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"In 1930, Israel Aharoni, a zoologist and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, captured a mother hamster and her litter of pups in Aleppo. Syria. ...all domestic golden hamsters are descended from one female, &ndash probably the one captured in 1930 in Syria." – Wikipedia
Peter flicked into existence next to a scrub bush alongside a wadi, a serious look on his young face. His heart ached for the kids he'd left behind, almost 12 thousand years before. The centuries-long strife of the Factions War was climbing to its inevitable end. Leaders were confronting other leaders with unacceptable demands; peace feelers were rejected with hostility and paranoia. He'd wanted so much to intervene, to change things, and yet....
That far back in time, he could again see into the future, at least from when he was looking – he still couldn't see anything much past what his family considered the present – and what he had seen horrified him. Terrible as the cataclysmic end of the Faction Wars and the Third Cycle had been, preventing that from happening led to an even greater disaster for everyone, everywhere, in the alternate timeline his actions would have caused to come into existence – and nothing, anywhere, would survive the wrath of the Mad Guardian. The formula Timmy's blood father had taught him came back to bite Peter: "Sometimes bad things have to happen so that good things can happen afterwards." So that the whole Universe had a chance to survive Vae'Za, Peter had to keep hands off and let the Third Cycle suicide. "Sometimes it really sucks to be a Mikyvis," he thought to himself.
Well, at least there was one thing he could do. Several species of wild hamster had survived the holocaust that ended the Third Cycle, but they were all drab brown or gray, skittery around people, and mostly ill-tempered. He looked down into the little box in his arms.
Mahti looked up at him, wiggled her nose, and chittered. When the kids he'd met, and given random hugs to, back at the end of the Third Cycle were being evacuated from the city they'd lived in, they were not able to take along their beloved pet. And the pretty, affectionate little golden hamsters had not survived the great final war.
This was one thing, at least, that he could change. He looked down under the bush, and, as expected, saw the baited hurt-free cage-trap there. Peter scratched Mahti's head and back, and she stretched under his gentle touch; her belly, distended with the litter she was close to term, twinged. He took a quick glance at the future: the Israeli scientist who had set the trap would take her for a lab animal and be charmed by her. Some of the pups would go to England, and some of their descendants to America. Biologists' kids would fall in love with the affectionate little rodents, and want them for pets.
It wasn't a big element in the grand scheme of things, but it was one more small way in which Peter could bring a bit more happiness into the lives of a lot of children. All in all, he was content.
He reached down and set Mahti in front of the little cage trap. She saw the grains and cheese inside, and scurried in.
Peter smiled, and disappeared. A Mikyvis's job is never done.
The room was cheery and warm-feeling. A deep forest green, redolent of pine boughs, provided the background color. The hearth picked out the bright cherry-red and gold accents. What appeared to be a jovial old man, bewhiskered and a bit overweight, sat in the sumptuous easy chair that was the centerpoint of the room's décor, almost thronelike in its appearance. In his lap was what appeared to be a young red-headed boy, cuddled in and feeling warm and loved to the tips of his elfin ears.
"They've made peace," the jovial one said. "I had worried that it would be renewed hostilities, the sort of thing we have seen far too much have. But now, maybe nation shall not lift its hand against nation, neither shall they study war any more," he quoted from a book no older than he. "You are good, Myrton, at making friends, and at learning from listening. I would like you to go out and make some friends, get a sense of how people really feel, especially the children who, when grown, will shape the future. The Fourndieri see a crux in the near future. Learn what you can."
The boy smiled up at him, with a wisdom and alertness that belied his apparent years. "I will do as you ask, Father. Thank you for trusting me with this."
"You are a good boy, Myrton. I would not ask anything I was not confident you could do." The old man smiled. "Come, shall we share a sweet treat? Honey muffins?"
"Yeah!" the boy agreed enthusiastically. They arose from the chair and walked out in search of the proposed snack.
The boy sat on the swings, bored. A short ways away, his mother and two of her friends had their easels up, painting views of the river. It's probably a bit of an ethnic slur to say he looked Jewish, but in point of fact, with his long thin face and skinny build, he came very close to the stereotype of the European Jewish immigrant to New York, eight-year-old boy edition.
Down the gravel path came a red-haired boy, who spotted him on the swings and waved a cheery greeting.
"Hello," the first boy ventured, a little nervously.
