Professor Richard Edwards, Principal Scientific Executive and second-in-command at ACRE, contemplated the document lying on the table in front of him. The wording on the title sheet read: K-Space Rotations and Gravity Impulses. Seated around the corner of the table to the professor's left, Walter Massey thumbed idly through his copy, making little of the pages of complex formulae. Opposite Massey, Miles Corrigan leaned back in his chair and regarded Clifford with a cool, predatory stare, making no attempt to conceal the disdain that he felt toward all scientists.
``The rules of this Establishment are perfectly clear, Dr. Clifford,'' Edwards began, speaking over the top of his interlaced fingers. ``All scientific material produced by any person during the time he is employed at ACRE, produced in the course of his duties or otherwise, automatically qualifies as classified information. Precisely what are your grounds for requesting an exemption and permission to publish this paper?''
Clifford returned his look expressionlessly, trying hard for once not to show the irritation he felt for the whole business. He didn't like the air of an Inquisition that had pervaded the room ever since they sat down.
His reply was terse: ``Purely scientific material of academic interest only. No security issues involved.''
Edwards waited, apparently expecting more. After a few, dragging seconds, Massey shuffled his feet uncomfortably and cleared his throat.
Massey was Clifford's immediate boss in Mathcomps. He was every inch a practical, hard-applications engineer, fifteen years in the Army's Technical Services Corps having left him with no great inclination toward theoretical matters. When he was assigned a task, he did it without questioning either the wisdom or the motives of his superiors, both of which he took for granted. It was best not to think about such things; that always led to trouble. He represented the end-product of the system, faithfully carrying out his side of a symbiotic existence in which he traded off individual freedom for collective security. He felt a part of ACRE and the institution that it symbolized, in the same way that he had felt a part of the Army; it provided him with the sense of belonging that he needed. He served the organization and the organization seved him; it paid him, trained him, made all his major decisions for him, rapped his knuckles when he stepped out of line, and promoted him when he didn't. If he had to, he would readily die fighting to defend all that it stood for.
But Clifford didn't find him really a bad guy for all that.
Right now, Massey wan't too happy about the way in which Clifford was handling things. He didn't give a damn whether the paper ended up being published or not, but it bothered him that somebody from his section didn't seem to be putting up a good fight to speak his case. The name of the platoon was at stake.
``What Brad means is, the subject matter of his paper relates purely to abstract theoretical concepts. There's nothing about it that could be thought of as having anything to do with national security interests.'' Massey glanced from Edwards to Corrigan and back again. ``You might say it's kinda like a hobby ... only Brad's hobby happens to involve a lot of mathematics.''``Mmm ...'' Edwards rubbed his thumbs against the point of his chin and considered the proposition. Abstract theoretical concepts had a habit of turning into reality with frightening speed. Even the most innocent-looking scraps of trivia could acquire immense significance when fitted together into a pattern with others. He had no idea of the things that were going on in other security-blanketed research institutions of his own country, not to mention those of the other side. Only Washington held the big picture, and if they went along with Clifford's request, it would mean getting mixed up in all the rigmarole of referring the matter back there for clearance ... and Washington was never very happy over things like that. Far better if the whole ting could be killed off right at the beginning.
On the other hand, his image wouldn't benefit from too hasty a display of high-handedness ... must be seen as objective and impartial.
``I have been through the paper briefly, Dr. Clifford,'' he said. ``Before we consider your request specifically, I think it would help if you clarified some of the points that you make.'' He spread his hands and rested them palms-down on the table. ``For example, you make some remarkable deductions concerning the nature of elementary particles and their connection with gravitational propagation. ...'' His look invited Clifford to take it from there.
Clifford sighed. At the best of times he detested lengthy dissertations; the feeling that he was pressing an already lost cause only made it worse. But there was no way out.
``All the known particles of physics,'' he began, ``can be described in terms of Maesanger k-functions. Every particle is a combination of high-order and low-order k-resonances. Theory suggests that it's possible for an entity to exist purely in the high-order domain, without any physical attributes in the dimensions of the observable universe. It couldn't be detected by any known experimental technique.''
