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Chapter Nine: …Destroyer of Worlds

Walker examined Aura with a scrutiny he didn’t know he had available to him. Her eyes were cast down, more interested in her glass of wine than the nuclear warhead she had just dropped on him. What did she mean?

She killed them all, she had said. Walker’s mind frantically searched for ways to frame what she had just said in a way that didn’t mean what she probably meant by it.

Failing that, he looked for external ways to deny what she had said. She certainly was drinking the wine fast. That was what, her third glass in ten minutes? Maybe she was drunk. Or worse yet, maybe alcohol had an adverse effect on her brain chemistry.

Maybe she was lying?

Maybe she was telling the truth.

Walker looked down to his dropped fork where it had clattered to a rest on the table in front of him. He swept the area with his vision. Had anyone heard that? Had their attention drawn by his stupidly dropping the fork?

Wait. Would it matter? Would anyone else even have a clue what she was talking about?

Walker paused. Did he even know for sure what she was talking about?

He leaned into the table after ensuring nobody was within earshot. “You wanna clarify that?” he asked with an uncharacteristic seriousness.

Aura looked up to him, her eyes met his and lingered in silence for a few moments. “I think it’s best we part ways, Walker,” she stated.

“Oh no,” he said, then leaned in closer. “No, you don’t drop a bomb like that on me and then just cut your losses. What do you mean you did it?”

Aura reached for the cask of wine to refill her glass, but Walker snatched it out of her grasp.

She rolled her eyes. “Walker, this isn’t easy for me. The wine makes it easier. I was going to tell you earlier. Days ago. I was going to tell all of you, but…” she shrugged and then straightened out her back. “I am Doctor Aura Christianson, Chief Research Officer aboard the Legion Corporation orbital research facility, John Galt,” she said with the most professional tone she could muster. She then deflated. “For me, that was my reality a week ago. Now I’m a frightened little lamb with no idea where I fit in. To be honest, I’m wondering if I have a right to.” She turned her palm up. “May I have the wine?”

Walker passed it back to her, somewhat reluctantly.

Aura poured herself another glass. “The John Galt was initially developed to do research in astrophysics. You standard fare. Searching for exoplanets with oxygen-based atmospheres, doing finding things floating in deep space, investigating anomalous signals, that sort of thing. At the time I was based out of MIT,” she said, then paused. “It was a school back on earth. A prestigious technology school. At the time a school in Beijing had managed to successfully entangle a single artificially-made particle to another, pre-existing particle two inches away. It was a big moment.”

“I don’t get it,” he admitted.

“Look,” she said. “Let’s say you have a… switch in your cabin aboard the ship, right? And I have a switch that looks exactly the same in my cabin here on the Combine. But when I flip my switch, yours gets flipped too, at exactly the same time. The two switches are, for all intents and purposes, the same switch that exists simultaneously in two different places at the same time. What happens to one, happens to the other. Now, what could you do with a switch like that?”

Walker thought about it for a moment. “Well, I guess you could… form some kind of rudimentary communication with it,” he said.

“Exactly. And the fact that it’s a particle means that we could potentially put one particle in a computer in one place, and another at another, and it could share data in realtime. Think about not having a nine minute wait while communicating from Mars to Europa. It’s all in real-time.”

“Well, yeah. That would be useful,” he said. “We had those?”

“We did,” she said. “On earth. They were still years away from getting any practical use out of the particles in that regard. But Gregor and Dawn… they were grad students, my grad students. They had an idea. It could only be theorized, but it was a grand idea.” She poured another glass of wine. “What if you could use these entangled particles and stretch them out Make them large? Large enough to see, perhaps? Large enough to touch. And what if what passed through one enlarged particle emerged from the other?”

“You’re talking about teleportation?” Walker asked.

“We were talking about the future of the human race. Do you know how long it would take us to get to Alpha Centauri with our fastest EmDrives, Walker? Twelve hundred years. Countless generations, just to get to our closest neighbor. It would take twenty-six thousand years to reach the closest exoplanet we’ve confirmed an oxygen environment one. But what if you could… walk through a doorway, and be there? What if you could flip a switch in your home on Mars, and walk through a door and be in London, or Luna, or even here on the Combine? With that technology, we wouldn’t have to wonder what was out there. We could just… go. As simple as going for a stroll.” She sighed, then leaned back. “The theory got exposure. Mostly ridicule, but there were sympathetic ears with Legion.”

