The Far Side Of The Galaxy - Parts 1 and 2

Daniel Armstrong is a teenage boy - slightly smarter than average, likes maths and science, but is otherwise just a regular kid. He likes playing online games with his mates, and is pretty good at it too.

Then, one night, Daniel is messing around in his father's study when he finds a strange mathematical formula on his computer. Something draws Daniel to it, and he starts tinkering with the code. And that's when strange thing start happening. Later that night he receives an unusual message from the makers of his online game; men in dark suits start following him and his family; his maths teacher has car accident and there's something suspicious about her replacement.

When Daniel starts digging into these events he discovers that the greatest mystery involves his father, a top-secret research project... and the greatest adventure of his life

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Daniel stared at his father in disbelief. “What do you mean?”, he asked.

“You'd better sit down”, Thomas said as he perched himself on the edge of the desk. “I have to start with a confession. I've not been completely honest with you about what it is I do for a living. At least, not for the last few years. I really did start out working for the government statistics office and, technically, I am still employed by the government – sort of. But the truth is, for the last few years I've been working on an international research project on behalf of the United Nations.

“The project started several decades ago and is highly classified. Highly classified – even I don't know everything about it, and I'm not allowed to tell you everything that I do know.”

“So why are you telling us now, Dad?”, Daniel asked.

“That's a good question, son”, Thomas replied. “In part it's because of something you've done. Which, in part, is because I didn't tell you sooner.” He shook his head, quickly. “I'd better start at the beginning”, he said.

“You've heard of CERN, right? The European Organisation for Nuclear Research. It's the home of the Large Hadron Collider which, basically, is the world's largest physics experiment; a circular tunnel, over twenty-six kilometres in circumference, built one hundred metres into the ground underneath the Switzerland-France border. It's supposed to accelerate atoms to speeds approaching that of light and then smash these super-charged atoms into each other to shatter them apart and see what falls out. The idea is to recreate the conditions that existed when the universe was born – to see the building blocks of matter itself.

“Only, that's not all it does. That's not even it's primary purpose. You see, ten years before the LHC was even dreamt of, scientists at CERN were carrying out research of another kind altogether – into wormholes.

“It's not my specialism, but as I understand it wormholes are like imperfections in the surface of the spacetime – little gaps in the universe that exist over more dimensions than the three of space and one of time that we understand. In theory someone could use a wormhole to travel across galaxies, between universes or even through time.

“However, this is all based on mathematics. No-one knows how a traveller might experience the journey across higher dimensions, but as it's not possible to actually observe the higher dimensions then to those left behind it would look like you'd simply... vanished.

“Forty years ago there was a scientist at CERN – Dr. Miriam Bradley – who became fascinated with the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. In the first half of the twentieth century there were numerous reports of ships and aeroplanes going missing over a region of the ocean near Bermuda – all these people and vehicles vanishing without trace. Although primarily a mathematician, Dr. Bradley was something of a genius and she had an active interest in many areas of science, including physics and astronomy. When she heard about wormhole theory she began to wonder whether this might offer an explanation for the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.

“She began collating data on these disappearances, and eventually thought she recognised a pattern. Dr. Bradley took the dates and times of the disappearances and calculated the position of the Earth on those days. She found that the points described another orbit – one that echoed that of the Earth and occasionally overlapped it.

“Dr. Bradley's calculations led her to believe that a wormhole existed within our solar system. She thought that the hole wasn't a fixed point in space but that it could move, like a bubble in water. Moreover, she thought that it orbited the Sun, on a path that crossed our own.

“She believed she could track the wormhole and work out other places where it could have intersected the Earth. Sure enough, when she looked into it she found other reports of mysterious disappearances, right in the places where the wormhole would have been, right at the time it would have been there.

“There was one further test of her theory that Dr. Bradley carried out. She wanted to know if she could predict when and where the wormhole's path would cross the Earth's. Her equations predicted several dates, but only on two of these dates would the wormhole appear on land.

