“Give me that laser, Areona” Quintain said, with his pupils expanding and his heart pounding on his chest like a loud drum. The December fog cast a gloomy show outside with the sun vanishing for days. The internet reported the coldest day of the season. The campus looked deserted with most of the graduate students and professors out on Christmas vacation.
The artificial intelligence Areona was an invisible computer. She could sense the electrifying atmosphere tepid with frenzied excitement. Her feminine spirit was ubiquitous yet inconspicuous inside the laboratory. She was everywhere in the cramped lab where Quintain slogged day in and day out with his diligent research assistant Rita. Areona was connected to all the electronic and electrical equipment inside the lab, which formed an invisible network. She had superior senses and intelligence to work along with humans. The lab consisted of a small fume-hood, a complicated set up of series of optical lenses and lasers that formed the single-molecule spectroscopy, a metal cupboard containing chemicals and a 3D chemical dispenser, a prototype of a 3D printer.
Areona followed Quintain’s command by beaming a red-colored laser on a glass vial kept on a working table. A red line passed through the solution and fell on a detector on the other side. The counts on the detector started rising until it crossed the maximum limit. A smile came across Quintain’s face. Now he placed another solution in series to the glass vial and gestured Areona to beam the laser again. A red line passed through the first vial and it emerged with greater intensity from the other end. As it passed through the second vial, a blue fluorescence filled the darkroom. He waited for the signals to reinforce. He had been preparing for after years of bench work in his laboratory this day. Now the final test had begun.
The lab where Quintain worked was of makeshift kind, the sort that had become extinct now or was found only in the textbooks. Given the sort of funding he had, the lab was decent enough for him to work. The International Material Science Foundation had bestowed a meagre funding for his research on nano-materials for up conversion. This meant that if everything worked fine, he could convert low energy infrared to visible light. This was the most tangible answer to the energy crisis the world was facing. This way the infrared part of sun’s energy could be harvested economically. With a Ph.D. in Chemistry and a failed post-doctoral stint with renowned material chemist Yashushi Okayama, this was more than he had asked for. He called hislab IR-land after the infrared laser machine.
“Come on now,” He said to himself sitting on the edge of his seat. He was almost persuading the laser to hit the jackpot. He watched intently at the vial containing a beige-colored compound. It was Ytterbium salt doped with Zirconium. The compound had almost taken a year for synthesis after numerous attempts, which had failed earlier. When finally the material was ready, it had to be characterized by sophisticated instruments. Only after the data was available, the next phase of experiments could begin. The characterization process was equally tedious and expensive. Quintain had to run from pillar to post because the University just did not have the facilities he was looking for. It took another six grueling months to support with evidence that the compound was the desired material. Therefore, Quintain had almost exhausted all his funds, and little was left for final experiments. He had to get the results right in less number of experiments to validate his findings. If he could not produce the results then it was over…his IR-land had a bleak future. With Rita’s help, he could develop a 3-D chemical dispenser which only required the structure of the compound to be drawn on Chemsketch software. The rest of the magic was done by the dispenser. This solved a great problem forgetting, more of the same kind of stuff, for the final experiments.
For days both Quintain and Rita had skipped their lunch and dinner and worked very hard, pushing their bodies to limits. Exhaustion and despair had started to show on their faces. The aroma had sensed these emotions so she tried to pep up their spirits with jokes and Facebook uploads from the internet.
Then suddenly the beige-colored salt illuminated as the blue laser hit the material. It became an incandescent object which caught Quintain’s attention.
“Oh! Yes” Quintain exclaimed jumping from his chair.
“Rita, you need to see this. Come over, quickly”
Now it was Rita’s turn to witness the amazing spectacle. Her beautiful face lit up with excitement. After a long time, she could sense the feeling of success.
“Do you think this is coming from our material?” Rita asked inquisitively. She looked over his shoulder in total disbelief towards the thin monitor screen. Aroma was now bringing out the results at a furious pace. The intensity climbed until blinding white light engulfed the whole laboratory in a magical spell. The December gloom was momentarily lifted by a spellbinding illumination. It was truly an awesome experiment.
“Lo and behold! Our nano-composite is the next wonder material” Quintain’s excitement reflected in his eyes as he declared loudly. He did not want to miss anything now. This was the first sign in a decade that had shown a positive result. He had failed on many occasions but this time, it was a different story. It was a great achievement for all three of them.
“Aroma, camera please. The laser is glowing the nano material again. Rita, I told you this was possible” said Quintain, turning around to see Rita’s reaction.
