When I started my own security company, I taught myself everything I needed to know. From website design to incapacitating a target; if it’s in a book, I can learn it. This business with quantum mechanics and dark matter though? I don’t think any number of books would untangle that mess for me. Hell, I don’t even know if there are books on the stuff Dr. Angelo has brewing. Considering how protective and jealous he is over his laboratory, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the first one on the planet to really make sense of this.
“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real,” he told me when I arrived with the security contract. “Dark matter doesn’t undergo electromagnetic interactions with baryonic light matter. That means it would simply pass through normal matter as though it weren’t there.”
“And how come we can’t see it?” I asked.
“It doesn’t reflect or absorb light. Its existence has only been inferred at all through the gravitational effect of its mass.”
“So let me get this straight,” I’d said. “You want to employ us to guard a laboratory full of stuff which can’t be seen or stolen?”
The lopsided grin he responded with reminded me of a mischievous child about to snatch a chair out from under someone. Despite Dr. Angelo’s advanced age, his eager curious eyes and energetic gesticulations were filled with a restless vitality.
“Every night,” he replied. “From midnight to eight in the morning. Can you guarantee one of your boys will be there to cover the shift?”
“Every night,” I confirmed. “Your security is our privilege.”
He walked me through the rest of the building, pointing out the steel-reinforced doors, the bulletproof glass, and the barred ventilation shafts. Lists of alarm codes, phone numbers, back-up phone numbers, fire safety installations and extinguishers…
“What about your surveillance? What kind of setup do you have here?”
There it was. That lopsided grin again. I would have thought it was the lingering damage from a stroke if the rest of his conversation wasn’t similarly impaired. I don’t know why it made me so uncomfortable, but I felt like I was on the wrong end of a joke that I didn’t understand.
“We can setup something for you…“ I added.
Dr. Angelo shook his head emphatically. “My work is my business. No audio, no video. And if one of your men does happen to see something, that’s confidential too, right? They aren’t allowed to talk about it.”
“They will report to me, but other than that everything is –“
“No. They keep it to themselves. You want the contract, I want security and privacy. Is that too much to ask?”
I looked around the immaculate laboratory with its perfectly organized beakers like nesting-dolls. He was just eccentric, that’s all. Combine that with all the security measures: he was simply paranoid about someone stealing his work. I’ve heard that happens all the time in academic circles. Years of arduous study stolen by someone else putting their name at the top of your paper.
I nodded, handing him the contract to sign. Looking back, I can’t believe I was so quick to put my men at risk simply to secure a minor client. A man’s only as good as his word though, and his security was now in my hands.
It was a week before I noticed no-one was signing up for the shift at Dr. Angelo’s anymore. Graveyard wasn’t anybody’s first pick, but it’s 1.5X pay and there are always a few of them trying to make the extra buck. George and Willy split the first week between them, but neither was keen to talk.
“The Dr. said you made a deal about privacy,” George told me. “There’s nothing wrong with the place though. Just make someone else take a turn.”
“I didn’t see anything, okay?” Willy said, staring at his feet. “Just sounds and stuff. Maybe one of his machines, or the pipes, or – I don’t know. Nothing to worry about.”
I made sure they were both watching when I added my own name to the list. A commander leads from the front. When you build a company up from nothing, you understand how important every client is. I wasn’t about to throw away a contract over nothing.
“Well I guess if you’re going to see it anyway, there’s no harm in saying,” George confided later in my office. “He’s creating things. Living things. He’s making plants pop out of thin air like a bunny from a hat. I don’t like it, sir. That’s God’s work he’s playing at, and if we’re helping him do it, that’s as bad as doing it ourselves.”
“He’s a scientist, not a magician,” I said. “I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything.”
“God’s no magician either,” George said. “He didn’t break any scientific rules, he just made them up. That’s what Dr. Angelo is doing. He’s making up his own rules, and man’s got no right for that.”
