This short story was written after watching a particularly annoying sci-fi movie that didn’t seem to understand its own science.  So I wanted to have fun with quantum physics…



“Doctor?  We have a situation.”

It’s two Shore Patrolmen and a lieutenant standing at my door in the rain at 4:17 in the morning.  I’ve never met any of them, and the SPs both have their hands resting on their sidearms.  Bridget is white as a sheet, trembling, near tears.  She doesn’t know what’s going on, but any time that armed personnel bang on your door at 4:17, it’s significant.

“I’ll get dressed,” I tell them, turning to go back inside.

“No need, sir,” the lieutenant says, quietly moving his foot against the door to keep it from closing.  “Please come with us, sir.  Now.”  This is when Bridget lets loose with the tears, even as I kiss her good-bye, and that’s the last thing I see of her before the door closes behind me.

*          *          *

They have a change of clothes for me in the back of the car.  Tailored.  Perfect fit.  Whatever else you might want to say about Project: Albatross, they’re efficient.  Don’t read too much into the name—project titles are generated at random by a computer in Georgetown, so it could just as easily been Peanut Butter or Michelob.

I ask what exactly happened, but the lieutenant only knows what he knows, and the others don’t say a word.  But I know that it’s got to be bad to get the project visioneer out in this kind of weather at this time of night.  The last thing I knew when I left the lab at 7:00 was that the soap bubble was on trajectory and that both chronauts were well and alert, due to return in 36 hours.  The project director and her team were on top of everything, and I had done everything that I was supposed to do for the project.  It was over for me until it was time to crunch the numbers after the chronauts returned.

That’s what they call them at the project—“chronauts.”  It’s a crap title, of course, cooked up to impress the senators and get the funding that we needed, but it worked well enough and so it stuck.  Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as a “chronaut,” because you can’t really travel through time.  Einstein proved it.  It’s physically impossible to go backward in time, and the only way to change your forward motion is to approach the speed of light and ride the temporal distortions.  But even then, you’re really just doing the same thing that everyone else is doing every day—just faster.  Anything else is just science fiction drek.

What our chronauts are doing is really riding the quantum foam into other dimensional planes.  Even that’s an oversimplification, but if you want to understand it better, read my piece in last year’s IEEE Journal on the subject.  But the basic idea is that instead of using last century’s propulsion systems that push a craft forwards in space (and let’s be honest, even the most cutting edge ideas on the drawing boards are still just derivations of von Braun’s chemical bomb missiles or NERVA’s nuclear bomb ripples), what we’re doing is using microscopically controlled antiparticle explosions to create tiny areas of turbulence in the quantum foam that underlies the universe, creating a modified Cherenkov effect cone in front of the chronauts, and then letting the soap bubble fall into the reality well created by the mini-momentary excitation of the foam.  Oh, sure—six years ago, we could only push an electron through it, but now, if you create enough turbulence with enough explosions in just the right sequence, you can fit a capsule like the Janus II (aka “The Soap Bubble”) into the disruption.

So we send our two chronauts in the soap bubble into the quantum foam, exploring into second and third-level reality planes.  It sounds weird, but so did going to the moon.  The idea is that the turbulence in the foam can warp space-time to the point where they can conceivably poke into parallel universes, or see the echoes of time either before or after their excursion takes place.  We’ve sent unmanned probes in, of course, but we found that it requires a sentience—a human consciousness—to process the perceptions within the foam.  All that the machines recorded were the fluctuations, the tachyon distortions, the bradyon damage, the massive spatial displacements for nanosecond intervals, etc.  But they couldn’t comprehend it, and that’s the key thing, since Heiblum proved that the act of perception alters reality on a quantum level.