“Before I knew it, Legion had reached out to me, Gregor and Dawn and offered us a chance to see the project through. We were offered the John Galt. We accepted.” She took another swig and refilled her glass. Soon she was going to need another cask.

“I’m not quite sure where the destroying the earth thing comes in,” he said.

“We’d done a number of tests in the first few years. First we managed to stretch it large enough that something could fit through. Then we had to find a way to manipulate the field and the space between to allow an object to pass through. Our first success was a needle. That’s it. Just a needle. It traveled six inches. We got drunk that night.” She looked over to him.

“From needles we moved to bigger objects. We passed a marble through, then later an empty box, then a full one. We stretched out the distance to opposite ends of the lab, and eventually we put a monkey through. He came out the other side in one piece and we studied him for months afterward. Not a single problem. That’s when Legion decided it was time for a real test. We constructed an exterior array. It would generate the particle externally and link it to a pre-existing one over a thousand kilometers away. Clear line-of-sight. And… it worked. Legion was excited, we were excited. But we couldn’t announce it. We needed to ensure it could handle extremely large distances.” She placed her glass down on the table and pressed a finger to either side of it. “We needed to see if we could open a portal to the other side of the earth and pass the probe through.”

“You know, the night before the test I actually had an argument with Dawn. She was convinced there was a problem managing that distance with the hardware we had available, but I couldn’t see it. I suppose I had stars in my eyes,” she sighed. “When we opened the portal, everything was fine. We could see the observation ship through the portal. It was clear, completely transparent. And then we sent the probe through, and the portal collapsed it into realspace.”

“What do you mean collapsed it into realspace?

“The official theory is a primordial black hole, right? That’s what EthOS said. A microscopic maw that passed through the earth at the speed of light. Punched a hole right through one side of it to the other at such a high speed that it caused the entire planet to heave outwards, breaking the crust, the mantle and instantly punching through the core. It broke up in a billion trillion little bits. But it wasn’t a primordial black hole. It was me, Walker. I signed off on the test. I was the one responsible. For an instant, as the probe passed through the portal, it, too, stretched out.” She shook her head. “From one end of the earth to the other. It punched a four-meter hole right through the core, exactly the shape and size of the probe. It… solidified, not at the speed of light, but instantly… The earth couldn’t take it. It was caught in a shockwave and couldn’t handle the stress. It exploded. The planet exploded. After that… my memory isn’t so clear. I remember being… catatonic. The reality of the situation just wouldn’t break through to me. It was numbing, rather. I’m not sure I was capable of feeling anything. Even when the John Galt started to decompress due to impacts from little pieces of the Canadian shield, I couldn’t act. Gregor and Dawn got me into the stasis pod. That was designed specifically for me, due to my… unique physiology. Then I dreamed. And when my eyes opened again, I was looking at the three of you.”

Walker absorbed her story as best he could. Could it be true? Could he really be sitting across the table from the person responsible for dooming the human race into extinction?

“Do you know what J. Robert Oppenheimer said after he developed the atomic bomb, Walker?” she asked, her finger wobbling around his face.

“He said, I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” She laughed. “It’s a bit of a mistranslation, actually. The original line in the Bhagavad Gita was I am become Time, destroyer of worlds. Time. Something I’ve had far too much of. Sorry, Oppenheimer. I guess I need to steal that from you.” She shrugged, and then finished her wine.

Walker’s smartwatch suddenly beeped, and he turned it over to look at it. Mickey was calling. Desperate for a distraction, Walker answered it.

“Walker,” he said.

“I just finished talking to the aqua man,” she said. “We’re loaded for bear, and Gavin’s on his way back to to the ship with enough food to get us to Pluto and back. Any progress?”

Walker looked up to Aura for a moment. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, looks like we’re taking Aura to Saturn.”

Aura shot him a surprised look.

“Ten-four,” she responded. “Should we skedaddle? That Bethlehem thing’s got me spooked.”

“Give it till morning. Let’s stretch our legs here until then,” he said.

“Right,” she responded. “Talk later. Out.”

Walker put his arm down on the table and remained silent.

“You want me with you?” she asked.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “But right now there’s a huge part of me that says I have to see how this ends, or I’ll always wonder.”

“Will you tell the others?”

He nodded. “Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll give them the choice. But for now, I’m with you until this gets seen through. You okay with that?”

She looked at her empty wine glass for a moment, then nodded. “I think I can live with that,” she said.

“Good, now let’s get two more of those casks out here,” he said.

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Published inSol: Ruin
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