The Space Escalator

By Brian Robinson.

Interstellar Transporter

Today was a very special day for Jamie. Today he was flying off to Florida for the holiday of a lifetime.  Most boys who were just about to jet off to Florida would have one thing on their minds: Disney-world. But as the giant jumbo jet rumbled down the runway, and the earth fell away beneath him, the only thing he could think of was visiting the space centre at Cape Canaveral. The Johnson family had timed their holiday with precision. They were off to see the launch of the Space Shuttle.

    Jamie was only seven, but already he knew a great deal about space. He knew for example that black holes are massive collapsing stars that suck in everything that dares to come near. He knew that anti-matter is something you can never touch or come into contact with. If you do, you will be annihilated. And he knew that there was a mysterious substance out in the universe that scientists refer to as Dark Energy. Dark Energy is something no one has ever seen, yet it makes up most of the cosmos. Oh yes, and he knew that pretty much all scientists tended to have mental hairstyles.

     Jamie was excited, but his mum and dad were excited too. This was their first visit to Florida and this was the first time Jamie had been on a trip to a different country with them. They were also a little bit nervous because their son had a long history of being mischievous. His favourite trick was to play hide and seek on his parents and he had become something of an expert.  Most of the time this did not cause problems, however, the Johnson family were going away on holiday to a strange country and they really did need to know where their son was at all times. As the jet reached cruising altitude his mum looked at his dad and said,”Don’t worry, I know exactly what you’re thinking. There’s nowhere he can hide on this plane where he can’t be found. Just relax will you! Enjoy the trip!”

“I just hope he doesn’t mistake one of the exit doors as somewhere to hide,” his dad said. “Nothing would surprise me with that boy.”

     The main purpose of their visit was to see the launch of the space shuttle. It was scheduled on a more or less routine mission to bring supplies to the international space station in orbit around Earth. Jamie was absolutely fascinated by the thought of space travel and he wanted to find out everything he possibly could on this visit.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

As it happened, Jamie spotted someone with a large tuft of hair sticking up above a seat about three rows ahead of him. He wondered if this might be a scientist. He asked his parents if he could go and say hello to some of the other passengers. They said it would be all right as long as he didn’t make a nuisance of himself. Jamie plopped into a spare seat next to the man. He looked like a character from a Dickens novel. His hair was jet black and sticking out in all directions. His glasses were perched on the end of a long and pointed nose, and his clothes looked as he had put them on straight from a washing machine. The man was typing away furiously on a laptop and was talking to himself at the same time. He seemed lost in his world. Jamie thought he would risk being nosy and so he asked the man what he was writing.

“I’m writing an article about time travel” the man replied. “Most people think you can’t travel in time but I believe you can. You see if you want to time travel you either have to go extremely fast, or you have to find a way to make time go backwards. Now we can’t make time go backwards, however, I have invented a machine that will allow us to go much faster than the speed of light. It allows us to go so fast that in an instant we can go anywhere in our galaxy, or indeed, anywhere in the universe. The machine is still being tested of course, but the technology is proven.”

“That’s absolutely amazing,” said Jamie “It’s unbelievable.”

“Well, if you like the idea of my machine, and you are going to Florida anyway, why don’t you come and visit me at the space centre. I’ll give you a bit of a tour and show you some of my inventions.”

“Oh would you. That would be brilliant. How will I find you?” Jamie asked in his most excited voice.

“My name is Professor Adams. Everyone knows me at the space centre. Just ask anyone when you get there and they’ll tell you how to find me.”

    Jamie thanked the man for his kind offer and made his way back to his seat. He told his parents about the conversation with the Professor and about the invitation to the space centre. His parents looked at each other and smiled. “Listen son,” his dad said, “We don’t know this man, and besides, I think he was just having a bit of fun with you. There is no such thing as a time machine. And I doubt if he even works at the space centre, and anyway, even if he does he’s probably just being polite.”

The launch pad at the Space centre

    Two days later, Jamie and his parents arrived at Cape Canaveral and were on their way to the viewing platform. The shuttle was due to lift off in about an hour. They were in a group of people and Jamie’s parents were deep in conversation with another couple. Jamie thought he would try and find Professor Adams as his parents were preoccupied. He made an excuse that he had to find a toilet and would catch up with them shortly. Henry’s mother said, “Now look here Jamie, you find a toilet and come straight back. Do you hear?”

“Yes mum,” said Henry. “I promise I’ll be right back.”

