THE MESSENGER WEBISODES Episode 2.2: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I follow the school principal through the sparsely populated hallways of Horizon High School.  Most of the students have already left for the day, as have some of the teachers.  There’s a bit of awkwardness in my arrival, which leads to a welcome silence as I am shown the way.  On the first floor, in a corner of the building, she takes me to a room marked PHYSICS LABORATORY and opens the door.  I don’t know quite what to expect inside; the details of the assignment didn’t include that level of specificity.  What I see is quite surprising.  Inside is a single person, young, rather small, focused on a clear box that sits upon a table.  The box isn’t very large, just a couple of feet on a side; surrounding it is a wealth of electronic equipment—computers and meters and dials; the stuff of a modern-day mad scientist’s lab.

The principal speaks to the room’s lone occupant.  “Gregory, you have a visitor.  This is William Hauptmann from the National Science Foundation.  He’s here to work with you over the next two days, to be sure your project is ready for the science fair on Friday.”

The student gives me a cursory glance and then returns to his work.  Dr. Carson says, “Well, I’ll get out of your way and let you get started.”  With that, she exits the room, leaving me feeling woefully underprepared for what’s to come, in the extremely likely event that this science genius needs any degree of help from me whatsoever.

I need to break the ice.  “Hello, Greg,” I offer, hating it immediately.

“Gregory,” he says.

“I’m sorry?”

“Gregory.  I don’t go by Greg.”

“I’m sorry.  I …”

“Can you hand me a Lazlo meter?” he asks.

I look around the piles of instrument for anything that could possibly match that name; nothing obvious leaps out at me.  “Where did you leave that last?” I ask.

“You’re not really from the National Science Foundation, are you?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because there’s no such thing as a Lazlo meter, and someone from the National Science Foundation would know that.”

“I was told you were smart.  I should’ve known.”

“So, who are you, and why are you here?” he asks, still working on his project with part of his attention.

“My name is Tristan, and I’m here to protect you.”

This pulls him away from the device to face me.  “Protect me from what?”

“On Friday, at the science fair, people from the military are going to find out about your project, and they’re going to want to use it for their own purposes.  If you resist them—and from what I know, you probably should—you and your family might be in some danger.  So I’ve come here to help keep that from happening if I can.”

“Are you from the future?” he asks, as casually as if the question ended with “Iowa” instead of “the future.”

“No.  I just get glimpses of it sometimes, and I’m called on to keep bad things from happening.”  I have his full attention now.  “Somebody has decided that you are worth protecting.”

“That’s good, I guess.  Although, right now I wish you were from the NSF.  I’m having a problem with my project, and another scientist would be helpful.”

“Well, maybe I can help.  Lazlo meter mistake aside, I’m pretty smart, and sometimes an extra pair of eyes is just the thing.  What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m having difficulties calibrating the interstitial synchronizer,” he answers, and in this moment, I relive every instance in my life when I was sure I’d know the answer but absolutely didn’t have a clue.

“Uh … huh. Those can be … tricky.”

“It’s okay if you don’t know what that is. Only about six people in the world do.”

“Suddenly I don’t feel so stupid then.  I suppose if I’m going to do my job, I should know what your science project is.”

He steps over to the clear box on the work surface and says, “It’s this. This is ITTCh.”

“And what exactly is … ITTCh?”

“It stands for Interstitial Time Travel Chamber.”

A look of astonishment comes to my face. “Time travel … as in … travel? Through time? You can do that?”

“Not if I can’t calibrate the synchronizer. There have been a lot of theories over the years about the possibility of time travel, using general relativity, special relativity, wormholes, black holes, faster-than-light travel. One area that’s always been overlooked, until now, involves the interstitial time matrix. There are holes between seconds, each a tiny fraction of a second long, that have a specific harmonic frequency that can be measured, located, predicted, and identified. I wanted to create a device to link these holes, these interstices, and find a way to transport a specific photon to a precise time, based on that link. That’s what ITTCh does. It makes that link.”

I’m barely able to follow along.  He patiently explains the process that he and his physics teacher came up with for isolating subatomic light particles and manipulating them within something he calls the time matrix.  This teenage boy’s mind is operating at a level that I could only dream of achieving.  It’s a good thing I’m not here to help him with the science, because I’d be useless.

“So when you asked me if I was from the future, the question wasn’t just out of left field.  You thought that a future incarnation of yourself had succeeded to the point where you could send someone back.”

“That was my hope, anyway.”

“How likely is that?”

“I don’t know yet,” he answers. “At the moment, I’ve got it to work with photons, but not with anything solid.  The second round of tests would be on an object.  A pencil, an apple, a piece of paper.”

Those last words trigger a realization in me.  “A piece of paper.  Could it have writing on it?”

“I … I guess so; I haven’t thought about it, but yes, I suppose it could.”

“So you’re saying that if this project succeeds, you’d be able to send a written note—a warning—back through time.”

“Yeah, I guess I would.”

“Gregory, now I know why the military wants to get its hands on this project.”

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Of Royalties and Statistics

I got a little present from the universe this weekend; my royalty checks arrived for last quarter.  I’m not about to retire on the earnings, certainly, but I was pleasantly surprised that the amount on the checks merited a trip to the bank to deposit them.  While it’s good to have the week’s groceries paid for by the characters in my books, there’s a satisfaction that transcends the financial.  What it tells me is that people are reading what I’ve written.  The expectation is so obvious as to be above mentioning, and yet…

Being an author in the early twenty-first century is a strange undertaking.  Thanks to the advent of self-publishing, literally anyone can be an author.  For many reasons, I can’t find fault with this; it gives me a career, and it gives me the opportunity to be the novelist I’ve always dreamed of being.  What it also gives me is competition; lots and lots and lots of competition.  The old saying goes, “Everybody’s got a book in them.”  Self-publishing takes that book out of them and puts it on the market.  Today’s book buyer (a diminishing audience, thanks to the plethora of alternative entertainment available) is looking for a quality read.  With so many titles being published per month, how can anyone possibly know what’s worth reading?

In 2007, the Washington Post reported that one in four adults read no books in the past year.  None.  Zero. Here are some other disturbing statistics:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Source: (http://buzzmachine.com/2006/07/21/the-book-on-books/)

It’s enough to make you want to clutch at your head and shout, “Holy crap, what am I doing this for?”  But then you get a royalty check in the mail, and you see that some people out there—despite the disheartening statistics—have thought of you enough to purchase your work.  I’m smart enough to know that some of these come from friends and family, but others don’t.  Strangers read a synopsis of what I wrote or saw an image of the cover or anxiously awaited the final installment in the series, and they purchased my book.

Part of my concerted effort to do more marketing involved sending queries to 100 literary bloggers, asking them to review the first book in my series.  Thus far, none of the reviews has been published yet.  Some said they don’t have time; others said they’d get to it later.  I did get a reader review courtesy of Penguin’s Book Country (www.bookcountry.com), a wonderful site for authors.  It’s not that I’m looking for validation (I think) or self-esteem bolstering (I guess).  I just want people to know these books are there, and in my humble opinion, they’re a fun read.

So I get the word out, and I maintain my blog.  I submit to bloggers, and I make copies available for free sometimes.  Some people like the books; others not so much.  But every time someone tells me they’ve read one, I think back to those grim statistics, and I content myself to know that at least somebody’s reading.