Anticarbon

26 Aug

Liez Whau landed his space-freighter on Genero in order to fuel up on the anti-hydrogenous positronium available there, but found more than anticipated.

Once his ship was anchored in a port docking, the curious captain descended to the planetary ground and asked for directions to the supply office.

Slender and tallish, Liez sensed how different and unlike he was from the diminutive Genereans who passed by him. He tried to keep his ivy amanonthine eyes from staring at the natives.

How can these shorties be so inventively capable? the spacer wondered to himself.

His gold-colored tunic and captain’s cap distinguished him from the uniform gray clothing of the autochtons of Genero.

He motioned to a tiny old man who stopped and gave Lies directions to the firm he was to have business with, the Tuy Combine. At last, at the end of a street for pedestrians, he found the small concrete office he was hunting for.

After entering through a silico-glass door, the off-worlder identified himself to the pretty female receptionist behind a basswood desk. She pointed down a long, narrow hallway.

“You will find my father, Mr. Enc Tuy, in his office at the end, sir.”

Liez nodded his thanks to her, then proceeded according to her directions. One knock on the office door and a voice inside instructed him to enter.

Tuy was a little man in an ebony business suit, sitting behind a bamboo desk. He welcomed the captain and invited him to take a chair across from him.

“You have come to Genero to fill your tanks with positronium,” murmured the supplier, bright opal eyes shining in his circular face.

Liez recalled the round face and milky glass eyes of the lovely receptionist who had to be this man’s daughter.

“This arrival by you is most interesting to me. You see, most space captains are afraid to use positronium as their source of power. It is mostly our own vessels owned and operated by Genereans that use the substance for trans-space propulsion.

“There remains the old superstition against anti-materials such as those we produce here.”

Liez Whau decided to open up to the older man.

“I have read much about your fuel system and seen many vessels from Genero. One time, some ship officials allowed me to take a tour aboard a carrier. In a sense, I grew very jealous of the efficiency of positronium. I have no fear of using it.”

“Do you understand the nature of what my combine is producing?”

“I believe that I do,” answered Liez. “This planet is the primary pioneer in our galaxy when it comes to the combination of materials and anti-materials. Historically, the first success of your scientists came when they combined positrons and anti-positrons into a form of anti-hydrogen. That was the decisive step. After that, a stable compound of positronium was achieved. The new molecules are now connected in firm assemblies of material and anti-material. A highly dense gas with extraordinary fuel capabilities is the result, is it not?”

Tuy grinned with uninhibited pleasure.

“I am holding a reception party for local leaders tonight at my villa. Could you come? I can send a driver with a hydrowagen. What do you say?”

The captain accepted instantly.

“Fine!” smiled the businessman. “My daughter, Voa, is in charge of arrangements.”

“Yes, I met her at the office entrance.”

Liez rose and made his way out. He nodded to the young woman at the basswood desk.

The sleek emerald vehicle sped over an elevated track that spanned the central city, entering the zone of forest residences of the planet’s elite. One of the grandest mansions was the classical chastel of Tuy, surrounded by thousands of sapin trees.

Climbing out under a large, overhanging port-cochere, Liez was guided by a domestic in dark blue uniform into the enormous vestibule of the chateau. A crowd of guests stood about between glittering gilt walls. The spacer looked about, absorbing as much as he could, until Enc Tuy approached him. The little man wore a bright crimson smoking jacket and held a wine glass in his right hand.

“I am so very happy to see that you have arrived here,” gushed the host with obvious feeling. “First, let us get you something to eat and drink. Then, we can introduce you to some of the interesting guests. My daughter will be glad to guide you about the great hall.”

The pair made their way to a long table covered with eatables. A half dozen servants stood behind it, filling plates with hors d’oeuvres and casse-croutes. All of a sudden, Enc put his right hand on the elbow of Liez.

“Someone you should meet is coming this way,” whispered Tuy.

Whau turned about and faced a short but powerful figure with a cube of a head. His hair was auburn and his eyes a violet amethystine. A potency seemed to radiate out of him.

“This is our Minister of Science, Mue Osro,” announced the host, then giving the name of the off-worlder, Liez Whau.

The latter offered his hand, which the official shook with unexpected vigor.

“So, I am told that you are on Genero to load up with our unique fuel,” said the small man in a yellow uniform. “We welcome you, because there are few vessels beyond our planet willing to purchase and try anything based upon positronium.”

“I do not have the fears or superstitions of others,” boldly asserted Liez. “There is no reason, as far as I can see, to fear innovations that may pay off in the long run.”

Osro let out a hearty laugh with an echo to it.

“Yes, it is quite evident why my friend, Mr. Tuy, places such enormous confidence in you. He, too, is fearless in his attitude toward the unfamiliar and innovative.”

With that, the Minister of Science turned around and walked away.

Liez and Enc exchanged looks that were blank.

“That man is not what he claims to be,” said the businessman in a guarded whisper. “He should be called the adversary, not the friend or promoter of science.”

At the moment, Voa appeared and prevented questions by the confused guest.

She took Liez by the arm and led him into the drawing room, where a small orchestra was playing a stately pasacalle and couples forming a line.

Voa turned to the tall stranger and asked him whether he knew the steps.

“Yes, of course,” he smiled.

Soon the two were gliding along to the slow, smooth music. Liez was the tallest dancer in the room.

After several rounds on the floor, Voa invited her partner to go outdoors with her to see the formal gardens surrounding the chastel. “They are brilliantly lighted all night long,” she revealed. “The colors are especially impressive under the anti-hydrogen lamps all about.”

Liez happily accompanied her down a narrow stuccoed corridor, through a glass-paneled door, into the landscaped garden’s mown pelouse. On all sides, magnificent topiaries rose into the night, filling the sky with fantastic shapes and forms.

Both of them walked into the lawn till they were surrounded with the sculptured plants.

This is breathtaking,” the space captain said as the two sat down on a black ferric bench.

“How do you like our residence and its surroundings?” asked Voa.

“I am absolutely delighted,” Liez sighed. “Nothing like this exists on any of the planets I have ever visited. This is indescribable.”

All at once, her smile turned into a facial frown.

“It may no longer be ours soon,” she said with a slight groan.

“What do you mean, Voa?”

“My father happens to be involved in secret project that holds the possibility of ruining him financially,” she cautiously whispered. “You met our Secretary of Science?”

“Yes, I was introduced to him.”

“We invited the man here, but he is by no means a friend of my father’s. I would term him the exact opposite of a friend. His opposition and enmity are impeding the further development of my father’s initiative.”

“I fail to understand,” admitted Liez, anxious to learn all he could about what kind of project she was referring to.

“Anticarbon,” she murmured softly. “That is what the secret project of the Tuy Combine is concerned with. My father believes he is near producing a commercially feasible form of carbon that contains both material and anti-material varieties of that particular chemical element.”

Voa attempted to explain as best she could, not herself being a scientist.

“The discovery of positronium provided us with a form of antihydrogen. Now our researchers can foresee a useable kind of anticarbon. My father says that it is on the horizon. What Mue Osro fears and wishes to prevent is a combination of this new kind of carbon with the existing antihydrogen. He warns us that we may be close to the creation of the basic ingredients of living molecules, the hydrocarbons of the simplest cells with life.”

“The basic amino acids could be constructed here on Genero?” asked Liez with blazing curiosity.

“Why not? At least, that is what the Minister says he fears will happen if my father proceeds in that area.”

“Osro is blocking the progress of the project, then?”

“He refuses to authorize tests in the field, near living people. There could be possible ill effects from anticarbon that escapes, he claims. My father’s requests for experimentation permits are turned down. Mue has halted any further steps toward development of this compound substance.”

“That is unreasonable and unfair,” angrily declared the space voyager. “Can anyone do anything to remedy this absurd situation?”

She shook her head. “No. He is stubborn and will not listen to any argument from our side. Father says that he is extremely close to the manufacturers of antihydrogen and represents only their economic interest.”

“I see,” mumbled Liez, deep in thought about what he had just been told.

“Let me show you through the rest of the chastel,” proposed Voa, rising from the ferric bench.

The pair walked on through further rooms of the residence.

