Rifter: Part One
by Float Overblow
(t8n-depart:"dissolve")+(t8n-arrive:"flicker")[[New Game->Earth as we know it]]//The world is dying.//
That is the only way to describe a mass extinction, for what is the world without life? Dozens of lifeless worlds dance through Sol. Only one supports complex life.
//Only one supports us. We failed it.//
Too little, too late, people are beginning to wake up to the sentence we've given ourselves. Greed, war, hate, and fear have dug our grave.
//We're not quite in it yet. Like so many, I became a scientist because I wanted to find some way out of the impossible task we've made of survival. But lately, my dogs are the only thing that keeps me sane and working, because I don't think it's coming.//
[[Dogs?->Dogs.]]//I have two of them. One named Sarah, the other named Tau. Both were strays.
There are a lot of strays. With the coast uninhabitable, a lot of people just didn't have the resources to take care of their pets. I help as many as I can.
Some days, I can stomach the impending loss of humanity. But we don't deserve dogs, and they don't deserve to lose with us.//
You tap away at your keyboard, journaling the beginning of your daily report - you submit these to the Savannah River National Laboratory. It's rare that anything important happens, perhaps once a month when the accelerator is activated. Today is one such day.
As far as you know, you are the world's foremost expert on high-energy metamaterials, possibly the last that will have a firm grasp on the subject. Five years ago you were given the task to explore the properties of a specific subset of osmium-based microlenses. You have faith in your work, you know it could pan out if some assumptions about the fine energy constant prove correct, but it is slow going.
[[Finish your report.->Warming up Colossus]](set: $StartDelay to false)You sigh and minimize the window on your word processor, and open up the interface to Colossus. It's your pet name for the equipment you've designed and ordered from the prototyping division of Savannah River. You push the 'Initialize' button and lean back, staring at the thing.
It isn't even particularly large for an accelerator, a bit of a joke really. About the size of a chest freezer, though the military-grade cryogenics were highly optimized to cool only the necessary apparatus, so unfortunately useless to store your beer. Seating and calibrating the target had been yesterday's task, so all there was to do was wait.
You look over at Sarah, who is struggling with Tau to retain hold of the chew toy they brought from home at some point. They're bumping around on the floor - you laugh and give Tau some encouragement. The smaller dog usually loses these tussles.
[[Get up and make coffee.->Coffee!]]
[[Try to calm the dogs down.->Outside.]]You let them play while you set the kettle, dumping the last bit of instant coffee into your mug after rinsing it in the lab's sink. Sarah, the australian shepherd, is making frustrated grunts while Tau nips at her face trying to get her to flinch and drop the section of rope. She springs up suddenly, full of energy, and dashes away.
Her body bumps the collimeter for Collosus. The edge of your vision warps a little, and you feel a sudden surge of vertigo. Your mug nearly drops from your hand as you collapse to a seated position leaning against the counter.
"Woah. What the hell?"
Sarah and Tau both look shaken, sitting too, whining their heads off in a way you've never heard before. After a moment, the vertigo subsides, and you hear the kettle start to screech. Clamboring to your feet you pour the hot water into the mug, and set it on the counter wary of another episode.
[[Look at the computer->The readout]]
[[Pull the plug->Just to be safe]](set: $StartDelay to true)You go over to rub both their tummies - they're getting a little rambunctious, though the equipment is secure enough. Tau grabs your arm instead to play, her mouth loose around your wrist, and you laugh. You walk with them up the rug-covered metal steps and throw one of the tennis balls you keep there for a while.
They chase it relentlessly down the driveway, overjoyed at this new competition. Sarah is larger than Tau, an australian shepherd and hound mix respectively. Tau proudly returns the ball first, angling his head away from Sarah and jauntily strutting up to you to take it back to throw again.
This goes on longer than you realize - you check your phone and half an hour has passed. Colossus should be fully initialized at this point. You call the dogs back in, both clearly disappointed but faithful to your commands.
They trot downstairs ahead of you, Sarah panting more heavily than Tau - she was older by several years and beginning to flag in energy, though she'd recover soon enough.
