September 15, 2015
I began to smear. Not with a bang, nor even a whimper; with a splash. Walking down the hallway from the elevator to my front door, the drab tan carpet began to vibrate
before my eyes for lack of a better word. Vision doubled. I shook my head, irritated; I remember removing my glasses and wiping them on my shirt before replacing them, but it didn't help. There were two versions of the carpet in my sight. Indeed, there were two slightly offset versions of the hallway. I touched my temples experimentally; no pain. I hadn't hit my head that I was aware. I hadn't been drinking (had I?) and I wasn't any more overworked than usual.
I continued on to the nondescript door of my rental apartment, unlocked the triple deadbolts, and let myelf in quietly. The apartment itself shimmered slightly, strange aura in my sight not lessening. I relocked the door and tossed the keys onto the hall table and moved into the kitchen to get myself a drink of water.
It didn't help. Aspirin didn't help. Meditation didn't help for the hour I devoted to emptying my brain of thought, despite the fast approaching finals week. I couldn't read, though; text swam before my misfiring eyes. No hope for it. I decided that at the very least, I might as well sleep; if sleep didn't help, I would visit the university health service in the morning.
Sleep came as easily as it always did to a postdoc.
The next morning brought a change, but not the one I was hoping for. The doubling of my vision was now more pronounced; there was a more noticeable separation between versions of what I was seeing.
While realizing that I would have to take a bus to the health center, since I certainly couldn't drive, I made a somewhat disturbing discovery.
Closing one eye didn't cure the double vision.
That was...unexpected, to say the least. I had been assuming that my problem arose from an inability to properly focus; that had happened to me before, usually as a result of exhaustion or eye fatigue from reading in the dark. Not this time, though. No matter which eye I looked out of, the doubled world looked back.
This was starting to severely worry me. I did what I always do in such cases and called Kris. She was awake as she always was. In five years of research collaboration, I've never caught the woman asleep. I don't think she does sleep. I think she merely parks herself in front of a workstation or book and leans over slightly, body on powerdown, and keeps thinking, just without moving for an hour or two. Given her normal hyperkinetic habits, that would be more than enough to refuel. But as I said, I've never caught her at it.
"Kris? It's Mladic."
"Morning, Deech. What's up?"
"I'm having a problem."
"Is it the crystal phase emitters? I told you –"
"No. It's with me. I'm having trouble seeing."
"Um. Trouble like how?"
"I'm seeing double. And I can't make it go away."
"This isn't so good, Deech."
"I'm aware of that, hotness." I filled the kettle, phone held to my ear.
"I presume then, logically, you need a ride to health services."
"That would be nice, yeah."
"Okay. I'll be down in ten."
"Thanks." I put the water on for tea.
"No problem. See you." She rang off. I turned on the gas, shut off the phone, and bleakly watched the two blue crowns of flame waver gaily in my vision beneath the stained metal.
Kris arrived with her usual perfect timing, pulling me to the door just as the kettle sang. I danced over to it to let her in, running back to yank it off the flame and turn off the stove. She shut the door behind her and moved towards the kitchen door as I was pouring water into the two chipped mugs on the counter. "Deech, I –" She stopped, both vocally and literally, coming to a halt in the doorway. I looked up, kettle still held in my hands. Although slightly hashed by her doubled appearance, I could tell she had gone paper white and had moved to clutch the doorframe.
"Kris? What the hell's wrong?"
"Yeah?" I put the kettle carefully back on the stove.
"Deech, you said you were seeing double?"
"Yeah, that's right. Miracle I haven't fucking burnt myself."
Her voice was faint. "Have...have you looked in a mirror?"
"No. Why?" I looked at her again. Her expression caused ice water to drizzle down my spine, and I turned and sprinted for the bathroom. She was right behind me.
The flourescent tubes in the bathroom took forever to illuminate as always. I stared over the sink at the cheap mirror, seeing a blurrily doubled reflection of myself. Something was wrong, though. Everything in the mirror was doubled, true enough, but my reflection...
