João Antônio Gomes
Updated: Mar 13, 2022
The director of Project Q1, John Hurley, was what you would call an egocentric. He was 53 years old, with no children. He constrained his legacy to his ideas, most of which he had not found yet. He had woken up in his messy apartment in central Manhattan. It was a foggy day. The city was awakening below the mist. After reluctantly getting out of the bed, he brewed some coffee. In his bathroom, he starred in the mirror and took his pills, which he didn't know why his psychiatrist had prescribed. With a miserable face, he got his clothes on. A worn social shirt, work pants, and the most unfashionable tie made up his combination. All set, he walked to the elevated train station number 43, as usual. Since the demolition of the primitive underground lines, New York had used magnetic suspension tracks to transport its citizens. They majestically crossed between the skyscrapers. The technology, at that point, was a century old, Hurley had used those tracks since he was a boy. On the train, feeling the few vibrations of the travel, the irritable man thought: "I could do better...". He dropped off at the corner of the 3rd Av. with 106th St., by a traditional Chinese joint. Only one block away, he could already see his destination. The Orwell Industries building rose between the smog. Colossal. To be precise, it was 3.4 times the size of the ancient Empire State Building. His actual workplace, thus, was still quite far away. He worked on the 253rd floor in the atomic research department. Alone in the elevator, Hurley tilted his head back against the wall and waited. He enjoyed that brief moment of peace before the storm of work. After a few moments, he heard the warning beep that indicated he had arrived at his floor. Responding to that stimulus, he walked out the door with his eyes barely open. To his annoyance, someone had run into him. Recomposing himself on the floor, he looked up only to see a familiar face, Harry Burgees. They had been colleagues in college. In Orwell, if he was right, Burgees remained as the head of the applied research department on the 168th.
"Burgees? My God, I haven't seen your face in a long time!" said Hurley, getting up.
"John, I just got back from Germany! How have you been? You should pay attention when getting out of these things!" he said between laughs as he helped his friend get up.
"I'm good, thanks. I guess I was a bit distracted *sigh*. You watch! I even forgot to choose my floor... " he replied, putting his floor number on the panel.
"Ha! John, I haven't seen you this stressed out since your Ph.D. thesis back in university. You even got the same ‘I haven't slept in three days’ face." he answered as the elevator went up.
"Ha... guess what? Still the same reason," he said, taking the dust off his coat.
"What? Didn't the tests for your transport machine thingy fail last time? I mean, your theory was flawless, according to the professors. Yet, no one could figure out the problem in practice." he said with wide-open eyes and an enthusiastic tone of voice.
"You're right. The teleporter, you mean, was an absolute failure back then. But, three months ago, I was going over some of my old files at home and found my equation worksheets. After a few weeks, I noticed that some of my quantum-mechanical models were wrong. I had forgotten to consider the quantum entanglement in my formula. I brought the idea to the 500th, and they approved the project. We're calling it Quantum 1."
"That's excellent! So you're no longer the consultant for the department?"
"Thankfully not. Though it has been an exhausting journey, it will soon be rewarding for sure. We're having our first tests today." he replied as the doors opened.
"Well, this is you. It was good seeing you, John. I'd love to hear more about your results today! Plus, I need to tell you how things went back at the Berlin branch, it was crazy! What do you say, Joe's at 8:00 PM?" answered Burgees while holding the door for his friend.
"Scheduled! I bet I can drink more beer than those whiny Germans anyways," he said, leaving the elevator.
"Okay! Great! See you later then."
"See you!" said Hurley, unsure of his own words.
Hurley was finally in his department. Opening the door with his name on it, his secretary, a young and lovely British lady, said with a strong accent: "Good morning, Doctor Hurley. Here are today's pre-test reports. Everything is ready for us to begin". Without devoting much attention, he sat on his chair and asked her to leave the papers on his desk with a hand gesture. Alone, he had a moment of reflection. He was taking in the journey he had trod to get there. When he came back to reality, he looked at his watch and immediately ran to the test room. The testing facilities of the Quantum Department were safe. They had three levels of security and interleaved walls of lead and concrete. Things could go wrong, nonetheless. Past the security procedures, the director got in the control room. There, he asked for the machine's status. Someone in the back answered that everything was in place and ready to operate. "In this case, bring the biologic sample 13/1 to the starting position," ordered the director. He was asking for an apple. At his orders, two employees holding the ends of a metallic box entered the test zone. The room had a thick metal-infused glass window, separating it from control. Both were wearing hazmat suits to retrieve the object without contaminating it. They placed the sample on one side of the machine. The teleporter itself connected to the ceiling as most of its components were on the floor above. Its "sides" were two tables on opposing ends of the room, which the machine had a metallic pole pointed at. With the employees out and the room sealed, a checkup process began.
