The Philosopher’s Stone?
Yet another spectacular event was staged today by the Yorkshire engineer and inventor Kevin Spout. This one took place in a meadow three miles from his home. As usual, a group of science reporters attended, as did many members of the lay public.
Kevin stood by the side of a metal box, eight feet long, six feet wide and five feet in height. When the gathering had settled down and was paying attention, he began his address. “You are about to see something that will revolutionise all our lives,” he beamed. “The machine here is my latest creation. I call it a combinator. The idea for it came to me after I read an article about 3D printing. It took me only a few minutes to realise that, impressive though this is, it does not go far enough.
“I reasoned that what we really need is a device that will convert any substance to any other. I am delighted to say that within a week of getting the notion, I had built this prototype. It will process a large variety of materials. In due course I shall produce a more advanced model that will have a virtually unlimited range.”
At this point, one of the journalists asked whether the combinator could turn anything into gold. “Not yet,” Kevin replied. “At present I am limited to solids in a certain spectrum of relative densities, meaning the weights of various things compared to that of water, which is the standard and therefore number one. For example, iron is 7.8 times as dense as water, so that is its ranking. By coincidence, it is also the maximum reach of my current model, which starts with the lightest metal, lithium. I shall later build a version capable of producing gold, which has a relative density of 19.3, though to do so I shall need to start from a heavy base, such as lead, which is 11.3 on the scale.”
Kevin’s words brought gasps of amazement from the crowd. Might he be close to revealing the long-sought philosopher’s stone? He did not elaborate on that theme, but said that he had in mind something more mundane, though of immense social value. He added that his aim was to use most of the materials that are currently discarded and process them to produce a great deal of strong and durable matter, which he claims could be deployed to increase the Earth’s landmass. “Just think of it,” he said. “We could corral all the rubbish that’s floating in our oceans and convert it to something capable of supporting buildings. That would help to alleviate the problem of overcrowding, but for now I will proceed with my demonstration.”
With the onlookers agog, Kevin asked the science contingent to move to a position twenty yards west of the combinator. Other attendees were requested to retreat beyond the meadow’s perimeter. When everyone had complied, Kevin stood by the apparatus and completed his introduction. “You will see,” he said, “that there is a slot like a large letterbox at one end of my machine. That is to discharge the product, which emerges somewhat like semi-dried concrete, then hardens on exposure to air. It is therefore far different from the household waste with which, as you saw a few minutes ago, the appliance was loaded by my cousin, Donald, who is helping me with this project. Incidentally, the assembly rests on a rotatable base, so the extrusion slot can be swung to any desired direction. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to get a glimpse of the future. Here we go.”
With a flourish, Kevin pressed the combinator’s starter button. For five minutes the machine emitted a low rumbling noise, then it swivelled ninety degrees on its base and ejected a stream of malodorous grey slime. That was unfortunate for the reporters who were facing the extrusion slot. All but one of them were splattered liberally with the emission. The exception was a fellow who had dived behind the others. Sadly for him, three of them fell backwards, landed on him and injured both his body and his dignity.
Kevin switched off the machine, apologised for the mishap and began to investigate what had gone wrong. Within half an hour, he was able to report his finding and announced: “It was a simple oversight. The combinator’s main components are the masher that pulps the raw material, the compactor that presses and forms it and drives out most of the water content, and the extruder that does what its name implies. The three parts are activated serially, so that as one finishes, the next one starts. I’m sorry to say Donald failed to install the connector between the first and second components, so the latter was bypassed and the mashed substance was ejected without being compacted. It is but a triviality which I shall correct this evening. If you care to come again tomorrow, you will be able to witness the real thing.”
Madazine’s occasional science reporter, Axel Griess, had watched the event from a neighbouring field. He was later found on a nearby park bench, surrounded by empty cider bottles. Asked to give his opinion, he said: “Another dud demo from the champion chump. The worst thing about this is that I was getting tanked up in an effort to return to the detox centre, where I usually have a good time. Kevin’s blundering has shaken me back to sobriety, so I’ll have to restart my binge and that will cost me plenty. There is no chance that I shall be in attendance tomorrow. Just as well, since that will spare me the likelihood of injury. Sooner or later, Kevin will be confined to a place where he can do no further harm.”
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