Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Theme Story - Elerium

After the smoke cleared, Zach took stock of his surroundings. The pressure gauges showed no obvious malfunction, though he always had to be wary of bugs in the sensing software – no matter how much the programming disciplines advanced, there was always a bug lying in wait to ruin your weekend. He checked the monitor below, and tried not to get his hopes up at the words “Test completed successfully,” green and flashing in a non-offensive font. At least they didn’t use Comic Sans, Zach mused, this is a scientific establishment, not a lemonade stand.

            Still actively tamping down his excitement, Zach entered the retraction command for the lead shield between him and the observation area. Theory said it wasn’t necessary – the inch-thick safety glass should have been more than sufficient for this experiment – but OSHA had different ideas of necessary than the scientific establishment. With several loud clunks and the whine of a motor, the heavy shielding began to retract, glacially creeping up towards the ceiling. Up, not down – if the motor failed, they needed to rely on gravity to keep the shield deployed rather than cause it to retract. Had it come from the floor, they could have used a hydraulic system and saved a few thousand dollars of the taxpayer’s money, but no amount of historical data would overcome the desires of regulators with a paycheck from a subcontractor with a manufacturing subsidiary.

            Zach checked the lab log, making a few notations marking the time and parameters of the experiment. So much time wasted already on a pipe dream. How long are we going to beat our heads against this? He idly flipped through the prior entries in the book. Hundreds of tests, thousands of parameter changes, and no results. Increase frequency here, decrease ionization there, perform this experiment in a vacuum, perform this one in a magnetic field, and still they were no closer to developing the theorized element. Elerium-115 - or Ununpentium in the uninventive language of the IUPAC, which refused to name an element based on a reference to an obscure science fiction video game - was supposed to be some kind of energy panacea, doing for society what the vaporous cold fusion of decades prior was believed to have made possible. Cold fusion had of course never proven fruitful, researchers never able to cross the break-even point of energy generation. Of course there were still those researches spending time with the now-fringe idea, but they didn’t get as much funding as they used to.

            Many scholars pointed to cold fusion as a cautionary tale against cure-alls, calling the current quest a pursuit of energetic snake oil. Zach didn’t think they were very far off in their estimation, but as a lowly doctoral student he had to do as he was told, or else he might lose his research fellowship and the associated funding. With most of the funding coming from an oblivious government, the department used this lab as a cash-cow – and also a convenient way to dispose of mouthy physics students. Sure, I probably shouldn’t have spoken out so strongly against string theory, but it’s codified voodoo! Zach kicked himself yet again, doodling on a notepad to distract himself.

            Due to the height of the console, it took a minute for the lab to be visible from an observer in the laboratory chair. It was the soft green glow that caught his attention first, his eyes snapping to the window with magnetic force. No fucking way. He quickly flipped through the prior experiments, and searched through the more exhaustive logs in the lab’s database, but none mentioned any kind of emission on the visible spectrum. He looked up, still disbelieving as the shield finished its slow climb to the heavens, and saw the glowing green lump sitting upon the concrete pedestal in the test chamber. No. Fucking. Way.

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