Sitting two rows behind Wu, she prided herself on not having collapsed yet. Despite the muscle tone she had partially regained after emerging from eighteen years in a medical link bed, simply moving around was exhausting. Sitting quietly, Liz was able to stop panting and straining. She soon recovered a little. Thinking of the call she had overheard, she shook her head. For all his benevolence, what drew Wu was not the plight faced by his objects of interest, but their emotional development without childhoods. Their finite pasts.
She was thinking more of their futures. According to Cheiron, this third champion would be a humdinger, his term for exceptional. Could they keep the knowledge of – and access to – the undocumented Realm “Home” secret forever? If not, where could the lad grow up?
Liz distracted herself the way some physicists do, by doing some physics.
The standard model for Grand Unification of all forces for decades had been the eleven-dimensional string theory that said particles are not ghostly dots at all but vibrating line segments. (In m-theory, which the five competing versions of string theory had collapsed into, the “string” was actually a 1-D slice of a 2-D membrane vibrating in hyperspace.) The extra hyperspatial dimensions required by the theory gave the string enough room to resonate in so many different ways that it could be any particle imaginable. The only trick was these extra space dimensions had to be tiny, had to be curled up so we didn't trip over them in everyday life.
The overunity trick Shlomo had discovered implied in her paper led to the practical extraction of “free” extra energy from spin in the higher dimensions. (It may also have led to the War, since his lab at Technion was directly under the second fireball at Haifa that began W3.) It had also powered Liz's Infernal Device, nicknamed the Hellbomb, an isotope-free bomb which required no uranium to unleash tremendous yields. She had finally been horrified by it, and she had absconded with its keys after locking and booby-trapping it to prevent the UE Strategic Weapons Division dismantling and reverse-engineering it.
Now she was considering peaceful uses of the overunity cascade. It might be difficult to generate small amounts of energy with it, but one high-energy use, at least, remained. – they could use it to power high energy research – instead of building bigger and bigger colliders!
Another idea struck her. If you could rotate the thrust of a nullifier in any direction, how about thrusting along the fourth axis to move in time? How about thrusting along the higher spatial dimensions to move “sideways” – into parallel universes?
But even in a simple application, the reactionless thrust of the nullifier, powered by the inexhaustible energy of the Kaplan overunity cascade, would be a recipe for space colonization. Even if they never developed FTL warp drive or whatever, you could use the nullifier thrust to accelerate to any relativistic velocity desired. And never worry about carrying or gathering enough fuel. You could always swivel the thrusters and reverse burn without turning the ship to slow down when you were near the destination. You wouldn't arrive butt-first.
She wondered if anyone was exploring that possibility. Her knowledge of the Real World was twenty years out of date, from hiding out in Wu's Enclave. For example, from her recent research, Liz knew that there were habitats at the L5 point now. But had humanity gone any further? She made a mental note to look into that later.
Still, thinking of space exploration always got her thinking about the continuum. According to some quantum mechanics theories, it wasn't a continuum, but a foamy chaos. However, the two-photon observations from decades back argued otherwise. As always, the problem was to construct a model for space-time that could satisfy a ridiculous set of requirements. Naturally, it had to support all known forces – that was the thinking behind the unified theories like m-theory that folded all forces into geometric symmetries of a single “superforce” that could wear all hats.
The problem with it, as Liz saw it, was that such theories tended to start with what they wanted to derive (the forces) and then attempted to work out mathematical justifications for their unification as aspects of a single force. What if, instead, you presumed that unification as another requirement and began, instead, with spacetime and matter and used them to derive the forces, instead of the other way around?
She had to smile when it occurred to her that what she was trying to create was an explicitly aether-based mechanics. So many had tried that route and wandered off into obscurity that the very word aether was anathema to respected scientists. Until about a hundred and fifty years earlier, the “light-bearing” or “luminiferous” ether had been one of the few things scientists could agree had to exist. From the simple fact that light could be seen as waves it appeared obvious that waves had to be waving in something – there had to be a medium to support them – had to be something to wave. Can't wave a flag without a flag.
The problem with such thinking was the seemingly contradictory properties such a medium would have to have, in order to support all the observed phenomena.
First, of course, it had to be intrinsically capable of supporting powerful forces. At the same time, however, it had to be so thin and insubstantial that it allowed planets and moons to slip though it frictionlessly – or else all orbits would quickly decay and there would be no planets – or atoms! But what kind of substance could be frictionless on the large scale and yet support titanic forces on the small scale?
One version tried to explain it as a non-differentiated fluid – a fluid without particles! But that, of course, tried to save the ether by abandoning matter. Any fool out there with a cloud chamber could see there were particles zooming around, making spirals when they were in a magnetic field. So if the ether had no constituent particles, then where did electrons and protons and all the rest come from? They had to come naturally from first principles.
