Copyright © 2015-2019 by Rafael
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this novel may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or stored in a database or any information storage retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents, organizations and dialogue in this novel are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Since the beginning man has gazed toward the stars and wondered what marvels they contain. But the unimaginable distances laugh at his puny velocities. One day he’ll discover the natural doorways that can place the universe at his doorstep.
Of course, doors are two-way devices.
One Giant Leap
At the bell’s ring he rose and strode past the clock without glancing. It had to be 4:30pm. Singaporeans valued punctuality. His hand stopped short of the knob. Once he turned it, the life he’d known would end. A deep breath swelled his lungs. Before the finger on the other side reached the chime, he exhaled and opened the door.
Two short men stood on the porch. The shorter one allowed a bright, eager smile to emerge. “Dr. Ang? Dr. Joshua Ang?” Joshua bowed deep in respect then stepped back to permit entry. With two hands the shorter one extended his business card English side up. It identified him as Wei Xuan Chan of Singapore Worldwide Capital. His eyes beamed.
“We are very grateful you could see us on such short notice.” His colleague extended a card and bowed again. Feng Tan’s gentle voice bespoke good breeding and gracious manners. “We thank you for the opportunity, Dr. Ang. I trust our arrival is not an imposition.” Twenty-two years had passed since Joshua left Singapore. Without conscious effort, he slipped into equally flawless Mandarin.
“Not at all. It’s a beautiful day and I’ve prepared refreshments on the veranda. Come. Follow me, gentlemen.”
Outside, the screened enclosure shaded a table setting that transformed precision into art. Joshua bade them sit noting the surprised and pleased looks the two capitalists sported. “We have a large Asian population here in Hawaii which permits us easy access to many of the dishes enjoyed at home.” Using tongs, he laid steamed banana leaves on their plates then retrieved an aluminum tray from a gas-powered outdoor stove. With practiced ease the quantum particle physicist served barbecued stingray strips seasoned with sambal that he rolled within the banana leaves. He poured tea steeped in ginger water before sitting down to join his guests. “I gave my staff the day off so we could have maximum privacy. Enjoy, gentlemen.”
Chop sticks lifted the bite-size chunks and the two nodded their approval for the delicacy unique to Singapore. “I remember fondly the food marts at the Newton Centre and Lau Pa Sat. What did we call them?”
“Hawker centers.” Wei Xuan filled in. “These days I patronize them only occasionally. Tourists make the queues at the better stalls impossible.”
They made short work of the simple dish allowing Joshua to lay plates of almond jelly and sweet potato cubes soaked in coconut milk for them to sample. Halfway through the California white that accompanied dessert, Feng turned the conversation to the topic at hand.
“Are you personally acquainted with Nicholas Koh?” Joshua shook his head. His identity as Singapore Worldwide Capital’s Director came to him only after a series of careful and discreet inquiries made by family members still on the tiny island. In Singapore, many companies met his criteria for global reach and deep liquidity but only Worldwide specialized in international transport and could appreciate his discovery’s implications.
“My initial contacts with him occurred through third parties, then we had a few electronic exchanges, and our last communication was the telephone call that preceded your arrival. Did he provide you the details of our conversations?”
“We are personal advisors to Mr. Koh.” Feng responded. “Our role is to provide independent confirmation of a proposed project’s viability. Other than the contact’s location he provides us nothing that might bias our assessment.”
Joshua looked away and scanned across the well-manicured garden’s plants and trees. “What I’ve discovered will overnight make every form of transportation obsolete. History, commerce, and societies will change in ways we cannot yet predict.” His gaze returned to the seated men. As if long accustomed to exaggerated claims, their expressions remained impassive. Joshua interpreted Wei Xuan’s next question as a test.
“Have you determined a price for this discovery?”
“Five billion US dollars.” Neither man blinked. Joshua relaxed.
These two engaged in multi-billion dollar deals as a matter of routine. Once they saw his invention, the amount would seem a pittance. He lifted his napkin and dabbed his lips. “Come, gentlemen. Let me show you what I have for sale.”
