By R.W. Van Sant
From the Synaptic Overload Anthology
Historically, most great advances in science have been promoted and controlled by the government. American society is growing more skeptical of their government forcing the scientific community to become reliant on commercial industries to fund their research. In such a climate science is promoted only for entertainment or industry. What might happen when the science itself isn’t enough to capture the ratings?
All was in place. Finally, the truth would be known. Doctor Brickley adjusted his glasses and walked down the hall to announce his triumph to the waiting world. To be fair, the credit for this breakthrough did not belong solely to him, but he’d accept anyway. There were others who came before, whose contributions had been invaluable to his research. Doctor Guzman, a man who had been his childhood hero, firmly established the location and time of the event. Recent discoveries by the French in harnessing the power of the anti-particle provided the last and most vital tool, therefore setting the stage for his own notable advancements in temporal wormhole mechanics.
“Doctor Brickley to studio six.” A woman’s voice rang out over the intercom and echoed through the halls.
Discoveries of such magnitude as his deserved reverence, not turned into a spectacle, projected across the airwaves to the ignorant masses who could never understand the science behind it. It was part of the agreement, however. Locating the funding for a project so momentous was not as easy as he had anticipated. In his innocence, Brickley truly believed that the scientific community would take care of its own following a decade of being turned down by one government administrator after another had left him despondent and desperate. Therefore, when the representative from WWSN, the world’s largest international television network, approached him and offered to fund his research as a worldwide broadcast, he jumped at their offer. It was his last chance to pursue his research. Even so, he was uneasy about breaking his discovery to an audience of tens of millions.
Brickley walked into the project control room. Computer and television monitors covered nearly every available centimeter of wall space and were the small room’s primary source of illumination. In the center was a long, narrow control station that housed the intricate electronics serving as the hub of the project. One scrawny occupant sat at the console busily punching data into the terminal. “Is everything on schedule?”
“Yes, sir.” Jeff Marcos, the technician, responded. “Reactor power is within predicted levels. All fifty stations show positive for stable micro-wormholes. Awaiting word to send the remote units through.”
“You personally saw to the sterilization of the equipment?” Jeff had been his research assistant for over ten years. There was no one else he would have trusted such important duties.
“Yes, Professor.” Jeff double-checked his control panel. “And all units indicate that the electromagnetic field generators are in operation. These puppies should have no appreciable effect on the environment.”
“Good, send them now.” the aging scientist watched the monitor screens as one by one the remote camera units disappeared into rifts in time.
“Gulf unit ready.” The screen before the young researcher displayed a visual image of their largest piece of equipment, much larger than its cohorts. It was tracked and contained numerous sensory apparatus.
“Okay,” Brickley said. The wormhole they opened for the tracking unit was the largest ever attempted. “Moment of truth. Send her.” Neither man spoke a word as the robotic mechanism rolled down the ramp, up to the advent horizon, and into the hole in time and space.
“Do you think we can get the studio’s security to escort us out when this is over with?” Jeff asked.
“Don’t know. Why?”
“I had a hard time getting in this morning. The religious whackos were gathered in frighteningly large groups. I thought they were going to flip my car over with me in it. The way they carried on you’d have thought I was killing their god myself.” he said. “Some were holding nooses, Professor. Nooses. I don’t want to get hung.”
“You can’t blame them for being nervous. People have always taken revelations like these hard. They believe the earth is relatively young, only a few thousand years old.” Brickley removed and wiped his glasses. “We’re about to prove them wrong, and we’re doing it before a worldwide audience. I don’t think there will be any problems. They will most likely deny any evidence we bring forth.”
“Did you do hear about the note? From that extremist group, The Defenders of the Word.” The assistant flipped the switches that brought many of the dark screens to life. “We have video.”
“Baseless threats from would-be terrorists,” Brickley said.
“They’ve been implicated in the murders of college professors and scientists all around the world. I’m worried, and you should be.”
“Trust me; the studio has a lot of money tied up in this broadcast. They hired the best security money can buy.” Brickley inspected the controls, “Good.”
“Well, I’ll feel safer when this is over.”
“This is a momentous occasion, Jeff. Revel in it. There have always been those who object to discovery. Science must contend with the ignorant, but we cannot let them stand in the way of discovery.” Brickley looked over the incoming data. “Like Galileo, we strive boldly forward.”
“Professor,” Jeff asked. “Didn’t they burn Galileo?”
“Did they?” he said. “Hmm. Okay, I’ll request a security detail to escort you off the lot when this is over.”
“Thank you, professor,” Jeff said. “The main unit is up. Video and radar tracking are online.”
