Wheels within Wheels
rating: +34+x

Audio Log dated 21/04/1994, Site ███. Post-incident report. Timestamp 14:21:55

It’s going to be remarkably difficult to accurately report what happened here if I’m not able to give names and numbers, you know? I’m really not sure how much help this is going to be if I don’t talk about the details. What? Well, I don’t think that, and I don’t believe that you do too. This isn’t the kind of thing that we can train for, you know? Ok, I’ll be vague, although with some of the high-level stuff I’m going to have to talk about, not using any number designations seems a bit pointless, as anyone cleared to listen to this… OK, OK, anything for an easy life. Although to call anything where you have to deal with this snafu an easy life is a bit inaccurate, but there you go. Yes, I’ll describe what I saw. Jesus, they’re not paying you by the hour, are they? A bit of compassion here, I just witnessed the apocalypse. Or the start of it, anyway. Or maybe somewhere around the middle. It’s funny how non-specific the End Times ended up being.

So, as everyone knows by now, we’d used the new array to perform iterations of the Twins – I can call them that, right? That’s not breaking any of your precious data rules? Right, so the Twins had been getting worryingly close over the last few spins, more so than the usual variation. I think we’d had some problems with one of our other guests, not entirely sure which because R block had been restricted access for the last few months, probably one of the techs there doing some higher level testing, but whatever it was we’d had a couple of blips, you know – the purple LEDs light up, everyone suddenly bends at the knees as their mass increases for a second or two, then we all bounce back up with a little hop. If it weren’t for the pretty terrifying implications it could even be a fun distraction. But we’d noticed that after the last one the orbiter made a tiny little dip in altitude, about an hour later, and then again the next time it went overhead it dipped again. Only fractions of a millimetre, but it was definitely affecting its linear orbit, and that’s bad news – the thing hasn’t shown any sign of being affected by gravity before, so there must have been something else that caused it to drop, but I’ll be damned if I know what. It goes up and down at times, but that’s smooth, not a drop. So we wrote up the Formal Assessment of Increasing Risk and sent it up the hill, and we were told to keep monitoring the situation and to submit another FAIR if the situation got any worse. It certainly became the focus of a lot of conversation on site, because we’d been monitoring them for so long, one doing nothing and the other just happily orbiting away, the idea of them being a problem had faded to the backs of our minds a bit. That’s just when the universe comes and bites you on the ass though.

And so it did. Next time she was overhead, blip, another drop. About 0.4mm this time. We were now pretty sure that the problem was serious, it was clearly reacting to whatever the R-block guys had been doing. So we called down and let them know, and they confirmed that the experimentation had stopped several hours prior to the second dip, and the item involved had now been moved to another site as a precautionary measure by the Cross-team. So we hoped that would be the end of it. But don’t you know, next time she was overhead, another drop, this time 1.6mm and we didn’t need to be no mathematicians to see the exponential increase there, and to do the math - it gets big real fast. So with it orbiting every 20 hours or so we could see that we had about one hundred hours to come up with an idea – that’s not much when all you have to go on is a few pages of notes and you’re dealing with something that not even the brightest guys understood.

So, we started pooling ideas and collecting as much information as we could. The first thing that we found out was the biggest mindscrew of all – the gravity hadn’t changed, the earth had moved. The stationary twin had moved with it, but the orbiter hadn’t, staying on exactly the same path as before. So it hadn’t dipped, we’d… undipped, or whatever the right word for that would be. So someone in one of our liaison departments contacted NASA, IAU, all the space guys and asked them if they’d had any unusual results lately. Nothing. A movement of the earth perpendicular to its direction of motion that was now over 2cm and nobody had noticed but us. This was really confusing, but hey, confusing is part of the job, right? That wasn’t our responsibility at that time, there was another team on that. We were primarily given the task of coming up with XK-avoidance plans, and that included some pretty intense thinking. Master Key Initiative, anyone? That gives me the shudders just to think about. No, don’t worry, I’m not saying anything to anyone about nothing, I know the rules. Just letting you know how serious things got down there. But, as we were sitting in our hot, sweaty rooms and talking until the early hours measurements came back to show that as soon as they came just under a kilometre from one another the orbiter started slowing down. Not much at first, but with each drop the speed dropped noticeably, until we were able to watch it go over at not much faster than a jet, and low enough that we even considered erecting a mast with high tensile steel netting just in case we’d made an error on the whole ‘Unstoppable’ thing. Thank goodness we didn’t, it could have shredded the lot of us. At least this gave us much more time to think, not that it helped much.

So, at this point, we’ve got this thing going over our heads so we can actually see the damn thing, and still, everyone else is acting like nothing’s wrong, right? Princess Di can’t even get out of a damn car without some douche with a camera stalking her, but we’re taking pictures of the damn thing and nobody else has seen it at all. So our people talk to NASA’s people, meteorological centres, and nobody else is getting anything weird. Or at least we don’t think so, but of course, we’re not saying anything either - I think we were using the cover of an astronomy lab somewhere in the Australian desert, something like that. People never question Aussie laboratories, it’s too big to come and find you. We let up top know about this, and we’re told to keep at it but to await further instructions, and so that’s what we did. We sat down in our even hotter, sweatier rooms and came up with just about every reasonable suggestion we could think of, up to and including trying to move the Earth on its orbit. Yeah, we were talking about attaching ropes to anchor points and dragging the damn thing like a tugboat, that’s how bad things had got. But we didn’t want to think about the alternative, touchdown.

