NASA/JPL-Caltech: artist's concept of a black hole

Alex Gets Trapped in the Sex Multiverse

“I JUST DON’T SEE a future for us,” Blair said, took a sip of the Cabernet, swished it around in the glass after the fact. Watched it whirlpool, and avoided Alex’s gaze. It was a real feat, the avoiding: Alex leaned so far in as to be unavoidable, body propelled across the table, shirt now sauced. A part of the entree. 

Alex’s mind went blank. Not in neutrality, not peaceful, not that sort of blank. In despair. The kind of deep, hollowing, howling despair that pulls at the inside of your body, tears you apart and pulls you together, too, at the very same time, somehow. Makes you one raw, wet, bleeding nerve. One lonely nerve sitting at a table in the middle of the day across from someone who is not now nor has ever been your partner, in life or in love, despite all your hopes and dreams to the contrary.

“It’s nothing to—” 

Alex’s rise was violent, chair on the floor, drawing stares all around at the overturned chair and the light clanking of everything on the table being shoved an inch to the right. A modern public scene in the suburbs of Geneva: almost nothing to see. 

“Don’t,” Alex said.

Alex tripped out of the restaurant through a blur of tears, knocking one glass of wine and two entrees off their respective tables before shoving through the exit. 

Heaving. Wracked with a dry sob.

Alex started walking, unseeing. 

Yes, there was absolutely nothing in Geneva, and yes, there was nowhere to go. Except back to the lab.

Can you live without your mind and heart and if so, for how long?

Almost stepped into traffic: no. This wasn’t a life-ender. 

Just because you feel like you’re dying doesn’t mean you ought to, or get to.

There was research to do.

Okay, alright, there was no future. 

But there was still the lab.

“No future for us,” Alex murmured, slipping the keycard across a sensor, distant beep sliding open the high-security door. “No future. I just don’t see a—” And it could have been the distraction of heartbreak, or the abject misery already worked into every crevice, nook, and wrinkle of Alex’s brain, or really just pure accident. Alex walked the path down to the laboratory, a familiar jumble of left, right, steps, doors, up, down, keycode, card scan, but this time, at the final moment, Alex did the impossible, and walked right into ALICE.

From the CERN website:

ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) is a detector dedicated to heavy-ion physics at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It is designed to study the physics of strongly interacting matter at extreme energy densities, where a phase of matter called quark-gluon plasma forms.

All ordinary matter in today’s universe is made up of atoms. Each atom contains a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons (except hydrogen, which has no neutrons), surrounded by a cloud of electrons. Protons and neutrons are in turn made of quarks bound together by other particles called gluons. No quark has ever been observed in isolation: the quarks, as well as the gluons, seem to be bound permanently together and confined inside composite particles, such as protons and neutrons. This is known as confinement.

Collisions in the LHC generate temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the centre of the Sun. For part of each year the LHC provides collisions between lead ions, recreating in the laboratory conditions similar to those just after the big bang. Under these extreme conditions, protons and neutrons “melt”, freeing the quarks from their bonds with the gluons. This is quark-gluon plasma. The existence of such a phase and its properties are key issues in the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD), for understanding the phenomenon of confinement, and for a physics problem called chiral-symmetry restoration. The ALICE collaboration studies the quark-gluon plasma as it expands and cools, observing how it progressively gives rise to the particles that constitute the matter of our universe today.

The ALICE collaboration uses the 10,000-tonne ALICE detector – 26 m long, 16 m high, and 16 m wide – to study quark-gluon plasma. The detector sits in a vast cavern 56 m below ground close to the village of St Genis-Pouilly in France, receiving beams from the LHC.

The collaboration counts more than 1000 scientists from over 100 physics institutes in 30 countries.

One of those scientists was now experiencing the proton and neutron “melt” firsthand. And it wasn’t great. The day had really taken another dive. Alex’s quarks were freed from their bonds with their gluons and it didn’t take very long, in a space-time sense, before Alex was enmeshed with another unwitting participant in that day’s experiment: a quantum entangled tardigrade. 

Coming soon on Kindle Vella!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *