Wednesday, 10 September 2008

End of the World?

Personally, I don't think that the world will end tomorrow when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on and powered up.

But at the same time... The whole point is to see what it is that happens when we do these things. That means that, by definition, there are unknowns. That also means, in my opinion, that you cannot be absolutely positively certain that it won't do something unexpected. After all, if they knew what to expect, they wouldn't have built it.

And so, I find that I reall can't help but remember a short science fiction story I read when I was young(er).

Mr Top Thief is in his office, planning his next heist, when some funny lass walks in. He's not exactly sure what it is that makes her a funny lass, there was just something 'off' about her.

She puts down her plan for him, and his team of merry men (ok, fellow partners-in-crime), to steal vast amounts of world-famous antiquities and masterpieces.

Now, Mr Top Thief is by now thinking that she's a few nuts short of a Picnic bar - I mean, we're talking priceless pieces from all of the country here, we're talking some serious wonger wangling.

Until Ms. Suspiciously Offish Lass points him to the window of his office.

He looks out but nothing is really happening.

He looks some more and realises that nothing is happening.

Literally nothing. Nobody is moving, there's no background noise around him, trains are at a stand still, cars are lined in endless lines of traffic... Ok, those last two might not help, but you catch my drift, right?

"Look," she says, "I've got this right nifty bracelet that slows time outside its radius down so much, that it appears to have stopped. So if you're wearing it, you can do whatever you want, and nobody will ever even see you."

"Hang on a minute," says Mr. Top Thief, "why do you need me then?"

"Well, you've got the equipment, the man power, the experience... things we don't have to pull off a job of this scale."

"Right. Right. And what do I get out of it?"

"After you've gone out and picked out my shopping list of priceless goodies, you can keep the bracelet."

Hoooooh! Now there's an offer too good to refuse!

So, Mr. Top Thief and his merry band of freedom fighters - uh, I mean co-conspirators - agree.

And at each place, it's exactly the same - they go in, they load up with everything they want, they go out - and by the time they've done it, the security guards haven't even been able to blink an eye.

So, they pull off all the jobs, and they liberate all the gear.

And sure enough, our original Ms. Oddish Lass turns up and takes it off their hands.

"So, like, uh, what's the deal?" asks Mr. Top Thief

"Take a look at this morning's newspaper."

Mr. Top Thief looks around and notices a guy frozen on a bench, half-way through reading his paper. He leans over and takes it, looking at the front page.

"Superbomb testing today!" reads the headline.

"That testing," adds our enigmatic lass, "has already started. This morning, the test was initiated. Within mere seconds of real time from now, that test will rupture your planet's core, decimating all life and ripping your whole world apart from the inside. This process has already begun, and nothing can be done to stop it.

"We come from the future, but we are unable to prevent this disaster which wipes out your entire civilization. Due to the massive forces involved in the explosion, it has created enough of a rupture that we were able to harness that same force to materialise here, and using our technology we can freeze your time and save as much of your culture as we were able - but I am afraid we are unable to bring back any organic or living material with us. The awesome forces involved in the transfer make this impossible.

"So, you may keep your bracelet and live in this frozen time, forever an observer to the world, between tick and tock. But when you take off the bracelet, normal time for you will resume and you will be vapourised."

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And who knows? Maybe tomorrow the world will freeze and we'll never know. Maybe even as your eye scans from one end of this line now, unknowable forces have already wreaked their terrific consequences, and, in the blink of an eye, everything that we are, everything that we have achieved, has been relinquished to a museum exhibit on an alien world.

I shall certainly be listening to Radio 4 at 8:30 in the morning to hear this machine be turned on. If anything does go wrong, I doubt we'll ever know.

And if it doesn't? Well, maybe we will just learn a little more about the nature of everything.

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