To be honest, we don’t really know how exactly it should work—I mean, could traveling chronauts see Lincoln being assassinated?  Or next week’s winning lottery numbers?  Or just the lab three seconds before the mission launched?  Or some woman putting a coin into the washing machine at a local Laundromat next Tuesday?  I mean, the vast majority of the moments that make up reality are mind-numbingly mundane, so if we could see the echoes of other times, who’s to say that they would be anything but mind-numbingly mundane?  Then again, if guys like Zeilinger and Goswami and Radin are right, then the mere fact that a human consciousness is trying to explore the cosmos should dictate that we would be ontologically drawn to find what we were looking for in the first place—or even that we might create it just by thinking about it, just like we coalesce atoms into existence merely by the simple attempt to observe and measure them.  We’re only now beginning to understand that the basic foundation of our universe isn’t matter and energy, but consciousness that assumes matter and energy.

Anyway, the only way to find out is to send human beings into the foam, see what happens, bring them back, and evaluate the data.  That’s what Janus II is for.

So we send these two Navy pilots—real Mercury astronaut-type guys—to see what’s what.  Again, that’s all just crap for the tourists in the cheap seats.  We could have sent a couple of janitors, or high school students, or whatever, since all they really have to do is keep their eyes open and keep track of the instrumentation.  It’s not like they’re even really moving in space… unless they believe that they are.  But even then, it’s just an echo of spatial movement, not the real thing, as we understand it.

I’m losing you, aren’t I?  Okay, remember the experiment that Gisin did at the University of Geneva, back in 1997?  He split pairs of photons and sent them miles away from each other, then gave them the opportunity to travel along multiple random pathways, right?  At every turn, their trajectories matched each other perfectly.  Perfectly.  There couldn’t be any relationship between the two photons, since they weren’t connected to one another in any way.  And yet, each one knew precisely what the other one was doing at all times.  They were tethered to one another on an under-girding, quantum level.  Each one echoed everything about the other one.

So take that a step farther out.  If photon pairs are tethered, then what else is?  Is it possible that there is no random chance in the universe at all—just tethered particles and moments, reacting and inter-reacting in patterns of near-infinite complexity?  Is it possible that déjà vu is just the occasional perception of the mirrored echoes of some microscopic quantum foam turbulence around you?

So we send the chronauts into the soap bubble—this perfectly smooth bubble of electromagnetic force that houses our capsule and mimics the quantum foam enough to fool the universe into letting the chronauts pass through without physically interacting with either the particles or antiparticles involved in the process—we send the chronauts into the soap bubble and let them ride the space-time echoes into… whatever.  Hey, they volunteered.

But again, what we’re really just doing is having them ride the echoes.  They’re interconnected to the echoes of the turbulence like the photons were interconnected in Gisin’s experiment—tethered by a space-time line to the antimatter buoy exploding in front of them, creating the reality well that they’re falling through to get to wherever they’re going.

Actually, the biggest danger in all of this is the possibility that what we’re tethering them to is actually an alternate-reality version of their own soap bubble.  How do we know—in this infinite number of universes out there—that there isn’t another Project: Albatross (or Project: Peanut Butter, in their reality) sending another soap bubble into the foam in the same way, at the same moment?  If so, it wouldn’t be a coincidence.  It would be the ultimate expression of the photon interconnection that Gisin demonstrated—that there is no random chance at all at the quantum level, but just tethered reality streams.  Of course, Einstein considered that sort of connection and causation ridiculous—“spooky action at a distance,” he called it.  It must be total bunk, because Einstein said so, right?

What we don’t want to see is two completely different but parallel chronauts return in their version of the soap bubble once we’ve sent it out.  But that’s why we keep them simultaneously tethered to our lab here at the Naval Research Laboratory with a zero-point energy stream, unaffected by any of their actions or movements, or by the interaction with the quantum foam itself.  They can’t really go anywhere—not entirely.  But their perceptions are rippled out through space-time as the soap bubble tumbles its way down the quantum foam rabbit’s hole we’ve made for it.  And where their perceptions go, their physical forms follow.  Sort of.  If they believe that they do.