"Sample in place," reported someone.
"Containment zone activated and hermetically sealed," stated Edwin Miller, a skillful intern.
"Particle accelerator is on and operating," announced a voice in the back.
"Molecular quantifier activated," said the intern.
"Let us begin the experiment. Activate the subatomic beam at full power!" said Hurley biting his nails.
At his orders, an intense flash took over the test room, leaving the scientists stunned. After a few seconds, the light dissipated and the apple was gone. Miller, looking at a screen, euphorically announced that the particles were in transition. Suddenly, the apple had appeared a few feet away on the ground. They had missed the target destination, but that was not the problem. The apple was modified. Thrilled, Miller fainted. As clear as the sky that day, they all could see what had happened. The apple had come back bitten.
Hurley had his eyes wide open. In spite of that, he could not believe it. He could not understand the logic behind it, not in his most delirious dreams, he would expect that outcome. No physical deformation in the sample could produce such shape, at least of that he was certain. Panicking, he looked at a colleague to his side and asked with his voice lower than usual "did we record that?". The responsible for the filming looked terrorized at the director and shook his head in affirmation. "Good..." said Hurley. "Delete it all from the cloud and physically hand me the files later!" he ordered. Despite knowing that it was against company protocol, the employee deleted them. Shaking, the director began to speak.
"What happened here today stays here. If someone opens up their mouth to corporate or to anyone else, we're fired! The ties up in the 500th would not like to have this sort of result on the first day of testing! Not after all their investment in our project. Plus, they could be skeptical about it and perceive it as some sort of joke. As of now, if anyone asks you about today, you'll allege technical issues. Fill your reports as if there was an overload in the high-voltage terminal. Say that we'll repair it soon. And can someone incinerate that sample, for God's sake?" said the man in an urgent tone with a little twitch on his face.
Receiving, checking, and editing all the reports, Hurley passed everything on to corporate. He had asked to postpone the tests for a few weeks from then. He knew they would not like the news but would accept the request, which was not nearly as bad as the truth. Finished, his secretary delivered him a pen drive. He promptly recognized it and got into the pocket of his coat. Briefly relieved, he went back home early. In his apartment, he threw himself on his unmade bed and traveled in his thoughts. Hurley wanted answers. No, he needed them. The test defied everything that he had ever known. No chemical, physical, or mathematical explanation could do it. He was afraid and knew if that information got out there, more would be. "We fear what we can't comprehend," he said to himself. Panic would be inherent to the release of that odd fact. Overwhelmed, his brain shut down. The physicist slept like a baby. Well, he felt like he knew as much as one at that moment.
John woke up hours later. The outside was gloomy. He looked at his watch - 7:35 PM. It was then that he remembered that he had to meet with Burgees at Joe's. He was not going, he did not want to. But he could not leave his friend waiting, he owed him. John did not like to talk about it, but Burgees was the reason he got in Orwell Industries, not merit. Plus, it felt like a good idea to think of something other than what he had seen earlier. In the hurry, he grabbed his coat and went once again to the station. On the train, he kept looking out the window the entire trip. The outside seemed darker than usual, the air was heavier, and that consumed him. He was numb, and that reminded him of the time he had not taken his medicine. Getting back to his senses, he remembered that Joe's was not far away from work. In fact, it was in the same block of that Chinese restaurant he had walked by earlier. He had never been there before, but he had heard of the place. His coworkers would sometimes go there at the end of their shift, and he would stay behind. Either because he did not want to or because he was not invited. Anyways, after some looking around, he found the shiny neon sign he was looking for. At the bar, he saw Burgees by the counter watching the game.
"Burgees." said the director sitting by the side of his friend.
"Hurley," he answered without taking his eyes off the TV.
