Drunk on Time
by J. H. Malone
Saul is a 20-something computer expert. He’s somewhat undisciplined and drinks too much, but he is charming and has a soft spot for older people and for his love interest, who is a brilliant but enigmatic researcher. They unlock the secrets of parallel universes with unexpected results for themselves.
Table of Contents, parts:|
1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
The morning after Liesl unveiled her scanner, we got up tired but satisfied. The scanner ran a distant second in my thoughts, amazing as it was.
We walked to school again, heading back to the bakery first. The morning was temperate, the puddles had shrunk, and students were afoot.
“I did not tell you something last night,” Liesl said.
“Yesterday I asked John Martins to lend you to me for the semester.”
“The head of IS&T? What did he say?”
“Of course he said yes.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“If we are to spend this time together, I am asking you to plan it for us, the time when I am free from seminars and lectures.”
“I can do that,” I said.
We strolled along the sidewalk toward Mass Ave, the occasional dog yapping at us from behind a fence.
“What about that scanner?” I said. “Are you going to sell it? How does it work?”
“I will teach you to use the scanner. After you learn, I will explain how it works.”
“Why keep it a secret from others? Why show it to me?”
“First you will use it, and then I will explain it.”
“First you will use it.”
First I would use it.
A young man with a Harvard book bag ventured to nod to us as we all waited to cross Main Street. Liesl paid him no mind.
“Where do you live?” she said to me.
“Somerville. I have a studio apartment near Powderhouse Square.”
“Perhaps you will go there and gather your clothes and bring them to my apartment.”
Our two nights together made this seem most natural.
“Everyone is talking about your theories,” I said.
“Can you give me a layman’s summary? The thirty-thousand foot view?”
“Of course,” she said and, without my realizing it, began to outline for me the theory behind her scanner.
“The most important principle is that there are more than three dimensions,” she said.
“Ten or so, seven of them curled up? String theory?”
Her lips firmed up as she suppressed a smile. I made a mental note never to say anything about physics around her again.
“An infinite number,” she said. “Not curled up.”
“Wait. When you say dimension—”
“A measurable extent,” she said. “Our organs of sense perceive three of them. Evolution made this choice. The Euclidean three-manifolds. The state-space of quantum mechanics, an infinite-dimensional function space. You understand dimensions in this way?”
“I know one when I see one.”
“Now assume that any two points in space are contiguous in some dimension,” she said. She was either ignoring my whimsy or was unfamiliar with the expression I had used.
“Every point in the universe touches every other point?”
“A pin through crumpled paper,” she said. “Every point in our first-order multiverse touches all other points in the multiverse.”
“It’s adding up,” I said.
This got me a look of surmise.
“What about time?” I said. “That’s a dimension too, isn’t it?”
“Time is not a dimension. Time’s flow is variable, and the arrow of time points in a different direction for every physical dimension.”
“Not for our three. Time runs the same way in our three.”
We both hopped to the right on the sidewalk as a car splashed through a puddle in the street beside us.
“No,” Liesl said, “evolution chose three dimensions with arrows almost parallel. The difference between them will not be evident for billions of years. Then causality will become confusing.”
“It’s already become confusing,” I said. “I don’t understand your model, but I intuit an environment of extreme shear.”
“Ignore multidimensional causality, and all is simple,” Liesl said, “if you are able to create the new mathematical techniques necessary to calculate predictive behavior for any subset of these orthogonal dimensions. The arrows of time are not orthogonal in any sense. There is no absolute past or future. Each arrow defines the past and future for one dimension. Matter and energy do not care.”
“Keep in mind that I flunked out,” I said.
“You were lazy, but you are not stupid.”
“So every particle of matter in my body exists in an infinity of dimensions? With time running across the multiverse in a different direction for each dimension of each particle, while touching every point in the universe in the next Planck unit of time simultaneously?”
“And when you add it up, this is it?” I said and spread my arms.
“We perceive only the smallest bit of what this is,” she said, passing her hand back and forth in the air as we walked.
“So I’m getting older, younger, and everything in between simultaneously?”
“Yes,” she said, and chucked me on the arm.
“The complexity is insane.”
“Consider it turbulence.”
Four blocks remained between us and muffins and coffee. We spent the time deciding what to do the coming evening, a task that would occupy me a great deal for the next three months.
* * *
After my evening scanning Tommy’s week, I woke up Friday morning with my head banging. I had the sweats as I shaved and showered and dressed and drove over to Hesby Seniors.
I took an 800mg Ibuprofen and poured a cup of black coffee in the center’s office, a distressed laptop waiting for me on the desk. A taxi pulled up outside and Cannelita Bertoni got out. She spotted me when she came in, and angled over to the office.
“You okay?” she said.
“Sure,” I said. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re a drinker.”
“I was married to one for forty years.”
“What’s up, Cannelita?”
“I just got off the phone with Valeria Garza, over at Lankershim. She told me about how you found her granddaughter. She also told me about a cat you found recently. You’re a miracle worker according to her.”
“I’m here to help with the computers, Cannelita. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“Drink the coffee, Saul. It’ll help. Do you smoke? Smoking helps.”
“I don’t smoke.”
“Eat something greasy.”
