The Enlightening Chapters 7-9 (including additional material exclusive to this Facebook/ website edition)

7

By now, he was standing next to me, holding out a gloved hand to shake. He was wearing gloves that looked like they might have been riding gloves, although the group appeared to be on foot. Eventually, I found out that the gloves were specially designed to collect biological samples from my hands or clothing. Also they helped protect Merle, I guess, who probably had to be careful about what he might pick up from somebody like me. Merle had spent the equivalent of several years preparing for the trip, which included being inoculated against whatever strange brews he might come across in his adventure. He had already spent a lot of time on-planet, but he was still being careful. So we shook hands, the man with the Miami Heat shirt, wearing gloves, and me barehanded.

“Mr Syl-“

“You can call me Ken.“

“O.K.,’Ken’, then.” He smiled at me, quite sincerely. “We are here to set up a cross-cultural exchange. Our entire… organization… is very grateful for your actions in saving our friend.”

“Who was your friend, exactly? He gave the cops a fake name and then he took off!”

“We came from a great distance. Our friend, Magu” (I later found out that his full name is Magu Yahay, or something to that effect), “was setting the groundwork for our trip. He was distracted, and your attention was very sharp. You heard a noise, and you reacted very quickly. Magu was a little lost in the wilderness, I’m afraid, and did not react.” Merle looked back at the three ladies, who by now had strolled up behind him. All three of them sort of smirked or smiled at Merle, like there was some sort of inside joke going on.

The tall blonde-haired man continued speaking. “As I was saying, we are setting up a cross-cultural exchange. We have been searching for a likely participant from your side. Your actions in saving our friend attracted much interest.” He smiled again. “And finding out that you are a rather open minded student of Physics was the–” he seemed to search a bit for the words– “the icing on the cake.”

Well, as soon as he said that, I figured that this was some kind of joke. First he mentions the runaway car incident, which was strange. And then he mentions me being a Physics major, which people always seem to find humorous, for some reason.

“Where exactly did you say you guys are from?” I asked the group as a whole. I was already getting tired of the gag or scam I thought they were trying to pull on me, and I was quickly developing a bit of an attitude about it.

“I’m not sure I want to say, just yet. But from very far away.”

I laughed. “Probably outer space, right?”

He didn’t laugh at my joke. Playing it up well, I figured. I wondered who set them up to this. Probably Bryce or Keith, or maybe even Ronny or Cam or somebody else from school, I guessed.

“Would that disturb you?” he asked. “If we were from outer space?”

I laughed even louder. “No, that wouldn’t bother me at all. If you’re some kind of alien, maybe you’d be willing to tell me the secret of the universe or something.”

At this, the three ladies started whispering back and forth, and the blonde pulled something something out of her hoodie pocket. I took a step back, just in case it was a gun or something. I was surprised to see that it appeared to be a plastic bulb with buttons or something on it, about the size and shape of a hand-grenade, and with a spindle, maybe three inches long, coming out of the top. For a few alarming moments, I was actually considering that the thing might be some sort of electronic hand grenade or something.

The blonde woman held it out in front of herself, in her right hand, and then the bulb– or the top of the bulb, with the spindle, at least– started rotating slowly and then spinning really fast. With the fingers of her left hand, she tapped some buttons or something on the lower portion, while the other three watched. I had no idea what was going on. I thought it must be some kind of toy or weird phone or something, but I couldn’t really figure it out. Suddenly it stopped spinning, and the spindle swiftly retreated back into the body of the bulb. The way it went back in so quickly and smoothly freaked me out, and I took another step back. Then she quickly slipped the bulb back into her pocket. I looked up, then, to see that all four of them now looking at me. By then I was feeling quite uncomfortable.

The tall blonde-haired man spoke again. “Excuse me for not properly introducing ourselves.” He told me his name was “Mer-ell”, or something that sounded a lot like “Merle” to my ears.

“Merle, did you say?” I asked. Maybe he was ready to give me some clues as to who was putting him up to this.

”Sure”, he said. “‘Merle, that’s good.” He seemed weirdly satisfied with the name, like

I was naming him Merle for the first time or something, even though he himself said that his name was Merle. Or something close to it, I guess. “And these are my associates”, he said, waving his arm in the direction of his three women companions.