"Who's playing tonight? The Knicks?" he said trying to start a conversation.
"No, the Nets, but I know that doesn't matter to you. You never liked sports. You're still stressed, aren't you? My friend, get yourself a beer. How are you going to drink more than the Germans in this mood, ha?" said Burgees patting his friend's back.
"The tests didn't go that well today," he answered as the robotic arm served him without even asking.
"I heard it. Equipment failure, right?" he replied with his mind still on the game.
"That's the excuse we gave corporate. The results were... slightly different," he said with his shoulders bowed.
"What do you mean?" Burgees said unworried.
"Okay. I'll be straightforward with you. So, everything was running perfectly for today's test. The problem was that when we teleported our subject, an apple, it got back... bitten." said Hurley, completely defying what he had said earlier, for a friend.
"Ha! That is a cosmic joke... You're not being serious, are you?" he answered, finally giving up from watching the game.
"What does that even mean? Like, generally and for the project. I'm not entirely sure if I can believe you on that one."
"Alright... fair enough. I have footage on a pen drive. We deleted everything from the cloud."
"Yea... I suspected. Can I see it?"
"I suppose so. We could go back to my office and watch it on my computer," he answered putting the hand in his pocket, feeling the pen drive.
"That's a great idea. And don't worry, I already paid for the beers." said Burgees showing his phone.
"Well, thanks! In that case, we should get going. The building closes at nine." he said taking a quick look at his watch.
Hurley did not question why his friend was so interested. He would feel the same way if someone said that to him. They walked to the building in New York's neon night. Getting there, they went up the elevators leaving plenty of room for the elevator music to play. In Hurley's office, Burgees sat on the director's chair looking at the computer screen as it got on. John got the pen drive in and sat on a chair on the other side of the room, waiting for his friend's reaction. Burgees got his hand against his face and frowned, he seemed concerned, shocked. At that moment, the sound of the clip repeating itself consumed the room, until Burgees began to talk.
"That... is unreal... to say the least. What have you done? This has to be a prank, but you wouldn't do such a joke about your creation."
"I wish it were... I must say you reacted better than most of my people. I still can't believe most of the time either."
"So, it's true. Well, I must tell you something, John."
"What would that be?"
"I've been trying to tell you about what happened in Germany. Just like you, I was promoted..."
"Oh! That's terrific! But, I might have just shown you one of the secrets of the universe." he replied sarcastically.
"I know. Thing is, I am in corporate..."
"What?!" Hurley answered, realizing that Burgees did not type on his floor in the elevator past the 168th. How could he have missed that?
"Yeah. They appreciated my work back in Berlin and offered me a spot. Hurley... I'm sorry. I will have to report you. I can't overlook this madness because it's you. After all, I'm the newbie. I have to prove myself."
"Burgees, you can't do that! You are going to throw me under the bus for a few ties you just met?" he replied hysterically.
"It's decided! I will compensate you somehow as you'll end fired.”
"You can't do this! This project could be the greatest development in humanity since the making of fire! Why do you conspire against progress Burgees? I thought you were a man of science! Please, I beg you."
"I'm sure we'll find someone to keep with your work, don't worry."
"That's the problem! It's the work of MY life!"
"I'm calling my superiors right now, Hurley. Just... accept it, please."
Out of control, Hurley, for some reason looked at the center table in front of him. A box lied there. He didn't recall anything being on it when he got there a few minutes ago. It invited him, casted a spell that said: "open me.". Before he noticed, he had already done so. A disintegrator lied there, intact, asking to be used. The director was in shock. Tempted, nonetheless. He thought about using it on Burgees, his friend, and now a turncoat. Modern disintegrators were extremely silent. He knew he could leave unnoticed and maybe dump his friend's body somewhere. "Maybe in the incinerator", he thought. But weakness struck him. He felt like he could not do it, that it would be a pathetic attempt and that he would end up dead as well. "I'll be gone in a few moments anyway. Why not do it myself then?" he murmured, thinking about the taste of the disintegrator on his mouth. Both sides of his mind had convincing arguments. He considered his chances once again. He got to a decision. What seemed like an eternity to him had been mere 2.45 seconds in reality. Hurley grabbed the disintegrator. At last, a bright red light had taken over the room.