The God Particle
by M. C. Tuggle
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Just a few feet away, a silhouette stood unmoving near a tangle of cables drooping from the low ceiling. Whoever it was wore an odd, bulky outfit, certainly no one I knew on duty. No one had followed me downstairs, and the entire lower floor was fully automated. And security would’ve stopped anyone trying to sneak in. For a moment, I thought it had to be a trick played by my fear and the emergency lighting, a chance combination of shadows that looked like a silent figure.
Then it moved. The figure took a single step toward me and stopped dead.
A dark blur of a face twisted away, and the figure lurched toward the stairs. I drifted into its path and blocked it. Caught in a shaft of faint golden light from above, a young woman with spiky red hair stared back at me wide-eyed, a cell phone clutched in one hand. She was wearing what looked like a white bullet-proof vest.
Her jaw quivered. She said, “Look, I know you can’t hurt me, but could you go somewhere else? I’ll be outta here any minute.”
“How did you get in here?”
Her mouth flew open. “God, you’re the first one that could talk.” She pulled the phone close to her face. “They’re late. Why won’t they bring me home? This is getting creepy.”
“Bring you home?”
“No, no, no.” She turned her head left and right, as if searching for an escape path through the twisting corridors. After another long look at her cell phone, her shoulders slumped, and she let the phone dangle at her side.
She tilted her head back. “I’m quitting,” she announced to the ceiling. “Circuits keep coming online when they shouldn’t, a damn cable blows and I nearly get myself cooked...”
She whirled around, and even in the scarce light, I could tell she was staring over my shoulder, not at me. “There’s a dead guy here. And his ghost is talking to me. Yeah, screw it, I quit! Let someone else save the world.”
“Are you calling me a ghost?”
She rolled her eyes, tilted the red spikes on her head toward me. “It’s one of our most famous perks. Happens all the time between dimensions. But the only ones we usually see are ghosts from long ago.” She pointed at the floor. “See that?”
I looked down, saw nothing, shook my head.
A smile flickered across her face. “So, it’s true. You ghosts don’t even know you’re dead. And you can’t accept the truth. Hey!” She waved both arms, and her eyes searched the space above me. “Hey, do you know how you died?”
“What are you talking about?”
“What’s the last thing you remember doing? C’mon, tell me.”
“How about you telling me what you’re doing here? Do you realize you’re trespassing? How do I know you didn’t come here to sabotage the accelerator?”
Hands on her hips, her eyes gleamed in the dim light. “Sabotage was the whole idea. I shut down the cooling units and their backups. But some wise-ass found a way to restart them, and I had to get creative. Then the line overloaded and blew up in front of me. That’s something else that’s never happened to me before.”
“That was me rerouting the circuits.”
She stepped back, and her face lost all expression. “You were supposed to stop your experiments, just like the others did. Why didn’t you just... Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Why did you switch off the cooling system? If the magnets blow, people could get hurt.”
She held her phone in front of me. “I just do what this says. But I do know your experiments are doing some bad stuff.”
“Hold on.” She tapped her phone. Eyes fixed on the screen, she read, “’Experiments at various particle accelerators conducted in our near past are disrupting inter-dimensional boundaries, and unless met with immediate and repeated interventions, will cause widespread devastation.’ You get that? ‘Widespread devastation.’ That means a lot of people would get hurt. In my time. In the future.”
I almost laughed at Red’s exaggerated seriousness, but I could tell she believed what she said. And the part about “disrupting inter-dimensional boundaries” got me to thinking. Could the naysayers have been right about the accelerator?
“You’re from the future, huh? How many years?”
“What year is this?”
Red worked her lower lip in her teeth. “I’m from, uh, 12 years in the future. Look, we know you don’t realize it, but all your atom smashers keep messing up our dimensions.” She stood straight. “When they do, the D-Team Jumpers go to work.”
“To do what?”
“One of us will jump into a rip that’ll take us to the cause of the problem. Usually, we just slow things down until the dimensions are stable. And as soon as we fix the problem, we’re supposed to return through the rip before it closes. The atom smasher has to keep running normally for us to return.”
Another klaxon razzed nearby. Red held her phone in both hands, and her eyes went wide. “This is bad. They can’t bring me back.”
“I know what that alarm means.” I searched the room, strained to recall why I was here. “That’s from the main cryogenic unit. The magnets are about to blow. I have to re-route the circuit manually. That’s what I was working on when...”
I studied the equipment over my head, and again located the control bank spread across an overhead rack. But when I stretched my arm out and pressed the first switch, nothing happened. Even if the circuits had crashed, the backlights should have flickered on each switch on contact.
Red waved her arms. “You can’t touch anything, remember? You’re a ghost. We’re both floating between dimensions. That’s why we can see each other.” She eyed me a moment. “Wait. You look different. You get it now, don’t you? What do you see? Seriously, look around.”
I stared at Red, at the rows of equipment surrounding us, then at a torque wrench on the cement floor. Inches from the handle was a fist, pale and clenched tight. It belonged to a man sprawled beside it.