[[Take a seat.->Inside.]]You poke through the data trying to figure out what caused the distortion. You notice something bizarre - the power output graph for the collimeter wavered upwards just before Sarah bumped it, and plateaued at 100% before settling back down. This is technically physically possible, but it's in some ways a measure of power loss, so it should never reach it, never mind flatline there.
"Are we over unity?" you ask no one in particular. Sarah whines, pushing her face under your arm for reassurance. You glance back and Tau seems to have completely recovered now that the other dog has forgotten the rope.
This was, after all, the goal - and yet the accelerator has not activated. You struggle to understand why it could be having any such effect. Your mind is firing in near panic - this is unexplored territory.
Perhaps you really should shut down to document these findings?
[[Turn it off.->Just to be safe]]
[[Enable logging and press 'fire mode'->The rift]](set: $StartDelay to true)You power down the collimeter. There's just no way this should have happened. You don't even know what happened - the vertigo, the warping, felt by you and the dogs, is like nothing you've experienced.
It had to be the target. "But I didn't start the thing!" You stare at where you slid the wafer into Collosus, hidden underneath radiation shielding.
Flickers of a memory, in your Intro EE class, of a discussion of circuits firing without power due to electromagnetic interference. Shielding. There is no shielding that exists in physics for what you're attempting.
The hair on the back of your neck rises as you consider what might be happening. You're attempting to strengthen the gravitational force using other dimensions. What if...
[[Restart the machine.->Warming up again.]]
[[Take a walk.->Walk time.]]Your finger does not reach the screen before the shudders start. The tip twitches as if you've been zapped, and you recoil through rippling waves of nausea, watching your hand retreat in slow motion and feeling a peculiar resistence there. You turn your head, and your head keeps turning - you're slammed with an overpowering wave of vertigo, falling to your knees.
You hear Sarah and Tau yelping, but like you're underwater. Your vision is blurred, either from squinting or tears. You empty your breakfast on the tiles.
The air, the very space around you is... groaning. Or grinding against something. The sound is horrible, visceral, and it won't stop. Your skin crinkles under the force of its sound.
You feel a sharp pain inside of your chest as the air there expands and contracts. You collapse, coughing, eyes watering, narrowly avoiding your own vomit. And you simply wait for it to stop, if it ever will.
[[Wait.->Relief]]You decide your caution was for nothing and start the process up again. You note the deviation in your experiment in the log. You consider tapping on the collimeter chassis when it's done to see if the ripple happens again, but decide the idea is silly.
Tau waddles over and bumps his head against your ankle. You scratch him behind the collar like he enjoys.
[[Enable logging and turn on 'fire mode'.->The rift]]You bring Tau and Sarah out, climbing up the metal stairs to their eager panting, worn out tennis ball in hand. Exiting through the empty guard station, you flinch as your eyes adjust to the harsh sunlight. It is unbearably humid and warm, as usual for North Carolina.
You throw the ball down the gravel path, towards home. You wonder, not for the first time, why you don't just move here - it's less crowded than the shelters, and with a cart, you could as easily walk to town for food and supplies as you do to work. The quiet here is the best thing about the job.
Well, next to probing the boundaries of known physics. And bringing your pets to work. And not having to deal with the bureaucracy of Savannah River every day.
It's actually a pretty good job.
You think about what could have caused the ripple. It had obviously been felt by the two bounding away down the path, though they seem fully recovered. //Maybe there's a short somewhere...//
You dismiss the idea. Shorts were not a problem for the densely-sealed graphene circuits of the national laboratory's finest. An arc, perhaps, but if so, it hinted that your experiment was about to see success.
[[Go inside->Back to work.]]The sensation slowly fades, but you do not rise for several minutes after, fear paralyzing you. For a moment you were convinced you were going to die, and the constant of the cold tile was all that grounded you from mindless panic. Gradually, you regain your curiosity and lift your head.
You feel cold air. A tree fills your vision, and fragments of concrete spill around you.
Tau and Sarah are sniffing at a stump. You rise to your feet and look around - where you were is filled with forest, as if a diorama had replaced a neat orb of a sylvan scene with your workplace like a melon ball. //This is impossible.//
Overhead you see the roof beginning to sag, dangerously. A massive, chest-rumbling groan of twisting metal pushes you forward, stumbling in panic, and then there is blinding daylight. You throw your arm over your face, startled. Sarah and Tau are barking like mad.
