Posted Posted January 25, 2012

From the Ashes

A sequel to The Binary Planet

by Altimexis

Hiroshema after the Atomic Bomb
Hiroshima after The Atomic Bomb

Part 3 - An Echo from the Past

I woke up as our shuttle banked in preparation for landing in St. Louis, the temporary seat of American Power. I hadn’t even realized I’d fallen asleep! St. Louis was probably a much better location for the capital than was Washington but, for symbolic reasons if nothing else, Washington had to be rebuilt and the government returned to its rightful place.

Some people mused that it was a shame the U.S. Government had been evacuated from Washington in advance of the Cerenean invasion - everyone loves to hate politicians - but it really was essential that the government of, by and for the people not perish. Once the invasion was over, a temporary capital was established in St. Louis, a city that was unscathed by the invasion and that was centrally located.

As our shuttle approached, the St. Louis Arch could still be seen, looming over the Mississippi River as a testament to human engineering. With the Cerenean technology brought to us by Lansley and unwittingly by our invaders, we could have undoubtedly erected it in a fraction of the time it took back in the twentieth century, but it would have been no more beautiful than its human designers had intended it to be.

Crossing the Mississippi River, the driver set us down on a platform amongst a series of low-rise buildings in what had once been a dilapidated neighborhood in East Saint Louis, Illinois. Built to be functional rather than attractive, one would have never known that the unimposing structures around us represented the seat of military power for what was still the most powerful country on Earth. Much of our population might have been destroyed and our great cities laid waste, but we had more than three times as many scientists versed in Cerenean technology than did the rest of the world, combined.

“You’re late!” Dr. Clark Jefferies called out as he approached our shuttle.

Looking at the time on my phone, I responded, “The hell we’re late. It’s only 10:30! The meeting’s not until 11:00.”

“Yeah, but there’s a reason I sent the shuttle to pick you up so early,” he replied. “I didn’t want to have to worry about you being delayed. You made me worry… ergo you’re late!”

“You can blame me for the delays, Clark,” my boyfriend spoke up. “I asked the driver to fly over Salt Lake City and Denver… and Escalante Grand Staircase.”

“I understand fully,” Clark said with a knowing smile, and then he added, “and it’s great to see you,” as he pulled Lansley into a warm hug.

“It’s great to see you too, Clark,” Lansley replied as he returned the hug. Clark and Lansley went way back. They’d become very close friends in the intervening years between my exile to Malaysia and my return to The States - an interval during which Lansley thought I was dead.

“So… dare I ask what this is all about?” I asked as Clark led the two of us off the landing platform and toward one of the nondescript buildings nearby.

Taking a big breath and letting it out slowly, Clark replied, “We received a communication from Loran.”

“From Loran!” Lansley practically shouted. “But that’s impossible!” The Cereneans didn’t even know about Earth’s existence before I came here,” he went on. “The Cerenean fleet tracked us here from Loran. Even if they managed to discover that Earth was inhabited before we did…”

“It would have been enough time, Lans,” Clark responded. “You’ve been assuming the Cerenean technology on board your ship was the state-of-the-art at the time, which it was not. The Cereneans had the means to detect intelligent life as far away as Earth from Loran. You were just unaware of it.

“There’s something even more obvious than that, however,” he continued. “Think about it. Why would the Cereneans send such a massive fleet after your ship? A single destroyer would have been enough to take you out. Why send enough firepower to invade a planet?”

“That’s something I’ve never really understood,” Lansley admitted. “It seemed like tremendous overkill, but the Cereneans are not always rational. They think differently than we do.”

That was for sure. We’d learned a lot about Cerenean physiology from the Cerenean Heroes and from autopsies of the Cereneans that died from the virus. Knowledge in the Cerenean brain was much more ‘hard-wired’ than in any brain we’d encountered before. It took Cereneans years to learn what a human child could learn in a day but, once learned, they would never forget it and could act on it far more quickly. To us they were inflexible. To them, we were unpredictable and slow. Dealing with Cereneans was frustrating beyond belief. Things that seemed incomprehensible in their complexity were blatantly obvious to the Cereneans and yet they lacked even the most basic sense of logic when confronted with new situations.

“Lansley,” Clark went on, “I think your basic premise was wrong in the first place. You assumed the Cereneans were after your tiny ship when it was Earth they were after all along. They knew of the earth before your parents were born and the planning stages of the invasion of Earth took place even as they were invading Loran.”

“But how…” Lansley started to ask, but Clark held up his hand.

