By Vince Giuliano

Update Version September 10, 2008 Copyright 2008 All rights reserved

Comment, Sept 10 2008. This story, written six months ago, was inspired by construction of the world's ultimate atom smasher, the LHC supercollider. The LHC is a dual 17-mile vacuum-sealed atomic racetrack running under the Franco-Swiss border, an eight billion dollar 20-year project involving scientists from all over the world. Most everything I say about the ULTIMA supercollider in this story is also true for the LHC, except that ULTIMA is envisioned to be on a slightly grander scale. The initial phase of bringing the LHC into operation is scheduled to start today. According to Google this morning, the world's press features 2,887 news articles on the LHC. Most of these stories also mention how the LHC is possibly going to end the world today. Actually, there should be no worry quite yet because there will be no particle collisions today. Only one of the two future colliding beams will be turned on today and then a painstaking calibration process will be required. The LHC will be slowly phased into operation and the purportedly dangerous super-collision experiments will not happen for many months. You can find out about the LHC and the concern about whether it will end the world by following this search. My story is a science-based fantasy that imagines how a couple of possible end-of-world scenarios could come about.

At the State Fair in Lincoln Nebraska, August.  Vitorrio Brindi, his wife Nina and his two kids Jeremy 10 and Bridget 12 have wandered from the Hall of Hogs to the 4H Building and finally onto the midway.  Passing the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Daredevil Cycle Dome they hear the fair’s loudspeakers announcing TONIGHT, AT THE STANDS, THE DEMOLITION DERBY.  DARING CRASHES, FANTASTIC EXPLOSIONS.  They find themselves at the Cosmotron ride.  A large canvas sign proclaims:  COSMOTRON INTERDIMENSIONAL SPACE SHIP -- TRAVEL TO THE PAST AND FUTURE.  On the outside it looks like a small windowless spaceship on hefty hydraulic lifters.  Jeremy and Bridget head for it and the two parents follow.  At $5 each ticket it smells like a rip-off to Vitorrio, but everything else on the midway smells that way too.  Jeremy turns on his begging mode “Pleeze daddy lets do this ride, pleeze” and it does not take long for Vitorrio to cave.  Might be educational at least.  They buy tickets at the kiosk and are quickly routed to the inside of the spaceship, which is like a short squat plane sitting about 40 people in 8 rows of airplane seats.  There are large windows in front and big portholes along the side facing out to what looks like an elaborate launching deck with technicians fussing about.  Actually everything they see outside the ship is on video screens.

After the Brindi family and a few other passengers are seated and buckled in, the door clanks shut and the ride begins.  There is a hum and the passengers feel a lurch.  Looking out the windows and feeling the vibrations they see their ship is moving down a launching deck.  The nose of the ship rises and they are pushed back in their sets.  There is another lurch, a hiss and a roar and they are space-bound feeling the vibrations of the propelling rockets.  Soon the blue of the atmosphere fades to the dark of outer space and the rockets kick out.  Of course the lurches, vibration and tilts are done by the hydraulics and everything seen is videos, but the illusion is first-class.  The pilot announces they are going to make their first inter-dimensional time jump.  The pilot has set the jump to take them to Nebraska in the mid-Jurassic period, 150 million years ago.  Lights go out inside the ship, there is a hiss followed by strobe lights and a series of lurches as the ship levels out.  Gradually it becomes light outside and you can see the ship is traveling above a fertile valley at perhaps 400 feet.  The ship drops down to about 100 feet and threads along a river. Dinosaurs of various sizes are grazing along the banks; some are fighting. 

The pilot names the different genre of dinosaurs and describes the habitat they are seeing.  “Those giant reptiles swimming in the river are Pliosaurus ---“

After a few minutes of this scenery it is time to time-jump again.  The next jump is to Luxor Egypt 3,500 years ago.  Another hiss, more strobe lights and lurches.  Then below you can see thousands of laborers hauling stones and pyramids and temples in various stages of construction.  Next is a time jump to New York in 1910, you can see the steamships arriving in the harbor belching black smoke and immigrants swarming into Ellis Island.  Two time jumps to the future follow, one 60 years hence to a city of glass and spires with busy traffic on invisible highways in the sky. The next is a visit to a domed complex of building, a settlement on Mars 300 years from now.  Jeremy especially seems to love all of this.  Then the captain announces it is time to return home to Lincoln Nebraska.  Another hiss, flash and lurch, but this time a piercing alarm sounds, the ship shakes violently and red lights flash.  The captain comes on the speaker to tell the passengers not to worry.  The ship’s computer has misdirected them to San Francisco in 1860.  Looking out side, you are traveling at street level, threading your way between unkempt gold minors bearing picks and shovels, Chinese laborers and mules are there pulling vegetable carts.  You pass a rowdy gambling saloon.  Then the captain tells you he is corrected the problem.  Another time jump and soon Vitorrio and his bunch are back in the fairgrounds in Lincoln and walking unsteadily out of the ride.  They had had their $5 worth though the ride scarcely took 12 minutes.

Bridget announces “That was exceedingly cool.”

And Jeremy asks “Daddy, can people really travel in time?  Vitorrio hesitates before he answers “I don’t think so.”  Jeremy pressed on.  “You know about those kinds of things, don’t you Daddy?

Cornered by his 10 year-old Vitorrio honestly replies “Well, I am supposed to know about them if anybody does, but I don’t really know much for sure.”

Seven months later.  In an office in a new low-slung building complex near North Platte Nebraska, the campus of Project ULTIMA. 

Vitorrio turns to look up from the swirling ever-changing three-dimensional surfaces on his computer screen.  He looks out his broad office window, past the low-slung glass-clad buildings in his complex.  The Nebraska prairie landscape is golden, bathed in the glow of the setting sun.  Amazing how peaceful and perpetual it feels compared to the internal tension that has been building up inside him.  His eye pauses for a minute on a pile of papers on his shelf and then on an 18-inch statue of the Indian God Shiva next to the papers. .  He realizes that it is 6:30 and punches the speed-dial for his home on his phone for what is getting to be a daily ritual. 

Nina answers and in the background he can hear Jeremy fighting with Bridget.  “Nina, I am going to have to stay here working again tonight.  I am sorry to do this again but it’s so important that, -that, -- that I have to do it.  And tell Bridget and Jeremy that I will try to get away this weekend for the trip to the Buffalo Bill Ranch that I promised them.”  Deep down, Vitorrio knows this is probably a lie. 

Nina tries to listen sympathetically.  She had heard many similar messages in the last months. 

Vitorrio turns to the screen again.  He is looking at a two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional surfaces representing projections from an eleven-dimensional geometric space.  He thinks “This is like trying to understand a complex landscape by looking at it through a ten-foot soda straw.”  Putting together the landscape has to happen in his head and that is not easy.

Cindy-Anne, a particle physicist who works in the next office comes into Vitorrio’s office.  “Vit, you going to come to Sherry-Hour?” 

Sherry-Hour is a ritual transplanted from the Harvard Physics Department.  It is a Thursday-evening informal meeting where good sherry is consumed and key work issues are informally discussed, in this case among a dozen or so key theoreticians on the ULTIMA scientific staff.  Sometimes, ways to handle knotty problems are surfaced in Sherry Hour; other times social banter and scientific gossip dominates. 

“Not tonight” Vitorrio responds.  “I am getting strange results from my brane U-B simulation model and I have to track down what is going on.” 

Nina smiles wryly.  “OK but you might be better off letting up for a while Vit; you have been killing yourself with that model for more than five weeks now.  Is it worth it?” 

“Yeah I am afraid it is” Vitorrio responds and turns back to his screen and its wavy surfaces.  “Look at this.”

He clicks a box on the screen labeled: ”INITIATE SIMULATION.”  A wavy white surface like a giant butterfly flits across the scene, flopping around and changing shape against a black background.  A hole appears in the surface and then a different wavy white surface pokes through it, and the two surfaces flop around like glued-together butterflies.  Then a third surface comes up through the hole.  Then there are three glued-together dancing butterflies.  Then a fourth and fifth surface and more and more surfaces appear until the screen is crowded with dancing surfaces.  Soon the screen is so packed with surfaces you can only see white.  In a minute a message appears “SINGULARITY ERROR, PARAMETER RANGE EXCEEDED.  RESTART SIMULATION?” 

Vitorrio turns to Cindy “That is what keeps happening, the simulation blows up every time.” 

Cindy asks “What does it mean?” 

Vitorrio:  “I don’t know exactly; it’s very hard to explain.  Whatever it is, it’s not good.”

