Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 12, Pt. 1

Here is yet another installment of my unfinished novel, The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the starship Captain who made the first contact with extraterrestrials in the 28th century (some 2.5 centuries before the time of The Termite Queen).

A list of the previous posts (point to the chapter and the link will appear):
Prologue
Chapter 1 The Captain Eats Crow
Chapter 2 How Robbin Nikalishin Got His Name
Chapter 3 The Captain Receives an Unexpected Assignment
Chapter 4 School Days at Epping Academy
Chapter 5 The Captain Takes Command of the Red Planet
Chapter 6 Crises and Decisions
Chapter 7 An Old Love and Another Assignment
Chapter 8 (Pt.1) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.1]
Chapter 8 (Pt.2) Robbin Nikalishin and Sharlina Graves [pt.2]
Chapter 9 Aboard the Ore Freighter Hell's Gate
Chapter 10 How the Relationship between Robbie and His Silver Mother Changed
Chapter 11 The Captain Receives an Unconditional Reprieve
 
       Still employing the usual flash-back/flash-forward format, Chapter 12 follows Chapter 10.  The young Robbie desperately tries to find ways to cope with his disillusionment with his mother.  During the process he discovers the joys of birding, but nevertheless his term studying physics at Oxkam can't come too soon. 
  

Chapter 12, Pt. 1:
A Summer Adventure and a Term at Oxkam
2746-2747
 
The last half of his Second Form year was hell for Robbie.  He came down with his annual cold shortly after the episode that would forever live in his memory as that “foggy night in Epping,” and so for a while he could excuse himself from going home on Off-Days by saying he didn’t want to give his ailment to his mother.  But that excuse could last only so long, and when he was again forced to spend time with Sterling, they were like dinner companions who, having discovered that their politics are diametrically opposed, are trying desperately for the duration of the meal to remain polite and avoid dissension.  When he was at school, he was taciturn and edgy.  His teachers ascribed it to the pressures of completing certain academic requirements before he went up to Oxkam.
As the end of term and the subsequent six-week summer holiday drew near, Robbie grew even more nervous.  Kolm would be going home to Eira and he wouldn’t have the calming influence of their relationship.  The thought of spending six weeks in his mother’s flat drove him to the brink of contemplating suicide.  But he found a partial way out; he learned of a three-week summer institute for bright preppers at the Grenich Observatory and he talked Prf. Quinston into reserving him a place in it.  Epping possessed a small refracting telescope, but astronomy wasn’t a specialty of the school, and it seemed appropriate that somebody who wanted to fly to the stars one day should seize every opportunity to gain such knowledge.  And the institute was perforce residential, since stargazing can only be conducted at night.
That would take care of half the holiday period, but Robbie still didn’t know what to do about the other three weeks.  The counselors insisted that he should take a break from studying before going up to Oxkam.  But they couldn’t know that a stint of living at home was likely to stress him out worse than he already was …
A few days before the term was to end, Kolm finally confronted him.  “Man, what’s the matter with ye lately?  Ye’re as crabby as a cat with sand fleas up his ass, and ye’ve been that way for months.  I think ye’d best be sharin’ with me what’s wrong.”
Robbie said, “Nothing.  Don’t ask me, Kolm.”
“I haven’t said anythin’ up to now because it just didn’t seem polite to be pryin’, but ever since ye went down in mid-week to tell yer Mum about the Oxkam thing, ye’ve been nothin’ but an aggravation.  Whatever happened to ye that night?”
Robbie’s reaction surprised even himself.  He stood up and belted Kolm in the mouth, laying him out.  Then he picked his flabbergasted friend up off the floor, saying, “Now look what you went and made me do, Goody.  Bloody hell, can’t you stop being such a busybody?  Can’t you stop trying to run my life?”
Kolm stood working his jaw from side to side and checking whether all his teeth were in their proper places, and he said, “There, that just proves what I said hit a nerve.  I think I’m gonna keep bein’ a busybody till ye talk to me.  Ye can’t see yeself like I can, Robbie.  Frankly, lad, I’m a bit worried about ye.”
“I just … can’t talk about it, Kolm.  Don’t ask me to,” said Robbie miserably.
“All right, but I just want to be a help to ye, man.  I don’t think it’s healthy going on the way ye’ve been.”
“How can you be like you are, Goody?  Here I just punched out my best friend and he isn’t even angry.”
