The Sanitarian.

17 Jul

Genero Ramsi was a deeply worried man.

The plasma energy magnate was so upset and disturbed that he felt compelled to summon a renowned expert in physics to the city that was his headquarters, Caementum.

No one on his technical staff had any idea what was causing the difficult situation at the tokamak generators of the Torus Corporation.

Dr. Eale Sonion traveled to Caementum by cyclotrain, disembarking at the great asphalt terminal at the center of the metropolis. A company official met him here and escorted the scientist to the giant cement block of the Terrela Hotel.

“Have you ever been to our city before?” asked the greeter as the visitor entered the suite of rooms reserved for him at the expense of Torus. “Have you seen out twelve great tokamaks?”

“No,” replied Eale with a warm grin. “But I have read a lot over the years about the magnificent advances in tokamak construction and operation by your company here in Caementum. I cannot wait till I can visit and inspect the facilities.”

“You have an appointment early tomorrow morning to meet with our President, Mr. Ramsi. A cyclocar will be sent to pick you up and take you to corporation headquarters.”

“I will be ready,” said the physicist with enthusiasm.

Once his escort was gone, the lanky figure of the visitor moved to the silicon window and looked out over the center of the great city. In the distance, beyond the beton office and residence towers, he caught sight of two gigantic tokamak cylinders rising up into the reddish afternoon sky.

All of a sudden, Eale heard a humming sound. Someone at the door, he told himself.

As the scientist walked to the suite entrance, he wondered who it could be.

When the door was partially opened, a small, fat man in a subfusc linen suit became visible.

“Yes?” said Sonion to the stranger. “Can I help you?”

“I am a medical sanitarian who must speak with you, Doctor,” guardedly said the one in the hallway.

Perhaps out of curiosity, Eale opened the door wide and allowed the man to enter. The short, rotund stranger stopped, standing and looking directly at the plasma expert.

“There is a terrible public hazard arising at the main tokamak in Caementum,” ominously whispered the unidentified person. “Let me introduce myself first. I am Otrin Buei, head of the public health administration for the region. My purpose here today is to warn you of what my subordinates and I have discovered.”

“What are you referring to?” demanded Eale with rising emotion. “What are you hinting?”

In a fraction of a second, the sanitatian turned apprehensively silent.

The two stared at each other, both of them at a loss as to what to say next. Buei came forth with a proposal on how to proceed forward.

“I have not brought with me the reports that contain specifics, Dr. Sonion. If you wish to go through them, we can meet tonight for that purpose.”

“Can you bring them to me in my suite?” asked Eale with growing anticipation.

“No, it is best that we see each other elsewhere. There is a cantina across from this hotel, in a large block of offices. We can meet there tonight at nine. The name of the joint is the Bouse House.”

“I shall be there, then,” said the physicist.

Without saying a word, Otrin Buei turned about and left.

Resembling a barely lit cavern, the place was a beer hall for serious, dedicated drinkers engaged with schooners of pilsen, bock, lager, stout, and strong nogg ale. A few mavericks had rhum, uisge, or rye. The smell of frying mendigo and kokanee gave the room a fishy scent. Eale caught this as soon as he entered the establishment.

Scanning about, his opaline eyes discovered the pudgy man he was hunting in a far private booth. Within seconds, the pair were sitting opposite each other on the platan benches, the table between them. Otrin Buei had before him a stein of zingiber he had ordered but only taken a sip of.

“I am glad that you are here to hear me,” whispered the plump sanitarian. “Can I order you a beverage, Doctor?”

Eale shook his head, indicating that he was there only for serious discussion of the warning given him earlier.

“It has taken considerable time for me to confirm and prove to my satisfaction what I at first had only a vague, indefinite suspicion of. Only now do I possess firm, certain evidence.”

Eale gave him a searching, questioning look. “What do you think you can prove?” he asked.

The other made a stiff, self-assured grimace.

