Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
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19th In Love
by Gerard Mulligan

Nelay and the Blunt
by Clint Spivey

Fletcher’s Mountains
by Michael Hodges

Robert and Sarah, Across the Multiverse
by Matthew S. Dent

Boccaccio in Outer Space
by Chet Gottfried

Invoking Fire
by Guy Stewart

Seven Seconds
by Charles Payseur

Malware
by Simon Kewin

Coming of AGE
by Bob Sojka

A Journey Through the Wormhole
by Brian Biswas

Articles

A Taste for Physics
by John McCormick

Scale of the Problem by Eric M. Jones


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A Journey Through the Wormhole

By Brian Biswas

“IT WILL WORK,” THE SCIENTIST said as he stroked his full, black beard and gazed lovingly at the silvery apparatus. “It must.”

He was speaking to the chief science reporter for the “Los Angeles Times,” a short stocky man of about thirty-five with bushy black hair, dark eyes, and a slightly rounded chin. The reporter was scribbling the scientist’s every word onto a Manila writing pad. When dealing with a once in a lifetime story, you do not miss a thought.

“The object to be sent through is placed over there,” the scientist said, pointing to a portal adjacent to the apparatus.

The reporter was facing an immense structure perhaps thirty feet wide by twenty feet high by ten feet deep. It was constructed almost entirely out of clear, thin tubules through which a silvery liquid was circulating at a slow but constant speed. In the middle of the structure were two steel pillars that stretched nearly to the ceiling, a good forty feet. They were connected to each other by a third, and much smaller, metal beam. The pillars, the reporter learned, were actually hollow and contained the sophisticated electronics that controlled the apparatus. Mounted on one of the pillars was a large video screen, now blank. On the adjacent pillar was an analog clock with black numerals and red hands that were steadily moving.

The pillars performed two functions. First, they provided the propulsive force to circulate the silvery liquid through the tubules, a liquid which was used to keep the entire apparatus at a constant—and very cold—temperature. Second, when a switch was pressed, the electrical potential of two previously generated proton beams was increased to seven tera-electron volts.

The proton beams traveled through an adjacent set of much smaller tubules until they converged, from opposite directions, onto a chamber, resulting in the excitation of the chamber’s atoms to high energy levels. After a sufficient period of time, the electric potential of the chamber also reached seven tera-electron volts at which point it would vanish, having been sent on its way.

Once again the scientist indicated the portal to the left of the apparatus—the reporter had merely glanced at it before—which, he said, led to the chamber.

The portal was a square-framed structure, perhaps five feet high and four feet wide. It was sculpted out of a highly-polished black stone-like material that resembled onyx and was striated with alternating white and silver bands. It seemed to sparkle under the bright lights of the laboratory.

“Fascinating,” the reporter said. He went over to the portal and—without thinking—placed his hand on the structure. The material was cold, so cold, in fact, that it seemed to burn his skin. With a howl, he quickly pulled his hand away.

The scientist chuckled. “Careful,” he said. “The chamber must be kept at a constant minus twenty-six degrees Celsius. The material that encloses the chamber is far colder. Cold enough to cause irreparable damage to human skin tissue after even brief exposure.”

“And what have you sent through?” the reporter asked.

“A variety of objects,” the scientist said. “A small rubber ball, a mahogany rocking chair, a potted plant, and a blue parrot. All survived. After arriving at its destination, the parrot flew away and was never seen again.” He paused. “Now it’s time to send something bigger.”

The reporter observed that the portal looked to be just big enough to admit a man. Prodded by the scientist, he stuck his head inside. The inner surface of the chamber was made of an exotic-looking material: “cryogenic thermo-insulation,” the scientist had explained, “to protect against the cold.” The air within was rarefied and pure, like the air atop a mountain peak (the reporter had had a similar sensation when embedded in a scientific expedition that scaled Mount Tupungato in South America) and after a moment he began to feel lightheaded. And then—he was not sure how it happened—he found himself fully within the chamber. He had collapsed into what seemed to be a plush armchair.

It was dark. So dark, in fact, that it almost seemed invisible. The reporter had never been one to feel claustrophobic. He had spent six months in a submarine, once, reporting on the psychological effects of long-term submersion. But this was something else entirely. The existence of nothingness. The horror of negation. The reporter felt frozen in place, unable to move, unable to think, held hostage by an unseen force that made him stare into a black abyss. He was inside only for a few moments, mind you, only the briefest period of time, but it was long enough. He had never felt such terror. A moment longer, he knew, and he surely would have screamed.

