The Leap

Two scientists make a groundbreaking discovery

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Jake was shaken awake abruptly from a peaceful sleep.

 

“JAKE, JAKE, WE’VE DONE IT!” Jake rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and tried to comprehend what on earth was going on. His partner and best friend was in his lab coat still, clinging excitedly to the railing of the top bunk and shaking him awake. His name was Hugh; he was frenetic and hard-wired for discovery, and Jake could smell the eighth cup of coffee on his breath.

“Hugh, it’s four in the morning. Have you slept?”

“OF COURSE NOT! I DID IT, JAKE, I DID IT!”

“Did what?”

“THE LEAP!” Hugh’s smile widened as Jake’s cloudy mind processed what he just said.

“The leap?”

“YES!”

The leap?”

“What other leap?! Get your ass out of bed now!”

 

The two could hardly move fast enough. Hugh tore open the door and ran out of the sleeping quarters leaving the doorway wide open. Sub-zero winds flooded into the room and Jake yelled out for his friend to return.

“The door! The door! Get the — ”

It was too late, by now his friend would already be halfway to the the lab. Hugh was far too excited to close the door and get properly dressed for the arctic night. Besides it was a short walk. He threw on a thick hat and his lab coat, and didn’t even bother lacing his boots before tearing out of the room. He too forgot to close the door behind him.

 

Luckily, the inside of the warehouse was warm. The space heaters and the obvious heat of the machinery bounced off the insulated walls and kept the large room almost too hot to bear on some days. Jake practically drove through the door with his shoulder and couldn’t close it behind him fast enough. Snot dripped down his top lip from his crimson nose, and his legs, covered only by his thin pajama pants, were shivering violently. He clenched his teeth shut to cease them from shattering.

“Why the hell did we accept the arctic grant?” Hugh was already high on the scaffolding, bouncing between two different laptops and one blinking circuit board.

“Because you used your veto on Indiana.”

“Well I didn’t think you’d use your veto on Hawaii!”

“Relax, we’re about to make history here.”

“We could be making history five minutes away from the beach!”

“Oh come on, the Hawaii facility was tiny. It would never fit our operation.” Hugh half-mindedly gestured with an open arm towards the giant machine that they had constructed in the past eleven months. He was right. The Langsam-Hocker thermal-atomic particle re-locator was huge.

In reality it didn’t have to be quite as bulky as it was, but smaller parts had to be far more intricate and far more expensive. Also, with all the space they had to play with, it was easier to run tests without electrocuting themselves or blowing up the entire lab.

“So what was the gate?” A professor at Cornell had taught them to use the word “gate,” instead of the word “problem” or “road block.” In any project, you were destined to run into gates; you just have to have the smarts to know how to open them and move forward. So to this day, Hugh and Jake would call every setback or brick wall they’d hit a “gate.” On this fine morning, at four A.M., Hugh had evidently broken through the last one.

 

“It was the pad. The steel we were using was acting like a magnet, sucking all the machine’s power and keeping the test object right where it was. I programmed a pulse-neutralizer and fixed them to the underneath of each pad. Now it has to work!”

Moments like these reminded Jake of why he and Hugh worked so well together. He himself would’ve re-programmed the couplers a million times before even considering it to be a problem with the pads.

“So you’ve been up all night on this?”

“Well, I mean, I took some breaks.”

“No, I respect it. You’ve truly found your calling.”

We’ve found our calling. We’re gonna be famous!”

“Well, let’s see it works first.”

 

Teleportation. That was what these two men had been working at for almost a year. They had received a humongous grant from a corporate hedge fund for 365 days of research. And they needed results, or else their progress would be seized and they would have to start all over with different schematics and a whole new company. For eleven months they had been working seventy-hour weeks alone in this arctic base, trying to break the laws of physics just to simply move a test subject thirty feet across the room.

“Also, we’re gonna need more power.” Hugh said half-mindedly from the top of the scaffolding, pencil in his mouth, eyes locked to the screen on which he was furiously typing.

“What do you mean?” They were already focusing most of the compound’s power towards the machine. Test runs in the past had seen the lights dim just by starting it up.

“To counteract the pulse-neutralizers. We need just a little more juice to kick it off.”

“Won’t we fry the circuit?”

“Nah, I took off the transformers on the power intake.”

“Are you trying to kill us? The thing could explode!”