The door to the control room opened and an attractive woman with a clipboard, the executive assistant to the show’s host, walked in. “We’re going live in five. We’ll need you on set in ten.”
“Be right out.” he turned back to Jeff. “I’ll be connected via this uncomfortable ear microphone they gave me. Let me know if any problems arise.” The professor walked into the hall, and the assistant led him to the wing of the stage, unseen by the audience until they needed him.
Brickley appraised the gaudy scene. Spotlights lit up the wide stage where the bright-eyed, toothy smiled host prepared for the start of the show. Neon lights and large monitors filled the walls. All of it set before a handpicked studio audience. That was the place where he would meet his public and his destiny. He felt like a cheap prostitute.
“You’re live in five, four, three, two…” a stagehand called from the side wings opposite him.
“Welcome to Extinction Live!” The show’s host walked out on the stage, wearing a blindingly white three-piece suit with a bright pink tie. “We will, here on this stage, for the first time in human history, bring to you and our studio audience, images of the actual event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Yes, through the miracle of advanced science and the dedication of one man, a man who dedicated his life to advancing the science of time travel, you will see with your own eyes the cataclysmic events that changed the history of our planet forever. Professor Brickley, will you please come and greet the world.”
Brickley felt as though his heart would burst from his chest, it pounded so hard. He hadn’t expected this reaction. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t talked before large audiences before, but now there were cameras transmitting his slightest mistake live to every corner of the world. It was all for science, he told himself. This carnival was the price he paid to pursue his dreams. He swallowed hard and walked out onto the stage, smiling to the applause of the large professional audience.
“When we return from our commercial break, the professor will entertain a few questions chosen from the thousands submitted through the Internet. This broadcast is being brought to you by Bio-Dome. Protect your loved ones and property from the growing dangers of disease, global warming, and increased solar radiation with your own personal biodome. Protect your home with biodome. Financing available,” The host rambled.
“And we’re off!” The stagehand called out.
The host slumped a bit. “The executives say this is going to be the biggest ratings getter of all time.” The host said to Brickley.
“It is a momentous event in the history of scientific endeavor,” Brickley said.
“Yeah,” he said thoughtfully. “And what child doesn’t like dinosaurs.”
Brickley looked at the host. Could the man really be as vacuous as he seemed? “Yes.”
“Okay,” the host said. “Here are the ground rules. I speak. You only talk when I ask you questions. If I speak, you stop speaking. I won’t have an amateur stomping on my lines.”
“Perhaps, you’d like to answer the questions yourself.” Brickley offered. “I could write the answers for you, using small words.”
“The execs wouldn’t go for that. They want you on stage to provide credibility.” The host primped his hair. “Just smile and be brief when answering the questions. I’ll lift up this clipboard if you go too long. That’ll be your cue to cut it short.”
Brickley fought the urge to tell the imbecile what he could do with his clipboard. There was always a price to be paid for scientific advancement, and this smiling cretin was his. After the show, the information gathered by the remote units would be all his, and he would spend the rest of his career studying it and publishing papers that would be the envy of all academia. “Right, stop talking.”
“Back on in five, four, three, two…” The stagehand called out.
“Welcome back.” The host’s posture went instantly erect. “We will begin the show with a short description of the science involved by Professor Brickley. Professor.”
“Thank you. Good evening, planet Earth.” Brickley cleared his throat. “Tonight we are doing nothing less than breaking through the barrier between us and the distant past. We have developed technology that allows us to create small wormholes. A wormhole is like a tunnel with one end here and the other in the distant past, sixty-five million years ago to be precise. Each wormhole will open in a different location on the earth and days apart in time. Through these wormholes, robots will go boldly into the past. Each has monitoring equipment to send signals back to us. Our equipment will collect this data and display it for us on these screens.”
It would show the video images to the audience. The majority of the data would be stored in the computers for analysis, but the people watching and the audience cared little for the science. The professor was up there to show them dinosaurs.
“The spacing of the units in time and space will provide us images from of the world in various stages of the event that destroyed almost all life on the planet sixty-five million years ago. From our main unit, we will track and view for the first time the massive extraterrestrial body that struck the Earth. We will view the progress of the dust clouds that filled the atmosphere and blocked out the sun sending the entire planet into the worst ice age ever recorded. It was in this darkness that our small furry ancestors began their ascent to dominance of the world.” The sign above the stage told the crowd to applaud; they dutifully complied.
“The greatest extinction the world has ever known,” the host mused. “I am told that shortly these screens behind us will start showing scenes from prehistory.”