``This isn't part of Maesanger's original theory,'' Edwards checked.
``No. It's new.''
``This is your own contribution?''
``I see. Carry on.'' Edwards scribbled a brief note on his pad.
``I've termed such an unobservable entity a `hi-particle,' and the domain that it exists in, `hi-space' -- the unobservable subset of k-space. The remaining portion of k-space -- the spacetime that we perceive -- is then termed `lo-space.'
``Interactions are possible between hi-particles. Most of them result in new hi-particles. Some classes of interaction, however, can produce complete k-functions as end-products -- that is, combined hi- and lo-order resonances that are observable. In other words, you'd be able to detect them in normal space.'' Clifford paused and waited for a response. It came from Massey.
``You mean that as far as anybody can tell, first there's no particle there -- just nothing at all -- then suddenly -- poof! -- there is.''
Clifford nodded. ``Exactly so.''
``Mmm ... I see. Spontaneous creation of matter ... in our universe anyway. Interesting.'' Edwards began stroking his chin again and nodded to Clifford to continue.
``Since all conventional particles can be thought of as extending into hi-space, they can interact with hi-particles too. When they do, the result can be one of two things.
``First off, the interaction products can include k-resonances -- in other words, particles that are observable. What you'd see would be the observable part of the k-particle that was there to begin with, and then the observable part of the k-products that came later. What you wouldn't see is the pure hi-particle that caused the change to take place.''
Massey was beginning to look intrigued. He raised a hand to stop Clifford from racing ahead any further for the moment.
``Just a sec, Brad, let's get this straight. A k-particle is something that has bits you can see and bits you can't. Right?''
``All the particles that we know are k-particles.''
``But you figure there are things that nobody can see al all ... these things you've called `hi-particles.' ''
``And two hi's can come together to make a k, and since you can see k's, you'd see a particle suddenly pop outa nowhere. Is that right?''
Okay ...'' Massey inclined his head and collected his thoughts for a moment. ``Now -- in idiot language -- just go over that last bit again, willya?'' He wasn't being deliberately sarcastic; it was just his way of speaking.
``A hi can interact with a k to produce another k, or maybe several k's. When that happens, what you see is a sudden change taking place in an observable particle, without any apparent cause.''
``A spontaneous event,'' Edwards commented, nodding slowly. ``An explanation for the decay of radioactive nucle and the like, perhaps.''
Clifford began warming slightly. Maybe he wasn't wasting his time after all.
``Precisely so,'' he replied. ``The statistics that come out of it fit perfectly with the observed frequencies of quantum mechanical tunneling effects, energy-level transitions of the electron, and a whole list of other probabilistic phenomena at the atomistic scale. It gives us a common explanation for all of them. They's not inexplicable any more; they only look that way in lo-order spacetime.''
``Mmm ...'' Edwards looked down again at the paper lying in front of him. The administrator in him still wanted to put a swift end to the whole business, but the scientist in him was becoming intrigued. If only this discussion could have taken place at some other time, a time free of the dictates of harsher realities. He looked up at Clifford and noted for the first time the pleading earnestness burning from those bright youthful eyes. Clifford could be no more than in his mid to late twenties -- the age at which Newton and Einstein had been at their peak. This generation would have much to answer for when the day finally came to count the cost of it all.
``You said that there is a second possible way in which hi- and k-particles can interact.''
``Yes,'' Clifford confirmed. ``They can also interact to produce hi-order entities only.'' He looked at Massey. ``That means that a hi plus a k can make just hi's. You'd see the k to start with, then suddenly you wouldn't see anything at all.''
``Spontaneous particle extinction,'' Edwards supplied.
``I'll be damned,'' said Massey.
``The two effects of creation and extinction are symmetrical,'' Clifford offered. ``In loose terms you could say that a particle exists only for a finite time in the observable universe. It appears out of nowhere, persists for a while, then either vanishes, or decays into other particles, which eventually vanish anyway. The length of time that any one particle will exist is indeterminate, but the statistical average for large numbers of them can be calculated accurately. For some, such as those involved in familiar high-energy decay processes, lifetimes can be very short; for radioactive decays, seconds to millions of years; for the so-called stable particles, like the proton and electron, billions of years.''