For the next two days, Liez supervised the pumping of antihydrogen into the several fuel tanks of his freighter. Near the end of the process, Enc Tuy appeared at the supply facility. There was a dispirited air about him, as if he had just suffered harm or injury of some sort. As soon as the two exchanged greetings and shook hands, the spacer asked the short man a sharply direct question.

“Is it something serious that is bothering you, my friend?”

The businessman appeared reluctant to begin describing his trouble. He looked about in all directions first, as if to be certain that no one could overhear them.

“An order has come down from the Ministry of Science to the Tuy Combine. It was signed by Mue Osro himself. I am commanded to halt all anti-matter research at once. No more testing or demonstrations are to be done. My laboratories will be effectively closed.”

Liez gaped in wonder. “Your daughter has told me about your work on anticarbon,” he volunteered. “Is that the cause behind what has happened?”

A fleeting grimace appeared on the drawn face of Tuy.

“When I informed her of this closure early today, Voa told me how much she has revealed to you about the opposition to our plans from Minister Osro. But now the entire business has come to a head. He has commanded an end to the program and everything connected to it. A complete, absolute prohibition of all anti-matter research is the final result.”

“For me, such action by a governmental official is appalling,” asserted the spacer. “But what can possibly be done on opposition to a legal order?”

Enc stared at him for several seconds before replying.

“Space,” he muttered. “My chemists and physicists can be placed out in interplanetary space, where no authority can interfere or impede their research. In that way, anticarbon can be constructed and perfected beyond the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Science.”

This idea struck the mind of Liez like a bolt out of the blue. “Is such a course at all practical?” he asked.

“Who knows? Who can say? Nothing similar has ever been tried from Genero. It may fail. This will be a risky gamble, no doubt about that.” He gazed intently at the face of Liez. “What do you say if I offered you a partnership in exchange for the use of your space vessel?”

The captain hesitated only a second or so, more in surprise than anything else.

“Of course,” he said with a nod. “I would be honored to assist your project.”

A bright glow spread over the face of the Generean. He raised his right hand, offering it to Liez. The latter seized hold and shook it with fervor.

The pair then went to the nearest empty office and began to lay specific plans.

At the insistence of his only child, Enc allowed Voa to join him aboard the space freighter. Under the cover of night, all the needed research equipment was brought to the docking and loaded aboard.

“How fortunate that I carry no cargo at the present time,” said Liez to the two Tuys as the three of them sat together in the navigation cabin, drinking cups of citronade.

“All the personnel and materials we need have arrived,” reported Enc with confidence. “As soon as we are in the galactic void, our research can begin.”

The captain looked up at the timer on the opposite wall. “We shall be launching off from Genero in three minutes. In a very short time, we will be beyond this planet’s jurisdiction.”

Next to speak was Enc. “I have considered what travel path would be best for us to take. My conclusion is that comet-like course is optimal. A lengthy ellipse takes us around our solar star at one end and out to the comet zone beyond the twelve planets at the other. Gravity would be a primary force in our movement, so that we could save a lot of the antihydrogen fuel that we carry.”

Voa raised a point of objection to this. “I believe that such a course will take us back through the circle of orbit of Genero, father. That could place us in some degree of danger from the Ministry of Science, I fear.”

Enc turned and faced his daughter. “I have had the calculations done by our top physicist and the distance of our planned trajectory from this planet will remain considerable, he tells me.”

The two Tuys turned to Liez, realizing that the ultimate decision was his to make.

“I see little hazard but considerable gains from the cometic orbit,” he stated decisively.

The elliptical route was the one taken by the ship set to create anticarbon.

Government House on Genero was a giant structure of solid yellow silica. Here the planetary cabinet met in an oblong room with green wallpaper, around a long table made of candlewood.

The dozen Ministers present, including the Premier, listened to the detailed report of Mue Osro. His voice grew louder as his anger increased.

“The situation created by Tuy is intolerable. He has gone into an area of atomic restructuring that holds horrible hazards for Genero. What if he returns to our planet with a form of anticarbon that ruins our present economy? What if the new substance presents us with toxic dangers to human life?

