short story at the edge of science
Copyright © 2018 by David Baron
All Rights Reserved
Cover design by the author
Image: Barbara A Lane, “Einstein Street Art,” CC0
Thio. Short for Theodore but he spells it with an ‘i.’ Thio and Alice Edelsohn, a couple getting on in years. Live in the elegant penthouse of the New City Tower, the one hundred and eleventh storey.
Thio is a large man. Some say appears a reincarnation of Thomas Edison but with the little remaining hair a bit long and unruly. Testament to his childhood era. Alice is quite petite, small enough to navigate the rabbit-holes of Wonderland. Her gray hair tied back in a librarian’s bun.
They seemed quite a happy couple. Lounging on their terrace, gazing out on New York harbor, the region-wide view from the 111th floor. Seen hand in hand, shopping together. A picnic in Central Park. Strolling the avenue.
And the public library. The big one with the lions. Thio would go for new science fiction, maybe some physics or electronics texts. Alice had her romantic novels, stories of families, immigration, nationality. To be read in the daylight on their terrace with the fantastic vista or quietly in bed before sleep.
Having no children, they lived alone in the great big penthouse. Furnished a large but nice living area. The rest became Thio’s laboratory. Loads of electronic parts and equipment carried in there. Anything electronic discarded in the area dutifully rifled for parts just like when Thio was a boy. Until everything had “no user serviceable parts inside.” Became easier to simply shell out the money to buy new parts instead of wrestling them off the printed circuit cards.
Thomas Edison had a company and staff at Menlo Park. Kept on inventing, then marketing and selling innovations. Changed history! Thio kept working on some unknown project in his penthouse workshop. No one knew or attempted to understand what was going on there. He might not have, either. History maintained its old, steady course.
They seemed quite a happy couple. Seemed, until Alice up and left!
How come? Some acquaintances suggested the frustration of being childless, but this couple was too along in years for this to be the issue. More likely, they lived off invested inheritances, had no need to accomplish anything. In itself, a frustration. Or maybe it was just Thio’s incessant tinkering alone in his lab, leaving Alice all alone with her books.
Alice moved into a lower floor in a shorter building in a minor borough, borrowed a flat from her cousin. Still alone with her books. And missed her husband immensely.
She kept touch with some neighbors in the tower. Kept tabs on Thio. Assured that things were more or less normal, that he was OK in spite. Missed her husband immensely.
Meanwhile, he was seen, as usual, shopping at the local market. Less often now at the big library with lions. No more need for picnics in Central Park or strolling on the avenue. So seen less and less often.
And it came to pass he was seen not at all. Was no longer seen in the elevators. Not the ones servicing the highest floors nor the other two sets servicing the middle and lower ones. He was not seen sneaking down the stairwell. No one uses the stairs in the new tower. Only people seen there are those responsible for keeping them shiny and spotless. The door to the penthouse remained silently shut. A reason for Alice to begin to worry.
Actually, he was seen — at the super. The cashier saw him, quickly choose the few items he cooked for himself, now alone. Quickly checked them out, paying with his credit card. He came when there would be no one else in line. He quickly turned and disappeared. Strange. More quickly than most customers could walk the few meters and through the exit door.
Alice was rightly worried! She did not know to speak with the checkout-lady. Just with the neighbors. Who had not seen or heard from her husband for some time. Rightly worried.
That night, she woke and he was there!
My darling Alice. How much I have missed you. Please, please return with me!
But how? At this hour of the night.
I love you, please.
Maybe in the morning, like a normal person. A wife.
That will not work –
Just one problem. How the hell did he get in? Three locks on that door. Been a hundred years since New Yorkers dared leave their doors unlocked.
Please. We will be happy. We will again spend time together and I will show you Wonderland!
Oh, well, I will come in the morning.
At that, he was gone.
She got out of bed, closed her robe, went to the front door. All the locks locked. How had he entered, or … just what had entered?
She was now quite frightened. Called her neighbor in the tower.
It’s three A-M. Is something wrong? Why do you wake me at such an hour?
I’m worried about my husband. Really worried. I think I saw his … ghost!
And I spoke with him. Now I am really scared something happened to him.