Their names were all extremely odd. At the time I thought it was all part of the joke. “Clotro” was the one who did the weird stuff with the bulb. Actually, now that I got a better look at her, I realized that she was actually quite beautiful. She looked like a young Scandinavian fashion model or something, with long blonde hair streaming out from under her hoodie, bright blue eyes squinting a little bit in the early morning sunshine, as she peered at me. She smiled at me and said “hello” very quietly, in an accent I couldn’t quite place, although I was thinking maybe Swedish or something like that. Even though I wasn’t too happy, at this point, I couldn’t help smiling back, just a bit.

Then there was “Latsis”, who held the walking staff, which appeared to be a natural wooden hiking staff; just a straight piece of polished, knotty wood. She seemed to be maybe in her late thirties to early forties or so. I figured she was probably big into hiking, but it was odd these days to see the wooden staff, instead of a modern hiking pole, or set of poles. She certainly looked like she was in great shape; as they all did, in fact. Latsis tipped her head in a slight bow and smiled. She had bright red hair, maybe shoulder length or so, and she had a dark olive complexion and amazingly green eyes that gave her a stunning, exotic look.

The third woman was “Atropha”. She appeared to be the oldest of the three, with a bit of a weathered face like a sailor might have, but still she was not unattractive. She had jet black hair, cut short or maybe bunched up underneath her hood—I never could tell. Her eyes were so large and deep and black and serious, you felt like if you weren’t careful, you could just tumble inside, and you’d have a heck of a time climbing back out. And I mean, you’d be frantically trying to claw your way back out of there. When our eyes met that first day, I wasn’t able to look at her for more than a few moments, without feeling uneasy.

I believe that Atropha enjoyed her ability to make other people feel uncomfortable. I was definitely afraid of her at first, but now I think that she was just trying to help get me out of my comfortable place, and comfortable ways of thinking. Atropha didn’t smile, but just tipped her head in a faint, almost imperceptible nod in my direction.

Their names were strange, but I assumed that “Merle” was just making up gibberish-sounding names, trying to make them sound alien or foreign, to make their scam or joke seem more realistic.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, without meaning it very much. I nodded to them as a group.

Merle continued. “I cannot give you the secret of the universe. The universe does not hold any secrets. But it’s interesting that you mention that.”

Here’s the punch line, I thought. Keith or Ronny were probably hiding somewhere and filming the whole thing to post online and make fun of me. It hadn’t occurred to me at that point that Keith or Ronny must have been fast asleep in their beds after the eleven inning game the night before, plus the late night visit to the bar. The odds of them being awake at this hour, trying to prank me, would have been essentially zero.

“Are you familiar with Mark Twain?” Merle asked.

Well, I certainly hadn’t expected a Mark Twain reference coming out of left field. “Duh, of course I know who Mark Twain was.”

“He once said that education consists mainly of what we have unlearned. There is a lot of truth to that.”

“So what’s your point?” I was quickly losing all my patience with the entire charade. I

“Well, let me ask you. Do you think that you understand the Lorentz transformations?”

The Lorentz transformations– three separate yet related equations of astrophysics– were originally formulated by the great Dutch physicist H.A. Lorentz, and they were cornerstones of Albert Einstein’s Special Relativity theory. I like to think about the equations in terms of an observer– a man standing on the earth’s surface—and a traveler, who has blasted off from the earth and has accelerated into relativistic velocities. Relativistic velocities are velocities that are approaching the “speed of light”, which is 300,000 kilometers per second, or 186,000 miles per second, and is commonly shortened to “c“ in scientific parlance.

We spent many hours, over the next week or so, discussing relativity theory, and particularly these three equations, the Lorentz transformation equations. It took me a while to understand what Merle was getting at, and eventually I came to understand his central point.

The length contraction transformation indicates that the relativistic traveler will become shorter in appearance, from the observer’s perspective, as he approaches light speed, or c. The mass increase transformation indicates that the traveler will seem to become increasingly massive, as he approaches c, from the observer’s perspective. And the time dilation transformation indicates that less time will pass on the traveler’s clock, than will pass on the observer’s clock, as the traveler accelerates to relativistic velocities.

Merle explained to me that both Lorentz and Einstein, and basically every other physicist on Earth, considered the transformations to be a complete description of the full range of possible acceleration in the universe; meaning that the equations were considered to describe the entire universe. It was considered impossible for a traveler to accelerate beyond the speed of light, since that would give the traveler infinite mass, compared to the observer. And it was also considered impossible to travel beyond the speed of light, since the length of the traveler would then become zero, compared to the observer. And it was also considered impossible to travel beyond the speed of light, since the passage of time between the two would literally have no meaning, or comparison, at that point.