“Save it until the meeting,” he interrupted. “There will be much more to discuss than you can possibly imagine. The important thing… the thing you have yet to ask me, is what was in the communication we received from Loran.”

“So what was in the communication from Loran?” I asked.

“The demise of Cereneans on Loran,” Clark reported smugly.

“What do you mean, ‘the demise of the Cereneans’?” Lansley asked. “They were entrenched. We were subjugated. The resistance movement was minuscule and in it for the long haul…” he started to ramble, but Clark once again held up his hand.

“It wasn’t the Loran resistance,” he reported. “It was the Cerenean virus. It was the biological weapon developed by humans here on Earth.”

“No! No way!” Lansley shouted. “The formula for the virus won’t reach Loran for several years! And then it will be another twenty years for any kind of confirmation to reach earth. There are a lot of things the Cereneans may know of that I do not, but they do not know how to travel faster than the speed of light. You can’t go faster than the speed of light. Nothing can. The speed of light is the defining property of the Universe. We are a part of the Universe. The very fabric of our existence is defined by the speed of light. There is no escaping that fact.”

“Unless you create a ‘straighter-than-straight’ path,” I countered. “Our scientists spent years in the laboratory trying to create a small micro-wormhole. We never did succeed, but our technology and our understanding of physics was infantile compared to yours. Surely the Lorans and Cereneans must have explored the possibilities.”

“Wormholes are the stuff of science fiction,” Lansley challenged, “and it’s a miracle you didn’t end up creating a small black hole that consumed the earth and even the Solar System.”

“We didn’t have the power to create a black hole,” I explained. “We weren’t that advanced.”

“Look… of course we explored the concept,” Lansley admitted, “long before the Cerenean invasion, but the Cereneans destroyed whatever science had existed on Loran and I have no idea how far we got with it. All I know is that the Cereneans told us it was impossible.”

“And you believed them?” I asked indignantly.

“Even if they were misleading us,” Lansley replied, “the amount of power needed to bring together two points in time and space is astronomical.”

“What if the wormhole was dimensionless?” I suggested. “If the goal is only to send communications through it rather than an actual person, it wouldn’t need to have physical dimensions. It would only need to serve as a conduit for electromagnetic waves and nothing more.”

“An interesting thought,” Lansley stated, “but you would still need to harness the power of a singularity… a black hole… to pull it off.”

“Perhaps you could create a series of microscopic black holes that would ultimately coalesce into a dimensionless wormhole.” I suggested.

Laughing, Lansley responded, “There are so many things wrong with that idea, I don’t know where to begin. I’ll give you one thing, however… it’s certainly original. The biggest problem is that, even if a way were found to ‘generate’ a string of artificial singularities at will, how would you ever make them stable? Make them too small and they’ll dissipate before they accumulate enough mass from the space around them. Make them too large and they’ll gobble up all of space for light years around.

“But get it just right and they will be stable, Lans,” I countered. “You hit the nail on the head. If a way could be found to generate black holes with just enough mass so that matter and energy accumulation is balanced by dissipation, you would achieve a perfect balance. We already know how to generate the temporary singularities used for propulsion in space ships. Making them stable isn’t that much of a stretch. Once created, a singularity string would act as a wave guide, allowing communications to pass along it instantaneously rather than at the speed of light.”

Laughing, Clark broke in saying, “Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to hear you banter ideas back and forth like that, but you’re way off base.”

“Paired quantum states?” Lansley suggested.

“Finally, you’re on the right track, my friend,” Clark answered as he moved us along, “but we need to get going.”

“Paired quantum states?” I asked my boyfriend as we walked briskly with Clark.

“It’s a strange concept, even to us, Steve,” Lansley answered. “As you know, our universe has six dimensions…”

Yes, I did know, but the concept was still alien to me even after all these years. The concept of relativity first introduced by Einstein was still sound, but it contained a fatal flaw - time was assumed to be the fourth dimension. As any child can appreciate, however, time is not like the other dimensions. One cannot arbitrarily visit any point in time the way they can any point in space. Time isn’t even universal - it’s not the same on the moon as it is on Earth, let alone between points light years apart. Time depends on the density of space in a given region and on the path taken to get there.

The bottom line is that time is an illusion created by the occurrence of events around us. We perceive of the passage of time because of the happenings around us and not the other way around. For all intents and purposes, time does not really exist. So then how does one account for the passage of events if not for time? I’d asked this question of Lansley a thousand times and I probably still wouldn’t fully grasp it, even if he explained it a thousand times more.

