Wormhole Online - Richard Phillips



Dr. Rodger Dalbert stepped out of the black Mercedes, almost losing his footing on the icy blacktop. His driver reached out to support him, but he waved the hand away.

“It’s OK, Carl. I’ve got it.”

“Black ice is a bitch this morning. Thought we’d slide off the road in that last roundabout.”

Rodger smiled at the bigger man. “That crossed my mind.”

An icy blast of wind forced Rodger to duck his head, seeking some protection behind his overcoat’s high collar. Damn, it was cold. Of course, what could one expect of March in Switzerland?

On the bright side, Meyrin wasn’t far outside Geneva. Rodger had always loved Geneva. Too bad his schedule wasn’t going to allow him to tour more than the airport. Oh well. He’d known his personal life would suffer when he’d agreed to chair PCAST, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Hitching his overcoat more tightly around his neck, Rodger hurried out of the wind and into the building that would host today’s conference, a review of ongoing repairs on the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC. The most ambitious science project ever undertaken by man occupied a monstrous tunnel a hundred meters below ground, just west of Lake Geneva, its twenty-seven-kilometer circumference crossing the border between France and Switzerland in multiple spots. This building sat seventy meters above a cavern in which the huge ATLAS detector enfolded LHC Point One, a beam interaction point where two super-accelerated proton beams collided...at least they did when the whole thing was working.

“Dr. Dalbert. I am so pleased you could make it.”

Rodger turned to see Dr. Louis Dubois, the famed French physicist who headed the team of ATLAS scientists, approaching from across the room. The man had aged since last Rodger had seen him, at a conference in New York, long black hair flowing down over his shoulders as if he had just stepped out of a Paris salon, looking more like a twenty-something Yanni than a Nobel Prize–winning quantum theorist. Now, he wore it tied back in a greasy ponytail, as if he hadn’t bothered to wash it in weeks. His eyes, which seemed to have sunk back into his face, showed a fatigue no sleep could wash away.

“The pleasure is mine, Dr. Dubois. I apologize for my tardiness. The drive took us a bit longer than expected this morning.” Rodger nodded toward the reception desk. “Should I sign in?”

“No need. I have your badge right here. Now, if you’ll follow me, the conference is about to begin.”

Passing through a doorway, Dr. Dubois led Rodger down a short hall and then turned right into a room that was much smaller than what Rodger had expected. The conference table seated a dozen, but today only three people occupied its chairs. Dr. Dubois, with Rodger in tow, now made a grand total of five.

As Rodger seated himself, Dr. Dubois moved to the head of the table and began the obligatory introductions.

“Good morning to you all. Although most of you have already met, I will make my way around the table.

“On my left is Dr. Robert Craig, chief scientific advisor to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense.”

The stocky redheaded man inclined his head in acknowledgment.

“Continuing in clockwise fashion, Dr. Klaus Gotlieb, scientific advisor to the European Commission.”

Rodger recognized the bald, birdlike visage of the older man from an August meeting in Stockholm. Although he’d only chatted with the scientist briefly, the encounter had felt interminable.

“Next we have Dr. Pierre Boudre, senior astrophysicist for the European Space Agency.”

Raising his left eyebrow ever so slightly, Rodger glanced across the table at the slender Frenchman. He had known and liked Pierre since they had collaborated on the International Space Station for NASA. The man was brilliant, and endowed with an affable personality that could charm a group of locals at a Houston coffee shop as effortlessly as society’s elite at a Long Island social. But what was he doing here?

For that matter, what was Rodger doing here? What had been billed as a conference on the status of LHC repairs was clearly nothing of the sort. Five people? This wasn’t enough for a round table discussion, much less a conference. And the makeup of the group. Two French, one German, a Brit, and an American. Something about the mix didn’t seem right for an LHC discussion. The project was a worldwide collaboration. So what was this about?

“And on my right is Dr. Rodger Dalbert, chairman of the US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.