The theory of relativity, or simply relativity in physics, usually encompasses two theories by Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity…. Measurements of various quantities are relative to the velocities of observers. In particular, space contracts and time dilates. Space-time: space and time should be considered together and in relation to each other. – Wikipedia (Einstein’s Theory of Relativity)
The cough was getting worse, and his throat was sorer this morning than it had been at bedtime last night. He had already plowed through a half box of tissues over the past day-and-a-half.
“Are you sure you’re not coming down with something, cuz it sure as Hell sounds like you are?”
“I’ll be fine. I just gotta hang in there until this morning’s test is over. Then I’ll curl up in bed for a couple of days and let you feed me chicken noodle soup and ice chips and give me sponge baths.”
“It sounds to me like you’re already delusional from fever if you expect that to happen. I told you ya shoulda gotten a flu shot before you went to the conference in Budapest. Now you’re gonna get everybody on the team sick.”
“Everybody else got flu shots, remember? You’ll all be fine.”
“Getting flu shots doesn’t guarantee we won’t get the flu, Tyler. It will supposedly just keep us from getting as bad a case of it. You’re the epidemiologist…, I know you know better. We’re all gonna be pissed at you if we get sick.”
“If I make everybody sick, I’ll take all of you out for a steak dinner when we get through this round of testing.”
“”Yeah, well, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen. Come on, the briefing starts in five minutes. Suck it up, and move your sick little ass. Hey.., have you been taking pictures of me with your phone while I was getting dressed?”
“Maybe a few. I can’t help it, you look absolutely adorable, and I get so lonely in that bunker all by myself. What if something happened and I was stuck there all alone? You’d want me to have your picture with me, wouldn’t you?”
“I suppose I would. I better not ever see those on the Internet, though, or you’ll be missing body parts. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes sir, Mademoiselle Boss Lady. Let me just grab my cough drops, and I’m good to go.”
“That’s Doctor Mademoiselle Boss Lady.”
“Don’t be pullin’ rank. My penis doesn’t react well to it.”
“Yeah, well your penis is just gonna have to get used to it. Let’s go.”
This morning’s test was the culmination of years of progress…, secret progress. The origin of their current work environment was the Superconducting Super Collider, or SSC as it was referred to by the press. It had been a huge multi-jurisdictional government cluster fuck which had been simultaneously hailed and condemned when it was first begun in 1987 at a projected cost of $4.4 billion in a vast area of vacant land just south of Dallas, Texas. The project was proposed to be the world’s largest particle accelerator, much larger and more complex than the Large Hadron Collider operated by CERN in Switzerland. It was to be a miracle of theoretical physics until it was ostensibly shut down amid controversy in 1993. At the time of that very public shutdown, no less than seventeen surface shafts and over fourteen miles of tunnel had been constructed at a cost of roughly two billion dollars.
The scientific community had been split in its support between the SSC and the International Space Station at the time. The two competing scientific initiatives were both projected to have price tags in the range of five billion dollars. With the decline of cold war concerns related to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the perceived need for American scientific superiority was suddenly deemed less critical than it had been during the SSC’s concept and design phases, which had dated as far back as 1983, and President Clinton officially killed the project in October of 1993. Rarely, however, does the US government spend in excess of two billion dollars and more than a decade of scientific research to simply allow a project to vanish.
So the project simply went off the public books, becoming a black operations ‘off the books’ project buried in the combined budgets of the Armed Forces, NSA, FBI, CIA and NASA. The project scientists found the NASA component at least slightly ironic given that NASA’s campaign to fund the ISS was a major factor in the demise of the SSC as a public project. Eventually even a portion of the Centers for Disease Control budget was pushed toward the research being conducted. The advancements in cancer treatments related to proton beam radiation was born out of research which had been pioneered at what was now referred to by the staff as PD, it’s shorthand for Physics-Dallas. The expansion of the applications of scientific research being conducted at the facility was what had allowed the black books project to thrive for such a lengthy period. There was no way for the facility to ever receive credit for its many scientific breakthroughs or even for its existence to be acknowledged. Such was the curse of being a black books project and keeping the government’s secrets.
