The Gray Hole Enigma, a new book by this author is well on its way to a Fall 2015 publication by Scaling Tall Timber Press. This is the tenth book by author Dave Folsom and joins a literary fiction novel of logger life in Northwestern Montana, the Charlie Draper Thriller series and others. In this book Admiral Aarón Blackwell faces the enigma of a gray hole in the universe and the limitations of time travel in the enormity of outer space. The Gray Hole Enigma is scheduled to be available on Amazon in the fall of 2015. Here is a little excerpt preview.
The Gray Hole Enigma
A Space/Time Conundrum
This book is dedicated to my wife, best friend, live-in critic and all of our daughters.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, or incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, localities, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All cover art and photography is the original work produced and copyrighted by the author with the exception of the parts of the cover background which is a stock photo © Thomas “Thunderchild” Raube Eduarian-DevantArt.com. Used with permission.
© Dave Folsom 2015, All Rights Reserved
Copyright law prohibits the reproduction, copying or use in any form of this book without the expressed permission of the author.
(Scaling Tall Timber Press)
Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, May 11, 2045
André Santiago stared at a seventy-two inch computer screen scrolling a constant data stream. A large portion of what he watched was unintelligible to the naked eye and required later evaluation. Mostly it was a wide-screen view of the far reaches of the solar system glowing like a brilliant sea of swirling lights. What he saw had not changed from a hundred other nights, but the sound in his earpiece certainly did.
After a long week of uneventful nights, boredom hung like weights on his eyelids. Santiago secured the nighttime work by sheer good fortune. Research Assistant positions at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico were rare and hard to secure because the competition was fierce. After long hours of study, a rigorous series of applications, and terrifying interviews by solemn, hard-eyed old men, he received a phone call. He considered it a last step to his long-term effort to finalize his Ph.D. in Astrophysics. He fully anticipated the long nighttime hours and low pay, but nothing prepared him for the need for a constant effort to stay awake.
The night air was clear, crisp, and dark, ideal conditions for his work. At three minutes after one a.m., his boredom dulled mind heard recognizable sounds, mixed in a soup of background noise. It stood out as an unusual resonance, not distinct, but familiar. Suddenly alert, André listened. The sounds were curious, not in their content, but the fact they repeated the same sequence. Two beeps, pause, three beeps, pause, five beeps, pause, seven beeps, and a slightly longer pause; then it repeated. Random background noise made Santiago cautious, and he tried to contain his excitement. He listened for an hour, counting the beeps each time, and methodically entering it into his log. His attempts to calm his exhilaration were unsuccessful, and at one-fifty a.m., he reached personal certainty.
The world around André Santiago slept, including his brilliant, but cantankerous mentor, Dr. Anthony Sheldon. At the age of seventy -two, the old man belittled Santiago’s efforts, slashed his papers, and scoffed at his ideas. Shredding Santiago’s attempts at forming original thoughts and ideas seemed Sheldon’s personal playground. The man’s abuse taught Santiago to be a careful and thorough researcher. It made him cautious, and he listened to the sounds another five minutes, repeatedly testing before he stabbed his pawnshop-acquired smartphone.
It rang several times before a sleep-filled voice answered, “The goddamn world better be coming to an end young man. Is it?”
“I’m not sure, Professor,” Santiago said.
“Well then, call me back when you are certain.”
“Please, sir, I’m sorry to wake you, but there is something coming through I think you should listen to.”
“This.” Santiago held his smartphone close to the speaker through a complete sequence. When it repeated, he said, “Did you hear it?”
“I sure as hell did, André, how long has this been going on?”
“About an hour, Sir,” Santiago said.
“And you just now called me?”
“I had to make certain, Sir.
“Have you pinpointed its source?”
“Not yet, Sir, but I’m working on it.” Santiago held back the truth that he had already pinpointed it, but he knew better than to say anything until he double-checked. Trained well, he never failed to double and triple check his calculations. His mentor hated careless research.
“What the hell are you sitting around for? Get on it. I’ll be there in under an hour.”
The phone went dead, and Santiago listened to the beeps again. He did not need to because he already had formed his conclusion. Its implications both excited and frightened him. Despite his anxiety, he knew without a doubt that life and science would never be the same again. In the short time after he had called his mentor, he did not expect anything different, only the monotonous beeping sequence that he had heard previously. By the third repeat, Santiago began to wonder if perhaps he had called the Doctor prematurely. It was only then he heard the decisive factor and for the second time that night, his heart almost stopped.