“The freighter he is using is now in long orbit around our primary. But we know that this voyage is sure to end if and when he succeeds in combining real carbon with a new anticarbon. Shall we allow this fool to destroy Genero and all it stands for?

“I am asking the cabinet to authorize my Ministry of Science to take command of our fastest defensive destroyer in order to chase down this renegade space craft. Once we have it in our sights, I intend to present an ultimatum to Mr. Tuy. Either give up his mad quest or suffer an attack of antihydrogen spray and clouding.”

General gasping arose around the table. Then, Osro presented a proposal.

“Because timing will be so important, I call for an immediate vote to affirm this plan of pursuit.”

The Premier asked for a vote by hands and the plan was unanimously adopted.

Liez was surprised to find Voa sitting alone, doing nothing, in the pantry behind the freighter’smain kitchen. She seemed to be looking nowhere in particular, an abstracted expression in her clouded opaline eyes.

“What are you doing, Voa?” he asked her. “Is there any way that I can be of help or service to you?”

She sent him a sudden, sunny smile.

“I was only sitting here, resting and thinking,” she informed him.

“What was it you were concentrating so strenuously on?” he dared ask her.

The smile instantly disappeared from her face.

“I was trying to envision the future of Genero after we go back with the anticarbon in perfected form and condition. That should be a glorious occasion. All of life will be transformed and improved. I have no doubts about that.”

It was Liez who now grinned.

“I am so glad to hear this optimistic tone from you, Voa. It convinces me that all we are doing is worthwhile, that we have taken the correct road forward.”

“My father believes that the hoped for breakthrough is near,” she told him.

“I am so glad to learn that from you,” he said in a hearty voice, his eyes focused on hers.

As he turned and walked out of the room, Liez realized how much this young woman as well as her father had come to mean to him.

The destroyer vessel from Genero was a powerful, intimidating space weapon, built for a situation of war. Its large, leaded tanks were ready to strike an enemy with clouds of inflammable antihydrogen and destroy the foe with lethal fire.

Mue Osro had absolute authority over the space ship’s course and operations.

Only two weeks of searching was necessary to locate the freighter being used by the Tuy Combine and hone in on it.

The Minister of Science seemed to be salivating, as if pretesting the revenge to come to him in the very near future.

“Prepare the antihydrogen guns for speedy discharge,” he commanded the officers of the destroyer as it headed for a rendezvous with its targeted goal. “We must be ready to shoot the gas and envelope the freighter as soon as I give the signal.”

The speed of the destroyer brought it quickly into close proximity to the other craft.

What was the situation aboard the latter as it witnessed the pursuit on its electronic monitoring system?

Fortunately, cool calculation prevented any outburst of panicky emotion.

Enc Tuy conferred on the captain’s bridge with liez Whai, his daughter present as a silent witness.

“I am racking my brain for a way out of this trap we are in,” groaned the businessman. “What can we do? The destroyer from Genero has the advantage on us.”

“The end can happen very fast, whenever that destroyer starts to emit antihydrogen in our direction,” mused Liez. “I can think of no possible defense against a storm of gaseous fir aimed at this freighter of mine.”

A short pause followed. It was broken, surprisingly, by Voa.

“There is a possibility that struck me,” she muttered. “Prthaps it is only an imaginary hope, but it deserves some consideration.”

“What are you thinking of?” gently asked her father.

“The mass of anticarbon we have produced has the characteristics of a gas. If we expelled it from the exhaust of this vessel, it might smother the antihydrogen attack and its flames.”

Enc and liez both gaped, but only for a few seconds.

The two men looked directly at each other, communicating in silence.

It was the captain of the freighter who voiced the consensus that was evident.

“Yes, I will see to it at once. It may work.” With that, Liez walked over to the intercom and began to bark out orders to the physicists and technicians on the space craft.

In less than three minutes, a protective covering of anticarbon covered all sides of the freighter, in all directions.

The first firing of antihydrogen from the destroyer proved a total failure.

No fire reached far enough to touch or encapsule the ship.

After a quarter hour of trying, Mue Osro was compelled to stop and then depart.

What could be shielding the renegade, illegal vessel? wondered the Minister of Science as he ordered the war craft back to its base on the planet Genero.

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