Wednesday, 23 March 2016
And Last on Today's Agenda... | A Science Fiction Short Story by Michael Whitehouse
The Universe was about to end. This was, as they say, 'it'. The boardroom fell quiet.
'You can't just tell us the Universe is going to end, Stan, and then just sit down!' chairman Parkes barked. Parkes, though abrasive, overweight and often ruthless had a kind and fair air about him.
'Well sir...you see...I really don't want to cause any trouble', Stan replied slumped in his chair wishing he had said nothing. Looking around the room at the other board members, Stan could see everyone biting their lips while hiding their faces like children in a classroom trying not to laugh. Stan was a timid man, not used to attention, never wanting it in fact. Most did not notice him, sometimes he did not even notice himself, and when anyone did, ridicule swiftly followed.
Parkes leaned forward with a smirk on his face, gesturing to the leering faces around him and said confidently, 'Well, Stan my boy, I'd like to hear this tale of yours, I'm sure we all would.'
Neville, a gaunt, sly bully of a man, stood up. 'I'm sure Stan means well, but really the pressure of the job must be getting to him. I did object, if you all recall, on these very grounds to him being brought into the boardroom in the first place.'
'Now now, let the lad say his piece.' said Parkes, 'Even if it is the last time he speaks here. Go on son, the floor is yours.' Parkes sat down, waiting eagerly.
There was a silence. Stan cleared his throat and finally, after an internal dialogue of shoving and pushing, plucked up the courage to address Parkes and the other suits. 'Well, sir... Mr Parkes, esteemed board members...'
'Yes, yes.' Parkes interrupted, 'Just get to the point dear boy, I have a lunch with my wife in half an hour and she doesn't like me being late. Mrs Parkes is the only person that tells me what to do and when to do it.' Several board members broke rank, laughing loudly and then quickly returning to their previous disposition under the watchful eye of Mr Parkes.
Stan started again, 'Well, as I said, the Universe I'm afraid has had it.'
Stan tried to ignore it, feeling the usual twinge of anger and frustration at his own lack of confidence, brought about by public speaking. 'Part of my duty as a science adviser for this company has been to oversee some of its current and future projects.' The room grew quiet. 'One of those projects has been to increase the efficiency of the Marsden space telescope. For those unfamiliar with this part of company business, the Marsden Telescope was launched nearly ten years ago. NASA built and launched the telescope into orbit while we won the contract to maintain it.' A few nods around the room were accompanied by several blank faces. The company had many fingers in many pies, keeping track of every deal proved difficult for even Mr Parkes.
Stan continued, 'Well, what NASA doesn't know is that despite my objections the company uses this telescope for covert commercial purposes.'
Parkes quickly intervened, frightened that some of the company's more questionable activities were about to be discussed in public. 'Now Stan, I'm not sure this is the place for...'
'Well sir, you wanted me to tell you what is going on and this is exactly what I'm doing. It doesn't matter anyway as we will all be dead in about 12 hours.'
The sound of those words struck a chord with Stan. 12 hours...
You could now hear a pin drop in the boardroom; anxious frowns and murmurs replaced the mocking smiles and laughter that had seemed to haunt Stan throughout his life.
'Please, Stan,' said Neville in his usual condescending tone, 'I must apologise to my fellow board members, Stan is known for his fantasist ways, but this time he has gone too far!'
In the past this would have put Stan straight back in his seat with his eyes trained on the ground, but not now. Why be afraid any more, when he knew what he knew? For the first time in his life, Stan found himself imbued with the confidence of no consequence. He thought this ironic considering the little time he had to enjoy it.
'Shall I continue, Mr Parkes?'
'Yes boy, please do.' said Parkes shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
'The commercial operations involved with the Marsden telescope that I'm speaking of range from identifying future mining projects, such as asteroids or comets, and identifying areas on the moon for our proposed lunar base. This is achieved covertly; once the information we require has been gleaned, we delete this information from the data and NASA is none the wiser to our using their 23 billion dollar piece of hardware for our own ends.' Stan stepped back. Placing his hand in his jacket pocket he produced a marker pen. 'Mr Parkes, may I use this white board?'.
'Of course, I'm intrigued, but remember,' Parkes said while tapping his watch, 'lunch with the better half, so be quick about it.'
Stan approached the white board at the back of the room and began as only an academic can, scribbling notes, equations and diagrams as he spoke. 'In recent weeks, scientists have noticed an anomaly around a quasar called M-23B. One of the Marsden's recent instructions was to gather information from this Quasar to ascertain the nature of the anomaly.'
'What sort of anomaly?' an unknown board member asked.
Stan loosened his brown tie slightly and answered. 'It got closer.'
Based on the unchanging blank faces in front of him, Stan realised he was lecturing to non-scientific businessmen and women. He continued in a more accessible fashion.
'The Quasar...the object which moved is now 1.5 million light years closer to earth than it was 2 months ago, or has been for billions of years. There is no proven force in this universe that can account for such a shift. Not to mention the fact that no object can travel faster than the speed of light as far as we know. Yet this object appears to have done just that. It has moved towards us, covering an unthinkable distance in the blink of an eye. So this was indeed a great puzzle.'
'It's interesting, but this thing is millions of light years away by the sound of it, so why the big fuss?' sniped Neville.
Stan frowned. 'This 'thing' as you call it is twice the size of our galaxy. It's not like moving a piece of furniture. The Quasar has moved 1.5 million light years over night.'
Parkes grew impatient, 'Stan, this has been lovely, but let's just get to the point.'
