Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Across the Distance
by Eric Del Carlo

In the Not-So-Helpful Unit
by Jeremy Szal

I-Juca-Pirama and Rosegarden
by Santiago Belluco

Snow Sharks
by Mord McGhee

A Chip Off the Old Block
by Eamonn Murphy

Girls of Summer
by Rick Novy

Most Certainly
by Brad Preslar

Psi Prison
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Shorter Stories

Revolution 2038
by Darren Goossens

by Jason M. Harley

Junkyard Dog
by Devin Miller


Playing With Dinosaurs
by Chett Gottfried

Prehistoric Monsters Roar on Screen
by Andrew R. Boone



Comic Strips




Most Certainly

By Brad Preslar

TWO GRAVITONS FLIRT BRIEFLY and then abandon all modesty, slipping into a singular position in space. I thrust a fist in the air and spin my chair to see my assistant Jacob, frozen solid.

He stands three steps past the lab table by the open entry door, where he’d just set down a grease-stained white paper sack. Frost covers his entire body, white crystals obscuring even his eyeballs. He tips face-forward and crashes into the metal decking of the observation platform.


I drop my tablet into my chair and rush to his side.

A thin layer of ice covers his body and clothes. The cold reaches for me as I approach, the crisp smell of a freezing night fills my nose. Looking closer, I see moisture crystallizing on his skin as my motion stirs the air above him.

“Jacob? Are you ...”

Without thinking, I reach for his shoulder. The cold burns my hand. I pull back, leaving a layer of skin behind, falling on my backside. My palm burns, but the pain fades into the background.

I feel sick. Nausea twists my stomach, what should I ... He’s ... he’s frozen solid. I look around for help, even drawing in a breath to shout. But that would be pointless. We are alone in my lab, two-and-a-half-kilometers underground. Even help summoned from the intercom at the engine’s control console would take minutes to arrive. What could they even do?

I sit next to Jacob’s body on an eight-square-meter platform that juts out of a concrete-coated underground cavern wall. The space is so large that the floor, ceiling, and even the other side of the cavern lie in darkness, beyond my vision. Beyond the thin safety rail, in the approximate center of this massive cavern, hangs the KelvZero engine.

Two hundred thirty-three shimmering, circular plasma field generators dangle from carbon nanotube wiring. Arranged in a globe, each generator focuses its energy at the core, where a spongy spot in quantum space opens. Gravitons, the particle responsible for the force of gravity, launch from the fifteen-meter particle accelerator built into the wall behind me and follow a twenty-kilometer circle that ends on the opposite side of the cavern. Unfettered by the electromagnetic forces that prevent humans from passing through concrete, the gravitons do just that, flying towards the core of the engine.

That’s where they stack one by one into an increasingly crowded point in space, like pouring the Pacific Ocean into a four-liter bucket. And into that ever-deepening ocean falls the dark matter that no one has ever been able to collect and study. Until today.

It’s magnificent. And it’s horrible. The possibilities are literally endless, yet I feel no joy. Instead, I sit on the metal platform next to my dead assistant with tears in my eyes, gagging on waves of grief.

The engine begins to cycle off, presenting a momentary distraction. I wipe the tears from my face. Engines buried deep within the walls, ceiling, and floor spin the spools of nanotube wiring, re-aligning the field generators in three-dimensional space. Wires uncouple and recouple when two generators cross paths, swinging the generators in a pendulous dance back to their original positions. They reach their resting places and the wires sing out as they take on their weight.

If he could, Jacob would be verifying the nuclear reactor at the base of the cavern is decreasing its power output as it should be. Knowing my grief will wait for me, I set it aside for a moment and attend to the task.

“Rest now, my boy. I’ll take this on for you,” I say.

I cross the platform to the coolant controls, the sound of my steps echoing into the depths of the cavern. The readout tells me all is right with the reactor. The power output decreases as it should. In fact, the only process that didn’t go as planned was Jacob’s death.

Which begs the question, “What if, somehow, the engine wasn’t responsible?”

I sniffle, wiping my nose with my hand. Of course the engine was responsible. And by association, so am I. Yes, he shouldn’t have been inside the chamber, but that’s no excuse. There’s a part of me that reaches for that responsibility, but there’s a deeper part that kicks and flails, refusing to acknowledge it. It squirms away, retreating from blame.

