CHAPTER 1 ~ The Space-Sphere
Elizabeth repositioned to the SPA’s rampart high atop a renovated monastery on Thirasia, across from the extinct volcano and the tourist destination Santorini.
Oliver followed. “What the hell happened to them, Liz?”
“To Cato? We haven’t established that it’s the same sphere we made for him.” She paced nervously. “Tobin said he’d meet us here.”
The mysterious sphere, hidden at L2, a place referenced only by its relative physical description close behind the moon, forever out of earth’s sight, might be the one they’d created for Cato and several hundred Followers, or not. Other than a copy, though, she couldn’t image what else it might be. Months ago, they had made two spheres for Cato’s journey across the galaxy. As one of the five Lagrangian points, where the gravity of the earth, the moon, and the sun conspire to produce five stable places, L2 was a safe place to hide something as large as the space-sphere. The odd thing was Cato never discussed returning or making any additional contact.
Much to her relief, Tobin, her college-aged nephew, the inventor and creator of the spheres, appeared at her side. Eager to investigate, she went to the point of their meeting. “I have to see it now.”
He tipped his head in greeting to Oliver then turned to her. “Then, let’s go, we need to check that thing out.” With everyone standing in a tight circle, he carefully removed a small semi-transparent sphere about the size of a golf ball from a pocket deep inside his robe and held it in his hand for all to see.
Elizabeth bent close. The clear, almost invisible orb, which nestled around an inscribed twelve-sided dodecahedron, never ceased to amaze her. Possessing a tiny floating ring, it looked like a crystal model of Saturn. The beauty of the thing was mesmerizing, but what it could become was a marvel beyond belief.
Tobin placed the sphere on the flat stone ground, and then touched both sides to make a copy before returning the original to his robe. “This is the miniature from which I built the two for Cato and his Followers.”
“Tell me,” she said, holding Oliver’s hand and backing away, “could Cato or one of his Seekers have made an exact copy?”
“I gave them a small one and showed them how to copy it and change its size to the two-mile radius space-sphere as you’ve seen me do. So yes. Any Seeker can figure out how to do it. Watch.” Like a magician, he pointed to the small sphere with his index fingers. Touching them together like a schoolboy making a finger gun, he slowly backed away spreading his arms wide over his head. The sphere, containing an almost invisible network of the green edges of twelve pentagons, grew above them until it filled half the rampart.
“Ready to go?” He beamed a smile like a lighthouse beacon and Oliver placed a few affectionate pats on his back.
“It’s beautiful, my boy. You’re quite the craftsman. Your pride is well warranted.”
The three repositioned inside and in return for his praise, Tobin offered his uncle the helm. “Care to drive?”
Oliver raised an eyebrow. “Uh . . . umm . . . can you tell me how?”
A hoot of laughter escaped Elizabeth’s lips before she could catch it. “I thought you were paying attention every time you were in one of these things.
“Not so much, it seems.”
Tobin took pity on him. “You remember the spheres we built Cato? The one we’re in is the same as them only one hundredth the size. Concentrate on this sphere and imagine you see it behind the moon.”
“That’s it? That’s all you’re going to tell me? You sound like George. ‘All you have to do is imagine it and if it is in your repertoire, your mind would do the rest.’ You must be kidding.” He put his hand on his forehead and drew it slowly over the top of his head. When he dropped his hand his hair stuck out over his ears. “That’s no explanation at all.”
Elizabeth smoothed his spikey hair and cupped his cheek in her hand. “You know we can’t explain all the science behind our powers. Even George, who knows more physics then anyone, can only speculate on most of it.”
Oliver looked like he’d swallowed something sour. “So, I just pretend I can fly this thing?” For seconds he folded his arms across his chest, and then shook his head. “Nope, that won’t work.”
Elizabeth pointed her finger. “You’re better than you think.”
Following her direction, he saw a tiny crystal-like orb reflecting sparkles of bright sunlight. His eye grew wide and he muttered something in Norwegian. “Is that it?”
“Great piloting, Uncle Oliver. Take us closer for a complete fly-by.”
“How’s that accomplished? Another reposition?”
“See, even the largest of the space spheres has the thin ring around it. That ring is your mind’s link to moving the sphere. The ring causes the space around the sphere to bend, thereby creating an artificial gravity within, which determines the sphere’s perpetual bottom.” They drew near and the huge mysterious sphere filled their view. In fact, it was an independent world with land and lakes and buildings. It was fully sustainable for life, which was the purpose when the originals had been made for Cato and his Followers for their galaxy quest.
Oliver’s brow furrowed. “Perpetual?”
Elizabeth bobbed her head. “No matter how the sphere moves through space, gravity inside the sphere is always the same.” She pointed at her feet. “And it’s always down there.”
“Ah, I remember the time we trekked across the ice fields on a dog sled you put inside your first sphere. We had gravity and you used the ring to steer it.”
The memory of them huddled like spoons in a utensil drawer, wrapped in fur-lined clothes, suddenly warmed by repositioning inside a small sphere caused her to smile. “I should’ve let you drive some.”
