Sewing Strange Threads - by D.M. Pruden
Not too long ago, in an ill-conceived moment of inspiration, I asked my readers to submit some titles for a possible short story for me to write.
Suffice it to say, the results were overwhelming and a final winner of five of the best suggestions was chosen by popular vote. The result is the story you are about to read.
The first thing to note is that this is a dynamic page of a work in progress. As I write the story, I will post updates here, in all its ugly, first draft glory: performance art, of a sort.
I invite you to read what I have written (to date) and send me your comments via email (email@example.com). These comments can include suggestions, guesses as to what might happen in yet to be added parts of the story, etc...pretty much anything you want to tell me.
So, without further ado, I present, Sewing Strange Threads
Sewing Strange Threads - Part 1 - First draft
“I just saw the sun blink.”
“What are you talking about, Ari?”
I turn back to the video screen, perplexed by my own words. Did I really say that out loud?
Sasha’s big green eyes stare back at me across a dozen lightyears. “The sun just dimmed for a fraction of a second,” I say.
“Has Uncle made you work through the night again? The last time that happened you thought ants crawled up your leg when you spoke to me.”
“No, Father hasn’t done that for a long time. I know what I saw.”
“That isn’t possible, is it?”
Sacha is not only my cousin, but my best friend. She’s not a scientist. Like most back home, she is an artist, though more liberally educated than many. I am the black sheep of the family, following in my disreputable father’s footsteps.
“No, it shouldn’t be, but I know what I saw.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I see you are wearing the jacket.”
Caught off guard by her non-sequitur, I stare back at her, uncomprehending. Then, with the flash of realization, I pluck admiringly at my sleeve.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”
“I think it looks marvellous on you. It’s just like the one your mother had, don’t you think?”
A cold stone settles in the pit of my stomach. I had not recognized it.
“Oh, Ari, I’m so sorry…”
“No, I love it. I don’t have much to remember her by. This was very thoughtful.”
Mother wore her jacket when the accident took her. After ten years I thought I had come to terms with her loss. The emotions dredged up by Sasha’s lavish, if thoughtless gift just proved me wrong.
I catch sight of the sun. “ It happened again.”
“What? The sun?”
“I have to go, Sacha. Give my love to everyone." I want to sign off before she sees my tears.
“Why are you concerning yourself with that silly old machine? You should be here with me to celebrate the quincentennial.”
I bite my tongue and press my lips together. Forcing a smile I say, “I know, I’ll be home soon.”
“Well, hurry back before all the parties are over.”
My heart breaks. I want to share with Sasha what is going on. She deserves a chance to get off world if anyone does. What good was knowledge if I can’t use it to save my loved ones? “I have to go,” I say as I fight back tears. “Love you lots.”
I shut down the communication before she can reply. Sasha is intelligent, but she is also self-absorbed like most of my generation and will soon forget my discomfort.
Father’s rough voice rouses me from my sorrow. “Ari, what were the energy readings on that last test?”
Embarrassed by my dereliction of duty I scramble to interpret the data streaming across my monitor. “Energy levels spiked at 20-billion TeV.”
“That isn’t nearly enough,” says father.
“We should shut it down and reset,” I say. “I don’t think some of the magnets are tuned.”
Father’s rough chuckle is humourless. “Which ones, Ari? There are 500 million of them in the accelerator. The machine is 1000 years old. It’s inevitable that something will not function properly. We don’t have the time. We’ll use what is working.”
He no longer tries to mask his desperation.
He shuts down communication before I can tell him what I saw.
The massive particle accelerator lay untouched by anyone for at least 500 years since the Purge. The enormous ring encircling our sun that powers it is the last vestige of our peoples’ scientific nadir. Too large and expensive to dismantle, it was simply abandoned and decreed off-limits. Every other significant technology on our world more sophisticated than a communications satellite was dismantled or destroyed when the Luddites seized power and made scientific study a punishable offence. Thousands of scientists who refused to abandon a lifetime’s work were persecuted. Many martyrs were made during the darkest days of the Purge.
Only during my father’s generation did the leaders of our world loosened their restrictions on the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
And it is, tragically, too late.
Now the only hope our people have rests in rekindling an experiment abandoned a millennium ago. The massive machine was constructed to explore the tiniest realms of the universe. Not atoms; not quarks, but the very threads that composed them. Harmony is what my mother called it.
The idea was that the handful of scientific constants that permit our universe to exist are determined by the tuned vibration of the quantum strings that compose all matter. Mother made it sound so poetic, saying that the universe was sung into existence by a perfectly tuned chorus. One set of harmonics determines the universal gravitational constant; different ones are responsible for the Planck constant, the cosmological constant and all the others. And if one chord is out of tune, the composition is ruined and the universe ceases to exist as we know it.
As charming as her analogy sounded, behind it was the belief that by changing and tuning the strings, we can alter how our universe behaves.
And therein lies the only hope for our people.
It took 25 years to rebuild and refurbish enough of the accelerator that we could test Mother’s theory. Only particle collisions of an unheard of energy will allow for the precise manipulation of the threads. Only the long abandoned facility is capable of achieving that goal.
I gather my scattered notes and take one last look at our star in the distance before I leave to find Father, deep inside the bowels of the machine. When I find him, his head is buried in an access panel, tools and components strewn about the floor. Seeming to sense my arrival he emerges. His haggard face is wet with perspiration that mats his grey hair to his forehead.
“I think it worked,” I say.
“The energy levels experiment,” I say. “I think it did something. I saw the sun flicker.”
“No, you didn’t. We didn’t generate anywhere near the energy required.”
I hand my scribblings to him as he sits on the floor. “Please, just look at my numbers.”
He pushes the papers aside, and wipes the sweat from his brow. “They’re wrong.”
I snatch them up and press them to my chest. “I checked them a dozen times. They’re as Mother predicted. You need to pull your head out of the machinery and look at the star. It’s responding to the experiments. We are doing something.”
“Yes, Ari,” he says, his tone conciliatory. “We are doing something. We are destabilizing it and making it even more unpredictable. We will require far more energetic collisions in order to achieve what we need to. If we can’t alter the gravitational constant in a local field our star will collapse and go nova. All we’ve succeeded in doing so far is destabilizing the process.”
“But we are plucking at the right variables, don’t you see? Mother was correct. This will work.”
As I speak, his eyes shine briefly and a slight smile plays on his face. But just as quickly it vanishes and he becomes once more the dour man he’s been since Mother’s death. He slumps back to the deck and stares into space, deaf to my further arguments.
It doesn’t help that I look like her. He’s never said it, but he blames himself for her death and for leaving me without a parent while he continued to pursue her dream.
I didn’t enter scientific study to follow my him. I wanted to complete her work. She was the one who first discovered what was happening to our sun. The few who even bothered to pursue scientific study couldn’t understand the purpose of the ancient accelerator.
But Mother did. She realized our world was doomed and our star destined to go nova; she just didn’t know when, which made it difficult to persuade others to except her conclusions.
It was Father’s idea to restart the ancient accelerator. He is less of a scientist than an entrepreneur and businessman, but he understood the meaning of her work. His powerful friends raised the financing to allow us to make the journey here.
I was six when we arrived; ten when she died. I’ve only ever known my cousin Sasha, and then, only over long distance communications. We’ve met once or twice on holiday back home, but my only contact with actual people for most of my life were my parents aboard a massive facility designed to accommodate a million scientists.
The ancients understood more than we possibly could. Even back then they noticed the variability in the solar output and recognized the threat. It’s why they built the machine. But the Purge happened before they could begin the experiments.
Father tries to distract me from my melancholy. He gently takes the papers from me to examine them more closely. “This could work,” he says. “If we… Yes it’ll work!”
His face lights up and he shows more emotion than I’ve seen from him in a very long time. Without a word, he dashes down the corridor. Confused, I follow, and when I catch up he is in his office, scribbling down equations as they rush through his mind.
For the next 16 hours we work without a break. I am delighted that, if nothing else, he has a renewed purpose. Father doesn’t succumb to sentimentality, nor display joy easily. He lost that capacity many years ago. It is something I miss.
When I was a child, he and mother would stay up late after they believed I was asleep, discussing the intricacies of things I now appreciate but at the time did not. It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t understand what they said; the music of their voices; the laughter, the love and admiration they shared with another comforted me as I dropped off to sleep, happier than any child could ever be. It was a long time ago.
Within three weeks we finalize our equations and completed the necessary modifications to the structure. We don’t even take time to celebrate the completion of the work; we’re both too excited and exhausted.
I want to verify the equations, but Father insists we turn the machine on. “Ari, they are only numbers. We’ve checked the work.”
“I know,” I say, faking confidence. I can’t get the thought of Mother out of my head. She was the impatient one in the family. Overconfident in her computations, it was her arrogance that killed her. It’s only now I realize she is the one responsible for her death and not the man I blamed for so many years.
