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SCUBA t h e

s c u b a

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Chapter One Lazy Hoof – Present Day Shooting stars of color sprayed in all directions like celebratory Independence Day festivities. The colors faded into hot white sprigs that diminished and melted into his peripheral view. He found himself floating above the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland. In the distance the snowcapped Alps glistened under the Sun. The breeze was cool, but not cold. This was a perfect vantage point: A clear day in the crisp blue sky. Hovering at a couple thousand feet, he had a clear field of view of the CERN facility and the surrounding farmlands. Those empty farmlands were equally as important as the CERN campus itself. Buried at almost six-hundred feet below ground was The Large Hadron Collider, an atom-smasher and the world’s biggest machine. And the accompanying seventeen mile circular beam tunnel was also entombed under all of that farmland. The reason that he knew these things was because he worked there as a lead physicist for many years. As he mused about his former life, something strange began to happen on the ground. Wanting to get a better look, he willed himself to go lower and he slowly floated down. Closer to the ground now, he could barely make out what looked like ants moving to and fro. He realized that they weren’t ants, but people going and coming from the main building, L1, of CERN. A dark blur of movement caught his eye. Without warning, like a giant spinning drain, the whole seventeen mile LHC circle above ground began to rotate counterclockwise. As it spun, the natural colors of white, brown and green began to smudge and bleed together, making everything in this vortex look the color of a dull gray.

The area spun like a washing machine on its spin cycle. But it wasn’t a drain like he first thought. It was an opening or portal of some kind, turning and churning with power generated from deep beneath the earth. Without warning, black vapor began to spit out from the center of the swirling hole. The blackness continued to pour out from the center like a torrent. This vapor slowly thickened and became a black membrane. It was so thick that within a few moments, he could no longer see any other distinctive colors‌ save black. As he floated high above the turning below, movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He looked up and saw a white light speeding down toward Earth, almost like a falling star. Rather than resembling a meteor, it looked like lightning striking in the middle of the day. Its destination appeared to be the exact center of the churning black membrane. When it finally hit, it was instantly sucked in and covered over, without a trace. After the lightning strike, the blackness grew and expanded even faster. It kept rising and spreading out in all directions from whence it came. As the black circle rose to his height, he realized that it was not a liquid or solid mass. It was the joining of individual parts, too numerous to count. These individual parts were giant beings whose color was dark and black as midnight. As the creatures rose higher they reached his level in the sky. From this vantage point, he could clearly see them for what they were. They were soot covered, black winged creatures that looked like giant humans, but were a mass of muscle. With eyes that were blood red and faces contorted with rage, he knew exactly who and what they were. Then, with unexpected and sudden violence, he was jerked from that place to a different location. All at once he was floating in front of a massive huge ball of fire. He knew it to be the Sun. As he looked to either side of the orange and yellow ball, he could see billions of stars in the distance. Like above Ge-

neva, he floated there in space without the need of oxygen or protective clothing. He was now so close to the Sun that it took up his whole field of view. In awe, he watched the Sun’s violent eruptions of molten plasma. They looked like flaming fingers dancing in a choreographed ballet over its surface. It was beautiful. But as he watched, it began to change into something much less impressive right before his eyes. Where there was once orange and yellow burning plasma, holes began to appear all over the Sun. But that wasn’t right he thought. They weren’t holes. They were more like dents of darkness with no color. Dent after dent appeared until the Sun looked like a honeycomb sphere, rather than a solid mass of fire. But around the edges of the black dents, there was still orange and yellow fire. Those areas began to fester and grow what looked to be long strings of flapping and swaying fire. String upon string grew out and were joined together all around the sphere. Finally, when the connections were done, he was amazed that around the honeycomb sphere there had now been woven what looked to be a fiery giant spider web. As he watched the web being formed, sometimes he would see red and orange hot fibers snap off the Sun and be hurled into space. When the web was done, it too became alive, flapping and whipping across the surface of the Sun. So active was the new web structure that more and more long filaments of string began to snap off and be slung in every direction. He watched one particular active region just below the flaming honeycomb’s equator. Churning and burning plasma bubbled in rage, arcing and spitting. The region spat sprays of fire as if they jumped off the Sun, trying to escape. Turning his head, he watched one particular filament being whipped into space. But before he could turn his

head back, from behind him he heard a disconnected fiery string snap off the Sun with a “crack”. He turned just time to see that it was aimed right for him. Automatically he floated to the side, moving easily out of the path of the red hot finger. With amazement, he watched the orange and red string zip past him and expand in width as it rushed forward. Tracking it with his eyes, he realized that it was heading directly for a small blue dot in the distance: Earth. Instantly he bolted from his perch aside the Sun and accelerated enough to easily overtake the finger of death. Now finding himself well ahead of the burning emission, he stopped to hover above the Earth. So beautiful and blue, it looked like a spinning globe in history class. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the hot plasma was still a long way off. Turning back to face the blue planet, he noticed something. The black midnight that he saw coming out of the LHC’s spinning circle had not yet covered the globe. But now he also saw smaller spinning circles of darkness form in other places, all around the Earth. He was thinking it wouldn’t be long, before the whole planet was covered in darkness. But as he pondered this, he saw the Earth begin to wobble and shake. From his vantage point, it almost looked like a drunkard stumbling. As if the scene couldn’t get any stranger, he then saw what looked like plumes and pillars of gray and black smoke belching up into the Earth’s atmosphere. Following those puffs, he saw spraying fire coming out of the source of the smoke. As a detached spectator, he realized that the Earth’s crust had destabilized and began to shift

