Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Dr. Kathleen Haley walked into the dimly lit Advanced Physics Laboratory at Cambridge and spotted Dr. Thomas Mitchell staring intently at a one meter in diameter, hollow transparent sphere. “Hey, Tom. How’s the experiment coming?”

“Great so far,” he replied. “There are only ten helium atoms remaining in the sphere. In about 5-10 minutes, they should all have passed through my one-way atomic barrier. If all goes well, this will be the first ‘Perfect Vacuum’ ever created. After that, I’ll be able to get funding for Phase II.”

“Phase II?”

“Ever since cosmologists have shown that the outward expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing down, we’ve been looking for the reason. My theory is that in the ultra-low vacuum of intergalactic space, the Universal Gravitational Constant becomes negative. Gravity repels, rather than attracts. Once I prove that I can produce a perfect vacuum, I’ll rerun the experiment, and measure the gravitational force within the sphere.” That’s when Mitchell noticed a faint glowing ball of white light in the center of the sphere. “Whoa, what the hell is that?” It was about the size and brightness of a flashlight bulb. He glanced at the atomic monitor; it indicated only eight atoms remained in the sphere. Mitchell grabbed an optical spectrometer and focused it on the light source, which had brightened further as the atomic count dropped to six. “The light doesn’t have a spectrum. It’s pure white light. That’s impossible. He grabbed a prism. To his amazement, there were no colors exiting the prism. “Monochromatic white light. It can’t exist.”

“Maybe it is a natural consequence of a perfect vacuum,” suggested Dr. Haley. “Tom, I think you should shut the experiment down until you understand what’s going on.”

The light was brighter than a 100 watt light bulb when the counter indicated three. “Are you nuts,” he replied? “It took three weeks to get the vacuum this low.”

“Hear me out, Tom. We don’t know what happens in a perfect vacuum. To our knowledge, the only time one ever existed was prior to the big bang. How do you know that you won’t spontaneously generate a new cosmic egg? You could destroy our universe.”

“Even if you’re right, Kathleen, empty pre-space could have existed for a trillion-trillion years before the big bang. I’m only going to hold my vacuum for a few minutes.” The count dropped to two, and the light became too bright to look at.

“If there is no matter within the sphere,” she asked, “how do you determine entropy? Without entropy, time has no direction. It can go backwards, forwards, stop, or move infinitely fast. A trillion-trillion ‘sphere-years’ might only be a few seconds in our time.” The count dropped to one. “Don’t take any chances,” she pleaded. “Break the vacuum before it’s too late.”

Tom reached over and grabbed the handle of the vacuum line, but didn’t rotate it. “Kathleen, you’re being crazy. It’s just a vacuum. I’ve invested a year of my life in this experiment. I don’t…” The last helium atom passed through the barrier. The sphere was empty. The bright light began to pulsate. Through squinted eyes, Tom watched its light begin to fade.

“Tom, break the vacuum. Hurry!”

Beads of perspiration began to form on Tom’s forehead. He watched the light continue to fade as though he were in a hypnotic trance. His fingers twitched, and then tightened their grip on the handle. Blackness crept in from the periphery of his vision as Tom fixated on the slowly dying ember. Then…

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