Friday, October 14, 2016

Anna Supernova

 Musical accompaniment: 

Pete Mafoosky, an itinerant mathematician from the state of Mass, was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, looking for fine sights to see. He was in AZ visting UAW (University of Arizona at Winslow) on his ongoing mathematical tour, seeking out collaborators in hopes of cracking the finitistic dimension conjecture. 

These visits, which typically lasted for 2-3 weeks at a time, usually yielded interesting partial results for special cases, but never a once-and-for-all cracking of this elusive nut. The upside for this life as a mathematical wanderer was that it had secured him a somewhat stable financial existence, which was sparse, but met his fairly simple needs -- a slice of Hawaiian pizza for lunch at the campus commons, crashing on a couch in the home of his collaborator du semaine, showers in university gyms. His idea of business casual was his collection of Nirvana t-shirts and Old Navy jeans and "Mass Aggie 1863" hats, throwbacks to when the University of Mass was a land-grant agricultural college. 

There was an unwritten rule that had propagated to schools of higher mathematical larnin' nationwide that when Prof. Mafoosky was in residence, he would be allowed to show up at the Bursars Office at any given time and request $60 in cash. While this was a potentially profitable privilege, he was studious about using it sparingly, only to refresh the pizza money, or when random walking-around cash was needed.

At this particular moment, mathematics wasn't on his mind. His other passion, music, was calling. As a child of the 60's, 70's, and 80's, he couldn't visit Winslow, AZ without visiting that corner, made famous by the Eagles (w/an assist from Jackson Browne) in the song 'Take it Easy'

Well, I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me

There was a bronze man "Standin' On The Corner" in perpetuity, waiting for the flat-bed Ford to pull up.

Meanwhile, in another layer of space-time, specifically, June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova passed overhead, orbiting in Vostok 6. She was on her 7th of what would be 48 orbits around the Earth. She was the first woman in space, a 'cosmonautess' if you will, but nobody in the Russian space program thought of it as a big deal. She was just another hot-shot pilot turned cosmonaut and could control the stick and rudder (and therefore, capsule) as well as, and for the most part, better than, any of the Nikolais, or Yuris, or Sergeys in Star City.

Her mission, officially, was to orbit the Earth, something Americans were still figuring out in baby steps. A couple of months earlier, US Astronaut Gordo Cooper had completed a measly 22 orbits in his spam can. Her unofficial mission, however was to observe, from space, a top secret experiment being carried out in Star City. Russian scientists had been experimenting with a system for powering rocket engines with neutrons. While neutrons are usually considered the drones of atomic particles, they can unleash great power when catylyzed by inert gas compounds, which are not technically compounds, but atoms forced together with subatomic forces created in particle colliders. Valentina had been part of the R & D team for the project and was excited about seeing the work finally come to fruition. Success would mean Russian dominance in the space race for decades to come, and outer planet exploration.

An experimental neutron engine, built to small scale, had been mounted on a launch platform in Star City. The experiment was to set the inert gas catlyst reaction, using "Black Neon", an inert gas pseudo-compound consisting of neon, xenon, and peroxide anions. The reaction could only be allowed to take place for milliseconds while data was gathered, then shut down to avoid any unexpected spiraling out of control.

After a stream of radio chatter from Earth to space and control center to launch pad, an arthritic finger shook as it came down on a green button on a control console. The reaction was underway, set to automatically shut down milliseconds after it began. 

As the electrical contacts under the button completed the circuit and started the catylization, the finger on the button vanished from existence. The button vanished. The console, and all the scientists with eyes intently on the video screens vanished, along with the video screens. The launch pad was a crater. Everything within a 2 km radius had been compressed into a black hole. The brevity of the reaction had limited the scope but this was an unmitigated disaster. 

The black hole set in motion an infinitely small but infinitely powerful shock wave that traveled on a hyperbolic arc through spacetime, passing directly through that corner in, guess where, Winslow, AZ, 2003 CE, where our hero, Pete Mafoosky, was standing.

He blinked his eyes, which were temporarily blinded by the flash of photons that passed through him, and when he opened them, he found himself freezing in nearly subzero temperatures, inside a metal can, sitting next to a lady cosmonaut. He reached up to feel his head to see if was still attached, and noticed that he was wearing dog ears made of some kind of synthetic material. His Nirvana t-shirt had been replaced by a bright red lycra spandex long sleeve warmup shirt with a bright "U" over the solar plexus. 

Anna Supernova, known seconds before as Valentina Tereshkova, still in a state of shock from the disaster she had just witnessed below on Earth, looked at her new traveling companion, and immediately felt a sense of calm (Nirvana if you like) come over her. She said to her copilot "I know you. You are Peter Underdog."

Pete Mafoosky, his breath by now fogging up the capsule, said:

"Who is Peter Underdog?"

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