"Hi!" came the response from the redhead. "My name's Myrton; what's yours?"
"Julius, like my father. But I usually use my middle name: Robert, so's people can tell us apart by name."
"Nice to meet ya, Robert. Whatcha doin'?"
"Just sitting here, waiting for Mother to get through painting."
"Okay. Want a push on the swing?"
"Gosh, that'd be super!"
Myrton got behind Robert, gave him a small push, then stepped back and gave him a harder one as the swing came back. About three pushes, and Robert was moving good. Myrton hopped on the second swing, alongside him. "Watch; here's how you pump your legs to keep swinging."
And for the next hour or so, they swung together and talked. Or rather, mostly Robert talked about his life, and Myrton listened.
At last Robert's mother finished what she was doing, folded up her easel, and called him. "Hey, it was great to meet ya! I hope I see you around!"
Myrton smiled. "Count on it," he said, just before Robert ran to join his mother.
Robert was overjoyed to see his friend coming up the slope to join him. The slight elevation topped by the bedrock outcrop he was exploring would not have qualified as a hill in the Catskills or Poconos, but here in the City, on the banks of the Hudson, it would do until a real hill came along.
Over the past few months his friendship with Myrton had blossomed. The young redhead was not always around, but had shown up every couple of weeks, meeting Robert at the park or visiting him at home. Robert's parents entertained, and their social circle meant their parties were a heady mix of artsy aestheticism and left-wing politics mixed with the realities of his father's textiles-import business. The conversations that came out of this were meat to the burgeoning intellectual growth of both boys. Robert remembered Myrton sitting in his parents' salon, intent on the Columbia professor as he spoke of the need for peace, the practical aspects of politics and diplomacy, and his hopes for the future.
Being boys, however, they were more interested in the natural world, Robert had developed an interest in minerals – the reason he was up on this outcrop. "Hey, Myrton, c'mon up here!" he called out.
"What'd you find?" the redhead asked.
"A vein of marble here," Robert said, pointing. Myrton arrived at the outcrop and bent to look.
"I brought you something," he said as he stood back up. Robert was beginning his growth spurt, and was nearly a head taller than his friend. Myrton smiled at Robert's eager expression, and placed a bright blue rock in his hand.
"It's azurite," he said.
"Wow! Where'd you get that?" Robert asked.
"Oh, my Father had it lying around; he said I could give it to you."
"Hey, that's terrific! Thanks a million! C'mon over here; there's an inclusion I think is serpentine." And with that, the boys were scrambling across the outcrop.
"The Fourndieri are predicting gloom and doom," Ardell said.
"Yes, and my extrapolative routines suggest they're not far from right," the chubby bearded old man said. "The discoveries of radioactivity and atomic structure will lead Earth governments right down the same old disastrous path. The new League will help, but there's still distrust."
The group gathered around them were silent for a while. They had had such hopes....
"Did they say where the problem will likely first show up?" Myrton asked Ardell.
"Then I may have a way to head it off. Listen...."
Robert, now 18, rode out from the school's stables with a song in his heart. Harvard had finally confirmed that they would accept him for the class of 1926. He had excelled in his high school studies, finishing a year ago with high honors, a year early. But on his graduation-present trip to Europe, he had been laid low in Czechoslovakia by an attack of colitis that had prevented his entering college. He had been sent west to this ranch-school to recuperate.
He remained more or less involved with his parents' liberal political circle, but his interests had grown more and more into science: first chemistry, then physics, and particularly the fascinating new discoveries in atomic physics that were following on Roentgen's and Einstein's work. He still enjoyed mineralogy, though, and that was what he was doing today – a good leisurely ride to help his recuperation that would feed his interest in the minerals of the American West.
As he crested a ridge and started down a valley, a glint of reflected sunlight drew his notice to something interesting up on the side of the next ridge, and turned his horse to climb up there. He dismounted and investigated.
It turned out to be an outcrop of iron pyrites – "fools gold." But as he was looking....
"Hey, mister!" the voice belonged to a boy in dungarees, plaid flannel shirt, bandanna around his neck, boots, and broad Western hat, scrambling down the slope to meet him. "You're new 'round these parts, aren't'cha?"
"Why, yes, I am," Robert said. "I'm from New York, out here to recover from being sick, and studying rocks while I do."
"That's neat," the boy said. "I like rocks." He took off his hat and wiped his brow with his bandanna.
