Monday, December 20, 2010

Where Did This Come From?

Can't Get There from Here. 
by Steven Solomon        ©1990

Professor Jarrad O'kaemian's gnarled fingers ran wearily through his shaggy mane; his trademark coiffeur long yellowed by a perpetual corona of tobacco smoke. He set down the memo on his desk, placing it in the small clear space between several piles of papers. He had many, many such piles all around the office: reports, letters, monographs and reviews, books and memos and notes scratched on paper napkins from the "Whole DoNut" coffee shop on Dickerson Street, just across from campus east.
The piles ranged in size depending on importance and need to take action. The biggest piles consisted of things that the old professor had no intention of reading, never mind taking action on. Still, it would have been some sort of offense against innumerable colleagues, students and well-wishers to throw any of it away without first giving thoughtful perusal. The smallest pile consisted of items that absolutely could not be ignored or delayed. Previous to receiving the staff memo on Visiting Professor Jake Williams, it had been weeks since anything rated a place in this stack. It was a stack of one. 
In its singularity, this situation was all the more unavoidable. He would have to speak with young Jake this very morning. Eyes closed, he dragged deeply on the pipe. Taking his feet off of the desk, he trundled out the door and toward the hall on legs that were really too old for this kind of shit. His secretary, Ms. Giddeon, called after him, as always: "Professor, you've forgotten your shoes!".
Jake Williams was a special case. That was the only reason he got away this kind of shit in the first place. The Organization had him pegged before he even got out of public school. Unbeknownst to him, he had always been "taken care of", set on the fast track to scientific genius for the betterment of country and humankind. He was afforded the most substantial scholarships to the most prestigious schools, given the finest teachers and nurtured to fulfill his unique capacity for achievement. 

He was the wunderkind of his generation, now approaching full flower. Here at the university, he was doing work well beyond the ken of his benefactors, beyond even his most able mentors, even O'kaemian. His most recent papers, though few and far between, laid an apparently well researched path toward the utterly implausible. They spoke of radical breakthroughs; improbable unifications of fields as far flung as psychology and subparticle physics. They went so far as to intimate the final revelation of Reality at its ground level. Not since the halcyon days predating the discredited "One Big Theory", had such brave talk been heard.
His colleagues were skeptical. This was all very weird stuff. Weirder still, over the past two years he had totally forsaken publishing and, apparently, physics. He was said to have undertaken some sort of bizarre engineering project. "Ugh, engineering!", was the sentiment expressed in physics' fastest and roundest circles. At faculty functions, gruesome rumors circulated regarding heinous experiments aimed at "teleportation" of living animal subjects. Yet, confronted with such allegations, Jake remained calm and taciturn: "There's much more to it than that. Wait for my report.". 
 Through it all, his independence had been guarded by the Organization. Now, however, he had to be stopped; there had to be an inquiry. The entire staff was in an uproar. As most senior of the faculty, O'kaemian, the Nobel Laureate, was the only one with the clout to just go ahead and do it, the Organization be damned. "Damn it, there must be an inquiry!"
O'kaemian announced his arrival at Williams' lab with his customary Scottish salutation to his protege: "Jake Williams, ye' green-assed, limey little pain in me butt, where the Hell are ye'?"
"Oh, good morning, Jarrad! I am so glad you stopped by."

