The God Particle
Chapter 1: Lab 49
Workaholic. at least that's how his friends described him. The few friends he had anyway. He wasn't known for being the most social person in Chicago.
It was late in the evening on a snowy cold December 21st. Most of the windows in the buildings of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory campus were dark. Almost all of the scientists and engineers had already gone home for the Christmas holiday. Other than the occasional security patrol, the only sign of life, was the fluorescent glow from the frosted window of Lab 49.
Inside, Dr. James Peterson, a twenty seven year old double PhD in physics and nuclear engineering, sat huddled over a Linux workstation. The glow from the system's LCD display provided the only substantial light in the room as he examined the parameters of the experiment one final time. He raised a hand, rubbing it through his unkempt brown hair. He had forgotten to comb it again that morning. It was easy to forget when the lab was virtually deserted anyway. Shaving was also something he seemed to have forgotten that morning. His hand moved down to his chin, feeling the sandpaper like stubble of two days of unchecked hair growth. The faded blue jeans and simple black t-shirt he wore over his stereotypical nerdy build would have looked more at home on a farm laborer than on one of the top theoretical physicists in the world, but the lab didn't have much of a dress protocol. What little protocol it did have, he was ignoring right now. After all, surely a scientist of his prominence had far more important things to worry about than what kind of clothes to put on in the morning. His brown eyes glanced over the final column of data on the screen in front of him. Everything looked ready.
"It's late, James. And it's four days before Christmas. You really should pack it in and go enjoy the holidays," his colleague, Dr. Eric Thompson said, walking into the lab from outside. James could see his reflection on the black background of the LCD panel in front of him. His shoulders were covered with a dusting of snow. "I was just leaving myself. Waiting for my car to warm up. It's damn cold out there."
"I've got too much work to do and we are running out of time," James answered without ever looking up from the screen in front of him. "And if we want any chance at all of getting more funding to keep this lab running, we better find something good. And we better find it soon."
"Yeah, yeah. I know. But it's Christmas. You can at least afford to take a few days off for the holidays. You should be visiting family. Obsessing about work all the time is going to cause you to burn out. You don't want to end up like Thomas, do you? Trading a promising legacy of becoming one of the most prominent scientists in the history of physics for a cabin in the woods? Away from any form of technology at all?"
"Thomas never had the mindset for this kind of research," James responded, shaking his head.
"Thomas burned out. A very promising young career cut short because he didn't know how to pace himself."
James was silent for a moment. He'd had this discussion with Eric before. He definitely didn't want to have it again. Not right now. Not when Eric was supposed to be leaving to go visit his family for the holiday. Not when he was looking forward to getting this latest experiment started. "Make sure you keep an eye on the time, Eric. You don't want to miss your flight. You'd have a hard time getting on another one with as full as the planes will be right now." The hint wasn't very subtle, he knew. But he also knew that Eric was fully aware he was tired of having the burnout conversation.
Eric scoffed slightly. "You think I was gonna risk a flight cancellation? In this city at this time of year with the weather as unpredictable as it is? There's probably already major delays at the airport from the snow. I'm playing it safe and driving."
"You be careful then, Eric. The roads are going to be bad."
"You know I will be. Born and raised in the frozen North," he said, chuckling. "You don't have to worry about my winter driving skills."
"It's not your winter driving I'm worried about. It's the people from down south visiting family up here who have never driven in snow before."
"I'll watch out for them," Eric responded. In the reflection from the display, James could see him turn to peer out the window for a moment. Then he turned back. "Looks like the ice on my windshield has finally melted. Don't work too late, James. Really, you need to take some time off. Enjoy life a little bit. And have a merry Christmas, okay?"
"I'm only going to be here about another hour. I just have one more experiment I want to run. You go ahead and go, Eric. Go see your family, but drive careful. And you have a merry Christmas too. I'll see you after the holidays when you get back."
"Thank you. I'll see you then," Eric responded, turning for the door.
