-IceMan-

Mad Science: Chapter 1

Aug 2nd, 2015 (edited)
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  1. Mad Science
  2. By IceMan
  3.  
  4. Chapter 1: Singularity
  5.  
  6. >“Look, there’s Jupiter.”
  7. >Several hundred miles from the nearest civilization, sleeping from a tent in the middle of a cactus-filled desert, you gaze through your father’s telescope at the heavens.
  8. >A simple camping trip with your father to gaze at the stars and enjoy the great outdoors.
  9. >It’s 3:00 AM; you’ve been watching them for hours now.
  10. “And you can even see its moons,” you say.
  11. >You pan the telescope across the sky.
  12. “Do you think we’ll visit them someday, Dad?”
  13. >“Maybe. Maybe we’ll find a monolith on the moon and send a spaceship out there. But the computer will go mad and try to kill the astronauts, but one will escape and get sent through a stargate, watch himself die in a rococo bedroom, and then become a giant alien space baby.”
  14. >You giggle as your dad lifts you up on his shoulders, wrenching you away from the telescope.
  15. “Giant alien space baby! Giant alien space baby!” you say, giggling.
  16. >“Watch out for the asteroids! Woosh!”
  17. >Your dad dips down on his knees and rocks you around, then gently sets you on a big rock.
  18. “I wanna see Jupiter dad. Not through a telescope, though. I wanna see the Great Red Spot up close.”
  19. >“While, it’ll be your job to get us there. Space is really, really big. It takes a long time to get anywhere.”
  20. “Longer than getting to grandma’s house?”
  21. >“Longer than getting to grandma’s. Even if you’re going fast enough to get there in a minute.”
  22. “One day, I’m gonna find a way to get to Jupiter in a second.”
  23. >“I bet you will. With all those big books you’re reading now, I’ll bet you’ll find a way to get there in a femtosecond.”
  24. >You frown.
  25. “What’s a femtosecond?”
  26. >“It’s ten to the negative 15 seconds.”
  27. “That’s small.”
  28. >“But you’ll be able to do it. You’ve been reading those big novels that mom’s been giving you.”
  29. >Looking at the sky, you think for a second.
  30. “I wish I had some new books. I’m getting tired of reading Harry Potter. I’ve almost finished the last one.”
  31. >“I heard a new one’s coming out soon. We’ll order it from the bookstore for you.”
  32. “Thanks, Dad.”
  33. >You furrow your brow.
  34. “Dad, why don’t other kids my age like to read big books like I do?”
  35. >Your dad stays silent for a second.
  36. >“You’re a special kid. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, and a great mind inside it. You’re just moving a little faster than the other kids, but they’ll catch up.”
  37. >You consider what he said.
  38. “But nobody wants to talk to me about space or science or books or anything....”
  39. >“Maybe you should try talking to them about what they like first. Maybe they’ll come to like what you like if you find out what they like.”
  40. “But I don’t want to do that.”
  41. >Your dad blinks.
  42. >“Why not?”
  43. “Because what they like is boring and dumb. All the other kids like is sports or games or other dumb stuff.”
  44. >He sighs.
  45. >“You can’t go through life without friends. Otherwise you’ll be lonely.”
  46. “I’m not lonely. You’re my friend.”
  47. >“I guess that’s true.”
  48. >Your dad hefts himself up on the rock with you and lies back, his hands forming a basket for his head.
  49. >The stars twinkle overhead, and the great brownish-purple band of the Milky Way stretches across the sky.
  50. >Crickets chirp; an owl hoots.
  51. “Look, a shooting star!” you say.
  52. >“Where?”
  53. “There’s another!”
  54. >“There’s one.”
  55. “It’s a meteor shower....”
  56. >You stare at the blinking streaks of light streaming across the sky.
  57. “One day, I want to visit Jupiter. And all the other planets. And all the stars in the universe. I want to see a supernova. I want to see Betelgeuse. I want to see the Pillars of Creation.”
  58. >Your dad sighs.
  59. >“One day. You’ll visit them all in a femtosecond.”
  60.  
  61. >Three years later.
  62. >“Hi, my name’s Timmy, do you wanna play?”
  63. >A small chubby boy with blonde hair and a beaming smile stands in front of you.
  64. >He’s carrying a large, rotund, slightly deflated kickball in his arms.
  65. >He’s maybe nine years old, same as you.
  66. >So, you turn the next page of your book, paying him no mind.
  67. “No.”
  68. >“Why not?”
  69. “Because I’m reading.”
  70. >“What’re you reading?”
  71. “Introductory Physics. Go away.”
  72. >“C’mon. Be nice. Let’s be friends.”
  73. “It is the ninth week into the school year. I have moved three times to avoid people asking me to be their friend, and you are the fourteenth person to ask me that. I thought this spot was ideal: at least twenty meters from the bathrooms, the ball buckets, and the scooters, and thirty meters from the playground itself. I thought I was finally done being bothered by people while I read. But I will give you the same answer I’ve given every other person who has come to me. No. Go away.”
  74. >Timmy stares at the concrete for a second, frowning.
  75. >“Why not?”
  76. “Because you’re an idiot. You’re all idiots. None of you have anything of value to give me, and I have nothing of value to give to you. So go away.”
  77. >“Hey! That - that’s not a nice thing to say!”
  78. “Neither is coming up and bothering someone when they’re reading.”
  79. >You turn another page.
  80. >Timmy remains standing there, his brow furrowed, blinking.
