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The winter air stung Peter Norbit’s face as he crossed the campus towards his professor’s office. Peter was Professor Boggum’s brightest student that year, and he had called him over in the middle of the day to come and take a look at something. Peter was irritated at having to draw himself out of his warm room to face the awful weather, and he didn’t hide it as he stomped angrily in the snow. It was getting dark out. He tucked his head into his chest as snowflakes floated gently down in front of his face.
Soon he had arrived at the drab brick building of the physics department. He took the stone steps two at a time and stomped the snow free from his shoes before opening one of the heavy doors that led inside. The door clicked shut and Peter took off his winter hat now that he was inside where the heating was. Inside the building it was quiet and Peter’s wet shoes squeaked on the white tile floors. The electric lights flickered slightly. Just as his face was warming up, he reached the professor’s door. The top half of the otherwise oak door was a frosted glass window with his name printed in black letters.
Peter opened the door and was surprised to see that most of the office furniture had been pushed to the sides of the room. In the middle was a large bench with all sorts of wires and tools across its surface. The blinds were drawn, but a small lamp was set up on the desk. Peter stepped farther into the room, his pupils adjusting to the dim light. Behind the desk, in a gray office chair, was Professor Boggums.
“Peter! So glad you came. How is it outside?” he said cheerfully.
“It must be. I’m sorry to have called you over. But I thought I needed to show this to someone, and I thought that you of all people would be able to appreciate this.”
Now Peter was beginning to become more interested. “What is it?” He unwrapped the scarf from around his neck and shoved it into a coat pocket.
The professor wheeled his chair over to one end of the table, where a small black box lay on top of some papers. Peter could see that one side was clear plastic, and inside was a bundle of tubes. Coming off of the box was a bundle of wires. The professor rolled back so that he was seated across from Peter again.
“Well, this is what I wanted to show you.”
“What is it?” Peter asked, still standing.
“It’s a black hole machine.”
“A black hole machine,” said Peter, not sure exactly what was going on.
“A black hole machine,” repeated the professor, a small smile on his face. His small glasses reflected the light of the lamp.
“You’re telling me,” said Peter, a smile on his face as well, “that this machine can make a black hole.”
“I am. I figured it out years ago. But only now have I figured out a way to contain a black hole. So that it won’t swallow up this planet and everything around it.” He said it with an air of common sense and authority.
Peter was still not sure if this was a joke, but he was no longer smiling. A real black hole was a serious matter. “Well, have you made one yet?” he asked hesitantly.
“No. But that is why I called you over, Peter. You’re my brightest student. And I want you to be here when I do make the first man-made black hole.” Professor Boggum’s grin seemed to grow at every sentence, and Peter was beginning to think there was definitely a crazy look about him. He decided to tread carefully.
“And what, do you think, will happen if the machine doesn’t work?”
“Well, that is where it all gets interesting. Who knows what will happen! Not me, I’ll tell you! But, it is entirely possible that the black hole, if unconfined or produced in an unsatisfactory manner, will so alter the time-space continuum that the universe as we know it will cease to exist!”
Peter was now sweating and his hands shook. It was clear that Professor Boggums was not joking in the least, and was quite possibly insane. But Peter’s grades were slipping so he waited.
“Now,” said the professor, looking back at the small box in his hands, “your job is simple. The exact moment I connect these two wires, here, you will need to connect those two, here. If the timing is not exact...” He said no more, his solemn expression telling Peter that the consequence would be sure death.
Fearing his life, Peter slowly retreated to the door a few feet behind him.
“Peter, where are you going?” Peter’s hand scrambled behind him, searching for the handle. He grabbed it desperately and turned. The professor looked on. The brass handle didn’t budge. The door was locked.
Professor Boggums smiled again. “Peter. Pete! There’s nothing to worry about. I trust you completely. Now come here and help me.”
Peter’s throat clenched. He walked slowly back over to the desk. The professor held in his hand two red wires. Extended towards Peter were two black wires. He took one in each hand, the rubber coating near the ends slippery in his hands. There was no light coming in through the blinds. The edges of the room had disappeared, the only light coming from the tiny silver lamp near Peter’s hands. He glanced across the desk and saw Professor’s Boggums face drenched in sweat.
“On my count,” he said in a serious whisper.
“One.” Peter’s eyes turned towards the two wires in his hand.
“Two,” said the professor, his voice more urgent now.
“Three!” Peter jammed the two wires together. A jolt of electricity flew up his hands and through his body as the small light on the table flickered and went out. Peter’s eyes were fixed on the small box, which was now emitting a blue glow. It was growing brighter and brighter and soon Peter was blinded. The light seared his eyeballs. Then there was an enormous explosion, and Peter was thrown backwards. He blacked out.
When he awoke, he found himself back in his room. The professor must have brought him back. His back was sore, but he was flooded by the huge relief that he was alive. He sat up quickly with excitement. Then he turned to the phone on the bedside table, and played the one message on his machine.
“Peter,” said the recorded voice of Professor Boggums, “we need to meet.” Barely listening to the rest, Peter eagerly got his coat and scarf. He was on the cusp of a new age in science! He hurried to get his boots on and soon he was crunching across the snowy walkway to the physics building. It was cold again, but Peter was warm with excitement.
Like the day before, Peter found the professor’s door and opened it with a smile on his face. Again, the desk was in the center of the room. Peter smiled at the professor, who smiled back.
“Peter! So glad you came. How is it outside?” he said.
“Cold again” he replied.
“Of course. Well I hate to have called you over in weather like this. But there’s something I felt I needed to show you.”
“Something else?” Peter was not sure if he could handle anything after the terrifying experience with yesterday’s experiment.
The professor smiled with a puzzled look on his face, but then he continued. “Well,” he said, again picking up the small box, “this is what I’ve been working on. It’s a black hole machine.”
Now it was Peter who was puzzled. “Yes, professor.”
“That’s it? Are you not impressed?”
“Well, you showed me just that yesterday! Did you forget?” Peter laughed.
But the professor’s face was still. “I haven’t shown this to a soul.”
Peter hesitated. “Professor, just yesterday you called me over, and we conducted the experiment. Remember?”
The professor was silent and did not answer. The small light on the table was reflected in his glasses, as it had been the day before. The rest of the room was dark. The professor’s lips moved slowly and carefully. “Peter, I am afraid something has gone terribly wrong.”
Peter stood perfectly still. He felt the walls closing in around him, and his vision went blurry. He wiped his forehead with his coat sleeve. His mind filled with a brilliant blue light, growing brighter and stronger by the second, and then it stopped as he blacked out.
When he woke, he found himself in his bed again. Panicked and covered in sweat, Peter tossed off his blankets and turned to his side. A small red light blinked on the phone. There was a message.