“From all the reports and my own personal observations, I must conclude that in the immediate zone around the central tokamak there is a discernible contagion of encephalitis lethargia. Do you know what that is? Have you ever read or heard of this disease?”

“No. I have not,” admitted the plasma physicist, uncertain where the conversation was heading.

“The illness is characterized by deepening fever and headaches. The central nervous system falls into increasing somnolence and lethargy. This latter condition gives the malady its name. There occurs irreversible degeneration of all the nerves in an individual. In time, a horrible death befalls every victim, without exception. Inflamation of the brain results, killing the sufferer.

“The common term for it us sleeping sickness.”

“Yes,” nodded Eale, “I have read of such epidemics back in the antique centuries. What caused this infection? Do we have any information about that?”

Buei frowned. “Down in the tropical latitudes, such outbreaks are traceable to parasitic protozoa called trypanosomes. These, of course, do not thrive here in a temperate climate. So, this disease must have a viral carrier that has not been identified yet.

“I myself have tried to find the causal factor and am still hunting for it. But when I map out the locations of all the victims so far, they congregate and center around the largest tokamak in Caementum. That is the point about which the victims happen to be arranged and oriented.”

The physicist gave him a look of puzzlement. “How can that be? What could be coming forth out of the generator of plasma energy?”

A cynical smile swept over the mouth of the other.

“I believe that you alone are the one who can discover the answer, Dr. Sonion,” said Buei in a soft, cautious whisper. “Will you work with me on this problem?” He looked pleadingly at the expert he had invited to the Bouse House.

Eale gave a nod of his head, indicating his willingness to cooperate.

The spacious office of the President of the Torus Corporation, on the top floor of the cement headquarters, had walls with Alamo paneling. A circular canoewood desk provided Genero Ramsi with working space.

An assistant ushered the newly hired plasma physicist into the high executive’s presence.

“Please take a seat,” said the burly older man, silvery eyes gleaming in his rectangular face.

Eale set himself down on a black satin sofa chair and looked directly at the energy captain. The latter began to speak slowly, dreamily, as if musing only for and to himself.

“This company, when managed by my father, was always in the position of being a pioneer in technological progress. Our tokamaks stayed leaders in magnetic confinement methods. We developed advanced toroidal chambers using axial magnetic fields in which controlled nuclear fusion occurred. Great success, both scientific and economic, came to the Torus Corporation. The energy generators here in Caementum won industrial prizes. Physicists came from everywhere to see and study our facilities.”

Ramsi paused, drawing breath and focusing his eyes on Eale Sonion.

“I came to the conclusion that the type of magnetic confinement at the center of the tokamak has gone as far as possible, that its advantages have been exhausted. So, I decided to seek some alternative system of plasma creation, a method that has not yet been fully exploited anywhere.

“I ordered that experiments be conducted in a completely different direction with promising potential. From my wide reading in the theoretical journals, I started to concentrate upon the idea of inertial confinement within a vacuum chamber. This use of the hollow, concave tank gave me great hope of leaping past the limits reached so far with magnetic force.

“For nearly a year, mt technical staff has experimented with a vacuum chamber, minus the traditional tokamak magnetism. Since some force was needed to move the newly formed plasma to customer sites, the idea arose of applying laser light for that specific function. Advantages were foreseen in that source of momentum.

“My scientific staff has tried and tried, without the expected success. Either the vacuum of the hollow chamber fails to produce sufficient plasma, or else the laser lamps cannot transport enough energy through the tubing network that exists.

“Something is not effective, and no one can say what or why.

“That is the reason that I have summoned you here: to solve the stubborn problems that stymy my present crew. They certainly need the outside aid of a leading plasma expert like you.”

His voice fell into a pleading silence. He looked at Eale with desperation.

The brain of the visiting scientist whirled and spun rapidly, coming up with an immediate answer within a few seconds.

“Yes, I am eager to see what has been done so far. There must be some important factor causing difficulty in these new plasma chambers of yours.”