Dr. Sheldon arrived at ten to three, his silver hair wild and disheveled; pants pulled on over pajama bottoms. He wore no shirt, only a light coat. Santiago did not notice since his mentor looked the same as on a normal day. Today though was not a normal day. Those sleepy days were over, likely forever, and Santiago knew it. As it was with the afternoon of President Kennedy’s assassination, everyone alive and old enough to remember knew what he or she was doing on that day. That was, of course, what he had been told since few alive on that day still lived. Any left were too young at the time to remember. Santiago only remembered what his mother had said.
Santiago had spent the waiting time re-calculating the data. His efforts confirmed that what he heard was indeed a discovery. Moreover, it ranked as a detection that would likely shake the scientific world to its collective core.
“Let me see what you have, Son,” Sheldon said.
“It’s a sequence of prime numbers,” Santiago blurted, “I measured the pause time between each number, and it is exactly the same except after seven.”
“So, what is the pause time? Sheldon asked.
“Exactly three seconds between the numbers and exactly six seconds between the groups,” Santiago replied.
“What you are saying is that the pause time between the transmissions of each prime number in the group of prime numbers is exactly the same. Moreover, the pause between each transmission is exactly double at six seconds.” Sheldon did not direct the question at Santiago. Instead, he appeared to be asking himself, his eyes half closed while the great mind deciphered the information before it.
“Curious,” the old man said as if the information before him was not new, only different, and he was alone in the room. “Very curious,” he repeated.
Sergio Whitaker was late. He walked as usual because though he was late enough to feel guilty, he was not guilty enough to hurry. NASA’s Director of Space Exploration and Operation, Leonard Olsen, called the meeting. It required Saturday night travel for Whitaker. High weekend travel numbers forced the shuttle from Florida to the nation’s capital to resurrect an ancient fifty passenger, dual jet aircraft, newly out of mothballs. Worse yet, Olsen ranked low in Whitaker’s thin book of acquaintances. So low, in fact, that Whitaker considered ignoring the call to Washington and risking the repercussions. He pondered instead wasting the weekend gazing at the Atlantic Ocean. He imagined himself holding a cold foamy beer and loafing on his second-story deck admiring the rolling water as it rearranged the shoreline. Washington, D.C. won by a slim margin, solely because of Whitaker’s curiosity.
The only good thing he could muster about Olsen was that he had been a career pilot. Now he was a long-term bureaucrat. He had not met Olsen in the flesh but listened to the man’s telephone rants enough times to form an opinion. Adding to that point was his wondering why Olsen would want to see him personally. Whitaker could only guess it meant other yelling session. The man would fume once again over some small detail, this time up close. The prospect made beer and ocean viewing an attractive idea.
Whitaker searched his memory of his last two missions. There was nothing in his recollections out of the ordinary. Both classified as borderline boring, routine in every respect, and forgettable. His recollection found only six long months at the international space station. He had spent the time performing routine maintenance tasks and experimental research. His secondary efforts included a continuous struggle to keep the Russians out of trouble. Each mission moved their knowledge of space and time forward, but only in very small bites.
The Washington Monument, tall and proud, shining in white marble, slid by his window guiding the old aircraft into Ronald Reagan Airport. When the tires screeched at touchdown, Whitaker could feel the engine reversal and roar, then the hard braking on rollout. The plane slowed, and they turned onto a taxiway. Other passengers gathered personal belongings in a rush to be near the front exit door.
Whitaker sat without moving. He felt no need to hurry. He had a sneaking feeling that he was not going to like the outcome of the meeting. Watching the other passengers scurry, he likened it to rats trying to escape a wire cage before the door slammed shut.
The airport terminal filled with bodies in a sprint to get wherever they were going. Whitaker ignored the confusion, gathered his luggage, and walked straight to the Metro station. He stood on the platform and waited for the Yellow Line northbound train. The train arrived and stopped. Pulling his bag behind him, he stepped aboard. He rode standing because of the crowd to Gallery Place Station. There, he changed to the Red Line for a short trip to Judiciary Square. This car, nearly empty, allowed him a few minutes of rest seated.
The new Space Exploration and Science Building sat twenty stories tall behind the old Department of Labor building. Olsen’s office, an executive suite on the eighteenth floor had a private elevator that required a code to get there. Looking at his watch Whitaker could see he was two minutes late, fashionable in some circles, but not at NASA. He announced himself to a uniformed guard who scrutinized his credentials before calling the lift.
