It was a routine job. They’d just tested a 7 TeV event, the beams had circulated already, but a component needed to be replaced. Overheated likely. It was a common occurrence at the LHC. Billions of dollars, and still the thing was as vulnerable to minor malfunctions as your average coffee maker. But that’s what Dmitry was there for. He was a tinkerer, and so he plied his trade in any way possible. It just so happened that the machine he was currently tinkering with was responsible for the discovery of the mythical God Particle.
He hated the name. He didn’t want to be a pain in the ass, but he corrected anyone whenever the term was used in his presence. “Higgs Boson,” he’d say, like some stern schoolteacher. “The other term is more of a media construction, not entirely representative of what it is…” By then, whoever he’d corrected was already zoning out, a combination of annoyance at being corrected and disinterest in Dmitry’s attempts at being pedantic. But he wasn’t really. Being pedantic, that is. He felt as deeply about the proper use of terms in public life as he did about his nonbelief in God or any sort of spiritual deity. He wasn’t an antitheist, didn’t feel it necessary to convince anyone else of anything they didn’t already believe (he recognized the irony of atheists who complained about religious fundamentalists espousing their views while simultaneously trying to push their own beliefs on others), he just refused to take anything on faith. He was an empiricist of the highest degree. You could have a gun pointed at his head and tell him that you were going to kill him, and he’d refuse to even accept the fact that a bullet would come out of the gun until it actually entered his brain.
But anyway, Dmitry was replacing the component. Simple, he’d done it a thousand times before. The machine was delicate despite its enormity, but Dmitry was a consummate surgeon tending to his patient, each movement precise and handled with the utmost restraint. He really cared about his work, it was tangible. Out of nowhere, an alarm sounded. Blaring, seemingly coming from every direction. Dmitry’s stomach dropped out, like it had just decided that being a part of his body was no longer in its interest. Before Dmitry even had the chance to conceptualize the fact that this was a nightmare scenario, that the particle accelerator had been activated while he was still tending to it, before he could panic or pray to a God he didn’t believe in or rationalize his impending death, a beam of pure white nothingness escaped from around the bend of the LHC, heading his way. The last image Dmitry had in this mortal world was of Jon Osterman, his favorite character in Watchmen (and perhaps his favorite character from any fictional work) as his intrinsic field was torn from him, fating him to become Doctor Manhattan.
Th-re was a w-rm, m-lky swe-tness. A sp-ce had op-ned in his m-nd. The pi-ces were sc-ttered in the w-nd, and he had to p-ck them all up, like l-tters m-ssing from a Scr-bble bo-rd. He used his bra-n feroc-ously, the only th-ng he ever f-lly tr-sted. Sl-wly, l-ttle by l-ttle, his id-ntity came back to him.
He was Dmitry. He was a tinkerer. He had been fixing a component on the LHC at CERN, and there’d been an accident. He had died. But no, that was impossible. If he’d died, there’d be no consciousness, no mind to think these thoughts. He was alive. But he looked down, and there was no body. Rather, he thought he looked down. He had no eyes to look with, but he was seeing. No mind to think with, but he was thinking.
He was surrounded by the most brilliant colors he’d ever seen. They had an ethereal glow to them, full and rich beyond conception. Dmitry felt as though he could swim in them, taste them. They filled him up as he explored this new plane, like pure sustaining manna. He hadn’t a care in the world. The words “Higgs” and “God” meant nothing to him. He didn’t need them, or any other words for that matter. This was an all-consuming bliss, permeating his every fiber of being. He felt as though he was being held in the arms of an inconceivably massive giant, a creature whose every wish was to keep him warm and comfortable. He could lie here forever. And so he wanted to, just like that.
But it wasn’t to be. It all flooded back, Dmitry’s consciousness filling up his flesh-and-blood body like a bucket pouring haphazard into a dirty aquarium. The vessel muddied up the pure water, that spirit of light and love that Dmitry had been a part of for the briefest of moments. He coughed up, his lungs fighting to provide oxygen to his brain. His body didn’t want to let go of that spirit just yet, like some child desperately clinging to his favorite blanket. Dmitry laid there, flat against the cold ground in CERN, his eyes peering up at the ceiling. In the periphery, the LHC itself. The sound of footfalls as others rushed to Dmitry’s aid. But he wasn’t worried. On the contrary, he was excited. He knew what was waiting for him now.