“The first was March 15 1987, when the numbers said it would appear in the Nevada desert in the United States.

“The calculations were accurate and the reasoning was sound, but she couldn't get anyone to take her seriously. Most scientists are wary of associating themselves with research into the paranormal or the occult and no-one would support her – at least not publicly – without hard, irrefutable evidence. So, on the first of March 1987 Dr. Bradley set off, alone, for Nevada. She left a detailed itinerary of where she was heading, when she would be there and what she expected to see. She took all kinds of equipment with her to measure and record whatever she found there, including hi-tech video recording equipment. Remember, this was some 25 years ago – we didn't even have mobile phones in those days, and certainly not pocket-sized camcorders. No, the cameras she took with her were large, bulky things that required batteries the size of suitcases and weighed many, many kilograms. To carry all that by herself? She must have been convinced of what she would find.”

“What did she find?”, Daniel asked.

“I don't know. No-one ever heard from her again. Some people think she got lost in the desert – there was no such thing as satellite navigation in those days either, so she wouldn't have had a GPS device. And in the desert, weighed down by all that equipment, she could easily have been overcome by heatstroke and exhaustion.

“Other people think she found nothing there and was too embarrassed to admit she was wrong. I don't believe that – she was too good a scientist to bury her findings.

“But a few people believe that she did find a wormhole. Or rather, that the wormhole found her.

“You see, Dr. Bradley had to make a number of assumptions for her calculations to work, and her biggest guesses were about the wormhole itself. She had enough information to plot the wormhole's orbit accurately, but she didn't know the size of the wormhole. An object's orbit is related to its mass, and mass is the product of volume and density. Dr. Bradley assumed that a wormhole would be as dense as a black hole and therefore it's volume – the size of it – would be relatively small. She calculated it to be no more than a few metres wide, with a circumference of around 10 metres.

“Now Dr. Bradley had more supporters than she realised and many of her colleagues at CERN followed her research with interest. Two scientists in particular – doctors Lewis and Henry – continued her work after her disappearance. As time passed and more people began theorising about wormholes, Lewis and Henry realised Dr. Bradley's mistake. A wormhole is likely to be much less dense than a black hole, so in order for it to have the mass she calculated, Bradley's wormhole would have to be much bigger than she thought. Lewis and Henry recalculated the volume of the wormhole based on a lower density and found it would have a circumference around five times greater than that calculated by Dr. Bradley. They believe that Dr. Bradley was too close to the wormhole when it manifested in Nevada. If so, then her disappearance would provide the proof of her theory.”

“But this is still just theory though, isn't it?” Mary asked. “How do you know that a wormhole isn't as dense as a black hole?”

“Because I've seen one”, Thomas said. “Remember I said there were two dates when the wormhole would manifest on land? Well the second date was September 10 2008, when the Bradley equations predicted that the wormhole would appear in Switzerland, on its border with France.”

“I recognise that date”, said Daniel.”Isn't that when they turned the Large Hadron Collider on for the first time?”

“Yes. Lewis and Henry had much more success in persuading the budget holders of CERN that Dr. Bradley was onto something. In 1994, seven years after Dr. Bradley's disappearance, work started on the construction of the LHC, under the disguise of it being designed to help carry out research into the origins of the universe. But in fact the LHC – which really stands for the Lewis-Henry Cage – was designed to capture the wormhole. The giant ring is actually the world's largest electro-magnet. It's not so much a ring but a massive coil, and when the super-charged electrons travel through it they create an enormous magnetic force that was designed to trap the wormhole, pull it underground and hold it there for just long enough that scientists could examine its structure and see what lay inside it.”

“But it didn't work”, Daniel said. “I remember. It was on the news. They couldn't get it working properly.”

“Actually”, Thomas said. “It worked fine. That was just another part of the cover story. They said it didn't work so that the world wouldn't be waiting to hear results from experiments that didn't actually take place. They do have a problem, but it's the exact opposite. They can't turn it off again. The wormhole has been trapped, deep in the Earth, for the last three years.”