Vitorrio Brindi is a mathematician-physicist, part of the core scientific team working on ULTIMA, a $27 billion dollar supercollider project.  Staffed by an international team, the ULTIMA supercollider is capable of smashing heavy atoms against each other at 99.999999999% the speed of light with the resulting production of incredible point energy events.  The Quark and gluon plasmas created are thousands of times hotter than the interior of the sun.  Everything about ULTIMA’s European older-cousin supercollider, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in Geneva Switzerland, was super-scaled.  ULTIMA is unbelievably further super-scaled.  ULTIMA occupies a vast campus in rural Nebraska, a state into which it has brought vitality, billions of dollars of economic activity, and international scientific exposure.  It employs 12,000 scientists and technicians drawn from all over the world.  Physically, the ULTIMA supercollider is a pair of 54-mile long atomic particle racetracks.  The racetracks are in a tunnel 1000 feet under Nebraska cattle country.  The two tracks, right next to each other, are exotic-alloy tubes surrounded by 4000 gigantic superconducting dipole magnets weighing tens of tons each.  Over 1000 tons of niobium-titanium superconducting cables were used in building the ULTIMA machine and everything had to be set up to a precision of a tenth of a millimeter.  The magnets propel the particles, control their trajectories and further speed them up each time they pass around the 54-mile track.  Particles in the two tracks race in opposite directions.  Energy is up to 20 TeV per beam (that’s trillion electron volts).  And finally, the particles can be magnetically detoured so they crash head-on creating dazzling showers of exotic subatomic particles...  The specialized particle detection chambers at ULTIMA are the size of basketball stadiums.  And thousands of networked supercomputers filling vast halls monitor and analyze the results of the collision events. 

Breakfast the next morning Brindi’s house.  The kids and Vitorrio are sitting at the table eating cereal, Nina is making toast.  The TV is tuned to the morning news.  There is a brief view of paralyzing snowstorms in the Midwest showing abandoned cars on expressways.  Then the camera turns to a scene showing crowded bleachers where panicked people are crawling over each other in a rush to escape.  The camera pans to show a section of the bleachers where there is fire and smoke.  The news anchor announces:  “There was a disaster at the demolition derby at the Nebraska Raceway Track at Greenwood last night.  When two driverless trucks were rammed into each other head-on at 100 miles an hour there was a giant fireball that threw flaming debris.”  The TV shows the fireball.  “Some of that debris fell on the bleachers killing eighteen and injuring a hundred and two people according to the latest count? 

Jack Angus the show organizer is introduced.  He says “We have done this kind of collision event many times before without any problem.  We have a 100% safety record.  It was some kind of fluke.  The collision was 1000 yards from the viewing stand and fallout like that has never happened.” 

The news anchorman comes on again. “Governor Edgarson says he is going to ask the legislature to outlaw demolition derbies.” 

Nina shuts the TV off and announces “Its time to go to school.”  She turns to Vitorrio “You staying late at the office again tonight?” 

“Probably I will have to.” 

“I’ll buy some more roast beef and sliced turkey and leave it in the fridge as usual.  I’ll probably be sleeping when you get home.”

Vitorrio is back at the office sitting with Cindy-Anne again She is sipping a latte in a paper cup, he a cappuccino.  He tells her:  “I saw something this morning that set me thinking.  I think I can tell you what my brane simulation is saying in ordinary language – ordinary for a physicist that is.” 

Cindy-Anne downs a gulp of her latte.  “Shoot!” 

“What we have here is a very sophisticated demolition derby, that’s all.”

“I suppose you mean we are crashing things head-on against each other and preoccupied with the flying pieces.” 

“Exactly, we are going to crash heavy metal nuclei instead of cars or trucks.  So we can take a lesson from demolition derbies.  Do you know that the kinetic energy of a single uranium nucleus moving at the projected speed of the ULTIMA B experiment is about that of a Dodge SUV going at 1,000 miles an hour?”

She blows a bubble in her latte with a straw.  “That much?  If you say so.  I never figured it out.” 

“You can compute that easily; it’s a simple relativistic calculation.  Now imagine two dodge SUV’s crashing head-on into each other each going 1,000 miles an hour.  What would happen?  Did you see on TV what happened at the demolition derby last night when they crashed the trucks together?” 

“No, my daughter monopolizes the TV in the morning; she watches Crazy Bear.  What happened?” 

Vitorrio bumps his coffee cup against hers.  “The trucks were only going 100 miles an hour - and 120 people a fifth of a mile away were killed or injured.  You know energy is proportional to the square of the speed so our uranium particle crashes will give off 100 times that much energy per collision.” 

Cindy-Anne displays a slight smile.  “Are you saying that’s enough energy to blow up a city block or something?”

Vitorrio comes back quickly.  “Exactly.  If we were crashing trucks there would be utter mayhem.  The explosion and fallout would be seen and heard for miles around.  But that’s the same energy we are going to let loose in ULTIMA B in a single nucleus collision.  In fact our beams will contain millions of nuclei and thousands will crash every second.  Can you imagine what a thousand such crashes a second it will do?” 

Cindy-Anne recites the usual answer.  “Well yes, the colliding nuclei will produce a quark-gluon plasma.  The plasma will quickly degenerate into showers of secondary, tertiary and so-on sub-nuclear particles.  Our detectors will pick some of them up and measure their properties.  Many of these particles will be highly exotic even for us particle physicists, such as the Higgs Boson.  We will most likely discover brand new ones, new laws of physics.” 

Vit presses on: “Yes, yes: that’s right from our press releases.  But how about the energy, the same energy for each one of those thousands of crashes as two SUVs crashing at a relative 2,000 miles an hour?  What will we see?” 

Cindy Anne knows the answer again.  “Without our instruments we won’t see anything.  Everything that happens will be subatomic and invisible to our senses.  All that released energy will stay in the sub nuclear domain and do weird stuff there, stuff only of interest to us theoretical physicists.” 

Vitorrio sets his coffee cup down on a table with a bang, and some of it sloshes out.  “That’s EXACTLY my point.  Just because we can’t hear, smell or feel the awesome energy does not mean its doing nothing that affects us.  My brane model shows that a number of near-simultaneous crashes could rip a hole right through our space-time fabric.  Mixing our universe up with other parallel ones.  And that could affect us big-time.  Might show up as tiny black holes that grow and gobble up everything – and I mean everything.  We are going to run a nuclear demolition derby and we have no more clues about what might happen than the guys at the Nebraska Raceway Track did last night.” 

That night Vitorrio comes home a little after midnight as usual.  Following his nightly ritual he visits the refrigerator and puts together a sliced turkey, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich, consuming it with slaw and a glass of milk.  He then washes up and brushes his teeth, undresses in the bathroom and quietly slithers into bed next to Nina.  The electric blanket is on and the bed is warm and embracing.  She is awake and turns to him, flicking on the bed reading light.  “Vit, are you OK?  I couldn’t get to sleep; strange things keep going around in my head.” 

“Personally I am fine but all my energy is going into the stuff I am working on.  I am wrung out as you know.”

Nina does not want to let it go this time.  She turns in bed to face Vitorrio.  “Can’t you let me in on it, tell me what it is that has you so preoccupied?” 

Vitorrio continues to lie on his back.  “I’m not sure I can.” 

“I can see how it’s tearing you apart.  And all you do is keep telling me it’s very important.” 

“It’s hard for me to explain, something involving a lot of advanced science and math.  Basically I am afraid they are going to do something extremely dangerous at ULTIMA.  But I am not completely sure.  Perhaps it’s all just a theoretical problem.” 

“Have you shared this with anybody? 

“Only to one person I work with, Cindy Anne.  I think you know her.  She is in your yoga class.” 

“I know her and like her.  It’s good you have at least one person who understands what’s eating you.” 

“Unfortunately I don’t think either she or I could stop the dangerous stuff going on at ULTIMA.  It’s moving forward like a giant juggernaut.  I wish I were sure about the danger.  It’s the uncertainty that’s getting to me.  I have to keep gnawing at the math and computer simulation until it gets clearer.  That’s where all my time is going.” 

Nina needs to cover some additional ground.  “Are you aware you missed Bridget’s dance recital?  She asked at supper if you would be there and I told her you had promised to go.  She did a beautiful solo piece and got lots got of applause and praise for that.  But your daughter was disappointed you were not there.” 

“I am sorry.  Was that tonight?  I haven’t been checking my appointment book.  I also missed my Dentist appointment Monday.” 

Vitorrio’s wife would like to help if she could.  “Anything I can do to help, to get you back where you are grounded again?” 

“I am afraid nothing for now except to just please be patient with me.”

The ULTIMA machine has been operational now for 18 months and has been successful at its First –Phase objective (ULTIMA-A) of smashing gold atoms against each other from the opposite-running tracks with the beam energy level of 20 teva-volts.  The ULTIMA project is highly visible, sponsored by CERN and the AEC with strong support from the entire worldwide physics community.  ULTIMA is expected in time to yield insight as to a number puzzling cosmological questions like “What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?  And “Can we discover hard evidence of the extra dimensions predicted in string and brane theories?  The hope is to discover more about what happened a fraction of a picosecond after the Big Bang creating our universe.  The way to learn this is to generate the instantaneous energy density that existed at that time.  Many theorists expect new physics beyond the Standard Model that dominated the 20th century to emerge at the TeV- POWER scale of ULTIMA.  This new physics will reveal new laws of nature and resolve unsatisfactory properties of the Standard Model.  So, the world community of physicists, cosmologists and astronomers follow the ULTIMA experiments as if they were Suberbowl games.  

