The Enlightening Chapters 34-36


                                                            34                                 

Soon, we were back in Merle’s car, and headed over to what was becoming the “usual” spot, behind the mall by the dumpster.  When we got there, a truly scraggly-looking man was there, on his bicycle, peering into the dumpster.  As we approached, he reached down into the dumpster and pulled out a long loaf of Italian bread.  I noticed he already had several other items, apparently salvaged from the same dumpster, in the basket on the front of the bicycle. 

Merle rolled down his window as we rolled up near the dumpster.  “Sam, my friend!  How is it going today?” 

For a moment, I was surprised that Merle knew this garbage-picker.  For another moment, I thought that he might be an alien, just as I once suspected Professor Jonmur to be.  Again, I was wrong.  Merle simply had made a lot of connections, during the course of his visit, even extending to the local dumpster diver.  After all, both Merle and he visited the same dumpster.      

“Well, hello there, friend!” Sam said.  “Good pickings today!”    

Sam never did know Merle’s name.  According to Merle, Sam never could remember it.  “I don’t mind being called ‘friend’, anyhow,” Merle told me. 

After securing the loaf to the back of his bike with a bungee cord, Sam said “good-bye” and left the vicinity.  Merle then reached next to his seat, and pulled out something in a small box.  He opened the box.  Inside was a watch.  It was just a regular, inexpensive watch, from a local store—the price tag was still on the box.  He handed it to me, saying, “Here, you take this watch.  Put it on your wrist.” 

There was a time when this would have frightened me, in some way, but by now I trusted Merle implicitly, and put it on my wrist.

Then, Merle backed his car up a few yards, so that we could see the other side of the street, around the corner of the building.  “See that clock?” he asked me.  There was a large digital clock type sign in front of the bank that was there. 

“Yes, I see it.” 

“What time does it say?” 

“3:14.” 

“OK.  Now what time does your watch say?” 

“3:14.” 

“OK, good.  The clocks are synchronized.  Or close enough for our purposes.”  He pulled the car forward again, out of sight of the street.  “Are you ready?”

“Sure.” 

“OK, here we go.” 

The darkening came again, and I noticed more clearly that it effectively obscured any details outside of our windows.  It lasted for a few moments, this time, and then, suddenly, an incredible sight loomed before us.  It took my breath away, and for almost half a minute I just sat and stared.  I was too transfixed to look away, even for a moment. 

“So, what do you think?” I finally heard Merle ask.  I was so focused on the sight before me that Merle’s disembodied voice seemed to seep slowly into my consciousness, as though through a fog, before I became consciously aware that Merle had even asked a question.  Suddenly I jolted almost out of my seat, as our situation—perhaps I should say our position– finally sank in on me.     

“What do I think?  What do I think?  Is that what I think it is?”

“What do you think it is?” 

I choked on the words, and they almost didn’t make it out of my lips.  I was feeling a lot of emotion at that moment.  I think I sort of gutturally whispered my response.  “Saturn?” 

“Yes!  Saturn!  You are correct, sir!” 

It was undeniably true.  In front of us loomed the magnificent planet Saturn, gleaming in a strangely subdued, yellow-gray froth, its spectacular giant rings surrounding it and shimmering like a scintillating halo of muted diamonds.  I had been holding my breath, without realizing it, and now I let it out in a long, deep exhale.  “Holy mother of pearl, Merle!  I can’t believe it!  I just can’t believe it.” 

“Well, believe it.” 

Merle let me sit there watching in silence, completely mesmerized, for maybe three more minutes or so.  Eventually, I scanned around a bit more, and was alarmed to notice an extremely bright star, back off behind us to our left.  I had never seen anything quite like it.  It was too bright to look at directly, like the sun was, but it wasn’t much larger than a regular star in the sky.  “What the heck is that, Merle?” 

“That?  Don’t you know?” 

“I have no idea.” 

Merle laughed, quite loudly, at that.  “You have no idea, huh?  Don’t you recognize your own sun?” 

I looked more closely at the bright shining light, and realized that it was true.  We were so far from the sun, and it appeared to be so small at that perspective, that I didn’t even recognize it!  Although it was still too bright to look at directly, the sun’s light did seem to be a bit more subdued, at that distance, than it was on Earth.  I looked around some more, and noticed that the stars were shining even more brightly, albeit without the twinkling effect, than they were that night in the Himalayas.  “Merle, I can’t believe how beautiful this all is!”

“The universe is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?” 

“Yes.” 

We sat there for several more minutes, as I looked around.  I noticed a few of the many, many moons surrounding the incredible planet.  Merle took us over for a closer look at the ethereal Titan, which looked not unlike a fuzzy, pale orange ball, with some slight variations in color density, and a thin blue atmospheric haze surrounding it. 

