It's That Time
The story always ends the same although it doesn’t always begin the same. This time I am sitting in the plane, hastily adjusting my seat rest and clumsily buckling my seat belt as directed by the flight attendant. Not particularly expecting any kind of trouble. Why should I? I had flown to space many times. Sometimes it was to the moon, or a space station, even to Eros once, for my honeymoon. This was no big deal. Why then am I so tense? I shake nervously as I hold a glass of water to my lips trying desperately to wash away that cotton-mouth feeling. The captain makes his announcement that we have been cleared for launch in T minus 3 minutes and counting, so we, the passengers, are instructed to place all personal items into the lockdown baskets beside us, lest they become free floating projectiles (what a sense of humor that guy) and discard any trash into the waste processor tubes—so much for the glass of water. I gulp down as much of it as I can, but still doesn’t seem to quench my thirst. I toss the glass into the tube splashing a few drops of water on my leg and my seat. I mutter a silent curse for being so clumsy, and brace myself for the flight. The captain announces we are ready for launch, and the ignition rocks the whole plane. The first stage booster rockets the plane forward with a lurch and we roar down the launch track. It feels like every bit of my body is trying to squeeze between the fibers in the back of my seat. These seats are never comfortable, for all the passengers that came before me left their own indentations in my seat; that’s why I always try to bring my own seat rest. This time it didn’t help much; I still felt uncomfortable, and there was something else wrong. Maybe it was just my imagination, but the plane seemed to be shimmying and shaking more than usual. After a few seconds we hit the bend in the track that points us up and the g-forces get so intense I feel like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest. A second later we leave the track and we’re headed for outer space. That’s when it happens… and it’s as if I can see the whole process in my mind… The engines begin to overheat from a leaky cooling valve and explode—and hurl the plane’s passenger compartment helter-skelter out over the desert sands of New Mexico. Whether compelled by fear or instinct, I can’t be sure, I reach for my seat belt, unbuckle it, and I’m thrown from the plane. From thousands of feet up I see the ground rushing towards me faster and faster still. I scream and flail my arms wildly, trying in vain to grasp anything that could break my fall, and then just before I smack into the desert sand… I wake up.
The cold sweat drips from my body as I sit bolt upright, and stare around at the strange scene surrounding me. Get a grip on yourself man. “Where am I?” I call out to no one in particular. This isn’t my home. Wait a minute; I think it’s time for a Self Check.
Now my training begins to kick in. For every stepper like me, these trips back in time can be very disorienting. Therefore, extensive training is required, and justified. Self check is designed to give the stepper a starting point from which he/she can begin to put back together the pieces of shattered time.
Start point: What do I last remember? Ok, I was back at the Time Port readying for a mission.
Who was the subject of the mission? Einstein. “Cool!”
What year is it? Ummm, back to that question later.
Who am I? Josh, Oh wait! Max.
What time is it? I glance at my alarm clock. “Oh crap! I gotta go!”
Today was a beautiful sunny day, in complete diametric opposition of the gloomy night before, in which the rain poured down in icy cold sheets, joined by torrent blasts of wind, brilliant flashes of lightning and the rumbling drumbeats of thunder. Those who chose to stay up and witness it were treated to quite a show of nature’s fury. Today, however, one could barely tell that anything had happened, except for the few puddles here and there that lined the streets and the scattered slushy mud holes in the grass. This morning the sky was crystal clear, as if the sun had chased away those stormy clouds like they were misbehaving children sneaking out at night to play. The campus of Princeton University looked simply wonderful bathed in the golden morning sunshine. Birds chirped and twittered happily as they glided by, carefully inspecting every inch of the glistening green grass below them—the fresh rain always brings worms up out of the ground—a feast to behold. Even the trees seemed a bit taller as if they were stretching up to greet the morning sun. The scene brought hope that spring would come a tad bit early to New Jersey.
This panorama of beauty splayed about him, and the crisp fresh air filled his lungs, but Josh had little time to drink it all in. He was late! The professor’s lecture was about to start in five minutes and he had to hurry or he wouldn’t get there on time. This was to be one of Albert Einstein’s last public speaking engagements, and Josh wasn’t about to miss such a special event. He wasn’t even sure what the professor would be speaking about, but it made no difference—this was the Albert Einstein!