Monica Ray, PhD was too young to be heading up such a monumental project, a fact she knew only too well. Her age, a tender thirty-three, was a source of friction with some of her older, more experienced colleagues. She looked even younger. Having senior level male scientists reporting to a pretty young female boss had tested both her management and negotiating skills almost from her first day at PD. They recognized her intellect. That wasn’t a question. They even had a willingness to acknowledge her key role while at CERN in the discoveries of both the quark and the Higgs boson. Most such work was never recognized outside of scientific circles, but both of those discoveries had generated international headlines among the general populace. She had become something of a nerd celebrity before the age of thirty. Her country’s government had come recruiting shortly thereafter, and she had been in charge of PD for almost three years now.
Each of the scientists involved in today’s test knew their own specific tasks far better than Monica ever could. She was academically trained as a space plasma physicist, having earned her Master’s degree and PhD at UCLA, after having graduated as valedictorian of her undergraduate physics class at The University of Texas. Once in the working world she had been immersed heavily in the field of particle physics at CERN, which made her something of a hybrid and capable of engaging her fellow physicists with a balanced understanding of the competing fields of study. Her team of scientists was not merely comprised of physicists, but involved scientists of multiple scientific disciplines including some as seemingly unrelated to both physics and one another as microbiology and cosmology. The military had a presence at PD as well, but even the Air Force Colonel in charge of maintaining and securing the facility readily acknowledged that the scientists were in charge. Even Monica’s coughing boyfriend, Tyler, who carried the official title of Infectious Disease Control Service Officer, and whose salary was coming out of the CDC’s budget, was evaluating disease-related sub-atomic theory which she could only partially understand despite his constant chatter on the topic.
The meeting lasted less than ten minutes. Tyler was walking around the room, snapping more pictures of colleagues with his phone. Finally, after Monica gave him a dirty look, he sat down and pretended to be interested. This gathering was one of encouragement and vigilance. They were all about to venture into an arena where humanity had never before gone.
PD was all about power, and in this case, political power and even intellectual power were both taking a backseat to the kind of power which could be measured at both an electrical output and atomic level. Outside of PD, the most powerful particle collider on the planet was the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, located on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland. It had a maximum reaction capacity of 7 TeV, or teraelectron volts. The scientists there hoped to someday double its capacity to 14 TeV, which would be ten times the maximum output capacity of any other collider in existence, except for PD. The LHC had about fourteen miles of underground tunnels, and while that was an incredible distance when compared to any previous collider, it was forced into fairly extensive use of electromagnets to curve the atomic streams being tested in such a tight arc. Physics-Dallas dwarfed the LHC. It had over 54 miles of tunnels and a maximum output of 20 TeV per proton. The projections for today’s test were suggesting that between 16 and 18.5 TeV per proton would be produced. It was quite possible that a particle collision throwing off energy more than two-and-a-half times greater than anything previously attempted would occur. Monica hoped the predictive models were right, but she also recognized that they were facing the unknown.
She was in essence preaching to the choir as she addressed her team. All of these scientists had spent years in labs. Most had done vast quantities of theoretical research or, as in Tyler’s case, had handled lethal diseases where exposure and contamination could’ve spelled almost certain death. Perhaps his experiences in the virology labs at CDC were part of what prompted his disdain for the flu shots the rest of the scientific staff had submitted to. If he could avoid the most lethal bugs on the planet without an inoculation, then why should a little Bird Flu scare him? Every one of the scientists was already excited, so her cheerleading comments, while warmly and politely received, were entirely unnecessary. Her comments regarding focus and safety were probably equally unnecessary, but she felt compelled to remind everyone in the room nonetheless. Today had the potential to be among the greatest scientific moments in human history, rivalling NASA’s long ago accomplishment of putting a man on the moon, but it also contained the elements required to produce a colossal disaster. They would all know which of those scenarios had occurred in a few short hours.
It had often struck Monica as ironic how much time the build-up to each test took to produce a collision of sub-atomic particles which could literally be measured in ten-millionths of a second. She was stationed in the central control room for the test, with her teams of scientists scattered at multiple locations around the giant ring of interconnected underground tunnels. There were more than two dozen different monitoring sites scattered around the ring, each with a different function. The various scientific disciplines would dispatch their scientific representatives to the appropriate monitoring sites. Tyler was at a site by himself. He was the only virologist present for this morning’s test, and he was attempting to measure the impact of exposure to the massive surge of atomic energy on a handful of viruses and some cultures of a few stubbornly resistant forms of cancer. If some aspect of the test went terribly wrong, his particular monitoring site was equipped with advanced safety features designed to contain and/or eliminate any contamination threat. Tyler downplayed the risk of exposure, even as he carried his box of tissues and his bag of cough drops to the site with him. Tyler thought of himself as bulletproof. Even the thought of his cavalier attitude toward illness and injury typically forced a smile out of Monica. Today was not a typical day, however.
Thirty minutes before the test was to begin, each of the twenty-seven monitoring stations had checked in. The North Texas Electric Power Grid had been notified of a military test which might have a short, but dramatic impact on the entire region’s power supply. PD’s notification to the public utility, funneled through military channels, was intentionally vague. They expected to place a major strain on the power grid while in pre-test mode. Nobody could be sure what would happen after the test. PD had the capacity to capture and contain a sizable amount of energy and all of the radiation that was anticipated to be emitted by the test’s collision. Monica was hoping for a non-event regarding any containment issues. She kept repeating her mantra for the morning over and over in her mind…, expect the best, but prepare for the worst.
With five minutes to go in the countdown, all systems were green. Everything was progressing in textbook fashion. Monica forced herself to relax as she listened to each of the monitoring sites give a final check-in. It was as if she could feel the entire team’s anxiety coming through her headphones. Tyler resorted to humor during his final check-in, complaining that his athlete’s foot sample had accidently been exposed to his plumber’s crack sample. He continued by suggesting that some member of the team must be doing some serious ass kicking. Laughter erupted from virtually every other reporting site. The tension everyone was experiencing was flushed away for a moment, and Monica was thankful for Tyler’s trademark irreverence. Ninety seconds to go, and the power was being cycled upward. It had been gradually stepping up for the past fifteen minutes and would reach full capacity in another thirty seconds. There would not be another check-in from the reporting sites. There simply wasn’t enough time to make another round. Monica simply asked if there were any ‘No Go’s’ to report with thirty seconds to go in the countdown. Full power had been reached thirty seconds earlier. Absent a negative report from one of the sites or the major operational components, this test was really going to come together.
The actual particle collision could be viewed as anticlimactic. A single button would be pushed in the control room. Even that wouldn’t send the particles hurtling at one another. It would simply allow the bank of computers to perform that task, since their timing was far more exacting than a human’s could ever be. A human in mid-blink as the button was depressed could not complete that most basic and instantaneous of tasks before the particles would have concluded their violent meeting.
Therefore, the entire team of scientists went directly from anticipation to panic as the system alarms began blaring immediately upon the conclusion of the countdown. For an instant, none of them could be certain if the alarms had gone off just before the particle beams began their chase toward one another or were alerting them to the fact that something had gone awry. Only after a few seconds, as data began populating their computer monitors, did they recognize that an event not predicted by any of their highly sophisticated models had occurred.
Monica focused on working the problem largely because she didn’t know what else to do. She ordered an immediate step down in power at as rapid a rate as those same predictive models which had failed to anticipate whatever had just occurred suggested was safe. She asked for input from everyone in the control room. All they could tell her was that there had indeed been a particle collision, an incredibly successful one if their recording instruments were functioning properly, and that it had produced an energy burst far greater than the facility’s ability to successfully contain. One of the immutable laws of physics suggests that energy must go somewhere. In this case, the sudden and massive pulse of energy reversed its path resulting in two waves of newly generated energy colliding at the exact opposite end of the collider’s fifty-four miles of circular tunnels. It would take the team of brilliant scientists another couple of minutes to determine that such an event had actually happened. Unfortunately, that monitoring site, although equipped with unique containment features of its own, had never been designed to accept an influx of massive energy like the twin collision riptides which had suddenly decided to meet within its walls.