  81. >“I’ve never seen you in class before. Whose class are you in?” he finally says.
  82. “I’m in Mrs. Thompson’s sixth grade class.”
  83. >His eyes grow at least an inch bigger.
  84. >“You’re a sixth grader? But you look my age. How’d you get into the sixth grade class?”
  85. “I’m just special that way. I read books bigger than any of the sixth graders read with longer words than they can read. I can do math better than they can. I’m actually doing seventh grade math now, but they won’t put me in seventh grade because they think I’m not mature enough for that class.”
  86. >Timmy stares at the ground, flummoxed again.
  87. >“You’re lying! Liar, liar, pants on fire!” he says.
  88. “What evidence do you have that I’m lying? None. Now go away. I’m reading.”
  89. >He stamps his foot on the ground, his tennis shoes lighting up with little LEDs in the soles.
  90. >“You’re a jerk and a liar. I don’t want to be friends with you. Nobody would ever want to be friends with you. Maybe I’d want to be friends with you if you weren’t a jerk, but you’re a jerk, so I’m not going to be friends with you.”
  91. “Flawless logic,” you say with a shrug.
  92. >Timmy trudges off, his footsteps thumping along the concrete and turning his sneakers into a fireworks show.
  93. >Finally, you can focus again.
  94. >What an annoyance.
  95. >They were all just annoyances.
  96. >You just wanted to read, but people kept insisting on bothering you.
  97. >Maybe you’ll have to move again to get away from all these annoyances.
  98. >And that too would be annoyance.
  99. >Everything and everyone is an annoyance.
  100.  
  101. >Several weeks later.
  102. >“What happened to you?” Mrs. Thompson asks. “Where did you get that bruise?”
  103. >She is a slightly overweight woman, with curly brown hair and a cheery smile that says “I love to teach!”
  104. >She’s taught at your school for 19 years.
  105. >You’ve walked in early from lunch today, hoping that it would be more peaceful in the classroom.
  106. >It was too loud and hot outside today anyways.
  107. >Inside was a better place for reading.
  108. >Unfortunately, now Mrs. Thompson wants to bother you.
  109. “One of the seventh graders hit me,” you say.
  110. “Let me see.”
  111. >She lifts up the sleeve of your shirt.
  112. “Who did this to you?”
  113. “I don’t know his name. It’s only a bruise. Can I please just read my book?”
  114. “It doesn’t matter that it’s just a bruise. This school has a no-tolerance policy towards bullying. What did he look like?”
  115. “He was tall, had black hair, and didn’t appreciate Shakespeare.”
  116. >You pull your arm away from Mrs. Thompson and head over to the office supplies desk to get some tape.
  117. “Ugh, that sounds like Frank Marshall. I’ll call his homeroom teacher and tell her what happened.”
  118. >You get a piece of tape.
  119. “What did they do to you?”
  120. “He called me a freak, punched my shoulder, and tore the cover of my copy of Richard III. That’s all. Leave me alone.”
  121. >You carefully tape the cover of the well-worn book.
  122. >It was your father’s.
  123. >“I’ll make sure he gets a suspension. Picking on kids littler than him.... Has this happened before?”
  124. >You nod.
  125. >“Is this why you move reading spots all the time?”
  126. >Again, you nod.
  127. >You think for a moment.
  128. “They’re right, though.”
  129. >“What?”
  130. “I am a freak. I’m smarter than anyone in this class. Smarter than anyone in the school.”
  131. >Mrs. Thompson blinks.
  132. >“No, no! You’re not a freak. You’re just a little different. And some people just don’t like people that are different than them, or smaller than them, or smarter than them. But one day, you’ll show those people that you’re a better person than them.”
  133. >She gives you her signature warm smile.
  134. “I’m all of those things, smaller, smarter, and different, so I’m an easy target. I could stay closer to the playground so the teachers could watch me, but then everyone else would bug me while I tried to read. And Frank could change his act. You can’t predict the future. One day he could be the successful businessman and I could be his lackey researcher. He’s normal. I’m not.”
  135. >You pause.
  136. “But, it’s okay. I’m fine with being a freak. I’m fine with having no friends. It gives me more time to read.”
  137. >“Oh, come on now, don’t be like that. Everybody needs friends.”
  138. “Not me. I don’t need anyone. I can get along on my own. I don’t need friends to read books or do anything else I like to do.”
  139.  
  140. >The psychologist’s office is a glass box, a cuboid fish tank.
  141. >It seems almost ideal for the freaks and weirdos that enter into its transparent walls.
  142. >A cage.
  143. >A prison.
  144. >An enormous waste of time.
  145. >Just like all of them were.
  146. >The school keeps sending you to psychoanalyst after psychoanalyst.
  147. >They’ve been doing it for five years now, ever since your sixth grade teacher mentioned some "odd comments" you made on interpersonal relationships when you were nine.
  148. >You used to be able to get out of it by “forgetting” to go.
  149. >But now your meetings are during your free block, so you have no choice.
  150. >It’s not as if you have anything better to do, you feebly rationalize.
  151. >Spinning his office chair around, Dr. Chung greets you pleasantly: “Hello, hello, hello, and welcome. Please, sit.”
  152. >You and he had met before, but this was your first private meeting.
  153. >Dr. Chung is a rather fat, balding Asian man, in a sharp black jacket and light blue dress shirt with an onyx and white checked tie.
  154. >He motions to another plush black leather office chair in front of his steel desk.
