I assume it was an illusion since it didn't leave a trace except in my mind.”

The professor continued for some time describing his experience and answering questions. After he left, the board of inquiry discussed the testimony they had heard that day.

One after another of these witnesses describes the effect on them very similarly,” said the psychology expert, Professor Freed, from the School of Social Sciences.

And what do you make of it professor?” asked one of the government men, Mr. Badden.

It's unusual sir,” said the professor. “To have all the witnesses to such an event describe it in the same terms. Usually people see different things and the descriptions of the event can sometimes be quite divergent. So I take it as being real.”

The grass wiggled?” said one of the military men, Lieutenant Levi.

As I said, I believe they saw the same thing, and I think that could have only been a real occurrence, not an optical illusion,” said Professor Freed.

Well what ever it was, we've got two people missing, half a dozen recovering from injury, and quite a bit of expensive equipment has vanished,” said President Cheshier. “We need some answers.”

Mr. President,” said Lieutenant Levi, “if you will excuse us, we need to get back and report.”

Certainly, Lieutenant Levi.”

The lieutenant and his companion rose and left the room.

The president said, “I wonder if they know something we don't?”

I think they know someone,” said Dr. Nabors, Harry's advisor.

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