Suprio is an introvert, atypical Bengali. He spends most of his time in the fantasy-lands of J. R. R. Tolkien, L. E. Modesitt Jr. and Brandon Sanderson. He is a great fan of graphic novels, especially those from Japan and Korea. In his spare time (read “when he comes down to reality”), he tinkers with GNU/Linux OS. His alter-ego plays the role of a researcher in Mathematics.
“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” – Suprio
“What just happened?” Arjun stared at the assorted parts strewn across the table. A faint ringing, no – it was more of a whining noise – died. Silence filled the laboratory as he stood perplexed.
Dear reader, as Arjun is standing perplexed, let us go back in time by a few minutes. It all started when Arjun assembled an apparatus to experimentally verify certain electronic phenomena. He placed it on top of a table and switched on the power. Suddenly, the apparatus shook and started to emit a humming noise. A feeling of coolness accompanied it. It then levitated at a minute pace. As Arjun watched, there was as an inch, no – two inches of air between the apparatus and the table. Then it tilted as the attached electrical power cord stretched to its full length from the power outlet. The whine rose in pitch, but started to die off as the plug disconnected from the socket. The apparatus seemed to hover for a moment but finally crashed onto the table.
Now that we understand what happened to make Arjun amazed, we can go to see what he did afterwards.
Arjun shook of his amazement and started to analyze the incident. The apparatus had minor moving parts and none of which should have made it move or push upwards. He picked up some of the pieces and found them to be quite cool to touch.
Any of Arjun’s friends would have predicted what would happen next! Arjun drove himself to unravel the mystery of the incident. He first put a shock absorbing sheet on top of the table and then devised a switch to easily control the power input to the apparatus. After a necessary check of the apparatus, he placed it on the table and switched on the power. Immediately the apparatus started levitating. Now he was certain that he did not hallucinate before. Releasing a pent-up breath, Arjun switched off the power.
“Your primary input is electrical energy. Right?” – mused Arnaud.
It has already been three days since the incident. Arjun never expected that his pet project – which he was conducting aside from his own doctoral work – would lead to such a bizarre discovery. Most of the materials used in the apparatus were recycled from wasted equipments used in other experiments.
He had been able to recreate the experiment with minor modifications, but was no closer to an explanation. He brought this issue to his Ph.D mentor, Professor Johan Arnaud. Arjun demonstrated the experiment and described the modifications which he worked out. They have been taking it slow in trying to understand the phenomena. In the current discussion, they attacked the problem by creating catalogues of the energies involved. By keeping track of the input and output energy, they hoped to be closer to their elusive explanation.
“Yes and sound energy is one of the outputs. But that still leaves the issue of levitation.” Arjun replied.
“Hmm. Let’s consider existing methods which pull objects against the gravity. We’ve rockets which move by internal combustion and obtaining thrust by pushing out large amount of air. Aeroplanes using jet engines do the same. Usual aeroplanes – and let’s not forget kites – generate lift using forward airspeed and the shape of the wings.” (Arnaud)
“We also have balloons floating due to low density materials. But none of these appear in the experiment. There are no parts in the apparatus which generate thrust or lift.” (Arjun)
“Yet it levitates. It does not look like any magnetic-levitation effect is involved, but the gravitational potential energy of the apparatus increases. Aha! That could be it. Somehow your experiment is generating potential energy and in turn increases the potential energy of the whole apparatus or at least of some of its parts.” (Arnaud)
“Sir, that seems to be a bit fantastical, but definitely not implausible. Since gravitational potential is proportional to height, an increase of the potential results in an increase of the height. If we go ahead with this theory, then the electrical power is the input and potential energy is the output.” (Arjun)
“Right. Some sound energy is also present in the output, as you already mentioned. Hmm. But that leaves the final hovering and the cooling effect unexplained.” (Arnaud)
“Yes. Can we assume that the cooling effect comes from an absorption of heat energy from the neighbourhood? That would give us some extra input energy.” (Arjun)
“That might explain the hovering effect too! If the absorbed heat energy is also transformed to potential energy, then the apparatus does not fall right away. But since that is not enough to nullify the gravitational pull, it falls a moment later. My boy, this seems to wrap things up quite nicely. We still have to figure out the transformation to potential energy.” (Arnaud)
Interlude: A Letter
Arjun wrote a letter to his sister Sarbari describing his recent experience. Even in this day and age of cheap public communication, the siblings would occasionally write letters to each other. This was a practice which they adopted at a very young age. They were brought up in various boarding schools and writing letters was their sole means of contact at that time. Even though such a restriction did not apply now, none of them were ready to drop this habit. Now-a-days they wrote about funny anecdotes, sometimes challenging the other about some puzzle.
This time around the letter contained Arjun’s surprise at the discovery, it expressed his hope that this marvellous technology would see a widespread usage in day-to-day life. Finishing up the letter, he said to himself “Let’s see how long this takes her to unravel.” A mischievous smile was playing on his lips.