``You mean the stable particles aren't truly stable at all?'' Edwards raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Not permanently?''
Silence reigned for a short while as the room digested the flow of information. Edwards looked pensive. Miles Corrigan continued to remain silent, but his sharp eyes missed nothing. He smoothed a wrinkle in his expensively tailored suit and glanced at his watch, giving the impression of being bored and impatient. Massey spoke next.
``You see, like I Said, it's all pure academic stuff. Harmless.'' He shrugged and showed his empty palms. ``Maybe this once there's no reason for us not to have Washington check it out. I vote we clear it.''
``Maybe isn't good enough, Walt,'' Edwards cautioned. ``We have to be sure. For one thing, I need to be certain of the scientffic accuracy of it all first. Wouldn't do to go wasting Washington's time with a theory that turned out to be only half worked out; that wouldn't do ACRE's image any good at all. There are a couple of points that bother me already.''
Massey retreated abruptly.
``Sure -- whatever you say. It was just a thought.''
Clifford noted with no surprise that Massey had been simply testing to see which way the wind was blowing. He would go along with whatever the other two decided.
``Dr. Clifford,'' Edwards resumed. ``You state that even the stable particles possess only a finite duration in normal spacetime.''
``You've proved it ... rigorously ... ?''
``I see ... '' A pause. ``But tell me, how do you reconcile that statement with some of the fundamental laws of physics, some of which have stood unchallenged for decades or even for centuries? It is well known, is it not, that decay of the proton would violate the law of conservation of baryon number; decay of the electron would violate conservation of charge. And what about the conservation laws of mass-energy and momentum, for example? What happens to those if stable particles are simply allowed to appear and vanish?''
Clifford recognized the tone. The professor's attitude was negative. He was out to uncover the flaws -- anything that would justify going no further for the present and sending Clifford back to the drawing board. The mildly challenging note was calculated to invoke an emotive response, thus carrying the whole discussion from the purely rational level to the irrational and opening the way for a choice of counterproductive continuations.
Clifford was on his guard. ``Violation of many conservation laws is well known already. Although the strong nuclear interactions do obey all the laws listed, electromagnetic interactions do not conserve isotopic spin. Furthermore, the weak nuclear interactions don't conserve strangeness, nor do they conserve charge or parity discretely but only as a combined product of C and P. As a general principle, the stronger the force, the greater the number of laws it has to obey. This has been known as an experimental fact for a long time. In recent years we've known that it follows automatically from Maesanger wave functions. Each conservation principle is related to a particular order of resonance. Since stronger interactions involve more orders, they obey more conservation laws. As you reduce the number of orders involved, you lose the necessity to obey the laws that go with the higher orders.
``What I'm saying here . . . '' he gestured toward the paper ``is that the same pattem holds true right on through to the weakest force of all -- gravity. When you get down to the level of the gravitational interaction -- determined by lo-order resonances only -- you lose more of the conservation laws that come with the hi-orders. In fact, as it turns out, you lose all of them.''
``I see,'' said Edwards. ``But if that's so, why hasn't anybody ever found out about it? Why haven't centuries of experiments revealed it? On the contrary, they would appear to demonstrate the reverse of what you're saying.''
Clifford knew fully that Edwards was not that naive. The possibility that conservation principles might not be universal was something that scientists had speculated about for a long time. But forcing somebody to adopt a defensive posture was always a first step toward weakening his case. Nevertheless, Clifford had no option but to go along with it.
``Because, as I mentioned earlier, the so-called stable particles have extremely long average lifetimes. Matter is created and extinguished at an infinitesimally small rate -- on the everyday scale anyway; it would be utterly immeasurable by any laboratory experiment. For matter at ordinary density, it works out at about one extinction per ten billion particles present per year. No experiment ever devised could detect anything like that. You could only detect it on the cosmological scale -- and nobody has performed experiments with whole galaxies yet.''