We did send out Janus I with a monkey on board, and he came back 36 hours later, just like clockwork.  But the monkey had aged at least ten years, the vets said during the autopsy.  But no one knows about that, outside of the lab itself, so keep it to yourself.  But that’s why we keep in constant communication with the chronauts at all times.  And everything was doing fine, when I left nine hours ago.

But that was nine hours ago.

*          *          *

Project Director Marsha Brady (yes, I know—get it out of your system now and get over it) was MIT’s golden girl, with a string of degrees attached to her that made her the number one draft choice for the JPL a second and a half after she came onto the market.  After seven years there, she was transferred across the continent and over to NRL to oversee Transient—the predecessor to Albatross.  It was when she heard my lecture at Georgetown University on the practical applications of the Casimir effect that she really started putting the pieces of Albatross together in her mind.  They brought me in, vetted me, read me into what they were thinking, and got me interested enough that I re-wrote all of their materials on what was possible and what was never going to work.  Call me the “project initiator” or the “program vision director,” but I prefer “visioneer” myself.  I’m the one who sees the physics and sees the music of the spheres at the same time, and that’s what makes it all come together.

So I enter the lab—and my escort stays outside the door because they don’t have clearance to come inside—and Marsha runs up to me with a thousand variations of “Thank God!” tumbling out of her mouth.

“What’s going on?” I ask, and she pulls me toward the Janus platform as she talks.

“It’s the capsule,” she says.  “It’s back, and something has gone very, very wrong.”

“But it’s not supposed to be back for another 17 hours,” I reply, as she hands me a stack of papers filled with the telemetry reports.  “That’s why you guys stay here and visioneers get to go home and sleep with their wives.”

“I know,” she says, slapping her ID across the reader and pulling me into the platform chamber.  “That’s part of the problem.  It’s back, and we don’t know why it’s back.  None of the read-outs even show that it’s back.”

Now that catches my attention.  I look at the math on the pages, and it’s all righteous.  Nothing even remotely hinky at any level.  And then I look at the computer telemetry on the monitors in the platform chamber, and the telemetry says that they’re still riding the quantum foam.  The only strange data that I can see is that everything indicates that the antiparticles aren’t firing any more—the soap bubble is adrift in the foam.

And yet, when I look up, there it is, sitting there, plain as day.  And I guess that’s the difference between someone like me and someone, say, like a normal human being.  The first thing I look at is the data, and then I look at the real world around me to see if it matches the data.

Which it always does, if you’ve collected the data correctly.

And yet, when I look up, there it is, sitting there, plain as day.  The soap bubble.  That shimmering, perfectly round to the thousandth decimal point sphere of blue-gold energy surrounding two young Navy pilots whose names escape me at the moment.

“What about communication?” I ask.  “Can we talk with them?”

“Everything went dead the moment the antiparticles ceased reacting and the capsule returned,” she replies.  The dozen members of her team are all scrambling around the room, punching keys on various consoles and chattering with great excitement.  It’s chaos with an average IQ of 175.

“Wait,” I say.  “Was that the order of events?  The cease of antiparticle reaction and then the return of the capsule?”

“No,” she replies, pointing again to the third page of the notes she handed me when I walked in.  “It was all at the same, precise nanosecond of time.  Catastrophic failure, all at once.”

“But even that’s an assumption,” I correct her.

“What is?”

“That it’s a failure,” I say.  “This might be an unintended consequence of the proper completion of the mission.  Or even the completion of a parallel mission from somewhere else.  Or this might be a tangible echo of the completion of our mission, 17 hours from now.”  I punch a few keys of my own.  “How do we even know if the chronauts are on board the soap bubble right now?”

One of the project team—a flight surgeon named Molina, I think—pipes up.  “Oh, they’re in there,” he says.

How do we know?” I ask again, speaking slowly so he can understand the question.  “We have no telemetry coming from the bubble any more—no heart rates, no communication, no nothing.”

“Because we did the thermal imaging,” he responds.  “And we can see the three bodies in there.”


“Three?” I ask.  And I see Marsha’s face looking terrified.

