“Wow,” I said to Merle, as we walked away. “That was unbelievable.” I was referring to both the basketball game, and Merle’s rescue of the child’s ball.
“Cute kid, isn’t she?” said Merle.
“Very cute kid,” I said. “What language was that?”
“I don’t know yet,” said Merle.
Merle told me what the language was, later that day. But I didn’t recognize the name of the language, when he said it, and I don’t remember it, now, or even the country of origin. But it doesn’t matter, anyway.
“How in the heck were you able to play basketball like that, Merle? You’ve never even touched a ball before!”
“What do you mean, never touched a ball? We have a court on the ship. I play just about every day.”
“What the heck are you talking about? You have a court on the ship?”
“After I first started coming down to the planet, about five years ago, I became interested in basketball. It’s actually fairly similar to a sport we play on Akeethera, in some respects. So I requested that they put a basketball court on the base ship, so we could play in our spare time. Since then, they’ve also put in volleyball courts, batting cages, and more. Many of us enjoy playing some earth sports, when we have some free time up there. I’ve been trying to get them to put in a hockey rink and a couple of bowling lanes, also, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I guess they have to draw the line somewhere. I can especially understand not getting a hockey rink, I suppose.”
I was quite taken aback by this information, although I had already witnessed the immensity of the ship for myself. Before I could say anything more about it, though, he continued.
“By the way, Ken, you played great out there. Especially considering you hadn’t played in quite some time. What a great finish, deflecting that shot and then making the floater at the end.” Merle allowed a smile to spread across his lips. “I can’t believe how satisfying that game was, Ken. How simply satisfying it can be to win a game, under certain circumstances… How very interesting and amazing! I’m sure I haven’t felt that way since I was a very young boy.”
Before I could ask what Merle meant by that, he suddenly stopped and bent down in the grass alongside the side of the path, looking at an ant colony, apparently.
“Formica subsericea, I believe. So beautiful,” Merle said, on his hands and knees, peering closely at the ants. “Quite remarkable.”
“Ants are pretty amazing, I guess,” I said.
“Yes they are,” said Merle. He was peering closely at a particular scurrying ant. “Or is that formica pallidefulva? It can be so difficult to tell the different species apart!” Merle actually sounded a little exasperated, and he stood back up.
At that moment, Merle saw something out in the distance, and he pointed across the park. “Look! We’re in luck! Ha ha!” Merle was pointing across the lawn at a man approaching on a bicycle. He was on the path, about 200 meters away from us at that point, and headed our way. “This is tremendous!” Merle exclaimed loudly.
To my surprise, I recognized the cyclist immediately. He was a well-known neighborhood character. My friends and I had seen this shabby-looking guy, with his scruffy white beard, riding his bicycle all over town, countless times; ever since we were little kids. He rode in all kinds of weather- rain or shine and sometimes even snow. Everybody always said that he was homeless, and we never saw him driving a car—just his bicycle– so we called him “Homeless Bicycle Guy”.
I remember that Seth Millingham once spent an entire summer collecting crabapples, with the stems pulled off, so that he always had a few in his pocket, in case Homeless Bicycle Guy happened to roll by on his bicycle. Seth would fling a few crabapples at the spokes of Homeless Bicycle Guy’s wheels as he passed by, hoping to get a good “ping” off of the spokes. If he managed to pull it off, we’d all howl with laughter, and talk about it for the next week and a half. Homeless Bicycle Guy pretty much ignored us, once he figured out that we just wanted to ping crabapples off his spokes.
Homeless Bicycle Guy even became a sort of meme with our group, at some point. One of our favorite little jokes was that if something less than desirable happened to somebody in our group, he would say something to the effect of, “Well, that really sucks, but at least I’m not Homeless Bicycle Guy!” Then we’d all roar with laughter. People used to say that Homeless Bicycle Guy lived under a bridge like a troll, or that he took baths in the river, and all kinds of disgusting stuff like that. I always assumed it was mostly true, since everybody always said it.
I was very confused as to how Merle knew Homeless Bicycle Guy, and why.
“Do you know that guy, Merle?”
“Why yes, I do. Quite well, actually.”
For a moment, I had the stunning thought that Homeless Bicycle Guy wasn’t at all who we thought he was. “Is he an alien, too, Merle?”
“Certainly not. He grew up right here in this area.”
“Isn’t he homeless?”
“Most certainly not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I am sure. I’ve been inside his house. And what would if matter if he was, in fact, homeless?”
I ignored Merle’s question. I was a little stunned to hear that Homeless Bicycle Guy wasn’t homeless, after all. And in some strange way, I was a little disappointed to hear that he wasn’t an alien, either. “You’ve been to his house?”
“Yes, I’ve been to his house,” Merle said. “He has a very nice house. And a very interesting insect collection.”
“An insect collection?” I wasn’t sure if I had heard Merle clearly.
“That’s right. Charles is a professor of entomology. Charles A. Jonmur, Professor of Entomology. Although he is retired, now.”
“Oh.” I said. I wasn’t exactly sure what an entomologist was. And I still couldn’t believe that Merle knew so much about this “Charles Jonmur”.
“Entomology is the scientific study of insects,” Merle said helpfully. “Unlike etymology- that is the study of the origins of words or linguistic forms.”
“Oh, that’s right. I knew that.” At least, it sounded vaguely familiar.
“In fact, Charles has taught at some of the top universities in the country, and he’s worked for a couple of the best natural history museums, also.”
“Oh, yes. He is extremely knowledgeable, extremely so.”
Well, it seemed like new information was pouring in, left and right, about old Homeless Bicycle Guy. I was taken aback by the whole thing, no doubt, and I had a series of additional questions to ask. But before I could ask another question, Homeless Bicycle Guy—or Professor Charles Jonmur, I guess—was upon us.
“Charles, I’m so glad to see you!” Merle was obviously happy to see his friend, as he rolled up to us and nimbly hopped off of his bicycle. “I need your expert opinion here!”
As Professor Jonmur set the kickstand of his bicycle, I got a good close look at his attire, which I had always thought of as hideously shabby. After all, this was a man alleged to live under a bridge, and bathe in the river. But now, from up close, and perhaps with a more sophisticated eye for clothing compared to when I was an adolescent, I could see that there really wasn’t anything shabby about his clothing. In fact, his clothing was more up-scale than my own clothing, I was quite sure. It certainly appeared to be impeccable, especially for a man reputed to live under a bridge. Even the “scruffy” white beard appeared to be well maintained and neatly groomed, for the most part. Bubbles were bursting for me, left and right, and I was already quite doubtful about the entire “living under the bridge” story.
Merle extended a handshake to his friend, and introduced me to Charles. “Ken, I’d like you to meet my friend, Professor Charles M. Jonmur. Charles, I’d like you to meet my friend, Kenneth Sylvanewski.” Charles and I shook hands and said “hello.” I experienced an initial horror, as I was afraid the professor would recognize me as a member of the old crabapple gang. Fortunately, he did not.
Merle didn’t waste any more time on the introductions. “Charles, I have a question for you.” Merle gestured down towards the ant colony. “Am I looking at formica subsericea, or am I looking at formica pallidefulva?”
Charles strode over, bent his knees and crouched low to the ground, peering at the ants. “Ah!” He turned around and looked at Merle. “Neither! It’s actually formica incerta!”
“Formica incerta? Oh, of course! I should have probably known that, from the location alone.” Merle turned and looked at me. “It’s a colony of the ‘Uncertain Field Ant’. They usually inhabit more natural settings, like this rough area near the wooded edge. They can forage in an area that doesn’t get herbicides applied regularly.”
“That’s right,” said Charles. “It’s a bit more hairy, also, than the ‘Slender Field Ant’, or even the ‘Silky Field Ant’.” Charles was a little unusual, as an entomologist, in that he wasn’t aghast at the idea of using common terms for insects, if he was in “mixed company”. I’m sure he had already picked up that I wasn’t anywhere close to being on Merle’s level, as far as entomology.
Merle was absolutely beaming in satisfaction. “Well,” he said. “I’m so glad you were here to clear this up, Charles! I was absolutely lucky on this one! Formica incerta, I should have known! Wonderful!” He bent down again, to peer more closely at the ants.
“If you went across the street from the park, and looked at some of the front lawns of some of the houses there, you’d probably have a better shot at seeing a colony of formica pallidefulva or formica subsericea,” Charles said helpfully.
Merle laughed at that. “I could see myself getting arrested for that! Man is arrested for looking on peoples lawns, for ants!” We all laughed at that image.
“It might be better if we just stay out here, in the park,” said Charles.
“True, true,” Merle chuckled. “Speaking of the park, did you know, Ken, that this park is named after Charles’ father, Maximilian?”
“Really?” At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he told me that Homeless Bicycle Guy, a.k.a. Charles Johnmur, was the mayor of Rundle Heights.
“That’s right. The actual, full name of the park is ‘Maximilian R. Jonmur Streamside Park’.”
“Why isn’t it listed on the sign like that?” I asked, looking at Charles.
“Well, I’m afraid it’s a bit of a long story,” Charles said. “Basically, my father was the Village Manager of Rundle Heights, back 50 years ago or so. This park was his idea. You see, he knew that this vacant parcel was valuable habitat for fish and other wildlife, with space for sporting fields, also, and that it connected with the forest preserve that stretches all the way to Baxter Lake.”
“Baxter Lake! I know that lake! I didn’t know that the forest goes all the way to Baxter Lake.”
“Well, yes, it does. In fact, the stream originates from Baxter Lake, which is a spring-fed lake. Of course, after they redesigned the park, a lot of wastewater is fed into it, also, before it reaches this area. They added the channel from the sanitary canal, too, so now it’s mostly non-spring fed water, by the time it passes through Streamside Park.”
“Baxter Lake is spring-fed? I did not know that!”
Charles extended his arm out and panned around the park. “Do you see how this land is basically a giant rhombus?”
“Oh, yes. I see it.” I had never really looked at the shape, but it was, as Charles said, essentially a giant rhombus. All four sides were pretty equal in length; it was basically a large square that was slanted off to the side, into a rhombus.
“Back before this was a park,” Charles explained, “this land was bisected. Basically, the southern half was a raised, level plateau, perfect for playing fields, and that sort of thing. The northern half was a sunken down area, where it would be sort of swampy in the spring. The northern part tended to dry out in the summer heat, but after a big storm, you’d see it all spring right back to life. The stream ran along the edges, but it was very shallow back then, and at parts it sort of fanned out into little streamlets that wandered off into the flood plain area during the wet times. Most of the time, you could step all the way across, without getting wet.
“My father thought that it would be a perfect combination facility. The flood plain would serve as a sort of nature reserve on the northern side, while the raised southern portion would be perfect for playing fields, and that sort of thing. My father envisioned a boardwalk circling through the northern side, where the cattails used to be, so people could go there even during the flooded times. On the raised southern section, his idea was to build four baseball fields, with basketball courts, tennis courts, fields for football– which might be soccer fields, these days– a playground, a concession stand, and maybe some other things like horseshoe pits, tetherball, or whatever else may have been popular back then. He wanted to put parking along the south portion of the western border, and another parking area along the southern perimeter.”
“Isn’t that sort of how it is now?” I asked, rather stupidly, as it turned out.
“Not at all! This isn’t anything at all like what my father envisioned.” Charles frowned. “The neighbors along Cypress Avenue on the southern border didn’t want a parking lot on their side, so instead the parking lot got built where it is now, on the east side, along Basin Street. At the time, there were no houses on Basin, so there were no neighbors to complain about it.”
“But everybody just parks on Cypress Avenue now, to get to the park.” In fact, that’s where we had parked. “Wouldn’t the people rather have cars parked in a lot, instead of on their street?”
Charles smiled ruefully at that. “Maybe, who knows? Now the neighbors along Cypress complain about all the cars on the street, and the people on Basin complain about the parking lot, mainly because half of it is in the floodplain, and it’s very difficult to maintain because of that.”
“Is that why the parking lot is always all broken up?”
“Yes. The northern end, at least, is always breaking apart. Same with the old concession stand, that should be torn down. That’s because the men who constructed the park didn’t want to listen to my father.” Charles stopped speaking and looked around the park for a few moments, and I uncomfortably realized that he was getting a little emotional, and was trying to regain his composure. He continued, though.
“They decided to level out the entire southern section, removing all that rich topsoil, to sell for peanuts, no doubt, and they dredged out and re-routed that beautiful little stream into the sewer of a drainage ditch that it now is, along the western and northern edges of the park. All the little streamlets, where I used to catch frogs and minnows as a child, were obliterated. They built three baseball fields out here, on the north end, by the stream. That’s why the fields always flood in the springtime. They thought they could just put up a berm, and keep the water out. But water had been flowing into that area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It’s not so easy to keep that water out.”
“Foul balls always end up going into the stream, too,” I said. “We used to call it “Swampside Park, when we played here as kids. Always getting rained out, even if it hadn’t rained in a week and a half.”
“That’s why my father wanted to put all the playing fields up on the plateau area, on the south side of the park. No flooding problems up there. In fact, the drainage on the south end used to be excellent. The maintenance costs would have been very minimal, compared with how it is now.”
There was another uncomfortable silence, and I thought I should say something. “It sure sounds like they made some bad decisions.”
“Yes. That’s why my father insisted on not having his name on the sign, since the day it opened over 45 years ago. He always deeply regretted what had become of the park. That’s why, to this day, so few people know what the full name of the park actually is.”
“So the stream used to dry up in the summer?”
“Well, the stream would sometimes dry up almost completely before it got down to this area, if we had a long hot patch of weather. That’s when you could walk around down there and see toads, and all kinds of other critters and insects, without having to worry so much about the water. “The park planning commission didn’t want a stream that dried up in hot weather, though. They said that they wanted to use the stream as a flood preventative measure, since it flows all the way down to the Blackhawk River. That’s why they linked it up with the sanitary canal. If you follow the water, it eventually feeds all the way down to the Mississippi, and out into the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately.