The old man squinted through his besmudged specs. He didn't see Jake anywhere. Of course, the lab, packed from ceiling to floor, wall to wall with a beeping, buzzing, gurgling, groaning menagerie of fluid-electro- mechanical-subquantum esoterica, was not an easy place to find anything. Well, anything on the "ordinary" level of Reality.
O'kaemian's effort to clean his glasses with a much spotted neck-tie proved to be predictably ineffectual. "Where the Hell are ye'? C'mon out where I can see ye', ya basta'd."
"Uh, that'll be a problem. I'm kind'a stuck for the moment. Say, can you give me a hand? Bring over that 4/15. It's on the acoustic cryonator, right by the door."
The wrench fell easily to hand, and O'kaemian called out: "Now where the devil are ye' hiding? I'm much too old for games.".
"Just follow my voice, Professor. I'm over this way." Jake began humming the bass riff from "Break on Through to the Other Side", an ancient tune by an obscure American band from the last century. One of Jake's hobbies was playing music guaranteed to be unlistenable to both his elder and junior peers. In this way, he was always assured of plenty of privacy when required.
"Ye' dumb-assed little son of a inbred, syphilitic, lazy, has-been, good fer nothin'...": stumbling through the morass of cabling, tubes and mechanicals, O'kaemian eventually bumbled into his prey. Jake was curled on his back, inside the bottom of a large metal rack full of cryo- electronics. In his right hand was the bare end of an apparently live superconducting cable. In his other, held against his chest only inches from the power line, was the receptacle end of the circuit. Jake's problem was, having turned on the juice and gotten into position to plug in the power, he then realized that he'd forgotten the wrench. 

"Ah, now 'ere we seem to have a wee bit of a situation. I think I like this." O'kaemian pulled up a stool, smiling as he casually tossed the wrench from hand to hand. "Now, dear student and friend, let's talk."
"Couldn't we talk after I get out of here? At least kill the power. The main's on the back wall; it's by the sub-q matrix pack."
"No, my boy, I think I've got ye' just where I would want ye'. But, where to start? Well, there's this matter of all those lab animals. What was it? Oh, yes, since the first of last month, twenty-three clonal pigs, fourteen felines and a dozen wee pups. And then there's the giraffe. Seems that the city zoo has misplaced a giraffe. It was last seen right here, on campus, not far from the Advanced Studies Center. Now, how do ye' suppose one loses a twelve foot tall, yellow and brown, tree foraging African mammal in the middle of a great modern city?"
 Jake began to respond, but the old man was on a roll. He never even got his first word out before O'kaemian rejoined: "Y'see, some folks are starting to talk. They are concerned about these many very expensive and unexplained disappearances. And, they question yer seemingly inexhaustible requirement for test equipment. According to records, ye've ordered enough stuff over the past year to fill three labs this size. Where the Hell is it? My boy, please ease my wonder and consternation. Yer makin' us broke, makin' the rest of the staff crazy, and, worst of all, yer makin' work fer me! Now, what've been doin' in here?"
Jake tried to wiggle a few more inches of freedom out of his nineteen- inch by twenty-two inch by thirty-inch prison. Inadvertently, he swiped the cable across the step-up converter, just over his head. The shower of sparks burned into his scalp and neck and almost sent his heart into arrest as Jarrad did nothing to help. "Al'right, okay; I can see that you're serious about this. I'll tell you everything. Just let me out."
"You come clean with me first. By God, I know I'll not have another chance like this."
Jake was in a real sweat. The thin, rubbery cable felt squishy in his overtight  grip. "Fine, here's the deal. All that test equipment is gone. It was used in my experiments. Same with the animals. Now, the giraffe was going to die anyhow. I've got a pal at the zoo, a vet. We'd discussed some aspects of my project and he knew I needed some large mammals. The giraffe had some kind of TB and was gonna be destroyed. He brought it here, instead."
Jarrad was not reassured. "So ye've destroyed all that equipment and those animals, t'boot? Good gravy, man, that's over two-million euros worth of meat and mechanicals!" He mashed the palm of his right hand against his forehead. "Awwgh, surely ye've gone over the edge!"
"NO! I mean, they weren't destroyed. They were used! In fact, I have reason to believe that some of the animals may still be alive."
O'kaemian, eyes closed, gently thumped the wrench against his frizzled pate. "Son, yer not makin' yerself very clear here. What've ye' done with all our stuff?"
"I've sent it, uh, um, I've sent it... through. Um, I've apparently succeeded in building a device, really a process that, uh, allows virtually instant transportation to the, oh boy... it's hard to explain."
"Please try. The alternative is, I just leave ye' ere to bloody well fry."
Jake swallowed hard. "I sent it to the other side of the Universe."
"What are ye' sayin' here? Aww, Mother of Jesus, ye're tellin' me now that ye've blasted huge bits of our endowment clear to the quasars?"
"No. I mean the other side. Literally, the OTHER side! Beyond our Universe."      