“A lot of interesting things going on with this moon,” Merle said.  “Too bad we can’t see very much, with this orange smog.  Would you like to see some of what is going on below?”    

“Sure I would!”

Merle tapped the screen in front of him, and a holographic-type image of the moon appeared in that spot.  “Let’s get rid of that smog,” he said.  Merle tapped the screen again, and the orange soup on the holographic view began to melt away, revealing a surprisingly complex landscape below. 

“Are those oceans down there, Merle?”

“I don’t know if ‘oceans’ is the right word.  But there are large lakes down there.”

“They are gorgeous!”  The mirror-smooth lakes appeared to reflect diffuse sunlight, and starlight, from the surface, like silent ponds of mercury.  “We probably wouldn’t want to swim in those lakes, though, would we?”      

“Ha!  Not those lakes, Ken.  They’re not water!  They’d peel your skin off, if you didn’t freeze into a solid block first.”    

I wanted to stay longer, but Merle said we had to keep moving.  Our next stop was the much, much smaller Enceladus, pale and ghostly white against the backdrop of blackness and dazzling stars.  From that distance, we could clearly see a long jet of material spraying out into space from the tiny moon.  “That’s water, isn’t it, Merle?”  I remembered reading about Enceladus, so I knew about the water jets that issued from fissures in the fascinating little moon’s crust.   

“Yes.  Actually ice, really, but it starts off as water.  There is a lot of water on Enceladus, to say the least.  This is a much younger moon than Titan.” 

“Wow,” was all I could bring myself to say. 

Merle actually took the ship right through the jet, and we could see diffuse streamlets of water ice swooshing across the front “windshield” of the ship as we passed through.  The particles of ice were so tiny that it actually looked more like water, than ice.  “Could we drink that water, Merle?” 

“We could probably drink it, I imagine.  But you’d probably still want to filter it in some way.”     

“Well, can we collect some of the water, then?”

“Absolutely not.”    

“Too bad.”  Right then, a tiny object, floating out some distance away, caught my attention.  “Merle, is that what I think it is?”

“Yes, it is!  Good sighting, Ken!  Would you like a closer look?” 

“Would I?  Are you kidding me?” 

“Hah!  Here we go, then!” 

In another moment, we were floating alongside the object- an interplanetary NASA probe, launched from Earth.  I had goosebumps over my entire body, watching it going about its business.  The probe had taken several years to travel out to that distance.  We made it there, quite literally, in moments.  But I was concerned that we were exposing ourselves to its observation.  “Aren’t you worried it’ll see us, Merle?” 

“No, not at all.  We’re perfectly cloaked.  Nice, isn’t it?”

“Heck, yeah, it’s nice!  It’s absolutely amazing!” 

“It’s wonderful to see a ship from Earth out here, that’s for sure.  Good for Earth!”  

“Yes.”  I suddenly felt incredibly proud, that our plucky little probe had made it all the way out there!      

Merle tapped the screen again.  “OK, time to go,” he said.

“So soon?” I probably whined, like a young child being pulled away from an amusement park. 

“Oh, don’t worry.  We’re not going back home yet.” 

He was right.  After another few moments of darkening, another astonishing spectacle was staring us right in the face.  This time, I knew what I was seeing, right away.  “Neptune!”  I gasped.    

Once again, it was true.  Once again, I was face-to-face with something I had only seen photos of before, something that seemed surreal, even unreal, at this close distance.  The gem-like, azure color of Neptune was truly stunning, like the coolest blue cotton candy ever, swirling around in a perfectly round globe, streaked with high, white clouds, and scattered darker areas and streaks, as well.  The planet seemed much smaller than Saturn.  “Is Neptune smaller than Saturn, Merle?” 

Merle looked at me, no doubt surprised that I would need to ask such a question.  “Well, the diameter of Saturn is about nine times as large as Earth’s diameter, I’d say, and its mass is probably about 95 times that of Earth.  Neptune, on the other hand, is about four times the diameter of the Earth, and maybe 17 or 18 times as massive.” 

“Oh.”  Our ship was slowly rotating, and soon a moon came into view in front of us.  This moon was rather similar in appearance to Enceladus, but significantly larger.  I noticed that it also was producing jets of material.  There were actually several active jets, but they didn’t seem to be blasting as strongly into space as the jets from Enceladus.  “What’s the name of this moon, Merle?”

“This is Triton.” 

“So we went to Saturn to see Titan, and now we’re at Neptune, looking at Triton.” 

“Yes.” 