I wipe a tear from my cheek as I watch him, busy with the check list. I was a child when she died, and saw the tragedy through a child’s eyes. I’ve never permitted myself to consider he wasn’t responsible. Had she heeded his caution, she would still be alive. He blames himself far more severely than I ever could. If he says we are ready… “All right,” I say. “Let’s do this.”
We both know this last desperate attempt is all left to us to prevent our sun from going supernova. We don’t know when it will happen, only that it will occur within the next 10 years. Even with that kind of advance notice, there is not enough time. There is nowhere for fifteen-billion souls to go to escape the inferno.
Desperate times require bold decisions, Mother would always say. I always considered that her epitaph, and caution has ruled me as a result.
For three days the accelerator ramps up, drawing billions of watts from the star. The gigantic machine ravenously consumes energy to drive the nuclear particles to within a million decimal points of the speed of light, then seems to thirst for more. Around and around they travel in opposing streams. I imagine them impatiently pleading for us to let them meet in a cathartic reaction not seen since the beginning of time.
Finally, the accelerator reaches its maximum energy capacity. We permit ourselves one, final moment of uncertainty as we run through the final checklist. For the amount of energy blasting through the machine there is very little indication of it in the small control room we occupy. Only the blinking lights on the console and the readings on the gauges inform us when all is ready.
“All right, Ari,” says Father, “it’s time.”
The lump in my throat prevents me from swallowing. I wipe the perspiration from my shaking hands, and, after a moment of hesitation, depress the button.
Nothing seems to happen until I look at the instruments. I see the evidence of subatomic particles being blasted into short lived debris. Petabytes of data are faithfully recorded, like an extraordinarily observant witness to a cosmic accident. The AI system grinds away, attempting to analyze everything in real time and fit it all into our model.
I chew my lower lip as I study the computer’s visualization of the results. Hanging over me in anticipation, Father’s breath warms the back of my neck. A single, unanticipated reaction will invalidate our theories and send us back to our equations—except there is no more time to begin anew. This must work.
I scrutinize the readout, overwhelmed by the amount of detail. But more than that, I am humbled by the accuracy of Mothers theory. Everything she predicted unfolds before us as each harmonic resonance of every quantum string combination falls unfailingly into its predicted spot.
“We’ve done it,” I whisper.
Father’s smile is broad and his eyes shine. His cheek is wet with tears. Unable to contain my joy, I wrap my arms about his neck. It is something I have not done in a long time. My voice cracks. “Everything checks.”
Father seems as if a massive burden has lifted from him. He moves with a vigour I recall from a time when Mother still lived. Methodically, he pours over the results, checking and rechecking the AI’s interpretation of the data. I join him, and we work for hours as if our fatigue is only imagined.
“It’s verified, Ari,” he says. “She was right.”
With those words, what I once viewed as her tragically senseless death transforms into a noble sacrifice.
He smiles at me, a confident man, no longer afraid to face me. Gone from his eyes is the doubt, the self loathing, the fear of failing billions of blissfully ignorant people with no concept of how close they are to extinction; the regret for depriving me of her.
Turning to the console, he says, “It’s time we start to change the song. Isolate the graviton frequencies, and let’s see if we can move things to where they should be.”
The idea of what we intend is elegant, though at times seemed fantastic and unachievable. Even now with the power vibrating around us, and the results no longer theoretical, I have doubt. Though everything falls within the range of the predictions, it is difficult to believe that we have it within our power to alter nature. Mother’s idea is simple: a slight tuning of the harmonics for the strings that govern the gravitational constant within the region enclosed by the accelerator. We can weaken gravity’s pull inside the star and slow down its collapse on itself. Only the slightest tweak, if successful, would give our people hope—buy us thousands of years to find a new home before the inevitable collapse of our sun on itself and the resulting explosion.
If the elders back home had an inkling of what it was we attempted they would have imprisoned us before we had a chance to come here. The driving philosophy behind purge was that science had overstepped the bounds of nature. The very construction of the accelerator spoke to our hubris, they claimed. Fearful for what science threatened to do the Luddites seized power, and in the process, unwittingly doomed our people.
Even now, despite the more relaxed and liberal acceptance of science within our society, there are still sceptics who believe the worst of scientists. Distrustful, ignorant people with no desire to broaden their viewpoint or appreciate the importance of science. Our technology is ancient, and crumbling. There are few who understand it and are capable of preserving it. In another three generations, if we had that much time, our culture will degrade to something medieval.
To be continued...