Vitorrio, just turned 39, is a senior member of the ULTIMA team, not because of his managerial ability but because of his fame as a world-class mathematician and his brane-theory specialty.  Prior to joining ULTIMA he was part of the LHC core team and before that did post-doc work at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton after his brilliant PhD work at Harvard.  Vitorrio’s specialty is 11-dimensional brane theory integrating the various string theories and the relationship of brane theory to super-high energy events.  In fact, Vitorrio was one of the creators of Brane theory in the first place. 

Brane theory seeks to reconcile what Einstein wanted to do but could not finish in his lifetime – bring into a single theoretical framework the two great theories of physics of the 20th century – relativity theory and quantum theory.  And it “answers” the question of whether there was time before the big bang.  Brane theory, for all its virtues, manifests itself only via highly abstruse mathematics and computer models.  It is inscrutable not only to lay people but even to the vast majority of physicists.   According to brane theory there are seven hidden space dimensions along with the four familiar space-and-time ones.  But most of these dimensions are tightly “wound up” and not directly observable.  An infinite number of parallel universes exist according to this theory, not far away but cozied up to ours.  Many of these universes are like ours differing in only miniscule ways.  And quantum events, especially powerful ones, cross over from our universe into the universes that are close to being like ours.  (One theory is that gravity is such a weak force compared to others because it dissipates itself across many other universes.) Of course, only a small handful of physicists are truly familiar with string theories and only a few these grasp brane theory.   It is expected that ULTIMA will produce experiments that validate brane theory. 

The ULTIMA staff is about to proceed to a critical Phase II experiment (ULTIMA B) where plans are to smash uranium atoms against each other.  Because uranium is much heavier than gold the ULTIMA-B experiment will produce much higher instantaneous power releases than the earlier ULTIMA A experiments – up to hundred of times as much in the case of simultaneous crashes.  After much checking of his theory and computer model, Vitorrio is reluctantly concluding that the danger of running the ULTIMA-B uranium-smashing experiment is both real and imminent.  The experiment should be stopped.  But it is scheduled to proceed 12 days from now.  He has been writing up his results as he proceeds.  

Cindy-Anne sticks her head into Vitorrio’s office:  “Want a cup of coffee; I am going to the canteen?” 

“Yeah” responds Vitorrio, “but then can you give me an hour?  I have something I have to get off my chest.” Sipping the steaming brew five minutes later, Vitorrio begins.  “As you all know, I have been working on what brane theory might tell us about the outcome of the ULTIMA B experiment.  I have kept you partially up to date about my analysis and the brane computer model.  What I keep getting no matter how I come at it is that the ULTIMA-B collision events will release enough instantaneous energy to play havoc with our ordinary laws of physics.  Simple as that.  We will be messing with high-enough energy that our known laws of physics won’t work.” 

“That’s simple?” 

“Yes it is.  But what’s not simple is knowing what will happen.  My brane theory is the best working model of what could happen and it predicts disaster.

Cindy-Anne knows some things too.  “As I remember it, textbook theory says that at 10^19 GeV the electroweak force, the strong force, and gravity have the same strength and can cross over from one to another.  Our energy levels of 20 TeV will be way way below that.”  So I don’t see what there is to worry about, except possible theoretical ---“

Vitorrio breaks in.  “But for what we know those forces could cross over at a lot lower energy too.  Our understanding at this point only goes up to about the 1 TeV level.  The point energy of the ULTIMA-B experiment will be dozens of times that.  Look: we are talking about an energy level that was only present a tiny fraction of a picosecond after initiation of the Big Bang – the origin of the universe.  It’s never been present since then, not here, not in a remote galaxy.  And there is a big catch-22, and that is quantum time and energy uncertainty.  At the immense energy levels and tiny time fragments we are working with, the very meaning of “time” is smeared out by quantum uncertainty.  The time uncertainty is enough that we could be dealing with the energy level at the very beginning of the universe.  Ground zero, Genesis Chapter 1, remember "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”  Quantum and relativistic mathematics show singularities at that initial moment, meaning all bets of physical laws are off.” 

Cindy-Anne stands her ground.  OK: “So we discover new laws of physics.  That’s what ULTIMA is all about anyway.”

Vitorrio is getting more excited.  “Sure, that’s what we tell everybody.  What we don’t say is that the new laws could do strange things to us.  Anyway, back to my point.  Brane theory resolves the singularity and tells us more if you can trust it.  My analysis and model says that an event with the critical energy level of 40 TeV will release a quantum wave that crosses the dimensions of the brane spaces sufficiently strongly to perturb a manifold of universes strongly parallel to ours.  Essentially a hole would be temporarily torn in the brane fabric dividing our universe and adjacent parallel ones.  This could affect the interaction of these universes with our own universe in ways we cannot begin to predict.  At worst, from our own parochial view the high energy concentration could ignite all mater on earth and perhaps in the solar system or even in our galaxy or entire universe in a thermonuclear conflagration.  Alternatively our universe could be partially mixed with alternative one or ones changing our past, present and future.  It’s the stuff of science fiction, Back to The Future You Know.  It scares the hell out of me.  I am here 18 hours a day, losing my family.  And I don’t know whether to check the model again for the umpteenth-upteenth time or try and ring an alarm.”

Cindy Anne responds. “Perhaps you don’t have to worry.  According to the Brando team’s work the ULTIMA-B plasma energy released will be something like 25 TeV, enough to get us some new particles but less than your Armageddon trigger amount.” 

“Yeah, according to that group.  But Binkowski’s group thinks something else.  You should know since you are part of it.”  He looks at Cindy Anne with a penetrating stare. “You think that the energy of all the protons and neutrons in simultaneously colliding uranium atoms could fuse into a single quark-gluon quantum wave reaching or exceeding 60 TeV.” 

“We do think that.  I know; I worked on that analysis.  but of course nobody knows who is right.” 

“Listen Cindy-Anne, in my book the brainpower in your group runs circles in that of Brando’s.  And my computer simulation says that at that level it’s bye-bye everything” 

Cindy makes a wry face “You’ve got a problem. That kind of an idea is discredited. Remember the concern about the end of the world back seven or eight years - before they cranked up the Brookhaven Heavy Ion collider? There was a worry about mini black holes. There were headlines in newspapers, a special study commission and stuff like that.”

Vitorrio raises his hands, palms out in a classic Italian gesture. “I know I have a problem. The people worrying back then were not really scientists. However Frank Wilczek, a really bright guy, wrote a letter to Scientific American suggesting that the collider could produce strangelets. That’s a hypothetical form of matter that exists at the center of neutron stars according to some theories. Wilczek mentioned the possibility of an ‘ice-9’-type transition. That would involve a conversion of all surrounding matter in the world into strangelets – bye bye world. He didn’t take his worry too seriously though the public did.

"And off course the world still exists. And Wilczek went on to get a Nobel Prize. So what’s different now?"

"Brane theory, that’s what different and that is all I have to go on. It’s the most comprehensive model of reality we have and gets around most of the paradoxes of the classical relativity and quantum theories. Those theories are almost 80 years old now and they are tired. But 99.6 % of the people in this project are still talking them as gospel. And those same 99.6% can’t really follow brane theory. I feel like an anthropoligist trying to explain the danger of an earthquakes due to a tectonic fault to stone-age people on some pacific island."

Cindy Anne hates to see her colleague in such a struggle with himself.  “Look, here is what I think.  It is stupid of you to keep torturing yourself about this.  Becker is an excellent brane theorist and will understand your model.  Why don’t you share your concerns with him and get him to review the model” 

Vitorrio grimaces.  “I don’t dare do that because Becker is on Sorenson’s team and Sorenson is responsible for pulling off the first ULTIMA B experiment on schedule.  You know what a ruthless guy he is.  If he gets wind I am trying to slow his experiment down he will stop at nothing to crush me.” 

Cindy Anne is determined to be helpful.  “Right.  How about Gupta from UCLA, not as high powered a brane theorist but he still could probably grok your model and help.” 

Two days later Madhya Gupta is sitting with Vitorrio in his ULTIMA office.  A masalla tea and a cappuccino facilitate the interaction. 

Gupta, a product of the Indian culture, decides to be direct.  “Your model still confuses me.  You know my strength is mainly in string theory and branes are still somewhat unfamiliar to me.  Sometimes I think I get your analysis; other times I don’t.  I dreamt about it last night.” 