My reflection was quadrupled. And it wasn't perfectly doubled. There were two pairs of me, slightly offset. I waved an arm; all four waved their arm, but the pairs waved their arms at just slightly different times.
Kris had come up behind me and was standing in the door. I pivoted to face her. "What the fuck is going on? Do you see four of me? Or two?"
"Two." Her voice was still weak, but getting stronger. She was sweating. So was I, now. "Two. Just barely. You look like a double exposure."
I waved my arm again. She choked off a scream. "Jesus Christ, Deech, you're not moving...you're not...not in synch! This is..."
I just sat down on the closed toilet and looked at her helplessly.
"...this is impossible," she finished lamely.
We stared at each other.
* * *
Picture a stream. Picture it frozen in winter. At the spring end is a geyser, arising from nothing, flash-frozen in an impossible origami state. Water made geometry and topographic madness. Here the stream came to be, is always coming to be. There is no before this point, as far as the stream is concerned. At the other end? Let's posit a cliff where the waters fall over, so far down they turn to mist in the air. Eventually, some reach an unseen sea; some evaporate into the air itself, and a precious few motes will return along the stream, settling back into the water.
It's winter. The stream is frozen solid. The air is dry. Nothing moves.
You're looking at time, and right now, it has ceased to pass.
* * *
We skipped the health service, suspecting they wouldn't be able to help me. Instead, we headed straight for campus and for work - for the Harmon Ajanti Advanced Physics Building, where both of us worked on our postdoc projects in the same laboratory. Due to the early hour, we managed to get from the parking lot through the halls to the lab without anyone seeing us, and Kris locked the door behind us as I sank gratefully into a desk chair. Things were not only doubled further apart now, there was an uneasy suggestion of two additional 'copies' of the world, faintly visible surrounding the two I could see clearly. "Kris, am I doubling?"
"What? Are you..." she turned. "Yeah, I think so. There's a faint glow around you that could be another set of...well, of you."
Against my will, I was fascinated. "Are those sets sitting in the chair?"
"Mostly. One just finished sitting down. Their upper bodies don't seem to be as well coordinated, but their hips are all pretty well matched to you."
"Uh. Are we going to even bother with the math, or go straight for the sci-fi?"
"I vote sci-fi."
"Me too. I think those are probability ghosts."
"Okay. Question. Why isn't your voice echoing?"
"Uh. Good one. Maybe they're not substantial enough to vibrate air. Can you touch them?"
She approached me, looking frightened, and moved a hand towards my face. A few centimeters from me, she snatched it back with a horrified look. "There's something there! I don't...whatever, I mean, there's something. It isn't stopping me, but I can feel it."
"Okay." I started scribbling on the chalkboard, watching as my now-four-selves did the same. "I can see four mes writing on four chalkboards. You can sort of see four mes but not the three other chalkboards, right?"
"I could feel your hand when you touched my face."
"But I didn't touch your face."
"Yes you did. One of them. I think I'm the sum total sensoria of these four."
"Holy shit. That explains the double – er, quad? – vision."
"Right." I scribbled that fact down. "Soon to be eight. I can see more coming in, but they're still in between the four that exist, so it's just going to blur stuff, I think."
"Deech, do you think this...this has something to do with the Project?"
I swung to look at her. "It has to. Do you know anyone else working on temporal infodisplacement?"
"Of course not, but...oh, hell. What have we done?"
"Maybe it's 'what will we do?'"
"We need Doctor Ingram and Doctor Rendleman."
"Yeah. Call them."
She moved to her desk and dug up our advisors' home phone numbers. I heard her murmuring at her phone, then talking cajolingly at it while I stared at the blackboard, trying to make sense of it through increasingly multiplexed eyes.