  155. >“Let’s get the basics out of the way, yes? Your parents are scientists. Father a physicist in... looks like astronomy, I presume, mother a biologist in cellular development. Busy folk, I presume. Not around often?”
  156. >You simply nod, gazing out the window.
  157. “Technically my father studies gamma ray bursts. He’s interested in Type II supernovae and long gamma ray bursts. He’s also looking into gravity waves. He wants to understand the relation between the energy release of a supernova and the subsequent collapse of the star’s inner core to below the Chandreskahar limit.”
  158. >“That sounds very interesting. Are you helping him with it?”
  159. >You nod.
  160. “A little bit. He’s considering taking me on as an intern.”
  161. >“Hopefully that won’t interfere with school too much. Your teachers have been telling me some unpleasant things. You rarely turn in work, you’re always questioning them. And yet, you get astounding scores on tests without studying. I’m just looking at your scores from Advanced Physics here: 100%, 99%, 99%, 100%, 97% – slipped up a bit there – 100%. Your teachers report that your only mistakes are careless errors. But there’s more than that. You seem to think that everyone is dumber than you.”
  162. “They are.”
  163. >“And you might be correct, but it’s not okay to outwardly display that.”
  164. >You consider this.
  165. >“There’s more. Do you consider anyone on campus to be your friend?”
  166. “No. No, I do not.”
  167. >“Do you, perhaps, wish to have any friends?”
  168. >He notices your eyes narrowing and your mouth drawn thin.
  169. >“You can be completely honest with me. This is entirely confidential. Nothing will leave this room. Say what you like.”
  170. After a moment, you say, “No. Not with the idiots that populate this school.”
  171. >“And what makes you so sure they are idiots?”
  172. “Because I already know everything they are just learning. There is nothing that I can learn from them. And there’s nothing I could teach them that they would understand. No value to be gained by either party. And some of them despise me because of this. They are idiots, and thus I will not be friends with them.”
  173. >“That’s what I was afraid of. It is not exactly mentally healthy for an adolescent to have no one whom he considers a friend.”
  174. “I don’t need friends,” you say, your voice low. “I don’t need other people to survive.”
  175. >The psychologist interlaces his fingers and strokes his chin.
  176. >“You are far too cruel to others. You do not understand what human relationships really give people.”
  177. “Give me a book on those things then. There’s nothing I can’t learn from a book.”
  178. >“It’s not that simple. There are some things that you can’t just learn from books. Things you need real life experience for.”
  179. “What makes you so sure that friendship isn’t one of those things?”
  180. >Dr. Chung sighs.
  181. “Look, what am I supposed to do? I will accept your ideas as true for now. I will try to… make friends with people. But I’m not going to suddenly turn into a nicer person overnight.”
  182. >“No. You’re not; you’re right. But, at the very least, you can start by putting up a show that you don’t, for lack of a more eloquent way of putting it, hate everyone’s guts.”
  183. “I don’t hate everyone’s guts. I pity them.”
  184. >“Sorry, maybe that was a bit harsh. But it can come off that way when you’re callous and grim to everyone you meet. People may not be as smart as you, but that does not mean they deserve any less respect. That means doing your homework, even if you already know all the answers, and at least trying to be pleasant and polite to your peers and teachers. And, maybe, who knows! Maybe you’ll find something in a few of them that like you back.”
  185. >You mull it over for a moment.
  186. “I don’t wish to re-learn what I already know.... Is there any way I could possibly get moved into an early graduation track or something?”
  187. >The psychologist shakes his head.
  188. >“From what I understand, the school doesn’t have the resources for that at this point. We’ve never had a kid like you.”
  189. >You think a little more.
  190. “I don’t like the idea of putting up a façade for people. It’s lying. If I’m not being honest with people, how will they ever trust me?”
  191. >“It’s the only way to get by in this world. We all have to deal with people we don’t like.”
  192. >Silence.
  193. “I guess that concludes this session.”
  194. >You stand up from your chair and get ready to leave.
  195. >“If you ever need me, I’m always here.”
  196.  
  197. >Nine years later.
  198. “Charge first-stage accelerator.”
  199. >“First-stage is charging.”
  200. >Deep within the bowels of an underground laboratory, the whir of a large proton accelerator intensifies to a low rumble.
  201. >The first-stage accelerates protons injected from a linear accelerator at 50 MeV (mega electron volts) to 1.5 GeV (giga electron volts), or approximately 2.24E-10 joules.
  202. >After a few minutes of charging, the high-energy accelerator are released into the secondary accelerator ring, accelerating protons to 30 GeV.
  203. >And, in the final stage, the protons split into two beams and accelerated to their final energy of close to 1.5 TeV, or approximately 2.4E-7 joules.
  204. >Exiting from their superconducting, magnetized tubes into a large cylindrical steel vacuum chamber, the beams collide with enough force in such a small volume that space and time itself are ripped asunder, creating micro black holes.
  205. >And you want to capture a micro black hole.
  206. >“We’ve detected the first collision,” one of your assistants says.
  207. “Good. Keep running the primary accelerator and begin charging the secondary.”
  208. >“We’ve detected a slight anomaly in the temperature of the magnets of the secondary linear accelerator. We may need to abort.”
  209. “Let me see.”
  210. >You walk over to one of the black, square computer monitors in the white-walled, blue-vomit carpeted control room.
  211. >Bars and graphs rise and fall across the screen, one reading “Magnet Temperature.”
