The Tacoma Project

Dear Avid Reader…

   Another delving into the area of sci-fi. A yarn that appealed to me and a slight at what appears to be the ham-fisted approach of those boys over in CERN. This was written at the time when they worried the world by saying there was an infinitesmial chance of creating a black hole in their Large Hadron Collider. Be warned that the story has a particuarlar odd quirk to it that in some ways made it very easy to write and also very confusing.

For those of you that are interested the title come froms the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge back in 1940 ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw ) which was caused by a 42mph wind, far below its constructed tolerance but as you may have watched quite disastorous.

Anyhow, as ever enjoy….   

FtF

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The Tacoma Project

 

I blinked as I stepped through the arch. That was it. I didn’t know anything was amiss. I didn’t notice the lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating till I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room having stepped through the metal detector and acoustic lobby. Odd, but not unusual! I deposited my near black glasses and ear defenders on my desk and picked up my clipboard putting on my reading glasses and made a couple of notes on how the Torus was performing. I checked the time, 18:22:37 as I ticked and crossed the boxes that had become routine over the past four days I wandered towards the window. I inserted the final ‘x’ and looked outside.

The lights were out! Not completely, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The lights in the Physics lab were as bright as they normally were. I chewed on the nail of my forefinger as I looked across the valley that was visible from the window of my lab. I could probably see a third of the city from where I was standing. Normally a maze of street and house lights would be visible but tonight everything within a mile was in darkness. A little unusual: but nothing to be considered out of the ordinary. The Olde’ town where it edged up to the campus was still lit as were parts of the hospital next door.

I returned my attention to my notes. It was a few minutes before Marshall hammered on the glass doors to my lab. A couple of other people were running along the main corridor obviously worried about their own experiments. The doors were sealed and pretty much soundproof though I could tell he was shouting in the dim light of the corridor. I went to the door lock and turned the key to manual and helped him to slide the glass doors apart.

 “What the fuck have you done now, McNally?” he swore.

The two of us had never ‘got on’ so of course I looked down on the short-arsed pencil pusher with my most condescending look. “How can I put this, Marshall… oh yeah… fuck you”

I watched as his cheeks began to redden and he ground his teeth together. “You ‘I’m such a smart bastard’, you’ve done it now!”

“What have ‘I’ done?” I replied resisting the urge to smack his teeth down his throat.

“You’ve blown out the grid with your dumb stupid ass experiments!” he spat at me.

Generally speaking I am a shy man at least personality-wise (however at 6’4” and a natural genetic pre-disposition that puts me in with the ‘jocks’ rather than the ‘nerds’ to which I belong) I can, when I choose use my physical size to intimidate. Marshall was a ‘waste of space’ of the first order. “Look around dipshit! You’re meant to be a scientist… all the places that have UPS systems and/or generators or, and I am guessing here, don’t have modern electrical safety devices are still working! The ‘grid’ you dumb sack of shit is still working. The problem is with the ‘grid’ itself. My, not uneducated guess would be a massive voltage spike!” Marshall looked out of the window and watched as gradually the dark became less so as people re-set their circuits. “Now fuck off out of my lab!”

Marshall had been pissed at me since his pet project had been relegated behind mine, even though he was in effect my line manager; with the result that I was on the top floor of the research building and he was in the basement. I ignored Marshall as he struggled to slide open the doors to get out; I could of told him to re-set the ‘breakers’ that were in the panel to the left of the door and on the general supply, instead I stared idly out of the window glancing at the brightly lit reflection of the Torus behind me as it shone through the inspection window. At least I was pretty sure it had nothing to do with me. All we were doing was running calibration tests and this Torus was purely a scaled down sectional model of the real thing we wanted to build in the spring of the following year.

Once Marshall had squeezed out through the doors I stepped over to the terminal that was running the diagnostics. At first glance all seemed as it should be till I flipped to the tables showing the input and output frequencies. This couldn’t be right, we were experiencing effective frequencies over one hundred fold of what we were putting into the machine. We had learned to expect a 12% discrepancy from our ‘invisibles’ but in the opposite direction. We had developed what in theory were emitters of energies whose wavelengths we didn’t have sensors built that could detect them so hence the 12% power consumption that apparently disappeared into thin air.

The lights in the rest of the building flicked on to my left illuminating the rather perplexed look on my face in the flat screen monitor. I walked over to the lab’s power UPS system and opened the door. All of the ammeters were reading exactly what they should be. It must be a fault in the sensors, perhaps the ‘spike’ had got through our Power Stabilisers though on initial inspection they seemed fine.

I returned to the monitor and looked at the frequencies again. I just decided that this was going to take some time when the output frequencies jumped in intensity two fold in front of my eyes. I back-tracked the log and found that the anomaly had occurred at the same instant as the ‘spike’. I was just about to move on when I noted the registered readings. They were exactly the same as the recent jump. I slowly browsed forward and the reading remained the same. I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes. The readings ‘apparently’ had never altered and I had never seen the original reading that had been a half of the size of the one in front of me.

I am a smart man but even I knew I needed help. I spent the next hour triple checking all the figures before calling my research partner.

The phone rang twelve or thirteen times before Michael picked up. I knew he would eventually as he knew I wouldn’t call unless it was important. The two of us were chalk and cheese in regard to personalities. Where I was quiet he was the life and soul of any party. Our senses of humour were similar enough but I never let mine out unless I knew the people I was talking to very well. Tonight I knew that Michael had taken one of the Administrators personal assistants for a coffee after work. The odds were that they had moved onto dinner but sometimes his personal life moved far faster than that. “This had better be good, Mac?” he answered brusquely.

“You know I wouldn’t call unless I had to Michael. Out of curiosity are you still on campus or at your flat?” I asked.

“Who are you? My mother?” he replied, “…neither actually, I’m somewhere off Clover Street; why?” I could tell that I had his interest but I had probably had it when he saw ‘Harpo’ appear on his phone.

“I guess you didn’t lose power over there…”

“What? Well yes we did as a matter of fact…why? … You can’t be saying that the Torus is in trouble?” I heard a sound from the background that sounded very much like a woman moaning. My mind boggled for a moment at the sheer front that Michael had and how is charm worked on so many people: also the fact that he could carry on a coherent conversation while obviously still managing to attend to his current partners ‘wants’.

“To be honest, I don’t know… but either the local black-out affected us or maybe… just maybe we caused it…” there was complete silence from the other end of the line for a moment.

“You’re sure?” he asked.

“I’m not sure about anything!” I replied.

“I’ll be there…err…as soon as I can.” The figures on the screen jumped slightly in front of me.

“As soon as you can…” I know my voice betrayed my nervousness.

“I will” said Michael determinedly. The frequency intensity figures seemed to be going up and down of their own accord and at the same time according to the logs never to have changed since the ‘spike’. I looked up at the cartoon Michael had drawn hanging beside our desks. Another talent that Michael possessed though generally only used to leave a memento for his bed partners. This one had me in the guise of Harpo Marx with Michael standing behind me in Groucho style; the only similarity between ourselves and the black and white film stars was the colour of our hair; occasionally I might smoke a cigar where Michael stuck with the cigarettes. I am knelt before a ‘dot’ tickling it with a feather under the title “The Tacoma Project” while on the other side underneath the title CERN is Lyndon Evans, with pocketfuls of cash cutting a rope that is holding up a ‘1000 tonne’ weight above a similar ‘dot’. I cast my mind back to the night that he had drawn it for me almost six years previously.

