Short Stories

The Breakthrough

In the Swiss Alps, on the border of the city of Meyrin, lies the state-of-the-art research complex of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN. Here, the world’s top scientists are changing the world using the largest and most complex scientific instruments known to Mankind. In a small laboratory on the outskirts of the research complex, Violet is changing the world in her own unique way using only marbles and some drain pipes.

“Is this really the best use of your research budget?” Tom asks as he closes the door of the lab behind him, sheets of paper tucked under his arm.

The lab was a small place. To the right stood two desks with computer screens, the right wall was decorated with scientific posters filled with graphs and explanations. To the left was a little kitchen counter, its sink filled with stained mugs, used plates, and dirty cutlery. The faint buzzing of computer fans filled the room and the place smelled of stale air, sweat, and pizza. 

“This is definitely going to save me at least a minute each time I’m getting coffee!” Violet replied defensively, brushing a stray lock of black hair back behind her ear. “Besides, I had to do something useful while waiting for the Tom machine to finally complete its calculations.”

“Deriving Planck time-field equations is not that difficult, you know. You could have helped. Or you could have cleaned up the lab in the meantime. Seriously, how can you do any research in this mess?” Tom said with disgust as he shoved aside the clutter of tools on his desk, making room for his sheets filled with equations.

“Scientific progress requires a favorable environment” Violet proclaimed, an air of drama in her voice and her finger raised as if she was making a grand statement. With a glimmer of childish excitement in her eyes, she released a marble in one of the drain pipes suspended over the place between her desk and the kitchen counter. The marble ran down the pipe across the room till it found the button of the coffee machine on the other end. After a brief buzzing noise, hot black liquid flowed down a second pipe back to Violet’s desk and into her mug. “And this environment is most definitely more favorable now!”

“Lawrence? And I don’t think this is what he meant with that quote.” Tom replied while shaking his head. He sifted through his equations till he found the notes he was looking for. “Now, look here. If we manipulate the gravity fields so that these spacetime tensors align, our experiment should work. We just have to focus the energy here and here.” Tom explained as he pointed at some of the schematics he had drawn. “Now, we just need to find the right subject to try out… Violet, are you serious?!”

“Found the right subject, I think it’s a fitting tribute to the physics gods,” Violet replied as she placed a purple celosia underneath a glass bell jar on a metal pedestal at the far end of the room. There was a second pedestal a meter to the right, the bell jar on top empty. Large metal cabinets behind the pedestals lighted up as Violet switched several toggles.

Tom stumbled from his desk and dashed towards Violet, barely ducking in time for the low-hanging coffee drain pipes. “That is the plant my mother gave me when I moved out, I’d rather keep it alive.”

“Do you trust your equations?” Violet challenged him. “Because I believe in the Tom machine, no harm will be done today to plants. Besides, it’s best if we test our theory on something organic. So… unless you want to switch places with Miss Purple?”

“Okay, you’re right. Let’s give it a try.” Tom sighed.

Consulting his papers, Tom ran over various dials and displays on the large cabinets, checking and double checking each setting and readout with his papers. “Set the field generators to 1.21 gigawatts, positive charges on the left pedestal. And don’t forget to get the exact mass measurements.”

“On it captain!” Violet replied excitedly as she worked the controls and took some hastily scribbled notes.

The noise of computer fans was replaced by the buzzing and crackling of high-energy capacitors building up charge. Level meters light up green, then orange. And after a thorough final check, Tom looked back at Violet, his face showing a mix of both dread and excitement. “Are you ready for this?” He asked hesitantly.

Violet had a moment of utter sincerity and nodded “Make it so!”

“Really, you’re quoting Jean Luc at me now?” Tom shook his head and flipped the master switch at the control panel on the cabinet.

The lighting in the room briefly flickered as the build-up charge was released. The air grew heavy, one of the instruments showed an increase in atmospheric pressure. Light near the left bell jar seemed to dim, the plant appeared to turn a shade darker. 

Tom and Violet watched with awe as the experiment unfolded, trying to keep an eye on both the spectacle playing out on the pedestal as well as their instruments. Their ears popped as a low hum filled the room. Then the plant seemed to… stretch, elongate, as if it was pulled apart like a rubber band. The leaves appeared to shift slightly in color. And then, with a final pop, the plant disappeared. The final strands of light faded away as if it had been a ghost, the glass bell jar left empty. The small laboratory turned silent again.

“It’s… gone. Why is it gone? Where is my beautiful celosia?” Tom stammered with disbelief. “I don’t understand, the equations worked out, it should have worked.” Frustrated, he walked away towards the door, cursing as he bumped his head on the drain pipes.

Deflated, Violet sat down staring at the empty pedestals, slowly sipping her still-warm coffee.

As Violet sat there, trying her best to work through Tom’s equations in the hope she could find a clue or perhaps, god forbid, a mistake, a faint glimmer of reddish light caught her eye. She looked up and startled. There, on the right pedestal, slowly a plant formed out of nothing, its stretched rubbery form slowly coming together and taking on a more normal form. “Tom! Tom, come look, it did work!” Violet cried out.

Tom came running through the door. “What… How?”

“We did it Tom, we teleported Miss Purple!” Violet said, still trying to make sense of what she just saw.

“But why now? Why wasn’t the teleportation instantaneous? The gravitational field should have shortened the…” Tom rambled in confusion.

“That’s it!” Violet interrupted him. “The gravitational field!”

“What do you mean?” Tom replied.

“It explains why we saw the change in color”, Violet continued, “and why I saw that reddish light. It all red-shifted due to…”

“… time dilation caused by the change in gravity. The teleportation was instantaneous from the point of view of the plant! How didn’t I see this before” Tom finished Violet’s reasoning.

“Often, practice is stranger than theory, especially in a favorable environment,” Violet replied.

“Who’s quote is that?” Tom asked.

“Mine,” Violet replied with a smirk.

Behind the Story

Word count: 1221

I used to joke with a friend we definitely need to have a sci-fi teleporter in our lives. Turns out, one was invented somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

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