  212. “That’s still within normal range. We can continue to experiment. We’re in no danger of quenching the magnets or losing control of the hole.”
  213. >You turn back to the main chamber.
  214. “Charge secondary accelerator.”
  215. >A beam of white electrons jumps from another tube into the central impact point.
  216. >With luck, it should feed one of the micro black holes with mass, causing it to grow in size from minuscule to slightly less minuscule.
  217. >Or from at least a few Planck lengths, barely 1.6E-35 meters, to perhaps ten micrometers.
  218. >Just enough to send a microprobe through the event horizon.
  219. >Data streams in on various screens as you wander around the control room staring at each one, one by one.
  220. >Finally: an anomaly.
  221. >A slight gravimetric deviance.
  222. “Shut down the primary accelerator, keep the secondary running. Let’s see how big we can make this little guy before we send the probe in. Magnetize the hole to the set coordinates.”
  223. >A low hum rumbles through the control room as the magnets activate, bending the wormhole in on itself to create a stable loop.
  224. >Controlling the hole’s magnetic field controls where its exit is.
  225. >For this test, the hole is set to output where its entrance is: a simple loop.
  226. >It helps you keep the probes.
  227. >“Probe is ready on your command.”
  228. “Send her in.”
  229. >A long, thin titanium robotic arm detaches from the wall of the vacuum chamber and carefully edges the sensor probe a few centimeters from the tiny dot.
  230. “Orbit the hole for a little bit, let the sensors collect data.”
  231. >The arm slowly circles the hole on its ring around the chamber.
  232. >More numbers and figures stream in: magnetic field strength, radiation levels of various different particles, gravity strength, time dilation, the list goes on and on.
  233. “Alright, that’s five minutes. Drop the probe in.”
  234. >The black dot grows ever larger on the feed.
  235. >“Probe’s detecting a slight radiation spike.”
  236. >The hole begins to shrink.
  237. “Drop the probe!”
  238. >The probe drops.
  239. >It dips towards the hole, attached to your realm by its thin black tether.
  240. >It sinks below the even horizon, disappearing into the blackness.
  241. “What’s our readings?”
  242. >“2200 counts per minute of radiation.”
  243. >“Gravitational forces at 999.35 Newtons.”
  244. >“Magnetic flux at 556.25 Webers.”
  245. >“Electric flux at 552.01.”
  246. “Very good. How’s the hole doing?”
  247. >“The hole seems to have stabilized for now.”
  248. “Excellent.”
  249. >“Looks like we’re reaching the other end.”
  250. “Let me see.”
  251. >You head over to the probe’s sensor feed.
  252. >A pinprick of white light races towards you.
  253. “Here it comes.”
  254. >The tiny probe exits from the hole, its tether following.
  255. “Very good.”
  256. >The probe is reeled back onto its arm.
  257. >You look around the control room.
  258. “Good test, everyone. We got great data. Another successful test. See you tomorrow morning. John, come by my office later, I want to talk to you about those magnet temperature readings.”
  259. >You slowly walk out of the control room, and head back to your office.
  260. >Doing these experiments had become a routine procedure.
  261. >You haven’t had a single error since the fifth test, and that was only a minor problem with the robotic arm in the test chamber.
  262. >You’ve had so much success, that you’re almost ready to proceed to phase 2.
  263. >Human test subjects.
  264. >Instantaneous travel.
  265. >Your dream had almost come true.
  266. >But better to do a few more tests, just to be sure.
  267. >Your phone pings, announcing the arrival of a new e-mail.
  268. >You’ll check it when you get back to your desk.
  269. >Standing near the main entrance to the control room is Dr. Langston, one of the institute’s directors overseeing the department of theoretical physics.
  270. >In other words, your boss.
  271. >“You get the latest message?” he says as you march upstairs.
  272. “No. What’s going on?”
  273. >“The board wants to cut funding again. Your project looks like it’s on the chopping block this time.”
  274. >You whip around, your eyes ablaze.
  275. >“I swear, I had nothing to do with it. You know I’m on your side. I’ve seen your work personally, and I know it’s impressive. But the board is concerned that -”
  276. “So, being cautious about exploring brand new physics and technology makes my experiments worthless then? Do you realize what could happen if we don’t test this well enough? People could end up stranded in space, or worse, in alternate dimensions! This isn’t child’s play.”
  277. >“That’s not what I -- That’s not what I heard it’s about.”
  278. “Then what is it?”
  279. >“That’s only part of it. They’re concerned that you are not providing enough of an ‘enriching experience’ for the students.”
  280. >You blink twice, your slightly flushed face suddenly going cool.
  281. “What?”
  282. >“Students have been reporting that they find you hard to work with and -”
  283. “I hardly see how that’s my problem. I have many things to deal with and I can’t babysit every student that walks into the lab.”
  284. >You reach the door to your office.
  285. >After flipping through your keys, you unlock the door and flick on the white fluorescent lights.
  286. >You sit down at your desk and boot up your computer.
  287. >“Look, everyone here knows you’re brilliant. Nobody gets a PI position at 22 without being absolutely top notch. But part of our duty as researchers is to train the next generation of scientists, and if you don’t get your act together, then the rest of the board’s going to hang you no matter how advanced your project is or how close or far you are from succeeding.”
  288. >You grunt.
  289. “It’s just a huge waste of my time and energy. If I wanted to teach free body diagrams and Gauss’s law, I would’ve become a high school physics teacher. I came here to expand humanity’s knowledge of the universe, not to teach.”
