Breakthrough

 

Desmond Warwick rechecks a digital readout confirming, “The temperature is approaching minus 300 degrees.”

“We’re almost there,” responds Simon Taylor while using a wireless remote to lower the internal temperature within a sealed, transparent ceramic tank of nitrogen gas. He adds, “The recording cameras are rolling!”

Desmond looks at some unfamiliar granulated elements lying on the tank bottom. He announces to his colleague, “The nitrogen gas is starting to liquefy, Simon.”

“Yes, another twenty degrees and we’ll start brewing sub-zero soup.”

Warwick asks, “What’s with the other material in with our silicon? Are you suddenly changing the superconductivity experiment we’ve been working on for weeks?”

“I wouldn’t have asked you here on our day off just to punch another laboratory time clock for Terran Corporation. This is a private experiment.”

“But this setup still looks like we’re trying to dissolve frozen silicon into liquid nitrogen, Simon.”

“Maybe shatter is a better word than dissolve. After that silicon suspends in the liquid nitrogen as micro-particles, if those other elements react favorably, then maybe we’ll get the broth I’m hoping for.”

“Now it’s nominal at minus 320 degrees.”

Taylor adjusts his control and asks, “Is the temperature holding?”

After several seconds, Desmond confirms, “Check, Chum.”

Simon sets down his remote before retrieving two fresh cups from a countertop coffeemaker. He motions Warwick to join him. Within moments, they’re both sipping while leaning against a common countertop. They both watch the nearby tank.

Desmond asks, “How long before we know anything?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“That’s a scary thought, Simon.”

“We’re operating outside the box today.”

Desmond watches the bottom elements become awash and swirl in the newborn nitrogen bath. He adds, “Well, at least tell me what you hope will happen.”

Taylor replies with excitement, “I’m hoping the phosphorus, sodium chloride, lime and fifteen other trace elements within the tank will react with the silicon and liquid nitrogen to spawn some organic molecule chains.”

“Sub-zero life is impossible!”

Simon ignites a Bunsen burner under a flask of solution with his pocket lighter before asking, “Why?”

“All life on this planet is based on some form of carbon compounds.”

“In this experiment, silicon is substituting for carbon. You remember from our university days about the theoretical concept of life based on silicon?”

Desmond smirks, “And you know that theory was pure science fiction, Chum.”

Taylor drains his cup and answers, “Then let’s see if Science Fiction can convert to Science Fact.”

“Let me guess; the liquid nitrogen is pinch-hitting for a cradle of liquid water too?”

“Now you’re up to speed, Partner. If we can get all those elements to react together, there’s a chance we may get a breakthrough.”

Desmond sets his cup down and asks, “You really expect to create some type of spontaneous life in our ceramic tank?”

“Maybe it will only bond some common elements into a new configuration, which may lead to some organic compounds.”

“In your dreams, Simon.”

“You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.”

Warwick smirks again, “You’re expecting to spawn some kind of living sand by mating silicon with liquid nitrogen?”

“Don’t forget those other elements, Partner.”

“What’s their proportion?”

“Our tank now trying to react 1 pound of phosphorus; 1 and a half pounds of lime; one quarter pound of sodium chloride and fifteen other trace elements with 25 pounds of silicon in 8 gallons of liquid nitrogen.”

Warwick replies, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

“What’s biting you?”

“Those are the compound elements for human life!”

Simon refills his coffee cup before asking, “What’s your point, Partner?”

“You’re trying to outdo Colin Clive!”

“Whom?”

“You remember that famous monster movie speech where Colin Clive screams ‘It’s Alive!’ after bringing Boris Karloff to life with a bolt of lightning connected to his slimy dungeon lab!”

“You’re over reacting, Partner; I just want to see if we can get some type of sub zero organics, Partner.”

Warwick yells, “You had me burn a day off so you can play Ice Age Frankenstein?”

Taylor sets his cup down and crosses both arms before saying, “Why not? But instead of lightning, I’m ionizing our broth with inert gas plasma after the soup’s on.”

“I think you’re nuts, Chum.”

“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“Christ, Simon, what happens if that plasma ruins your liquid nitrogen temperature?”

“That’s why I’m not inserting it until after the broth is made.”