……

I had thrown myself into my work after a particularly bad break-up and was becoming increasingly reclusive neglecting to eat and wash. It had been almost a year since I had socialised outside of work. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror as I knew I looked a wreck. Michael who had just started working in the complex arrived into the shared office; he had been working in the adjacent lab at the time and had dragged me back to his bedsit where a pizza left half un-eaten and then ignored; we had shared a bottle of Whiskey and a bottle of Rum. In the midst of our inebriation a news report came on telling the world in general about the proposed building of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland by CERN. The pair of us ‘slagged’ off the scientists paraded before the television and all the research money that would be soaked up by the huge project. I shouted at the TV “The universe is more subtle than that you morons!”

Michael grinned and pulled a piece of print-out paper from beneath his desk and began scribbling furiously. In five minutes he had drawn the cartoon that hung in the lab though without the titles. He was smiling at his handy work when he looked at me and said “Do you know about the bridge at Tacoma?”

“You hum it and I’ll sing it” I slurred in reply.

“Smart ass!” he replied and turned on his computer and searched the web for the footage of the disaster. From that moment, though practically speaking it was really about the following midday our ideas began to grow.

……

As I waited for Michael to arrive I ran further tests on the instrumentation and the computer programs that sorted the data. All remained annoyingly normal. I saw Michael out of the corner of my eye and walked over to the panel beside the sliding doors and re-set the breakers. Michael briefly said hello to a passing couple of females at the junction of the short corridor, adjacent to our store cupboard, that led to the lab from the main thoroughfare. I pushed the egress button, my eyes following the brunette and the doors hissed open. “This had better be interesting; do you know what I walked away from?”

I turned the monitor towards him saying “Was … ‘what’s her name’ engaging in conversation?”

“Melissa was a very fine conversationalist if you must know… and had an incredibly sensitive appendix sca… “Michael stared at the screen. He tapped a few keys, I watched as he called up the program log to see what checks I had made. He looked up at me and then returned to the screen quickly scrolling through various ‘feeds’ and data files. He scratched his scalp through his long black hair and looked at me again. “Not a hardware issue?”

I shook my head “I’ve changed out a dozen sensors with brand new ones straight out of the bubble wrap.” He chewed on his lip staring at me.

“…and this happened when half the city lost power?” he asked, his frown creased.

“Half the city… I thought it was only local; but, yes; I guess pretty much simultaneously.”

“Which happened first?” he asked.

“I couldn’t say. I noticed the power outage first but I wasn’t looking at any of the sensors; probably five minutes till I did…”

Michael stared at me for a moment longer and walked over to the UPS system and pulled open the panel. After a moment staring at the Ammeters he unlatched a cover plate internally and lifted it down. He began to reach inside “What the fuck are you doing?” I shouted. Michael turned to look at me and smiled.

“Using an infallible current sensor of course.” He reached inside and I winced. Michael didn’t jump or scream so I moved closer and looked over his shoulder to see his palms resting on the insulated main fuses. “If our readings were correct all of this would have melted long ago whereas they aren’t even warm” he pulled his hands out; “here have a feel.”

“I’ll so take your word for it!” I replied.

“Pass me the laptop Mac?” he asked. I lifted the laptop from the desk and handed it to him and watched as he linked it into the UPS system. After about thirty seconds he disconnected it and closed up the panel and sat back at the desk placing the laptop in front of him. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from the drawer and lit two, handing one to me. I know I felt and looked guilty but I took it anyway and took a long drag on it hearing the quiet crackle as the tobacco flared and burned.

Michael lifted out an ashtray from the drawer. “Well let me put your mind at rest. The voltage outage didn’t harm the Torus.” He smiled up at me, “That’s probably because we caused it! At least that’s what it looks like!” he shrugged his shoulders.

He grinned at the worried look on my face, “Whatever we did we seem to have managed to send a multitude of sympathetic frequencies back into the grid. I reckon in excess of terabyte in under a thousandth of a second. Definitely not a ‘spike’ in the normal sense, didn’t affect the voltage or current but probably set up all, and I mean all types of tertiary harmonics. I doubt anyone; unless they knew what they were looking for and had the equipment that we have could find it. We definitely won’t be getting a bill from the power companies; their sensors are at least five generations behind ours!”

“Is it…” I was afraid to finish the question.

Michael nodded “It is! The info from the UPS isn’t as detailed as the Torus sensors but to all intents and purposes the pulse was identical to what the sensors are registering now. So…”

“So…?”

“Facts and theories?”

I looked at the monitor and saw the steady output from the sensors; I decided that I wouldn’t confuse matters by revealing the fluctuations I had seen that never appeared to have happened. “So… the Torus initiates a high density multiple waveform, apparently from nowhere… as it builds in a microsecond… the change in flux induces the pulse that jumps all of our safety features…” I turn to look at the glowing Torus through the darkened inspection window. “I wonder did it manage to ‘jump’ the Faraday cage as well.”

Michael again chews his lip for a moment “My guess would be yes… in effect the safety features on the power supply amount to ‘electrical Faraday cages’. However we have no sensors outside the cage, I mean no-one would think to do that… it is what a Faraday cage is for! Anyway… we have a waveform of an intensity that we are not supplying, that we can’t supply; so where is it coming from, why did it happen and what do we do about it?”

“Hmmm… good questions…” I answered unhelpfully.

“The middle one… what was happening when it initiated?”

“I was in the cage checking the calibration on the long wave sensors, before you ask I didn’t alter them. The Torus was about a third of the way through the fourth cycle of the Gamma protocol and as I left the acoustic lobby I saw the lights in the corridor were on emergency.”

“Okay… the first cycle went off without a hitch, that I know firsthand and I guess the second and third so no reason to assume that a fourth identical cycle would make any difference…” Michael stopped mid sentence. He raised an eyebrow “Out of curiosity… is the experiment working?”

I almost laughed and scrolled across the sensors on the monitor. I shook my head “The Gas Spectrometer shows no unusual… anything. We have no significant atomic breakdown going on at all.”

The pair of us seemed to deflate slightly. It was wishful thinking on our part but considering what the Torus was apparently doing it didn’t seem too much to hope for even though we never thought in a normal atmosphere with the scaled down version anything would happen. We were still pondering what gas should fill the final version.

Michael peered closer at the screen “Look at the Neutrino sensors…”

“So… nothing… oh… no neutrinos in the immediate vicinity of the Torus…” I stared blankly for some moments at the screen.

“Seems to be gradually more and more the further away from the Torus you get as if the Torus was…” I looked at Michael as he actually bit his lip and a small drop of blood formed.

“… as if… the Torus was pulling them in!” I finished.

“Shut up!” Michael stared at me, “It can’t do that… that’s…”

“Okay we now have two things it’s doing that it can’t do!”

Michael stood up and headed for the cage, I hesitantly followed him and watched as the metal detector ‘beeped’ as he walked through it. He swore quietly to himself as he divested his pockets of all metallic objects and donned the plastic ear defenders and sunglasses before the metal detector let him through the acoustic lobby. “So which sensors were you checking?” his voice came through tinny from the speaker.

I quickly grabbed the clipboard and typed out the corresponding numbers to be displayed inside the Torus Room on an LED display. Michael walked round behind the Torus and knelt down for a moment. He stood up and looked at me through the Torus. “And then you stepped through the Torus?”

Yes. But we’ve both stepped through it many times” I typed

“While it was running the Gamma Protocol?” he asked.

I don’t know

“I haven’t!” said Michael and he stepped through. His face went blank.

“For fucks’ sake Michael!” I grabbed another pair of ear defenders and glasses and rushed in glad that the metal detector accepted me with no delay. I stood in front of Michael staring at his blank face. I then punched him in the arm “You bastard!” I knew he couldn’t hear me with the intense vibrations emanating from the Torus but over the past month the pair of us had learnt to lip read and use hand signals. I gave him the finger.

“Ouch! That hurt…” Michael rubbed his arm and grinned.

“Fool! You deserved it.” I tentatively reached out and placed my hand at the focal point of the Torus. I turned my head to look at him, “You felt nothing?”

“Nada! Did you earlier?” he asked.

“I don’t think so…” I looked at Michael and stepped through the Torus…

 .

 .

nothing

.

.

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 (read on and don’t be fooled)

The Tacoma Project

 

nothing

everything

An absolute of light! So intense that I knew I could not possibly be seeing it with my eyes. Every molecule, atom, electron, every ‘Atomic String’ within my body seemed to be vibrating at a level I knew I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. If I was seeing I was looking into an infinity and it was staring straight back into my soul. My senses reeled in total agony. My senses reeled in total pleasure. Time stood still and time span out of control. I was there for an immeasurably finite point in time. I was there for an eternity…

 

I blinked as I stepped through the Torus. That was it. I saw the lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating as I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room having stepped out of the acoustic lobby. I deposited my near black glasses and ear defenders on my desk and ignored my clipboard. I checked the time, 18:22:37 Michael was nowhere to be seen. I walked to the window and looked out at the darkened landscape. Had I just hallucinated?

The lights were out! Not completely, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The lights in the Physics lab were as bright as they normally were. I chewed on the nail of my forefinger as I looked across the valley that was visible from the window of my lab. The third of the city I could see from where I was standing, normally a maze of street and house lights was in darkness for half a mile. A little unusual: but nothing to be considered out of the ordinary. The Olde’ town where it edged up to the campus was still lit as were parts of the hospital next door.

I returned my attention to the Torus. I’d been working too hard and I’d fallen asleep. It was a few minutes before Marshall hammered on the glass doors to my lab making me physically jump back. A couple of other people were running along the main corridor behind him. I could tell he was shouting through the almost sound proof doors. I walked over to the panel beside the sliding doors and re-set the breakers. I pressed the egress button and let Marshall in.

“What the fuck have you done now, McNally?” he swore as his eyes flicked from my face down to my finger still resting on the green egress button.

“It’s the… err… grid Marshall!” I pointed out of the window.

“Oh…ahh…” stuttered Marshall probably in as much surprise at my calm reaction to him swearing at me as to the darkness of the city. “Sorry Mac… err … sorry” Some lights were already beginning to come on as he stared out of the window.

“No worries” I said as I sat down at my desk.

Marshall almost stumbled out the door as he left totally confused by my reaction. I pulled a pack of cigarettes from the drawer and lit one up inhaling the smoke deeply. I looked at the cigarette burning lazily “I’m sure I have smoked you already! Some fucking hallucination!” I said to my reflection in the dark window. The smoke curled lazily up towards the ceiling and crawled across the tiles to disappear up the extract duct. I reached over for the mouse with my left hand and opened the sensor readings on the monitor. There was the frequency output, only seventy times what it should have been; I closed that window and opened the figures for the Neutrino detectors. As before those detectors adjacent to the Torus were reading zero.

I lit another cigarette from the first and extinguished the butt. I reached for my phone and called Michael. “Hi Mac” he answered after the third ring.

“Hey Michael, sorry about this but I need you to come back in. Are you still on the campus?”

“What’s happened? Has the power failure affected the Torus?” he asked.

“No, not as such… it’s just there’s a bit of an anomaly.” I replied.

“Do you really need me… just it’s very romantic here with the candles an’ all” I could almost hear him smiling at Melissa.

“Do me a small favour Michael and ask Melissa if she has had her Appendix removed?”

“Huh… ask her what?” I knew Michael had moved the phone away from his face and was staring into the mouthpiece.

“Trust me!” I called loudly; I heard him ask her and could hear the curiosity in her reply. “Now ask her how sensitive it is?”

“Have you gone mad?” he replied.

“That would be the simplest solution” I answered. “If she smiles when she answers will you please come back in?”

There was a moment’s pause before I heard him ask her and then a muffled reply. After half a minute Michael came back on the line “I’ll be there in about ten minutes and you are going to have to tell me how you… whatever…”

Michael was as good as his word and walked up to the lab ten minutes later swiping his entry card to gain access. He noted that I had been smoking “So what’s the problem then, Mac?”

I got up out of the chair and held it for him to sit down; he hesitated for a second and took the vacated seat. I wheeled him in front of the desk and walked away to the window staring out at the cityscape, watching it brighten as the lights began to come back on again one by one. I watched his reflection in the window and heard him grunt a couple of times as he perused the data. He got up and headed for the UPS system “They’re cold “ I called over my shoulder as I watched him turn to face me; “the main fuses are cold, we’re not supplying it.”

He returned to the desk and clicked away at the mouse for the next fifteen minutes before rolling out from under the desk and shaking out a cigarette. I watched him light it, his cheeks hollowing as he sucked down the fumes “Facts and theories?” I asked.

He looked across at me “Sounds like something I would say…”

“Doesn’t it just!” I replied.

“Facts…” Michael held up his fist and raised a finger “High density multiple waveform. The fourth Gamma protocol cycle after three normal ones.” He lifted a second finger quickly followed by a third “Gas Spectrometer shows no atomic breakdown and no neutrinos in the immediate vicinity of the Torus” he held up his four fingers his thumb across his palm.

“Theories… one… the terabyte increase in waveform induced all types of tertiary harmonics bypassing our safety systems. Two…there had to be an external factor we are not aware of in the fourth cycle. Three… the experiment isn’t working. Four… fuck knows!” Michael lowered his hand and took a final drag on his cigarette before stubbing it out in the ashtray.

Michael looked across at me, “If we apply Occam’s razor… there is one thing I know for sure…” I turned from the window and stared at him; his brow furrowed as he returned my gaze. I had my theories about it all but I needed him to come to the same conclusions.

The moment stretched till I broke the silence; “What?” I said through almost clenched teeth.

He looked me squarely in the eye and said “What? I’ll give you what! There is something you are not telling me Mac, a part of the puzzle I’m unaware of… something that isn’t recorded in all the data…”

I opened my mouth to speak and quickly snapped it shut. What could I tell him?

He continued to stare at me though his eyes softened a little; “I’ve known you for almost seven years Mac and for the last twenty minutes you have stood staring out of the window when normally you would have running around like a headless chicken checking every iota of data you could find. The lab smells like a bar so you’ve been smoking more cigarettes since I left at five than you normally smoke in a month.” He glanced at the screen beside him as he shuffled another cigarette from the dwindling pack, “I got here barely twenty minutes after the event occurred so there was no way you could have checked all the figures before I arrived but you were sitting here quietly as I walked in; and to top all that… I bumped into Marshall ‘fuckhead’ on the way up and he told me that you were actually polite to him! So either there is something else or, and I strongly suspect this is the case, you’ve had a psychotic break!”

I smiled briefly at his last remark, “Applying Occam… the psychotic break seems about right.” I walked over to the desk and pulled a cigarette from the pack; Michael lifted up his disposable lighter and lit it for me. I inhaled deeply and continued “There are two ‘things’ I’m not telling you. The first is that I caused the event by stepping through the Torus… the second… well I would like to hear your thoughts first. Trust me a psychotic break would be preferable to what I think has happened.”

Michael looked over at the glowing Torus, a low humming still audible even through the acoustic barrier of its cubicle; he turned back to me “Well… physically you seem okay… mentally… well the jury is still out on that one. So… we have both walked through the Torus during other protocols and there has been no effect; so I would guess that the Gamma settings have a sympathetic algorithm with some characteristic of the human body… or possibly just you!”

“My thoughts as well” I replied, “and, I reckon, it is my thoughts or at least the electrical field of my brain that is the catalyst.”

Michael furrowed his brow once again, “How so?”

“Simply put… either this is a hallucination which makes me as mad as the proverbial hatter or… something even stranger?”

“To make things simple let’s leave the solipsistic nonsense where it belongs and assume that all this is real…okay?” I nodded. “The strangeness I take it might explain how you knew that the woman I was with was called Melissa and that you were familiar with her medical record and it’s fortunate side effect?”