“Ahoy!” It was the scientist calling, bringing the reporter out of his reverie. The reporter was shaking uncontrollably and felt dizzy as if the chamber had been sent spinning on a mad voyage to nowhere.

“This button is the key,” the scientist continued when the reporter withdrew, still trembling. His left index finger caressed a large red button on the side of the device. "Press it and you start—or stop—the operation.”

“Shooting beams of photons through a wormhole is one thing,” the reporter said. “But a man?”

They were talking about Wormhole #38, or, the “Wormhole to the Stars” as it had been dubbed in the press. And the apparatus—which had taken years to construct—was a wormhole generator.

“It’s not difficult to generate a wormhole,” the scientist continued. “What is challenging is finding a way to keep it from collapsing. It does not represent a natural state. And nature abhors unnatural states.”

“Of course.”

Once merely theoretical constructs, wormholes had fascinated physicists for decades. They should have been possible—nothing in physics forbade them—yet no one had been able to solve the complicated equations that would enable their creation. Until now.

It had started as a scientific challenge by a group of wealthy industrialists: create and maintain a wormhole, transport a human being a distance of at least ten light-years, return him safely to Earth, and write it up for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The last requirement was to ensure, one, that the journey was not a hoax, and, two, that the relativistic effects of the journey were overcome (i.e., that the celestial traveler returned within his lifetime, making the process practical). A prize of ten million dollars awaited the winner. The challenge would expire after the first successful journey or at the end of ten years, whichever came first. To date, no one had made the attempt. Nine years had elapsed.

“According to Einstein’s theory of relativity,” the scientist said, "energy curves spacetime. On extremely small scales—on the order of Planck’s constant—the curvature is so immense it gives rise to what is known as quantum foam. The foam in turn gives rise to microscopic wormholes which can be harnessed to create what is termed a wormhole bridge.

“Now, the bridge must be kept at a constant temperature of minus two hundred seventy-three degrees Celsius or approximately absolute zero. At that temperature, time essentially stops, making faster-than-light travel possible.” The scientist smiled. “And that, if I do say so myself, was my great insight. Others did not realize that temperature is the key.”

“How can a man live in such an environment?” the reporter asked.

“The temperature inside the chamber is kept at a constant negative twenty-six degrees Celsius. That is uncomfortable for a human, but livable.”

“And how do you prevent the temperature of the chamber from adversely affecting the temperature of the wormhole? It would seem that might upset the delicate balance of the entire apparatus.”

“You are right to be concerned,” the scientist replied. “The temperature of the chamber is far greater than that of the wormhole. The wormhole should evaporate under such conditions. But it won’t. You see, the chamber is surrounded by a material that is exactly three degrees above absolute zero. A second layer of material—the cryogenic layer—provides further insulation, allowing the chamber to have its own internal temperature, which, as I said, is minus twenty-six degrees Celsius.”

“Remarkable.” The reporter was indeed impressed. “However,” he continued after a moment’s reflection, “it would seem to me that by accelerating the chamber you are creating heat which might wreak havoc with the wormhole. I keep coming back to that point, but it does seem crucial.”

“Your questions are probing,” the scientist said with obvious admiration. “I see why you are highly regarded in your field.” He smiled and patted the wormhole-generating machine. “This is what makes it possible,” he said. “This marvelous machine. Think of it this way: what happens to a bullet in a gun when the trigger is pulled?”

“Why, it is hurled outwards by the explosion of the powder and accelerated through the air.”

“Generating heat. In an analogous way, this device provides the propulsive force to accelerate the contents of the chamber through the wormhole, which also generates heat. One might think that this acceleration, which approaches the speed of light, would result in a near infinite increase in temperature which would result in the disintegration of the wormhole. But that does not happen.

“This machine siphons off the created energy through a process called backwash. It is complicated, but the underlying theory is fairly simple. Because of conservation of mass-energy around each endpoint of the wormhole—what is termed a wormhole mouth—the increase in energy as the chamber is accelerated results in forward momentum of the chamber.

“The chamber travels at nearly the speed of light, as I said, so the local space region around the wormhole mouth is unaffected. Moreover, this process applies at every point along the wormhole, resulting in the chamber’s constant velocity. It is the initial acceleration of the chamber that provides the very energy for this process to occur.