“What if the sudden temperature change compromises our ceramic tank?”

Simon smirks, “Not a chance, Partner, Roger Morgan invented that ceramic to contain temperatures from 8,000 above to 2000 degrees below zero.”

“And that’s supposed to make me feel safe and snug?”

Taylor stands erect and says, “You know Morgan’s the premier genius of our time, otherwise, neither of us would be experimenting around this tank in plain clothes.”

Desmond glances toward the nearest wall at some empty protection suits. He replies, “Maybe I’ll put one on just for my own piece of mind, Chum.”

“If you want to look like a fugitive from The Andromeda Strain, then knock yourself out.”

Warwick walks to the wall rack and suits up while Taylor monitors his tank; the liquid nitrogen has shattered the other materials into free-floating particles of what looks like crystalline sand.

Desmond rejoins his partner as Simon chides, “You look like some geek to a 1950s SciFi plot.”

Warwick muffles a reply, “Since we’re operating outside the box, it just makes me feel better. Now, where do you want me now?”

“Just pick up my remote. Then press 7x and enter when I tell you; that command will infuse the plasma.”

“Your remote performs every automatic function needed for the tank. And the temperature readout I called earlier was plainly visible on your side of the tank. Why do you consider me so damned essential for your experiment?”

“I needed a witness to help verify my results.”

“Thanks a heap, Chum, if anything goes wrong and screws us over, at least I’ll have the satisfaction that my presence gave you the warm fuzzies!”

Simon shoves Desmond and says, “If all you’re going to do is bitch, get the hell out of here!”

Warwick sets his cowl and gloves on the countertop and grabs the remote before answering, “I guess I’m curious too.”

Taylor smiles before stepping beside the tank for a closer look with portable magnifying lenses. He scans the broth and sees the entire bulk of solid elements now free-floating as crystalline particles within the nitrogen bath.

Desmond sits on the countertop still grasping the remote.

Simon continues scanning the tank for a full minute before commanding, “Hit it!”

Warwick infuses the plasma, which energizes the tank with tiny arcs of bluish white light that snake out in all directions.

Taylor blurts, “Temperature’s now minus 305, lower it back to minus 320!”

Desmond complies as the readout displays the proper temperature within a few seconds.

Simon commands, “Now shut off the plasma!”

Warwick obeys again.

Taylor scans the soup for several seconds before six bluish gray, egg-sized globules congeal from the broth and contact the inner tank face with extending spikes.

Every spike suddenly vibrates and draws in contact material from the crystallizing ceramic wall like sucking straws. Each globule slowly begins growing.

“Holy shit!” replies Taylor now taking a step back as the globules suddenly force several web-like, ceramic contact cracks with interconnecting tendrils.

Simon moves to another side of the tank while Desmond stays where he is. The six globules release their hold and move toward Simon’s new position.

Taylor shifts to the back side; the globules move toward him again. He walks back to the tank face while exclaiming, “Now I feel like Colin Clive!”

As the globules reattach to their previous contact points, Desmond says, “They’re reacting to you, Chum.”

Simon replies while stepping fearfully away from the tank, “And they’re eating the ceramic tank wall.”

“Eating it, Simon?”

“Consuming it, polymerizing it, whatever you want to call it! Those globules are somehow digesting Morgan’s ceramic matrix! He must’ve used some type of silicon to bond his material! The tank will breach!”

“Not likely, Chum!” retorts Desmond while raising the tank temperature by remote. The tank face shatters before spilling out sub zero soup and six globules onto the laboratory floor.

Each globule remains in liquid form despite the room temperature. They each extrude more vibrating spikes and draw invisible nourishment from the laboratory air. Every globule suddenly swells to the size of cattle while consciously encircling both scientists.

Desmond screams, “They’re not destroyed by the rising temperature!”

Simon shudders, “They must be sucking nitrogen gas to maintain internal temperature!”

“What now, Chum?”

Several rippling, liquid nitrogen spikes seize them.

Simon squeaks weakly, “Hell if I know.”

The Bunsen burner ignites a pure patch of oxygen left behind in the air after globule nitrogen extraction. The laboratory incinerates in a single ball of exploding fire.

Copyright © 2011 by William F. and Alice L. Johnson