violently. At the same time he knew that the Earth’s core became super-heated and started expanding. The result playing out before his eyes was severe volcanic activity and mega earthquakes all around the globe. Wishing that the scene would end, he was caught off guard as a huge wall of water swelled up from the area of the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. The wave kept building and building until finally it was so huge that when it reached the coast of the Pacific, it wiped out everything and everyone in its path. He looked over his shoulder to see where the finger of fire from the Sun was. It was much closer and he knew it would be only a matter of time before it hit. He turned back to the scene before him. As he did so, he floated closer to the ground. From this perspective, he could see that war and death broke out on every continent. He saw civilians looting and killing each other. He saw civilians killing the military and the military killing civilians. He saw militaries under the same flag killing and fighting amongst themselves. And worse, in every part of the globe, he saw major conflicts breaking out between countries. Death wrought by war consumed the planet. He floated back up to get a better look at the globe. Just as he did, he saw pillars of red fiery smoke explode in various countries throughout the globe. From those pillars rose huge mushroom clouds of death. Closing his eyes he shouted, “NO! STOP!� speaking for the first time. But when he opened his eyes again, he saw that the darkness that originated from the LHC had now enveloped the whole Earth. He watched as a last mushroom cloud towered above South Korea, and then disappeared as the darkness enveloped it. Now the ubiquitous darkness was complete and it wrapped the whole Earth. A roar from behind him caused him to jerk to the side automatically. And then he watched as the immense burst of plasma that the Sun spewed like a blow torch, burn and boil his home: the Earth. He hovered, lamenting with tearing eyes when all of a sudden, a piercing loud ringing in his ears caused him to reach for them in

pain. Then he became aware that the back of his head felt like it was on fire. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the colors and lines of the scene became blurry. He didn’t understand what was happening as his vision went white. Slowly the whiteness dissipated and a myriad of shooting stars consumed his whole field of view. Eventually the stars began to evaporate and a sudden jarring pain at the back of his head screamed for attention. His ears were still ringing when through the haze; he noticed muffled sounds like someone running through puddles of water. Adding to his confusion, the sounds amplified the pain that he felt at the back of his head. Ever so slowly, the mass of shooting stars started to blend away. In their place came colors and blurry lines, blended together with indistinctive shapes. Gradually his eyes began to focus. As the shooting stars disappeared; the ringing subsided and then he realized that he was looking up… at familiar faces etched with concern. “Coop! Come on buddy… don’t you die on me! You’re too ugly to give mouth to mouth!” He coughed a few times. He realized that he was lying in the dirt, in the middle of his horse corral. Carefully he lifted his neck. He looked down at his feet and saw his favorite cowboy boots. Slowly he twirled each foot to make sure he could move. He flexed his fingers and fists. Aside from a headache and a bruised backside, he realized that he was okay. He coughed again, “MM… Mac? What are you doing here?”

As he looked at his longtime friend, he noticed a few fleeting shooting stars. He also noted the queasy feeling in his stomach and that he felt woozy. Seeing his old friend made him feel even more confused. Ranch foreman, Danny Mendez, had Bryce’s cowboy hat in hand. As he helped him sit up, he said, “Boss… that was a nasty fall! Anything broken?” Bryce coughed again. “Ah… no, I don’t think so. But I haven’t been laid out like that since Uncle Joe threw me across the dojo.” Bryce rubbed the back of his head and winced, “How long was I out for?” Danny and Mac exchanged a confused look. “Out Boss?” Mendez asked, as he handed his hat back to him. “You were never out. You fell off and we ran right over.” Bryce slowly got to his feet. As he did so, he smacked his black Stetson Cowboy hat against his jeans trying to get the dust off. Turning to Danny, he said, “Mendez! Whad-a-ya mean I was never out? I had a whole science fiction movie playing out in my head. When I was in dreamland…” then he remembered they weren’t alone. Turning back to Mac he said, “Wait a minute…” With a big Cheshire Cat grin, he grabbed the six-six black man and gave him a massive bear hug. “What are you doing here?” he said as they broke. Looking around behind Mac, he asked, “You bring Diggs with you?” “Naw,” Mac said as he slapped Bryce on the back. “You’re stuck with only me. Made the trip on short notice. He’s all caught up at Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire. You know Diggs. I called him, but he said he was too busy to break away right now. Said he’d try coming out over the summer.” “Yeah, I know Diggs,” Bryce said. “Sometimes I think he’s a worse workaholic than I ever was!”