“We’ll be fine.” Hugh gestured towards the sole fire extinguisher leaning lopsided in the corner.

“You’re crazy.” Without breaking sight with the computer, Hugh smiled.

“I know.” He took a long sip from his mug.

 

Hugh dramatically clicked the enter key on the program and slid down the ladder to the floor. He had a beaming grin of pride on his face as he looked upon the giant humming machine before him.

 

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Hugh’s excitement was contagious. In the past few weeks Jake had been losing faith that they would make the deadline. Now, as he stood in a warehouse in the middle of a frozen tundra wearing pajamas and his lab coat, the machine humming dutifully matched the warmth in his heart. It was going to work. He could feel it. It had to. They only had a month left/ They couldn’t afford another gate.

 

“What do you want to send?” Hugh asked as he went to top of his coffee mug.

 

The question rattled Jake. This would be the first object ever to successfully transfer outside the laws of physics on a historical journey. When the machine worked, as Jake knew it would, whatever object they decided to send would be included in every article, textbook, and on the front page of every newspaper. He walked to the rack on the back wall. In the beginning of their grant period, they were shocked at the sheer amount of money they were having thrown at them. They had gone a little crazy and bought everything that they thought would be fun to teleport. They had golf balls, tennis balls, soccer balls, bowling balls, Rubik’s cubes, framed pictures of Albert Einstein and other scientific inspirations, a bottle of champagne (so that they could celebrate their breakthrough with the very test subject) a toy lightsaber, and Hugh’s favorite, a personalized mug that said “we did it!” Hugh would always claim that was the best option.

“It’s just too perfect! Coffee is how we made this discovery and this is how we can pay it back!”

Hugh was the proud owner of an undiagnosed caffeine addiction.

 

As Jake looked over all of the toys, trinkets, and memorabilia lying on the test subject rack, none of them seemed right. His eyes wandered across the room until a sharp red caught his eye.

“How about that?” He pointed across the room to Hugh’s desk. A perfectly round, shiny red apple sat on the corner of the desk.

“The apple?”

“Yeah.” Hugh was about to object, then he looked at the face of his partner. Then back to the apple. He nodded; the apple just seemed right.

Hugh went over and picked up the apple. He tossed it across the warehouse to Jake, who caught it; looking down at its shiny red skin, he could see his own smile in the reflection. He peeled off the sticker and placed the apple over the giant yellow ‘X’ on Pad A. He stepped back.

The apple truly did feel right. An age-old symbol of education was now no longer on the backburner of catching people up to speed on the knowledge of humanity; now it was taking the front stage of exploration, taking over the front stage of the new frontier, immortalizing itself as a symbol of scientific progress. It looked beautiful underneath the lights of the machine. It would look even more beautiful underneath the lights of Pad B. It would work. It had to.

 

“All right. Let’s make history.” Jake nodded at his friend, ready for their lives to be changed. He looked at his watch. 5:00 AM.

 

Hugh went to the controls, Jake went over to the tripod already pointed at the pad and pressed the record button on the camera. Hugh sat in his wheelie chair, kicking around the control booth, making adjustments and firing up the calibrators. The arms above the apple began to spin slowly. Jake met Hugh over by the switchboard and they hovered over the giant glowing red button. It looked a lot like the apple sitting across the room.

“Camera is going?”

“Yeah, are the phazers aligned?”

“Yep. Are you ready to go?”

“Hell yeah.”

The two men placed their hands on the button and pushed it together.

 

There was a flash of light on Pad A.

The hum turned into a roar.

The lights went out, then came back on.

The apple was gone.

 

The two men cheered with excitement and looked to Pad B. The apple wasn’t there either. Jake looked nervously at Hugh. Hugh looked heartbroken.

“It’ll happen, just give it a second.” They gave it multiple seconds, looking desperately at Pad B. After a minute of pain-filled silence, Hugh snapped. Sleep deprived and devoid of all hope he began screaming. He grabbed his chair and swung it over his head.

 

Motherfu–” The chair cracked against the wall; a wheel popped off the chair and fell near Hugh’s foot. Still cursing and screaming, he picked up the plastic wheel and threw it clear across the room.

“Hugh, calm down!”

“NO! You know what we’ve spent the past year doing? Building a goddamn death ray!”

“Hugh, we’re almost there.”

