02 September 2011
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE
By Curtis C. Chen
Rebecca snapped the clamshell closed, putting the scanner on standby. "Okay. So you're from a parallel universe. Doesn't mean you're not crazy."
The man sitting across from her nodded. "You've got my ID there. It has a GI holocode. My service number should scan as valid, even if there's no associated personnel file."
"People can forge IDs in this universe," Rebecca said. It was tough to think of the man as an alien; he looked perfectly normal, maybe even handsome. "Tell me again why you're here?"
"To warn you. And to ask for your help." The man pointed at the evidence bag on Rebecca's side of the table. "Have you looked at the microfilm yet?"
"Yeah, we're still working on finding a reader for that. Why didn't you just bring a flash drive? Or a book?"
"Non-living objects larger than a certain size don't travel well between universes. And paper is fragile. We couldn't be sure what technology you had—computer systems are often incompatible, but you can always grind a magnifying lens to read optical film."
Rebecca nodded. He didn't sound crazy, but he could still have a hidden agenda. "Do you want to give me a preview?"
"You've been seeing unusual lightning storms all over your world," the man said. "We know how to track them, because we've been dealing with them too. That's how I was able to target my transit to your universe."
"You know what's causing these storms?"
"They're not natural phenomena."
Rebecca snorted. "Yeah, we kinda figured that out when the lightning strikes started turning entire buildings into flammable liquids."
"They're artificial negatrons."
The man shook his head. "Sorry. You call them electrons. These are synthetic particles. Like miniature robots. They've been programmed to form covalent bonds with certain elements—"
"Okay, stop." Rebecca held up a hand. "Now you do sound crazy. Electrons are fundamental particles. They're leptons. They have no substructure."
The man smiled. "I thought you weren't a scientist."
"Shut up," Rebecca said. "It's not possible to make an electron-sized machine. It is not physically possible in any way."
"Eight years ago, you didn't know there was more than one universe," the man said, "and now you're part of a government agency whose sole purpose is to investigate multiversal crimes. Tell me again what's not possible?"
Rebecca felt a headache coming. A bad one. "Fine. Whatever's causing this lightning, you can tell us how to stop it?"
"I didn't say that. I can help you locate and contain it. That's all we've been able to do—trap the negatrons in a vacuum, inside a strong magnetic field, and keep them from interacting with any matter.
"We don't know how to destroy the negatrons. Like you said, they appear to be fundamental particles. We're sharing our data with as many other universes as we can. Maybe your scientists will find something we've missed."
"Great," Rebecca muttered. "This is going to be some more quantum mechanics bullshit."
The man frowned. "What is 'quantum mechanics'?"
Rebecca smiled. "Oh, this is going to be fun."
Image: The Brindabella Light Show by Prescott Pym, February, 2007