Mac shook his head, “Who’d of guessed. Ol’ Diggs a big shot Ph.D. running his own atom smasher in England? Makes me a proud papa!” Bryce knew exactly how Mac felt. He was proud of the young Brit too. And it was more than the Montanan recommending Diggs to Mac. He and Diggs went way back… even though the new Ph.D. Diggs didn’t remember. Putting on his Stetson, Bryce nodded at his friend and said, “Well, it’s good to see you just the same. But what in the world are you doing here? Who’s running the LHC while you’re gone?” Mac chuckled, “I’ll tell you what I’m doing here. I pulled in just in time to see the great Nobel Prize winning Dr. Bryce Obadiah, redneck, Cooper, turned cowboy, fall off of his horse! Man you should’ve seen yourself!” Bryce started gimpily walking toward the corral gate with Mac in tow, “Yeah… well, it ain’t the first time.” Danny chuckled, “And it probably won’t be the last either!” Bryce gave the twenty-something Hispanic a playful sideways glance, “Who asked you anyway Snowbird? Now get Gabe cleaned up and settled back in the barn. That’s enough for me for one day. I’m gonna go take a couple of ibuprofen and show Gabby what the cat drug in.” “You got it Boss,” Mendez said lightly with a smile. Walking straighter, Bryce slapped his friend on the back again, “Seriously Mac, what brings you way out here? In the middle of Montana? You coming from Geneva is a bit out of your way for the entertainment of seeing me fall on my butt? What gives?” Mac stopped his steady gait. His smile and jovialness disappeared and he looked hard into his friend’s eyes. With the worry lines of a distraught man evident all over his face, he said, “We made the modifications to the LHC that you left for me…” and he stopped and dropped head. Bryce rolled his hand, as if to say keep going. “Sooooooo…” Looking at his friend again, he bit his lip and said, “Coop… something happened…. The Collider…” spontaneously the words flooded out of his mouth in a torrent, “The CERN higher-ups directed us to reconfigure the experiment. They wanted us to retrace the steps of

an older experiment conducted even before you got there!” he paused with a horrified look in his eyes. “Whaaattt?” Bryce asked. Mac was his best friend. But even for him, Bryce wouldn’t provide specifications that duplicated his experiment four years ago before the Reset. The Montanan’s fear was palatable. He’d seen what the world’s largest machine could do. He wouldn’t let that happen again. So his promise to help Mac with improvements to the collider, and the experiment, had ulterior motives. Yes, it was the least he could do, because he was the one that recommended Mac for the Director’s job. But beyond that, as a consultant he could keep tabs on the work and ensure that they didn’t venture into a dangerous dimension as he himself did four years before. He’d given Mac just enough information to make the Collider slightly more powerful and efficient. But the news that the big man brought was totally unexpected. “The thing is…,” Mac said, “I know it sounds crazy! But the LHC opened up some kind of portal… an opening or door, or gate… whatever you want to call it. And…” he visibly shivered, “we saw things... creatures, entities… I don’t know… beings of some sort. And at the center of them was this bright light that swooped in. It looked to be the leader of these… these things,” he shook his head. “We didn’t have a choice. We shut it down. At least until we could figure out what it was. I was going to call you, but I had to notify CERN first. That’s when…” he stopped abruptly and hung his head. The hair on the back of Bryce’s neck stood on end. He was a Heinz 57 mix of Spanish, Jewish and American Indian as well as other DNA. His Native American senses saved his life more than once. At present, his built in alarm for self-preservation was tingling.

He knew firsthand about the things that lived on the other side of the dimensional demarcation line. There were good entities… and bad entities. He’d seen them; interacted with them; and was almost killed by a couple of the bad ones. Judging by the look on his friend’s face, Mac saw the bad ones. “That’s when what? What happened when you called CERN?” Bryce prompted. Mac raised his head to reveal misty eyes, “Shortly after I called a bunch of government types in black suits showed up. They said that the experiment was being terminated immediately. Said it was because of the economic collapse of the European Union a few weeks ago. They said that there weren’t enough funds to keep the experiment going. But then…” he paused. “What?” The look on Mac’s face turned to one of anger, “That’s when they evacuated all of the scientists and technicians. My whole team! They demanded that we leave the premises immediately and also that we leave everything just as it was. Heck, they wouldn’t even allow us to clean out our desks! “And get this… a huge contingent of military personnel showed up at the same time. They were wearing UN uniforms for crying out loud! They told us that our services were no longer needed and that we were to vacate the facility immediately. They treated us like criminals! They even revoked our visas!” Bryce’s mouth was open in shock. He and his friend joked all the time. But searching Mac’s face, he could see that he wasn’t kidding. As long as he’d known Grover Washington McNabb, he’d never seen this look on his face. He was angry and he was scared. Something was twirling in the back of Bryce’s mind as Mac told his story. It was a subconscious thought that was trying to come to the surface. As he grabbed onto the thought, instantly all of the color drained from his face. Looking very pale, he asked a question to which he already knew the answer: “Maaaccc… what was the earlier experiment that CERN had you reconfigure to?” Mac’s eyebrows knitted in confusion, “Operation Falling Star, why?” Bryce winced, “I was afraid you were going to say that…”

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Dr. Bryce Cooper is Back! Fresh off his Reset of four years before, the Nobel Prize winning physicist is thrust into a world where... Thin...

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