• Will Malpass

The Armadillo Works


"Welcome, Andrew! This is it!" Aaron gestures to a cluster of four large, low buildings nestled among a grove of live oaks in a quiet corner of the Mackenzie Oil and Gas corporate compound, a few miles northwest of Fort Worth. "Dumb old Lockheed Martin is less than ten miles away down at Carswell, and in honor of their Skunk Works, I call my little particle physics laboratory the Armadillo Works! So what do you think, buddy?"

My mouth hangs open in disbelief for a moment as I take it all in. "Wait a minute, Aaron. You're terrible at science, remember? You only graduated with your petroleum engineering degree by a hair's breadth! How can you have a particle physics laboratory?"

"Yeah about that, Andrew. Philip the Third is enjoying remarkably excellent health well into his sixties, and continues to steadily pilot the helm of good old Mackenzie Oh and Gee. And Mr. and Mrs. Philip the Fourth have already spawned two nieces and a nephew for me, so the line of royal succession no longer runs through Yours Truly.

"My dad saw how miserable I was becoming out on the periphery of the family business with no real purpose. So he encouraged me to find an interesting project to—quote 'sink my teeth into'—and here we are standing outside of it! Come on! Let me show you around."

For the next three quarters of an hour, Aaron walks me through room after room of fancy physics equipment: beam generators, particle accelerators, wave analyzers—who knows what else?—and introduces me to scores of technicians, engineers, PhD's—I think maybe I even meet a couple of wizards somewhere along the tour?—who operate all the glowing gadgetry. Everybody's noticeably pleasant and upbeat, most of all Aaron. He chatters on incessantly about various experiments and findings, practically incandescent with pride as he shows off his beloved Armadillo Works.

We are approaching the end of the tour of the second building. I'm listening a bit wearily now as Aaron describes yet another shiny machine: "This old thing? Practically useless anymore. Back in the day, we used it to detect Z bosons produced by electron-positron collisions. Obviously." He looks back at me with a broad grin. "How are you holding up, Andrew?"

"This old thing? Practically useless anymore. Back in the day, we used it to detect Z bosons produced by electron-positron collisions. Obviously." Aaron Mackenzie grins broadly.

"I'm doing okay. But soon I'll need to understand why you've brought me here. And how you came to send that impossible text message to me this morning. What is going on here, Aaron? What is all this?"

"You're right, you're right, buddy. Of course you're right." Aaron exhales slowly through his smile. "Um, this is going to be kind of hard to explain. I suppose I've been stalling a little, because there's a good chance you're going to get a little freaked out. But you have to know the truth, Andrew. You deserve that."

"Aaron, what are you talking about? Just tell me, dude."

"Well honestly, it's probably going to be easier for you to accept if I'm showing you as I'm telling you. So please follow me to the next building, known around here as the Fun House."

TO BE CONTINUED...

(Image of the SLAC Large Detector by Justin Lebar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2151671)

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©2017-20 by Will Malpass.