* * *
Ice is a fluid, just like water or glass. It does flow. Extend the metaphor. Imagine that you, me, all of us are particles embedded in the stream, moving along in time. Our 'present' is a slice of the stream itself. When we travel in space, we move up and down, side to side in the stream while it carries us along. We can communicate by sending ripples in those same directions - but whenever we do that, those ripples (or ourselves as we travel) are carried inexorably downstream as it flows. This is true whether the stream is ice or water.
But suppose you wanted to leave a message for those behind you in the stream?
Suppose there was a way to set up a standing wave, a ripple in the stream, that produced constant interference patterns in the fluid of time as it rolled by?
* * *
"Mladic, what the hell is going on?" Professor Stuart Rendleman wasn't happy. No professor who has been 'summoned' by a student, even a post-doc, ever is, and he was no exception. He stormed into the lab, wearing a trenchcoat belted over what were apparently a T-shirt and jeans, and glared around until he found me at the blackboard, at which point he stopped, blanched, and dropped his lower jaw. Kris moved to meet him with a cup of coffee.
"Kris? What...what the hell..."
"We don't know."
"Is that Deech?"
"Yes. It's Deech."
I turned around. "Hi, Professor Rendleman."
"For God's sake, Deech, it's Stuart...what the hell's happened?"
"We don't know, but it looks like at some point we sort of succeed."
He wasn't stupid. His jaw dropped further before he remembered his coffee and drained the cup. "Oh, my God."
Kris brought him up to speed. I was up to thirty-two parallels now, and things were actually getting easier to see as they moved 'apart' from each other in time as well as space, leaving images clearer. The problem was that I was now seeing thing from thirty-two simultaneous slightly different points of view, and it was breaking my head. I sat down to avoid having to walk.
"What's happening?" Elfant Ingram had arrived. Stuart Rendleman grabbed him and started talking to him in low tones, trying to get him brought up to date. I was sitting in an armchair, the desk chair's rotating seat having proved too much freedom for me at this point. I was conscious of tears running down my cheeks. I could see most every part of the lab from some viewpoint as the myriad versions of me walked about, wrote on blackboards, sat in chairs, cried. One disturbing flickering darkness I took to mean I was asleep. Kris sat with the two faculty members, and there was a lot of gesticulating and pointing at figures on paper; once in a while, Ingram or Rendleman would point at the wall which our smaller lab shared with their experimental one.
Kris came over. "Deech?"
"Yeah. (yeah.) (yes?) (Hi, Kris.) (I love you, Kris.) (I know, Kris.) (Uh-huh?)"
"They think it's some experiment they have on the books for next week. Something they're working on next door for the government."
"What?" (Government?) (Next door?) (They're what?) (What?)"
I noticed that in seven of the many Krises I could see, tears were coming down her cheeks as well. In one laboratory, the chair was empty. In one faint view, I sat in an empty parking lot. "They've been working on some form of temporal signaling. I don't know."
"I do. I've been doing the math for it, I think. I didn't know it was experimental. (-t was at that phase.) (-t they had hardware.) (-the government was backing that.)"
In most of my eyesight, Ingram and Rendleman came over, figures flowing through the overlain scenery. "Deech? We have a hypothesis."
"I'd love to hear this. (-ear it.) (-eally?) (-fucking better!) (-hear this.)"
Ingram spoke for them in most of the versions. "Next week, we were scheduled to expend a fairly huge quantity of energy trying to cause a ripple in the timestream in the form of a standing wave. We were going to use a synthetic diamond core, compressed in a grav stream."
"And? (And?) (So?) (...?)"
They looked at each other, seconds apart, across all the various worlds. "It seems clear, now, that something went wrong. I mean, will go wrong. Or that we'll change our minds. Or..." Rendleman waved his hands helplessly. "The hope was that in the days prior to the experiment the instrumentation next door would detect ripples from the experiment, moving backwards in time. Apparently, though, rather than the diamond core, the experiment happens - but to you."
I looked at them. "You mean your machine hits me with whatever the hell you're doing over there?" The words were a cacophony in my multiple outrages, but the feelings were the same.
