The ironic thing is that, although the experiment is different, such a failure is the basis for my upcoming young adult post-apocalyptic series Hell Gates, which I hope to release later this year. In the series, a simultaneous anti-matter experiment at CERN and other large hydron collider facilities (some fictitious) punch inter-dimensional portals between earth and Hell, allowing underworld demons to invade this realm. I posted the CERN chapter from Hell Gate below.
This is one of those incidents I'm torn on. If something bad happens, and I predicted it, then my street cred soars. On the other hand, it's kind of hard to sell books during an apocalyptic demon invasion.
Jason blinked against the flashing of cameras and the glare of klieg lights. He lowered his head and stared at the floor of the make-shift stage set up in the conference room. The metal chair was uncomfortable, but he tolerated it, knowing his mother would be upset if he fidgeted and ruined her big day. She stood before him at the podium, wearing a black skirt and cream-colored, with a white lab coat covering her outfit. Long red hair cascaded down her back and draped over her shoulders. Doc sat in the folding chair beside him. Several other scientists occupied the remaining seats, although he had never bothered to learn their names. In front of the stage, more than thirty reporters and cameramen crowded around, hanging on his mother’s every word, anxious to talk with Dr. Lisa McCreary, the lead physicist for Project Discovery.
His mother smiled for the cameras. “Project Discovery is the most ambitious undertaking yet in the field of anti-matter research. The intention is to generate more anti-matter at one time than has been attempted previously. At the same time as we here at CERN will be generating our own continuous stream of anti-matter, our sister facilities in Russia, Japan, and the United States will do the same. We hope to exponentially increase our knowledge of anti-matter and, once the separate facilities combine our research, develop a better understanding of the physics involved in the creation of our universe. There are so many vistas of particle physics as of yet unexplored that we—”
Jason tuned out his mother and let his mind wander to things he would rather be doing at the moment, which included almost anything. He had no idea what she was talking about because she always used scientific terms that were way over his head. Even at home, during what little quality time they spent together, she discussed her work. Rarely did she ever ask about him, and then mostly to check on his grades or how he was doing in school. She never asked him about his friends or his social life, neither of which he had. This was the first thing the two of them had done as mother and son in years, and even now he served only as window dressing for his mother’s moment in the spotlight.
Doc leaned over and nudged Jason with his left elbow. “How are you doing?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“I know this is boring. It’s even boring for me. Try not to yawn or you’ll get me going.” Doc gave him a conspiratorial wink.
Jason liked Doc. He paid attention to him at his level. Doc would often drop by the house on nights his mother worked late, which was usually every night, to chat with him about stuff like girls and movies. Once he even played World of Warcraft with him. Doc was really good at solving the puzzles in the game, but sucked at boss fights.
Lisa stepped away from the podium and motioned to Doc. “Let me give the floor up to Dr. Eric Fisher. He’s the true mastermind behind the technical aspects of this project, and can do a better job of answering your questions than I can.”
Doc stood up and patted Jason on his shoulder. “I’m on.”
Jason considered Doc the closest person he had to a father since his parents divorced when he was ten. Although neither his mother nor his father discussed the details with him, from the pieces of arguments he overheard from his bedroom he thought they split up because his mother had spent as little time with his dad as she did with him. Even after the separation, Jason and his dad had been close and did things every other weekend until two years ago when his father moved to Tokyo to head up the Japanese portion of Project Discovery. Since then, they only talked via text messages and the occasional Skype call. Although Jason never admitted it to anyone, that hurt him as much as his parents’ divorce. He could never shake the feeling that everyone who mattered in his life found their jobs more important than being with him.
A bustle of activity around the stage snapped Jason back to the present. The news conference had ended, and the reporters headed off to the viewing area to watch the experiment via closed circuit camera. Jason’s mother turned to those behind her on the stage, her face beaming with pride.
“All right, everyone. Are we ready?”
