Einstein found Ernst Mach's conjecture about the distant stars affecting the local frame of reference and being the source of inertia to be a guide to his development of the theory of general relativity. He even gave it a name, Mach's Principle. What does general relativity say about this mechanism?
There is such an influence.
It is not some mysterious new natural phenomenon.
It is a manifestation, in a subtle sense, of the very mechanism which transmits gravity itself.
In other words:
Georgia Polytechnic University
Jack was busy trying to pull his experiment together. He had let the material he needed get away from him by not moving quick enough. Now, he was scrambling to find a new source, a problem becoming more urgent in a world with collapsing supply chains and regional aggressions.
Jack was three inches under six feet, with brown hair that always needed cutting. His glasses made him look the part of a physics student but he was just as skilled in other areas of his studies.
As a graduate student his project was highly constrained by the general funds budget of the physics department. That's why he had waited to order the materials he needed. He thought they would become cheaper as production ramped back up after the war but then, as he waited, the war had started up. Luckily, he was safe in the United States but New India was skirmishing again with Southern China over territory, the exact territory where the element Jack needed was being mined. There were other mining areas but their output was almost all taken, the result was that the price of rhenium had tripled.
Jack had come up with the idea of adding the heavy metal atom to the PZT matrix (which would then become RPZT) because he was hoping that it would increase the internal energy capacity of the stack, which was important to the Mach thruster's efficiency. The idea came from his early days as an engineering student when he was studying rocketry, where rhenium was used in rocket engine metallurgy because of its high melting point.
After some discussion with a chemist friend, he had decided that rhenium could also do the job he wished. He found a company that was willing to modify its PZT stack for Jack, in return for the results of his research. He was all set, until he got the latest news.
In his small dorm room that night, Jack was zooming with his dad who was back home in the North Georgia mountains.
“Yeah, dad I don't know if the department will come up with the additional funds or not, I put the request in, so now I just have to wait.”
“What will you do in the meantime?” asked his father.
“Well, the theory still needs some work. You remember me telling you about frame-dragging in general relativity?”
“Something about acceleration of local objects affecting other objects?”
“Yeah, if an object accelerates, then it pulls spacetime with it and this pulling of spacetime translates into a gravity-like force on other objects nearby. I think that force, which the non-accelerating objects resist, is linked to inertia. But I haven't proved it yet mathematically.”
“Do you have an approach son?”
“Well, the equation for the Mach principle or effect shows that the inertial reaction forces are like a radiative effect. That is, they have a distance dependence as the inverse first power, like radiation, and not as the inverse second power, like gravity.”
“Oh, so the inertial force is not related to the gravitational field as is frame-dragging,” said his dad.
“Not exactly,” said Jack. “Related maybe but the exact mechanism is different.”
“I see son.”
“Yeah, if the Mach effect, which says that local inertia is related to the universal mass, is correct, then the question becomes, how does the local inertia of an object couple to the universal mass?”
“What do you think?” asked his dad.
“Well, I still think it is a field effect but I'm at a loss to name the field, after all the effect of inertia is immediate and most field effects take some time to propagate.”
“Especially if they are generated by the entire mass of the universe,” said his dad.
“Right,” said Jack. “Something has been missing from physics since Einstein developed his relativity theory.”
“Talking about Einstein is pretty heavy stuff Jack.”
“I know,” said Jack. “But professor Jackson says if we have to, we have to.”
Jack and his dad continued the talk by discussing other things about the family before saying goodbye. Jack sat a moment and thought about what they had discussed.
Talking about Einstein is pretty heavy stuff. That's a frightening way to think about it.
And it was still a mystery the day after he had talked to his father. He had again tried and failed to get his experiment to work.
Why doesn't it work? Even just a little?
Jack was thinking about the experiment, it was the same experiment he had done as a teenager. Except as a teenager he got it to work, or thought he had.
The only difference is the manufacture of the stack. Everything else is the same, or better. Certainly the equipment has improved. I can't imagine why it's not working.
He still hadn't received any word on his rhenium order, the war was still raging, as were several in other locations across the world. Such conflicts were happening because many countries were desperate for resources, even food, and were fighting over them. Most of the wars were in Africa and Asia, though European countries had been involved in several, either directly or through surrogates. Jack was careful to only read the news at the end of the day, otherwise it would affect his concentration while he worked.
Jack gave up on his experiment and went to dinner and to read the news.
Following his usual routine, the next morning Jack was in the lab early. The lab was pretty much as one would expect from watching the movies, a large room with rows of workbenches and walls of shelf storage containing all manner of electronic equipment. There were oscilloscopes and function generators, digital multimeters and capacitance meters, and power supplies from small five amp capacity up to fifty amp, both direct current and alternating. Larger current requirements could be supplied by the power supply built in to the workbench, up to a hundred amps was available, this was what Jack was using for his experiment.
The place smelled of all manner of electronic, electrical, and chemical, depending on what experiments were setup and more precisely, on what went wrong with the last experiment, whether it was burned electronics, spilled chemicals, or the sweat of a dozen graduate students working all night to get their labs done, all mixed with the ever present odor of pizza.
Jack's experiment sat on his workbench. A vacuum chamber made of a strong, clear plastic, cylindrical, about a foot across and three feet long. And inside the chamber was the PZT stack (within a Faraday cage) and the measuring sensors. The Faraday cage was necessary to minimize electromagnetic interference, especially with the very small signals expected from the sensors. The cage set upon a pair of rails with wheel bearings which resulted in very little friction.
The most important measuring sensors were the strain gauge sensors which could indicate small movements of the stack. All the measurement signals were brought out and power was brought in through the walls of the vacuum chamber to the Faraday cage with noise suppressors on all the lines.
Jack was sitting and looking at the chamber as the air was being evacuated.
Maybe if I double up on the stacks, I'll see some signal. If I don't see anything with this run, that's what I'll do.
An hour later, having seen no signal, he was adding more PZT disks to the stack. Within an hour Jack was again sitting and staring at the chamber as it was pumped free of air.
I'm going to have to give up if this doesn't work, at least until I get the new stack of disks with the added rhenium, that should increase the capacity of the internal energy change, which is what I may need to see Mach effects.
The pumping was finished, the experiment was ready for another run. Jack controlled all the equipment from his handheld. He started the power supply, hearing the whumpf as the huge power capacitors inside the supply charged. With a touch, he then started the voltage oscillation to the stack. Each disk in the stack was wired in such a way that the voltage across it could reverse during the second half of the voltage cycle. This effectively charged the PZT stack during the first half of the voltage cycle and discharged it during the second half.
At 32.35 kilo-hertz the charge and discharge cycle caused the PZT not only to gain and lose energy but also to expand and contract. Essentially, energy added to the stack increased its mass and inertia while energy drained from the stack did the opposite while simultaneously accelerating (expanding/contracting).
Jack switched the display of his handheld to the sensor outputs. He watched as they began to register movement. Then he heard a fireworks sound. Jack remembered the sound, he had heard it years before when doing the same experiment in his parent's cellar. This time he didn't look up but immediately turned away, the explosion hurled a chunk of the chamber his way, hitting him in the back of the head and knocking him down, he caught the corner of a workbench driving it into his eye socket, by this time Jack was unconscious.
