A quicktake from the recent Writing Requests thread. More are on the way; read the others via the above link or my microfic tag. Thank you all again for your creative kickstarts. :-)
As with my other quicktakes, bonus trivia is in the comments (as an incentive to click through).
That night, the sun rose, reddening the cloud-studded sky.
Wearing uneasy expressions, the assembled scientists considered it. "Gentlemen," Winchester said soothingly, "I can assure you my team's safety standards are the strictest possible, and experimental modeling has concluded there was no danger whatsoever from what we just saw. We'll study the effect, but there's no reason for concern." Then, almost offhandedly: "Cassie, hit the lab's circuit breaker."
"I hope this isn't an omen of worse to come," Donovan blurted out.
"Winchester," Cassie said urgently from behind the control panel, "it's still on."
"I know," Winchester -- still seated -- said in a controlled voice.
Cassie pressed some buttons. The console lights dimmed into standby.
"Doctor Winchester, nothing remotely like this was in any of the analyses!" Vorga shouted.
"Are you sure?" Cassie asked. "Let me check."
"I don't mean to alarm you," Donovan said, "but I think the machine's still running."
"Er ... no?" Cassie said, looking confused.
Suddenly, the illumination winked out. They all looked around uncertainly, eyes adjusting to the soft glow of the control panel and the colorful limn around the isotope in the test chamber. Then, from O'Toole: "Just to be clear. You turned that off, right?"
As if in answer, the isotope's glow turned from green to a menacing red. Then, with a flash of noise that sounded like cotton candy and rotten eggs, the color burst outward through the clouds.
But, incredibly, nothing seemed to change. "Cut power! Cut power!" Vorga shouted.
Cassie got up and wildly swung her fist at the large red cutoff button. It slammed back into the console.
There was a loud subsonic thump that jarred their bones, and a shower of sparks.
As one, the scientists leapt up and scrambled backward -- except for Winchester, who was already against the back wall, staring at his colleagues in the manner of a priest who caught children vandalizing the church. In the chaos, Cassie smacked into Donovan; O'Toole went down in a tangle of folding chairs; and Makunouchi tripped, his foot caught in a loop of cable. The regulator's cord popped out from its socket.
Every head in the room turned. Cloudy, transparent glows -- as if the air itself was afire, in a pale, sickly green -- had puffed from the isotope, billowed past the thick quartz shielding as if it wasn't even there, and were rolling outward at them.
"Something's escaping the isolation chamber!" Donovan shouted, pointing.
"Wait, no, it's alright," Cassie said, looking more relieved. "That's what our projections said it would do."
The isotope's glow turned the shade of freshly cut grass.
"Okay, we weren't expecting that," Cassie confided, worry creeping into her tone.
The room went dark again. As everyone blinked to adjust their eyes, the isotope's glow quickly increased again to its normal levels.
"At this point," Winchester said with a satisfied tone, "the isotope has just finished charging. That was the end of the show. Everything else will be a matter of ensuring energy is appropriately distributed to match the observed effects, within the parameters predefined by the experiment."
As the isotope's glow grew to the edge of painful intensity, the circle of light behind the test chamber winked out.
"Yes," Cassie said, looking at Winchester. "All readings so far have matched exactly the simulations we ran."
"Are you really sure this is safe?" Donovan asked.
"Nope," Winchester said, smiling.
The isotope's glow doubled. The lenses focusing its light whirred into a new orientation to compensate.
"Not much longer now," Cassie told O'Toole, eyeing the wall clock.
"Well, Mark," Winchester said, fixing his eyes on the worried-looking Donovan. "Note the isotope is now discharging stored power. That's why there's no danger of overload; nothing's being added to the system until after it's done. You'll see us charge it later."
"And when should your demonstration end? Or," O'Toole said with a smile, "as the case may be, begin."
"Heh," Winchester chuckled.
"Mark," Donovan said, glancing at the wall clock himself.
The scientists felt a slight tug against their bodies, though it didn't move or unbalance them. Later, in interviews, with the benefit of hindsight, they'd realize it wasn't in any of the directions they could point.
"Mark," Winchester said, consulting a watch. Then he turned to Donovan. "What's your name, sir?"
The isotope began glowing with a soft orange hue. The lenses inside the test chamber shifted to focus its light through the chamber's solid quartz sides, and projected the light into a small circle against the far wall, where sensors were set up to record its intensity.
"Pay him no mind," Doctor O'Toole said. "I think this should be interesting. When does the show start?"
"Oh, please, doctor," Makunouchi said, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not sure I like this," Doctor Donovan said. "While I appreciate all of the care you've put into safety, can we even contemplate what might happen in the event of an overload?"
"That's what we came here to see," Doctor Makunouchi said cheerfully.
"Certainly," Winchester said. "We've isolated a source of pure tachyons, a particle with positive weight in the fourth-dimensional axis. By bombarding the isotope with carefully controlled gamma ray bursts -- which we will do, in our frame of reference, after the experiments -- we can induce the source to reverse polarity, leading to carefully controlled localized time reversals."
"Good afternoon, Winchester, Cassie. Doctor, would you mind summarizing the project for our visitors?" Research Director Vorga asked.
"I don't know," Cassie said. She straightened. "Here they come."
"For the last time, Cassie," Doctor Winchester said, "it'll be fine."