No. This is my fault. No matter how much I want to escape it, I’m certain. I’m absolutely certain. Absolutely. The Pythagorean theorem is a flip of the coin compared to that conclusion. I know it as surely as I knew the KelvZero engine would gather up the gravitons fired at it, and that ocean of gravitons would bring me dark matter.

Resigned, I look to the intercom at my console, rehearsing the words I’ll say to the paramedics, our safety team, even Dr. Zhang. But then, I pause, distracted.

Jacob’s infernal cat, Heisenberg, mews from the open door. I feel a jolt of frustration; he should be locked inside one of the offices adjoining our lab. Immediately, a torrent of guilt douses that frustration. Of course Heisenberg is loose. His master is dead.

He makes his way to Jacob, nose high, whiskers twitching as he comes. Reaching his side, he mews again and looks up to me.

“I know. I know,” I say. Then it hits me. I don’t know. I have no idea what happened to Jacob. I know he froze, that much is obvious. But, I don’t know why. Or really, how. And if I call for help now, I might never know what happened.

The board might call this an experimental accident and let me continue my work, but they might see it differently. They could insist that safety protocols be examined, even strengthened. If Dr. Zhang discovers the engine caused this accident, she’ll insist on process reviews, corrective action, remote monitoring. She might even pull my funding, shut me down. And when I’m so close.

I look back to Jacob. “I’ll call for help, I promise. But sadly, you won’t be any less dead in fifteen minutes.” I imagine he’d agree if he could speak. We’ve both sacrificed so much of our lives for today, one of us even sacrificing their actual life today. I can’t forget that. “Thanks for understanding, my boy.”

I’ll just take a peek at the data before I call anyone. So I can be certain what killed him. Walking back to my console, I catch a whiff of garlic and tomato sauce. My stomach rumbles in response.

Dinner. He’d just fetched our dinner; it waits where he set it on the lab table by the door. I sigh. An empty stomach won’t help me think. I take the bag back to my station, setting it carefully by the bank of monitors. I take the garlic bread, the plastic-wrapped utensil packet, and the tin of ziti out of the bag, revealing the white box at the bottom of the bag. The back of my throat tightens; I know what waits inside the box. Even without opening it, I know. But today, I don’t deserve it. I set it aside.

I unfold and drape the napkin across my right knee, dropping the plastic wrapper into the nearby trash can. Dinner in hand, I page through each of the menu screens, searching for something to explain what just happened to Jacob.

The ziti steams and I push my fork through the layer of melted cheese. I check the field containment settings, the conduction matrix, and the turbulence readings. All normal. Page after page of normal, perfect, as-expected readings. Until I spot the problem.

My fork hangs in mid-air. How could I have missed it? It’s as glaringly obvious as ... damn. As the marinara sauce on the front of my white lab coat.

As I predicted, the gravitons followed the track from the particle accelerator behind my observation platform into the core of the engine. Trapped in the spongy spot in quantum space and cooled to absolute zero, they pooled, pulling in dark matter.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the corresponding expansion in space at that core, and the energy that expansion would require. Yes, I poured the Pacific Ocean into a four-liter bucket. But the space inside that bucket grew accordingly. How could I have missed it? Unbelievable.

The containment field around the engine protected us from the gravitational forces it generated, but the engine hungered for energy. It reached a greedy hand through space and took every bit of molecular energy from poor Jacob, freezing him solid in the process.

I open another window on my monitor, visualizing the energy drain in a straight line from Jacob to the engine. Except, there is no straight line that goes from him to the engine without passing through other sources of energy first. How is that possible? I clear the visualization and look back at the engine.

Of course! I derived the engine’s firing timing from the Fibonacci sequence. It follows that the energy drain might spiral out like a Nautilus shell, instead of moving in a straight line. I change the visualization to create a spiral based on the distance of the plasma generators from the core, tracing a larger and larger circle around the engine until it passes less than a meter behind my chair and intersects the spot where Jacob stood. My stomach drops as I realize how close it came to me.

I lift the blob of cheesy sauce from my jacket and suck it from my finger. Now that I know how it works, can I control it? I could modulate the ... no, that’s no good. Maybe if I added another layer of containment fields, focused on that region it might diffuse the ... no, that won’t work.

