It didn't look much like a laboratory.

The room was lit by fluorescent white lamps from the ceiling, a few of which were flickering occasionally, emitting small pops as they fired on and then went out. Shelves lined the walls, littered with sheafs of paper and well-thumbed books, on such dry subjects as "Electromagnetic Fields at the Subatomic Scale"; stacks of paper and books lay haphazardly at the foot of a few of the shelves, as if abandoned.

In the corners lay relics of what could be old pieces of machinery, or perhaps half-finished projects: A set of thin windows were set high in the walls, not designed for looking out upon the world; the night made them appear as black slots in walls of grey. Only one area of the room was relatively clean: a desk, up against one set of bookshelves, on which were eight identical boxes. Wires trailed away to power sockets, and more wires connected the boxes together. They seemed to be computers, since there was a ninth, smaller box with a screen and keyboard attached.

There was a small thump at the door to the room, and then a lock turned. The door opened, and a man stumbled in, evidently the owner of the property. He was dressed in clothes that had probably seen better days: a plain blue tee-shirt, fading black jeans. Indeed, he had probably seen better days, since his face told a story of tipsiness, confirmed by the can of beer he held in one hand. Blinking at thesudden fluorescent light, and flicked a switch to douse the room in shade; a dim ambience filtered down from the slitted windows, so he could at least see.

His boots cleared a path through the detritus on the floor, as he made his way to the desk; setting his can down on the desk, he pulled a chair from nearby and sat down, before hitting a key on the keyboard. The screen flashed to life, and he again shrank away before his eyes adjusted. On the screen was depicted some sort of process: a block on the left side was slowly transferring itself to the right, as if through a horizontal hourglass. A column of numbers scrolled down the far right, continuously updating with new values as the block changed in size. The man seemed pleased with what he saw, and took a sip from his can.

The phone rang. An instinctive jerk away from the source of the noise nearly toppled the chair, before he realised that the phone was in his pocket. He fished it out, and set to finding the Answer button.

"Yuh?" he blurted when he finally found it.

"Abdul, you sound like crap. Get online."

"Wha- who's that?"

"Just connect, yeah. I've got something you might wanna see."

And with that, the phone hung up. Abdul stuffed the phone back into his pocket and took another sip from his can, before hitting a few strokes on the keyboard. The visualisation vanished, and another area appeared: the screen went black, apart from lines of grey text near the bottom.

[Joined #physics-discuss]
<Qubic> the man himself. morning
<foo>   ye, what, i gotta be up at 6am
<Qubic> yeah, why are you still awake? what you been up to
<foo>   drink. now come on, why you want me here
<Qubic> i found someone working on producing tau neutrinos. interested?

That made Abdul sit up. His latest project needed a cheap and easy way to produce neutrinos: sub-atomic particles that could pass through matter without affecting it, only interacting one time in a billion. From the models Abdul had been running on the computers, neutrinos would speed his process up by many hundreds of time, and those specifically of the tau type were the best of the lot. He was definitely interested.

<foo>   for sure. throw me an email addr, ill get in touch tomorrow
<foo>   but fer now, im going bed. gotta get _some_ sleep

Abdul's friend, who went by the name of Qubic, had helped a lot with this particular project: he had set up the little cluster of computers sitting on the desk, and written the software to get them talking and working on the modelling system. Now, he'd tracked down someone whom Abdul would need if he wanted to try the model in practice, someone who could provide these particles to speed up the process. Abdul resolved to buy the man a drink sometime.

Not now, though. For the moment, he wanted sleep. He stood up, nearly overbalancing but managing to correct himself. Stumbling over to the mattress which lay on the floor across the room, he fell into it, sending a few stray papers scattering across the floor and up a couple of feet into the air before they swung back down.

Article dated: 22nd Sep 2006

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