They already knew the experiment to send a probe back an hour in time, didn’t work. Yet all eyes were focused on the probe in the Closed Timelike Curve (CTC) chamber where Dr. Clarke was setting up the experiment. None more so than Dr. Jane Seymour, it was her work on the theory of CTCs that had, in part, led to this experiment.
An hour ago, at 11:00am, Jane along with the other scientists had watched as the probe failed to materialise in the chamber. Now, in one of those twists in dealing with time travel, they were forced to conduct the experiment. Failure to complete the experiment would also cause the probe to fail to appear.
Dr Seymour, a researcher/professor at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) in Cambridge England, had determined an object could be sent back in time using a CTC without breaking Novikov’s self consistency principle. Once sent back the object would age until the time it was sent back in time – creating what she called ‘The Groundhog Loop’. Named after her favourite time travel picture, Groundhog Day.
Dr. Ronald Clarke, UC Berkeley, was attempting to generate a CTC inside a small chamber. Jane had published an article sceptical of Dr. Clarke’s idea that a CTC could be generated inside a chamber. She, like most scientists, thought a CTC could only be generated near a black hole where the normal rules of space-time started to break down.
With limited space in the room housing the chamber, Dr Seymour along with other scientists and a few members of the media observed the experiment down the hall in the server room. The event was being streamed, while there was a large monitor setup, most were watching and recording the event on their laptops. They watched as the scientists loaded the probe into the chamber and started the timer that would activate the chamber at precisely 12:00 noon. While the probe was small, no bigger than a laptop computer, the chamber was much larger 1m x 1m and 2m tall.
At two minutes before noon, a high speed camera started. Originally designed to capture the moment when the probe that had been sent into the past merged (for want of a better word) with the present version, now it might give a clue to what had gone wrong. It would start two minutes before noon and run for five minutes. The video file would be automatically sent to the server.
There were three people in the chamber room at the start of the experiment: Dr. Clarke, who had designed the experiment; John Wilson, Dr. Clarke’s Phd candidate and Richard Thompson, the electrical engineer. At noon, those watching the video feed saw the screen flash then go dead followed immediately by the sound of an explosion.
The lights flickered then went out, the emergency lights came on; the room was filled with the scream of the uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) powering the room’s computer systems.
After a moment of shock, panic set in. Everyone rushed for the door. Some ran to the building exit while a few, including Dr. Seymour rushed towards the chamber room.
Richard Thompson had stumbled into the hall. He had burns to most of the front of his body. Glancing inside Jane could see the bodies of Dr. Clarke and John Wilson, they were trapped under rubble and appeared to be dead. The room and hall were starting to fill with toxic smoke from burning electrical equipment. Two of the men were helping Thompson towards the exit. Everyone else, except Jane, were hurrying to the exit.
There was a problem to be solved, she wasn’t going to let something like a fire stop her.
First she took a closer look at the chamber. The walls were buckled inward – so an implosion not an explosion. She took a few quick high definition shots with her phone. Then she glanced up at the high speed camera. The lens was smashed but the red light indicated that it still had power.
She needed to get back to the server room.
The door to the server room was closed but not locked and there wasn’t anyone in the room. As she hoped, the computer tech hadn’t signed off his workstation before he left the room and the system still hadn’t timed out.
She only had a few minutes before the fire department would arrive – she had to work fast.
First she locked the door. Then, grabbing a USB to micro USB cord from her computer bag, she plugged her phone into the workstation. Assuming the file from the camera would be the last one saved to the server, she quickly found the file she wanted and started copying it to her phone.
The file had just finished being copied to her phone when she heard the sirens arrive. Disconnecting her phone; editing the ‘syslog’, removing evidence of the file transfer; putting the cord back in her bag and logging off the workstation she grabbed her laptop and started towards the door. A quick glance through the safety window in the fire door showed the hall was filled with smoke.
She was trapped. Unlocking the door, she sat back down and waited to be rescued.
Not one to waste time, she texted Janice Holland, her best friend and chief librarian at the Betty & Gordon Moore Library at DAMTP.
“Accident at Berkley CTC experiment. Copy and save any images and videos posted online before everything gets locked down.”
Then connecting to her server via the Tor network, so it couldn’t be traced, she uploaded the purloined file and the images of the chamber to her server, then deleted the file from her phone. Expecting to be interrogated about the accident she left the images on her phone. ‘No one would believe that I hadn’t taken any pictures.’ Finally, again using Tor, she uploaded the video that had been streamed to her laptop to her server.