“Are you armed, Sir?”
“Not at the moment,” Whitaker said.
The guard looked annoyed, “There is no need to be flippant, Sir.”
“Are you going to let me go up or not?” Whitaker asked. “If not, I can just about make the return flight home.”
The guard pushed the button, “They are waiting for you in Mister Olsen’s office. It’s on the eighteeth floor.”
“Have a good day,” Whitaker said, hinting at sarcasm.
When the doors opened, he could see into a large foyer with guest chairs lining one wall. Across the room, an executive desk sat large enough for team sports. An attractive young woman wearing a modest frock with sensible shoes occupied the desk. Whitaker could see the shoes colored to match her dress sticking out under the modesty panel. He guessed she was tall. The shoes looked modestly expensive, comfortable and near new. The desk held a multi-line telephone, a decorative clock, and nothing else. No appointment book, dictation, nor important documents of any kind disturbed the order of the furniture. Whitaker crossed the room on shining marble tile.
“Captain Whitaker?” Her voice rang softly and melodic.
“Yes,” Whitaker said,
“Go right in, Sir, they are waiting for you.”
Olsen’s office was a large room with strategic placement of couches and comfortable chairs, with furniture arranged in intimate meeting groups. A massive desk with intricate carvings rested at the far end of the room cluttered with paper. Three men and one woman gathered in the center of the room and all eight eyes turned to watch Whitaker enter. Olsen and a Department attorney Whitaker had met once stood across from the woman. An older man stood alone, familiar to Whitaker as a former Astronaut.
Whitaker did not know the woman though he recognized her from television news as an NASA spokesperson. He could not remember her name or position other than it ranked in the political stratosphere. The group silently turned to watch when Whitaker entered. He could not help a twinge of intimidation knowing that considerable horsepower filled the room. He felt a little like a sacrificial lamb.
“Captain,” Olsen said, stepping forward and offering his hand.
Whitaker took it, cautious, yet remembering that the room and its occupants demanded strict adherence to protocol.
“Thank you for coming,” Olsen said.
“Director,” Whitaker responded, knowing that in this room, even if he and Olsen had been on friendly terms, which they were not, his higher rank demanded formality.
“Captain, I want you to meet NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator Marissa Vargas. Marissa, this is Captain Sergio Whitaker. He is one of our leading Command Pilots.”
“I know who Captain Whitaker is, Mr. Olsen,”
DAA Marissa Vargas extended her hand forcing Whitaker to step forward. He took the offered hand with, “My pleasure, Ms. Vargas.” When he tried to release his grip, she tightened it.
“I hear you are a damn fine pilot, Captain Whitaker,” DAA Vargas responded, staring at Whitaker’s eyes as if she was looking for something.
Whitaker stared back unflinching and saw dark Hispanic eyes under raven colored hair. Stunning in a way that was friendly and yet distant, she gripped his hand firm. She said nothing for a long moment, assessing him. Whitaker wanted to rebel.
Before he could react, she released his hand saying, “Please sit down, Captain.”
Whitaker waited until the DAA sat, and he followed, as did the other men. There was little doubt that she held the power in the room. She sat directly across from him on one end a decorative couch. He surmised the décor likely cost a substantial portion of his annual salary. Olsen sat between the DAA and the Department attorney. The former astronaut sat in a chair that was next to and matched Whitaker’s own. Both were Dylan leather wingback chairs in coffee color with brass hand-applied tacking. He waited several minutes of silence for someone to say something.
“The reason we asked you here, Captain,” Deputy Assistant Administrator Vargas explained finally, “is because we want you to listen to something. Before we start, be aware that nothing said in this room today leaves this room. Is that clear?” When everyone affirmed, she continued. “We have briefed the President and she wants a tight rein on everything said during this meeting as well as the information we are about to discuss.”
Whitaker sat silent, waiting for her to continue. No one responded. The silence confirmed the DDA’s statement.
The DAA looked at Olsen, who reached into his suit coat pocket. He pulled out a small digital recorder and set it on the table between the politicians and the two astronauts. He flipped the on switch. At first, it emitted only jumbled background noise, and then it distinctly changed to background noise with beeps. Whitaker had to listen close to hear them, but there was not any doubt what they were.
“Do you know what it is?” the DAA asked, looking straight at Whitaker.