“Well, I can’t deny, I am a little miffed.  But what good would it do to be angry?  Ye’d have the weight on me in any fight.  And fightin’s not me style, anyway.  I’m a talker, Robbie.  Ye ought to make yeself to be more of one.  And ye ought to use yer natural sense of humor, man.  Ye have one, do ye remember?  But I’ve seen little of it worth mentionin’ this past spring.”
“I know.  I’m sorry, Kolm.  But just don’t ask me talk about this.  I can’t … I just can’t ever talk about it.  But I hear what you say.  My behavior’s been rotten for people who haven’t done a thing to deserve it.  I’ll make an effort to act more civil, Kolm.  I promise.”
“Let me just say this … and don’t ball up the fists again, friend of mine – I’m not sure me teeth would tolerate a second whack!  Ye made this desperate effort to get into that institute, when I woulda thought ye’d have jumped at the chance to spend some time with your Mum before we go up.  And ye’ve been avoidin’ goin’ home on the Off-Days – don’t think I haven’t noticed!  It’s that ye don’t want to spend the last three weeks of the holiday with yer Mum, isn’t it?  Ye don’t have to tell me why, although it must be a sad situation and it makes me feel very bad, man, indeed.  But maybe I have the answer for ye.  Remember when ye told me about the birders’ club that Ms. Stythe was talkin’ about?”
Robbie said nothing, stuck in the misery of realizing that his state of mind was so transparent, and Kolm continued, “Ye seemed so intrigued by what she’d said, laughin’ and fair bubblin’ over, ye were.  Why don’t ye see if ye can go on a birdin’ excursion?  The teachers want ye to have some recreational time – what could be more recreational than hikin’ around in the fresh air peerin’ at little feathered creatures through VEs?  To be honest, it doesn’t appeal that much to me, but you … ye’ll probably think ye’ve died and gone to the otherworldly paradise.”
So Robbie did that.  He consulted the biology instructor Ms. Stythe, and she contacted a nearby birding club and found they had scheduled a two-week August outing to the south coast to observe sea birds.  They were eminently respectable people, mostly over the age of 50 and endowed with the single-minded focus common to birders, and they were delighted to think that this bright young Epping pupil would want to tag along on their old-fogy outing.  They promised to take good care of him and suggested that he join them at the rail terminal at Suthamton on the 10th of August.
Robbie went to the Village to tell Sterling about this addition to his summer plans.  She stood in a patch of shadow between two bars of sunlight and said, “I congratulate you, Robbie.  You’ve found really ingenious ways to avoid me this summer.”
He clenched his jaw.  “It’s not that … it’s just … these are great opportunities.  I really can’t pass them up.”
“Of course they are.  Of course you can’t.”
And then, as if he could punish himself by saying hurtful things to her, he said, “Besides, if I stay here with you so long, I’ll be interfering with your work.”
She stood so still that she seemed carved out of the shadow.  Then she said, “I’m looking for a flat in Lunden.  I doubt if you’ll have time to come down from Oxkam next year very often anyway, so there’s really no point in my living in Epping.  I can get cheaper accommodations in Lunden, and besides … ”  And suddenly her voice dripped with sarcasm.  “ … I’ll be nearer to my … work … that way.”
He could feel the slap she had inflicted upon him back in February stinging afresh on his cheeks.  “Then maybe I’d better take the rest of my belongings out of here before I go to Grenich,” he said.  “You may be gone by the time I come back.”
“It might be wise,” she said.
So he did that, taking everything including his space plane, which he returned to its location on the dresser of his dorm room, no longer caring what anyone thought about his display of it.
And so one distraction that might have interfered with Robbie’s success at Oxkam was eliminated, but the misery of his damaged maternal bond remained embedded like a spike in the depths of his psyche.  He could not begin to understand how to cope with such a situation, and so all he could do was try not to think about it and get on with his life.
*          *          *
       The birding excursion, however, really did work wonders, diverting Robbie's mind from his distress and cheering him up.  In that two weeks, he found a hobby that he was never to forsake, and he discovered that people who were neither his peers nor his heroes could be charming and amusing and absolutely delightful to know.  The group took the scenic train along the Dorset and Devonsheer coast all the way through Kornwell to Landend, with a detour through Stone Hedge country on the way home.  Robbie had never seen anything of his adopted land outside of Lunden Prefecture and Epping, and he had had no conception of its beauty and mystery.