Genero Ramsi surprised his guest with a bright, shining smile. “Good,” he said. “Most of the work goes on within the block of our main tokamak. I will have you taken there at once.”

The gigantic cuboid building had its beton outer walls painted a glowing yellow. A solid, unbroken silence enveloped the plasma operations of the interior. Solemnity approaching that of a cultic temple permeated all the stories of the facility.

Accompanied and guided by one of the company president’s aides, Eale walked through the main entrance and rode a levator up to the tokamak monitoring chamber. It was here that the assistant introduced him to the technical gerent in charge of energy production. The large, brawny man with wavy golden hair greeted the physicist with a glowing smile and a strong, iron handshake.

“I have spoken about your visit many times with Mr. Ramsi,” boasted the man called Cutis Larme. As the assistant left, Eale and the facility manager sat down at a console covered with gauges, dials, buttons, and levers.

“It was my proposal that someone like you be brought in,” said the director of the tokamac. “We who have experimented with the inertial system in the new vacuum chamber are at our wits’ end. The need is for a fresh intelligence to examine and reformulate our technical arrangements.”

“I have not learned the location of this innovative chamber yet,” said Eale.

“Because of its small size, we constructed it right here in this building. I will take you up to see the vacuum chamber for yourself, Dr. Sonion. It is upstairs on the top floor, immediately over the magnetic chamber that is producing a large quantity of plasma.”

Larme led the way to a levator situated nearby, and the pair ascended upward to the experimental section of the cement structure.

“This chamber is only a first attempt, set up for testing purposes,” said the gerent as they exited out of the air-propelled cage. He opened a metal door and the two went into the monitoring room containing the instruments connected to the experimental inertial chamber.

They sat down at opposite ends of a ferric table covered with papers and large diagrams.

“You can take as much time as needed to go through the plans and programming of the new inertial chamber,” smiled Cutis Larme. “I will be here to answer any questions that might occur to you.”

Eale busied himself in accounts and descriptions of the inertial hohlraum, the non-neutral torus, collisionless terellae, fusion dynamics, gyrotrons, and z-pinch pulsation. When he was finished, the gerent guided him on a tour of the monitoring devices in the room.

“Out problem is easy to describe,” said Larme with evident frustration. “The plasma produced in the test channel fails to flow outward with the force or speed of the older magnetic system.

“That is the puzzle you have been called in to solve for us, Dr. Sonion.”

“I am not sure that I can locate the reason for this difficulty,” frowned the scientist. “But I intend to focus all my skills and knowledge on looking for a solution.”

In a short while, Larne excused himself and left the newcomer to ponder what he was going to advise those who had set up this new type of plasma generation.

There was a short written massage pushed under the door of his hotel room, Eale discovered. It was an invitation from Otrin Buei to meet with him at a cabaret near the central tokamak.

Sensing an obligation to find out whether the sanitarian had anything new to report, he decided to find the bar room and hear what Buei had to tell him.

Once out on the sidewalk beside the feldspar street, Eale asked a newsstand vendor for directions. A short walk took him into a dead-end alley where a xenon sign indicated the entrance to the drinking spot. The one looking for it carefully opened the hardwood door and walked in.

Eale stopped to scan the dimly lit interior, hunting for the man who had invited him here.

A large illuminated chart high above the bar on the right side of the room listed an offering of specialty mixed drinks from which the patrons could choose: merry widow, yellow bird, stinger, lemon drop, sidecar, shandy, sea breeze, greyhound, mudslide, cosmopolitan, fuzzy navel, gin rickey, rusty nail,mimosa, red lion, and swizzle. On and on went the listing of beverage concoctions and combinations.

Otrin, waving his hand, attracted the attention of the plasma physicist. Over to the tiny round table occupied by the sanitarian moved the newly arrived Eale.

Once his new acquaintance was seated, Buei began to speak to him.

“How was your first day at the tokamak center, my friend?”