The technology had the potential to drastically reduce public transportation costs. If one obtains the power to defy gravity at the cost of electricity, then she can easily fly! A flying carpet might no more be a mere fantasy, but could become an indispensable item in every household. Arjun and Arnaud continued experimenting to find a safe limit on how heavy an object could levitate without absorbing huge amounts of latent heat in the environment. If multiple such apparatus are present in a neighbourhood, it might freeze the environment. But if used moderately, it will only give a cooling effect. Heck, they might even mitigate the problem of global warming by reducing the temperature. These apparatus could also reduce the carbon footprint by providing possibly cheap public transportation.
After a few more days of experimentation, they had mild success in controlling the rate of levitation. But they were no closer to a complete explanation of the phenomena. Arnaud finally decided to discuss these findings with some of his colleagues. Soon the academia was in an uproar. Arjun and Arnaud had no idea how this disclosure would land them into a heap of trouble stirred up by human greed.
They faced an unforeseen development from the scientific community. None of their peers were able to replicate the phenomena in their laboratories. Experts who saw the actual experiment in Arjun’s lab were flummoxed. Others who did not have the chance to observe it, soon started calling them names. A significant portion of the community started believing the discovery to be a hoax, a fabrication.
Outside of academia, some of the first people to contact them were representatives of some of the major aviation industries and first world countries. What was their target? They simply wanted exclusive rights to this new technology.
If an aviation industry had the monopoly on this technology, then they might be able to provide cheap public transport and steal a significant lead over their peers. Even if the transport business does not turn out to be cheap, it is not a big loss; because who knows – one might be able to devise some other practical applications, reaping rich rewards in the process.
The interest of governments arose mostly from the military viewpoint. Using this technology, one may be able to devise cheaper weapons of war, including missiles. Furthermore transporting troops and rations is also a viable use of this technology, no matter the cost, since this technology can be used anywhere – be it on land, water or in air.
Some extremist groups and agents of miscellaneous parties also approached them.
Arjun and Arnaud were both against monopolizing the discovery to a single group and wanted the whole of humanity to benefit from it. Naturally they did not agree to the proposals. Soon the pleasant words of the representatives turned into threats.
Within days of disclosing the discovery, they received overt as well as concealed threats. Various parties tried to coerce them into releasing the secrets, which – plainly speaking – they had none. They released the details pertaining to the apparatus in the public domain and were astonished to find that nobody else managed to duplicate the phenomena.
The situation started to deteriorate rapidly. Media correspondents constantly barged in their life, their phones rang incessantly and to their great surprise, had an assassination attempt. Strictly speaking, the assassin was caught at a nearby airport and confessed that he was hired to kill them. A police inspector of the local jurisdiction came over to convey a warning.
“Professor Arnaud, we are doing everything we can to keep you safe. This threat to your life must be taken very seriously. We shall restrict your daily schedule. This applies to you too, Mr. Arjun.” (Inspector)
“Is the situation that grave? Can’t we just increase the security at the institute?” (Arnaud)
“Yes it is. We have communicated with the security consultant of this institute and the local security will be beefed up soon. However, you also have to take precautions.” (Inspector)
The very next day, out of nowhere, a minority religious group started demanding that the apparatus be destroyed. Since the scientists were unable to come up with an explanation of the phenomena, that religious group believed that this must be the acts of a devil.
“Down with the devil! Destroy the machine! Down with Arnaud! Down with Arjun!’” They clamoured outside the institute. In the ensued chaos, the guards were overwhelmed and three groups of people broke through the security cordon.
One of the groups started rampaging in Arjun’s lab. Fortunately, at that moment he was in Arnaud’s office. A second group wanted to snatch the apparatus for themselves and fought with the first group. The third group targeted Arjun and Arnaud. They pushed a smoke bomb underneath the door of Arnaud’s office. In the effects of subsequent detonation, both Arjun and Arnaud started feeling drowsy. The assailants then broke through the door and captured them. In the last moments before his consciousness dissolved, Arjun vaguely understood that they were borne away into a van.
An Uneasy Respite
Coming back to consciousness, Arjun felt himself lying on a bed. To make sure that he did not give away that he was awake, he kept his eyes closed and heard droned conversations of some people. Since he got the feeling that he was safe for the moment, he shrugged of his stupor, opened his eyes and then sat up. He was in small room – resembling a hospital room – with a couple of beds and some attached medical instruments. Arnaud was lying in the next bed, his chest moving up and down rhythmically with his breathing. He did not seem to have any injury and was quite calmly sleeping. Arjun surmised that Arnaud had not woken from the strange drowsiness which affected both of them.
A nurse, probably in her early fifties, came by, looked over Arjun perfunctorily and left. Soon Arnaud fidgeted and woke. Arjun promptly went over to him and started to speak. Right at that moment, a professional looking person entered the room. He was giving out the vibe of being in charge.
“Hello, Mr. Arjun. Hello, Professor Arnaud. I am Agent D of Division 6, National Security Bureau.” (Agent D)
Arnaud nodded a greeting. He was groggy and did not participate in the conversation.
“Ah… hello, Agent D. Um… where are we?” (Arjun)
“We are currently in a safe house. Our team is detailed to keep you protected.” (Agent D)
“But I thought somebody abducted us!” (Arjun)
“Ah, yes – that was us! We’re sorry about that. We were told not to involve ourselves unless there was a major threat, and believe me – it was a security nightmare. When some intruders broke through, we lost control of the situation. We prioritized saving your lives and since explaining the details to you at the time of the operation would lose us crucial seconds, I took the decision to take you out of there as quickly as possible.” (Agent D)
“I understand. Thank you for saving us. Please direct me to a phone. I must contact our family to let them know. I seem to have lost my phone.” (Arjun)
Agent D grimaced. “Sorry, can’t do that! I’ll get you some pens and paper. Write your messages. Some agents will deliver those to your family. This is for your security.”
Arjun reluctantly agreed. After a few moments of conversation Agent D took his leave.
Arjun was put under a huge stress when he thought about the emotional torture his family must be going through, the ridicule meted out by the academia and about the `fabrication’ charges. He also came to know that the machine had been destroyed during the mob violence at his lab. Higher authorities also started insinuating that he make another working prototype. Two more days passed in this manner. Arjun was increasingly certain that a day of reckoning was drawing closer.
(Title to be revealed at the end of the section)
Even the best security may have flaws. Even if some system reportedly has no loopholes, human elements in the system can still generate unforeseen leaks. Such a leak happened when a militant organization followed an army officer to the safe house. Soon the quiet neighbourhood was engulfed in gunfire.
A few assailants somehow managed to break through an upper story window and then the agents had to retreat further back. Arjun and Arnaud together with an agent were put in a room with a reinforced door, while the other agents took defensive positions outside the doorway. Soon the fighting rose to a frenzy and Arjun could hear big explosions outside. Suddenly the door exploded and Arjun was flung to the opposite wall.
Fighting of the nausea and the ringing in the ears, Arjun stood and looked around for Arnaud. Arnaud lay unmoving under a chunk of the door and Arjun hastened to remove it. He was shocked to discover a splinter embedded in Arnaud’s chest and that he was no more. The agent accompanying them lay in a heap, possibly unconscious. Bewildered, Arjun moved towards the door to call for help and two assailants charged in. An agent outside shot at them and the assailants took cover beside the door. Gunfire thundered in the small room and a stray bullet ricocheted of the wall to hit Arjun.
Arjun found himself on the floor. When he tried to move, a searing agony made him blank out for a moment. He was hit in the belly, causing him to bleed profusely. He saw the faces of his parents, his sister in his mind’s eye and unhappiness surged in his heart, because he knew he would never meet them again. All of this wouldn’t have happened if others were successful in replicating the phenomena. Even with his cheap equipment, he made this wonderful discovery, whereas others with their first-class equipment were not able to see the beauty of it. Suddenly it struck him! Was it because of his cheap equipment? No that couldn’t be. After all, the circuits, the composition of the other materials – everything was public knowledge. Then what was the variable? Was that it? Usually metal or glass boxes are used as containers, but to save money he had used an old wooded tub as the container for the circuits and other parts of the apparatus.
In the experiment, if only the gravitational potential of the wooden tub increases, then it will levitate. But since the apparatus is kept inside the container, all of it must levitate. If this is the case, then it stands to reason that other people using metal or glass containers won’t see the phenomena.
It may have taken some time to describe, but Arjun came up with this reasoning in a flash. Of course, this was only a theory and somebody should verify this in actual experiments – but it was definitely a way to go forward where there were none before. Sadly as Arjun lay dying, he had no means of communicating the idea to others, or had he some method?
In his dazed state, Arjun could not remember whether he specifically included the details about the container in the published report, but there definitely were images attached showing the apparatus in the container. It will be miraculous, if somebody actually included a wooden part in their apparatus and tested it; but it was far-fetched to hope for that. He recalled that he hid the details in his last letter to Sarbari and a minute hope blossomed.
Can Sarbari find `it’? Will she be able to decipher the hidden message?
Title: Final Thoughts
Epilogue: His Last Puzzle
Sarbari woke to an overcast dawn. She took a water bottle from the bedside table and drank deeply. Her eyes went to the stack of letters from Arjun. In a fit of rage, she took the stack to the wash-basin, dropped a lit match and watched them burn. She pulled Arjun’s last letter from her jeans’ pocket and almost threw it in the fire. In the heat of the fire, the message written in invisible ink took shape in brown letters and she started to read.
Image: Edited from the internet