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The LevoGyre

A founder of Austin's SlugTribe SF/F workshop, Wendy Wheeler has sold fiction to Analog, Aboriginal SF, Gorezone, Dead of Night and other periodicals. She's also had stories in the anthologies Snow White Blood Red, Silver Birch Blood Moon, Happily Ever After..., and The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. She's at work on a first novel, and also writes genre screenplays and does freelance story development with indie filmmakers. Visit her at wendy-wheeler.com.

Gyroscopes whir and hum around me like celestial music. "Prowl the air," I mumble, head spinning. I come to, contorted and cramped into some tiny space, my nipples brushing the tops of my legs through my thin blouse. Where...?
Oh yes. I am tucked into the center of the seven spinning globes of the LevoGyre. Though the device is as large as we can make it, it is barely big enough for tiny me to climb inside with curled arms and legs. Today I also had to strip off my sweater and boots.
I focus a dozen inches from my face. The bright red polish on my toenails shines like a beacon. Today was the first time I arrived with a manicure and pedicure, but my boss, Professor Paul Laffley, hasn't even noticed. Why am I not disappointed? A slim memory trickles in. My plan, my juvenile quest...
The thrumming dies down, but the hoops of steel and copper woven about with sparkling fiber optics continue to slowly revolve. Laffley himself comes closer to peer through the machinery. "What did you say?" he asks. "For a moment you seemed... in a fugue." The way his chestnut hair flopped across his forehead once filled me with such yearning. Now... I remember that feeling distantly, like the ghost of a dream. What was it I had learned?
"A moment of interdimensional clarity?" I mumble. This second formal trial of the LevoGyre had started like the first, then things got vague. Concentrating, I restate what I know. "The gravitational time dilation this time was... deeper."
Laffley pulls his lip with long thin fingers, drops safety glasses over his blue eyes. "Before, the LevoGyre was attuned to the earth's g force. This time it was set to emulate the gravitational pull of the sun." He's keyed up, impatient with my maundering.
I have just been through something no human has before, a gravitational redshift on steroids. Quantum theory supposed gravity as a manifestation of space-time curvature, so Laffley's experiment hinged on a known principle: time dilation created by spinning objects, like a merry-go-round or the LevoGyre, using centripetal acceleration. "You appeared to be there the whole time," he says. "I'll play back the film frame by frame to see if you traveled even for a microsecond." Traveled. Blinked out, then in again. As in, traveled through time.
"Prowl the air means...? Dr. Laffley. Paul. You said time travel might not be a purely physical event, but also a psychotropic one. Maybe the biological observer-participant result is separate from the body entirely?" I wriggle my toes and rotate my shoulders. The machinery is so close around me, and though I remember the lab always being chilly, now my own body heat feels suffocating.
Laffley is turned away reviewing diagrams on a blueline covered with his eerily mechanical handwriting. "Keep your head still; don't dilute your IGF-II chemistry. The human brain retains more memories if it stays in the same orientation." He brightens and turns back. "Do you feel lighter?"
"When the machine is cranking it makes zero gravity. I float like an astronaut...?"
"No, I mean your mass. It might continue to be less due to the gyroscopic action and the natural reduction in your center-of-mass-frame. You should feel lighter."
Laffley had told me of his father, a successful banker and religious freethinker, who saw time not as an inexorable force, but a malleable one. Though as a child he'd scoffed, now Laffley's machine might, by subverting gravity, also liberate beings from the time stream.
"I'm already a pretty tiny ABD," I say. My 4-foot 11-inch frame was why he'd chosen me from the other doctoral students in the All But Dissertation group to work with him. I bounce up and down. "If I lose any more mass, I may pop out of existence."
"Your weight is merely a measurement of the relationship of the mass of your body and Earth's gravity. At this moment in time." Laffley turns back to me. "Your consciousness is a separate phenomenon. And if you had a moment of pre- or retro-cognition as you time traveled, the phrase you brought back is important. Why 'prowl'? Why 'the air'?"
The five minutes of gyroscopic experience had felt like... what? A quantum of time exists as pure consciousness, was the phrase Laffley had proposed earlier. My mind had been full of events I'd never seen before, knowledge I'd not yet acquired. During my whirl on the LevoGyre, I'd remembered the future and predicted the past--or that's what it felt like.
Then it all floods in. Yes, that radical displacement out of the present. It had only lasted a moment, but I had "remembered" an ominous development that was yet to come.
I am suddenly claustrophobic. Is it the machine surrounding me? Or has my own skin become a more personal and pernicious envelope? "Let me out of here," I gasp. "Now."
Laffley pulls a lever and the spinning slows to a halt. The fiber-optic-covered frame gleams around me like snakeskin, as if an ouroboros has swallowed me. "Your insight?" His hand is on the first LevoGyre lock, but he doesn't disengage it, leaving me a contorted nucleus at the center of the machine.
My mass is known: 98 pounds. How much potential in my momentum, I wonder. Before time traveling, I had felt superimposed on two equally probable states: single and in a relationship with Laffley. To remove the frustrating symmetry I had planned to perturb the system to make Laffley act, deploying things like nail polish and clingy silk blouses. "Air suggests height. Looking down from above, above the fray. Detached." Like I felt now.
"But why prowl?" He finally loosens the bolt on the first orb, and I relax a little. But I am still trapped in this flesh, a small voice says.
"It's a predatory mindset," I murmur. I grip the frame, flashing my silly red fingernails. "I saw--no, I knew the future. And you may be gratified to learn that consciousness is everything."
"Ah." Now Laffley's face lights. "Then my theories are correct. The mind is the eternal constant."
The globes unhinge from their Fibonacci gyres, frames ratcheting open, causing me to vibrate. I slip through the access hexagon to the cool tile floor, flex my shoulders and bounce on my toes. Free, but only partly. "From detachment, abstract thought arises, and we live in the pure realm of idea." I am finally out of that cage of interlocking, logarithmic spirals. "The body is just--"
"Just what?" He takes my hand in his narrow one, and the once wished for touch feels intrusively, even obscenely, warm. How pink our skin is.
"Just meat by-product." I tug my hand away.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Author Comments

I'm intrigued with flash fiction, making a story resonate and feel "rich" with the fewest scenes. My theory is that you pick a beginning, a middle, or ending of a larger story--just one of the three--and provide glimmers for the reader to fill in the other two. Something peverse made me also include a time-travel flash-forward. It's dense like a fruitcake, this story.

- Wendy Wheeler
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