  290. >“It’s part and parcel of the job. You know that.”
  291. “I do. I’ve just been trying to avoid it.”
  292. >Langston checks his watch.
  293. >“I’ve got a meeting. Wish I could stay and chat, but I’ve got to go. Whatever the case, there’s going to be a meeting at 3:00 to discuss your performance.”
  294. >You merely grunt in reply.
  295. >After Langston walks out, you get up and slam the door.
  296. >Despite your recent successes, this project has been a fiasco from the start.
  297. >Between the sheer incompetence of your team and failure after failure, you’re not surprised that you haven’t gotten much progress.
  298. >First there were problems with getting the proton beams to collide.
  299. >Then there were problems with producing micro black holes.
  300. >Then there were problems using the secondary accelerator to feed those black holes.
  301. >Then there were problems turning the holes into stable wormholes, and then looping wormholes.
  302. >That in and of itself took months and resulted in almost completely re-writing the book on singularities, black holes, and gravity at the quantum level.
  303. >Concepts that had been widely accepted were debunked, shaking the scientific community to its core.
  304. >One single consequence of this far outweighed the others, though: given the right conditions, it was possible to escape the event horizon of a black hole.
  305. >Then there were problems with the probes.
  306. >On and on it went.
  307. >And this is just phase one of the project.
  308. >You had only recently been getting successes.
  309. >You considered this current streak of good tests to be a lucky streak.
  310. >But, if your theory is correct (and it certainly seems to be so far), then every black hole connects to another somewhere in the universe, back on itself, or, maybe, somewhere outside this universe.
  311. >So far, you’ve managed to create a black holes that lead to other areas on Earth and in the solar system, and holes that loop in on themselves.
  312. >It took months of testing the magnetic fields to learn how to set the coordinates of the hole, but eventually you got it.
  313. >If you could safely send a mechanical probe through, then why not a human?
  314. >You’re still uneasy about that though.
  315. >You just need more-
  316. >You hear the faint rapping of thin knuckles on the hard, blue painted wood.
  317. >You get up and open the door.
  318. >A small, thin, mousy-haired boy stands in the doorway, a small backpack slung over his shoulder with a few papers leaking out.
  319. >He’s carrying a heavy textbook labelled “Introductory High-Energy Physics.”
  320. >You know that book.
  321. >You helped write the latest edition.
  322. >Soon it will need to be revised again, to account for the new data you’ve acquired in your experiments.
  323. >“Hello, Doctor -”
  324. “You’re the new undergraduate intern, yes, yes I know. Let’s see...”
  325. >You walk over to your desk and get a coffee mug.
  326. “Do me a favor and get me another cup of coffee from the break room. I’m very busy right now. I’ll give you some work in a bit. We do experiments every morning at 9:00 sharp. Be there to help out.”
  327. >You gently toss the student your cup.
  328. >“Uh, yes sir...”
  329. “Thanks.”
  330. >You shut the door.
  331. >Hopefully there will be no more distractions today.
  332. >Now, where were you?
  333. >If only you could acquire more data, you could advance to that second phase and begin the real goal of your experiment.
  334. >And… there’s no reason why you couldn’t do that.
  335. >Tests have consistently shown the radiation levels to be safe, provided you have some protection.
  336. >But you’re still uncertain.
  337. >You open up your e-mail and find the message entitled “Performance Review.”
  338. “Dear Colleague,” it begins.
  339. “We have received complaints from several of your undergraduate and graduate level students that -”
  340. >You don’t read any more.
  341. >You know what this is really about.
  342. >They’re just using the “students’ complaints” as a cheap excuse.
  343. >Those students should feel lucky they’re even allowed to assist on such a ground-breaking project.
  344. >All this institution cares about is how many papers it puts out and how many grants it gets.
  345. >And you’re not getting any results.
  346.  
  347. >3:00.
  348. >You sit in a long board room at one end of a thin table surrounded by uncomfortable plastic office chairs.
  349. >“Welcome, Doctor -” the head director, Dr. Reynolds, says.
  350. >He’s a thick, blonde-haired man with horn-rimmed round glasses.
  351. “Skip the pleasantries and let’s cut to the chase. I’m very busy with my current project, and this review is cutting into my time already. We’re nearing the breakthrough of a century.”
  352. >“You’ve been saying that for the past month,” someone mutters, but you can’t tell who.
  353. >“Very well. You are here because your students are displeased with your teaching. As you know, this institute has -”
  354. “No, I’m here because my experiments have not gotten any new results in over a month.”
  355. >“I think you’re missing the point here,” another director, Dr. Knight, says.
  356. >She is a wiry woman with black hair.
  357. >You hate all the people in this room, but particularly Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Knight.
  358. >You wouldn’t be surprised if they were the ones trying to snipe your career.
  359. >Their theories were highly dependent on your experiments failing; they believed that it was impossible to traverse the event horizon of a black hole, as it was composed of a barrier of quantum entangled particles that destroyed anything that touched it: a firewall.
  360. >But, in the past couple weeks, you had proven them wrong.
  361. >They believed your experiments were flukes.
  362. >Maybe a small probe could get through, but not a human being.
  363. >They’d become more bureaucrats than scientists these days; the last time they produced a paper was at least 10 years ago.
  364. >All of the directors had, but especially Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Knight.
  365. >Now they worked to ensure that the institute taught students and produced papers.
  366. >They couldn’t care about the real advancement of human knowledge, just how much money is coming into the institute.
