Waking to the combined efforts of daylight and noise, Daniel reestablished that he was in the hospital.
First things first, he thought. I need to get to know exactly how injured I am, and how long they intend to keep me here.
He quickly realized that attempting to locate someone who might know those things would be slightly more difficult than first anticipated. Luckily, he wasn't blind, but even when squinting, opening his eyes was a painful endeavor. His injury might initially have been an exciting and welcome change of pace, but it was already getting old. Fast.
"Hey, amyome bhere?" he called out.
Great. Useless tongue, too...
Fortunately, the sound of footsteps announced the arrival of a someome. A female voice, who he assumed to belong to a nurse, gently asked how he felt. With some effort, he managed to convey his feeling of burning eyeballs and numb tongue.
"Well, it says here that you've suffered frost burns on all protruding limbs."
Lacking proper eyesight, he could only assume that she was reading that information off a status protocol.
"That could be the reason, but I can fetch the doctor if you'd like a more thorough explanation."
He opened his mouth to respond, made a quick decision against it, and chose to nod instead. A few minutes later, his eyesight had improved enough for him to see the doctor as he entered the room.
"Hola! My name's Niels Olafsson, and I received you yesterday. How do you feel? Can you talk?"
With a cough, Daniel mumbled an answer.
"Eh, good enough." He chuckled to himself while he pulled up a chair, before he tossed his legs onto the bed.
"I guess you want me to tell you how you're holding up. When you arrived, we thought you were pretty bad off, since it seemed like ice crystals had formed in your lungs, but luckily the bleeding was just from your mouth. You might want to see a dentist after the painkiller wears off though."
He picked up a small cylindrical container from the bedside table.
"Until then, I recommend eating soup, and taking one of these if it gets too painful. At this point, you're pretty much exactly as healthy as you feel, so you can even go home whenever you want."
Daniel still didn't want to talk, so he gave the doctor a thumbs-up to signify that he felt fine, considering the circumstances. After establishing that his assistance was no longer needed, Niels got up and turned to leave.
"Oh, I just remembered; we got a pretty demanding phone-call from a woman called Fauna," said Niels before reaching the door. "Seems she really wanted to talk to you. Your girlfriend?"
Daniel burst into laughter.
The situation at the CERN Control Center was dire. With so much damage to the ALICE detector, even the other experiments would have to be put on hold for at least a month. The amount of things that had to have gone wrong for this to be the result was absurd!
From what she was told, the most delicate detectors were broken beyond repair, and the collider tube itself was punctured. Liquid helium leaked out into the tunnel, and the nigh-perfect vacuum where the actual collisions took place was contaminated.
Someone had messed up majorly, and Fauna intended to find out who. It was time for an extraordinary council meeting.
Slowly, responsible people gathered. Werner and Catherine, the two coordinators for the ALICE experiment, arrived in a timely manner, but as soon as they sat down, an awkward silence fell over the room. Everyone else seemed to wait until the last possible moment to arrive, as if intentionally trying to annoy those concerned with efficiency.
Finally, the meeting could begin in earnest.
"Alright." Fauna stood up since nobody else seemed eager to start the conversation. "I hope you all know why we're here. If you don't, here's the deal: Yesterday, there was an explosion in the ALICE detector when we brought the beams together, and now the machine is broken. Werner, please fill us in on the details."
Catherine let out a sigh of relief as Werner pulled up his laptop and connected it to the projector. Fauna was slightly irritated that they hadn't set up their stuff before the meeting began, but considering what they had accomplished with ALICE, what could you expect? She was relieved that at least something was being done.
Soon, Werner managed to fumble his way into an image folder. With a nervous swallow, he revealed what the survey team had discovered. Fauna's jaw was not the only one to drop.
The machine wasn't merely broken - it had disintegrated.
Forget the one-month repair estimate - getting the experiment back up and running will take years!
Werner slowly explained the details. Just like the rumors had stated, the primary detectors were gone without a trace.
"What's curious is that the collisions alone shouldn't have had enough energy to generate this level of damage," he noted. "Most likely, the explosion originated from the machine itself."
In other words, it was probably the result of human error. As expected.
"Can you identify what went wrong?" Fauna inquired.
"We just don't know." Werner shrugged. "As it stands, though, the system containing the most energy was by far the security system you designed, making it... statistically likely that it originated there."
Fauna's eyes widened. Did he just try to push the blame on her? The other physicists sitting around the table all looked surprised, but not one dared meet her gaze.
Before she could muster a reply, Werner defended himself.
"Of course, we don't know for certain. It could also be that there's new physics at work, which we couldn't have anticipated..."
He realized he was on thin ice with that hypothesis, and decided to try changing the subject.
"In any case, we need to get repairs going-"
"You all evaluated and approved my security system!" Fauna exploded. "You all agreed it was by far the optimal solution! If it was the source of the explosion, then the fault must lie with the engineers who installed it!"
The following silence pointed out what the people would not. She had personally overseen the installation, making sure it fit her high standards. No matter how she reasoned, the conclusion was clear: She was the weak link. Somehow, she had made a mistake, and now it had cost the world years of scientific progress.
The frustration overwhelmed her, and with a "pop", she blacked out.