Authors: Julie Drew
“Okay, so are you saying that it works?
That this is real, and my dad can, like, travel in time?” Tesla felt like a fool the moment she asked, but no one in the room seemed to think it was a silly question.
“No,” Bizzy said.
“This is all very new, very theoretical—in scientific terms, that is. When I say ‘new’ I mean that your dad’s only been on this for like fifteen years. That’s nothing. So far we’ve focused on subatomic particles only, and we’re limited even there. We can only move objects backward in time, not forward, and the apparatus itself has to continually function—it serves as its own destination—for the future object to travel back to. So, the object could never travel back further than when the time machine was up and running. The machine creates the tunnel, the wormhole that allows you to get from point A to point D without the need to go through B and C to get there.”
“Soooo,” Tesla said, “if I build a time machine right now, turn it on and leave it on for a hundred years, someone a hundred years in the future could come back to here, right now, to my time machine, because it’s still on?”
“Yup, that’s pretty much it,” Bizzy said.
“So my dad’s time machine,” Tesla asked slowly.
“How long has it been running?”
“Very, very good, Tesla,” Lydia said quietly, as if to herself.
Finn looked at Beckett, one eyebrow raised, but she ignored him.
“Well, we’re certainly not surprised that Tesla’s smart,” Joley said.
“What we need to do now is get her to help us figure out how this hinges on her. If, in fact, it does.”
“Sorry, what?” Tesla asked.
“Hinges on me how?”
“We were actually hoping you could answer that,” said Joley.
Lydia took over. “Tesla, Elizabeth has had two very brief opportunities to see your mother’s journals. Your father keeps them under lock and key.”
“If my dad doesn’t want you to see them, why did you look?” Tesla asked Bizzy.
“Is that why you took the job in his lab? So you could spy on him?”
“No!” Bizzy said quickly.
“He left the notebooks out, but it was an accident. The first time I saw them I didn’t know what they were. The second time, I did.” She paused and her hand moved up of its own volition to pull her hair spikes out straighter, to touch the row of five tiny rings that pierced the rim of her ear, all her armor intact. “I could tell you he trusts me, and that I have the run of both labs and his office—which is all true—but no, he didn’t intend for me to look at them. And I did it anyway.”
Tesla was impressed, despite herself, by the girl’s honesty.
“So what did you see?”
“The first time, I saw a crude sketch of the apparatus your father has built in his lab here.
Much smaller scale, but clearly the prototype.”
“And the next time?” Tesla asked.
“I saw a phrase that stood alone on a page. Before I could read more, a couple of his grad students came in the door and I had to close the book. Dr. Abbott has been really careful since, and I haven’t gotten another chance.”
“What was the phrase?” Tesla wondered why the other girl was so hesitant, and why the air felt suddenly charged with tension.
The Tesla Effect
There was silence in the room.
“The Tesla Effect,” Tesla repeated.
“What does that mean?”
“You don’t know?” asked Finn.
“No, of course not.” Tesla shifted on the couch. The ache and throb that ran down the length of her arm from just above her elbow had intensified. “Should I?”
“Well, we had hoped,” Joley said.
“That’s what we need to bloody figure out.”
“But why?” Tesla asked.
“I don’t understand.”
“We think your parents were working on time travel, together, and that they had a major breakthrough when your mother was still alive. The most obvious explanation for ‘the Tesla effect’ is that it has something to do with the work of Nikola Tesla, since he was instrumental in the early phases of quantum mechanics. But other than that general connection, we need to know if there is another layer of meaning, one that is much closer to home. We know your father has continued his and your mother’s work, and we want to know if somehow their theory or concept is connected to you.”
“But,” Tesla began, and stopped.
“I mean, wouldn’t I know if I knew something?”
“Okay, that one
to be on purpose,” Bizzy said.
Tesla scowled at her.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “And regardless of what I might know, why don’t you just ask my dad?”
“He doesn’t know.”
Finn got up from the sofa and joined Joley by the fireplace. “We don’t know why there’s a gap between what your mom was working on when she died, and what your dad knows about that work, but there is.”
There was a moment of silence for Tesla, for her parents, for the tragedy they’d all dealt with so long ago.
“You were just a kid when your mom died, weren’t you?” Joley asked.
“Yeah, I was nine,” Tesla said.
And I don’t even know what happened
, she thought.
Dad won’t talk about it
“So it’s unlikely she told you something complex, not at that age.
But she might have recorded something for when you were older. In a book, or maybe a video? Anything like that ring a bell?”
