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Alex The Inventor - Ch.12

Book 2 of an Illustrated Sci-Fi Trilogy

Book 2 - The Ghosts in the Glass Tunnels

Chapters 1 - 11 can be read at:  Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations

Chapter 12 (Part 1)—Elliot and Cash (and Parallax)

Half an hour later, big Jim Cash sat across from Old Elliot in the interview room of the Delta Police Department. Jim Cash was old fashioned, very old fashioned.

"Here, have a doughnut, Elliot," he said as he pushed a box of Rosie's finest (and gooiest) doughnuts toward him. 

 With a small, grateful smile, Elliot reached for one of the biggest chocolate covered, cream-filled ones, at which point old Jim made a small sorrowful sound. 

 "How did you know I wanted that one?" he grumped as the old man grinned wickedly.

"How else do you suppose you got that big gut?" Elliot chuckled with sly humour.

"Hmm, you know, I could really get to hate you after a while. Okay, Elliot, let's get back on track here shall we. We've got one victim of what appears to a very large bee or wasp sting, and there may soon be more if I don't know how to deal with that creature we saw—not to mention the fact that you and the good doctor seemed to have known each other quite well before. So help me out, Elliot... what's going on, and what can we do about it?"

Old Elliot's smile faded slightly as he looked up at Sergeant Cash. He put his half-eaten doughnut down on a paper napkin. His appetite wasn't what it had been only moments before. Elliot sat quietly for a minute or two with his hands folded on his lap. He had the posture of calmly collecting many thoughts and old memories together as he prepared to speak about them all. The old policeman waited patiently.

"I'm afraid there isn't a whole lot we can do to stop what's coming, Jim," he finally answered quietly. "Nothing to do but accept what is coming, and then meet enemy head on. I just hope we're strong enough, that's all. It's really quite simple, you know. Everything is about to get real scary, real quick." 

 Jim was taken aback by the sudden change in the tone of their discussion. But he took a deep breath then and folded his beefy arms, all business now.

"All right, give it to me straight and don't pretty it up for me either," he muttered darkly. 

 Sitting forward more, old Elliot's eyes glinted sharply now, there was an intelligence behind them that not a soul in the town of Delta had ever seen before. A keen mind had suddenly come to life again behind his once haunted eyes.

"Have you ever heard of 'N.E.O.'s' before, Jim?" he said without wasting more words.

"Ha!" the cop laughed sharply, he couldn't help it. "A what?" Another amused smile touched Elliot's face for a moment.

"Sorry, guess not eh... well I'll keep things as simple as possible for you. N.E.O. is an acronym which stands for Near Earth Objects." Elliot cleared his throat a little as though he was preparing to begin a rather lengthy lecture.

He was.

He even took another little bite of his doughnut before beginning. Jim Cash sat back in his chair as well, trying to digest the whole bizarre chain of events that had occurred that afternoon, up to this very moment. 

 "Many years ago, I was an astronomer," Elliot began, "and a darn good one too. My research papers were always well respected, if at times controversial. You see, I liked to push the boundaries of science a little, now and then, just for the fun of it."


Jim Cash couldn't help but stare back in fascination as Old Elliot, the ragged town hobo continued. 

 "Near Earth Objects are wandering asteroids, and are what we in my field of science would call, 'natures little big surprises'. This is because sometimes we don't know they are there in the sky until there is a frightening blip on our radar as one whizzes by only a few hundred thousand miles above our heads. That blip could be an asteroid or comet anywhere the size of a bus, or a house, or a mountain, and it could come from out of nowhere, traveling at a rate of eight miles per second or more.


"Now, usually the odds are on our side that any of these nasty little space rocks will just fly harmlessly by our planet, but every now and then—"  and here Elliot raised his hand with his thumb and forefinger spaced just a hair apart. "Well, you get the idea. We've had some real near-misses in the past and we've been hit as well. The Tunguska meteor impact in Northern Russia in 1908 is just one example. Then there have been the so-called extinction-sized hits by meteors the size of mountains. 

“Fortunately those ones are very rare, but the big ones are still out there," Elliot said, glancing skyward, "and it used to be my job to search for them. You see Jim, if a large N.E.O., which poses a threat to the Earth, is found far enough in advance, hopefully there will be enough time to do something about it before it impacts us. There are several theories on possible remedies, you might say.

"There's the conventional idea of shooting a nuclear missile at a N.E.O. and blowing it up. A bit laughable given the sheer size and bulk of one of those things, and the fact that if you did break it up then you'd just have more, separate chunks to worry about.