“Ah, yes.” Professor Brickley continued. “We have sent fifty monitoring units through and are receiving data as we speak. The main receiving unit we refer to as the Gulf unit. It will track the asteroid as it burns through the atmosphere and impacts the Earth. The other units will record and transmit data from the days and weeks that followed the initial event.”
“I’m sure it will be a sight to remember.” The host said. “Now let’s get to the questions. The first is from Barbara in Seattle. She wrote: I heard the project is powered by an antimatter reactor. Is this safe?”
“Yes. It is safe. Matter-antimatter collisions produce massive amounts of energy but remarkably little radiation. But, as a precaution, the power plant is located on an ocean platform in the Yucatan, far from any habitable landmass.” Brickley said.
“Okay.” The host flipped the paper on his clipboard. “Next comes from Johan in Saint Petersburg. What effect will send objects from the present have on the past events? I learned in physics that even small changes in mass can affect large bodies over the course of time.”
“This is a question that we gave a great deal of thought to, and we have taken numerous precautions. All of the recording devices were sterilized and have a strong electromagnetic field pushing all physical material away to a distance of two meters; they cannot come into contact with anything from that time period, even air. Furthermore, the devices are evenly spaced around the planet and will only be in those times for the duration of this broadcast. They will then be retrieved for data analysis.”
“What about the gulf unit?” The host added. “As I understand it, it is a larger than the others.”
“Yes, and it contains the control electronics as well as active radar, telemetry tracking, and multi-spectrum imaging. It also will only be there and active for a short time.” Brickley said.
“How can you be sure it won’t contaminate the pristine prehistoric environment?” The host pressed.
“Simple, we put it at ground zero.” Brickley smiled broadly. “It will be utterly vaporized when the asteroid strikes the earth, along with everything that could have come into contact with it.”
“Can’t get safer than that.” The host put his hand to his ear. “We are receiving our first images of the world as it existed millions of years ago. Please look at the center screen.”
The large screen sprang to life, showing a strange, twilight jungle landscape. Small and unrecognizable furry creatures crawled around the ground near the equipment.
“Professor, can you explain what we are looking at?” The host turned to the scientist.
“It seems as though some early mammals have found the sensor array.” Brickley looked with interest. “Creatures such as these eventually evolve into the mammals that dominate our world today.”
“Are you implying these…things… are our ancestors?” The host’s face showed undisguised disgust.
“No, not those. Every living thing within a hundred kilometers of this image will soon be vaporized. Nothing is going to evolve from those poor creatures.” Brickley said.
“Telemetries up,” Jeff informed him through his earphone. “We have a problem.”
The scientist turned his face from the audience so they couldn’t see him speaking. “What is it?”
“We cannot locate the impact mass.”
“Double check the equipment.” It wasn’t possible that Brinkley had made a mistake. The supercomputers at MIT and Cambridge had verified his calculations. It had to be there.
“I did. Radar is active, so is the visual enhancement scan on every spectrum. There is nothing there, the sky is clear.”
“Did we send through on the wrong date?”
“I don’t think so; the Houston camera is set twenty-four hours ahead. I can visually see a dust cloud extending across the sky. It will strike, I have no explanation.”
“Keep looking, and find some dinosaurs. The crowd may get impatient. I’ll need something to distract them.”
“May I interrupt.” the host tapped his shoulder. “Is there a problem?”
“Technical difficulties. I’ll explain during the break.” Brickley tried to sound calm, but he felt his moment, and his career, sliding into the toilet.
“We have feed from the other cameras, don’t we?” The host asked.
“Yes. Good. Then we’ll go to shots of them.” He stomped toward the front of the stage. “While we wait for the great moment to arrive we will display images from all around the prehistoric world. The images you see are from the days after the meteor.”
The host stepped forward.” Only on this station will you receive the full extinction experience. Prepare to be amazed.”
“And educated.” The professor added. “Now.”
Jeff didn’t let him down, the screen filled with a darkening desert landscape. Grazing on the scarce vegetation, large reptilian forms fought for the scrawny plants. The host turned to Brickley, his smile gone. The audience was delighted by the changing images of death and darkness. Some scenes showed a dim sun, others the sun was completely obscured, and jungles were frozen. Oohs and awes spread through the studio audience as they saw the large prehistoric beasts struggling to survive as their world changed around them.
“Okay, doc.” The host’s angry voice whispered away from his microphone. “What’s up?”
“We cannot locate the impact mass,” Brickley said.
“The meteor,” the professor snapped.
“Great, I was told this was foolproof.” He snarled. “I will not be Geraldo-ed because of your incompetence.”
