Everything was going according to plan. The condenser coils came online with a steady hum, cooling the electromagnets down to a new a low. When all was ready, the techs opened up the beamlines and let loose a rush of gluon particles, all accelerating faster and faster as they raced to their inevitable conclusion. Oscillating field particle accelerators were nothing new, but this one had something extra. Something special.
Doctor Vitaly Bebchuk turned to Director Yenin for his approval and got the nod. With small beads of sweat forming on his brow, he reached for the control dial and eased it up from zero. Technically, that was Natalya's job, but she had refused to have any part of it. It was a wonder she was even here today, standing in the control room that overlooked the maze of pipes and cables spread out below, all of it converging on what they had dubbed "The Funnel." She frowned and crossed her arms over her lab coat. This was her doing, really, and now she wouldn't even help?
It had taken a decade and an incredible amount of energy just to get to this point. In the end, the nuclear power plant that fed The Funnel had turned out to be a larger undertaking than getting the alien tech to come online. When the ship had crashed in the wilds of Siberia, the usual cover-up had taken place. Mouths silenced, people paid or made to vanish. Typical. It was damaged, of course. Doctor Bebchuk had never been stupid enough to question how a crash landing had put shrapnel and bullet holes in the ship, but he honestly didn't care. This was only the second ship he had seen in his entire career and the first that was even salvageable.
There was a spike. The needles bounced up and set his hands to trembling. He had to stay calm. With Director Yenin watching, it had to go off without a hitch. At last, the levels stabilized. A steady green glow began to emerge from within The Funnel, growing in time with the hum that came through the floor.
"Level seven!" Doctor Bebchuk shouted. "Level eight! Level nine! Still holding!"
The light grew in intensity, starting from The Funnel's small base and finally bursting out of its top in a sudden flash. All of the workers below jumped backed from their stations. Natalya dutifully ordered them back over the loudspeaker. This was it. With The Funnel holding steady for the first time ever, she reached for the lever that would lower the other half of the engine into place. As far as they knew, this would start the first dimensional rift ever seen on Earth. It would usher in a new era of space travel. Bebchuk was pleased to see that Natalya had jumped back in. Her scientific curiosity had overcome her reservations at last.
He flashed her a small smile in response to her nervous glance. Their brief exchange was shattered in an explosion of light, a deafening boom and the screams of the workers. All three of the onlookers threw themselves to the glass of the observation window, but it was Director Yenin who spoke first, shouting "What in the world is it?"
Bebchuk couldn't believe his eyes. The Funnel was gone, and so was the engine. In fact, half of the work floor seemed to have vanished into darkness that was deeper than black. Through the inky abyss, stars began to appear.
"You've done it, Vitaly!" shouted Yenin. "You've done it! I must alert the Kremlin!"
No sooner had the Director turned from the window than everything fell apart. The rippling vortex of black fluctuated larger, tearing open like a hole in the universe. As Bebchuk and Natalya watched transfixed, a series of tentacles, larger than The Funnel itself, began to slither forth. They sparkled like stars, spreading the darkness of space into the room, chilling the window with frost.
Natalya screamed, "It's breaking through! Vitaly, we have to stop this!"
Doctor Bebchuk stole a glance at Natalya and saw her eyes fall to his control panel. The main power had already been dropped to zero. He had been trying to shut it down for the last few moments, but it was no good. The accelerator was providing the rift in space with a pathway to the raw power of the nuclear reactor.
Director Yenin grabbed Natalya by the shoulder and spun her around. "No! You don't stop this! This is a miracle!" he shouted, his voice cracking with barely contained excitement. "This is what we've been working toward all this--" his words were cut short as the glass was blown away by a reaching tentacle. All at once, the air inside the room was sucked away, along with Director Yenin. Bebchuk was slammed into his console and struck his head. When the room stopped spinning, he saw chaos and Natalya clinging on for dear life as she was sucked out of the window toward the abyss of darkness and the writhing mass that was starting to break through. This wasn't a miracle! This was doom!
"Stop it, Vitaly!" Natalya shouted. "You have to stop it!"
"I can't! It's drawing power from the reactor!"
"Stop it, Vitaly!" Natalya shouted again as she lost her grip and flew away into the darkness.
Doctor Bebchuk wanted to yell her name, but his lungs were losing their air. The black rift had grown to take up the entire work floor now and the tentacles were tearing everything to bits. Workers ran in from outside, rushing to see what was happening, only to be snatched away, along with bits of machinery and the panels that were being torn clean off the walls. At any moment, the control booth would be taken away as well. It was now or never.
The nuclear reactor was controlled from here as well. Bebchuk knew how to push it into critical. It wasn't even difficult. His hands hesitated, shaking with terror as he pushed the levers that would send the power plant over the edge. It wasn't his own life he feared for. This was a scientific breakthrough. It would be lost forever. No one would ever know the incredible work that they had done in secret here. He pushed the last lever and slammed his fist into the flashing red warning button.
"No one will know," he gasped as the control room started to shake loose from the wall. "They'll never know what we did here."
Tears began to flow down his cheeks. The tentacled mass was blotting out the stars. Its row of glowing red eyes could now be seen as it slithered through the rift. It was horrible and beautiful. Would this be his death or would the reactor go critical first? He would never know. And he would never know what people would say they had done here at Chernobyl.