He lay on the couch–a very tiny couch, so microscopic it took a cyclotron the size of an Ikea to resolve it–and told me his story. Here’s my story, Prof, he said. He was very still, though not quite motionless, but barely more than the quantum zero point motion.
I was born in violence, Prof, he told me. You physicists, you professors, you explorers of the very small, you give the Big World the impression of being contemplative and quiet, but you don’t fool me. I live down there. You come in with your wrecking-ball fingers and your world-smashing shoes and your “inquiries” consist of throwing us at each other at reckless velocities, the way a cruel child might throw a frog against a stone wall, just to see what happens.
I didn’t know my pa. He came and banged up my ma and then was gone, at nearly the speed of light. Maybe he was good and kind and caring, maybe he was a mean-drunk, maybe he was a religious hypocrite who prayed on Sunday morning after losing his shirt at the casino on a Saturday night. My ma told me this, told me and the spray of my siblings that came bursting out of her side, like something in a horror movie, she called this out after us, told us not to be frightened, but then she was gone, lost in the distance, and we were frightened.
I would have clung to my siblings, a tiny fragment of connection in the dark, cold vacuum of the cyclotron beamline, but your magnetic fields sifted us like little bits of flour and soon it was just me and my sister Meg, short for Megaelectronvolt, that’s what ma called her because that’s the energy at which we all were birthed. Me she didn’t have time to name. And if you think I sound bitter, Prof, maybe you hear better than I thought.
Meg and I talked for a long while–it may only have been a microsecond for you Big Folk, Prof, but it was the only slice of time we had. She seemed so down, so frightened, everything I was feeling, but I tried to cheer her up, told her jokes, made up stories, even scandalous ones about a group of mesons we had spotted slouching around the target. She smiled, the stiff way you do when you don’t feel like smiling but want the other person to know you appreciate their efforts.
And then–I didn’t even see it coming–she smashed into a lead collimator, and was gone. I had glanced away for just a nanosecond, and when I turned around there was just the blue glow of gammas where she had impacted. And I was alone again, racing down the beampipe.
Magnetic fields hurt, Prof. You try it some time. They just about ripped my guts apart. Just to slow me down, to deposit me here, as gently as an angel kissing a baby’s butt–ha. I’m not impressed, not after all the violence you’ve shown me. So what do you want now? I know what you want, what you all want. You want to watch me to die, to see how I die. Ever think the same is true of you Big Folk? That when you die, you think it tragic, or maybe noble if one of you is dying for his country, or for his wife, or to push her child out of the way of a truck, but maybe it’s just another experiment. That the angels with their translucent wings don’t reall care about you, any more than you care about an itty bitty baryon like me. They just want to see you die, to see how your guts leak out, hoping desperately that seeing how you die will tell them a fractional amount more of how they live.
And you’re all wrong, he said.
Those were his last words, before he decayed.
Two pions, a muon, and a neutrino. I made a note, then went back to the cyclotron for another baryon.