Damn! The answer floats away, a mote on the breeze, slipping through my fingers every time I grab for it. I need time. To dig into the data, to experiment. But that’s time I won’t have. The safety reviews, the interviews, the pressure to answer with certainty why Jacob died and ...

Unless. Unless one simple change would have prevented his death. A terrible idea strikes me. But. It could work. It could buy me the time I need to answer my questions by providing a definite, albeit false, cause of death. It would also give Zhang something she could fix immediately.

I pause. Can I actually do it? Should I do it? A successful collection of dark matter could mean a fundamental revision to our comprehension of the universe. I’ve given up so much to get here, and poor Jacob gave his life. The decision clicks. Yes. I can. I should. Deep breath.

First, I need to honor Jacob’s sacrifice, I need to honor Jacob. I remove the small white box from the take-out bag. In his last moments, Jacob brought me my favorite dessert, a Tutto Bianco cannolo. By accepting that gift, I can honor his death, and the additional sacrifice he’s about to make. I open the box, forcing myself to appreciate what lies inside.

The ricotta-based filling overflows from both ends of the flaky, confection sugar dusted shell. White chocolate chips garnish the mounds of filling, little morsels of joy hiding among mouthfuls of overflowing, creamy ecstasy.

My saliva glands should be going into overdrive. Instead, self-loathing shuts them down. I take a bite and my tongue sticks to the back of my teeth. I chew the sugared cream into a dry paste, choking down each bite.

I force myself to stare at Jacob’s body as I chew. Remembering every kindness he ever did for me, I take another bite and chew on. I allow myself a swallow of water to rinse the accumulated sorrow from the back of my tongue. Even the hint of lemon in the filling I usually adore turns to ash in my mouth. Still, I continue.

I have to appreciate the gravity of this decision. I cry as I eat. Snot runs down onto my top lip, mingling with the filling in my mouth. I have never tasted anything so revolting.

Finally finished, I stand and rest a hand on the thin railing that borders the platform. “Forgive me for this, Jacob.” I remove my lab coat and wrap it around my hands to protect my skin. “Thank you,” I whisper, and slide him under the railing and off the platform.

He plummets into the darkness. A mixture of emotions precedes the thump that echoes from the depths. The sound pushes focus ahead of worry, shame and regret.

Jacob sacrificed his life for the sake of our knowledge. I’d be a poor steward if I let that sacrifice be in vain. Steeling my nerves, I press the emergency button beside my console.

“Jacob’s fallen,” I say. “He’s fallen off the platform.”


I lift my eyes from the worn leather bag in my lap to face Dr. Zhang’s contempt. She glares across her desk, her manicured nail tap, tap, tapping on the dark polished wood. She can’t possibly look angrier. Yet, as minutes crawl by, the petite Asian woman looks more and more displeased.

Eventually I turn my face to gaze out the floor-to-ceiling window. Beyond the window, a crystal blue pond rests at the bottom of the wooded valley. Sunlight warms the edges of the water, illuminating the evergreen forest that surrounds the pond and Zhang’s family home. After building this facility in the middle of Western Montana, she built a house for her family next door.

I turn back to Zhang, and my eyes pause on the single framed picture on her desk. Her daughter, Ya, smiles back at me. The teenager is well-known and well-liked around the facility. In fact, Heisenberg came from a litter she found in a box on the highway. Jacob never could say no.

I finally meet Zhang’s eyes again. She says, “Dr. Warner. Your mistake pains me. That’s because I know you to be a brilliant man. However, this isn’t an issue of brilliance. Your neglect of basic safety protocol led to the death of your assistant. That was a problem even the most rudimentary safety planning could have predicted. The loss of life is unfortunate. No, worse than that. Terribly unfortunate. Jacob was a part of our family.”

She glances at the sheet of paper on her desk before sliding it to me. “There’s also the associated cost. The total financial impact of this accident is enormous. Including the clean-up costs, the death benefits to Jacob’s wife, the lost lab time, and the cost required to install a new safety railing, your mistake will cost our foundation three point four million dollars.”

As if I could miss the number printed in bold letters and circled in red ink.

“Three point four million,” she repeats.

