Authors: Julie Drew
“So those two guys were actually after my father?” Tesla asked, alarmed.
“Well, they were interested in information about him and his work,” Lydia said smoothly. “Let’s not overstate the case. I doubt they expected Dr. Abbott’s daughter to be there, served up on a silver platter, as it were.”
“Our plan was to try to bring the bad guys in a little closer—they would certainly know that I was your dad’s assistant. We hoped to create an opportunity for us to observe them, let them think the whole thing was their play when it was actually ours.
They would assume we were just some random college students, and while they were trying to get information out of me, we’d be working on our own agenda. Finn is the master, he can get people to spill anything, and they have no idea what happened,” Bizzy said.
No wonder Finn was so angry when we showed up
, Tesla thought.
And that explains why that gorilla knew my name
. She shivered as she recalled her fear as the man had dragged her across the kitchen floor.
“Does my dad know you watch him?” Tesla asked.
“Yeah, we decided early on to tell him,” Bizzy said. “He’s my boss and my major professor, and I thought he should know. Lydia said okay, so we brought him in.”
“He didn’t like it at first, any more than he liked it when we suggested keeping an eye on you and Max, either, but when he realized you might be at risk he seemed happy to have us nearby,” Joley said.
Tesla was startled by his casual use of her brother’s name and she felt her stomach muscles tighten in dread. This felt far more invasive than the abstract notion that she’d been under surveillance. Her ever-present sense that she must protect Max had not been diluted at all by the pain meds.
“Finn should be back by now,” Beckett said.
“I’ll head over to the lab.”
“Not yet,” Lydia said.
“If he’s found something, he’ll want to follow up immediately. Let him do his job.”
At that exact moment, the front door opened and shut below with a bang—Tesla realized for the first time that they must be in a room on the second floor—and everyone turned toward the open door.
They heard his footsteps on the staircase, and then Finn walked into the room.
Tesla felt overwhelmed by his presence.
His face looked serious, older than she’d thought before, and she could see that a purplish bruise had already appeared on his cheekbone.
His warm, gold-brown eyes went immediately to Tesla, then slid to Lydia.
“How is she?” he asked, as if Tesla wasn’t even in the room.
“I’m okay, thanks,” Tesla retorted before anyone else could speak, annoyance plain in her voice.
In her peripheral vision she noted the sudden grin on Joley’s face. “Any sign of my father?” she continued, this time without the sarcasm.
“No,” Finn said.
“But I couldn’t get in the building, and the police and fire marshal aren’t saying anything yet about what happened and why.” He paused, as if he was unsure how to proceed, and though she didn’t really know him, even Tesla knew this was highly unusual.
“There’s something else,” she said tersely. “Tell me.”
He looked at her for a moment. “Keep in mind that we don’t know if your dad was even there tonight—as far as we know he was at home. But I spoke to the two campus security guys on duty tonight, and we pieced together, based on the floor plan of the building, where the explosion occurred. It was your dad’s office.”
Lydia smoothly took over before Tesla could respond.
“We’ll likely hear from him tomorrow. My guess is that he saw the explosion on television and realized that it might have been intended for him, as a warning at least, and he has gone into hiding, temporarily, for everyone’s safety. He knows your brother is safe with friends, and he has confidence in you not to panic—he knows that you saw him at home, and there is no reason to assume he was anywhere else. I see this as a very good sign.”
“Maybe,” Tesla said uneasily. “But didn’t you have someone on the house tonight, watching it? Watching him?”
Finn’s head whipped around toward Lydia, and she put up a hand to stop him.
“Finnegan, we’ve explained the basics to Tesla.
She had a right to know,” she added firmly when Finn began to protest. “We’ve told her we watch over her family, due to the sensitive nature of her father’s work, and that others are watching as well.” She turned, then, to Tesla. “We had actually called it a day, dear, as we thought all three of you would be in for the evening, celebrating his birthday. No one was watching the house once your father got home this evening.”
“Well, you obviously had the right idea spying on us, even though it didn’t work in the end,” Tesla said.
No one responded, though Bizzy looked down at her shoes and Joley seemed to be inordinately interested in the photographs on the mantel. Tesla sighed.
I guess I can’t be mad at them for watching us and mad at them for not watching us at the same time
“How long have we been under this microscope—Max and I?” she asked Lydia.
“Less than two weeks,” Lydia answered without hesitation. “And it hasn’t been around the clock, obviously. When your father’s at the lab Elizabeth is usually there anyway, so he’s almost always covered. Once you’re all in the house at night we don’t always stay, but when we do, we’re focused on the house more than you, anyway. We don’t really get that close, my dear.”