After about fifteen minutes the door opened. A firefighter, with the mask of his Scott pack hanging loose, came in.
Jane smiled, putting on her – I’m just a dumb girl. – look, “I came back to get my laptop.”
The firefighter shook his head. He had seen people run back into burning buildings before – some had been brought out in body bags. “You are lucky to be alive. . . . The hallway is safe now, you can leave.”
As she left the building – a medic and a rather large man in a dark suit greeted her.
‘MI5 or FBI, government agents dress the same. . . . . MI5 has better tailors.’
After the medic had checked her over the other man came over.
“Dr. Jane Seymour?”
“Agent Devon Walsh, FBI. You need to come with me.”
“Do I have a choice?”
Walsh led her to his car and they drove in silence. Jane’s mind was going over her time in the server room – had she missed anything.
‘I didn’t see any cameras – but you never know. The only trace I was on the computer would be the timestamp on the syslog. If I had known I had that much time I would have fixed that before I logged off.’
An hour later Jane was in a windowless room in the Federal Bureau of Investigation building on Grant Ave, San Francisco. In the room was a small desk with a single chair in front. A man with the same dark suit that all government agents are seemingly required to wear was sitting behind the desk, Walsh stood by the door.
In her dealings with MI5 Jane had come to realise there were two types of government agents. Men like Walsh, honest, brave and completely without guile. You always knew where you stood with them. Then there were those like the one sitting at the desk shrewd, manipulative and ruthless.
‘Put on a brave face. This man is dangerous.’
The man looked up from the papers scattered on the desk – “Sit down Dr. Seymour.”
“Please – call me Jane.”
“Jane – I am Jim Roberts, Homeland Security”
Jane wasn’t surprised. Since the cyber attacks in 2026, Homeland Security seemed to have their fingers in everything – an explosion at a university would certainly trigger a response.
Roberts continues – “I have been told you are the leading expert on time travel. . . . What can you tell me about Dr. Clarke’s experiment?”
Smiling “I think Dr. Carroll might disagree with my being the leading expert. . . . . As for the experiment, not much. Dr. Clarke was quite secretive about his theories. . . . Except for certain areas around a Black Hole, it is my opinion that time travel is impossible. Dr. Clarke said it was possible, I may have been wrong.”
Roberts looked surprised.
“You think Clarke really generated a CTC?”
Jane was impressed. ‘He knows about CTCs – smart – he is more dangerous than I thought.’
“Without seeing Dr. Clarke’s work I would only be guessing. But, yes it is possible.” Jane knew she needed time to investigate what happened. ‘Lets see if I can lead him down a rabbit hole.’
“So you have a theory on what caused the explosion?”
“If your techs are doing their job you will know it wasn’t an explosion. The walls were buckled inward, it was an implosion. As for the cause, whatever caused the probe to disappear probably sucked out all the air as well – creating a vacuum.”
“And you think that was due to a CTC?”
“Like I said, just guessing. . . . But, assuming Dr. Clarke did create the conditions to form a CTC, that would also create a paradox. . . . At some instance in time, as the CTC formed, the probe from the past and the probe being sent back to the past would exist in the same place at the same time. . . . That can’t happen – the probe being sent back to the past would be destroyed. Which means the probe from the past wouldn’t exist.”
Roberts could see where this was going. “And with no probe from the past, the probe in the present would still exist and be sent back in and it would repeat.”
Jane nodded ‘He’s buying this.’
“Again, only guessing but it seems right.” smiling “I don’t suppose you will give me access to Dr. Clarke’s work.”
Roberts just grinned. “All Dr. Clarke’s work is now classified Top Secret.”
‘Of course they are.’ Jane had done enough work with MI5 to know anything they didn’t understand was automatically classified Top Secret. It didn’t surprise her that Homeland Security would do the same.
“May I see your phone.”
Jane hands him her mobile. “Its not locked.”
Roberts scrolls through the phone. “Not much here?”
“Only what I need for my trip.”
“Do you always delete your call logs?”
“I assume these pictures have been uploaded to a server somewhere.” Jane shrugs. Roberts deletes the files on the phone anyway. “What is this app ‘In Case of an Emergency’?”
Jane chuckles – “Just a bit of fun. Try it and see.”
Roberts opens the app and a message scrolls across the screen “Not now stupid - just in an emergency”. He smiles and hands the phone back unaware he has activated a tracking program.
Roberts was in a quandary. He knew the ‘crazies’ would be building some kind of conspiracy around the explosion. The last thing he needed was having Jane talk to the press about time travel. He could control the media and the American scientists, she would be harder to control.
