Aphelion Issue 283, Volume 27
May 2023
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It is what it isn't

by Gordon Rowlinson

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  Albert Einstein 


    “It is what it is,” said Robert, the R & D manager, as he casually dismissed the negatives in the faster than light engine test. He quickly handed the mixed results test report back to Elizabeth, Synergy Systems researcher, as if he didn't even want to touch the document.             

    “No! It is what it isn't,” said Elizabeth, as she pointed to the unmanned test drone in front of them. “There is more going on in this test than meets the eye.” The two were standing in the hanger of the moon base's testing facilities and discussing problems with Synergy System's new faster than light engine. The sleek 20-foot test drone in front of them looked like a dangerous crouching predator ready to explode into a blazing-fast chase.

    “Look,” said Robert (he demanded his people call him Robert not Bob) as he impatiently looked out the window at the lunar mountains in the distance. The desolate dark landscape seemed to match his mood. “This new engine is a marvel. This test drone just traveled to Jupiter and circled back in just 15 minutes!”

    “I think there are some test anomalies that need to be researched and ironed out,” she said. “By the way, don't touch the test drone before it is completely powered down.”

    “Yes. Yes,” said Robert as he walked over to high tech drone. “I know you've been working hard on this new engine test...”   

    “I'd really like to look closer at the test anomalies,” she said as she tried to explain. “As you know, our faster than light engines create a protective bubble for the ship. Then the Alcubierre drive warps space so that anything inside the bubble is accelerated not by propulsion but by compressing space. By distorting space, the test drone can travel faster than light.”

    “The significant finding in this test is new engine worked and traveled faster than we've ever traveled before,” said Robert. “These small test complaints of yours are non-significant details. This new engine is behind schedule and if you can't get this engine test back on schedule...”

    “The test flight caused parts of the drone ship to be missing!” she interrupted in a voice too loud. She realized that she had made a mistake in immediately bringing the test failure report directly to her boss. He was a rigid-thinking person. She was once the top in her class and had twice his brainpower. But she knew her weakness was poor communication skills. Now she doubted her ability to convince him on the fact that the new faster than light engines were creating unexplained, and perhaps dangerous, problems. 

    “These new engines are more powerful than the first-generation ones and the protective bubble for the ship may not be strong enough,” she said trying to reach out to him. “We may be sending parts of the test drone backwards in time. In theory, the buildup of vacuum fluctuations on the border of space time can create closed time curves and send parts the ship or parts of the ship back in time or worse...”  

    “But... but...,” said Robert.

    “What is worse is the possibility that the new engine breaking down in the building blocks of reality,” interrupted Elizabeth. “The missing parts may be dematerializing into nothing. The theory of relativity shows that time and space are not absolute. Einstein believed that space and time and reality were illusions.” She stopped. She knew she had gone way too far. Now she was talking theory and abstract ideas to someone who did not have the capability to envision any concept out of the ordinary.  

    “But the new engine has powered the test drone to faster than speed light record!” he said in a firm voice. “It is essential for the company that this engine test work be completed and the project back on schedule. If the engine project is not back on schedule there will be layoffs and you will be the first one. I promise you that!”

    Robert turned to the test drone ship and pounded his fist on the engine in disgust.

    “No! Don't touch the ship,” she said.

Robert pulled his right hand back too late and the hand faded in color and became semi-transparent. He looked in horror his hand steadily dematerialized and disappeared. Then he started to scream loudly as his right arm dematerialized into nothing. The scream didn't last long as his head and upper body quickly disappeared. Only his lower body remained. 

    Elizabeth jumped back and froze. She let out a small horrified yelp. Then slowly Robert's head and upper body reappeared and the scream became audible again. A frightened Robert stopped his scream and became silently fascinated as he watched the strange phenomena of his right arm and hand materializing—returning from wherever it was. 

    “Are you OK?” said Elizabeth.

    “I--I don't know,” said Robert in a shaky voice. “I don't know what happened. Ether I got sent back in time or most of my body briefly ceased to exist. Ah, this test failure problem...I changed my mind.”

    “Yes,” said Elizabeth.

    “It is what it isn't,” said Robert.


2023 Gordon Rowlinson

Bio: "I'm a writer living on the South Shore of Massachusetts. I was published in Aphelion in 2017."

E-mail: Gordon Rowlinson

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