“You throwing your money away on taxis now?” I said.
“I came in a taxi because I can’t find my car key and I don’t know how to get ahold of the Uber guys. I’ve been looking for the key since last night. I’m at my wit’s end.”
I stared at her.
“And?” I said.
“I want you to find it. You’re the one who can find things.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “Really?”
“I took my granddaughters to the movies and out for ice cream last night. Afterwards, I drove them back to their place and talked to my daughter for a while. When I got home, I locked the car with the key. I heard the beep. Later I wanted to get back into the car for a drawing one of my granddaughters did while I was talking to her mom, and I couldn’t find the key.”
She stood there with an expectant look on her face.
“When I’m done here, I’ll give you a ride home,” I said. “We’ll retrace your steps and find the key... Just a single key?”
“I hide my house key in my yard so I won’t lose it. Look, just find my car key now, on that,” she said, pointing at the computer. “You don’t need to make a special trip.”
“I’m saving you the cab fare,” I said.
Cannelita nodded and headed off to her Peace of Mind class in the San Fernando room. I sat waiting for the pill to kick in. Another satisfied customer. I could satisfy Garza too, without Tommy getting hurt, but it meant helping Tommy make some money and I wasn’t crazy about doing that.
* * *
My third evening with Liesl, I went over to the school and we walked back to her apartment together, freshened up, and took the T over to Boston’s North End. We had a look at the Old North Church and dinner at a lively, no-frills Italian place on Hanover Street. I used my phone and we caught a quick lift to a club off Boylston across from the Boston Common. The line moved fast.
Liesl got checked rigorously because she looked so young. She got in free, as we had arrived a little early in the evening. Inside, the bouncers had all got word of her Aryan aspect and accent and, being white-power types, made sure to come over, get acquainted with her and assure her that she’d have a good time. I was invisible to them.
In no time we had a premium table and sat drinking and watching the DJ in action. The drinks were weak, a good thing, and the music had a West Coast feel. The bouncers stayed close. Liesl handled them like she handled her students.
“There are these types everywhere,” she said to me, not in a harsh way, indicating the nearest of them.
“No problem for you,” I said.
She seemed to enjoy the music and the scene. I knew the DJ and introduced her to him, and to some kids from BU. We tried a little dancing. Liesl kept it simple but put out a European vibe that drew frequent looks. The security team kept hopeful eyes on her, ready to come over for any reason.
On the way back to Cambridge, we held hands sitting side by side in a subway car on the Blue Line. I had done some hand-holding in my time, but never like this. I was out of my depth, out of my league, and a little out of my mind.
In the morning, Liesl sat me down in front of the scanner and after powering on the console but not the scanner, explained the controller to me in detail, displaying a generous list of commands on the console screen. Afterwards, we walked down for breakfast and over to the campus. We parted at Liesl’s office door, and I found myself free for the day and returned to the flat and the scanner.
It did not take me long to master the system’s controls, given Liesl’s training that morning. In an hour or two, I could go where I wanted in time, in physical location, in whatever universe. It also did not take me long to realize that I was not dealing with a video game or any other VR product-to-be. When I could no longer deny the truth, I stopped scanning, unstrapped my headset, and left the room to pace around the apartment.
Back in my chair, I powered up the system and focused on the virtual me. I put time in reverse. I watched myself back up through the morning, increasing the scan or framing rate. In minutes I was following myself back through the past days, then weeks.
I stopped the scan, shaking my head and muttering to myself, reset the device to the present moment and scanned across adjacent worlds in the multiverse. I passed over a monumental number of them before the image of me in the room changed. I was sitting in a different position. Again I increased the scan rate by orders of magnitude, until the other me was dressed differently than I was, then no longer in the room. Then the room was gone. I stepped up the rate again, and eventually the Earth itself was gone.
I stopped the scan and reset the device. I almost quit then but forced myself to do a third scan. I kept time and the universe constant and scanned up into space. In spite of the knowledge that I was sitting in a room in Cambridge, my stomach did a few flip-flops as I gained altitude.
I didn’t bother with the solar system, increasing the scan rate for space, not time, and zooming right into the center of the galaxy where I cut the engines, so to speak, and sat staring at the supermassive black hole in front of me. It wasn’t eating a star at the moment. Thank God for the conservation of angular momentum, or we’d all be inside the thing by now. Its event horizon shone with a peculiar light. I thought about scanning right into it, but I wasn’t ready for that.
I navigated up along the galaxy’s axis of rotation until I had a view of the whole barred, multi-armed spiral, two hundred billion stars glowing below me. When my thumb discontinued the scan with a click, two hours had passed and I was disoriented and had trouble standing up.
I powered down the system and retrieved a beer from the fridge, pacing the apartment as I drank it. I reviewed Liesl’s little science talk about dimensions.
I drank a second beer in front of the console. My gaze kept returning to the future toggle on the controller. I reached for my headset twice but didn’t pull it on. When the beer was gone, I got up, went downstairs, jumped in the Jeep, and drove over to Somerville to collect my clothes and some toiletries. My landlady asked me where I had been. I gave her a hug but words failed me and I left her standing on the stoop. From there I drove over to a cafe and bar named Cabhan’s, two blocks off Inman Square.
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone