Science and Fiction

Gary Lenaire

 

I do enjoy science fiction. Here’s my latest:

 

Kevin Norkist drove a tow truck in Pendleton, Oregon. On lunch breaks he loved to read Sagan, Asimov, and Orwell while parked near Aldrich Park. Kevin always envisioned himself helping humanity. He sometimes dreamed of his childhood when he aspired to become an astronaut. But a pregnant high school sweetheart became his care’s priority driving him to quit school and take a full time job at age 17. His wife and two young boys lived in an apartment on Southwest 5th Street. A simple family doing their best to make ends meet, they had more than enough love between them. That day Kevin listened in awe to his truck radio as SN 1987A, the nearest supernova ever detected, made news in his rural-American world.

 

Kevin was never heard from again.


In 2085, a brilliant physicist made an amazing discovery. A supernova near the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a close-by dwarf galaxy, had been discovered nearly a hundred years prior. During that time it appeared to be a core-collapse supernova, which should have resulted in a neutron star. Since the supernova had first been discovered, astronomers had been searching for the collapsed core but never found it. While studying it, Dr. Melissa Smith discovered that the neutron star was enshrouded in dense dust clouds previously preventing its detection. The large amounts of material fell back on the neutron star causing it to further collapse into a black hole. Was this what she was so desperately looking for?

 

The world’s ocean levels rose 4 meters in just 57 years. That, combined with earthquakes and greenhouse emissions, killed an estimated 5 billion people and displaced countless others. No one could go outside during the day without protective clothing. With the exception of Antarctica and Oceania, scavenger reproduction sky rocketed during those years. Animals and crops were destroyed while diseases that had been cured decades before ripped through cities and villages. Nuclear fallout from the West Bank had drifted throughout the Middle East slowly eradicating those unfortunate to be in its path. The U.N. president, along with many other world leaders, was relocated to the Spinoza Space Station. The greatest scientific minds concurred that it was only a short amount of time before human extinction was imminent.

 

Her lab, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was nestled safely on the hillside above Arizona Bay. She often worked into the morning hours commonly waking to a face full of papers on her desk. On a late night, while studying the speed and duration of neutrino emissions, Melissa dosed off where she, in a nocturnal interlude, was reunited with her mother and father. They had long since died, early victims of the Anaemia pandemic. Her mother was a veterinarian and her father a paleontologist. She so wished to be with her parents again and see them live beyond their 30s. The grey-haired scientist was awakened by an audio warning from her lab computer network.

 

The U.N. government was working on highly advanced technology derived from a small device found on a man who was found dead near Mount Hood in 2081. It appeared that the man literally fell from the sky as if jumping from an airplane without a parachute. His clothes were very old fashioned. The corpse first drew attention because of a metal-cased machine in his right hand looking much like an audio device. It did not appear to be a human artifact. The object appeared to be damaged and non-operational. Upon further analysis, the mechanism’s core contained a biological mass with DNA radically advanced from anything ever seen before. Encoded on the life form was a blueprint that made little sense to scientists.

 

Because the apparatus could not be repaired they tried to replicate it. But any organism attached to the prototypes were incinerated the moment it was engaged. Then, in 2083, Dr. Smith discovered that the blueprint was actually a kind of transport enabling an organism to pass through dense gravity. She redesigned the device and when activated, caused a chimpanzee to disappear only to reappear seconds later. This shocked everyone. Months of testing revealed that the subjects were actually being transported to other locations; usually a few meters from the original location. After modifying the code Dr. Smith attached the device to a human volunteer. The subject disappeared and then reappeared just seconds later. He reported that he was transported 3 meters away but that everything, including people, appeared to be unmoving. He could not talk to anyone as they seemed to be frozen in time. Upon further analysis and feedback, the scientists were able to target destinations of the individuals'  journeys with one caveat: there was a maximum 13-second window on the transport. The speed of the transports was relative to gravitational variables. The subjects could travel at the speed of light—within the same intervals that neutrinos and antineutrinos passed through the Earth after departing a nearby supernova. With these calculations Dr. Smith realized she could send a living organism anywhere within roughly 168,000 light-years away. However, if the traveler tried to detach the gadget from skin contact within the 13 seconds, instant death resulted with both the device and the corpse reappearing in the laboratory...in very messy fashion.