[[Your eyes adjust.->In the forest]]After playing for about a half hour longer with the two, you call them over and trudge downstairs. The rugs on the steps need cleaning, something you've been putting off because it meant keeping the dogs home. The metal grating was great to avoid slipping and to keep clean easily but it caught at their toenails and made for painful injuries.
You look at the data again while Sarah settles down at your feet. Slumping down into your office chair you decide there's nothing for it but to reinitialize. No other oddities apparent, you enable logging and hit 'fire'.
[[The world shifts.->The rift]](set: $ForestDelay to false)Behind you lies the wreckage of your workspace, some eighteen feet of it sliced neatly into a sphere, a bizarre mound of brick capping it all, sliced so cleanly it had the mirror sheen of polished stone. The only thing holding it up was a metal doorway that had led to your bathroom - you shudder, thinking about what would have happened if it hadn't been there to momentarily lend support to the roof.
You approach, and poke through the wreckage - the whole upper portion of the sphere has slumped away from your workspace. You find what you're looking for, a USB drive half ripped away from the port it was in. You snap it off at the connector knowing it can be repaired - it contains the readings just prior to the event.
The event. //What the hell happened? Where am I?//
[[Get the lay of the land.->Looking around]]
[[Keep looking through the wreck.->The sample]]You sit at your computer and examine the metrics from Colossus. Everything looks normal, until Sarah rolls to her other side and bumps the collimeter. You see the power output spike, suddenly, and your peripheral vision //warps//. You feel a sudden surge of vertigo.
You'd chalk it up to blood pressure but Sarah and Tau are both whining. At you? you're unsure. Maybe you should see a doctor.
That power reading is worrisome, but it appears to have settled back down to normal levels, so you set the collimeter to fire mode, enable logging, and reach for the button to fire.
[[Fire.->The rift]](set: $ForestDelay to false)The area is gorgeous, much chillier than NC. You rub your arms, your short sleeve t-shirt not doing much to warm you in the breeze. Clearly you aren't in Kansas, either - there are massive conifers, and little undergrowth in the shade they make.
On closer inspection, they aren't redwoods, but their size could have fooled you. You wonder where in the world trees like this still exist - climate change has affected nearly every biome and last you heard there were mudslides in BC. You call your dogs to your side and consider your options.
You know the best way to find civilization, of any kind, was to find a river and follow it downstream. Some kind of construction was inevitable, even along little creeks, and creeks fed rivers. You could also try climbing one of the trees to get a better vantage, but that seemed risky.
[[Climb a tree.->Climbing]]
[[Try to find water.->Walking]](set: $ForestDelay to true)You want one more thing, the metamaterial sample you put in the instrument's target slot. Ideally the folks at Savannah River could replicate it from your logs, but maybe there was some fluke that caused this they couldn't know about. It seems to sit at the epicenter, and you put your body into clearing enough of the wreckage to reach it.
You sigh in frustration, realizing after several minutes of work there's just too much mass between you and it to manage. You'd need a jackhammer to blow through all the mortar and brick, and then you wonder if it would be too flattened in the instrument to recognize. You set the idea aside for now, and look around.
[[Look around you.->Looking around]](set: $ForestDelay to true)It takes several attempts and scratched palms, but after clearing away the dead lower branches, you pull yourself up the trunk of a promising specimen and hoist yourself over its first sturdy branch, ungracefully dragging your legs up with the branch painfully digging into your stomach. Tau and Sarah watch you, laughing silently in a doggy way. "Stay," you say, unnecessarily - how could they miss this entertainment?
You move so that one foot is lodged into the crook of the branch, and begin the slow process of testing and manuevering to higher branches. They all seem healthy this high up but you don't want to risk finding one with some unexpected rot. You are so focused on moving higher that you almost fail to notice that you've gotten to where you wanted to be.
You look up and, through the V of the trees nearby, you see the distant landscape. Smooth hills, lower than you, indicate a valley of some kind, and where there are valleys, there's water. You notice a speck in the distance, flying through the air - its outline is strange.
//A drone.// You feel an odd sense of relief seeing your first artifact of civilization. You begin to climb back down.Double-click this passage to edit it.