“I was not… Why don’t you go fix your makeup and leave the science to those who passed grade school?” Brickley was not about to be lectured by a man whose only qualification was his white teeth.
“If you screw me on this, I’ll make sure your career is over.” the host said with soft determination. “Did you get the wrong day?”
“Not possible,” Brickley said.
“How can you be sure?” the host asked.
“If you’d read the briefing I sent you’d know that this is the primary link, all the others are based on this one. Look. Look at the screen. You see the devastation, the dust blocking the sunlight. It is the end of the age of the dinosaurs. Just like you promised your audience. We just can’t find the impacting body that caused it. Go back to your audience. I’m looking into it.” The professor walked off stage and into the control room. “Okay, give it to me straight.”
“I’ve done a celestial check for the time. The date is correct, but there is no comet, asteroid, not even a large chunk of space dust. I don’t understand.” The lab assistant announced. According to our calculations, it should strike in less than five minutes. All the other units confirm the time and location. I just don’t get it.” Jeff wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Don’t worry. I won’t dock your grade. Keep on it. I have to go back out.”
“Looks like your ass is out of the fire.” the host told him when he returned to the stage.
“There’s about to be breaking news, looks like it’s gonna take the light of your little mishap.” the host still smiled. “Blood keeps the masses watching.”
“What’s going on?”
“Keep quiet and listen. We’re back on.”
“In three, two …” the stagehand called.
“Welcome back. Truly amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.” As the host addressed his audience, his expression changed, his eyebrows furrowed and his grin dropped. “This just in. Several small motor craft are approaching the Yucatan platform at a high rate of speed. Don’t we have a camera crew on the rig?” He waited for a response from his earphone, and then whispered, “Well get one of them up on the deck. I want footage.”
“Is there any danger to my equipment?”
The host just lifted his clipboard, indicating him to stop talking.
“Earlier this morning a letter was left at the studio from a group calling itself the Defenders of the Word. The letter warned that the group would not allow God’s word to be contradicted by our broadcast. They insist that the world is only five thousand years old. They threatened to take drastic action if we continued with our broadcast. Now it appears as though this group will attack the ocean platform that houses the anti-matter reactor and primary equipment in an attempt to stop the experiment.” The host’s smile never wavered as he spoke.
“It is protected, isn’t it? I was assured there would be adequate security.” Brickley said.
“The rig is guarded by an armed security squad supplied by InterNation Security Incorporated. Your source for all your international security issues. A dozen trained guards on board, and several armed patrol craft are on duty to defend the platform.” The host informed the audience. “We have live footage on the main screen.”
The main monitor changed, displaying the shaky image of a metal railing and beyond it, the ocean. Bouncing on the choppy water, several small motorboats sped closer. Two larger, armed boats with the logo of InterNation Security Incorporated positioned themselves between the cameraman and attacking force.
Brickley swallowed hard. He didn’t believe that religious extremists would succeed in mounting such an attack. The images of the security forces taking position on his platform and the armed gunboats made the professor queasy. Now his research would forever be tainted by bloodshed. “Must we show this?”
“Did he say InterNation Security?” Jeff’s voice was strained and panicked.
“Well,” the host said quietly. “Your show was bombing; at least this’ll save our ratings. Audiences love action. This’ll keep them watching. Maybe they won’t notice that all you’ve given us is a petting zoo when you promised devastation.”
“Yes, InterNation. Why?” Brickley responded.
“Just shut up and watch a professional at work.” The host’s demeaning tone angered the scientist. Brickley marveled at the injustice that the murder of such a moronic, arrogant cretin as the man in the spotlight should in any way be considered a crime.
“You will not turn my research into a circus.” The scientist warned.
“Sit back and watch me.” The host motioned to the tech in the wings, and the professor’s mike went dead. “What you’re looking at,” the host faced the cameras,” Is what the scientific team calls the Gulf platform. If you look closely, the small dots approaching quickly from the north are armed gunboats. A group calling themselves the Defenders of the Word is taking credit for the attack.”
“This was a respectable scientific investigation.” Brickley scowled.
“Back off, Doc. Someone had to liven this show.”
“The security company is owned by one man.” Jeff’s voice interrupted. “Matthew Baynor. Prof, he’s a zealot, there are rumors that he’s a member of the Defender of the Word.”
“No.” The location of the platform was undisclosed, which meant someone on the inside set this up.
“Don’t sweat it. It’ll be over soon, and then this show will make history regardless of whether your project pans out or not.” He turned back to the cameras. “Any moment now the gunboats of InterNation Security will open fire and drive off the intruders. Then we can get back to the dinosaurs. Wait! We have a development.” The host pointed to the screen. “In a surprising move, the gunboats from Trans Nation are moving away. They are not engaging.”
“Why would they do that?” Brickley muttered.
“I told you, Baynor is a zealot, a full blown Armagedonist.” his assistant’s voice answered.
“You! You set this up.” Brickley confronted the host. The network handled security for the entire project. The sound of gunfire and explosions greeted his ears. His platform was being attacked.
“I’ve given you more publicity than your pathetic national dinographic could ever have.” The indignant host corrected his tie. On the screen, the small gunboats continued to fire shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.
“Professor.” his assistant called.” The anti-matter reactor is losing containment.”
The situation presented itself to him with horrifying clarity. There was no meteor, there never had been. Nothing crashed into the earth sixty-five million years ago. They had done it. They were doing it as he looked at the monitor. Brickley lunged for the host. All he wanted was to get his hands around the throat of the man who killed the earth. “You and your damned network. Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“I,” the host stood defiantly.”—made your show a hit.”
“You just destroyed the world,” Brickley said. “What happened to the dinosaurs, you just did to us!”
“The plant will go off with the force of a thousand nuclear warheads.”
“But you said there would be no radiation.” The host objected. “How dare you put us in such danger?”
Brinkley jumped for the white-suited idiot’s throat. Guards reached him before he could get a stranglehold. They pulled him back away toward the wings.
“Shooting at a nuclear reactor is a bad idea, shooting an anti-matter reactor is a level of magnitude worse. The dust clouds caused by the blast will take years to settle, plant life will die first, then the animals.” Brickley was sick to his stomach. “The world of an hour from now will be a far different one from yours. I hope the ratings were worth it.”
“Prof,” his headphone rang. “What do we do?”
“Open the rift wider.” The professor told his assistant. The only hope he could see for the planet would survive the antimatter blast was to dissipate it between the two eons. At least he knew what happened to the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago—he had.
“What are you doing?” The host yelled.
“Trying to save the planet!’
“The planet?” the host blanched as the shockwave struck the studio. Lights started flickering on and off. Wall monitors smashed onto the stage with brilliant showers if sparks. The audience started screaming and running for the doors.
“PROFESOR!” his assistant voice called out. “A power surge cascaded through all the wormholes. They’re growing!”
The lights and every electronic thing in the room, including the security officer’s radios, stopped as the electromagnetic pulse from the blast. The security guards that held the scientist loosened their grip.
“Somebody get me out of here!” The host huddled next to a stagehand for protection from the falling debris. The studio was dimly illuminated by sparks and the light coming in from the doors packed with the panicking studio audience.
“Prof!” Jeff stood in the wings and held a burning cloth wrapped around a pole over his head, illuminating the stage. “Dinosaurs are coming through the rifts!”
Brickley couldn’t guess how long the dimensional rips would take to close: an hour perhaps or several years. It would be plenty of time for the dinosaurs to feel the heat of the present world, smell the food, and abandon their own frozen, devastated world. They would come, carnivores first, leap-frogging the millennia. They would soon be competing with man for dominance of the planet.
Brickley appraised the scene. The host was struck dumb with confusion as the audience members were killing each other to get out of the studio. When the electromagnetic shock wave hit, it most likely took out all nonmilitary electronics on the planet. There was no way to warn the populace of the imminent onslaught of starving prehistoric animals. The light from the doorways was already growing dim. Dust clouds from the blast had entered the upper atmosphere, blocking sunlight. Soon planetary temperatures would drop.
Brickley had his answer to the ultimate fate of the dinosaurs. The modern world would share in it. The television host had gotten the spectacle that he wanted. The tired scientist, however, no longer wished to stay for the epilogue.
Brickley backed away from the stunned guard, who had relaxed his vigilance just long enough for the old scientist to free the pistol from the man’s holster.
“Gun!” The guard moved to put his body between the scientist and the television host. It was a heroic attempt and spoke volumes about the priorities of the world. Brickley, however, no longer cared about the host. Let him live in the world he created. It would, no doubt, be a brief life. There was a wormhole in the studio, and he could hear alien, animalistic growls over the sounds of the panicked crowd. There was no escape.
“Put the gun on the ground.” The guard’s partner drew his pistol and took aim.
Brickley looked down the dark barrel. Perhaps it would be better to let the guard put an end to it. No—he lacked faith that the nervous man would make the shot clean. Screams of terror and pain rose in volume. No, he refused to go out like them. He was too old to run and too proud to let himself be eaten. Brickley put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.