I actually was trying to make a sort of dumb joke over the similar names, but Merle didn’t seem to get it. 

“Is that water, also, Merle?”

“No.  You don’t want to drink this stuff.  It’s liquid nitrogen, mostly.” 

“Oh.”  It was then that I noticed the rather subtle, and much darker, rings of Neptune.  There seemed to be four, maybe five rings.  “Why are these rings so dark, Merle?  I almost didn’t even see them!” 

“Saturn’s rings are mostly ice, which is why they are so reflective.  These rings of Neptune are mostly organic compounds, and dust.  They are actually much more interesting, in many ways.  They just might not be as beautiful.” 

“They’re still very beautiful, in their own way.” 

“Yes, I think so, too.  Come, we have one more stop.” 

“Merle, why are we always in such a hurry?” 

“A hurry?  It’s not that we’re in a ‘hurry’, necessarily, but that we are on a schedule.” 

“What kind of schedule?” 

Merle went back to the windshield, and he touched the screen.  He checked something out, tapped the screen again, and looked back at me.  “OK.  Let me summarize, quickly.  Out here, there are many ships, from many different civilizations, as I’ve already mentioned, not only in orbit around Earth, but also out and about around the entire solar system, in stealth mode.  When we do move about within the sphere of this solar system, our preferred mode of travel is at relativistic velocities.  So we coordinate, with each other, to avoid crashing into each other at relativistic velocities.  All requests for travel are logged into a central server, as you might call it, and travel arrangements for all are tightly pre-scheduled.  So when we have to go, we have to go.” 

“What would happen if we just–” I never got a chance to finish my question.  I guess I know what the answer would have been, anyway, more or less.    

“We have to go,” said Merle.  “Now.”  And again, the darkening happened.      

Our visit to Saturn and Neptune had definitely taken me by surprise, even considering I never knew what Merle might do next, or where he might take us next.  But the next stop was something that I probably might not have even considered as a possibility, even in my wildest dreams. 

                                                            35     

This time the darkening occurred for a noticeably longer period of time, but still only a few seconds, at most.  We seemed to blink back into existence, parked in front of another large planet.  But things seemed very different, this time.  Everything was noticeably darker, with the exception of the still-blazing field of stars in all directions, and I noticed that the sun was even still noticeably smaller- no different in appearance than many of the other stars in the sky, except for its still-painful brightness.  I pointed to it, to make sure I wasn’t just confused.  “Is that our sun, Merle?”

“Yes.  We are much farther away, now.”            

“What planet is this, Merle?”

“It doesn’t really have a name yet.” 

“What do you mean, it doesn’t really have a name yet?  Are we in a different solar system?” 

Merle looked at me and blurted out a short little chuckle.  “No, we’re still in the same solar system, Ken.  It’s just that this planet hasn’t actually been discovered yet.  Well, not exactly, yet, anyhow.”

The planet was a dusky color.  It appeared to be a grayish, purplish blue, but I wasn’t exactly sure what colors I was looking at, exactly, in the very dim light of the very distant sun.  The surrounding starlight, I had noticed, seemed to imbue everything in a cool, even cold, light.  “How far away from the sun are we, Merle?” 

“Oh, I’d rather not say.  I’m sure I’m not supposed to say.” 

“OK.  It’s far, though, I can see that.” 

“Yes.” 

Suddenly I remembered reading several articles about a very distant planet that had been theorized, due to its estimated gravitational effects on various other objects in the outer solar system.  “Oh my gosh, is this the ‘planet 9’ that has been theorized?  I’ve read about that!” 

“Could be something like that,” said Merle. 

It was difficult for me to compare sizes of these various celestial objects, from the vantage point of the ship.  “How big is this planet, then?”

“Well, it’s bigger than Earth, I’ll tell you that.  But I’m sure I’m not supposed to say very much.  I just thought you’d like to see it.” 

“I do.  It’s very cool, Merle.” 

“Cool.”  Merle enjoyed using slang in conversation, you could tell.      

I thought that I saw some faint rings, and possibly a moon, also, but it was hard to see as clearly out there, so far from the sun.  But suddenly I saw something else that grabbed my attention.  There was a space ship out there, not very far from us.  Except the ship seemed enormous- it completely dwarfed our own ship, like a large watermelon, compared to a grain of rice.  Also, it was shaped more like a cigar- or maybe a gigantic grain of rice, if you will. 

“Merle!  There’s another ship out here with us!  And it’s HUGE!” 