In the 1950's Dennis Sciama (1926 – 1999) developed a model to illuminate how to think of mass there governing inertia here. The model posits spacetime as flat, and assumes that gravitational forces are like electromagnetic forces, for instance, both are propagated at the speed of light.
This connection, the feature of propagation, implies that in addition to the static component of the force between particle and particle, either gravitational or electromagnetic, the strength of both being inversely proportional to the distance between. And if the analogy holds, they are both linearly proportional to the acceleration of the sources. Obviously, this is true of electromagnetism since we can receive far off broadcasts from radio transmitters, transmitters which use an antenna to accelerate charges at a frequency we can receive with a radio. But it is equally true of gravity as shown by gravitational waves.
Saint Joseph Hospital
Jack woke up.
He heard beeps, like electronic equipment, was he still in the lab? He didn't think so. He tried to open his eyes but only one worked and it seemed blurry. He started to raise his hand but felt it restrained by something so he blinked to clear his eye and squinted.
The restraints, he noticed, were not restraints but different IV lines. Obviously, he was in a hospital bed. He blinked again trying to clear his vision further. He turned his head and noticed there was someone sitting in a chair against the wall. They seemed to be sleeping, their head lowered to their chest.
One last time, he blinked and squinted. It was his mother, he was sure.
“Mom,” he said, in a hoarse voice.
“Mom,” he said again, somewhat louder.
The person stirred and raised their head.
“Jack,” she said, “did you say something?”
“Where am I?” he asked.
She stood and moved to his bedside, placing her hand over his.
“St. Joseph hospital son.”
“Why?” he asked.
“You remember the explosion?”
“Sort of, the last thing I remember is something hitting me in the head.”
“It knocked you out son. You've been a coma.”
“A coma? How long?”
“Two months, Jack.”
Jack was quiet for a moment, trying to comprehend what his mother had just told him.
“Where's dad?” he finally said.
Now his mother was the quiet one.
“Jack your dad's not here,” she said.
Jack sensed she was trying not to tell him something.
“He's back home?” he asked.
“No son your dad …”
“Your dad is dead son.”
His mother noticed.
“Jack, are you okay?”
“Yeah mom, I just never expected to hear that.”
“I'm sorry son.”
“What happened?” he asked.
“Maybe we should wait until you are better son. I think we should get the doctor now.”
His mom moved to the door and stopped a passing nurse to ask that Jack's doctor be called. The nurse entered the room.
“Well, Mr. Williams,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Not too bad nurse but I think I'm hungry,” he said.
“No doubt, Mr. Williams,” she said while taking his pulse. “But we will have to wait on your doctor before I can get you something.”
She then called the nurse's station asking that Jack's doctor be contacted. She took his blood pressure.
“Well, you have a good pulse and blood pressure,” she said. “Let's just wait for the doctor, he should be here shortly. How about some juice while you wait?”
“Thank you, that would be nice,” he said.
After the nurse left Jack asked his mother, “Mother, what is wrong with my left eye?”
“Jack, I'm afraid your eye was damaged in the explosion.”
“Will I be able to see again?”
“No son, I'm afraid not.”
Jack was quiet again, he couldn't quite believe everything he was hearing. His father dead, his eye destroyed, he had been in a coma for two months.
The nurse brought in the juice and placed it in Jack's hand. He tried to maneuver the straw to his mouth and sip but it wasn't easy, his mother tried to help. Jack took a sip.
“Thanks mother,” he said.
The doctor came in.
“Mr. Williams,” he said. “It's good to see you awake finally. Has your mother filled you in on the last two months?”
“Yes, doctor,” said Jack. “I understand that I've been in a coma for the past two months.”
“Yes Mr. Williams, the blunt force trauma you suffered during the episode caused intracranial swelling and pressure. Over time that swelling has gone down. I believe that it will not recur and your prognosis is good.”
“What about my eye doctor?”
“I'm afraid your eye was damaged irreparably. However, there are several avenues for the use of a prosthesis that can restore sight. I have a recommendation here.”
He held up a card.
“Dr. Limbaugh is a leader in the use of such prosthesis. I'll just give his card to your mother and you can think about how you want to proceed.”
“Thank you doctor,” said Jack. “When do you think I can get out of here?”
“Well, Mr. Williams I have several tests I want to run and a little physical therapy. If you respond well to the therapy I should think in three or four days. Any other questions?”
“No doctor,” said Jack.
“I can't think of anything right now.”
“Very well, I will see you tomorrow on my normal rounds, good day.”
After the doctor left Jack said, “Mother.”
“I just want to go home.”
“Of course, son, as soon as possible.”
A week later Jack was back in his old room at home. He felt well although the eye socket of his missing eye itched now in then. He would have to keep it bandaged for a couple of months before he could consider a prosthetic. His mother had bought him a patch. But Jack wasn't much interested in wearing it outside the house. He wasn't much interested in going outside the house, mostly he sat at his bedroom window which was at the back of the house, looking across the pasture at old Mule Top mountain.
As he looked out on the overcast, gray winter day he thought about the accident. If only he had taken precautions. It was the third time that he had been injured during his rocketry pursuits. The first time, when he was eleven, one of his bottle rockets had exploded on the pad and a portion of the rocket body had hit him in the head, knocking him down, but he had escaped with no serious injury except a cut.
Next, the accident during high school should have taught him a lesson. That was his first experiment with a PZT stack and the explosion had knocked him unconscious for a few minutes, although miraculously he was not hurt.
I should have respected the danger in experimenting with this stuff. I shouldn't have been in the room, there was no need, I could have done everything from outside the room with just a wireless connection. I even know how to design it, like I did with the altimeter I put in my bottle rockets. Now I've lost my eye, it'll never be the same even with a prosthetic, how stupid. And dad, he might be alive if he had never received that phone call.
Jack's dad had answered the phone when the school called about Jack's accident. He had hardly hung up when he had a massive heart attack. Jack's mom had not been able to get him to the hospital in time. He was gone.
Jack tried to blame himself but his mother wouldn't hear of it. She pointed out that such an incident built up over a lifetime. If it hadn't been the phone call from the school it would have been something else and probably soon. There just weren't any warning signs, even his dad's doctor was surprised, because his father had been tested for heart and vascular problems each year. As the doctor said to his mother, sometimes it just happens and no one knows when or why.
Two months later Jack was on his way back to Atlanta to see the surgeon about an eye prosthetic. He wasn't much interested but his mom, who was driving him, was insistent.
Dr. Limbaugh was friendly and caring. He would understand if Jack didn't want to go through the procedure. There would be an operation but the doctor assured him that it wasn't a major undertaking. He then showed Jack the results of the latest research.
“This is an actual video feed from one of the newest prosthetics, we call it the ClearEye. Now watch this.”
The video responded to the doctor's touch.
“I'm going to zoom in on that distant ship on the horizon.”
He opened his fist near the screen. The image zoomed in on the distant ship.
“Can you read the name Jack?”
“Yes, doctor, Fastrans,” said Jack.
“That's right, from three miles away,” said Dr. Limbaugh.
“But how does the wearer control such a function?” asked Jack.
“It can be programmed to respond to eye movements or eyelid movements or both.”
“The actual vision of the wearer will look this good?” asked Jack.
“That's a good question Jack. The device works the same for each wearer but there are different results. It is dependent on the quality of the nerve endings of the patient. But at a minimum you will be able to see enough to get your depth perception back. Important to many of our day to day activities, such as driving.”