But don’t you just know it, then the Fives get back to us with something we wanted to think about even less. They’d told us to begin considering Master Key solutions. The collective ‘Oh, Fuck’ was probably audible all over the site, and so we sat down again but this time we had the added problem of the treatment potentially being even worse than the cure. I mean, you take a screwdriver, the worst you can happen is you poke it through a gas main or a power line, but when your toolbox is made up of pretty much the worst things ever, the scope for clusterfucks is much higher, you know?

The announcement also informed us that without outright saying it, Up Top were considering this to be potentially XK, something we’d not really wanted to do ourselves. But there was no denying it, if those two collided then the energy release was potentially enormous. I mean, when you think what less than a gram of Uranium did to Hiroshima, if these things really tried to occupy the same space at the same time then you’re probably talking gigatons of energy. We’re talking about putting a crack right down the middle of the earth, and causing pretty much every earthquake zone to crumble itself into dust. Now, I had already had a couple of ideas regarding this, but most of them I had to throw out because I didn’t have a plan to deal with whatever it was that we’d used to sort out the current problem. I had this great idea involving getting a plane with the door stuck on the top of it… well… it was pretty wild, and might have worked, but it was shot down because it would have been conspicuous, to say the least.

We’d gone through all the usual suspects, temporal slowing, wormholes, but nothing ended up being less risky than what we were trying to prevent, I mean, these are some real untold quantities that we’re talking about putting together here. My comedy favourite was the handbag, that was priceless. Even under this stress, there were some chuckles when that got suggested.

Anyway, by this point we’re on like hour 60, and this thing is getting real close, but the closer it got, the slower it got, and we started to get our hopes up as the maths heads calculated the trajectory and velocity, we started to wonder whether we’d all been worrying about nothing the whole time, and it was going to get closer and slower, and closer and slower, and never actually touch at all. You ever hear of Zeno’s Arrow? It was this thought experiment, right, where it was posited that if you fire an arrow at a tortoise, the arrow moves towards the tortoise, but the tortoise moves a bit too, real slow, and the arrow has moved a bit closer, but by that point the tortoise has moved on a bit too, and although the arrow keeps getting closer to the tortoise, each time it gets to where the tortoise was, the tortoise has moved forwards a bit. Of course, this was only a thought experiment, as if you tried it practically you’d better have a lot of tortoises, right? But we started to wonder if it was going that way. Zeno’s Arrow reflected, in the dark mirror of our fears.

Of course, we couldn’t actually risk that happening, because what if we’re wrong? That was a phrase that got said over and over again in those couple of days. ‘What if we’re wrong?’ and then a long pause, because nobody had a good answer for it. Then one of the guys who had been keeping quiet and going through item lists for the last sixteen hours popped up and asked ‘How about this?’ and held up a report we’d all missed entirely. It was virtually orange, the paper was so old, and it was one of the really old ones which was signed at the bottom, in faded blue ink, by one of the senior staffers. The write-up was pretty vague by today’s standards, but it said enough. We were looking at two universes connected by a single quantum event of a relatively small divergence. You know, a tree did or didn’t fall over, a bath did or didn’t overflow, the small stuff. And the boffins decided that there was a way of pushing everything over to the next universe along. Lots of people did lots of maths, and it was decided that it was the best way to go if it looked like things were going awry.

I mean, it was risky, but the risks involved were all assessed, and the vast majority of likelihoods were deemed to be less disastrous than letting the Twins meet. The phrase ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ had never been so apt.

By this point the orbiter was on what was clearly its final orbit, it was travelling slightly slower than my Taurus, and was moving straight at us. It wasn’t making any unusual moves now, and the Earth was seemingly staying where it was, which we unanimously decided was a very good thing, as if there were any more sudden movements we could end up with a hole smashed through the centre of the earth, and that would be a whole other problem, especially given the amount of underground storage we have onsite. Might have sorted Eight-Two out, though.

Three hundred and forty-four meters, that was the distance between the two that they finally decided to push the switch. I say push the switch, because that’s exactly what they had to do. Open the lid, flip the lock and press the switch, and then it was done.

We were still there, still standing in the same room, still wearing the same clothes. There was no way of finding out what was different in this iteration of the universe. Nothing we could detect, but it could have been a trilobite born with an extra leg thirty million years ago, or anything from any time. All that mattered was that in this dimension, the balls were where they were supposed to be, and path calculation showed that they weren’t showing any signs of path collision any time in the next nine hundred million years. That’s good enough for me.

So with that all done and all the parties dying down, things settled down again, and people stopped talking about it. They stopped remembering it, they stopped knowing that it had even happened, and now I’m talking to you about it because I’m the last one in the office that remembers a damn thing about it. I don’t know why, but if it’s up to me then it’s up to me, so we know what to do next time. So I went to put the doc back in file, and it was going back to the really old file room, up on a dusty shelf next to a binder with the same number on it. So I pulled down the binder, and it was full, and I mean FULL of pages, thousands of them, with nothing on but little lines, you know, the gates like on the sides of planes, show how many kills they have. I flicked through and there were millions of them. I had to have a look at the last page, and there it was, a nice new blue line, still shiny, third in the gate. I put the folder back and tried not to think about it too hard. That’s what gets you through a lot of the time. Don’t think too hard.

So I did a bit of reading, physics guys talking about infinite-universes theory, and I’m hoping like hell that they ARE infinite. Or at least that we’ve got one left.

What, you’re at the end of the tape? We still use tape?

End of Audio Log


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