Burrows of Time

Occasionally, I write whenever I'm free. Welcome to what I hope will eventually be my first, full-length novel.

Chapters 1 2 3

Chapter 1

Alina froze astounded as she stared at the screen of a device she had been building for the past two years. It’s as if time stood still for her at that moment. She didn’t even want to blink lest she lost sight of what seemed to have manifested right in front of her eyes.

When she first started work on it, it was supposed to simply provide something tangible, complementary to her regular science classes at the university. A platform where she can test out some of the great results often published in the most prestigious journals only to be left forgotten soon after the initial admiration and a few claps by peers. “A paper in Nature doesn't change the world,” her professor always said, encouraging his students to never be afraid of getting their hands dirty in pursuing problems that would make a difference, even if it meant sacrificing some of the more secure career paths.

As inspiring as it sounds, though, the reality is that it’s not the kind of philosophy that everyone will or can follow, even if taken to heart. And that’s okay. But it’s also one of those things that still has to be said because there is always that someone who needs to hear exactly that to ignite their sense of purpose. It's amazing how much just one good piece of advice can do at the right time.

About a month ago Alina discovered that with very minor modifications, the device could actually be used for trying out ideas from her newfound interest in quantum gravity, which was now all the rage in applied research after a series of recent breakthroughs, in their magnitude comparable perhaps only to the discoveries of the early 20th century, showed a promising new possibility of achieving quantum gravitational effects without requiring astronomical levels of energy.

What practical, real-life applications that could bring was, for all intents and purposes, yet to be understood by anyone. But in an earlier pursuit of the practical, it took her just one internship at a certain world-renowned company with a few dozen emails back and forth arguing about problems that could have been solved in ten minutes to realize that nothing can ever replace the freedom and efficiency of a hobby. Every single moment spent working with the device gave her that, but never in her wildest dreams did Alina think she would actually be seeing what she was now staring at speechlessly for the past two minutes straight: the trace of a signal she sent showed complete and sudden disappearance, as if by magic, into the void of nothingness.

Except it wasn’t. She had just created a wormhole in the fabric of spacetime.

If the whole thing turned out to work at all, it was, by design, a small one, about the size of a grain of sand — proportional to the power she put in. It didn't have any visual appearances, at least none that a naked eye could discern. You couldn’t interact with it physically in any observable way. And, without a deeper analysis by sophisticated lab equipment, it seemed harmless, too.

Alina’s main insight was to first try to create one for ordinary radio waves — a low-yield wormhole, as she came to call it — and if that turned out to be successful, she was convinced that wormholes supporting physical interaction would just be a matter of time. It’s always a good idea to start with something simple.

Still, scenes with teleportations from science fiction movies had already started to bombard her mind, mixed and intermingled with thoughts and emotions of what that would look like in the reality of what now clearly seemed to be a not-so-distant future. And even though possibilities were, without a doubt, as limitless as it gets, ramifications were as terrifying as they were mysterious. “Perhaps this is one genie that should be left inside the bottle,” a subliminal thought came to her, despite the fact that she may have already rubbed the lamp just about enough.

There’s a saying that a creation is perfect not when there is nothing more to add to it, but when there is nothing left to take away. For Alina, this was one of those overheard wisdoms that, for whatever reason, like a song that gets stuck in your head, somehow captivated her mind early on in life so strongly that she pretty much had started to live by it — and not just in science. As far as her invention went, she wanted to build something that would scale easily; to use no parts that would be hard to design on her own; no materials that would be difficult to get in a backyard or hard to adapt for higher energies. To her, it looked like she’d pretty much done just that. And because of that, she figured that even if she put a lid on the whole thing out of some fear, it was only a matter of time before the same result popped up somewhere at someone else’s lab. And who knows who that would be. 

Time was ripe for gravity engineering at quantum scales.

Alina was gradually coming to terms with the realization that, in all likelihood, she was now the only one on Earth who could transmit, and possibly even receive signals anywhere in the entire Universe ninety billion light-years across, and maybe even beyond.

Think about that.

Of course, this was something she wanted to be completely firm and certain about before going public or ahead in any meaningful way, though she wasn’t even sure which one would be the right thing to do first. As Alina unfroze and came back to her senses from the tide of emotions, all she could think of was giving a call to her good friend, Mat.

Mat had just turned off the lights in his room to prepare for a sleep, angry at himself, again, that he didn’t manage to end the day before 12. Clocks were reading 2:53 in the morning when a call on the phone penetrated the newly formed darkness of his bedroom. He looked at the screen, it was Alina, one of the few of his non-family contacts that came through his ‘Do Not Disturb’ for the night. He picked it up quickly and answered a bit worried:


“Mat, it worked!” exclaimed Alina, forgetting to say hi.

“What worked?” Mat enquired, relieved that there probably wasn’t anything to be concerned about, but now curious.

“My signal disappears!” she shouted excitedly.

Not that it cleared things up for him, though not that she knew where to start and where to end either.

“Your signal disappears?” he asked, confused.

“Mat, can you come over please?”

“Now? It’s 3 A.M. in the morning...”

