Vitric Doubles

13 Jan

Lu Jin spent most of the night formulating and rehearsing what he was going to say at his appointment the following morning.

Anxious and tired, the chemist left his apartment in Pudong and rode the commuter maglev that tunneled under the Huangpu River into central Shanghai.

Will my projected program sound too risky and speculative? wondered the glass expert.

Jin climbed off the train at the waitan station of the old Bund, still the financial center of the megalopolis of forty million people. It was a short walk to the tower of the Puxi Bank. This skyscraper made of vitric brick rose through four decks of downtown Shanghai. His appointment was scheduled for the top executive penthouse at the apex. The president of the bank himself, that was whom Jin had to convince that morning.

The tall, lanky scientist asked a security guard how to move up to the building’s summit. He was directed which levator to take to the private quarters of the financial titan. A speedy ride up all by himself took him to the penthouse, where a secretarial aide waited to guide him to the office of the powerful banker, Mr. Ba Xun.

Short and perfectly rotund, the executive welcomed Jin with a smile and a handshake, asking him to take a chair beside his long desk of spun glass.

Ba studied his visitor with intense, unmoving eyes.

“The plan you propose is interesting to me,” started the president. “But first, tell me about your own past experience and your future ambitions. What motivates you the most?”

Jin repeated what he had prepared and rehearsed many times over about his background.

“After my graduate work at Shanghai University in glass chemistry, I held a laboratory position at a large manufacturer of vitric fiber. But the job was dissatisfying to me. The work was too restricted and confining. Managed research in a large organization did not allow me opportunity to probe as I liked. So, with my tiny savings I became an independent researcher. It became possible for me to purchase an old glass workshop adjacent to the salvage yards in Pudong.

“Experimenting on my own, I tried for several years to achieve my dream of a hyaloid being, able to move and think on its own, like a living thing. The idea captivated me: an organism with life that consisted of a glassy silicon compound. I taught myself a lot of advanced biology and biochemistry, and combined that with my knowledge of vitrics. Eventually, results appeared.

“Organisms in nature consist of protoplasm. I was after a substitute, a hyaloplasm. That goal is within proximate reach. It lies only a step or two further ahead, but I will need some advanced, expensive equipment. My expenses are rocketing upward and my work needs substantial outside financing. I do not want to become dependent on the large glass companies, so I have applied for a loan from the Puxi Bank, sir.

“My hope is to convince you of the feasibility and practicality of what I hope to develop soon.”

Ba Xun drew in a deep, long breath before responding to this.

“You have ambitious ideas, young man. But did you say that you already have some living glass in your laboratory? Did I understand you correctly?”

Jin made a wide smile. “Let me show you something, sir,” he said gently.

He reached into the side pocket of his black cotton jacket and pulled out a tiny box only two inches on a side. Placing it near the edge of the glass fiber desk, the chemist opened one side of it that was connected by a hinge.

A glassy, nearly transparent blob of plastic-like substance moved out of the box on its own, directly onto the surface of the bank president’s desk. Ba Xun watched with fascination as the formless, ever-changing shape explored the area around it, going from side to side, attempting several directions in succession. The contours and dimensions of the plasma never settled into a stable, sold form.

The astounded banker, his eyes sparkling, turned to Jin and spoke.

“This is incredible. Your work must continue without interruption. The Puxi Bank is willing to become your sponsor. The prospects for what you are showing me appear unlimited.”

In one generation, the making of glassified products had become one of the major industries of the Shanghai region. All construction and communication in China was affected and changed by development in vitric technology. New compounds were continuously created by leading facilities here. Both Pudong, east of the Huangpu, and Puxi, to its west, had four glass decks of settlement and habitation.

Ba Xun advised Jin that the new, large laboratory be located in the Puxi section, closer to the Bund and his bank. Full of hope and enthusiasm, the glass chemist agreed to this. The banker chose an empty private school on West Nanjing Road that had recently been foreclosed on and taken over. Ba recommended a general business manager for the hyaloid project. He turned out to be Tse Dun, an experienced mortgage broker and loan executive.

Jin understood that the tiny old man was to be the eyes and ears of the Puxi Bank and the president of the enterprise, but he was willing to go along with the arrangement for the sake of the program he had begun.  As soon as the new equipment started to arrive, though, disagreements with Tse Dun arose. What apparati and chemical substances should be ordered? Jin held adventurous ideas, but Dun was a frugal bookkeeper who was there to enforce a strictly limited budget in the name of the Puxi Bank.

Serious, emotional arguments broke out between the two, growing ever more heated.

Dun was first to turn to Ba Xun for a decision. He was victorious in gaining the financial disapproval for certain expensive devices he saw as unnecessary extravagancies.

Three times in succession, the same pattern repeated itself.

The banker, each time, sided with his deputy, Tse Dun, against the opinions and requests of Jin.

Angry frustration seized hold of the young man who had first created the living hyaloid.

When Ba Xun scheduled an inspection tour of the laboratory and its staff of fifteen, Lu Jin decided that he had to have a showdown over the obstacles being raised by the business manager of his project.

The two opponents, facing each other in the office room of the laboratory, glared at each other with disgust and anger. Ba Xun stood in the middle, looking from one of them to the other.

Jin pleaded with the banker. “I cannot continue with such an obnoxious man hounding my steps, vetoing my plans at every turn. He should have no place in any experimental setting like mine. I can make no progress as long as such internal sabotage is going on.

