“So in conclusion, with my device, lab time, research and the help of Dr. Martin Carrus I was able to study exactly what is going on in the empty space of atoms. It’s common knowledge that the space is not empty, but is composed of electrons and protons that exchange photons and heavy gauge bosons. I was able to not only observe these interactions on low form particles but was able to measure them.
“With sufficient funding and of course this board’s approval of my thesis defense I would like to go on and investigate how my lab could interact and even harness the energy of these interactions. Thank you for your time, are there any questions?”
The five professors and two doctoral candidates applauded Rodney Brown’s presentation. And while this was the moment Rodney had been looking forward to for the past fifteen years of his life it felt empty. The man that Rodney had been working under and learning from for the past six years had not made an appearance at his thesis defense.
Dr. Martin Carrus hadn’t made an appearance to anything in the past week. Rodney had been covering the man’s classes, running the lab, and preparing for his defense for the past few days. The professor had disappeared and the police, after investigating the man’s house, found no trace of him leaving. They found his house locked from the inside.
Rodney answered the other professor’s questions succinctly and to their contentment. He had spent days brainstorming the different questions they might ask so he could be as prepared as possible. A technique Carrus had shared with him. Then the dean asked a question that Rodney hadn’t expected, “How long until you think until you’ve prepared this technology for commercial use?”
Commercial use? Rodney was baffled. These men were scientists, sure the school had bills to pay and the college had been severely underfunded for years but were they going to sell his work for commercial profits? “I don’t understand the question, sir.”
“Well, the implications are clear. The last man to harness the power of the atom put an end to World War II. Then we went on to create nuclear power plants. So, how long until you think that we could move your work into the private sector for some real profits? At a minimum, we should be selling your measurement device to colleges and companies with the ability to buy them.”
Rodney began to stutter out an answer. He stopped, took a deep breath and composed himself, “I appreciate your support. But to be completely honest we haven’t begun to interact with the particle let alone understand how much energy it might put out. It would take at least two years to get to a place where we would understand this well enough to begin pitching the private sector. That’s assuming that what we find is worth anything to them. But under the current circumstances,” Rodney gestured to the empty chair at the front of the room where the candidate’s professor traditionally sat, “I don’t even know if the lab will be able to continue.”
The dean responded with, “We’ve been meaning to talk to you about that Dr. Brown.”
Rodney Brown unlocked the door to his new office and surveyed the two cluttered desks. I guess I should get to work clearing this stuff off, Rodney thought to himself. He spent the entire morning and the better part of his afternoon cleaning up Dr. Carrus’s desks, bookshelves, and filing system. He hated to throw anything away, especially when he didn’t know which notes might be important and what might be critical.
After nearly everything had been stacked, sorted, and filed, He moved the man’s trinkets to a small box that once held printer paper and pushed it into a back corner of the room where it would stay for years. The mirror, the Woodstock tickets, and his whiteboard remained hanging on the walls. The professor’s papers took up the bottom two drawers of the filing cabinet leaving Rodney with only the top one for himself. Maybe one day I’ll scan them in and file them electronically, but for now, he was content with a clean desk.
Along with the mess, the office, the class work and the lab Rodney had inherited the man’s financial stresses. At least those related to the school.
He also inherited the one thing he wanted nothing to do with. The inhuman book still sat on the man’s desk. Its purple and black cover dancing in the light from the window. Rodney refused to take it at his last meeting with the man. I guess he found a way to give it to me anyway, Rodney thought.
The tables were cleaned for the most part, and Rodney realized that the room had far more space than he ever imagined. He picked up the book and thumbed through the book again. It was gibberish. So he thumbed through Carrus’s notes. There were equations, Feynman diagrams, and statistics littering the pages. Although the sheets of paper were lined Rodney noticed that Carrus had a hard time using them as guides. Most of the notes were scribbled crooked in the margins and seemed to have brief but vague insights. “Something doesn’t add up,” was written in multiple places. Rodney studied the notes on the clear desk and scattered out what he could make sense of. The book sat untouched in the corner of the desk. Rodney felt like it was watching him work out the mystery.
Nine pm rolled around, and Rodney had made no progress. Worst of all, the studying had undone all the progress he had made on cleaning the desk. He looked around desks filled notes and open textbooks. He observed the mess and agreed with Carrus; something didn’t add up. It was as if all the rules of physics that he had studied as a boy didn’t apply to this book. Meaning that the book wasn’t about physics or the universe it was from played by other rules.
Rodney returned to the office before dawn the next day. He had slept like a rock and didn’t remember dreaming. When he walked into his office, one thought was kept coming to the front of his mind. Play by different rules.
He looked over the Carrus’s notes again. The man was evidently trying to use physics to translate the book. Each equation he had deduced out of the book seemed to rhyme with an equation that Rodney found in the textbooks. But none of them matched up quite right. Carrus would discover what a number looked like in the foreign language, apply it to other places, and then end up with an answer that didn’t make sense.
Rodney fiddled his thumbs and sipped his coffee as he stared at the pages of equations in front of him. Then, like rare but truly great ideas do, he had a thought that opened the floodgates of his mind. He looked at the equations and realized the thing Carrus had gotten wrong.
For years physicists used constants to compensate for truths they didn’t quite understand. Newton used the gravitational constant in the gravitational equation, and Maxwell had both vacuum permittivity and vacuum permeability in his equations. Particle physics had its own cacophony of constants, and Carrus was using them as critical factors in determining what the alien numbers were. But if this book was indeed from another universe, and the equations were too, then there could be a fundamental difference between the laws that their nature operates under. Comparing it to ours, and using our constants would give us the wrong results, Rodney thought, I need to know their constants and I’ll discover their universe’s initial conditions
He got to work trying to solve for the constants instead of the variables, and by 2 pm when the dean walked into his office he had made progress.
