It was a freak accident, really. Electromagnetic mass vs. inertial mass. The funding was for research into superconductors. What we DO know is that several superconductors exist, but they’re expensive materials or expensive to get to superconductivity. The holy grail of room-temperature superconductivity still hasn’t been found.
But that doesn’t matter.
Tom wasn’t supposed to be messing around, but, with his usual disdain for our work and his attitude that superconductivity IS the holy grail – just as non-existent – he spent most of his time farting around with magnetic fields and rambling about gravity.
And then, one day, it happened.
In order to avoid any perception of tampering, metallic objects are removed. Rings, watches, bracelets, necklaces – everything. Tom had a watch he didn’t want to take off. We badgered him all the time. When we weren’t riding his ass, he did what he wanted to do. And usually forgot to take off his watch.
“Hey, Tom, lunch!” I cracked open the door and yelled into the lab. Tom glanced at his watch, then at the wall clock, then back to his watch again, narrowed his eyes, and looked at me. With THAT look. “Oh, no, Tom, I’m fuckin’ hungry, dude!” I pleaded.
“Go on ahead.” He waved me off and started to undo the latch on his watch.
“Whatever. Burgers first, superconductivity second!” I shrugged and let the door close itself and gathered up the boys and went to grab that burger.
“Tom! Tom?” I opened the door brazenly, intending to give him a hard time for missing lunch, but the room was cold and empty. Colder than it should have been. I furrowed my brow, crossed my arms and rubbed my upper arms.
I jumped back and looked over to see Tom stumbling like he just landed from a 10 foot drop. He steadied himself and waved the fog away from him, brushed back his hair, and gave me THAT look. Again.
“What the fuck just happened? Where were-”
“Ho-lee-shit,” Tom said, eyes wide and shaking with excitement.
He unstrapped his watch and threw it at me. It was 10 hours ahead. He walked to the table and picked up another watch. It was set to yesterday. The room was even colder now.
“It’s not about superconductors. All this work with electromagnetic fields and extremely low frequencies and all that. Bullshit.” Tom was walking around the room, his labcoat blowing back as he waved his hands around and whipped around as he paced.
“What I did, instead, was to correlate gravitational energy with inertial energy. And that changed gravity locally, within the confines of the machine.” His eyes were wide and his fingers were splayed and palms were upturned. It was an expectant grin but I looked at him over the rim of my glasses and indicated that I didn’t understand.
“Look. You’re chasing down conductivity. That’s not the way to go. Einstein proposed that large objects displaced and warped timespace. Einstein also said that mass and energy are the same thing.”
“Okay,” I knew this much, but I still wasn’t making the connection.
“Okay. So. If gravity is associated with energy, mass is energy, then energy should be able to warp timespace if we can manipulate gravity, which we can, by manipulating energy the way I have with this machine.” He was out of breath from excitement, his pupils were wide and his stubble looked like 4 days of growth, enhancing the crazy man effect.
“So you built a time machine?” I think I finally figured out what he was getting at.
“Lemme show you,” he leapt past me, out the door. Tentatively, slowly, I followed. When I got to the doorway, he just about knocked me over as he came back in with a cage full of white mice.
“Count them,” he said, pushing the back of my arm towards the cage.
“one..two..five… nine. Nine mice. What are you going to do?”
“Give me one of them.” He waved his hand towards himself. I reached in and grabbed a little guy with black stripe on his head so I knew which one I had taken.
“Stand there. I’ll be back in a flash,” and, damn it, I’m started to hate THAT look. He went to his machine, started fiddling with knobs, grinned, looked up at me, and CRACK! he was gone in a mist of vapors, and the surrounding area on the metal lab bench was covered in frost.
CRACK! He was back just as quickly as he was gone, hardly a moment gone by. He grabbed the bench to keep from falling and pulled the mouse out of his pocket and waved his finger towards the cage. I turned around and counted.
“One… two… six… nine?”
And then three more Tom’s filed into the room. THAT look again.