Dr. Gefiltefish unlocked his laboratory door and pulled it open. “Come in! Come in!” he said urgently, beckoning with his free hand.
Dr. Worcestershire had been waiting alone in the hallway. He entered Dr. G’s lab. There was no one else there besides himself and Dr G.
“All right, Fidelio,” said Dr W, “I got here as fast as I could. If you’ve committed another crime, we need to cover it up quickly. It’s steak night at home and I don’t want to miss it. Steak is the one thing that Harriet cooks that isn’t boiled.”
Dr. G held a finger to his own lips and said, “Shh!” He stuck his head out into the hallway. He looked both ways to make sure that no one was lurking nearby.
He pulled his head back inside the lab, then closed and locked the door. He turned around and extended his hand, palm upward. “Give me your phone.”
“You’ve been acting strangely all day, Fidelio. More so than usual. What’s going on?”
Dr. G wavered his extended hand, silently repeating his request for the phone. It was clear he wasn’t ready to speak yet.
Dr. W surrendered his smartphone. Dr. G took out his own flipphone, and then put both phones into a box that was lined with aluminum foil. He closed the box.
“Now we can talk,” said Dr. G. “I’ve scanned the room for bugs. On the walls, windows, floor and ceiling I’ve installed a clear film that impedes the passage of sound waves. No one is eavesdropping. Please, sit down, Hammond.”
Dr. W sat down on a stool, and Dr. G sat on another stool nearby.
“I’m going to tell you something,” said Dr. G, “and you’re not going to believe it. Then I’m going to prove it to you, and you still probably won’t believe it. Then I’m going to bet you money that my theory predicts certain outcomes that can’t otherwise be predicted. When you lose those bets, and you feel the pain of handing me your money, then you’ll believe me.”
“All right,” said Dr. W, crossing his arms. “Let’s start by testing your first hypothesis.”
“Very well!” Dr. G took a deep breath. “Here’s my theory, in a nutshell: The universe has a boundary, but it’s in a dimension, or a set of dimensions, that we can’t detect with our senses. Every tiniest bit of energy in the universe is always pressing against that boundary. Subatomic particles, time, gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, atomic matter – all of these are the primary or secondary results of energy-boundary interactions. Some interactions cause ripples in the boundary. These ripples are what we think of as electromagnetic waves. Do you follow me so far?”
“Good. Now, according to my theory, when there is a certain threshold of pressure in one area of the boundary, that pressure creates a giant bubble that behaves as if it were its own universe. Think of a black, air-filled balloon that’s been twisted into a balloon animal. Each of the segments of the balloon animal seems like the entire universe to anything inside of that segment, but those connected segments, or bubble-universes, are part of a larger reality.
“Of course, actual bubble-universes aren’t created by giant hands twisting a parent universe. They’re pushed out of their original universe by intense pressure, like a magma bubble pushing its way up through the crust. I suspect that our universe is similar to a single section of a giant, cosmic balloon animal. Our segment was created from a larger segment, and black holes are the connections between our segment and the sub-segments created from ours.”
“Do you have anything to drink?” asked Dr. W.
“No! Now pay attention.
“Energy, some of it in the form of matter, may still be able to travel into those bubble universes. The matter that seems to be in a black hole may not actually be in what we think of as our universe anymore, but it looks like it is because the boundary of the universe has preserved its shape. Matter will still follow that curve, as will ripples along the universe’s boundary. Additional outflow may even affect the shape of our universe as it flows into a connected bubble-universe, creating the appearance that there is an increasing amount of matter in the black hole. But that matter has actually traveled through the black hole into another bubble-universe.
“There may also still be energy entering our universe from the original site of what we call the Big Bang.”
Dr. W smiled at the mention of the Big Bang.
“Hammond,” said Dr. G sternly, “I’m not talking about your sophomore-year spring break in Mexico. I’m talking about the location where all of the energy entered our own bubble. Think of it as the navel of our universe. If we could find it, we might even be able to travel from our segment back into the segment from which our universe was created.”
Dr. G stopped to catch his breath. “So, what do you think about my theory?”
“It sounds like comic-book physics,” said Dr. W. “Do you have the math to back it up?”
“Heavens, no! That would be unbearably tedious.”
“Then your first hypothesis is correct,” said Dr. W. “I don’t believe you. How can you possibly prove it without the math to back it up?”
Dr. G smiled proudly. “I built a machine!” he said, holding up one hand, pointing a single finger toward the ceiling.
Dr. W looked up.
“It’s not up there!” said Dr. G. “It’s behind that box in the corner!”
There were windows along only one wall of the laboratory. Against the wall opposite those windows, in the far left corner, there was a tall, gray, metal cabinet. Dr. G pointed to it and said, “I disguised the entrance as a storage cabinet.”