  367. “No, I think I see things quite clearly. You are displeased that my experiments have produced no results. We are no closer to determining whether micro black holes could be used for superluminal travel than we were a month ago. This institute was founded to produce results, and I have achieved none,” you reply.
  368. >“This institute was founded to teach, and you are not teaching,” says a third director, Dr. Carol. “Regardless of the brilliance of your work, you have a duty as a researcher here to teach new scientists, and you have been failing that job. And as such, we need to review your performance.”
  369. >“You are here to do research and to teach, not just one or the other,” says a fourth, Dr. Jerome.
  370. >They are the heads of the education and outreach arms of the institute, respectively.
  371. >Probably the only ones in the room that actually care about you not educating.
  372. >But, Reynolds and Knight hold far more power than them.
  373. >A lot more money always seems to end up for research than education, and you know it.
  374. >And far more money is spent getting grants than creating new programs.
  375. >Carol and Jerome have little power here.
  376. “You couldn’t care less whether students are taught or not. This institute was founded to be the greatest physics laboratory in the world and to produce the most cutting edge research in the world, and I am not fitting those requirements.”
  377. >Dr. Reynolds frowns for a moment.
  378. >“We do care about our students,” says Dr. Reynolds. “That is why we are having this meeting now. Your students are incredibly displeased with you. They find you, and I’m quoting their reviews directly here, ‘dismissive of their concerns,’ ‘extremely difficult to work with,’ ‘aloof,’ ‘a tough grader and a harsh teacher.’”
  379. “If they hate me so much, then fire me.”
  380. >“We weren’t considering letting you go. You are a valued researcher here, and we admire your expertise.”
  381. “Then why don’t you let me do my work and leave my teaching career out of this.”
  382. >You think for a second.
  383. “To be perfectly honest, I think we’re ready to move on to phase two of my experiment.”
  384. >The room falls silent.
  385. >“Is this true?” says Dr. Knight.
  386. “I’d like to do a few more tests, but yes, I think we’re almost ready.”
  387. >“I thought that you had figured out a way to create a stable loop wormhole. Even for a hole big enough for a human to travel through,” says Dr. Langston, finally speaking up.
  388. “Yes, but we still don’t know what will happen if we add the additional mass. We need to do more tests to be certain.”
  389. >“You’ve done hundreds of tests,” says Dr. Reynolds.
  390. “And most of those failed. We’ve only recently been having consistent successes. But I think we’re close to a breakthrough. If I have to sacrifice my research time to teach students, then I will be forced make less progress on this ground breaking work.”
  391. >The board deliberates.
  392. >“Very well,” says Dr. Knight. “We will overlook this teaching problem for now so that you can advance your work.”
  393. >You sigh.
  394. >You have done dozens of tests with probes.
  395. >Recently, they had been very successful.
  396. >You could just send someone through the loop.
  397. >Someone like... you?
  398. >You have to be the one.
  399. >You can’t let anyone else take this risk.
  400. “Thank you,” you say in closing. “This has been a very productive meeting.”
  401.  
  402. >Back at your desk, you start up a new e-mail.
  403. “I’ve decided we’ve collected enough data on the exterior effects of the hole with the robotic probes, and we’re going to move on to the second phase of this experiment. This will also eliminate the problems we’ve been having with the magnetic locks on the robotic arm. We will send a human being through a black hole. Obviously, given the dangers of this task, I will be the one to do it. Meet in the main control room at 9:00 tomorrow as always. Thanks.”
  404. >You hear a knock on your door.
  405. “Come in.”
  406. >Dr. Langston walks in.
  407. “So, that went well,” you say.
  408. >“They’re insane,” he says. “And you know it.”
  409. “They’re not insane, they’re just stupid and impulsive. But my hands are tied. My options are either give up my research or do as they ask. They want the glory of being the first institution to perfect wormhole travel. Have you heard what their doing at MIT these days? They’re only a few steps behind us.”
  410. >“But they don’t have anyone like you. Youngest principal investigator in history. Already has data that will revolutionize physics. You’re the star researcher here.”
  411. “No, they don’t have anyone like me. And they won’t have anyone like me anymore if they don’t give me space to do my work.”
  412. >“Then you show them that you’re the best damn researcher we’ve got.”
  413. >Dr. Langston claps you on the shoulder, and leaves.
  414. >Yeah, you’ll show them.
  415. >It’s time to change physics forever.
  416.  
  417. “Charge first-stage accelerator,” you radio in.
  418. >Strapped into a heavy, pressurized, radiation-proof suit of your own design, you’re protected from the dangers of high-energy particle physics.
  419. >The suit reads out the atmospheric composition, time dilation, gravitational pull, radiation levels, and other factors that could be involved in interspatial or interdimensional travel.
  420. >The suit is pressurized and sealed from the outside environment.
  421. >It has a lightweight augmented exoskeleton to protect you from gravitational and other forces.
  422. >If you end up somewhere in the universe where the air is composed of grape jelly and the radiation fields would fry cockroaches, you will know.
  423. >And you might just survive.
  424. >You’re attached to the chamber’s outer ring through a long steel cable.
  425. >The Geiger counter beeps in your ear; the oxygen readout displays in front of your eyes.
  426. >You stand near the manual release for the robotic arm, ready to bring physics to the next stage.
  427. >“First stage is charging.”
  428. >A few seconds pass.
  429. >“First stage is charged.”
  430. “Good. Charge second stage.”