Other theories tried to picture the aether as composed of unusual unobserved particles, like tachyons or gravitinos. The problem with this approach was that it was building castles in the air – edifices without foundation. Imagine trying to explain what we see based on things we can never see! And yet they tried. It was an itch that scientists could not avoid scratching, sooner or later – the Theory of Everything. Finally Einstein had put a stop to most of the aether theorizing, by using the fact that electric and magnetic fields can cause each other. A photon could be seen as a packet of energy that flexed as it moved, the electric and magnetic forces causing each other in a self-renewing way so that the disturbance propagated at velocity c. In this description, the energy moved through empty space – there was no longer a need for a medium to carry light. The medium that made magnetism from electricity was math.
Liz's approach was different. She presumed all observed particles, including photons, were part of the aether. The trick, as she saw it, was to brew up an aether from them that would satisfy the contradictory requirements imposed by what is observed to occur.
Her hope was that his approach could somehow avoid the troubling infinities that infested most theories sooner or later. When Feynman had formulated Quantum Electrodynamics he cleverly gave it the acronym QED written at the end of mathematical proofs from the old Latin saying “quod erat demonstrandum” meaning “which was to be demonstrated”. QED theory nearly deserved this pun – it was the most successful theory ever developed, accurate to a lot of decimal places. But Feynman, too, had been plagued by infinities. If the electromagnetic field got stronger as you got closer to a particle, then you would reach infinitely high values merely by getting very close. Feynman's solution was called Renormalization, and Feynman himself admitted that it was a parlor trick, a dodge, a contrived scheme for subtracting infinities from infinites so that only finite quantities were left. Unfortunately it was the only known way to get rid of all those infinities, so it became a standard part of QED theory.
A kinder interpretation of renormalization was that it was a symmetry-cancellation version of the Feynman path integral – the sum over histories. Simply put, if you considered all the possible ways that a photon might travel to get to a point, all the wiggly ways, then when you added them all up the left wiggles canceled the right wiggles, so that the result of including all possible paths was the simple straightline path that we observe. This was intuitively satisfying, because it allowed all possible behavior in theory but reduced it to normally observed behavior in practice. It was an admirable achievement, and showed why the complete shape of a mirror or a shade has to be included in the calculations in its entirety – even the points on the mirror where the straight line motion of a photon doesn't seem to ever hit. Why? Because the alternate paths of the photon do hit those places – and you have to include all possible paths to get the correct result.
One of the reasons some physics theories had all those extra dimensions was the desire to eliminate the infinities by equal and opposite symmetric infinities. That is, to admit that they exist, but to make them ignorable by including their opposites as well – as the path integral included the infinite number of left-wiggles and right-wiggles.
To while away the hours of the SCRAMJET flight Liz amused herself by cooking up an aether theory. Start with the known: that particles exist, that virtual particles exist, and that they interact. Now, she thought, derive a “continuum” that would support light, gravitation, strong and weak nuclear forces, and stable orbits.
Her solution was to make the bubbling quantum sea of virtual particles the foundation rather than a derived result. No! Assume the most basic foundation is data. From her experiences in the virtual Realms of PanGames Liz was inclined to take a computational approach to particles. Instead of thinking of them as things, think of the particles as all of the possible configurations of the fundamental datum of existence. I exist, therefore I might exist as a photon, an electron, a pion, a proton, etc. Think of these as processes, logic flows that process inputs and compute behaviors.
Suddenly Liz regretted never looking into the programming specs for spintronic matrix quantum computers. Might be some excellent clues there that would help her – in a sense some of the work she was contemplating had already been done. Her aether was the computational substrate for reality, as spintronic crystals were the computational substrate for virtual reality.
All right. She activated the screen on the chair back facing her and began tentatively sketching out the elements of her computational model of the continuum, tracing diagrams with her fingertips, dragging equations and terms into path and volume integrals. The end result of all computation has to be the universe we see. Now just work towards that without assuming it.
Picture a mass surrounded by the “aether”.
What is the aether? It is not empty space, because it is brimming full of matter – the Dirac Sea. A little 'extra', and you see a particle, a looming wave on the surface of the Sea – a “fuller than average” region. That 'extra' came from somewhere else, which is now an emptier-than-average region – an antiparticle. It is full of matter – the energy density is incredibly high. The nature of this aether is such that it is composed of all possible variations of mass-energy, all possible particles going in all possible directions – but none of them permanent. Virtual particle flux is not like electric flux or magnetic flux. They and others like them are long lanky lines of field-force influence that show by their curve the direction of the force and by their closeness or density, the intensity.