“The entrance to what?”
“To the machine! I built a false wall in this laboratory. I built the wall during a single weekend during the summer nine months ago. I’ve been working on the machine in secret ever since.”
“I thought this room used to be bigger. You did a good job on the wall. It looks exactly like the old one.”
“Thank you,” said Dr. G.
“And how does your machine work?”
“Another part of my theory is that if a bubble-universe begins as a singularity, it’s a singularity in every potential dimension. As each dimension is realized from that singularity, the total number of realized dimensions is D. The D+1th dimension is still a singularity. Once you figure out how to access the D+1th dimension, you can travel instantaneously to any other point in the universe. So I accessed that dimension, then I created a small black hole of my own outside of our galaxy. I created the black hole by bombarding the boundary of the universe with an intense, focused beam of energy. I suspect that the small universe that I’ve created has the same number of dimensions as the universe on this side of the black hole. Therefore, I should be able to travel there through the D+1th dimension.”
“So you built a device that could actually transport people to any location, but instead of using it for travel, which would be worth many billions of dollars, you created a black hole at some other point in the universe, a black hole that has absolutely no value to us? Correct?”
Dr. G scratched his chin. “I didn’t think of that. I had my heart so set on creating a bubble-universe that I really didn’t consider the practical aspects of the travel angle.”
“The creation of your black hole wouldn’t have had anything to do with the power blackout in the eastern half of the country last week, would it?”
“Well, the two events are correlated, certainly, but I prefer not to speculate on causation.”
Dr. W sighed. “Was the burden of this secret too great to bear alone, or do you expect some sort of participation on my part?”
“I want you to travel with me via the machine.”
“Of course you do. What animals have you tested this on?”
“No animals. That would be inhumane!” Dr. G looked offended. He loved animals, and would never dream of using them for experiments.
“I tested it on a student, of course.”
“Of course. And the student returned safely?”
“No. We have to go get him. I sent him two nights ago. When he didn’t come back by last night, I used the remote retrieval feature and I brought the machine back, but the student wasn’t in it.”
Dr. W sighed. “I’m going to miss steak night for this, aren’t I? There will still be a steak waiting for me at home, but I’ll have to heat it up, and it never tastes as good heated up as it does when it’s right off the grill.”
“If this works, I’ll buy you ten steak dinners,” said Dr. G.
“And if it doesn’t work, we’ll be dead.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Oh, what the hell. I think my wife is planning to divorce me. She’s been very nice to me lately, and that’s not like her. She’s also been checking on the internet for the prices of stuff just like the stuff we already have. I think she’s trying to figure out how much she can get for our possessions.”
“I’m sorry, Hammond. I had no idea.”
“It’s all right. It happens. After my eight previous marriages, you’d think I would have learned.” Hammond rubbed his eyes. “You know, I think I’d rather disappear into an unknown universe than go through another messy divorce.”
“Then you’ll try it?”
“No, we’ll try it.”
“That’s what I meant.”
Dr. W stood up. “Let’s get this over with.”
Dr. G stood up also, smiling. “Let’s go!”
Dr. Worcestershire followed Dr. Gefiltefish to what appeared to be a metal storage cabinet. Dr. G pulled out a set of keys, found the appropriate key, and opened the cabinet. He led the way in. When Dr. W had passed through the fake cabinet and entered the secret room, Dr. G closed and locked the cabinet door from the inside.
Past the boundary of the fake wall, there was an empty space several feet wide all the way to the original wall of the laboratory. To the right of that space, filling the area from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall, was a metal structure with a door in it. That door had a small, round window on it five feet from the floor. Dr. G led the way through that door, too.
Dr. W saw that his colleague had created a small chamber with four seats. On one wall was a panel with various controls. There was also another door at the opposite side of the chamber. It was identical to the chamber door they had just entered. On each of the two walls that didn’t have doors, there were two small, round windows about five feet from the floor. All that could be seen through those windows were the interior walls of the secret room.
“What’s behind that door?” asked Dr. W.
“Ah! That leads to the rest of the space behind the fake wall. The mechanism of the machine is there. I’ll explain it to you in detail if we make it back.”
“You’re inspiring me with great confidence, Fidelio.”
“Faith, Hammond! Faith! Now pick a chair and buckle yourself in.”
Dr. W sat in one of the chairs. He found the seatbelt and buckled it over his lap. “No shoulder belt?”
“I don’t think they’re necessary here. We probably don’t even need the seat belts.”
Dr. G examined the controls. They still had the same settings that they had had for the student who hadn’t come back.
“We’ll actually travel in this compartment to the other universe. When the box came back last night, it wasn’t damaged, so I assume that the journey itself is safe. I don’t know what happened to the student, but we’re going to find out.”
