MUTUAL REGENERATION MACHINE
‘Vaclav, do you seriously expect me to believe we're surrounded by another, invisible universe where time goes backwards?’ Austin Kramer shook his head in amazement, scanning the huge laboratory replete with equipment of seemingly infinite variety and chemical concoctions of constant reaction and surprisingly colourful effect. Wiacek had really gone overboard on this one!
‘That's it, yes, more or less,’ Doctor Wiacek said, tenderly eyeing his creation. ‘I'm on the threshold. So near, in fact, that I wanted you to be the first to see what odd effects can be achieved once inter-universe transfer occurs...’
‘So, that's why you got me here, is it?’ Kramer walked over to a chain of coils and cathodes and diffuse coloured chemicals bubbling and hissing rainbows, wires zinging and singing redly with their own peculiar currents seething through ... If he remembered correctly, Wiacek had plagiarised this theory from a London physicist three or four years ago. He’d enlarged upon it, run his own experiments, developed his own tests ... But the idea wasn't new ...
‘Vaclav, I know this theory has some very honourable fellows speaking for it, but, really, you can't imagine such a universe actually existing outside of pulp science fiction! It's comic book stuff!’
Wiacek just sighed.
‘Anyhow, how'd you manage to convince the University to part with funds to finance such a project?’
Vaclav Wiacek smiled artfully, bowed. ‘My computers here don't just assist in the number-crunching legwork of this revolutionary theory - they accurately determine the odds and back winners in all the big races ... I need never work again - ever...’
‘You're incorrigible, you really are! Whatever next!’
The machinery's whirring grew louder.
‘Is it - supposed to do that, Vaclav?’ Kramer enquired falteringly.
Wiacek grunted. ‘How do I know that? It's only a prototype - but I expect it's all right...’
Flipping some ponderous toggle switches, Wiacek levelled his gaze on Kramer. ‘I don't wish to be pedantic, but do you understand what I'm doing? Really?’
Kramer simply shrugged. ‘Only that you postulate - at second-hand, I might add -that our present-day one-way experience of time is illusory, that really the lopsidedness is balanced in this other universe of yours ... That's all...’
Wiacek sighed again. ‘I want you to understand it, Austin.’ His accented voice was slow and deliberate, patience personified: it irked Kramer considerably. ‘You have been a close, if rather over-critical, associate of mine for many years - yes, we've had our differences, but hasn't everybody? I wanted to show you I'm not a crank theorising the impossible, day-dreaming with idle speculation. Tonight I hope to have the proof... No, tonight I will have the proof!’
The creation coughed and gurgled: some liquid gushed, sounding almost like applause.
‘That's very kind of you, Vaclav. I don't believe in this universe of yours, but I'll stick around.’ Kramer smiled condescendingly. ‘Maybe I can be convinced, eh?’
'You will, Austin,’ Wiacek promised, ‘you will...’
After a moment's pause, he added: ‘I'll try keeping the background short. You're obviously aware I, er, “borrowed” this theory from an eminent fellow in London. That was evident by your cutting aside earlier. Be that as it may, the concept has been substantially advanced by me.
‘As you know, Nature tends to be very symmetrical - except where this time concept comes into it. The second law of thermodynamics is quite clear: it's a one-way, lop-sided process. We can dive out of an airplane, but can't rise back up to the aircraft again; we grow older, not younger. Radioactive atoms disintegrate into atomic particles; the particles don't reassemble to form a new atom. So! But other other laws tend to confuse the issue. Take luxon particles: a light particle travels from a stationary position to the speed of light without any acceleration at all! Yet it's not conceivable, surely? But that's what light does ... Or the tunnel diode, where electrons pass from one side of an electrical barrier to the other without going through it!
‘Why, indeed, should some aspects of our universe seem asymmetrical in relation to time, then?’
Kramer's brows lowered. ‘Go on, I'm following you so far.’ A little self-consciously, he studied the burping and hiccupping machinery behind them; it seemed louder now...
‘Well, if there were a second, time-reversed universe, this symmetry of nature could actually be upheld, preserved, couldn't it?’
‘Life would end at birth. Parents would outlive their children ... Their future would be our past. Our whole set of beliefs would be turned on its head! It just isn't possible, Vaclav. You can't have the egg before the chicken ... it isn't rational!’
‘Would you say that if I provided proof of detection, I wonder...?’
‘Proof? What proof?’
‘I injected that black rat you see over there in his cage. The solution advances the ageing process. He was ageing rapidly; I then exposed him to this machine's ray treatment - just like a sunlamp really - and he vanished from sight.... He must have done some kind of 'time-flip' into this other universe. For, an hour later, when the ray-treatment must have weakened, back appeared the rat, younger than when he vanished. The answer is obvious. In the other universe, he grew younger not older; of course, once back in our universe he began ageing again. I keep him alive by time-flipping him when he looks like ageing too much... Mind you, I don't know how long he will stand up to it...’
Kramer approached the remarkable rat, its pointed snout twitching as it munched on food. A lot of its hairs were grey now... ‘Can you 'time-flip' him now, while I'm watching, Vaclav?’ Scepticism shaded Kramer's request.
‘Certainly - but aren't you first going to enquire as to why I've built this machine?’
‘I never really thought about it. You mean, you have some application in mind?’
‘Certainly. One of the most important aspects would obviously be if we could exchange matter, even people, between our universe and this retrograde one. We would then have the nearest thing to immortality - a perpetual state of mutual regeneration... Nobody need ever get old!’
Kramer was dumfounded. ‘Why, that's fantastic - if it works ... But how do you know when to bring our universe's people back?’
‘It could prove awkward - in the early stages, mind. My indispensable computer has produced some fairly interesting figures, estimates of the time it takes to age a year, and so on... I haven't proved them, yet.’
‘Well, if I could see the machine working, and it did actually produce the effects you're postulating, then I would certainly change my opinion, Vaclav. We'll be rich, famous - it would be a marvellous contraption - in circumspect hands, of course...’
‘That's why I brought you round, Austin,’ Wiacek said. ‘I wanted you to see, first-hand what this “contraption” is capable of.’
‘Ridiculous is this But.’
Kramer tried attacking Wiacek, suddenly aware that the ray-beam had been bathing him all the while. But Wiacek simply floated through him like a ghost. Within minutes, Wiacek dwarfed him then disappeared completely.
He was shrinking. He looked at his hands: the calluses, the lines, all had gone ... He was getting younger! This was incredible. He forgave Wiacek the trick he'd played; he couldn't wait to be returned to the time of his own universe, to congratulate him...
He wondered how much of a ray-dosage he'd undergone... Indeed, how did Wiacek know what the right dosage would be?
He was small now. Thoughts fogged. He felt afraid.
He wanted his Mama...
SLAP! Scream: gasping his first lungful of air...
So warm, so secure; he moved slightly, kicked, but remained in the foetal position...
The single spermatozoon fused with the ovum... just as Wiacek reached down for them, beneath the microscope. ‘So, you've returned! That'll teach you to disbelieve me,’ Wiacek chortled and popped the fertilised egg in a test tube and sealed it.
‘Now, who else thinks I'm mad and harmless,’ he asked himself, searching his memory for all the critics and detractors in his career.
Previously published in Dream Magazine in 1989.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
At the time of originally writing this story (the late 1970s, it underwent several rewrites!), I hadn’t heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1921 short story ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ published in his collection Tales of the Jazz Age.
If you enjoyed this story, you might like Spanish Eye,
my short story collection featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases
published by Crooked Cat Publishing.