Merle wasn’t surprised, or alarmed, in the slightest.  “Actually, there are several ships out here with us.  The other ones are on the other side of the planet.  Those are mother ships that are staying out here, getting a little research done while their scout ships fulfill their missions on Earth.  Yes, they are rather large, compared to our little ship.  In fact, they are very large compared to our base ship, as well.  You could probably put about 50 of our base ships inside of this mother ship, quite literally.”

“How in the world can anybody build something that large, Merle?”

Merle laughed.  “Remember, Ken, just about everything in the universe is relative to something else.  Maybe you won’t be surprised to know that there are ships out there in the galaxy that are 50 times again as large as this ship we are looking at.  And who knows, after that, you know?”     

Again, Merle gave me some time to let it all soak in.  After a while, a question popped into my mind. 

“Merle?” 

“Yes?” 

“How is it going with the other contacts?  I mean, the other two Earth people that your friends are communicating with.” 

“Not so good,” said Merle.     

“What do you mean by that?”   

“Well, each of my colleagues already went through three potential contacts, without success.” 

“So a total of six failed contacts?” 

“Yes.  Well, a total of eight, actually.” 

“Eight?  I thought you said both colleagues went through three potential contacts.” 

“True.  And I am on my third.” 

Well, that was a shocker, I have to tell you.  “You are on your third?  Am I the third?”     

“Yes.  You are the only contact left, out of nine.  Congratulations.” 

“What happened?” 

“Well, six of the eight insisted on continuing to try to take photos, one refused any attempts at communication, and one guy just sort of flipped out during a contact.” 

“Flipped out?” 

“Yes.  We had to cut him loose from the program, early on.” 

“What did he do?” 

“For one thing, he physically attacked our team.” 

“Really?” 

“Yes, really.  I have the scar to prove it.” 

“Oh my gosh!  He attacked you?” 

Merle didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and he waved off the entire line of questioning.                 

Well, I certainly didn’t expect this development.  I had always felt like I had a couple of teammates out there, that I might get to meet someday, if all went well.  So hearing the news about the other eight potential contacts hit me like a ton of bricks, as they say.  And knowing that I was the final fallback for Merle, as well, made it suddenly feel like a lot more pressure.  But I didn’t let on, too much, I don’t think.  Still, I could see that Merle was watching me closely.

                                                            36 

     It seemed to me that Merle went out of his way to quickly change the subject.  “This is as good a spot as any to talk a little Physics,” said Merle. 

     “Sure.”  I think I was glad to change the subject, anyhow. 

     “We’ve already discussed the ‘gravitational soup’, or ‘dark matter’, which results from all the extra-dimensional matter in the universe, and its effects on the gravitational coherence of galaxies, and that sort of thing.  But that gravitational soup is a gradated soup, with higher areas of gravitation closest to hyper-dimensional galaxies and hyper-dimensional galaxy clusters.” 

     “OK.” 

     “Do you think that there might be a different sort of gravitational soup– a perfectly non-gradated gravitational field, identical and not curved or compressed in any direction— which might have some effect on fundamental particles at the quantum level, as well?” 

     Every once in a while, Merle prompted me to think about something, and I instantly saw what he was getting at.  This was one of those instances.  “The Higgs field!” was all I could say, as my mind began to race.

     The “Higgs particle”, or “Higgs boson”, was named after Peter Higgs, one of a group of six physicists which first postulated its existence back in 1964.  The particle was said to be a quantum excitation of the theorized “Higgs field,” an overall field which exists throughout the entire universe, and allows fundamental particles to gain traction, as it were, and thereby acquire mass.  The whole idea of the field, and exactly what it represents, has been sort of a Holy Grail of physics ever since.  Although the search for the source of this  field has revolved around fundamental particles of certain parameters, I immediately realized that this perfectly non-gradated “gravitational soup” that Merle referenced might well fulfill many of the needed parameters of the long-sought field, so essential to our entire quantum-based existence.                   

     “So where does this non-gradated soup come from?”  I asked Merle.

     “We will get to the non-gradated soup soon.  First I wanted to discuss its effect on fundamental particles.” 

     Again, goosebumps broke out over my entire body, as I sat there, before a good-sized, somewhat undiscovered planet, within sight of a gigantic, mega-scale mothership, and almost casually discussing the solution to a very long-held problem in the field of particle physics.  “Are photons affected by the soup, Merle?” 

     “Well, not so much, Ken.  Photons simply ride the wave of the space/time continuum, with basically little or no resistance.  Their energy can be absorbed by electrons, but they are not really able to gain traction within the soup, to speak of.  That’s one of the special things about them.  But other fundamental particles don’t surf space/time in the same way.  Those particles are able to link up with other fundamental particles, due to their carrier particles which are enabled by the powerful non-gradated gravitational field which is provided by the extra-dimensional mass/energy we will soon discuss.  That’s how these particles are able to gain a foothold, you might say.  This field is why physical objects have inertia.” 

“How do the particles link up?”

“Well, do you have any ideas of their shapes?”

“No.  How could I?” 

“Do you know the shape of any other fundamental particle?” 

“Just the photon”, I said. 

“And what is its shape?”

“Well, it’s a loop.  Or a perpendicular pair of loops, if you’re breaking apart the two components.”

“So what about the shape of other fundamental particles?”

“Are they loops, as well?”

“Of course they are, to a certain extent, at least.” 

“Oh.”  Again, as so many times before, this revelation seemed fairly obvious, as I digested it for a while, before Merle asked another question. 

“So, Ken, how do you think they link up, then?”

“I have no idea.” 

“Think about it some, Ken.” 

I gave it a little thought, and suddenly the idea burst right into my consciousness.  “Oh!  Are they interlocked?  Like one ring, linked through another ring?”

Merle gave me that smile he had, whenever I had a huge realization.  “Generally speaking, Ken, yes.  Each particle describes its own type of ring, and these rings are able to interlock together, or knot themselves together, in very specific ways– in a vast variety of very specific ways, mediated by their carrier particles, which represent the strong and weak forces of the Standard Model.” 

I tried my best to get more information out of him, since I was greatly interested in this line of thinking, but he just winked at me.  “That’s all I’m going to say about fundamental particles for now, Ken.  You’re on the right track, now.  Everything else will fall into place, eventually, as the centuries go by.”

“Centuries!” 

“OK.  ‘Millennia’ would probably be more accurate.  Or, most accurately, there’s always more to learn.  Do you think the universe reveals everything all at once?  It never does that.  These things take time.”      

Suddenly a sound emanated from somewhere on the ship, and Merle touched the screen in front.  A message, in English, appeared in front of us, hovering in mid-air like a glowing, two-dimensional hologram.  It said, “Welcome, Merle and Ken, to the outskirts of this solar system!  Are you enjoying your tour?”     

I stared at the welcoming message in wonderment.  “Who in the heck sent that, Merle?” 

Merle pointed to the giant mothership.  “Our friends over there sent it!  How do you want to respond?” 

I thought about it for a moment.  I didn’t even question how the inhabitants of the mother ship knew who we were, and how they knew what were we doing, or even who they were, or where they were from.  It was all simply par for the course.  “How does this sound?  ‘We are having the time of our lives out here.  It is all very beautiful and wonderful.”    

“Sounds great,” said Merle.  “I’ll send it.”  He tapped the screen a few times, and sat back for the response. 

Moments later, the response appeared in the same spot and same way as the previous message.  It read, “Yes, it is wonderful.  We are also having the time of our lives out here!”   

Merle looked at me again.  “Response?”

It is very nice to meet you.”     

“I like it!” Merle said.  He sent the message, and we again waited for a reply.

It took a few more seconds this time, but soon enough the new reply appeared in the same spot.  “It is very nice to meet you, also!  We wish you both the best of luck, and the greatest success, in your endeavors.  With warmest regards, your friends, ‘from out there.’”               

“I think I can handle this one,” said Merle.  “Thank you for the kind regards, and best wishes for your own safe journeys.  Your friends forever, Ken and Merle.”  Merle sent the message, and spun back towards me.  “We have to go.  We can’t stay long at this next spot.  Eighteen seconds at most.”  And the brief darkening happened again.  

This was the longest period of darkening, by far, and after about ten seconds I asked Merle if everything was OK. 

“Yes, everything’s fine.” 

Just then, we were suddenly face-to-face with another planet- another gas giant, and an especially colorful one, with a gigantic ring system, noticeably larger than Saturn’s rings. 

“Where are we, Merle?” 

“We’ve accelerated into another physical dimension, Ken.  Right now, even though it feels like we’re standing still, we’re traveling twice the speed of light, compared to our original position.  All you see here before us is invisible to anybody back on Earth, just as we could never see Earth from this perspective.”

“So this entire galaxy is traveling twice the speed of light, compared to Earth?”

“Well, this is a portion of the Milky Way that is traveling twice the speed of light, compared to Earth.” 

“Wow.” 

Another 15 seconds or so of darkness ensued, and abruptly, there before us, was yet another planet, quite stunning in its brightness and its radiant colors, massive oceans, and interesting landmasses.  It was partially obscured, yet visually enhanced, by a multitude of fluffy clouds.  We were back at Earth, and it was astounding.  For the first time, it occurred to me that the most beautiful planet in the system was not Mars, or Jupiter, or Saturn, or any of the other planets.  They all paled in beauty, compared with Earth, and I completely shifted my focus to the planet.       

“Oh my gosh, Merle.  It’s so awesome!  Is that Australia, and Asia right down there?” 

“Yes.  All in all, Earth might be the most beautiful planet I’ve ever seen.  Although, I have to tell you, Akeethera isn’t too bad, either.”

I smiled at that.  “I’m sure it’s very beautiful, Merle.” 

Merle touched the screen, and up came a picture- a hologram, I guess, or something of that nature.  It was a planet that looked surprisingly similar to Earth, with perhaps fewer oceans but with less brown and more green, and three small, fairly nondescript moons in orbit around it.  Merle reached out and zoomed in for a closer look at the planet.  “Here it is.  What do you think?”

“That’s Akeethera?”

“Yes.” 

“It’s amazing, Merle.  It’s so green!  I love it!” 

This time it was my turn to allow Merle some time to soak it in, as I could tell he was enjoying the moment.  The image began to slowly rotate, revealing the entirety of the planet.  He gazed at it some more, and then touched the screen again, and the image disappeared.  He looked just a little bit emotional. 

“You must miss your home, Merle.”

“Yes, I do miss it, very much.  But this trip was the opportunity of a lifetime.  I don’t have a single regret, if only for all the great friends I’ve gotten the chance to know, in person.”  He patted me on the shoulder when he said that. 

I left him with his thoughts for a moment, before asking him a question that I had wanted to ask for the last several days.  “Merle, just exactly how do these ships fly?” 

“I’ve been wondering when you were going to ask that!  Well, I’m not allowed to tell you ‘just exactly’, but I’ll be happy to explain it in a general manner.  It works by creating a powerful, directional magnetic field.  By doing that, movement along the central axis can be quite energetic.  The ship simply is pushed along, with very little resistance, on the magnetic field lines.  In that way, the ship is able to accelerate to hyper-dimensional velocities almost instantaneously.  It’s sort of like a spinning bead on a string, I suppose you could say.”  

“So how is this magnetic field generated?” 

“Basically, the engine is a torus of a super-conductive super-fluid, rotating at relativistic velocities.  This generates a magnetic field, in much the same way a neutron star or black hole generates its magnetic field.  Except the black hole’s field is exactly the same to the north and the south, which stabilizes its position.  On our ships, we are able to manipulate the directionality of our ship, so we can draw the ship in any direction we want, and change directions instantly.  A ship can have any number of magnetic torus engines, depending on its size and design.  Our little ship here has one primary torus in the center, and two sets of three additional tori surrounding it.  That’s a common set up for a lot of small ships, while larger ships, like our base triangle, have a lot more.  I think our base ship has sixteen total engines.   

“And why the triangular shape of the base ship?”

“Oh, there are various reasons for that, really, like flight stability and torus arrangement.  One big reason is that we are able to link multiple triangular ships together, especially for long inter-galactic journeys, much like slices of a pie.  Our base ship originally came out here as one of a group of six linked ships, of identical shapes and sizes, which basically formed a giant disc.  Or a giant hexagon, I suppose.”

“Wow, that’s pretty neat!  Six slices of pie!” 

“Yes, that’s it, exactly!  And now I have a question for you, to get back on the subject of fundamental particles.”

“What is that?”

“Well, you now have a good idea of how our universe works, don’t you?” 

“Yes.”

“Although the universe is actually infinite in terms of dimensions of time, you can see that the path of mass-energy in our universe is actually finite, eventually returning back to the center, and then repeating the process.”

“Yes.  It almost sounds like a paradox, but it’s not.” 

“True.  So, if space-time itself is infinite, which it is, what do you think might be outside of our universe?” 

I sat there for several moments, thinking about that question.  I had never even considered the idea, previously, but I could see what Merle was getting at.  “I don’t know, Merle.  Infinite nothingness?”  That sounded horrible, as I said it. 

“No, I highly doubt that.  Listen to my question again.  I’m giving you a sort of clue, in the question.”

“OK, ask it again, then.”

“What do you think might be outside of our universe?”  

Merle’s heavy emphasis on ‘our’ made it a lot easier, this time.  “Oh.  Not our universe, then.  But it might be their universe?  Is it another universe, Merle?” 

“That’s sort of it.”

I gave it some more thought.  “Is it a whole bunch of other universes, Merle?” 

“You’re getting warmer.” 

“Is it an infinite number of universes, Merle?”  I was just guessing, at this point.  But all roads seemed to point towards infinity, in the universe, so it seemed like a fairly safe guess.                             

“Yes.  An infinite number of universes, indeed.  On Akeethera, we absolutely believe that there are an infinite number of universes.” 

“How can that be?”

“Well, we believe that this infinite number of universes exists in the form of a simple cubic crystal.  If you look at a simple cubic crystal, you’ll find that each unit of the crystal is surrounded most closely by six other units, with another 12 units somewhat farther away.  In this case, each unit is actually a universe.  That’s why, on Akeethera, we refer to the greater universe as the ‘Infinite Crystal.’”   

“The Infinite Crystal?  Wow.  That sounds like a piece of jewelry, or something!”  Elegant title or not, my head was felt like it was about to explode, as I considered this new idea.  Merle was placing our universe within an infinite field of additional universes!      

Merle continued with his description of the Infinite Crystal.  “So our universe is infinite in terms of dimensions of time, since there is always mass/energy that is traveling faster, or slower, than whatever mass/energy you might consider.  The Infinite Crystal is infinite in terms of three-dimensional space, as well as in dimensions of time.  You can travel through this field of universes forever, and there will always be more universes.  It’s neatly arranged universes without end!” 

“But how can there be no end?” 

“How can there be an end?” 

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you’re looking for an end to the universe, maybe you’re looking for a giant wall, or something.  Maybe somebody built a giant wall, or something, blocking us off from going further?” 

“I guess that wouldn’t really make sense.” 

“There’s no need for the space-time continuum to have any end, Ken.  Just like there’s no need for it to have ever had a beginning.  There was always a yesterday, there will always be tomorrow, and there will always be an open road, in whichever direction we choose to move in.”  

“I guess that makes sense.”

“Now here’s another interesting part of all this,” said Merle.  “Perhaps you’ve wondered why our universe contains so much matter, yet so little anti-matter.” 

“Sure.  Every astrophysicist wonders about that, I think.” 

“Imagine our universe, comprised primarily of matter, surrounded most closely by six other universes in the Infinite Crystal, and then another twelve somewhat farther away.  Like polonium.”

“OK.  Wait, did you say like polonium?”

“Yes. Polonium, as you call it here on Earth, has a similar structure.  Now, our universe is comprised primarily of matter, or at least what we call matter, in our universe.  The six other universes that border us most closely, in the Infinite Crystal, are comprised primarily of anti-matter, from our way of looking at it.  The twelve universes that are somewhat farther away are, again, comprised primarily of matter.  And that pattern repeats itself throughout the Infinite Crystal.  In that way, matter and anti-matter are able to exist in equal amounts, yet still avoid meeting up with each other, for the most part, since mass/energy does not cross between universes under normal circumstances.  In a gravitational sense, the continuum doesn’t care if something is matter, or anti-matter.  It’s all the same, to the space-time continuum.”

Merle didn’t have to tell me that, when matter meets anti-matter, a catastrophic annihilation of both the matter and anti-matter occurs.  “So the symmetry of the greater universe is maintained, in terms of equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, and yet the entire system doesn’t just go up in a big puff of annihilation,” I told him, surprised at the neat solution to this previously vexing dilemma.    

“That’s right.” 

“Merle!  That’s like the secret of the universe, right there!”

Merle smiled at me again, like a parent whose child just discovered some fundamental aspect of existence that every adult already knows.  “I think you’ve said that before, Ken.”

“And I’ll bet you’ll tell me that the universe holds no secrets!”

“Yes.”  

“But if there is mass/energy traveling faster and faster and faster, won’t that mass/energy be traveling farther and farther, and eventually bleed over into the adjoining universes?” 

“No.  Because four dimensional space curls in upon itself as the reference frame shifts away.  That’s why on Akeethera we refer to the physical space/time reference frame as a ‘space within a space within a space’. 

“I’m not exactly sure what that means.” 

“Well, one thing it means is that mass/energy of any velocity circuits back toward its universal black hole, before it has a chance to bleed into an adjoining universe.  I guess you might say that it is the basic nature of the Infinite Crystal.  That’s why there is equilibrium between adjacent universes, with empty space in-between, just like the empty space in-between atoms of a crystal.  There is enough space between universes to avoid any bleed-over, and yet they are close enough together to maintain their gravitational attraction in a crystal arrangement.”   

“So there is an outer edge to our universe?  What happens if you’re in a galaxy that is close to the edge?”    

“Well, under normal circumstances, when mass/energy is traveling within the normal stream of the universal flow, there really is no such thing as a perceptible ‘outer edge’ to our universe.  Remember that, from any possible location in our general area of the universal flow, galaxies traveling away at relativistic velocities surround the location, on all sides.  So, from inside the galaxy, you can never really be aware of being near an ‘outer edge’, unless, possibly, you can accelerate to a fast enough velocity, perpendicular to the flow, and straight away from the center of the universe.  That’s one of the great mysteries—what would happen if you could escape the gravitational influence of the universe, and travel to that area of the Infinite Crystal that is in between universes?  The problem is, not only would you have to escape the influence of our universe, but you’d also have to contend with the gravitational effects of the Infinite Crystal itself.  Many people believe that it would not be possible to escape any given universe, under any circumstances.  Some believe it can be done, however.”    

“But wouldn’t the gravitational attraction from the other universes actually make it easier to escape our universe?” 

“One might think so, but the true situation is probably the exact opposite.  Let’s take a look at how that works.  To me, possibly the most elegant aspect of the greater universe is how the Infinite Crystal, this most massive of mega-large scale quantum-based structure, affects fundamental quantum matter at the tiniest of scales, via the non-quantum medium of the space/time continuum. It is a feedback mechanism on the grandest of scales.”

“How is that?” 

“Well, again, space-time is an infinite continuum.  And a universe is the ultimate warping agent of the energy field that pervades space-time.  So each universe in the Infinite Crystal creates a powerful gravitational field, outside of itself.  Now how do you think that might affect other universes?” 

“Are you saying that space-time in our universe is gravitationally warped by the mass-energy of all the other universes in the Infinite Crystal?”

“I am.” 

“So that is why the field that allows fundamental particles to acquire mass is so perfectly static, throughout the universe.  It’s the cumulative gravitational field generated by all the other universes in the infinite, perfectly crystalline greater universe, so it results in a perfectly non-gradated gravitational field!  As people, we don’t even notice it, since we are far too large to even notice non-gradated gravity. We only notice gravitational gradients. Non-gradated gravity doesn’t push us in one direction or another, so we don’t notice it, as people.  It’s still plenty powerful enough to bog down force-carrying particles, though, and other fundamental quantum units. That’s what allows them to gain mass and form aggregate structures!  And also, non-gradated gravitation describes the perfect medium to result in the concept of inertia!”  At this point, all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to be falling into place for me.       

“Bingo again, Ken.  Although you can’t really say we haven’t “noticed” this non-gradated field.  We’ve been looking for the source of the “Higg’s field” for some time.”  Merle looked downright pleased at the roll I was on.  “Otherwise, it’s all as you describe.  The field generated by the Infinite Crystal is identical and non-gradated, wherever you might travel in the universe.  We can really only measure its strength indirectly, because we know the field must exist, or fundamental particles could never accumulate mass, or join together into larger, stable structures.  The portion of the field that we cannot otherwise account for has to be from the gravitational effects of the greater universe.”   

“So the cumulative gravitational effect of the greater universe, aka the Infinite Crystal, is really what creates the overall Higgs field that permeates the entire universe?”

“To the largest extent, if we are simplifying it somewhat.  It also permeates every other universe, as well.”      

“Yowza!  That is huge, Merle!  And it’s small, at the same time!”  I amused myself with that comment, while Merle didn’t seem to even notice. 

“Also,” Merle said, “this field holds each universe in place within the Infinite Crystal, since each universe is being pulled equally in all directions, essentially, by the non-gradated field.  This force is so strong and unyielding that the Infinite Crystal is the most perfect crystal that exists, anywhere, if you take scale into account.  Also, that powerful force which maintains the crystal means that you’d really be swimming upstream, trying to leave your own universe.”  At that, Merle tapped the screen and looked over at me.  “Say, Ken, what time do you have?”   

“The time?  Oh, that’s right, my watch!  It’s 3:51.  Wow, all that only took 37 minutes?” 

“Well, the flying part went pretty quickly, didn’t it?” 

“I’ll say it did!” 

And with that, we took another brief look at the Earth.  Then, another brief darkening occurred.  Then it got slightly brighter, but still, everything was quite dark.  “Where are we, Merle?” 

“Back by the dumpster.”

“But why is it so dark?”

“Because it’s nighttime.”

“But it’s only 3:51!”  I looked at my watch.  “Excuse me, now its 3:52.  But it doesn’t get dark here at 3:52!”   

“That’s because it’s not 3:52, here, Ken.”  Merle backed up the vehicle, turned the corner and headed for the street.  There, in front of us, was the big digital sign. 

“9:45!  But how is that possible?” 

“That’s hyper-dimensional time dilation, Ken.”  

“Wow!”

“For us, in our dimension of space/time, as we traveled so quickly to the various planets and moons, only 37 minutes passed.  Meanwhile, down here, it was six and a half hours.  That’s some hyper-dimensional time dilation, right there!” 

“That’s amazing!”      

“Yes.”

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