After Kevin had attended several of the early NISSA briefings, he took it upon himself to think long and hard about exactly what information he really needed about the strange Island world. After careful deliberation, he concluded that he needed to know more about the basic rules - the physics, as it were - of Lyndesfarne. He also wanted to understand more about the geographical and topographical layout of the crossing. He felt like he really needed something to allay his fears that he had overlooked something that could damage, or perhaps even destroy, his beloved bridge.
Kevin had put his request to Professor Alan, and a further session had been set up. This morning, it was run by one Wendy Rossiter, another of Professor Alan's cohorts, whom Kevin had not come across before. She was a tiny woman - almost bird-like - with greying hair clipped very short and, Kevin imagined, kept deliberately spiky. She dressed uniformly in black clothing and sported aggressively large silver earrings. Ms Rossiter was apparently a leading authority on the physical nature of the other world, and lost no time in getting to the point.
"The good news, I would say, is that some very basic properties of the two worlds - two universes, really - are exactly the same," she began. "Light, heat, gravity and inertia - all just as they are here. Similarly, most chemical reactions, especially biochemical reactions, appear identical."
It rapidly became clear that Ms Rossiter naturally fell into a presentational style familiar to Kevin from his time at University, decades before. It was a prepared lecture, given in a style that would have been appropriate if there were twenty or thirty people in an auditorium. It seemed very strange with just the two of them in the room. It is just like Professor Alan and the others, he thought, they must all have presented this material many times before.
"However, it seems that a certain range of complex chemical behaviour, especially electrochemical behaviour, appears to be quite different in that world and our own. It is these differences which simultaneously give rise to the characteristics we call magic - rather inaccurately, in my view, but there doesn't appear to be a better word in our language - and the failure of almost all technology in the world of Lyndesfarne. It's responsible for metal alloys and steel behaving differently, for example, and electrical and electronic equipment completely failing."
Ms Rossiter had much more material on this topic, although this consisted mainly of restating and detailing at considerable length. It did not contain anything that Kevin did not already know, or at least had strong grounds for assuming.
At mid-morning, they took a short break, during which Kevin was offered coffee, and Ms Rossiter made herself a mug of some strong-smelling herbal infusion. Afterwards, the discussion moved onto a topic which was of much more interest to Kevin - a description of how the two worlds were effectively connected.
"We don't know how the crossing came into existence," Ms Rossiter continued, "Indeed, we are not absolutely sure it is not artificial - although anything else would be hard to believe - or whether it has always existed. Most likely it is some kind of freak of the universe."
"Nevertheless, each world projects a kind of bubble into the other. There are all sorts of theories about fourth and fifth dimensions, which we don't have time to go into right now. But think of it as a kind of space-time embolism which somehow simultaneously forces itself from our universe into the other, and vice versa."
"So what is the shape of the bubble?" asked Kevin.
"That's a good question," she responded enthusiastically. "It's a flattened hemisphere over the crossing, and we suspect it's similar underground, too. Certainly, all the assessments we've done suggest it's symmetrical. And it's the same shape in the Lyndesfarne world, as well."
As Ms Rossiter described it, it was actually quite a shallow envelope, reaching no more than a couple of thousand feet into the air, while being perhaps five miles in diameter. The enclosure was not so much a bubble, thought Kevin, more like a couple of saucers, one inverted on the top of the other, and with an entire universe in between.
Ms Rossiter was also able to shed some light on something which had been bothering Kevin for some time.
"As you will have noticed, what you see as you look across the straights is always blurred and hazy," she expounded.
"We think this is because you're actually looking at two universes simultaneously. They're somehow overlaid on each other, so what you see is a combination of the other world, the Lyndesfarne world, and the landscape of this world which would be in that place, if the crossing did not exist."
It seemed that the smudging came about because, over a short distance, the two different geographies were very similar. However, further from the crossing, the countryside became more different, and the result was an increasingly blurred and hazy visual appearance.