Vitorrio sips his cappuccino.  “What’s your overall reaction?” 

”I suspect you are possibly right.  There could possibly be a real problem with ULTIMA B.  Not necessarily the end of the world but perhaps enough burst energy to melt the insides of ULTIMA down.” 

Vitorrio blows bubbles in his Cappuccino, one of his favorite things when he is nervous.  “I think it’s a big-time danger but I don’t know how to get them to listen to me.  What do you think I can do?” 

Gupta sips his masalla tea.  “Why don’t you review your stuff with Becker, he’s on your own project and one of the best brane guys in the world besides you.” 

“What has stopped me is internal ULTIMA politics – high energy like the particles we deal with.  Becker and I basically like each other and respect the other’s work a lot, but we hardly talk much.  You know Sorenson his boss is an utter bullhead.” 

Gupta says “I know Becker fairly well.  We did a fellowship together at MIT.  I think you can trust him.”

Vitorrio throws up his hands in an “I give up” gesture that he probably learned from his Italian grandparents.  “I knew all along I would have to bring Becker into this sooner or later, so perhaps now is the best time.  I will simply e-mail him my analysis and ask him for his opinion.” 

Gupta picks up the initiative.  “Do you know about the early history of your project?” 

“Not much.” 

“Your project was born as SHIVA not ULTIMA.  It was not renamed ULTIMA until three years afterward.” 

“I know; some of the old-timers still call it that.  SHIVA was shorthand for Smithsonian High Voltage Accelerator.  The incubator organization for the project was the Smithsonian Institute.” 

Gupta goes on.  “Right, and soon the full name was nearly forgotten.  What you might not know is that early-on some of us Indian scientists pointed out that Shiva is the God of Destruction according to our Hindu tradition.  Nobody seemed to mind that at first.  Later when the project leaders started to look for really big money, the politicians thought it would be better if the project had a less foreign name without weird connotations.  So they changed the project’s name to ULTIMA.” 

Vitorrio smiles. 

The Indian scientist is now quite focused.  “Do you know anything about the ancient mythology surrounding Shiva; it fits in well with your concern?” 

Vitorrio gets up and heads for the shelf by his window.  “Not really; he is the Hindu god with the multiple arms, right?   Last year in Denver I saw a small brass statue of him in an Indian import store.  It was cheap and I liked it.  So, I brought it back with me as a souvenir.”  Vitorrio takes the fake-bronze statue of Shiva off of his bookshelf and stands it on the table.  “Here he is.”  

The piece is familiar to Gupta.  “That is a copy of Nataraja, Shiva performing his dance as a part of his divine duties of creation and destruction.  You see him dancing in a circle of flames with his foot on a dwarf representing ignorance.  Besides being Shiva The Destroyer, our mythology says Shiva is also intimately involved with creation.”

Vitorrio listens attentively as Madhya Gupta proceeds.  “Your statue shows Shiva with four arms.  The upper right hand holds an hour-glass drum which is a symbol of creation.  It is beating the pulse of the universe.  He holds Agni which is fire in his left back hand, symbol of destruction.  Shiva is performing the Tandava, the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and possibly destroyed.  He is the master of the dance of creation and destruction.  What you are telling me is that your supercollider is exactly that.  As far as I am concerned your project is still SHIVA.”

Vitorrio is eating lunch in one of the ULTIMA cafeterias with Rod Neilsem, a project manager for the ULTIMA-A phase of operation. 

Vitorrio brings up a topic not talked about much anymore.  “I am curious.  Rod, can you tell me what really happened during the second ULTIMA-A experiment, when you had the burnout problem?” 

“Officially, and you have read the story, the problem was failure of one of the super-cooled magnets.  The nuclear beam went out of focus and failed to turn a corner in the racetrack fast enough, so it gouged a gash through the metal tube which contains the particle racetrack.  You know they had to replace a sixty foot segment of one of the tubes.” 

Vitorrio has heard this before.  “So it was a purely mechanical breakdown, had nothing to do with the particle physics?” 

“Yes according to the official version we told the press.  But our physicists think there might have been something else too.” 

 “And what is that?” 

Rod looks around to see if anybody else is listening.  “Just before the accident we were colliding boron nuclei at fairly low energy but were getting unusual energy spikes in three of our detection chambers.  Ultra high-energy short-lived particles of some kind were being generated.  We still don’t know what they were or why they were being created.  After about 10 seconds of seeing those particles the beam went out of focus and gouged the gash.  We don’t know what the strange particles had to do with the beam straying.  There was no obvious connection.  That was a year ago.  Never happened again since.  We had to chalk it up as being a coincidence.” 

Vitorrio thinks for a moment and tells himself.  “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

When Vitorrio gets back to his office after lunch he does a Google search on “Shiva and Destruction” and starts to scan multiple pages of references.  After a few minutes of this he sees that there is far too much on the subject for him to grasp and he returns to working on his brane model.  That night via his dreams Vitorrio tries unsuccessfully to knit together the gash that was burned in the UNTIMA racetrack, the Demolition Derby tragedy, Lord Shiva and his doings, his brane model results, and Nina’s growing unhappiness.

It’s morning at Vitorrio’s house and he is getting ready to leave for the office, a scant eight hours after he got home last night.  He goes to kiss Nina goodbye,

Nina turns away and says ”I don’t see you much face-to-face any more and I need to let something out.  I have been doing my best to be supportive of you, even when I hurt badly inside.  But the feelings just keep building up in me.  I need to tell you them.” 

“OK, go ahead.”

Nina’s voice starts to waver.  “I am very lonesome. I don’t have a present husband any more.  I haven’t had one for six months since something got into you.  And Jeremy and Bridget don’t have a father that’s present either.  You stopped going out with them weekends, don’t go to appointments at the school, perhaps spend fifteen minutes a week with them, and then you are so distracted you might as well not be there.  What in God’s name is going on with you?” 

Vitorrio struggles with how to respond.  “I don’t think you can understand it but I am doing some crucial work, work that’s extremely important.  It’s been eating me up like you see but I have to stick with it.” 

A tear appears in Nina’s eye.  “You are right.  I truly don’t understand.  What could possibly be more important than being a present husband and father to your two small children?  My closest friend Betty thought you might be having an affair but my friends at your office say that is not so.  They tell me you are glued to your computer screen.” 

“Believe me I want you and this family.  I will be back, please please trust me.” 

Nina has more to say.  “I am not sure you are OK.  I know you think what you are doing is important.  But your head is full of theoretical stuff that nobody else understands.  And that stuff seems to be getting to you.  Whatever your compulsive ideas are they have nothing to do with our lives but are ruining them.   Would you please see Dr. Brompton?  We know him well and he is about as sympathetic as a psychiatrist can get.” 

Vitorrio instantly rejects the idea but replies “Perhaps I will see him, but not until after a couple of weeks.  Too much is going on now.”

Vitorrio, still waiting to hear from Becker, decides to bring his conclusions to Susomo Ito, the senior physicist on the ULTIMA-B project.   Ito is crack at high-energy nucleotide interactions but has never really followed either string theory or brane theory.  They are in Ito’s office.

Ito has listened to Vitorrio’s concerns but is not sure how to respond.  “I see the potential danger you are pointing to but frankly I can’t follow your mathematics or understand your model enough to trust them.  I wish I could but that abstract stuff is beyond my training.  What if your theory is faulty or you have an incorrect assumption or have made a math error? ” 

Vitorrio half asserts and half pleads.  “You know I am pretty sure about this.  All I am asking is that we should postpone ULTIMA-B until other crack brane guys in Moscow, Princeton, Paris and Cambridge can go over my work.  We all know that at the ULTIMA B energy level we will be dealing with terra incognita as far as physics is concerned.  And the brane model of what might go on is the best one we have.” 

After a moment of silence Vitorrio puts the question “What do you think I can do?”   

Ito answers quickly “I don’t think you could do anything which would get the first ULTIMA-B experiment postponed at this point.   Sorenson is a bully and won’t let his pet project to be stopped by wispy mathematics.  You know practically everybody on Sorenson’s team is disdainful of purely theoretical work.  They want to see actual experimental results.  Everybody except Becker, that is.”

Vitorrio unconsciously squirms.  “Do I have any chance at all of being heard?” 

Ito goes for the practical solution.  “Why don’t you see if you can enlist Becker in your viewpoint?  It is possible that management would listen to the combination of the two of you.” 

“I am already trying that but so far I have not heard from him.  We are running out of time before the experiment.  I need to go to the top of ULTIMA with this, now.  Susumo, will you lend your weight to my asking for a special meeting of the ULTIMA Governing Council where I will bring this up?” 

“You are my friend and sure I will do that.  But I expect Sorenson will squash you there.”

When Ami Sorenson hears that there will be a special meeting of ULTIMA’s Governing Council, he wonders what Brindi is up to and checks with his own project mathematician Becker. 

