Time Lost: Large Hadron Collider, or: How France was nuked
There was a gigantic, gigantic bang, they say, and then there was an incomparable back-slapping, the heart behind the celebration greater than a thousand hands clapping another thousand hands. In a screen on a wall in a room, an incomprehensible irreverence splayed out across a computer screen, a subatomic spider splattered, its guts picked and pried apart by the scientists even now popping champagne in the next room; and they had it, they had discovered absolutely nothing that hadn't been seen before at the Tevatron.
Of course, that was the initial reaction of those manning the project, but Clamenner Steinbeck, one of the head boffins who took part in the now-infamous "It Would Be A Great Idea" Conference that approved and wholeheartedly recommended the funding of the project, decided that he would be the man to feed himself his pride and his foot, and handed in his resignation after twenty years of finding absolutely nothing of value to humanity.
At his desk, he looked wistfully at how Amelia and himself looked like while they had still been together. Then she had died, and the doctors couldn't save her. The frame went into his box, along with some pens and papers and doodles for some mechanical abomination he never recalled penning in the first place. Rifling through the stationery drawer, he drew out a permanent marker and, in bold, black letters on the scuffed gloss of his painted-steel table, he wrote: "Fuck you NASA!" as though enmity towards a bunch of pyrophilic madmen might make himself feel better about things.
It did, in a small sort of way, the same smallness one felt by being alone in a white-lit office with two flickering bulbs in the southeast corner, fifty empty cubicles, a faded, stained carpet, and the smell of coffee still lingering in the air. Enough dust would never settle to cover the immaculate rows of keys arrayed in front of a monitor that hummed, gay and glad though creaky at the joints, a mere week ago; the whole underground facility would be destroyed and filled in, and the land returned to Mother Nature as humankind relinquished its mindset of "bigger is better" and instead put its geniuses towards trying to solve global warming, poverty, and human rights abuses.
There were, of course, those of the old guard, who believed that the world was Man's to conquer, not submit to, and by all means take the reins of. He was not one of them, no, by no means, but he had served them all his life, and to throw it all away in the face of progress- even well-intentioned, pan-benefiting progress- was a little reluctant on the soul.
Seriously, he thought to himself, he had not done a single thing, his team had not done anything, the whole bleeding project had not contributed to the body of scientific knowledge. Even NASA had something to show for itself- Man had gone to Mars, though some people still claimed the pictures were fakes, he noted bitterly with the hintiest hint of malicious pleasure. Granted, it was nothing in the face of organ cloning, genetic therapy, and the cure for AIDS, the medical men being the current darlings of the world media. Even the engineers had done something amazing- the first space elevator had been completed a year or so ago, and though it was faulty, it was something to gawk at. As for the mathematicians, not much had changed- they did their stuff and people left them alone.
But the Large Hadron Collider, the pride, joy, and love-child of the global high-energy physics community, had utterly, unequivocally failed.
And he along with it. He took a pair of glasses, relics from the time when lens replacement hadn't yet become common, put them into his shirt pocket, then walked out the hallway, out the door, up the stairs, out the entryway, into his car, and drove back home.
He would return soon, and call the facility home for himself. In retrospect, he had dreamed about buying over some part of the lands ages ago, but only recently had the land price depreciated sufficiently (that was how much the whole project had faded from public sight) for him to buy over the place. Granted, he only bought over the actual facility premises (the aboveground space had been repurposed into living and farming space), but it was enough. He had what he wanted, what he needed, and what he never should have acquired in the first place.
He was like a specter in a cemetary, a ghost in his home, scaring nobody. He got no mail, met no-one, and ate from the copious stores in the fallout shelter constructed sometime during the "heightened tensions" in the aftermath of the Western invasion of Iran, Egypt, and Arabia. As part (specifically, one footnote to one paragraph in a particularly lengthy chapter) of a decade-old agreement with the French government, he got water and electricity for free, in exchange for French scientists to have first dibs on anything of note; considering that the facility was still, technically, in operation, they (grudgingly behind their waxed moustaches) kept the pipes open, though to a mutually understood minimum and with the unspoken condition that he make no noise about the whole mess. So he flitted about, here and there, like a butterfly in winter, walking through empty hallways with worn shoes and a wisp of a determination in his heart.
Some months later, he was ready to end it all in a final burst of glory, and picked up the bag of keepsakes that had never felt the central heating of his old home, returning instead to the desk where he had sat for most of his "productive" (in quotes, he noted with a snort) lifetime, where it lay unopened all the while. He opened the bag one last time, hoping to look at his dearest love, instead finding a sheaf of uninteresting technical drawings staring back at him.
This fascinated him to no end. The man who had penned those certainly had to be a genius, the construction calling for the manipulation of matter at the subatomic level to create a processor as powerful as the state of the art six years ago in a fraction of space, and the manipulation of electromagnetic fields to power and actuate a nanobot as big as a cell. The discovery injected fresh vigour into his bloodstream. There were certain fundamental flaws in the assumptions made by the Architect (as he had taken to calling the anonymous engineer) as to the nature of particle physics, which he worked day and night to rectify, modify, and eventually finalize. Only when he held up the completed plans to the light, however, did he realize what they were in fact for- yes, it was a nanobot, but one programmed to do nothing but replicate itself, powered by nothing but light and matter, replacing everything it came into contact with with copies of itself.
He made the final adjustments even as the particles wavered in the ill-maintained accelerator, building particle on particle on particle, easing atoms near each other to create interactions of a type and purity conventional chemistry would never hope to achieve.
The first abominable machine went into operation twenty-two years, five months, eight days, four hours, fifty minutes and five seconds to the day when the first beams collided, and clattered soundlessly to the floor of the chamber, having no energy by which it might function. To the detector, which was used to seeing gigantic bursts of energy, it was an unconditional failure, and Clamenner regarded it as such. Disappointed utterly now, he would wander the facility for another week before finally charging up the beams for a final test round, with himself in the test chamber.
Ironically, the charging of the coils produced enough electromagnetic radiation for the nanobot to activate, and it continued to consume everything underground, eventually breaking the surface in the shade of a tree root as a shimmering droplet of fundamental particle interactions. It was at this point that, having not heard from him for three years, the French government decided to shut off everything for good, and the nanobots slumbered yet again. Another three years would see a rabbit carry around twelve nanobots in its fur as it crawled back into the sun, bringing the machines back to life, consuming the animal slowly from its hair to its skin to its organs, and eventually covering a small glade in the forest with copies of itself.
The government took notice a year later, when adventurers into the forest reported sightings of the ever-growing metal stain, and public concern escalated over the next few weeks. Bombs were tried, chemicals were tried, and prayer was tried, but nothing worked permanently, and eventually a consensus was reached. Over the next harrowing month, the remaining population in the area was evacuated to civilization, and a nuclear weapon was dropped on the area, erasing all that remained of the old physicist and his creations.
And so it culminated in the fulfilment of a childhood dream, beaten into him through countless reinforcings of his inferiority, his insecurity, and ultimately, his failure- he got nuked, and fucked the world on his way out.