The Quantum Of Dharma
"Good morning Dr. Chandra. You're in early. Do you have a class this morning?" The young graduate student was seated behind the small receptionist desk for the university Physics Department offices.
Chandra barely gave her a glance. The faces at the desk came and went with such regularity, he scarcely bothered to notice them. It was a work-study position, offered to students as part of a financial aid package.
"No, not this morning. I was hoping for a letter from--ah yes. Here it is."
"It must be important. I noticed the return address when I put it in your box. The World Science Foundation."
Chandra carefully worked at the envelope flap. "It is the notification for the final selection. I will know, in a moment, whether I am selected for Project Omega."
"Better you than me! I couldn't leave my family and all my friends behind. But you don't have family, do you?"
"Eh? Yes-yes I have a very large family but...." Chandra's attention was focused on the text of the letter in his hand. He backed toward the line of chairs against the wall. As he felt the chair seat bump his legs; he sat heavily. The stunned look on his face was gradually replaced with quiet satisfaction; he had been officially confirmed as Scientist In Charge- Primary Investigator, for Project Omega. It was the apex of an eighteen-year career in astrophysics.
His work was focused on defining the physical shape of the galaxy. Now he would be given the opportunity to verify its form with his own eyes. Project Omega's mission would be to journey above the galactic plane, where clouds of dust and bands of stars no longer obscure, to gaze into the heart of the giant pinwheel of the Milky Way Galaxy.
"It must be good news."
"Yes. It is very good news. Please call my student-teacher for the afternoon lab. He will have to conduct the class for me. I have so many things to do...."
"You've been selected! Congratulations, I'm very happy for you!"
"Thank you." Chandra looked at the smiling young face for the first time. "I've been chosen. I will be able to conduct my program. It is the most important thing I have ever done."
The entity in the nucleus of the galaxy stirred. The embryo felt a quickening. The gestation period of 60 revolutions of the galaxy was complete.
A paradox in four dimensions: the entity existed before time, for it existed outside of time.
The World Science Foundation ship was named the Research Vessel Seyfert. The R.V. Seyfert lay in geosynchronous orbit high above the beautiful blue-green orb of Earth. The inert form disguised the fact that it was designed to be the fastest vehicle ever to be fashioned by the hand of man. At nine-tenths the speed of light, it would travel as fast as anything could.
Inside, the ship was a frantic bustle of organized anxiety. The Captain glanced nervously at his pocket chronometer. He expected Doctor Chandra's arrival shortly; he wasn't even sure that Chandra's quarters had been cleared of the stores, temporarily dumped there until their proper place could be found.
Chandra's journey began with the trip from Guyana Base to Orbital Station Alpha. He spent three days there. Briefing, and being briefed, he received operational details on the mission.
Chandra busied himself. The space station held little fascination for him. Rather than visiting the lounge, where others might spend hours in contemplation of the earth slowly turning beneath them, Chandra buried himself in all the details of his coming voyage.
He studied transmission schedules, duty assignments of other scientists on board and the curriculum vitae of the ship's crew. When he was notified that the R.V. Seyfert was ready to receive him, he felt confident that each detail was firmly catalogued in his highly ordered mind.
Chandra was happy to be free of the confines of university life, and the politics of the Department. He'd been elected as Department Chair for the second time, but it was a bitter-sweet accomplishment: Chandra was not offered tenure. He was more widely recognized, and had published more, than several other professors who had been so honored. He was certain someone was playing at politics, but he had not yet determined who stood in his way.
The offer by the WSF had arrived just in time to prevent Chandra's resignation. Chandra sat in the trans-orbital shuttle, feeling a bit queasy physically but otherwise smug. He was sure that this project would give him something that none of the other scientists at the University would ever gain: lasting historical fame.
The shuttle delivered its sole passenger in reasonable shape to assume his duties. Greeted by the Captain and Chandra's assistant, they all adjourned to the Captain's cabin for a final consultation before departure. When they concluded, Chandra found his cabin and retired.