As the power was being gradually reduced and the data began to be digested and analyzed, Monica began taking reports from the various monitoring sites, starting with those closest to the actual collision site and working away from it in both directions around the ring. Reports of the sudden energy surge were coming in from each successive station. Eventually, the reports became repetitive, until one of the sites about a quarter of the way around raised the question of why the energy spike had failed to either again reverse its path or reveal its presence to all of their sensors in some other way. The energy, which their monitors were registering at 20.5 TeV, higher than PD’s maximum predicted capacity, had to have gone somewhere. The hair was standing up on the back of Monica’s neck. She knew Tyler’s site was at the far end of the ring from the collision point. He had often jokingly complained about how being her lover should’ve afforded him a prime site close to the collision rather than the most distant monitoring station.
Tyler’s observation station was located at the exact opposite end of the collider’s vast arc down to the meter. Due to its usage in housing and analyzing highly infectious diseases and pathogens, it was constructed with features not found in most of the other sites. First, it was lined with an outer shell of thick lead, designed specifically to prevent the leakage of any potentially deadly materials into the surrounding groundwater. It was also largely self-contained, since there might need to be a period of quarantine for any scientists working within it. In essence it was a combination quarantine facility, viral laboratory and bomb shelter in addition to its intended role as monitoring facility. Because of the lead shielding, cellular communication from inside the site was impossible. Only signals travelling via the lines and cables coming into or out of the site would be allowed through. There was an array of data, audio and video feed capabilities, but only as long as the land lines remained intact. These additional elements were part of why this particular site was located at the farthest point from the collision.
Monica wanted to communicate immediately with Tyler, to assure herself of his safety, but she knew she must stick to protocol and wait for his reporting site’s turn to come up. When the two sites on either side of his had reported no significant lessening in the level of energy passing by them on the ring in a direction moving away from the collision point as the previous sites had reported, she knew that Tyler’s would be the site of a second powerful collision. When both sites also failed to report a rebound of returning energy, her heart sank. Unlike the initial collision of two proton beams, which had resulted in the furious release of energy beyond any of their expectations, this collision would be between two massive waves of energy which had been triggered by a nuclear event. This wasn’t supposed to ever happen. Somehow, the containment fields had failed, and Tyler had no doubt been sitting in his chair, sniffling, coughing, and staring at his monitors, without even the slightest notion that a catastrophic event was headed his way in less than a millisecond.
Scientists at every monitoring site waited in silence as Monica called for a report from Station 28. The actual collision point was Station 1, and the Station numbers went up in odd numbers in a clockwise direction and even numbers in a counter-clockwise direction until they reached Station 28, the far point of the circle, over 27 miles away from Station 1 on each arc. Five seconds passed in silence, then ten. Monica issued a second request for a Station 28 status report. Again the request was greeted only by static over her headset. She ordered the control room to pull up the video monitoring for Station 28. Ten monitors, representing the ten camera feeds emanating from Station 28, changed from images of other sites to screens filled with video snow. They were not receiving a video feed from Tyler’s site. Either the audio was also malfunctioning, or worse, it was working fine, and Tyler had been somehow rendered unable to respond. Monica found herself desperately rooting for a technical malfunction. She immediately issued a challenge to PD’s technical staff to fix the audio and video feeds. She then asked what the data feeds were showing.
The answer was alarming. The sensors showed the influx of the massive energy surge entering Station 28 from both directions. Those same sensors were showing zero energy output returning from the site’s interior. The largest burst of energy produced in all of human history had entered and apparently now remained inside a roughly three thousand square foot underground lead-lined bunker just south of Dallas, Texas. There was still the possibility that the sensors had shorted out, but given the readings from the neighboring stations, that didn’t appear likely. All indications were that Tyler was now trapped with a power never before witnessed and a handful of lethal viruses. Monica offered up a panicked silent prayer.
“God, please help Tyler! Protect him!”