Glassmen

24 Mar

“Djebel City is the home of two major glassworks,” explained the nanoscientist named Qsar. “We at Polyvitrics produce vitrified metals, while General Hyaline is the maker of construction briques and concrete as they have been from ages past.”

The toweringly tall specialist looked out at the seated potential investors from scores of other centers of urban life all over the planet.

“Our Polyvitrics managers and researchers have always been on the frontier of discovery and innovation,” he continued, his voice rising in pitch and volume. “We today invite all of you to take part in the financing of the next chapter of industrial advancement here on Irides, the manufacture of economically practical glass serviles that can take over the heavy, boring physical labor of contemporary life. Such vitric menials, with gyromagnetic brains, will shape industrial activity for centuries to come.”

The end of his appeal for money was met with enthusiastic clapping.

But no one present volunteered any new investment in the highly speculative project outlined to them by Dr. Qsar.

Vitric skytowers rose in a majestic panorama. Glass locomobiles raced along autoroutes of the same semitransparent substance. Similarly constructed aerodynes flew over Djebel City, above electrotrain lines that carried commuters and freight. In all directions, individual houses of hyalobrique sported a rainbow of implanted colors. Most of the building materials were products of General Hyaline, whose main researcher was a chemist named Athe. This corpulent, nearly bald figure took direct action as soon as he received reports on what Qsar was rumored to be developing at Polyvitrics.

He ordered an untraceable break-in at the central laboratory of his competitor, his aim being to find out how near his rival scientists were to making serviles out of glass.

Bad news from his industrial spies alarmed Athe into desperate, unthinking reaction.

“There is but one guaranteed way of stopping them,” he told his management executives.

“What is that?” one of them asked him.

“You do not want to know,” replied Atte with an evil sneer.

As was his daily habit, Qasr drove home to his skytower apartment in his sporty magnetocar of bright red vitric metal, making it to his parking space on the underground level.

All of a sudden, a gigantic black camion stood in front of him, forcing a fast braking on his part. What is going on? the nanomaterial researcher asked himself.

He instantly found out as three men in full face masks came toward him and his vehicle.

“Do not resist, but climb out at once,” shouted their huge leader.

Qsar hesitated several moments, but then caught sight of the electroparalyzers that all the members of the trio were carrying.

As soon as the perplexed, disoriented scientist was in their power, one of them bound his wrists behind him with vitric rope. Into the rear of the camion his abductors took their prize, then off they rumbled into the side streets of Djebel City.

So that Qsar would have no knowledge of where they were headed, one of his kidnappers placed a cellulose hood over his head.

I am entering the zone of the unknown, the victim said to himself.

It was not a stranger who came to the small cell to do the questioning, but Athe himself.

Qsar had often seen this foe at conferences and on the telescreen, but never met or spoken to the fat man in charge of General Hyaline’s research activities.

What can this archenemy be after? he wondered. Then the answer struck the prisoner’s mind. He wants the secret discoveries made in my research on the glass servile.

That has to be his aim, nothing else.

Athe sat down at one end of a small glass table and motioned to Qsar to take the toonwood chair across from him.

“You recognize who I am?” asked the captor.

“Of course. And I can imagine what it is you are after with your criminal action.”

The weighty one sneered with disdain. “We can save a lot of time if you speak candidly. What makes you think I will not go to the police when I am released by you? I fear that my coming murder will prevent my doing so, though.”

Unexpectedly, Athe grinned slyly. “Do not think so cynically, my good man. There will be no evidence of what you may claim was done to you. The police will look at you with nervous suspicion. Were you hallucinating from some substance overdose? Are you merely trying to damage the reputation of your main competitor? I doubt that even the electro-news correspondents will believe such an unrealistic, insane accusation.

“You see, then, why I do not fear letting you go?”

The two scientists glared coldly at each other.

“I do not intend to reveal anything at all,” sternly announced Qsar, challenging the other with his steel-blue eyes.

Athe suddenly rose out of his chair and leaned forward over the vitric table.