Virtual-particle flux is woven from very short lifelines of borrowed energy that soon must be – and will be – returned to the Void. Each moving pencil writes but for an instant – an interval in which the particle may move a distance or strike another object. These distances are small. This dashed-line tapestry explains why large objects glide through it never feeling its presence. The shadow moves on the face of the waters.
Remarkably, the energy density of “empty” space-time is immense. A particle is like a penny rolling on the surface of an ocean of coins! The space an electron moves though is so filled by the Dirac sea of invisible shadow electrons – negative energy states – that if you looked perpendicularly to the surface you would see a penny casting its shadow on a limitless line of pennies underneath it in the ocean. But more than that – the penny is supported and surrounded by coins of all denominations – all the in-laws of the particle families.
All right. Now Newton's First Law is obvious, given sufficient symmetry. A billiard ball in the Void will not suddenly start moving in any direction, because it is being struck by (or absorbing) all the nearest particles coming from all directions equally. A macroscopic state of rest continues.
Add the slightest asymmetry, however, and the picture changes. Say there is a large mass like another billiard ball nearby. Well, it will partially shield the first ball from particles that hit it instead of the other ball – and vice versa. Now the particle flux on the billiard balls is unbalanced. They will be be pushed toward each other by the “Casimir” force of exterior particles. We have gravity. Einstein's famous gravitational field tensor relating energy density to spacetime curvature can be shown to be mathematically equivalent to the aether-imbalance description of gravity, if you use the idea that mass-energy concentrations will impede some of this virtual particle flux.
Why was gravity the most commonly-observed force, and the hardest to block? Because the computation did not actually care which particles were unbalanced on the billiard ball. You cannot block gravity with a magnetic field because gravity would use all of the other particles (including neutral ones and virtual bosons) that did not care much about magnetism.
When you used a particular (no pun intended) species of particle to create an asymmetry, then it would generate only one aspect of the “superforce”. There were as many potential forces as there were kinds of particle – but only one kind of gravity, because it uses all of them. This was why, to date, the only way to cancel the Earth's pull on an astronaut wanting to practice moving in zero-gee (other than floating in a diving airplane or a descending elevator) was to have a stronger mass than the earth or a strong mass closer to you than the center of the Earth was. The thing that made this approach to “nullifying” the Earth's gravity impractical was the tremendous mass-energy required to be placed overhead. Not to mention disastrous side-effects.
This talk of nullification reminded her of the humming gravity nullifiers, the Weiss-McKinley effect. It had come out of UE-funded research after the post-W3 recovery had enabled expanded research grants. How did they fit into this theory of hers? The problem was, it had been developed after she went into hiding with Wu at his virtual therapy center Enclave. She had not kept up with Nobels since her hiding, afraid to break cover by making any physics-related data interrogatives over the backbone protocols that connected the PanGames quantum server and the outside UNET. The hunger for information – information she knew she could not ask for – was another part of her penance-in-exile that she had devised for herself.
WK gravity nullifiers. First, the name was a misnomer. The WK effectors did not actually nullify the presence of gravity. They merely provided a countering thrust against it, like the lift of an airplane wing or the buoyancy of a helium balloon. Countering is not nullifying. And a good thing too! If you suddenly nullified the gravitational pull on a SCRAMJET or a police cruiser, the imbalance created would fling it violently into the sky, thanks to the centrifugal force of the spinning Earth. It would be like foolishly letting go of the safety bar of a merry-go-round while you were spinning around in it. Not a smooth way to take off.
The trick of the WK nullifiers was their reactionless thrust. They did not work by shooting matter down to push the plane up, like old-fashioned rocket engines did, using Newton's Third Law of Motion. In fact, the nullifiers seemed to violate the Third Law, something thought impossible until it was demonstrated and replicated by other scientists.
It is important to understand the difference between Newtonian and WK thrusters. If nullifiers worked like rocket engines, then they would scorch, melt, or crush rooftops when floaters took off. They were called non-Newtonian thrusters because they only pushed in one direction., which was normally up. They didn't try to push the Earth out from under your plane – they pushed the plane up into the sky, like the lift of an airfoil or the tug of a helium balloon. Neither an airplane wing nor a helium balloon affect the ground underneath it. Neither did the nullifiers.
Pulling up the WK papers, Liz extracted their equations and compared them with the ones she was formulating. Whatever else her aether model succeeded in would be meaningless if it conflicted with the demonstrable success of the nullifiers.
Looking into it, she realized with a bit of excitement that the WK equations were a special case of her general descriptions! If there were no forces without the aether's particles, then the nullifiers had to work by generating a reactionless flow of momentum-carrying particles. She knew from descriptions she had read that proximity to working nullifiers caused some disruptions of communications: there was evidently leakage of some of the energy into the massless photons that carried radio waves.
