Maybe faster than light travel will be invented this way.
The Tale of Christopher Padget.
These days, everyone’s heard of Christopher Padget, after all, the Padget Inverter is an essential part of every spaceship. But what the reader must remember is that two hundred years ago, when mankind was living on a single planet, the whole of spaceflight was overshadowed by a brilliant genius who stated quite simply that the speed of light was as fast as anyone would ever travel. And the physics of the day backed him up.
But that was all the more reason for a young lad to experiment, not because he believed that Einstein was right, but because he believed that he could also be wrong.
This is his story.
Christopher Padget was a 15-year-old science geek. Rarely leaving his father’s house, he preferred to spend the time when he was not at school (which he hated for everyone else’s ignorance) in performing experiments. His particular area of interest was electromagnetics and he was sure he was on the verge of something.
One day, he was playing around with a pair of plate electromagnets. He was trying to refract light in air, just as its direction is bent in water. He thought that by creating a strong enough magnetic field he might do this. The thing that he didn’t know was that his power supply, old and second hand, was not producing a constant voltage across the magnets. In fact, as he rotated the controls, instead of an increase in voltage he got a continuously fluctuating one.
On looking between the plates he was amazed to see the wall, with its bookcase, had moved. There was a definite distortion to its shape and relative position. He moved his head from side to side, peering through the gap and always whatever was behind the gap didn’t line up with what was outside. Hardly able to believe what he was seeing, he grabbed his camera and took video of the effect and of the control settings on his power supply.
He rotated the controls a bit more and the effect stopped, with trembling hands, he reset the dial but nothing happened. For the next hour, ignoring his supper, he fiddled and became more despondent, why couldn’t he repeat it? At least he had the video, which he transferred to his computer and uploaded for safe keeping.
Next day at school, he shared his findings with his Physics teacher. Brian Woolman was a fan of Christopher, he had found him to be a diligent and accurate reporter of fact but he was dubious of the story. But when he saw the video, he had to agree that something had happened. In the lunch break, he tried to replicate Christopher’s experiment but without success.
In the next lesson, Mr Woolman called Christopher to one side as the class filed out, “I can’t repeat your findings,” he said, “It must be something unique to your equipment.”
“But it’s all second-hand stuff, nothing special,” replied Christopher, “If I didn’t have the video I think I would be doubtful myself.”
Mr Woolman gave Christopher a test meter and asked him to calibrate his power supply.
That evening, Mr Woolman was enjoying a quiet pint in his local when a man he saw occasionally spotted him. David Turner was a fellow physicist working on something at the University although he had never really said what. Woolman waved him over and the two sat and chatted. After they had exhausted the usual small talk, Brian raised the subject of Christopher’s experiment.
“David, I have a conundrum for you,” Woolman said. He explained what Christopher had told him.
Davis took a drink of his beer, barely able to contain his excitement, “do you know; we’ve been trying to do that for years, I need to know all the details.”
“I don’t know it all,” Brian replied, “he said he could only do it once, but he has a video, I’ve seen it. I couldn’t repeat it following his method.”
“Well, said David, “if you can find out it would be the discovery of the century, if not more.”
“Really, I just thought it was some sort of weird harmonic effect.”
David finished his pint, “Drink up, I’ll get us another and explain.”
After a couple of minutes, David returned with two fresh pints, they both drank and David sat back,
“As you know,” he began, “light is always reckoned to have a constant speed, whatever you do with it. If you could locally bend it, then like air over a wing it would have to speed up to get back to where it’s meant to be once its past whatever bent it. In effect, it has to move faster than light to catch up.”
Brian nodded, “I understand all that. So what does it mean in practical terms, with air the pressure drops and provides lift, it’s how planes fly.”
David nodded. “Well, the theory is that if light can be bent out of the way, the speed of travel in the bent area can exceed the speed of light, as the light there is already moving faster there would be no barrier to it. It’s all very theoretical; up to now we haven’t been able to bend the light.”
He made a decision. “I need to speak to this boy. I’ll come to the school tomorrow.”
Back at his house, Christopher looked at the readings; his power supply produced a constantly fluctuating output. It was useless for his experiments. He was tempted to take the thing to bits and investigate but realised that this was the reason that it did what it did. Mr Woolman would know what to do. He would ask him tomorrow.
Christopher carried the power supply into school the next day, he found Mr Woolman in the science department’s staff room and with him was another man he didn’t know. Mr Woolman introduced him as a Dr Turner from the University. They shook hands.
“I don’t understand, said Christopher, “what’s he doing here.”
“Christopher,” said Woolman, “don’t worry, I told David about what you had done. He’s very interested.”
“Can I see the video please Christopher?” David asked.
Christopher showed him and he looked very surprised. He pointed to the box. “Is that the power supply?”
“Yes, but it’s broken, It produces a fluctuating output.” David took a deep breath, fluctuating output, why hadn’t they thought of that? Instead, they had just poured more and more power into the field.
“May I take it away and test it, Christopher? We’ll give you another one, a new one.”
Christopher looked worried, “I’m not sure, it’s my discovery and I don’t want it taken away from me.”
“Don’t worry Christopher, I don’t want the glory. If you’re right, there’s a job waiting for you with us.”
And the rest; as they say…
A small Flash Fiction, taken from my Galactographic Magazine project. I needed a name for the mechanism that enables faster than light travel and between us; my wife and I came up with the Padget Inverter.
I then wondered how such a thing might be invented, figuring that serendipity would play a part, as it has in so many wonderful discoveries. This links back to the earlier story, School. Imagine if Christopher Padget had been trapped in a school where a mixture of ideology, dogma and austerity prevented learning. (I’m thinking about the comprehensive I went to in London in the early seventies, where survival was more important than showing that you were taking an interest.)