That’s when I realized I was nervous. Something changed in that moment of time as I stood in a dark room looking at black monitors and wearing sunglasses while a nuclear event was taking place yards away. Those jokes from Adams about a mishap destroying the planet must have gotten to me. Or it could have been the thought of Rose’s spirit in the room that made the skin on my arms break out in goose bumps.
Even behind the silly shades, I could see the anticipation and anxiety written in the lines of his face. This event defined a decade of work, from Rose’s theorizing, to planning, to convincing Maxwell and Adams it could be done. Then after her death, the thousands of hours of bringing all the pieces together.
I wiped the sweat from my palms onto my pants. Adams gripped the back of his swivel chair as he stood behind it, pressing his thumbs into the fabric. His stare remained locked on the blank monitors. I felt the tension getting worse, and I wanted to say something witty to break the silence but nothing came to mind. Instead, a calm peace spread over us from the dark screens. I could hear my breathing and feel my heartbeat over the sounds of anything else. The silence made me think something wasn’t working. I looked at the control panel and noticed Jim’s green light was glowing as brightly as I had ever seen it, as if at any moment he would explode from thinking. I figured there must be a glitch, and I expected Adams to take off his glasses in frustration and start complaining to Rose about what went wrong.
Then suddenly, a tiny spot of light began to show on the main monitor.
As soon as I could focus on it, it flashed into a brilliant explosion across all the monitors. Then it was dark again. The flash had blinded me briefly after it dissipated. Jim’s light dimmed to a dull green glow. I took off my glasses and looked to Adams for an explanation. He started laughing out loud, staring at the screens. Eventually I saw tiny dots of light remained. Those spots of white emerged from the center of the main monitor and began spreading out and getting larger.
“Yes!” Adams cried.
“Yes, what?” I asked.
“Everything okay, Jim?” he asked, taking off his glasses.
“I think so,” Jim said. “I think it’s working.”
The screens remained primarily dark, but small areas of glowing light were visible.
“There!” Adams said. “Let’s get a closer shot from Monitor One.”
As the camera zoomed in, I could make out what looked like glowing gas. The light was bright yet transparent. It floated outward and settled into swirls with other bits and pieces. My hand made swirling motions, mimicking the action on the monitors.
I turned to Adams. “What is that stuff?”
“Matter,” Adams said, smiling broadly. “Pure matter.”
It didn’t look like matter. It looked like a bundle of glowing gas. As the shot went closer in toward the light, I could see big blobs and little blobs, each pulsing with tiny specks of light.
“Chemical analysis of the matter, Jim?” Adams asked, nervously spinning the chair in front of him.
“Hydrogen. Entirely hydrogen.”
“Perfect!” Adams said, rubbing his hands together.
“It’s just gas,” I said. “You took hydrogen from one source and merely placed it into another.”
We watched the images of the glowing gas blobs become larger. They spread out and intermingled with other blobs of light. It was mildly intriguing. We stood motionless for several minutes just watching.
Then Adams broke the trance. “See, Jon. These lights number in the millions. Most are locked in orbits with others.”
As I looked more closely at the tiny areas of light, I suddenly realized they looked like galaxies.
A shiver traveled down my spine. A tiny universe had been created before my eyes. Within minutes, dozens of different masses sparkled against the darkness on the screens. Each mass hovered about on its own, tracked by a different camera within the cavity of the building and displayed on a monitor. Our dimly lit lab room was filled with light from these newborn galaxies.
Adams laughed again. “Jim, zoom Camera Two in closer.”
Monitor Two revealed a cluster of stars, tons of them surrounded by extraordinary colors and formations. It was like a fountain of magic dust, reminding me of the pictures in the hallway I passed by each day.
“What’s happening here?” I asked. “This doesn’t look like gas anymore.”
“It’s a nebula!” Adams cried out, raising his arms to the ceiling in victory. “We have a nebula! Slow down the rate, Jim. Take it down to a crawl.”
The twisting and moving slowed down, halting the lights. The monitors displayed dozens of galaxies frozen in time. Adams, mystified by his creation, stared at the screens. Each one showcased a galaxy of brilliant lights and amazing colors. He laughed in delight.
“We did it,” he said, shaking me. “We really did it.”
I looked around at the monitors into a vast horizon of heavens, feeling like I was on a space station in the center of the universe.
“I still don’t understand,” I said. “How did this come from a little atomic matter?”
Adams sat in his chair, calmed himself, and stared at the monitors in a dreamy way as if the full understanding of the invention had just come to him.
“When you analyze extremely small things, like quarks and elements of atoms... and when you compare them to extremely large things, like stars and galaxies... they’re oddly similar. Physical size may be one of the great mysteries of life.”
Then it became clear to me. I found myself saying out loud, “We have a model of a universe. Not just a plastic model, but a living, breathing, real universe right in front of us.”
All that time in the making, I never really understood the significance of what he was attempting until that moment.
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