Another idea would have us strap rockets onto it, somehow, and then push the rock out of the way. That's a fine enough idea until you consider how delicate and difficult a task it would be to carry out by remote controlled robots, several millions of miles away.

There's even a simple suggestion of painting an asteroid white on one side so that reactions from the Sun's solar wind would gradually deflect the rock enough from a collision with Earth. Kind of like shooting it with rocket-propelled paint-balls. Fascinating and far-fetched don't you think? Yet, they are all up for grabs when something as massive and catastrophic as a killer meteor is bearing down on our one precious home in space. The dinosaurs owe their extinction to one of those things, and I'd rather we tried anything possible so that we didn't share their fate."

"Uhuh," was all Jim Cash could say in reply. 

 Elliot gave him a crinkled old smile and continued.

"Well, like I said, sometimes I tried out other fields of astronomy in my spare time, just for fun. I even had my own private, backyard telescopes for those diversions. One instrument was a conventional, optical scope, while the other was a less common radio telescope array–"

"W-wait a minute... Elliot, let's slow things down a bit here," said Cash, getting just a bit dazed by all the strange words coming from the mouth of an old man. An old man who had drifted into town some dozen years before, as nothing more than just what everyone had assumed him to be: a drifter, a hobo who lived from shelter to shelter, and from hand-to-mouth.

A nobody—or so they thought...  And now—suddenly now—he spoke of astronomy, asteroids, and other such fascinating concepts that Jim found difficult to follow. Old Elliot would have nothing of slowing down with his story however.

"Please don't interrupt, Jim... I'll be getting to something far more interesting in just a few minutes. Besides, like I said, there isn't a lot of time left." 

 Sergeant Cash decided to just clam up and listen. It was indeed getting interesting, after all.

"Anyway," he continued, "N.E.O's were my main pursuit and subject of study, and it was a very valuable subject at that. But my hobby, my diversion, as I said, was just as interesting, because it kept my life from becoming too ordinary and predictable. My past-time was spent crossing over into the other field of astronomy, which studied and searched for Exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system. This is a rather new branch of my science, and deals with the search for other worlds far beyond our own solar system. The ultimate goal, I suppose, is to one day find planets similar to ours in the hope of discovering other forms of life. 

“That has been a long-awaited hope for many generations," Elliot said with another glance skyward. "Nowadays, of course, there are much more sophisticated methods and instruments, which are utilized towards that end, and there have been many fruitful discoveries. There are a vast array of these sensitive instruments searching millions of stars in the heavens in order to find small indicators, or signs of what could be new planets orbiting them.”

“We now have the Hubble II Lunar-Based Telescope on the dark side of the Moon, for example... but I'm getting off topic—I do apologize," Elliot said as he looked down at his folded hands again. He collected more old memories, and then went on, this time though with a slight hush in his voice. He was clearly building toward something of great importance to him. Something perhaps even of reverence.

"Since the cosmos is very vast, and the odds of finding an extra-solar world are a billion to one, I had to narrow down my choices of areas in which to search. I had limited time-frames in which to study such things anyhow, so I focused much of my search in a particularly target-rich quadrant of the Milky-Way. It was where other promising planets were being found quite frequently as well. I wasn't really certain that I'd find anything of significance out there, but then again who really is?"

"Who really is?" Elliot whispered.

"It was the early morning of November first, nearly twenty years ago that I received my first indication that I had found something truly significant. I had been using a technique in astronomy known as 'Parallax Viewing' of that quadrant, in an attempt to view and triangulate various objects so that I could calculate their distances from Earth. Parallax viewing is quite a simple process, actually.

All you do is take a photograph of a certain area of space, then photograph it again six months later. Any object being photographed at those two different time and position intervals of Earth's orbit will then become the focal point of a huge, imaginary triangle in space. The two positions of our planet, at those two separate times would be the two remaining points of that triangle.

What you are doing is using the six month, half-orbit positions of the Earth to obtain as wide a viewpoint as possible of one particular deep-space object; two viewpoints at two different and very wide angles—that is parallax viewing. It is time-consuming, but coordinates and distances are then easily calculated after that, do you see?"

"Uh..." Cash grunted. This part was becoming slightly boring to him. Parallax, Ex-Lax—who cares, he mused silently. Yet he kept his thoughts to himself a little longer in the hope that this was going to amount to something he could deal with. Things do change quickly sometimes.

Taking a deep breath and looking the policeman straight in the eye, Old Elliot, the hobo said, "I found a planet, Jim... but not just any planet... one of our planets," he finished with a whisper and a shiver.

"Huh... what do you mean?"