I nodded; completely unsure of how to phrase my thoughts. “So either you have been bestowed with phenomenal mental abilities or…” Michael got up from his seat and wandered over to the observation window; “… or we are in Einstein-Rosen territory!” He turned around to face me “What am I thinking about now?”

“Pussy!” I answered; he laughed “Not superior powers of the mind Michael, I just know you very well.”

 “So there was something in Einstein and Rosen’s ideas after all” mused Michael.

“Not quite a wormhole in space I think or a gateway to a parallel universe … more a fixed connection between two points in time. One of which is/was at twenty two minutes past six today!” my mind reeled slightly; “…but the power required must be immense?”

Michael looked at me like I was an imbecile “Are you moonlighting at CERNE? Remember we are trying to cajole and finesse the universe here and when it comes right down to it, think about your most basic physics.” My face was obviously blank “Force is proportional to Mass times acceleration? What Mass? Obviously it was your mind that went back, the encephalograph of your mind was moved from future you to past or present or whenever you! And don’t forget acceleration… acceleration is dependent on time… and if the two points in time are linked…?”

“No time elapse in transition, no movement in distance ergo no energy needed! Just the Gamma field…” I stared wide-eyed at Michael.

“…and when was or do I mean is the other point in time?” asked Michael.

“I’m not sure; it was… will be about nine I think. It came as something of a surprise to find myself back here… then…whatever…” I paused and looked back at the frequency intensity; “I’m beginning to think the other end of this isn’t strictly fixed. One of the main reasons I have thought I was losing my marbles was that the intensity figure had been varying wildly… it’s fairly stable this time but roughly half the value of what it was the first time.”

Michael walked back over “Let’s have a look…”

“I wish you could… every time it has changed I checked backwards and found it had always been the ‘new’ figure and you never saw it” I almost complained.

He looked at me “We’ve had this conversation already?”

“Not exactly…” I roughly explained what had happened and how far we got before I had passed through the Torus for the second time.

“So what you are saying is… I got Melissa into bed by eight o’clock… damn I’m good… but it does beg the question… what the fuck am I doing here, Mac?”

I kept a straight face for all of five seconds before I cracked into a grin. While I had been going through the details a thought had occurred to me “The frequency intensity from your point of view is constant and from my subjective point of view changes; but somehow is retro-temporal (?)…  Sorry I’m struggling with my conjugation here… but I think the value of the intensity is proportional or proportional to the square of the time elapsed between the two points.”

“So this figure of 6.5×10 to the power of thirty-eight is proportional to how long between the times you entered the Torus. Last time or whenever the lapse was…a hundred and fifty minutes with a figure twice this so in theory you are going back through… in fifteen [—] hour?” I did a double take at Michael to which I got an odd questioning look back.

“That’s so weird!” I exclaimed.

“What is?”

“Another moment of temporal re-organisation, I should’ve watched more Star Trek or Doctor Who… I’m sure they coined a phrase for it.” I saw the puzzled look on Michaels face; “a moment ago, in my world, you told me that the frequency intensity was 6.5×10 to the power of thirty-eight and you began to say that therefore I would travel back in fifteen minutes. As you were saying it I decided that I would need more time and the apparent result of that decision was to increase the frequency and the predicted time lapse.”

“But it didn’t change!” queried Michael.

“For you, no …for me, yes it did! I suppose as I’m the one who travelled I must be immune or outside the normal flow of time or whatever!”

I could see Michael pondering and my gaze wandered down the corridor. The two women from earlier/now were standing talking to each other at the junction of the short corridor that led to the lab from the main thoroughfare. I lowered my glasses down my nose and looked over the frame. I pointed down the corridor “Michael who’s that?”

He glanced behind him “Hey, I’m the pussy hound, not you!” and then slapped me lightly around the back of the head. “It’s Jane Swift from the Genome lab.”

“No, the other one, the brunette?” I asked.

“Oh… Casey something or other I think… just started back here. I think she used to work here a few years back. Anyway back to our problems with physics, pussy can wait… damn I never thought I’d hear myself say that!” Not Casey but Cassie I thought to myself as I watched them say their goodbyes and head off in opposite directions out of sight. Michael chuckled “You’re talking about Hugh Everett’s ‘Relative State’! Shit! Schrödinger would sell his soul to be here now! Not that any of this is remotely provable… though we could take it on tour and make a killing! The Lottery!!”

 Michael’s brow furrowed once more as he twisted back to the screen and started typing wildly on the keyboard. I tried to follow what he was doing but he was always to fast with the computer for ‘two-finger-typer’ me. After a minute he said “The lottery is out!”

“Why?” I asked.

“The intensity of the waveform is exponential from the subjective data you have given me. And so would be the effects. I reckon the Faraday cage and all our protective measures are going someway to limiting the effect but even they will fail; you have five hours tops before you start blowing out local systems completely and by that point the initial ‘spike’ will black out most of the country. Even our own EMP hardened systems will blow out after six and by then most electrical circuits within fifty miles will be at meltdown. I get the feeling that the Torus will carry on working, it’s not as if it is getting its juice from the here and now.” He tapped a couple more keys “In less than twenty four hours we would’ve sent the world back to the Stone Age!”

I put on my most serious face “That’s a no-no, isn’t it?”

Michael nodded seriously and then smirked.

“So do we just shut it down now?” I asked.

“Hmm… not one hundred percent certain what that would do… I don’t reckon the Torus will survive the strain. Will it pulse out again like it did at six-twenty? Will the pulse have a more damaging effect this time? I can easily see a cascade effect of some sort… we… I guess I mean you need to minimise the energy being stored. You’ll have to go back through and shut it down as soon as you arrive…err… just under two hours ago!”

“You think that will work?” I asked dubiously.

“In the words of Hawkins and I am paraphrasing… fuck knows!” Michael shrugged his shoulders; “It just seems that the longer you stay here, the greater this ‘temporal capacitance’ becomes and one can only think it’s going to lead to one god almighty discharge!”

“But once I go back through the Torus and create a new time vector, this one will have ceased to exist.”

“The multi-verse; it will exist, just not accessible from your new vector!” Michael tapped the last two cigarettes from the packet.

“Using that theory they already exist, they all exist; I’m just choosing a different path to an already established reality… and when I decide to return I decide the ‘temporal capacitance’ and the size of the effect. Free will and determinism all in one!” I pondered my role as a deity in my own universe. “I suppose the greater the pulse the more it will affect the entire electro-magnetic spectrum?”

“If you take it to the absolute limit, i.e. you don’t return… I think our experiment will actually do what we wanted it to do!” said Michael in the most sombre tone I think I ever heard him use. “The system is tuned or the electrical field of your brain set up the harmonics we were looking for and so affects other electrical fields primarily. It possibly is already breaking down matter but on such a finite scale that our sensors are unable to pick it up yet.”

“The breakdown of matter at the quantum level…”

“And beyond… and not ‘just’ matter; all matter possibly throughout all the universes. Having said that you can’t have or it would have done it already and created the instant universal paradox… hmmm… so do you think that means there is only the one universe with however many dimensions is currently fashionable…” Michael shook his head. “Who knows if the schism in time or the aim of our experiment is the side-effect or they are both intrinsically linked; maybe that is where the nature of time exists, all the way down with the ‘strings’ or the ‘God’ particles?. We could go on all night, but; we best not I think. It’s time for you to go, Mac.”

Michael reached over and shook my hand; I smiled “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Michael.”

“Likewise Mac…” Michael showed me the program to shut down the Torus using a time delay and at a preset time. We decided on five minutes after the ‘spike’ giving me time to alter the programs when I got back. We said no more as I donned the safety glasses and ear defenders and entered the Torus room. I paused looking in the direction I knew Michael was standing on the opposite side of the heavily tinted observation window. I waved and stepped through

 .