Sorenson likes to communicate in a semi-below.  “What the hell do you think Brindi wants; what could be urgent enough for Ito to ask for a special council meeting?  Do you think Brindi wants to fuck with our experiment?” 

Becker is not really cowed by Sorenson.  “He sent me a paper and computer model a few days ago, very intricate mathematical stuff.  I have been going over it but still don’t know what to make of it for sure.  The gist is that Brindi thinks that the energy level of ULTIMA B could trigger the end of the world.  No kidding, at least if you believe in brane theory and Brindi’s math is right.” 

Sorenson laughs.  “What utter bullshit.  I always thought you math whizzes were fruity but he must be right off his rocker.” 

Becker comes back.  “I think I have spotted a big error in his calculations.  But I am not so sure.  From how it looks now there is an outside chance he could be right.” 

That finishes the matter for Sorenson: “Good, give me a short memo pointing out Brindi’s math errors and when we get to the Council meeting we will ambush him with it.”

At the Council meeting things went pretty much as scripted by Sorenson.  After Vitorrio makes his case, Sorenson pulls out Becker’s memo pointing out the math error in Brindi’s work.  Slam dunk! The Council decides that the risk is minimal and the ULTIMA-B uranium-smashing experiment should proceed on schedule.  When asked about what he would say if the press should get a hold of the issue Dr. Hinkley, the physicist in overall charge of ULTIMA, said he would point out that Brindi’s work is “highly-theoretical and too abstract to justify alarmism.”

Becker speaks out of turn saying “Of course, we can’t be sure Brindi is not right in his conclusion, just an outside chance.” 

In response Hinkley says:  “Fine, why don’t you arrange to get us an independent review of Brindi’s work.  But meanwhile we will proceed with the ULTIMA B experiment as scheduled.”  The boss has spoken.

After the meeting Vitorrio, despondent, does not know what to do except possibly lobby for postponement of ULTIMA-B outside the project – something that his colleagues and bosses would view as treacherous.  That would finish his career in ULTIMA and perhaps in all of physics.  He also decides in the back of his mind to read Becker’s memo which challenges his mathematical reasoning.  Becker is known for his integrity.  His reaction can’t just be part of a political ploy.  Vitorrio decides on a middle course between further useless lobbying within the ULTIMA project on the one hand and going to the general press on the other.  He decides to seek occasions to communicate about the situation only through selected trusted people who might potentially make a difference.  He will not talk further with his wife about it either because of her concern for his mental stability.

Vitorrio goes to Washington and visits Senator Bumping, the main proponent on the political side for bringing ULTIMA to Nebraska.  Bumping gives Vitorrio little hearing, politely saying he is not a scientist and that Vitorrio’s issue is an internal one in ULTIMA.  Bumping does, however, promise not to alert ULTIMA management to the visit provided Vitorrio agrees to keep the matter strictly internal to ULTIMA.  Bumping views Vitorrio’s end-of-the-world views as products of a quirky ungrounded theoretician, a guy perhaps brilliant enough to keep around on this important project, but too off-the-page for his own taste.  If the ULTIMA management is going to hire a nutcase like that, it is going to have to deal with him too.

Vitorrio had long been a key member of the Nebraska ULTIMA Community Relations Council, a group devoted to smoothing relationships between ULTIMA and the local North Platte community.  After a Relations Council meeting, Jack Merigold, another member of the Council and a local billionaire cattle rancher, invites Vitorrio to a drink at Kelsey’s Place, a local bar.  Uncharacteristically, Vitorrio accepts.  Vitorrio finds himself unloading his concerns over ULTIMA B on Merigold. 

Merigold, a friendly but shrewd man, a leader in Nebraska conservative politics, listens to Vitorrio carefully.  He finally responds in a very measured voice.  “I can’t start to follow your scientific gobbledygook.  I just have to tune that out.  But I have known you for two years now, and I think you are a straight shooter.  You are coming from your heart in this matter and I get your dilemma.”  And he thought “Besides, this could possibly affect my ranch, make it radioactive or something.”  Much of ULTIMA’s nuclear racetrack lies under where Merigold’s cattle graze. 

Merigold continues: “Privately I have long felt that most of you guys running ULTIMA are one-track nerds.  I would like to mull the situation you described over a bit.  I know somebody who just might be able to help you.  It could be worth giving him a shot.  But I am still confused about the whole technical thing.  Could you give me something in plain English that lays out the situation and your concern?” 

Vitorrio sees he must confront an uncomfortable decision.  ”The closest thing I have is the executive summary of my internal paper.  It is highly confidential.  You won’t start to understand the technical stuff but I put the conclusions and warning in very plain language.  I could e-mail you a copy on the QT but you would have to be sure it doesn’t get loose.  That would get me fired for sure.  I am taking a big risk letting it outside our project.” 

Merigold smiles.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll see that your ass stays covered.”

Vitorrio starts to focus on Becker’s memo, underlining key passages and frequently checking in his computer as he goes through it.  The process is sucking him into mathematical la-la land yet another time.

Brief moments at breakfast are the only times Vitorrio gets to interact with Nina.  He typically comes home after midnight when she is sleeping – seven days a week now.  One morning at breakfast Nina asks Vitorrio:  “Mary Jane has a fever and can’t pick up the kids from school this afternoon.  You know I am working my regular nursing shift at the hospital.  Can you pick up the kids after school and make them supper?” 

“I am sorry but there are a couple of complicated revisions I have to make to my simulation model.  Time is of the essence.  Can you possibly get someone else to do it?” 

Nina tenses, tries to hold herself in but then her emotions break through:  “Sure, I’ll take care of it.  Don’t I always?”  She blurts out:  “I can’t stand this lifestyle.  Most of our friends are back East.  This community is half redneck and the other half nerd scientists.  I don’t fit with either group.  I don’t care that Buffalo Bill’s old home is here.  I have had enough of the Come and Get It Barbecue.  There are practically no other kids for ours to play with in this compound where we live.  It all sucks.  I know you love me somewhere inside, but we can’t live like this more.  I think you will come back some time but for now please make up your mind.”

Vitorrio takes this in half-removed.  “I am truly sorry Nina.”

Nina is not finished.  Either be a husband and real father or I am going to take the kids and move in with my mother in Kalamazoo.  She has got lots of room for us in the old house.  She will be delighted to have us there and will lavish attention on the kids.  The school there is excellent and there are plenty of kids for ours to play with.  I don’t want to divorce you at this point.  This move would be temporary.  You could visit us there.  We will come back to you when you are ready to come back to us.” 

Being consumed by the prospect of an end of everything, Vitorrio can hardly bring himself to respond to Nina.  He answers “Look Nina, do what you have to do.  I will be with you again, fully, when I can.  I promise you that.”

Jim Arthur is a fundamentalist preacher-pastor-televangelist with one of the largest congregations in the country.  Some 25,000 people come to his service every Sunday in a stadium-like megachurch in Scottsbluff, a two-hour drive from the ULTIMA project site in North Platte.  The services are multimedia events complete with rock bands, a 200-singer chorus, fireworks, light shows, and of course massive curing-the-sick and redemption ceremonies.  Snake-handlers, fire-eaters and rock star celebrities make guest visits.  And at least another million people throughout the country normally follow the services on TV. 

Marigold meets with Jim Arthur in his Church office.  “Jim, I have something you may be interested in, least I thought I should bring it to you.” 

“Must be important for you to drive two hours to see me, Jack.” 

Merigold goes on.  “One of the key scientists at ULTIMA thinks their new ULTIMA B experiment could bring on the end of the world:  And you must be the most expert person I know on the world ending.  At least, you preach about it frequently.” 

The preacher swivels in his chare to directly face his visitor.  “That subject is always of professional interest to me.  Who is this guy, a nutty professor of some kind?” 

 “No, he’s a respectable scientist type.  I’ve known him a couple of yeas.  We sit on the ULTIMA Community Council together.  The guy is highly regarded in science circles.”

Arthur snaps back.  “Give me his pitch.” 

“His mathematics show that the energy generated by the next ULTIMA experiment could be the same as that just after God created the universe.  He told me that a couple of days ago.  And at that energy, bluie the world.” 

Arthur makes a funny face.  “Bluie what’s that?” 

The rancher gives a small laugh. “The end, The Rapture, whatever you want to call it.  Look, I can’t follow his science talk but here is the executive summary of an internal document he wrote.”  Merigold hands the executive summary to Arthur.  It’s plainly marked.  PROJECT ULTIMA - HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL.  “He’s pretty convinced but the politico-scientists running ULTIMA won’t listen to him.”

Arthur takes a few minutes going over the document and asks “Who else knows about this?” 

Merigold says “only some brass in the ULTIMA project itself, as far as I know.” 

