"No no that's all nonsense", William stated emphatically.
He ran an exasperated hand through his full head of blond hair and then gestured again to the holographic simulation hovering above the table surrounded by Committee members.
"It's not nonsense" Jakob replied calmly.
"It's a scientific certainty that if there is even a micro quark fluctuation in the stasis field the entire space time curve-"
"Does what?" William interrupted him with irritation.
"Well that's the whole point isn't it?" Jakob leaned forward and placed his hands on the holotable. "We have no fucking idea."
There was an awkward moment as the Committee members watched the two scientists argue. The most powerful political body in world history, responsible for the lives of over fifteen billion people, was reduced to mute observation.
"Look" William went back on the offensive, "here's what we do know. We know that we can't change anything, we can only observe, we can't interact, it's physically impossible. You at least concede that point, correct?"
"Based on the variables we're aware of; yes", Jakob countered cautiously. "But what if there are other unknown factors?"
William threw up his hands, "Well yes there are always 'unknown factors' Dr. Goldberg but if we limited our actions to only what we knew for certain and tolerated no risk, then science would never have advanced beyond the discovery of fire! Gasoline exploded, so don't build an engine, electricity can't be controlled it's messing with the power of gods, computers will take over the world, so don't develop AI, planet drives will doom worlds, so no colonization! The list of what we would never have accomplished is endless. Yes we don't know everything but that's the point. If we can create an observable quantum stasis point then we can try to discover where the mutation occurred. Yes we know it happened in the Great War but if we can identify the first person affected by it, we can retro genome them and sequence the first iteration of the mutation."
William turned his attention to the Committee members. "Your Honors, you know the damage the mutation has caused our world, the harm inflicted on our people. For all our knowledge we can't defeat this disease. Not without this new technology. This disease took over two hundred years to reveal itself. The damage done during that time is incalculable. When the mutation finally manifested itself we were already centuries behind in our response. If our ancestors had the ability to detect the damage then they would have done everything within their power to correct it. And they must have sensed it on some instinctive intuitive level. They knew they had been polluting their environment for decades and that they were playing with fire. They simply lacked the sophistication to truly grasp what had occurred. We know that the unprecedented chemical weaponry of the Great War unleashed unspeakable carnage. Millions died; an entire generation lost. But they never even suspected the real cost. A genetic mutation caused by the weapons they were using, that wouldn't be noticed until our time. And now here we are on the brink. We could lose millions. And that's just on Earth. What if the disease is already in the off world colonies? What are their chances for survival if that's the case? We have unparalleled healthcare for every citizen of the Global Confederation. You are the esteemed representatives of the greatest accomplishment in human history. You preside over a unified planet that was once fractured into warring nation states, tribalism, racism, and economic inequality. But our species changed all of that after the war. When our ancestors saw the carnage they said 'no more!', and they pulled together to create the foundations of our One World Congress. And it was men of science who led the way. Men like the legendary Dr. Eli Abraham and his wife Sarah, or the implacable Dr. Cohen who never gave up even when his theories were mocked. Your honors, my own ancestors the Von Lictshteins worked side by side with these pioneers to create the basis for the things we take for granted today; cold fusion, planet drives, quantum accelerants, and a host of medical innovations that have led to a life expectancy ten times that of the men who fought in the Great War. And it was these innovations that have enabled our species to avoid another war for all these years. Think about what we've accomplished. We can't risk losing it all because of fear; we have to attempt to discover the first case of genetic mutation because if we can do that, if we are successful in observing what happened in the past..."
He paused for dramatic effect.
"Then we can heal the present, and save the future."
The Committee members began shifting in their seats and then looked to Jakob.
"Your Honors, I agree with everything Dr. Von Lictshtein has said...up to a point.
The question is not whether science is the answer or whether innovation inherently involves some level of risk; we all agree on those truths. The question before you today is about calculating that risk through scientific means. The fact is that we have no idea why a quantum stasis field retains its integrity. We literally have to guess how long the window is open. And yes it's true that based on what we think we know, let me repeat that, what we think we know, there is no way to interact with the timeline other than to observe."
He paused and then shrugged while raising his eyebrows, "But what if we're wrong?"
The Committee members shifted in their seats again uncomfortably.
"What if we do more than observe? What are the consequences? I know that we all want to see the rewards of success. But have we even considered the cost of failure? This technology is not like any other we have ever discovered or considered. This technology doesn't just have the power to discover new worlds, or colonize them, or power them; it has the power to unmake them. In fact to rewrite the code of the universe. This is not playing with fire your honors, this is playing with celestial fire, this is Prometheus and Icarus combined; this is playing God himself. I know that such notions seem antiquated to our modern ears but, there is a wisdom in tradition. Some of our ancestors were conquerors and heroes, but others...not so much. They taught us the value of humility and the price of hubris. I'm not saying we shouldn't explore this new technology, I'm not saying we lock Galileo in a tower, I'm simply saying we need to go slow; we need to breathe, we need to contemplate, analyze, and then proceed should prudence dictate."
He gently placed his hands together in supplication, "That is all I ask".
The room was silent. No one moved. After an unbearable interim the Chairman finally spoke.
"We've heard a lot over these last few days and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that your candor and passion on both sides of the issue is deeply appreciated and commendable. Dr Goldberg I have one very important question for you."
Jakob nodded politely.
"Is there any actual data that indicate the quantum stasis field can be breached? What I mean is, is there any evidence anywhere that suggests we could do more than just observe?"
Jakob looked down at the ground and sighed, defeated. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the faintest hint of a smile begin to curl on William's lip.
"No Mr. Chairman. My fears are based on the lessons of history and...well...faith."
William's eyes flashed victory.
"Yes Sir. Faith that some mysteries are not meant for us; at least not yet."
"I see" the Chairman intoned respectfully.
"We'll recess and then let you know what we've decided."
Three days later the lab was a buzz of activity. William feverishly directed virtual bio assistants within their floating synth cocoons, while Jakob checked and then rechecked every safety protocol in the simulation cores. The sterile blue light of the environment reflected in the eyes of the Committee members, safety barricaded behind a gravity shield. They looked on in wonder at the marvelous new frontier about to be explored. The whole room vibrated as antimatter accelerants coursed through the electromagnetic trinary nodes. The massive diamond encrusted osmium control center dominated the center of the lab, it's four lambent ice blue pillars curved up and inwards towards the center of a swirling tempest of arcing gravity waves that distorted the air. William's frenetic orchestrations of the artificial and live technicians finally came to a crescendo. He paused, then stepped back from the control array and turned towards the Committee members. Jakob felt an unnatural stillness descend on them all.
"Your honors" William began in a jubilant tone. "We have prepared for this moment well beyond the last few days of our deliberation. We have been preparing for this moment for years. The labor and passion, the spirit that has fueled an age of discovery, tolerance, and wonder; the countless men and women who suffered and persevered through the untold tribulations of early civilization, the wars, the plagues, the famines, and disasters; they are all here with us today. The dream that our ancestors called "the brotherhood of man" has been achieved by us. If we stand basking in the heady heights of the human race expanding out into the universe and touching upon new dimensional frontiers, we do so standing upon their noble shoulders. The foundation they laid with their sweat and blood during tumultuous brief lives, has supported the superstructure of our great society; and now in their honor, we stand here to defend it."
Jakob watched as the Committee members seemed to stand taller upon hearing William's speech.
There was no going back now.
William turned his back on the Committee and activated his neural implant, linking him within the hive mind of the quantum computer networks. Jakob watched as the lab powered up, and the gravity arcs began to expand in the growing luminosity of the surging antimatter cores coming on line. He activated his own neural implant and set it to observation mode as the dizzying quantum calculations and probability generators soared across his mind's eye.
There was a great feeling of lightness and then...a flash.
The space above the control center was suddenly filled with a perfect image, so perfect that it looked like a hole had simply opened in space time. It wasn't an image like you would expect on a holo screen or virtual implant, it was simply...there.
William let out a great cry of triumph and Jakob glanced at the Committee members standing right up against the gravity field, their eyes wide with astonishment.
"Quickly" William could be heard mumbling. "We don't know how long the field will hold. Center on the coordinates streaming from the consensus models."
His voice was steady but Jakob could hear the barely contained exhilaration, he was almost breathless. The image began to shift and warp until a blackened sky came into focus and the figures of running men. Explosions rocked the ground and almost everyone in the lab started at the concussion. The relays were perfectly correlating the stasis sensors with their environment. Another concussion rocked the lab and the image swept down on a man in a uniform standing next to a large metallic cylindrical tube with wheels; an ancient and primitive war machine meant to discharge lethal pieces of metal to explode over the heads of other men, killing them in the most gruesome ways.
William was frantically relaying commands through the chaos that interrupted the previously tranquil and orderly lab. This world they were looking in on was anything but tranquil or orderly. Chaos seemed to reign with unbridled fury. The Committee members backed away from the gravity shield as William spoke to the bio bots and directed their course. The man standing next to the tube of exploding metal was screaming commands at his men.
William was shouting his own commands.
"Yes...yes that's it. You see the markers? Do you see them!?" William shouted excitedly as indicator lights began swirling through the control center, sending ripples of iridescent streams cascading from the image to the floor.
"We have a match. We have a match! This is the genome sequence we've been looking for. This is the first iteration of the disease. It looks like...it looks like some kind of poison chemical gas in the air is what triggered the first mutation."
William turned to Jakob and yelled above the din, "I did it! I did it! I can sequence a cure from this data!" His eyes were brimming with tears and the Committee members were cheering behind their shield. Jakob couldn't help but be caught up in the moment and he began to choke up as well thinking of all of the lives that could be saved. He looked over as William was staring at the image of the man in the uniform, beaming at him with some kind of strange adoration, as if his heart was bursting with gratitude.
Then the man in the uniform looked up.
It was only for a second, the most fleeting instant, the way a person looks up when they feel someone is watching them. The he turned back to his task and ordered his men to fire another round. And that's when Jakob realized their mistake. The most basic law of quantum theory from its inception.
Observation is interaction.
"Oh my god shut it down! Shut it down!" He screamed hysterically above the noise.
William looked at him confused and began to gesture to the bio bots and other technicians. He accessed his implant and the image on the control center began to dim. One of the technicians nodded to William, "We're at 40% sir and she's closing fast."
Jakob ran over to William as the noise and chaos began to recede and everyone in the lab began to turn to each other with smiles of congratulations.
"William, what did we change? What did we change?!"
William looked perplexed at the hysteria in Jakob's voice and put his hands on his shoulders to calm him down.
"What are you talking about we didn't change anything, we just observed the-"
"Observation is interaction. Observation is fucking interaction on the quantum level! William he sensed you looking at him. I don't know how but he sensed you. He was distracted for an instant but it was enough. We touched the past. My god what did we do?"
"Jakob calm down" William implored him embarrassed by his histrionics. "The Committee is watching. We didn't change anyth-"
"Sir" One of the technicians interrupted. "Sir we have a...I don't know what this is..."
William looked at him and then back to Jakob. The smiling Committee members were coming out from behind the shield clearly ready to offer congratulations.
"What is it?" He quietly asked the tech.
"I...I don't know sir it's a cascade effect. A quantum cascade effect. I mean theoretically because...well we've never actually witnessed one except in theoretical models."
The ebullient Chairman was just reaching William's side as the nervous tech continued.
"I mean the field is still up so-"
"What seems to be the problem gentlemen. It looks like the damn thing actually worked. You're gonna be heroes boys." He said beaming.
Jakob slumped to the ground, his head in hands as William turned to the Committee members.
"Yes it worked. As you can see we have achieved the quantum stasis field. But...there may have been a slight probability interruption during the procedure."
"A what?" The Chairman frowned.
"A probability int-"
"We changed the fucking past!", cried Jakob.
The Chairman frowned as he seemed to consider that and then raised his eyebrows as he looked around the room. "Well, I don't notice anything different."
"You wouldn't" Jakob said dejectedly, "because the stasis field is still active. Any time ripples wouldn't take effect until the field collapses. But then we wouldn't know it anyway because..."
"Look" William interjected trying to recover the mood, "the experiment worked, we have the data to cure the mutation, this was a great day in world history! Yes we might, and I say might, have caused a minor change but that's highly unlikely and I've got the probability generators already preparing a detailed analysis so there's no need to panic."
"Sir the field is starting to collapse. She's at 20% now."
"Well" the Chairman asked pointedly, what the hell did we change?
William began furiously accessing core nodes and data streams. After a few tense moments he sighed and seemed to relax.
"It looks like the momentary distraction resulted in the officer ordering his men to fire 1.348 seconds later than they...well...should have. The data streams are telling us that the shell landed 2/16 of an inch to the left of its original location and then exploded.
"And?" The Chairman queried
William's voice was calm and reassuring.
"It looks like we prevented a man from being killed."
"Well...that's not a bad thing is it?" The Chairman smiled warmly. "Saving a life."
"No sir" William responded agreeably. "And it doesn't appear we've caused any major changes despite my colleague's emotional overreaction." He glanced scornfully at Jakob, "The records indicate that the man we saved will have no significant impact on our time stream. There's almost no record of him. The only information we have is that he was a young Austrian corporal, apparently a failed painter before he was killed in the war."
"Stasis field collapse is imminent sir."
William smiled and looked a Jakob still crouched in terror.
"I told you it was nothing to worr-"
Copyright © 2017 Short Stories by Christopher Daniel Barnes - All Rights Reserved.