“No, we’re not! We’re only halfway there, you dumb prick! If we can make it go away but not make it come back, we’re only halfway there! Halfway there with thirty-two days to go! The only thing we’ve built is a goddamn death ray!”

“Hugh, you don’t know what you’re saying.”

“No, I know exactly what I’m saying. Hell, we didn’t build a death ray. I built a death ray.”

“What are you saying?”

“You go to bed early, you wake up late, you’re dead weight that I have to pull!”

“I sleep so I can think straight, you psychopath! You haven’t slept in three days!” Jake picked up Hugh’s coffee mug. “You burned through half our grant money buying this overpriced nonsense!”

“You think I need this? I don’t need anything!” Hugh grabbed the coffee mug from Jake and shattered it against the wall. Hot coffee splashed onto the broken chair and down Hugh’s hand.

“Stop breaking stuff, you madman!”

“Why?” He gestured at the machine. “Nothing in this room works anyway!”

“Screw you!”

Hugh threw the first punch. Many more followed. Within a minute they were on the floor strangling each other. Blood flowed from Jake’s nose. A shard of the coffee mug embedded itself into Hugh’s arm.

There was a loud crack that disrupted their fighting.  The two looked at the machine.

 

Sitting proudly on Pad B was the apple. Immediately, the two forgot what they were fighting about and started screaming with joy. Hugh, laughing uncontrollably with blood running off the tip of his elbow, ran in front of the camera.

“Did you see that? Did you see that?!”

Jake, overcome by sleep deprivation and emotion, burst into joyous tears.

 

Hugh ran over to the test subject rack and grabbed the bottle of champagne. The cork shot up and tapped the ceiling of the warehouse and the pair celebrated well into the morning. In a drunken stupor, Jake remembered looking at the glowing red clock and seeing “9:00 AM” before falling asleep to the soft hum of the machine that actually had worked.

 

It was eleven at night when Jake woke up with a hangover. Luckily the arctic sun was long since down by this point. Hugh was on the couch in the corner, curled up into a ball on a single cushion, a bottle of cheap wine in his arms. Jake remembered why they had been celebrating and smiled. He looked at the massive machine. It was gorgeous. It looked even better now that they knew it worked. He made a to-do list. First he would call the grant foundation and tell them the news. Then he would send them the video of the discovery (making sure to edit out the audio of him and his partner brawling off screen) Then he would ask for a six-month extension on the grant in order to perfect the process. But before all that, he wanted to leap something again. It was just way too cool. Firstly he had to clear the pads. He walked over to Pad B where the physics-breaking apple sat proudly.

He picked it up and his world was forever changed.

 

There was a bite.

 

His fingers sensed moisture on the opposite side of the apple. He turned the apple over to see a massive, hungry chunk removed from the apple.

 

“Hugh!” Hugh drunkenly spun off the couch, on to the ground.

“Hyuh?”

“Hugh, did you bite the apple?”

“Whatayou mean?”

“The apple. B- bite!  There’s a – Are you the apple biter?”

“Sure, I’d love some apple cider.”

“No!” Jake strode over to Hugh and shook him awake. “Look at this!”

 

Jake thrust the apple into Hugh’s face. He looked annoyed.

“Why did you bite the apple?”

“I didn’t!”

His eyes widened.

“Neither did – ”

The two turned in unison, looking at the machine.

 

“No, this is crazy.”

“Exactly. This is crazy. Yes, we were drunk.”

“Yes. One of us did this.”

 

The two looked at each other, losing certainty in their conclusion. Without verbally agreeing to it, as scientists, they both knew what they had to do. Hugh began firing up the machine. As it started humming, Jake ran into the pantry and filled his arms with apples. Within a minute, another apple was on Pad A and the two were ready to push the button. This time they set a timer, and thirteen minutes later there was a flash of light and the apple returned. They could already see it before they ran over. Two bites taken out of the apple. Hugh picked up the apple and examined the teeth marks. Both bites were uniform to each other; and Jake was sure if they held it up to the other apple, it would match there too.

 

“Jake, go get me another apple.” The tone Hugh was using was not polite, but it was far too authoritative to be ignored. Jake retrieved the apple and took as big a bite as possible. As he chewed he held the apples side by side and drew a terrifying conclusion.

The bites were not human.

The pair was too afraid to speak. They instead did what any good scientist would do. They gathered more data. Hugh became responsible for placing the apples on Pad A and sending them. Jake would photograph the apples and place them in labeled bags, all while their camera ran.

