6 – Namechildren

Pluto’s Helmet

Story Parts:

The guards did not offer Zeta first aid. Using handcuffs they shackled their ankles to an old water pipe that ran along the floor. As soon as they left, Leona slowed down the flow of blood with direct pressure to the wound. The rest of that sleeve and pieces of torn skirt managed a make-shift bandage. “I, I am sorry he shot you.”

“Shush, child. Don’t give in to him. It’s not your fault. He knew full well what he was going to do. He’s a manipulator, I know his kind; expert in his craft. Don’t let him get inside your head. You are a Namechild!”

Leona checked the tightness of the bandage. “It’s stopped bl…eeding. I think.” Her voice trailed off as she realized that the color of the fluid over her arm and on the floor was not all red.

“I have two circulatory systems. They both clot fast.”

“I didn’t know there were alien Namechildren.”

“There are some — but not me. I am human, engineered a bit, but human.” Zeta started making a splint for Leona’s leg, out of pieces of a wooden box and half her skirt.

“That’s how you could see me and see out of the darkness.”

“I didn’t exactly see you. I have an electric sense, like eels. I have receptors all over my body. But you; you are something else.”

“Becoming invisible?” Leona smiled an embarrassed smile. “I- I don’t know how I do it. It feels like a bubble.” Ignoring the pain in her right shoulder Zeta reached over and placed her hands on either side of the child’s head as she continued. “The light skims along its surface and it leaves from the other side at exactly the same vector it went in. Nothing gets in, nothing gets out.”

“That’s why it’s perfectly black inside.” Zeta kept the conversation going without betraying any alarm at the images she was reconstructing of Leona’s brain.

Leona smiled again. “Yes. It’s obvious in retrospect, reciprocity demands it: If you can’t see me, I can’t see you.” She almost chuckled, “Perseus couldn’t possibly have slain the Gorgon while wearing Pluto’s helmet.”

Zeta pictured the mythological hero invisibly bumping into cave walls and she smiled too. And then she refocused on Leona’s earlier words. “Same vector in and out — Conservation of momentum?”

“Yes. But I’m only doing linear, not angular. The thing keeps trying to tip me over, especially when there’s an imbalance in the illumination.”

“I felt that.” A puzzled look crossed Zeta’s face as she withdrew her hands.

“What’s the diagnosis?” Leona looked up into her eyes.

For a brief moment, Zeta considered dissembling but this child had been lied to enough. “Have you ever suffered brain trauma, a head injury, an accident or something like that?”

“Not really. Not that I can remember. But Mom and Dad told me I had a bout with encephalitis when I was three.”

That could not explain what Zeta had seen but there was no point in dwelling on it. Not when they had more pressing problems, life and death problems.

“I think we’ll have Whittaker arrange for a detailed bio-image scan after we are out of this mess. One thing we do know, using this ability stresses out your autonomous nervous system. The cardiac arrhythmia alone could lead to permanent damage.”

“But?”

“We may need to use it to get out of here.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Ok, we need to think. Think like your Namefather. You are bending light. Light is energy. What else can you do with it?”

“I’m not sure… The bubble came naturally. I tried to reshape it once from inside but it’s harder to think when I’m inside it; like nothing works just right. It’s like everything is jumbled. Disorder.”

“That’s a fair description of the physiological consequences.”

“No, no; you said think like Namefather Brillouin,” her eyes widened. “Maybe that’s why it makes me sick! I am altering the flow of energy around me, directing it into specific paths, specific ordered paths. I have to pay a price. Since entropy cannot decrease in a closed system I must be paying the price with my own negative entropy. The only available source is my body. Order outside, disorder inside”

“Makes sense; the larger the distortion is, the greater the cost. Good, keep thinking. I once read a book by De Broglie, the Namefather. It was about a connection between Quantum Mechanics and Thermodynamics.”

“La thermodynamique de la particule isolée,” Leona burst into Earth French, “yes that could be the mechanism: a coupling between the photon field and entropy.”

“But in empty space, how?”

“…interprétation causale et non linéaire de la Mécanique ondulatoire. In that one he suggested a similarity between the bending of light by diffraction and the bending of light by gravitational fields.”

“Both paths are Geodesics in space-time.” Zeta could see the connection.

“Yes.” The excitement of the puzzle, the touch of a friendly hand, had been missing for so long. The bandying of question and answer, like she used to do with her Mom and Dad, relit a spark within Leona that sorrow had almost snuffed out. It felt like a giant veil was lifting from her heart. She looked into Zeta’s deep green eyes. She was kin; she was family. She wasn’t alone anymore. A flicker of tears moistened her eyes.

Zeta steadied her. “Come on, Brillouin, we’ll have time for sentiment later.”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“Reti, Zeta Reti. My Namefather, on my mother’s side, was a mathematician by education, gamemaster and puzzle solver by trade. My father is a geneticist. So QED is not my specialty but I spent a lot of time with the De Broglies; they’re cousins. That plus an eidetic memory might just help.”

“OK, Reti. The puzzle is how to use the ability to bend light to get out of here.”

“In the presence of armed obstacles.” Zeta added, rubbing her arm.

“My Namefather’s original work was in periodic systems — crystals and such.”

“They have harmonics, preferred frequencies of oscillation.”

“They can resonate.”

“Do you have to let the light go out at the same vector direction it comes in?”

“No, no… that’s just the prerequisite for invisibility. When I first discovered what I was doing, I was focusing the light. It was the local rise in air temperature that allowed me to move little beads of foam.”

“Like the movement of the vanes inside a radiometer.”

“Yes. I thought I was telekinetic.”

“Then the light doesn’t have to leave the geodesic in a straight line. It doesn’t have to leave at all.”

Leona’s brow furled and unfurled. “No, I guess not, I could spiral it in, but why –”

“Periodic systems: a circle is the perfect periodic system! In late 20th century Earth there was some research into laser amplification by using microscopic droplets. If the pumped droplet is an integer number of wavelengths in circumference and you hit it with a beam, tangent to its surface, the wave clings to the surface and spins around, adding to itself in phase on every roundtrip.”

“What happened?”

“The medium lased and the light got amplified, but they couldn’t come up with a way to extract the energy in a unique direction before the nonlinearities of the medium destroyed the resonance.”

“I can’t lase.”

“No but you can store energy. You don’t need to lase. Look around you. Look at all the wasted light. What would happen if you started grabbing the light and spun it down to a sphere a few wavelengths in diameter and just sat there? Eventually you’d have enough coherent energy stored to put a laser rifle to shame.”

“You think I can do it?”

“After what I’ve seen, I don’t know that there’s any limit to what you can do with light or why you should be limited to the visible range. IR, UV, heck, even electrostatic fields are supposed to be mediated by photons… the charge on the electron itself would be infinite, a singularity, if it were not for the cloak of virtual photons polarizing free space around it.”

All the implications of Zeta’s confidence were too much for Leona to absorb at once. She filed those thoughts away and told herself she had to reread her Mom’s Quantum Electrodynamics texts when she was back home.

Home. That word, fixed Leona’s determination. She pictured in her mind the spiral path the same way she had pictured the geodesic paths on the ellipsoid before. She held on to the picture and pushed.

More than three hours of imprisonment passed. At first Leona had had trouble shrinking down the circle of light. But Zeta’s suggestion of thinking in ratios worked. She first spun it down to a circle the size of a baseball; she dropped that to the size of a marble and from there to a millimeter. Her perceptual experience could go no further but her imagination could. At every count of ten she imagined the circle halving in size; halving again and again…

At about the ninth octave Leona’s face started to show signs of strain. Zeta’s touch verified the distortion of her muscle potentials. “I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

“I’ll be your pacemaker.” Zeta’s fingertips got covered with the sweet-smelling electrolyte. “It helps make a good connection.” She explained, as her right hand came to rest on Leona’s left shoulder, hiding the wince of pain that that motion sent through her own shoulder. Her left hand held the girl’s right hand; and she closed her eyes and listened to the rhythm of life inside the girl.

Somewhere below the dissonant spiking of stressed neurons there was the original beat. She found it and, slowly, she brought her own metabolism into consonance. Little by little Zeta increased the output of her electric organs to reinforce the proper beat. And little by little the rogue waveforms were tamed. When she opened her eyes, the smile in Leona’s face told her it had worked.

The count continued. At about the thirteenth halving something happened. It felt to Leona as if half the light in the circle slowed down for a moment and the other half speeded up. A spot in midair, where the bubble was, suddenly exploded in a flash of redness followed by a flash of deep blue light. When the surprise was over, Leona found the bubble almost devoid of all light. What was left in it felt all yellow… only yellow – a very particular yellow.

“It worked but there’s almost nothing left in there. It’s—”

“Too narrow band.” Zeta rolled her eyes at herself. Of course! A ring resonator is about the highest Q device you can make. Only one wavelength and its higher harmonics can resonate at a fixed radius.” She refused to believe it had all been a false hope, and then she smiled.

Leona caught the smile and the same thought at the same time. “I don’t need a single radius – Multiple bubbles, concentric!”

“Longer wavelength red on the outside.”

“The short blues on the inside!” Leona laughed with excitement and started the count. Somewhere around twelve, the light split up with a soft murmur. In her mind Leona could see the circular rainbow, spinning in perfect endless harmony with itself. Once she was sure of its stability she drew in another parcel of light and then another. Soon she was consuming it as fast as the light bulbs in the room were pumping it out; leaving herself and Zeta sitting inside a strange twilight.

“It feels stiff; I can barely move the bubble anymore.”

“Your pulse is holding fine; nerve spikes are fine too. Your metabolism has picked up a little, but the thing’s not draining your body as before.” The reason was clear. Zeta completed the thought in her mind: It was she who was starting to feel tired. Her body was becoming the reservoir for the entropy.

“I think I’ve reached my limit. It feels like a piece of steel.”

“Time to start discharging.”

Instantly, a flash of blue light streaked from somewhere before Leona’s eyes, across the room and into the cement wall. After the tiny puff of smoke cleared, a neat tunnel, one millimeter across and about two centimeters deep, remained as evidence of her power.

“Did you control that?”

Leona smiled. A two-second-long flash of reddish light burst in the same direction. This time, a script “L” was perfectly etched in the concrete. Leona beamed proudly. “If I can see it, I can hit it.” Two yellow bursts slit the handcuffs off their ankles.

“Alright! Now to get out.”

“Once we are out of this room,” Leona proposed, “instead of heading upstairs, we can go to the laundry room. There’s a window that leads to the outside. It’s not alarmed. I had chosen it as an escape route before. It is not the most direct route to the gate but there is a line of buildings that is almost never lit up at night. We can stay in the shadows almost all the way to the gate.”

“Good. It should be dark outside by now. The less time you spend invisible the better. But the outer fence itself is alarmed with touch sensors; I saw that when I came in. We’d have to get a guard to open it. “

“We don’t,” Leona countered. “There’s a second gate, an old one; used to be for delivery trucks. It’s about two hundred meters west of the main one. I can melt the padlock.”

Zeta nodded but a somber darkness still hung on her eyes.

“What is it?”

“You can probably walk on that splint but if it comes to running, I’ll have to carry you.”

“So?”

“If it comes to running, that means, they have seen us. They have guns. You may have to fire at a human target.” Zeta did not know how Leona would handle such a choice. She was just a child. She had lived a gentle life. It deserved to stay that way. A child that age should never have to kill, never. The scars that such a choice leaves behind never go away…

“Hands and legs – I’ll just scorch them. Don’t worry, I can do it.” After she said that, it was Leona’s turn to become suddenly quiet. To Zeta’s touch she replied, “I am a weapon after all, aren’t I?” Zeta did not understand the significance of that statement and Leona explained. “That’s why he’s kept me here, after the accident.” Those words made her touch her lip in reflex; he had done more than just keep her.

Zeta held back what she knew about the accident.

Leona shook her head. “He’s sold someone on the idea of using my ‘psychic’ talent as an assassin’s weapon. First he thought I could move things with my mind. Then he thought I could teleport things… He was so wrong and yet— If he only knew.”

“Let’s go, child.”

Zeta led her to the wooden door. She could sense no one on the other side. Leona’s touch rendered a hand-sized section of it invisible for just long enough to peek outside and verify. Then she moved that small bubble down to the door handle, to reveal the padlock, and with a pencil-thin spear of yellow she slit it neatly in two. They made it to the laundry room undetected.

Pluto’s Helmet

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