18 December 2012
A sci-fi short story inspired by Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”.
Munic hurried along the dimly lit corridors of the C-wing of the Neutrino lab. It was past midnight, and he had received an alert on his phone sent by one of the monitoring terminals. His palms and brows were trickling sweat despite the unusually cold night. His off-white Oxford shirt was unevenly buttoned and lazily tucked in, but he didn’t seem to notice, or for that matter, care.
Munic had been at the lab for twenty six years. For the better part of his career, he had been perfecting his Neutrino experiment, the one he hypothesised, would provide definitive proof for the existence of parallel universes. His adamance about his ideas had earned him some admiration, but mostly displeasure. Still, Munic enjoyed nearly unhindered access to the lab and its facilities, the fruits of the company he had enjoyed with the right fraternity in his good years.
Munic swiped his access card and clicked open the door to the terminal room. There were half a dozen screens rife with activity—numbers, graphs, plots. However, Munic’s eyes were fixated on terminal 3. There was a small message in a corner of the screen that was flashing at regular intervals—“00:08 PARTICLE LOST AT CRITICAL VELOCITY”. Munic read the message again and again. He frantically scanned the numbers to look for any errors. The clock struck five. Munic had analysed the data in all ways possible. He looked at the flashing message in despair—“00:08 PARTICLE LOST AT CRITICAL VELOCITY”.
The bitter black coffee gave away steam that seemed to swirl into alluring apparitions. Munic firmly held the coffee cup in his hands, lost in another world. He hadn’t slept in four days. He had been re-running his experiment, and every night at the exactly the same moment, terminal 3 showed the same message—“00:08 PARTICLE LOST AT CRITICAL VELOCITY”. Munic’s elusive neutrinos were travelling at near speed of light, only to vanish into the void. No matter how many times he tweaked the parameters, the particles vanished at that particular velocity, just like that, making a mockery of his sanity. Munic found himself lost in a haze of questions, oblivious to the bustle around him in the lab’s cafeteria.
It was a cold November morning. Munic sat at his desk, staring at terminal 3—“00:08 PARTICLE LOST AT CRITICAL VELOCITY”. The slowly flashing message seemed to cast a hypnotic charm on him. Munic wasn’t blinking. He had forgotten how to blink. His dark sunken eyes appeared to barely sustain the weight of his eyelids. It had been three months since he first saw the message. He had spent almost every day, and most of his nights in the lab, tweaking his experiment. Every glimmer of hope he had for a changed outcome to the experiment was shattered by the same message that flashed in the now familiar corner of terminal 3. Munic slowly turned his gaze towards the half open letter on his desk—“Third and final warning of disciplinary action …”
The C-wing was filled with speculative whispers from the crowd that had gathered there. The police made way for the medical professionals slowly pushing the gurney laden with Munic’s lifeless body. The hollow eyes, disarrayed facial hair, and the protruding cheekbones off which flesh seemed to had dried away, made his shrunken pale face unfamiliar to those who were once acquainted with it. It was announced by the administrator that Munic’s body would meet its end at the state crematorium, as he had no known next of kin. Monday was set to have a memorial gathering in the lab’s atrium. The whispers continued for a while. Slowly, the crowd dispersed, and the C-wing returned to its usual cold self, with only faint echoes of buzzing terminals.
Munic hurried along the dimly lit corridors of the C-wing of the Neutrino lab. It was past midnight, and he had received an alert on his phone sent by one of the monitoring terminals. He swiped his access card and clicked open the door to the terminal room. As if instinctively, terminal 3 caught his eye. He inched towards it slowly with slight bewilderment. In a corner of the screen which seemed eerily familiar, a message slowly flashed at regular intervals—“00:08 PARTICLE DETECTED AT CRITICAL VELOCITY”.