The red light was on when Barney woke up. Shit! It had to be a drill or a malfunction of the measuring equipment or something. According to his panel, according to the big red light in the middle of it that was shining brightly, there had been a major event in the past however long Barney was out for. The PCU, or Primary Containment Unit, had been breached. This meant one of two things: either toxic doses of radiation were leaking out , or — Barney’s mind made the leap — something was inside the time core.
As long as there was someone in there — something in there, Barney corrected himself, the facility was still years away from tests with organic material, let alone living organisms — but as long as it was occupied, the time core would operate on the Princeton Principle. The matter would be sent backwards and forwards in time simultaneously, creating an ever larger causal loop. Assuming that the material was stable, and there was enough energy supplying the core, contact with the Past and the Future should occur with a wide enough gap to avoid inconsistencies in the time line.
That’s how it worked in the experiments they had been conducting. But this was no experiment, Barney thought as he scanned through the output of the sensor array and pulled up the access logs through the beginning of his shift. It’s 2:17 AM, this is a security breach!
Or a false alarm. All the scientists working on the project, even the low level staff and security like Barney, knew that the facility was built with a mishmash of state of the art cutting edge materials (eg the time core itself and it’s component elements), aging old Soviet castoffs from the cold war (much of the infrastructure), and whatever the Secondary Team could get their hands on from the junkyards and trade shows. At least one or two experiments a week were called off when a truss rod got stuck, or the lab floor became flooded, or any of a number of insulting inconveniences struck.
Barney flipped on the visuals. The cameras trained on the platform, where the time core rested, showed nothing out of the ordinary. Obviously the core had been activated, but according to Barney’s readouts, it was operating at a normal capacity, with no dangerous fluctuations in energy or radiation level. Perhaps there was a bug in a scheduler somewhere that had caused the activation.
The Primary Team was aware of the bugs that were still crawling around in the facility’s systems, which was the precise reason Barney’s shift existed. But he was the only one there at this hour. And there certainly weren’t any protocols to be followed.
The phone rang and Barney jumped six inches. He reached for it, a modest sweat dripping down his face.
“Alpha Station, Carlson reporting,” he barked into the phone like so many times before.
“Barney, what…..what in the hell is going on down there?” shouted a voice from the phone.
“D-Down here?” Barney stuttered back. “Well, I just opened visuals on the-“
“The goddamn time core is active! Tell me you weren’t sleeping,” the voice admonished, “What started it up? There’s no experiment scheduled until oh nine hundred”
“Oh yes…..well….” Barney continued to stammer, trying to buy himself some time. The other voice on the line was Hal Ryder, Senior Operations Director for the Primary Team. He sounded pissed. He also sounded confused and concerned.
“Don’t bullshit me, Barney!” shouted Hal. “I don’t care what you were doing, we need to asses the situation with the core immediately.” Hal was practical and generally kept a cool head, traits which certainly helped him in his position on Primary Team. “Listen, I’ll be down there in 20 minutes. Keep visual contact with the core and don’t attempt any intervening measures until I get there.”
“Yes, sir” Barney answered flatly.
“Just make sure the—” Hal started, but he was cut off by the shriek of an alarm. It sounded like a cliched mix of every red alert, high emergency, system critical siren he had ever heard. But Hal had never heard it coming from their alpha monitoring station.
“Make that 10 minutes!” Hal shouted into the phone, but he wasn’t sure Barney heard him.