"We don't know! We certainly don't intend it! But one minute." Ingram jumped up, ran out the door in most of the variants. In two or three, Rendleman did. In one I could see, neither did, but continued to stare at me. After a few moments, they began to filter back in. Ingram held out something to me; I took it. It was heavy and crystalline. "That's the diamond core we're to use. It appears completely unaffected. It's not multiplexed. You are. Ergo, something happens, and you're the focus."
"Why am I seeing multiples?"
Kris spoke up unexpectedly. "Harmonics."
I turned to her, waved at her to go on.
"There's some form of energy in you, that exists outside the time stream. It's manifesting in waves. You're vibrating for lack of a better word. The other versions you're seeing are harmonics of the four-dimensional you that normally exists - the you1 for lack of a better term. As you approach the critical point in the timestream where the disruption happens - where the energy is injected - the vibration is getting stronger. You're seeing more divergence in the harmonics, and additional 'frequencies' are becoming visible."
It made an uncomfortable amount of sense. "But what the hell do I do?"
Rendleman broke in, mostly. "There's a possibility. If we can modify the monitoring gear next door, we can try to discover the...well, the frequency, I suppose, that you're resonating at. If we can do that, we can try to charge you with a similar but inverse amount of energy. That isn't what I'd recommend, though; I'd recommend trying to produce another object, say, the core, which is resonating at the same frequency but out of phase with you, and then you would carry it on your person, although physical separation wouldn't matter much. If we injected it correctly, your resonant frequencies would cancel, mostly. As you (and the core) get farther, temporally, from your respective points of injection, the effect should fade, much as it came on."
I looked at him. "Do you really think this will work?"
His face fell, slightly. "I really don't know. But I honestly can't think of anything else to try, and I don't know how long you can stay sane living like that."
"I can't argue that. What do we do?"
The two faculty stood. "We move next door, for starters. Kris, get some food into him."
* * *
Take a piton. Form it out of diamond. Perfect diamond. Place it in the middle of a perfectly straight section of stream, where the water has frozen into an infinitely long cylindrical jewel. Touch the tip of it magically to the middle of the cylinder, never mind how. In your other hand, take a glass hammer of painful simplicity. Put an infinitely thin paper covering over the business end. Lay the face against the piton's end once to get your feel for its lie; then draw back, cord your muscles, and in one mighty swing, bring it crashing down.
In the milliseconds before the hammer shatters into microfine dust, it will transmit force through the paper, into the piton's head, down the haft, and into the point. That force will ring into the structure of the timestream with the fury and glory of an infinite number of crowning notes at the end of an infinite number of Chorales; triumph and math and love and loss in the belling laugh of destruction as the fabric of existence sings of it.
Imagine the exact center of your skull is resting underneath the piton's tip.
* * *
It wasn't quite as easy as they promised. For one thing, the math raised a difficulty almost immediately. Kris walked them through it, my own brain being far too busy trying to remember what a single life and point of view had been like to perform calculations, and her having helped me with most of my math since diffy-qs she was the only one who could read my notes anyhow. "Look. No, look! the core just won't work, I'm telling you. You need something that's not only closer to his mass, but closer to his chemical makeup. Otherwise, you'll never be able to get the same resonant frequency out of it. Not with the gear we have here; not without rebuilding the injectors entirely. I understand it's better if you have a transmissive referent for the entanglement phasing, but – No, of course we can compensate, that's what I'm telling you, but if the subject is too far off in terms of density, resonant frequency, or even Mohs number, you're going to have to put in so much compensatory equivalent pseudomass that –"
God bless Kris.
That's how I came to a brief moment of clarity a day later and watched them strap her into a chair inside a machine that looked almost, but not quite, entirely like every sci-fi goth freak's worst S&M nightmare. Oiled cables led to sharp pointy electrodes, restraint devices prevented her from moving so that her mass was oriented precisely where the math said it should be, and the table held her chair with her cranium directly below the final accelerator segment of the phased soliton cascade.