But without time, one needed six separate dimensions to describe any point in space - three of them representing speed and three representing gravity. None of these dimensions is ordinal in the conventional sense. For example, on any of the three speed axes, the speed of light represented infinity. One couldn’t exceed the speed of light because it represented infinite speed. Gravity was even less intuitive, with infinite gravity being at the origin - a state that existed only in the instant before the big bang that gave rise to the universe, when all matter and energy were concentrated in a singularity.

“… and at least sixty-seven pairs of quantum states,” Lansley continued.

The concept of quantum states was even more foreign. Quantum mechanics never did fit into Einstein’s universe and, for generations, Earth’s physicists tried in vain to reconcile Newtonian physics, the theory behind the way the world worked at large, and relativity, the way the Universe worked, with quantum mechanics, the theory behind how things worked at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. In reality they never could be reconciled. The problem was the fundamental assumption that everything was comprised of particles.

A particle-centric universe was intuitive and comforting. Particles made sense. We could see particles all around us and so it wasn’t difficult to imagine smaller and smaller particles, atomic solar systems with electrons orbiting a nucleus, itself comprised of smaller particles. But subatomic particles didn’t behave like anything familiar. Electrons restricted themselves to orbitals, many of which looked nothing like the orbit of a planet around the sun. These orbitals could be described by a wave equation, but there was something inherently unsettling about the idea that a particle could behave like a wave. Yet there were many experiments that proved that particles were, in fact, wavelike, producing interference patterns not unlike those seen when ripples collide on the surface of a pond.

Then on top of everything else there was the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Because one could never observe something without altering its trajectory, all models of fundamental physics were probabilistic. One could only compute the probability of a particle being in a particular state and in a particular location, a concept that was soundly rejected by Einstein himself. On numerous occasions Einstein was reported to have said, ‘God does not play dice with the universe,’ to which Neils Bohr responded, ‘Don’t tell God what to do with his dice.’ A probabilistic, quantum view of the universe had some very interesting, far-fetched consequences as exemplified by the thought experiment embodied in Schrödinger’s famous cat. Without getting into the details, suffice it to say that a particle that can be in one of two states, for example, a clockwise or counter-clockwise spin, is actually in both states until and unless one does something to observe which state it’s in.

This was all stuff I’d learned about before I even met Lansley. Indeed, much of it was fundamental to my dad’s research in weapons design and so we often spent hours discussing particle physics without actually getting into the specifics of my dad’s work. I never did understand why a particle would care whether or not it was being observed. However, as Lansley explained it to me, the problem was in describing the universe in terms of fundamental particles in the first place. As with time, particles were nothing more than an illusion - a convenient analog to something that truly did not exist.

“The things you call atoms, bosons, quarks and photons… they’re not real,” he went on as he thought aloud. “They’re no more real than the holographic image that results from the projection and interference of light waves.”

I understood this in principle but it still seemed counterintuitive. “Yes, but I can pass my hand through the hologram of a table,” I challenged. “I cannot pass my hand through the table itself.”

“That’s because the hologram represents only the image of the table,” he tried to explain. “It does not represent the mass and other properties of the table. The hologram is not a true representation, any more than is a sculpture. A sculpture may be a truer representation than a hologram… it has mass… it has substance… but it lacks the cellular matrix inherent in the wood of which the table’s comprised.

“Space, matter and energy are not separate entities. What you perceive as particles are tiny packets of space with specific combinations of quantum state properties. The stable quantum states are represented by the prime numbers. There are probably an infinite number of possible quantum states, but only the first 67 have been observed and are necessary to describe all the states of matter and energy that have been observed in the Universe…”

“I’m sorry to cut you short, Lansley,” Clark interrupted, but we’re almost at your quarters and you barely have time to freshen up before the meeting begins. Oh yes, the meeting. How could we forget?

About this Story: Nearly a century before this story begins, a race known as the Cereneans conquered and subjugated the people of Loran. Seeking to expand their empire, they set their sights on Earth, unaware that a refugee from Loran was already there. Although young Lansley was unable to prevent the attack, the knowledge he brought with him allowed the humans to fight back and ultimately rebuild. Little did he and his boyfriend, Steve, realize they were about to play an even bigger role.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story this story and Low Flyer in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. This story was written as part of the 2011 Gay Authors Winter Anthology.

Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and underage. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story. Although every effort has been made to present a story based on sound scientific principles, some of the theoretical physics used, while plausable, is pure science fiction. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.