As soon as his parents were out of sight, Jamie began to look for Prof Adams’ laboratory. The first person he came across gave him directions and he soon found himself standing in front of a door with Professor Adams’ nameplate on the outside. Jamie knocked then immediately stepped inside. The laboratory was a large room with men in white boiler suits working on various projects. Jamie saw the Professor working away in a far corner on what looked like a very complicated machine. It was built around a capsule that housed a central seat which in turn was surrounded by computer screens and endless dials and switches. Outside the capsule there was what looked like a laser arm. The arm pointed skyward out through an opening in the side of the building. Around the machine there were all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and a whole tangle of connecting tubes and cables.

    Jamie walked over to where the Professor was working and said “Hello, I assume this is your time machine?” The professor looked up from what he was doing and gradually began to take in Jamie’s presence.

“Well, strictly speaking it’s not a time machine, it’s actually a Space Escalator. It can take you out into space at incredible speeds. You can go from here to the end of the galaxy in millisecond. So it’s really more about space travel than time travel. “

“Has it been tried out yet?”

“Not exactly. I’ve sent things out into space, or at least I think I have. They’ve disappeared from the laboratory here, but there is no way I can tell where they went or if they ever reached their destination. The problem is, I can’t send things over short distances to test the machine out. You see this machine turns people or objects into light and light travels at an already amazing speed, then it turbo charges the photons to reach infinite speeds.  The machine simply can’t cope with distances that are not huge. I’m not exactly sure how to move forward as far as testing is concerned.”

“Can you show me roughly how the machine works,” Jamie asked.

“Yes of course,” said Professor Adams. He then began pressing buttons firing up the computers and opening valves etc. He demonstrated how to target the laser where you want to send something and showed him which buttons to press. It all looked quite straightforward really. Jamie asked the Professor if he could target the laser on a planet at the outer edge of our galaxy and the professor showed how easy this was. He then let Jamie sit in the seat and he got used to the feel of the machine.

A message came out over loudspeaker system, “Would Professor Adams please report to the launch area immediately. Professor Adams to the launch area.” The Professor made his excuses and left the room saying he would be back very soon. As the professor left, two things went through Jamie’s mind. First, he thought wouldn’t it be a great idea to use this machine to play the best game of hide-and-seek ever on his parents? And second, he thought wouldn’t it be a great idea to help the professor test out his machine. He then began to wonder what it would be like to visit a planet at the edge of the galaxy. As he thought more and more about this his hand began to reach to the button that would start the machine. He didn’t think further; he didn’t hesitate; he pushed the button and then held his breath and his hands over his ears.

    The sensations he felt next were like something no human being has ever felt before. There was a flash of light which seemed to penetrate his whole body and vaporise it. Then here was a whooshing sound in his ears that he found deafening but he felt no sense of movement. In the next instant he found himself gasping for breath. He didn’t have any idea where he was, all he knew was that he couldn’t breath. Then he heard a voice saying, “Tell me how high you can jump?” This seemed really silly to Henry at the time, after all he was choking to death. Then the voice asked again, “Tell me how high you can jump. Just show me with your hands.”Jamie spread his hands about a half metre apart to show how high he could jump and then the voice said, “Drink this.”

Jamie drank the liquid down and gradually he began to find his breath again and his eyes began to open. Everything now was as black as the night sky. He felt he was lying on some sort of bed in what he thought might be a hospital but there was so little light it was impossible to tell. A shadowy figure was bending over him and it had two torch like eyes giving out two tiny beams of light. “I asked you how high you could jump because that told me about the atmosphere on your planet. On this planet there is no limit to how high we can jump. You obviously come from a planet with a substantial atmosphere so I have given you a fairly high dose of liquid oxygen. That will help you breathe, at least for the time being. You see the air here is very rarefied so you will always need to be given oxygen. If not, you will die. “

The person speaking was different. Jamie assumed she was female because she had quite a squeaky high pitched voice. From what little he could see, she was as thin as a shadow and as black as ink. She had a head and a body, and what could be described as arms but she didn’t have legs. The shadow hovered. He couldn’t see a mouth and her voice seemed to come from somewhere within.

“Where am I,” asked Jamie?

“You are an uninvited guest on the planet Loar.  We do not welcome strangers here. You will have to explain why you’ve entered out territory without permission.”

“What is going to happen to me?”

“For as long as we can keep you alive, which probably won’t be very long, you will be imprisoned here.”

Jamie didn’t like what he was hearing. His adventure had gone horribly wrong. Using what little light there was he looked around the darkened room for a means of escape. He saw what he thought might be a door and without thinking, which was typical for him, he leapt from the bed and ran for the door. Once on the other side he found himself falling through space and darkness. He wasn’t travelling at any great speed, but nonetheless down and down he went. This seemed to go on for an eternity until suddenly a hand grabbed him and a voice said “You must come with me.”