Jack appeared to be thinking.
“Okay doctor, how do we proceed?”
“We will need to measure your eye socket and I will need some images of the area before the operation. The whole process shouldn't take more than a month and you will be back home.”
Another analogy between electrodynamics and its magnetism and gravity is gravitomagnetism. An example of gravitomagnetism is the frame-dragging effect, the analog of electromagnetic induction. In this effect a rotating, massive body can drag or twist spacetime around it and “pull” orbits of objects in that spacetime with it. In 2014 NASA's GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission found that the plane of the orbits of the satellites LAGEOS I and II were shifted about six feet (two meters) per year in the direction of the Earth's rotation.
Hell's Hollow Road
North Georgia, USA
It had been a month since the operation. Dr. Limbaugh had told Jack that he was pleased with how the operation had gone. He remarked about the quality of Jack's nerve endings which were attached to the prosthesis, they were perhaps the best he had ever seen.
After a week of nothing but a confused blur, Jack had begun to be able to distinguish forms. By the following week when he went back to Atlanta to see Dr. Limbaugh he was seeing rather well. The following week he began trying the magnifying effect and was getting quite good at invoking the function and setting the magnification.
But now in the fourth week something else had appeared whenever he was talking to another person. Jack began having trouble with the prosthesis during conversations, he finally figured out what was happening. It was the voice of the person. The voice was causing a reaction that colored (literally) the interaction. Deep voices, high voices, men's voices, women's voices, all had there own slight colorful sheen.
At first he was alarmed that the prosthesis was failing and a call to Dr. Limbaugh had him returning to Atlanta for a checkup.
“Well Jack, there is nothing physically wrong with the prosthesis as none of the tests show any failure. Now I feel, since there is no obvious problem with the prosthesis, that the problem is in the interface,” said Dr. Limbaugh.
“You think something went wrong during the operation doctor?” asked Jack's mother.
“No, Mrs. Williams, I've reviewed the entire procedure that, as you may not know, was completely recorded. The robot, nor I, can find anything wrong. I think this phenomenon is occurring in Jack's brain. Do you remember Jack that I told you the results of the operation can be different for different patients, even if the procedure went similarly?”
“Yes, Doctor, I remember that, do you think that is what is occurring?”
“Yes Jack, I do. I believe, because of how well your optical nerves were at the time of the operation, that your brain and the prosthesis are interacting different from anyone else who has ever undergone this operation. It's like upgrading the network connection to your computer, it can process a greater data rate than before.
“The virtual neural MRI did show that the firing of neurons related to that optical nerve were a factor of ten above your other eye. I take that to mean that maybe something like an augmentation has been effected, though we weren't trying for that result.”
“What should I do Doctor?” asked Jack
“Do you think you can live with this effect you described?”
“As long as there is nothing physically wrong, yeah, I think I can.”
“Well then, I think we should get a vision therapist to work with you for a few weeks and take notes of these occurrences. Maybe then we can come to a conclusion as to what we should do, if anything.”
“Will Jack have to stay here Doctor Limbaugh?” asked Jack's mom.
“No, Mrs. Williams. If Jack would prefer I think we could find someone to attend to him at home.”
“I would prefer that,” said Jack.
“Okay, it's settled then. I'm sorry about this Jack,” said Dr. Limbaugh.
“It's okay Dr. Limbaugh, as you said before the operation, everyone is affected differently.”
Back home Jack received a message from Dr. Limbaugh's office that a qualified vision therapist had been located and would call Jack within the week to set up an appointment.
Jack was in his room and expecting the vision therapist when he heard the doorbell ring. He knew his mother would answer the door before he could rush down, so he waited. It wasn't long until he heard his mother's voice call to him, he got up from his desk and opened his bedroom door.
“Jack this is Mary, your vision therapist.”
Jack faced a woman probably about his age. She was shorter than him with short brown hair which curved sharply inward in back, her eyes were a soft green.
“Hello Jack, how are you,” she asked.
“I'm fine I guess. Are you ready to start?”
“Sure, let's go.”
“Okay. Mother, I thought we might use dad's office if you don't mind,” said Jack.
“Of course son, that would be fine.”
Turning around she said, “Mary, if you will follow me.”
Jack's mom led them downstairs to the office with Jack following. He noticed the way the therapist's hair bobbed as she walked.
Arriving at the office, Jack's mom asked Mary if she would like a tea or something, but Mary declined. Jack's mom left.
“Okay, Mr Williams, I like to start by saying that you may call me Mary if you wish.”
“Thank you Mary, and you may call me Jack.”
“Very well, now let's get started. My job is to see that your prosthesis becomes a natural part of you everyday life if possible. In other words, I hope that by the time we are finished, you will not notice the use of it or if you do it will be acceptable to you. The doctor did explain your particular reaction so we will look out for that as we go. To those ends, I have some specialized exercises that I want to teach you. But first I want to establish a reference point and so I will ask you to do a few things. Are you ready?”
“Ready Mary,” Jack said with a smile.
After four weeks of three times a week visits, the rehabilitation part of Jack's recovery was over. He had gotten use to the prosthesis, although he still didn't understand the slight color shifts that occurred sometimes. Mary had stopped coming to the William's home and Jack wasn't sure that he was happy about it. Once Dr. Limbaugh got the results he left it up to Jack about how to proceed. Jack responded that he was okay with the results.
Jack was sitting in his room looking out the window again. The old frame house was a copy of many of the homes seen in that area in the 1800s. Two story and white with a open front porch and a screened in rear porch. It was designed to look like a farm house from that era but it was built with the newest in engineered materials. Jack's dad had designed and partially built it himself, long before Jack was born.
Jack's room was a comfortable size, twelve by fourteen feet. On the outer wall, there were two windows and a comfortable chair which Jack used when he sat and stared out. On the far side was his desk, which had a clean top on four sturdy legs and nothing else. On another wall, opposite the door was Jack's bed. The rest of the wall space was covered in shelves which held everything from Jack's bottle rockets he had built as a kid to his latest school books.
Jack loved his room and the house but he hadn't decided if he would stay after the death of his dad. But there were other more pressing decisions he had to make now.
The first decision was whether he would continue his research and his PhD. Actually, he felt kind of indifferent to his work. With his dad gone, he was adrift. While his mom had always been supportive of his research, it had been his dad who listened to and understood, to a degree, what Jack was trying to do, including the greater implications of Jack's efforts.
One of those implications was the need, now greater than ever because of worsening world conditions, to be able to lift heavy masses into space more reliably, cheaper, and without collateral damage. Jack's dad, understanding the geopolitics, saw that such access to space could provide resources that would cushion the ongoing economic crash. He encouraged Jack to continue his work, because the Mach thruster could provide the heavy lift needed without any of the consequences of chemical rockets and at a reduced expense.
But without his dad's encouragement Jack wasn't sure he could muster the enthusiasm to continue. He would ask his mom for her opinion.
“Well son, I'm glad you wanted to discuss your education because I do have something to tell you. It was, perhaps, fortuitous timing that your father and I discussed this issue just a couple of weeks before his death.”
She paused momentarily as memories flooded her mind.
“Anyway, as you know, your father was much more in touch with world conditions than I, but for some reason that evening he wanted to tell me what he thought was coming and how it would affect us and how you might hold the key to mitigating some of the misery he saw ahead.
