Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Chapter 4

The seagull was having a satisfying morning. Already he’d found a couple of sand worms and was feeling pretty pleased with himself. The beach was empty with no humans for miles around, it seemed. The day was warm and the slightly shorter days of the autumn were not yet a problem. He stood watching the waves lap up onto the pristine white sand, some of which had actually been imported from a place called Africa, though he wasn’t to know that, and cawed happily.

Suddenly a rather angular human stepped out of thin air in front of him. He stumbled back in alarm, and gathering his wits he flew off to perch on a nearby white, petrified log to recover his composure. No sooner had he done this and rearranged his feathers than another human carrying a smaller third one also stepped out of thin air causing him to fall off the log backwards. This was extremely embarrassing, and he hopped indignantly back onto his perch to show that he was still in command of the situation.

Then the third human that had been carried suddenly dashed at him with a large box in his hand. That was enough for the sea gull, who flew away to find a part of the beach where the laws of physics were more stable.

Meanwhile the three humans were in an extremely good mood. The angular one was dancing round humming to himself, the female was calmly laying a beach mat down to sit on, and the child was running down the beach looking for more local fauna to terrorise. The two older ones ate some watermelon and looked out to sea.

‘I can’t believe we’re here! It’s really Tenerife, in our cellar!’ said Mum.
‘Yes, it’s like the holodeck on Star Trek, but actually real and not a simulation.’
‘We could come every week. No more crowded Bigbury beach.’
‘We can come whenever we want, but I guess soon we’ll have to go back through when people start arriving. Our portal is rather obvious.’

The portal indeed stood there, a dark oval slightly above the level of the beach, and through it could be clearly seen the distorted outline of a dark, cold grey English cellar.

‘I assume we can get back?’
‘I tested it. I’ve put inanimate objects through, and brought them back, and, don’t tell Harry, but I also put his hamster through and pulled him back, and he was fine, so yes, we can get back, unless the power fails.’
‘Well, if the power fails we’ll have to return by plane, but the problem is we have no passport.’
‘Ha. Imagine turning up at the airport with no reservation, no passport and asking for a ticket back to Heathrow!’
‘We didn’t think of that, I think we ought to go back now and next time, we’ll take a passport with us.’
‘That won’t help. You know how connected the world is now with information technology. Well, you just try, as an English person, turning up in Tenerife with no computer record of how you got there. They’d go mad, we’d end up in the papers as the puzzle of the century!’

Mum got up in some consternation

‘Harry, we’re going back now’ she shouted at Harry who was now at the other end of the beach almost hidden in the heat haze, building castles.
‘Wait a minute, said Dad, we’ve only just got here!’
‘I don’t want Henry in the papers..’

Henry stood for awhile arms on hips ready to argue, then grudgingly turned and started stepping heavily back. Just at that moment, from the centre of the beach came a group of four people, obviously tourists, given their colourful clothes and bags. They started walking towards Fret and Mum.

‘Oh, blast, that’s done it’ said Fret and started packing.
‘We’ll have to get back through quickly and close down the portal.’
‘Harry, get back here now!’ shouted Mum at Harry who’d just discovered something very interesting on the sand and had crouched down to peer at it.

Kids get side-tracked at the drop of a hat, everyone knows that. Mum dashed off to get him, concluding it would be the only way to ensure his compliance. Meanwhile Fret nervously stood in front of the dark oval of the portal to try and hide it from the oncoming tourists.

Unfortunately, they had concluded that Fret and Mum were English and were coming over to have a chat.
‘Hello!’ they said as they approached the portal with a jolly English red rotundity.
‘H!’ said Fret with a grimace.
‘Lovely morning isn’t it? Why’s it never like this is Manchester eh?’
‘Indeed’ said Fret, laughing like a madman, as Mum arrived back carrying Harry, who was really getting too big to be carried. ‘Hello’ said Mum as she rushed back and disappeared into the portal.
The four English people were in a tranquil mood, most of them having hangovers from a great barbeque and party on the beach they’d had the night before, so didn’t immediately realise the seriousness of what had just happened. One of the men said

‘Hey, where’s your wife gone?’
‘Why, she’s just over there, look!’ said Fret pointing in the opposite direction, and as they turned around to look, he too dashed into the portal. The portal was of course still open so when the poor tourists turned around they could clearly see a dark circle hovering above the beach with dark old English cellar apparently within it.

Then Harry’s face appeared inside the circle and said simply with a huge smile.

‘We’re aliens. Have to get back to Mars, bye!’ and then the dark circle suddenly disappeared and the tourists were left looking at each other.
‘What the hell was that?’, said one of the girls
‘I don’t know but no one’s going to believe us!’

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Chapter 3

It was getting close to Easter and Fret was hard at work on the larger portal aimed at the Canary Islands. Luckily lectures were becoming less frequent so there was more time to spend on it. Harry was 'helping' with the building work, each gold-plated cube had to be positioned just right in the array so there was a lot of fine distance and angle measurement with a network of lasers.
It had now dawned on Mum that if she was going to step into this contraption she be a lot happier understanding a little bit about how it worked, so down she came to the cellar to ask
‘So, how does it work then?’
‘Are you serious? You never asked for details before.’
‘Well, I just thought, if I’m going to allow your work to transport me 1000 miles through nothingness, I’m entitled to an explanation, but remember I’m an engineer, not a physicist.’
‘What do you want, pictures?’
‘Don’t get cocky! Engineering is what happens when physics is forced to be useful!’
‘I know, I know. Alright, can we go back to Mach and Einstein?’
‘Yes, I’ve heard of them.’
‘Right, well they considered this train..’

Henry perked up at this. He knew all there was to know about trains.
‘Was it a Crosscountry or a Great Western?’
‘Er.. a Great Western I suppose.’
‘And this train is struck by lightning at both ends.’
Henry was awed by this
‘Is this for real!?’

Harry looked crest-fallen and, afraid he was losing his audience, Fret changed his mind.
‘OK. It’s for real!’
‘I knew it’, said Henry.
‘So. Bang! The train is struck by lightning at both ends and there’s a guy in the middle of the train who sees these two strikes.’
‘Wait a minute,’ said Mum, ‘How does he see the two strikes? Does he have eyes in the back of his head?’

This question completely floored Fret for a while. No one had ever asked that when he’d studied relativistic physics at university. They’d all been too busy writing things down and cramming to have time for anthropogenic questions like that. But, then he rallied, he had been thinking about this for a long time and really felt he should be on the home straight here.
‘OK, but look, that isn’t the point. This is not a question that depends on the particular design of human beings. We imagine there’s an intelligence that can gather information from light completely efficiently, so, yes, he does have eyes in the back of his head.’
‘Like Grandma! She said she had eyes there’ said Henry.
‘Yes, indeed. Can I continue?’
‘Go ahead!’
‘Thank you. If the train has stopped then the guy sees the light from both ends at the same time, so he says “Aha! It’s a simultaneous strike!”

'..but if the train is moving forward then he’ll see the first strike first because he’s moving towards it and the light from the back will have to catch up with him, so then he will say “Oh, it’s not simultaneous”.'

'So Einstein said the times of events that occur are dependent on how you are moving so there’s no one clock in the cosmos ticking time, everyone has their own time and also by extension everyone has their own space too.’
‘So how does that help to delete the space between here and the Canaries then?’
‘Imagine we now have a train going forward at light speed.’

Henry was keeping up
‘You mean, like the USS Enterprise?’
‘Yes, like that. The light from the back of the light speed train would never catch up with the guy in the middle so he’d never see the back lightning and Einstein made a bold assertion that led him to relativity. Everyone subsequently forgot the assertion, even Einstein after a few years, and just kept the maths that came from it, but he said that if you can never in principle see a thing, then it doesn’t exist for you. Actually, Mach first alluded to this...’

Mum began to shake her head now.

‘Look, I’m an engineer, and if you’re trying to tell me that the Moon isn’t there when I can’t see it, you’ve got another thing coming!’
‘No. It’s not whether you’re looking or not. It’s whether you can possibly see it or not. There is a difference. With my loops here, which are actually called metamaterials, what I’m doing is bending all the kinds of radiation coming from this area of space behind them away from us, so we’ll never see that space. That means, from our point of view, that that region of space does not exist, so when we step through the loops we’ll appear to jump across that non-existent space to the space beyond.’
‘A sort of “What you can see is what you get?”’
‘Yes, that’s the idea.’

She raised her hands as if to say ‘that’s enough for now’.
‘OK. You’ve deleted some space. It sounds completely mad, but you did project that fishing rod. The big question is, are you ready to put us through it? It looks a bit bigger, but is it safe?’
‘The main problem is that I can’t put us directly onto the ground, my accuracy in position is only about 100 metres.’
‘That’s good enough.’
‘The trouble is, it might be 100 metres up in the air, or under the ground.’
‘..but you can see through it can’t you? Why not set it up, look through it and fine tune?’
‘I never thought of that.’

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Chapter 2

Fret was making tuna pie and Mum and Harry were sat doing homework around the wooden table in the kitchen. As Harry grumbled away at his sums, Mum looked up from correcting them and was in a positive mood.

‘Well, you finally invented something that might help the family!’

Dad looked up from mashing tuna in a bowl with a fork.

‘How’s it going to help us? I invented it so humanity can go to other stars, you know that.’