``Mmm . . . '' Edwards paused to collect his thoughts. Massey sensed that things could go either way and opted to stay out.
Clifford decided to move ahead. ``All interactions can be represented as rotations in k-space. This accounts for the symmetries of quantum mechanics and the family-number conservation laws. In fact, all the conservation laws come out as simply different projections of one basic set of k-conservation relationships.
``Every rotation results in a redistribution of energy about the various k-axes, which we see as forces of one kind or another. The particular set of rotations that correspond to transitions of a particle between hi-space and normal space -- events of creation and extinction -- produces an expanding wave front in k-space that projects as a gravitational pulse. In other words, every particle creation or extinction generates a pulse of gravity.''
There were no questions at that point, so Clifford continued. ``A particle can appear spontaneously anywhere in the universe with equal probability. When it does, it will emanate a minute gravity pulse. The figures indicate something like one particle creation in a volume of millions of cubic meters per year; utterly immeasurable -- that's why nobody has ever found out about it.
``On the other hand, a particle can vanish only from where it already is -- obviously. So, where large numbers of particles are concentrated together, you will get a larger number of extinctions over a given period of time. Thus you'll get a higher rate of production of gravity pulses. The more particles there are and the more closely they're packed together, the greater the total additive effect of all the pulses. That's why you get a gravity field around large masses of matter; it isn't a static phenomenon at all -- just the additive effect of a large number of gravity quanta. It appears `smooth' only at the macroscopic level.
``Gravity isn't something that's simply associated with mass per se; it's just that mass defines a volume of space inside which a large number of extinctions can happen. It's the extinctions that produce the gravity.
``I thought you said the creations do so, too,'' Massey queried.
``They do, but their contribution is negligible. As I said, creations take place all through the universe with equal probability anywhere -- inside a piece of matter or way outside the galaxy. In a region occupied by matter, the effect due to extinctions would dominate overwhelmingly.''
``Mmm . . . '' Edwards frowned at his knuckles while considering another angle.
``That suggests that mass ought to decay away to nothing. Why doesn't it?''
``It does. Again, the numbers we're talking about are much too small to be measurable on the small scale or over short time periods. As an example, a gram of water contains about ten to the power twenty-three atoms. If those atoms vanished at the rate of three million every second, it would take about ten billion years for all traces of the original gram to disappear. Is it any wonder the decay's never been detected experimentally? Is it any wonder that the gravity field of a planet appears smooth? We have no way of even detecting the gravity due to one gram of water, let alone measure it to see if it's quantized. You could only detect it at the cosmological level. At that level, totally dominated by gravity, conservation laws that hold good in laboratories might well break down. Certainly we have no experimental data to say they don't.''
``That means all the bodies in the universe ought to decay away to nothing in time,'' Edwards pointed out. ``They've had plenty of time, but there still seem to be plenty of them around.''
``Maybe they do decay away to nothing,'' Clifford said. ``Don't forget that spontaneous creation is going on all the time all over the universe as well. That's an awful lot of volume and it implies an awful lot of creation.''
``You mean a continuous process in which new bodies are formed out of interstellar matter by the known sequences of galactic and planetary evolution; the newly created particles provide a source, to replenish the interstellar matter in turn.''
``Could be,'' Clifford agreed.
At last Edwards had drawn Clifford into an area in which he was unable to give definite answers. He pressed the advantage.
``But surely that requires some resurrection of the Continuous Creation Theory of cosmology. As we all know, that notion has been defunct for many years. The overwhelming weight of evidence unquestionably favors the Big Bang.''
Clifford spread his arms wide in an attitude of helplessness.
``I know that. All I can say is, the mathematics works. I'm not an astronomer or a cosmologist. I'm not even an experimental scientist. I'm a theoretician. I don't know how conclusive the evidence for Big Bang is, or if there are alternative explanations for some parts. That's why I need to publish this paper. I need to attract the attention of specialists in other areas.''