“Again, I never paid much attention to these issues, so I took your father's word. I have tried to remember those words as faithfully as I could, so in a way you can think of what I am about to say as coming from your father, with me as his spokesman.
“He saw wars coming Jack, even more than we have now. Wars over natural resources, not wars of ideology, but desperate wars fought by desperate peoples because they needed food or shelter or clothing. If I remember correctly he said that this is a consequence of de-globalization. He said that too many countries had specialized for far too long in producing widgets, that's the word he used for everything from integrated circuits to oranges, instead of food, and that they had done it so successfully, they had been able to import all the food and other things they needed.
“But with de-globalization your dad feared a rise in lawlessness and a shattering of the global transport system. I remember I didn't understand what he meant, I thought if one country wanted to sell overseas there would always be a shipper to transport that sale. But your dad said, something as seemingly mundane as insurance for the ships would be a problem.
“If I remember correctly, as the United States withdraws its global presence, powers, both state and privateers, will arise to disrupt international trade, he expected piracy to return, and wars would also interrupt those shipments. And no insurance company would be willing to underwrite the ships, and the ships would have to defend themselves or depend, probably through extortionate payments, on coastal nations to protect them. The result, he said, would be such a rise in shipping costs, that it wouldn't pay to ship low worth goods and intermediate parts, disrupting the global economy even more. These disruptions would reinforce each other, leading to more and greater disruptions.
“Under globalization parts made in a multitude of countries, could be economically sent to another country half-way around the world and assembled there into a finished product, and that finished project would be much cheaper than if everything had all been made and assembled in one country. With de-globalization inflation would soar worldwide and standards of living would fall off a cliff as most people wouldn't be able to keep up with the soaring costs.
“And that's not the worst thing, Jack, the failure of trade would deny poorer countries their manufacturing advantage and their export economy and they would not be able to import the foodstuffs they needed. The result is starvation on a scale that made your dad cry. I don't want to go through the details but I will say that he thought space resources, power and asteroid materials, things we should have pursued decades ago, could mitigate the consequences. And what your doing with your Mach rockets could facilitate getting those orbital resources down to Earth.
“There is more Jack, much more, but instead of me trying to remember it all, I will just give you your father's journal. I'll be back in a moment.”
She rose and left the kitchen table where they were talking and went to her husband's office to get the journal.
Jack sat there thinking of all the things his mother had just said. Some of it he had discussed with his dad, but some of it was new, especially the extent of civilizational disruption that his dad foresaw. And he still didn't know how he fit in to what his mom was saying. Then she returned.
“Here Jack,” she said as she handed him the journal and sat down.
“Now, I want to discuss your education specifically,” she said. “Your dad knew you were having a problem securing the materials you needed to continue your experimenting and he did something about it.”
She removed an envelope from her skirt pocket and handed it to Jack.
“In there you should find enough money to buy the material you need and enough to have it processed into your stacks.”
Jack opened the envelope and looked at the check it contained.
“Mom, where did dad get this much money?”
“He sold some of the assets of his business son.”
“He sold a lot of assets mom.”
“That's true son. But you know Marbury Corporation had offered him a lot of money for a long time.”
“He sold control,” said Jack quietly.
His mom was quiet.
“He never wanted to sale control mom.”
“I know son, that is what he thought, but I guess he felt like what you were trying to do was more important. At least, he felt like you were more important.”
Jack was stunned. His dad had always been completely devoted and supportive of him, but this was beyond supportive.
“Well,” said his mom finally, “your sister Clarese and family will be here soon and I've got to finish dinner.”
“Okay mom, I'll come down when they arrive.”
Jack stood and moved towards the kitchen door somewhat uncertainly, he was preoccupied, he had a lot of thinking to do.
Georgia Polytechnic University
“I'm glad you're back Jack,” said is thesis adviser, Dr. Franklin Tucker. Jack had returned to school for the following fall semester. “But there is one thing I need to discuss with you. After what happened last year, the department is very concerned about such future incidents. So, if you decide to continue your research, changes will have to be made.”
“What do you mean, professor?” asked Jack.
“Well, the discussion has been to move your experiment off campus to our facility fifty miles east of here.”
“Star Creek?” asked Jack.
“Yeah, we can set you up with everything you need.”
“Okay with me professor, how about accommodations?”
“There is also housing there.”
“Well, that should be enough,” said Jack.
“Now, that we've settled that,” said Professor Tucker. “How are you?”
“I feel good professor, no adverse effects.”
“Your eye operation went well?”
“Yes, after the rehabilitation period,” said Jack.
“It's pretty amazing Jack and I'm so glad it turned out well. I think if you get this experiment working, you'll change the world.”
“Do you think I will professor, I mean get it working?”
“Well Jack, I have no doubt in your abilities, but your work is beyond anything anyone has ever done. Don't forget, this will make even the old fogies like myself stand up and pay attention. You're not just proposing a theory, you're providing undeniable experimental support for that theory. If it works, prepare yourself. People will literally be camping out in your front yard to interview you or get your support for some pet project of their own.”
Jack had located Star Creek. A new, very nice, spacious three-story atrium fronted a small hotel-like lodge where professors and guests stayed and dined. University departments could reserve the lodge for special events and symposiums. Jack was quite impressed with the facility until he made his way to the small check-in desk and explained who he was.
“Yes sir,” said the man behind the desk. “Here you are Mr. Williams.”
The man handed Jack what looked like a map.
“Just follow this road about a mile, your lodgings and lab will be on the right, most of the male astronomy students stay there. Here's the detailed information you'll need.”
Jack took the map and looked at it. The spot indicated by the man was marked student facilities. He got back in his car and headed down the lightly graveled road. He felt he was getting deep in the pinewood forest when he saw the sign on the right.
Turning in he was shocked to see that the student “facilities” were quite barren when compared to the Star Creek lodge. Pulling up to the largest cinder block building he went inside and explained to the first person he saw why he was there. She took his information sheet and looked it over.
“Okay,” she said. “I've got some time, I'll show you your lab and room.”
Jack followed the girl, first she took him to his lab. It was in one of the smaller blockhouses, a room about twelve by twelve feet square. Sufficient but barely. The girl could see he wasn't very impressed.
“We usually only get astronomy students so I guess there's not much call for lab facilities.”
Jack nodded and just said, “I guess so.”
“Well if this impressed you wait until you see your room,” she said.
She led him to a larger structure about fifty feet away, also built of cement blocks.
“You'll share the bunkhouse, that's what we call it, with other male students,” she said. “Us female students are sequestered at the lodge, you can guess why. I'm just here visiting, but have to be out by ten.”
Jack wasn't quite listening, just mindlessly following the girl down a hall.
“This is it,” she said, stopping in front of a room marked #3 with a dry erase marker.
She opened the door watching Jack closely, obviously entertained by his bewilderment.
It looked to Jack like the room was eight by ten feet at the most. A single bed and a bare desk competed with each other to fill the space. From here Jack would have to set up the remote controls for his experiment and sleep. There was only one window which was set into the outer wall of cement blocks.
When he finally recovered from his shock he asked about the facilities.
“Your bathroom?” she said. “Same as a half dozen others, it's a shared facility at the end of the hall.”
Jack sat down on the edge of the small bed, obviously overwhelmed. Now the girl felt somewhat sorry for him.
“By the way, I'm Janie Dorsette.”
