Aphelion Issue 224, Volume 21
December 2017 / January 2018
 
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Military Precedent?

by Thomas Wm. Hamilton




“Dung spread it, Fwedd! I have enough problems with the Raqqs’ counterattack in northern Kalifya, and reinforcing Kyuva without listening to your nonsense of paleontological silliness.”

“But General, we may have a key to a human weapon beyond anything we or the Raqqs ever dreamt of.”

“Humans? Tales for children. They vanished what? Thirty-five million years ago? If they were so great, where are they? Maybe next you’ll go back a hundred million years and send a tyrannosaur against the Raqqs? I hear trilobites were probably poisonous if you want to try 300 million years.” His growl falsified any thought he might be trying to be funny.

“They may have killed themselves with this weapon.”

“May have? You and your paleontologist fools should be shut down so we can use the resources they waste to crush the Raqqs. If the forces on Kalifya are defeated that means we’ve lost the best site for launching an invasion from the west of their continents. Which makes the invasion from Kyuva in the east a bit pointless. Next choice are those frozen islands in the north, and maybe you forgot, but Raqqs are a lot better adapted to extreme cold than we are. Beside which, they hold those islands and may be planning to invade us from them.”

General Kharg bared his teeth as he glared at a portrait of a Raqq warrior adorning a wall of his office. The sharp, pointy snout, the dark areas surrounding its eyes like a mask, gray fur, bulky body contrasted with Kharg and his people, who were slender, with a relatively flat face, brown with orange speckles on their fur, and unlike the Raqqs’ fat appendage, a slim prehensile tail. The General turned back to the situation map. He had ships contesting the northern end of the strait separating Kalifya from the Raqqs’ northern continent, but the Raqqs seemed to have an unlimited supply of naval support. He stood there muttering to himself. Those in the room could only understand his mutters when he loudly made scatological comments about Raqqs.

Fwedd took a chance, and said “This seems to have been a bomb that could destroy an entire city.”

“Dung talk. More fables for children!” He hurled a sculpture of a banana from his desk at Fwedd, who ducked and ran from the room.

Fwedd’s next move was to contact his paleontologist friend, Professor Nargyo. When informed of the General’s reaction, Nargyo said, “Not surprising, but I have some contacts in the physical sciences back at the university where I teach. Let’s see if one of them can help.”

Nargyo’s colleague, Professor Melpat, wanted to know where this paleontological finding was located. “I don’t mind a bit of travel, but your digs seem always to be in unpleasant, remote locations with a terrible climate. What’s this one?”

Nargyo had a totally innocent expression as he said, “This dig is in a major city. I trust you won’t mind staying in one of their better hotels?”

“Amazing. What city?”

“Qakh.”

“But that’s the Raqqs’ capitol!”

Fwedd giggled as Nargyo shrugged. “The site’s really on the shoreline of the island of Jibtanz.”

Melpat scowled. “Now that you’ve had your little joke, what does this discovery look like?”

Nargyo presented a photo of a twisted object which may, 35 million years ago, have been a long, sleek narrow body.

Melpat and Fwedd both exclaimed, “A submarine!”

“I think so also. Shape is often determined by use, and an underwater vehicle pretty much needs this shape.”

”So how did it end up on Jibtanz?”

Nargyo took up a professorial stance as he lectured. “Our southern continent split not too many millions of years ago. The loose piece, now the island of Jibtanz, is drifting eastward and northward. It kicked up a lot of ocean bottom, including what seems to have been this human submarine that today lies in some upraised ocean floor. The remains of human ships have been found all over the world, but this is the first one that is unquestionably military. I hope to find identifiable weapons.”

Fwedd looked puzzled. “Continents can split? How?”

“We don’t know all the details, but the Raqqs’ southern continent and ours split from one another about 300 million years ago. Just compare the coastlines. In fact, it appears Kalifya split off their northern continent just a couple million years after humans went extinct, and has been drifting northwest ever since. More recently Jibtanz split from the east side of our southern continent.”

“Assuming all this is true,” said Melpat,”I’m interested. How soon can we leave?”

Wartime travel was something of a hassle, but Fwedd used his influence as a staff officer in charge of supply, and within the month they found themselves at the only airport on Jibtanz. From there Nargyo took charge, taking them to a remote rocky outcropping on the eastern shoreline. As they traveled Nargyo said, “Our geologist colleagues recently discovered an oddity. All over the world there is a thin layer of an otherwise very rare element, iridium, right at the point where the dinosaurs disappeared. And right at the point where the humans vanished, a thin layer not of iridium, but of lead. But this isn’t ordinary lead. This is 85 to 90 percent lead 207. Most naturally occurring lead has only 16 to 20 percent of the 207 isotope.”

“Sounds like you and your geologist friends are invading my field,” Melpat said. “Any theories of why the lead should be odd?”

Nargyo looked puzzled. “I was just bringing Fwedd up to date. I’m sure you were consulted by the geologists about this.”

“True enough, but I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation for the isotopic imbalance. We do know that some isotopes of lead are the final stage of radioactive decay of uranium or other radioactive elements, but lead 207 is only the result of decay from a recently created artificial element, number 94. It’s created when we hit uranium’s most common isotope with helium ions.”

“Artificial element?”

“It can’t exist in nature, we create it, thus ‘artificial’“.

“Why can’t it exist naturally?”

Melpat sighed. “I feel like I’m teaching introductory physics. It decays so fast half is gone in about 21,000 years.”

Nargyo said, “Then in 35 million years lots of lead 207 where this element 94 was!”

Fwedd tried to bring this back to his concern. “Could element 94 have been used in some sort of weapon?”

Nargyo waved his tail in doubt. Melpat looked thoughtful.

When they arrived at the shorefront site they found workers engaged in removing rocks and dirt from around the supposed 35 million year old submarine, with a naval captain supervising. He walked over to the group and introduced himself. “I’m Captain Bwagharo of the Submarine Command. We hope to see if the humans knew anything about submarines that we could learn from.”

The group’s members introduced themselves. Melpat asked if any large deposits of lead had been found in or around the artifact. Bwagharo’s tail perked up as he said, “Interesting you should ask. We found four lumps of lead. Two seem to have been in what may have been torpedoes. One looks a bit like the torpedoes, but it seems to be aimed straight up, which makes no sense. Why would a submarine go directly underneath an enemy ship to fire a torpedo? Anyhow, the last one seems to have been part of their power system, which I don’t understand.”

The new arrivals had no answers for either problem.

Nargyo then said, “Why would their torpedoes have used element 94? Does it make an explosive?”

Only Melpat looked as though he might have an answer, but did not speak.

The group watched the workers briefly, and then went to the headquarters Bwagharo had established in a temporary shack. The discussion centered on the presumptive vertical torpedo briefly. When that proved fruitless, they tried to figure out how this extinct element 94 could have served as both a weapon and a power source. Melpat finally said, “One of my colleagues back at the university has been trying to interest the government in experimenting with the possibility that 94 may in fact cause an explosion if a large enough mass is hit with neutrons. The atom would fission with an enormous release of energy. The lead in this human artifact suggests to me that they were using 94 as a powerful weapon.”

Fwedd said, “As a supply officer, my first thought is how do we get enough of 94 to make one of these weapons?”

Nargyo added, “What besides an enormous explosion might result? Why would the humans have made such explosions over every inch of the planet, because we find a thin layer of lead 207 everywhere.”

Fwedd said, “We’ve had wars within our race. So have the Raqqs. No reason to assume the humans didn’t also.”

Melpat said, “I agree, especially with this lead 207 found everywhere.”

Bhwagharo asked, “In addition to exploding, could this element 94 somehow be a power source?”

“It would be a source of heat, so I suppose you could figure out a way to harness that to power machinery--even,” Melpat added, “a submarine.”

“But what about creating an explosion?”

“Look around us,” Melpat said. “We’re out in this dung forsaken beach on a dung forsaken island. Do you see any of my technical materials or reference books? I need to get back to my office so I can research this. Little work has been done on element 94; it doesn’t even have a proper name yet. Give me a few weeks of research and consultation with colleagues.”

That pretty well squelched further discussion on element 94, lead 207, or potential mysterious explosives. Further investigation centered on the strange “vertical” torpedo, and the power source of the human submarine.

Melpat was not heard from for weeks after returning home, but finally contacted Fwedd. “I’ll spare you the technical details, but it appears that a sufficient amount of element 94 can be made to explode in an enormous and violent process. I estimate an amount not weighing more than a small artillery shell could destroy an entire city the size of the Raqqs’ capitol, or of ours, for that matter.”

Fwedd caught his breath in excitement. “Can we make enough of this artificial element to build such a bomb?”

“It would be expensive, but it can be done. But I have been consulting with geologists about that lead 207 layer. They suggest that in addition to the known meteor craters scattered around the world, there are also hundreds of mostly heavily eroded craters that have no obvious connection to meteors or to volcanoes. Their pattern suggests they were possibly formed all at the same time, and were made artificially.”

“You mean the humans used some of these element 94 super bombs to make these craters?”

“That or something even worse.”

Fwedd’s excitement was unbounded as he contemplated bringing this news to General Kharg. “How soon do you think we could start making these super bombs?”

“Probably we could have useful weapons within three years of starting work. But we had best consider the danger. Humans seem to have used such bombs, based on the lead 207 layer and look what happened to them.”


THE END


2017 Thomas Wm. Hamilton

Bio: Mr. Mr. Thomas Wm. Hamilton is a retired astronomer. Educated at Columbia University, he worked for three years on the Apollo Project defining radar accuracy requirements, fuel usage, and other details. He then wrote canned planetarium shows for a planetarium manufacturer, followed by 34 years of college teaching and running planetariums. Since retirement he has authored six books on astronomical topics, a time travel novel, and an anthology of satire, humor, fantasy and SF. Asteroid 4897 was named for him, and he is a Fellow of the International Planetarium Society.

E-mail: Thomas Wm. Hamilton

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