What did you tell him?
That I would come home in the morning.
I will contact the police first thing. I’ll be in touch.
The neighbor called first thing. The cops would be there at ten.
It was already late. Called a cab. New York traffic. She got there well after ten. The police had not shown up yet either.
A bit later, they finally arrived. She identified herself and some officers and the two women ascended to the 111th floor penthouse. Knocked on the door. No answer. The knocks sounded very dead, like thuds.
Shall we break the door?
No need. This is my home. I have the key.
They opened the door. In front of it was a brick wall.
Ma’am, I don’t know what gives here, but if he built that, maybe he ain’t all there but he is in there. Please, settle this among yourselves …
That night, the ghost returned. And she realized why coming in the morning would not work. She had to agree to go with him. Now!
But I am not ready to become a ghost.
I am not a ghost.
I want to live.
I am as alive as you are.
Then how did you get into this flat. I’ve got three locks.
It is my invention. I do not need the door!
You made a “transporter,” like on the TV show?
Sort of. Here, feel me. I am really here.
They embraced. She felt the strength in his arms. Sort of sensed the accustomed warmth of his body, but only “sort-of.” She led towards the bed.
Can we make love with this invention?
Yes, we can hug and kiss. Do everything. But not exchange bodily fluids. Because my body is not actually here.
I do not understand.
This is what they might call an “astral projection.” My image and senses are projected to the destination I select.
Then you are sort of a ghost.
Not a ghost, but yes, kind of an apparition. Think of it. If some rescue from some very dangerous place is required, my invention can get a rescuer there, do the rescue, and get them out. Or I can enter someplace I normally could not. Your locked flat, or … the bank’s vault.
No no, I would not do that. Besides, I can get in but the money, being physical, cannot get out, he-he. And they could see me on the camera.
Might be great for James Bond, missions impossible!
Yes, my dear lady spy. Come with Mr. Bond!
So arm in arm, they departed.
Since she was walking in her own skin, she had to unlock those three locks, go out through the door, and lock up again. She started leading towards the train.
No, this ride is on me! Hold on, real tight now.
Next moment, she was up on their terrace, 111 storeys up. She unlocked that door and entered the apartment. The door to the workshop opened and out came Thio. This time, in the flesh.
To the bedroom.
Enough said …
They arose early enough. Put up a pot of coffee and Thio dished up a stack of flapjacks. All the trimmings. A breakfast like they could only remember.
Alice still had her misgivings.
I want to be together again. Really. Do the things we loved doing together. Husband and wife.
But I want to walk out the front door like husband and wife. Be seen as the happy pair we were. Not our projections. We, our bodies, ourselves.
Then we take down that wall!
I put that up to keep sneaks and snoops away from my invention. Since I did not need the door.
We must take it down. We will find another way.
So, the brick wall got knocked down and Thio and Alice used their front door like everybody else. Once again, they were seen happily shopping together. A picnic in Central Park, strolling on the avenue. And of course, the big library with the lions.
So … take me where we might only go with your machine. Show me what your contraption can do!
So he fired up the machine. They entered and sat down.
And they traveled from the dark cold ocean depths where creatures speak with rings of light and whale-songs ring the globe, on to the rainbow reefs of tropical seas. From the great canyon of Arizona, the great falls of Africa, to ice capped peaks higher than eagles fly. From the unseen face of the moon to the great volcano of Mars, to Saturn’s rings and Enceladus’s undersea.
And so, they danced along the light fantastic. He showed her Wonderland.
Following his good woman’s advice, he kept a low profile and did not endanger his invention by playing check-out ghost with a credit card at the supermarket, or ephemeral bandit in the bank vault. Instead, they lived normally and obtained a proper patent.
Do I need to say they lived happily ever after …
No, it was simply not fair. Forcing everybody who wished to live in the city to dwell in skyscrapers.
Yes, it was thoroughly researched, that building upwards is a superior use of resources than building outwards. Heights are better than spreads. But there are those of us who would best have a choice. I think this planet and the little region of it in and around New York are big enough for all.
Let me introduce myself. Andrew Mullin, teacher of physics and math at New York’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School. In my thirties, still unhitched. Prefer a sloppy sweater and casual slacks, but when I teach, I insist on a jacket, no tie. Want that small measure of formality, division.