“I know for certain that no artificial servile can be made purely out of glass. You have to be using some chemical substance that has undergone molecular vitrification. To approximate human flesh, it will have to possess properties that have both strength and flexibility. My first guess is that you are nanoprocessing some metal or compound of metals. Am I correct as to that?”

No reply came from Qsar, whose face remained stolid and expressionless.

Athe started for the door of vitrified iron. “I see that you will be difficult,” whispered the man from General Hyaline, as if to himself.

A professional interrogator hired from Djebel City’s most powerful criminal syndicate questioned Qsar repeatedly on possible materials that could be used. The prisoner was grilled separately on a variety of metals from aluminum to zinc. After three days, that type of probe was exhausted without success.

Athe went on to vitrified wood and came up with similar results. In frustration, he went on to synthetic polymers of increasing complexity. A week of this interrogation ended in disappointment of the hopes of the industrial abductor.

Meantime, the prisoner pondered how he was ever to free himself from confinement. His mind carried out thought experiments that provided him possible means of escape. Yet each of these was rejected as impractical except for one simple way out that might be accomplished.

Why not give an imaginary solution that could be made to seem a possible answer?

Smiling to himself in his locked cell, Qsar dreamed up something he believed might work. But it was necessary to make it look like the product of successful questioning, something surrendered after long, excruciating pain with stubborn reluctance.

I have to become a convincing actor able to pretend, he said to himself.

All that morning, Qsar waited for the right moment to make his revelation to those holding him.

“Tell me whether the servile will consist of a mineral-based substance of some sort,” demanded Athe. “Just name it for me and you will be a free man again.”

The nanomaterial researcher held back until he considered it the right moment to speak.

“Vitrified amber,” he whispered. “That is the material for the body of the artificial servile.”

Athe looked astounded. “That is it? Something that simple?”

The response was an affirming nod from the victim of the abduction and questioning.

“Shall I now be released? Will you keep to your word?”

The answer was a cruel smile. “First, I must get some verification of what you just told me.”

No sleep came to Qsar that night. He rolled about on his cell cot, his mind in a state of anxious anticipation.

Would his lie be uncovered? Would Athe be able to prove that amber was not the right substance for construction of a glass servile, even when molecular vitrification was successfully completed?

Qsar held his breath when his rival entered his cell at long last.

“I think that what you revealed to me is fully credible,” began Athe, his face seeming to glow with triumphant  satisfaction. “The preliminary results from the vitrification of amber have been more than satisfactory. I believe we now have the answer to the great mystery about building a servile of glass.”

“But what are you going to do with me now?” impatiently demanded the prisoner in a sharp, loud tone of voice.

“Do not worry over that,” replied Athe. “I have nothing to fear from you once you are free. Who would believe a fabulous tale of kidnapping by me and my association? Everyone will consider you delusional, off on a wild lark you are trying to erase from memory.

“I am too respected and respectable to be suspected of any such crime.”

“When can I leave, then?” nervously asked Qsar.

“Today, within the hour. My own gyrocar will transport you home to your apartment.”

For the first time in over a week, the scientist kept a captive smiled.

Out of fear of being disbelieved and laughed at, Qsar stayed silent about what had happened to him. He concentrated on his laboratory work and found that the effort to construct a servile out of nothing but silicon glass was failing. No method of accomplishing the feat could be discovered. What had seemed so promising was now collapsing in ruin.

Qsar was forced to conclude that he had been too optimistic about the prospects for that method.

It was almost a year later, just before leaving in the morning for the laboratory, that Qsar turned on his apartment telescreen to catch a news broadcast.

What was being reported shook him to the core.

“General Hyaline has announced the successful development of a humanlike servile. The composition of its body material remains unknown, but is understood to be a vitrified material…”

Qsar instantaneously knew what it was: the glassified amber he had dreamed up as an interrogated prisoner. It had been a product of his desperate imagination, but it had worked.

How could anything that uncanny have happened? The scientist flailed himself. He had never tested what his fancy had dreamed up out of fearful necessity.

He had concocted a fiction that turned out to be a workable solution.

Had the real answer been laying hidden in his unconscious mind, unrecognized and unrealized?

There was no way he would ever know that.

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