“It would have been a better flood deterrent if they had left the stream the way it was, when the land absorbed a lot of the excess water during wet seasons. Now, it’s just a channel that carries the water downstream, where it becomes somebody else’s floodwater. And the quality of fish habitat was almost completely degraded when they ‘channelized’ the stream, as well. You’d be hard pressed to find ten fish in there, now. 50 years ago, this area was literally teeming with fish, frogs and toads.”
“There were frogs and toads out here?”
“They were very plentiful, very plentiful. Also, there used to be salamanders, but those have been gone for at least 30 years, probably. “There were lots of turtles, too. You had to watch out for the snapping turtles, though!”
“Wow. I would have loved that, as a kid– except for the snapping turtles.”
We all stood there a moment, looking about, and visualizing the way it used to be, just 50 years prior.
“It’s a shame, certainly,” said Merle. “Disgraceful. They wasted an inordinate amount of money “improving” things that should have been basically left alone, and now money is again needed to repair the damage. Actually, Ken and I were just talking about the stream; how polluted it is, and how it would be great to organize a cleanup.”
Charles instantly looked more hopeful, at the mention a cleanup of the stream. “A stream cleanup? That sounds like a fantastic idea! And also well-needed! Then, maybe we can rebuild the southern section, move the fields and courts back there, and re-engineer the stream, back to how it was originally!”
“Now we’re really getting carried away!” I said. “It would be a miracle just to see the shopping carts dragged out of that stream, let alone re-shape the whole thing!”
“I don’t think it would quite take a miracle,” Merle said.
That conversation turned out to be the seed for a great friendship that I eventually developed with Professor Jonmur. I never told him about being in the Crabapple Gang, though, until I was halfway through writing this book. We had a good long laugh about that! The Professor even helped me verify the scientific names for some of the insects and animals that Merle had mentioned; otherwise I never could have remembered what he called that cicada, or cricket, or whatever.
To this day, Charles is very non-committal, and non-judgmental, about where Merle came from, exactly. I think it is enough, for the Professor, that Merle was truly an entomologist and a conservationist at heart, whether he carried a degree, or not, or whether he was truly an alien, or not. Although I suspect that, deep down, Charles knows who Merle really was. He just finds it hard to admit, publicly, as a scientist.
We parted ways with Charles, and Merle and I continued along. A crow—corvus brachyrhynchos, according to Merle– was high up in a tree, chattering about a man who was sitting on a park bench down below, tossing peanuts in the shell to a squirrel. The crow flew over to the top of another tree, which was the highest tree in the area, and began cawing loudly in all directions.
“See that?” Merle asked, pointing to the crow. “Calling to his buddies.”
I had no idea what Merle was talking about.
Merle bent down to check out another anthill. “I guess that’s why I’m so interested in the ants. They also cooperate very effectively, in a group. People, on the other hand? Sometimes a little hit or miss.” Merle chuckled at that, and he stood back up, craning his neck again to watch the crow. Sure enough, in a few moments, another crow showed up, followed by two more, a few moments after that. Before long, each of them had acquired a peanut or two from the man on the bench, who seemed to know his feathered friends quite well from previous feeding sessions.
“They have trained him well,” Merle observed. “And all five seem to be enjoying it. Six, if you count the fox squirrel.” Merle had already thrown down the scientific term for fox squirrels, earlier, so he now referred to them simply by their common name. Although he still had to break down specifically which variety of squirrel it was.
Heading back to the car, it was hard to believe that only about two hours had passed since we arrived at the park. I was amazed at all that had transpired out there, in such a short amount of time.
After we collected our last item of garbage, an old broken and discarded Styrofoam cooler that had been tossed into a bush at the edge of the parking lot, we got back into the vehicle. Merle touched the front screen, and music came on. It was “Green River”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“Man, I just love this song,” said Merle. “You know who it reminds me of?”
“Who’s William Wordsworth?” That was one of those moments, when you say something that doesn’t seem dumb at all, when you say it, but then afterwards, you still feel sort of dumb about it. But it’s too late, then.
“Who is William Wordsworth? He was probably the greatest poet of the Romantic Era of English Literature! He was one of the all-time great revolutionaries of Western Literature! This song couldn’t even exist without Wordsworth!”
I sure wish I could somehow have a picture of the expression on my face at that moment. I had no idea what Merle was talking about, basically. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of him,” I said.
Merle, blissfully unaware of the irony, looked at me like I had just floated down from outer space. “That is very surprising to me,” he said. Then Merle turned up the volume a bit, on the song. “Let’s go see what’s up around the bend, shall we?” Merle asked.
Merle pulled out of the spot and spun a U-turn on Cypress. We headed back east and turned left on Basin, heading north, back towards the basketball court area. We pulled into the parking lot, and Merle stopped the car behind the old concession stand. At this point, the stand blocked our view of the homes on Basin, and a stand of bushes blocked our view of the courts. “Here we go,” Merle said.
All of the sudden, the car– or, the ship– lifted off the ground, and we floated up, above the tree top level. “Merle, everybody can see us!” I shouted out.
“No, they can’t. We’re totally cloaked.”
“Absolutely.” To prove his point, Merle brought the ship back down, below tree top level, and floated across the park to the basketball court area. Sure enough, nobody seemed to notice the craft in the air as it floated over the area. We settled right over the court, where the last game had just ended.
Tommy and Harold’s team had won, and some of the guys on the other team were giving them a hard time about being “only 1 and 1” on the day. “I can’t believe those guys beat you!” I heard one guy say, quite clearly. Merle turned to me and smiled, and then we lifted up higher, above tree top level again, and headed over towards the stream.
I looked down into the murky water, and suddenly we swooped down, very low, about eight feet above the water. There were several shopping carts down there, plus all the other assorted papers and plastic that we had noted earlier. It was actually much worse than I had even imagined. “Wow,” I said. “Sick.”
“That’s not the worst part,” said Merle. “Let’s head back upstream a bit.” We flew along, following the course of the river, until we got to the section that was bounded by factories on the north side of the stream, just after where the water from the sanitary canal entered the stream. Merle scowled. “Some of these factories are good, decent factories,” he said. “But some of them like to dump their foul messes into the river.”
I was sort of shocked to hear that, and Merle could see it on my face.
He seemed surprised at how naïve I was about the industrial wastes seeping into the stream. “That truly surprises you?”
After thinking a moment, I realized that it probably was par for the course. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised,” I said.
“No, you really shouldn’t, unfortunately,” said Merle. He pointed to the right, and there, in the back yard of one of the factories, maybe two or three meters from the river bank, were about three dozen large, rusted out metal barrels. “Most of those barrels right there are leaching caustic materials into the river. Every time it rains, more materials flow down into the river. That’s been going on for at least five years now.”
“Crap,” I said.