"I mean... I found a tenth, unknown world, a 'Planet X', but that is only a small piece of this... this whole thing," he went on, trying hard, it seemed, to keep his train of thought in proper order. Elliot rubbed his dirt-stained hands up and down on his jean pant-legs for a moment or two more. Jim began to notice a change, a tension coming over the man.

And there was fear...  

Elliot coughed a little, and took a few shaky breaths. He was clearly trying to come to a conclusion about something, but there were also memories coming back to him—old, horrible memories.

"Take your time, Elliot... take your time," Jim said quietly. He had seen the same thing happen many times during his career. The point at which a person could hold back a confession no longer. All that remained was a few calm, coaxing words to bring the truth out into the open. But this was not a criminal's confession, this was an unburdening, an attempt to share the weight of something that had haunted an otherwise brilliant mind for too many years.

"You see, Jim... there are these tunnels... and they're made of glass. But they're not just tunnels... they do something too. I'm not sure... I-I'm sorry... I'm getting ahead of myself," Elliot said with a tired confusion creeping into his voice.

He tried to begin once more, "In my field of endeavor, it is not enough to just know where a Near Earth Object is, one has to know its velocity, its speed, and direction of travel, towards Earth. Once I had determined that I had discovered something quite nearby and significant with the Parallax Views, I rented time on one of the new orbiting High-Res Deep-Search Laser Radar satellites. With these one is able to measure, with the highest degree of accuracy, the movements and distances of any heavenly body within a light-year or two of our system. I found the same object and 'pinged' it with the laser radar several times over a period of four weeks. 

“It was moving all right, moving at a speed I couldn't have imagined," the old man said in awe. "It's roughly the size of our planet, and it's coming, Jim... coming here, to our system... its trajectory will bring it very, very near to us. It's going to hit Mars, I think," Elliot whispered with a small quaver creeping into his voice, "at least that's what all my measurements indicated." 

 Old Jim had been so spellbound by this time that he let out a breath of wonder, and not a little of fear as well.

"The size of—but... but surely, there is a way to stop... to prevent..." he began uncertainly. The old man across from him merely shook his head. But he seemed to be, even then, not finished with his thoughts for he said, "You're not listening to all I've said mister... there is more, much more.

"On the evening of the last day that I sent out my final sounding or laser radar measurement toward this... this planetoid, something... impossible happened.

"Utterly impossible.

"At all the other times, the return radar 'ping' that I sent came back at a predictable rate. Of course, because of the incredible distances that the light beam had to travel, I didn't receive a return signal until almost 24 hours had elapsed. It took 12 hours for the light beam to reach the planet, then 12 more for it to bounce back and reach the receiver satellite. It was, in basic terminology, one light-day away from Earth, twenty years ago.

But that time—that last time, when I sent out a 'ping', the signal made a round-trip return in only three quarters of that time; after only 18 hours—six hours sooner than the day before. It was as if that planet had magically jumped through space to a point half as far from Earth as it had been the previous day. That is a physical impossibility, Jim because nothing—I mean nothing can do that," Elliot said emphatically with a sweep of his hand.

"You see, the planet hadn't jumped, but the laser radar signal did. That light beam traveled for twelve hours, hit the planet, then hit the receiver satellite only six hours afterward. But the signal... the signal didn't come to the satellite from outer space... no it came to the receiver from somewhere on the surface of Earth." Now thoroughly enthralled by this fantastical story, Jim Cash leaned his elbows more heavily on the table, across from Old Elliot. He was becoming more and more flabbergasted.

"Now hold on—hold on, how could this signal go away in one direction, then suddenly come back in half the time, and be traveling in the same direction again? What goes up has to come down. It can't go up, then up again... what the heck are you getting at, Elliot," he said shaking his already throbbing head.

Old Elliot leaned forward just as much, and his pale gray eyes locked on Jim's. All the truth, all the haunting truth of 20 years past reached across the two feet separating them.

"Teleportation," he said in a hushed voice. Jim Cash held Elliot's gaze with his, searching for something, anything else to explain away what he had just heard. Teleportation?

"But... but that means..." he began.

"That means, Mr. Cash that our world, and that world out there are somehow connected to one another. Connected in a most wonderful and terrible way," Elliot finished.

"What do you mean, terrible?" Jim breathed, now very aware of the tension in the room.

"I mean there is something going on that I haven't been able to piece together yet, but I can feel it coming with each passing day. It's something big, something terrible, and it is something that has been planned over a period of many, many years. You see, during the time that my mind, my soul... my 'self', if you will, was lost in the Glass Tunnels... I felt that some of the tunnels had been altered or changed in a most dangerous manner. There was also something or someone chasing after me—trying to find me, for some reason that I was never certain about. There was never a moment of rest though, and I always felt like I was living a nightmare–"

"Glass tunnels, what the heck are these glass tunnels you're talking about now?" Poor Elliot put his head in his hands, and shut his eyes to get his thoughts in a sensible order once more. Cash could easily see that there was some sort of mental strain that he was under. 

