by Robb White
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
A student from Adam’s last class had taken a photo of the blackboard with the symbols and mathematical numbers. He sent it to a math major friend of his from high school who was attending a state university. That student showed it to his professor. The two of them made a partial translation of the formula and decided to upload it to YouTube to see if others could assist in decoding it and, while it didn’t exactly go viral, some people with impressive credentials got wind of it.
A handful of physicists from MIT, Harvard, and Cambridge went offline and worked separate sections. It was left up for comments, and the usual Internet trolls got wind of it and made their silly or obscene comments. “It’s a formula for transforming lead into gold like the medieval alchemists tried to do for centuries,” wrote one. Another wrote: “It’s the secret formula for getting all the sex and beer you want!” Some people thought it was a formula for transforming sand into food and solving one of the world’s great problems. Others saw it as the code for creating the next generation of computers which would initiate the global destruction of humanity by triggering a nuclear war.
But those highbrow physicists took it seriously and spent months on it. Adam himself was badgered relentlessly to explain how a scholar educated in the humanities could possibly know anything about particle physics. Adam’s own pride was piqued, because he himself was a prodigy whose genius in math and music had been established early in childhood. While he subscribed to several sophisticated journals in sciences, he would never have called himself an equal to those who were now badgering him for explanations.
Adam’s own Dean in College of Arts & Sciences was pressured to initiate an investigation into the question of Adam’s having plagiarized from some renowned physicist who chose anonymity and was merely using Adam as a conduit for his discovery, with or without Adam’s collusion.
In time they abandoned him as inconsequential to the important questions, which were prominent enough for use of the CERN Hadron collider in Switzerland. Just a few years earlier, the Higgs Boson particle had been proved to exist and had garnered a Nobel for the man who had theorized decades earlier that such a particle must exist as necessary for all mass in the universe to retain its form. It was nicknamed “the God particle.”
Black holes have been created in the Hadron collider; they are impossible to see, like all subatomic particles, and exist for mere billionths of nanoseconds. But they can be observed by the photographic record of where they’ve been. That’s the purpose of the five-story camera that records these engineered collisions around that 15-mile cylindrical magnetic track at near-light speed.
What gave these scientists their zeal was perhaps a sin of pride similar to Adam’s. What they hoped to discover, to create, was the God particle’s other self in its unstable form: antimatter. No less a personage than Stephen Hawking had once asserted that the God particle could destroy the universe if it became unstable: “catastrophic vacuum decay,” he called it.
Hawking, tongue in cheek, no doubt, informed a UK newspaper that the particle “has the worrisome feature that it might become metastable at energies above 100bn giga-electron-volts (GEV).” Matter — all matter in the universe — would dissolve like sugar in water once that happened. As far as Earth-termination events go, that one was far, far more serious than a Mount-Everest size asteroid knocked loose from the Kuiper Belt and headed our way.
As Hawking said, it won’t matter where you are on the planet once you start to decompose from your molecules outward. Going through a black hole and being spaghettified might be the closest analogy to what it will feel like for every man, woman, child, animal, and inert object on this fragile blue planet. But these men and women had no fear of that because, as even Hawking admitted, a particle accelerator to reach 100bn GEV would have to be Earth-sized.
He added this final caveat to his unlikely theory: It could happen at any time, and we won’t see it coming.
The trouble was that these scientists had the formula to destabilize the particle. It had been almost entirely spelled out on an obscure silo-college English teacher’s blackboard. When their time had lapsed for use of the collider, they returned to their universities with a new commitment and resolve to finish decoding the theory and return to CERN for the experiment that would make them as gods among physicists and mathematicians worldwide.
The Nobel money would be divvied up, to be sure, but the fame was the only bargaining chip among them that mattered, and each one wanted credit for the bigger breakthroughs in research. There was severe competition and back-stabbing by one arrogant member of the team, unfortunately, during the initial experiment that caused a hasty misreading of the formula in one section. Once that was discovered back home, they would ensure that credit would be equally shared just like the $90,000 prize money, depending on how the market did that year, of course.
The formula disappeared from the Internet; the student who sent it to his friend erased it from his video library soon after. In the small group of elite scientists on the verge of discovering how to create the destabilization process without a need for an Earth-sized accelerator, none ever knew or gave a second thought to the source of their mutual inspiration which had become a fanatical obsession among all of them. All they knew was that antimatter could be created from the God particle, and they were going to achieve the impossible in a very short time. They were sure they could control the entire process from start to finish.