But how do you generate asymmetric particle emission? Actually, examples of it were already known. Atoms lined up by spin in magnetic fields could be observed emitting more of one particle from their north pole than their south pole. It was called parity violation. But that was useless for reactionless thrust – because when an atom emits a particle it feels, by Newton's Third Law, a kick in the opposite direction, as if it were a tiny rocket shooting exhaust out of its tail, or a cannon surging backwards in the gun deck as it hurls a cannon ball forwards.
The WK nullifiers, by contrast, used complex field interactions to induce the creation of particles already in flight in the desired direction. They were not emitted from anything material – which was why there was no reaction to the thrust, no pushing in the opposite direction – hence the term 'reactionless'. If you used a “nullifier” to push a space ship, it would be pointing at the ship, not away from it. Or at least at part of it, say a plate on the end of the nullifier.
Liz wondered about the shielding problem. Those induced particle beams would generate a lot of radiation when they hit something solid. But using massive lead shielding to protect the passengers would only defeat the purpose – by adding more weight to lift! How did they get around this? She ended up straying from her theory-building to look up the blueprints of the nullifier-augmented SCRAMJET.
The answer, she found, was in the type of particles employed. The WK nullifiers did not generate a broad spectrum of particle flux; they concentrated on pions, the particles that used to be called “pi-mesons”.
Pions were once thought to be the carriers of the strong nuclear force, the force that held atomic nuclei together despite the mutual repulsion of their protons. But that idea was soon supplanted by the idea that the strong force was created by gluons, the same particles that “glued” together the quarks that made protons and neutrons. The strong force, it was now widely believed, was an effect of leftover residual gluons. In other words, the same force that held three quarks together to make a proton leaked out of the particle to make it stick to other protons in the nucleus. It didn't leak very far, so solitary protons flying through space would swerve to avoid each other, as electrons do.
Despite the fact that they were no longer needed by theories to glue nuclei together, pions continued to exist. They were more massive than electrons but lighter than protons, which was why they used to be called pi-mesons, where the word meson was meant to imply “in the middle of” – their mass was between that of electrons and protons. They were called pi-mesons to tell them from other particles “in the middle” such as the mu-meson, (now called muons) which was kind of a fat electron.
Pions interact strongly with neutrons. A neutron can absorb a positively-charged pion and change itself into a proton. So if you direct a strong beam of pions at a piece of dense matter, some of them will be absorbed – as will their momentum! (And some of the neutrons in the atoms will be changed, making some of them radioactive.)
But what about the pions that manage to get through the target? That was where the mass of the pion came in handy – because it required a very short lifetime. Pions came in neutral and charged varieties. The charged variety tended to exist for only .000000026 seconds. (The neutral ones lived even more briefly.) Even traveling near the speed of light, such particles, if they managed to penetrate the target that was supposed to “catch” their momentum, would travel an average of only about six hundredths of an inch before they ceased to exist. Einsteinian time-dilation would lengthen this somewhat if they were closer to light speed., which was why pions could be detected on the Earth's surface that were created in the upper atmosphere by the collisions of cosmic rays with gas molecules. But if you “created” them in a different way than by collisions, so they moved more slowly...then shielding would be no problem at all. You wouldn't have to put a foot of lead in the floor of your plane.
Hmm, she thought. Make a note of this: WK effect implies cheap transmutation such as turning mercury into...well, radioactive gold. And other processes.
She was even more excited when she saw that the WK effect was actually a special case of the Kaplan induced cascade. Her version used all particles, but they had discovered a special case that created powerful beams of pions moving around the speed of sound – way too slow to extend their lifetimes enough to penetrate even thin shielding. Ah so desu ka! That explained why the nullifiers were so noisy! Their humming was an acoustic bleed-off of energy from the pion beams. The beams had to be powerful, to get enough thrust from the tiny slow-moving pions, and minor irregularities in the flow generated unbalanced stresses in the target material – which caused it to vibrate, hence the humming noise. It also explained the electromagnetic interference – no physical process is perfect, so there were plenty of waste photons spraying off in all directions. Not enough in any one direction to completely disrupt adequate radio waves – since binary radio can retransmit missed data packets – but enough to lower the bandwidth – the data density of the signal.
Liz shook her head, thinking off how warfare on Earth would have been different if the WK effect had been discovered earlier. Flying tanks and WK floaters for troop carriers would have made terrain moot. Ballistic missiles would launch without rocket fuel. Cruise missiles would need no wings for lift or direction control. Carriers could float far above stormy seas, so even weather would present no problem for such navies. In many ways, she reflected, we were lucky that the tricky field interactions and tight tolerances of WK thrusters delayed their discovery.
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