CROSS OF TIME
Author: Mark de Castrique
2013 First Edition
Retail $14.95US; 228pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-027-6 e-book
read an excerpt
buy the book
CROSS OF TIME
Author: Mark de Castrique
remember . . .
That day of revelation
I popped in and out of my Wonderland tunnel like Alice's white rabbit
chasing after Time. I was late. Late for a very important date. Tomorrow
we were going on-line with the first test of The American Super Collider.
T. A. S. C. TASC, we called her, and she was quite a task.
But things were not going well, and the
hours scheduled for preparation were slipping away. The head of our research
team, Dr. Simon Pearlman, stopped in the Central Core Control Room asking
for me, but I was out on the hub searching for the source of the interference
that cropped up in our final check of the detectors. The instruments had
recorded stray particles.
If you can imagine preparing a gourmet meal
and finding maggots in the filet, you understand our problem. In the mammoth
loop of the accelerator, stray particles meant some contamination; some
leak was violating the shielded environment. Tomorrow's tests would be
wasted energy if the measurements were suspect.
"Find anything?" Helen Compton
smiled as I entered the control chamber. The spunky graduate assistant
wore her customary tie-dyed T-shirt popular nearly seventy years ago.
She played the self-appointed role of cheerleader.
"No. I rechecked the co-ordinates.
The structural integrity at the tracer point is fine."
She shrugged. "Could be a fluke. Some
one-time hit in the readout system."
I wanted to believe that myself, but I could
offer little encouragement.
Dorn Levin lumbered in from the data suites,
ducking his head as he squeezed his huge frame through the door. He clutched
a green circuit board in one hand and a digital tablet in the other. "I
replaced a faulty motherboard."
Knowing he had our full attention, he drew
himself up to his six-foot-seven inch height, took a deep breath, and
shook his head like he was about to deliver a fatal diagnosis. Then he
broke into a broad grin. "And I re-ran all the tests. The loop's
clean. I vote we crank this jalopy up tomorrow."
"Hear! Hear!" Helen chorused.
"What do you say, Jonathan? Think the old man will give you the okay?"
"Loop's clean, huh?" I asked Dorn.
I didn't want his eagerness to create any regrettable shortcuts.
He held out the digital tablet. "Read
it yourself. Of course, Sally may not like that. She called an hour ago
wondering where you were."
My stomach flipped. "Oh, no. Today's
her birthday. Where's Simon?"
"Gone to dinner with Bradshaw. Budget
discussions. Simon didn't look too happy we were having problems. Bradshaw's
on him for reportable results."
"Any idea when he'll return?"
"He hoped by nine, but with Bradshaw
chewing him up, who knows? He said if you couldn't wait for him, he'd
see you first thing in the morning."
"You want me to stay?" Helen volunteered.
"It's already seven-thirty. I don't mind waiting to tell Simon we're
ready to rock 'n roll tomorrow. We are, aren't we?"
"I don't know," I said. "I
want to talk to Simon personally."
Helen and Dorn didn't want to hear that
answer. I couldn't blame them. They had each worked very hard getting
us to the point where the colossal accelerator was ready for on-line.
Their careers were tied up in that multi-billion dollar underground tunnel
as much as my own.
"But I'll get him tonight," I
promised. "Hey! I'm ready to rock 'n roll too."
Dorn and Helen offered to wrap things up
in Control. We planned a seven o'clock start the next morning. I would
push Simon Pearlman for a full test.