Daniel's could hardly believe it. “Seriously? There's a wormhole – at CERN – in Switzerland? And you've seen it? You – have seen it?”

“Yes”, Thomas said. “I've seen it.”

“But that's... incredible!”

“It is pretty spectacular”, agreed Thomas. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He was delighted to see his son's wide-eyed wonder at the idea.

“Why is it being kept secret?”, asked Mary. “If it's such an amazing achievement, why not tell the world about it?”

“Two reasons”, answered Thomas. “Firstly, for the same reason that no-one supported Dr. Bradley in the first place – fear of embarrassment. Although Lewis and Henry made a strong case in support of Bradley, if they'd been wrong then it would have been a disaster for CERN, for physics and for science in general. The amount of work, research, time and, of course, money that had been pumped into the LHC – they couldn't risk being open about the fact that it was based on the research of a scientist that had gone missing while testing theories about the Bermuda Triangle. No government would have supported the work if they'd known that, and none would ever support them again if it had gone wrong.”

“What's the other reason?”, asked Daniel.

“Power”, said Thomas, the smile gone from his face. “To keep open a stable hole in the fabric of the universe has got to take a phenomenal amount of energy.

“When Lewis and Henry first presented their cage design to the heads of CERN, there were a lot of questions asked about safety and security. Containment of the wormhole itself was a major concern. But more than that, the board were concerned that governments might try to exploit the exotic matter within the wormhole – to try to use it as a source of energy for example. Or worse – that some military leaders might try to seize it for themselves, and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction.

“The senior scientists felt that the only way to ensure that pure scientific research could be carried out, was to keep the truth of the Lewis-Henry Cage secret. That's why they came up with the Large Hadron Collider story. They figured that nuclear physics is a mystery to most people anyway, so no-one would ask too many questions. I mean – what is a 'hadron' anyway?”

Daniel shrugged.

“Exactly”, Thomas continued. “There's very few physicists that claim to fully understand quantum theory, so the chances of a government minister or a military commander seeing through the ruse were almost zero. The fact that CERN is primarily within a neutral country also helps. It was pure serendipity that the Bradley equations showed the wormhole would next manifest in Switzerland, but many great scientific breakthroughs happen just like that, when hard work meets dumb luck.”

“So let me get this straight”, Daniel said. “A scientist went missing in the 1980s, so group of her mates built an underground wormhole trap – pretending it was for atomic research to hide it from the government? And for the last three years the LHC has actually been working fine, only it's not smashing atoms but is keeping a wormhole trapped on Earth?”

“Sounds crazy when you say it like that”, answered Thomas. “But that's pretty much it, yes.”

“OK. So that just leaves one question.” Daniel looked at his mother. He could tell from the look on her face that she had the same question: “How on Earth did you end up working there?”, he asked.

“In 1986, a year before she disappeared, Dr. Bradley was my teacher. She taught maths at my university and I was interested in her work on dynamic systems. I sought her out and she agreed to supervise my final year research project. In return, I worked on her calculations for predicting future wormhole strikes. Really it was a case of running numbers through her formulae and writing out the answers – computers in those days were bigger, slower and more expensive, and not everybody had them. You had to book time to use the most powerful machines that the university had, and Dr. Bradley didn't like that. Most researchers then had teams of people like me to do the number crunching.

“Anyway, I don't claim any credit for coming up with the equations, but I did do the calculations. It was that legwork that came up with the two dates. I left university the same year that Dr. Bradley went missing. If I'd still been there, I'd have wanted to go with her. Maybe I'd have been able to help her.”

“Or maybe you'd just be missing now too”, said Mary.