The birders would disembark from the train at various points along the way and hike the rocky coast with a merciless stamina that left the 16-year-old huffing.  They identified several species of gulls; they saw common terns and Sandwich terns, sandpipers stalking the beaches, and even a sooty shearwater.  Storm petrels flew off the coast of Kornwell.  In the evenings the group would return to the rail line and bunk in various tourist hostels along the route, although a couple of times they camped out overnight along the beaches, loaning Robbie enough gear to tide him over. 
Viewing the sea for the first time from ground level was an awe-inspiring experience.  Swimming was discouraged along most of the world’s coastlines, but the water in the south of Britan had been cleaned up sufficiently to allow Robbie to venture into its unfamiliar medium.  The sensation of the stuff of the sea creeping against his skin only added to his sense of awe.  He could imagine that space was like this – endlessly vast and ceaselessly in flux – a place of nothingness and fullness, fearful peril and ultimate reward – a place where heroes are made.
At night he would lie on his back and lose himself in the stars, and it tickled his fancy to think that he, the callow young Robbie Nikalishin, could enthrall these dignified old gentlemen and ladies with lectures on the constellations.  They asked him how he had come to be so fond of birds, and he told them it was because of these same stars – they had made him want to fly like a bird so he could go into that sky one day.  Then they had to hear all about his plans and dreams, exclaiming and questioning with a na├»ve, non-judgmental enthusiasm.  He quite fell in love with them all and they in turn with him; they called him their mascot and invited him to come birding with them whenever he wanted.  He and they possessed a mutual understanding of the eccentricities of the obsessed.
Robbie had taken Kolm’s advice to heart, about learning to use words and humor to his own advantage, and he found these slightly pixilated birders to be the perfect subjects for practicing those skills.  It does not seem unjustified to say that his conversational adroitness and his ability to use humor to help himself deal with uncomfortable situations may have been birthed in that first birding excursion.  He found that both skills added a good deal of fun to life.  They also provided an excellent means of shielding one’s soul.
When Robbie returned to Epping, his mother was gone.  She had left him a rather formal message giving him her new address and com number and saying she hoped he would come down for a visit before Mikelmess term convened.  He sent her a message back saying that he and Kolm were going up a little early for orientation and he would have to defer the visit.  He heard nothing more and relentlessly pushed the situation into the background of his consciousness.
*          *          *
Robbie was fortunate to be able to room with Kolm again in the Edmund’s Adjunct House at Oxkam, because he didn’t find those other intellectually elite students who shared the residence all that compatible.  He and Kolm were the only advanced physics students in the House, and he had trouble relating to artists and musicians and economists and budding dramatists.  Enrolling in the military or becoming a space pilot had never entered the mind of a single student there; in fact his fellows looked at him askance when they learned of his ambitions.  A couple of youngsters were studying ornithology, but they were less natural historians than research-oriented types who tended to produce essays with titles like “The Effect of Class G19 Herbicides on the Chemical Composition of the Yolks of Pheasant Eggs at Three Distinct Points of Embryonic Development.”
Kolm, on the other hand, got along with everybody; he had a naturally open and sunny disposition and the ability to find something agreeable to talk about no matter whether his conversation partner was a Professor of Griek Poetry or the deliveryman.  And he simply laughed at pomposity, while Robbie’s impatience with snobbery and the pretentiousness of rank was mushrooming.
Of course, this impatience got Robbin Nikalishin into trouble; he became a familiar sight in the waiting room of the Discipline Officer, and the words “wayward,” “stubborn,” and “uncooperative” cropped up frequently in his records.  But, although he could never say afterward that he enjoyed every aspect of the year he spent in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, he realized that the knowledge he was gaining and the contacts he was making were essential to the future he had in mind for himself.
He and Kolm were privileged to be studying under two of the premier temporal quantum physicists of the time.  One of them, Prf. Claud Flournoi, was a theorist, a Specialist in Alternate Dimensional Temporal Analysis, which took Iven Herinen’s basic equations up several levels.  He was an easy-going, 45ish man, with a big, soft body and a slight French accent that betrayed his birth in Marsay Prefecture.  He smiled easily and his door was always open. 