The laser tickled my palm as it scanned
my handprint. Satisfied I was Dr. Jonathan Singer, the security computer
opened the thick ceramic door. The curse of government money is government
regulation. Our project administrator, Richard Bradshaw, said concessions
to U.S. paranoia were a small price to pay, but it irritated me to see
as much spent on elaborate personnel checks as on the research equipment
The halls of the administrative sector were
empty. Most of the staff cleared out by five-thirty. That was when all
restricted areas were automatically placed under computer control. I put
my hand on the glass pane beside my office door and again felt the tingle
of the laser. The bolt clicked and I entered what my associates labeled
In addition to the piles of computer readouts,
schematic diagrams, and calculations, my office contained chunks of metal
and ceramic scattered around like the rubble in a bomb crater. The debris
had special meaning for me. They were trackings of my research on superconductors,
the research that had brought me to the attention of Dr. Simon Pearlman
and his vision of superconductivity as the major breakthrough to create
a particle accelerator more powerful, yet more compact and more efficient
than any the world had ever seen.
Over the past five years, we'd designed
an instrument capable of harnessing electro-magnetic energy on a scale
that would enable us to slam together particles of such size and at such
velocities that nature would reveal her most intimate secrets. Tomorrow
would bring blood, sweat, tears, and theory to the first full experiment.
I hoped Simon would buy Dorn's recheck and grant the final go-ahead.
I telephoned Sally and she answered on the
"Dorn told me you were having problems,"
she said. "I'll take a rain check if things are too crazy."
"I'm cutting out now. Pick you up in
"Why don't I meet you at Winston's.
No sense your doubling back."
"Always so practical. Okay, I'll be
there in fifteen minutes."
I left a note on Simon's door that I'd see
him at ten. For the next two hours I planned to forget all about TASC.
The original super collider had been planned
for Texas, but was scrapped in the 1990s after millions of dollars of
planned construction succumbed to the budget knife of the U.S. Congress.
Then on July 4th, 2012, scientists at the CERN super collider near Geneva,
Switzerland, announced they had discovered a "Higgs-like subatomic
particle." The Higgs boson or so-called "God Particle"
gave matter its mass. It was the Holy Grail of high-energy particle physics.
The irony that on our Independence Day a
major discovery was announced by a research team headquartered in Europe
stung American pride. A new world of potential discoveries had been launched
and we weren't at the forefront. In the corridors of power, both political
and military, concerns were whispered that the new age of the "God
Particle" might yield results comparable to the atomic age when proving
E=mc2 created the atomic bomb.
A proposal for a new super collider on American
soil garnered support until scientific pressure and the fear of further
European successes forced the federal government into action.
North Carolina became the new site; but
the severely stretched federal budget reduced both the size and the scope
of the particle accelerator.
Ironically, that's what brought me and my
research on superconductivity to Simon Pearlman's attention. Following
in my father's footsteps, I relentlessly pursued the development of compounds
that reduced resistance to an electric current to an infinitesimal degree.
Dr. Pearlman saw how my highly efficient, super-cooled compounds could
be applied to the quadrupole electro-magnets essential to the super collider.
Where the original design required a fifty-mile accelerator circumference,
we could extract the same performance specs out of ten miles.
I cleared the data on my computer screen
and paused a moment when the screensaver came upmy dad and I on
a camping trip to Maine. I was ten, and we stood in front of our lopsided
tent in catalogue wardrobe, a geek and future geek out of their element.
The tests tomorrow would be as much for him as for me. Any success would
be bitter sweet, since both my dad and my mom were gone. I was a thirty-five-year
old orphan whose only family was now his research team. And Sally.
Sally DeMille stood patiently under the
cream and gold canopy of Winston's, the most elegant restaurant in Raleigh.
Her mint-green dress set her apart from the purple shadows of summer twilight.
The other diners looked drab by comparison. She greeted me with a light
kiss and straightened my rumpled collar.
"How's my favorite Einstein?"
"Hungry. I forgot to eat today."
"I plan to make you forget a lot more."
She grabbed my arm and ushered me into the restaurant.
"Hey, whose birthday is this?"
I regained control by insisting we wait for a more secluded table in the
back room. When the maitre d' seated us, I noticed Richard Bradshaw and
Simon Pearlman at a table across the room. Neither one saw us. They were
so engaged in conversation they hadn't touched their dinner.
"Should we say hello?" I motioned
to their table.
