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G is looking at his left hand. His hands are similar to his father’s, he knows it well, they’ve been telling him since he was a kid: they are stubby, beefy, with age they are starting to bend under the genetic power of the arthrosis. The nails are barely hinted, nearly suffocated by the swollen meat at their sides and over their matrix. He remembers, although in a foggy way, that time when-

“We need to move! GET UP!” N screams at him, grabbing the hand that he was studying and yanking him in the corridor with the green light. The main power is gone, the emergency neones at plinth height had turned on, there’s barely enough light to see where you are going. Running and stumbling onto the increasing rubble from the ceiling above them, they arrive at the conference room, turn right and find themselves in front of a hole. There’s no other way to describe it: a hole in space in front of them, a circle of absolute black at around twenty centimeters from the right wall that was growing with a certain speed. When it finally touches the wall, the gravitational stress on the event horizon of the anomaly breaks it, some concentric cracks are forming around the contact point, expanding and becoming deeper as it expands.

“Fuck it, the Site is gone, we need to get to the ground floor and get out of here” says N with unexpected calm. “Hey, G, are you here? Damn, you took a nice hit on the head, uh? Come on, stop dragging yourself and run.”

“N, it’s my fault. I should not have altered the parameters of the mass regulator.”

“Now it doesn’t matter, focus on running!”

“No! If we leave now we can’t know to what point the anomaly will keep expanding, it could swallow the Earth, the entire Solar System! Someone needs to get back downstairs and regulate the containment field.”

“Well, that’s why we have the rapid response teams. We get out of here, they get down there with the cableway and fix your mess.”

“They have no idea how to do it! They are associated researchers, by God, what do you expect them to know about Alcubierre field manipulations?”

“And then what? What’s your brilliant idea? Do you want to go yourself? You think you can fix the mess you made before eighteen floors of reinforced concrete fall on your head?”

“I… thin-”

Another explosion from the lower floors, this times it’s the cooling pumps saying goodbye.

“Well, whatever you think you can do, we need to do it now!”

“We? What’s it got to do with you, N? I’m the responsible of this project, why shou-”

“You can’t do everything on your own, you need a team for the simultaneous manipulation of the various points of the field, you have to decide now: going back down we can find a couple of juniors or wait for the rapid response team to arrive and use them, but only you have the knowledge to get us out of this mess. Maybe. Decide.”

G remains paralyzed by the realization that yes, he truly is the only one who could reinstablish containment. Of course there were another three or four minds in the world that had an adequate theoretical knowledge, but none of them had ever worked with a real machine, and most importantly none of them is here now. Furthermore having the practical and theoretical knowledge didn’t automatically mean that he could do it: the necessary calculations are extremely complex and in a similar situation making an error was even too easy; in addition there’s no way to know if the field still has a sufficient cohesion to be able to bring it back to normal values.

They look each other in the eyes, panting, for several seconds.

“Let’s do it.”

Together, they begin to run in the opposite direction, towards the emergency stairs. Floor after floor, the situation gets worse: corpses everywhere, bodies cut in half by black holes that appeared and disappeared in the middle of corridors and rooms, areas completely in the dark and others lightend to day by blazing fires, probably with toxic fumes. N gathers those who can move, shouts orders to those who still have ears to hear them. After ten floors, there they are, in the main containment chamber with twentyseven researcher, some in tears, some with a missing limb, each one ready to give his life. Each one essential.

Using his hands, G opens with brute force the emergency doors left without power and everyone enters inside the main containment unit: in front of them hundreds of workstations with panels and control terminals, each one linked to the field generator tall like a small building containing the gravitational anomaly which could swallow everything they knew in little time if they didn’t find a way to recontain it, and do it fast.

The containment field fluctuates in the middle of the air like an enormous sphere of crystalline water agitated by some invisible movement, bright as the sun. At irregular intervals small charges of electrostatic energy which accumulated on the surface are released, sign that the local gravity was going to hell and that a layer of plasma was accumulating on the surface: even if they were to reestablish containment, most of them would die of thermal burns.

N has already begun to place the researchers in the various key workstations, explaining in a few words their task to those who were not graduated in physics, while G is heading to the control station. The situation is critical, but not desperate: There’s still enough energy in the field to recreate a containment sufficient to gain the time necessary to reestablish the main power.

The calculations were complex. There wasn’t even enough energy to use the power of the computer, he needs to make them in mind. He has to, but can he? Probably. Maybe not. Definitely not. Shit, there’s a reason if they usually use a supercomputer to make these calculations: they are too much for a human mind, too much for such a short time, too much for such a stressful situation. G leans on the terminal, derelict. He’s going to die, he’s going to kill everyone and, if humanity is particularly unlucky, in a few day Earth will look like an apple bitten in various points suspended in the emptiness of the Universe. And it will all be his fault. Not so much for the experiment of the mass regulator, that was sheer absolutely unpredictable misfortune, but for his incapacity to keep himself together in a moment like that, his doubting of his abilities.

No, it can’t end like this. It’s not right for the worst to happen because of the weakness of one person.

G stands up again, secure and with his back straight. Orders and instructions begin to fly around, the researchers who still have legs to do it run from station to station trying to apply the field adjustments to compensate for the fluctuations. A cautious optimism begins to be palpable in the enormous control room, some of the most positive have a grin on their face, the awareness that once again human ingenuity prevails on Nature.

When, at a certain point, it happens. All lights are green, parameters are reasonably in the norm.

Before the survivors could raise a cry of joy, the plasma around the now stable containment field expands all of a sudden. The closest researchers get vaporized almost completely, the others get more or less serious burns. Most of them won’t see the next day.

When the wave reaches him, the plasma is almost completely dispersed and the temperature is no more than hot air, but the external pressure is still enough to throw him back, right against a wall. An excruciating pain in the chest notifies him that he isn’t going to make it, in fact watching down he sees a cooling pipe, probably blown ten minutes prior, which passed him from side to side at the height of the breast bone. G feels his consciousness slip away, while he closes his eyes for the last time, with a slight smile on his face. A classic.


G wakes up on a reclining armchair.

“Excellent Job, Doctor Rüben. You are perfectly cured, congratulations.”

Confused, G looks around: he’s in a room with a lamp, two armchairs, a window with closed shutters and nothing else. N looks at him smiling from the other armchair, with a Foundation laptop on the knees. The back part of the screen, facing him, reads “Psychiatric Section”.

“Nastja? What… you’re a chemist, why-”

“Calm down, please. Do not worry, the residue of the simulation will go away in a few hours. We have received several reports from your colleagues about occasional drops in self esteem and doubts about your own capabilities, so we sedated you and we have conducted this treatment to reinforce the patterns in your brain which promote a responsible and confident behaviour — with the approval of the Ethics Committee, of course. To say the truth, this is not the first sitting we have, but it’s the first and only necessary one which has led to the cessation of the undesired neural pathways. I’m sorry about the headaches you have experimented during these months, I fear they are a collateral effect of the continued amnestic circles and of the amnestics we administered. As for me, I had to use my face — that unconsciously you know already — to give the simulation more credibility, a step which was probably fundamental in today’s session. As I said, there’s nothing to worry about, shortly an employee will arrive to take you from the waiting room outside and bring you back to your home Site. Now, I’m sorry but I have to ask you to go, my next patient will be here shortly. Have a nice day.”

G stayed still for a moment, trying to absorb what happened.

“Oh.”, he says.

Then he stands up and exits through the door.

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