I sat at my desk and picked up the piece of meteorite while I waited for Dr Gordon to arrive. The rock was the size of my fist, and it was heavy and jagged and glittered darkly, but one face of it had been ground down to a flat surface, and that surface was so shiny it mirrored everything in the room. I looked into it, then waved my hand in front of it, then I tapped it with a pencil. And every movement, every gesture, was absorbed by the rock and reflected back to me roughly three seconds after it had happened. I stared, fascinated as always, wondering how it worked. It was a real reflection, with everything reversed. Somehow I thought it would make more sense if it wasn’t reversed, if it worked like a camera and played back what it saw. And I was struck by the fact that I found it just as fascinating every time I looked at it.
There was a knock, and Dr Gordon came bustling in. ‘Hello Ray,’ he said, in that overly familiar style that he used to deflect attention when things were serious.
‘Hello Mike,’ I said. He winced a bit. I was supposed to call him Dr Gordon. But he rallied, and looked at the meteorite, and said: ‘Enthralling, isn’t it? How long has that stuff been flying around the solar system? And how did you think of grinding one surface flat just to see what would happen?’
I nodded, accepting the compliment, but declining to be drawn on the issue. I placed the ancient stone carefully between us, with the mirrored surface flat on the desk. I looked him in the eye, and said: ‘We have a problem.’
He seemed a little worried. ‘Oh? Nothing serious I expect.’
I went on: ‘I understand one of your staff has called in sick today.’
‘Richard Grey. He said he wasn’t very well. Did he ring you too?’
I ignored the question. ‘Dr Gordon,’ I said. ‘Can you tell me about your experiments?’
He laughed, nervously, and seemed unsure how much information to volunteer. ‘We’ve set up two mirrors, facing each other. We have a digital clock facing one of them. You get a lot of images reflected backwards and forwards, one inside the other. But once you work out which is which, you can see that the reflection of the clock in the first mirror is three seconds slow, and the reflection of that image in the second mirror shows the clock as six seconds slow. And the reflection of THAT image in the first mirror is nine seconds slow. And so on. Actually, we thought it might double each time, but no, it just adds three seconds in each reflection.’ He stopped. ‘Was that all?’
‘No that’s not all. You were using lasers, weren’t you?’
He looked a little guilty. He would use any excuse to fire up a laser. ‘Yes, we were. We noticed something odd. If you fire a beam of light into a mirror, it shines back on your shirt straight away. But it’s three seconds later before the blob of light appears on the reflection of your shirt in the mirror.’ He trailed off.
‘Yes, but it sort of makes sense. Anyway, that got us experimenting with lasers. We’ve been bouncing the beams between the two mirrors to see what would happen. When we fire a laser at a mirror it bounces off straight away, but then, three seconds later, the reflection of the laser in the mirror fires a beam, and if the angle is right both those beams bounce off the other mirror. We get some pretty complicated patterns, with multiple beams going backwards and forwards. And we found we could use higher intensities without the mirrors being damaged.’ He trailed off again.
I took a deep breath. ‘When you put those mirrors together, did it occur to you that everything those mirrors have seen appears in a reflection somewhere?’
I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I said: ‘When they are first put together, the first mirror reflects what it was looking at before the mirrors were set facing each other. Correct?’
‘Yes, because there’s a delay of three seconds.’
‘So the second mirror grabs that image, goes back another three seconds, and reflects that back. Then the first mirror goes back another three seconds and sends that back. And so on. They are all images from before the mirrors were put together, going back further and further.’
‘Look,’ he said. ‘I know it’s theoretically interesting that you can see into the past, but there are so many images you’d be hard put to see back very far. When you place the mirrors together you get a quick flash of whatever each mirror was looking at, and then it disappears into the distance. It’s something we will look at, but not right now.’
‘But all those reflections are still in there, right back to when the mirror was made.’
‘Yes I guess so.’
‘Richard Grey was working with those mirrors three days ago.’
‘Oh, yes?’ he said cheerfully. ‘Glad to hear it. That’s his job.’
‘He did ring me earlier. He suddenly has a burn mark in the middle of his forehead. And the thing is, the burn has started healing, as if it’s a few days old.’
Dr Gordon went pale. He opened his mouth and nearly said something but couldn’t.
‘You could have killed him,’ I went on. ‘You could have killed anyone who’d looked into either of those mirrors. And it would have happened in the past. Richard Grey is talking to lawyers. Can you go back to the lab and wait until I decide what to do next?’
I got up and went over to the window and wondered what to do. When I heard the door close behind him I turned round and then stared at the desk, vaguely aware there was something wrong with it. The piece of meteorite that I had looked into just ten minutes ago was nowhere to be found.
Copyright © 2013 David Farmer.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, August 2013.
This page last updated 14th Feb 2014.