The other, Prf. Karlis Eiginsh, was the Temporal Quantum Applications man.  He was less easy to like – a nervous little fellow with fishlike eyes, who had the stubby fingertips of a former nail-chewer, always wore a scowl, and snapped at his students if they interrupted him.  Furthermore, he persistently called Robbie “Mr. Nikerishin.”  Robbie fumed about this to a degree that made Kolm shake his head and say, “Just calm down, Robbie, boy – at the rate ye’re going, ye’ll be gulpin’ blood pressure medication afore ye’re twenty!  He calls me ‘MaGillicruddy,’ but do ye see me poppin’ a valve over it?”
Robbie felt immense respect and awe for the intellectual brilliance of both of these Professors, but he considered it lucky that he had drawn Flournoi as an advisor while Kolm had been stuck with Eiginsh.  Kolm didn’t mind and Robbie was pretty sure that Eiginsh and himself would have quickly been cursing at each other.
It was during Hillarious Term, about a month after his seventeenth birthday, that Robbie first began to draw special notice.  Prf. Eiginsh was lecturing one day to his class of five Adjuncts and university freshers on the subject of the formation of temporal quantum loops.  It was hypothesized that below the chaotic sub-quantum brane of 11-dimensional superstrings existed a second dimension of time that manifested itself as temporal quantum loops.  It could be said to project in a different direction from the brane – downward, said the Professor, if you must have a way to visualize it, and completely outside our plane of existence, although attached to it.  It possibly served as the first dimension of time in a parallel universe, just as the time that Earth knows would be the second dimension of time in that universe.  Mathematical models showed that within their own universes temporal quantum loops were non-chaotic and stable, but this hypothesis could not be demonstrated experimentally, since the classical assumption was that no physical relationships exist between entities of the multiverse, except for some insignificant leakage of quantum energy.
However, Iven Herinen had hypothesized that if energy can leak between dimensions, so can quantum time.  Ever since he had perfected the formulas, experimental physicists had been trying to force one of these secondary time loops to pop into existence on our side of the brane, by manipulating high-mass particles within various types of electromagnetic and gravitational fields.  Detection would be achieved by noting some anomalous effect, like a distortion of the EM field, transitory graviton fluctuations, or a deflection or momentary discontinuity within a stream of weak-force particles.  However, any phenomena that might have occurred was too unstable or too infinitesimal to persist long enough to be detected.
“What is necessary,” Prf. Eiginsh was droning, “is to find a set of events that will force a loop to fold.  The formation of a fold should create a minute residual electromagnetic effect … ”  Eiginish interrupted himself to point out the pertinent elements of the formulas displayed on the big viewing screen.  “ … which, with our increasingly sensitive detection equipment, we should be able to discern.  However, inducing a detectable expanded, stable, secondary temporal quantum fold employing particles of high mass and standard EM/grav containment fields has proved virtually impossible up to now.” 
Robbie suppressed a yawn.  All this had been covered more than once in previous lectures; the man was a veritable fount of repetitiveness.  But then probably some of these befuddled-looking students weren’t as capable of following the thread as he was …
But now Prf. Eiginsh was introducing something new.  He flashed a fresh model up on the view screen and said, “A different approach, however, was suggested several years ago by the late Prf. Irina Hilo of the Moska Consortium.  It involves a process of bombarding the least massive of atoms – hydrogen and helium – with a focused beam of neutrinos … ”
Robbie had woke up and now he interrupted.  “There’s an anomaly in step five of that fourth formula, Professor.”
Eiginsh grimaced.  “I know that, boy.  Will you kindly allow me to finish?  The discussion period will come later.”
“Sorry, sir.”
The Professor proceeded to work his way through the model.  The other students were getting more confused by the minute, but Kolm and Robbie looked at each other, thinking the same thing.
“It becomes obvious that the commonest isotope of hydrogen,” Eiginsh was saying, “yields a reconcilable model.  The anomaly crops up when we posit the apparently non-reactive collision of a neutrino with the nucleus of a deuterium atom.  Some additional entity is required to complete the model.  After extensive exploration, Hilo concluded that nothing reconciles the model except a second-dimension time loop; no hitherto known particle emission or interaction could account for this particular anomaly. 