“Look, if I’m reading what I think I’m reading now right, if my eyes don’t trick me, then you need to, please, come over immediately,” she replied in an almost begging voice. Mat knew Alina well enough to discern that this was no ordinary sentiment on her part. So, after a small pause that primed his mind to her urgency, he quickly committed:

“Okay. I’m on my way.”

“Thanks! I’m waiting,” she replied with relief.

Outside, one of the hottest falls in recent memory had just given away its final warmth. The street was eerily quiet as the day was resting from the noises of a modern world. Trees were calm, with some of their leaves breaking off every now and then, catching waves of occasional gusts of wind, and rustling through the silence of a night softly illuminated by a full, silver moon. She opened the window, and a gentle breeze of fresh, cold air came rushing in, briefly pushing her hair sideways and back for a perfect shot that “Mat now lost forever,” she thought to herself, incidentally, with a beaming smile.

Alina was counting seconds. Not only did she anticipate the excitement of sharing the discovery with her friend, but, quite frankly, she still wasn’t even sure all of this wasn’t a dream or some kind of miscalculation. An independent witness would certainly help seal the deal, but while waiting, she had sent a couple of more signals through, mostly as a pinch to herself. And, sure enough, one after another, the pattern of disappearances repeated consistently. She even noticed a detail that lower frequency ones that overlapped with the wormhole appeared to be torn, while those of higher frequencies, with wavelengths smaller than a few millimeters, vanished completely. She made a few notes on the corresponding numbers.

Mat lived about ten minutes away from her and arrived in just about the same time, as traffic was light at that hour. As soon as the “secret” knock long before agreed upon between them for fun was heard, she opened the door with a gaze that, he thought, was clearly way too awake for such an hour.

“Well, I came at the speed of light,” he said amusingly.

“You have no idea,” Alina replied back smiling, “Come on in.”

“So, uhh, what’s this all about?” asked Mat and, as he entered her neat and tidy apartment, remarked, “Al, your place never ceases to amaze me. Clearly needs a man’s touch.”

Alina appreciated his ambiguously funny compliment with an honest giggle, but her look quickly turned into one that enjoys the innocent face of someone who is about to be enlightened with an enormous secret. For a moment, she was mysteriously silent as they had locked each other’s attention. Alina’s eyes were shining like the brightest stars in the sky, which clearly betrayed an excitement.

“Mat, I think I may have created a wormhole,” she said in a somewhat surprised, but overall confident tone, as if herself still not yet fully appreciating the gravity of her claim, albeit only to a friend.

“You’ve what?” asked Mat with a smile that seemed to convey friendly disbelief. Or, rather, belief that this was some kind of a friendly prank.

She said it again: “I think I have managed to fold spacetime... into a wormhole... The signals I send into it... well, some of them completely disappear. They’re swallowed up. Gone. The nearby instruments that are supposed to pick them up, don’t. As soon as I turn the wormhole off, they do. I don’t think this is an instrumentation error. Logs seem to agree. I’ve been flipping it back and forth this whole time while you were coming and... unless I’m dreaming, it all adds up!”

Mat still wasn’t sure what on Earth was going on.

“Alin, are you all right? I mean, it’s quite late...” he asked calmly, with no apparent predisposition, just to be sure.

“I’m okay. Mat, I’m serious,” she replied, slightly raising her palms towards him in a way people do when they want to invite trust. “I’ll show it to you in a moment, I just wanted to prep you up a bit because, I mean... if this is true, if I’m not hallucinating, then I’ll need your help in figuring out what to do with this whole thing...” she added somewhat frantically.

“All right, all right, slow down. I’m listening,” Mat reassured, gently leaning on her desk behind him, now ready to hear her out.

She continued: “Okay, so, as you know, I’ve been working on this thing for quite a while now, and, you know, it has always been like a hobby to me and... over this couple of years I’ve tried a few things and, sure, most of them didn’t go anywhere, which, frankly, wasn’t a big surprise even to myself,” then she paused to deliver the big reveal, “but about a week ago I had this idea...” then interrupted herself and started to look for something, reached for the flexible aluminum ruler next to Mat on her desk, gave it to him and said:

“Here. Bend it.”

Mat looked at her puzzled, but accepted the challenge by taking the ruler slowly, and started to bend it gently, careful not to break or deform. Having the privilege of a hindsight, she watched his eyes with an expectation of a guess as to where she was going with this, but all he could say was: “Like this?”

“Yeah,” she confirmed, and asked: “did you notice how you did it?”

“Well, I held it by its ends and... bent it”, he replied with an anticipation as to where exactly the big idea hid in this obviously simplistic illustration.

“You held it... by its ends...” she repeated, in a tone as if inviting him to solve the puzzle. “You held it... by its two ends...” she repeated again, this time with a hint, slightly waving the marker in her hand towards him in a celebratory gesture.

“I held it... by its ends...” he echoed back with a funny face, and added, “You’re not trying to hypnotize me, are you?”

“No-no,” she laughed, “I have a point. I just... I’m so excited! You’re the first person I’m sharing this with!”

“Well, I’m always glad to bend your stuff... at 3 a.m. in the morning,” he remarked in humor.