In time, I have come to understand that, contrary to Einstein’s interpretation, the transformation equations do not describe the universe in its entirety. They do, however, describe the full extent of the four dimensional frame of space/time—the perceptual frame of reference– as experienced by any single observer, at whatever velocity that observer may be traveling, relative to any other object in the universe. That is, if a person or an object is traveling at velocities below c, relative to the observer, the length can still be measured, mass can be calculated, and the passage of time can be compared. The observer is able to perceive and physically interact with the relativistic traveler.

Albert Einstein developed an equation, known as the relativistic addition of velocities, to deal with the obvious problem presented by his description of a universe that was so oddly limited, in terms of velocity. The problem was that of a traveler with a jet pack, who accelerates to a velocity close to the speed of light, and who has another, smaller traveler stashed in his backpack. The smaller man also has a jet pack, and after the
first traveler gets up to speed, the smaller man crawls out of the backpack and takes off, at a velocity close to the speed of light, compared to the first traveler. One can imagine an entire series of smaller men with jet packs, each traveling at nearly the speed of light, compared to the one before, which would be perfectly allowable, even with Einstein’s interpretation of the transformations.

The problem was that the apparent total velocity of the second traveler, relative to a “stationary” observer back on Earth, would obviously exceed the speed of light, according to our Galilean way of looking at the world.  In fact, it would be nearly twice c.  That apparent contradiction to the “maximum speed of the universe” necessitated a “fix”, which was the relativistic addition of velocities equation.  That equation, rationalized by Einstein to maintain a single-reference frame universe where c is the maximum velocity, falsely (and counter-intuitively) demonstrates, “mathematically”, that the second traveler, from out of the backpack, is still traveling at less than the speed of light, relative to the observer.  The same equation, in fact, indicates that all of the ever-smaller men with backpacks would still be traveling at less than c, relative to the original observer back on Earth.  Merle pointed out, early on, that this was one aspect of relativity theory that had never been experimentally confirmed. 

Merle did agree that the RAV, as construed by Einstein, effectively described phenomena that we observe within our own space-time reference frame. In a particle accelerator, for example, the RAV correctly dictates that a particle can never be accelerated to “light speed” (c), and the RAV is also used to derive the relativistic velocities of secondary particles. “That is all well and fine, and as it should be, from any single perceptual frame,” said Merle. “Up to the point of secondary particles, the equations perfectly describe our range of perceptions, and it only works with secondary particles because of their spin. But beyond that, I’m afraid the equation is simply not a valid description of the full range of velocity in the universe.”

In fact, Merle told me, several times, that “the relativistic addition of velocities was Einstein’s greatest error.”  Merle once said that you could probably formulate an equation that shows that the moon is made of cheese, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.  In other words, the fact that you have a mathematical equation doesn’t necessarily mean that it describes a real phenomenon, even though, to be clear, again, Merle did agree that the equation had merit within the reference frame of any one observer.

In more recent times, astronomers have found that in any direction you look, the farthest galaxies are receding from Earth at velocities just shy of c.  So if you looked to the left, at a distant galaxy traveling at nearly c, and then looked to the right at a distant galaxy traveling at nearly c in the opposite direction, you might assume that the two galaxies are easily traveling at velocities greater than c, relative to each other.  Due to the relativistic addition of velocities equation, however, astronomers have been able to rationalize that the two galaxies are not “violating” the Lorentz transformations by traveling at velocities above c, relative to each other.

The reality, however, is that those two galaxies exist in completely different space/time reference frames, relative to each other.  An observer in either galaxy would be able to see our Milky Way galaxy at the end of their range of vision, but neither would be able to see the galaxy on the opposite side, due to the velocity differentials between these two galaxies that are, in actuality, nearly 2c, contrary to what the relativistic addition of velocities would indicate.

Even though I had always thought that the relativistic addition of velocities was very strange, I still found Merle’s denial of the equation to be extremely difficult to believe.  But the more we talked about it, the more I began to see the truth in Merle’s assertions.

“That equation really doesn’t affect any other mathematical equation in the entire theory of Special Relativity,” Merle said.  “So if we remove it, nothing is really affected, as far as the balance of the original theory goes.