The string of admissions gave Edwards the moment he was looking for, a moment of weakness that could be exploited. It was time to move in the hatchet man. He half-turned toward Corrigan.
``What do you have to say, Miles?''
Miles Corrigan's official title at ACRE was that of Liaison Director, a euphemism for watchdog. Aloof from the hierarchy of line managers who reported to Edwards, Corrigan took his orders directly from the Technical Coordination Bureau in Washington, an office of the Pentagon that provided a rationalizing interface between the Defense Department and the various centers of government-directed scientific, research. Through the Bureau, the activities of practically all the nation's scientists were controlled and coordinated, both among themselves and with the activities of the other allies in the Western Democracies. The payer of pipers was firmly calling the tune.
Corrigan's job was to make sure that the right things got done and got done on time; that was the publicized part anyway. The unpublicized part involved simply maintaining a political presence -- a constant reminder that whatever things went on in the day-to-day world of ACRE, they were always part of and subordinate to the grand design of loftier and more distant architects. His brief was to watch for, track down, and exorcise ``counterproductive influences,'' which meant wrong attitudes, uninformed opinions, and anything else of that nature that threatened to affect adversely or undermine the smooth attainment of the Establishment's assigned objectives. Corrigan could track a subversive rumor back to its source with all the skill and tenacity of an epidemiologist tracing an outbreak of typhoid to its prime carrier. To avoid any witch hunts, it was safer just to say the kind of things you were supposed to say, or at best, not to say the kind of things you weren't. The scientists at ACRE called him the Commissar.
By temperament and background he was well qualified for the job. After walking through a first-class honors degree in law at Harvard, he had set up a lucrative practice in Washington, specializing in defending the cases of errant politicians -- at which he had demonstrated a prodigious skill. In the course of a few years he had incurred the lifelong indebtedness of a long list of fixers and string-pullers -- the only kind of friends that meant anything on his scale. of values -- and their tokens of gratitude soon added up to a permanent end to all of life's potential financial problems.
He married the daughter of a senator who had made his first million in a series of clandestine arms deals that had involved the offloading of whole ship-loads of substandard ammunition on unsuspecting recipients in Burma and Malaysia -- or so it was said. The allegations of the senator's involvement were never proved after becoming bogged down over a legal technicality. Miles Corrigan had seen to that.
Through the influence of his father-in-law and the goodwill of a number of friends with the right contacts, he entered government service at the right level to further his ambitions. His assignment to ACRE represented the final stage of his grooming before he made his debut on the international political scene. He had made it while still in his prime and was all set to fly high.
He took the cue, sensing a turkey being set up for the kill. When he spoke, his voice was icy and menacing, like the hiss of a cobra measuring its distance.
``I'm not interested in k-spaces, hi-spaces, or any of the other buzz-phrases. If all this boils down to saying that you've got something that serves the national interest, then tell us about it. If you haven't, then why are you wasting our time?''
He confronted Clifford with the sneering, unblinking stare that had destroyed innumerable confused and hostile witnesses. His eyes were mocking, inviting the scientist to court disaster if he dared; at the same time they were insistent, demanding an immediate reply. He caught Clifford completely unprepared.
``But ... that's not the point. This is . . .'' Clifford was surprised to hear himself stumbling for the right word. Even as he spoke he realized he was on the wrong foot and walking straight into the trap, but it was too late. ``We're talking about fundamental knowl--''
``Will it help us kill Commies?" Corrigan cut him short.
``No, but ... ''
``Will it help stop Commies from killing us?''
``No ... I don't know ... Maybe, someday ... ''
``Then why are you fooling around with it? How much time and resources has all this stuff taken up? What effect has all this had on the work you're paid to be doing? Massey describes it as a hobby, but I don't believe it's quite as simple as that. I' ve checked the amount of computer usage you've logged over the past six months and I've checked the current status of the projects you're supposed to be working on. They're all way behind schedule. So, where's all the computer time going?''
``I don't suppose Einstein had the A-bomb in mind when he developed special relativity,'' Clifford retorted, ducking the feint and walking straight into the uppercut.
``Einstein!'' Corrigan repeated the word for the benefit of the jury. ``He's telling us he's another Einstein. Is that right, Dr. Clifford -- you consider yourself to be on a par with Einstein?''
``I didn't say anything of the kind, and you damn well know I didn't.'' Clifford had recovered sufficiently to return Corrigan's look with a glare that could only be described as murderous. He knew that he was being drawn on to Corrigan's home ground. Somehow he didn't really care much any more.
``You're saying that we ought to allow you to dabble around with anything that takes your fancy and at whatever expense, simply in case you happen to hit upon something useful. Is that how we're supposed to preserve the security of the West? Doesn't the concept of organized professional objectivity mean anything to you people? How long do we have to protect you and the freedom that you're always talking about before you wake up to reality?''
Edwards stared uncomfortably at the table, having joined Massey in abdication. It was all up to Corrigan now.
``This isn't some kind of philosopher's utopia where anybody is owed the right to any living he chooses,'' Corrigan continued. ``It's a dog-eat-dog jungle; the strong survive and the weak go to the wall. To stay strong we have to get our priorities straight. Your priorities are all screwed up. Now you're asking us to follow suit and compound the offense by approving it.''
He took a long, deep breath for effect. ``No way. There's no way I'm going to tell Professor Edwards to give a carte blanche for even more time-wasting and misuse of funds and resources.''
Actually, Corrigan couldn't tell Edwards to do anything. His use of the word was deliberate, however, serving as a gentle reminder of his own power, if not authority, at ACRE. Edwards didn't argue the point. He knew that Corrigan's reports back to the Bureau would have a lot to do with whether he ever moved on to become chief at ACRE or something similar, or whether he ended up running a backwater missile test range on the northern coast of Baffin Island.
When the victim has been battered to a pulp and stripped of every shred of dignity, he becomes highly suggestible and will respond eagerly to even a slight gesture of friendship. Prison guards had been well versed in the technique throughout history. And Corrigan understood psychology well; he knew what made people tick all right.
His tone softened a fraction. ``Everyone's out of step except you, Dr. Clifford. We're all a team here, trying to do a good job. Why make it difficult? Once you make the effort to fit in, you might find that life's not really that bad.
``Don't you feel you owe it to this country and all it stands for -- the way of life we all believe in? Isn't it worth a few sacrifices to protect all that? Right now half the world out there is sitting and waiting for us to ease up for just one second so they can blow us all off the face of this planet. Are you just going to sit there and let it happen? Do you want them to come walking in here without having to lift a finger?'' Corrigan finished on a note that oozed all-in-it-togetherness. ``Or are you gonna join the team, do your share, and help us go out there and zap those bastards?''
Clifford had turned white. Corrigan and his propaganda epitomized everything abhorrent in a world that was going insane. And now he was expecting to enlist Clifford in the ranks of the mindless, brain-washed millions who had toiled and bled and died believing that line ever since the world began. There would always be Corrigans to ride on the backs of the masses -- for as long as there were willing backs to carry them. Clifford's voice fell to a whisper as he fought to control the anger that boiled inside, churning his stomach and bubbling up into the back of his throat like waves of nausea.
``I'm not interested in zapping anybody, mister ... not for you or for whatever you represent. Your system put me here; don't you tell me I'm screwed up now because I don't belong. Don't you tell me I owe anything to your system to help straighten out its mess. Save your garbage for the morons.'' Without waiting for a reply he got up and strode toward the door. Edwards and Massey remained silent, staring fixedly at the table. If Brad was flushing himself down the tubes, they weren't going to get caught in any of the back-splash.
Clifford, still shaking when he slammed the door of his office behind him five minutes later, began hammering a brief code into the keyboard of the desk terminal. At least he had tried the official channel. The outcome hadn't really been a surprise; that was why he had already prepared a long file in the data bank, ready for immediate transmission.
A woman's face appeared on the screen.
``Message Center. Can I help you?''
97.09.18 / Garth Huber