She then took the ruler back and continued the illustration herself:

“Okay, let me explain. Let’s say you want to bend something physical, something ordinary. You need two points, right?”

“Well, I suppose so... There may be dimensionality at play... but go on,” Mat replied by trying to be exact.

“Right,” she agreed, “but let’s just leave that aside for a moment for this illustration. So, there are two points, two places that are necessary for the bend.”

Anticipating a reaction, Alina paused to see what he had to say.

“Okay, and?” asked Mat with a curious look, inviting her to finish.

“And, therefore, I thought, what if we assume that in order to fold spacetime into a wormhole that, as theory suggests, establishes a connection between two distant, possibly very distant places in the entire Universe, we need two agents to apply the bend, so to speak, each at their own end, just like you need two pressure points to bend the ruler...” she explained and paused again to allow for her words to sink in.

“And... you’re one of the agents?” he asked to see if he heard her right.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Two agents?” he continued, looking at her baffled, with an apparent hesitation to believe: “Are you suggesting that... not only is there someone else... out there... but that... they are responding to your actions… your ‘bend’... right at this very moment?”

“Well, it may not be exactly as you said. We don’t know — there may be naturally occurring bends somewhere that I’m accidentally hooking up with, but, I mean, if they are made by lifeforms, then... well, they may not be monitoring it in real-time, but, essentially, yes,” clarified Alina.

Mat didn’t quite know what to make of what she was saying, or whether to make anything at all, even though he was somewhat intrigued by now, if mostly bewildered. So he decided to play along, and the obvious question in his mind that he could entertain was one he also knew would be logical for her to anticipate next:

“And how do you find the other... side?” he asked.

“That’s the kicker, isn’t it?!” she replied, paused for a moment, and answered: “By initiating a bend with the exact same energy that the other side is (potentially) applying.”

After a short silence and catching him looking at a nearby radio, she added: “Yes, like tuning in to the broadcast frequency of the other side.”

Mat was confused, but ready — just ready — to admit that she may be on to something.

Alina went on to conclude: “Only in this case, we’re not broadcasting a radio wave, instead we’re initiating a bend, shaping up the fabric of space for a possible match on the other side, wherever it may be. And if there is one — we get… a wormhole.”

“Then we broadcast a radio signal into it?” asked Mat, referring to what she said she had done.


For a few seconds they stared at each other in the most enigmatic silence you can imagine. Another burst of wind from the window swayed Alina’s hair, which Mat did notice, and said — now clearly with a sign of seriousness, “So, you did that, and your signal disappeared... into it?”

She nodded a yes with eyebrows raised in elation and said: “Let me show you.”