James nodded absentmindedly, never having turned his focus away from the Linux system in front of him. The footsteps of Eric walking down the hallway, the beep of the electronic lock on the door as he badged out, the sound of the door closing and latching. Finally, peace and quiet, and he could focus entirely on his research. It's not that he didn't like Eric far from it Eric was, without a doubt, his best friend, and an exceptionally intelligent scientist. It's just that he didn't like any distractions that came between him and his research. And as far as going home to visit family for Christmas, well, it wasn't like he was married or had any children to go home to. And he didn't particularly get along well with his parents, sister, and other members of his extended family. There was no better place for him to be right now than in the lab.
After the distraction, he scanned over the parameters for the Tevatron and its massive particle collision detectors one last time before selecting the option to start the experiment. After a built in thirty second safety delay, the BEAM ON sign in the lab came to life as the Tevatron started to accelerate protons and antiprotons around the massive four mile ring at speeds approaching the speed of light, energy levels approaching one trillion electron volts. He leaned back in his chair and relaxed a bit now, watching the numbers start to increase and change on the display as the collision detectors began to record their data. This was the boring part of the experiment. It would take awhile for the detectors to collect enough data for analysis. As he waited, he picked his iPhone up from the desk, sticking the earbuds in his ears. Browsing through the music on the phone, he decided on Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 - From the New World. He closed his eyes, letting the music carry him into a daydream like state.
Suddenly, he was brought out of his trance by a violent shaking. His eyes opened wide. The entire lab was shaking around him, equipment falling off of shelves. He jumped backwards, nearly falling off his chair as an overhead light broke loose from the ceiling and came crashing down next to him, nearly hitting him. Glass exploded and shattered around him from the fluorescent bulb in the fixture that had fallen. He'd never experienced one before, but a chill ran through his entire body as he realized the only thing it could be: An earthquake! He quickly looked at the screen, discovering numerous warning, failure, and error messages. A flashing red warning in all caps read ATTEMPTING EMERGENCY BEAM SHUTDOWN.
While he was still trying to process that, a bright blue flash nearly blinded him. He yelled out in terror as he felt his body being pulled in multiple directions at the same time felt himself being sucked no, pulled, as if by gravity, into some kind of vortex. A horrible sensation of falling overcame him. Falling at an ever increasing rate of speed. He could see several pieces of the disintegrating lab falling with him. Immediately, he raised his arms to shield his face as debris began to slam into his body. Dizziness and light headedness began to overcome him. Shortly, he slipped into unconsciousness, that awful sensation of falling the last thing he felt.
James awoke to the sound of nothing but quiet. As his vision cleared, he realized it was still dark out. Gradually, things started to come back to him. The shaking the earthquake the pulling sensation. Suddenly, the magnitude of the quietness hit him. It was all wrong. There should be commotion, and lots of it. There should be sirens and firetrucks. There had just been a major earthquake that had caused a serious accident at the lab.
He frantically reached into his pocket, looking for his iPhone. To his relief, it was still there, and appeared to be intact and functioning. Quickly, he dialed the 911 emergency number and was rewarded with a single beep. He pulled the phone away from his ear, looking at the display: zero bars, and the middle of the screen displayed No Signal. That was strange, he thought. But then again, maybe the earthquake had knocked out power to the mobile phone towers.
For the first time since awakening, he started to really look around him. In the immediate area, various types of debris that he assumed must be the remains of the lab he had been in. Underneath him, however, was just dirt, grass, and forest undergrowth. But that couldn't be right. These grounds were obviously untended, and had been for quite some time. Beyond the area of debris, all he could see was forest a mixture of deciduous and broad-leaved evergreens. Like the undergrowth, it appeared these trees had never been disturbed. Now, it dawned on him that it was no longer snowing, nor was there any snow on the ground, and the temperature was more like summer far to warm for a December night in Chicago.
"Well, maybe I can't get a cell phone signal, but I should at least be able to find out just where the hell I am." He looked at the phone again, turning on the GPS.
Searching for satellites
Unable to acquire satellites
Cannot determine position because a GPS lock cannot be acquired.