“Also, in the hyper-dimensional universe, it makes sense that a traveler has an infinite mass, relative to the observer, when the traveler travels faster than c.”  I was obviously skeptical, and Merle got a little deeper into it.  “What does it mean,” he asked me, “to say that something has mass?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t really know, exactly.”  I think I probably could have come up with a definition, but I was curious as to what Merle was getting at, exactly.

“Think of it this way,” Merle said.  “The more massive an object, or a traveler, is, the harder it is for an observer to move it, or him.  Something that is not very massive is easy to move.  Something that is very massive is difficult to move.”

“OK.”

“Once the traveler accelerates close to c, he gets very difficult to move, from the observer’s standpoint, due to being so massive, as indicated by the mass increase equation.  The observer would probably need some highly advanced and very powerful equipment, just to alter the course of the traveler a tiny bit, if the traveler is approaching the c velocity.”

“OK.”  I don’t think I truly understand the point, really, so much as I knew it made sense in light of the equation.

“But once the traveler exceeds c, he is no longer in the same four-dimensional frame of space-time as the observer.  Which means the observer can no longer physically interact with the traveler, at all.  So if the observer can’t even touch the traveler, he certainly can’t move the traveler- not even the least tiny bit, even if he has the most powerful equipment in the universe.”

“OK.”

“That means that the extra-dimensional traveler, who has accelerated to velocities beyond c, is infinitely massive relative to the observer.  He can’t be moved at all by the observer; not the slightest bit.  That is the very definition of an infinite mass, relative to the observer, of course.  In reality, though, in the traveler’s own space/time reference frame, the mass of the traveler has never changed.”

I said “OK” to that, also, but it took many conversations rehashing the same basic information before I truly understood that Merle was correct, and that it did make sense that a hyper-dimensional traveler would represent an infinite mass to an observer.  Not that an infinite mass, as “perceived” by the observer, would cause any real problems.  There is no way, in the universe, to directly interact with a hyper-dimensional traveler, other than, in certain cases, by rotating fast enough, artificially.  That is just one of the ways in which the universe works so beautifully.  I have come to see that if there is anything in the universe that makes sense, it is the universe itself.

8

That first day of my Enlightening, I was obstinate and did not genuinely try to understand what Merle was saying about the transformations.  Merle could see that I was not even making the attempt.  

“Do you at least understand,” Merle asked me, “that those equations involve the changing physical perceptions between an observer and a traveler, when the traveler accelerates to relativistic velocities?”

“Sure,” I shrugged.            

“Then answer me this.”  Merle rather slowly and dramatically reached his left hand out, and folded it back to his chin in a pensive gesture of deep thought.  “If the Lorentz transformations have such a primacy to the theory, then why are some of the tenets of Special Relativity set up as universal tenets?  Why is the single speed limit of c set up as a universal tenet, according to your Special Relativity theory, when the transformations are only about the physical perceptions between two observers?  And is it a reasonable jump of logic to simply make light speed inviolable for all observers?  Or might there something more to it?”

The Second Postulate of Special Relativity states that the speed of light is always the same– c— regardless of the motion of the light source or the motion of the observer.  That, to me, always did seem impossible to wrap my head around, in terms of it being a logical concept.  After all, if I am in a golf cart traveling at 10 miles per hour, and I toss a ball at 15 miles per hour in the cart’s direction of travel, a bystander on the street would measure the speed of the ball at 25 miles per hour, relative to him (the total combined velocities of the ball and the golf cart), while I would measure it at 15 miles per hour, relative to me in the cart.  But light doesn’t work that way.  It always manifests itself at the same velocity—c—to all observers, regardless of their circumstances.  I always had figured that it only seemed strange because we are used to seeing the world the way Galileo did, in terms of classical mechanics.  I eventually came to think that there really was no understandable logic to it, and all you could say was “that’s just the way the universe is.”  Other than that, there just isn’t any way that anybody—Albert Einstein included, I’m quite sure—has ever truly understood what mechanism of the universe could possibly drive the Second Postulate.

Merle seemed to stroke an imaginary beard just a bit.  “That part of it doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?”    

“Oh for gosh sakes.  Come on, man.”  Now I was really exasperated with the conversation and the ongoing gag.  “You can give it up now.”  I started looking around for Ronny, or Keith, or Bryce, or anybody else I might recognize, somewhere nearby.  But we were still alone in the meadow, at least in terms of other people.