You’d think that at this point there would hardly be any room left for surprise. But it’s never the same experience to see something magical for yourself. The moment Alina demonstrated the disappearance of a signal to Mat, not only did he forget the time of day, but he, too, became as awake as a night owl. He took another baffled look at her, to which she nodded with a confirming smile. Then said: “Do it again!” She did. And all Mat could do was stare as the process repeated, while Alina, in turn, stared at him, excited and wondering of his reaction. To an uninitiated observer, there was nothing magical to see: no sparks, no fireworks, no rabbit pulled out of a hat — nothing but boring numbers of raw data on a screen. But to someone who knew what they meant, “magical” would not even begin to describe what was happening. “Wow... Wow! Just wow!” he exclaimed calmly, but nonetheless amazed, allowing himself a few more seconds just to let the whole thing sink in. “Al, I don’t know what to say except that this is... monumental!” he said as he turned his look at her. She just smiled in excitement and agreement. “This is... I mean... yeah... Yeah,” he murmured, more like in confirmation to himself, with his gaze flipping back and forth between the point on the screen where the signal trace was interrupted and the point where the wormhole was present according to the coordinates. “So where does this go?” he asked. “Well... I... don’t know,” she replied after a brief wait, understanding that her prior explanations could have been eclipsed at that moment by Mat’s fresh experience of astonishment. So she allowed for some time for him to process. Then, all of a sudden, he asked: “Have you tried light?” “No!” she exclaimed, as if questioning why she didn't think of it herself, “That’s a great idea, Mat! I’ll need to increase the yield and a couple of other parameters, but you’re right, it’s all waves, the power requirements should be well within my budget... I wonder...” “Let’s try!” said Mat, by now fully engaged with his mind. Alina started her adjustments as Mat watched with intense expectancy, slightly leaning towards and keeping his eyes fixed on the area of the wormhole. “Wait, wait!” he shouted suddenly and quickly, but quietly, “Go back!” “What? What happened?” she asked. “Tune that back, I think I saw something.” “What?” she asked again as she turned back her last adjustment. “That’s it, stop!” said Mat, “Wow, look at this!” “What???” she asked very curiously as she tried to spot what he was looking at. “Here!” said Mat, slowly pointing with his index finger at the area around the wormhole. Alina focused her attention on the spot and said: “It’s a... black dot... Very strange... wait, of course! It acts as a...” “Black body!” they both shouted out in a simultaneous realization as they turned to each other. “Yeah, or a black hole. Some of the room light must be sucked into it, so it appears pitch black...” Alina explained aloud what now became clear to both of them. “...like a broken pixel of space,” said Mat, as if to finish her thought. “Exactly.” They kept looking at each other intermittently in a mix of excitement and awe. Data, however strong and undeniable, is one thing, but this was real visually. A small, “broken pixel” of space, as Mat described it. Unlike anything they’d seen before. Except, perhaps, those paints and special materials that absorb so much light falling onto them that the whole thing appears as if the space has a hole in it — until you touch it. Which, incidentally, is exactly what Mat thought of trying next, but since he wasn’t ready to potentially sacrifice his hand for that just yet, he gently took the ruler that’s been in Alina’s hand this entire time and cautiously brought it near the wormhole, preparing to sacrifice it instead. Alina watched him intensely, without saying a word, understanding his intentions completely — there was a lot of low-hanging fruit of experimentation to try out. Mat very, very slowly drew the ruler closer to the wormhole, stopping just shy of the point where they were about to touch — so he could push that last bit extra carefully. He took a look at Alina to signal a minor moment of truth, and pushed it through. Nothing happened. It’s as if the wormhole wasn’t even there, which actually emboldened Mat to up the ante and try it with his hand. As he rolled up his sleeve, Alina realized he was now preparing to do that and said: “Careful, Mat! We don’t have to try everything out immediately… Or on our own bodies.” He responded with an unwavering smile and went ahead, slowly pushing his hand closer. At the exact moment of contact he started screaming as if in so much pain that Alina’s happy face vanished instantly as she threw herself towards him for help. Of course, Mat immediately spared her and started laughing, barely uttering “I’m just kidding, Al, I… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.” “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Mat!” she said, “don’t do that, it’s too late for that kind of stuff. You’re gonna wake my crazy neighbors!” It hadn’t even been an hour since they became the only people in the world who had seen — created! — a wormhole, and yet here they were, already playing with it and joking around like it was just another particle of dust... As they calmed down, Mat said, thinking aloud: “Okay. So it doesn’t do anything to the material stuff, including organic, but it apparently does interact with light...” “Well, to be honest, that sort of was the theory to begin with,” Alina remarked. “Sure,” he agreed, and was now slowly and confidently waving his hand back and forth through the wormhole. He did notice, though, that right at the point of contact it disappeared into his hand like a ghost, which, although one could say was expected — or, as expected as it could be at this point — was nevertheless an interesting visual spectacle. After watching him play with the black dot for some time, she asked: “So, Mat, let’s address the elephant… or shall I say the ant in the room: what do we do with this now?” After a deep breath, Mat replied, “That’s a very, very, very good question,” as he finished his final waves at each ‘very’. “Obviously, we now have to try with your hand!” he suggested clearly not seriously, knowing all too well that no science on Earth or in heaven could ever force her to try anything with so many unknown effects to her skin. “No thanks,” she replied quickly and firmly, but with an apparent appreciation of his humor, and continued lightly, “why do you guys always have to try this stuff on the hands of your female companions?” Mat smiled and replied, “Well, I think in the case of Roentgen, it was a sign of love. He was actually honoring her.” Done with his playful experiments, Mat took a very heavy seat on the only armchair in her room, keeping his eyes on the device and moving back in shock of what he was witnessing, unsure of what to do next. “Well, this is certainly a Pandora’s box, Al. Almost scary. Big. Very hard to under- or even overestimate.” “Wow, thanks,” she reflected his remarks kindly. “I mean, do we even understand the immediate ramifications?” he continued. “Ramifications?” “Yes. Like… how quickly can this roll out of control? And how will the authorities react? This seems to be one of those things we should tell them… But who should we go to?...” “Wait, Mat... the authorities? Why?” The suggestion was clearly surprising to her. “Al, what you have here is so clear that even if people laugh at you at first, it won’t last long,” he started to explain. “I don’t care,” she replied by quickly interrupting him. “But the powers that be will choke you the minute you go public with this kind of stuff.” As much as she was ready to get combatant and confront the direction his worries were taking him, he said it with so much confidence and genuine desire to do things right that she couldn’t help but at least pause in an attempt to fully understand his concerns. “Well, don’t you think we can build around this first?” she asked. “Like what?” “I don’t know, something… good, something… interesting, something… profitable?” Mat took a very directed look at her, almost expecting she’d be able to read his mind without him having to continue explaining what he thought was obvious. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. This isn’t something you can just patent away and move full speed ahead. Trust me. And you should feel that too, come on. This is like electricity, nuclear energy and the transistor... combined.” Deep down Alina knew he was right, and not just because she wanted him to be. Yet she wasn’t done disagreeing, and this far into their friendship, Mat could see it in her eyes and read it all through her body language. But perhaps what he could neither see nor read was that, instinctively, she not so much wanted to be right as rather to sense some unconditional support from her friend, even if for something ever so slightly rebellious. “You most likely overshot this one,” he continued by trying to mix in another honest compliment as well as help her tame any expectations. “Okay,” Alina remarked half-jokingly, then continued more seriously, “But Mat, the problem is that I think it’s just a matter of time before this is discovered by someone else somewhere. So it might even be on us to secure it somehow through a private endeavor and make sure it’s not... I don’t know... weaponized in any way,” she added with an alarming emphasis. And to try to steer him along a more desired path nevertheless. Mat kept a thoughtful look at her and... was just silent. “What? What are you thinking?” asked Alina, sensing something in his mind. “I’m thinking of a letter,” he said. “The Einstein-Szilard letter to Roosevelt that they wrote when they realized it was only a matter of time before the Nazis developed an atomic bomb based on already sufficient knowledge at the time, suggesting the U.S. better do something about it and beat them...” he explained in another attempt to convince her, “they didn’t try to make a private endeavor.” “And who did they beat as a result, Mat?” Alina asked back rhetorically. He sighed deeply and replied: “Al, things are not that simple once you dig a little deeper, you know.” After a heavy pause as a natural reaction to this rather serious twist in their exchange, Alina remarked, “Mat, I don’t think we have much of a choice here but to go forward, and to go fast. We just have to find the right way of doing it.” “But you don’t think the right way of doing it is informing the government,” he pressed on straight, seeing she wasn’t clearly thinking in that direction at all. “No! If I may be honest,” Alina replied rather strictly — in that manner that only women can — obviously unwilling to concede, “what government, Mat? It’s made of a very long chain of people just itching for something to please their boss.” One thing about Mat is that he never argued with women past a certain threshold of tension. After discovering it almost accidentally, this had served him so well in the past that he was quick to make it a matter of principle. Not in a rude way so as to appear to completely ignore their concerns, and certainly not in a way as to abandon his own opinions and convictions, either; he simply recognized very early on that it never led the argument to a fruitful resolution anyway. So he would just let them talk their hearts out, which ensured that the conversation didn’t escalate to irreconcilable heights and, almost ironically, often did actually end up in a fruitful resolution. The funny thing is that Alina not only recognized that in him, but, much to her own surprise, had found herself to secretly love that about him, seeing now over the years how rare it was in men, who usually can’t resist their first instinct to be the one with the loudest last word. Of course, none of this meant they never disagreed or had a dispute. In fact, she sometimes caught herself pretty much testing him with made-up arguments, which would explain her almost cunning smile and sudden mellowing once the threshold proved to stand strong. For a few seconds, the only thing with any sound in the room was a clock on the wall, the loud ticks of its hand making both of them very aware of itself, and of the time. “Mat, thanks for coming this early,” she almost whispered, as if unwilling to interrupt the soothing ticks, one by one vanishing into eternity… just like the signal. “Any time,” he reassured, paused a bit, and continued, “You know, Al, as soon as the vastness of space was discovered, people have wondered why we’re sort of stuck on this planet... Earth... Not that there’s anything wrong with it — it’s majestic! A garden, an oasis in our galaxy, maybe even the Universe... but we’ve always had this feeling, this eager desire that there has to be a way to access all of it. Like we did eventually find the means to travel anywhere on Earth. I mean... for a long time we thought that was endless. Then we discovered it was actually pretty small and round. Sure, it took us a while to figure out flights heavier than air, but if you think about it, our atmosphere is dense enough to support that. So why not think that the ‘atmosphere’ of space actually allows us to travel through the entire Universe? We just needed to find the means... which is what I think you’ve done,” he said to sum up the late hour on a rather philosophical and high note — one that’s been brewing in his head this entire time. She instinctively turned her look away from Mat and towards the device, perhaps amazed at how its enormous potential to discover nothing less than entirely new worlds just became secondary to the world of genuine friendship they had between each other. “Well, we’re not at travel level yet,” she said by trying to be part exact, part modest. “But you know we will be.” “Oh I hope so! Mat, I’m so glad! So excited!” “You should be,” said Mat, sharing her joyful moment. “All right, here’s what I think. Don't tell anyone, let’s put a lid on this for now and... I have something to take care of at home in the morning, but if we both wake up with the same memories of the last hour, then we’ll know this wasn’t a dream,” Mat said, “I’ll be here first thing in the morning and let’s think this through with a clear head. I’m starting to think this is not real myself,” he continued half-jokingly as he got up from the armchair and prepared to leave. Alina looked down for a second, then lifted her head up, pushed her hair back for a quick fix, and replied: “You sounded like Sam — our manager at Radex,” reminding Mat how one of her most frequent complaints about the company she was an intern in was about decisions that could have been made quickly and easily were for some unknown reasons discussed through several meetings. Mat just smiled back in understanding. “But I agree. It’s way too late,” she said. Although it did seem a bit strange to her that he decided to leave given the magnitude of what they were dealing with. Approaching the door, he added, “I do hope you won’t disappear into it by tomorrow.” “Pixel by pixel. Wouldn’t that be cool?” Alina replied. “All right. Don’t tell anyone. See you tomorrow. At ten?” “It’s almost ten,” she said in a not-so-subtle exaggeration and, knowing his late waking habits, suggested kindly, “come when you wake up. It’s just a wormhole. I’ll make you one for breakfast.” “Sounds very delicious,” Mat replied for a goodbye, closed the door of his car, took a somewhat mysteriously prolonged look at the road ahead, turned the engine on rather hesitantly from a tide of unprocessed thoughts, and slowly drove away. Standing on her own doorstep, in the crispy chill of the night, what almost immediately caught Alina’s eye right after she saw her friend off was another friend of hers, the Moon. The Moon was her far, silent, you could even say cold at times, but faithful friend during countless nights before. “One day, I’ll come and visit you,” she used to say, by way of promising. She knew it had to be her; the Moon would never come itself. And now, for the first time, that day seemed real. Even close. In a glorious moment like this, Alina couldn’t help but reminisce about the stories of her life she often told the Moon at nights: of dreams and aspirations, of betrayals and hopes, of love and forgiveness. Nothing too dramatic though, just regular, human life. For many, too much at twenty seven. For others, too little. For her, just about enough. The next chapter of her life had come to live, to love, believe and shine. Like the Moon on that night. “You just hang in there, I’ll soon be on my way,” she uttered quietly aloud, looking at her distant friend enchanted, “And it won’t take three days.” She rubbed her shoulders for some warmth, moved back in and gently closed the door to take one last look at the creation that made her day. But the moment she turned in the direction of the wormhole she suddenly stopped her smooth and dancy movements as an unexpected, bright, orange flash appeared to ignite right at the point of the wormhole, and immediately kept emanating a gentle light of the same orange hue, like a miniature sun in her room. It never crossed her mind to even imagine she hadn’t seen all of the bizarre things possible within a single day. Yet that’s precisely what happens when you hit a mother lode in a gold mine. It’s usually darkness that frightens, not light. But this one was scary, and she didn’t know why. All she could do in the moment was stare at it. Her triumphant smile started to slowly melt away, her entire face morphing into part serious, part curious as she very cautiously began to approach the strange glow from what she thought would be a safe distance. And after just a few steps in, Alina stopped like a deer caught in headlights, with no idea what to think, or how to react.