 Finally, without another word, Elliot simply snatched up the piece of paper that had lain on the table between them all that time.

"There is one piece to this puzzle, this mystery that I can tell you with all certainty that I do understand," he said, and as he spoke he fingered the blood-stained dot-art picture retrieved from the shaking hand of the dying Professor Strikt.

"I know who made this."

Jim gazed now at the renewed old man with equally spellbound wonder. Elliot had told him an incredible, nearly unbelievable story, and now had a solid piece of proof, which lay in their hands to help connect some of the dots of the story in an equally solid fashion.

"Who is it then?" he said evenly.

"The son of the man I once knew," the old man replied with absolute certainty in his voice.

"Give me a name," was the simple demand that Jim Cash made of Old Elliot. By this time, the veteran police officer was leaning heavily on the interview table, his shoulders hunched forward, and his arms braced under them. He had the intense stare of a man of action, preparing for his sudden next move. Lives were at stake, in particular, the boy who Mr. Strikt, and now Old Elliot, made mention of.

Elliot Jansen sat back after placing the now wrinkled and bloodied scrap of paper before Jim again, then he spoke the name and Jim stiffened slightly. Recalling all of the strange events that had occurred around Brinnel's Bog, and the nearby, abandoned scrapyard, forced him to rethink what the true reasons were for them. The mysterious explosion and forest fire in the bog eleven years ago; at the time, they were thought to have been old gas lines, or swamp gas burning off that sparked the fire.

Then, of course, there were the more recent explosions from just a week ago, not to mention the U.F.O. sightings afterward. All those similar events were always happening in the same area on the outskirts of Delta-Town. Old Elliot had described much the same events as well, eleven years ago. That the old hobo had told Jim of seeing a swarm of monstrous flies attacking a group of men in the old scrapyard on that memorable night, reminded the police sergeant just how bizarre and unbelievable his story had been at that time.

 But now...

Jim Cash shook his head slowly as all the riddles from years gone by began making some sense after all; if he could at least keep an open mind about them.

"John Faraway," he said quietly, "now there's a name I've not heard mentioned for a long, long time. Smart guy too, as I recall." 

 Taking a deep breath, Jim sat back to collect his thoughts. It was all beginning to add up, and now, seeing one of those flying creatures for himself, cemented his belief even further. The step-by-step deductions from his years of experience led Jim to conclude that all those separate happenings were connected, and that there was a much larger story hiding just below the surface.

Something else clicked into place then, and the old sergeant abruptly said, "these Glass Tunnels you keep bringing up, where are they?" Jim knew that answer as well though, even before Elliot replied. The veteran officer shook his head again and chuckled, scratching his forehead in amazement. "Okay, Elliot let's play this game out a little further and see what else we can uncover, shall we." "But I'll tell you something right now," he said with another shake of his aged head, "if I was just a rookie cop listening to all this, my career would be ruined, because no one else would ever believe me." 

Elliot smiled back at the old sergeant and said, "thanks for being so old then."

"Come on," said Jim, "all this thinking has given me an appetite for Rosie's place, I'll treat you. Let's clean you up a little first though, shall we, Rosie's rather particular about that in her diner."

"I was hoping you'd say both," Elliot laughed, "cause I'm hungry, I'm broke, and I smell like hell too."

"In my former life, I was an astronomer", said Old Elliot, "I began to track an unusual deep space object."

"I used the Lunar-based Hubble II Deep-Scan Telescope to get the exact distance and velocity of the strangely moving object", said Elliot.

"The object has the size and mass of our planet", Elliot whispered with awe, "and it is on a collision course with Mars..."

"But, there is more - much more. I also discovered, and became trapped in a maze of glass tunnels - portals to other places and times. My mind and soul were scattered in the cosmos."


Next:  Chapter 12 (Part 2)—Clearly Something Different About the Boy

Alex wakes up in Delta Hospital, having recovered from his fainting spell. But, Dr. Jessica Bradshaw has been running tests on Alex, and is mystified by odd physiological changes happening in his DNA. Elizabeth refuses to believe Jessica's assertion that there are gene mutations growing in her son and checks him out of the hospital. But a quiet lunch at Rosie's Diner turns out to be very unusual indeed for Alex Faraway.

As of 2019-07-03, Chapter 12 (Part 2) can be read at:  
DeepSkyStories.com

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