 .

nothing

 .

 .

_________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

The Tacoma Project

 

nothing

 .

everything

 .

An absolute of light! So intense that I knew I could not possibly be seeing it with my eyes. Every molecule, atom, electron, every ‘String’ within my body seemed to be vibrating at a level I knew I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Colours of an unimaginable rainbow spilled through the void. If I was seeing I was looking into an infinity and it was staring straight back into my soul. My senses reeled in total agony. My senses reeled in total pleasure. Time stood still and time spiralled out of control. I was there for an immeasurably finite point in time. I was there for an eternity…

 .

I blinked as I stepped through the Torus. Déjà vu I thought to myself. I saw the lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating as I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room deposited them with my ear defenders on the desk and ignored my clipboard. I checked the time, 18:22:37 Michael was nowhere to be seen. I looked out of the window at the cityscape.

The lights were out within the campus! Not completely, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The lights in the Physics lab were as bright as they normally were. I chewed on the nail of my forefinger as I looked across the valley that was visible from the window of my lab. The city as far as I could see was its normal maze of street and house lights. The Olde’ town of course appeared no different and the hospital was its normal blaze of light.

I turned my attention to the computer terminal and began calling up the programs that Michael had/will show me. I synched the shutdown to occur three hundred seconds after the ‘spike’. The screen flashed up the ‘execute’ order, “Do you wish to proceed with shutdown? Yes or No?”  My finger hovered above the left hand click of the mouse as the countdown continued.

I sensed someone approaching up the corridor, “Marshall” I whispered to the empty room and my mind wandered up the corridor and into that ‘undiscovered country’. I stood and looked up the empty corridor and then down at the descending number on the screen. I looked out of the window and at the same time saw the brightly lit city and the darkened streets; Marshall flickered in and out of my peripheral vision. He hammered on the glass doors to my lab and the city went dark. Marshall stood there placing his hands on his hips waiting for me to turn and look at him as a couple of other people were running along the main corridor behind him. I watched the countdown descend to zero to be replaced by “Shutdown instruction; no longer valid. Do you wish to retry? Yes or No?” I clicked on the ‘no’ option and turned to face Marshall “Just a little more time…” I murmured to myself.

I walked over to the panel beside the sliding doors and re-set the breakers. I pressed the egress button and let Marshall in. “Don’t worry Eric, it isn’t us! It’s obviously a spike that has come in on the grid.” Marshall looked at me perplexed at the fact I had used his first name and my amenable attitude.

“Oh… oh… okay then… Mac… I guess I better get around and put everybody’s minds at rest then” he replied.

“Let’s just hope nobody has lost too much data. You know how like spoilt children some of these boffins can be!” I almost laughed at the confused expression on Marshall’s face as I ushered him back out of the doors.

“Yeah… you’re so right. Big kids the mo…” the doors shut silencing the end of his sentence as I turned away.

I sat at the desk and pulled out the pack of cigarettes from the drawer. I inhaled deeply and blew out the smoke up towards the ceiling, “Time to kill…” I whispered.

……

I’d just programmed the Torus to shut down after the next ‘spike’. I ran my fingers through my unruly curly black hair trying to tame it using my reflection in the glass of the window. I could tell there was substantially more grey than there used to be and wondered did it make me look more refined or just older. I had butterflies in my stomach as I opened the automatic doors and slipped into the corridor. I hadn’t felt this nervous since I was a schoolchild waiting to see the ‘Tic’ nurse.

I had to wait five minutes before I heard the sound of footsteps coming up the main corridor. One pair sounded like practical flat shoes most of the scientists wore around the complex; the other definitely had the ‘click-clack’ of high heels. I walked towards the junction of the corridor; the two women appeared just before I reached it. Jane Swift turned to face me, “Oh hi Mac, how are you doing?” I noted that she looked over my shoulder obviously searching for signs of Michael. “Oh this is Cassie she just joined the Institute down in the Genome Lab.”

She looked me in the eyes, her face as unreadable as ever “Hi Mac, been a long time!”

“Hi Cassie, it has that. You’re looking well” I replied.

“Oh do you two know each other?” asked Jane.

I nodded as Cassie said “I knew Mac from back when I last worked here, Jane. How’s sub-atomics these days Mac?”

“Same old, same old” I answered looking over my shoulder, “I was just in checking that the electrical problems hadn’t wiped any of our data… it all looks good!” a smile crept around my mouth as I kept my eyes fixed on Cassie’s.

Her eyes flicked around my face “The same here unfortunately we lost the current run, though it was only a quarter hour into its program so just had to re-start it. You seem to be taking more care of yourself these days, Mac?” I blushed slightly “… though it could still do with a cut…” her lips cracked into a smile.

I felt my heart jolt in my chest as I remembered how much I had loved her smile. Jane was looking between us obviously figuring out that we had a ‘bit of history’; knowing her it would be all around the campus by morning. “Well I try not to let work get in the way too much these days” I lied blatantly which drew a raised eyebrow from Jane. “I was just headed out for a jar, would you care to join me… err… both of you, that is!”

Jane’s curiousness quickly transformed into perplexity as Cassie answered “I’m not sure Mac… I don’t really drink much these days… maybe we could go for coffee sometime in the week?” the smile straightened and she lightly bit her lip as she finished the sentence. A ‘tell’ I remembered from seven years previously of her silent disapproval.

“Oh… okay yeah that would be good” I answered trying to keep the disappointment from my voice. I’d forgotten that our alcohol consumption as well as my long work hours had not helped our previous relationship. There was a moment of silence as we looked at each other, “well… I’d better… finish up if I’m to catch up with Michael” I jabbed my thumb over my shoulder indicating the lab and shuffled backwards. “You take care of yourself Cassie… and you too Jane” I turned rapidly and hurried back to the lab.

“Bye Mac.” I heard Cassie say.

“Yeah bye Mac, say hello to Michael for me” called Jane after my retreating back.

“Sure” I called as I swiped my card.

The doors closed behind me as I looked down at my hands. It took me all of a minute to glance across at the dark glasses and the ear defenders sitting on the desk and then up at the glowing Torus. I lifted a finger to my mouth and chewed on a hangnail for a few seconds before dropping my swipe card, keys and wallet into the desk drawer and donning the protective gear. I strode through the metal detector and into the Faraday cage.

I stepped through

 .

 .

nothing

 .

 .

 ___________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

The Tacoma Project

 

nothing

 .

everything

An absolute of light! So intense that I knew I could not possibly be seeing it with my eyes. Every molecule, atom, electron, every single String within my body seemed to be vibrating at a level I knew I couldn’t even begin to feel. Colours of an unimaginable rainbow spilled through the void. If I was seeing I was looking into an infinity and it was staring straight back into my soul. Symphonic bedlam assaulted my hearing. My senses reeled in total agony. My senses reeled in total pleasure. Time stood still and time span out of control. I was there for an immeasurably finite point in time. I was there for an eternity…

 .

I blinked as I stepped through the Torus. I’ve been here before I thought to myself. I saw the lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating as I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room deposited them with my ear defenders on the desk and ignored my clipboard. I checked the time, 18:22:37. I looked out of the window at the cityscape.

The lights were out within the campus! Not completely, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The lights in the Physics lab were as bright as they normally were. I chewed on the nail of my forefinger noting that it should be torn from the quick from the abuse of the last few hours. I looked across the valley that was visible from the window of my lab. The nearest quarter of the city was in darkness but the rest as far as I could see was its normal maze of street and house lights. The Olde’ town of course appeared no different and the hospital was its normal blaze of light.

I turned my attention to the computer terminal and began calling up the programs that Michael had/will show me. I synched the shutdown to occur five minutes after the next ‘spike’. The screen flashed up the ‘execute’ order, “Do you wish to proceed with programmed auto-timed shutdown? Yes or No?”  My finger hovered above the left hand click of the mouse as the countdown waited patiently at 300. I lowered my left finger to be rewarded with the message “Automatic Torus Shutdown – HOLDING! “

I lifted the cigarettes from the drawer and walked across to the light switch and turned off the lights to the lab and wandered over to the window at a point where I wouldn’t be visible from the doors. Two minutes later I heard Marshall rapping on the glass doors. He gave up after thirty seconds and walked away.

I pulled a very familiar cigarette from the packet and lit it watching the tip glow in the reflection of the window. “Do it right this time…” I whispered to myself.

……

I tried vainly to curtail my unruly curly black hair in the reflection of the window. Refined or just older I wondered. There was a small knot in my stomach as I opened the automatic doors and slipped into the corridor. I didn’t feel as nervous as before/now.

I had to wait three minutes before I heard the sound of footsteps coming up the main corridor; a pair of practical flat shoes and a pair of high heels. I walked towards the junction of the corridor; the two women appeared just as I reached it. Jane Swift turned to face me, “Oh hi Mac, how are you doing?” I noted that she looked over my shoulder obviously searching for signs of Michael. “Oh this is Cassie she just joined the Institute down in the Genome Lab.”

She looked me in the eyes, her face as unreadable as ever “Hi Mac, been a long time!”

“Hi Cassie, must be almost seven years. You’re looking good” I replied.

“Oh do you two know each other?” asked Jane.

I nodded as Cassie said “I knew Mac from back when I last worked here, Jane. How’s sub-atomics these days Mac?”

“Same old, same old” I answered looking over my shoulder, “I was just checking that we hadn’t lost any data because of the electrical problems… it all looks good! I hope you haven’t lost any down in Genome?” I smiled as I tried not to stare too hard at Cassie.

Her eyes flicked around my face “We lost the current run, though it was only a quarter hour into its program so just had to re-start it. Thank you for asking… You seem to be taking more care of yourself these days, Mac?” I shrugged my shoulders “… though it could still do with a cut…” her lips cracked into a smile.

Damn but I love that smile I thought. Jane was looking between us obviously figuring out that we had a ‘bit of history’; knowing her it would be all around the campus by morning. “Well short of shaving it off, there never was much I could do with it.” Jane had a puzzled expression as I am sure she had never heard me talk so much before. “I was just going for a coffee, would you care to join me… err… both of you, that is!”

Cassie looked from Jane to me and back; “What do you think, Jane… fancy a coffee?”

“I’m gonna pass on that, I’m already late for my book club and there’s a bottle of Rioja with my name on it there. You two go on and have fun; sounds like you two have some catching up to do!” she turned and walked off down the corridor after giving Cassie as non-too-subtle conspiratorial wink. “Ciao people!”

I smiled to myself as I watched her walk away noting the flat shoes she was wearing. I turned to Cassie and asked “Shall we?” as the thought ran through my head; heels, that’s a little unusual for you Cassie… I guess we both have changed.

……

I held the door open for Cassie as we entered the campus coffee shop and followed her through. The bell above rattled and rang.  As we snaked through the candle lit tables a hand alighted on my shoulder.

“Hey Mac, what are you doing out of your Faraday cage?”

I turned around to be greeted by Michael’s beaming smile. “Oh hi Michael, I forgot you were here… hello Melissa, pleased to meet you” I ventured to the girl on Michael’s arm.

“Hi!” said Melissa offering me her hand as I got a puzzled look from Michael.

I made the obligatory introductions, “Melissa… Cassie, Cassie… Melissa. Michael… Cassie, Cassie… this is Michael, my research partner.”

“Pleased to meet you Cassie, don’t let this old rogue bore you too much” offered Michael.

“He never use too… one of things I can honestly say about Mac is that he was never boring” replied Cassie. I tried not to grin as I saw Michael work out that Cassie had been my ‘previous’; I had, on alcohol-influenced occasion, poured my heart out to Michael but for some reason had never told him Cassie’s name.

Michael smiled, “Well I hope I will see more of you in the future but alas Melissa and I were just heading off for a… bite” Melissa grinned beside him.

We made our farewells and just as Michael was about to walk away I held his elbow and whispered into his ear “Did you know Michael, and it is a little known fact, that some people’s scar tissue can actually be very sensitive in an erogenous sort of way?”

I turned away and guided Cassie over to the table that Michael and Melissa had just vacated. I held the chair for Cassie to sit down upon and saw Michael look back at me from the door with a look of complete bewilderment on his face.

The waiter wandered over, “Still Latte?” I asked.

Cassie nodded and replied “Still strong and black like your men?”

I grinned broadly “Of course.” We placed our order and looked at each other for a couple of moments. We both went to break the silence at the same time; I smiled and waved her to continue.

“The years seem to have been good to you, Mac. You seem more confident than I remember.”

“That’s probably Michael’s influence, he is… err… very gregarious to say the least. You are looking well, Virginia seems to have agreed with you” I answered.

“It wasn’t too bad; the work was interesting though the social scene was…” her voice trailed off.

“Was…?” I asked.

“Well everybody seemed to be in a couple and for the first year or so they were always trying to set me up on dates… I wasn’t really…”

“I understand. I’m sorry for that.” I offered.

Cassie looked at me closely before replying, “It wasn’t all your fault Mac. A lot of it perhaps… but not all!” her face was stern for a moment before it cracked into a smile.

I smiled back at her feeling like we had travelled back a decade to when we had first started going out and I had only just begun to understand her humour and the amount of times she had caught me ‘on the hop’ with her serious face. I took a sip of my coffee knowing that my cheeks were reddening.

“Glad to see you are still so easy to wind up, Mac” she turned the cup of latte on its saucer before continuing; “…was that one of my faults, Mac?”

I lowered my cup to the table, “Not at all… I always loved that about you… I knew towards the end that we were drifting apart; well I guess I only spotted it after we split… I hope that if I had seen it I would have done something about it. You had stopped teasing me, sad that you only value things after they’ve gone.”

Cassie lowered her eyes and saw that she was turning her cup and made an obvious effort to stop. “I guess we can’t change the past…” she said.

I nibbled on my bottom lip “Does the past have to control the future?” I asked.

She looked up and grinned slightly, “McNally, as you live and breathe; I never thought I would hear you denying cause and effect!”

I shrugged my shoulders “I can’t help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be. You must survive, or I will never exist.”

“Don’t you mean “The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” Cassie burst out laughing and I smiled broadly watching her.

“The first film was always the better one!”

“Was not!”

Was too!”

Cassie wiped the moisture from her eyes; “That’s something I missed about you Mac. I was quite sure that I never did pick up on half the movie and music quotes you would use through the day.” I swallowed the last of my coffee. “So how is work? From what I hear you are the institutes golden boys.”

“I think that has more to do with Michael’s charm. The work… very interesting at the moment and showing some results though at the moment I can’t see how to proceed with it.” I was about to try and explain what had happened and was formulating a response which didn’t make me sound like a ‘nutter’ when I caught a look pass across Cassie’s face. The effervescence of her smile had seemed to dwindle to be replaced by an expression that I could only read as a ‘Mom’ listening distractedly to the enthusiastic rambling of a child with his latest toy.

At that moment I remembered the main reason we had split up. My single-minded pursuit of science had bordered on obsession to the detriment of our relationship. Cassie was an extremely talented and sought after expert in the field of Genetics but she had always seen it as a job that she enjoyed and not her entire life. She saw the rest of the world and all that she had never seen; she had taken many long holidays and travelled as far and for as long as work and finances would allow. In the last two years together I had let her travel without me while my eyes were stuck looking down electron microscopes. In the dark year after our split I was forced to admit she was right. I looked across the table at her and realised I had lost her.

