Crunch Time

October 10, 2018:

Caitlin and Nadia build the particle emitter designed to collapse the demonic portals.

Nadia Pym's private labs

A lab, shrunken down so small it fits

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There's just never enough time.

After weeks of fighting the demonic scourge, a breakthrough. Caitlin Fairchild had been racking her brain for solutions to the demonic incursions. She'd put her considerable intellect to the test, and then done the thing that separates the intelligent from the genius: she consulted allies.

Experts in magical theory, particle physics, engineering— all were appraoched. Ideas were bounced around and brainstormed. Data accumulated with demons swarming on her back and equipment obtained at no small cost or effort.

And now, there's sense of even greater urgency as Caitlin and Nadia Van Dyne start putting together a project that would be ambitious even with a full engineering support staff.

Truth be told, Nadia's portable lab equipment might be the only reason they even have a shot at success.

"Uhh… okay, you're looking good in there, Nadia," Caitlin says. One eye glimmers with an inner light as her HUD streams video to her cornea, and she examines a set of complex mirrors designed to verify the alignment of the parabolic emitter that Nadia is currently inside.

Said emitter fits neatly into Caitlin's palm.

"Uh… okay. Mirror two is good," she says, checking off a checklist. "That's just mirror three left, then. Are the bearings OK? No contaminants in the housing?" she inquires, her voice carrying easily to the woman inside the delicate machinery.

*

"I would really be a lot happier if we had time to grow crytals into the perfect shape for these mirror," Nadia replies, her suits internal communications gear broadcasting her response from a laptop. "But that would take weeks to do properly. Everything should run smoothly… I've cleared everything our sensors picked up and a visual inspection hasn't picked up anything else."

As well as all the equipment from Nadia's own lab it looks like she found the time to fly back to her house to collect a few bits and pieces. And while a lot of that equipment may look outdated, in part due to the excessive use of beige bakelite, it was all designed by her father.

"We should be good to go providing we don't let anything else in while I'm leaving. You should be okay to put the emitter into the airlock chamber, then pump out the atmosphere. I've got enough air reserves for another half an hour, which should be plenty…. Although truth be told I have not tested my suit in a vacuum while wearing it yet. So this will be a very /interesting/ experiment. I have rigged my suits size change to my life support system, if anything goes wrong I should revert to normal size before lasting damage can occur. So perhaps if you could have some tweezers ready just in case you need to remove me from the airlock by hand?"

*

"Please try to hold your breath, that is literally the only working parabolic emitter array I can get my hands on," Caitlin tells Nadia. "If it gets broken, I can't replace it. I'm gonna start evacuating the air. Check the gibb nuts on the alignment wormscrews once more, and then I'll pull you out of the clean box."

Caitlin starts carefully evacuating the air from the large plastic container surrounding the emitter, just enough to create positive pressure inside the delicate device. When the portal opens, it'll expel any detritus that might have entered when Nadia first went in.

Caitlin wiggles her arms into the sealed gloves and readies a set of blunt-tipped tweezers. Just in case. "Okay, Nadia, c'mon out when you're ready and I'll cycle you through the airlock."

*

"In theory my suit is spaceworthy," Nadia assures cheerfully. "So if I have to hold my breath something has gone very wrong. Besides if I hold my breath it will rupture my lungs due to the pressure and release air into my circulatory system. But that still gives a full fifteen seconds or so for you to extract me. And do not worry about being too rough, at this size I am roughly eight times denser than steel."

She flits on translucent wings, fighting against the airflow as she makes a few last checks. Twisting screws and nuts into place with a custom designed tool for someone of her currently diminutive size.

"Okay I'm in the airlock and everything is looking good. Ready for you to cycle," she adds, landing in the airlock. "I'm close to the limit for how long I can stay at this size. So it's a good thing we didn't have to do more work, I'll probably need a day or two to sleep this off at least."

*

The air is exchanged, the door opened, and Caitlin reseals the emitter before opening the larger container to extract it again. "I gotta say, you're real handy to have around," she tells Nadia. "It would have taken me four hours to do that with my precision toolkit, at least. And I'm wired on too much caffeine for such delicate work."

Carefully— very, very carefully— she walks the emitter over to the partially assembled housing spread across their improvised work table, and with a torque wrench installs it into place.

"Phew! Okay, now the second screws are aligned and we've got correct torque specs. The mirrors shouldn't have any trouble floating on the gibbs and it won't knock everything out of alignment if it gets dropped."

She nods at the other end of the table as she starts closing up the housing with a micro-welding torch, creating a near-invisible seam with the sparking light. "Okay. I'll get the housing if you can look at the waveform modulator? It's—" she pauses in her work ,reaching awkwardly across the table, and then sighs and switches the welding tool to her free hand to swing over a display towards Nadia. "That's my best guess on the amplitudinal modulation, but I'm not sure on the frequency there. I can't make heads or tails of the neutrino emissions from this data. Maybe you can pick something up that I missed, so we're not just standing there trying to eyeball the tensor field into place."