Always wanted to live in the city. Teaching there made it necessary. Until then, I lived with my parents upstate. In a house. On land. A small apartment would have done just fine. But all the reasonable flats along with all the lower floors were already taken. I was lucky to get into the building. On the 88th storey!
I am not complaining. These are wonderful apartments, built to the highest standards, most modern fixtures. A teacher’s salary will not cut it. So my folks help out. Would like to see me married already. Never relished the dating scene, though. Open to suggestions!
Even in my parents’ home, I had problems with the second floor. Avoided the window. I have a problem with heights. Don’t look down. The view from the balcony on the 88th is spectacular. One can set a couple of chairs out there, even a small cocktail table. Sit and schmooze and enjoy that view. I never go out there. Keep the drapes drawn. Vertigo.
Next door live a handsome young family, the Castles. Professors at Columbia, my alma mater. Have a darling daughter, Meg. She really is lovely but her face shows much sadness.
Her parents simply cannot live together. They are always arguing. Sometimes loudly enough for even the superior sound-proofing in the tower to fail. Poor Meg blames herself.
I often find her sitting in the park. Usually crying. We would have conversations like:
It’s all my fault. Before they had me, they were a happy couple, lived happily together. Traveled. Did things. Then I came along. Ruined everything.
Meg, this is simply not true.
But it is. They say so themselves when all the yelling has gone on. I try to hide, but it always finds its way to me.
Many folks get married, all lovey-dovey, but get crushed by the responsibilities of a household.
That responsibility is me!
OK, some folks do not have kids. But were we all like that, none of us would be here. And we would not need all these hundred storey buildings either, huh?
I would not mind a lower building, but I would get no pleasure in it if you were not here.
That’s so sweet, but — -
It would be a privilege to have a daughter like you. I mean that!
She does appreciate my sentiments. No, I am not pursuing a teenage girl. She is a neighbor, no more than that. But I cannot bear seeing her grief!
More often than not, Meg is sitting alone and very glum in that park. I try to talk to her, offer some encouragement or solace, at least a little bit, each time I see her there.
More than that. Her professor parents arranged her admission and part-scholarship at Columbia. But she had little interest in a nondescript liberal arts trek. She is a painter, wanted to pursue that fine-art. Parental no-no! On the sly, she got into Cooper Union, once again tuition free after years of charging and awarding everyone half scholarships. Her parents do not know!
Those meetings on the park bench were getting sadder and more severe. The arguments in their home were getting louder and more severe. One time, Meg told me her father struck her mom, but was very apologetic and conciliatory afterwards. Mom threw something at him, luckily missed, and whatever it was got broken so discarded. But there was more than that piece of porcelain that was getting broken.
It came pass on hot August day that Meg’s father walked out. Mom went out, maybe to find an attorney. Meg was left alone, absolutely distraught. I could not say anything acceptable to her. “Better this way,” can be the truth but it is not better this way.
That evening, something was going on it town. Utter chaos. The streets below were jammed to gridlock, honking horns, shouting voices. Even at the 88th floor with drawn drapes, the noise penetrated.
88 storeys up is a long way. I opened the drapes but, of course, did not look out. The word “jump” I distinctly heard, if attenuated by the altitude. “Jump,” or “don’t jump,” or some such argument. And I thought of who might be in such a quandary and was seized by panic.
I ventured to go out on that balcony. Did not look down. Leaned over the wall, yipes!, glanced next door. Meg was standing on her balcony’s wall!
Meg, sweetheart, go back in. Please!
There is nothing left for me back in there.
From below, faint but frightening.
Jump! / Don’t jump!!
What absolute idiots.
Meg, sweetie, get off that wall.
I hope I am not sounding too forward, but need the emphasis. Despite, she shouts back
I am coming over to talk to you. You know I care about you. Give me that much. Please!
A pause. Wavering?
Don’t make promises you can’t keep! How in hell was I going to come over to talk with her? Mr. Vertigo, in person. But I had made a commitment. Wow for me!