They all looked at her.
Hopeful, expectant. “No. Sorry.”
“We didn’t actually think you’d have the answer on the tip of your tongue,” Lydia assured her.
“Don’t worry. But we will work with you to see if we can’t jog a memory, stumble upon something you don’t realize you know.”
Tesla lifted her cast with her right hand and gently repositioned it on her lap.
Lydia looked at her watch.
“You should take another pill,” she said. “It’s time.”
“These?” asked Finn as he picked up a prescription bottle and a glass of water on the little table at the end of the sofa where Tesla sat.
At Lydia’s nod, he shook out one pill into his hand and gave it to Tesla, along with the glass of water.
Beckett got up and stretched, lean and cat-like.
“I’m done. You don’t need me for anything?” she asked Lydia.
“No, dear, sleep well,” the older woman said over the top of her glasses and Tesla wondered if Lydia’s wasn’t the best disguise ever for some kind of secret, government agent.
No one would ever suspect her.
Bizzy settled deeper into her chair, Joley took Beckett’s seat, and Finn remained at the fireplace.
He seemed to have too much energy to sit still for long, and Tesla thought several times that he looked at her. But every time she glanced over at him he was looking away and she felt both jittery and annoyed by it.
“So, what happens next?”
Tesla attempted to sound business-like. “What is it about all of this that requires some kind of secret government organization? I’m still a little confused, despite all of Bizzy’s information.”
“Understandable,” said Lydia with a small smile.
“These are complex issues.”
“Tesla,” Joley said as he leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his thighs, his face intent and focused on hers.
“Think about it. Why would time travel be controversial?”
Tesla did think about it, and everyone else remained quiet.
“Well,” she began hesitantly. “I suppose it could be profitable. Like in those old
Back to the Future
movies, where that guy bets on sports whose outcomes he already knows and he makes a fortune. It’s cheating.”
“Absolutely,” said Lydia, “although in addition to those forms of chance there are those who fund scientific research and development.
There is corporate espionage, investments in new technologies, and the absolute lack of any risk if one knows the outcome ahead of time.”
“So money would make a time machine pretty desirable,” said Tesla.
“Desirable, but also a potential threat,” said Finn quietly. “Think of the advantages one corporation might have over all the competition, if it knew what advances would be made in the next couple of years. Imagine you knew before it happened what Apple or Google would become.”
Tesla nodded, already way ahead of him.
“What about politics? I mean, governments watch governments, they spy and compete over stuff like weapons and natural resources, right?”
“They most certainly do,” said Lydia quietly.
“Imagine if a foreign government hostile to our own, for example, knew who our next four presidents would be? Or if our government knew that another country, hostile to ours, would develop nuclear capabilities in five years?”
“Oh,” said Tesla, overwhelmed by the possibilities.
“That kind of information could stop a war.”
“Or start one,” Finn said.
“And we can’t forget there are a lot of people whose first priority is a narrow set of religious beliefs and an uncompromising morality,” Joley continued. “Some of those people—some of those groups, or organizations—feel the kind of research your father does is literally a sin. The very questions such research asks are considered a direct attack on their faith. Some believe themselves at war with such research—at war with the people who conduct the research.”
Tesla’s head had begun to ache, whether from the attempt to digest all this new information or from her broken arm, she didn’t know.
“So, are you saying that all this is happening? That corporations, governments, religious extremists—are after my dad?”
Lydia looked at her with some sympathy.
“We are saying they are interested in the work that your father does. That for the most part they don’t want it to wind up in the hands of anyone but themselves. Whether to use it for their own ends, or to destroy it, depends on the group, as do the lengths they are willing to go to to achieve their goals.”
Lydia noted how pale Tesla was, and the dark circles under her strange, mismatched eyes, so startlingly bright against her skin.
“What we don’t know,” the older woman said gently, “is how many such groups, and which ones, in particular, are currently in play.”
“Well, we do know a little more than just those generalities,” Finn said pointedly.
“Yes, but we haven’t been able to draw any firm conclusions, and Tesla looks like she’s had about as much handed to her tonight as she can take,” Lydia said.
“No, really, I’m fine,” Tesla assured her.
“We don’t know where my dad is, and I haven’t seen Max since—well, since all this happened tonight. I want to know who’s a threat, and what kind of a threat, exactly, they pose.”
Finn gave her a swift look of approval.