“Don't get me wrong”, Thomas said quickly. “I don't wish anything was different. I'm glad I didn't go, or I might not have met you. But a few years ago, when the LHC was nearing completion, Dr. Lewis got in touch with me. He'd seen my name somewhere in Dr. Bradley's records and wanted some help recreating her equations. Most of her work went missing when she did and while Lewis and Henry had enough to make their case to build the LHC, they wanted to recreate the equations to double-check the timings. With the aid of modern computers we could calculate the intersections of the Earth and the wormhole down to the last second.

“But if that was three years ago, why are you still there?”, Mary asked. “Isn't your work finished now?”

“I did leave for a while. But once they realised things were going wrong, they needed all the help they could get to put things right.”

“What has gone wrong?”, Daniel asked.

“The plan was to contain the wormhole for one hour. No-one knew what the effect of trapping it in place would be, but the Bradley equations indicated that the wormhole would manifest naturally for around an hour, so it was reasoned that sticking to that should be safe. The LHC designs included tons of monitoring equipment; millions of pounds' worth of sensors, recording devices and computer processors. Dozens of people were trained to use each piece of equipment and at least three people were stationed on each at all times.

“It took days to get the LHC up and running at full capacity. It had to be timed precisely so that it would hit peak performance at the exact moment of wormhole strike.

“I can't begin to describe how incredible it was when the wormhole appeared. And the Cage snared it perfectly. It was mankind versus the universe, and mankind was winning.

“Then reports started coming in from all the sensor stations. The readings were almost off the scale. Electrical activity, heat and light, magnetic force. Anything and everything you can think of – it was all being measured and it was all pouring out of the wormhole at a scale never seen before.

“But it was stable. Every readout shot immediately to near-maximum but then held steady at those levels. Everyone was delighted, especially Lewis and Henry. Their Cage was working just as they had designed it to. The wormhole was secure.

“As well as recording every sensor reading, the scientists had designed a set of probes to go inside the wormhole. A lot of them had been built by satellite makers under the pretence that they were going into space. Just like the sensor stations, there were several copies of each probe acting as backups in case anything went wrong. After twenty minutes they launched the first probe, called the Hole Exploration Recording Monitoring and Evaluation Satellite – HERMES.

“They got nothing back. HERMES passed over the threshold and just... vanished. It was sending radio signals to a monitoring station right up until it reached the wormhole, but then all communication from it stopped. The team waited to see whether there was a time delay, but they heard nothing. As far as I know they're still waiting.

“After another twenty minutes they tried launching HERMES2. But there was a problem with its magnetic shielding and once it entered the Cage it went haywire. They lost all control over its navigation and it spun off-course, crashing into a monitoring station before smashing itself to pieces in the ceiling.

“It took half-an-hour to get the monitoring station replaced and double-check the shielding on HERMES3. By this time of course, over an hour had passed, but all the readings from the monitoring stations had remained stable so it was agreed to hold the wormhole for another hour. Then it was extended again, keeping the Cage locked for three hours; then four; then five.

“In the end they just stopped keeping track of the time. They kept the wormhole in the Cage for 30 hours before anyone even thought again about releasing it. But by then it was too late. The Earth travels around 1.6 million miles in a day, so the Cage had dragged the wormhole about 2 million miles away from its natural position. And although it was steady while being held, as soon as they started to reduce the power of the Cage, the wormhole became massively unstable. So they decided to hold on to it while they figured out what to do. Only – that just made matters worse. The longer they kept the wormhole in the Cage, the further the Earth would travel, so the further out of position the wormhole became. By the time six months had passed and the Earth had completed one half of its orbit, the wormhole had been pulled around for 300 million miles, and the power needed to keep the Cage shut was crippling CERN's generators.”

“So why don't they just let it go?”, Mary asked.

“They've tried a few times, sometimes by design and sometimes by accident when parts of the Cage have failed. But each time has had devastating results. The wormhole appears to us like a self-contained entity – like a bubble in water. Trapping it in the Cage is like making an ice cube, freezing that bubble so that it can be carried around. But what we have is only one end of a multi-dimensional Einstein-Rosen bridge. The wormhole at CERN is acting more like one part of an elastic band and as it's being pulled out of its natural position it's being stretched tighter and tighter. This stretching causes the wormhole to weaken and become unstable. The Cage compensates for this, pumping power to the wormhole to reinforce it.