When Jack didn't respond she continued.
“I'm an astronomy student studying for my PhD which I hope to finish by next summer, that is if I can get enough scope time.”
“Scope here?” asked Jack, barely comprehending.
“No, I use them for gross observations. But the scopes here are too small to do graduate level research. I'm using the big scope in Hawaii remotely, but I'll be going there soon.”
“That should be nice,” said Jack.
“Are you kidding? I'll be working 24/7 and when I'm finished I might have one day to spend in Hawaii before I fly back to start data reduction,” she said, leaning against the doorjamb.
“I see,” was all that Jack said.
“Anyway, I was about to head to the store to get some supplies. Do you want to go?”
Jack looked even more confused.
“Mess hall isn't open twenty-four hours, so unless it's a soft drink and crackers, which can get expensive I'll tell you, you need to get yourself a few basic supplies. I can help you pick them out.”
“That would be so considerate,” said Jack.
“Well, we got to help each other here in the jungle. They've forgotten all about us. So, let's go.”
The nearest grocery store was ten miles away, the nearest small town was twenty.
Janie was driving. Jack wasn't sure exactly what kind of car, it was too beat up and too dirty to make out. It wasn't even an electric.
“So what you in for Jack?”
“You mean my research?”
“Well, I'm trying to build what I call a Mach thruster,” he said.
“Ernst Mach?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, surprised she knew the name.
“A reactionless drive?” she asked.
“She's quick,” thought Jack.
“That's right,” he said.
“Wow, that's on the far horizon,” she said.
“Well, all I can say is that I built one when I was in high school, at least I think I did.”
Jack went on to tell her the story of how he built the gadget, as he called it, and the fact that upon activating it, it disappeared, leaving only a hole in the ceiling of his parent's root cellar.
“Is that why they stuck you out here with the rest of us astronomy exiles? Because your experiment might be dangerous?”
“I don't think of it as dangerous, just needing a careful approach,” he said.
“Is that what happened to your eye?” she asked.
“Not when I was a kid, more recently, but yeah, that's what happened.”
She could tell from his response that it wasn't a subject he wanted to discuss.
“You know,” she said, “I'm getting hungry, how about pizza?”
“Okay,” Jack said, “but I'm buying since you're driving.”
“Deal,” she said.
With Janie's fast driving that were at the pizza parlor on the outskirts of Oakville in twenty minutes. Inside, they ordered a pepperoni with onions and peppers. Jack noticed that the thick smell of pizzas cooking permeated the small room and watered his eyes.
“So, I've told you a bit about my research but what about yours?” he asked.
“Well, surprisingly, as it turns out, I'm studying the effect of the binary system PSR J11405 on the space that surrounds it.”
“Okay,” he said, “why is that surprising?”
“I'm looking for frame-dragging effects.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Really?” she said.
“But that was confirmed years ago,” he said.
“Yes, but not to the satisfaction of everyone, and not to the degree of accuracy I hope to achieve. I have a new method.”
Janie went on to tell Jack about the new method she had developed for her project.
“If it works, that could be used in many other situations,” he said.
“Yes, I hope to extend it in future research too, but first I have to get the degree.”
Jack was silent a moment.
“You know that's the effect that supports my research, don't you?” he said.
“Yeah, I know. If you publish first it would confirm gravitomagnetism better than I can. That's why I have to beat you,” she said playfully.
“That might not be so hard,” he said. “I haven't made much progress recently, except to blow up things.”
“I'm sure you'll figure it out,” she said. “And if you do, it will make you famous.”
“And if I don't, I probably won't get my degree.”
Now Janie was quiet, because he was probably right.
Star Creek Observatory
Star Creek, Georgia
It had taken Jack longer than he had expected to get his experiment in shape for another run. Procurement of materials wasn't as easy from Star Creek as it would have been back in Atlanta. He was usually limited to receiving one shipment a day.
At least Janie had offered to help, no one else had even invited Jack to lunch. She seemed to have more free time available, Jack thought it because she was so well organized, but she only had a couple of weeks before she would fly out to Hawaii to do her field work.
“Jack,” she said. “Do you think you will be ready to make a run before I have to leave?”
“I think so, Janie. I have all the equipment setup.”
“Did you receive the new stack?”
“No,” he said, “not yet. But the company assembling it has received the rhenium, so it is just a matter of time until I receive the new stack. Until then I'll use one of the stacks I have.”
“So it's almost time,” said Janie.
“Yes,” he said, “I was thinking this weekend, if you aren't doing anything.”
“Sounds good,” she said.
Jack sat on the bed with Janie beside him. Most of the other occupants of the bunkhouse were out on a Saturday night.
“Okay,” he said, “here we go.”
Jack brought the program up on his handheld. He started the app with a touch. He started the experimental run with another touch.
“Now watch,” he said, “particularly the strain gauge readout. If it moves, mostly in one direction, we may be seeing the effect.”
After a minute there was no change in the readout.
“Okay,” he said, “I'm going to increase the current supply gradually.”
Out in the blockhouse lab the power supply started ramping up. The PZT stack in the vacuum chamber charged to a higher and higher level each cycle. There were two glows coming from the chamber, one was a slight reddish glow emanating from the stacks as they heated. The other was a greenish-blue seemingly coming from the space surrounding the stack.
Jack was too busy watching the readouts from the experiment but Janie glanced across the room to the desk where a monitor showed the experiment. She saw both the slightly reddish and the much stronger greenish-blue lights.
“Jack,” she said, in a low voice, “look at the monitor.”
Jack looked just in time to see both glows rapidly increase in intensity before the vacuum chamber seemed to explode hurling chunks outward, one of which hit the camera, probably destroying it. At the same time they both heard the sound of fireworks.
“I'm afraid it did it again, Jack,” she said.
Jack didn't respond. He was busy cycling through the data readout.
“It did Janie.”
She was starting to say how sorry she was when he turned to her.
“It did it,” he said again loudly and then hugged her.
“Look,” he said as they disentangled.
“The strain sensors went off the scale in one direction only. The thing moved, and I mean moved. There's no telling how far because the movement exceeded the strain gauge's range. Maybe we can see something on the camera.”
He got up and crossed the short space to the desk, sitting down. Jamie followed him more slowly, thinking about all that had just happened.
Jack brought up the stored video.
“Okay,” he said, “I'm going to back it up slowly.”
The picture was impossible to make out to begin with, then it seemed to clear up as it showed what was obviously the vacuum chamber but something more. It showed that the chamber had exploded at one end and flying through that end of the chamber in slow motion and reverse because of the playback was what looked like the assembly holding the PZT stack.
“If that's what I think it is,” said Jack, “if that's the stack assembly then not only has it blasted through the end of the vacuum chamber, it has broken loose from it's aluminum mounting bracket. That would take an incredible amount of energy. That would explain why the power supply readout went off-scale when we heard the fireworks sound.”
“So it worked?” asked Janie, though she knew the answer.
“I think it worked better than I dreamed of,” said Jack.
He jumped up from his chair.
“Let's go look, shall we,” he said, taking Janie by the hand.
The pair rushed out of the bunkhouse and down the path in the bright moonlit night, arriving at the blockhouse in seconds.
Jack reached for the door to yank it open.
“Wait Jack, slow down. There's a lot of smoke in there, some we wouldn't want to breath.”
“You're right Janie.”