"No. I speak to Bradshaw enough during
We shared a bottle of wine and conversation
about us. Birthdays make you take stock and check the balance sheet. Sally
was adding up her thirty-one years.
"A few more months, then I'll start
with a headhunter," she said.
"But in the area," I insisted.
She reached across the table and took my
hand. Twice I had asked her to marry me. Twice she had said no. She refused
to compete with my work.
"As soon as the accelerator is operating,
I can cut back to a normal schedule. I promise."
"We'll see. But I can't be Mrs. Jonathan
Singer and Richard Bradshaw's administrative assistant. One of you will
have to go."
"You call your headhunter in the morning."
I thought what a bastard Bradshaw would be without Sally. She at least
got things to his attention and knew when to push for approval. Simon
Pearlman said she made Richard E. Bradshaw almost bearable.
I heard my mentor's voice carry over the
indistinguishable murmur of the diners. Sally turned her head at the familiar
Simon stood up from the table and threw
his napkin in the middle of his food. "You can threaten me all you
want. Push me out of the way or walk over me. It won't change a damn thing.
Tell that to your grant committees and your sacred boards."
"Calm down and sit down," Bradshaw
Other patrons stopped talking at the outburst,
but Simon continued. "I've had quite enough, thank you. I must get
back to work. I think that should make you happy."
Simon Pearlman left, passing within two
feet of our table. He was so enraged he didn't see us. Bradshaw sat fuming,
the veins on his forehead pulsing as his blood pressure rose. He knocked
back his drink. After a few minutes, he picked up the check and hurried
out of his embarrassing predicament.
"What was that all about?" I asked.
"Sounds like Bradshaw's little pep
talk didn't go as planned."
"He's real concerned about funding.
Anxious for a breakthrough. He was going to talk to Simon about speeding
things up. Get some results, bait he called it, to keep the money channels
open. I warned him Simon wouldn't be pressured."
"Especially today. Simon knew we hit
a snag. Doesn't Bradshaw realize nobody wants results more than Simon?
Why does he think we spend night and day there?"
"He knows. He just wants something
he can label promising developments."
"Does he think I'm dragging my feet?"
"No. If anything, he believes Simon
doesn't let you move fast enough. When you were recommended, Bradshaw
was ecstatic and strong-armed your approval through the directors. He's
"Then he'd better be behind Simon."
Sally said nothing, but I noticed her jaw
"I'm sorry. I'm letting their squabble
ruin our evening. They'll both be over it by morning anyway."
I refilled her wine glass. It was already
eight-thirty. I didn't want to tell her I had to meet Simon at ten. For
the next hour I made every effort for her to enjoy the intimate birthday
dinner I'd promised.
As the valet went for our cars, she gave
me a tongue-tickle on my earlobe and whispered, "Follow me home?"
I pulled her close and kissed her, trying
to prove my desire in that one embrace.
"Follow me into the bushes?" she
"You know I would if I could. But tonight,
I've got to go back to the lab. Tomorrow,
I'll be sleeping with an older woman. Happy Birthday, old lady."
She gave me a punch in the ribs.
As Sally drove off, I decided to go back
to my apartment and call Simon Pearlman. It was nearly ten and I was beat.
After witnessing the argument, I thought a simple phone call stating Dorn
had cleared up the problem would be the best approach. There was less
chance Simon would ask more questions. All I needed was his okay to proceed
with the scheduled test, and I could reach him at home if he were no longer
at the lab.
My apartment was on the ground floor of
a "total living environment." That meant they charged an extra
fifty bucks a month and threw in a hot tub and exercise room. But it was
close to the accelerator and nobody paid attention when Sally stayed over.
As I stuck the key in the lock, I noticed
light coming from under the door. Sally had a key. She must have decided
to surprise me on her birthday.
I threw open the door.
"Couldn't stay away from this body,
There was no Sally. An old man looked at
me from my living room sofa.
"What the hell! How did you get in
He stood, bracing himself on the furniture.