“Since hydrogen-1 contains no neutrons, it would appear that it is the neutron in deuterium with which the neutrino is interacting.  Similar results are obtained with tritium and with helium, but in a less straightforward fashion.  It seems the heavier the element, the greater the quantum chaos factor and the more difficult it becomes to isolate and detect the results.”  He worked through some more formulas.  “Neutrinos pass constantly through all matter, causing an effect in perhaps one collision in 10 billion as a single particle passes through the thickness of the Earth.  Now it appears that those collisions might be producing a hitherto undetected effect – that of inducing secondary time loops.  It is an effect that has no deleterious impact on matter because a loop in itself effects nothing in our universe, and it’s doubtful that even one in a billion loops becomes a spontaneous fold.
“So it is now being hypothesized that transitory, harmless secondary temporal quantum loops are being produced constantly throughout our universe.  It’s even been postulated that the rare spontaneous temporal quantum folds may be responsible for some of the unexplained events that occur occasionally – things like psychic phenomena, hallucinations, prophetic visions, or sudden inexplicable disappearances.  That’s tangential to the more fundamental inquiry that we’re pursuing here today, but it certainly is possible that such folds could cause rare alterations of matter or glimpses into alternate realities. 
“However that may be, experiments with potential TQ fold technologies are presently ongoing, involving the bombardment of deuterium atoms with neutrinos.  One venue where this is taking place is the Temporal Quantum Research Facility in Okloh Prefecture, Midammerik.  That complex is the first operational element of the Herinen Memorial Space Port.”
“I’ll bet I know what they’re finding,” said Robbie, unable to contain himself.
Eiginsh ground his teeth, fixing his eye on the irritating youth.  “And what would that be, Mr. Nikerishin?”
Unable to stand it any longer, Robbie said, “It’s Nik-a-LEESH-in, sir – Nik-a-LEESH-in.  I’d really appreciate it if you could pronounce my name properly.”
Seated next to Robbie, Kolm rolled his eyes slightly, but Robbie didn’t really care.  The man owed his students the courtesy of getting their names right.
Eiginsh cocked his head, took a breath, then expelled it.  “I’ll work on that.  And since you seem determined to have your say, why don’t you just take your pointer and explain to the class where I’m going with this?”
“Yes, sir.”  Unfazed, Robbie used his desk port to manipulate some figures on the screen.  “See, this won’t work, nor this, nor this.  Actually, I’m not sure what would work.  But if you could achieve exactly the right modulation and density of the neutrino bombardment – it would probably have to be pretty dense, denser than anything we can generate at the present time, maybe – along with the proper pressure and temperature for the deuterium, you could probably induce a secondary fold that would last long enough … ” His voice was rising in excitement.  “ … long enough to accomplish something.  I’m not sure what, but something.”
Robbie seemed to have Prf. Eiginsh’s attention, and the other students were gaping at him.  Only Kolm was nodding as if he had expected it all along.
“As a matter of fact,” said the Professor, “a fold could be generated that could encompass a quantity of matter … ”
“Maybe a significant quantity!” cried Robbie, his excitement becoming uncontrollable.  “Isn’t it true, Professor, that a fold is capable of transporting – transporting – matter?”
“So Iven Herinen hypothesized.”
“Well, then, why not create one big enough to encompass a space plane and transport it across the universe at FTL speed?” cried Robbie.
Now it was Kolm who couldn’t restrain himself.  “Robbie, boy, it’s an interstellar drive ye’re after inventin’!”
Some of the students snickered, but Robbie said, “I’m serious!  Why couldn’t a neutrino-producing accelerating reactor be developed that would induce one of these loops to expand?  To be converted into a kind of … oh, call it a cloak … large enough to serve as a time-quantum drive in ships?  Sort of swoosh the ship across the surface of the brane and dump it before the fold pops back into its own dimension.”
Prf. Eiginsh leaned back, folded his arms, and stared intently at his ebullient student.  Finally he replied, “The proper term for the phenomenon is ‘pod.’  Temporal quantum pod.”
Robbie stared.  “You mean, somebody else already thought of that?”  There were additional snickers, but Robbie ignored them.  “Wait a minute!  The SkyPiercer Project – its headquarters are at the new Herinen Space Port!  Is that what the Project is working on – a drive that uses time-quantum technology?  How near are they to perfecting it?  What’s … ?”
Prf. Eiginsh waved a hand.  “Sit down, Mr. Nikarshin!  Class is dismissed for today!  Nikarilshin, stay a minute, if you will.”
“Sir,” said the incorrigible Robbie, “pardon me, but there’s no ‘R’ whatsoever anywhere in my last name.”