Jack then turned the doorknob slowly and only opened the door a crack. The smoke billowed out.
They waited until the smoke subsided a bit and Jack then opened the door wider, it was too dark inside to see, Janie gave Jack her handheld as a sort of night light.
Jack entered, he tried the lights but they didn't work.
The power supply probably overloaded the AC fuse.
He smelt the acrid aroma of burnt electronics, he could also smell plastic. He shone the handheld on the workbench, the plastic vacuum chamber was no longer there, but pooling out across the tabletop was a slag of plastic.
But I saw the stack shatter the end of the chamber. What caused it to melt afterwards?
“Jack,” said Janie, “is everything alright?”
“Yeah, but everything looks destroyed. The vacuum chamber has melted down.”
Janie was peeking through the door.
“How could that happen?” she asked.
“I'm not sure,” he said.
He then slowly moved toward the wall, the wall that the stack would have slammed into after breaking through the chamber wall. He reached the wall and looked for the impact, but nothing was there. He looked on the floor, there wasn't any debris, and there wasn't a stack.
Janie reached his side and saw what he saw.
“Where is it Jack, I saw it break through the chamber wall heading towards this wall.”
Jack once again shone the light of the handheld from the wall to the table, looking for any debris that might indicate the stack had broken apart, there was none.
“I don't know where it is Janie and I'm feeling a bit strange, let's go back to the bunkhouse.”
Janie had to leave to get back to the lodge when she was supposed to. They said goodnight and Jack went into the bunkhouse. He fetched a soft drink from the common fridge and sat down at his computer. He watched the video of the experiment over and over until his eyelids would not stay open, he then laid on his bed without removing his clothes and fell asleep.
Next day, Jack was awakened by a knocking on the door. He sat up and rubbed his eyes and reached for his glasses, the knock came again, followed by Janie's voice.
“Jack, are you awake?”
Jack moved from the desk knocking over the chair.
“Just a minute Janie,” he said, stopping to pick up the chair.
Jack opened the door, Janie entered.
“Jack it's after noon, I thought you were going to come up to the lodge for lunch?”
“Sorry Janie, I overslept. I was awake most of the night trying to figure out what could have happened to the stack.”
“Well,” she said, “why don't we take one more look in the blockhouse and then go to the lodge to discuss it and eat?”
“Alright,” he said. “Just give me a moment to clean up and change clothes.”
“Okay, I'll be outside,” said Janie.
Jack, cleaned and changed, joined Janie and went to the blockhouse. Jack had locked it after they searched it the night before, he now unlocked it and went in.
He spent a few minutes looking around.
“It looks the same to me Janie, no stack.”
“Not quite Jack.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Janie pointed up.
Jack looked and saw a hole in the roof, it was directly above the end of the table upon which the experiment had set. He guessed the hole was about the size of the stack and it looked like there were some pieces of something embedded around the hole. Jack couldn't tell but it looked like shards, maybe pieces of the chamber.
“Janie, hand me that chair.”
Jack took the chair Janie handed him and placed it at the end of the workbench. He climbed on the chair and then on the table but was still short of reaching the ceiling.
“It looks like pieces of the vacuum chamber embedded all around the hole,” he said. “Hand me the broom in the corner.”
Receiving the broom, he took the handle and brushed it over one of the embedded pieces. It came loose and fell to the floor. He repeated it for several other pieces.
Janie rushed around gathering the pieces as Jack climbed down. She handed them to him. Jack examined each one, turning it over and over.
“What do you think Jack?”
“I think it's pieces of the chamber,” he said.
“The explosion punched a hole in the chamber and sprayed these pieces around the hole?” she asked.
“I don't think so,” he said. “I want to look at the camera first.”
He moved to the wall nearest the table end but offset to the right. The camera rested on a shelf in that corner. He inspected it.
“What is it Jack,” said Janie, standing behind him.
He turned around.
“It's not damaged Janie, at least not physically,” he said. “Okay, let me take it back to my room and we will go eat.”
Star Creek Observatory
Star Creek, Georgia
The camera had not been damaged physically but it had been fried electrically. That meant that some sort of electromagnetic pulse had occurred. Jack, with Janie's help, had worked on cleaning up his experiment room until she had to leave. Jack had driven her to the airport in Atlanta, a somewhat awkward hug had ensued.
Before he headed back to Star Creek Jack stopped in to see his adviser, Dr. Tucker.
“Jack, that sounds almost like what happened with the stack you tested at your parent's house.”
“Yes Professor, except that one seemed to take off vertically and this one horizontally before it transitioned to the vertical.”
“That is interesting Jack. Does this confirm anything in your theory.”
“Well, if we can continue to extend the analogy with electromagnetism, then maybe something like a right-hand rule would explain the trajectory.”
“You mean,” said Professor Tucker, “you mean that the resultant force on the stack was perpendicular to the plane of the gravitomagnetic field and the mass-energy current?”
“Something like that Professor, except I'll have to work on the theory a bit more to make sure the analogy holds up.”
“Of course, Jack. So, what's the next step?”
“Well Professor, my preliminary impression is that I need to have more fine control over my power supply. But I'm afraid that will be a lot more expensive. How is the departmental budget for supplies?”
“You get me the list Jack and I'll see, it would help if you could write up this latest result, I can then show Dr. Lifschiff that we're making progress.”
“Yes sir, I will.”
They talked a bit more before Jack headed back to Star Creek. Since he hadn't eaten he decided to stop at the pizza place that Janie had taken him to. Sitting there eating his pizza Jack noticed the same smells and same noises as before but something was missing. Eventually he realized, it was Janie.
Arriving back at the blockhouse Jack checked his messages, there was one from his mom and one from Janie. He opened Janie's.
“Hi Jack, the hypersonic got me here okay. I wanted to thank you for taking me to the airport. I just wanted to tell you I missed you at my lunch pizza – Yours, Janie.”
He read the last line again and wondered, he was still thinking about it when he lay down to sleep.
Jack took a few days to write up his experimental results. He also included his thinking as to what had caused the behavior of the stack. But so far he had only the analogy with electromagnetism, he would need some time to “math the theory.” He would take his paper into Professor Tucker in a couple of days when he went to pick up Janie at the airport.
At the airport Jack and Janie hugged again, this time not as awkwardly and somewhat longer.
“So how was the trip?” asked Jack.
“The flight was incredible, six hours instead of the ten hours it used to take, I'm glad they decided to build the supersonics again.”
“Supersonic over the ocean?” asked Jack.
“Yeah, just over the ocean, but I understand they are developing a super that can fly over land without the boom. Then you're talking about halving the time again,” she said.
“I might go with you then,” said Jack.
“That might be fun,” she said, as they were waiting for the robot to bring the luggage.
“But what about the experiment?” she said.
“I cleaned up the lab as best as I could and turned in my report to Dr. Tucker. He's going to use it to get more funds to buy the new equipment I need.”
“What's the equipment?” she asked.
Before Jack could answer, the luggage robot rolled up. The robot confirmed Janie's crypto-key and was ready to follow them.
“The equipment?” she asked again.
“Well, mainly I've decided I need a better power supply, a more precise supply.”
“Why?” she asked.
“I think the power increased too quickly. I think there may be a threshold where the gravitomagnetic effect suddenly 'turns on,' so to speak. And I need to find that point and carefully approach it.”