He'd learned from his assistant, Marie Desquesne, that all preparations had been made and final calibrations, and checks of backup systems were complete. He planned to remain secluded until they were well on the way. He'd brought with him a brand-new leather bound journal in which to record his diary of the trip. He wanted to get his initial thoughts down while they were still fresh.
As he opened the journal, the scent of fresh paper reminded him of new beginnings, but the blank page before him perversely inspired the memory of a recently closed chapter of Chandra's life. He could not help the feelings of resentment which welled up, replacing thoughts of the odyssey he was embarking upon. He saw his wife's face before him.
They married shortly after Chandra had finished his Master of Science degree. He'd been working as a research assistant on a grant for a prestigious project involving the Hubble II, the most highly evolved astronomic instrument ever to be turned toward space. His new bride was a French woman; an ecologist. They'd met at the Buddhist center that Chandra frequented. She was not actually a practitioner of Buddha Dharma, she was a free spirit; she sampled life, experimentally.
Chandra found this to be charming, and she was impressed by his intellect. She'd dropped any pretense to Buddhist practice shortly after they were married.
Chandra converted from his parent's Hindu faith to Theravada Buddhism as a teen. His family was of a lesser caste, and while that meant little in contemporary Indian intellectual circles, the idea of it offended his nature. The practice of Theravada was somewhat similar to those of the Hindu religion. There was no inference of caste, so it seemed quite natural and comfortable to Chandra. The failure of Chandra's young wife at the practice of the Dharma was the first schism in their marriage.
The entity stirred within its shell. A mass equivalent to three million stars turned... dragging the fabric of space-time in its wake.
This mass was becoming motile. Waves of gravity began to spread through space-time in which the galaxy was imbedded. Earth-based sentience could not notice them for tens of millions of years.
The expedition was scheduled last twenty-two years, subjective time. No one was positive that an elevation of sixty parsecs above the galactic plane would be enough, there was no way that one could be sure.
It was even possible that during their absence some method would be devised to obtain the information they were seeking, without sacrificing all the man-years involved. All aboard were aware of the effects on time caused by relative velocities. Family members on earth would grow old, then die. Political entities, societies, even cultures might be impossibly different by the time of their return. These facts did not deter them.
The years spent voyaging were some of the happiest in Chandra's life. The necessity of a highly structured life-style, the opportunity to study the cosmos in ways never given to science before, the sophistication of the science staff, all combined to provide an environment more suitable than any he'd ever experienced. Data still streamed back toward Earth, but the effects of their extreme velocity precluded the reception of any news from there. There were conflicts among crew and staff, but Chandra had absolute authority over the scientists and technicians on board, and the Captain was the final authority for the entire vessel. Conflicts were always resolved.
The pain of Chandra's life ebbed away, drowned by his work, his ultimate success. Even the thought of his wife's desertion no longer pained him the way it had back home. Thoughts of his daughter's fling with the "Ski Bum", his son's drug involvement and failure at college, the ingratitude of the authorities at the University -- none of it mattered. Life was ordered, and the universe was stable, with predictable laws and requirements.
In the nineteenth year, the Seyfert began deceleration. As the velocities reduced to less than half the speed of light, it became apparent the objective of the mission would be obtained: one and one-half spiral arms were clearly visible. The central bulge of the oldest stars, red stars -- the pure hydrogen-helium stars formed at the moment of creation -- emerged from the clutter to be seen as never before. The ancient globular clusters were finally seen in their abundance. Astrophysicists and stellar cartographers began to work out the structure of the galaxy with detail that was beyond expectation. A base line of ten-plus light years gave resolution and dimension to the galaxy. X-ray and radio mapping produced images that brought tears to Chandra's eyes.
His greatest moment came as he turned his attention to the analysis of inferred densities. He was beside himself at realization of a lifetime of work. In just one set of observations he was able to confirm that the spiral structure of the galactic disk was a wave phenomenon. The reason that the spiral arms did not just wind up after billions of years of rotation is that they were constantly being renewed. The massive amounts of intra galactic dust encountered the compression phenomena and gravity took over; clumps of dust became star nurseries all along the wave front. He was content to leave the cause of such density variation to be worked out by another scientist, at another time. This was more than he'd ever hoped to be given--it was enough for I.M. Chandra, the fifth of eleven children; son of a low-caste Indian brick maker.