Merle just continued looking at me quizzically, while Latsis leaned over and started whispering to the other two women.  

“Ken,” he said, while putting his other gloved hand on my shoulder, and in the process gathering more samples from my clothing, “this is not a joke.  We are here on very serious business.”  I sort of shoved Merle’s hand off my shoulder and twisted away from him, but he just continued talking.  “It is not a joke, but nor is it an open-ended gift, either.  There is a great reward possible, greater than you might imagine, but you will have to put some effort into achieving it.  We can help you, but you–” again he searched for the phrase– “you have to meet us half way.  So please give some thought to what I have said about the Lorentz transformations and Special Relativity.”

Now I was thinking that maybe somebody from my Physics classes was playing the joke.  Because freshman year of college, I had said in class that the universal speed limit of c seemed hard to believe, on the surface of it.  Because what can make you stop or slow down if you want to keep going faster?  Our professor, Professor Thomas, shot that comment down pretty quickly by pointing out that any velocity greater than c would violate the terms of the Lorentz transformations.  Then another time I said that it seemed impossible that the vast entirety of the universe– untold quintillions of tons of matter, and other forms of mass-energy in vast galactic scales– was born out of a tiny little cosmic egg, apparently, that exploded in the Big Bang.  He just laughed at that, like it was goofy to even question the idea.  After that, every time he introduced a new subject, for the rest of the year, he’d poke a little fun my way.  “Any objections to that, Mr. Sylavnewski?”  he would ask.  After 20 times, it wasn’t very funny anymore, but he still got a laugh from the class every time.  It did teach me that nothing good can come from questioning dogma.  Now, however, I know that questioning dogma can be the first step on the path to an Enlightening.  “Where did you guys say you were from?” I asked Merle.

 Merle smiled at that question and pointed up at the sky.  

 “Oh come on.”  I wasn’t buying it.       

“No,” said Merle.  “Look up there.  Right there.”  And he pointed again, to a specific area of the sky.  “Look up.”

I looked up, and there was actually something up there, far up in the sky.  It looked like a small, triangular black kite.  It must have been high above the nearby clouds, but at the time I guess I didn’t really think about that.       

“And what is that?” I asked sarcastically.  “Is that your spaceship?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, it is.”  

“Come on, man,” I told him, shaking my head.  “That’s just some kid’s kite.”  At that point, I really felt like I‘d had enough nonsense.  “I gotta go, anyway.”

“We will talk again, very soon,” Merle said.  ”Please give some consideration to what I am saying about the Lorentz transformations and Special Relativity.  Take a second look at the Second Postulate and tell me if you think it really makes sense.  And ask yourself how or why the universe would limit your velocity at all!”  He looked at me again, very fixedly and seriously.       

“Oh, sure”, I said, as sarcastically as I possibly could.  “I’ll be thinking about it, all the time.”  I reached back for my bike and turned it around to leave.  Just then I realized that I couldn’t move the pedals, anyhow.  They were still jammed. 

I looked back to see if the four weirdos were watching me, but they were already walking away, out into the meadow.  I bent down to look at my bike to see what was jamming it up.  I figured maybe a stick got caught in there or something, but I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  Then I snuck a peak back at the meadow, and it was the damnedest thing.  The weirdos were gone; completely and absolutely vanished.  I looked all around, and they were just gone.  They must have high-tailed it out of there, I thought.  But how could they run fast enough?  It was the strangest thing. 

Just then, I realized that my bike was rolling free again.  That was weird, also.  I guessed the stick must have popped out on its own.  So I hopped on my bike and headed back towards the house.  I had enough of the bike trail by then, anyhow.  In fact, I told myself I’d never come this way, down that bike trail, again.  No way.

Just as I was headed back around the turn on my way back home, a young couple on their bikes came around from the other direction and passed by me going the other way.  I thought I heard the girl say something like, “I wonder what was wrong with our bikes?” as they passed by, but I didn’t really pay much attention at the time.  I was thinking about my own strange morning.