“Yes,” she says, more quietly this time.  “There are three people in there now.”

That’s when I realize that I’ve just slumped down into the chair behind me.  Only 19 hours ago, we sent two men into the quantum foam, and now we’ve apparently brought someone—or something—back from the foam with them.

“Are you sure that it’s another person?” I ask.

“Yes, the thermals make it definite,” Molina says.  “Three human beings.  Human shape, human body temperature.”  He points to the thermal readout on one of the screens.  Sure enough, they’re all there—two seated in the command chairs, and one standing in front of them.  I watch the screen for a while, and something catches my attention.

“They aren’t moving.”

“No,” Marsha replies.

“Are they dead?”  I ask.

“No,” Molina tells me.  “The body temperatures are still 36.9, 36.6, and 36.8, with no drop in temperature since the re-appearance of the capsule.  The body temperature should drop by approximately 0.8 degrees per hour after death, and they’ve been back for almost 45 minutes now.”

“Maybe the ambient temperature in the cabin is rising for some reason,” I suggest, “creating the illusion of consistently normal body temperature for the corpses.”  I notice out of the corner of my eye that some of the other team members are more than just a little bit horrified at the nature of this particular conversation.  Science is a cruel mistress, people—get over it.

“Not likely,” Molina says, pointing to the screen.  “I mean the temperature hasn’t changed by a fraction of a degree in 45 minutes.  The odds of the cabin temperature rising at just the right rate to perfectly offset the loss of thermoregulation in—”

“Got it,” I say.  “So they’re not dead.”

“No,” he responds gruffly.  “They’re just unconscious.”

“No,” I respond back.  “They’re absolutely not just unconscious.”

“What?” he growls.

“Two details that you’re apparently ignoring here (only God knows why),” I say, pointing to the same screen.  “One is that one of the figures is standing.  It’s kind of hard to do that if you’re, you know, in a coma.  And the second is that none of the figures is breathing.”  Marsha comes over and looks at the screen with us.  Sure enough, even Molina realizes that the thermal images aren’t changing.  The time counter’s clicking away, so I know that it’s not a still image that we’re looking at.  But there’s no movement in the bodies at all—not even autonomic reflexes like chest contractions for respiration, or the tiny little movements caused by heart palpations.  We might as well have been looking at a photograph.

“What the…?” Marsha says, frowning.

“Actually, that explains a lot,” I say, jotting down some equations just to make sure.  “If your chronauts aren’t dead, and they aren’t unconscious, then they must be in stasis—either locked in some sort of temporal loop or existing on the platform as an echo of another point in time on our end.”  I finish the equations and the math bears it all out.  “Or maybe we’re seeing a snapshot of another reality altogether, intruding into our own universe just to be snarky.”

“What are you saying?” Molina asks.

“I’m saying that those chronauts are fine,” I reply.  “But they’re also kind of screwed, because no matter what, they’re not coming out of there on their own.”

Another one of the team members joins the conversation at this point.  He’s a physicist named Benson.  Benton.  No, Benson, because he’s wearing his badge and I can read it.  “Are you suggesting that there’s nothing that we can do?” he asks.

“Of course not,” Marsha assures him, but I can tell by the way she does it that she hasn’t got a clue if what she’s saying is actually true.

“No, there’s a lot that we can do,” I reply.  “But just not much that can help those two guys.”  And Marsha sighs in frustration.  I’m probably not helping.

“We have to try something,” another team member chimes in.  “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.”

“And that’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard all night,” I reply, and Marsha sighs again.  “Tell that to the person lost in the desert, two miles from a life-saving oasis to the east.  If he says to himself, ‘Walking westward is better than doing nothing at all,’ then he’s an idiot.  In fact, every step he takes in 359 degrees worth of directions would be—by definition—getting him more and more off-course from his intended destination.”

“So you’re saying that he should just sit down in the desert and die of thirst?” he asks.