But I didn’t believe in God or magic. All I believed was that a slightly-crazy old man had a big enough budget to indefinitely pad our finances. 11:50 PM found me back at the laboratory with a big thermos of coffee and a dogeared copy of the “Da Vinci Code” which I’d been meaning to read forever.
I was about to knock when I heard Dr. Angelo’s voice from inside.
“No Master (pause). The SIMP – yes strong interacting massive particles – they aren’t maintaining a stable spin state. The charged pions require a uniform distribution of UP quarks and DOWN anti-quarks before we can cross the dimensional barrier with anything as complex as – (pause). No Master. He hasn’t arrived yet.”
The door opened. That lopsided grin. In the darkness it looked more like a sardonic sneer. The rest of his static countenance made it seem as though his body was at war with itself over whether to welcome me at all. I had to consciously suppress a shudder and force myself not to turn away.
“Good evening Dr. Angelo,” I said. “I’ll take it from here.”
The grin didn’t subside as he moved around me to exit. His eyes remained fixed on my face. He even walked backwards into the parking lot in order to continue watching me for as long as he could.
“Your security,” he said when he at last turned away, “is my privilege.”
Our company motto. I have no idea why he would say that, or why it left me trembling. But no, I wasn’t going to fall victim to the same unsettling sensations that had prevented my employees from sticking with the job. I sat down in the padded chair behind his desk and settled in for the long wait.
I couldn’t focus on my book though. My mind kept straying with restless anticipation for – for what? I made my rounds around the inside of the building for the third time in the hour before I finally found what I didn’t even know I was looking for.
The back of the laboratory had a shelf filled with glass vials. The bottom of each vial was packed with dirt, and growing from it was a perfectly black sprout with leaves as delicate as black lace.
Didn’t reflect or absorb light. Well it couldn’t be dark matter, because anything black just meant it was absorbing the light, right? Dark matter should be invisible. I walked along the shelf, stopping when I heard a gentle pop. One of the vials had been empty a moment ago, but it was now occupied with another black plant. It hadn’t grown or sprouted – it had just appeared.
Pop pop. More of the glasses were being filled. Strange twisted stems covered in thorns so sharp and dark it seemed like they were cutting through the air around them. Black petals from magnificent black blooms greeted me as I continued to walk along the shelf.
The glass containers were getting larger here. Most were empty, but there were a few that were fully occupied with small black bonsai trees which ripened with tiny black fruit. Before my eyes, one of the trees flickered and disappeared, only to reappear again a moment later.
I walked to the end of the line where a large glass case – about 3×3 feet – rested on the floor. I would have stayed to watch the plants longer, but a phone started ringing in Angelo’s office. I stood to leave when –
A black face. Eyes, teeth, hair – all so black it wasn’t even there. Staring at me from the large glass case. I only caught it out of the corner of my eye, and by the time I looked again it was gone. Not just it either – all the plants on the entire shelf had vanished.
The phone kept ringing, but it took a long time for me to tear myself away from the glass. By the time I got there, the line had gone dead. A red light was flashing to indicate a voicemail and I let it play. I don’t care if it was meant for me or not. It wasn’t just being nosy either. Everything was suddenly a matter of security, or even more than that: a matter of life and death.
Check your machines again, Dr. He should have arrived.
The voice was so deep that I could feel the answering machine vibrate against the desk. It must have been an electronic modulation because no human could have filled the room and chilled my blood with words alone. I swallowed hard and withdrew my 40 cal. glock.
I turned on every light as I crept cautiously down the hallways. Every shadow held an unpredictable being from the other side. As close as I could figure it, Dr. Angelo was bringing things here from a dimension composed of dark matter. I don’t know who – or what – he was in communication with, but they both seemed to share the same goal. I’m not saying it was some kind of monster or alien, and I know I agreed not to say anything at all. I’m just trying to be as objective as I can, just in case someone else has to pick up where I left off after I…
Back to the room. The lines of black plants were back behind the glass. Except for the large one on the end, of course. That one was still empty. It would have been a relief if the glass hadn’t also been shattered.