The Far Side of Here

I’m spending the next few weeks trying to find a place to hide. The city of Atlanta will soon be hosting the Super Bowl, and in honor of the biggest sports event of the year the city has unveiled a public service campaign warning residents about the child sex trade that may be taking place that weekend. 

What the hell? 

So much for an honorable celebration of a great American pastime. I’m no simpleton. I fully understand that a huge party will be descending on the city for the NFL’s grand finale, replete with the usual bustling strip clubs and crowded penthouse shindigs. But to glance at the dizzying array of billboards around town, with their neon warnings about illegal sex trafficking, one would think that we are preparing not for a sports competition, but for a convention of well-heeled pedophiles. Time to lock up the kids, load up the guns, and keep both eyes peeled for anybody acting even remotely suspicious. 

Turning now, toward the cosmos…

One of the absurdities I used to like to flaunt, when people asked what I did for a living, was that I was a consultant for the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.  It usually started out with a simple remark from a person that I looked a little tired, and instead of admitting that I’d been up late drinking, I would set about weaving the emperor’s new clothes. 

“Yes,” I would say. “I was up all night analyzing data from Europe’s CERN, the giant laboratory that studies particle physics. Because of the time difference in Switzerland, you know, my sleep is sporadic.” 

“You were doing what?”  

I would give a reluctant head shake, like I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. But yes, I was a remote correspondent for the giant CERN laboratory, helping to process the mountain of data from the particle accelerator. There are around 40 million subatomic collisions a second within the 17-mile circular machine, and with that kind of output, the CERN’s physicists must outsource their number-crunching to analysts all over the world. Namely people like me; insomniacs with a mind for theoretical science.  

So I was disappointed to read the other day that the CERN’s giant reactor has been shut down for a couple of years for updates and maintenance, which takes the fun out of saying that I work for the place. It’s also, though, caused my lies to come back to haunt me. Now most of my friends and acquaintances suspect that I broke the damn thing which, had I been affiliated with it, I most certainly would have. CERN is short for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a fact that is a bit disheartening. How are these people going to unlock the secrets of the universe if they can’t even get a simple acronym right? They spent $5 billion so a bunch of dyslexic mathematical geniuses could race quarks and gluons around a vast racetrack. No wonder the thing shut down. 

The reason I found out about the CERN’s closure in the first place was because a vaguely familiar stranger, gaunt and pale like he had been designed by Edward Gorey, walked up to me at Dupin’s, my local watering hole, and asked what I thought about China landing on the far side of the moon. At first I thought it was just some random ridiculous question because, after all, one of the major rules of quantum physics and barroom chatter is that anything that can happen eventually will happen. It took me a minute to realize I had told this fellow last year that I was some kind of astrophysicist, and suddenly the question made sense, or at least his reason for asking me made sense. 

I shrugged it off, even as I imagined China’s lunar module crash landing in some alien family’s backyard on the far side of the moon. Any life form with the technology to live outside of our planet would at least have the good sense to stay hidden from us, monsters that we are. So I imagined the part of the moon perpetually shielded from us would be full of beings living carefree lives of peace and harmony, yukking it up and relishing the quiet. That is until some cloddish Chinese rocket drops into the deep end of some extraterrestrial’s swimming pool, as the dad stomps around and yells at his wife, “Shit honey, they found us. I knew we should’ve moved to Ganymede. But no, you wanted to be closer to the sun!”  

I often wonder if the reason we fail to discover alien life forms is that they are really good at hiding from us. After all, any species that has to warn its citizens about the underbelly of child sex trafficking during the biggest sports event in the universe should probably be left alone. We’ve got enough problems. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. If some alien explorers actually make it to Earth I’d rather them land in the desolate Sahara desert, convinced there is no intelligent life here, rather than crashing down in the middle of some flea market peddling human sex slaves, and coming to the exact same conclusion.  

If I did work at the CERN I think I’d want to study the part of the collider known as ALICE, which recreates the gooey plasma that resulted just after the Big Bang. In theory, that primordial soup may hold the blueprint for all life as we know it, like a stem cell before it starts to branch out. Then we could get to work editing out all the nasty parts, like fear, bloodshed, terror, famine, oppression, and peddling the young for dirty cash and dirtier motives. 

Alright, all you Swiss eggheads. Fire up that big machine! We’ve got work to do. 

More Alembics…

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