“I know” Rita agreed. Quintain saw tears in Rita’s eyes. Those were tears of happiness. Together they had achieved the unachievable.
That was the day it was, when Quintain had celebrated his hard earned success with Rita and Aroma whom he fondly called the ladies. Little had he ever wondered that he had actually opened the Pandora ’s Box.
Quintain woke up in total darkness. He was sweating and smelling like a pig. This was not a nightmare. He was right there when it was all happening before him, there was excitement and disbelief in the air. Aroma had focussed the 950 nanometre laser for umpteen numbers of times and yet the up conversion was occurring without any let up on its intensity. It had reproducibility beyond imagination. He had felt this sublime event which he had witnessed awestruck like a child in a magical world again in his dream.
That was a harbinger of doom, he thought. He fumbled for his signal tracker and in its glow, he could make out he was still in his room alive. He checked the temperature outside with the computer he wore on his wrist. He watched the temperature drift between minus two-fifty and fifty-five. Outside it was stifling cold and instant death. He could hear the distant roar of the icy wind as it hit the barren rocky mountains of this god-forsaken planet. Planet Nervii was altogether a different refuge where he lived cut-off from the civilized world. He sent a pre-assigned data packet to earth from his signal-tracker. It could not pierce the force field which Quintain had activated himself. The message returned with a failure-to-send beep. He deactivated the shield and re-sent the data packet through the tracker. Once done, with great effort he shimmed the magnetic field for homogeneity and tried to lock it again. Disengaged, disengaged blurted the ubiquitous computer. His head was reeling and he was going out from reality to dreams …he was hearing voices again. He failed to get a grip on whether it was Aroma or this newer version or was he having another conversation in his laboratory.
Forget this darn thing, Mimmi” Quintain could hear himself saying as it kept echoing in his head in flashback. Mimmi was a tall, attractive girl with curly hair and intelligent eyes. She was the successor of Rita, a graduate student who followed on the footsteps where Rita had left.
The phenomenon of up conversion had caused quite a stir in the scientific circles. After publishing the results in the top science journal Nature, Dr. Quintain had become famous.The wonder material for up conversion and the 3-D chemical dispenser became a big hit. Celestial Corporation, a huge scientific instrument manufacturing company, bought thechemical dispenser technology for an undisclosed sum of money. Dr.Quintain became a success story in the University of Oakland. The Material Science Foundation agreed to give him a gracious fund for his future experiments. He started working on a bigger project. Rita had completed her Ph.D and got a lucrative research position in Celestial Corporation.
“I told you, we are not reporting this to anybody. No, not at all to the foundation”
“Are you nuts, Quintain” said Mimmi; the news had hit her like a bolt from the blue. All her hard work, perseverance and achievement would go in vain.
What Quintain proposed was profound absurdity. It had no logic, no rhyme nor reason Mimmi thought.
“I don’t have time to reason with you. Listen to me carefully and watch my words. This is a great discovery I understand, Mimmi. But what we have done is knowingly disturbed theequilibrium between time and space. Henceforth, time will no more be the same kind of thing it used to be. With our discovery, we have destroyed the very fabric that makes it stable. You don’t realize the great danger it poses. As soon as we report it, they are going to do all kinds of experiments. This had existed only in theory, the theoretical physicists had predicted it but it remained only in paper until now. They have been experimenting with atom smashers to achieve this. But with our kind of experimental set up and results, any Tom, Dick and Harry can distort time and space. We have a great responsibility because we know it is possible. We will be the makers of the impending doom if this gets into wrong hands. This discovery is a threat to humanity, Mimmi”
“That’s the weirdest reason I ever heard from you. You know my career hinges on this paper. Tomorrow, if you don’t upload this research somebody else will” said Mimmi angrily.
“But sooner or later somebody will discover this. For how long can you wrap your secrets Boss!”
“You can’t do this Quintain” said Mimmi sternly with a threatening tone. “How could you even think you own this research? I am going to uplink Aroma today whether you like it or not. This is not your property it belongs to the Foundation. You are a crank!”
After the failure to convince Mimmi, he left the lab stunned. In all the years they had worked together, he had known Mimmi to be hardworking, docile, and submissive. Never had he ever heard such harsh talk or such belligerence. He walked on the sidewalk thinking about the whole argument. He felt sad about the whole thing. In some way, he empathized with her now. The prospect of a good career begins with good research papers. If he was denying her that opportunity, she was bound to be frustrated. So, in a way, her behavior was justified. He had almost reached Dean’s office of the Materials Chemistry Department when a premonition told him to go back. Quintain turned and started to go downstairs.