“No,” I reply, “and if you would listen, you’d understand that.  What I’m saying is that walking in the opposite direction from his destination would be stupid.  Extrapolating from that, your argument that ‘Doing something is better than doing nothing at all’ is—again, by definition—stupid as well.”  The guy mutters some kind of profanity under his breath, and everyone else just stares at me.  Finally, I feel the need to suggest the obvious.  “Has anyone considered just turning the stupid bubble off?”

“We can’t,” Benson says.

“Why not?”

“Because none of the equipment even registers the capsule as being here in the chamber.  As far as the system is concerned, the capsule is still out there in the foam, and all of the safety measure protocols prevent the protective bubble from being taken down while the chronauts are in transit.”

“Well, that stinks,” I say.

“And it’s not like we can just go in and get them,” Marsha adds.

“Why not?” I ask again.

“What?” she asks, surprised.

“Why can’t we just go in and get them?”

“Because then whoever goes in would be caught up in whatever temporal loop the chronauts are caught in,” she replies.  “If we walked into the bubble, we’d just be frozen in time with the three of them, and we’d have even more people to try to rescue.”

“Not necessarily,” I say.  “It just depends on how localized the stasis effect is.”  I start to sketch something out on a piece of paper to show all of them my idea.  “We tether the chronauts and the soap bubble to the platform using a compounded Casimir–Polder force, exponentially enhanced by the electromagnetic generator in the platform, right?”  They all nod.  “So why not just try a low-tech version of that and tie a rope or something to someone and send them into the soap bubble?  They grab the chronauts, and we just pull them all back out…”

*          *          *

The three worst problems with being a genius are as follows:  1) very few people in the room tend to understand what you’re talking about at any given moment, which means that 2) the details to which most people are oblivious will tend to keep you up all night thinking about them until you solve the problems that the details indicate, which means that 3) when you come up with a solution to those problems, it’s not uncommon to discover that you’re the one who actually has to act on that solution that seemed so obvious to you that you were too stupid to keep your mouth shut about it.

So that’s why—after another ten minutes or so of debate that made it increasingly clear to everyone in the platform chamber that what I said was the best actionable solution that we had to work with—I find myself putting on a pressure suit with an oxygen tank and they’re latching a nylon cable to my back.  Am I the most qualified to do this?  I dunno.  I’m really just going to reach in, grab a couple of guys, and come back out—what qualifications would that take?  Half the team members are too old and the other half are too underdeveloped to do it any better than I would.  Oh, their WoW avatars could do a great job of it, but the pocket protector patrol themselves…?  Not so much.

But I’m not worried about the physicality of it.  I’m not even worried about not coming back out—that’s what the heavy-duty nylon cable is for.  It could haul an elephant, so I’m not worried about it breaking or anything.  What I’m worried about is that third… something… in there.  I know that Molina said that the thermals clearly show it to be a human being, but it’s not like there’s going to be a lot of hitch-hikers hanging around inside the quantum foam of the universe with their thumbs out, waiting for a ride to Earth.  Our chronauts have picked up someone or something out there and have brought it back with them to the platform chamber.  I can think of multiple possibilities of what that something might be, or where it might be from, and none of them make me feel comfortable about stepping into that opaque bubble of electromagnetic energy to meet it.  And more to the point—what exactly was it doing in there, standing in front of them just as their stasis loop began?  Did the thing cause the stasis?  Will my entering into the bubble break the stasis so that the thing finishes doing whatever it was that it had started doing when it started doing it?

And what universe was it coming from?  One similar to our own?  Identical?  Almost identical?  Or one so horrifically different from ours that it makes our concept of Hell seem like a field trip to Disneyworld by comparison?  I find myself trembling, and I do math in my head to focus my attention on something other than what exactly that third being in there might be.

I’m supposed to tug on the cable when I’ve got the chronauts.  Marsha’s babbling on with a series of directions and warnings, and I realize that I haven’t really been listening to any of it.  Not that any of it is going to matter.  This is either going to be simple, or it’s going to be such an epic fail that no amount of prep beforehand is going to make any significant difference at all to the outcome.  Walk in and walk out, or be lost in stasis forever.  Nothing in-between.