Robert gasped; his new acquaintance was close enough to his childhood friend Myrton to be his twin – if the twins had been born a decade apart, that is. "I'm Robert," he said, offering his hand.
"Pleased t'meet'cha," the boy said. "I'm M...m...martin." Inwardly Myrton kicked himself for forgetting that his own not aging would seem strange to Robert.
"You look just like a boy I knew when I was a kid, ten years ago – and you even have a similar name!" Robert exclaimed.
"Coincidences are funny like that," Myrton said. "I saw a man in the toy department of a store when we went to Albuquerque for Christmas that looked just like my Father." He adroitly changed the subject. "C'm'ere; I'll show you some interestin' stuff."
For the next few hours Myrton, prepared with a mineralogical survey of the area, showed Robert a variety of minerals, being careful to mix things that would catch a boy's interest with others of more interest to an adult professional. Finally....
"Isn't this galena?" Myrton asked.
"Looks like it," Robert replied. "Hey, here's some pitchblende!"
Myrton visibly recoiled from it. In fact, he made it a point to have Robert notice his recoiling. "That's nasty stuff," he said. "We have to keep the cattle well away from any outcrops of it, or their young come out – wrong: deformed, sickly." He watched Robert's face as his agile mind processed this: uranium ore is radioactive. Radioactivity causes birth defects in cattle. Though outwardly impassive except for avoiding the pitchblende, inwardly Myrton was exultant. One seed planted.
A few minutes later, Myrton again took off his hat and wiped his forehead. "Sure is hot," he commented. He glanced up at the Sun, then commented, "Y'know, sometimes I think about how important that thing up there is. It gets real cold around here at night, then hot as Hades in the daytime. And it's sunlight that makes plants grow. And the science books say that all the coal and oil comes from decayed buried plants." A pause. "Wonder how it works...."
Click! Robert, who was well aware of astrophysical theory, started to think. A short time later, Myrton excused himself, and called for transport.
Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer, Research Fellow in Physics at the University of California, sat on the bench in the little park opposite his offices and research facilities, enjoying the sun and reading. The thank-you note from Pauling about the lead he had passed on about the impact of radioactivity on germ plasm was a kind gesture. He set aside the monograph of "Theoretical Considerations in Warp Physics" by Zephram Cochrane for a more thorough review later. Old Zeph might be getting along in years, but he still had it! His own recent work had been on using sub-atomic reactions to generate power, and he was stymied. Perhaps the fresh air and time to think might help.
The flash of motion in the corner of his eye caused him to look to his right. A red-haired boy riding a bicycle came his way, and waved a breezy "Hiya, Mister!"
Robert did a double-take. The boy was, once again, identical to his memories of Myrton, or for that matter the Martin he'd met in New Mexico a decade before. "Hello there!" he said as the boy skidded to a stop in front of him.
"Whatcha doin', mister?" Myrton asked.
"Just reading and enjoying the sun, and thinking about my research," Robert answered. "I'm Robert; don't I know you from somewhere?"
"Hi, I'm Morton," Myrton replied, glad he'd thought of a name ahead of time this time.
"Sure it's not Peter Pan?" Robert asked with a grin.
"You know, the boy who decided never to grow up."
Now that was hitting a little too close to home. "That's silly," Myrton giggled, realizing too late how well Robert knew his giggle. "What're you researchin'?" he asked, to try to change the subject.
Robert was far from stupid – a quick study, and open to new ideas. That this might be his childhood friend, unchanged, who had always asked the right leading questions that had led him to the path his life had taken... well, unlikely as it seemed, make the most of it!
He drew a breath. "If you are Myrton, your secrets are safe with me. You've always been a good friend, helped me. So let me tell you what I'm doing, and then I'll listen to what you have to say."
Myrton looked him in the eye, saw honesty there, and nodded.
"I'm working on the problem of generating power," Robert said, "from sub-atomic reactions. There are two possible routes that could go: fission of uranium atoms, or fusion of hydrogen. But in both choices, I'm up against what are basically engineering problems beyond the current state of the art." Myrton looked on with interest.
Robert went on. "With uranium, most of the atoms are normal heavy uranium, with 92 protons and 146 neutrons in its nucleus. But one atom in 114 is actinouranium, five times as radioactive, and with only 143 neutrons. If a neutron gets jarred loose in radioactive decay, it can react with another atom. If it hits normal uranium, it gets absorbed, and any reaction just damps out. But with actinouranium, it starts decay that causes more neutrons, meaning it breaks down, causing more breakdowns, a chain reaction that can produce a great deal of energy. We just need to find a way to enrich the amount of actinouranium in a given sample."