“Mr. Quintain” called out Ms. Sheldon, who was Dean’s secretary.
“Mr. Gabriel wants to see you in his office immediately”
Quintain climbed up the stairs to the Dean’s office on the first floor. The discussion was about the funding issues. Quintain’s mind was somewhere else. He kept thinking about the conversation he had with Mimmi. The discussion became a drag with the Dean’s monologue which stretched for two long hours. As he was about to leave after signing legal papers he got a message from Aroma. Something had gone wrong in his lab.
By the time he reached there, police were swarming all around the building. He felt uneasy and weak. He was shocked when he entered the lab. Mimmi was lying on the floor motionless. She was dead. She had been murdered the police said. Quintain stood dazed as he saw his IR-land fade into dust.
Mimmi’s words kept stabbing him in his head and chest. You are a crank…
The damped air inside his room made him sick again. It smelled awfully bad and he started to wonder how long he had been ill. Time was now no more a feature he cared just like his age. Hundreds of years had passed since he had stopped his aging process. He owed many thanks to the biomolecular telomere reversal technology developed by the civilized union. He had hoped to gain more knowledge through longevity. What he got in return was an emotionally wrecked Quintain who died a thousand deaths every day waiting for deliverance. He was not at all religious. There was no God in any part of the known universe and he could prove it. He was a scientific devout, a believer that life-forms can adapt by their own choice and that they were the Makers. If these visions kept echoing in his head perhaps he could re-create it all and almost everything. It was time to be the master and not a spectator who learns the rules by watching. Quintain knew he possessed the power and the knowledge to control his future, but his past was like the telomere tail growing like useless baggage. If that could be reversed by the technology of the civilized union, he could reverse anything. The answer was elusive, the more closely he reached, the more perplexed he became.
Mimmi may have been some four hundred minus forty years if she was still alive. Aroma was dismantled hundreds of years ago…a train of thoughts circled Quintain’s head. Like a wounded tiger he did not know whether he would survive or succumb to this great ordeal. The overwhelming surge of revenge powered his will to stand, to which he almost did yet slowly his weak body caved in. The force field remained inactivated. He pressed the timer and the ubiquitous computer engaged the locking field slowly on a countdown… ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…zero. He slumped back in his bed awaiting a perpetual slumber, a dream-world which had no escape, no exit.
Now, he saw his father talking to him.
“Quin, aren’t you going to come out and play?”
His father’s words evoked a train of childhood memories. Quintain must have been six years old then, young and handsome like his dad. That fateful morning his father had bought him a Trikke. Hearing his father tell him about the ride, young Quintain had jumped out of his bed and rode the Trikke ecstatically. Down the sloping road, his doting father had run a mile along with him. The August breeze blew softly as he rode his ride carefree. His father could not catch up with him because of his deteriorating heart condition. Friedrich had collapsed suddenly on the road while following his son. Doctors said he suffered a massive heart attack. By the time Friedrich was rushed to the hospital, he had passed away. Quintain was traumatized by his father’s death. Friedrich had always loved his son and knew he would grow up to become a great scientist one day.
The old man called out, “Quin, get up!”
He saw his father’s face glow with radiance. His face had a divine charm and his voice was soothing and calm.
“Are you real, Dad?” Quintain asked, holding his father’s hands. They were warm with flesh and blood.
“I’m still alive in your memory, son”, the old man shook his head and smiled again.
“Where’s your Mom, your wife and your kids?”
“I’ve lost all of them, Dad” Quintain broke into inconsolable sobs. Tears rolled down like a never-ending stream of emotions. He felt he was dying, not that he feared death but he still had one final task left. He slept hoping he would find peace and love again.
The roar of the stifling cold wind grew louder and louder. Quintain had become unconscious for days because of the unknown disease he was infected in the bio-space fields before venturing into this lifeless planet. First, planet Nervii contained no superior element to be mined, so the civilized union did not colonize it. Second, it was a too young planet to be explored and third, it did not have the comfort of a tourist haven the kind that attracted the intergalactic species. It was just a mixed ball of gases, on a hard crust dancing to eternity. It was lifelessly cold.
Quintain did not hear the landing of the spaceship just outside his shack. The armour on the spaceship clearly indicated it was of military kind. The exploration vessels were larger in shape and size. The design was not modern perhaps a relic of the last interstellar war. No one had built a new warship since, probably because the survivors thought there was no need for another war. It was elementary: the Makers had wiped out almost all kinds of life forms from the face of the known Universe except their own species. Therefore, their own brethren, the humans, in a quirk of fate, terminated the Makers one by one. At the end of this extermination process, it was back to square one: human versus human. The only difference being who made whom first.