She nodded a yes with eyebrows raised in elation and said: “Let me show you.”

Right at that time Mat hit “Send” on a text message that read “We need to talk. A,” addressed to someone named Blackwood, as he made a quick stop about five minutes after leaving Alina’s house. He had cast a somewhat thoughtful look at the chat, anxiously waiting for a confirmation of his message being seen and read, which, despite the early hour, appeared almost immediately, along with a reply soon after that said, “Are you sure?” 

Mat sent back “Yes. Beyond any doubt.”

After another short while, a reply came back saying, “Meet me at 11 p.m. today, my office.”

Mat didn’t quite like the time as it meant he couldn’t meet Alina at 10, but felt he had no choice but to confirm, which he did, and then slowly, as if still bothered by something, turned the screen of his phone off and put it away into the right pocket of his jacket.

After about thirty seconds of rumination in an almost perfect quiet of the night, he drove on.

Back at Alina’s place, unsure of what was happening, but just to play it safe, she ultimately decided to move closer to her device, all the while staring at the glow, and turn the power off, which, as soon as she did, the glow disappeared instantly, turning her miniature sun off.

Alina woke up slightly after nine in the morning, full of energy and excitement despite having slept so little. It was like one of those happy moments of childhood when just the thought of a new toy made an unseen alarm go off to wake her up. For a split second, she actually thought the events of the most recent hours were a dream.

After her usual morning routine was done unusually quickly, she approached her device to power it up again. Slightly burdened with the thought about the mysterious glow she turned off a few hours ago, she folded her hands in hesitation, staring at the device.

“What on earth was that all about?” She said part thinking aloud, part talking to the device, with a cup of a morning coffee in her hands, playing a spontaneous tune with her fingernails on it.

After about a minute of casual, ecstatic thinking on her feet, yet still without any clue, Alina turned away and went to put her empty cup into the kitchen sink. She placed it near the sink hole, opened the tap and started to wash it as if enjoying the process, part of which was her good mood, of course. 

As soon as she was done along with a few other items and was about to turn off the water with her hand on the tap, it hit her. She turned her head around instinctively, grabbed a towel to dry her hands and rushed off to the device to turn it on.

Things started to fire back up, and she anxiously awaited for the moment when she could regenerate the wormhole. “Come on, come on, come on!” She uttered in an impatience to test her idea.

Device came back up, things seemed normal. Alina pushed for the wormhole, and after about thirty seconds of final waiting, it was back and black, almost as usual at this point. She looked at the screen to double check if she had configured the same parameters, which she had, and now the only thing left was to wait.

After a few minutes of nothing happening, Alina got up from her armchair and approached the spot with a clear intention of interacting with it. Now that Mat had tested it on his hand, surrendering hers had started to feel like a minor deviation from her principles around skincare.

As she drew her hand closer and closer, still carefully, she passed it through the wormhole like Mat, hovering it back and forth several times.

“So why were you glowing yesterday?” She asked aloud, speaking to herself — and to the wormhole.

Right at that time Mat was staring at a door whose plate read “J. Blackwood”. The door opened, and as the secretary appeared, it’s as if she recognized him when she said: “Mr. Langford, Mr. Blackwood will now see you.”

“Sure,” said Mat as he entered. 

“Oh hi Mat,” Mr. Blackwood greeted as he saw Mat enter the room, “How are you? Want some coffee? Water?”

“Yeah, coffee, why not,” replied Mat after a small pause.