The three stepped around the house to a side entrance. Wooden stairs led down to a massive steel square framed by solid concrete. He stood before a retinal scanner and the door rolled outward on noiseless bearings to reveal an eight-inch thickness. Interior lights sequenced on, casting a gentle glow over an advanced-state laboratory. Joshua turned to motion they should enter first.
They stepped through the long side of a one-room rectangle. The short-side wall on the right stood bare except for a floor-to-ceiling, four-sided steel frame at its center. Black cables extending from the edges snaked along the floor to connected equipment none of which the two men could identify.
“That, gentlemen, is what I believe to be the world’s only working model of a Morris-Thorne traversable wormhole. It permits a person or spaceship to move from one location in the universe to another instantly—without regard for the intervening distance.” Joshua paced about the large room flipping switches, turning dials, pulling knobs.
“Besides General Relativity, Einstein’s equations implied the existence of wormholes. His colleagues however described a wormhole as short-lived. Gravity would collapse the tunnel before anything could move through it. Along came two physicists, Michael S. Morris and Kip S. Thorne, who in a famous white paper, proved that negative energy’s repulsive properties would counteract gravity and keep the wormhole open.
The first problem? Negative energy, though infinite, exists only in the sub-atomic world. I needed some natural phenomenon that could bridge the gap between the infinitely small and the world in which you and I exist. An arduous process of elimination left only one possibility: a black hole. Not the monsters we see in the universe. Tidal forces would crush anything approaching them. But microscopic black holes fit the bill nicely.
All black holes emit radiation that would cause them to evaporate. For the ones typically lurking in the center of galaxies, the loss is more than offset by the enormous quantities of matter they consume. Microscopic black holes on the other hand, aren’t big enough to prevent their winking out of existence within a billionth, of a trillionth, of a trillionth of a second. Enter the second problem. How to keep a microscopic black hole stable long enough to do something useful? Answer. Absolute zero.
At -459.67° Fahrenheit, nothing moves. The black hole finds itself in a state where it cannot shed radiation or consume matter. Like trying to breathe in a plastic bag. The tension caused by the two opposing forces cannot last. Something has to give. In an eye-blink, the black hole creates a pin-point rupture in space-time. Out pours globs of negative energy. But negative energy doesn’t want to be in a positive energy world.”
Joshua stepped out from behind a machine to stand before the two men at the wall gate. “It moves along a gravity well I created to this portal. In a trillionth of a second, infinite energies build in a positive energy universe. It has only one escape. Back through a rupture in space-time.”
Behind Joshua a circular glow shimmered in waves that rolled out from the center and to the circle’s edges. The waves stopped and twinkled only along the circumference. A tunnel appeared that extended into the wall. Joshua gave a dramatic wave of his hand and arm. “And voila! In its wake, a traversable wormhole.”
Joshua ambled toward a computer terminal and began finger-tapping the screen. Feng recovered from jaw-dropping shock. “Where does it lead?” Joshua looked up from the screen and smiled at him.
“I noticed on the business cards your offices are located in Singapore’s Ocean Financial Centre. Believe it or not, the hardest part of this project was learning where the wormhole’s other end terminated. It was a frustrating process of trial and error as I would have to record every piece of equipment’s parameters and settings, open the wormhole, and step through to take a longitude and latitude reading at its exit point. Over six years a pattern emerged where I could use the power settings, energy amounts, and gravity well pointers to control where the wormhole terminated. Along the way, I could have stepped into the ocean, walls, altitude, near-earth orbit, interstellar voids, and a couple places I had no idea where.”
He strode from behind the terminal to once again stand before the gate. “With a supercomputer, I’m sure we could step right into your office. But for now, we’ll content ourselves with your building’s rooftop. Follow me, gentlemen.” Neither one moved. “Come. It’s perfectly safe. And for five billion dollars you’ll have to give Mr. Koh irrefutable proof the device works.”
Wei Xuan gathered himself and took a few hesitant steps forward. Joshua turned and walked into the gate. Behind him the two men looked around wide-eyed. Air seemed to surround them but appeared distorted as if by funhouse mirrors. They took two steps and the third landed them on a rooftop where Joshua waited with a smile. “Welcome to Singapore, gentlemen.”
