Into the Future

by

Mel Goldberg




The small wooden box flickered like an old time movie and then disappeared. An instant later it reappeared. Vikram crawled out and sat on the floor. He smiled at me, that crazy smile of his that tells you he has a secret he is dying to share, the same grin he had when we were children and he beat me at lattoo. A strong odor of ozone permeated the small room, like after a near lightning strike, and for a moment there was the fresh, clean, spring rain smell that you notice after a storm.

Vikram's normally neat black hair looked as if he had been in a windstorm, and his white shirt had rust-red dirt smudges across the front. His silence surprised me. Normally, he talks constantly, I might say incessantly, enough to make me insane. And there was no clunking of those damned iron leg braces that he has worn since he was 14. The scuff marks on his shoes were still there, but the braces were gone.

"What happened?" I shouted. "Say something, for God's sake. Where are your leg braces?"

He just continued smiling. For several more minutes, he said nothing until I got up and walked to where he sat grinning. I shook him by the shoulder.

"I am very well, thank you. I am healed."

####

Vikram and I are both researchers at American Propulsion Laboratories in Phoenix. Growing up in the Khurai region of Imphal, we developed a fascination with time travel as an escape from our humdrum lives after we read H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. Vikram's interest became his passion after a bicycle accident left him partially paralyzed. His leg muscles atrophied, he had to wear metal braces to stand, and he could walk only with crutches.

After many years, he often used our lunch time to speculate on the future of stem cell research in rebuilding damaged nerve tissue.

"If I could travel into the future, I might be whole again. I could be mended. There are advances every day in spinal cord injury research."

"Yes, the future. Well, that is a hope." I commiserated with him because he was my friend, but I knew the government refused to spend money for the research, and even reduced the budget. The president was opposed to stem cell research because of his fundamentalist religious beliefs.

He often admonished me. "I know what you think about. So materialistic. Money. Stocks and property. Wouldn't you like to know the outcomes of events beforehand?"

I regularly nodded my agreement, knowing it was useless to argue. Two or three times a week he regaled me with time travel theories. He knew Einstein's postulation that time and space could be distorted by the super gravity of a black hole. And astrophysicist Richard Gott's idea that hypothetical cosmic strings zoom past each other at light-speed distorting time and space, and a path through time might be made by exploiting the distortion.

One day at lunch I had had enough. He started to explain the writings of physicist Kip Thorne, who based his time travel views on wormhole engineering.

I held up my hand to stop him. "This has gone far enough. It has been fifteen years since your accident. Learn to accept the situation and get on with your life. You have become obsessed with this time travel nonsense."

"Why do you say this is nonsense?"

"Because black holes, cosmic strings and wormholes require technology not yet invented. Time travel is the purview of Star Trek and science fiction. Do you understand that an astronaut who spends two years on MIR traveling 17,500 miles an hour moves only 1/50th of a second into the future?"

The second the words left my mouth I felt ashamed. I saw the crushed look on his face. If I, his best friend, would not listen to him, who would?

For several months, he was silent about the subject of time travel. We discussed economics when we ate, the economics of whether to buy a new car with high payments and high depreciation, or a used car low payments and someone else's problems. Or whether to buy a house and stop paying rent for someone else's.

One morning, he told me he had something to show me. I thought he had found a car to buy, or a house we could afford. I was wrong on both counts.

We walked through the cafeteria line. He smiled and said nothing. I selected the vegetable salad and he took the vegetarian pizza. When we sat down, he reached in his briefcase and took out a 1974 copy of The Astrophysical Journal. I opened it to the bookmarked page, to an article by Tulane professor of mathematical physics Frank Tipler. Tipler's work on the relationship of general relativity and rotating cylinders showed light speed is unnecessary to time travel.

Tipler had designed a machine constructed on the principle of a rotating cylinder. He theorized that when matter rotates, a distortion in space-time occurs, the distortion being greatest near the center of rotation. The rapid rotation of the cylinder actually twists space time. In curved space, movement through the time-like curves was possible with sub-light speed on a spiral path, allowing travel both forward and backward in time. Tipler referenced the closed time-like curve conceived in 1949 by Austrian philosophical mathematician Kurt Gödel.

After I read the article, I was convinced that Vikram would never stop until he believed, as I did, that this was science fiction. So as his friend, I decided to help him. After all, who better to show compassion when the whole endeavor failed?