“When they've tried releasing the wormhole it's like letting go of one end of that stretched elastic band. It doesn't just re-appear in its original position, but it tries to travel back there, passing through whatever is in its path. When the Cage has lost power and the wormhole has moved out of position – even just a fraction – it has had devastating consequences for the planet. Over the last three years there's been a increase in seismic activity, resulting in avalanches in Pakistan and Afghanistan, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, volcanic eruptions in Iceland. The weather too: blizzards in the USA and the UK, heatwaves in Russia and Japan, floods in Brazil. All of these phenomena have coincided with events at the Cage when the wormhole has moved. As it slides through or away from the Earth it places enormous stress on the planet. Either the tectonic plates have been pulled out of line, causing earthquakes, or the natural currents of air and water have been interrupted, which affects the weather.

“And all of these events have occurred when the wormhole has barely shifted. Imagine what might happen if it were released completely.”

“So what can we do?”, Daniel asked.

“CERN are divided”, Thomas said. “They can't contain it indefinitely, so that really only leaves two options: release it, or destroy it. There are two teams, one working on a way to let it go safely, the other trying to find a way to collapse it.”

“Collapse it?”. Daniel was appalled at the idea. “How could they possibly be thinking of destroying a wormhole?”

“Some people think it's the only way to be sure – to protect the planet from encountering the wormhole again, and to stop control of the wormhole from falling into the wrong hands. Over the past few months we've heard rumours that a consortium of agents from various rogue states have been attempting to infiltrate CERN in order to exploit the wormhole. Until yesterday those rumours were unsubstantiated.”

Thomas paused and looked directly at Daniel.

“But then you got an e-mail”, he said. “And that changed everything.”

Daniel was struggling to keep up. Everything he thought he knew about his father had changed. Dad wasn't just some boring civil servant after all. But all this stuff about wormholes on Earth couldn't be true. Could it? And the idea that enemy agents were trying to manipulate a wormhole, and that somehow Daniel's own e-mails were involved? It was starting to sound ridiculous.

“I know what you're thinking”, Thomas said. “But it's not as ridiculous as it sounds. And I promise you it's all true.”

“I'm part of the team that are trying to release the wormhole. I've been working on the Bradley equations to find the optimum time at which to open the Cage, when the wormhole can return to its natural position without causing devastation on Earth. We're also trying to find a way to stabilise the wormhole so that we can contain it more safely while we wait for the Earth to move into the release position. I think I've found a way to get the power supply through the LHC to link up with the wormhole's own energy and create a feedback loop – so the wormhole will effectively power its own cage.

“CERN have been receiving reports that this Consortium of spies, scientists and soldiers have been working to seize control of the LHC facility and, ultimately, the wormhole itself. But to do that, they need to know how to contain the wormhole. My calculations are a prime target for the Consortium, but they're incomplete. It works in principle, but when we've modelled the feedback loop it becomes destructive. Instead of supporting each other, the energy of the wormhole and the Cage begin to cancel each other out. If the Cage outlasts the wormhole, then the feedback loop will collapse the wormhole. But if the Cage is drained first then the wormhole will break free. An uncontrolled release could tear the planet apart. If someone steals my work and attempts to apply it before it's complete, the results could be catastrophic.”

Daniel suddenly realised what the formulae he'd seen on his father's computer were. “Those equations...”, he began.

“Exactly”, his father interrupted. “That's my work. And you nearly helped solve the puzzle.” Thomas smiled warmly. “I've never been more proud of you, son.”

Daniel was stunned. It was like the last few months hadn't happened and, for a moment, he felt as close to his father as he ever had.

