“Dr. Coyne, we’re ready to run Gordon.”

The others were already shutting off machines, most of the lights, and the sleeping computers. They blew a fuse last time they powered Gordon up and couldn’t figure out why, so this time they were shutting off all non-essentials. Julie shut off her monitor and tower. Only Spencer’s computer was needed for the first stage. Once Gordon’s capacitors were fully charged, they could start turning the lights, computers, and other equipment back on.

Julie left her desk and walked over to examine the machine as the lab assistants bustled around her. All the power supplies, cooling lines, and data cables seemed to be connected. Circuit boards were bright and clean, safely concealed behind plexiglass. The new gleaming power supply on the back of Gordon’s housing shone in self-satisfaction. The top of the machine looked like an old overhead projector on steroids. Julie smiled at the arts-and-craftsy nature of the machine. Their budget was healthy for a research study, but insufficient for a project of this scale. A large inheritance from Julie’s grandfather had covered much of the foundational expenses, including the rare metals. That meant anything beyond sensitive equipment required ingenuity.

Julie went back to her station and grabbed her audio recorder. She touched her little porcelain good-luck cat Xiulan had ironically gifted to everyone. The others did the same. She pressed Record.

“Julie Coyne. Running sequence alpha. Time is 3:27 p.m., date is November 10th, 2003. This is our fourth attempt. First following modifications to the power supply and upgraded shielding on data cables. A nearby lab conducting dysprosium thermalization may have caused some interference in the three previous trials. Alright, Allison, place the test subject. Spence, get ready to run program.”

Allison placed the apple on the scale, recording the measurement before moving the fruit to the optimistically named “launch pad.” Spencer looked over to Gordon, muttered something under his breath, and went back to his screen. Xiulan flipped off the last few power strips in the darkened room, then rolled the giant metal protective plates to black Xs taped to the floor. Julie, Allison, and Xiulan took positions behind the solid screens, shifting their gazes between Spencer’s monitor and the apple’s reflection in a mirror mounted on the ceiling. Dangling from the machine was a plastic name tag with the words “Gordon’s Free, Man” stamped in black letters on a white background.

“Running program,” Spencer announced. The tag made its accustomed rattle. Without looking up, he spoke again over the powerful hum. “Searching for a connection.”

The three women waited, watching the apple anxiously although they knew nothing was supposed to happen yet. They had spent three weeks updating Gordon’s labyrinthine innards. Everyone in the room mentally replayed their recollections of work, checking for missing screws or poor soldering. Occasionally, Julie would look at the completely empty receiving platform. Anticipation was tempered by the previous failures, by all the unknowns in this study, and yet hope remained strong. She often wondered if pregnant women felt like this at the first serious pain of labor.

“Connection established. Waiting for synchronization.”

Spencer’s normally docile voice was tense. In the last trial runs, Gordon hadn’t established a connection. Xiulan and Allison watched the apple eagerly. Julie closed her eyes.

“Loading.”

Julie stopped breathing. She opened her eyes.

The apple was intact and exactly where they had left it. All waited silently for several moments. Julie let out a breath.

“Well, shit.”

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When the Wave Collapses
By Norah Woodsey