home   |   -   |   A-Z   |  

9. Filament

You nearly gave me a heart attack, said Rajasinghe accusingly, as he poured the morning coffee. At first I thought you had some anti-gravity device but even I know that's impossible. How did you do it?

My apologies, Morgan answered with a smile. If I'd known you were watching, I'd have warned you though the whole exercise was entirely unplanned. I'd merely intended to take a scramble over the Rock, but then I got intrigued by that stone bench. I wondered why it was on the very edge of the cliff and started to explore.

There's no mystery about it. At one time there was a floor probably wood extending outwards, and a flight of steps leading down to the frescoes from the summit. You can still see the grooves where it was keyed into the rock-face.

So I discovered, said Morgan a little ruefully. I might have guessed that someone would have found that out already.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, thought Rajasinghe. That crazy and energetic Englishman Arnold Lethbridge, Taprobane's first Director of Archaeology. He had himself lowered down the face of the Rock, exactly as you did. Well, not exactly

Morgan had now produced the metal box that had allowed him to perform his miracle. Its only features were a few press-buttons, and a small readout panel; it looked for all the world like some form of simple communications device.

This is it, he said proudly. Since you saw me make a hundred-metre vertical walk, you must have a very good idea how it operates.

Commonsense gave me one answer, but even my excellent telescope didn't confirm it. I could have sworn there was absolutely nothing supporting you.

That wasn't the demonstration I'd intended, but it must have been effective. Now for my standard sales-pitch-please hook your finger through this ring.

Rajasinghe hesitated; Morgan was holding the small metal torus about twice the size of an ordinary wedding-ring almost as if it was electrified.

Will it give me a shock? he asked.

Not a shock but perhaps a surprise. Try to pull it away from me.

Rather gingerly, Rajasinghe took hold of the ring then almost dropped it. For it seemed alive; it was straining towards Morgan or, rather, towards the box that the engineer was holding in his hand. Then the box gave a slight whirring noise, and Rajasinghe felt his finger being dragged forward by some mysterious force. Magnetism? he asked himself. Of course not; no magnets could behave in this fashion. His tentative but improbable theory was correct; indeed, there was really no alternative explanation. They were engaged in a perfectly straightforward tug-of-war but with an invisible rope.

Though Rajasinghe strained his eyes, he could see no trace of any thread or wire connecting the ring through which his finger was hooked and the box which Morgan was operating like a fisherman reeling in his catch. He reached out his free hand to explore the apparently empty space, but the engineer quickly knocked it away.

Sorry! he said. Everyone tries that, when they realise what's happening. You could cut yourself very badly.

So you do have an invisible wire. Clever but what use is it, except for parlour tricks?

Morgan gave a broad smile. I can't blame you for jumping to that conclusion; it's the usual reaction. But it's quite wrong; the reason you can't see this sample is that it's only a few microns thick. Much thinner than a spider's web.

For once, thought Rajasinghe, an overworked adjective was fully justified. That's incredible. What is it?

The result of about two hundred years of solid state physics. For whatever good that does it's a continuous pseudo-one-dimensional diamond crystal though it's not actually pure carbon. There are several trace elements, in carefully controlled amounts. It can only be mass-produced in the orbiting factories, where there's no gravity to interfere with the growth process.

Fascinating, whispered Rajasinghe, almost to himself. He gave little tugs on the ring hooked around his finger, to test that the tension was still there and that he was not hallucinating. I can appreciate that this may have all sorts of technical applications. It would make a splendid cheese-cutter-

Morgan laughed. One man can bring a tree down with it, in a couple of minutes. But it's tricky to handle even dangerous. We've had to design special dispensers to spool and unspool it we call them 'spinnerettes'. This is a power-operated one, made for demonstration purposes. The motor can lift a couple of hundred kilos, and I'm always finding new uses for it. Today's little exploit wasn't the first, by any means.

Almost reluctantly, Rajasinghe unhooked his finger from the ring. It started to fall, then began to pendulum back and forth without visible means of support until Morgan pressed a button and the spinnerette reeled it in with a gentle whirr.

You haven't come all this way, Dr. Morgan, just to impress me with this latest marvel of science though I am impressed. I want to know what all this has to do with me.

A very great deal, Mister Ambassador, answered the engineer, suddenly equally serious and formal. You are quite correct in thinking that this material will have many applications, some of which we are only now beginning to foresee. And one of them, for better or for worse, is going to make your quiet little island the centre of the world. No not merely the world. The whole Solar System. Thanks to this filament, Taprobane will be the steppingstone to all the planets. And one day, perhaps the stars.

8. Malgara | The Fountains of Paradise | 10. The Ultimate Bridge