Stan replied abruptly, 'Mr Parkes, I know you need to meet your wife. I know your time is precious, but everyone's time is precious, because we all have less than 12 hours of it left to live, and I'm spending mine for god knows what reason, imparting the last piece of scientific knowledge I shall ever discover to you.'
Stan stopped his scribbling and looked intently at the boardroom. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he realised he had taken the floor, like the people he had always admired at parties or conferences that could captivate an audience. There was no longer any point in him worrying about social conventions and pressures, now for the first time in his life he could just be himself.
'Ladies and Gentlemen, until this morning a scientific concept known as the multi-verse was but a theoretical proposition, an idea in an egg-head, as you, let's be frank, yuppies like to think us scientists.' Stan ripped the tie from around his neck. 'That's better.'
Pacing up and down in front of the white board, he continued, 'I'll dispense with these diagrams and equations, because you just can't or perhaps won't understand them, will you?'
Parkes leaned forward in his chair and said, 'Don't push it boy.'
Smirking, Stan said, 'The gist of this theory of the multi-verse is that our Universe is not alone. There are other Universe's out there. In fact, there are an almost infinite number of Universe's out there. All floating around in space, like bubbles.' Stan illustrated these bubbles with his hands like a child trying to catch a butterfly. 'The difficulty is that we could only ever infer the existence of these other verses. We could never prove that they were really there. The only way we could prove it would be if something highly unlikely and entirely catastrophic occurred.'
'And what's that?' moaned Neville.
Stan grew more serious and said, 'A collision.'
'A collision between what?' Parkes asked.
'The only way we could prove the existence of these other Universes', said Stan rolling the pen marker in his right hand, "is if one hit ours. If one Universe, one bubble, collided with our bubble, our Universe. This has now happened...' Stan sat down.
'OK, Stan, if you are right and not mad as I suspect, surely this has happened millions of light years away and we'll be just fine?' asked Neville, a frightened tone now slipping into his voice.
'You would think so, but, and I've always wanted to say this, you're wrong Neville, as usual.' said Stan with an unprecedented level of command in his voice. Neville sneered as the boardroom began to ignore him and pay absolute attention to Stan's every breath.
Taking off his glasses, folding them up and popping them into his jacket pocket, Stan pushed the hair away from his eyes revealing a surprisingly handsome and youthful face. 'Think of it like this; the Universe is a bubble, but a instead of of being made of soapy water, think of it as being made of something similar to glass. If you have a small impact on one part of the glass ball, you'll just get a chip, a small dent. But if you put enough pressure on that chip, that small dent will become a crack. Add even more pressure and that crack will tear across the bubble, criss crossing it's surface until finally it will shatter into a thousand pieces. It won't contain it's original form any more, and whatever was inside it will be destroyed by the impact; for all intents and purposes the bubble has burst.'
'Look, Stan I know a little something about physics, and the fact is that the Quasar, if in fact it has moved, moved millions of years ago. It took that long for the light to reach us so we could see it. So surely the bubble bursting isn't imminent?' laughed Neville as he became increasingly delusional.
'You don't get it! As always! Normally that would be the case, but these bubbles floating around, each one has its own rules, its own set of physics. So in our Universe gravity is a force of attraction, in another it could be a force of repulsion, or a force that turns you inside out. In our Universe we perceive dimensions of width, length, and breadth, but in another, there may only be length and width. Time could run backwards, and most probably, there would be a completely different set of physical laws that we couldn't even conceive of. The impact is just happening, the reason we can see it, is that the laws of that other universe are spewing into ours. So in that universe, light travels much, much faster. ' Stan leaned back in his chair comfortably. 'Therefore, our laws are being broken. This shift, this wave of energy, this collision is happening as we speak, as we are talking right now. The greatest show in the multi-verse, and you all have front seats..."
'Then, what will happen?' asked another nervous anonymous board member.
'We have just under 12 hours left. My calculations are spot on, the crack has grown. Finally as the other universe pushes through ours, there will be a wave of space time, that will contort and twist everything in it. It will travel across the universe appearing to us like a mirror image of ourselves and the space around us. Then, when the wave has traversed the bubble, the pressure will become too great, waves of energy bumping into one another other, colliding. The universe will then shatter like glass. This will occur at a sub atomic level, destroying everything and everyone in our existence.'
Stan smiled, 'On the upside, this is probably how our Universe began, with a massive collision. A big bang. So it seems poetic that this is how it should end, with the birth of a new reality. You win some you lose some I guess.' Stan stood up, the boardroom now in an uproar of fearful and antagonistic voices. Now though, these voices meant nothing to Stan.
'That's about it, here is all my information on the anomaly.' Stan placed a disk on the boardroom table. 'It contains video of this mirror image moving towards us. In the next 2 hours you'll be able to see it with the naked eye in any case. Now, I'm going out on a date, hopefully, if she says yes. You all have a wonderful evening. Good day, ladies and gentlemen.' Stan left the room feeling more alive than he ever had.
The board members all stared at the disc wondering who should put it into the boardroom computer. Then Parkes spoke, 'I don't know if that kid is telling the truth, it may be that he has lost his marbles and should be locked up, but maybe, in fact, certainly, we should treat the next 12 hours as our last just in case.'
'But sir! What are we to do if this is real!' Neville pleaded.
Parkes smiled mischievously to himself, 'Well even if he is mad, that boy Stan has the right idea. I'm going to take my wife out for lunch, tell her I love her and buy her something nice. As for you Neville, I don't know. I don't really care either, I never liked you.'
Parkes exited the boardroom, his boisterous laugh could be heard from down the hallway as Neville slid the disc into the computer.