“Finn won’t let anybody else watch you,” Bizzy said with a wide grin.
“Ow!” she suddenly exclaimed when Beckett punched her in the arm. “Well, it’s true!” she hissed.
“Who are you people?” Tesla asked again, inexplicably angry, a feeling she had already come to associate with Finn and his friends.
“I mean, if there are bad guys out there who want the scientist’s top-secret work or whatever, why haven’t you called the police, or the FBI, or, I don’t know, Jack Bauer?”
Bizzy laughed, but no one else did. “Tesla,” Lydia said calmly.
“I understand the shock of all this. You’re still reeling from the incident at your house earlier tonight—and medicated on top of everything else. We don’t want to alarm you. It would have been better if you could have gone on blissfully ignorant, but at this point we have no choice. We don’t contact the police or the FBI because I am already on the job. I work for the government, and I’ve been assigned to your father for some years now. These young people work for me. Believe me, we are on top of this.”
Tesla closed her eyes.
She needed a moment to process this craziness, not to mention shut out the sight of every single set of eyes in the room searching her face to see—what, exactly? If she would cry? Run from the room in fear, unable to handle it? Did they assume she’d be a total narcissist and focus on the creepiness of being spied on by strangers (because that actually was pretty creepy)—that she’d only care about herself, not about her dad or Max, or the larger issues that were obviously at work here?
She looked right at Finn, then, sick and tired of being out of the loop, treated like a fragile child, because of her heart, because of her age, because of her lack of experience.
Because her mother had died. She was worried about her dad, but these people seemed to think he was okay. She wasn’t sure what she should do next, but before she got to any of that, Tesla had to ask what seemed the most fundamentally important question at that moment.
“What, exactly, is my father working on?”
Before Lydia could stop him, Finn stepped forward, crouched down in front of the sofa so his eyes were on a level with Tesla’s. In the split second before he spoke she wished she could take back the question, but it was already too late.
“Time travel,” Finn said.
Bizzy reached up to twist the tiny silver stud pierced through the delicate flesh of her left nostril while she watched Tesla. The redhead was always so explosive, so
at everyone, and Bizzy was not inclined to miss anything she might do or say because of some archaic, Miss Manners rule about staring.
Lydia frowned. “We should have talked about this first, Finnegan.”
Finn sat on the couch next to Tesla and faced Lydia. He said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow at her, waiting. Joley stopped pacing and stood in front of the fireplace, arms crossed over his chest. Lydia drummed her fingers on the cracked, fat brown arm of her leather chair, then appeared to come to some sort of decision.
“Tesla, we’ll have to trust that you can handle this, and that you can absolutely, without any room for error, keep your mouth shut.”
Everyone looked at her expectantly, and Tesla nodded. “Yeah, I can do that.”
Lydia looked at her a moment longer.
The woman’s eyes did not waver, as though they could see right through the injured girl. Then—satisfied, it seemed—Lydia nodded. “There are aspects of your father’s work that we haven’t been able to piece together, and you may be able to help.”
“Well, if my dad couldn’t help you, I can’t believe I would be able to,” Tesla began as her gaze darted about the room.
She seemed nervous, jumpy.
“No, that’s not what I mean.
Your father is of course the scientist, and this is about the project he’s been immersed in for nearly two decades. But while he’s willing to have us around to keep you and Max safe, he does not, by any stretch of the imagination, share that work with us.”
“What about you, Bizzy?” Tesla asked, and the goth girl jumped at the sound of her name.
“You’re there, in the lab, every day. Don’t you know what’s going on?”
“Well, yes and no,” Bizzy said, surprised and chagrined to find Tesla’s attention so fully hers—she was far more comfortable observing than being observed.
“I got this research assistantship in the spring semester, so I haven’t been there that long. And Dr. Abbott doesn’t really include me—or anybody else—in every aspect of his work. I work on some discrete pieces of the project, but he’s the only one with the big picture.” Bizzy chewed on her lower lip for a moment, lost in thought. “Whatever this is all about, the only thing I’m sure of is that it’s connected to your mom.”
“Wha—my mom’s been dead for almost eight years.”
Tesla’s voice shook.
“I know, sorry, that was too blunt, wasn’t it?” Bizzy said. “But I’ve seen some notebooks he keeps locked in his desk.
They were your mom’s. He’s still working on the stuff she was doing before she died.” Bizzy spoke quickly, not at all surprised that she was messing this up. She wasn’t very good with people—some of the things she’d seen and done in foster care, and the things that had been done to her—she was just much better in a lab, and far more comfortable.