“Dr. Brown do you have a moment?” The dean asked. The man made himself comfortable in the chair that Rodney once sat in.
“Of course,” he said finishing up an equation, “What’s going on?”
“I know that it’s only your second day in this position, but I wanted to go over your lab’s financial situation. I don’t know how transparent Dr. Carrus was with you before he ditched us but the lab is not in good shape.”
“Yes, he mentioned some of that.”
“Additionally, we looked over your apparatus, the one you used for your thesis and the bill of materials you submitted is too expensive to duplicate. If we were to sell the apparatus to other universities, we would be unable to turn a profit. We’re going to need you to design one that’s less expensive.”
Rodney frowned, “With all due respect sir, there isn’t a less expensive design available. Carrus gave me a shoestring budget, to begin with, and I was barely able to deliver on that. Most of the sensors are custom made to save money, but they took years to build and test. I don’t believe we can produce a machine on anything less than the original budget.” Rodney then considered protesting on the entire concept of selling his machine for profit but held himself against it. There was no point in making waves this soon.
“If you can’t make it less expensive then you will have to add some functionality to it. Is there anything it can do without having to modify the design significantly?”
“I would need a year, maybe two to figure that out, sir. I haven’t been able to make it to the lab yet. And I have classes to run tomorrow. Midterms are coming up, and I don’t think Carrus had a test written for them yet.”
It was now the deans turn to frown. “Dr. Brown, we expect a lot from you. We know you’re the youngest professor at this university, and we will cut you some slack for that, but there are responsibilities to the school you now have to fulfill. If we can’t make a profit from your design or your lab, then funding for your research and position might not continue to work out. You must understand that this school has to keep its lights on somehow.”
“I understand sir,” Rodney lied. “I will do my best to improve the design.”
“Good, I will schedule a meeting for updates every Wednesday. I want to help you succeed at this. We expect big things from you. I’m sure you’ll be able to fill Carrus’s shoes and then some.”
Rodney thanked the man as he left the office. He looked back at the pages he was working on before he was interrupted. Math would bring him a distraction and relief from the dean’s pressures.
He looked down at the constants he had come up with. They were so wrong that if the dean had seen them, he would have probably fired Rodney on the spot for the elementary mistake. But from the translations Carrus had already made he realized that according to the inhuman book these constants were right. At least for that universe.
Rodney spent the afternoon in the lab. The schools IT department had accessed Carrus’s files, and Rodney was able to use a midterm from a few years ago for the test. He had a grad student, Maria, help him work on the bringing the price of the apparatus down. However, he didn’t share with her how important it was to do it. By 9 pm she left and by 3 am he had dozed away at his desk in the lab.
The sun blasted through the window of the lab and warmed his back to the point of discomfort. He woke up and looked at the clock. 4 hrs of dreamless sleep, he thought. Beign slumped over his desk uncomfortablely hadn’t even phased him through the night. He looked at his notes from yesterday and thought of how much trouble he would be in if he had a meeting with the dean next Wednesday with only some incorrect constants to show him.
Then he had an idea for improved functionality.
Rodney skipped his morning coffee and began to tinker with his machine. At 1 pm Maria came in and reminded him that he had a class to teach. Rodney politely asked her if she could cover for him and she pointed out that she was a student in the class. He looked at the machine, his notes, and then remembered he hadn’t prepared a lecture.
He shuffled through his notes, found the page he wanted, circled a few equations in red ink. Handing the sheet of notes to Maria he said, “put this on the board and tell them to solve it.”
“Will this be on the midterm?” She asked.
Knowing no one would care about it if it wasn’t he responded with, “Yes.” In reality, he wanted someone to check if he had calculated the constants correctly.
Dinner came and went, but he didn’t feel hungry. Rodney worked and worked and worked. Maria returned with a few attempts, but none of the students had the confidence to finish the equation once they saw they had the wrong constants.
“What are you working on anyway, Rodney?”
He gave her a vague answer saying, “I’m trying to improve the functionality per the dean’s request.” If he explained the details, he would be admitted to a psych ward, at a minimum his newly awarded Ph.D. would be revoked.
By 9 pm, long after the sun had gone down he finished the final technical touches. Hours later he was still calibrating the modified machine. But instead of calibrating it to the constants that he had grown up with he used the new alien combination that he had discovered only days ago. He synced the machine with them and turned it on.
At first, his readings showed nothing. He was disappointed but wasn’t surprised. What he was trying to do should be physically impossible. Then he saw a blip on his read out. He examined the screen closer. Then a small pop went off near the machine, and the readout went blank.
A fuse must have blown, Rodney thought. He turned around and saw that every sensor on his machine had been burnt off. The machine was dead. How did this happen? He wondered. He printed off the recorded data and looked it over. There was no way he would be able to afford to replace the machine’s sensors. Discouraged he poured over the data that he had accumulated from the short test.
He ran the numbers from the test. He discovered that he accomplished exactly what he had expected it to do. Exactly what the Law of Conservation of Mass said he shouldn’t be able to do. His math from the reading proved otherwise. He had created an atom with his device. He had formed matter and broken a key law of physics.
Except he hadn’t, the atom had to have been somewhere. It was in the same universe the book was in. He had merely summoned it to his world using the ‘wrong’ constants he had been studying for days.
“Hows that for increased functionality?” He said to the empty lab. He went home pondering how to explain this to the dean without sounding like a mad scientist who got information from a magical book. Magic books weren’t trusted very far in his field.
He slept through the night and most of the morning. But this time it wasn’t dreamless. He had a constant feeling of being watched. And before he woke up he had a vivid dream where he couldn’t move, and a black figure with red eyes was watching over him.
The Overwatcher was waiting for him to make his next discovery.