Arthur decides to grab the bull by its horns.  “Jack, you have done a great service by bringing this message to me.  “This situation is not surprising to me and I completely see the danger.  You know I don’t trust the big-science establishment and they constantly attack me for that.  In fact, I don’t trust most science.  You know my stand on evolution.  And I don’t trust the foreign big-money guys behind the ULTIMA project at all.”

 Merigold smiles.  This is more or less the reaction he expected. 

Arthur goes on with his deep rolling pulpit voice “The very impunity of those scientists trying to recreate conditions at the onset of the universe.  That’s God’s province. And if man tries to go there God won’t allow it.  I can’t condone it.” 

Merigold nods agreement. 

Arthur continues “This situation matches a prediction in the scriptures - a premature man-originated triggering of The Rapture.  I don’t need further convincing.  I have to swing into action.  God brought this message to me through you and I must respond.  I will mobilize my congregation, and together, believe me; we have a lot of influence.” 

Merigold looks a bit pained. “OK Jim, but go easy for a minute.  We have to cover that scientists’ behind.  If those who run ULTIMA think he has put you up to a crusade against the project, he will be instantly fired and discredited.” 

Arthur intones “I hope you understand Jack that I have to do what I must do.  It is a divine imperative.  This is part of the drama of the Tribulation.  I am chosen to step up to the task at hand, to halting ULTIMA.  You cannot sway me from that.”  Thinking for a minute Arthur continues:  “But you are right, it is better for this guy to stay inside ULTIMA.  We need to keep him credible and he can continue to be our eyes and ears there.  So I should say I got the information some other way and not involve him or you personally.  I  believe --”

Merigold interrupts.  “I promised that to him in fact.” 

Arthur comes back.  “Fine Jack.  We will keep this meeting as our little secret but I need to show off that executive summary paper to be credible.  It will be hinted that it was found on the Internet and forwarded to me by one of my followers.” 

Merigold leaves the meeting wondering what he has done.

Vitorrio delves seriously into his mathematics and model again as he starts to see that Becker’s analysis has validity.  There may have been a big flaw in his energy calculations though not in the basic theory or mathematics.  Some parameters might have to corrected for relativistic effects.  Vitorrio needs to take time to thoroughly revisit his work and validate that the catastrophic conclusion he came to is warranted.  He realizes that most of this effort will have to be in the night in his office away from the distraction of his colleagues or family.

The next Sunday Jim Arthur’s sermon is centrally concerned with a revelation of the probable outcome of ULTIMA-B.  “I have come across a secret document that predicts the next major move Satan will make on earth.  Let there be no mistake abut it my dear friends.  What is at stake here is the end of the world.  Let me read these words of the 6th Seal of Revelation to you: ‘Rev 6.12: And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; Rev 6.13: And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth.’ That is what is at stake my friends: an end to this earth prematurely brought about by the hand of man prompted by Satan.  An end brought about by the temerity of men trying to mimic the very creation of this universe.  An end through artificially mobilizing an energy level beyond that understood by science, an energy level belonging only to God.”  Arthur cites the conclusion of Vitorrio’s paper.  “We do not know what God’s response to this affront will be.  It may be that God will decide to terminate this experiment of his known as ‘humanity.’  But it is our Christian duty not to force God’s hands.  Our duty is to stop ULTIMA.  That is my commitment and it is the commitment I am asking of all you good Christians listening to me now.  We must choose between right and wrong, between obedience and sin, between following God’s commandments and the worship of Satan.  Stop ULTIMA.”

Nine hundred thousand people hear this message on TV and it is soon all over the Monday morning newspapers papers and on every TV news show.  The alarmist concern is rapidly taken up by talk show hosts throughout the country, both on TV and radio.  Thousands of opinions are flung back and forth, mostly highly uninformed.  Most are critical of or hostile to ULTIMA.  Vitorrio is besieged by requests for interviews and guest show appearances.  He turns these all down but cannot get away from them and they continue to impinge on his privacy.  He tells all comers that the matter is an internal one in ULTIMA and that his executive summary was somehow leaked out and presented out of context.  His conclusions were premature, subject to confirmation. 

Hinkley personally calls Vitorrio and asks him how Arthur got possession of his executive summary. 

Telling a half-lie, Vitorrio says “I don’t know.”

At breakfast, Nina reads about Jim Arthur’s latest crusade in the North Platte Bulletin.  She asks Vitorrio “The paper says you wrote the secret memo that preacher Arthur is using to stir up all this fuss.  Did you? 

“Yes, unfortunately I did.  It got leaked to Rev. Arthur by somebody else. Without my approval.  This coffee is crummy.  Don’t we have better?” 

Nina replies “The supermarket is out of your favorite espresso.  Then in a lowered voice she asks “Are you really worried about the end of the world?” 

“I don’t know any more.  I thought it might be possible when I wrote that.  But my data had an error in it.  Now I don’t feel sure about what I wrote.” 

Nina is finding a handle to be sympathetic to her husband. : “I can see why you are worried, being used by such a hellfire guy as Arthur.  I Know you hate being ground up in politics.  Do you think you could get fired?” 

Vitorrio finishes his cup of crummy coffee.  “At this point I have no way of knowing what might happen.”

As the situation unfolds, a wave of public anti-ULTIMA sentiment starts to build up, mainly among some fundamentalist Christian constituencies.  Jim Arthur’s rants about ULTIMA are starting to take their toll politically and must be addressed.  Arthur is one of Senator Bumping’s key supporters and Jim is urging Bumping to get involved and cut off ULTIMA funding.  In the face of this development, the National Physics-and Astronomy Research Oversite Panel meets on an emergency basis to asses the situation. Senator Bumping has demanded that the Oversite Panel find out what is going on in ULTIMA ASAP.  The Panel is a Washington-insider’s group that links Congress with the National Science foundation on all matters of big science, matters like Space Missions, the Hubble Telescope and ULTIMA.  The Panel’s job is to see that the billions of dollars allocated to such projects are deployed responsibly and to interface between the science establishment and the world of politics.  The Panel demands that Hinkley, Ito, Sorenson and Vitorrio Brindi show up at a closed hearing in Washington the next day so they can get to the bottom of the matter and decide how to put it to rest in the press.

Meanwhile Vitorrio, taking Becker’s analysis seriously, has discovered a serious flaw in his model.  An exponential coefficient in one of his equations was just plain wrong. A typo he had looked at 50 times but missed.  Correcting the equation and recalculating the brane energy model, he finds that the maximum energy level of the ULTIMA-B experiment is not sufficiently high as to guarantee quantum inter-universe entanglement, even under pessimistic assumptions.  However, entanglement could still happen at the lower energy level, possibly maybe.

Cindy Anne enters Vitorrio’s office after sunset and asks “How are you holding up through all this?” 

Vitorrio responds “I don’t know.  They are treating me like a leper; people look the other way when they pass me in the hall.  You are the first one to say anything to me in the last 36 hours.” 

Cindy-Anne gets right to the point.  “They don’t’ trust you.  They think you slipped your conclusions to that preacher Arthur and pretend you didn’t.  They even had Louise in IT run through your outgoing e-mail to see if you had sent the item out.  They couldn’t find anything though.” 

Vitorrio swallows hard and thinks to himself “Thank goodness I sent it from home using my personal encrypted e-mail system.  They won’t ever find that.”

Vitorrio answers out loud “Yeah they don’t dare fire me now, but they are not going to let me in on anything either.   There is a new breakthrough for me however, something that could clear the whole muddy matter up. 

“And what is that?”

Vitorrio turns to his computer and starts the brane simulation model again.  The same first wavy surface and then the hole appear, and then the second surface which pokes through the first and becomes glued to it, all as before.  The two surfaces continue to flitter around joined together for an instant and then there is only the second surface flapping around, no other surfaces.

Cindy Anne asks “What does it mean?” 

Vitorrio nods his head a bit.  “I don’t know for sure.  Becker is right; there was an error in my model, a simple but big one that kept getting by me.  My earlier calculation showed that serious brane rupture and inter-universe entanglement came into play around the 60 TeV, level, about the maximum energy that can be expected from the ULTIMA -B experiment.”

Cindy Anne nods.  “I remember that.”

“The model was good but my numbers were wrong, an exponential value off, not much more than a typo.  When I recalculated I found high inter-universe entanglement at the 95 TeV level.”

Cindy Anne finishes his thought.  “That’s more than that maximally expected from the ULTIMA-B experiment. 

Vitorrio continues “So my absolute prediction of disaster as a result of ULTIMA-B is not warranted.  The model you see on the screen still does strange things but it no longer blows up.”

With a smile Cindy Anne quips “So all is well that ends well.”

Vitorrio quips right back “Right but we don’t actually know how it will end.  There may still be some risk connected with the experiment since its energy is still in a grey area.  As Becker tried to point out at the Committee meeting, safety is not guaranteed.” 

Cindy Anne is puzzled.  “What do you mean by that?” 

