The end of humanity began with the silent collision between estranged worlds. No scream was heard, no tear flowed, no blood spilled … all of that would come later in buckets.
I gulped the last of my Starbucks, setting the empty on Mindy’s desk while at the same time slipping a winter parka from over my suit and extending it to the girl who scurried from the coffee maker, steaming mug in hand.
“Mr. Johnson,” Mindy’s Dolce pumps clattered against the marble. “What …?” She took my covering, replacing it with the fresh coffee.
I inhaled the warmth. “It’s cold outside.”
Her lips pursed beneath widening eyes. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Monday?” I checked my watch. “5:32?” I stared at the keeper of my calendar as she brushed my coat and hung it in a cedar lined hutch.
“The senate subcommittee?” She scowled. “Testimony on inter-dimensional research?”
I raised the mug to my lips and sipped. “Get me Senator …” Turning toward my office, I flipped through names in my mind.
“Griffin,” Mindy reminded. “I put a call in while you clearing security. You’ve been rescheduled to after lunch. The Senator will call back.” She stood straight, efficiency even in posture. “I’ve also phoned your wife. Latroya will pack your bag, the charcoal suit. A courier is on the way to your house now. It will be waiting at the airport.” She squinted. “Two hours.”
“Griffin, right.” I rubbed my brow.
“Tisha says to fly safe, she loves you, and wants pizza when you get home.” The phone on her desk chirped. “The Senator. I’ll transfer him.”
I pressed the blinking button on the speakerphone as the heavy office door swung closed. “Bill,” stepping around the mahogany desktop I sat leaning forward on the leather chair. “How’s your family?”
“They’re good, Thomas. Thank you. My granddaughter is turning twelve. She has a big party planned back in Tennessee. I’m hoping to wrap up these hearings on time.” His voice lingered, the last word stretched into multiple syllables, accusatory, concerned.
I flushed, “Having a bit of trouble getting air born. Thanks for rescheduling.”
Outside my window, a bird hopped among pine branches dusted with frost and the remnants of persistent snow. The earliest signs of spring, songbirds. Change seemed inevitable.
“Listen,” the Senator’s voice lowered, “Stevens has lined up some tough experts against you. I’ve read the advanced reports.” He swallowed, a dry, crackling sound. “Is what they say true? You’re creating an inter-dimensional rift? Shouldn’t we know what’s on the other side before …?”
I glanced at the elevator across the office. It led to a research facility nearly a mile below the surface gouged out of solid granite. A bunker sheathed behind multiple containment fields, powered by a dozen nuclear reactors, and housing the world’s only neutronium accelerator. It was my revolutionary masterpiece … my portal.
I waved a dismissive hand and leaned back against the headrest. “A billion dollars of scientific grants,” I listened to the sparrows chirping, “and now you get cold feet?”
“But I never thought you’d get this far …”
The office door wrenched open. Mindy fidgeted, face pale, hand trembling as she pointed to the computer screen behind me.
My back stiffened. “I’ll be there in a few hours, Senator.” I studied her. “We’ll, um, do lunch.” I pressed the button, disconnecting the call.
“It’s the lab. Something’s … wrong.” She backed away and fell.
My monitor flashed the surveillance images from near the accelerator housing. A red light swiveled there, pulsing like an arterial wound through an expanding cloud of hyper-energized vapor.
“What?” I bolted up, leaning closer.
From beneath me a nauseating pulse, a silent contraction that could be neither heard nor felt … at least not through the physical senses.
A foreboding silence engulfed the office, the birds, and beyond. As if creation knew something had slipped out of alignment, and blamed … me.
For an eternal instant all was still.
I stumbled, pressing the intercom. “Security, what’s going on down there? Security!”
The phone crackled, “Breach in outer containment.” The voice coughed, gasped.
I ran my hand through my hair, tugging. Impossible. The containment walls were 15 feet thick reinforced concrete. Nothing in this world could breach that. “Say again …”
Commotion screeched through the speaker. Garbled shouts mixed with gunshots. “Run! Run! …”
The elevator door trembled as the lights flickered and died.
I realized I wasn’t breathing.
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