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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #488
Charm Quark
David Gunn

Charm Quark was seated at a table in the conference room of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California. She was there for a job interview. Since she was a fundamental component of particle physics, one would think she would be a shoe-in for any job she applied for. But Charm was as nervous as a field mouse in a vat of sulfuric acid. The day before, her brother, Bottom, had applied for a job on the Silicon Vertex Tracker Project. And he had been rejected! He, Bottom Quark, who had been so famously discovered at that very facility thirty-five years ago, single-handedly ushering in the age of high-energy nuclear physics! And all because he failed a Homemaker Security background radiation check. Well, he threw an electromagnetic fit, knocking out the Lyman alpha system cooling plant, then vanished in a puff of dark matter.

Charm was applying for a job in the Nonzero Mass Unit of the Quantum Universe Mission. Although she was qualified to oversee the entire Department of Dynamic Cosmology, she was more interested in the vacant cosmetician position. "Charm Quark, Cosmetician"--how the name suited her! But brother Bottom's bad luck weighed heavily on her, and she began to fidget.

In the realm of nuclear physics, a fidgeting quark is nothing to fool around with. Its intrinsic instability can lead to massive shifts in the very fundamentals of the cosmos. Luckily, Charm's fidgeting was limited to her glancing at her watch, or what passed for a timepiece in the world of theoretical elementary particles. Nine thirty-five. Her interviewer, the Assistant Director of Human Resource Management, Advanced Accelerator Physics Division, was sixteen minutes late. And no one had come in to apologize for or explain the delay. Charm sighed and looked around her. The flat pink walls of the room stared blankly back, though a subtle rippling of the ceiling tiles implied that vast fields of energy and anti-energy were sparring with one another nearby, and a cataclysmic explosion was imminent. Of course, it couldn't hurt her. She was hypothetical, after all.

The door burst open and a hundred and thirty neutrinos poured into the room. Although attracted to their rugged demeanors and nuclear antishadowing functions, Charm instinctively backed away from them. But they weren't interested in her. They made a beeline for the vacuum cleaner in the corner. Even unplugged, its power switch welded to the "off" position, it was emitting a mild, electron-proton charge. And these neutrinos, being electrically neutral, were drawn to it like a vat of sulfuric acid to field mice.

The door burst open anew and into the room strode the Assistant Director of Human Resource Management, Advanced Accelerator Physics Division. She glared at the neutrinos, who meekly shrank away from the vacuum cleaner. An assistant to the Assistant scurried into the room, carefully swept the neutrinos into an electrostatic bag, then waited for permission to return them to the laboratory from which they'd absquatulated. Ignoring her, the ADHRM glanced around the room, seemed puzzled, looked again, slower this time, and still seemed puzzled. She withdrew a calculator from a pouch in her dirndl, computed a hypothetical nuclear structure function, then stared at the spot on the chair where Charm Quark ought to be. (And was!)

The woman opened the file folder she had brought with her and primly cleared her throat. Addressing the chair--she still couldn't see the quark--she said that while Charm's credentials were outstanding, she could not qualify for the cosmetician position until she surrendered a urine sample. And since quarks do not normally secrete uriniferous matter--and here she referred to a data sheet from factcheck.com for corroboration--there seemed to be no way for her to meet this immutable employmental criterion.

Charm was heartbroken. [Here again, the "breaking up" of what passed for a quark's "vital center" was nothing to sneeze at. Whole cosmoses might be created or obliterated during such a process.] This time, the sole quarkian consequence was the release into the room of a flurry of anti-gravitons. Instantly they fell up to the ceiling where the energy and anti-energy fields were now engaged in a regular hyper-donnybrook. The structural integrity of the immediate universe failed and a cross-dimensional wormhole formed along the ceiling tiles that promptly sucked the Assistant Director up, into and out of existence.

Previous multiple universe commingling events lasted mere nanoseconds, and the local time-space continuum was none the worse for anti-wear. But the proximity of the Assistant's assistant, Charm Quark and the vat of sulfurized field mice altered the process just enough to turn the normally indolent neutrinos into a mass of irate electromagnetic energy. Worse, Bottom Quark chose that moment to materialize right next to his sister, exacerbating the burgeoning instability of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center universe.

The assistant to the Assistant, whose own structural integrity was rapidly being compromised, dropped the bag of erstwhile neutrinos and dashed--or rather drifted--out the door. Just before she mutated into a shimmering blur of photons, she alerted the Menlo Park Gluon-Muon Advisory Panel, which straightaway awarded her and her supervisor posthumous citations of merit.

Meanwhile, the anti-energy field executed what amounted to a sentient offensive strategy and promptly trounced its energy counterpart. Time and space suddenly reversed themselves, the electron-positron annihilation process ceased--as if it had never happened in the first place--and Charm Quark found herself back at the conference room table awaiting her interviewer, who was now--she glanced at her watch--nearly sixteen minutes late.

In fewer than sixteen minutes, this 488th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar will feature a live composer celebrated far and wide for his willingness to appear on today's program, a program that likewise features the nearly equally willing Damian and Kalvos.