11.71% Age of Cosmic Exploration / Chapter 56: Hero

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Chapter 56: Hero

Translator: Lonelytree, _Dark_Angel_ Editor: Lucas

In his sharp suit, specially-made spectacles, and handsome comb-over, Aleson, aged fifty then, looked more like a successful businessman than a scientist. The silvery streaks in his hair only added to his general air of stateliness… Nevertheless, that observation might not have been completely false. His team had just invented a new type of superconductor. Its patent alone could ensure Aleson a comfortable life of wealth until his death.

He had just come out of a meeting with important government personnel. Due to the success of his latest research, his request for more grant money was permitted. He also managed to negotiate to have the few obstinate interns in his team fired. He demanded that they be switched out with people that he was comfortable working with, interns that he knew he could bully into submission…

“These ingrates have to be taught a lesson. It is not talent but social sensitivity that will get you places in life,” mumbled Aleson as he flipped through the newspaper. He was en route to fetch his grandson.

Then, Aleson heard the news about the fire…

He heard those words that shook his heart…

He saw his badly burnt but still breathing grandson being carried away on a stretcher…

He witnessed the school’s collapse and, with it, the firemen’s final deed…

That day, Aleson also witnessed himself changing.

He became even more stringent in his work. His team had a 360 degree change as he replaced all the bootlickers. The sole thing that remained constant was his absurdly high standard…

He started nitpicking research results and lab supplies, alienating his government buddies and fellow colleagues in the process. The high standard he held himself and his team did help him finish many projects, but it also isolated him as a pariah within the scientific community. Even though his track record was indubitably impressive, no one was willing to work with him. He had said it was he who refused to accept the invitation from the US government when they escaped Earth, but reality was, it never their intention to take him along.

So it was to everyone’s surprise that such an exiled figure would selflessly volunteer to lead what was essentially a suicidal experiment.

Preparation for the fated experiment was going well underway. Using Ivan’s chemical formula, Hannah had concocted ten sets of potions that could be easily diluted or concentrated according to the situation. Yuan Pin, with Bo Li’s aid, was preparing the alien plant sample. Silewei was busy splicing the energy crystal into crystals of different sizes, starting from the smallest 0.01 cubic millimeters to the biggest 10 cubic millimeters.

“Alright, everybody, now that the preparations are complete, I will need to focus on the circuit’s voltage changes. The practical part of the experiment, I shall leave it in your hands,” said Aleson.

Of the remaining four, Silewei was the most senior, but the person most suited for this experiment was the Chinese biologist, Yuan Pin. His ZH hybrid rice plant was deemed one of the best inventions of the decade for being able to single-handedly solves much of earth’s dwindling food supply dilemma. He was undoubtedly the unnamed leader for this part of the experiment.

“Okay, then let us begin,” Yuan Pin said with a sigh, his breath fogging the glass panel before him.

The shuttle’s interior had been repurposed into a small laboratory. In the center, an area was insulated by walls of glass panels. By using mechanical arms, the scientists could conduct the dangerous experiment from a distance. Nevertheless, this was, mostly, for show. A flimsy glass panel wouldn’t be able to provide much protection in the case of plasmatic explosion.

Yuan Pin retrieved the alien plant sample from the freezer and situated it within a petri dish. The moment the frozen acid around it started to thaw, the plant started squirming. It would take less than ten seconds for the plant to become fully activated and start eating through its surrounding.

Yuan Pin took over the potion that Hannah’s mechanical arm handed him. It was the most diluted of all the potions. Simultaneously, Sileiwei cautiously dropped an energy crystal among the mass of plant. The 0.01 cubic millimeter crystal was so small that it was impossible to catch with naked eye.

Thankfully, everything that was happening in the isolated area was projected on a separate screen. The video was, of course, appropriately magnified. When both crystal and acid were poured onto the plant, it stopped moving. Nevertheless, moments later, its gyration continued. However, its focus had switched to consume the crystal. By the side of the room, Aleson’s eyes almost bulged out of their sockets from staring so intently at the voltage gauge.

About ten seconds later, the crystal had completely disappeared. Aleson shook his head, saying, “I’m sorry, there was no electrical response. The crystal was too small. Our previous hypothesis is correct. When the energy released was too small, it will be consumed by the plant itself. It is not a superconductor, so it still offers a certain degree of resistance.”

Everyone looked defeated, but Yuan Pin said calmly, “No worries, science is all trial and error… This time we’ll use the 0.02 cubic millimeters crystal. Prepare me another potion, but use the same amount of dilution.”

And thus began the second experiment…

Time trudged stubbornly on. Unlike the people on the Hope, the scientists on the shuttle had paid it no heed; they were too caught up in the experiment. The rest of the Academy, however, stood by the window biting their nails waiting for updates. However, surrounded by the nebula, they knew the updates that they were bitterly waiting for would not arrive. They had to contend with one conclusive end result.