9

After I got back to the house, I tried to figure out who was playing the joke on me.  I texted a couple of people, but it was way too early.  Keith didn’t wake up until 12:30 p.m. and Ronny didn’t answer my text until almost 2 o’clock.  They both denied knowing anything about it.  I talked with a few people from school, and they also denied it.  They all seemed to not have any idea what I was talking about.  In fact, when I mentioned the thing about the Lorentz transformations and the Second Postulate of Special Relativity, I think they thought I was trying to play a joke on them.  I got the impression that my friends from school thought I might be a nut, getting in touch during the summer and telling some crazy story involving Special Relativity.  So that sort of dissuaded me from trying much harder to find the joker who was setting me up.  “Setting you up for what?” my friend Cam, also a Physics student, asked me.  That was a good question.  In telling the story, it didn’t seem like a very funny joke.  It was just plain weird, but nothing more than that.        

After a while, I gave up my search because I was getting nowhere.  Plus, I had to work that evening, and I was sort of tired, so I took a nap before I went to work, which I had never done before.  I worked until past midnight that night, and didn’t get to sleep until about 1:30 a.m.  Yet I woke up early again the next morning, again feeling good.  I made some coffee and had a bite to eat and got ready to take another ride, like it was the natural thing for me to do, which it absolutely wasn’t, of course.  I should have slept in until late morning, if not noon, according to my usual schedule.  Instead, I was going to take the ride down by the lake that I had intended to take the previous morning.  But you can probably guess which way I turned, instead.

I don’t even remember the trip over there.  All of a sudden I was enjoying listening to the creatures of the forest, and making the turn by the meadow.  I started humming to myself, and it dawned on me that I was subconsciously echoing that same droning buzz I had heard the day before.  As soon as I realized that I was hearing the sound again, I stopped humming, and the droning buzz stopped, also.  As I wondered if I was just imagining the sound, I saw my four strange acquaintances, standing by the fountain and obviously waiting for my arrival.  Again, the three women had white hoodies on, and Merle looked like he was ready to go for a jog, or to play basketball or something.  

Merle waved a hand to me.  “Hello Ken!”

“Hello, Merle.”  At that point I sort of realized where I was again.  I was confused, and maybe a little scared, about how I got there.  It was even earlier than the previous morning’s “meeting.”    

“Ken, have you given any thought to the Lorentz transformations?  The Second Postulate?”    

“Ha ha ha.  As a matter of fact, Merle, no.  I did not.”

Merle looked at me with a mixture of befuddlement and sadness, it seemed.  He turned and held a hand up to Atropha, who was glaring at me.  “Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Merle said to Atropha, even though she hadn’t said a thing.  Then he turned back to me.    

“Ken.  Let’s talk about those transformations.   Just remember, the transformations are all about the perceptions of the observer, Ken.  That doesn’t mean that the mass or length of the traveler has changed at all, in any real sense.  The passage of time itself is perceptual, in a sense.  It’s all just relativistic perceptual strangeness, between the observer and the traveler.”

“But time passes more slowly for you,” I protested, despite my ambivalence.  “When you come back down, you’ve aged less than I have.  Less time has passed on your clock.”  

“Well, that is true.  That is very correct.”  I could see that Merle was pleased that I was at least thinking about special relativity.  “Because the perception of time has permanent physical ramifications, in a way that length contraction and mass increase do not.  Time is relative, but time is also an arrow, as they say.  It’s an arrow in both directions, actually, but the passage of time is permanent and real.  Length and mass are just relative, in both directions.  Although they both can get a little complicated, as well.”

“I really need to get going,” I said.  I was feeling uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.  A bunch of double talk and nonsense, it seemed.  But Merle wasn’t stopping.  He was persistent, I can tell you that.       

He discussed why the length of the extra-dimensional traveler would be zero, or non-existent, according to the perceptions of the observer.  After the traveler leaves the perceptual space/time frame of the observer, by exceeding the velocity of c relative to the observer, he becomes not only untouchable, but also completely invisible, to the observer.  “If the traveler is invisible to the observer, does that not describe a length of zero?” he asked me.

At that time, I still was not wrapping my head around these concepts, but as we discussed the matter over and over again, in ensuing conversations, I came to understood that, again, what Merle said made total sense.

Merle also discussed the relativistic weirdness of time perception.  He pointed out that as a traveler reached c, relative to the observer, time would literally be standing still for the traveler, relative to the observer.  “Which makes sense,” he said.  “At light speed– as you call it– the traveler is matching the outgoing time frame of the observer precisely, which would make the traveler’s passage of time appear to stand still, from the observer’s standpoint, until the traveler slowed down or turned to come back.  And as the traveler exceeds c, there is absolutely no way for the observer to directly compare clocks.  That makes sense, because just as the observer can’t see or touch the traveler, nor can he measure his passage of time.”      