Being a creature of the fabric of space-time, the nuances of the curves in the fabric were innately understood. It responded to the smallest suggestion of gravity. Its kind was the largest life form in the universe, but it was powered by the least of forces.
The matter which spiraled into its maw was shredded until only the individual identities known as "super strings" remained. Each incredibly tiny particle was separated from its associated graviton.
It consumed the energy of the gravitons in enormous quantity. The energy of that force was converted into tachyons, a particle that exists on the other side of the velocity of light. The tachyons were unable to travel slower than light speed. Light speed was as absolute a barrier for them.
Straddling the boundary of normal space, the creature began to move. Without gravitation to shape it, the matter it consumed had no geometry. It simply dissolved. All that remained behind in the entity's nest was entropy. The creature began to move across its birthing nest: the Milky Way Galaxy.
"Holy Mary! Mother of God! Look at this... I must be going crazy!" Her exclamation contained such force, that Chandra straightened his body, as though to jump into a standing position. He banged his head painfully against the bulkhead opposite him.
"Calm down, Marie, whatever it may be, it shouldn't require such oaths. What do you have there?"
She stuttered, "I-I-I see it, but I can't describe it. Look at it. You, tell me!"
Chandra made his way carefully. He'd had less success in adjusting to weightlessness than the others. Upon reaching the optical viewer he nudged Marie Desquesne aside. She moved reluctantly, as though mesmerized.
It was a radiographic view of the galactic disk. The central bulge was collapsing: Chandra's reality began to collapse with it. At first, his brain could make no sense out of that which his eyes saw. The side of the bulge was being consumed. As he watched, he saw the shadow of a ghost, a ghost-amoeba, move out through the spiral arms. It made no sense to Chandra's mind. "It would have to be twenty, or even thirty parsecs long" he thought. "It would have to be moving greater than the speed of light. THE SPEED OF LIGHT, his mind shouted at him. Chandra rubbed his eyes. He looked away and then back. It continued its unexplainable, inexorable excursion.
The entity sensed the curve of space as it decended toward a super-massive cloud of dark matter which would be called the Great Attractor by a rather insignificant race of creatures on an equally insignificant planet. The galaxies of the local super cluster orbited the great mass, but that had no significance to the entity.
"There lies the most mass; there go I." Not a sentient logic, but a physical one. It drifted along at a leisurely 666 parsecs per minute, cutting a swathe through the galaxy -- leaving behind only entropic death. It cleared the galactic rim within twenty minutes.
At first there were only the sounds of shuffling, a sigh, a silence born of embarrassment. The scientists and technicians were embarrassed for the universe. Something had played an enormous hoax on it. They were embarrassed for each other as well. The fundamentals had been breached; there were no fundamentals.
If the speed of light wasn't absolute, then all of their knowledge collapsed in ruin. Loud, nervous discussion followed with no one paying attention to anyone; talking out their fright, confusion, wonder. Chandra left for his quarters.
He sat with the dawning realization that this impossibly enormous breach of reality must have occurred thirty-five thousand years ago. Everything man ever thought he knew, or would ever discover about the universe, was wrong. Chandra's entire professional life was silly and worthless, a gibberish lie.
The air lock cycled as Chandra chanted the prayer written so long ago in Sanskrit:
"I take refuge in the Buddha,
When the cycle was completed, there was no air. He continued the chant, silently. As the outer door opened, his frozen, exploded body drifted out into a universe he never really knew.
Robert Marcom is the Chairman of the Electronic Authors & Artists Guild (http://www.eguild.org ) and the founder of and moderator for Net Author, (http://www.netauthor.org ) an online writers community. He resides in Houston Texas where he is gainfully unemployed as an author, illustrator and photographer.
Author of "A Voyage Through The Cosmos" (ISBN 1-930430-03-5)
Visit Robert's web site
Published by permission of the author.