They had been waiting for a full four hours. Tension was high and senses were frayed. A few older scientists had to excuse themselves from sheer exhaustion. Yao Yuan decided to allow the scientists to rest. In the end, only the Black Star Unit, Jay and a few others remained, waiting for the dreaded result.

“Initiating experiment number 89. We have a 0.05 cubic millimeters energy crystal and potion with a scale-seven dilution.”

Yuan Yin’s low voice echoed through the room. In the isolated room, another crystal and splash of acid were dropped onto the plant. The crystal disintegrated in the blink of an eye and the plant grew slightly bigger. Nevertheless, it still released no energy.

Yuan Pin sighed. “We failed again.”

The sigh was echoed by everyone in the room. Aleson said, agitatedly, “This is impossible. I’ve been to the exploded lab; it was indeed caused by a plasmatic explosion. Why isn’t it releasing any electrical energy now? Have we missed a step? Or is the chemical formula faulty?”

Hannah replied, “The formula is correct because the plant did indeed choose to break down the energy crystal and not its surrounding glass or metal. This proves that the reversal crystallization was a success, but for some reason, the plant absorbs all the energy instead of releasing it outward… Why is that?”

“You’re right.” Silewei frowned. “Is there any difference between our experiments and Ivan’s?”

The trio turned to Bo Li in unison. Perhaps unconsciously, despite being men and women of science, they had hoped the superhuman power of their lab assistant could lead them out of this impasse. They could use any form of help then, even the supernatural ones that they on principles didn’t set store by.

Bo Li didn’t return their gaze but stared blankly ahead at the clump of plant. After a long while, she said, “I’m sorry, professors. I can’t hear anything in my mind at the moment. I just feel that… we are on the right track. Perhaps our mistake was we were being too careful. We already know the plant will self-absorb energy during the crystallization process, so perhaps we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves to using crystals that are smaller than 0.1 cubic millimeters.”

The four professors turned to look at one another and Aleson started guffawing. “Indeed, the girl is right. We are already laying our lives on the line here, so why the restraint? Perhaps we’re still afraid. Anyway, I second Bo Li’s suggestion. We continue with something bigger.”

After some more deliberation, they agreed upon using a 0.1 cubic millimeters crystal. As the reagents tipped into the petri dish…

Electrical sparks started bursting on the plant’s surface as it consumed half of the crystal. Then the plant started glowing. Without wasting a second, Aleson connected his circuit to the plant, and the moment they touched, his voltage gauge instantly recorded a high current reading.

“There is it!” Shedding his air of solemnity, Aleson started cheering like a child in a candy store.

Smiles started appearing on everyone’s faces, but before they could celebrate, the plant’s glow suddenly grew in intensity and the reading on Aleson’s gauge went off the charts. Following a crisp pop, the gauge blew into smithereens, blasting Aleson two to three feet back. The energy had overloaded the circuit.

Even though they knew the crystal could store an astronomically high amount of energy, they never expected it to be this much! The circuit that was specially forged couldn’t withhold the released energy?! This was a conundrum that they didn’t see coming!

They immediately started devising a plan, but it was already too late. The plant had consumed the whole crystal. Stray currents were surging through the air. Explosion was imminent.

Aleson picked himself up and ran towards the control panel for the mechanical arm. With an amazing speed, multiple circuit connectors were jammed into the plants. The plant’s glow dimmed, but that was not the end of their troubles. The plant was inching towards the remaining crystals that were shaken loose from Silewei’s mechanical arm during the blast. If it consumed those 8 to 9 cubic millimeters crystals, the destruction that it could cause would be beyond calculable.

Right then, a voice whispered in Bo Li’s ear.

“The chemical potions! Their concentration! They are too diluted! If they are more concentrated, they can stop the plant! Quick!” yelled Bo Li.

Everyone started moving, especially Hannah. The almost fifty-year-old chemist rushed to her station and splashed the plant with her strongest potion. It was as Bo Li had said, the plant stopped moving the moment it was hit with the acid. Ten seconds later, the plant was completely lulled back into inactivity. There was no glow left.

As all of this went down, people on the Hope saw lights bursting from within the shuttle. Even against the glowing nebula, it shone so brightly…

The shuttle returned to the Hope six hours and thirty two minutes after their initial departure. They brought back with them the data, ratios, and compositions necessary for the Academy to safely induce the reverse crystallization process within the plant. Without most of the Hope knowing, this team of six had helped it survive another crisis…

Six hours and forty seven minutes after their first experiment, Professor Aleson was declared dead due to heart failure that was caused by electrical shock. At age 72, he was decorated a hero and had his name recorded into the Hope’s Memorial Hall. It was a remembrance of his selfless contribution to the continuity of humanity…

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