Sleeping Giants Page 28

—Well, I couldn’t just leave him alone out there. He had to know that people still cared about him. He seemed genuinely surprised to see me. He feels such shame over what he did; I don’t think he expected anyone to show any concern over him.

He says the worst part is that he remembers everything about that night. The hours before are either fuzzy or completely missing from his memory, but somehow the alcohol didn’t erase a single detail about the crash. He can still see Vincent’s face when the truck hit. I told him I would visit him again if he let me.

—Mr. Couture is also very forgiving, considering. That seems to be a common trait in the scientific community. I assume Chief Resnik did not join you.

—No, she didn’t, but it’s different for her. She feels…responsible. And I wouldn’t go so far as saying I forgive him. I think what he did is appalling. I also know everything he’s been through. Surely, you can understand that.

—I understand that these are unusual circumstances and that heightened emotions are to be expected. I understand that a strong feeling of attraction can easily develop in stressful situations and that the associated loss can also be proportionally amplified. I also understand that under the same circumstances, you, Ms. Resnik, and Mr. Couture have not attempted to murder anyone. Mr. Mitchell tried to kill one of his coworkers, showed reckless disregard for the life of an Army soldier, and jeopardized what could be the most significant endeavor in modern history. I believe I understand perfectly.

—Maybe you’re right. I just think that’s not all he is. What he did, however horrifying, doesn’t have to negate every other day of his life. He has a family, a mother that brought him into the world, fed him, bathed him. She dressed him for school. She drove him to soccer practice. You can’t expect her to see this in black-and-white. She can’t. Neither can I. I refuse to think of him in such simple terms.

You thought he was good enough before. Well, before hasn’t changed. Everything he did, up until that day, is still true. Ryan knows he didn’t just hurt Vincent, that he left a whole lot of lives in shambles. He has to live with that. I think that’s punishment enough.

—Let us agree to disagree. I did not come here to discuss Mr. Mitchell, nor your emotional response to his current predicament. There were reports of an incident in the laboratory.

—You could call it that. Work on the console has completely stopped without Vincent. Kara was getting restless having no one to train with. The lab feels really empty now that Alyssa’s gone.

—Where is Ms. Papantoniou?

—I thought you knew. Her work visa was revoked. Some technicality. She was sent back to Greece on Monday.

—I am sorry to hear that. I heard she was a brilliant scientist.

—She was. She had a hard time connecting with anyone, though; I don’t think she had any friends here. I’ll admit she was hard to deal with. She had really strong feelings about the way things should be done, but a lot of the progress we’ve made recently was based on her ideas.

—I did not know that.

—Yes. Since we found the second piece, all our attention has been focused on the robot itself. With Vincent unable to train, Alyssa suggested we take the opportunity to go back to the metal. We already know the parts activate in contact with radioactive material, but she wanted to know if it had anything to do with what they’re made of. Anyway, now that it’s just the two of us in the lab, I decided to have Kara help me run some experiments Alyssa had designed.

—I am somewhat perplexed. Did you not perform a metallurgical analysis of the material early on?

—I did, several times. Every piece is a solid block of metal, 89 percent iridium, 9.5 percent iron, 1.5 percent other heavy metals. I could go on about the physical properties of that alloy until morning. Only nothing I would say would mean anything because we know for a fact that it can’t be true. This alloy should weigh ten times more. Metal doesn’t shine light in fancy little patterns, and it sure doesn’t move when you put pieces of it together. What science we do have tells us we’re looking at a solid chunk of metal, but this has all the physical properties of a complex mechanism.

So I’m trying to devise experiments to find out more than what metallurgy says I can find out. I know it sounds a little iffy, and it should. I’m making this up as I go along.

I first exposed one of the panels to plutonium-238 and measured its light output. It turns out the parts don’t just activate with radioactive material, they feed off it—any kind of nuclear energy, it would seem. Exposure to even a small amount of radiation increased the light output of the panel by about half a percent.

—Is that how these things power themselves?

—That would be my guess, but that’s not the interesting part. We had originally managed to cut a small speck off one of the panels for analysis. I had it encased in transparent resin afterward. It was just sitting on my desk as a paperweight. When we noticed an increase in luminosity in the panels, I had the idea to measure how much energy the material could absorb. I put the fragment in a closed environment in direct contact with the plutonium. It turns out the metal does absorb radiation, but it saturates fairly quickly and needs to release the superfluous energy.

Upon discharge, it emits a very strong electromagnetic pulse. It knocked out the two computers that were in the room. It’s possible the parts emit the same kind of pulse when they activate. It could be what brought down Kara’s helicopter in Turkey, though an EMP wouldn’t explain why her engine failed. Now that I know what to expect, I’ll monitor anything I can think of. I’d also like to see if it feeds off other types of energy.

—If it had not been made a cliché by another fellow, I would call this fascinating.

—I’m glad you like that. But that’s not even the good part. What’s really interesting is that it also generates a strong energy field, strong enough to destroy surrounding objects.

—What do you mean by “destroy”? Like an explosion?

—No. Nothing explodes. The stuff around it is just…gone, vaporized, without vapor. I was running the experiment in a glass-enclosed environment. It made a perfect spherical hole in the glass—surgically precise, like a laser. There is no ash, no debris, no trace that the missing matter ever existed.

—How much energy could the entire robot absorb?

—A whole lot. If that little speck of metal can discharge enough energy to make a one-foot hole, I can’t begin to imagine how much energy kilotons of this material can swallow. Obviously, I can’t place any instruments anywhere near it, but once I figure out a way to measure the energy output from the small shard, I can extrapolate a figure for the entire thing.

—Could the robot withstand a hit from a missile or a bomb?

—It’s complicated. Conventional weapons will generate heat, but most of the damage usually comes from kinetic energy. I have absolutely no idea how it handles kinetic energy. I can run some experiments. It might be as simple as putting a sledge to the panels and measuring the light output. I’ll think of something.

I can tell you we applied some insane amounts of pressure trying to cut a piece off one of the panels. I really don’t see how a shock wave could seriously damage her. It might knock her on her back if it’s powerful enough. I just don’t know enough about weapons.

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