The flicker of the lab's fluorescent lights only bothered Shoshanna during all-nighters. The lights were always on, since Dr. Rudoleski kept his people hopping 24/7. She rarely saw him except during the marathon lab meetings on Fridays. He wanted a 10 minute summary from everyone about their week's activities, which meant a minimum of three hours. Usually, they ran for more than five, with him throwing out difficult, probing questions for everyone who'd had a good week and sarcastic comments for everyone else. God help anyone who had nothing to report.
Rudoleski had a nasty habit of deliberately calling the lab at odd hours; they were all sure to get yelled at during the weekly staff meeting if at least one person wasn't there to answer the phone in the middle of the night. Everyone worked on the 4th of July. Legend had it that Rudoleski called every year at 2:45 a.m. on July 5 and always asked, "Who else is there with you?" Tonight was just another Wednesday, though, and Shoshanna was alone in the lab.
Whenever a new person joined the group, or someone left after graduating or getting a job, the lab pecking order was resorted. It was partly based on seniority, but postdocs always outranked grad students, and doctoral candidates always outranked master's students. As she was the only master's student in the lab at present, it meant she had a bad time of it. It was frustrating as hell for her to have to kowtow to some knucklehead who didn't know jack about quantum oscillatory crystal magnetohydrodynamics, just because he or she was a newly minted crystallography PhD from some other, lesser university.
Shoshanna was one of the best, which was why Rudoleski had agreed to take her on. He practically never wasted his time with master's students; only if they looked very promising would he consider them. She knew that by "promising", Rudoleski meant "productive". Everyone who came out of Rudoleski's lab was well trained, but the last person he'd carried through the entire trifecta was a legend. That guy published three papers from his master's work, five papers and a patent from his doctoral dissertation and an astonishing eleven papers as a postdoc, one of which was published in PNAS. He'd gone on to a tenure track position at the University of Chicago, and was currently a favorite for a chemistry Nobel. Rudoleski frequently held him up as an example during the staff meetings, saying, "See what you could do with a little effort?"
The mass spectrometer was warmed up, the standards run and internal calibrations complete. As soon as the samples were ready, she could analyze them and have all the data in a spreadsheet by sunrise. She rubbed her tired eyes. Shoshanna's master's defense was three weeks away. With all of her cramming and memorization, she felt she knew more about how to capture and store energy in crystals than any other person alive, except for Rudoleski himself. Her thesis was solid, with important advances in the field. Still, it was all incremental work. The one thing she lacked was a punchline, a knockout piece of data that would make everyone forget Aleksandr Mikhailovitch Ivanaov. She wanted so badly to overhear someone say, "Sure, but what about that Shoshanna Epstein? You better keep an eye on that one, she's your *real* competition."
She crossed the analytical section of the lab and entered the magnet room. On the bench, the big superconducting electromagnets were arrayed around the test vessel, alternating with the ultrasonic resonator horns. The ultrasound had been her biggest idea yet, one she had told no one about. It had taken her a week to program the computers and set up the test bed, and then another three days to align and calibrate everything. Tuned properly, the nine sonics harmonized, forcing the solution to cavitate. Inside that little bubble, a small speck of plasma hotter than the core of the sun formed and re-formed a thousand times every second. Once she turned on the rest of the system, her calculations showed that the magnetic flux lines converging on that plasma would catalyze the creation of a crystal lattice from the yttrium solution.
All the delays were infuriating, but at last everything was ready. In just over an hour, the world was finally going to have the perfect quantum energy storage system. This would revolutionize everything, and she would be famous. She took a deep breath and pressed the activation switch. The small room grew loud with the sound of the cooling pumps kicking on in the pre-cycle.
Out in the lab, the phone rang.
Shoshanna closed her eyes and cursed. She wanted to watch it happen, but the only person who would be calling at this hour would be Rudoleski. Shoshanna turned and left the room, hoping that the call would be finished quickly.
Behind her, the control computer activated the system and tried to send nintey five kilowatts through the magnetic flux array. If the operation had been done during the day, when the rest of the campus was using normal amounts of power, Shoshanna's misplaced decimal would have tripped the main breakers and shut down the building's power. With a light load everywhere else, however, the equipment got the full ninety five.
The first crystal formed just as her calculations predicted, so far as they went. Yttrium was forced into mated electron shell configurations, and crystallized. However, under the press of the extra magnetic flux, triplet atoms fused together into a superheavy element, releasing massive amounts of energy. The new element twisted the crystal structure, and the bubble dimmed as all of the energy in the system drained away into the crude but fully functional allo-spacial quantum torsion well Shoshanna had unintentionally created.
The yttrium continued to fuse and the speck of hypercrystal grew, absorbing enough energy every minute to power a small city for four hours. At the programmed time, the superconducting magnets shut down. Within the little test vessel, yttrium fusion ceased and the glowing bubble surrounding the tiny speck brightened again. The ultrasonics remained operational; they were the only thing keeping the hypercrystal stable and containing the energy.
Shoshanna hadn't noticed the odd pulsing of the lights out in the lab when the magnets overpowered. Rudoleski's impromptu grilling about her thesis defense material had rattled her, badly. She was near tears when she was finally able to hang up and return to the magnet room.
With a shaking hand, she reached out to shut down the system so she could pull a sample. Please let this have worked, she thought, please!
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