*

"I would not have recommended doing that work by hand anyway," Nadia notes, reverting to regular size and rolling her shoulders. "Some good optical tweezers would have been best but for those you would have needed to borrow more specialist equipment." She pulls up a chair and perches. "I should be able to do some math. Just don't ask me to carry anything heavier than a sandwich for a while. The device we made to turn the screws needs a little more work, needs a little more leverage."

"The data is very interesting," she muses. "It's a shame we don't have a bigger sample size but I expect it was hard enough to obtain these results. Still there's enough for me to go on. It's… going to be tricky to isolate the exact values we want first time but… I think I can pre-calibrate the most likely results for each of the theoretical models. A bit like the speed dial for a cellular phone."

Nadia goes quiet for a few moments, then begins rapidly scribbling figures onto a pad of paper. And when the paper runs out she puts the pad to one side and just writes on the surface of the desk. "Hrm. I'm not happy with how elegant some of the original models we came up with are. It's not a guarantee they are wrong but… at the very least they should be the last grouping of values you try."

*

Caitlin twists her neck around to look at Nadia's notes, nodding along. She's a bit slower than Nadia, and starts double-checking Nadia's own double-checking. "It was pretty dicey getting just the two sets of readings I got," Caitlin admits, as she works. "See, these lepton spikes here? They weren't present when I did the controlled evaluation," she remarks, tapping a fingernail next to the results in question.

"Okay, let's come at this with a different approach. Gotta pretend the horse is a sphere in a vacuum, or we'll be here all night," she says, with a wry laugh. "These bounds here, and here, and here. I think we can write those off as outside interferences. That only leaves these… what, four models as viable?" she inquires. "So… maybe work these backwards with an inverse Turing reduction, and that should eliminate at least one more of them?"

She goes back to welding up the housing, and then starts connecting the power supply to the waveform modulator and the emitter array, leaving the physicist to contend with the more challenging math that's above Caitlin's head.

*

"Probably the third on the list," Nadia offers after a few moments worth of consideration. "I'll have to double check my working, inverse Turing reductions are tedious to calculate in your head, but that won't take very long. Just need to plug all the values in and leave it to it."

Nadia begins putting the data into the computer to let it do it's thing. "Honestly though I think we might as well include the pre-set values for /all/ the models. We can rank them by how likely we think they are, but it doesn't cost us anything to have them available as options right? There's always an outside chance we've been missing a fundamental natural law that relates to demons, magic or alternate dimensions. Perhaps even all three."

*

"Ugh," Caitlin says, that one word expressing agreement and shared sentiment all at once. "Like— holy water. Why does holy water work? Chemically speaking there's no reason for it to work. I can't figure out why it works, or my gauntlets, or the ammo Father Patrick anointed for me. I /belive/ it should work. And it does. But all I pick up from it is some thermal bloom. No chemical reaction, no … emissions. And their bodies, the way they just ash and then the ash…" she makes a whishing motion with her hand, evaporating it skywards.

"It's irritating. And if I start thinking about all the reasons this might not work, I'm gonna curl into a ball and cry. So! Being positive, positively -focused-, and sure this will work," she says, with a rousing enthusiasm. "I mean, sure within an acceptable margin of scientific error."

*

"Belief may well be the answer. Like the observer effect only on a more fundamental level. If physics tells us that we can change something simply by virtue of watching it, then it is not outside the realm of possibility for the collective beliefs of enough people to also have some impact. I can't think of a way to test the hypothesis, but it's an interesting notion anyway." Nadia muses as she types away. "It may even be a way to explain magic itself. Enough people think it will work, so it does. Of course I do not think I would try take such a paper for peer review, even if the idea of writing everything out for a journal was not already /super boring/."

*

"Ugh. Tell me about it. I'm in /management/ now," Caitlin confesses. "I have… people. To supervise. And project reports. And a budget."

"I mean, it's a budget with a lotta zeroes, but I still have to show Mr. Stark I'm making him money with that lab. A few months in the red is one thing, but I could lose my job if we invest big cash into a prototype concept that completely flops."

She sighs. "I mean, y'know. Assuming he's not dead, and I have a job still when all this blows over."

"Anyway, let's make sure the power source is stable before I finish closing the housing up. We'll run a few tests, make sure it's properly calibrated and then… I'unno. Cross our fingers and hope we're as good at math as we think we are."

*

Nadia grins, then replies "You are always welcome at G.I.R.L. at least when this is all over. We mostly get grant money, but it's enough to pay living costs and for all the materials you could want. You don't even have to leave your current job! Although if you could put in a word with Mister Stark, if he is alive that is, about funding that would be very good. The non-profit has been set up in such a way that all donations are tax deductable, plus it would be very good PR for his company."

And then with a smile she adds "And don't worry. I know I'm excellent at math. Otherwise I would have died very horribly when I carried out the first pym particle experiment on myself. And with empirical proof there's no need for hope!"

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