By D M Lowe
Professor Adamson coughed. Everyone looked. In the current environment, she might have received less of a reaction had she performed a jig in the nude. She cleared her throat and took a sip of water.
“This covid-19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for us. Labs abandoned, furloughed technicians, and those able to work now drafted in to help find a vaccine. Yet despite these setbacks, we have made tremendous steps forward. So much so, that I’m pleased to announce that we are on the threshold of a unique discovery,” said the Professor.
Adamson pointed to the machine standing in the centre of the room. It looked like a giant electric-blue donut. Suspended within this exotic ring, by a magnetic field, hung a black metallic oval; the size of a chicken egg.
“And this little beauty is the culmination of all our hard work. It is going to tell us the precise moment life emerged,” she added.
“You really have found a Point Zero; an instance where life began on earth?” asked Chandler, the youngest and most enthusiastic of her support team.
Adamson smiled and raised a thick wadge of paper. “Just in case some virus, the computer variety, or any other catastrophe, wiped out the findings of the last probe sweep, I had Markson print off a copy. Three hundred pages. Black and white proof, or as close to it. And there is only one possible explanation.”
“Which is?” asked Chandler.
Chandler frowned. Richard Townsend immediately raised a finger. “Fundamentalists might suggest an alternative possibility.”
The Professor nodded. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but shortly, we’ll know for certain. Markson, would you care to summarise?”
“Certainly Professor, thank you. Apologies for going over old material, but I’ll be brief. Since the onset of this project, we have dispatched almost two thousand time-probes. Many of the early versions lasted only microseconds, after materialising within land masses, and immediately disintegrating. Only when probes solidify in air, within the past, can they perform their proper function. During the latest phase, these beauties survived for over a week each, and returned comprehensive data streams using sub ether signals.”
“We know all this,” said Townsend, “get to the good bit.”
“Patience Richard, not everyone here has been involved in all aspects of the project. Please continue, Markson,” said Adamson.
Markson nodded and resumed. “The general premise, and our original working assumption, was that there were multiple ignition points, spread over a geological arc of time; measured in millions of years. What we hoped to do was identify and close in on one of those points. However, our research has led us to a very different possibility. Probe data has drawn us to one specific location; and based on a spread of time-points before and after the event, have narrowed the window to what is believed to be a single occurrence, an absolute Point Zero.”
Professor Adamson took over. “Contrary to current scientific thinking, life did not begin on earth, but arrived here from beyond the realm.” She raised a hand towards sceptical faces before any could object. “I’m not saying fully formed green men landed in flying saucers; although the discovery does support the probability of life existing elsewhere in the galaxy.”
“You mean it arrived in a meteorite storm or similar, containing simple alien life cells?” suggested Chandler.”
“Precisely. And you are all here to witness the launch of the time-probe which will record that instant,” said Adamson. “Markson, would you like to do the honours?”
“I think it should be you Professor, since you personally set this one up,” said the lead technician and handed over the control pad.
The professor left the podium, took the tablet and ran her fingers over a few icons. The donut before them lit up. A low hum, like a huge electric fan, resonated from the machine while a bank of display screens behind it lit up. One by one, the screens blinked. A coloured line raced across the bottom of each; red through orange to yellow and then green.
“Seems we’re good to go.”
Adamson hit the launch icon. The hum intensified culminating in a deep boom; like some micro sound barrier had been broken. There was a flash; one so brief those watching found it hard to know whether it had happened or not, and the black egg disappeared. Most screens lit up instantly, numbers and lines scanning graphs and charts across each one. Only the large central monitor remained blank.
“Is that supposed to happen?” asked Chandler, pointing at the black rectangle.
Adamson coughed again. No one noticed. All eyes were on the monitors.
“Time travel is fast, but not instantaneous. Consider the colossal distance our equipment has to travel. The central screen is for visual data interpretation. This will come on line when the probe materialises in the designated timeframe.”
“Sending a probe back four and a half billion years takes about seventy seconds,” added Markson.
When the visuals appeared, even the Professor jumped. A storm was in progress. Scale was difficult to determine because there was only sea and sky in view. The water below was churning chaotically, a murky mixture of browns, greens and dark shadow. The sky was the reverse; yellow flashes were interspersed with forks of red and orange, striking out left and right, up and down.
Adamson was intently watching the lifeform detector. It remained flat. She gritted her teeth. Come on, come on, she willed. Her mouth was parched, her throat dry. She could do with a drink, but had left her water bottle back at the podium and didn’t want to miss Point Zero. She coughed. It didn’t help.
On the screen, an intense fork of white cut through the yellow and pounded the water across the horizon. The flares moved forward across the waves and filled the screen.
Flash. The screen went blank.
The data monitors all fell to zero.
“No,” cried Professor Adamson.
“Look,” said Markson.
The lifeform detector shot up. Point Zero.
Four billion five hundred and eighty million years earlier a time probe appeared and hovered above an agitated young ocean. It absorbed a direct hit from an electrical storm and discharged, sending the first coronavirus, from Eve Adamson’s infected hand, into circulation.