Part 2: Hope Once Lost, But Not Forgotten
By Brandon Muhlestein
Time. A seemingly infinite resource, yet one that we never seem to have enough of. It’s something that you can try to partition and save away, but no matter how hard you try, it will always be something that slips through your fingers. You plan for time in the future but end up scrambling for new plans because life worked out differently and once time has been ‘spent’, there is no way to get it back. People spend so much time doing things that will help them have more time, but always end up looking back wishing they’d done something different. But this isn’t the worst torture that time inflicts upon us; time will never forget. Time will always hold on to whatever pains and sorrows have fallen into its net. Even things long past can never truly be forgotten in time.
Time was a cruel thing, Noah thought as he walked to the lecture hall. Here he was, alive, with nothing but time to think about Archer and the fact that he was gone; constantly shadowed by his success in opening the door to the conversation of time as a plane of existence. No matter how much he wanted to leave everything to do with his thesis behind, he would constantly be reminded of how terribly wrong he had been. His greatest failure would forever stare him in the face with a mask of his greatest success.
He had been strong-armed into giving a lecture presentation to a collection of astrophysics students on the thesis he and his colleagues had published. Looking back over the research papers and notes he and his colleagues had taken when they’d compiled their thesis brought flashbacks of that moment when he’d lost his best friend to his best accomplishment. He hated talking about this subject now and couldn’t help but scoff at the irony that of the six members of his scientifically acclaimed thesis on time and relativity; he had been the one asked to speak.
His phone chimed with the alert that it was time for him to start setting up. He picked up the pace and reattached the mental mask he wore when around others—the one that kept them from asking if he was ok. A couple of students waved and smiled at him as he crossed the campus square, and he did his best to smile back and share pleasant greetings.
The lecture hall was larger than he had originally anticipated. Walking in, he realized that if the whole space was filled, there would easily be close to fifteen hundred people.
Noah quickly set up as students began to trickle in and take their seats. He did his best to sound excited as he welcomed them in and encouraged them to take their seats, preferably towards the front. The students eagerly began to fill the space and, sure enough, Noah realized that it was turning out to be a full-house experience. He honestly never realized just how well their thesis had been received.
It was surprisingly easy to slip into ‘teacher mode’ as he began his lecture. A familiarity fell upon him as he spoke about the several major points that had been the building blocks of their thesis: the principles of relativity and how time is measured relative to the frame of reference of the measurer, theories of time being non-linear and passes slower for objects that move at higher speeds, time travel as it then relates to traveling at the speed of light and a few theories on the different dimensions of existence. Several students raised their hands with questions and further interest throughout the seminar, and it surprised him just how much he enjoyed talking and discussing theories with them. These students all seemed to be either in an astrophysics program or have a legitimate interest in the topic because they all shared the things that had been discussion points he and his team had come up with.
Noah’s negative thoughts seemed to fade as the presentation continued. For the first time since leaving the Fragmented Shore, he felt comfortable slipping back into his scientist mode and discussing aspects of time and how it flowed through this plane. It was amazing to see how quickly the students grasped onto the idea that the metaphor of the ‘river of time’ could easily be a manifestation of a different plane crossing into this one. And it wasn’t until someone asked about the possibility of entering this plane of time that the reality slammed back into him like that terrible wave.
He managed to keep the rest of the lecture interesting and engaging, while intently avoiding the idea of entering the plane of time. He deflected questions by providing semi-accurate excuses, which seemed to appease everyone, but the truth hung over him like Damocles’ sword waiting to fall. Ultimately, he was successful, and the seminar ended with a thunderous round of applause from the students. He invited everyone interested in astrophysics and adjacent topics to continue to feed that interest through a few related seminars the school was putting on over the next couple of months before dismissing everyone.
Noah worked on sorting and packing his papers away into his bag. He heard a cough behind him and turned to see a man of average height with short, choppy blond hair and a book bag slung over his shoulder. There was a zeal in his eyes that Noah immediately recognized—the same one he’d had when he’d started all this.
Noah carefully set down the stack of papers and turned to give the student his full attention. “Yes. What can I do for you?”
The student reached out his hand. “My name is Logan, and I want to say your work has been incredible. It is truly amazing to imagine that we might begin to further understand one of the greatest phenomena of our universe.”
Noah took his hand with a pleasant smile. “I’m glad to see that people are still interested in the more theoretical sciences. A lot of us were worried that our thesis would fall on deaf ears as people focused on more practical sciences like green energy and global warming.”
“I’ve always had a fascination with space since I was young, and I’ve wanted to be involved with research to help us understand the universe better.” Noah smiled, again recognizing the same eager anticipation that he’d had. “Everything you and your team theorized is incredible, but I had a couple of questions.”
Noah nodded as he stepped back over to continue gathering his things. “I have to get my stuff out of here so the next class can come in, but you are welcome to ask while I work.”
Logan took the opportunity and continued, “You mentioned that if people could shift their frame of reference to be defined by a different point in space, we could potentially allow ourselves to be governed by a different measure of time? If that’s true, then could it be possible to measure ourselves with the frame of reference of this time dimension? Could that be the key to unlocking time travel? Would we then be able to enter this new dimension and…”
“NO!” Noah interjected forcefully. Memories of the Fragmented Shore overtook his thoughts like waves crashing on the shore. The guilt he’d spent so much time trying to seal away all came back in an ugly tsunami of thought. He could feel himself getting desperate and needed to get away from everything for a little while to let himself reset. He faced a shocked Logan to add, “Just because we introduced a new theory about time doesn’t mean that any of it is possible, nor does it mean that we have the methods to even attempt it if it were! Now leave me alone and don’t let this topic sweep you away, too.” He grabbed his things and quickly made his way out of the lecture hall.
He hurried across the campus and before he knew it; he was in one of the secluded rooms of the campus library. He dumped his stuff onto the table and fell into one of the chairs with a deep sigh. It stung to be reminded that he hadn’t taken really any precautions before entering the Fragmented Shore. They hadn’t given any thought to understanding how things worked before jumping in; hadn’t put in the effort to make sure they survived.
A knock at the door had him turning slowly, prepared to turn whoever it was away, but froze when he saw Logan standing there.
“I’m taking an educated guess, but you did it. Didn’t you? You discovered something more than what your thesis describes.”
Noah didn’t say anything, although he figured that was a confirmation in and of itself.
“And if I did?” Noah responded.
“Then why do you want to keep it hidden? Wouldn’t that confirm everything that you and your team theorized? Isn’t that the evidence that every scientist hopes they’ll find to back their theories? Why wouldn’t you want that?” Logan asked, bewildered.
“Because when you deal with forces that you have no hope of controlling, you don’t get to decide the outcome!”
“What happened?” Logan asked quietly. His voice was just above a whisper.
Noah knew Logan wasn’t trying to pry, but also felt he wasn’t going to give up, either.
“You want to know? Fine. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about the biggest failure of my life.”