“That makes sense,” said Janie.
“Yeah, but what about your research?” he asked.
“The data runs look good. I think I've got enough to prove my hypothesis and write up my dissertation.”
“So it looks like you'll get out of here by the end of next semester?”
“I hope so,” she said, as they arrived at the car.
Once they had the luggage in the car, they said goodbye to the robot and got in.
On the road he began to say hesitantly, “Janie, I was wondering.”
He hesitated again.
“I was wondering,” he stalled again.
“I was wondering,” he began again, “if you would be going home for vacation?”
“I will Jack, why?” she asked, starting to wonder herself.
“Well, I was wondering … do you think you would have time to come home with me before you leave. You could see the place and meet my mom and I could drive you back to Atlanta to catch a flight.”
“I don't know Jack.”
She paused a moment.
“Well, I guess I could wait a couple of days to fly out.”
“Good, we can drive up that Friday after semester and you can book your flight home for Sunday evening.”
“Sounds like a plan, Jack my man.”
Great,” he said. “We can stop by the pizza place if you are hungry.”
“Sure,” she said.
Jack only had two weeks before the end of semester. He had prepared the backup chamber and stack, his last one. He hoped the new RPZT stack would be in soon, supposedly they had been machined.
He sat in his lab looking at the experiment. He could see the scorch marks that he had been unable to clean away completely. Looking up he could see the patch he had put over the hole.
A couple of shingles and a lot of tar. I'll never be a roofer.
But he was most worried because he hadn't heard anything from Professor Tucker yet.
It may be too late. Even if I ordered the supply today it wouldn't be here until the end of the week. And that would only leave me a few days before break to get in another run. And that doesn't include time to learn how to use the power supply either.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he said.
“Hi Janie, I thought you were at the university today.”
“I was but I got finished early. Jack, it turns out there is a problem with my data. I have to do another run.”
“Oh no,” he said. “What are you going to do?”
“Well, I've got to fly out to the scope and get it set up.”
“Oh, you can't do it remotely?” he asked quietly.
“No,” she said, “it's the holidays, no one is there, I have to babysit the scope once I get it set up.”
“You won't be back in time then to go home with me?”
“I'm afraid not,” she said.
“Oh, okay then,” he said.
“I'm sorry Jack, I really wanted to see your home and meet your mom. But we can do it another time.”
“Sure, and I can drive you to the airport,” he said.
“Well, no, you see I've got my car packed. I've got to leave immediately to make my flight.”
“Oh, okay then,” he said. “I guess I'll see you next semester.”
“Sure,” she said, “and I'll message you.”
She moved quickly to him, kissing him and caressing his face. Then she was gone.
Jack sat there for some time before he realized he had noticed a color in Janie's voice, a warm color, the first he had noticed in some time.
It was the end of the week, Jack hadn't heard anything from Professor Tucker so he decided to go to Atlanta to see him. Professor Tucker was in his office and Jack rapped lightly on the open door.
“Okay if I come in?” he asked.
“Oh Jack, I didn't expect to see you over here. Come in, come in.”
Jack went in and sat in the chair in front of the desk.
“Professor I've come to ask,” Jack said, but Professor Tucker interrupted him.
“I'm sure I know why you came Jack. It's about the equipment, isn't it?”
“Yeah Professor, you see I was hoping to get another run in before break.”
“I know Jack and I'm sorry but I've been unable to get the funding you need.”
“Why Professor? Is there something I can do? Was the write up not sufficient?”
“The write up was fine, Jack, it's just difficult to get funding at this time. Things are so results driven now, it's like working for a company. It use to be that if you had a great idea and a great proposal you could get enough funding, but now it's just about results. I'm sorry.”
“Do you think I'll get the funding next semester?” asked Jack.
“Well, I did put in for next semester also, but we will have to wait until it starts to find out,” said Dr. Tucker.
“And there's nothing else I can do?”
“I don't know Jack, maybe if you could find the stack and prove that it worked.”
“I can try Professor but there simply is no way of knowing how far away the thing landed from my lab building. I mean, I can't yet calibrate the velocity imparted to it because, of course, I wasn't expecting it to fly, that's why I wanted to do a second run.”
“I'm afraid you will just have to wait Jack but I will definitely pursue the funding next semester, I think there is a good chance we will get another round.”
“Thank you Professor, I'll see you after the break.”
Jack rose and began to go.
“Jack,” said Dr. Tucker, rising from behind his desk and coming up to Jack.
“Don't worry, take a long vacation, we'll get the funds.”
“Okay Professor, I will,” said Jack, he turned to leave.
He didn't feel like driving back to Star Creek, he wanted to go home. He called his mom and told her he was coming home early. He called Star Creek and told them he was going on vacation early.
He headed for home feeling disappointed, then he thought about Janie in the lab before she left for Hawaii.
Well, that was something anyway, I'll message her when I get home.
Hell's Hollow Road
North Georgia, USA
Jack was sitting at his window in his room. He watched as the sun set behind the hills to the west. That end of the valley was closed in by the hills and on the other side was a national forest.
He watched the deep orange-red clouds drift across William's Gap, named after is great times four grandfather. The Williams had been on the farm over two-hundred years. But they hadn't really farmed for a living during the last hundred. Still, Jack felt attached to the land and thought he couldn't live anywhere else, though he knew that most others he knew had a national or international network of contacts and friends and couldn't imagine living in just one place.
Maybe the whole Earth is our just one place.
He heard his mom call him to supper.
“Thanks mom,” he said, as he took another corn-on-the-cob.
“So Jack, the last I heard was that your experiment was a success but you lost your equipment?”
“That's right mom, the stack disappeared like that time in the root cellar, remember?” he said.
She nodded her head, “Oh yes, I remember.”
“And the lab and some equipment was damaged,” he said, “Janie helped me and the lab's ready but I didn't get departmental funding for new equipment, yet.”
“Is that upsetting you?” she asked.
“A little worrying mom. I thought after I wrote up the results, I would get new funding immediately and could make another run before vacation. But I thought about it and I know that with Professor Tucker on my side, I'll get the funding.”
“That's right son, be patient,” said his mother.
They were silent a moment.
“It's too bad Janie couldn't come for at least a day,” said his mom.
“Yeah, but she's got her work to finish also, so there wasn't a choice.”
“Well, you bring her as soon as you can son, I very much want to meet this remarkable young lady,” she said.
“She is kind of remarkable,” he said.
He was silent a moment before they moved on to other subjects.
“You haven't told me anything about this new stack,” said his mom.
“Nothing to tell yet,” he said, “as far as I know the company will be shipping it soon. But I've got to find a way to control my experiment before I use it, otherwise I might damage it or lose it. My new power supply should take care of it though, I've already got it picked out.”
“Your dad would be so proud that you haven't quit. As you know, he felt strongly that this work was important,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “He was my number one booster.”
There was a moment, then Jack said, “And now you are mom.”
“Yes I am,” she said.
That evening Jack messaged Janie to tell her that he missed her and that his mom wanted her to visit as soon as possible. He didn't hear back immediately but then a message came through.
“Miss you too. Very much want to meet your mom. But data run not going well, very tired. Love.”
Love she said.
The rest of vacation passed slowly but by the end of the second week Jack and Janie were messaging each other several times a day, as Janie was able to express her frustration over her efforts to get good data for her dissertation. By the time Jack was ready to head back to Star Creek, they had developed a closer understanding where the word love was not an awkward exchange.