Part of the building’s architecture, a decoration or possibly an aid for firefighting, is a half meter wide ledge connecting below the walls of the adjoining balconies. Sure thing! I would simply climb over, step out onto that and run over. Maybe it would support my weight. Sure thing!
Unbelieving, I found myself pulling one leg over the wall. Connected the ledge, then the other leg. Faced the balcony. Do not dare turn around. Leaned on the wall. Step one foot sideways, slide the other to it. Step one foot sideways, slide the other. I was now two steps from my balcony and several more to Meg’s. In between, there is a protrusion corresponding to the wall between the apartments. And there, the ledge is even narrower!
The phobia seized me. I felt dizzy. My stomach churning. Off balance. What made me think I could pull off such a stunt? I could not go forward, really sideways and across the narrows. Nor could I return. Frozen.
Down from below, all those damned idiots. What the hell can they see on the 88th floor? “Uh-oh, now two of them up there need rescue!”
Don’t jump! / Jump!
Then, suddenly, I felt a warmth at my back. Softly pressed upon me, holding me to the building. I turned to see.
No-no! Don’t turn. Don’t look at me and don’t look down!
It was an older woman’s voice, calming and confident. I blurted out:
I am holding you. You will not fall. Take that next step, carefully, deliberately. Do it now!
I placed my foot on the narrowed ledge. Grasped the protrusion. Her warmth pressed me to it, steadied me.
I slid my foot. Another step, slid my foot and was on Meg’s side. Another step, slide, step, slide, and I was opposite her wall. She stood, looking down on me and beyond me. Looked as if she had seen a ghost.
She looked at me. Looked beyond. Backed off and climbed down from the wall. Sat down. I climbed over and sat opposite her. We both looked outward. Nothing was there.
We talked and talked. Yes, sometimes it is better for a marriage to end if it really is not working. Try harder to save it first. No, it is not the fault of a loving, lovely girl like Meg. Sometimes folks get married for the wrong reasons or with unreasonable expectations. Not prepared for their next steps. But who and the hell am I to say a damned thing? I’ve never even tried.
This was my first time in the Castles’ apartment. I noticed paintings on the wall. Yes, Meg does have something to say!
There was a knock on the front door. Entered an older couple with kind faces and kind sentiments. Thio and Alice Edelsohn. Asked if they could be of help. How did they know what was going on in this flat? Really, how?
I stared at her and so did Meg, the ghost-look in her eyes again. Meg indicated, half under her breath:
It’s … her.
I spoke first.
It was you? How? How did you do that?
How did I do what?
Floating out there, holding me.
What are you talking about? Don’t talk such nonsense.
Often in stressful, emotional situations, one sees things.
Don’t talk nonsense. You were incredibly brave. Young lady, this is a superbly chivalrous young man! Listen to what he has to say.
She was not there? How did she see this very brave knight in shining armor, needing a little old lady’s steadying hand to help save his damsel in distress?
There was another knock at the door, or more accurately, a key inserted with a bit of urgency. Meg’s mother entered. They hugged and hugged. The three neighbors rose to quietly leave.
Meg, who are your guests?
Mr. Mullin. He lives next door. This lady is … my guardian angel!
The Hunt of the Wild Chill
As a young boy, I hunted the wild chill! Sought after it, looked all over. But never found it. The wild chill eludes me to this day!
Grandma, and my mom after her, were experts at removing that chill. From whatever came out of the fridge, went into a sauce-pan. They told me it was in there and they would take it out.
The gas was lit. Soon enough there were bubbles. Maybe swirl. And that chill leaped out. Still invisible. How could I even begin the track it down if I could not see where it was headed.
I went on searching. Forever and a day until I grew older and frustrated. The wild chill still eludes me, to this very day!
Let me introduce myself. I am Rick Appel. Studying physics but only part time. At least, state schools are leaving their high tuition behind. But I still need to live.
Commuting daily from Long Island is a total drag. Have a cold every other week from riding outside overcrowded coaches. If I could live in the city, I could take on more work hours. Make a proper go of things.
So I met up with Andrew Mullin, a teacher at Stuyvesant. We were both at a symposium up at Columbia, we caught each-other’s eye.