  431. >“Second stage is charging.... Second stage is charged.”
  432. “Accelerate first stage.”
  433. >A white beam of particles streaks by in a luminous arc.
  434. “Accelerate second stage.”
  435. >A second beam ignites, colliding with the first.
  436. >Your Geiger counter’s beeps increase in amplitude.
  437. >“We’ve detected first collision set... over 160000 collisions… 170000 collisions.”
  438. “Good. Shut down the primary accelerator. Keep the secondary running to feed the hole.”
  439. >The first white arc dissipates.
  440. >The second remains, though you notice a small warp and a faint black dot.
  441. “I can see the hole. Magnetize. Prepare to send in the probe.”
  442. >A low hum reverberates as the magnetic fields activate.
  443. >“Arm is ready.”
  444. “A little longer....”
  445. >The hole grows slightly, now the size of a speck of dust in your vision.
  446. “Alright, launch probe arm.”
  447. >The arm slowly pulls off from the wall, edging the tiny probe towards the hole.
  448. >You slowly follow it.
  449. “Give it five minutes to collect data,” you say to the control room.
  450. >“Copy that.”
  451. >Five minutes exactly pass.
  452. >“We’re detecting a bit of a radiation spike. Also, that temperature anomaly is back in the... Nevermind, it’s back within reasonable bounds.”
  453. “Alright, then. Time to go.”
  454. >“Are you sure about this?” a student says over the radio. “We can still abort. And do one more probe test.”
  455. >You think for a moment.
  456. “No. I have to do this. We’ve done enough tests.”
  457. >“If you don’t make it out of this, then it was an honor working with you,” says another one of the students.
  458. “What’re you concerned about? We’ve done the tests. Everything is going to be fine. I’ll make it.”
  459. >You slowly walk towards the rippling black sphere in the center of the chamber.
  460. “Let’s see what’s on the other side of that horizon,” you say, and gently stick your hand into the wormhole.
  461. >“Wait, we’re getting another temperature anomaly.... The magnetic field is destabilizing! The magnets are quenching!” someone says.
  462. “What?”
  463. >But it was too late.
  464. >“Total destabilization!”
  465. >“Re-magnetize then!”
  466. >“We can’t, the magnets are completely quenched!”
  467. >“High radiaeeeeeereeeeeeeeeeechrgr...”
  468. >“We don’t knowcrhr... Where is he going?” is all you hear, followed by only static, then nothing.
  469. >Time stops.
  470. >Everything is frozen, holding still as if waiting for the end of time.
  471. >You feel a sudden lurch, as if your arm were picked up and sucked down a drain.
  472. >You manage to gaze towards it and see it stretched a million kilometers away.
  473. >The hole grows ever larger as your head is enveloped by the event horizon.
  474. >A ceaseless stretching force pulls your body down, deeper down into the blackness.
  475. >Your feet are now a billion kilometers from your head, your hand a trillion kilometers from the rest of your body.
  476. >You try to pull it back towards you, but you cannot resist the force of the black hole.
  477. >Then, nothing.
  478. >Absolutely nothing.
  479. >Pure darkness.
  480. >You have been in the wilderness, miles from civilization, but never in a darkness so penetrating.
  481. >Squid’s ink mixed with ebony mixed with black onyx.
  482. >An empty canvas covered in black primer.
  483. >No stars.
  484. >No light.
  485. >Nothing.
  486. >Soundless screams and endless fields of black sheets.
  487. >You’re bumped about by invisible forces, maybe distortions in space-time or whatever else is beyond the horizon, a boat caught in a terrible storm with waves and rain lashing it at every moment.
  488. >The steel cable snaps from your suit like a piece of twine (as if it would have been able to rescue you from the full force of the gravitational pull of the black hole) and floats away into the darkness.
  489. >For what may have been eternity, or maybe just six seconds, time having no meaning, causation having no effect, you are jostled onwards until you suddenly feel a sharp tug.
  490. >A second hole is opening.
  491.  
  492. >You land with a thump in a grassy field at the edge of an expanse of tall deciduous forest stretching as far as you can see.
  493. >Dusting yourself off, you check your exterior film badge for a radiation reading.
  494. >It’s gone completely white.
  495. >But it worked.
  496. >It worked!
  497. >And you’re still alive!
  498. “Yes!”
  499. >You’ve crossed space and time, you’ve travelled some huge distance in an instant.
  500. >The next stage of human advancement has come.
  501. >Now you just need to tell someone.
  502. “Control, do you read me?” you say. “Control, do you copy?”
  503. >Static.
  504. >You look around for a trace of the second hole, but find nothing.
  505. >It’s already evaporated.
  506. >And the hole back in the laboratory... it destabilized.
  507. >It was meant to just loop you back to the same spot, now....
  508. >You have no idea where you are.
  509. >You could be anywhere in the universe.
  510. >You could be anywhere in the multiverse!
  511. >This place at least feels like Earth, for what it’s worth.
  512. >Trees look like Earth trees.
  513. >Grass feels like Earth grass.
  514. >Even the sun looks like your sun.
  515. >And your atmospheric monitor is reading a composition of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other trace gases.
  516. >Radiation levels are too low for your detector to count.
  517. >Gravitation is the same as Earth’s: a consistent 9.81 meters per second per second of acceleration.
  518. >The chance that you ended up somewhere other than Earth with all those variables is incredibly slim.
  519. >And, yet, something still feels off.
  520. >Everything feels… more colorful, as if someone put a bright filter over everything.