“It is hard to summarize so much. But I learned a lot about the experimental chamber.”

Eale gave him a quick rundown on the nature of the inertial compressor and its problems in energy transmission. Otrin furrowed his brow with ever more attention and concern, until his informant finished his statement.

“This is completely new to me,” said Buei, still digesting these revelations and what they meant. “But I also have some information that I only discovered this afternoon.”

Before an answer could be provided, a gossoon in black coat appeared and asked the two what they wished to order. Otrin said to make him a sling, while Eale chose a vermuth coquetel.

The two at the table remained mum until their drinks were delivered and the server was gone. Only then did the sanitarian, in a guarded whisper, reveal what he had recently uncovered.

“There exists a causal factor that no one has ever anticipated. The encephalitis is linked to the tokamak by something so small, so invisible, that up to today it was inconceivable to all minds with any background in the sciences. I had a hard time accepting the concept.”

“What concept are you talking about?” demanded Eale with rising emotion.

Buei seemed to enter into a self-induced trance of internal thinking.

“It may not be originating in the old magnetic chamber of the tokamak. In fact, this new vacuum room with inertial forces operating in it could be the source, the point of actual origin. That may explain why the infection comes and goes irregularly. The new system, as you explained to me, is experimental and not yet in continuous operation.”

Eale decided not to press for immediate satisfaction of his soaring curiosity. This man will go into what he has found out when the opportunity occurs to him. There is no way to compel him to talk before he chooses to.

At last, the moment arrived in the mind of the sanitarian to give his partner what he was waiting to hear.

“With my particle-catching apparatus, I have captured examples of something neither I nor anyone else has ever seen or studied. It is a plasma form that is submicroscopic, small enough to be termed nanic. The character of the plasmide that I have is similar to a virus. There is material that corresponds to organic DNA, a form of chromosome, but with a nature all its own.

“Think of it! I have a viroplasmid, with characteristics like that of a virus.

“It is this newly discovered thing which causes the encephalitic sleeping sickness in the vicinity of the main tokamak. Somehow still unknown to me, these viroplasmids leak through the thick cement walls, out into the city air. They are breathed in by innocent victims and become ill, as if attacked by the viruses that we know.

“That is what I understand has been happening.”

Eale, staring with fascination at his face, was unable to say anything for a considerable time.

“No one has any knowledge of the viroplasmids, then?” he said at last.

“Only you and I,” said the sanitarian.

“We must determine what we are going to do to end this danger.”

“That will not be at all easy,” stated Buei. “Torus Corporation will not be eager to shut down this new inertial chamber that causes the problem.”

Eale reached his right arm across the table, placing a hand on the other man’s.

“Let me talk about this scientific breakthrough of yours with Mr. Genero Ramsi. I want to draw his support to ending all experimentation.”

Otrin seemed to shudder. “That is not apt to succeed, I must tell you,” he whispered fearfully.

“What alternative do we have?” asked the other. “I believe the attempt has to be made.”

There was no reply to this, which placed the initiative to act upon the plasma physicist.

Early the following morning, Eale Sonion went to Cutis Larme and asked him to arrange a meeting with President Ramsi.

The gerent of the inertial chamber gave him a searching, inquiring look.

“What are you planning to talk with him about?” he gruffly demanded.

Eale groped for a satisfactory answer to this. “It is a somewhat personal matter that I wish to bring up with him. I can only tell you after we meet.”

“Very well, then,” resignedly sighed Larme.

An appointment was set up for the early afternoon at corporation headquarters.

Tense and nervous, Eale worried about what might happen next, when he confronted the magnate.

Shortly prior to noon, he climbed aboard a tramcar that took him to the rendezvous.

The climb of the levator to the top floor of the Torus Building seemed slow and laborious to him.

An assistant led the visitor into the spacious office of the company chief. The latter, working on papers at his desk, motioned to Eale to sit down. After a few seconds, he looked at him.

