Chapter no 6

Quantum Radio

The dark streets of Geneva were completely empty. The shops were all closed. Even the bars and clubs were deserted.

Ty’s legs, arms, and back ached as he pumped the pedals, but he ignored the pain.

His discovery was clearly a threat to someone. But who?

And why?

He sensed that his life was about to change forever, that the blast was a sort of demarcation between his quiet, lonely life before and whatever was about to happen now.

He stood and leaned on the pedals as he crossed the bridge over the Rhône River, into Geneva’s Old Town.

The coffee shop where he had first met Penny was a popular spot for locals, tourists, and students. It was a block away from the University of Geneva and had been packed that Saturday six months ago. Ty had arrived early, staked out a seat at a small table in the corner, and was reading a book, lost in thought, when Penny placed her hand on the empty chair opposite him.


“Hi,” he had answered, his voice scratchy.

She smiled and glanced through the plate glass window, out onto the street where it had begun raining in sheets. “Really sorry, but would you mind if I sat here for a minute?”

Dozens of patrons were standing now, watching the rain, sipping coffee and tea, waiting for a break to escape the crowded café.

As she stood there, staring at him, Ty felt them slipping into their own little world, as though the small table was an island of solitude in the midst of the crowd, the two of them existing outside of space and time.

“Sure,” he said, motioning to the chair.

Penny set her bag down, drew out a well-worn paperback novel, and began reading. He expected her to say something, but she didn’t. She merely turned the pages and sipped her tea.

Since childhood, Ty had been painfully shy. The very idea of sitting with a stranger in a crowded coffee shop was enough to send waves of anxiety through him. But sitting with her, he felt perfectly at peace, as though it was a natural thing, as though they had done this a million times in a million lives.

“Are you a student?” she said finally, not looking up from the book. “No. I work at CERN. Are you?”

“I am.”

“At the University of Geneva?” “That’s the one.”

“What are you studying?” “International affairs.”

“Sounds exciting.”

She laughed. “Hardly. It’s a lot of reading. Even more talking.” “Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“What got you interested in it?”

Her gaze drifted out the window, to the rain still coming down and the people filing out of the coffee shop, to the bus that had stopped on the street. Ty thought she was considering catching it, but she took another sip of tea and said, “Circumstances.”

His eyebrows bunched as he waited, watching her, but she didn’t elaborate. “What sort of circumstances?”

“The unavoidable kind. Fate. Let’s just call it fate. But I like the work I’m doing.”

“Which is?”

“Understanding the world and how it came to be the way it is. I think that’s the key to bringing people from different worlds together.” She set the book down. “What about you? What do you do at CERN?”

“Oh, you know, the usual—accelerating particles to near the speed of light and smashing them together to see what comes out in an effort to understand what the universe was like in the earliest fractions of a second of its existence.”

She smiled. “Is that all?”

“Eh, we’re just trying to unravel the major mysteries of space and time and reconcile the greatest unanswered questions in physics.”

“And how’s that going—the whole space-time particle-mystery thing?”

“We’re making some pretty interesting discoveries, actually.” He exhaled theatrically, teeing up the joke. “But I have to say: some days it just feels like we’re going around in circles.”

He stared out the window, trying to hold a straight face.

She set the book down. “Wait. Was that a particle physics joke?” He smiled.

Penny cocked her head. “Because of… what’s it called? The loop?”

“The collider. The Large Hadron Collider. It’s a ring buried under France and Switzerland, twenty-seven kilometers long.”

“I see what you did there—going around in circles.” “It’s pretty bad.”

“It’s terrible. And I liked it.”

And he liked her. More than he had liked anyone in a long time. There was only one other woman he had ever been that comfortable with, that happy with, and she had left his life a long time ago. There was still a deep wound there. Every second he spent with Penny seemed to heal it.

But tonight, when he arrived at that fateful coffee shop where he and Penny had met, it was dark and empty. He gently propped his bike against the wall, right beside the window at the table where they had sat.

The narrow street in Old Town was empty and quiet. The stores, restaurants, and cafés were dark. A few lights were on in the flats above the ground level, likely night owls studying or staying up for meetings with people in different time zones.

The alley beside the coffee shop was barely big enough for three people to walk down shoulder to shoulder. With each step, the light from the antique streetlamp behind Ty grew dimmer. The only sound was his footfalls on the cobblestone.

As the light faded, he heard two people talking—a man and a woman. The woman was Penny, and the strain in her voice immediately put Ty on edge. She was scared. He knew that before he processed the words she was saying:

“He’ll be here. I promise you.”

The man’s voice was gruff, his accent German. “You should not have interfered.”

“You left me no choice.”

“False. We have altered the data on the LHC grid. He was the only remaining threat.”

“You’re wrong. He has a copy of his research on a USB drive. It also holds notes that aren’t on his work computer or the cloud.”

“All that would have been destroyed in the detonation.”

“You assume,” Penny said with force. “You assume. That’s your problem: assumptions. Those assumptions could compromise everything. We need to know how far his work has progressed. The truth is, the drive might have survived the blast. Someone else could have gotten it when they arrived at the scene. I had to call him. We need those files.”

The words were like a dull knife carving into Ty’s heart: not fast, not efficient, but a slow, aching cut that revealed the truth, what had lain below what he had seen the whole time.

Penny didn’t care about him. Never had. It was all a ruse. For what? His research?

Ty knew he needed to turn and run, but he stood there, paralyzed, scared, and angry.

Behind him, the sound of a police siren grew louder. Within seconds, the car passed, its roof lights strobing through the alley like a spotlight searching it. And in that flash, Ty saw the German man—he had stepped from behind the building to cast a glance at the vehicle.

Their eyes locked on each other. And things happened quickly then.

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