 

In specially-designed spacesuits, the volunteer subjects were transported into space. Each time, the explorers all reported that matter seemed to be still and inanimate. Within weeks humans gained an amazing amount of knowledge about neighboring planets and moons but those breathtaking achievements were overshadowed by the fact that humans were swiftly dying on earth. None of the observed worlds could sustain human life but even if an Earth-like planet was found, a person’s visit was limited to 13 seconds.

 

Europa, a frozen moon orbiting Jupiter, was extensively tested. It had the possibility to support life but extremely cold temperatures prevented humans from living on its surface. Dr. Smith posited that in the distant future Europa would eventually become ideal for human life. In 4-5 billion years the Sun will enlarge as it begins to burn out. Earth will be destroyed in the process but due to its expansion, the Sun’s increased heat will cause Europa to thaw and sustain living organisms. Dr. Smith hypothesized that the only way to save the human race was to get to Earth’s past…or to Europa’s future.

 

The supernova near the Tarantula Nebula was just close enough to the Earth to visit with the transporting device. The test was risky and volunteers were warned of the extremely high risk involved. Because of Earth's condition, people were lining up to go. Over the next 45 days astronauts were transported progressively closer and closer to the black hole in order to gather much needed information. After numerous calculations, Dr. Smith sent the first volunteer into the supernova's center with the hope that a trip to Earth’s past would occur. The traveler was never seen again; only the device returned. Damaged beyond recognition, the machine could yield no data for Smith and her team. Over the next few weeks 31 people disappeared in the same manner, except one.

 

On February 23, 2087 a volunteer was transported with the same goal in mind. 13 seconds later she did return, dead on arrival. Only this time the device was missing.  There appeared to be no cause of death. In those days all of the volunteers traveled with two transport devices in case one malfunctioned. The second device placed on the other arm of the spacesuit remained intact. It had automatically transported her back after detecting trouble—her death. The scientists thought that she had perhaps been pulled back from the black hole while the device was sent through. It was conceivable that she had reached Earth’s past and tried to remove the object. This was one of the protocols: after verifying that time has been traveled the volunteer removes the device hoping that no injury or unwanted transport results. It was also possible that the laws of nature would not allow a living, animate organism to enter the past.

 

Running out of time, Dr. Smith was now looking to the future. All eyes turned to the ice moon Europa. After encoding the device with new time and location coordinates the volunteer stepped into the cold laboratory. This was the first attempt to reach a nearby destination by way of the black hole. Medical technicians with hopeful fear in their eyes stood by. The scientists fixed the machine in place. The former UFC fighting champion nervously smiled as Melissa said to him, “Please come back with good news.” The volunteer touched the lever and disappeared. It was perhaps the longest 13 seconds of Dr. Smith’s life. In a flash of light the man reappeared in the corner of the room face down in a fetal position. Smith's team rushed to examine the brave traveler. Slowly rolling him onto his back, Dr. Smith looked at the man as he opened his eyes. He fought for consciousness while motioning to his closed glove. Within the semi-burnt mitt a small blue flower unraveled like an inflating balloon. Tears of joy filled the room.

 

On February 23, 1987, like so many days before, Kevin Nordkist sat in his tow truck listening to the radio. “Walk Like An Egyptian” played in the background as he ate his brown bag lunch. Through his window he noticed a shiny object on the ground next to a Ponderosa seedling. Getting out of the old Ford he kneeled to look at the glistening device. Curiosity killed his caution so he decided to pick it up. For the next 13 seconds Kevin felt as though he was free falling toward a snow-capped mountain.