The hand that had grabbed him belonged to a strange translucent being. It was like something you might find in the depths of the oceans. It was almost transparent and there were green lights that could be seen flashing within. It had some sort of body, and something you might call a head, but there were no legs and it didn’t look much like the other being he had met.

Jamie found himself being whisked through the air by this creature darting this way and that past a maze of what looked like coloured spheres. These spheres were of various sizes and either sat on slender poles or were strung down to the planet’s surface with cables. They seemed to be the buildings of this planet. From a distance, he thought they could be things like houses, institutions and schools etc. Very little seemed to be going on at ground level. After a short time the look of the buildings began to change. They entered a different area where the buildings were now a variety of shapes rather than being all spheres. Jamie finally was whisked into one of these buildings.

“You will be safe here,” said a voice from within the creature. The room Henry found himself in was unlike anything he had ever seen. It was clearly designed for someone who could float rather than someone who had legs.  There was no furniture as such, but what items there were were placed all around the floor, walls and ceiling. Henry could clearly see the features of this creature because the room was well lit. It had a long blue single eye and something that looked like a nose or snout. It had peculiar ears but no mouth. He couldn’t be sure, but again, going on voice alone, he thought this must be a man or boy.

“That was a close escape, “the voice said.

“I don’t understand,” said Jamie. “What sort of place is this?”

“Well it’s a bit complicated, but essentially this planet is inhabited by two very different groups of people. The person you were just with is what we call a Nightling. They are only active at night and they most definitely do not like strangers, especially when they come from other planets. They interrogate all aliens and then imprison them indefinitely. I am what we call Daylings. We are only active during the day and we welcome visitors from anywhere in the galaxy. My job is to rescue any visitors that manage to escape from the Nightlings.”

“Oh my goodness” said Jamie. “I couldn’t bear being locked up forever. I would never see my mum and dad again, never see my brothers or my friends.  That would be terrible.”  

“Well don’t worry. You’re safe now. No Nightling can ever reach you here.  My name is Tuf by the way, can I ask your name?”

“My name is Jamie.”

“Can you tell me a little about yourself, where you came from and what you do on your planet?” Tuf asked.

Jamie told Tuf all about himself and his planet and how he had managed to arrive on Loar.

“How do you spend your time on Earth?”

“Well, my mum gives me lots of jobs to do,” explained Jamie. “I have to make my bed in the morning and clear up my toys. Then I have to help her around the house.”

“What do you do at night?”

“I go to bed and sleep of course.”

“And what do you do when you are not sleeping or working?”

“Well I play, I suppose,” said Jamie.

“Here we never play at all,” said Tuf. “At least not now. We used to play all the time once and the game we played most was hide-and-seek. In fact, we are known as the hide-and-seek planet. Then I’m afraid things began to go badly wrong. What happened is, we got better and better at paying the game and that began to change everything. You see the Daylings and Nightlings  all belonged to the same species once. But playing hide-and-seek for thousands of years began to change the way we looked and acted. Some of us began to look darker and darker and thinner and thinner. We evolved that way so we could hide better at night. And some of us began to get lighter and lighter. That was so we could hide better in sunlight. Eventually, we changed so much and became so good at the game that we could never find one another. And so, we became enemies and had very little to do with one another. The Nightlings became a very sad and hostile people. They never laugh or tell jokes, they are scared of everything and they treat everyone with suspicion. That is why they dislike strangers so much. We Daylings are just the opposite. We are fun loving outgoing people, we love to get visitors and we lead really happy lives.”

“But how can you be happy when you don’t play?”

“Our problem was that we never thought about what we were doing and what was happening to us. We just played and played and played. Even after we stopped playing hide-and-seek, we never learnt our lesson. We started to play a jumping game but again we got so good that people began to jump off the planet and they got lost in space. Eventually, after a lot of heartache, we finally learnt our lesson.  You see playing is all very well but there is more to life than play. We have a great sense of humour and we really do still have fun. But now we have fun doing other things. Now we do a lot of thinking and we dwell on all sorts of things. We have built up a vast amount of knowledge through this and we know lots about the galaxy and the universe. We have have invented all sorts of amazing things. Now we are adventurers and explorers and we gather information from all corners of the cosmos. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it seems to me that you didn’t do too much thinking before you pressed the button that brought you here. You do realise that you could be dead by now had you not been given that oxygen. Have you brought any food with you?”

“No!” said Jamie. “And now you mention it, I’m beginning to have problems breathing again and I’m feeling hungry.”

“Look, I hate to say it, but I don’t think you’re going to be able to survive here very long. We have limited supplies of oxygen and no food or water. You need to get back home as soon as possible,” said Tuf.

“But I don’t know how to get home,” said Jamie.