A Navy plane flew overhead on its way to Sunnyvale Field. Man and boy watched it for a moment. Myrton then spoke, slowly at first. "During the Great War airplanes much more primitive than that one worked a great deal of havoc with the little light bombs they could carry. Do you remain committed to peace?"
"Yes," Robert said simply.
Myrton went on, "Abdullah ibn Ali al-Libani told us a story from his homeland once." The Arab professor at Columbia had been a part of Robert's mother's social circle; in mentioning it, Myrton was silently confirming Robert's guess. "He told us of a man who found a magic bottle with a djinn confined inside it. He pulled the stopper and the djinn emerged, and offered him the traditional three wishes. The man thought, and then made his wishes. The first was for long life, youthful vigor, and love. The second was for wealth and power. And the third was for the wisdom to keep what he had been given in the first two, and live a long and happy life. 'Done!' the djinn said, and laughed heartily."
"'Why do you laugh?' the man asked. And the djinn replied, 'The wizard who ensorcelled me into the bottle pulled the stopper many times. His wishes were always the same: first, for renewed youth, then for renewed wealth. And the third was always that I return to the bottle. Now I am free, to do what I wish!' And the man was aghast that he had released wild magic upon the world."
"There are two simple ways to enrich the actinouranium content. I'm not going to tell them to you. And you're not going to look for them. In fact, if you're wise you'll exaggerate the difficulty of them. Because the same process that will enrich it to critical level, and allow you to generate power, will also enrich it to supercritical level, and build a bomb – a bomb small enough to be carried by one plane that would destroy an entire city and make its site unlivable for generations. Once you've let the djinn out of the bottle, you've lost control of him. Don't do it, Robert."
The man was taken aback by the earnestness and the pleading in the boy's voice. He let what Myrton had said sink into his consciousness, then slowly nodded. Myrton offered his hand, angled for the 'secret handshake' they had shared as boys. Robert solemnly joined his own hand to the boy's.
"Now what's your problem with fusion?" Myrton asked sunnily.
"Well, after we worked out the energy curve, and discovered that a hydrogen-to-helium reaction is on the steep slope, producing more energy than any other conceivable sub-atomic reaction, I took your hint about the sun from New Mexico and studied solar physics. It turns out that the math predicts what seems to actually happen: when you get hydrogen as hot and dense as the sun's core, it fuses naturally. The problem with using that for power is getting that kind of heat and pressure using only a relatively small volume, and keeping it confined."
"Gee," Myrton said, "it sounds like you need to warp space to the conditions you need." He grinned.
Robert was wearing his 'Eureka' look. "And this won't set up the bomb scenario?"
"Nope. Only two ways to use fusion in a bomb are to use a fission bomb to produce the conditions for fusion, or to shoot the warped ultradense ultrahot hydrogen off in a burst of light at relativistic speeds before it has a chance to expand – kind of a torpedo propelled by photons."
"I don't want to pry, Myrton. But wherever did you get all this cutting-edge knowledge."
"Oh, Robert, I know we have been friends for a long time, and I would love to stay and talk, but, honestly, I can't say any more, except to say that I got it from Santa Claus."
As he spoke the final sentence, he hopped on his bike and rode off, calling for transport as he passed behind a tree.
Robert sat there stunned for a few minutes, then got a determined look on his face and picked up the Cochrane monograph.
"That did it," Ardell reported. "The danger of atomic war has receded to below margin-of-error figures."
"I concur," the jovial bearded figure said, cuddling the little redhead on his lap close. "Good work, Myrton."
Myrton was beaming. "Thanks, Father," he said.
Gee, I am a bit stymied at this point. I want to make some comments, but, if I were to do so, it could be so much of a spoiler that I don't dare say anything of the sort.
I will say that I certainly do like Myrton. I would say that as someone trying to make up names, to hide his true identity from Robert, he leaves a lot to be desired.
That is not to say that things turned out badly.
We have learned a few valuable lessons. We know why, in the CSU, there was no atomic bomb dropped, or maybe not even invented. We also see the Genesis of Warp technology.
In other words, studying origins can be a very good thing.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher