Dr. Matheson smiled as he walked along the hallway of the observatory annex building, the voices of his younger peers echoing down the corridor. Someone was standing in the open doorway to the large office space known colloquially as “The Treehouse”, though there was no “tree” and the “house” was a squat brick building erected in 1965, not a whimsical dream shanty with a rope ladder. But it was where adults got to play with various telescopes, satellites and instruments on a majestic mountaintop in the desert.
“What does entanglement have to do with it? I simply don’t know where they are,” said the man in the doorway to another man in a swivel chair a dozen feet away.
“They’re nonlocal,” said the man in the chair.
“Excuse me, Phil,” Dr. Matheson said as he gently squeezed past the man in the doorway. “Lose your keys again?”
“Maybe if he’d quit misplacing them,” said the man in the chair.
“Maybe if you’d quit hiding them,” Dr. Matheson said.
“Check the countertop over there,” said the seated man.
Phil turned to look, bumping into Dr. Matheson. “Ah! Now I can go home.”
Phil had inadvertently nudged Dr. Matheson into the bank of light switches on the wall and, subsequently, all the ceiling lights went off.
The office banter took on a different tone.
“What!? Guess it’s time for that beer, everybody,” someone said from the gloom.
“More budget cuts.”
“Sure, I can work in the dark. Management does.”
“Sorry. Sorry,” Dr. Matheson said as he searched for the light switches.
“I’m afraid of the dark,” someone said.
“Yes, we all get to know one another better with the lights turned off,” someone said to the sound of laughter.
“Dr. Matheson? I’d like to file a harassment complaint,” someone teased.
“You wish,” said another voice to raucous laughter.
Dr. Matheson found the switches and flipped the lights back on. “Apologies everyone.”
He paused to look at a sheet of paper taped to the wall. It read, “Last one out, turn off the lights. Once we figure out the answers to life, the universe and where Phil’s keys are, we can all head into town for a round of beers. On me!” Dr. Osterman put the sign up years ago. He’d long since retired, but nobody had the heart to take it down.
It was a 24/7 workspace and the lights were always on.
Dr. Matheson walked self-consciously to his desk, one of a handful that sat in the middle of the roughly seven hundred square foot space. The remaining workstations were crowded along the perimeter of the four walls where astronomers, physicists, post docs and scientists from various partner nations sought the structure of the cosmos, dark energy, potential exoplanets and to unify disparate models and theories.
Dr. Matheson settled into his desk chair and logged onto his computer.
“Hey, Mia, can you come here for a second?” a man named Carl asked from his desk to Dr. Matheson’s left.
A woman walked over to Carl. “If you ask me to reset your password one more time. I have a Master’s in Computer Science with a specialization in artificial intelligence, remember?”
“Artificial Intelligence? That explains why you’re helping Carl,” someone said. That earned some snickers.
Carl didn’t seem to hear.
Dr. Matheson picked up an old baseball, his son’s first home run, and idly rotated it in his hand as he scanned his emails. His son was married now, had children of his own. Dr. Matheson thought about retiring but his mind turned to the mysteries that continued to enthrall him: The limitations of the speed of light and the fact that the furthest points in space were speeding away faster than light speed, a kind of mathematical lensing. The fact that there wasn’t enough mass in the known universe to explain the orbital mechanics of galaxies. He remembered the push and pull of theories about black holes, one stating that information contained in a black hole was the same amount that could cover it’s “surface”, or it’s spherical event horizon. He looked at the baseball and thought of Earth. “Could all of the information contained by Earth be on its surface? Were human beings ‘information’?” he wondered.
“Carl, I’m telling you, the system is working fine,” Mia said.
Carl responded by emphatically pointing to his computer screen.
“Hey everybody! Did you see the news from the Federation of International Scientists? They did it!” Isabella called out from her desk in the back of the room.
“Did what?” someone asked.
Isabella looked at her computer screen. “They reconciled general relativity with quantum mechanics. And…wow…they explained gravity. At least mathematically,” she said. “They played with number theory and determined that the key was ‘n equals negative zero’. Applying that to mathematical models, using something called floating point…” Isabella’s voice trailed off.
Mia walked over to Isabella’s desk.
“And gravity?” another person asked.
“Um, they say that everything in the universe is expanding and moving outward at a high rate. All matter, all atoms and their components are expanding in magnitude and away from centers of mass. They theorize that gravity is acceleration.” Isabella was quiet for a moment. “It’s a lot to think about.”
Mia looked at Isabella’s computer and knit her brow. “Floating point calculations are used in computer programs. They’re used for approximating and processing massive amounts of numbers.”
“What is happening?!” Carl yelled.
Dr. Matheson walked over and looked at Carl’s computer that showed a live feed from an optical telescope.
Before he knew it he had run down the hallway, flung the exit doors open and was peering frantically into the cold desert night sky.
Clutching the baseball to his chest, he gazed in stunned disbelief as entire swaths of starlight disappeared into featureless darkness, like banks of stadium lights being turned off after the big game.
Then all motion, time itself, stopped.
Result: N = - 0
Run simulation again? Y/N