I nod. “And I’m sorry. Sorry tha—”

“I am not finished,” she interrupts, holding up a finger. “I expect great things from you and from your work here. However, you should not continue under the impression that I will overlook further mistakes. I won’t. Another incident will mean the end of your employment, your research here, and your access to this facility. It will also mean the end of your career; I am well connected.”

She sits back in her chair and crosses her arms, staring at a spot somewhere between my eyes. Everything in me wants to look away. I resist. Instead, I raise my eyebrows and touch my fingertips to my chest, asking for permission to speak.

She answers, “Yes. Go ahead.”

“Again, Dr. Zhang, I am sorry for my mistake. I will make it my first priority to avoid any such ... ah ... embarrassments in the future.”

She nods. “How?”

“By enacting all of the safety committee’s recommendations.”


“Completing a proactive review of possible safety issues every six months.”

She purses her lips. The movement is almost imperceptible, but in contrast to the frozen mask of her face, it’s impossible to miss.

“Every three months,” I say.

She tilts her head a degree to the right.

“Every month. I’ll do it every—”

She waves a dismissive hand in the air. “Let’s not go overboard. Three will suffice.”

I nod my assent.

“Aside from the unfortunate accident, what progress can you share?”

“It worked.”

Her eyes widen. “You actually, you collected—”

“Dark matter,” I say. “I was right.”

Zhang’s face perks up. “I knew it. Can you reproduce your results?”

“Well, I’d say ... within the month.” I feel a sudden pang of regret. I can’t be certain I can replicate my results safely within a month. Why would I say I could? Because I’d say anything at this point to please her, that’s why.

She squints. “You won’t need more time to evaluate the first run?”

A bead of sweat runs from my left armpit down my ribs. I say, “With a little luck, we should be up and running again inside of a month,” digging my hole deeper. I might be ready by then, but I can’t be certain. Then, inspiration strikes. “That is, a month after they finish the new safety rail.”

As she considers my answer, her phone rings.

She answers, “Hello, Ya.” She listens for a moment. “Did you ask your father?” She holds up a finger and gives me a thin smile. “He did? Why would you think I would answer otherwise? If your father told you that you can’t go out with Peter this weekend, then that’s my answer as well.”

Her smile disappears as she listens to her daughter’s response. “If it was so important, you should have been in before curfew last weekend.” She listens for a moment longer, and then interrupts. “I’ll see you at dinner, Ya. Goodbye.”

She forces her face into a pained smile. “I apologize for the interruption. My daughter can be quite willful.” I nod.

“Dr. Warner, I want to believe you. I want to believe in you. Are you certain?”

“Completely,” I say, wishing I was.


Uncertainty ebbs as I picture the field generators moving through space. The plasma fields cycle on and I see the engine reach for the energy it needs. The nuclear reactor is already at maximum capacity, so of course the engine will need more. Out and out the line spirals, into the cavern around the engine, up through the miles of earth above me, until it terminates at the pre-set target. I trace the stream back to the engine core in my mind’s eye.

“There. That will do, I’m certain of it. Don’t you think?”

Heisenberg mews.

With Jacob gone, I’ve taken to chatting with Heisenberg. I’ve embraced his presence, even allowing him to join me in the cavern while I work. He’s a better companion than I imagined, but I miss Jacob. I feel his absence, and not only as a void in my life.

He knew where things in this lab belonged. Without him organizing, sorting, and ordering the space, I struggle to find tools amidst the clutter. And I’ve lost weight; he always helped me remember to eat. Still, regret won’t bring him back. He’d want me to soldier on in his name.

I swipe my fingers across the tablet in my hands, re-positioning the relevant field generators. That should do it. No. That will do it. I know it will. I’ve spent almost every waking minute since my meeting with Dr. Zhang in this lab. I’ve simulated every imaginable possibility, along with a few unimaginable impossibilities, moving them into the realm of imagined impossibilities.

The recalibration of the field generators will direct the energy drain into a place I’m sure will be safe. We might lose a few fish, but the pond is large enough that only a small portion of the population will be affected.

The engine will drain the heat from the soil as it spirals up to the pond. When the energy drain hits the pond, the warmth remaining in the water should just satisfy the engine’s demands. At one a.m., even the ducks will be elsewhere, and the floating chunk of ice will serve as proof of my success.