Eyes bulging wider, the astonished men looked around. Like silent sentinels, familiar skyscrapers surrounded them. Tugboats from Singapore’s bustling harbor blared in the distance. Looking down from the edge, a sea of ants scurried to and fro along Collyer Quay. Wei Xuan turned to Joshua unable to hide the awe washing over him. “You have a deal, Dr. Ang.”
Back at the lab Joshua offered the men, still trying to recover their land legs, glasses containing three-finger scotch pours. Neither declined. Two gulps drained the brown-gold liquid. Feng remained quiet, contemplative. Years before, Joshua had made his first entry as an eager, curious scientist. He returned in Feng’s mood, well aware the world he knew had ended. They didn’t know it yet, but the airline, shipping, aerospace, rail, and commuter industries would shrink to local service only before disappearing altogether. Society would undergo tremendous upheaval. Earth had evolved a species poised to colonize the stars.
Wei Xuan found his voice. “We will need a copy of the plans and blueprints to verify we can independently duplicate the project.”
“Of course.” Joshua marched toward a sturdy cabinet, unlocked it, and returned with a nine-inch thick sheaf of clasped papers. “This contains all the information you’ll need to produce a working JA device.”
“JA?” Joshua smiled.
“Joshua Ang. It supersedes the Morris-Thorne device.” He removed a single sheet from the stack’s top. “I’ve listed five accounts located throughout the world and their access codes. Next to each is the amount I want deposited totaling three billion US dollars as a good faith deposit. I will release these papers when I receive confirmation the monies are deposited. The National University of Singapore has world-class physicists and engineers that can independently verify the plans are complete. I will then expect final payment. Its distribution is also on the paper. When the banks confirm receipt, I will transmit electronically the initial settings for wormhole generation.”
“I’m sure you can appreciate the need for absolute security. Is this the only copy of the plans?”
“The only printed copy. The laboratory’s computers contain backup copies.”
Wei Xuan’s hand reached inside his jacket and emerged holding a silenced automatic. Joshua felt as if a sledgehammer slammed his chest twice. He fell flat on his back. Wei Xuan bent down and placed a third bullet in his head.
* * *
Joshua’s eyes fluttered open. He looked about but had difficulty focusing. Something about the empty concrete room seemed vaguely familiar. He wondered why he found it so hard to think. Arms and legs wouldn’t move. He didn’t feel any pain but nothing worked. Joshua shifted his eyes left and right. His head lay in a pool of dried blood. His own? He tried to shout but no sound emerged. The concrete wall before him stood bare except for a floor-to-ceiling rectangular outline. Where was he?
The air began to shimmer, formed a glowing circle, then tunneled into the wall. Inside, a two-legged creature covered with iridescent feathers appeared. Its round head, with owl-like black eyes, sat above a black beak, ten-inches long, that tapered to a sharp point. Flush against either side of its chest, what appeared to be clenched fists protruded from under a fold of feathers.
When it emerged, its head brushed against the ceiling. The feathered folds around its trunk opened to reveal wings with a black, leather-like underside. They draped from its arms which spread bat-like and terminated in three-fingered hands with an opposable fourth. It folded its arms back against its torso and when the wings creased around, once again only the clenched fists jutted out.
Its neck and head bobbed pigeon-like as it moved about. Every few steps, it bent low to the ground and ingested a huge volume of air. It stopped at Joshua’s feet, leaned down, and inhaled. The creature sniffed twice more, then unfolded its arms. With its wings spread, Joshua had the impression he lay under a tent.
It pressed one hand against his chest while the other tore off his arm at the shoulder. It switched hands to tear off the other arm. Joshua felt nothing but watched in horror as blood gushed from the mangled holes. Still bent, a long, slender tongue flickered out from its beak. Underneath, a narrow tube opened from which a clear, molasses-like fluid oozed out to spread across Joshua’s face. He had to be dreaming. Joshua smiled and closed his eyes. They never opened again.