by Terry L. Mirll
Frank Williamson is a man on the run. In possession of data stolen from the ultra-powerful Ouroboros Corporation, he must travel cross-country to meet his prospective buyer, Nutrisynth, which has offered him a fortune for successful delivery of the data. However, the stolen data is far more valuable than even he realizes.
Frank traverses a sere and barren landscape destroyed by mysterious Interdimensional Free Fall events, or IFFs. On his way, he must evade capture by the ruthless Dr. Richard Lohman, Security Director for Ouroboros. Frank’s prospects begin to improve after he picks up an odd hitchhiker, a four-thumbed, three-eyed, blue-skinned alien called Dippy.
The Old Man stood beside the huge apparatus, a plasma cutter in his grip. “Make sure we’re alone, and then seal the doors and initiate anti-stealths. I don’t want anyone spying on us.”
With a curt nod, Stevens did as ordered. The R&D pod had several doors and one observation window, but securing them was a simple task. After a brief check to ensure that only he and the Director were in the room, he accessed the mainframe, establishing the Priority One security protocols that would prevent any attempts at recording their activities, or even listening in. He tried to work fast, knowing the Director’s impatience and anticipating his eagerness at examining the prototype.
“Where’s the beryllium cylinder on this monstrosity?” the Old Man said.
“Here, sir,” Stevens said, approaching. “It rests between the Phase I magnetron and the lower radiation buffer, just past the prismatic—”
“Just point, damn it all!” the Old Man snarled.
“Right there, sir,” Stevens said.
“What?” the Old Man said, peering through a maze of injector and exhaust rods.
Stevens pursed his lips, holding back the “I told you so” trying to escape him. He had already explained to the Old Man that getting into the cylinder to examine the lead lining was easier said than done. But still the fool had grabbed a plasma cutter as if he were just going to crack it open like an egg.
Eggs, he mused. How long had it been?
“As I explained earlier, sir,” Stevens said, “you’ll need to clear a path before you can access the cylinder. Perhaps if you cut—”
“I see, I see,” the Old Man said testily. With little delicacy, he began to hack through the thick network of hardware and electronics like the bwanas of old beating a path through the jungle. After a while — not the few seconds he had hoped the job would take — the Old Man had cleared sufficient space to begin cutting a large rectangle into the side of the beryllium cylinder.
“Hand me that retractor,” he said. “I want to make sure this piece doesn’t fall into the cylinder core.”
Stevens declined to tell him there was no chance of that happening, as the cylinder’s core was hardly an open space but a tight channel for building the deuterium beam. Instead, he dutifully handed the retractor to his employer and continued to wait patiently. Let the Old Man decide for himself what he doesn’t need, he thought.
“Take this,” the Old Man said, handing Stevens the plasma cutter. After a moment, he handed him the retractor as well.
Reaching in carefully with both hands, the Old Man slowly withdrew the hefty segment he had cut out of the cylinder, and once again Stevens had to admire the Director’s strength — the piece must have weighed fifty kilos. No one knew for sure just how old their CEO was, but rumor had it he was nearly a hundred.
Easily clasping the piece securely in his forearms, the Old Man walked it over to the examination table, where he gingerly released it.
He bent over it, eyeing it carefully and running his hands along its edges.
“Heavy scorching from that damned plasma cutter,” he said. “Stevens, where’s the lead lining?”
“Just inside the top layer,” Stevens said.
Placing his thumbs along the outer plating, the Old Man pressed down firmly. With a crisp pop, the outmost layer freed itself from the piece, leaving a fine mesh of insulation covering the lead lining. The Old Man peeled it neatly away and once again examined the piece.
“Shit on a shingle,” he muttered quietly.
Stevens, caught off guard by his employer’s odd reaction, curiously leaned over to take a closer look. His eyes widened. “Sir? What’s going on?”
The Old Man freed the lead lining from the remaining portion, which he shoved aside. “What’s going on, Stevens, is I’ve found an explanation for your pockets of hydrogen gas, something that you eggheads in R&D should have figured out on your own.”
The Old Man sighed. “Lead is element 82. If you extract three protons from its nucleus, those protons will snatch up three electrons from the element’s outermost shell, forming three atoms of hydrogen. Amass enough hydrogen, you get pockets of gas.”
“And the lead?”
“Apart from a few extra neutrons, you’ve transmuted element 82 into element 79.”
“Which is what we have here, kilos of it!” the Director said, holding up the heavy, centimeter-thick slab. “Flemel, the fool, probably doesn’t even realize the fantastic significance of the data he stole from us. Forget Shmeat production — that will only feed the world. This will make us RICH, dammit, RICH!”
Copyright © 2015 by Terry L. Mirll