Solemnly, the Professor rose from his seat and turned to the window. It was covered, darkened with black plastic trash-bags duct taped to the sills. He scanned his thoughts for the proper response and then calmly held forth: "Jake, I'm not sure that ye' should be continuing this work without some outside consultation. I think ye' might be losing yer objectivity. You shouldn't be alone in this. Too many late nights, all alone... just you, all that expensive equipment and THE BLEEDING VAPORIZED CARCASSES OF TWO DOZEN HAIRLESS PIGS!!! WHAT ARE YE', BLOODY FUCKIN' NUTS?"
"No, sir. Believe me, it's all in my notes. I'm almost ready to publish. I've done something amazing and I'll soon have the evidence to prove it. Using my technology, you can poke through our reality, this Universe, at any point and get to the Other Side! I've tracked the traverse of several subjects right down to the last nano-second. I've established that they do maintain coherence, their organism remains intact. In other words, they are alive as they go through. And, I have some indications that they continue to exist on the Other Side! The final phase, tonight's experiment, is to bring something back."
O'kaemian was dumbfounded. "Jake, I am beyond flabbergastation. Do ye' have any idea how this all sounds?"
"Oh, yes. And, I know that without the results of my final test, there will be no acceptance of my work within the Community. That's why I must finish. Can't you understand, I'm not just talking about imaging probes and lab meat? Eventually, it will be possible, even necessary, to send and return a Human!"
"Jake, ye've a great practical genius; the finest young mind I've ever known. Yet, yer squandering yer prestige and credibility, and a considerable fortune, chasing a ghost. Even if I assume for the moment that yer not a fuckin' loony, I don't understand why?"
"Why?" Jake was genuinely mystified that such a question could be asked. "Why? Doesn't everybody want to know? All the bibles, all the seers and preachers, they say that's where God dwells: the answer to the Ineffable, the Final Mystery Revealed, the Ultimate Perspective. Even if all that's wrong, once the way was cleared for real investigation..."
"Oh, laddy, yer now in territory more fittin' fer the seminary, not the university; certainly not the university of today. I'm worried 'bout ye'. More worried than when I come in 'ere. Then it was just a matter of inquiry. Now, I'm faced with some serious questions 'bout yer, yer standing as a scientific researcher, never mind yer goddamn sanity."
O'kaemian walked to the main power panel, set the wrench on top and flipped the breakers off. "Jake, boy, let's wind this one down. I'll expect that ye'll 'ave a written report fer me by week's end. Until then, no more monkey business with our expensive machines and animals." Shaking his bowed head, he made his way sullenly from the suddenly quiet lab.
This was unprecedented. No one had ever told Jake that he couldn't do something before. He didn't like the feeling, but he wasn't sure about what to do. For some time he remained half upside-down in the equipment rack, trying to figure out his next move.
He couldn't submit his written report if he couldn't complete the final experiment. He never seriously considered working up a summary of progress to date. The reality of the Other Side buttressed his entire thesis. Without proof of its reality, without successfully sending and retrieving something, there was no coherent justification for the pursuit. "If I could just transit something, anything that could document the experiment, there would be no denying it. Everything would be okay."
Jake rolled out of the rack and climbed onto its top from the adjacent lab bench. He looked around the room like a sailor adrift, seeking sight of land. "Is there anything left that I didn't use last night?" 
He had planned to requisition another recording implant and clonal pig for tonight's test. Unfortunately, Jarrad probably had remanded his authority to make any orders from the physio-lab. "Damn, even a imaging-probe would work. It's not meat, but it could do the document." The last of the probes had been sent through three days ago.
For the next half-hour, Jake poked through odds and ends, and inspected the several dozen component stations that comprised his processor. "Maybe I can salvage or build something up." He made a list of everything that he could find that was non-essential to the transit process.
As he finished, almost three hours had elapsed. It had long since gotten dark. But, the list was only eighteen items long, and most of those were things like:

*Laser-optic recording mass (one): no case, possibly damaged.
Magneto-graviton deflector (two): missing lens, power supply.
*Flux magnifier (one): damaged case, possibly irrepairable.
In short, there was little left in the lab that would be useful in creating even a toaster oven. Somewhere in the room, he could here the scurrying, skittish shuffle of an escaped lab-rat amidst the clutter. "Hmm, maybe I can catch him?" Lacking the means to acquire a recording implant, Jake decided to forgo such effort. "Wouldn't prove a damn thing. What'll I do, have the rat write the paper?"
As the night security crew entered the building, Jake turned off the lights. Except for the shimmering green and red glow of his process equipment, the blue flourescence of VDTs, the lab was dark. He sat and thought and thought and thought about his problem until long after midnight. Then he had an idea!     

It was a funny thing about Jake Williams: most of his ideas were very good ones. He had more good ideas in an average day than the average person might have ideas of any kind. Every once in a while, though, a less than perfectly formed thought would pop out his cortical folds and latch on to his temporal lobes with the conviction of a strangle hold. This was specially prone to occur under certain circumstances. Like, if he hadn't been getting enough sleep, been eating too much synthamine to keep his edge, taking too much paranol to ease the nervous strain, skipping meals because his stomach had all but shut down production of gastric juices, then sometimes his thinking would suffer a tad. He had been doing all those things for several months.
"I'll go through! I can do it! Two-way transit of a Human being! " Jake hurriedly searched out and began rifling through his tool-chest. "Yes, it's got to be here." At the bottom of the case, nested in a morass of wires, connectors and small tools, he got his hands on it. Triumphantly, he yanked the black box, the antique occilloscope recorder into the dim light of the new future. "Yes!"
The device was crude. The pictures where monochrome. They resolved only a dozen shades of grey. "It'll do just fine."
It was almost sunrise by the time he'd prepped all the equipment and computers. The sky beyond the blackened window was bruised purple and orange. The sun, angry and red peeked over the eastern mountains as a full moon glowered from low in the West. Cold autumn winds carried a squawking eschelon of geese to the South. To the North, where the winds dwelled, was a dark band of arctic clouds portending rough weather ahead. 
Having set the last of the code into the master computer, Jake sealed himself into the pod. He was ready and primed to journey further than any Human had ever dreamed was possible in Life.

The pod had a small view-port through which he would see and document what was on the Other Side. There was compressed air to last an hour, and a small box containing the bread-board that comprised the as yet untested loop-effect trigger. This device was intended to bring him back home. He made one last mental list of "what to do", and all seemed to be ready. Thinking of the famed aviator, Charles Lindeburgh, who had brought along a tuna fish sandwich on his history-making flight, Jake chuckled to himself and activated the process.
The whole thing took a while to get humming. Over the next few minutes, dozens of processors cascaded power and information down the line until multiple levels of feedback enabled conformation of the total system; the process had incorporated. Hundreds of quietly dissonant components suddenly harmonized in a splendid electrical howl. Flaming strings of plasma miraculously arced out of thin air, enveloping and momentarily levitating the pod. Then, "phht": the pod was gone. The noise stopped abruptly. The air cleared. The first phase of the experiment was a success.
That's what it looked like on This Side. On the Other Side, at the very same instant, things were less wonderful. Oh, yes. There was another side: big as all get out, black as pitch, and empty, empty, empty. At first, Jake was baffled. He never expected "nothing". "Nothing? Nothing? How can there be nothing? I put stuff here, myself." 
He quieted his mind and looked to his senses. He could feel something: gravity, though tenuous, still worked on This Side. "That means that there has to be something to create it." Figuring out which way seemed to be down, he gradually worked the pod around, rolling himself over its interior like a circus bear in a barrel, until the view-port faced in the direction of the attracting object. Bafflement deteriorated into vacant astonishment. "Oh, shit!"