“Shouldn’t we take weapons with us? Or tools? Something we could use in case the student is trapped?”
“I’ve got some bandages and some aspirin in a first-aid kit. I also have a roll of duct tape. If we need anything else, we can come back for it. Ready?”
“No. I’m not ready for any of this. But by all means, proceed.”
Dr. G pushed a green button. A motor began to hum. The room shimmered for a moment, then returned to normal. Now there was light streaming through the small windows of the chamber.
“I think it’s done,” said Dr. G.
“Which door do we open?”
“The one we entered.”
Dr. G removed his seatbelt and went to the door. He looked through the door’s window, then opened the door. He left the chamber, and Dr. W exited right behind him.
They stepped out into a Ventibofenti's coffee shop.
A young lady behind the counter said, “Hi! Welcome to Ventibofenti's! What can I get for you?”
Then another voice said, “Dr. Gefiltefish! Dr. Worcestershire!”
The two doctors turned to see a young man sitting in a booth. He had a newspaper spread out on the table in front of him.
“Stanley!” said Dr G. “Why didn’t you come back with the machine?”
“Are you kidding? The food here is free! And they have the latest newspapers, the bathrooms are clean, and there’s free wifi. And no exams. Why would I want to leave?”
“Didn’t you think I might be worried? Why didn’t you send me an email, at least?”
“I did! I sent you five emails. Didn’t you check your email?”
“Oh. No, I suppose I didn’t.”
Dr. G looked out the windows of the coffee shop. He saw only blackness. He looked back at Stanley.
“Are we in the universe I created?”
“What’s outside of this store?”
Dr. G turned to look at the young woman behind the counter. “How is this possible?” he said. “I just created this universe last week.”
“I’m glad you asked,” she said with a smile. “By the way, my name is Hannah, and I’ll be your barista today!” Hannah stepped out from behind the counter. “Our Department of New Locations is second to none. We have very sophisticated algorithms, and the best equipment. As soon as our computers detected this new location, we just had to be the first to occupy it. That’s one way that we stay ahead of our competitors.”
“So, how did you get here?”
“I’m not really sure. They just put me in a box and I show up, then the person who worked the shift before mine enters the box, and the box disappears.”
“I mean, how did they build this?”
“Engineering is beyond my pay grade. If I knew how they did this, I wouldn’t be working behind a counter.” Hannah quickly looked around. It had occurred to her that she was possibly being watched by unknown supervisors. “Not that I’m not happy to have my job!” she said loudly. “I love my job!”
“You know what this means, Fidelio?” asked Dr. W.
“Yes. It means my theory about the nature of the universe is correct, but that I’m not the first one to discover it. The people at Ventibofenti's beat me to it.”
Dr. W looked at Hannah. “Are there other Ventibofenti's locations around the galaxy?”
“I’m so sorry,” said Hannah, “I’m not allowed to talk about that. I can only tell you about this one. Our legal department and our media relations department have very strict rules. Our prime directive is not to interfere with native cultures – except to introduce them to coffee and coffee related items, of course. Employees are not allowed to discuss with a native what that native might not know about the universe.”
“Tell them about the free food,” said Stanley to Hannah.
“I can talk about that. This is our Grand Opening month,” Hannah said with a smile. “We’re giving away free food and free coffee to attract customers! But, so far, Stanley has been our only one.” Her smile began to fade.
“I’ll take a large coffee,” said Dr. W, “and one of those apple danishes.”
“Wonderful!” said Hannah. Her smile was back. She went behind the counter and started pouring the cup of coffee.
Dr. G looked at Dr. W, who shrugged.
Dr. G turned toward Hannah. He said, “I’ll take a pumpkin spice latte, venti. And a blueberry muffin, please.”
“Coming right up!” said Hannah.
“Here’s what I suggest,” said Dr. Worcestershire. “Don’t tell anyone about this just yet. This place will save us twenty minutes on our coffee runs, and over a hundred dollars a month. When they start charging for the coffee and the snacks, you can reevaluate.”
Dr. G nodded his head. “I need to think about this. I created this universe. They should pay me rent. We could open a portal from the university, and other universities too, and the rent would be my cut of the profits.”
“Excellent idea,” said Dr. W.
“Dr. Gefiltefish?” asked Stanley. “Do you think I can get a ride back with you, and then come back in a couple of hours? I’d like to go home and take a shower and pack a bag of clean clothes. I want to bring a sleeping bag and a pillow back here with me, too.”
Dr. G shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t see why not.”
Hannah gave the customers what they’d ordered, then she watched all three of the visitors walk into Dr. G’s machine.
The machine disappeared.
Hannah sat down, took a magazine out of her purse, and began to read.
Copyright 2018, 2020 Mark James Wooding