“Crap indeed,” Merle said. We floated towards the adjacent factory, and Merle pointed out a long, narrow pipe that ran from the building, to nearly the edge of the stream. “That pipe carries water away from the factory– waste water, contaminated with heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals. It leaches out of the stream bank, and goes right into the stream. Notice there’s no grass growing around the outlet of the pipe. There are several of those pipes along the riverbank.”
“Crap. Doesn’t anybody check up on these places?”
Merle just looked at me, blankly. “What do you think?” he asked. “Of course there are agencies, but they are rather chronically overwhelmed.”
We followed the stream, all the way to Baxter Lake. The portion that ran through the forest preserve was still a nice little stream, mostly in its natural form, still.
“You did want to see the lake, didn’t you?” Merle asked. “Yes, thanks. It’s very nice from up here,” I said.
“Yes, it is very nice.” We looked down at the lake. Fishermen stood here and there at the water’s edge, minding their lines. Canoeists were paddling along, ducks bobbed up and down on the waves, and gulls circled overhead. I wouldn’t have minded circling around there a little longer, but Merle had other ideas. “I know another nice place, too,” he said. “Let’s go check it out.” And with that, we rapidly began to ascend, high into the air. I reflexively held onto the arms of my chair, without needing to. Although we were moving fast, I couldn’t really feel any movement like you might expect. It was as if we were stationary, and the scenery was streaming past our stationary post. I relaxed my grip and peered out the window. We were already high enough so that the cars below were as small as ants, as they say.
As we continued to rise even higher, I noticed that the appearance of the ship’s dashboard changed. Two of the screens that were there, previously, blinked out of existence, and several additional screens appeared in the same general locations. One of the screens in the middle even assumed a sort of shell-like, three-dimensional shape, like a hologram. Dozens of points of light were suspended within the upper regions of the shell, above a scaled-down view of what I took to be the Midwestern portion of the United States. I could see Lake Michigan at the top, or north, of the shell. I rose up a bit in my chair to look down out of the front windshield, and I was surprised that we were now high enough in the air to see what appeared to be, in fact, much of the Midwest.
“Oh my gosh! How high up are we, Merle?”
“Not too high, yet. Still within the lower atmosphere.”
“Still within the lower- where are we going, Merle?” I was suddenly gripped with panic. I realized that we could easily continue to sail upwards, out of the atmosphere entirely, and on to who knows where. I had that feeling, again, of being taken for the ultimate ride with a stranger.
“Don’t worry, Ken. We’re not going to leave the planet. We’re just taking a little sightseeing tour, that’s all.”
I looked down again. “Is that the Mississippi River down there?”
“Yes, it is. There goes some of your water, from the stream that leads out of Baxter Lake. All the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Down to the bottom, or the south, of the screen, a large body of water came into view. “Oh, wow, is that the ocean down there?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Wow, wow, wow. This is way higher up than airplanes fly, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. Much higher.”
“Wow! Where are we headed?” It looked like we were turning to the east, now.
I looked at the shell-like holographic display again, and I saw that there were many more points of light, floating up above a large area of ocean, with the southeastern coast of the United States, as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico and other islands of the Mediterranean, in view. A vast area of the North Atlantic Ocean began to occupy an ever-greater portion of the screen, and up ahead, another coastline was coming into view. “What are all those floating lights up above the ocean, Merle?”
“Those are ships.”
“Ships on the ocean? Why are the lights in the air, then?”
Merle laughed at that. “No, I’m sorry, not ships on the ocean. Ships in the air! Spaceships, I suppose you would call them.”
“Spaceships! You’ve got to be kidding me! How many are there?”
Merle moved his finger towards the dashboard of the craft, and another, smaller, flat screen appeared. He jabbed at it several times, and some very hieroglyphic-looking figures appeared. “Right now, about 75 or 80, on the screen.”
“75 or 80!” For a moment, I truly, truly began to panic. “Merle! Is this an invasion? Are they all cloaked?”
At that, Merle turned and looked at me. Then he burst out in laughter. “No, it’s not an invasion, Ken. And yes, they are all cloaked. That’s how it always is.”
“Why are they here, then?”
Merle gave me one of those “isn’t it absolutely obvious?” looks. “Well, to learn about the Earth, Ken. You’re living in very interesting times on this planet, and people want to see how things unfold. Also, by observing this important part of Earth’s history, we all learn about the past on our own planets, and so we all learn a little about ourselves. At some point in the distant past, we were all much like Earth is today- fighting and killing each other, struggling for food, searching for shelter, and damaging our planet, while beginning to explore the cosmos.”
“Where do they all come from? Are they all from Akeethera?”
Merle laughed. “No, no. Our big triangle is the only ship out there from Akeethera, other than a couple of dozen scout ships based on the triangle, and a few on-planet ships, like this one. All these other ships come from all over the galaxy, and many are from different dimensions of the galaxy. A handful of them are even from outside of the galaxy, entirely.”
I let the comment about “different dimensions of the galaxy” slide. “So why don’t they just come down and say hello? Why do they hide?”
Merle gave me another of those “isn’t it obvious?” looks. “That would be the worst thing we could do, Ken. The people of Earth are very xenophobic and frightened, and they are not ready for that. Too many would panic and spew fear, unfortunately.
“On the other hand, there have been discreet contacts and overtures made, many times, on a limited basis. Our mission, for example, involves discreet contact. And our mission may possibly lead, eventually, to a more significant disclosure, depending on the results.”
I thought back to one of Merle’s previous comments. “Do you mean to tell me that there are always 75 or 80 freaking spaceships floating around up here?”
“Well, just in this one area, sure. I mean, usually there are nearly a thousand, around the world, at any given time. That’s a little misleading, though. A lot of the ships are small– scout craft, not much larger than this ship that we’re on. There’s probably only about 50 or 60 large base ships, like our triangle, worldwide. Most of these smaller ships you see are based out of the larger ships.” Merle peered more closely at the shell-like screen. “A few of these blips are larger ships, though.”
“50 or 60 of those big triangles?”
“Well, not all are triangular. But in general, yes! Sometimes more than 50 or 60, even.” Merle was clearly enjoying my astonishment. “Then there are the very large ships- what you might call the mother ships. Those are still much higher up, out of the limits of the screen.”
“The mother ships are up higher than this? Why?”
“It takes more effort to cloak the mother ships, since they are so large, and there’s no need for them to be so close, anyway. It’s easier for them to hide further away. Some are on the other side of the moon, and others are scattered in different areas throughout the solar system. Most of them are probably exploring around, out by Jupiter or wherever. They move back closer in, if they need to.”
“Throughout the solar system!” Not surprisingly, I was quite astonished at this string of revelations. I looked at the shell-like screen again, since I had already learned that it wasn’t necessary to physically look out the window. We were now over a large landmass—apparently a desert, for the most part. The ocean was now farther off behind us, and patches of water were off to our left, and in front of us. Looking out the window, I could see that the sun was now off to our west. “Where the heck are we now, Merle?”
Merle peeked at the shell-like holographic display. “North coast of Africa. Probably crossing over Egypt, and about to cross over the Arabian Peninsula.” He looked over and saw the astonishment on my face. “Pretty wild, huh?”