“You have some solution to the transmission problem in the new chamber?” asked Genero Ramsi.

The physicist drew a full supply of breath. “I have concluded that the experimental chamber suffers from serious leakage that is due to the nature of inertial generation. The operation has already caused harmful pollution and grave illness. I advise you to halt all work on this plasma system at once, before greater damage occurs.”

Ramsi gave him a look of startlement.

“How can that be? Are you only speculating wildly about this?”

“Not at all, not at all,” countered the scientist. “There has been a radical rise in the incidence of sleeping sickness in the zone about the tokamak building. The evidence is clear: inertial vacuuming increases the hazards of infection by leaking viroplastids.”

“What are you talking about?” angrily barked the President. “What is this viroplastid?”

Eale proceeded to provide a definition of the newly discovered plasma particle, not revealing the source of his knowledge of the subject. As he talked on, the face of Ramsi grew ever redder. Once the exposition by the scientist was finished, the top executive exploded in wrath.

“What you have said sounds like wild fantasy. How can I accept it? Who would believe such claims?

“My advice to you is to forget these impossible unrealities, for that is what they are. No one in his right mind would accept any of your tales, including myself.”

All of a sudden, Ramsi shot up out of his throne-like chair.

“Dr. Sonion, I am compelled to suspend you from your advisory position with this corporation. My warning to you is that these absurdities given by you be immediately taken back and forgotten. Whatever professional future you may have is imperiled. Do not try again to make me and Torus into a laughing stock.”

Without a further word being exchanged, Eale rose and swiftly departed.

Over wirephone, the physicist and the sanitarian agreed to meet at an eating establishment named the Fruit Bowl. The exotic menu here included monkey bread, jaboticaba, durian, orange loquat, yellow mamey, greengage, red rambutan, sapota, longan, and zizyphon.

The two met at the last table in the back, where a special berry bar offered bowls of wolfberry, crowberry, dewberry, dogberry, buffaloberry, serviceberry, and bearberry.

“I have bad negative news to relate,” said Eale with sadness.

It took but seconds to describe the ugly refusal of Ramsi to take any action.

“He did not believe what I told him,” moaned Eale. “And I myself am now suspended.”

Otrin gazed down at his bowl of calamondin oranges.

“I am sorry that I caused you such a result, my friend. If I had foreseen this, I would have kept my discovery from you. But now the future seems clear. The population of Caementum is going to suffer illness and death. It will turn into a mass disaster once the new system is in operation. Forgive me for having pulled you into what I should have kept to myself. It was not my intention to bring about this outcome.”

Nothing definite was agreed to before the two parted and left the Fruit Bowl.

Eale went to sleep in his Terrella Hotel bedroom in a tired, frustrated state of mind.

A thundering explosion forced him awake in the middle of his period of deep sleep. His eyes were shaken open and he looked to the outside window of the room. The sight of flames drew him out of bed and toward the vitrine surface facing the center of Caementum.

It took him time before he realized that the top of the central tokamak was spitting yellow flames into the night sky. Something of grave significance had just happened.

He could see that the highest story of the beton block was wrecked to the point of destruction. Large cracks and gaps produced strange openings in the walls of the mighty structure.

Eale quickly dressed and hurried down to the ground floor of the hotel by levator. He found a crowd of similarly awakened guests congregated there.

“A bomb went off on the top of the main tokamak!”

“Total destruction of all the experimental apparati located there!”

“Some kind of mad sabotage or crazy terrorism!”

Eale understood at once the nature of the catastrophe.

The sanitarian had somehow carried a device of his own making into the building when its security was lax after the midnight hour.

He had put a halt to the inertial system being experimented with.

Time would show whether this desperate move would end the threat to public health. And Otrin Buei himself? The only reasonable conclusion was that he had sacrificed his own life for the sake of others. What alternate was there for him?

The physicist went back to his room. Now he could leave Caementum with a sad victory in the stopping of a toxic new form of plasma energy.

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