"Of course," she concluded, "You can add a contribution to the persistent poor visibility caused simply by the weather."
"So why are the weather conditions always so bad by the bridge?" Kevin asked, "Clearly, I've a professional interest in this, since I have to design something capable of withstanding the prevailing winds."
"Well, it's true that the weather conditions are highly unpredictable and sometimes violent," she responded, "And actually the reason is fairly straightforward."
Ms Rossiter explained that the global climactic patterns were not identical on either side of the crossing. This often led to large differences in atmospheric conditions, which in turn resulting in a hugely changeable microclimate.
"Are there also tidal differences?" Kevin inquired.
"Not significantly," she replied shortly, "Although the effects of the local marine environment - mudflats and sandbanks, and the like - means that the area is notoriously treacherous and is generally avoided by seafarers."
"So, they have a Moon in Lyndesfarne too?" Kevin asked.
"Oh, yes. As far as we know, their Moon is the same size and has the same orbit as our own. Almost, but not quite, the same appearance, I believe - just some minor differences in cratering and shading."
At this point, Ms Rossiter returned to the main thread of her prepared presentation. Kevin thought he sensed a certain relief in her reactions.
"Let us just consider the impact of the Lyndesfarne crossing on our world. Generally, this is extremely small. Indeed," she continued, "The configuration of the enclosure means that the impact on modern civilised society is tiny."
"For example, what's the impact on aircraft flying overhead?" she asked rhetorically.
Kevin shook his head slightly and waited for the inevitable answer.
"Clearly," she answered her own question, "An aircraft would fail catastrophically when flying close to the crossing - but only if it was travelling at low levels, less than a few thousand feet. By the way, to reduce the risk of accidents, the region is now marked on air maps as an area to avoid."
Kevin had already discovered this fact. On Ordinance Survey maps, the area was marked as a "Site of Special Scientific Interest". In Kevin's understanding, SSSI status was usually awarded when an area contained some unique combination of flora and fauna. This area was supposed to be frequented by some rare seabirds, and low-level over-flying was forbidden on the pretext that it disturbed the bird life.
"There is no impact on higher flights." she concluded, "Commercial jet transport, orbital satellites, and so on are all unaffected."
"What about satellite photography?" asked Kevin.
He had frequently used such images to assist in site surveys and other design work in the past, with useful effect. He knew that even non-military satellites were capable of rendering considerable details, showing, for example aircraft and motor vehicles on the ground with sufficient resolution to facilitate reliable identification of make and model.
Ms Rossiter stopped and looked slightly askance at Kevin. He got the impression that she was not used to being interrupted by questions, and would rather have preferred it if he had simply sat quietly and taken notes.
"It seems that satellite images fail to give much clarity," she answered slowly, "The crossing looks indistinct when seen from above, just like it does from the shore."
"Surely someone would have noticed the blurring, and investigated," Kevin pressed.
It seemed he was wrong. Apparently, the barren appearance of the Island and the lack of anything of military or economic significance in the vicinity meant that no one had been bothered to investigate.
Ms Rossiter also discussed the impact of the Island on sea-borne traffic. Kevin had already understood that the barrier between the worlds was set well out to sea almost all the way around the Island. This was likely to make it very difficult to approach from the sea in any conventional vessel, and the local maritime charts were marked with many dangerous shoals and reefs. As a result, shipping tended to stay well out to sea.
As in the previous meetings, Kevin could not decide whether the contents were informative or confusing. He had a disquieting feeling that more information was being concealed, possibly in plain sight, or more likely by the time-honoured approach of obfuscating a nugget of vital information under a mountain of bullshit.
Even so, he concluded, if one wanted to make a crossing-point between the two universes, and intended it to be carefully controlled in such a way as to make unmonitored crossings virtually impossible, he could not have done a better job than had already been achieved. So the crossing was considered just a freak of nature, was it, Kevin wondered, I really don't think so.
|© 2006-2008 Trevor Hopkins. All rights reserved.||Webmaster||Last updated 15 March 2008|