The young man who would be recognized by his fellow students on campus as Max Roberts stood about 5’6”, couldn’t weigh more than 125 lbs, and had a very sleek athletic build. His eyes were brown with a hint of green and blue so that one would say they were hazel. He had dark brown hair that Josh had clumsily combed back and swept to the sides, with a slight curl at each side in the front. This style was old fashioned even for the time, but Josh was still getting used to this era, and hadn’t quite caught on to the style and fashion yet. In his later years Max would wear a short mustache slightly curled down, but for now he kept a clean-shaven face as most of his facial hair wasn’t growing well enough yet to do anything decent with it. He wore dark brown dress slacks and a white long-sleeved collar shirt pinstriped in grey; a dark brown tie in a full Windsor knot and hung just slightly below his belt—again the style was dated, but at least Josh kept the look neat and tidy. His shoes—now muddy brown—were actually black loafers when polished.
At the moment, Josh was very pleased with Max as his host, because Max was built for speed. This ability he had to test, for now he had to run. If Max…well Josh… hadn’t slept so late he wouldn’t have had to be in such a hurry. Racing along the sidewalk now, he checked his time once more, decided to risk running across the wet grass, just barely skirted by a slippery mud puddle, and bounded up the steps to the lecture hall. The doors were just closing as most of the crowd had already entered, but he quickly pulled out his papers showed them to the door usher and slipped in.
It was March 11, 1955; as usual Josh was a few weeks early for his job. This was common practice among his fellow Steppers, and most would claim it was to allow them to get to know their subjects better before making the approach. However, most everyone back at the Time Port knew that there were always special events in history happening around the same time and location of a jump point, that Steppers enjoyed witnessing—Josh was no exception. As long as the timeline wasn’t altered significantly, management took a “no-harm-no-foul” attitude. Besides, Josh argued, this lecture would be the best time to enter Max’s life and introduce himself to Albert. Joshua Albert Roberts took special interest his Great-great-great-grandfather Albert Einstein ever since he learned he was in his pedigree. Albert being his subject meant that he was the one Josh was to persuade to come back with him.
The lecture hall filled with chatter and scuffling noises as students, scientists and a small number of journalists jostled to find their seats and engaged in small talk with those around them. Out of the corner his eye, Josh could see Albert sitting down at the desk just two rows lower facing the audience. Albert wore his usual attire right down to his shoes with no socks and typical unkempt hair. He looked rather feeble though and very worn down. The spark in those eyes—in so many of the pictures Josh had seen of him—seemed all but gone in him now. Still Josh’s excitement grew, as this was the first time seeing him in person as opposed to pictures and holovids. There he was alive and in living color and this time Josh—well Max—would be introducing himself to Albert.
Sitting beside Albert was middle-aged man, properly dressed for the occasion wearing a dark pinstriped suit and white shirt, complete with a bow tie and freshly polished wing tip shoes (and socks). His short cropped hair was neatly combed with a part in the middle; his mustache under his bulbous nose was also neatly trimmed and curved over his thin lips perfectly, even his eyebrows seemed to be neatly kept. Josh wondered if this was just for the speaking engagement or if this man always kept himself this proper. As the man stood up and slightly cleared his throat, Josh could see that he probably stood about 6’3”. At the tall man’s gesture, the crowd began to quiet down some, but not quite enough for the tall man, so he quickly added in a commanding though slightly high-pitched voice, “Gentlemen, could you please take your seats, as we are about to proceed.” With that, everyone quickly found a vacant seat, took out a notepad and pen, and gave the man their undivided attention.
However, the last statement by the tall man stood out in Josh’s mind: “Gentlemen!” With a quick look around Josh realized, he’s right! There were no ladies present. In Josh’s time this would be very odd. The tall man then began, “Today we will be discussing Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. As Professor Einstein is not feeling well I will be delivering the bulk of the lecture; however, Professor Einstein will be here to answer questions at the end of the lecture.”
Now Josh became a bit embarrassed, as he had not thought to bring Max’s notebooks, nor anything to write with for that matter. It hadn’t occurred to him that he would blend in better if he could be taking some notes, not to mention those notes could have been a wonderful treasure for Max to pass on to his children. His table partner must have seen the befuddled look on his face, for he leaned close and whispered, “Pssst. Hey! Do you need a notebook? I have an extra one.”
“Oh bless you.” Josh answered back in a whisper.
“Name’s John, John Post, saw you hurryin’ through the doors. Reckon you forgot your books at your last lesson, ’ey?” said his partner.
Josh smiled as he recognized the name, what luck he thought. John seemed to be a few inches taller than Max, though Josh couldn’t tell for sure, for they were both sitting down. His dirty blond hair was slicked back neatly in that “new” fifty’s style. Under his sweater Josh could just see he was wearing a white t-shirt—probably rolled up at the sleeves, for the sweater was slightly bulging just past the shoulder. He wore blue jeans and from what Josh could tell it looked like he had on penny loafers. Were it not for the sweater, Josh could swear he reminded him of that popular rebellious actor of the day…James Dean, wasn’t it? John was to be Max’s future brother-in-law; although, neither he nor John knew—Josh did. For the moment this news would be best kept under wraps.