“I’ve been digging around for a while now, and we’ve got some solid leads. First, your dad and mom had a friend in grad school, Sebastian Nilsen. The three of them were pretty close as far as I can tell, and did their coursework and some of their research projects together. I’ve interviewed classmates, pored over their college records, photographs in the school newspaper, conferences they attended, whatever I could find. They did everything together, until your parents broke all ties with Nilsen in your mother’s final year of her doctoral program—shortly after you were born—and it looks like they haven’t been in communication with one another since.”
“I don’t really know anything about when they were in
college,” Tesla said.
“Has your dad ever mentioned Nilsen?” Finn prodded.
“No,” Tesla said. “I don’t think so. Why don’t you just ask him?”
“He refuses to discuss Nilsen,” Finn said quietly. “I don’t know why, but I will go where the information leads me, regardless.”
“What does that mean?” Tesla said, aware that Finn had just possibly threatened her father. “How is this relevant?”
“It’s necessary background,” Lydia said.
“Nilsen was passed up for an important fellowship that went to your mother and father jointly, and he resented it. The funding was substantial, and the prestige even more so. There was a controversy soon after when Nilsen published a paper that was suspected by many to be based on data stolen from your parents’ lab. Nothing was ever proven, but Nilsen was effectively ostracized from the scientific community. What had once been a deep friendship had become an intense and bitter rivalry.”
“Nilsen bounced around job-wise for a couple of years after leaving here. He was denied tenure, which essentially ended his academic career. He became a mercenary,” Finn continued.
“I thought he was a scientist,” Tesla said.
“He was—he is,” Lydia said.
“But he began and continues to work for the highest bidder, without loyalty to any government or set of professional ethics, and without any oversight. Nilsen seems to have amassed a considerable fortune, as well as ties to some powerful and ruthless people—although much of this is speculative, he has been linked to several instances of corporate and military espionage for rogue governments, and he has proved to be rather elusive when it comes to records of virtually every kind.”
“Sounds like he’s broken plenty of laws,” Tesla said.
“Why doesn’t the government just arrest him?”
“First of all, he’s not a US citizen,” Joley said.
“There has been some precedent in the international courts. I’m working on that angle for a term paper in International Law and Intellectual Property, but I’m not there yet. And the government would still have to build a case against him, and then there’s extradition—which brings me to the second problem: no one knows where he is. He operates internationally, and resources, financial and otherwise, are not a problem. He hasn’t been positively identified in years—the last published photo of him that Finn has been able to unearth is twelve years old. We don’t even know what he bloody looks like now, and we haven’t been able to trace him financially, either.”
“Okay,” Tesla said as she stifled a yawn.
Her arm felt a little better as she slipped back into that comfortable euphoria she’d experienced when she first woke up on this couch. “I don’t know how to address any of that, but maybe I can begin work on the phrase you saw in my mother’s notebook.
The Tesla Effect
. Maybe I should go to my dad’s lab and see if that jogs a memory—if that part of the building is accessible after the blast, I mean.” She felt the fear for her father creep back in, despite the pain meds. “I can’t believe his office was blown up.”
“We’re not interested in his office anyway,” said Bizzy, who had been so quiet Tesla had forgotten she was still in the room. The others had long ago grown used to Bizzy’s penchant for silent observation, but Tesla felt startled.
“We’re not?” she asked.
“No. His office and the labs are for general coursework and research, not for Dr. Abbott’s big project, which has tens of millions of dollars in external funding and has a bunch of security measures attached to it.
His time machine is in the Bat Cave.”
Tesla laughed, but then stopped as a thought occurred to
“A cave?” she asked.
“Well, it’s not really a cave, it’s a huge underground facility. We just call it the Bat Cave,” Bizzy said.
“A big cavernous structure?
With steel beams way high up?” Tesla asked. “And another, regular-sized room in the middle of it all, with mirrors in the corners?” Tesla felt strange. Her breath grew short and two spots of deep pink stained her cheeks. Her eyes were too bright, too green, too blue. She had begun to look feverish.
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Bizzy, clearly puzzled.
“That facility requires a high security clearance, I’m surprised Dr. Abbott would tell you about it.”
“He didn’t,” Tesla said, her right hand over her chest where she felt the rapid rate of her heart.
“I think I’ve been there.”
“I think you have, too,” said Finn.
His eyes were locked on hers and a sense of excitement permeated the air around him, as though he’d kept it in check until this exact moment. “Keisha told me you’d had some weird hallucination about a giant underground room, and from what you told me tonight, you were definitely there.”