“Think of it this way: a wormhole is like a line of dominoes. Set the first in motion and its energy is transmitted to the second which is then transmitted to the third which is then transmitted to the fourth—right on down the line. The chamber harnesses that energy to move through the wormhole, again, at slightly less than the speed of light."

“Hmm ...” The reporter seemed less than convinced.

“Alternatively, consider the undulation of ocean waves. The water moves vertically, but the energy travels horizontally, giving the appearance of movement where there is none. A vessel atop the water moves along the line of energy—what is termed transverse motion—in a manner analogous to our chamber through the wormhole. You experience the effect yourself when riding waves along the shore.”

The scientist smiled. “Of course, these are simple examples. Wormhole travel is an immensely more complex process. But guided by this sophisticated device, it is now a reality.”

Here the scientist paused and began adjusting the apparatus.

“I see.” The reporter did not see, of course, and was in fact thoroughly confused at this point. He would have to take the scientist’s points on faith.

At that moment the laboratory door opened and a second man entered the room. Tall, thin, with wavy hair and light-blue eyes, he exuded self-confidence. He strode across the room and handed several sheets of paper to the scientist (the reporter was able to get a glimpse of the topmost sheet and saw that it was covered with scientific equations). The man looked familiar though the reporter was not sure where he might have seen him.

“My trusted assistant,” the scientist said as he motioned the man to inspect one portion of the apparatus.

“Pleased to meet you,” the reporter said to the assistant, who nodded but did not reply. The reporter turned back to the scientist and asked: "And where might this wormhole bridge take us?”

“Why, to the stars, of course."

The reporter raised his eyebrows. “And you believe mortals can control such a celestial phenomenon?”

With a harrumph the scientist walked over to an old oak desk in a far corner of the room, sat down, and began writing feverishly. More equations, the reporter guessed, a structural analysis of the wormhole’s internal dynamics, perhaps. The scientist had mentioned earlier that several minor details still needed to be worked out.

The reporter knew enough not to question the scientist further. The man’s mercurial temperament was well-known. It was said people worked with him only because of his scientific brilliance, but it often came at a cost. The scientific landscape was littered with the corpses of people who had dared to question both his theories and methods. The reporter had heard of many incidents, but one in particular stuck out, one he had personally witnessed. It had been years before at the Fourth International Conference on Space Colonization which he was covering for the “Times.” The scientist had just delivered a paper entitled “The Physiological Effects of Extended Space Missions,” when he was asked a question—the reporter no longer remembered the precise wording—which the scientist apparently felt questioned his methods. He flew off in a rage, ridiculing the poor questioner—a Ph.D. student from MIT—who turned red with embarrassment. The reporter certainly had no desire to be on the receiving end of such a tirade!

At this point, the assistant took over the thread of the conversation: "From the quantum foam we extract two wormhole mouths,” he said. "One here, the other at our destination. We pass an electrical charge from one to the other, effectively creating a tunnel. Using this machine”—he pointed to the device in front of them—“we can manipulate the far wormhole mouth: its speed, direction, and so forth.” He smiled. "I anticipate your objection. But let me assure you, it is not a myth. Indeed, our universe was once a microscopic wormhole and was inflated to its current size by the great cosmic expansion of which you have so eloquently written.” He was referring to the reporter’s work covering cosmic inflation which had won him numerous awards.

The reporter shook his head in wonder. “Where do you intend to go?”

The scientist—who, apparently, had been listening all along—interjected: “To the planet Mythos, of course, a habitable planet recently discovered in the HD 10180 star system, some one hundred light years distant."

The reporter turned back to the assistant and asked: “What about the time it will take for such a journey? Won’t that disqualify you? I’m thinking about the challenge ...”

“The wormhole mouth travels at nearly the speed of light,” the assistant said, “therefore the rate of travel through a wormhole is proportional to a Lorenz gamma factor of seven thousand four hundred fifty-five.” Noticing the reporter’s look of puzzlement, he explained: "The Lorenz factor, as found in the equations of relativity, is used to calculate the degree of time dilation which is the factor by which time slows down at relativistic speeds. For the velocity of the wormhole mouth, time dilates by a factor of seven thousand four hundred fifty-five; in other words, one travels a distance of one light-year in approximately seventy minutes.”