Got to talking, developed a friendship. He needed a lab tech to look after things at the high school and hired me. Said I could stay by him, he lived alone, until I could find something else. He became the catalyst.
One evening, before I actually moved in, he had me over for dinner. I was surprised, very pleasantly.
Hey, you cook really nice for a single guy. How can any girl resist someone like you? Good looks and great food!
That’s the old story. My folks ask the same thing. Over and over. What about yourself?
I’m too big of a nerd. This “jock” business has ruined things for guys like me, a long time now.
Those jocks need confidence as well, nerd. But I don’t enjoy the dating scene either.
Yeah. There must be a better way. Our great grandparents did not date!
He told me to meet him at the park Sunday noontime. Takes his stroll. The park is the city’s treasure and holds many attractions as well. So he said!
Sunday morning. With anticipation, I took the train into Manhattan. Good weather blessed this adventure. At the appointed place and a bit after the appointed time, you know, Andrew was waiting.
We strolled. Showed me some of the sites. The pond. The zoo. Then to an area with some shade trees and benches. Before we entered, he directed my vision.
Sitting over there is a Meg Castle. She has started freshman year a Columbia but intends to transfer to Cooper Union next fall. She is a painter and may just be a better painter than I am a cook!
And she is absolutely lovely. Unbelievably so. Until we neared and I noticed an old, no-so-friendly friend awaiting me. That wild chill was lurking unseen behind the trees, under the benches. In a face touched with lingering sadness. I wanted to cry. I could not face her.
Her folks are in the middle of a very acrimonious divorce. Will hang but not support her painting. They live next door. I have been sort of coaching her, trying to get her away from her depression.
What do you think?
What do you think!?
He went over to her, wanted to introduce me but would not force it. She apparently rejected the idea, shook her head. He argued with her, like
Why the hell not? And if you would stop being such a sourpuss, he might even like you!
So he forced the issue. Dragged me over, not knowing how to approach this. And yes, she is absolutely lovely.
We spoke very little, Andrew looked over from a far bench. Talked about her painting. Could I see some of the work?
Yes, pictures are hanging in our apartment, and I have portfolio. I prepared it to show Cooper Union. Good enough — they took me!
She is interested in physics as well, would like to try some modern abstract painting based on the ideas of modern physics.
But mostly, we just looked at each other.
So how do I take this most delicate delicacy out of the icebox, warm it through and chase away that wild chill? If I could accomplish that, well, …
Their divorce was finally completed. With the hostile father out of the picture, the cold truce with her mother could begin to warm. So Meg’s outlook was bound to improve. Yes, she would need to spend time with her father but without the pressure and conflict, he might be pleasant enough.
So we were spending more time together. Living right next door helped, of course, and I became a frequent guest of the female Castles. Meg was beginning to wear a smile, more often. We were able to relax, simply walk together, sit at a cafe. Look to a future without the wild chill.
Both being undergraduate students, it seemed prudent to wait before announcing or taking farther steps. But this prudence itself can become a negative and chilling factor. So beware.
Things were going so well until the arrival of them. A whole armada of wild chill “meanies.” Suddenly, a paranoia entered our lives. Windows were kept locked according to civil defense instructions. Folks went outside only when necessary, only on solid ground. The wild chill was now very visible, swarming around our building. It had found us!
Crown of the Concrete Forest
The tropical rain-forest. Dense population of tall trees, shallowly rooted in poor soil. Nourished by all the decay and detritus that falls to the ground. And all that rain and humidity.
Creatures that live on the ground do not see the sun or the sky. Can only gaze up jealously at the boughs and leaves densely hiding it. So they mostly gaze downwards, picking up offerings from above and munching on what litters below.
Creatures that live in the crown of the forest never see the ground. Animals that fly, jump, glide, or swing their way along the treetops. Monkeys with strong arms and prehensile tails, bats and birds.
Two separate universes on one ecosystem.
So in the concrete forests of the new cities. Apartment buildings of over a hundred storeys, piercing the low-lying clouds. All we who live here, even on the upper floors, are bound to the ground. Must ride that elevator all the way down, step outside to where the sky and sun can hardly be seen.
There is no race of forest-top dwellers.