Whitaker listened to the sequence twice without responding. Then he said, “Prime numbers under ten, repeated over and over; two, three, five, and seven.”
“Educate me, Captain, what exactly are prime numbers?” DAA Vargas said.
“It’s any number greater than one that can only be divided evenly by one or itself. All other numbers are composite numbers. Two, three, five, and seven are the only prime numbers under ten. Two is the only even prime number. Following the sequence, the next prime number is eleven,” Whitaker said.
“So what does that mean? Or rather what is someone trying to tell us?”
“I’m guessing, but if I were trying to find out if there was intelligent life in the universe, other than my own, I would transmit a code of prime numbers.”
“Why prime numbers? What would that tell you?”
“A couple of things,” Whitaker said. “First, it is a message that is simple, short, and very easy to transmit long distances, for instance into space. Second, a random series of beeps could be nothing or a sound anomaly of some kind. An advanced society with even minimal mathematical reasoning would recognize it as prime numbers. Mathematicians knew about prime numbers as far back as three hundred B.C. It would be a sign of advanced intelligence. How advanced would come later.”
“So, if I understand correctly, you are saying some intelligent life is sending us a message?” The DAA voice held a little disbelief.
“Not necessarily us. Anyone or any advanced civilization might receive it if one exists. If I remember right, we sent a similar message back in the nineteen-seventies.
“What kind of message?” The DAA asked.
“It was a simple one, sort of a pictograph with several different images. They directed the information at M13, a globular star cluster of about three hundred thousand stars. M13 is in the Milky Way galaxy, roughly twenty thousand light years away from us. The communication is yet unanswered. If what the observatory heard is the answer, it would require technology equal or greater to what we know.”
“But, we did not send prime numbers,” the DAA said, “and that was nearly fifty years ago.”
“It’s a long way to M13; twenty thousand light-years would be the distance light can travel in that period of time to be exact. That is a considerable distance. Our message has not yet arrived. It will not reach M13 for another nineteen thousand nine hundred years or so. That’s assuming it is received by someone with technology at least as advanced as ours.”
“I get the impression, Captain, that you have doubts?
“I do not doubt the message, Ms. Vargas, call it cautious optimism.”
“Explain to me what you mean by that.”
“Travel in the Universe is limited by speed and time. Interstellar distances are so great that travel between them takes thousands of years at the currently achievable speeds. That is obviously a very long time. Einstein postulated that, nothing travels faster than light. Therefore, space travel is theoretically limited to something less than the speed of light. If M13 were twenty thousand light years away, it would take close to 300 generations for humans to travel there if they traveled at the speed of light. That assumes that near light speed travel is possible. It currently is not. That makes fuel the next problem, followed close by food storage and breathable air.”
“You don’t sound very optimistic,” the DAA said.
“Certainly not in my lifetime, unless…” Whitaker stopped as if he had climbed out on a limb, and it began to break behind him. Looking down, it was a long distance to the ground.
“Unless, what?” the DAA prompted.
“There is some speculation about parallel universes and shortcuts between them, but I’m not smart enough to understand the concept.”
“But you are sure the beeps indicate an advanced civilization that understands prime numbers, correct?”
“There could be a hundred other explanations, I suppose, but what I hear dictates my first choice.” Whitaker sat trying to determine if she believed him or was questioning his sanity. He continued feeling as if the limb might break. “The sounds should be analyzed by someone more familiar with space sounds to make sure they are not accidental or fraudulent. My initial reaction is that they are probably genuine based on the concept of prime numbers that assumes some level of advanced mathematical reasoning. You should understand that this communication if it is indeed a message, and if it came from the vicinity of M13, would be some twenty thousand years old. In other words, an advanced culture would have sent the text roughly eighteen thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. That is the First Mesolithic period in Earth’s history. Man was barely emerging from the cave. What we do know, and this is a fact, the laws of Quantum Mechanics apply everywhere in the universe.”
The DAA studied Whitaker’s face staring long enough to make him uncomfortable. He looked back, studying her eyes and saw intelligence, fierce determination, and an inquiring mind. He fought against it, but his level of respect cranked up two notches.
“Repeat that, slowly, in words a lowly DAA can understand, Captain,” she said.
“Look at it this way, Ms. Vargas, intelligent beings, wherever they are, anywhere in the Universe, must deal with identical laws of nature.”
Comments are always welcome and appreciated.