“Veronica, could you please make our good friend here some,” he quickly asked the secretary right as she was leaving them, then turned to Mat and asked, “So, how are things going? It’s been a while.”

“Yeah...” he replied with a smile and a look that clearly set the stage for something interesting, “I’m good, I’m good, thank you Jack.”

“Please, have a seat,” asked Blackwood, eager to hear what Mat had to say.

The atmosphere in the room could be described as light, but strict. That’s how Blackwood preferred it, and that’s how he designed it. The lack of any personal items either on his desk or his entire room was deliberate, supporting the strictness, which he thought contributed to keeping things professional and on point. 

“Here you go, Mr. Langford,” said the secretary as she approached them with a fresh brew of coffee in her hands. “Thanks,” replied Mat very politely, and immediately took a sip while looking into Blackwood’s eyes with an intriguing smile and a visible redness in his eyes from the exhaustion of his recent hours.

“So,” said Blackwood, “I was somewhat surprised to receive a text with code A so early in the morning. I guess you have something… important for us.”

“Oh yes,” replied Mat quite ceremonially.

It was about 11:05 at the time, and as Alina was watching the wormhole, it suddenly disappeared unexpectedly. She looked at the screen for the signal data to understand why and, unsurprisingly, it was all strangely flat. But before she could even begin to try to guess what was happening, the exact thing that she was expecting and had almost forgotten for a few seconds happened again in front of her: the same orange flash appeared suddenly right where the wormhole was.

Since she was quite close to it this time, it sort of threw her away a meter both as a reaction to its brightness and, frankly, being still slightly scared of the unknown.

The glow was back. It did not look as intense as it did at night, which was probably just due to it being mixed with the light of a sunny day. And although now she had an idea as to what it was, she still didn’t quite know why, what to expect or what to do next. But first she felt she needed to take a closer look at it.

Alina quickly found her sunglasses and put them on.

Looking through the glasses, there it was: the confirmation of her hunch. She noticed that the glow was not continuous, but was very slightly, yet visibly pulsating in a somewhat repeatable pattern.

“Wow...” She whispered quietly in amazement. “Could this really be true?” Then turning to look at the screen of her device, she noticed that the primary plot was reversed and was behaving in sync with what she identified as pulsation of the glow. Alina turned her gaze back to the wormhole and then back again to the screen a few times just to be sure of what she was seeing.

You know how it often is in life: nothing interesting happens for years, then everything happens all in one week.

It didn’t take her a minute to notice that the pattern of the pulsation was all too familiar: three pulses, then one, then four.

That’s right.

“Are you kidding me?” Blackwood asked Mat.

“No. No I’m not,” replied Mat calmly, but as emphatically as he kept his eye contact with Blackwood to convey complete confidence in all seriousness while the latter was digesting the news.

Blackwood was stunned in disbelief, but it was clear that there was nothing ambiguous in what Mat had just told him. He quietly rose up and approached the open door of the reception area, where the secretary usually sat, but had left it after she handed the coffee to Mat, which is why they were comfortable talking with the door open.

Blackwood closed the door of his office very quietly, still processing the news. Then, turning to Mat, asked:

“Who else knows about this?”

“Well, as of this moment, I’m pretty sure it’s just her, me, and you.”

“You’re sure she hasn’t told anyone while you were away? Or isn’t telling anyone right now?”

Mat hesitated, as you can never be one hundred percent sure, but after realizing he was as much as was possible, said:

“It’s very unlikely, sir.”

Blackwood had no choice but to trust the assessment.

“Now, judging from the fact that you came to me this quickly, I assume you do understand this has to stay this way… for now,” he essentially demanded, realizing that the genie was out of the bottle.

It was not an unexpected reaction, but one that nevertheless turned Mat’s facial expression into a somewhat uncertain one, which Blackwood quickly read and followed up calmly, but as unequivocally as can be:

“Langford, do you understand?”

“No I do, sir, it’s just...” he paused and looked into Blackwood’s eyes to prepare himself a bit, then continued: “We sort of had a... disagreement as to how we should handle the discovery.”

“Disagreement?” asked Blackwood, expecting a clarification.

“Yeah, her idea... her desire... was... well, to build something around it.”

Blackwood put a hardly detectable smile on his face.

“And yours?”

Keeping a firm eye contact, Mat replied:

“Mine was that we should inform the authorities,” as he made a slow, pointing gesture with his hand toward Blackwood, “but... well, she didn’t like that idea.”

Someone like Blackwood wouldn’t be where he was if he wasn’t good at reading between the lines as well as reading people in general. So, he was obviously pleased when he saw there was just as much sincerity in Mat’s reply as there was internal conflict to go against the will of his longtime friend who made the actual discovery. 

“And you’ve done the right thing,” said Blackwood as he got up from his chair, appearing quite relaxed. He then poured himself some sparkling water, and continued after taking a drink while looking at Mat’s slightly worried demeanor: “If only for the simple fact that there is no way she could keep something like this hidden for too long. And you know that. That’s why you came to me, and that’s why you’re here — in both senses of the word. If, in fact, it turns out to be what you say it is. So, it’s better to control it right from the beginning.”