“This is what I have decided: either Tse Dun leaves or I do. It is impossible for us to work together. I cannot reach my goal with him present. Is that clear to you?”

Ba Xun gasped for breath, shaken by the surprise ultimatum.

He had not foreseen such stubborn willfulness in the chemist, a stranger to him. His dark Han eyes searched the long northern face of Jin for some hint or clue. A sacrifice of one or the other man now appeared inevitable to him. Which one should it be?

He turned to the scientist and asked a question. “Can you make a compromise with him? Can you give Tse Dun any concessions?”

Jin shook his head. “I must have unquestioned authority. That is the only way to complete the program of research with a living hyaloplasm. I cannot surrender my dream to such a person as this. I would rather withdraw and quit.”

Ba pursed his lips as he made his decision. “I will have to find a replacement for you,” he told Jin.

The banker turned about and hurried out of the room.

The fired chemist moved into a flat in a highrise building in what had once been the French Concession, just off the Huaihai Road. Old shikumen houses with stone gates in front still survived in the neighborhood, relics from the age of colonialism and private real estate.

The mind of Jin stormed with rage. How had he allowed this to happen to him? The concept he had created was no longer under his control. A banker and his bookkeeper were now in charge.

He sensed feelings of vengeance within himself. There had never been emotions so strong boiling within. Because the situation was so new for him, they might rise to extraordinary heights, he feared.

What was he to do with his idea now? His mind hunted for a way forward, until a solution occurred to him.

Since he still held the keys to the laboratory, it would be possible for him to go in at some time when the place was empty. No one could stop him from entering and seeing what they were doing with his glassy compounds. He could then choose among his options.

It was long past midnight when Jin sneaked through the deserted streets of the Concession to West Nanjing Road. He reached the laboratory unseen, unlocked the side door, and quickly went in. A handlight he brought with him furnished him sufficient illumination to locate the receptacles holding the hyaloid gels he himself had recently been processing.

He found an empty container and poured into it some of his most prized plasma. This was the most advanced compound so far produced here.

I will take it home with me to nurse and preserve, Jin said to himself as he  left, carrying the vitric container full of the precious cargo holding his future.

Jin purchased some simple chemical equipment and started working with his limited supply of hyaloid gel. He allowed his imagination to devise new compounds to be added to the older combinations he had put together when financed by the Puxi Bank. In time, his gel was exhausted.

A second, then a third raid upon the laboratory on West Nanjing Road followed to renew his supply.

The size of his glassy mass constantly increased. Larger and more containers had to be bought. What new can I add to the vitrified compounds in my experiment tubs? he asked himself.

Jin decided to try ultraviolet actinic rays, buying a small but powerful lamp to produce them. Complex irradiation was carried out in his small flat crowded with chemicals and apparati. One evening, after hours of work, he grew too tired to continue. His special lamp was turned off, but the recently compounded and radiated hyaloid gel was left in a small portable sink.

Jin fell asleep at once, unable to see what was happening in his private little lab.

Out of the tub of irradiated matter rose globs of gooey, jellied hyaloid. These joined and melted into a single aggregate. A shapeless, translucent object came into existence. The new gluelike mass was sticky and viscoid, gelatinous and plasmoid. This large globe moved itself out of the tub, across the bare floor, to the bed where Jin slept. It was indefinite and ever-changing, mobile and protean.

Slowly, the mass of gelled goo began to take on a definite shape and form. It was that of its sleeping creator. More and more, the quivering molten form became fixed and solidified.

When Jin awoke a little after dawn, he discovered a complete, life-size double of himself, made of hyaloid gel that resembled human flesh.

The underworld of crime in the formal French Concession was under the command of a mobster named Du Yue, a huge figure with the nickname of “Big Nose”.

Lu Jin won a meeting with him in his tavern near the outdoor Xiangyang Market. The syndicate gangster eyed the chemist with disdain and suspicion.

“What can I do for you?” he asked Jin with a sneer.

“It’s the other way around. I can do something important for you, sir. How would you like to have a gang of invisible, undefeatable guards and musclemen? No bullet could ever kill them. They would be entirely loyal and under your command. The police would be helpless against these products of mine.”

“Products?” demanded Big Nose in confusion. “What kind of products?”

Jin grinned with triumph. “Living glass doubles of real human beings. I call these creatures my hyaloids.”

He proceeded to describe the nature of these simulacra made of radiated silicon gel in glass form.

“I need to see them for myself,” grumbled Du Yue with scepticism.

“That will be easy to arrange. I can show you my products tonight. But I have one personal request to make of you, when we come to a business agreement over my glass duplicates.”

“What is that?” asked Big Nose with curiosity.

“There are two persons I wish eliminated once you have your own hyaloid guards.”

It was the gangster’s turn to smile. “Can be done,” he muttered from his throat.

Shanghai suffered a flood of killings in the months that followed, most of them in the underworld.

Unusual, though, were the murders of Tse Dun, the bookkeeper and President Ba Xun of the Puxi Bank.

Neither of the killings was ever solved. There were no clues or suspects. In the view of the Shanghai police, these were motiveless crimes.

Soon after, Lu Jin retired in Western China, his fortune guaranteed for life.

He had given up all claims to public recognition as creator of the first hyaloid duplicates, copies of natural human beings.

His rewards were private and secret.


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