The reporter did the calculation himself. “A hundred light-year trip in a mere five days!”

“Not only for the celestial traveler, but for those of us on Earth as well.”

“How can that be?” the reporter asked.

“Though it might seem to violate common sense, it’s a consequence of the laws of physics. Again, because of relativity, the dilation of time turns the wormhole into a time machine. The wormhole mouth at the far end of the wormhole is one hundred light years away, but it connects back in time to the originating wormhole mouth which is only five days away. From the point of view of an observer on Earth, the wormhole has traveled at a speed of seven thousand four hundred fifty-five times the speed of light!”

“In other words we will be able to see the passage of events just as the celestial traveler sees them?"

“Essentially, yes. For a hundred-year trip, there will be a mere five-day delay.”

The assistant pressed a small blue button on the control panel and the video screen came to life. The screen showed the inside of the chamber, now brightly lit. It contained a red leather armchair that looked as if it had been patched in one or two places. Mounted on the wall facing the chair was a clock identical to the one on the pillar. The steady ticking of the two clocks sounded almost ominous.

The assistant continued: "The clocks tick at the same rate, now and after the transportation. However, because of the Lorenz factor, one tick of the chamber’s clock after its one hundred light-year journey will equal seven thousand four hundred fifty-five ticks of our clock.”

“You said the clocks always tick at the same rate.”

“They do. In fact, they will still appear synchronized.”

“That can only happen if the chamber’s clock has moved into the future.”

“Precisely.”

For a moment the reporter was stunned into silence. Here he was in the twenty-first century, witnessing the dawn of a scientific revolution unlike any other! He tried to put aside thoughts of the certain Pulitzer prize that awaited him for his coverage of the event, and said: “Even so, this has never been done. And if you are wrong a man will surely die in the attempt.”

The scientist spun around in his chair. “You are correct,” he said. “And that is why I have decided to enter the wormhole myself.”

***

The first transmissions from Mythos were thrilling. Images from another planetary world! Mythos was a rocky planet—and a wet one. The scientist had emerged in the equatorial region, in an area covered with yellow-green moss. A short distance away he came upon a series of hot-water ponds, themselves covered with a red algae-like material. The sky was milky-white—a result of the planet’s thick cloud cover. There was not a breath of wind.

Up ahead he came upon a rocky prominence, perhaps fifty feet high, which he quickly ascended. A lush, green forest of trees that eerily resembled ancient Russian forest oaks stretched to the horizon. To his left lay a swampland of winding dark-water rivers and thick foliage that looked impenetrable. The area to his right was different as well. A vast grassland extended for perhaps a mile, and in the distance beyond, he glimpsed hills that were dark-red in color and peppered with large objects—boulders perhaps. He would have loved to investigate, but the towering grasses forbade entry in that direction as well.

The scientist spent the next several hours trudging over the immediate area and the adjacent forest, sampling the soil and examining rocks. His only disappointment: he saw no signs of alien fauna.

Near the forest, however, he came upon a slow-moving stream that was filled with a bubbling black liquid. Thinking this might be a sign of microbial life, he obtained a sample with a suction-lift device and ran it through his portable ion chromatograph. The results were inconclusive: the chromatograph separated the sample into a complex mixture of proteins, nucleotides, and amino acids which were similar—but not identical—to those found in microbial life forms on Titan (he had been a member of the team that made that monumental discovery nearly a decade before). The scientist knew, however, that there were a host of other explanations. Further analysis would have to await his arrival back on Earth.

He made a final circuit of the immediate area, but found nothing new. He noted that the sky was still cloudy and the air seemed thicker than before. It had also grown quite humid as if it was about to rain. Who knew what unhealthy miasma might fall from those ominous clouds? The scientist certainly didn’t want to stick around to find out.

His business concluded, he packed up and entered the chamber to begin the journey home.

And that was when disaster struck.

***

“We seem to have miscalculated,” the assistant said. He had been watching the video screen, carefully studying the image of the scientist’s clock in the chamber. “We neglected to take into account the relativistic effects of the return voyage. Whereas travel through the wormhole is nearly instantaneous, travel back through the same wormhole is not.”

At first the reporter thought the clock hands had stopped, then he realized they had not stopped but were barely moving. He raised his eyebrows. “The clocks are no longer ticking at the same rate. I thought the underlying physics was all worked out.”

