It started with a bend in a piece of metal, followed by the most exciting phrase a scientist can hear in a lab.
“Well, that was odd…”
At the same time most of the scientists didn’t hear it, mostly because of the alarms.
Making things disappear was nothing new. The researchers at the Ronfort Facility knew about making things disappear. They did it all the time. Often by accident.
By now it also was common to make things appear, though they had to answer to difficult questions like ‘how,’ and ‘where,’ and most embarrassingly ‘why?’ But making something predictably do both was new. If only it had been the metal they were aiming for…
The researchers stood at the end of the Bolson laser, staring at what remained of the laboratory, slowly running their hands over their bodies, looking for shrapnel or burn wounds. There weren’t any. This wasn’t a miracle, this was a hiccup in science. Instead of the reaction they were hoping for, there was an explosion. It blew the test chamber apart, leaving the apple on the plinth entirely intact while destroying several hundred thousand pounds’ worth of equipment.
Not that the cost mattered either.
The cylindrical chamber which had smelt so strongly caustic and static now reeked of smoke. The Bolson laser was now a smoldering tube of ribboned steel. Most of the fittings of the room had fallen to the floor, computers split open with their contents dumped out and pipes burst spitting steam in all directions. And most notably of all, though it took them a minute to realise it, were the remains of the chamber door lying on the ground, slowly shifting in and out of reality, rocking back and forth. They could clearly see parts of it, but those were twisted and strange, and almost resisted being looked at directly. As it swayed, parts of it disappeared, and as it pitched back again other parts came clearly into view.
The team stood staring at it. At their front was Corrine Ashby, her mind skipping logical beats in fits of activity. She was the only one who understood what just happened.
Corrine removed her goggles. “Is everyone okay?” she said.
There was an embarrassed shuffle amongst the crew. She turned around to look. They were all fixed with wide eyes. ‘Okay’ probably wasn’t the best way to describe them.
Corrine continued. “Is everybody alive?”
The team looked around, relaxing and rubbing their eyes. Finally they made a general confirmatory mutter.
“Right.” As soon as they moved, Corrine realised she wasn’t blinking, just staring and being very conscious of her breath. She understood what she was seeing. She had written theses and essays on extra-dimensional objects, and now that she was looking at one, she felt that she had seen it before, that it was unsurprising and workaday.
She remembered growing up in a town many miles from here. She remembered seeing smoke rings rising from the forest, and asking her teacher what they were. The elderly preceptor, Mrs. James, fuzzy with memory now but warm with childhood sympathy, told her not to venture out there, because the forest was home to dragons.
Real live monsters! Fire-breathing beasts that lived in the woods near her school! Imagine the tales she could tell, and her infamous stories in the playground, if she saw them. When Mrs. James looked away, Corrine dashed out across the fields, into the dark pine forest, thick with smoke and the smell of adventure.
But as she approached the source of the smoke, there was something very wrong. Going over the top of the embankment, she saw a group of gypsies burning tires. At the time it was surprising; the smell of burnt rubber was still fresh in her memory, and in the room. But now, as an adult and a scientist, the thrill of discovery was gone, even in the smoldering wreck of the lab. Every mystery ever solved turned out to be not magic. There was always the new frontier, but there was always the risk that the frontier would end and the light of knowledge would extinguish the enchantment of the unknown. But the thrill of exploration, of going forth, was burning a hole in her head.
Corrine looked around the room, uncertain of what to say. Now that everything was calm the rest of the team could get on with some good old-fashioned panicking. They didn’t realise it yet, but two hundred miles away the shrapnel of the explosion was materialising back into the three-dimensional realm, falling from the sky as a rain of heavy metal, frightening hillside farmers and knocking over port-a-loos. They also didn’t realise that had those bits of metal not twisted, they would all be dead right now. On the other hand, had the experiment not bent the objects into another dimension, there wouldn’t have been an explosion in the first place, which causes the sort of logical loop in causality that can turn people to alcoholism or religion.
She looked back to the metal, rocking back and forth like a dance of invitation, or a dare. She understood what it meant in these dimensions, but on the far side, who knew? It was anyone’s guess. Anything could be out there.
She stepped towards the piece of metal, largely ignored by her colleagues. It seemed to hum as it shifted. As she got closer to it she could almost see the edge where it bent out of known space. It looked like a border of hot oil, multicolored and streaky. This, too, was something she had seen before, but what did that become? What would it turn into?
She reached out, driven by a craving she could hardly articulate or understand, and grabbed hold of the twisted metal as it bent out of this world.
Jabez Crisp writes in England.