"What the hell?" He could feel panic starting to build inside of him now. Quickly, he scanned through his entire brain and all its knowledge of theoretical physics, trying to come up with any scientifically logical explanation that would explain the situation he found himself in. That there had been some type of accident with the Tevatron caused by an earthquake was obvious. What ever had happened inside that accelerator tunnel after the earthquake started was, no doubt, well outside of the experiment's design parameters. But that brought him no closer to any kind of hypothesis about what might have happened. "This isn't possible It's not logical. It's not possible. It's not possible," he repeated to himself over and over again, worry filling his voice as he started to hyperventilate, the panic taking deeper root inside of him. He tried to catch himself. "Calm down Calm down. Panicking won't do you any good," he said to himself, forcing himself to concentrate on his breathing and slow it down.
The best thing he thought he could do for now is try to take an analytical look at the situation he was in, and what could be done about it. The first concern was obvious: There didn't seem to be anything near by that resembled civilization. He could hear none of the usual noises that would indicate he was still near the bustling city of Chicago. No traffic noise, no aircraft taking off or landing at O'Hare International Nothing. How that was possible, he didn't know. But it was the situation he found himself in, and he would have to deal with it. That would be a problem in and of itself. He was a scientist who had spent his entire life on research campuses, in labs, and in major research cities. He was ill-equipped, both physically and mentally, to survive in the wilderness environment he found himself in now. He simply didn't have the wilderness survival knowledge or physical stamina for this kind of environment. He knew it was unlikely he would survive for more than a few days if he could not find help.
He stood up now, wincing and stumbling as he worked the stiffness out of his legs. At least they seemed to be alright. There was some bruising, soreness, and minor cuts where the debris had slammed into him. But no serious lacerations and nothing fractured or broken.
He started to examine the debris he found lying around him, looking for anything that might be useful to aid in his survival. Burned out electronics, electronic components such as resisters, capacitors, and transformers, none of which were likely still functional. A metal placard laying upside down. He reached down to turn it over. Etched into the other side of it, was Lab 49. Other than that, he found a few long pieces of steel, twisted, bent, and some with sharp edges part of the building structure itself. He frowned. The only thing he could see being of any potential use at all was one of the bent pieces of steel with its sharp jagged edges. If need be, it might be able to serve as a makeshift cutting tool, or even a very crude weapon. He examined a few of them, picking up the one that seemed to be the most suitable for that purpose.
He walked towards a tree, stopping and leaning the length of steel against it, taking his iPhone out of his pocket again. He pointed the camera at himself, snapped a picture. It was difficult to see in the darkness, but the camera was working. The only option he had at this point was to search for some form of help. A town, village, hut, anything. He reasoned he could use the camera to take pictures of landmarks along the way to help him find his way back to where he started. But that would have to wait until morning. Setting off at night, he knew, would probably only get him hopelessly lost and unable to find his way back to his original starting point. Not that he was sure that mattered. One place here seemed like it was probably just as good as any other. But on the off chance someone came across the debris, or knew where he was, he wanted to be able to get back to this spot.
Well, it seems there's nothing else I can do until daylight, he thought to himself. He found the softest patch of ground he could and laid down on his back, attempting to get some sleep. He'd need his strength once the sun came up.
He looked up into the night sky. The full moon shined down through the canopy of trees, casting long shadows around him, and on to him. The moon itself looked strange to him, as if it were the wrong size bigger than he were used to seeing. Furthermore, he didn't recognize any of the crater formations. If the thought didn't seem so silly and ridiculous, he would almost say it wasn't the same moon he was used to seeing. Completely illogical, he chided himself. The trauma of the situation must be causing his mind to play tricks on him. Yes, that must be it. He closed his eyes, attempting to get some sleep. But despite his best efforts to convince himself his mind was playing tricks on him, he still found himself opening his eyes every few seconds, looking back up at the moon again. The moon stared back down at him, as if mocking his attempts to find anything at all familiar about where he was. No, not even the moon could look familiar. He forced his eyes closed, rolling over on his side so that next time he opened them, he wouldn't be able to see it
Suddenly, he was falling. Falling through time, space, and dimensions. He looked down and screamed out as a giant hole opened up as if to swallow him. An orange glow appeared in the hole, rolling and churning like a thundercloud made out of fire. Like the vent of an erupting volcano. Suddenly, a being with leathery wings and a head that seemed to be a combination of human and warthog burst forth from the hole. It opened its mouth. Where its throat should have been, there was only an intense orange glow. Suddenly, a stream of flame shot forth from the creature's mouth, jetting into the night sky. As he yelled out again, the being turned its head. Empty glowing eyes, like a skull with flames burning in the eye sockets stared at him. He tried to run, but falling through space as he was, there was no where he could go. The last thing he saw was the being's mouth opening, followed by another burst of flame, aimed directly at him
He bolted upright in a panic, sweat dripping from his forehead as he looked around frantically before finally realizing it had only been a nightmare. He was still outside, and his hopes sank as he realized that part of it, at least, had not been a dream. The sky was a canvas of pink and orange as the sun was just starting to become visible over the horizon. He looked at it, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the increasing intensity of the rays, feeling a sense of comfort as the sun's light and warmth began to fall on him. Despite everything that seemed to be wrong with the world he found himself in, the sun rising was the one thing that still seemed to be working completely reliably the one thing that that couldn't possibly go wrong.