"Jonathan? I can't believe it."
The stranger fell back onto the cushions.
I thought he had fainted, but he seemed only stunned. I approached him
cautiously, scanning the room to see if it held any other intruders.
"How did you get in?"
"The extra key," he whispered.
"The one I always kept under the geranium on the deck."
"We both must keep an extra key hidden
on our deck. You've got the wrong apartment. This is building E."
I thought maybe the old guy was ill or confused. But he knew my name and
looked familiar. He could be drunk and just lost his bearings.
"You thought the Chardonnay a bit too
dry, didn't you? Sally said it was fine. Just too expensive. She is practical,
isn't she? And now after that scene with Simon and Bradshaw, you sent
her on her way so that you can call and convince Simon to proceed as scheduled."
Fear flowed over my skin like electricity.
The voice. There was something about the voice.
"Who are you?"
The old man smiled. He was amused. He showed
a vitality I missed at first glance, masked by his shock at seeing me.
His blue eyes studied me, as if reading secrets I didn't know I held.
"Come sit beside me," he said.
"It's more difficult for me than I imagined. You'll want to sit down."
"I'm fine, thank you." My heart
raced. "Who are you?"
He reached into his collarless silver windbreaker
and retrieved a silver wallet. For a few seconds he rummaged through its
contents, then he handed me a faded photograph.
I held a picture of Sally I had taken last
weekend on Dorn's sailboat. The digital image was still in my camera and
hadn't been downloaded. On the back of the picture, in my handwriting,
was last Sunday's date.
I tried to speak but no words came. He handed
me a metal card. In the left-hand corner was a hologram of the visitor's
face that appeared to float above the surface. That was not as startling
as what was etched beside itJune 12, 1995my birthday. Beneath
it I read: Jonathan Singer, 1446 Wolfred Lane, Needham, MA. MASSACHUSETTS
VEHICLE OPERATOR PERMIT CLASS 4. EXP. DATE June 12, 2072.
"They still call it a driver's license.
You asked who I am."
The voice. In spite of the raspy edge, I
recognized it as my own. The voice I heard when recorded. I placed the
photograph and license on the coffee table, afraid to hold them, afraid
to hand them back to him. I sat and put the width of the room between
He returned the items to his wallet. We
looked at each other in silence. His white hair was cut close to his head.
My own was brown and shaggy. His ears and facial features were uncanny
in their resemblance to mine. His skin had a light, bronze tan and there
were wrinkles around the eyes. They were my eyes. Although the face had
aged, his blue eyes stared back in mirrored identity.
Above the right eyebrow, a thin white scar
curved across his temple. My lesson learned by squatting too close to
the batter in catching my first Little League game. I rubbed my own scar
hoping blood flow to the brain would remove this apparition. Still he
sat before me.
"What kind of joke is this?"
"There is little time and little I
can tell you," he said. "We must move quickly."
"Hold on. You just don't break into
my apartment with some phony ID and trick photography, and then order
me around. And I don't like people spying on me. Even for a practical
joke. We'd better let the police sort this out." I started for the
"I wouldn't do that, Sparky."
My childhood nickname. I hadn't heard it
since my mother died ten years ago.
"I've come back forty years. If you
don't believe the photograph or ID, I ask you to remember the hospital
room. The date was May 11, 2010. Mom went down to the snack bar and you
were alone with Dad. The cancer had wasted his body, but his mind struggled
over the drugs and the pain. He pulled you closer until his lips brushed
your ear. 'Take care of Mom,' he said. Then the scientist who loved Shakespeare,
your Father, my Father, made a last request. A request we never told anyone,
even Mom. 'Sparky,' he whispered. 'Remember Hamlet Act I, Scene III.'"
"Polonius's advice to Laertes,"
I remembered aloud.
"A dying father's advice to his son'This
above all: to thine own self be true.' I have come to ask you that, Jonathan.
I desperately need your help."
©2013 Mark de Castrique