Back at Star Creek, Jack did what prep work he could while waiting on word from Professor Tucker about his funding. A week back and he was still waiting, then he got a call, it was Janie.
“Oh, hi Janie. How are you?”
“Okay, I guess,” she said and then paused. “Oh Jack, I think all my research has been ruined. There was something wrong with the telescope and without the technicians here, I mean I didn't know, there was no warning, I should have …”
Jack continued listening but heard nothing, he thought the call may have dropped out. He had noticed a grayness as she spoke.
“Janie,” he said. “Janie, are you still there.”
“Yeah I'm … I'm still here. I just feel so defeated.”
“I'm sorry Janie, I'm sorry, is there anything I can do?”
“You couldn't fly out here could you?”
“I would if I could, but I'm waiting to hear about my funding,” he said.
“I know, I didn't mean it, I know you need to be there, I just wish you were here.”
“I wish I was there too,” he said.
“Well, I better go Jack, I have to go back to the control room. Hopefully the technicians will get things worked out soon and I can get some good data. I love you Jack.”
“I love you Janie.”
The call over, Jack sat on the side of his bed feeling drained.
My project, Janie's project, everything is going wrong, dad dead.
He stopped, he realized that he still hadn't processed the loss of his dad. He really hadn't faced up to a lot of things. Something had to change.
It was the following day that he got the call from Dr. Tucker.
“Jack, this is Professor Tucker, how was your vacation?”
Jack saw a grayish color again.
“Very well professor, how about yours?'
“It was good Jack but I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.”
Jack saw black.
“The funding committee has not renewed your grant. I'm afraid there was nothing I could do. If only you could find that stack, I think it would prove beyond a doubt you have something. I'm sorry Jack.”
“Professor, is it possible that I can stay on here at Star Creek a bit longer?”
“You want to continue your research? But what about equipment?”
“I'll take care of everything, if I can't, I'll let you know.”
“As far as I know you are still officially pursuing your doctorate, at least until the end of the semester. After that you might have to give up your facility. So sure, stay if you want.”
“And Jack, if anything develops let me know immediately so I can take it in front of the committee, good luck.”
“Thanks professor, goodbye.”
So I'm committed, I'll need to talk to mom and get started right away.
Jack had discussed his needs with his mom and she agreed that he should use more of the money his father had left him to purchase what he needed to continue his research.
“Your father would have agreed too,” she said.
Jack immediately put the order in for the power supply upgrade and paid extra to get three day delivery. He called the company making the new stack, they agreed they could get it to him the following week. That would give Jack enough time to learn how to operate the new power supply.
Jack spent the days waiting for his equipment by messaging with Janie and planning out his next experimental run, by the time the power supply arrived he was ready. He spent a couple of days acquainting himself with the supply's operation when he got a note that the new stack would arrive the day after tomorrow. That left him one day which he mostly spent messaging Janie.
Besides Janie, no one else at Star Creek had done more than acknowledge his presence in passing. Jack could understand it, because most of them were under the same pressure he was to get their projects done. He went by himself to what he thought of as the pizza place he and Janie shared. He sat there eating pizza, occasionally talking to one of the employees and messaging Janie.
Fortunately, her latest data run was going better, if things continued she would be able to head home in two or three days, she would let him know if she needed him to pick her up. The drive back to Star Creek found Jack thinking about how he would setup and run the experiment, how Janie's project was going, how supportive his mom was and how supportive his dad would have been.
He also thought about that nine year old boy who fell in love watching bottle rockets fly on jets of water high over his head in the pasture back home. How that kid had won an honorable mention in a bottle rocket contest against kids years older. How years later he had built and tested and lost a previous stack just as he had the year before. And how he was determined to prove to everyone this time that the Mach thruster would fly, just like an old professor had claimed it would many decades ago.
Jack was up early but he would have to wait for any deliveries until mid-morning. By nine-thirty he was at the lodge watching the front entrance. The delivery van pulled up, the delivery company employee got several packages out of the back and rolled them into the lodge's lobby where the robots exchange crypto-signatures. As soon as the delivery robot left Jack hurried up.
“Morning Pete,” he said, “I was wondering if you had anything addressed to me?”
“Morning Jack, let's see.”
Pete looked through the half-dozen packages until he found the one addressed to Jack. He quickly wrote up the receipt and had Jack sign it.
“Thanks Pete,” said Jack, as he turned to hurry outside and back to his car. He hadn't been this excited since he received a new bottle rocket as a kid. Back at the bunkhouse he took the package straight to his lab and opened it.
The stack was assembled with the necessary wiring and had a layered look as the one inch thick disks of RPZT material varied from a blue-gray to a silvery-white. It was actually quite pretty in the light, except for the wires hanging out. Jack decided that if he ever was successful enough he would have a stack made without wires, just for looks.
But for now he needed the wires and busied himself assembling and wiring the stack into the experiment. It took about an hour to finish and close the vacuum chamber so that the air could be pumped out. Jack started the pump and then hurried to the bunkhouse to eat a bite. During this time he messaged Janie but got no response.
Back in his room he brought up the app that ran his experiment. He made sure the camera was on and working and recording. He started the experiment with a tap of the screen. In the lab the power supply hummed to life, Jack programmed to increment it's voltage output while holding a steady current. He repeated the voltage sweep at small increments of current, watching the strain-gauge output closely.
After several sweeps, he saw the strain-gauge output move. The next sweep of voltage with a slightly increased current caused the strain-gauge to register a greater output. Each time the gauge measured a greater and greater value, corresponding to a greater movement.
Jack was excited. He started to enter new current levels when he accidentally touched the screen, it was something he was prone to do with a touchscreen interface. The current surged, he immediately hit the red emergency shut-down icon but not before he heard fireworks, he looked at the camera screen and almost collapsed.
It had happened again, all he saw was a smokey haze. He got up and ran to the lab building. Opening the door and waiting for the smoke to dissipate he went inside. The first thing he did was search the ceiling for a hole but found nothing. Then he looked at the vacuum chamber, one end was shattered, again.
Looking on the floor at the end of the table he found the stack in its assembly. It was too hot to pick up but as far as he could see it looked like it was still intact. He left the stack to cool and went back to the bunkhouse.
In his room he brought up the video and played it through. He thought he could see what happened but to clear the smoke he ran it through some AI software routines and there it was, the stack and assembly shattering the end of the vacuum chamber and then just as it started to turn upward, it fell to the floor.
Jack had killed the current before the stack, acting very much like a capacitor, could charge up to a high enough energy to launch itself through the roof and away. Jack played the sequence over and over, getting more astonished with each viewing.
It works. It really works. It might be just what we need to replace chemical rockets.
He froze the video at the point the stack and assembly were starting to go vertical and just sat and stared.
There was a knock on the door.
He got up slowly not wanting to turn from the screen. He opened the door, it was Janie.
“Surprise,” she said.
Jack was slow to respond.
“Janie,” he said, throwing his arms around her and hugging her before pushing away and then pulling her towards him for a kiss.
“I thought you would still be running your experiment on the island.”
“Well, it turns out that I was wrong about the data runs, the techs were able to recover everything, I've got enough data to finish my dissertation.”
“That's great Janie and I've got something to show you,” he said, turning and walking to his desk with her hand in his.