Through the port he saw it all: a view to the other Other Side: a peek through the belly-button of Reality to apprehend all moments in all time in all space: the Universe. That was where he belonged. "Oh, God, that's where  my Life is!" He wanted to go home. In naked panic, he mashed his fist against the loop-effect trigger.
Nothing happened. "Uh-oh." He hit the switch again. Nothing happened. But, the indicator lights were saying that the device had activated. Status was green. This could only happen if the unit was communicating back through the gap to the master computer. It could only mean that the master computer was, in fact, initiating loop-back. "Then why isn't anything happening? What's wrong?" 
In truth, something was happening; it just wasn't what Jake had expected. It seems that young Jake had forgotten to purge the master computer's loop-back routines. They were programmed not for his pod, but for the small herd of lab meat and machines that he had previously sent through.
Presently, Jake's pod was pummeled by the returning shit-rain of pigs, dogs, cats, metal debris and circuit boards in plastic boxes. He tumbled end over end in terror and pain as the clanking, crunching, barking, howling and snorting torrent subsided and passed him by. His last sight before momentarily passing out was to see a giraffe lurching, limbs akimbo, into the receeding vortex. It swirled and disappeared into the gap and over to the Other Side. 

"Now, if x4/ß=y12T, ß representing the...";  O'kaemian was roused from his incessant mathematical mentations. Ms. Giddeon was on the intercomm: "Professor, I'm sorry to bother you, but the Head of Campus Security is on the line. He seems very disturbed and wishes to meet with you right away. He's in Jake Williams' lab.".

As his feet came off the desk and he reached for the talk button, Jarrad muttered to himself: "What has that little shit done now?". To Ms. Giddeon, he quietly responded: "Very good. Ye' can tell him I'm on my way. Anything else?".
"Well, yes, Professor. All of our lines are lighting up. It seems there isn't a single staff member who isn't trying to reach you. I've even got the Chief Janitor calling."
O'kaemian arrived to find Jake's lab stacked to overcapacity with two million euros worth of apparently undamaged test equipment. There were also twenty-three clonal pigs, fourteen felines, a dozen wee pups and a sick and wheezing giraffe. A number of very confused guards and faculty milled about in the hall. Two janitor's groused about who's job it would be to clean this mess up.
Head of Security, Sgt. (Ret.) George Anderson, stepped up to the senior professor. "We got here about five minutes ago following multiple reports of some kind of disturbance. It apparently made quite a racket, but no one was hurt. Anyhow, this is what we found. You got any idea where we can find William's? He's nowhere in sight and we can't reach him at home."
"No, I'm afraid not. Listen, why don't we just start by getting this live-stock out of 'ere." Motioning to the janitors, doing their best to look the other way, he summoned the clean-up to begin and turned to two of the white-coated techs, nearby. "You two, let's inventory the lab. I've got a pretty good idea that we'll find that most of this stuff belongs to the school." 
Climbing onto the great pile of gadgets and critters, one of the techs made his way to the power panel, still active on the far wall. "Safety first!" He was able to dislodge enough of the debris to get behind the door to the main switch. 
He yanked it down and off with some effort. Unnoticed beneath the meowing and grunting and wheezing of the animals, the muttering of the humans, a quiet electronic hum fell silent. The great network of Jake's process discorporated and died.
O'kaemian took off his spectacles, rubbed his eyes and, feeling that there was nothing more here to require a Nobel Laureate's attention, slowly puttered back toward the serenity of his office. Halfway down the hall, he began to mutter to himself: "So, I can assume that the Universe, as represented by the function ß, is then fundamentally..."; his words trailed off, quietly falling into the sonic furrow left by the tattered shuffling of stockinged feet on centuries old marble.
The gap between the This Side and the Other Side had been closed. Jake thought that he might survive as his test subjects had, perhaps for an eternity in the Void. Could he be somehow sustained on a benign aether outside of the pod? Watching the gap pucker into itself and disappear, not knowing why it had gone away, he spent some time considering this option. "I might even eventually figure out some way home. Maybe someday somebody will duplicate my process. The way will open again." 
He peered into the darkness outside. It was a black so black that it seemed to drink up sight, sucking from his mind even the recollection that he had once had such a sensation. "Only eight more minutes of air." Taking a deep breath, he cranked open the hatch and propelled himself outside and onto the mercy of the Void.

Hic Finis Est.

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