Kolm was on his way out, but he shot back, “Muzzle it, Robbie!”
Robbie sighed.  “Sorry, Professor.  It’s only that I’ve always had trouble with people butchering my name.  There’s a smart aleck over at Edmund House who calls me ‘Licorishin.’  Of course, she does it on purpose to aggravate me.  I don’t think that’s what you’re doing.”
Eiginsh fixed his bug-eyed stare on Robbie, then actually laughed, just a couple of short explosions, but Robbie thought that was a start.  “Sit down, boy.  What do you know about the SkyPiercer Project?”
“Only what’s on the public Ed Base.  That’s not much.”
“Did you know I’m a member of the Advisory Panel?  So is Flournoi.”
“Actually, I didn’t know that, sir.  That’s exciting!  What can you tell … ?”
Eiginsh ignored the question.  “Your ability to forecast the implications of this very complex mathematical model I threw at the class today is – rather impressive.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“Since you have such a lot of confidence in your own abilities, I’m going to give you some extra work.”
“Yeah?”
“Stop by the Departmental Offices at 1800h.  There’ll be an info key there with your name on it.  It will contain some formulas.  Let’s see if you can solve any of them by our next tutorial … uh, that’s five days off, I believe.  Of course, you’ll have to complete the regular assignments as well.”
“I’ll do my damnedest, Professor!”
“For some reason I believe that.  See you then, Mr. Ni … kar … ”
“Nik-a-LEESH-in, sir.”
“Yes, well, whatever.  Under other circumstances, I’d call you by your given name, but the beefeaters in the Administration like us to maintain a certain pretense of decorum with the younger students.  Dismissed.”
*          *          *
Robbie got a bit less sleep than he needed during the next five days and when he confidently presented his solutions to Eiginsh, the Professor mercilessly tore them to shreds.  Robbie held his own, however, quickly grasping his errors, reordering his thinking, and following through with some suggestions of his own.  When he told Kolm about all this afterward, the young Eirishman was impressed.  “I can follow what ye’re sayin’, but I don’t think I coulda devised it on the spur of the moment.  Ye’ve got to have one of the most adept brains for this sort of foolery that’s ever been bred, lad.”
The tutoring sessions continued, during which a frustrated Robbie was bombarded with every possible situation that could thwart the formation of a temporal quantum pod substantial enough to enclose something as large as a ship.  They got into the problems of duration, distance, and trajectory.  Could such a pod be stabilized long enough to drag a ship across the galaxy?  Would the length of a jump be fixed or variable, and what means could be used to control it?  How could one compel the loop to destabilize at the desired destination?  How long would such jumps be – a few meters, a hundred thousand kilometers, or a dozen light years?  What would happen if two loops should intersect?  What would be the effect on matter – and especially living matter – within the pod?  What time effects would take place within the pod?  What would happen to matter in the path of the trajectory?  And what was to prevent the pod from destabilizing at the wrong moment and dropping the ship in the middle of a star, for example, or in the event horizon of a black hole?
But in all this work Robbie never could get Prf. Eiginsh to discuss what was going on in the SkyPiercer Project, or to state the point to which its work had progressed.
Coming soon:
Chapter 12, Pt. 2: 
Robbie meets Kolm's Eirish family during the Midwinter holiday 
 

2 comments:

  1. Wonderful! - thank you. I feel better now that I've had my fortnightly fix of TMWFBATS. I shall mull over events for the next two weeks.

    But I'm so disappointed in his ungrateful attitude towards Sterling. I really hope he gets his come-uppance, and Sterling gets reconciliation soon.

    And I love the quantum interaction between the neutrinos and the dense partical bombardment causing the secondary time folding - must work on that ...!

    More, more, more Lorinda!

    Neil

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    Replies
    1. Well, I plan to put up the 2nd part of this chapter (you can see my chapters were getting longer and longer, which made the alternation of timelines awkward) and I'll probably put up the conclusion to Ch. 11, because I don't want to leave that hanging, but I warn you, I'll probably stop after that. I've decided to work on preparing MWFB for publication and to throw out the alternating timelines. I'm going to be writing a post on my plans - in fact, I may work on it today.
      I'm glad you liked the fictional physics technobabble. I'm always afraid knowledgeable people (and it sounds like you are - are you a physicist?) will scorn my efforts as the work of an ignoramus!

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