by Max Barry

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4

An Announcement from the Ministry of Science - the Thaum, and the uses thereof


The broadcast begins. A stage is illuminated in a grand, white chamber. The gleaming emblem of the Ministry of Science is visible as a centerpiece behind the stage, taking up a large portion of the wall. Fedor Arshnievskiy, Minister of Science, makes his way into view of the camera, and stands directly before the center of the emblem. His eyes are dark-rimmed, but curiously sparking, and he walks with an energy quite atypical for his usual lethargic demeanor. He begins to speak.

"People of Yegla Islands. Ladies and gentlemen, young and old. I am truly proud to present to you today a discovery of such magnitude that it will reshape the face of modern science for generations to come. Following a major breakthrough in the field of quantum engineering, we have encountered what we believe to be a novel form of elementary particle. Undetectable by most modern equipment, we have nevertheless managed to isolate it with the help of unconventional techniques and materials. We have dubbed this particle the Thaum."

A screen descends behind the Minister, hiding the Ministry emblem from view. Lighting up, it displays a bright, three-dimensional graphic, depicting an oddly-shaped blob. Its curves intersect with each other in ways that are seemingly impossible.

"To most of you, this squiggle is meaningless. But its properties are truly remarkable, and completely distinct from any comparable form of matter!"

Now, two assistants are seen wheeling a cloth-covered trolley onto the stage. They stop once they reach the Minister, and remove the cloth. Beneath is a strange piece of apparatus, a massive glass canister surrounded by haphazardly assembled electronics. It is roughly the height of a man, and its interior seems to be filled with a faint mist.

"This device uses some rather simple techniques to concentrate Thaums into a near-visible form. It also allows me to demonstrate the most unusual property of this particle - its reaction to human brainwaves."

The Minister turns to the canister, and grips a metal rod emerging from its side with both hands. The two assistants adjust various switches and dials, and then step away hurriedly. The Minister closes his eyes.

For a few moments, all is still. Then, a spark can be seen in the center of the canister. Instead of fading away, however, it seems to grow in brightness, blossoming into a small flame. Then a larger one. And still it grows, into a radiant corona of fire and light that swirls around the inside of the glass, shifting its colour faster than the eye can track. It is reshaped - first into a triangle, then into a steadily more complex shape, until it is a serpent, coiling around itself. The serpent sprouts wings, and a tiny dragon flutters around inside the canister. It collapses into a ball, and shifts through various geometric shapes of increasing complexity. Finally, it expands to fill the entire container, and fades away. The Minister releases the rod, and opens his eyes. Sweat forms on his brow, but he is smiling.

"The Thaum is, under certain conditions, subject to manipulation by human thought! It is a particle, and a form of energy, that we can harness directly. And its influence on neighboring particles allows us to harness far more than that! With the Thaum as a medium, any action can be performed by sheer human force of will! Were I of a regressive, traditionalist mindset, I would call this a miracle. Some form of magic. But I will call it by its true name - an opportunity. A way forwards, allowing our people to shape the world to our whim. Once the Thaum is fully under our control, our capabilities will be unending. And for the glory of Yegla Islands, that milestone will be reached."

The monitor flickers back into blackness.

Arshnievsky sat back from the laptop, and sagged in his chair. Everything was in order - the demonstration was flashy, promising, and above all completely misleading. For a start, even the general terms he had used to describe the Thaum were completely off, and outlined a principle that would drive potential reverse-engineering into a dead-end. The machine was also a fluke, more or less - all of the flashy wires, the focusing arrays, the little vacuum tubes lining the sides, were for show. The real mechanism was hidden in the base of the canister, and it wasn't even very complex in its operation. The Ministry needed to give the Yeglan people a glimpse of the future, but what was the point if every nation on the planet could view that vision, and take notes, mere minutes after the broadcast aired? He sighed. Political intrigue and scientific advancement didn't mix very well. He reached for a glass of something bright-yellow and faintly luminescent, and gulped it down in one go. It burned the inside of his throat, but slowly he felt the energy returning to his body.

Arshnievsky stood up, and headed for the labs. There was science to be done.

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