16: Brainbox (part 2)

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16.2 Time

LSA Control Centre, the Moon: 12 July 2121

As usual, Andrew March bounced up the stairs five at a time at the LSA centre under Lussac crater. Reaching the top he only just avoided bumping into Janet Davidsen who was about to leave the Earth Analysis offices. She tut-tutted at him and he grinned his usual sheepish smile back at her.

"Sorry, Jan," he apologised, waving some freshly printed pictures under her nose, "but I really think you ought to see this."

She rescued the top sheet from drifting up out of reach as Andrew's over-enthusiasm caused it to spill from his tenuous grip. She gazed at the photograph it contained.

Behind her, Melissa, still only fifteen but also working at EA during the summer recess, wore an amused expression at her boyfriend's gawkiness. She wondered what surprise Andy had cooked up this time, and peered over her mother's shoulder to see. That the pictures would be of Earth she had little doubt.

Janet looked at the resolution of the pictures. They were slightly grainy and she immediately concluded that they had been taken using the Einstein Telescope situated several hundred miles away to the north of Lussac crater. Hubble IV, located on a ridge on nearby Copernicus, always produced far clearer prints. Earth Analysis had exclusive access to the Einstein for around six hours a day whereas they had to fight for their daily allocation of an insignificant fifteen minutes on the Hubble.

Janet turned her attention to what the pictures revealed. The first one showed nothing much out of the ordinary, an overhead probe shot of a city: desolate, overgrown and apparently uninhabited. The city would have been completely swamped by plant life on Paradise so this was probably Robot World or Green – though which it was hard to tell. Andy pointed out the second picture which, to Melissa, appeared to display the same view. Then Janet looked closer and noticed the subtle changes.

"They're just seven days apart," Andy explained, a slightly smug grin spreading across his face.

"That building looks like it has changed its shape. Has it?" Janet asked.

"Not just that one. Look – here, here and up here." Andy's finger stabbed three more places and both Janet and Melissa's eyes quickly flicked between the two images – it was like one of those 'spot the difference' quizzes where subtle changes had been made to one of a pair of otherwise identical pictures.

"And there," Melissa said, noticing another change, "that tree has moved. Must be by several feet at that scale."

Andy, having missed that one, peered closer. "Wow. Hadn't realised it affected the plants as well. I'd noticed the buildings so I thought it had just been restricted to them."

"Which world is it?" Janet asked. Andy was suddenly silent, his lips pursed together. "Well?" she demanded.

"A fifth one. It's definitely a fifth one."

It had long been established that the Earth had somehow been 'split up' into four separate 'worlds'. Several times there had been rumours of other 'worlds' appearing for a short while but the cameras had not backed them up, or had proved that the claimant had been mistaken. Most of the team had concluded that there were no more 'Earths' to be discovered.

Janet eyed Andy quizzically.

"Look," he said. "The other photos are of the same physical area but on Robot World, Green Earth and Paradise. And they're all different."

"How did you get two photos of this supposed new one? Luck?"

"Er, no. I, um, programmed the cameras to take some extra shots just after a wave instead of the usual regular intervals. I thought I'd seen the new one appear about three weeks ago – I just wanted to be sure."

Janet frowned. Andy had never been given permission to access the camera settings. In fact, as far as she could remember, he hadn't even been instructed on how to use them. "How long have you been doing this?"

"Not long, just a few weeks. But..."

Out of her mother's line of vision, Melissa stifled her laughter, highly amused at Andy's discomfort. She had caught Andy trying to access the cameras over three months ago and he'd admitted that he'd been eavesdropping when one of the engineers had needed to make adjustments. But even Melissa hadn't realised that he'd figured out for himself how to add extra shots.

"How were you able to detect the waves? They're not at all regular."

"Oh, I, er, rigged up a program to detect the reflective light changes that always occur during a wave – they always last point one four of a second so it was simple..."

"Okay, okay," Janet cut him off. This had been the second time Andy's off-the-cuff innovations had surprised her – first the blue-shift discovery and now this.

"What made you think there could be more Earths in the first place?" she asked him, flicking between the photos. Melissa, thoughtful now, also studied them more closely.

"I'd been looking for the missing time."

"What missing time? What do you mean?"

"Well, Paradise and Green are running fast and Robot is slow. Black is about right but not spot on. If you average it all out then there's still a small discrepancy on the side of speediness. And the new chaotic one turns out to be slightly slow and, if you add that in, then..."

"It all balances out?" Melissa finished for him. Janet turned to look at her.

"Well, does it, Andy?" Janet asked.

"Yes," he said. "Almost exactly."

"Almost?"

"There's still a tiny bit I can't account for."


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