For the most part, they’d had a clear run, from the fringes of East Harlem to just short of Battery Park, close to ten miles of high-energy particle accelerator constructed in the underworld of subways and service tunnels traversing the City That Never Sleeps. And despite the doomsayers predicting Wall-Street-devouring black holes and enough radiation to boil the Hudson, it had proved remarkably easy to get built.
Science had been experiencing something of a renaissance, a slew of discoveries captivating a generation, with the world of particle physics becoming the somewhat surprise darling of the party—it illuminated the weird side of the universe, and weird was cool.
The money rolled in—funding such as had never been seen, a veritable gravy train chugging along the tracks of corporate sponsorship, with all that could clambering on board. An army of eager young minds supplied by the world’s universities, gobbled up by every research institution there was. It had never been easier to get a job with a science degree.
And the science was good, its execution rigorous, the results valued and beyond reproach.
But from pantyhose to automobiles, the paymasters wanted discoveries that “synergized” with their marketing messages, causing some to watch in dismay, seeing only—perhaps unfairly—what they considered to be something of a Disneyfication of that which mattered.
There was no longer any room for mavericks in science, and to some that was a red rag to a bull, those few being themselves the mavericks of the world’s wealthy elite, self-made individuals who had no time for formulaic progress, valuing instead life’s out-of-left-field game-changers.
What was needed was a light, a light to attract a moth, those of a certain kind of mind that, unlike their would-be benefactors, were likely to succumb to disillusion, to eschew what they saw merely as bubblegum science, and turn their abilities to the pursuit of other endeavors.
A world-class research facility, built by mavericks, to attract those mavericks that might otherwise be lost to the world.
And what better place to put it than New York City. It just needed to be sold to a skeptical public, let alone an even more skeptical mayor—something these mavericks were quite adept at.
Not that it was hard. A matter of fighting fire with fire, the very same candy-peddling marketeers already cashing in on one side of the coin being set to work on the other.
So when it came to proposing a giant machine, one capable of generating all manner of outcomes beneath the Big Apple, they led by example. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the jewel in Europe’s scientific crown, hadn’t zapped Geneva into another dimension or fried its inhabitants. Physics was a badge of honor, and it was safe.
The Manhattan Project, as it had inevitably been dubbed, was born.
But for those who watched on with an altogether different agenda, it presented an unexpected opportunity—a chance to make their next move one to outwit a supposed opponent.
For the light that was the Manhattan Project had attracted a very particular moth indeed.
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