Mum picked up a wooden spoon and banged it on the table.

‘Why can’t you ever do anything useful for us? You’ve been sat in this house with a part time lecturing job for ten years, and now you’ve finally invented something that works, you want to give it to the world for free after they treated you like a pile of garbage.’

Henry looked up and laughed at this. Glad of an excuse to bypass his homework.

‘Yeah, a pile of garbage!’

Mum was not to be distracted from her tirade.

‘..and they won’t thank you for it, as usual, and your family will suffer.’

Henry feigned suffering with a rictus of pain worthy of an Oscar.

‘Yeah, we’ll suffer Dad.’

Dad added peas to the bowl of tuna, mixed them up and covered the mess with cream of tomato soup.

‘What do you want then?’

Seeing that her point was made, Mum put down the spoon.

‘Let’s use it to go the Canary Islands for a free holiday..’
‘Great!’ said Henry, then in reflection ‘What’re the Canary islands?’

Dad prided himself on being Henry’s live-in encyclopedia.

‘They’re volcanic islands west of Africa, Henry. Oh, be serious Mummy!’

‘I am serious. Can’t you delete the space between here and there?’

Fret put the fork down in the soup, and appeared to be counting to 100 in his head. Harry chose that moment to leap away from the homework-covered table shouting
‘Holiday!’ which did nothing to calm Fret down. Fret rounded on them and stood there for a moment, hampered by a verbal blockage and potatoes on the boil.

‘You don’t understand! After ten years work I’ve managed to project a little fishing net over a space of about 50 centimetres. Now you want me to project all of us a distance of 1000 miles before the Easter holiday?’

‘Why not?’
‘Yes, why not! Why don’t I just achieve world peace while I’m at it!’

Mum picked up the wooden spoon to make her point.
‘You think you’re a genius. If so, how is it possible that you have the most negative attitude I’ve ever seen? Just get on with it!’

Fret looked at Mum and there was a whole history of argument in that look. He took the steaming potatoes off the boil.
‘Yes, Henry.’
‘Are we going to the Canary Islands then?’
‘Alright! I’ll need more power, and I’ll have to rejig the whole design of the array to refocus it out. Goodness knows how.’

That was that, as far as Mum was concerned and she dropped the wooden spoon and hurried out of the room before Fret could change his mind. Henry had forgotten his school sums and was excitedly drawing a picture of the looped array as it had been. Fret was thinking of all the problems to be overcome: that little array was going to get a lot more complex.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Chapter 1

The experiment that was destined to destroy the world as we know it had begun, in one of the unlikeliest places for such an event, a sleepy, lush town in deepest Devon.

Gateway is a lovely place for an academic exile, nestling lushly in the Erme valley, presumably named because when the Anglo-Saxons first arrived they couldn’t think what else to call it so they went with their first thought ‘Erm…’. A green and pleasant place, not renowned for scientific advance as yet, but little did the town’s people know they were just about to become a gateway to the whole universe.

The ‘gateway’ was being constructed in the dark brick-walled cellar of a house halfway up Upcombe Down, and this name was almost as bizarre as the machine being made. In the cellar was a wooden table upon which was a power supply and next to it a couple of parallel circles made out of arrays of gold-plated cubes held together by thin wires. Fret, thin and nervous was there with his son, aged six, who we shall call Henry. Fret was pondering, tinkering, procrastinating. His son sat on the floor nearby building a rough facsimile out of Lego.

Presently, all activity ceased and the boy said excitedly

‘Do it Dad.’

Fret flicked a switch on the power supply and peered intently through the two hoops. The part of the room visible through them subtly changed, almost as if a lens had formed within the hoops, but not quite a lens, in fact another thing entirely in that the property we call ‘space’ had just been deleted for a distance of a metre behind the loops. Fret now picked up a pole with a net on the end, from one of their many excursions to the beach, and pushed it through the loops.

‘Dad, the pole is sticking out of mid-air!’

Fret withdrew the pole and net, looked at it, shook his head and burst into tears at this point and hugged his son, which was quite a difficult thing to do since Henry was jumping up and down with glee as if propelled by a pneumatic road drill. The man sat down.

‘Ten years work.. Go get your Mum.’

Mum came down then to see the effect. She was small and dark, and one of the most organised people Fret had ever known. She was understandably sceptical about it but was impressed when she was able to put her hand into the empty space that had opened up along the length of the pole. She nodded with interest and asked

‘It really is separated. How does it work again?’
‘What the loops do is delete the space just behind them so the pole jumps over that gap and reappears beyond it.’
‘So it’s not an optical illusion?’
‘No, it’s real in a way that Mach and the early Einstein would understand.. I’ll explain later, but, I tell you, we’re going to have some fun with this!’