Using the super-computers we had access to at APL, I helped him design a model to simulate Tipler's rotating cylinder of super dense material that could revolve several billion times a minute which would be necessary generate enough centrifugal force to offset the extreme gravitational attraction.

I was not prepared for what we discovered. Science has come a long way since 1974. Our computer model showed us super-dense material was unnecessary as long as the centrifugal and gravitational forces were balanced. Our cylinder could rotate at less than 10,000 times per minute.

We built a prototype that looked like a small freestanding closet, about five feet high and three feet on each side. We thought of sending a mouse, but such a venture would be pointless. One of us would have to go.

"I should be the one," said Vikram.

"Why?"

"Because if it fails, I will miss life much less than you."

"And it will fail. You will enter the box and nothing will happen except you will become nauseous from the rotation."

"Or it could shatter into a thousand pieces and me with it."

"You are being foolish."

"Am I? Look at me. You may love me like a brother, but it doesn't change the fact that I am not a whole person. And I never will be. What woman would like to spend her life with half a man?"

"You are talking foolishness," I reiterated. "I see the way Nandita looks at you. She is interested in you as a person."

But he insisted. In all the years I had known him, I could never change his mind once it was made up.

We reinforced the walls and attached a PDA monitor screen.

"Just enough space for one small person," said Vikram. "Perfect for me."

He planned to enter and take a reading as the cylinder began rotating, which would allow him to return to the moment he left - as least as closely as possible. I would work the computer controls to start the cylinder.

"Good luck, Vikram."

"I won't need it, Bimal."

I laughed. "Remember to find out about government grants or good investments."

"Always thinking about money, Bimal?" He hobbled to the door, opened it and turned to look at me. He smiled, and made the pranam sign. Then, holding the side of the box, he unlocked his leg braces, bent his knees, and pulled his body into the box.

As I said, he seemed to disappear for an instant, and then reappear.

When the door opened and he emerged, his hair was wind-blown, his shirt dirty, his leg braces gone, and I smelled O3.

"It worked just as we planned," he whispered finally, still smiling.

"Well, I'll be damned. I don't believe it. Do you know what this means? We'll be wealthy."

"I don't think so."

My eyes widened. "What do you mean? Where did you go? What was it like? What were the people like?" I fired questions until I ran out of breath.

His smile disappeared. "I feel very happy, very much at peace," he said quietly. "I think perhaps I went far away. And they were not expecting me. They said time travel shouldn't have occurred until..." He frowned. "It was based on the work of..." He stopped. "I can't remember, but it doesn't matter," he said smiling again.

I shook my head. "Well, what were the people like?"

"They must have been friendly. When I think of them, I hear music in my head. The only thing I remember is they said I should not have come."

"I don't understand. We did it."

"No. They insisted my journey was a mistake. They said I was lucky to have come through their timeport. Had I missed, I might have gone into a different universe, or gone on forever."

"I don't care what they said. We did it. Think of it. We can send people into the past or the future."

"No, we can't. Others might no be as lucky as I. But look. They must have fixed my legs. The muscles are strong again. I can walk."

"What do you remember?"

"They must have helped me."

"Why do you keep saying that? What about disease? Or poverty?" I thought of my youth, when I saw the rickshaw wallahs of Calcutta, with their ragged dhotis wrapped around wasp-thin waists.

"I don't know. I think I was tempted to stay, you would never know what happened, so I returned. I do remember one thing. They told me if I returned, I would remember only that my journey was a mistake, but I would feel peacefulness."

"And forget everything else?" I nearly shouted.

"Yes. I can't help wondering why."

THE END



2006 by Mel Goldberg

Bio: Mel Goldberg says: "My poetry, stories, and articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Anthology, Midstream, and Acumen (England). One of my Science Fiction stories appeared in Cthulhu Calls. My detective, Aaron Guerevich, has displayed his talents in stories published in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine and on line at Orchard Press Mysteries and Hand Held Crime.
... I have taught literature and composition in the United States and England; while living in England, I studied at Cambridge and at the Shakespeare Academy in Stratford. I currently live and travel in a motorhome, having sold most of my possessions. My book of poetry and photography, The Cyclic Path, appeared in 1990. My first novel, Choices, was published in 2003. I am currently seeking representation for my second novel, Counterfeit Killing.


E-mail: Mel Goldberg

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