“Nonsense, I had barely awakened.”
“It’s easy, my dear. You use your mind to disrupt that bending and the sphere’s effort to return it to equilibrium makes it move.”
“Use your mind to make a tiny rotational lift of any part of the ring and you’ll go slowly in that direction. Depress any part of the ring down to back away from that direction. The more you move the ring down, the faster you go.”
“So you really intend me to drive?”
“Go easy until you get the hang of it. Then, there’s no sub-light speed you can’t attain immediately. Move us closer and then we’ll want a viz before we go inside.”
Elizabeth huffed in exasperation. “I don’t see a damn thing that gives us any indication of what’s going on. It certainly seems identical to one of Cato’s spheres. It looks exactly as his did when he took off with it except there’s no visual sign of Followers inside. I don’t sense them underground either.”
“We still need to reposition inside for a closer look.”
Elizabeth put a hand on Tobin’s arm. “I am the one who will be going inside. You two will watch my back. Ollie, I need you to scan the space around the sphere. If you see anything odd, pull me out. Don’t wait to see if it’s a threat, I can always return later. Got it?”
He nodded and squeezed her hand. “Careful, love.”
She gave an inelegant snort. “Just another rabbit-hole.”
Because she’d helped Tobin design the sphere, Elizabeth knew every square inch of it. She suppressed her first impulse to go to Cato’s control center, and instead, repositioned inside the medical facility. Everything was in its original place and never used. How could that be? A cold chill ran up her spine. She hoped she’d placed Ollie or Tobin, for that matter, in harm’s way because she needed him close by? Tobin’s with him, but he’s been a bit impulsive lately.
She scanned the area again looking for abnormalities. The portable console screen in the corner was different. One of the newer models looked like a rectangular nine-foot by four-foot of clear glass on wheels. When activated, however, she knew it became an interactive computer screen.
She touched the start icon, hoping for a message. Within seconds, a realistic image of George appeared. George? Although the image’s facial expressions gave her the feeling he actually recognized her, she knew her longtime friend and collaborator was actually a cleverly realistic recording. Nevertheless, he might have a clue as to what was happening.
“George. What the—”
“Elizabeth, good to see you were able to find us.”
“Us’? Who is—”
Before she could finish, the image of George raised a hand and continued, “No doubt you figured out this is a non-interactive recording. So, for once,” the image chuckled, “I’ll be doing all the talking without one of your insightful questions. I know you have many, so I’ll get on with the answers.”
Oh, great. She wanted a conversation with one of the top physicists on earth and a fellow Nobel Prize winner to boot and instead she gets his questionable sense of humor and answers to questions she might or might not have.
“First answer. You asked me to make this recording.” He grinned. “Yes, Elizabeth, that was an answer. You are the one who demanded this recording be made. You always were a bit on the dictatorial side, but I like that about you.”
<Ollie, Tobin, are you hearing and seeing this?>
Their affirmative <yes> came in unison.
“But I digress. The answer begs another question, doesn’t it?” He paused as if giving her time to ask and wore that gleeful expression he got when he had an arcane physics tidbit of knowledge to impart. “Ready? Here it is, the answer to your question is only if you believe time travel is possible.”
As though knowing she needed time to think, the image of George wavered in silence before her. Time travel? What were the implications of that in this context?
“Elizabeth? Are you with me? I know your mind is churning with what I said, but we need to move on.”
It was hard to remember her friend was not really there. His timing was so attuned to her reaction. Her mind was stuck on the concept, just as he’d guessed.
He waited a moment more, giving her time to marshal her thoughts. “The next answer is, yes. Time travel is possible, but only if you do not interfere with the mind’s control of it.” He laughed, “I should have taught my classes this way when I was a teaching assistant at Rice.” His recording didn’t pause this time. “All right, the last answer. Because only the mind is capable of avoiding a time-travel paradox.”
<Again the mind,> Oliver’s voice sputtering into her head. <George puts time-travel on the same level as piloting a sphere.>
She couldn’t refute that. <Wait. There’s more.>
“—so to be fair, I’ll stop frustrating you with answers. It’d be best if you sit down and talked this through with someone live and I have just the person.” He paused like he expected her to ask the question.
His image stilled, and she worked at digesting what she’d heard. It was all too bizarre. Surely if she’d told him to do this video, she’d have told him to make more sense?
George counted on his fingers. “When you entered this room, two things occurred. One, the system confirmed you were actually here, and two, it sent a Q-bit, a small piece of quantum code, to someone alerting her you were here. My time is up. Be sure to visit me in Chicago when you can.”
He raised a hand in what she thought was to say good-bye, but instead, he pointed his finger down and wove it in a circle. “You should turn around now.” The screen went blank.
Her breathing hitched and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She was no longer alone on the sphere’s medical center.
Why hadn’t Ollie pulled her out? She turned, preparing for the worst.
Instead, she found herself starring face-to face with herself.