This is what you know: You are an attendee at the prestigious summer program MOP to learn competition math; Your hobbies and interests include some form of calligraphy and weird puzzles; You are good, but not great at MOP tests— you tend to be rather bullheaded about them; Today, the Nth of Whenember, you sat down at the start of the 4.5 hours to take the TSTST; …and next thing you knew, you had jolted awake to a silent room.
The first thought you have was that you’d dozed off. Oh no, I’ll be late for lunch, was the second. The third? “Why is everything so quiet?”
You turn in your seat. They’re all still working – or so it seems, until you notice Eric Shen, frowning intently at his paper, but pen not moving. You poke him. No response. You poke him a few more times. Nothing. He’s not blinked once— nor breathed, for that matter. “The heck?” you mutter to yourself. You cast your gaze around— it’s not just him that’s been petrified— not one person is moving. Luke’s hunched over his pages like a math nerd rendition of The Thinker. Ram’s gone one step further and passed out wholesale on his desk— whatever statuification he underwent seems to have caught him mid-snore. Experimentally, hesitantly, you get up in your seat— an action that would have normally gotten several glances at the very least. Still no one moves. Or breathes. Or does anything. The proctor stares out into space, phone in hand, completely unaware of your hand waving in front of his face. Somehow, everyone’s been petrified in place. Except you. You glance up at the clock analog on the wall, which usually ticks a staccato beat. It’s 2:30 PM— and somehow, the clock is dead silent. The second hand has lost its constant motion— whatever happened, the clock’s suddenly been broken. No— it suddenly hits you— the clock’s been stopped. Just like the students. Just, it seems, like time itself.
A literally unmeasurable amount of time later, you’ve confirmed the following through some simple science: You can still open doors, pick up pencils, trip over carpets (embarrassingly often). You sure aren’t getting signal, though, and without ready access to a charger (locked yourself out this morning!) you’d better use your phone sparingly – thankfully, it still turns on. The sun is still shining, and lights are still running. You don’t even want to consider the implications of that on the Earth’s orbit, or on CMU’s electricity bill. But no wind blows, no clouds move, and despite your patience the sun resolutely hovers in its stalwart position. Moreover, all animal life has come to a screeching halt— people aside, you’ve seen mosquitoes frozen midair as if preserved in amber (and killed one of those nuisances for good measure). You can wiggle your classmates’ arms, but you sure can’t make them talk (and so you’ve decided to leave them be for now). In short, the world is yours for the taking.
Several petty thefts later, you gradually become aware of a quiet buzzing sensation in your skeleton. It’s not wholly unpleasant, but it definitely wasn’t there before— and as you traipse across Tepper Quad in search for another, ah, involuntary borrower, it gradually becomes stronger. So after you add a few more sawbucks to your purse, you decide to check it out— sorta like a hot and cold game, you suppose, moving in the same general direction. The buzz leads you to the west, into a building, down two flights of stairs, through a hidden passage behind a bookshelf (since when was that there?), and smack dab into the Physics Department. As you step into the latter, though, the buzzing in your bones spikes almost painfully, like a static shock, before subsiding almost altogether— what’s left isn’t much of a hum so much as a resonance. You feel in tune with whatever led you here. With the… …the… …the gigantic… twenty-terawatt… standard-issue Carnegie Mellon University synchrotron???
Once you recover from that shock, you take a closer look around the room. All the researchers, who seem to have their eyes on the synchrotron, frozen in expressions that look vaguely surprised (as if they had been interrupted before managing to make the full expression). The great beast itself is… chugging along quietly and clearly doing some kind of work, though the only conspicuous way to interface with it seems to be some kind of control panel locked with a physical key.
One faster-than-light mugging (relatively speaking) later, you stare down a keyboard and terminal prompting you to
>ENTER PASSWORD. Seems old Synchy here doesn’t like you that much.
No matter! You simply cast about for a sticky note on the lab tables. Researchers love to leave passwords lying out willy-nilly on Post-its and other such easily accessible lab features, despite the perpetual tortured screams of the IT departments.
What you find, instead, is a legal pad labeled “IN CASE OF PASSWORD FORGOTTEN: Find and solve weird puzzles around campus,” attached to a hand-drawn map with X’s drawn everywhere.
As you pick up the pad and turn to leave, a glint catches your eye. You turn and catch a glimpse of an iridescent spark, shining over the head of one of the researchers— she seems to be an older lady, gray-haired, clearly in charge here. On instinct, you reach out and touch it—
—and the world lurches sideways for a moment—
You can hardly contain your excitement, though it barely shows on your face. Holy heck this is going to get us so much grant money, you do not say out loud, though you are thinking it clear as day.
“Heckuva lucky find, Jack brought in,” you say instead. “Saved us a whole dang decade of research. Guess those interns’re useful for something after all.”
Your assistant does not cackle, because you are respectable faculty of the science department and not witches. Instead she says, “Synchrotron’s already all loaded up. Formula scanned in and everything. Got Alice to double-check the input, too.”
“Okay,” you declare. “Hit the switch!”
There’s a whine as the synchrotron powers on—
—and a sudden spike of buzz in your bones—
—and then the world lurches—
and you’re back in your body again, staring a sixty-odd year old physicist in the eye.
This is what you know: You are an attendee at the prestigious summer program MOP to learn competition math; Somehow, you’ve been dragged into fixing these weirdo scientists’ time anomaly; You have never seen such a mess before; and this is the most excited you’ve been in your whole life.