“I don’t know anything about my mom’s work,” Tesla said, her eyes on the cast in her lap.
“She was so young—Max was a baby—I mean I know she was a physicist, and she and my dad met in college, but I never thought about her work, really.”
“I think it’s a bad move to bring her in like this,” Beckett said suddenly.
She had been watching Tesla carefully since she’d woken up. “We’ve had a while to become a team, and we work well together—and, importantly, for us this isn’t personal. She’s too involved, too emotional. I think this will put her at risk, as well as us. We’re not even sure what we’re up against, other than that there are some dangerous people involved.”
Undeniably practical, and yet still bitchy
, Tesla thought as she turned to consider Beckett. “I’m actually right here,” Tesla said. Her eyes flashed and a deep, antagonistic crease appeared between her dark red eyebrows, but Lydia put up her hand, and even Tesla obeyed the implicit order.
“Your point is well-taken, Beckett, but we can’t undo what’s been done.
And now that Tesla is aware, we’ll just have to make it work. For all our sakes.” Lydia paused then turned back to Bizzy. “Elizabeth, why don’t you fill Tesla in on what you know from the lab and Dr. Abbott, and what you’ve surmised based on the notebooks.”
Bizzy nodded, and paused for a moment to gather her thoughts.
“Well, basically your dad has built a time machine.”
“That sounds…crazy,” Tesla said rather weakly.
“Not really,” Bizzy assured her as she twisted one of her hair spikes that poked straight out from her temple. It’s about light—lasers—and speed and gravitational fields and—black holes, of course.”
“Elizabeth, please,” said Lydia, her tone that of a TV mom,
sick and tired of the mud her kid tracks across the kitchen floor. “We’ve talked about this. You must try to remember what you didn’t know before you were a physicist. Explain it to
person. Layman’s terms.”
Sorry.” Embarrassed, Bizzy rolled the stud that pierced her tongue across her front teeth as she wondered how to explain time travel to people who knew virtually nothing about science, especially when she already struggled to imagine how other people’s minds worked on the most mundane, everyday matters.
“Okay,” she said, finally.
She looked up and met Tesla’s gaze with determination. “Imagine that time is not a straight line, with the past behind us and the future in front of us. Instead, it’s a series of closed loops, the past and future connected, like this.” She made a closed circle of her thumb and forefinger.
Bizzy was about to move on but Tesla looked back at her blankly.
“Sorry, but ‘huh’?” Tesla said.
“Eloquent,” quipped Joley, who shushed immediately when Lydia gave him the look.
“Try to picture it,” Bizzy continued. “Time is a closed loop. Black holes create a tunnel through which we can move from one point in time to another. From one point on the closed loop to another point. That makes traveling backward or forward in time possible.”
Bizzy paused, hopeful despite herself.
“Are you with me so far?”
“I think so,” said Tesla.
She rolled the shoulder of her broken arm, just slightly, and winced as dull pain radiated up the muscles of her arm.
“Okay, so black holes—which rotate—affect time, but they
also affect space. Think about a vanilla milkshake, and you drop a big blob of chocolate syrup into it. You start to stir it with a spoon, in one direction only, and what will you see?”
Tesla just looke
d at her, so Finn stepped in. “You’d see an unbroken swirl, like a nautilus shell, as the chocolate followed the wake of the spoon around and around in the vanilla.”
“Exactly,” Bizzy said, glad she’d had to try and explain this stuff before to the others, who were much better than she with metaphors.
“Rotating black holes do the same thing, they create a kind of invisible wake that drags space around behind it, in a swirl, pulling everything into the tunnel. It’s called ‘frame-dragging.’”
“Okay,” Tesla said.
“I think I understood that.”
“Well, now it gets complicated,” Bizzy said.
“Let’s back up a minute and remember what we know about gravity.”
“It’s a bitch?” asked Joley, and Finn rewarded him with a grin, that flash of even, perfect teeth that drew Tesla’s gaze to his mouth each time she saw it.
“Boys,” Lydia said, though Tesla detected affection in her voice more than exasperation.
Bizzy continued, undeterred.
“For a long time we thought space wasn’t really anything, that gravity was the attraction of less mass to more mass. Newton’s apple falls to the ground because of the gravitational pull exerted on the apple by the much larger—more massive—planet Earth. But Einstein changed all that by suggesting that space and time are a singular and inextricable thing—fabric, kind of, like a rubber sheet that the planets sit on. The sun is so massive that it weighs down the rubber sheet, bends it to create a slope that the smaller, less massive planets slide down into. The rubber sheet is invisible, so it looks to us as though the heavier object attracts or pulls the lighter object, even though that’s not what’s really happening.”