The scientists followed Lisa to the control room that attached to CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator Facility, an off-shoot of the primary accelerator loop where the anti-protons would be created. The decelerator would slow down the particles enough so they could be captured and stored in an electro-magnetic containment chamber situated in the adjacent room. A thick glass partition built into a heavy steel wall separated the two areas. Jason maneuvered around the horde of scientists and officials to catch a glimpse of the chamber. It sat on a platform in the center of the room. The glass-enclosed chamber measured three feet in circumference, with a series of giant electro-magnets encircling it. This is where the anti-matter would be captured. Jason shrugged. It seemed like an awful lot of time and effort to produce something so small.
As she always did, Jason’s mother took charge and began ordering everyone to their tasks. When the others were in place, she switched on the intercom that connected the control room with the other facilities.
“United States, are you ready?” asked Lisa.
“Ready when you are.” The voice spoke with a New England accent, the “are” sounding like “ah.”
A thick Russian accent came over the speaker. “We’re ready.”
“All set to go, Lisa,” answered his father.
“Then let’s make history.”
Jason pushed closer to the corner of the glass, ignoring the commotion around him and focusing instead on the chamber. A white mist like cigarette smoke swirled into the chamber and then vanished as the massive vacuum pump beneath sucked out all gases, leaving the interior void. A few seconds later, a spark lit up the interior as the first particles of anti-matter collided with some of the remaining particles of matter. Jason blinked. When he opened his eyes, a series of sparks flashed throughout the chamber as the anti-matter destroyed the last of the regular matter inside. Then the interior went black, a darkness so intense it reminded Jason of the photos he had seen of deep space. Whoops and applause filled the control room.
Doc yelled out. “We achieved anti-matter containment!”
His mother asked the other facilities, and the same chorus of voices applied in the affirmative. Several of the officials rushed over to shake his mother’s hand. For the next several minutes, the celebratory atmosphere continued as an increasing amount of anti-matter filled the containment chamber. Jason was pleased. He could not remember the last time he had seen his mother this happy.
Jason switched his attention to the young man seated in front of a computer screen. His eyes were wide with fear and were looking at his mother for guidance. Jason knew something had gone terribly wrong.
The young man never took his eyes off the computer screen. “Dr. McCreary, we have a problem.”
The congratulatory spirit evaporated. Jason’s mother joined the young man. “What’s wrong?”
“The magnetic containment field is destabilizing. There’s too much anti-matter inside the chamber.”
“Are we about to lose it?” His mother leaned forward and began punching code into the keyboard.
“No. I think the field will hold if I can increase the cooling to the primary mag—”
Before anyone could react, the containment chamber erupted. The blast slammed into the glass partition and knocked Jason off his feet. He landed on his back and slid several inches across the floor. Though winded, he didn’t feel like he had been hurt, which surprised considering the pane had fractured into a spider web of cracks that scoured its surface. Jason rolled onto his knees, his ears still ringing from the concussion. Most of the others had also been knocked down. His mother and the other scientists climbed back to their stations and worked at the control panels, each occasionally casting a frantic glance toward the decelerator. The officials get to their feet more slowly. Some moved to the rear wall of the control room while others ran for the exit. Jason crawled over to the control console and, using the edge for support, pulled himself to his feet. Finding a place where the partition had not been fractured, he peered through the glass.
The room was a shambles. The breach had completely destroyed the containment chamber and blasted the monitoring equipment into the far corners, leaving it in smoldering piles of twisted metal. Fortunately for everyone in the control room, the heavy partition wall had deflected the explosion and vented against the weaker structures inside the room. The left wall had been breached, a huge gash nearly thirty feet long having been gouged out of the metal surface. A large hole twenty feet across had been cratered in the cement floor underneath the chamber, and above it the ceiling had been blown away.
