They'd had their accolades, now it was time to get to work...
"Blackie" DuQuesne squeezed himself, with difficulty, farther under the imaging tank – an N-th generation descendant of the original cloud-chambers used in early nuclear experiments, adapted for the specific task of reacting to the presence of liberated sub-etheric particles of the third order. He grunted as he found the loose connection – one of the grounding connectors had worked loose, probably due to resonant vibration; he had to pad these things better.
He tightened the grounding strap again, and stood up, stretching to his full six foot eight and a half, and took a deep breath. There were disadvantages to being this big, though it was sure useful in other circumstances. He turned back to the squat, ovoid device attached to the imaging tank; such a tank of course implied something capable of producing liberated sub-etheric particles, and that something was what DuQuesne was working with. The official description in his proposal and development notes was "Hyperatomic mass frequency sub-etheric resonance accelerator", but it was commonly called the "whatsitron", "itaintsotron" and more … salty names by other physicists, as it appeared capable – despite desktop size and relatively modest power demands – of probing the deep structure of matter even more effectively than building-sized cyclotrons by using the mass resonance of heavy nuclei in structured waves to destabilize target matter and cause it to momentarily dissassemble into sub-etheric particle or energy components.
At this point, DuQuesne wanted to use one of the more obscene names for the device, as it was being particularly balky, and the young physicist had very particular requirements for it to meet in this experiment. Finally he got the acceleration plates and tubes balanced properly and set the whatsitron running, immediately triggering his high-speed cameras to record any new particle tracks. Distantly he was aware of a crash from the neighboring lab – Seaton's – but he didn't dare leave the finicky device unless alarms went off. There were several more noises, but he ignored them, concentrating on his work. Finally, he breathed a sigh of relief and shut the finicky thing down.
While running the film through a quick-develop unit, he heard voices, a few laughs, and – to his surprise – Seaton's voice, sounding either frustrated, angry, or both. A small group of the other researchers, including Ferdinand Scott, passed his door, shaking their heads and muttering something that did not sound very complimentary.
Curiosity finally aroused, DuQuesne made sure the quick-develop was running properly and headed next door. Stepping through the doorway, he saw Seaton's head snap up almost defensively before he recognized who was there. "Oh, it's you, Blackie," he said, and turned his attention back to studying what appeared to be a small pile of wreckage on an otherwise empty lab bench, in front of a window which was now covered with a large section of taped cardboard.
"What happened, Rich?" He could tell his friend was seriously bothered by something. "Have an accident?" He noted what looked like a fresh scratch or cut on Seaton's hand, another on his cheek.
"I had a something, but what, I don't know. And I could reproduce the effect twice, and then I couldn't – when there were witnesses." Seaton managed a wry smile. "Remember last year when we were talking to those soi-disant 'psychics'?"
DuQuesne chuckled. "Yeah. You pointed out how 'psychic powers' always work… until someone's really watching close. So that was what had Scotty whispering to the others about the pressure getting to the boy genius, huh?"
"Oh, that's just the absolute topper. How long will it be before the rest of the lab thinks I'm a few bricks short?"
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Seaton shrugged. "Why not? Maybe you can figure it out; my skull seems to be made of about ninety-seven inches of solid ferrocrete right now. You know I've been looking for some of those ultra-heavy stable materials our theory implied, right?"
"Yeah. We calculated that some should be formed in stellar explosions – like other heavy elements often are – and that the most likely candidates would be some kind of noble metal. So you've been searching in the tailings from platinum and gold mining, and in native nuggets, for small traces of these things."
"Right. So I actually started making progress this week, real honest-to-God progress with batch 83, the refined waste from that one processing plant in Alaska. I went through about a ton and a half of the stuff, recovered quite a bit of platinum, iridium, and gold they'd missed, a little Osmium, and then, at the end, I got a solution that seems to be about 10 percent something else – call it 'X'." DuQuesne nodded to show he followed the description. "So I was trying to electrolyze the stuff out and something made the table wobble – I think I probably bumped it, but who knows – the electrolyzing copper bath solution sloshed over and began to bubble, I yanked the beaker with the solution away, and the whole damn bath just … launched itself out the window, accelerating at a pace so huge it's almost impossible for me to believe, and I saw it."
DuQuesne looked at his friend sharply, but saw only honest confusion there, and nodded slowly. "This was a standard setup?"
"Bog-standard; hadn't even modified the wiring. I'd show you, but near as I can figure, if it hasn't stopped accelerating, it passed the moon a while ago."
"No way it kept accelerating. But… you said you reproduced it, so you must have figured out what happened."
"Oh, sure. Or I thought I did. Take a look at the wall over there. A close look."
DuQuesne approached the indicated wall, near the broken window, and bent close. In the evenly spaced brick, his keen eyes spotted twin anomalies: neat, very tiny holes. Aligning his view with the holes, he thought he even saw faint light through them, meaning they went entirely through the two-foot thickness of the massive UE Scientific Research building walls. He looked back, raising his eyebrow quizzically.