“We thought it was. But we failed to take into account that while the process of backwash results in a near instantaneous transfer of matter through space, it is this very process that prevents the prompt return of matter through that same space. It appears to be a new property of space, or rather, a property of which we were unaware. The elasticity of space-time.”

“What if you were to create a second wormhole, from Mythos to Earth?” the reporter offered.

The assistant shook his head. “Unfortunately, the construction of a second wormhole would involve the creation of a space-time causality loop. Strictly forbidden by relativity, the existence of such a loop would result in an explosion that would annihilate the universe.”

“What if we first collapsed our wormhole mouth? Might not the creation of a second wormhole then be possible, one that would not violate causality and which he could use to return to Earth?”

“Unfortunately, no. If we were to collapse our end of the wormhole, the entire structure would collapse.”

“And?”

“And Herr Director would be crushed. In an instant.” There was an unmistakable sneer in the assistant’s tone.

“We must warn him, then, so he can return to Mythos before we close our end of the wormhole.”

“We can’t contact him when he’s in the wormhole. Nor will he return to Mythos on his own. He doesn’t think anything is wrong!”

“I see.” The reporter paused. “This leaves him ...”

“Floating forever in the wormhole, unfortunately. A gruesome death.”

“Then our only course of action is to close our end of the wormhole,” the reporter concluded. “The structure will collapse, as you say, but it is possible he will emerge elsewhere.” The reporter possessed a rudimentary knowledge of multiverse theory and knew that, while still theoretical, the existence of at least a dozen other dimensions was a distinct possibility.

“Unlikely. His body would be crushed instantaneously by the forces generated by the wormhole’s collapse.” The assistant sighed. And then the edges of his mouth slowly curled in a smile that was chilling. And it was then that the reporter remembered where he had seen the scientist’s assistant. At the Seventh International Conference on Space Colonization. Only he hadn’t been the man’s assistant at the time. He had been a researcher from Caltech. A researcher who was working in the lab of the man who had been the scientist’s main competitor in the race to construct the first wormhole machine. The man who had lost.

His eyes opened wide. “Surely you aren’t suggesting such a course of action?”

“It’s preferable to spending a lifetime alone in the wormhole, is it not? Keep in mind that though it appears to us as if he’s just entered the wormhole, he’s already been inside five days.”

“Surely there’s something we can do, something we’ve overlooked. There are always alternatives.”

“You can’t change the laws of physics.”

The reporter turned back to the video screen. “He’s moving slowly, it’s true,” he said. “Yet he doesn’t seem concerned.”

“That’s because to him time is passing normally. But because of the elasticity of space-time, it will take a hundred years for him to return. He will die long before then. Remember, he took only enough food to last ten days and that time has now passed. Probably he is wondering what went wrong. Soon he will grow thirsty. Within a matter of days he will be near death. We must put him out of his misery.”

Seemingly without a pause, the assistant pushed the red button.

The reporter’s face went pale. “You must be mad. The man will die!”

The assistant shrugged. “He’ll die anyway. And this death is preferable to what awaits him in the wormhole.” Noticing the reporter’s look of dismay, he added: “It is a pity. Perhaps he’ll pop out elsewhere—we can always hope—but we’ll never know. Communication with other dimensions is impossible.” He smiled. “I guess you could say we’re trapped in ours as well.”

He flicked the power switch and the apparatus ground to a halt.

The reporter didn’t know what to do. Regardless of the scientist’s likely fate, this was cold-blooded murder! The assistant had no right—moral or otherwise—to take such an action. And the reporter was duty-bound to report what he had seen. Unfortunately, there were no other witnesses—it was his word against the assistant’s—and he didn’t like the way the man was staring at him.

It was quite a relief to the reporter, then, when the laboratory door opened and the scientist strode into the room, a blue parrot perched on his left shoulder. He was carrying a large canvas bag marked SPECIMENS, rocks and soil samples no doubt. There was a broad smile across his face and he seemed larger than life, almost godlike. The poor assistant, however, looked as if he had just seen a most unforgiving ghost.

“As I was saying,” the scientist began. “This is a most amazing apparatus. It distorts the space-time continuum, in effect altering reality ...”

The reporter could only shake his head—and wonder. infinity

Brian Biswas is listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. His short story, “A Betrayal,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000. His novel excerpt, “The Last Photon,” was selected Web Short of the Day by FictionDaily in 2011.

 

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