Vitorrio goes on.  “Even with the threshold being at 95 TeV, level there is unknown quantum uncertainty.  The brane could still be penetrated at ULTIMA B’s 20 or 30 TeV energy level.  This could lead to entanglement of alternative universes.  Too bad that the probability of this happening can’t be calculated.  I think that any tear in the brane would probably be tiny, instantaneous and seal up quickly.  I think it would only affect highly adjacent parallel universes, ones that differ from ours in only tiny ways.  My guess is that there is probably little danger of the end of earth.  Most likely the results would be mild universe crossover, not a thermonuclear explosion.” 

Cindy Anne asks “Do you mean that’s good news?  You don’t sound very sure” 

“The outcome is much less likely to be dire than I had projected before.  How much less is a matter of educated guesswork.  Even a small universe crossover could affect our past as well as present and future.  I don’t know what this would mean:  people with three eyes, Hitler ruling the world, back to Genghis Kahn, George Bush being a flaming liberal -- your guess is as good as mine.”

Cindy Anne quickly grasps the practical implications of this discussion.  “So why don’t you own up to your error, write it up quickly and show it to Becker.  He can then use it to calm Sorenson down.  You will have to feast on crow but I think they would let you back in the fold if you release a retraction of your original conclusions to the press.  An honest admission of error of a calculation made under a lot of self-pressure.  That would cut Jim Arthur off at the knees and show us scientists to the world as being human and capable of making mistakes, and even sometimes being humble.” 

Vitorrio nods yes.

Vitorrio reviews his new results with Gupta via a videoconference.  Overhead in the mathematics from the onset, Gupta sees the error when Vitorrio points it out and agrees.  Vitorrio calls Becker and asks to drop in his office. 

Becker receives Vitorrio cordially.  He says he is delighted to have contributed to Vitorrio’s brilliant brane analysis.  “We ought to pass this new result up through Sorenson and the hierarchy.  They should be happy to see it and might even be willing to let you out of the doghouse.” 

Vitorrio agrees with a reservation.  “Right, but they still won’t give any heed to your and my warning that there still is a possibility for an inter-universe entanglement effect.” 

Becker says “You are right that they don’t want to hear that. But at this point there is no way we can stop the ULTIMA B experiment.  They have been charging the capacitors for days now.  We have to just take that risk.  But at least we can get you back into good graces and get your paper into outside review.  I think it will make a big impression on the string and brane theory communities and maybe ward off any future attempts of further upping the collision event energy.  I would be honored to be a second-place author.” 

“Of course I would like that.  I guess we go see Sorenson first, then Hinkley.”

Meanwhile the attacks on ULTIMA from Arthur’s pulpit continue.  The image of ULTIMA among the public and among politicians is being eroded.  Senator Bumping is growing more impatient.  Pickets are starting to show up outside the ULTIMA site gates.

Vitorrio and Becker, meet soon afterwards with Ito, Sorenson and Hinkley.  They are scheduled to travel the next day to Washington to appear before the National Physics-and Astronomy Research Oversite Panel.  So there is a lot of desire on Hinkley’s part to come to agreement and work out a united front on behalf of ULTIMA.  Vitorrio and Becker express their reservations but reluctantly agree that it is probably OK to proceed with the initial ULTIMA-B experiment which is scheduled for two days hence.  Vitorrio does not own up to leaking his paper outside of ULTIMA.  Exactly how Arthur got Vitorrio’s paper continues to cloud the trust among those there.  Vitorrio agrees to generate a press release saying that he has done a new analysis which does not show the danger of ULTIMA-B to be what he had earlier thought it was.  The press release will also deplore the earlier release of an unnecessarily alarmist internal working document.  It will be seen that Arthur’s attack on ULTIMA is based only on a now-retracted document taken out of context.  It will also be intimated that Arthur is motivated by his fundamentalist anti-science stance. 

They agree to present the same story to the National Physics-and Astronomy Research Oversite Panel the next day.  The ULTIMA B phase experiment should proceed on schedule.  The experiment itself will generate a lot of good press about further understanding the first events after the big bang, and will as a fait-accompli make moot all of Arthur’s ravings.  Doing the first ULTIMA-B experiment is the only way to move forward.  Once it is done and the world still exists Arthur will have to shut up, the controversy will go away, and continuing project funding will be assured.

Nina calls Vitorrio to remind him of their anniversary dinner that evening.  He has to catch a 6:10PM plane that connects with a red-eye Washington flight in order to meet with the Oversite Committee the next day.  No other possible way.  So he can’t make it to the anniversary dinner.  And he can’t make it getting Nina to really accept this either.  In her brain she comprehends Vitorrio’s work dilemma.  In her heart she wants him home.  She cries for two hours after the conversation.  She has to face it: he has more important things than her or the family.  She may never get him back.

The Oversite Committee meeting goes as scripted.  The best approach to shutting up the anti-science people is to actually do the ULTIMA-B uranium collision experiment as soon as possible.  Vitorrio’s new official press release gets relatively little play in the media and is denounced by some as a retraction forced on Vitorrio by the Godless Science Establishment.  Hosts of some right-wing talk radio shows continue to demand that all ULTIMA funding be cut off.

Back home in the late afternoon after returning from Washington, Nina comes to Vitorrio’s office.  In a very sad meeting Vitorrio bids goodbye to his wife and children since they are departing for Michigan very early the next morning.  Nina assures Vitorrio that she basically needs a long break.  The visit with her mother is not necessarily permanent.  He says he will visit them in Kalamazoo next week, after the first ULTIMA-B experiment is done.  The experiment should resolve the issue he has been working on and he will be freed-up after that.

The next morning, the day of the ULTIMA-B experiment, the gates outside of the ULTIMA project campus are picketed with hundreds of demonstrators out to stop the test.  Their signs and chants damn the temerity of scientific encroachment on God’s territory and predict well-deserved doom. 

On TV that morning Jim Arthur condemns Vitorrio personally “-- for having sold out to the devil in the guise of science to keep his job.  God will not forgive him.”  Arthur asks all his followers to conduct a massive prayer vigil until the experiment is over. 

A temporary chapel has been hastily erected just outside the ULTIMA project gates with radio and TV links to the rest of the networked ultra-Christian world.

Nina, Jeremy and Bridget are the only passengers on a little shuttle van headed on I-94 to West Kalamazoo from the airport.  It is snowing heavily in southern Michigan and the plows on I-94 can hardly keep up.  The shuttle van, moving at about 65, is sandwiched between a 24-wheeler auto transport in front and an oil tanker behind.  The auto transport carries eight new SUV’s from Detroit on its double decks.  Visibility is only a few dozen feet, and suddenly the auto transport driver swerves hard left to avoid a tire carcass in the road.  Then the driver brakes and starts to swerve back into the right lane.  But by then the shuttle van had already moved forward to occupy the right lane next to the trailer.  The transport driver does not see the van in his snow-covered right rear mirror.  The result is that the heavy trailer with its SUVs sweeps the little van right off the road.  Out of control the van rolls over down an embankment into a branch of the Kalamazoo River where it rapidly fills with icy water. 

Later that morning in the vast control room of ULTIMA a thousand feet underground, Vitorrio, along with Becker, Ito and Hinkley are spectators as Sorenson directs initiation of the Phase B experiment.  It is a world-class media event.  Uranium nuclei swirling in parallel beams in opposite directions are already brought up almost-almost to the speed of light, a process that has taken hours.  The electricity being used is enough to power a city of 250,000 people.  Gigantic particle detection chambers and apparatus are standing ready to measure and record the experiment’s outcomes. 

A messenger finds Vitorrio, hands him a special radio phone.  It is the Michigan State Police.  Vitorrio listens and then hands the phone back.  When the State police tow truck fished the van out of the Kalamazoo River, all occupants were long dead.  He is screaming, dying inside but outside he is numb, shows nothing.  His wife and children are gone.  He does not move and realizes he cares nothing about the outcome of the experiment now.  His own world is already gone.  He simply does not care,

The networked supercomputers stand by for event analyses.  And these are networked to another 10,000 computers in laboratories throughout the world charged with secondary nuclear event analyses.  International video links are turned on.  The major TV networks are there.  C-Span is broadcasting the event live.  Hinkley and Sorenson have already been interviewed on Fox News Network and CNN.  Wolf Blitzer asks Hinkley “What about the report of your own scientist predicting the possible end of the world?”  Hinkley smiles “He made a serious mathematical error and has retracted his alarm.  Our other key scientists agree. It was an internal working memo that never should have been released.  There is no danger.  That will be evident when we are all still standing here ten minutes from now.”  The key scientists toast the experiment’s success with their cups of coffee in a TV photo-op pose.  Vitorrio sits slumped, no longer present inside.  The beam boot-up and crossover preparation sequence seems endless. 