“I’ll say. I can’t believe this. How fast are we going?”
“We’re not really traveling very fast at all- nowhere near what one might consider to be relativistic velocities. Still, we’re fast approaching our destination.”
Looking at the screen again, I could see that night was beginning to settle across the land below.
“It’s nighttime out here.”
We’re on the other side of the world, now.”
“I thought you were supposed to stay in the U.S.”
“This is O.K. We’re just going to visit for a while. There is a lot more to the world to be enjoyed than just the U.S., my friend.”
With that, I peeked out the window again, and saw that although our ship was still up in the sunlight, the land below was more deeply shrouded in shadow. The details of the land below were still clearly visible on the shell-screen, though. There was more desert-like terrain below us, with patches of water around us, including the large expanse of ocean to our South, which was on the right side of the screen.
Merle pointed towards the ocean on the screen. “See the Arabian Sea down there?”
“Is that what that is?”
“Yes. It’s basically the northern portion of the Indian Ocean. Water from our little stream ends up all the way out here, also. Some of that water will come down as snow, on top of the mountains to the east. Of course, there is plenty of pollution being produced in this area, as well, just as it is being produced in every industrialized center of the world. That pollution will also circulate through the oceans and atmosphere, and some will end up in your own backyard, and back into the water and the air at Streamside Park. That’s why there truly are no completely unspoiled areas left on this planet.”
“Damn,” I said, both in wonder at the scene, and at the thought of the relentless cycle of pollution, as Merle described it.
I looked east to see mountain ranges, now clearly in view, and I realized that we were beginning to descend. By now, our ship was also in the shadow of the earth, as night fell completely on the landscape below. The patches of desert-like terrain were quickly rolling away to our west, and directly below us, now, were mountains. A larger, vast chain of mountains was rapidly approaching in front of us, from the east, as we continued to descend. I looked out the window again and was startled to see an unbelievable number of stars erupting out of the darkening sky above. “Wow,” was again all I could say.
“That’s nothing. Wait until we land.”
“We’re going to land?”
“Sure! That’s why we came out here.”
I looked at the screen again. We were still descending, and by now the screen was filled by a massive chain of mountains, stretching out seemingly into infinity, below. “Oh my gosh! What mountains are these? They’re huge!”
“That, my friend, is the Himalayan Range.”
“Wow.” I don’t know if I could adequately express the visual impact of the Himalayas, seen from this perspective. Awe-inspiring, majestic, glorious, magnificent- none of these words come very close to describing the actual scenery. I found myself, quite literally, with my mouth wide open as I scanned the monumentally vast, snow-capped range.
“Amazing, right?” said Merle.
“Amazing is right. Oh, my, gosh. Amazing, amazing, amazing.”
“I know. This is my favorite spot to go and think. This is actually one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever been, anywhere in the galaxy.”
“What country is this below?”
“I don’t really want to say exactly where we are going to land. But I’ll go anywhere from Northern India, to Nepal, to Bhutan, to Western China. It’s all beautiful. If I’m looking for animals, I might head more towards the Tibetan Plateau.”
I gripped the armrests more tightly, as the mountains below were zooming towards us as we came in for a landing.
“Don’t worry,” said Merle. “I’ve done this almost a hundred times, now.”
And with that, I realized that we were already on the ground. Or, more specifically, we were on the snow, on top of a small plateau, near the top of one of the higher mountaintops in that area of the range. I looked out the window, and by the surprisingly bright starlight I could see, rather clearly, innumerable gigantic mountains reaching for the sky, all around us. I reflexively whistled in amazement. Then, Merle touched his finger to the screen, and the entire ship faded away into transparence, leaving just Merle and me, in our chairs and still perfectly warm, sitting on a mountaintop somewhere in the Himalayas, in the middle of the snow. The stars above us were so overwhelmingly numerous, that I audibly gasped. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh. My. Gosh. Merle, it’s so beautiful up here!”
“Yes, I know.”
“Where is the ship?”
“We’re still in the ship. I just like to get rid of the clutter, so we can see better.”
“Awesome, Merle.” “Yes.”
Merle gave me some time to soak it all in. He went back to the dashboard, temporarily made visible, and tapped it. The sounds of the high mountain wind came through, very loudly and clearly, as it howled ferociously over the rugged and unyielding landscape. At that volume, we’d have had to shout, just to hear each other. Merle continued to tap the dashboard, and the sound reduced down to a more manageable, almost peaceful level. Then the dashboard disappeared again. It truly was like sitting on a couple of chairs on top of the mountain, with no other indication that there even was a ship in the vicinity, except maybe for the fact that we were still warm, and the sound of the wind was subdued. I turned in my chair, which turned right along with me, and scanned around in all directions. There was nothing but craggy mountains, blowing snow, and a star-packed sky that was unlike any I had ever seen, with the muted, deep whooshing sound of mountain top winds furnishing the only sounds. The density of the Milky Way made clear where our galaxy’s moniker came from, as it was so thick that it was difficult to distinguish individual stars, and it did indeed resemble a gigantic milk spill, albeit with some sparkling effects.
After a minute or so, I turned back to Merle. “Wow, Merle. Wow.”
“It makes you think, doesn’t it? That’s why I like to come out here. And now I’m going to ask you to do some thinking, Ken.”
“OK. What about?”
“Well, I have a little device here in my pocket that will serve as my prop, as we discuss electromagnetic energy.”
This sounded very interesting, and I craned my neck over towards Merle to see what kind of amazing, futuristic device he was going to pull out of his pocket. I was surprised and confused when he pulled out an ordinary green rubber band, maybe four inches in diameter, and held it up for me to see.
“Just an ordinary rubber band,” Merle said.
“I see that.”
“That’s all we should need to come to a good understanding of electromagnetic energy.”
“If you say so, Merle.” I very much doubted that I would be able to understand electromagnetic energy with just a little rubber band.
“First, though, let’s think a bit about what it means when we talk about the space/time reference frame of any individual observer.”
“I like to think of the space/time continuum as a series of shells, or spheres, with the observer at the center. Although one shell cannot truly be separated from another, let’s imagine that somehow we can just look at one shell, or sphere, of the space/time continuum, that is presently 186,000 miles away from the observer in all directions, and traveling towards that observer at 186,000 miles a second, like a giant imploding ball. There are also portions of space/time, at that same distance, that are traveling in a vast– actually infinite– range of velocities, as well. But we are only concerned with that portion of the continuum traveling at 186,000 miles per second, or the ratio of space to time, relative to the observer. The key here is that the space/time continuum interacts with any single observer at that very velocity- 186,000 miles per second. That’s how it works. That’s why 186,000 miles per second is the active ratio of space to time, anywhere in the universe, for any observer.”
“In one second, that portion of space/time will be upon the observer. In another second, it will be 186,000 miles away from the observer again, as an expanding sphere. In ten seconds, it will be 1,860,000 miles away. In an hour, it will be almost 670 million miles away. And the observer can point to that receding shell, 670 million miles away in all directions, or 1.34 billion miles in diameter, as being his or her slice of the space/time continuum, from one hour prior. But there is another portion of space/time, 670 million miles away, and approaching the observer at 186,000 miles per second, that will intersect with that observer in exactly one hour.”