In ensuing conversations, Merle explained to me how the passage of time is measured by extra-dimensional space travelers, and how extra-dimensional communications are achieved.  Basically, you always need links in the chain.  Each link is another ship, or a transmission relay, that is traveling at less than c, relative to the traveler.  Innumerable transmission relays are scattered throughout the universe by the various space-faring societies, traveling at vast ranges of velocities.  So if a traveler is traveling at one and a half times c, relative to an observer, all the traveler has to do is link up with a relay that is traveling at an intermediate velocity, for example three-quarters c, relative to the observer.  The relay, which is traveling at less than c relative to both the traveler and observer, can indirectly link the two and transmit data between them.

If the relay rotates at nearly c, as the great majority of the probes do, according to Merle, the range and speed of data transfer is expanded even more.  A relay spinning at nearly c, and moving away from the observer at nearly 2c (twice “light speed”), can still link up with the observer, since one side of the relay is spinning back towards the observer at nearly c.  That means that although the probe itself is traveling away from the observer at nearly 2c, a portion of the probe—that portion spinning back towards the observer– is traveling at less than c, relative to the observer.  By the same token, a portion of the relay is traveling nearly 3c (three times the speed of light), relative to the observer, and that portion can link up with a traveler who is traveling at nearly 4c (four times the speed of light), relative to the observer.  So the relay can receive information from the portion rotating in one direction, and transmit information from the portion rotating in the opposite direction, at a greatly increased velocity compared to the original transmission.  Without a relay of some sort, traveling and/or rotating at an intermediate velocity, an observer would have no idea where an inter-dimensional traveler had gone.   

On that day, the second day of my Enlightening, I wasn’t really quite ready to discuss or embrace any of these concepts.  I was getting more and more uncomfortable, in fact, and I finally spun around to leave.

I was stopped dead in my tracks by Atropha, who had snuck in close behind me, without my realizing it.  She stood there, mere inches from me, physically blocking my path to the bike.    

Speaking of me feeling uncomfortable, that is when I discovered Atropha’s angry voice.  It was a piercing shriek and a thunderous roar at the same time, I can vouch for that.  It seemed to hit you right in the solar plexus, and reverberate throughout your spine and out through the top of your skull.  Atropha stepped up and got right in my face.  She gave me a little advice, the hard way.             

You should listen to him! He is trying to help you!”  She waggled her index finger at me as I took a few steps back to clear some personal space.  She crossed her arms back across her chest, and it was dead silent in the meadow and surrounding forest.  No birds, no crickets, no chipmunks; nothing.  Atropha stood in front of me with her feet spaced widely apart, and stared me down.

“This man,” she said more quietly, waving her arm in Merle’s direction and obviously trying to maintain her composure, “has chosen you.  He has spent many years of his life learning your ways.  He has traveled 97 light years to come here and help you!  And you want to just take off on your bicycle every time he asks you to think!”  She looked like she would have liked to cut off my head and bury me, right there, next to the fountain.  Clearly, this was not a person you want to mess around with, I thought, as I took several steps back.

Just then, Latsis turned to Clotro and apparently barked out some orders in an extremely foreign-sounding language.  I mean, it sounded very weird.  Immediately, Clotro whipped out her bulb-shaped thing again.  It spun in her hand again, as it did the day before, while her fingers worked the buttons, or whatever was going on there.           

Merle spoke to me.  “Ken, we are losing time here.  And time is very valuable to all of us, for our time here is limited.  You must be made aware that this is not a joke, and we are very serious.”  He raised his arm and pointed up to the sky with his index finger.  I followed his point, and once again I saw the black triangular kite-thing.  “Do you see it, Ken?”

“The black kite?  Yes.”  That struck me as odd.  It was there again, in the same spot as yesterday.      

Merle turned and nodded to Clotro.  She waved her bulb in a sweeping motion in front of her, and a great rushing wind came up from the direction of the meadow.  Leaves and grass and twigs blew across the field towards us, smacking and stinging me in the face, while the trees whipped around and bowed down, all around us.  Struggling to keep my feet in the violent wind, I looked out across the open space.

Goczeski, Kevin. The Enlightening.

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