The soldiers carried beam terminators, which could turn any object into a chaotic mix of atoms, which had not a single chance to return to its original form. Briefly, it evaporated every matter on its way to useless quanta of energy. During the last interstellar war, this was the most effective killing machine ever devised. However, on the sloppy side, it could not penetrate the force fields ingeniously built by the Cyborgs. The Makers borrowed their technology and so built a better device with a rock-solid defense mechanism. The only way inside the shield was through the Maker’s bionic immune system. Only a healthy Maker could use it effectively as an impenetrable shield. For the diseased one, anyone could infiltrate the force field. The shield was disarmed without Quintain’s knowing. He could hardly register the signal. The soldiers deactivated the force field and explored through the vision beam the conditions inside Quintain’s room.
Captain Brute was a veteran who had fought many interstellar wars and was assigned to innumerable terminations and rescue operations. He had a pathological anathema for the makers who given a chance he could terminate without a blink of his eye or any show of emotion. He had no family of his own and never wished to have one either. Tambutt was his real name with no strings attached. He hailed from an earth-like planet called Yuthania in the Axis Galaxy. Owing to his warrior lineage, he had a strong body and an equally agile mind. He had witnessed one of the bloodiest wars in the history of his known universe. They called it apocalypse, the end of everything. Humans versus humans, Cyborgs killing humans, androids terminating cyborgs, alien lifeforms killing each other and at last the Makers exterminating one and all kinds of lifeforms, semi-lifeforms, gravity beings…you could name it and it was all there. However, this mission carried not a termination order against a Maker but it carried a rescue operation tag with the highest-level priority. None other than the Fair Queen of Earth endorsed the act. This meant that this Maker whoever he is was important. Being a war hero had made him arrogant and as time had evolved in his time-dependent universe, his arrogance made him distastefully cocky and so for his brutish acts, Captain Brute’s name stuck with him like a leech. Rumors had it that many of his rescue missions had failed because of his own fanciful whims about the whole thing. Like the good old days, he smoked, which gave out obnoxious stench in the near vicinity. Some of his soldiers had seizures ascribed to it.
“Danny” called out Captain Brute,” Get me the extraction”
The young soldier, Danny, obeyed instantly. He brought a canon like an object on his fragile shoulders. This was his first operation on the field and he was particularly excited about it. In the military academy, he was trained to be a shape-shifter; he could literally take any avatar. However, young rookies like him were given lesser duties to gain experience.
“Will anyone in this goddamn unit tells this moron what an extraction is?” screamed the Captain and gave a stern look at Danny. The soldier was scared of his captain’s temper so he quickly ran away to avoid the captain’s ire. Danny came back with a hand-held atomizer, sleek in appearance like a gun. The Captain was still not pleased with him.
“Next time you are done, you hear me, scumbag!” Captain Brute was unrelenting about mistakes. His unit was scared to the bone because of his furious antics particularly when he lost his uncontrollable temper.
There were frightening stories about his violent behavior. On one occasion Tambutt’s superior, a colonel called Daniel Clarke was pissed-off by his disobedience. So, the colonel called Tambutt in his office to give him a piece of his mind. The rebuke had lead to a serious altercation. The colonel threatened Tambutt with dire consequences. Tambutt came out of the room totally infuriated. Next, he got an extraction device and defragmented the Colonel into a confused DNA sequence. It took a really long, long time to get the Colonel back. There was an official inquiry and he was court-martialled for his murderous act. Due to his influential connections in the Military Command of the Civilized Union, he went Scott-free.
Danny fired a blast of high-energy radiation through the shack which was now disarmed. It shattered all inanimate matter in a fraction of a second. Everything about the room where Quintain was staying disappeared into nowhere. The extraction had started to begin; it gradually loosened the bionic suit he was wearing which dissolved into thin air. Slowly his body was transformed into fragments of neat packets of molecules. These molecules were sucked into a safe molecular repository. The whole operation was over in ten minutes. Captain Brute and his team returned to their ship immediately.
The homeward journey for the spaceship was smooth. Though it was a relic of a bygone era yet its systems were quite robust with Billy the artificial intelligence that ran the whole show of transportation. Billy had won Captain Brute’s admiration for many risky adventures. Tambutt had never complained in Billy’s presence. Indeed, the AI had evolved into a superior maneuvering brain with each journey it was assigned to. Sentiments did not nudge the Captain much; however, he was sentimental about this spaceship.