We made a little more small talk and we promised each other we would get together soon. I wandered back to the lab deep in thought. I was happy enough to mess about with the laws of physics to get the girl but would I give up my work; and if I did what would I do? What could I do that I could afford to live on? I stopped at a window and looked out across the formal gardens to the front of the central buildings. Most of the city lights seem to have come back on. “You’re right Michael, what I need is to win the State Lottery…” just at that moment an electrician somewhere re-set a breaker and the wireframe sculpture of the globe was illuminated in the centre of the lawn. Five seconds later the fountains began to ripple in sequence around it.

I turned away from the window and headed for the lab.

I had just checked the shutdown programme was operating and wandered towards the Faraday cage. I smiled to myself and returned to the computer dropping the ear defenders and sunglasses onto the top as I opened up an internet connection. “Not the State Lottery, Michael! Somewhere in the world on a Friday night someone has to be running one?” After ten minutes I had an answer. I strolled to the cage repeating the numbers in my head like a mathematician’s mantra. As the doors slid open I realised to late my mistake. The noise assaulted my unprotected eardrums for a split second before they both ruptured in a blast of pain. I shut my eyes tight even as I knew it would do no good. The breath disappeared from my body as I screamed covering my eyes within this silent world. The light had seared through my eyelids and for a split moment I thought I had saved my sight with my hands as everything went dark. There was no pain from my eyes as my ears throbbed heavily. I took my hands away as I realised my optic nerves had been burnt out.

How many times had I walked around this small room? I reached out and found the doors shut behind me. It must have taken me ten minutes to negotiate the familiar room before my hand rested on the outer collar of the Torus. “I guess I am about to find out if it is just my mind that’s travelling back…” I said aloud to myself. It was extremely weird not to hear my own voice at all, even in the cacophony of the Torus room and just feel the vibrations through my jaw.

I stepped through

 .

 .

nothing

 .

______________________________

 

 

 

 

 

The Tacoma Project

 

nothing

 .

 .

everything

 .

An absolute of light! So intense that I knew I could not possibly be seeing it with my eyes. My flesh burned and froze, rippled and shredded, contracted and disintegrated. Every molecule, atom, electron, every String within my body seemed to be vibrating at a level I knew I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Colours of an unimaginable rainbow spilled through the void. If I was seeing I was looking into an infinity and it was staring straight back into my soul. Symphonic bedlam assaulted my hearing. My senses reeled in total agony. My senses reeled in total pleasure. Time stood still and time spiralled out of control. I was there for an immeasurably finite point in time. I was there for an eternity…

 .

I blinked as I stepped through the Torus. Thank fuck! I can see… I can hear… I thought to myself. I saw the increasingly familiar lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating as I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room deposited them with my ear defenders on the desk and ignored my clipboard. I checked the time, 18:22:37. I imagined my heart was hammering after the permanent blindness and deafness I had/ was/ will experience. I looked out of the window at the cityscape.

The scene was almost identical to the last flit through time. The lights were out within the campus, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The Physics lab was as bright as it always was. I looked at the un-chewed nail of my forefinger. The nearest third of the city was again in darkness but the rest as far as I could see was its normal maze of street and house lights. The Olde’ town of course appeared no different and the hospital was its normal blaze of light.

I turned my attention to the computer terminal and began calling up the programs that I had/needed to alter. I synched the shutdown to occur three hundred seconds after the next ‘spike’. The screen flashed up the ‘execute’ order, “Do you wish to proceed with programmed auto-timed shutdown? Yes or No?”  My finger pressed the left hand click of the mouse to be rewarded with the message “Automatic Torus Shutdown – HOLDING! “

I pulled a sheet of the checklist from the clipboard and turned it over and scribbled a note in my untidy scrawl; “Marshal, It’s the grid you Muppet!” I attached the note to the doors and lifting the cigarettes from the drawer walked across to the window in plain view of the doors. Two minutes later I heard Marshall walk up the corridor and then after a momentary pause walk away again. I stubbed out the same cigarette on the frame of the window before dropping it into a waste basket.

 “Don’t suppose I could write down those lottery numbers on my hand…” I muttered to myself.

……

I didn’t even bother to comb my unruly curly black hair in the reflection of the window. Take it or leave me, I guess I thought. I took a deep breath as I opened the automatic doors and slipped into the corridor. This was getting easier.

I had to wait barely a minute before I heard the sound of footsteps coming up the main corridor; the practical pair of flat shoes and the high heels. I walked towards the junction of the corridor; the two women appeared just as I reached it. Jane Swift turned to face me, “Oh hi Mac, how are you doing?” I ignored the glance over my shoulder obviously searching for signs of Michael. “Oh this is Cassie she just joined the Institute down in the Genome Lab.”

She looked me in the eyes, her face as unreadable as ever “Hi Mac, been a long time!”

“That it has, Cassie, you’re looking good” I replied.

“Oh do you two know each other?” asked Jane.

I nodded as Cassie said “I knew Mac from back when I last worked here, Jane. How’s sub-atomics these days Mac?”

“Not what it used to be” I answered looking over my shoulder, “Did you lose much data with the black-out?” I smiled pleasantly at Cassie.

Her eyes flicked around my face “We lost the current run, though it was only a quarter hour into its program so just had to re-start it. Thanks for asking… what about yourselves?”

I shrugged my shoulders “Not a whole lot either… and you can always rely on atoms to carry on decaying whatever the circumstance” her lips cracked into a smile.

Damn but I love that smile I thought. Jane was looking between us obviously figuring out that we had been close; watching her file it away for the latest gossip in the canteen for the morrow.  Jane had a puzzled expression as she seemed to be re-appraising me. “I was just going for a coffee; would the two of you care to join me?”

Cassie looked from Jane to me and back; “What do you think, Jane… fancy a coffee?”

“I’m think I’m gonna pass on that, it’s my book club night and there’s a bottle of Rioja with my name on it there. You two go on and have fun; sounds like you two have some catching up to do!” she turned and walked off down the corridor after giving Cassie as non-too-subtle conspiratorial wink. “See you tomorrow Cassie, catch up with you soon Mac”

I smiled to myself as I watched her walk away noting the flat shoes she was wearing. I turned to Cassie and asked “Shall we?” as the thought ran through my head; heels… mmmm… you always used to wear stockings and suspenders with heels.

……

I held the door open for Cassie as we entered the campus coffee shop and followed her through. The bell above rattled and rang.  As we snaked through the candle lit tables a hand alighted on my shoulder.

“Hi Michael” I said without turning around.

“You’re on the ball tonight Mac, what are you doing out of your Faraday cage?”

I turned around to be greeted by Michael’s beaming smile. “I didn’t know you were here… hello Melissa, pleased to meet you” I ventured to the girl on Michael’s arm as I took her hand in mine and shook it gently.

“Hi!” said Melissa obviously thinking that I wasn’t the shy retiring type that Michael must of described me as.

I made the obligatory introductions, “This is Melissa and Michael; this is Cassie an old friend from way back. Michael is my research partner.”

“Pleased to meet you Cassie, I’d like to say that Mac has told me all about you but he seems to be full of surprises tonight” said Michael.

“He was always quiet when I last knew him… I guess some things don’t change” replied Cassie. I watched as Michael worked out that Cassie had been my ‘previous’.

Michael smiled, “I hope to make more of an acquaintance with you in the future but alas Melissa and I were just heading off for a…”

“A bite perhaps?” I interrupted and watched as Michael for maybe the first time seemed temporarily at a loss for words.

We made our farewells and just as Michael was about to walk away I held his elbow and whispered into his ear “A word to the wise, Melissa’s scar tissue is actually  very sensitive in an erotic way?” Michael stared at me and was again lacking in response for the second time in as many minutes.