“I feel smarter already,” Joley joked.
“Well, you’re not,” retorted Bizzy.
“Bizzy,” he replied, a hand over his heart and a pained expression on his face. “I’m wounded.”
“Whatever,” she said, though she couldn’t hide her smile. “Anyway, along comes Stephen Hawking, who puts quantum mechanics and black hole theory together, with some pretty astonishing results.”
“Such as?” Finn prodded helpfully, and Tesla wondered if they’d rehearsed this.
When she smiled, Finn looked at her with mock seriousness. “What? I’m her lovely assistant. I make science look good.”
“Such as, black hole theory had always assumed that after a star’s collapse, matter is trapped forever inside the black hole, an assumption based on the classical notion of matter, what it is and how it behaves.
But Hawking pointed out that if the matter inside the black hole obeys the laws of quantum mechanics, which says very different things about what matter is and how it behaves, then we have a whole new ballgame.”
She paused, as if for dramatic effect, but when no one spoke, she continued, slightly deflated.
“For a long time, all we had was particle theory: you know, matter cannot be created or destroyed, it exists in a particular moment in a location that can be known. But wave theory—quantum mechanics—says that the best we can do in determining the location of matter is to calculate the probability of either when it is, or where it is. That we can’t know both the location and the motion of a particle, just one or the other, and then beyond that there are simply a host of limitless possibilities.”
“I think I got that, except for the last part,” Tesla said with some hesitation. “Limitless possibilities? Is that even possible?”
“That’s funny,” Bizzy said, clearly startled. A grin stretched her mouth wide, but then she stopped. “Wait, were you trying to be funny?”
“Not really,” said Tesla.
“Biz, seriously. Nobody does quantum mechanics stand up,” said Finn gently.
“Fine,” said Bizzy, grumpy for the first time. “If it was a serious question, here’s a serious answer: the idea of limitless possibilities is nothing more than math.
Math and imagination,” she corrected herself. “If we want to calculate where an object is—which means, because of Einstein, that we combine space and time into spacetime—we have to calculate where and when that object is. At that point, we are in the realm of quantum mechanics. There’s an uncertainty principle at work, which limits what we can know. We can only know where it
be, and it might be lots of places. If I throw a tennis ball at the wall, it might hit the wall and bounce back, but it also might tunnel through and appear on the other side of the wall.”
“Um, I don’t think so,” said Tesla.
“That couldn’t happen.”
“Mathematically, it could,” Bizzy insisted.
“Therefore, it actually could.”
“Yeah, I don’t get it,” said Tesla.
“Me either, and I’ve heard it before,” admitted Finn. “It makes my head hurt.”
“That’s because you’re lazy,” said Bizzy, once again amazed by how slow otherwise intelligent people could be.
“It’s pretty simple, really. You know how the speed of light is always really important in science fiction?”
“That’s because it’s really important in actual science. Einstein’s theories of relativity prove that time slows down for a moving clock—which we can think of as the time traveler—the closer the clock gets to the speed of light. Speed and gravitational fields—these are the two things that make time travel possible. Follow me?”
“I think so,” said Tesla.
Her arm, hand, and shoulder had begun to throb. She couldn’t concentrate very well, and this stuff was hard to understand under the best circumstances.
“So gravity—the bending of spacetime—creates closed time loops and black holes create tunnels through those loops.
bend spacetime, create those loops and tunnel through them. When matter circulates, like at the edge of a black hole, it can become a source of gravity—it bends spacetime, creates frame-dragging. Your dad, and I guess your mom, too, developed a time-machine based on a circulating light source.”
“Theoretically,” added Finn.
“Yes, theoretically,” agreed Bizzy. She turned to Tesla. “Your dad has been focused on photonics for years now—”
“On what?” Tesla interrupted.
“Photonics. Lasers. By circulating two light beams in opposite directions, spacetime is twisted in a loop, and the loops are stacked up like a spiraling helix—”
“Like a slinky?” Tesla asked.
“Exactly like a slinky!” Bizzy said, clearly relieved. “Relativistic time-dilation, it’s called. The frame dragging that creates the spiraled, stacked time loops allows us to move from one point to another, rather than having to follow the line around and around and around at what is for us a normal pace, the past behind, the present now, the future up ahead. We can skip around.”