Jason barely noticed the damage, though. His attention focused on the cause of the destruction. A swirling vortex with a two-foot wide hole in the center filled the space where the magnetic containment chamber had once stood. Black smoke poured from the opening and formed an ominous cloud around the circumference. The hole glimmered like a mirage. Jason gazed through it, expecting to see the opposite side of the decelerator room. Instead he stared at a dark, barren landscape. The only light came from rivers of lava that cast an eerie glow onto a blood-red sky. In the background, strange figures lumbered through the shadows, approaching the opening.
The vortex pulsed every few seconds, and with each pulse it increased a few inches in diameter.
“Mom, you might want to see this.”
“Not now, Jason.”
“But the hole is getting larger.”
“I’m busy at the—” His mother stopped in mid-sentence, her attention focused on the vortex. “What are the radiation levels in there?”
“There’s no way of knowing, Dr. McCreary. All the instruments were destroyed in the blast.”
“I’m going in to check it out. Nancy, Andre. You’re with me.”
“You can’t risk it,” said Doc.
“I’ll be fine. I have to get a closer look.”
The partition door had been warped by the blast, and it took the three scientists several attempts to open it. When they did, their lab coats and hair blew in the wind as a steady undercurrent of air flowed toward the vortex. A low rumble echoed from the room, sounding to Jason like an approaching thunderstorm. The scientists stepped inside and cautiously approached the hole.
“What do you see?” Doc asked from the doorway.
His mother’s voice trembled. Her eyes darted around the room, wide with fear and uncertainty. Jason had never seen his mother like this before. “It’s a portal of some type.”
“A portal? To where?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen any place like this bef—” His mother’s hand covered her mouth.
Doc centered himself in the doorway. “Lisa, what is it?”
“I th-think we opened a gateway to Hell.”
The vortex emitted a heavy pulse and expanded, doubling to almost six feet in diameter, accompanied by an increase in the tempo of the rumbling. The wind grew in intensity, sucking the three scientists toward the opening. Nancy and Andre were yanked off their feet and flung through the portal, their screams being cut off as they disappeared into the other side. The two scientists were tossed nearly fifty feet into the other world. Neither one got back up. The wind dragged his mother toward the same fate. She reached out at the last second and grabbed hold of a twisted piece of the console still welded to the floor.
With the air removed from the containment room, the vacuum began sucking air out of the control room, generating a whirlwind of papers that flowed into the containment room and through the portal. Doc threw himself against the wall inside the control room. He spotted a fire hose anchored on the opposite wall. Pulling himself toward it against the force of the wind, he unwound the hose and wrapped one end several times around his right arm. “I’m going to save Lisa. Drs. Kim and Bernard, stay here and pull me back. The rest of you, get out of here now.”
Jason stayed put as the others scrambled for the exit, watching the rescue attempt through the fractured glass.
Doc stepped into the doorway and was immediately dragged across the room by the roaring wind. Jason thought he would be sucked into the portal. At the last minute the hose grew taut, jerking Doc to a stop a few feet from the opening. As Kim and Bernard reeled him back in, Doc maneuvered over to Jason’s mother, held out his left hand, and clasped it around his mother’s wrist. She hesitated, too scared to react, then released her grip on the console and wrapped her hands around Doc’s arm.
Another massive surge, and the vortex’s size increased again, along with a similar increase in the flow of the wind, which yanked the hose out of Kim’s and Bernard’s hands. Jason felt his heart sink as he watched the airflow suck his mother toward the portal. Doc still held on, being pulled along behind her. Jason heard him scream “No!” even over the roar. A second later, the hose grew taut again as it reached its full length. His mother was on the opposite side of the vortex, her legs dangling in the air as the wind tried to yank her away. She still held onto Doc’s arm, which extended through the vortex up to his upper arm, with the rest of him still on their side.
Doc yelled, “Pull me back!”
Bracing his feet against the wall, Kim pulled on the hose. It wouldn’t move. Bernard joined him. They two pulled with all their might. Finally, the hose moved back a foot.