“I sure did.” Josh replied, “Could I trouble you for a pen, as well?”
“Not a problem,” whispered John.
“Thanks, name’s Jo—er—Max, Max Roberts.” said Josh, almost forgetting himself “I promise to return them after the lecture.”
“K” said John, “that’ll be cool.”
The tall man doing the speaking had just finished introducing himself and giving a little bit of his background along with how and when he had had the fortune of meeting Professor Einstein. Josh missed it all, but no matter—at least he was ready now for the lecture to begin. Of course he was looking forward more to the question and answer part after the lecture.
Now the tall man wrote on the blackboard using chalk—such a crude way of conveying information, Josh mused. He wondered just how much more advanced our civilization would have been if only Einstein could have used an interactive holographic-imaging projector to work out his complex equations. How easily he could have projected his equations in three-dimensional space and then tested what would happen if he adjusted each of the variables. Then he realized if he were successful in his mission, Einstein would indeed have all these resources at his fingertips. This thought brought a smile across Josh’s—well Max’s face. Wow! How would it be to work with Albert Einstein? Taking his work several steps further, writing new papers, filling crystal upon crystal chip storage with new equations, new simulations to run, and taking notes for all the scientists of his time to mull over and make their own equations, notes, simulations and papers. Notes?! Josh snapped back to the present, realizing he was missing the lecture.
By now the basic equation E=mc2 had been drawn on the board, along with the side notes defining each variable:
E – Represents energy
m – The mass of an object and
c2 – Is the speed of light squared
“The variable c representing the speed of light in a vacuum being a constant 299,792,458 meters per second… “
Quickly jotting down what was on the board and copying the tall man’s comments down, Josh’s eyes then began to glaze over for the next hour or so. For him this was like third grade all over again—mere child’s play. Still he kept his pen moving, not wanting to miss any notes. Finally, in a tone more upbeat than what he had used in his lecture, the tall man concluded with the statement, “At this time I will open the floor to any questions.”
Several hands went up, but Josh was not ready to ask his question yet. In fact of the questions that were asked, Josh himself could have easily answered most. Waiting patiently now, as the questions were answered one by one—mostly by the tall man, for he was able to field most of the questions too—Josh was formulating his question a little more with each passing moment. He wanted his question to be one of the last, and he would make it a big one. Quietly he sat gauging the difficulty, with which he should pose his question, so as not to sound overly brainy. However, he wanted to surpass the knowledge of the tall man and engage Professor Einstein directly with the question. After the tall man finished answering the last question, and it seemed there were no more hands raised, Josh took this as his cue, and raised his hand. “Yes,” gestured the tall man to Josh.
A slight wave of both excitement and nausea came across Josh as he realized he had the floor. Calming the butterflies in his stomach, he stood up, composed himself and began to pose his question.
“Professor, …um…” Josh started awkwardly—how he wished he had caught the tall man’s name! “My name is—um—Max Roberts. Y—You spoke of how an object distorts the space and time around it, and of course the more massive the object, the more distorted the space and time around it becomes. You also spoke of how, if an object is spinning, the distorted space and time around it will also be dragged around in a spiral. I believe you referred to this as frame dragging.”
“Yes that is correct,” assured the tall man.
Josh continued, “Assuming an object to be extremely massive, such as a black hole for example, and this black hole were spinning very rapidly, the frame dragging caused by this object would then be distorting space and time very significantly then?”
“Yes, perhaps theoretically, as black holes are only theoretical. None have actually been observed, and it has not yet been proposed that a black hole actually spins,” stated the tall man matter-of-factly.
Josh went on, having to suppress a grin, for in his time not only had black holes been observed—albeit indirectly—but some had also been observed spinning extremely rapidly, “Yes, of course, speaking strictly hypothetically. My question is; if I were an observer closing in near the equator of a super massive spinning object—like a spinning black hole—the closer I got to the object, would time appear to slow down more rapidly perhaps by years… maybe even hundreds of thousands of years? The cause being that time itself was dragged into a very long spiraling loop around this massive spinning object?” Josh concluded with perhaps an extra hint of over enthusiasm. He knew the answer of course, but the question had been directed to engage Einstein. It worked.
“Thank you, Stan! I will take this one,” Einstein interjected. So that was the tall man’s name, thought Josh. Without standing up, he continued, “That is a very good question, son. Max is it?”
Oh wow! I got his attention.
“Yes sir!” Josh replied.