"Kris? What are you doing?" My voice was weak. I was croaking, probably because I hadn't been able to keep down liquids in the past few hours.
"Shut up Deech. Everything's going to be all right." She was lying, in every single reality. Her tears gave her away. Ingram and Rendleman were crying, too, but grimly. Kris had managed a smile, for me. I tried to stand, found that I had been tied into the chair at the side of the laboratory.
"I can't move."
"I know. You'd only hurt yourself. You haven't been walking very well, Deech, there's so many of you. S'funny, I only needed one, all this time..."
"Kris, you're babbling." I tried to get up to hear her better through the noise of the motor generators spooling up, but couldn't move.
"Ssshhhh, Deech. Be there in a second."
Ingram and Rendleman had retreated behind a glasteel shield. Ingram was carrying a standard lab trigger box. They looked at each other. Rendleman looked up. "Kris...?"
"FUCKING WELL DO IT!"
Rendleman nodded to Ingram. (Ingram nodded to Rendleman.) (Ingram nodded to me.) (Rendleman nodded to Ingram.)
Ingram pressed the button. The generators screamed.
Eternity rang with the shattering of a glass hammer.
Everything went dark as the lights went out. There was a flickering moan, and then they slowly started to come up again. I heard a KA-CHUNK as the chair restraints released. I stood, staggered slightly, moved towards the table. My dizziness vanished as I reached it.
I tore the restraint web aside. She was lying in the chair, a smile half on her face, eyes closed. I squeezed my eyes together, forcing tears out between then, reached out, picked up her limp body and pressed her head into my shoulder. "Oh, God, Kris..."
She moved against me. I jerked back to look into her eyes.
There was only one of her.
Her eyes opened. She smiled weakly. "Hi Deech."
I sobbed and hugged her. She hugged me back. "Hey. Hey, man, it's okay. I'm okay."
I let her go long enough for both of us to get to our feet. We looked at each other. She cocked her head. "From the fact that I'm not seeing double, I'd guess either nothing happened, or, if you're no longer seeing double, I'd say it worked."
I looked around. "Holy shit, I think you're right. Wait, so you mean, you were-"
"Yeah, I worked it out. You needed a person, not a rock."
"Hey, where's Rendleman and Ingram?"
"They're over-" They weren't. The Glasteel shield was there, but no-one stood behind it. The lights were on, but they were still dim. "What the hell?"
Kris looked around. "Something's wrong."
"Uh-" I did too. "Yeah." The lab looked the same, save the dim light. But something was different. I went over to the door, opened it, jerked back. Ingram and Rendleman were standing outside, sort of. Both were frozen in mid-run, apparently, heading away from the laboratory. I walked over to them. "What's with them?"
Kris came over, looked at them carefully. "They're not moving."
She looked at me. "Wait, that's wrong. We're not moving."
"I don't get it."
"Come here." She walked back into the lab, looked around. "Aha." She pointed at the motor generators. They were stopped, and at the main breaker panel, a glob of intolerable brightness was resting around one of the fuse blocks. "Look at that."
"What is that?"
"I think it's exploding."
"But it's..." I ran down. "You mean, it's exploding, but not at the moment."
"Right. Time's not moving. For us."
I looked around again. "I don't see our bodies anywhere. So we're actually here and moving."
"I think we screwed up. I think we didn't destructively cancel the resonant frequency. I think we constructively amplified it. I think it threw us right out of the timestream."
We looked at each other. Then, slowly, I began to grin. She looked at me in slight disbelief. "What?"
"If we're not in the timestream, that means we should theoretically be able to move along it before re-entry."
Her face lit up. "Omigod."
"Yeah. When do you want to have dinner?"
I swear to God I wrote this prior to the posting of a story on Slashdot about a Physicist trying to Send a Signal Back in Time! which was posted mere hours later. How is that project trying it? "We're going to shoot an ultraviolet laser into a (special type of) crystal..." Man. I'm really creeped out now. Maybe they succeeded. I'd never even heard of them. - tc