“Yes, pretty fast, right? It’s all relative, though. But that’s how the space/time continuum works. The continuum operates in all directions, at an infinite range of velocities. Therefore, for any single observer in the universe, there is a sphere of space/time that acts as the reference frame of the observer, moving towards him, or traveling away from him, at the ratio of space to time in the universe. And behind that shell is an endless stream of shells– a continuum of shells, traveling at the same ratio.”
“I can see that.”
“Good, good. Any object in the universe that is traveling towards you, or away from you, slower than your shell of space/time, is part of your space/time reference frame. Any object in the universe that is traveling faster than your shell is in an entirely different perceptual dimension of space/time; meaning that you cannot see it, or measure it, or weigh it.”
“Now, you may be wondering how electromagnetic energy fits into all this.”
“Yes, I was, actually.”
“Well, that’s where the rubber band comes into play.” Merle held the rubber band out towards me, between his thumb and index finger. “This rubber band represents a photon.”
“So a photon is a loop?”
“Actually, yes. The photon is a loop, indeed. Actually there are electric and magnetic components, each traveling perpendicular to each other, but for our demonstration purposes, this single loop of a rubber band will represent a loop of electromagnetic energy.”
“I thought that a photon is a wave.”
“Well, that is almost true.”
“Or is it a particle?”
“Well, if you consider a loop to be a particle, then a photon is a particle.”
“I’ve always been taught that the photon is both a particle and a wave!”
“Well, it’s not, really. But let’s move on with the demonstration.”
“All right.” I was highly skeptical of the demonstration, at that point. That just demonstrates how stubborn people can be when faced with truths that contradict their own “knowledge”. I suppose that is exactly what Mark Twain was talking about.
“Imagine a light source, 670 million miles away, pointed towards us, and motionless in comparison with us. So it is completely in the exact same frame of reference that we are.”
“It releases a photon in our direction.”
“Now, before we get into the rubber band, and discover exactly how photons move through the space/time continuum, let’s step back a bit and think about a wheel on your bicycle.”
Maybe what impressed me the most about Merle was his ability to use the simplest props to explain the most complex manifestations of the universe. Whether it was a rubber band, the wheel of a bicycle, ducks bobbing on a lake, or breakfast food, he came up with some amazingly simple analogies that truly helped clarify new ways of thinking about things.
Merle continued with his bicycle analogy. “Let’s look at what is happening with a bicycle wheel as you ride your bike at ten miles per hour.”
“How fast is your wheel moving, overall, relative to the ground which is typically your frame of reference on earth, if the bike is traveling at ten miles per hour?”
“Ten miles per hour, right?”
“Right, when we’re talking about the wheel as a whole, or maybe if we’re just talking about the axle of the wheel. But how fast is the top portion of the wheel moving?”
“Ten miles per hour, right?”
“No. Think about it. The bike is moving at ten miles per hour. So the axis of the wheel is moving at ten miles per hour, relative to the street. But the top portion is rolling in a forward direction, at just about twice the velocity of the axis, or an angular velocity of just about twenty miles per hour.”
“OK.” I didn’t really understand the concept, at that point, but after I thought about it a bit, it was sort of obvious.
“And how fast is the bottom portion of the wheel traveling, then, relative to the ground, in terms of angular velocity?”
“Twenty miles per hour?”
Merle just looked at me for a moment. “No, Ken. Is the bottom portion of the wheel rolling in a forwards direction, relative to the axle?”
I had to think about it. “No, it’s not. It’s actually rolling in a backwards motion.” I had never really thought of it like that before, and it sounded weird.
“That’s right. The very bottom portion of the wheel is actually traveling backwards, relative to the axle, at an angular velocity of just about ten miles per hour. That counters the overall forward wheel motion of ten miles per hour. So the bottom of the wheel, which is in contact with the pavement, is virtually at a standstill, relative to the ground, at any given moment. That is how a wheel maintains traction with the road, even if it is turning quite rapidly.”
Those were some weird ideas, to me, especially considering we were talking about such an ordinary, commonplace thing, which I had never really thought about much, in the past.
“So the uppermost point of the wheel is traveling at twenty miles per hour, the bottommost portion is at a virtual standstill, and various points in between are traveling anywhere from zero to twenty miles per hour, relative to the reference frame, represented by the ground. The leading edge of the wheel is traveling perpendicular to the direction of movement, with no angular velocity either forward or backward, so that portion of the wheel is traveling at the same velocity as the wheel itself, relative to the ground– 10 miles per hour. And that is very much how a loop of electromagnetic energy travels.”
I took a deep breath and sat back in my chair a bit to think about what I had just learned about a simple bicycle wheel. I peered up at the magnificent bounty of stars above, and a prominent meteor caught my attention as it blazed past.
Meanwhile, Merle continued with his lesson. “So let’s go back to that photon that has just been released from a light source which is 670 million miles away, and completely motionless, relative to us.”
“So in one hour, that photon reaches us.”
“That’s right. Anyhow, here is the secret to how a photon loop travels, Ken. A photon is a loop of energy that is orientated in such a way that it allows the space/time continuum to carry it along without any real impedance. Think of it as being like a rubber band, or a bicycle wheel, that is absolutely perpendicular to the road, which in this case is the continuum, which is itself a form of moving energy, like a fast, rippled conveyer belt, as opposed to a motionless road. A photon is not only propelled along at c, by the continuum, but it also rotates at c, as well, as it travels through space, as if it were actually rolling on a motionless road, at that velocity.
“As the photon is released, it is propelled along by the portion of the space/time continuum which defines the reference frame for the light source. In other words, the photon loop is propelled along by the space/time continuum, at the ratio of space to time relative to the light source. Merle held up the rubber band, in a loop shape, and moved it forward, in a rolling motion. As he held it up in the air, backlit by the bright, broad band of the Milky Way, I could imagine the photon rolling along with the space/time continuum, as it raced towards Earth from a light source that was 670 million miles away.
That gave me an idea. “So, Merle, the top portion of a photon is rotating at just about twice the ratio of space to time, relative to the reference frame of the observer and the light source which shares the same frame? And the bottom portion of a photon, at any given moment, is at a virtual standstill?”
“Yes, that’s right, Ken! And the leading edge is moving at the exact ratio of space to time, relative to the light source. Not much different than how your bicycle wheel moves along the pavement.”
“So how does the photon interact with me, then? How do I see it?”
“That is a great question; a very pertinent question, Ken. You, quite simply, see the portion of the loop that is moving at the ratio of space to time, relative to you.”
“So… my incoming slice of space/time is moving at the ratio of space to time in the universe, relative to me. So I am able to perceive the portion of the photon loop traveling at that speed—the leading edge, in the case of our example.”
“That’s right! You measure the speed of the photon at 186,000 miles per second, based on the velocity of the leading edge, but what you are actually measuring is the speed of the space/time continuum that interacts with you. And the portion of the loop that you see is only that single point that is traveling at 186,000 miles per hour, relative to you. So you only see it as a point; you don’t see the entire loop. Then, the energy of the entire loop is transferred to an electron within a photoreceptor cell in your eye, through its intersection at that single point.”
“Wow. That’s incredible!” I was absolutely blown away by the concept of the photon being a rolling loop. “So what happens if the light source is moving away from me?”
“That’s another great question, Ken! Another great question! So let’s say the light source is moving away from you at 100,000 miles per second, as it releases the photon. The photon loop travels away from the light source at 186,000 miles per second, relative to the light source. Therefore the loop of energy is actually approaching you at only 86,000 miles per second.”
“But that can’t be right! Light always travels at 186,000 miles per second!”
“One would think, right? But that’s not quite what’s happening when we ‘measure’ the ‘speed of light’. As the photon loop in our example approaches, at 86,000 miles per second, relative to us, are any portions of the photon loop traveling at 186,000 miles per second, relative to us?”
I thought about that one for a bit. “Well, the photon is still rolling at 186,000 miles per second, I assume- just traveling more slowly, from our perspective.”
“OK, so photons always roll at c, relative to their own axis. So the top of the photon is traveling at 186,000 miles per second, plus the 86,000 miles per second the overall loop is traveling at.”
“So the top of the photon is traveling at 272,000 miles per second, as it arrives,” Merle said helpfully. “That is more than fast enough. The bottom portion of the loop, in this case, is actually rolling away from you at 100,000 miles per second, matching the movement of the light source.”
“True enough,” I said. “But there is a portion of the loop, part-way between the top portion and the leading edge, traveling at 186,000 miles per hour, relative to me.”
“And as it rides in on me, that portion of the photon is what I see.”
“And I measure the photon as traveling at the ratio of space to time I absorbed it at, when in actuality the photon is traveling only at 86,000 miles per hour. What I am actually measuring is the slice of the space/time continuum which is incoming at 186,000 miles per second.”
“Yes! Similarly, if the light source was approaching you at 100,000 miles per second, there would be a portion, part-way between the leading edge and the bottom portion, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, relative to you.”
“So, no matter what speed a photon is traveling at, there is always a portion that is traveling at the ratio of space to time, relative to me, and that is what I am actually measuring the velocity of.”
“Well, not exactly,” Merle said. “What if the light source is traveling away from you, or towards you, at a velocity greater than the ratio of space to time, relative to you?”
I gave that some thought. “Then there wouldn’t be any portion of the photon traveling at my own ratio of space to time. So I would not be able to see it.”
“Isn’t that what I was saying,” asked Merle, “when I talked about the length contraction transformation? If something is traveling at a velocity greater than the ratio of space to time, it cannot be seen. Now you can understand that from the physical mechanism of a photon, as well.”
“Wow. You’re right!” I was amazed by this observation. “Either by the Lorentz transformation, or by the physical mechanism of the photon, you can’t see a light source that is traveling at speeds greater than 186,000 miles per second, relative to the observer.”
“Wow, Merle, I just realized what the Lorentz transformations are, really! The space/time continuum allows us to perceive other objects, relative to ourselves—in terms of being able to see things and measure their length, in terms of being able to feel things and measure their mass, and in terms of being able to spend time together and measure the passage of time. The Lorentz transformations describe how the continuum shifts our perceptions of a traveler, at relativistic velocities: Mass appears to increase towards the infinite, length appears to contract towards disappearance, and clocks appear to slow down towards meaninglessness. The Lorentz transformations are just showing us how the space/time continuum works, in terms of allowing us to perceive portions of our universe in a frame-shifted manner, but only up to a certain velocity. The transformations define the physical reference frame of any single observer—the four dimensional frame of the observer.”
“You can also see the implications for the First and Second Postulates.”
“Sure. Now we see that the First Postulate and the Second Postulate are both offshoots of the transformations, really. Although the Second Postulate doesn’t really apply, once a traveler exceeds c.”
“That doesn’t stop us from accelerating to any possible velocity we can think of, though, does it? We can go as fast as we want!”
“Yes, of course we can go as fast as we want. We sure can! I’ve never heard of any big walls out there, in space. We’re just in a different physical dimension, if we go fast enough. Or, I should say, if we shift our perceptual frame in a certain direction.”
“But wait, Merle!” I just had a disturbing thought. “I can see how the photon fits into all this—into the hyper-dimensional space/time continuum, and the transformations, and all that—but how does a photon appear to travel as a wave?”
“Ah,” said Merle. “Yet another fantastic question!” He held up the rubber band again, and began rolling it through the air. “You see, Ken, not only does the photon roll, but it also ripples, as it rolls.” He tried, fairly unsuccessfully, to make the rubber band smoothly ripple as he held it in a very rough approximation of a loop. “That’s why I am using a flexible rubber band in this demonstration, although it’s hard to make it ripple the way I’d like it to. Anyway, a high energy photon rides the space time continuum with a lot of power, you might say, so it is more significantly rippled, as it rolls, than a lower energy photon. Either way, the entire rubber band—or photon—ripples, as it rolls.”
“The high energy photon has a short wavelength,” I said.
“That’s right. The rippling comes fast and strong with a high energy photon. High crests, short wavelength.”
“And a low energy photon?”
“Well, that ripples more gently, with longer ripples, and lower crests.”
“Long wavelength with the low energy photon,” I said.
“That’s right. Let’s look at our original example, where we end up seeing the leading edge of the photon.”
“In a high energy photon, the leading edge is bouncing up and down, quite rapidly, due to the rippling. If you plotted the course of the leading edge, as it bounces and rolls through the continuum, you’d see that it manifests itself in a wave.”
“Wow! I do see that.” As Merle rolled and bounced the leading edge of the rubber band up and down, the visual was obvious. Traveling forward while moving up and down pretty much describes a wave, all right.
“Either way, whether it’s a high-energy photon, or if it’s a low-energy photon, the observer will interact with a portion that is rolling along with the ratio of space to time, relative to him or herself, and it will be perceived as traveling at the ratio of space to time, in a wave. Even though it’s just a rippled, rolling loop of energy, that is quite possibly not actually traveling at the ratio of space to time, relative to the observer.” Merle stopped bouncing the rubber band for a moment, as if to reinforce what he was saying.
“Although the photon is really a trans-dimensional object, due to its velocity range, the diameter is always the same, whether high-energy or low-energy. That’s why Planck’s constant, as it’s called on Earth, is measurable as the constant ratio that it is.” The Planck constant was another concept that had always interested me, and it was pretty neat that Merle’s model of a photon fit it perfectly.
Merle continued. “Another point to consider is that while the loop as a whole is rippled, the bottom portion is much more heavily rippled than the top of the loop.”
I was a little confused by the concept of the rippling. “I’m not sure I see why the photon ripples, Merle.”
“Well, think of it this way, then. The photon is rolling forward, along with the space/time continuum. The top portion of the loop is moving in the same direction as space/time, so it’s a smooth ride, you might say. Also, the top portion has to move forward very rapidly to keep up with the main axis of the photon, so to speak. So there’s no reason, and no time, for it to be bouncing up and down very much. It only has a slight ripple, perhaps.”
“OK. That makes sense, I guess.”
“The bottom portion, on the other hand, is going backwards, against the flow of space/time, to some extent. By the same analogy, the ride is not as smooth on the bottom as it is on top- you might say it is fighting against the stream. At any rate, the bottom portion, with its backward motion, naturally ripples much more heavily. That is how it manages to keep in sync, velocity-wise, with the much straighter section at the top.” Merle crinkled the rubber band at the bottom while keeping it much more directly horizontal at the top.
“That is why, if a light source is moving away from an observer, and the intersecting point is more toward the top of the photon loop—which is bouncing less than the leading edge– the wavelength gets longer, or is red-shifted, you might say. Conversely, if a light source is moving towards the observer-”
“The wavelength shortens, as the intersecting point moves towards the bottom of the loop, which is bouncing more, and therefore blue-shifted,” I said.
“So the bouncing is really from the interaction with the space/time continuum?”
“Yes. Actually, it’s more accurate to that the photon rides the space/time continuum, which travels not only in an infinite range of velocities, but also in an infinite range of wavelengths. The space/time continuum itself is the wave, you see. The photon just finds its place within. The quantum loops of energy we call photons interact with the space/time continuum in the range of wavelengths that we have observed and documented. Whatever wavelength is needed, based on the actual energetic qualities of the photon, is delivered by the infinitely variable space/time continuum.” At that, Merle stopped and watched for my reaction.
I thought about those words. “The space/time continuum itself is the wave, then. Not the photon itself?”
“Oh. My. Gosh! Merle! That is a huge concept!”
“Yes, and not only does the continuum influence small quantum units of mass-energy, like photons, but it also influences larger, more massive units, like you, or me, or Planet Earth, if only through the passage of time. Time itself is a wave phenomenon, really, but the effect is vanishingly subtle, on our level.
“Perhaps you can begin to understand, Ken, what I meant by saying that the space/time continuum itself represents energy, of a different sort. You see how it physically interacts with electromagnetic energy, and how it travels in a wave. Those aspects of the space/time continuum describe a direct, energetic manifestation. One might even think about the passage of time itself, another effect of the space/time continuum, as a similar energetic manifestation upon mass/energy, exerting change upon it. And, obviously, gravitation is the involuntary movement of mass/energy through the continuum, in a particular direction, which is an energetic action, in itself.”
So that is how Merle taught me how a loop of electromagnetic energy interacts with the space/time continuum, always appearing to travel at c, and always appearing to travel in a wave, while manifesting itself as a particle. He used a rubber band as his prop, my imagined bicycle wheel as a secondary example, and the Milky Way galaxy and Himalayan mountain range as the impressive backdrop. Another important thing I gained perspective on that day was that the space/time continuum is actually a thing in the universe—an important moving field of energy of sorts, which affects every quantum manifestation, one way or another. The continuum is not just some abstract, irrelevant, inconceivable concept, but an understandable force, with infinite range, that unfailingly follows a set of rules.
I was struck with a thought that actually disturbed me. “So are you saying, Merle, that the light from a distant galaxy is actually traveling to Earth at velocities below the ratio of space to time?”
“So that must mean that those distant galaxies are actually much farther away than we realize! And the visible universe must be far older than what we have been assuming!”
Merle laughed. “On the other hand, these now-distant galaxies were much, much closer to us when they released the photon than your astronomers believe. So maybe they are not quite as much older as you might think. Then again, maybe they are. It gets sort of complicated.” He winked. “Remember, I can’t give you all the answers. What would be the fun of that?
“See the sky up there?” Merle asked me. “That is just the portion of the universe that is traveling at velocities below the ratio of space to time, relative to us. But the portion that is traveling beyond our perceptual dimension of space/time is literally endless. In other words, our perceptual frame of space/time is not even a grain of sand, compared to all the matter in the universe. Nowhere even close to a grain of sand. We’re just a grain of sand on an infinite beach.”
I’ll never, ever forget the realization I had, at that moment. There we were, sitting on a desolate, snow covered mountaintop at night, somewhere in the vast, seemingly endless expanse of the Himalayas, our surroundings brightly illuminated by a brilliant blanket of hundreds of millions of blazing stars strewn across the boundless sphere of the sky. Just one single star was nearly incomprehensibly massive, to my previous way of thinking, but suddenly I realized that all of it represented not even the tiniest speck, in the grand scheme of the multi-dimensional universe. All the grandeur, all the vastness, the totality of all the distant galaxies that have ever been imaged by Earthly telescopes, was a mere dust mote of near-insignificance, compared to the unseen portions of the universe. At this point, I was still some ways from fully understanding the real nature of the “greater universe,” as Merle put it, but even so, I was overwhelmed by the thought of what I did already know. I was getting quite emotional, the realization was so intense.
Merle put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s OK, Ken. I know it can be overwhelming. I’ve put a lot on your plate here, today.”
“No, no,” I lied. “It’s fine.”
“Well, I think it’s probably just about time for us to call it a day. You still have to go to work this afternoon, don’t you?”
That comment shot through me like a lightning bolt. “Crap, Merle! I’ve got to get back! I do have to work today! I was supposed to be at The Enterprise at 1:00!”
“Not a problem, Ken. Not a problem. We’ve got plenty of time.”
“You mean it’s not even 1:00 yet?”
“No. It’s only about 10:30 in the morning, still, back in Rundle Heights.”
“Wow! How in the heck is that possible?”
“You left the house very early, this morning.”
“I guess I must have. But it seems like we’ve been out and about for a full day, already.”
Merle laughed. “Not quite! Less than four hours.”
“Less than four hours? Damn! How did we do all this in less than four hours?”
“Moving fast, I guess. Speaking of which, we should probably get going.”
And with that, Merle touched the screen, our spaceship reappeared around us, and we lifted back off the surface of the mountain. It all took about three seconds, and we were in the air. Merle just continued speaking, matter-of-factly, and no differently than as when we first pulled out onto the street that morning. “Do you realize, Ken, you are the first person, in the history of the Earth, to understand the Lorentz transformations as you do, and understand the space/time continuum and electromagnetic energy as you do?”
I didn’t really know how to respond to that. I was pretty freaked out by that thought.
“No need to answer that, Ken. I’m happy for you, though, really happy. You worked for it, too, which is great. Now let’s get you back home in time for your job.”
Merle was not kidding. He had me back home by 10:45 a.m., in fact, which I had a hard time believing. I was exhausted from the events of the morning, so by 11:00 I was asleep on the couch. I napped for almost an hour, and then I still had some time to sit around the house, before leaving for work, and to think about what had happened that day. I wrote down everything I could recall, which helped me out later, when I decided to write down my experiences. After I came home from work that evening, I made some dinner, and I wrote some more, until bedtime. By now, I was totally hooked, regarding this new way of thinking about the universe.