“I think the best thing I can do is to get you to our space centre. I’m sure they will be able to help you there.”

Jamie quickly agreed and so Tuf took his hand again and off they went. It was daylight outside now and Henry was able to see more of the strange and wonderful world he was in. The colour of the sky was purple and there were a number of planets or moons clearly visible above. The colour of the earth below was a green shade of blue. There wasn’t much was going on at ground level, but the air was full of activity with these strange beings going about their business. They were streaming in and out of the buildings and rushing this way and that. Jamie noticed that the lights that glowed from within these beings were very bright now. He guessed that this was so that they could see each other better. In daylight, they were invisible apart from their lights. All sorts of strange machines were being driven in the air too and all this traffic seemed to flow in organised streams. Everyone seemed to know what they were about and where they were going. Jamie began to notice it was getting very hot. This was probably because there was little atmosphere to filter the rays from the sun. After some time they left all the activity behind and entered open ocean-like territory.

    After travelling for an hour or so they arrived at the space centre and Jamie was taken into a room where he met the head of the organisation. His name was Opi. After hearing Jamie’s story Opi stroked his chin as he began to think. “Now let me see! We need to get you back to your planet as fast as we can. We’ve got many different sorts of spaceships here but that would take far too long and quite apart from that you would be unable to travel in some of them.

We can’t just beam you back because we would have to know the exact coordinates of where you came from, if not, you might overshoot your planet and get lost in deep space. There is the time machine! I wonder!  If we can turn back time to a point before you left Earth then that should get you back exactly to where you came from. The only problem is, we hardly ever use this machine because it disrupts the order of the universe so much. Time definitely does not like to be disturbed, however, I don’t think we have much choice. You realise of course that you will forget about this planet and everything that’s happened to you here. In fact, your visit here won’t have happened at all.”

Entrance to the Space Station

“Oh dear, what a shame,” said Jamie. “I would like to have at least remembered this adventure.”

“Well, there is a way we could both help each other. Perhaps we could reinstate your memory after you’ve returned. How would you like to travel to other planets in the universe and explore them for us? You see there are a number of planets we can’t visit because of their heavy atmosphere. If we went there our bodies would collapse but you could do that work for us. Would you be interested in doing that?” Asked Opi.

“I’d love to,” said Jamie eagerly.

Opi went to a drawer and pulled out something about the size of a mobile phone. He gave this to Jamie and said “This will allow you to communicate with us after you return to Earth, but for now, we have no time to lose, we must get you to the time machine.”

“Can I ask a quick question before we go?” Jamie said. I thought it is impossible to turn back or stop time?”

“Strictly speaking you’re exactly right. The arrow of time has to be moving forward and that is a fundamental law of the universe. However, it is not the law of the multiverse. In the multiverse anything is possible. We have had to look outside this universe in order to design our time machine and so we have overcame that fundamental law. But let’s make haste, we must get going.

Guarding the Entrance to the Time Machine

All three then made their way to the room where the time machine was housed. The door to the machine was a hatch in the floor of the room. Opi opened the hatch and told Jamie to climb down. He reassured him that everything was going to be all right and he need not worry. Jamie entered the chamber and the hatch was closed above him. He braced himself for what was about to come. The walls were covered with what looked like laser lights and these soon began to pulse. As the intensity of the lights grew he began to feel the strangest of sensations. His whole body began to melt into a pool on the floor. While he was in this state he felt no pain and his self awareness left him. The pool then began to evaporate into a mist which disappeared with an enormous bang. Back in Professor Adam’s laboratory a mist began to form around the Space Escalator and this mist began to condense into a human form which became Jamie.

He was back in the lab and he was there alone. In his hand was the device Opi had given him and Jamie looked down at this with a puzzled look on his face. He noticed that his other hand was reaching out to the control knob that started the machine just as it had done before. He withdrew this hand quickly and instead pressed a button on the gadget in his other hand. A screen lit up and he could see the faces of Opi and Tuf again. They told him all about everything that had happened to him and said they would be in contact soon. The screen went blank. Just then the Professor entered the laboratory again. “I’m sorry about that interruption. Is there anything else you would like to see?” he asked.

“No thank you, I’d better be getting back to my parents or I will miss the launch,” he said.

“Well, you are welcome to visit anytime,” said Professor Adams.

Jamie left the laboratory and soon caught up with his parents. They were already at the launch viewing platform and the launch was just about to take place.

“Come on, hurry up or you will miss the launch,” said his mum.

Jamie joined them both and gazed in wonderment as the shuttle lifted of and rocketed up into the sky.  His dad looked at him and said “There you go son. I bet that is the most amazing thing you have ever seen in your whole life”.

“It comes close dad,” Jamie said. “it comes very close.”

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