I nod like I care what she’s saying, and then I walk up to the platform.

“Just watch those thermals,” I tell Molina as I re-check my oxygen for, like, the third time.

“I have all four of you on screen,” he assures me.  “And you’re the only one moving.”

I take one deep, long breath, and I can hear my heart pounding in my ears.  It feels like the helmet is too tight, pressing against my skull, but I know that it’s not.  It’s just my body’s “fight or flight” response kicking in, with no chance to either fight or flee.  Which, you know, sucks.

I step forward toward the electromagnetic sphere, and they keep the line taut as I walk.  The soap bubble shimmers in front of me, swirls of blue and golden energy cascade around it.  Ten hours ago, I thought it looked pretty, I guess, though I’d never really thought that much about it.  But now, it just looks alien.

“Watch the thermals,” I say again, but the pounding of my heart makes it impossible to hear what anyone says behind me.  I take that last step forward, and reach my hand to touch the bubble.  Which you can’t do, of course.  It’s not tangible—it’s just energy.  But you can see it, so your mind just assumes that you can touch it.  The only thing I feel is a mild tingle, like the hairs on my arms are standing up in a room full of static electricity.  There’s not even any resistance to my motion.  Even though I know the physics—I wrote the physics—it’s still hard to believe that this nothing of a bubble can protect the chronauts from antimatter explosions and the rigors of quantum travel.

I take another deep breath and step all the way into the bubble.  I realize afterward that I’ve held my breath through the whole step, as if that would make any difference to anything involved.  Man, I really hope I don’t die.  Bridget would never forgive me.

I step into the capsule, and there are the two chronauts, just sitting there, punching buttons like nothing unusual is going on.  In fact, I surprised them even more than they surprised me.

“What?!?” the guy on the right screams.  “Wh-Who are you?”

That’s your first question?” I reply.  I mean, you’ve spent almost a full day cruising out into the quantum foam of the universe when someone just casually steps into your capsule, out of the ether, and your first thought is what name is printed on their driver’s license?  Maybe the monkey was smarter after all.  “Where’s your third passenger?”

What third passenger?” the other guy barks.  “What are you doing here?  How did you even get out here?”  There you go—that should’ve been your first question.

“There is no ‘out here’ now,” I reply, correcting the smarter one.  “We’re sitting on the Janus platform in the platform chamber back at NRL.  That’s where the other end of this line is.”  I point to the nylon cable.

“No,” the first guy says.  “We’re in the quantum foam.  The instruments say so.”  And he points to his console, like that makes everything true.

“Where is the third person?” I ask again.

“What third person?” he asks in return.

“The one standing right where—” and then it hits me, and I have that horrible, sinking feeling of being terribly, painfully stupid.  I let my head drop as close to my chest as my helmet will allow.

“Are you some kind of crazy person?” the guy on the left says at last.

“No,” I say.  “I’m just a ten-year-old monkey.”

*          *          *

So I show the two pilots the written order that Marsha gave me, indicating that they are to accompany me back through the electromagnetic bubble and onto the platform.  Even then, it takes some doing to get them to unbuckle from their command chairs and comply with the order.  I mean, from their standpoint, it seems like I’m asking them to break safety protocols and step out into the quantum foam, and how crazy would that sound?

I’d always wondered what would happen if someone did that.  I mean, would they be torn apart by the turbulence?  Not likely.  Would they pop out into a parallel reality?  Or another time?  Would they just reappear in our reality as a cosmic default setting?  Or would they—and this is the most likely thing, I think—simply immediately cease to exist, since the quantum foam is a different level of physical reality than our own?  I don’t blame the guys for not wanting to test that theory.

But orders are orders, and these guys are career military, so the end is inevitable.  Besides, I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on by now, so I’m not too worried.  Not a lot worried, at least.  I grab each of them by the hand and then lurch forward to give the tug on the cable that the team back in the platform chamber will recognize as the signal to reel us back in.  It’s a little disconcerting when nothing happens for a second.  I’m just standing there inside of the soap bubble, holding hands with two Navy pilots in a very small and increasingly intimate space.

Then I feel the reassuring pull of the line at my back, and the three of us step back out of the soap bubble together.  I feel that mild tingle again, and see that blue-gold aura fade around me, and we’re suddenly back where we’re supposed to be.  As we step out onto the platform, the energy bubble finally shuts down, and we hear the whole team clapping and cheering.  Marsha runs up to hug me, and then each of the chronauts—who just look about as confused as they can possibly be.

“You disappeared!” she cries.  “We thought we’d lost you, too!”

“What do you mean, I ‘disappeared’?” I ask.

“You stepped into the bubble, and we had all four thermal images,” she says, wiping the tears from her eyes, “and then, just as you reached the point where the third person was—”

“Let me guess,” I interrupt.  “My image melded perfectly into the image of the third person, and then disappeared.”

“Yes!” she says.

“That’s because I was the third person,” I say.  “I always had been the third person on that screen.”

“I don’t understand,” she says, frowning.

“Remember when I said that there were two possibilities?” I ask.  “That they were locked in stasis, or that what we were perceiving was actually an echo from another point in time?”  She nods.  “Well, it was obviously the latter, not the former.  What we were seeing was a temporal echo that reflected, say, an hour after the soap bubble reappeared on the platform.  Once I stepped into the bubble, those ripples were disrupted, and reality caught up with the echo—as if you heard the echo of your voice an hour before you shouted into the Grand Canyon.  When I crossed over into the capsule, I ‘popped the bubble,’ and we all came back out again.”

“But that was over 16 hours ago,” she says, looking confused.  And now it was my turn to be confused, too.

“Say that again?”

“You stepped into the energy bubble, disappeared into the third thermal image, and everything stayed locked up in stasis for the last 16 hours until the normal end of the mission parameters, at which point the energy bubble shut itself down, as per the preprogrammed safety measures.”

I stand there and think about that for a minute, and my head begins to hurt.

“You didn’t try to send anyone else in?” I ask.  “You just left me there for 16 hours and didn’t do anything about it?”

“We didn’t want to lose anyone else,” she says.  “We figured that doing nothing would be better than doing the wrong something a second time.”

“So when I tugged on the cable…” I began

“That was a minute ago, just as the energy sheath was dissipating.”

So did it dissipate because I tugged?  Or was I locked in temporal stasis and unaware that time was passing in the platform chamber until the computer controls decided that the mission was completed and turned off the soap bubble, at which point then I could successfully tug on the cable?  What part of reality was tethered to what other part of reality?

And here’s another one—if I hadn’t elected to go in after the chronauts and find out who else was standing in the capsule with them, would we have seen only two thermal images on the screen?  So which came first—the thermal image of me in the capsule, or the decision to send me into the capsule so that my thermal image would then come up on Molina’s screen?

I can’t help but think of two little photons on opposite ends of Geneva—somehow connected and dancing to the same tune, though none of us human monkeys could ever hear it.

As I pull off my pressure suit, I think of all the ways that this could have gone much, much worse.  I think about Bridget and the fact that 17 hours ago, she saw her husband dragged off into the rain by the Shore Patrol and hasn’t heard anything from me since.  I’m looking forward to going home and sleeping for a long, long time.  I know that it’s around 10:00 at night now, but it still feels like a very exhausting 5:00 in the morning to me.

Funny the details that I notice now.  Like, the flight surgeon’s ID badge reads, “Malina,” when I could’ve sworn that his name has always been “Molina.”  But I’m really bad with details like that.  And I thought that the outer door to the lab has always been blue, not green.  Spooky what going through trauma can do to a person’s perceptions.

Spooky is the word for it.