I knew that man. It was me.
Red wiped one eye. “You can see yourself now, can’t you?”
The question she’d tossed at me earlier came back: “What’s the last thing you remember doing?” I strained to recall, and finally it hit me: I was pulling my arm out of the hot housing when I spotted the controls. I must’ve...
But there was something more important. I motioned toward the emergency cryo switches overhead.
“Can you push that switch?”
Red stepped forward and eyed the row of illuminated buttons. “Which one?”
I tried my best to point, but my arm wouldn’t cooperate. “Fourth from the left. But as soon as you press it, skip down three, then hit the next two at the same time.”
She stared at me, visibly gulped, then stood on tiptoes and stretched one arm over her head. “This one?”
“No. The next one.”
“I can’t reach it.”
We had only a few seconds left. I searched the room.
“Look there, beside my body. There’s an insulated wrench on the floor. Use it.”
Red scooped the wrench up and pushed it against the button. Its backlight flickered.
“Now go down three and push the next two - wait!”
She froze, the wrench gripped in both hands like a baseball bat.
“You have to hit both at the same time.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You have to. Use both hands and jump. Now.”
She dropped the wrench, and it clattered on the steel floor. Hands over her head, knees bent, her face twisted in fierce concentration. She sprang straight up, let out a yelp.
Two buttons flashed off and on, and a relay clacked below us. But the alarms in the control room above us didn’t stop. I stared at the row of buttons, tried to figure which buttons Red had hit. Had she pressed the right ones?
The pumps in the backup cryo unit groaned, slowly stirred to life, and supercooled helium gurgled and rushed through the magnets. The distant klaxons and alarms stopped, operating lights lit up, and the normal hum of the machinery harmonized again with the shrill cry of supercharged protons racing through the tube.
Red stepped close in front of me. Her face seemed to shimmer. “It worked!” Her eyes sparkled. “I can feel it. Thank you.” She stood still, both arms loose at her sides. Shadows covered her despite the glow of the operating lights above, now at normal brightness.
At the moment when only a sliver of her face remained, she looked at me. “I’m sorry.”
And then Red vanished from my sight.
I stared at the spot where she had been. It took me a while to remember I had one more task, and that was to let Miriam know she could power down the accelerator. The stairwell leading to the control room seemed steep, forbidding, but I had to climb it.
My every movement was weighted down, and even the air in the room seemed to work against me. The haze that had filled the room thickened, dampening my sensations. The whine of the racing protons in the tube was far away, and the colors of the blinking lights on the equipment racks washed into dim greys.
An aching coldness flowed through me, and the world slowed down as shadows, like the ones that had wrapped themselves around Red just before she disappeared, crept over everything until nothing was left but a cave-like darkness.
Somewhere in the black distance, a voice said, “All right, clear.”
A digital voice answered, “Stand clear. Do not touch patient. Analyzing rhythm.”
A living force ripped through my chest, and searing streams of cold and heat battled through my core. I jerked my head up and blinked against the sudden light that muddied my view of my surroundings. Something pressed me down until I was flat on my back.
“Good. Power down the defib and give him 50 milligrams of lidocaine for the burns.”
Somehow, I had ended up in the accelerator’s main lobby, and was now in the center of a swarm of co-workers from my shift. Two EMTs in blue shirts knelt beside me. Someone gripped my hand from behind and lifted my arm, which was bandaged. A tube dangled from it.
“Larry... welcome back. You scared the crap out of us.”
I squinted at a figure with flowing, black hair and a red sweatshirt: Miriam. I think I managed to smile back.
Claude pressed close. “I was right about the mechanical break, wasn’t I?”
I stared back a moment, then slipped the respirator mask off my face. “Yes, you were, Claude.”
Claude gave me a quick nod. Miriam frowned, first at Claude, then at me.
Then I croaked, “That’s why it would’ve been great if you’d been down there with me when the magnets were about to blow.”
Miriam and the techs snickered. Claude reddened, then shrank away.
One of the EMTs stepped between me and Miriam and took my hand from her. “Excuse me, ma’am. I’m going to put this collar on him, then we’re going to the ER.” He bent close and pushed the mask back in place. “Hang in there, buddy, you’re doing great. But let’s keep that mask on.”
He slipped a stiff plastic brace around my neck and tightened it with Velcro that crackled under my chin. “Ready.”
They lifted me, and I floated over the lobby’s tiled floor, past the portraits of Albert Einstein, Gustav Ising, Wolfgang Gentner. The automatic doors spread apart, and then we were bobbing over the grass. It was early morning, but still dark, the air fresh and cool just before sunrise. Venus and the crescent moon glowed through thin, shifting fog. Everything was new and alive, and so good to see.
I closed my eyes. A calming wave enveloped me, and I knew that the next time Claude Holtz tried to bully me, I could laugh inside. And I would smile when someone joked about crashing BMWs together, because now I knew how much is revealed when bodies collide.
Copyright © 2019 by M. C. Tuggle