This time, I’ve taken precautions. I check the motion detector I left on the dock. It confirms zero activity on the surface. Next I check the wireless camera feed. Not a soul in sight. I’m ready. Almost.

Before I fire the engine, I must remember Jacob. His sacrifice is the only reason my work continues.

Nausea twists my gut as I lift a cannolo from the box. Unable to bear the thought of the now wretched taste of the Tutto Bianco I know so well, I requested an assortment of six different flavors. It doesn’t help, even the idea of an unknown cannolo turns my stomach. Still, I deserve it. I punish myself with bite after bite, chasing them with gulps of water, barely tasting any of it. I lick the sugar from my lips and take a deep breath.

“Thank you, Jacob,” I say.

I start the engine.

The firing sequence is quick, first one, then the second, then the third, fourth and fifth together, and so on. Out and around the globe they go, their blue-green plasma fields illuminating the black cavern surrounding the engine.

I grip the tablet counting down the temperature at the core. My heart thumps, my palms sweat, and my mouth dries. The engine hits absolute zero. The particle accelerator behind me fires and an endless stream of gravitons fills a single space, dragging dark matter along with it. Meanwhile, the energy drain spirals out from the engine’s core.

Yes. Yes! The tablet confirms the readout, and within seconds, the engine cycles off, as I programmed it to do. Now to confirm that I successfully aimed the energy draw. To the pond.

I sprint out of my lab and through the corridors of the building, my lab coat flapping behind me. After an agonizing four minute ride in the express elevator, I burst from the doors into the building lobby. I almost crash into Frank, the night security guard. Almost. He dodges our collision faster than I imagined him capable of moving. “Sorry!” I yell back, without slowing. Time is of the essence.

Flying out of the building and down the sidewalk, I see the curved track of frozen earth leading to the water’s edge. Then I feel the cold as I approach the pond. Which is odd. I intended to freeze a fraction of the water. The energy drain should have happened on the shore of the pond, leaving a shelf of ice to signal success.

That’s not the case. No, not at all. The glassy surface reflects the blue-tinted LED lamps around the pond. The slight breeze creates no ripples on the water. Because it’s not water, it’s solid, crystal-clear ice. Moonlight flickers on the scales of the fish frozen inside the ice below my feet.

I step to the edge and tap the frozen surface of the water with my toe. Solid. I step onto the frozen pond. Thick, sturdy ice supports my steps, zero give, no cracks. Is the whole pond frozen? I peer out across the surface. Except for the far corner, by the dock, where something pokes up out of the ice. It’s irregular, like the shape of two ... Oh no. Oh, God, no.

I scrabble my way across the ice, slipping and sliding, even falling twice before reaching the other side. I near the shapes and the bottom drops out of my stomach. The heads of a young boy and girl protrude from the ice, frozen in a tender kiss.

No, no, no. Oh, God, no. How is this possible? This area is closed on the weekends, only employees are allowed on campus. This can’t be happening. The motion detector I placed on the dock confirmed there was no activity. I know it did.

I clamber up the wooden ladder and see a pile of clothes, laid carefully atop the motion detector. Of course they laid their clothes on the motion detector. Just perfect. Christ. But what about the camera?

It sits on the edge of the dock, exactly where I placed it. Only, rotated 180 degrees. They repositioned it. They moved the camera so they could go skinny dipping. How did I not notice? Then the minutes I spent observing Jacob’s memory come rushing back, complete with the sickly sweet taste of the cannolo. I retch.

How could this go so wrong? I was certain this would work. “Of all the nights. Of all the places,” I say. Looking down at the couple, I continue, “Why here? Why would you ...”

It’s only from this angle that I recognize Zhang’s daughter, Ya. Oh no. Not Ya.

I climb back down to the ice, and a closer look confirms my fears. I remember the phone call in Zhang’s office. “You must be Peter,” I say to the boy.

My head spins. I turn away, put both hands on my knees, and vomit the cannolo I choked down just minutes ago. My stomach emptied, the nausea recedes.

Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I stand up and start back across the ice to the lab. The ice chills my feet as I walk. I see the tragedy in their deaths, but I can’t let them be for nothing. Just as Jacob did, they’ve given their lives. It’s up to me to carry on. I must. As much as I want to shoulder the guilt, I force myself to compartmentalize. I have a task to do. I set my emotions aside, leaving them on the ice. Walking on, I begin a mental inventory of what I’ll need to complete my experiment.