But the last few months had happened. Daniel remembered the way his father had shouted at him in this room the night before.

“If you're so proud, then why did I get a bollocking from you?” The question came out more accusingly that Daniel meant it to, but from the way Mary folded her arms and glared at his father, he knew she agreed it was justified.

“Because we were being monitored. I'm sorry I reacted the way I did. But just a few minutes before that, a warning had gone off on my laptop. We – this house – had been targeted by a hacker. Someone had tried to get into our computer network. My laptop has software that detected the intruder and was recording their data. I left the house to call our security department on a secure line, but I had to leave the computer running so that our specialists could try to trace the source of the hack. If I'd known you were going to choose that moment to have a breakthrough with the equations I would have locked the door behind me.

“The intruders came in while you were online playing a game with your friends. Our tech guys blocked them from retrieving any data directly, and at that point there was still the chance that it was a random virus in the system. But then they sent you an e-mail with a link in it, and when you clicked that link it sent them all the data they had stolen from me. It wasn't your fault. You weren't to know. But that e-mail confirmed our worst fears – that the hacker had deliberately targeted my work, and that a hostile force are interested in the wormhole. Worst of all, it's possible that the Consortium now has the key to the wormhole.”

“My god”, Daniel said quietly. He had misbehaved before, but this was a whole new level of trouble. He buried his face in his hands. “Dad – I'm sorry.”

Mary got up and put her arms around Daniel “It's OK”, she said. “It's OK.” She kissed the top of his head then looked up at her husband. “You can't blame Daniel for this”, she said angrily.

“I know, and I'm really not blaming anyone but myself. I wish I could have told you all about this sooner. But I had to sign a confidentiality agreement when I went to work at CERN. And I was told that the less you knew about things, the safer you would be. People have been really paranoid since they found out that someone was trying to attack CERN. They've taken on a massive number of extra guards, tightened up all their security measures and spent ages investigating all the staff who work there. I didn't tell you about any of this because I was trying to protect you.”

“Dad”, Daniel interrupted. He had been thinking about that e-mail he had received from Wetworks Command. “That e-mail I got – it was addressed to me by name. By my real name. I've never used that online.”

Thomas looked worried. “That's what really concerns security. They think that somehow, someone has worked out who you are and that you're my son. I've had extra protection placed on all of us since last night, to keep us safe.”

“What protection?” asked Mary.

Thomas shifted uncomfortably. “We have each had a bodyguard following us whenever we leave the house. You shouldn't have noticed them”, he said quickly.

“I think I might have”, said Daniel. “There was a big guy in a dark suit hanging around outside school when I got there this morning. Was that him?”

“I don't know”, Thomas said. “I only asked for the guards. I've not met them. Sounds like it might be though.”

“He stuck out like a sore thumb, especially when he started talking into his sleeve. You might want to suggest that your security department start using mobile phones”, Daniel said with a wry smile.

Thomas chuckled. “I'll do that”, he said.

“They've also beefed up our security at home”, Thomas continued. “While we were all out today they sent a team to go over the house, reinforcing the locks, sweeping for bugs and upgrading our computer defences. This place is now more secure than most banks, and this room in particular is impenetrable. There's even a special coating on the windows that reflects all light and sound, so that no one can spy on us or eavesdrop on our conversation. That's why I brought you up here.”

“What do we do now?”, Mary asked. “How do we fix this?”

“Thank you”, Thomas said. “For saying 'we'”.

Mary smiled at him. Just a small smile – Daniel knew his mother hated being lied to and would be angry that his father had kept this all from them for so long. But he also knew that family was the most important thing in the world to her, and if any one of them were in trouble Mary Armstrong would move heaven and earth to help them.

“Count me in too, Dad”, said Daniel. “What can I do?”

“The summer holidays are coming up soon, right?” Thomas asked.

Daniel nodded. “In a weeks' time”, he confirmed.

Thomas gave a sly smile. “Well then; how do you fancy a summer job at CERN?”

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