At least, there was none until they arrived. No idea of from where. No inkling of what they pursue here. Just that they congregate around these tall buildings. 200–300 meters up.
Folks began calling them “faeries” and the name stuck. In daylight, they have darker bodies but with a subdued luminescence. At night, they are seen by their soft but definite glow. They are continuously flying so it is difficult to make out their appearance and features. Insect-like wings, possible bipedal, two arms. Insect-like face!
While no hostile or any other intent of the faeries was witnessed, authorities instructed citizens to keep doors and windows locked. Those high enough up were told to do nothing to get their interest or attention. Maintain the seemingly disinterested quiet.
The level of fear, paranoia, was enough so everybody obeyed. Almost. One couple in the penthouse was prepared to disobey. They had an invention that would enable them to fly out among the faeries without vulnerability. Simply could not resist doing this.
So two human beings, actually projections of two human beings of similar opaqueness and glow as their visitors, joined the throng. It was a beautiful experience. The faeries flew with much grace and aplomb. Were never seen to dip down for feeding. Never made a sound.
Thio, then Alice, tried to talk to them. Assuming that all aliens simply must speak English. They got no response. At least what they could hear with their ears. But messages were projected into their minds. And they could so project themselves. Images, pictograms.
A write-able conversation might have looked like this:
We are Thio and Alice. What are you called.
Several individuals projected unpronounceable names. What would a pictogram for Thio or Alice look like?
We live on top of this building. Where do you live?
They are shown a picture of an exoplanet around an unidentified star.
How far from here?
Over two hundred go-arounds.
Their planet or our planet.
Many of the exoplanets observed are close-in so have brief “years.”
How did you travel to here?
We did not travel.
That was indeed a revelation. The only conclusion, noticing the similarities in appearance of the faeries to that of Thio and Alice: They were also astral projections!
Meg here. Things were really looking up until the business with those aliens. They fly around without a break at the level of our apartment. Very quickly. Might be beautiful to watch if they would just slow down a bit. But everyone is scared witless. Do not want to gain their attention. So keep doors and windows locked tight, don’t even look at them.
Mom and I had been getting on much better. Now with all the tension about those “faeries,” she is on edge once again. That makes me on edge once again. The sadness creeps back in.
We invited Mr. Mullin and Rick for dinner. Rick and I have grown to like each other, quite a lot. But both of us are over-sensitive to chilling factors effecting our relationship. I sometimes cry myself to sleep thinking about losing him to what he calls “the wild chill.”
Anyway, they arrived. Mr. Mullin is a fine cook in his own right and brought over his tasty contribution. Mom created something fine and gourmet. So we sat, enjoying our dinner, glancing furtively at the ruckus outside our windows.
There was something, more accurately, someone, flying out there that was not an alien. My guardian angel! And her hubby. I saw them distinctively because they do not look quite like the faeries.
Rick. Look. Did you see them?
We are not supposed to look at them.
That lady. The folks who came here that night after … They are flying with the aliens!
Rick noticed. We both rose. So did Mr. Mullin. Mom objected but then she noticed as well. We all approached the locked balcony door.
And they noticed. Waved. And approached the balcony with a couple of faeries they had befriended. Mom was petrified.
Do not, do not let them in!
Alice, the Guardian Angel, asked
May we come in. We are friends. No one will be harmed. Promise!
Mom held up her hands, shook her head. Mr. Mullin did not know how to react. We just stood there.
So Mr. Guardian Angel said
Guess we must show you, prove that they mean no harm.
They were standing in the apartment.
We do not need the door. Could come in any time. But they did not. See? OK?
Speechless. I ventured
You are already our guests. Might was well join us for dinner. Plenty good food!
The faeries do not eat like we do. Take in raw energy, directly. Very clean. No waste! However, permit us to go back upstairs and come back down in our bodies. That food looks absolutely delicious.
At that, they disappeared. Noticed our guests. Their transparent, membranous wings folded on their backs. Like insects. Stood on two legs, feet, whatever they had there, together. Maybe a bit over a meter tall. Their arms had pincers rather than fingers but those appeared gentile. Two insect style compound eyes, myriads of lenses. No mouth! Bee-like antennae.
A few minutes later. Knocks at the door. Thio and Alice entered. We sat down to enjoy the good food mom and Mr. Mullin prepared.
It seems kind of rude to simply sit and eat in front of our other guests.
They do not eat food like us.
But they are here. How do we talk with them?
They do not hear sound and speak as we do. Communicate using mental pictures. Might take getting used-to but not really very hard. Just remember, they are from another world and do not know English. Pictures.
So I tried first. Know a bit of sign language and those forms might be a good start.
Hi. I’m Meg. This is my mom (pantomime rocking a baby). Our neighbors (which they have already noticed). And my friend Rick (signing the sign for love, hoping no one else noticed it!).
We are (some unpronounceable names). We are from another world. (Show us the exoplanet and the star).
Wait, I’ll be right back!
He bolted next door, brought back an astronomy book. Opened it to a sky map.
Show us your star.
They glance at, search the map through their myriad of lenses and point out a location on the page.
More to us
Looks like Barnard’s star. Ten light-years away.
Is this your first such voyage?
We did one before this. Practice. Much closer to our world. Nothing lived there but a beautiful place!
Their beautiful place picture was noticeably blank. They were trying very hard to picture it, without success!
How far from your world?
Maybe one tenth part.
What happened? Why do we not see it?
We returned home. Found a large amount of time was gone. Turned off the projector. What we saw, so vivid, was simply gone as if we never saw it! We do not understand.
Now, Mr. Mullin, physics teacher, understood!
Mr. Mullin projected a mental image of a lecture, a class. Called all the faeries to the session. Our living room filled up. He darted next door, brought in some texts. He began.
One might think that things happen immediately, simultaneously, throughout space. That the speed of information, that is light, be infinite.
This is complicated talk and concept. He was putting it into pictures quite well. So he could do this for his New York students as well. Great!
But this made little sense, seeing the huge distances!
Turns out that the speed of information, light in empty space, can be measured. It has been. And something about it. It is the same no matter how I measure it, how I am moving, how its source is moving. Constant!
This means we must change how we look at space and time. This is the theory of relativity of our great professor Albert Einstein.
He then took us through Einstein’s thought experiments, Lorentz diagrams and formulae. Did the aliens understand, see his point? Not so easy for us either.
The machine that projects you to here does so as photons, little pieces of light itself. These move at light speed. Placing that in the formula means time does not pass at all. Not at all. So you experience all the sights and thoughts immediately, continuously, just as now!
But it really took one go-around to get to the other world. So when you woke again at home, that time had really passed. You did not experience it, but it did!
And now, you were home. And everything you saw was on its way home and would take another go-around to arrive. But you shut down the machine! All was lost.
I cannot describe the group reaction. The faeries did realize what went wrong with their first trip and what will go wrong with this one. Realized full well. Sensed a deep hurt and pointlessness.
Mr. Mullin proposed
What we need are volunteers! Enough of you willing to remain connected to the projector machine those ten go-arounds until what you have experienced gets home to you. Enough of you for the group’s memory. This way, it will not be lost!
If insect-bodies could applaud, these aliens would have done so. Imagine a civilization with interstellar capabilities not knowing of relativity. And imagine another, aspiring to that, hiding behind useless doors, staring away in fear, not seizing that greatest opportunity to communicate. Made me want to weep or cry out in anger.
A murmur, if one could call it that, filled our living room and spread outside. It was time for the faeries to return home. One by one, they disappeared, some quite abruptly. Within a period of tens of minutes, they were all gone. They would find their world ten of our years older, and hopefully enough of them would stay with their machine for another ten.
Such an anomaly or contradiction is what physicists would call a “paradox.” Relativity has several of them. Ideas about time travel have theirs.
So Thio and Mr. Mullin, and … my mom — she is the only ranked professor, albeit of literature, among us — will publish a paper on the Edelsohn-Mullin-Castle paradox! Astral projection is mentioned in occult literature so is relevant. But this is, indeed, real physics. As we have seen.
And the time will pass. The wild chill will once again have faded into unnoticeability. There are more and more smiles and every time I smile, Rick is in orbit!
Soon enough will be graduation. We will marry.
Will this author need to say we lived happily ever after?