Finally Sorenson gives the order to re-route the two beams into a collision course.  Technicians start to flip control switches.  A large monitor shows the uranium atom beams starting to cross.

Then there is suddenly nothing.  Nothing.  No supercollider, no CNN, no laboratories, no megachurch, no bang, no whisper, no explanation, nothing.  In the movie, the screen would turn to pure black with no sound.  End of this thread of reality.




There are many other stories with varying degrees of similarity depending on the universe.  Here is one.

Back 10 days in a highly-parallel universe.    A revisit of the emergency meeting of the ULTIMA governing council.  Up to this time the story is identical to the previous one

Everything is exactly the same and the opening statements are the same as they were back before, in the other universe.  Except that Ito’s support of Vitorrio is stronger. 

Hinkley turns to Becker and asks, “You have studied his work, what do you think about all of this.” 

Becker replies “As you know my wife got into a bad car accident and I have had to be with her the last couple of days.  As a result I have not had enough time to understand Brindi’s paper in sufficient depth.  Brindi’s math is extremely involved.  I need to study it further.  I am not really worried about the end of the world.  But Brindi’s math suggests that an energy flare could occur that seriously damages our ULTIMA supercollider.” 

Hinkley is quick to react. “Do you take that seriously?”

“I do.  I think the prudent thing is for us is to postpone the ULTIMA-B test.  At least until we can get Brindi’s analysis independently reviewed and validated. 

With some hesitation Sorenson declares this could be acceptable to him if they proceeded forthwith to the ULTIMA-C tests.  All concur to postpone ULTIMA-B for at least three months and shift focus for now to the lesser-energy ULTIMA-C supercollider experiments.  Sorenson will head the effort.  Meanwhile, an independent panel of string and brane theory theorists and particle physicists headed by Becker will review Vitorrio’s findings.  No real conflict, nothing extraordinary, no drama, just responsible rational scientific decision-making as usual. 

Apparently, ending the world is not something to be taken seriously.  But harming the ULTIMA machine certainly is. 

Nina calls Vitorrio at his office reminding him to come home for their anniversary event just as in the other universe.  He promises to do so.  Relieved of his worry about ULTIMA B, he gets home at 5:30 bringing flowers for Nina and two new Play Station 3 games for the kids.  A wonderful and healing event with his family follows. 

On the following Saturday, Vitorrio takes the family to visit the Buffalo Bill Ranch like he had promised.  While the kids are watching a slide show about the Indian Wars, Nina tells Vitorrio:  “I called my mother this morning and told her we won’t be moving to Kalamazoo.  The kids and I will be staying here with you.” 

Though he already knows the answer Vitorrio asks “What changed your mind?” 

Nina fixes on Vitorrio’s eyes.  “You.  You suddenly came back.  I don’t know everything that was going on in you before but now you are here. You were acting like the end of the world was actually coming.” 

“It was in fact.  And I had to stop it.  Can you believe that? 

“Sure, I know you must have had some big problem at work. --- Is your offer to take us to the Come and Get It Barbecue still good? 

“Let’s go as soon as the kids finish the slide show.”

At the Come and Get It, a TV in the background shows President Al Gore in his eight year of office is talking to congress about passage of the massive Global Warming Act of 2008.  He is flanked by Secretary of State Barach Obama on one side, Secretary of Human Affairs Hillary Clinton on the other.

A short time later Vitorrio receives an e-mail from Becker saying that his panel of experts found an error in Vitorrio’s mathematical calculations but nonetheless concur with Vitorrio’s conclusion.  It is potentially too dangerous to run the ULTIMA-B test – the delicate supercollider detection chambers could possibly get scorched by an energy surge.  They recommend that potential energy levels be kept well below 30 TeV in all future experiments.  ULTIMA’s management, cornered by its ace scientists, concurs.  The panel members agree to endorse a paper by Vitorrio warning other future researchers about the dangers of trying to transcend that critical energy limit.  Vitorrio’s standing among his colleagues has never been higher.

In a relaxed dinner meeting at the La Placita with Vitorrio, Becker, Gupta, and Smith, the theoreticians find themselves speculating over beers.  What could possibly have happened if the ULTIMA-B test were actually run?  Suppose multiple simultaneous high-energy collisions create a tsunami of a quantum wave that penetrates the brane membrane of our universe into another.  Vitorrio speculates that if the adjacent universe involved was sufficiently close to our own in enough ways, the inhabitants might have no way of ever knowing that anything at all happened - even if what actually happened was profound.  Unperceived time jumps backwards or forward and melding of identities could be involved but nobody would notice anything. 

The conversation went on: “Does consciousness in one universe affect consciousness in a highly parallel universe?” 

“Yes, in theory at least, to the extent that the consciousness is manifest physically.  The wave functions do cross through the brane surface and will show up in adjacent universes, that is in universes where the laws of physics are the same as in ours and in which events and objects differ from those in ours in only a few tiny ways.  We probably will never know what this crossover of consciousness means in ordinary terms.” 

“Some philosophers even think consciousness inherently comes into being over a manifold of universes.”  “But that’s not science.”

“No, it’s not.” 

“A few philosophers believe strong intentionality can reroute a conscious being to parallel universes more consistent with that being’s intentions – heady stuff.” 

“But Brane theory itself is half-science and half-philosophy, basically an abstract mostly-unverifiable framework for explaining things.  It’s a lot like religion that way.” 

“Anyway getting back to earth, the way things are going there will probably never be a 30 TeV energy-level ULTIMA or any other project experiment and that is fine with everyone.”

Life in this thread of reality goes on as usual.  Arthur rails on TV against homosexuality and abortion.  The media are preoccupied with the forthcoming election.  A law is passed in Nebraska regulating demolition derbies.  Israel and the Palestinian State have been at peace now for five years now and are signing an accord for mutual technological and economic development. 

Nina, Vitorrio and the kids are having a great family visit to the Nebraska State Fair for the second year.  On the midway they wander past the MYSTERIES OF THE EAST tent.  An immense canvas painting outside the tent portrays the God Shiva in an angry mood crushing automobiles in one of his hands, and mashing houses skyscrapers and people with his three others.  Jeremy clamors: “Daddy, can we ride on the Cosmotron again like we did last year?  I like to time travel.”

Vitorrio says “sure” and turns to ask Nina “Do you think the kids are old enough for us to go to the Demolition Derby tonight?”





Of course Vitorrio and his family exist in our universe only in the story.  A group of US scientists proposed a supercollider similar to ULTIMA and the project gathered steam until Congress decided to terminate it in 1993.  It was estimated to have cost $12 billion dollars.  At the time the project was cancelled, 14 miles of tunnel and 17 shafts to the surface were already dug at a Texas site and nearly 2 billion dollars had already been spent on the massive facility.  A supercollider of scale slightly less than that of ULTIMA was actually built by the European science union CERN, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at a total estimated cost of about $17 billion dollars.  LHC is a 27 kilometer long underground double nuclear racetrack near Geneva Switzerland.  It employs some 8,000 scientists, technicians and engineers from 85 countries. At the time of this writing LHC is being brought up to operational level with the same international renown attributed to ULTIMA in the story.  Its particle energy of 7 TeV is formidable though short of the 30 TeV hypothetical doomsday energy beam level of ULTIMA in the story. 

Still, LHC will recreate energy levels like those present only a tiny fraction of a picosecond after the Big Bang.  Exciting new discoveries are expected to emerge from the LHC experiments, new laws of physics itself. Some physicists think the TEV energy level of the LHC could allow physical crossover into extra dimensions, melding of the basic field forces.

Rides similar to the Cosmotron can be found in theme parks and State Fairs, and demolition derbies are held in the Nebraska Raceway Track.  Indian scientists presented a 2-meter statue of the dancing Lord Shiva to CERN in 2004.  A plaque alongside the statue explains the belief is that Lord Shiva danced the Universe into existence, motivates it, and will eventually extinguish it.

Brane theory exists and is pretty much as described in the story.  It is an 11-dimensional model of reality that is the most comprehensive existing theory of basic physics.  Parallel universes are snuggled up alongside of ours according to this model and quantum effects in one universe can cross over into parallel ones.  The author of this story is one of the “philosophers” who believe strong intentionality can reroute a conscious being to parallel universes more consistent with that being’s intentions. How that works is described in a philosophical-scientific treatise I have written on Being and Creation. It can be found here.

The super-disaster concern expressed in this short story is more than just a fantasy of the author.  Some physicists have expressed concern that LHC could create tiny but rapidly-growing black holes that eat up everything.  Run a Google search on “supercollider destroy universe” to see some of the discussion on this topic, or see the article World’s Largest Supercollider Could Destroy the Universe.  But we shouldn’t worry.  If LHC does destroy the universe we won’t ever notice it. 

Finally, the author would love to check out the baby back ribs at the Come and Get It Barbecue.



 For other writings by the author, his writings web page.