“Agent Walsh will drive you back to your hotel to collect your things then to the airport. I am booking you on the next flight back to the UK. Agent Walsh will stay with you until the flight leaves. . . . Don’t talk to the press and don’t publish those pictures.”
He knew getting Jane out of the country would only buy him a little time to find out what really happened. ‘She was too quick to share her views on the CTC creating a paradox.’
Janice was waiting for her when the plane landed at Heathrow.
“How was your trip?”
“Amazing! . . . The only seat available was in first class; I have never travelled first class before; I rather like it.”
They take the Express to Paddington, then the tube to Kings Cross. Grabbing a lunch before catching the train back to Cambridge, Jane starts telling Janice about the experiment and the meeting with Roberts.
“Were you able to get any of the videos and pictures of the experiment?”
“Yes, initially there were a lot online, then two hours later nothing. The news reports just said there was a fire at UC Berkeley – not other details. . . . All Dr. Clarke’s books have been checked out of the library and are on your desk. There are also copies of Dr. Clarke’s other papers that I ‘borrowed’ from UC Berkeley – strangely, the originals are no longer available.”
Jane was chuffed. Her friend had a knack for putting together all the right information. “I assume Berkeley doesn’t know you ‘borrowed’ them.”
Janice smiled “Come on – we will miss our train.
For the next three week Jane focussed on reading everything Dr Clarke had ever written, there was no doubt he was brilliant – but something about his latest ideas on generating a time loop kept nagging her.
‘Could he have been right? . . . Was that ‘cock and bull’ story I gave Roberts actually correct? . . . What am I missing? . . . What are the hidden assumptions?’
Jane’s phone rang:
“Janice what’s up?”
“You need a break. . . . A Dr. Who marathon, my place tonight”
“Hey you’re working on time travel, you should consult the expert. . . . I have wine.”
Laughing “OK - tonight at six. I’ll bring pizza.”
“Matt Smith or David Tennant.”
“David Tennant – the ones with Catherine Tate, I like her.”
Janice’s husband and head of DAMTP, Dr. John Holland had gone to bed earlier. By 2am Jane and Janice were well into their third bottle of wine. Jane had been giving a running commentary on the inaccuracies and they both were booing the bad guys and cheering on Dr. Who. Two minutes into the penultimate episode Jane yells “STOP THE FILM”
Janice burst out laughing “Its a bloody CD.”
“PAUSE THE CD.” Jane roared, nearly knocking over her glass as she bounced up and down on the sofa.
“Aye Aye captain – the CD is paused.”
Jane was quite drunk, but something had broken through the fog of the wine – something important. She didn’t know what.
“Go back about a minute and play it again.”
Janice was stupefied. She had no idea what her friend was up to but obediently played the last minute again.
“STOP. Play that last bit with Tennant again. I want to hear what he said.”
Jane had Janice repeat the same dialogue twice more - ‘The TARDIS is still in the same place but the earth is gone.’
Jane was sitting there giggling. ‘Could it be that simple?’ – “Chhrriiisstt I’ve got it!”
Janice looked at her friend - “Well don’t give it to me. . . . We’re drunk – I think we need to call it a night”
Jane agreed – sleep and a clear mind were in order.
“The spare room is made up – see you in the morning.”
John had already started preparing breakfast and had put on the coffee by the time his wife and Jane got up.
“You ladies had quite a night!” He said a little louder than necessary.
“Not so loud” Janice and Jane blurted out together. “Coffee!”
“I have to go into the office, I’ll be back in about three hours.” John said apologetically.
Janice looks cross “Its Saturday.”
“I know, but its the only day I can get things done without someone bothering me.”
John leaves, Jane and Janice start on the ‘Full English Breakfast’ he had made for them.
“You were pretty excited last night. What was so special about Tennant?”
Jane snickered, “I was pretty out of it. . . . I still have to do a lot of work on this. Please don’t tell John, I don’t want him laughing about me getting my ideas from a Dr. Who program.”
Janice smiled and nodded ‘She is right, John would never let her live it down.’
“If I had the power to keep you exactly where you are right now for an hour, where would you be?” Jane asked.
“OK, I’ll bite” laughing “I guess I’d be exactly where I am.”
“NO!” Jane exclaimed gleefully, “It is always the hidden assumptions that trip you up. In an hour you would be out in space, the earth would be about 500,000 miles away.”
Janice was quick on the uptake. “The earth moved!”
“Yep. And if I am right that is what happened with Dr. Clarkes so-called time travel device. The probe didn’t go back in time, it just stayed where it was.”