"Yep, that's it. See, I thought about what happened – thought about it hard, until my brain almost fell out. So what happened was I set up the solution, the table got bumped, solution sloshed on the copper wires – and instantly plated them through electrolysis with 'X'. I grabbed the beaker and bumped the wires as I did so and a spark jumped from one to the other and off the whole thing went."
"Got it. So you figured it was something having to do with plated copper and electrical energy, so you plated yourself some wire, put it across an electrical current, and bang, off went a piece of wire?"
Seaton nodded. "Right through the wall. And then along came Scotty and the others, and I told them a summary and tried to show them, and nothing happened. Nothing at all."
DuQuesne, now thoroughly intrigued, took a small piece of copper wire, dipped it in the jury-rigged electrolytic cell, saw a silvery-brown coating appear, and then touched the wire to some open contacts. Nothing of interest happened. "Clearly coated, but nothing happens."
DuQuesne sat down and went over the entire process with Seaton, step by step. For over an hour, the two scientists went back and forth over the story and events, finding nothing that made any sense insofar as the new phenomenon working versus not working in the span of a few minutes.
Suddenly, DuQuesne stood straight up. "Rich, when was this? Exactly?"
"When? Um… let's check the notes. Okay, I started the electrolytic bath up at 3:05 PM, and it was a few minutes later I watched it fly away. So call it 3:10. "
"And it was about 5:30 that Scotty and the others came by…" DuQuesne trailed off, then headed for the door. "When I shout, you try it again, okay?"
"Sure thing, but what –"
"I'll explain in a minute!"
DuQuesne raced into his own laboratory and started the whatsitron back on. It had naturally come out of adjustment after cooling off and he had to spend some time fiddling with it.
"Blackie, you ready yet?"
"Almost." The readings were finally settling down and he could now see the unique white-violet glow. "Now, Rich!"
With the building now deserted except for the two of them, it didn't take super-sensitive ears to hear the whipcrack sound that followed. Seaton let out a whoop of triumph. "That's got it, Blackie! What the heck did you do?"
"It's the whatsitron, Rich. I was running it nonstop from about 2:40 until 4:30 to 5."
"The whatsitron? At that range? But the resonant field strength would be…"
"Your 'X' would be a superheavy nucleus and might amplify the resonance significantly," DuQuesne pointed out.
"Maybe but… sweet spirits of niter, you realize what this means?"
DuQuesne frowned. "You're ahead of me, I guess. What?"
"If this is a reaction mediated by something on the sub-ether, then the wire –"
Now DuQuesne saw it and finished with his friend, " – is being disassembled within a resonant cylinder of its own radius.Which implies…" Once more the sensation of looking into a light-colored mirror of himself, as Seaton's brows drew together in the same way he knew his own did. A moment later, both heads snapped up and gazed into each others' incredulous eyes. "Total liberation of the energy of matter," Seaton breathed, eyes wide.
"More than that," DuQuesne said with the same tone of disbelief. "Liberated as pure force, directed along the axis of the coated wire, driving that bath straight out of Earth orbit. If you'd coated something a different shape, or had different materials or irradiators… You could've blown this building to dust."
The two looked at each other with dawning grins. "Could've, but didn't…"
"… and if it's pure directed force …"
"… you know, that bath couldn't have taken that kind of acceleration if you put it at a single wire-sized point – or even one a lot bigger…"
"… acts on connected matter simultaneously? But that would imply…"
The two worked far into the night, all other things forgotten. Until, around one in the morning, Seaton stretched, glanced at the clock, and shot to his feet with a sulphurous oath that made DuQuesne blink; his friend almost never swore. "What's wrong, Rich?"
"Wrong? Oh just my stupid one-cylinder mind running off in a direction without ever thinking about whether it had something else to do. I am doomed, Marc. Absolutely DOOMED."
DuQuesne winced. "Oh-oh. You had a dinner date with Dorothy?"
"For six o'clock. I'm sunk without a trace. She's never going to –"
"If she was ever serious about you, she'll have to. She's got to know what you're like by now."
Seaton looked agonized. "Maybe, but…"
"No buts. Waste of your time, chum. Look, it's too late to call now. Let's go back to the apartment and get some rest. Then, bright and early tomorrow, you go and buy out the biggest flower shop you can find and bring it over to her right away."
"But what if –"
"Dr. Seaton," DuQuesne said with a sigh and a smile, "why worry about theoreticals when you can determine the actuality? Rest first, face your doom later."
Worried as he was about his potential loss of a fiancee, Seaton couldn't quite restrain a snort of laughter. "Fine, you win, Blackie." He looked around the lab as he picked up his coat. "And if anything would be a good enough excuse, I guess this would be it."
"Amen to that, brother," DuQuesne said, following his friend out. "Amen to that."
"An excellent Denouement. Are we ready to really enter the main phase now?"
"Preparing all parameters for the main sequences, yes. Preparatory time and effort, another couple of months for your time."
"Adventures about to start! I can hardly wait!"
"I know. But for this one, we both have to. But don't worry, I'll let you know when things are getting close."