He stood up, raising his arms over his head and stretching, looking around for the first time with daylight to help him see. No particular direction really looked better than any other. "Well, I might as well just pick one at random," he said to himself as he began walking.
As he walked, the vegetation became taller and more dense. Thorny branches and weeds began to catch on his clothing and tear it. He cursed as one of the thorns ripped into the flesh on his arm, leaving a shallow cut that started to bleed. The vegetation in this direction was quickly starting to become impassible. That probably meant he was going the wrong way, he reasoned. If the forest was getting thicker in that direction, it probably meant he was getting even further away from civilization. Further away from an area that ever saw any human activity.
He turned around, trudging his way back in the direction he came from, fighting off branches, weeds, and thorns as his clothing became more and more shredded. His foot suddenly caught on a tree root, sending him tumbling to the ground face first, popping out of the vegetation into the little clearing that had been formed by the debris of the lab. "Damnit!" he cursed again in frustration as his ankle twisted from the fall. Then he heard a short started cry ahead of him.
He looked forward from his position on his stomach. Next to some of the debris from the lab, stood a small yellow pony? At least that's what he thought it was. But it was no ordinary pony. From its back, feathery yellow wings protruded from both sides like a pegasus from legend, although smaller than a full size horse. More like the size of a large deer, he thought. It stared at him, appearing to be as startled as he was at what it had seen. It looked like it was about to whirl and bolt, but then, it hesitated.
"Who What are you?" it spoke in a timid, quite, and feminine voice.
He was so dumbfounded he didn't respond. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be. He was dreaming. That had to be it. Or he was hallucinating because of post traumatic stress after the earthquake and lab accident. Yes, it had to be one of those two things. This couldn't possibly be real.
The yellow pony seemed to gather some courage as she he had determined it was a she from the sound of her voice started walking towards him. "Who are you?" she asked again.
He started to panic. What if she intended to harm him? Lying on the ground as he was, with his ankle twisted, he was vulnerable. In desperation, and without really thinking, he pointed his iPhone at her. "S Stop! Or I'll shoot!" he said, even though he knew how cliche it sounded.
The pony keep walking towards him. "Are you hurt? I just want to "
Before she could finish, he tapped his thumb on the touchscreen of the iPhone, activating a Star Wars blaster app. The shy pony's eyes went wide and she gave a whinny before bolting around in the other direction. He watched in awe as she spread her wings, leaping into the air like something from a child's fairy tale. Then she turned in the sky, flew off, and was gone.
He continued lying where he was, breathing heavily, iPhone still pointed in the direction she had gone. Slowly, he calmed down and his senses started to return to him. Had that actually worked? He could barely believe it. And to think he had nearly deleted that app.
Putting the phone back in his pocket he tried to collect his thoughts, which might as well have been papers flying around in a hurricane at this point. Flying horses only existed in Greek mythology and children's fairy tales didn't they? Surely, he was dreaming, or hallucinating from stress. Nevertheless, he had to allow for the possibility, no matter how remote, that he had actually seen what he thought he had. And that brought up another problem. If he really had just seen a sentient talking flying pony, she probably had friends. They might have even built some form of society. She would go back to her herd or whatever it was they called their societies, and tell them what she had seen and that he had threatened her and shot at her. They would be coming for him. And they probably wouldn't be friendly or sympathetic to his case when they found him ...