Monday, April 13, 2009

"Stars Within the Glass" by Karl Bjorn Erickson, Part Two

“No, please don’t do that. I’ll be fine--really. Could I just borrow your keycard, and I’ll return it tomorrow in class? I already know the access code from the lab project.”
Dr. Jenkins glanced uneasily at his watch before making a reply. “My wife wants to take
the kids to a movie tonight, and I have to make it Mercer Island in half an hour. Make
sure you lock up and arm the system before you leave. There may be one other faculty
member still working.”

“No problem,” David said. “And thank you.”
“That’s fine. You might want the nurse to take a look at that gash on your forehead. It’s still bleeding. You may need stitches, you know.”
With the front doors locked, he entered the welcoming darkness of the hallway. Under
the green light of an exit sign above, he dropped to his knees on the carpet and buried his face in his cut hands. The sobs that racked his body had very little to do with his cuts and scrapes, but the pain began to dull slightly after crying there on the floor for some minutes. The clicking sound of a door closing somewhere caught his attention, and he leapt to his feet. He didn’t want anyone to catch him in this condition. It was bad enough that his roommate had an inkling of what was going on; no one else needed to know. He quietly climbed the stairs to the deserted second floor of the science building. As far as the exact reason for his visit, David wasn’t even sure himself. He often felt more at ease with math and science than he did with questioning people. It just seemed like the right place to be, a place where he could lose himself in the research and leave the people behind for a while. It was a retreat from reality, or depending upon your perspective, a return to reality.

The current experiment was based upon the Bose-Einstein condensate, but David’s
English major roommate just referred to it as the Absolute Zero Project. This inaccurate description somewhat annoyed David, but he admitted that it did sound a little better. It was sometimes a little unnerving to be working around some of the coldest particles in the galaxy, but it was exciting to be involved in cutting edge research all the same. From what David understood the last time he was in class, some elements of the experiment weren’t going quite as planned, but he was just intending a cursory examination as a lab assistant. He didn’t feel like doing anything more involved. It was comforting returning to a place where he could shut things out for a while. He didn’t even need to switch on any lights as he retraced familiar steps towards the lab. Withdrawing the keycard from his pocket, the door to lab 3A buzzed open.

The main box-like apparatus containing the laser and the rest of the equipment was
situated in the center of the reinforced table. An odd hissing noise immediately caught his attention, but the pipes running up from the table seemed to be in good condition. He noticed a nearly empty glass soda bottle sitting precariously on the table’s edge. It was an odd thing for someone to leave behind in this particular lab. As he studied it, the contents seemed to glow slightly. He rubbed his eyes and looked a second time, but the glowing was definitely there, and it was growing stronger. As his eyes adjusted to the low light of the lab, he noticed an area of blackness extending out like a pool from the machine towards the bottle. While David, an underclassman, didn’t understand precisely how everything worked with regards to the Absolute Zero Project, something was clearly going wrong.

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