I turned away and guided Cassie over to the table that Michael and Melissa had just vacated. I held the chair for Cassie to sit down upon and saw Michael look back at me from the door with a look of complete bewilderment on his face.

The waiter wandered over, “Still Latte?” I asked.

Cassie nodded and replied “Still strong and black like your men?”

I grinned broadly “Always.” We placed our order and looked at each other for a couple of moments. I waited for Cassie to speak.

“The years have been good to you, Mac.” I smiled wondering about the lost years between us. I took a sip of my coffee as I considered my reply.

“No real complaints to be spoken off. How ‘bout you? How was Virginia?”

“The work was engaging enough but the social life left something to be desired.”

“About the same here, most the same old faces… Marshall is still a royal pain in the ass. More so since Michael managed to get our project more funds than his own” I replied.

“The two of you never did get on. How is your project?”

“Interesting I suppose… but I guess it isn’t going to change the world. I saw, by your papers that you were having quite a lot of success with your gene markers. To be honest I didn’t think you would have come back here.”

Cassie smiled “Not enough funding in Virginia and Jane had been on at me for the last two years to come back. Did you really read my papers?”

“I did! I even read all the papers you published when we were together. Made me realise that my work is… so purely academic… it’d be a long shot if there was ever a practical use for it; whereas yours… how many lives have you already saved or how many have you vastly improved by diagnosing genetic illnesses before there are any symptoms?”

Cassie tilted her head slightly and looked at me, “Who are you? And what have you done with Mac?”

I grinned, “I deserve that.”

“Hmmm… maybe… maybe not?” she lifted her coffee cup to her lips and took a slow sip; her eyes never left mine.

Somebody left the cafe behind us and the spring loaded bell rang. “Every time you hear a bell ring it means some angel’s just got his wings” I said.

Cassie wiped the moisture from her eyes; “That’s something I missed about you Mac. I was quite sure that I never did pick up on all of the movie and music quotes you would use through the day.” I swallowed the last of my coffee. “How many times did we watch Jimmy Stewart?”

“Not near enough, I reckon. I’ve got it on blu-ray now; to be honest it isn’t any better except that I wore out that old video tape.”

Cassie’s eyes softened “I haven’t seen it since… well since we were together…”

“You are always welcome, any time Cassie” I offered.

“I may take you up on that, Mac… hmmm…” Cassie’s brow furrowed though her eyes remained bright.

“What?” I asked in response to her hesitation.

“I was just remembering… what we… err…”

I was remembering as well, I am almost positive that we had always made love after watching Capra’s perfect film. “No strings, Cassie. Honestly the pleasure of your company would be enough.” I assured her.

She smiled that smile of hers “I’m not so sure it would be enough… for me…”

I blushed deeply and chewed on my lip.

“Is there hope for ‘us’ then?” I asked nervously.

“Possibly…” answered Cassie, “though I can’t go back to playing second fiddle to your work Mac”

“My work just doesn’t seem as important any more Cassie, if I’m honest it’s getting a little repetitive. I guess I just need to find a small fortune and I’ll make you a lady of leisure…”

“That’d be nice… “

“I’ll see what I can do or maybe what I have done…” I replied cryptically.

I walked Cassie back towards the halls of residence where she was staying till she found a more permanent residence though I hoped she would move back in with me. I might have to throw a lick of paint around the flat as I hadn’t done much with it since she was last there. We kissed at the entrance to the old red brick building and for a split second as we both lost ourselves in passion and emotion the world flickered around me. All of the streetlights went out and the neighbouring buildings were purged for a second of electric light to be replaced by the random flicker of sporadic firelight. The doors behind Cassie seemed to oscillate between bright fluorescent light and a rolling pall of dark cancerous smoke. I broke our kiss.

“One step at a time I think… I so…” she held my hand, squeezing it gently; that smile of hers tugged at my heart as I wished her goodnight with a conservative peck on the cheek.

I walked past the globe sculpture as it came to life and headed quickly for the lab.

I checked the shutdown programme was operating and then opened up an internet connection for the numbers I wanted. I strolled to the cage, remembering to pick up the ear defenders and safety glasses repeating the numbers in my head like a mathematician’s mantra. I glanced around the lab absorbing the details even though they wouldn’t change when I stepped through for the last time. In the back of my head I was wondering exactly what I would say to Michael.  

I stepped through

 .

 .

nothing

 .

___________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

The Tacoma Project

 

nothing

 .

 .

everything

 .

An absolute of light! So intense that I knew I could not possibly be seeing it with my eyes. My flesh burned and froze, rippled and shredded, contracted and disintegrated. Every molecule, atom, electron, every String within my body seemed to be vibrating at a level I knew I couldn’t even begin to understand. Colours of an unimaginable rainbow spilled through the void. If I was seeing I was looking into an infinity and it was staring straight back into my soul. Symphonic bedlam assaulted my hearing. My senses reeled in total agony. The aroma’s of freshly baked bread and rotting flesh mingled with an infinite myriad of smells. My senses reeled in total pleasure. Time stood still and time spiralled out of control. I was there for an immeasurably finite point in time. I was there for an eternity. My heart tore and my love blossomed, the touch of her lips upon mine and the caress of her touch across my soul…

I blinked as I stepped through the Torus. Déjà vu I thought to myself. I saw the lights in the corridor outside the lab had gone out and the emergency lighting was operating as I pulled off my sunglasses outside the Torus Room deposited them with my ear defenders on the desk and ignored my clipboard. I checked the time, 18:22:37. I looked out of the window at the cityscape.

The lights were out! Not completely, the emergency lights around the university were operating. The lights in the Physics lab were as bright as they normally were. I chewed on the nail of my forefinger as I looked across the valley that was visible from the window of my lab. The city as far as I could see was its normal maze of street and house lights. The Olde’ town of course appeared no different and the hospital was its normal blaze of light.

Just one more thing to take care off I thought as I bought a ticket for the European lottery on-line. I stepped out of the lab after changing the settings on the doors.

Right on time Marshall marched down the corridor towards the lab past the store cupboard where I was watching him from. As he approached the lab the doors opened automatically and he stepped through calling my name. I waited for the doors to lock shut behind him and emerged from my hiding place walking back towards the lab. The look on his face when I shouted and berated him for meddling with our experiment and causing the blackout I will take with me to my grave. Opening the doors and watching him almost trip in his rush to leave as I told him I would be reporting his actions to the Dean made me contemplate another trip just to set up a camera.

I turned my attention to the computer terminal and began calling up the programs that Michael had/will show me. I synched the shutdown to occur five hundred seconds after the ‘spike’. The screen flashed up the ‘execute’ order, “Do you wish to proceed with shutdown? Yes or No?”  My finger hovered above the left hand click of the mouse as the countdown continued. I smiled to myself and clicked on ‘yes’.

I pulled out the pack of cigarettes from the drawer. I inhaled deeply and blew out the smoke up towards the ceiling, “Time to kill…” I whispered.

This time is for real I thought to myself. The countdown continued down towards zero and I looked across at the Torus through the inspection window. “I wonder…” I said as thoughts of explosions, implosions and all the universes ceasing to be in the time it took to blink. I looked back at the screen; “…7 …6 …5 …4 …3 …2 …1 …SHUTDOWN INITIATED.

 

?

__________________________________

 Finally the end dear avid reader….

~ by ftfagos on June 14, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Tacoma Project”

  1. I remember this one…. it took forever to figure out what you were saying about it all when you kept confusing me with the page numbers!!!! LOL!!! By the by? Cynic? HA! I do like the way you take what could be a raunchy story and turn it into something beautiful and not how one would expect. But I do think Bill Murray would be proud!!!!

  2. […] What if you had a second chance…? […]

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