Golden Apples

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Yesterday’s tests at the Large Hadron Collider were successful:
No black holes formed.
(CERN logbook entry, September 10, 2008)

Blue walls thrum. The half-empty coffee cup rattles on the counter. Panel lights glow hard—routine green and amber—but none glare red. For a moment, I am mesmerized by the sounds, by the moans of last night that still echo in my mind. I glance at Mary Lyn, but she doesn’t seem to notice; I take a sip of black coffee—tastes just like the sludge we shared in graduate school.

Buttons slip under my thumb, wet with sweat and oil. Black switches are snapped from their standby positions. And the generator whines louder through the padded walls of the control room.

The pervasive hum blends with the swish of water flowing through pipes. I imagine the electric current coursing through the copper veins of this monstrous machine, as if a Frankenstein was waking from the dead, but this time, wracked with heat. Its fever cooled by liquid helium—magnets becoming superconducting. Soon they’ll thread the proton rings with warped magnetic fields, as if to keep the creature in a cage; to trap our own creation.

A scent of hyacinth wafts from her soft red hair. I remember the first time I met her, when we went to the meadow. Her tresses had shone in the sun then, but not like it does now. It has that radiance mothers get when a child grows in their wombs. I think about that. I think about us tonight—loving her again, and again, as if for the first time.

I latch the double-throw knife switch, engage the last bank of power units, and hear the electric strum of speeding protons maniacally trying to outrun light, looping seventeen miles eleven thousand times every second. From the other direction, protons in a twin wavelike beam scream, as if mocking God: “Soon we will know everything!”

I nod to Mary Lyn, “On my mark!” Her somber look softens, nods back with a crimped smile, finger poised on the pushbutton.

In a twinkling, the two beams smash into each other unleashing a quark zoo, and the Higgs boson, too. The floor beneath us shakes. There’s a flash, and it seems that space-time deforms around something dark on the other side of the glass; something that wasn’t supposed to be there. It was supposed to have stayed in the fifth dimension and decayed there… but didn’t. Outside the lead-plate window, everything begins to swirl—a surreal animation of collapsing matter and energy—into a strange flatness, as if shifted to hyperspace. Even the colors fade to gray, then black, a growing black at the center of the collider.

We run from the lab as if two blind mice and from the monster we created that is eating our world right behind us. The parking lot is wavering; its black asphalt strips away like a dirty sheet pulled from my bed, and thrown into the open mouth of a washing machine.

We slip over the leather seats of our car, starting the engine on the slide. I downshift and punch the BMW accelerator to escape the grip. The tach redlines at seven grand—cylinders smoking, whining. Mary Lyn bracing. With frantic eyes focused on the road ahead, we drive; in the rearview mirror, the highway disappears. We stare at each other without words. The pedal is floored.

Busting through security gates at the small airstrip a couple miles away, the car weaves through rows of planes until we get to ours. Mary Lyn unties the ropes. I preflight the plane’s systems during the fast taxi to the runway threshold. I forego the run-up. The old Lycoming engine labors to get us airborne. The ground drops beneath us, not just below the wings, but also below where the runway used to be, as if the mouth of a giant sinkhole opened up and swallowed dirt, along with the buildings and the trees. It gulps the shallow bay, then the oceans; the blue, and the green, both flattening to gray before going black, as before.

Only thirty five hundred feet up, yet the air is too thin, and the clouds begin to shred from the vacuuming by that thing below. The plane can no longer cling to the sky and the horizon looms, it is no longer level, but steeply turned and churned with all the rest of the landscape. In the center, there are glints of hadron red and the glow of golden apples.

Now, we are falling inexorably into its throat. We swirl as psychedelic angels. Wings pull off as taffy. For an instant, I feel weightless, then the crushing pull. I look at Mary Lyn, she, at me, her hazel eyes fading gray. It is hard to breathe. The past and future blur together: to a time before I met her in the park; to when she poured me that coffee this morning; to a moment at the birthday party for our son … who will never be born. Our arms and hands grip each other as our souls stretch apart.

We are now as gods, uncreating everything.



Author's Note: “Golden Apples” was inspired by the paper, “On the Possibility of Catastrophic Black Hole Growth in the Warped Brane-World Scenario at the LHC,” Roberto Casadio, Sergio Fabi, Benjamin Harms, Phys. Rev. D 80 (2009) 084036 arXiv:0901.2948 [hep-ph], which discusses the creation and condensation of microscopic black holes coming out of the fifth dimension in the LHC.  




About the Author: 
John C. Mannone, a three-time Pushcart nominee, has work in The Baltimore Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Tipton Poetry Journal, Pedestal and others. He’s the 2013 Rhysling Chair, poetry editor (Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex), physics professor and a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador in Tennessee. Visit The Art of Poetry:

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