  521. >Maybe it’s just your helmet?
  522. >But you can’t take it off.
  523. >Just in case the air is filled with some unknown infectious virus, or something.
  524. >You haven’t yet written off that this could be some alternate dimension.
  525. >For all you know, the 1% of trace gases could be arsenic, or some new element with its properties, now given a gaseous form.
  526. >Something isn’t right.
  527. >You can’t get rid of this shaky gut feeling.
  528. >Until you have evidence otherwise, you are going to assume this is Earth, but remain cautious.
  529. >The universe may be infinite, and you landed in an exact copy, or it could be one of infinite alternate universes, but, based on the current evidence, things are looking pretty good for this being Earth.
  530. >Plus, if it isn’t Earth, and you don’t have a way back then -
  531. >You don’t even want to consider it.
  532. >You may have taken that risk, but....
  533. >Better not to consider that contingency for now.
  534. >Stay positive.
  535. >Looking towards the horizon, you spot a small town with... thatched roofs?
  536. >Maybe you landed in Amish country.
  537. >And the color effect is just the response to being in darkness for so long.
  538. >Your eyes will re-adapt eventually.
  539. >You start off towards the town in the distance, hoping to find some human contact and transport to the nearest airport so you can get back to the institute, even if that means a horse and buggy, followed by hitchhiking once you get to the nearest highway.
  540. >You eventually find a dirt path, and continue down that.
  541. >If anything, it’s nice to get out of the lab for a bit and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.
  542. >You wonder if the institute will pay you for your little vacation.
  543. >As you approach the town, you notice all of the buildings are a little shorter than you thought they would be, as if they were all compressed by about 10%.
  544. >The decreased nutritional intake of a diet based mostly on corn and wheat may make the residents shorter, so they don’t need as tall of ceilings, or something.
  545. >And that brightly colored miniature horse over there, probably just a hallucination.
  546. >Just like that other one.
  547. >Just a bit loopy from the black hole... residue, that’s all.
  548. >This is still Earth.
  549. >Maybe you became schizophrenic, the gravity messed up your neural synapses and it’s making you hallucinate.
  550. >Still well within the realm of known science.
  551. >A trio of laughing hallucinations skip down the path towards you, jabbering with each other about some nonsense you don’t pick up, and not looking where they’re going.
  552. >The little orange one with… wings?
  553. >Great, you’re imagining pegasi too now.
  554. >And unicorns!
  555. >The white one has a horn!
  556. >The orange one runs into you.
  557. >Oh, so now they cause phantom sensations too.
  558. >It falls flat on its rear, gets up, and stares at you for a moment, stumbling back in shock.
  559. >Its two companions are performing similar maneuvers.
  560. >“Applebloom, what is this thing?” one of them says.
  561. >Oh, so they have names too.
  562. >Wow, your mind is really going mad now; it’s already come up with names and everything.
  563. >And they talk!
  564. >Talking horses, unicorns, and pegasi!
  565. >What an elaborate hallucination.
  566. “I- I have no idea!” the yellow one with a red mane says, apparently named Applebloom.
  567. “Let’s get out of here!” the white unicorn says.
  568. >They run back towards town.
  569. >Well, hopefully, that will be the last of the hallucinations.
  570. >You walk up the main market street and to the front door of one of the houses.
  571. >Oddly enough, you’ve seen no humans around, just horses.
  572. >Maybe they are off working the fields for the day.
  573. >You knock on the door.
  574. “Hello? Anyone home? I’m lost, and I need a ride to the nearest highway.”
  575. >The door opens, another horse standing in the doorway, this time a sort of magenta color.
  576. >She takes one look at you, screams, and then slams the door shut.
  577. >You knock on the door again, but only hear a shouted “Go away!”
  578. >You try the door, but it’s locked.
  579. >A similar event occurs at the next house, and the one after that.
  580. >This is a bigger hallucination than you imagined.
  581. >You’ve never heard of anyone coming up with visual, auditory, and sensual anomalies so complex as these.
  582. >It’s too complex....
  583. >This isn’t a hallucination.
  584. >This is a whole different world.
  585. >A sort of ice cold sensation washes over you, coupled with the pain of your stomach sinking to your shoes.
  586. “Oh, God dammit,” you say to yourself.
  587. >You could’ve just tried the probe.
  588. >You could’ve just taught students.
  589. >You could’ve just said you were going to move to phase two, but just do a few more tests.
  590. >You could’ve done anything else other than send yourself into an alternate universe.
  591. >You could’ve died.
  592. >You may as well be dead now.
  593. “There it is!” you hear someone shout, as if in response.
  594. >9 horses of various colors approach you: the orange, yellow, and white ones from before, now with six bigger ones, another orange, another yellow, a blue, a white, a purple, and a pink one.
  595. >“Hello, big guy, what’s your name?” the big yellow one says, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
  596. >Of course, you’re assuming it’s a her, based on the pitch.
  597. >You never know with aliens.
  598. >Especially not aliens from an alternate dimension.
  599. “My name is Fluttershy, and -”
  600. “I’m going to temporarily ignore the obvious questions to ask for now, which I think are far more important than introductions. Namely, why does this world’s flora and fauna identically resemble mine, at least superficially? Why do you speak a language identical to mine? I could go on, but I guess as the first human to make contact with an alien species and possibly the first human to travel to a parallel universe, I guess introductions are in order.
  601. “My name is.... I am Anonymous.”
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