“Yeah,” agreed Mat, finding Blackwood’s argument quite convincing, although clearly already plotting in his head the tension he was going to have with Alina when she found out about “the right thing.”

“See to it that she keeps a lid on this, Mat, and I’ll see what the next best steps are,” he continued, “Good job. I wish we had ten more like you,” finished Blackwood with a pat on Mat’s shoulder.

As Mat stepped out of Blackwood’s office and out of the building, he noticed that time was already way past his promised 10 a.m. He quickly switched his mind back into a close friend's gear and took off to see Alina.

Clearly realizing by this time that what she saw in the pulsation were digits of pi, as her mind was working the situation, she heard the secret knock at the door again. When she opened, Mat made a clearly visible sigh of a fake relief as he said:

“Thank God you’re still here!”

“I am,” Alina replied as she smiled.

“You’re laughing? That was almost not a joke,” he continued as he rushed in, “Sorry I’m a bit late, how’s it going?”

Alina’s eyes shone.

“Mat, I think we have something major here.”

“Something major?” He asked somewhat surprised given what they'd already seen by now, but as soon as he did, the glow immediately caught his attention as he locked his gaze at it.

“Whoa! What the hell? Is that?..”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Yes what?”

“It’s the wormhole. Or some form of it.”

“What do you mean ‘some form of it’?”

“I’m not sure... yet, but it’s... uhh...”


“Well, it’s transmitting pi.”

Mat got completely confused.

“Why are you transmitting pi? And why does it glow... orange?” he asked from being overwhelmed with questions as he froze his attention on the glow.

“No, Mat, I mean it is transmitting pi. I think it has... turned itself into something like a white hole, and is transmitting a signal... to us. The signal... is, uhh, number pi.”

“It’s what?” Mat asked in utter shock as he looked at her, “a white hole?”

“Something like that, yes. Like the flip side of yesterday's wormhole.”

Then turned towards the glow and barely said: “Al, those are all…”

He did want to say “theoretical,” but the word hung heavily in the air. Theoretical or not, Mat couldn't deny what he was witnessing right into his eyes.

“Well, apparently, they’re not,” Alina remarked in response to his unuttered word.

“You must be joking!” exclaimed Mat in amazement.

“Mat, the light is pulsating, and the pulses very clearly seem to be forming the digits of pi. Here, look through these,” she explained very excitedly as she handed him the glasses.

After he slowly took them in disbelief and looked through them, he paused for a few seconds to let the new news sink in.

“Jesus, Al! You just don’t let us rest for a second!” He exclaimed.

She giggled very proudly.

“What did you do? Why did it turn itself into this?” He asked.

“I’m not sure. Actually, I have no idea.”

Mat gazed at it in complete bewilderment, counting the pulses to confirm what she had said, while Alina tried to explain:

“As I came back in yesterday after you left, I saw this glow. I guess I was too scared, maybe confused and also, frankly, too tired to do anything with it, so I just turned it off after a minute and went to bed. But then, as soon as I woke up today and turned it back on, it came back up again... after a while.”

“Uh-huh,” muttered Mat, “Good Lord!”

“And you think this is something… sending you pi?” He asked after a pause.

“Or someone,” Alina replied, doubting he didn’t recognize the sequence of pulses forming the famous digits. Mat looked at her strangely as she clarified, “I mean, it may be that it’s someone on Earth… but that’s not what you and I are thinking, is it?” 

They looked at the glow, not quite sure what to make of it. It all felt… too much to be true.

“Well, I would rather eat it myself...”

“So would I,” she agreed as he put the glasses back on to watch and count the pulses again.

“What do we do now?” Alina asked after a while.

“You think I know?”

“I hope you do.”

After a brief silence, Mat suggested: “The only thing I can think of is...”

“What? Just don’t tell me to inform the authorities,” she asked lightly.

“Let’s send something back,” he said.

She looked at him with an adventurous affirmation in her eyes:

“Okay! What, pi?”

“Well, let’s try something else, say ‘e’. You know, just in case they don’t interpret pi as an echo,” Mat suggested.

“Right...” agreed Alina, “You know, that’s a pretty good handshake, totally worthy of an intergalactic protocol.”

It’s actually not like they were convinced that the pi was sent by someone and they were sending ‘e’ back. Rather, this was one of those situations when you’re not sure what you’re doing is real, but you know that if it turns out to be what you secretly hope it is, then that’s the most exciting thing to be doing — not necessarily the right one, or the most thought out. And although you might think that Mat had his priorities and ambitions straight with respect to Alina, Blackwood, and the whole thing, he too was, in many ways, still in experimentation mode at this point of such an unchartered territory.

“Wait, how do you turn this back into a black… wormhole?” asked Mat.

Alina looked at the device, then at Mat, and replied:

“I don’t know. Yesterday it switched to white by itself, I didn’t do anything.”

“You didn’t do anything?” asked Mat again.

“No, definitely not,” she confirmed.

In a tide of unexpected breakthroughs that came in the form of solutions, they were suddenly lost in the realization that they were missing an important piece of a puzzle whose picture was becoming clearer and, without a doubt, all the more exciting. Or so they thought.