In the containment room, Doc screamed. As his arm emerged from the portal, the exposed skin blackened and exploded into a cloud of ash, severing his arm just above the elbow. With nothing left to anchor Jason’s mother in this world, she was sucked into the other realm, still clutching the other end of Doc’s severed arm. She landed alongside Nancy and Andre.
Jason rushed over to the door. Kim noticed him at the last second. Dropping his end of the hose, Kim wrapped his arms around Jason and threw him against the wall.
“You can’t go in there. You’ll be sucked in, too.”
“Let me go. I have to save my mother.”
“It’s too late for that.”
As Jason struggled to break free, the wind died out. The swirling papers floated to the ground, and the hose went slack. Doc dropped to the floor, crying out and writhing around in pain. An eerie calm settled over the facility. Bernard took advantage of the lull to race into the containment room and help Doc to his feet. Despite Doc’s arm being severed above the elbow, it didn’t bleed. In fact, the end appeared cauterized.
“Jason!” The voice belonged to his mother, although it sounded muffled and far away. He turned to the portal. He could see her on the other side. She had just helped Nancy to her feet and, as the young woman stumbled toward the portal, bent over to assist Andre. After a second, his mother lowered her head, patted Andre on the shoulder, and set off after her colleague.
Jason moved toward the portal. “Hurry up!”
“Send them back,” huffed Doc as he leaned against the doorway.
“What are you talking about?”
“They’ll never make it through.”
“Of course they will. The wind has died down.”
“No.” Doc held up the remains of his left arm. “They won’t.”
Realizing the danger his mother and the other scientists faced, Jason stood in front of the portal, waving his hands and yelling for them to stay back. Neither woman listened. Nancy reached the portal first and jumped through. She never made it. Her body crumbled as it passed through into their side, becoming an ashen silhouette that fell to the cement and erupted into a cloud of dust, showering Jason in ash.
On the other side, Jason’s mother slowed, stopping just short of the vortex. Her gaze followed the circumference as if trying to find a way to cross back. Jason knew there was no way for her to do so and survive. An inhuman moan sounded from behind her. Their eyes both focused on the silhouettes that had been in the background, only now much closer and more threatening. When his mother turned back to him, a single tear streamed down her cheek.
“Jason, get out of here while you can.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
Her voice became calm and soothing. “There’s nothing you can do for me now. I’ll be fine. And I promise to find a way out of here. But I need to make sure you get to safety. I love you.”
Without waiting for his response, she ran out of his line of sight, away from the approaching figures. Jason started to go after her when a hand clutched his arm. He spun around to see Kim holding him. “Leave me alone. I’m going after her.”
“Don’t be an ass. You’ll only get yourse—”
The wind picked up again, only this time it blew from the portal into the facility. It slowly increased in intensity, pushing the loose papers across the floor of the containment room. Jason couldn’t hear the gusts, however, because the sound was drowned out by the moaning that came from the dozens of silhouettes on the other side. Jason could finally make them out. They reminded him of walking corpses, naked and emaciated, and with pale leathery skin. And they were within a few yards of the portal.
Doc stepped over to Jason, standing between the teenager and the vortex. “We have to get going.”
“You can’t help your mother if you’re dead.” Doc reached out his remaining hand and placed it on Jason’s shoulder. “We’ll figure a way to get her out, but we have to get out of here first.”
The four of them darted into the control room. Just before Jason exited into the corridor, he stopped, hoping to catch a glimpse of his mother. The portal’s façade vibrated, causing a shimmering effect.
“Hey, you should see this. Something weird is happening.”
“Come on!” yelled Doc.
Jason had started down the corridor when a massive pulse exploded from the portal. It shot through the building, knocking over everyone in its path. Jason sat up, dazed and unable to see a thing. He thought maybe he had gone blind in the blast until Bernard flicked on a lighter, allowing them to see. They would need it, because moaning emanated from the control room. Doc and the others got up and ran, with Jason right behind them.
For the first time in his life, he thought he might not live through the next few minutes.
It would not be the last time he felt that way.