Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast
When Alice asked the White Rabbit, How long is forever?
He replied, Sometimes just one second.
Inside the warehouse, fluorescent lights glare down on miles of cooling ducts and bright bundled wires that snake across the floor. Lab coated professors and postdocs swarm over the enormous machinery looming at the center of the room. The whole place hums with bridled power.
I walk past the suits and generals standing on the observation platform, and cross the broad yellow caution strip on the floor to stand by Paul who hovers over the empty pod like an expectant father. “Good morning, bunny.”
He turns to me and smiles, taking both my hands in his. “Good morning, Dr. Jackson, you’re late.” I nod and he winks, “You ready to go down the rabbit hole?”
My given name is Alice, and it’s a running joke around here because I am about to get very, very small.
“You’re shaking,” he says. He’s made an effort to look presentable, though his fresh lab coat is already rumpled.
“I’m OK,” I assure him though my voice trembles. “I’m ready.”
Paul helps me climb into the time machine. The pod looks like a transparent egg with a single bucket seat.
“God, I missed you last night,” he says low, so no one else can hear. I look at the stubble on his chin, the dark circles under his eyes. It’s all come down to this moment. “A kiss for good luck?”
I tilt my head toward the small crowd of spectators. “Let’s wait until I come back before we call your reputation for objectivity into question.”
He smiles, “Deal.”
The top closes over me and seals with a quiet hiss. I’m shaking hard now. I close my eyes and concentrate. Long, slow breaths.
The theory is that time travel might be possible if we can figure out how to get small enough. The world only appears solid to the most casual gaze. Look at anything through a microscope and smooth surfaces reveal wrinkles and yawning crevasses. The smaller you are the more porous everything becomes. This is true of time as well. If Paul’s time machine can make me small enough, the current of time that carries us all inexorably forward will break up allowing me to drift through the eddies.
Outside, Paul retreats and the machines wind up. My heart races. I’m dizzy, then weightless. Light diffuses and the shapes in the room disperse as the pod shrinks, then floats lazily through the hyper-local spacetime in the warehouse. Scintillating microscopic wormholes wink into and out of existence in the twilight dimness. A nearby one pulls me through with a bright flash. I hold my breath, but the pod is intact and I am whole. The objective is to prove that I can go and return; the hope is that the elaborate chronograph strapped to my wrist will show that I have moved sideways through time. Since it doesn’t matter where I go exactly, any road will get me there. After months of preparation, I relax at last, sit back and watch the indistinct shapes and colors shimmering in a curious jiggling vibration. Gorgeous and utterly alien. I’ll never be able to describe it to Paul.
Other specks of light appear dotting the darkness. I lean forward squinting at one of the bright spots, and my breath catches. Another egg-shaped pod drifts toward me. I press my hand against the curved hull. The other Alice does the same as we pass each other, her expression just as surprised as I imagine mine must be.
The controls consist of a single button labeled “Return.” I hit it and the pod slowly changes direction. Dozens of pods swim through the darkness. Dozens of Alices. I’m shaking again. As the minutes tick by on my chronograph, I keep trying to figure out where, exactly, I’ll be returning to.
Then Paul is hauling me out of the pod and we’re clinging to each other. Tears roll down his cheeks. Everyone’s eyes are on us. He mouths, I love you.
“Paul?” is all I can say in response. Which Paul is this? Which universe?
He grabs my wrist and looks at the chronograph. “My God,” He marvels. His eyes search mine. “For us, the pod was gone for a less than a minute!” He holds my arm up like a prize fighter and shouts, “Two hours, forty-six minutes, eighteen seconds!” The postdocs whoop. There is a round of applause from the suits and generals. “How do you feel?”
“A little lightheaded, probably because I skipped breakfast.”
His eyes cloud with concern. “Are you sure you’re OK?”
I lay my hand on the rough stubble of his cheek and his face blurs. “Paul,” I say – because he is Paul.
He is a Paul.
“Can you go again? Go and come right back, just to show the peanut gallery that it’s repeatable, then I’ll take you out for breakfast. I believe champagne will be in order!”
I blink the tears back and smile. “For you, I’ll go.”
He helps me back into the pod, then bends down and gives me a quick kiss before sealing it.
The air inside the capsule is oddly fresh. Just hours ago, I’d left our apartment to drive alone through the moonless night on a road that bisected the desert. Moving through space and time like an arrow. I’d rolled the windows down. There is a certain smell just before the sun rises to heat the sand and drink up the dew the night air has secreted under the rocks and agave spikes.
The machines wind up, and I’m drifting again among all the other glimmering pods. We gaze at each other, some Alices smile, wave. Fellow travelers lingering in this wonderland for a few moments more before we return to our warehouses, our deserts. Here we have all the time in the world. All our Pauls and our infinite breakfasts and bottles of Champagne will wait for us.