Cold sandwiches from the commissary and warm soda from the broken vending machine down the hall were all Margaret could find, but they tasted like heaven to Evan. She sat beside him in an identically uncomfortable lab chair as they reviewed readings and prepared a follow-up test to verify the original results. He treated it like any other day in the lab, but Margaret kept placing her hand on his leg and his shoulder. For all of the time they worked together, Evan could only remember a few instances when contact had been anything but accidental since their introductory handshake and most of them occurred in the last couple of months.
Whether or not Evan could have prevented what happened next will never be known. Doctor Vo’s distracting presence may have played a part, but the anomaly barely warranted any notice at all at first, a slight variation in the dimensional chamber’s temperature, so small he may have overlooked it even if she were not there. When the change in temperature increased, he should have seen it, but Margaret’s blouse slipped a little further open, and his eyes were drawn to her cleavage. When she noticed, but did not care, he put his hand on her leg and turned so they were facing one another.
It was a moment that Evan had waited for since he had met Margaret. He leaned forward to kiss her. She did the same. His heart raced as her lips came closer. the scent of her perfume flooded his sense as they slowly moved closer to each other. He breathed in deeply and moved the final inches forward until his lips pressed against hers. That slightest touch held the promise of all the dreams he never believed possible. Her hands grabbed his and their fingers wound together as if they were always meant to be together.
“What in the hell is going on here?” Aldric demanded as he strode into the room. His face turned red and twisted with rage. “Murray, you bastard.” Aldric picked up a portable electron microscope that cost more than Evan made in a year and threw it at his head. Evan ducked beneath the delicate piece of equipment but slipped off his chair and landed on the ground with a loud thump.
“Aldric, stop this. You don’t understand,” Margaret screamed, but Aldric ignored anything she had to say. Evan Murray dominated his attention. Even the urgent beep of an alarm on the dimensional chamber could not distract him.
“You think you’re so smart, Murray, but you’re just like all of the other pathetic little lab techs that I bring into my home,” Aldric growled as he stalked through the room, throwing chairs and lab tables aside as he went. “All of you can do the math, but you don’t know what it means to be brilliant. Your little ideas are nothing more than the flies born of my excrement.”
“Aldric, stop, please,” Margaret begged as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Shut up, whore. I’ll deal with you next,” he growled. The fire in his eyes gave Margaret pause. Until that moment, she did not think Aldric would hurt her, but that was no longer the case. She staggered backward, turned, and ran for the exit.
The last remnants of the coffee spilled days earlier shook loose from its precarious hold on the dimensional chamber’s sealing ring. The residue’s introduction into the otherwise pristine environment created a reaction. A quick response might have stopped the microscopic pressure wave. No one noticed. No one stopped it. The primordial energies of the dimensional chamber and the flash-evaporated coffee tore apart the barrier used to control the reaction. The rift opened, but without the field, it did not close.
Crimson lightning shattered the reinforced titanium walls of the dimensional chamber and blasted jagged burning scars into the walls of the lab.
The power failed, plunging the room into darkness except for the strobing flashes from the rift. The room took on a hellish quality of flame and thunder as the lightning devastated everything about it. The emergency lighting turned on almost immediately, but failed to push back the dark.
Evan dove behind a desk and curled up in a fetal position, his hands covering his head. He screamed in fear and pleaded for help as immeasurable amounts of power tore through the lab.
Aldric stood in the center of the room in defiance of the assault on reality. He forgot about Evan as he watched the intrusion of otherworldly energies into his own. He smiled and held his arms out wide as he whispered, “I hear you. I’m ready.”
The lightning stopped its random destruction and turned its focus upon Aldric. Every electronic device in the lab exploded in a shower of brilliant white sparks as brilliant red bolts of energy shot through Aldric’s chest and smashed into the wall on the far side of the lab. He screamed as the lance of bloody lightning skewered him through the center and lifted him off the ground. Arcs of power traveled up and down his body, burning and scarring his flesh in jagged lines that shifted and crawled about. Gradually, the screams turned to laughter. The dark, alien sound had no right coming from a human throat.
Evan peered from behind the desk he sheltered behind and looked upon his employer. He shuddered as Aldric transformed into something altogether inhuman. His tortured appearance remained human in nature, but something darker peered out from behind the man’s eyes.
The lightning assault stopped almost as soon as it began. An eerie silence settled over the room. Only the crackle and spark of small fires and broken wires confirmed that the world did not end with the failure of the dimensional generator. Evan crawled through the blasted remains of his work area and found Aldric lying on the floor. His eyes were shut and his breath came in ragged gasps, but he lived. The raw and ugly black burn on Aldric chest did not bleed, and Evan did not know enough about medical science to say whether his boss would live or not. For a brief moment, he considered letting the man die there on the floor. He hated Aldric, but he was not a murderer. He stood up and slapped the emergency alarm on his workstation, summoning the facility’s security, fire, and medical teams.
Evan looked away from Aldric and stared at the pulsing red light that beat like a heart within the remains of the dimensional chamber. The cosmic light that nearly killed him provided the only light in the room. The energy’s rhythm reminded Evan of a human heartbeat with the double thump pattern he heard at night in the silence of his bedroom.
He needed see what was at the center of that light. Was it a doorway to another universe? Would he see some unknowable truth known only to God? Was it nothing more than the residual energy left by the rupture?
A soft buzz like the hum of Terran streetlights emanated from the source of the light, and with every step closer, the hum grew louder. When he reached the halfway point, the buzz grew so loud that he could feel it in his teeth. Another two paces and he swore that he heard a chorus of voices within the droning noise. One more step and he could nearly see within the chamber. Some instinct within Evan begged him to stop, to turn away, and run from the source of the noise in his mind, but the compulsion was too strong to ignore.