 

The third apple had two bites, as did the second. It took fourteen minutes to reappear

The fourth had no bites at all. It took thirteen minutes to reappear on Pad B.

The fifth apple looked as if it had been ripped in half entirely. It returned in sixteen minutes.

The sixth apple came back with four bites. It took twelve minutes.

The seventh apple did not return at all.

Slimy seeds were all the returned from the eighth.

The ninth was only a little more than a core.

 

By now it was well past midnight. The two took a break from sending apples, going over the possibilities. Jake went on the computer and started comparing the clearest bite to every earthly species. Hugh made a list of possible sets of teeth and Jake cross examined them on the computer. This went on for hours.

 

“It’s not a dog,” Jake said.

“Got it.” Hugh crossed off ‘dog’ with a big red marker on his yellow legal pad. The only options left on their list that might match the teeth marks were rhesus monkey, caveman, dolphin, and Bigfoot. Hugh tossed the notepad to the floor.

 

“Could they be going somewhere else close by for those thirteen minutes and someone is just messing with us?”

“If a mystery apple appeared out of nowhere, would you go ‘what the hell’ and take a fat bite?”

“I guess not. What if it’s time travelling?”

“Ridiculous, time travel is impossible, also the apple would age as it travelled, it would be rotten by the time it got back.”

Hugh plopped down into his wheelie chair and picked up one of the few unteleported apples left. He leaned back in his chair and started tossing the apple up to the ceiling as he pondered where the apple could possibly be going.

“I guess this rules out the commute aspect.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought once we cracked it, we’d make our millions selling the tech to companies and they would zap people all across the world.”

“So why is that ruled out?”

“We can’t have people be coming back with bite marks, can we?”

“I guess not.”

Hugh continued to toss the apple to the ceiling, keeping his hands busy as he strained his mind. Jake got off the couch and walked over to the Langsam-Hocker thermal-atomic particle re-locator. He began inspecting the arms above Pad A, wondering what secrets they were keeping from them.

 

That was when Hugh threw the apple a little too high. He lost control of his toss and when the projectile gave in to gravity, it fell down to the controls. Landing hard on the big red button.

“No!”

Hugh looked to his friend, standing directly on Pad A. Jake’s eyes widened as he screamed for help until suddenly neither his eyes nor his scream was there. No part of him was there. Hugh Hocker was now alone in this Arctic warehouse, over a hundred and fifty miles away from any other human being.

 

And it was all his fault. After a first minute of silent shock, he screamed for the next three. For five after that, he cried. And for others, he wondered what the police would think of this. As far as he knew, this misthrown apple had just killed his best friend. He dreaded what might come out thirteen minutes later. How many bites would be taken out of Jake? After thirteen minutes, nothing happened. After twenty, still nothing. After an hour, he became fearful. Grief and guilt tore at him. He drank cup after cup of coffee and vomited it all up onto the floor. He tore out his hair at hour three.

After a day, he lost hope. After a day and a half, Hugh decided to call the grant firm and explain to them that they had failed. He would explain to the corporate suits responsible for their future that Jacob had died in an accident and that they had not come even close to achieving teleportation. He remembered the words he spoke so angrily just a few days ago.

 

The only thing we’ve built is a death ray.

He had been right all right all along. He’d killed his best friend. He’d killed their project. He was ruined.

 

The machine started to hum so loudly that the whole room buzzed a little. Hugh looked up with dread. Perfect. He’d gone and left the machine on for days without a cooldown. It was probably overloaded. The circuits that they had worked hundreds of hours on were probably fried. The room began to shake. Soon the power input would overflow and the whole thing would explode. The entire room began to rattle. It was probably for the best. At least now there would be nothing to explain. The hum sped up to a high-pitched ring. What Hugh thought was the final explosion was in reality just a flash of bright light.

 

Now, standing on Pad B was a man covered in dirt and grime, wearing makeshift armor. In his hand was a wooden spear covered in green slime. His shoulder plates and knee pads looked as if they had come from giant bugs. His beard was full, and his hair was grey, and his aged face was covered in scars.

Jacob Langsam, ten years older and much worse for wear, fell forward off of Pad B. His friend ran to help him, but he resisted; grabbing him by the shirt and staring into his eyes, insuring that he was being heard.

 

“They want more apples.”