Security bangs on the outside of the lab door, THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! I disabled the intercom and the door mechanism, but eventually they’ll knock it down. Eventually.

Heisenberg leaps from the floor to my chair to the top of the control console, where he answers with a hiss.

I struggle to concentrate. I’ve given up on finding my laptop, but if I could only find my tablet. I tilt a one meter stack of notebooks on my desk chair, thinking it might be under there. The tower wobbles, teeters, and I grab for it, too late. The notebooks crash to the floor.

“Unbelievable.” The tablet isn’t in the chair. It isn’t in the pile. It isn’t in the desk. Where is it?

THOOOOOM! They’re using something heavy. Patience, Warner. Even with a battering ram, they’ll need at least another ten or fifteen minutes to get the door down. That is, unless they have explosives? Ridiculous. This is building security. And even if they did blow the door, it would probably damage the hall more than the door, and they’d likely ...

Focus. Deep breaths. Focus.

The tablet. Find the tablet. Piles of papers, printouts, and notebooks write a run-on sentence punctuated by half-eaten takeout containers across every flat surface in my lab. It’s so dark in here, why is it so dark? How am I supposed to find anything without light?

Wait, I put in an emergency flashlight, didn’t I? Yes. I open the drawer, and wonderful. There it waits. I flick the button on, and of course, the batteries are dead. As dead as the three victims of the KelvZero engine. No. I can’t blame the engine. The three people who sacrificed their lives for this discovery.

I throw the flashlight across the room, knocking one of the towering piles of printouts and notebooks off a table. And in the first stroke of good luck in recent memory, I spot the back-lit screen of my tablet on that very table.

Sweet mercy, my tablet. I dart across the room and pluck it from between two more stacks before they can fall and bury it again. Not a moment too soon, as the vibration of another impact from the lab door sends a cascade of books and paper to the floor.

Static crackles from the intercom. “We’re coming in, Dr. Warner.” I hope my work on the door mechanism proves more permanent than my work on the intercom.

I scurry back to my monitor, tablet in hand. I just need a few more minutes. My fingers dance on the tablet, adjusting, calibrating, tweaking. It won’t be as exact as it would be if I had my laptop, but it should be close enough.

THOOOOOOOMMMMM. THOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM. My coffee mug, papers, and laptop fall from my control console into the dim light of the monitors. My laptop? My laptop! I reach for it, shoving the pile of paper aside, slicing my left hand on a shard of my now broken coffee mug.

“Shit.” I dig the laptop out with my right hand only to realize it’s every bit as broken as my mug. “Shit, shit, shit,” I shout, slamming the laptop to the floor and stomping the screen into shards for good measure. “Shit!”

Deep breath. I still have my tablet.

I continue prepping the KelvZero engine, doing numbers in my head, calculating spatial co-ordinates on the fly, and just generally making shit up. Oh, this will be magnificent. I’m certain. Well, mostly certain. No. Be strong, Warner. I am absolutely certain this will be the best possib—

THOOMPF, thunders the explosion that blows the lab door off its hinges. It crashes into a lab table, smoke trailing behind it. It appears I underestimated building security.

Five guards storm in, guns drawn, flashlights probing the smoky haze. Frank from the front desk leads the group, sweeping a compact machine gun across the room. He moves with an agility and focus I recognize from our encounter earlier this morning. Still, I wouldn’t have guessed he had a machine gun. Yes, I definitely underestimated building security.

Their gun-mounted lights flit across the ruins of my lab, briefly disappearing into the depths of the cavern before finally resting on me.

“Clear,” says Frank into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. No warm greeting, just an icy stare as he lowers his gun.

Zhang steps through the door and strides through the rubble towards me.

“I couldn’t have known,” I say. “There was no way to know they’d be swimming in the pond.”

“You,” she says, her voice hard and angry.

“It was an accident. The camera, they mov—”

She stabs a finger towards me. “Murderer. You murdered my daughter. And Jacob too, didn’t you?”

My fingers twitch, centimeters above the tablet screen. I shake my head. “Accidents, Zhang. They were accidents.”

She looks at the tablet in my hands. “What are you? You’re not seriously thinking you’re going to ...”