They were wrong.
Adam Hayworth had only one more contact with his phantom guardian. It occurred one night in Adam’s cell in the Youngstown State Penitentiary, a supermax located in Youngstown, Ohio, approximately fifty miles due south of the scene of the crime.
To this day, Adam claims he never harmed his wife or her lover. He went to the motel where he knew they were. Yes, he admitted that. But he said the crime was committed the day after that, and he had no memory of leaving the house.
The cops picked apart his alibi in an hour with a barrage of questions he could not answer: “You knew she was cheating on you, didn’t you? You knew the motel and the room number, right?” “Why was the murder weapon in your house? With your DNA on the shaft and their DNA? Hell, man, forensics found bits of brain matter, not just head hairs from both matted into the grooves, the toe and heel of the club face!”
The cops listening behind the one-way window smirked or laughed outright hearing Adam try to explain it. Lt. Ronnie Oglesbee said, “This ain’t no whodunit, boys.”
During his trial, however, he never mentioned any phantoms, “spirits” or the “secret room of shadow men,” as his defense attorney referred to Adam’s so-called Guardian. “He’s your damned guardian, as you say, and he damn well led you down the garden path.”
Adam knew he shouldn’t have mentioned it except that he felt he had to make his lawyer understand what his near-fatal illness had done to his brain and how it affected everything after that. In fact, the lawyer was adamant; he ordered Adam to keep his mouth shut about anything that would conflict with the goal of gaining a second-degree murder conviction. “For your own good, Adam, of course,” his lawyer said. “They’ll see through that hocus-pocus in a half-second. You have any idea how hard it is to present an insanity defense any jury will buy? This is Ohio, not Strange California, remember.”
Adam has no memory of bashing in his wife’s head outside the Edge-of-Town Motel on that day and at that time. He does not remember killing her lover, even though his attorney has showed him the box of discovery items which included 8 x 10 color photos of the man’s bloodied head and corpse in the motel bed and his own nine-iron lying on the doorstep of Room Fourteen. He is convinced — and will be to his dying day — that the Shadow Man, purporting to guide him, interceded, and he went straight home.
Adam thinks a lot in his lockdown time about time itself. Not his time to be served: fifteen years before his first parole hearing, thanks to his brain swelling that the jury was partially sympathetic to. Rather, time travel, how time can go backwards and forwards. He thinks the Shadow Man was able to manipulate time to use him. He has no idea why.
The Guardian Shadow Man, when he appeared to Adam in his dream, simply showed him the oasis in the desert. Adam saw himself peering over the edge of a dune looking for the Tuareg Berbers and their camels, the campfires, and the tents. Nothing is there, but he hears a fierce howling. He sees a sandstorm building in the distance; it’s mammoth in size and swallows everything up in darkness. Everything disappears or dissolves in its wake.
Adam thinks about running, but he cannot move. His feet have slipped into the soft sand, and he knows there is nowhere to run. The mountain of whirling sand will consume him, too. In his dream, he is resigned and does not fear his imminent death. It seems the whole world has gone before him, and he is alone in the universe. That thought is too much to bear; he closes his eyes as the monster wind hums in his ears and the sand explodes all around him at once.
The formula Adam Hayworth wrote on the blackboard that evening two years ago is long forgotten. No one recalls it except the team of scientists busy exchanging their research via emails and Skyping every other night. They are getting closer to the answer. They do believe they will be ready within a few months, if lucky, or a year at most. The loser of a five-way paper-scissors-rock contest during one conference call from Harvard will write the grant that will get them all back to CERN next year.
Each one, at night, just before sleep, thinks of the project’s success and the part he or she has played in it. They’ve grown so comfortable with handling antimatter — in theory — that they send emails with GP and an emoticon to signify their favorite expression for the Higgs Boson. It’s the angry smiley face. They’ve even used this in their written notes so that, when the professional scholarly papers are juried by peers at prestigious science journals like American Journal of Physics and British Journal of Applied Physics or delivered at conferences around the world, each one of the team will have the pleasure of knowing he or she belonged to a very secret society.
“Besides,” as their most arrogant member noted, “none of us will ever see it coming if it all goes to hell.”
Copyright © 2019 by Robb White