“If we quit here, it will have all been for nothing. Everything we’ve sacrificed, everything you’ve invested, Jacob, Peter, and Ya—”

Her face flushes. “No! You will not use Ya”—she chokes on the word—“you will not use my daughter’s name.”

She pauses, breathes through her nose, and gathers her emotions. She clenches her teeth and glares at me. “That was no sacrifice. Your incompetence killed my daughter. You will not use her death to justify any more of this,” she says, indicating the chaos around her.

“But you don’t under—”

“No. You’re done.” She nods to Frank. He lifts the barrel of his weapon. I expected as much, but hoped I could find a way to convince her. I’m so close. I know it.

I tap the screen, firing the engine. Frank’s eyes reflect the light of the plasma as the KelvZero engine cycles on.

Zhang says, “Turn it off.”

At that moment, the monitor reports absolute zero at the core. The particle accelerator fires. Zhang’s focus goes to the screen as it shows gravitons pouring into the core, pulling dark matter with them.

Zhang gasps. “Is that?”

“Indeed.” I say, adjusting the monitor to improve her view. So far so good. None of us have frozen. Directing the energy drain back into the engine worked. It actually wor—

A stripe of frost appears on the interior walls of the cavern, running up and down in a spiral as far as I can see. The concrete cracks, loud as a cannon. I flinch, and strips of the wall fall into the depths of the cavern below. The impact shakes the earth, the cavern, and the platform where we all stand.

“Dear God, Warner. What have you done?” says Zhang.

That is a very good question. What have I done, indeed?

Another energy-seeking spiral reaches out from the core, shutting down the plasma engines and freezing the carbon nanotube wires. They snap, sending the generators raining down into the base of the cavern. The impacts reverberate up with ear-splitting intensity, shaking everything in sight. But instead of the remaining engines shutting off, they hover in the local gravity well of the core. It reaches out, seeking more energy, completely out of control.

I turn to Zhang just in time to see the last of the guards flee through the remains of the entry door. Concrete rains down from the ceiling in chunks, the impacts thundering through the cavern.

“Off, Warner! Turn ... It ... Off!” she shouts over the noise.

“With what?”

“You can’t turn it off?” she asks, fear replacing anger in her voice.

I imagine the field generators littering the floor of the cavern, far out of sight. A few dangle from single threads, yet the engine now hovers in space, free from the effects of any gravity outside of the ever-expanding universe at its core.

“It’s reaching out for energy, any way it can get it. I used the containment field to direct the drain before, but now ...” I wave my hand at the remaining field generators dangling like broken puppets. “Eventually it will take every bit of molecular energy from this cavern, the spirals will extend into the earth above us, and then beyond.”

“How far beyond?” she asks.

I shrug. “I’m not going to pretend to know.”

“Will it stop?” she asks. “Will it ever stop seeking energy?”

Something she said. It’s seeking energy. The engine is seeking energy.

“Warner!” she shouts.

What if I could give it more energy than it could handle?

“The reactor,” I say.

She glances back to the readouts. “It’s running at maximum capacity.”

“The coolant controls,” I shout, pointing to the control panel shining on the wall beside the door. “We’ll start a meltdown.” I scoop up Heisenberg in one arm and we dash through the ruins of my lab to the reactor controls.

Holding Heisenberg close to my body, I enter determined keystrokes on the panel. Meanwhile, the KelvZero engine’s glow intensifies, tinting the room a sickly green. The reactor control panel strobes red, warning of the impending meltdown. I acknowledge the warning, executing the command to close the valves carrying coolant to the reactor.

I turn back to Zhang. “Done.”

She asks, “Did we do it? Will it work?”

I picture the sequence, the rods overheating, burning through their containment material, the heat rising and meeting the engine, perhaps adding to the energy output by splitting the remaining water into hydrogen and oxygen, then igniting the hydrogen. I see the white-hot explosion rocketing up the shaft of the cavern, surrounding the engine in flames. I picture it satisfying and then overwhelming the engine’s demand for energy. Will it work? Maybe. Am I certain?

Heisenberg mews. END

Brad Preslar writes from Nashville where he lives with his wife, Ellie, and their dog, Stella. His fiction is forthcoming in “Metaphorosis,” and has appeared in “The Colored Lens.” He also maintains a blog with much of his original fiction.


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