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Chapter 9
Alternate Alternatives

Science Gets Out of Hand

by SASKATCHEWAN KOLONOSCOGRAD, Alternate Reality News Service Fairy Tale Writer

A coroner's inquest has determined that the demise of Mohinder Smith-Singh was "death by misadventure."

"It was the damndest thing," Sergeant Lucinda Gupta-Jones, the lead detective on the case, remarked. "The man starved to death in a room full of gold objects!"

Smith-Singh was a noted nanotech researcher at the New Delhi Institute of Cool Technologies. We are all familiar with nanotech, tiny, simple robots used in everything from toothpaste to help eradicate plaque from out mouths and fabrics that allow us to programme our t-shirts to put rude comments on our chests when our teachers (or parents) aren't looking.

While we were all using nanotech for our childish amusement, Smith-Singh had a much broader vision of what it could do for humanity, a vision at once boldly modern and as old as humanity. For Smith-Singh wanted to use nanotech to fulfill the ancient dream of...immortality!

According to a co - no, wait. Actually, he wanted to use it to be able to change base metals into gold. I'm sorry - I find it easy to get my ancient dreams confused.

According to a colleague of Smith-Singh, graduate student Lakshman Atherton, the basic nanotechnology was simple enough. "Oh, yeah," he said. "We had it down in a couple of hours. Lead into gold? Pfft. Easy. I was ready to move onto something harder, like turning daytime soaps into Shakespeare."

Although the basic technology proved simple enough, the interface through which it was controlled proved to be a stumbling block that would take over 10 years, and several research grants, to overcome. While many interfaces were considered, including guns, laser pointers and, for some reason, camels, Smith-Singh's research group eventually settled on a glove.

The Molecular Interface for Disassembling Atomic Structures (known around the lab as M.I.D.A.S.) looked like an ordinary velvet glove. "Professor Smith-Singh had a thing for velvet," Atherton explained. "We...we didn't question him too closely about it." Whatever, when somebody was wearing it, the velvet glove triggered a stream of self-replicating nanobots that would turn anything the person touched into gold.

At first, according to the testimony of Atherton and other people who had worked on the project, Smith-Singh was like a child with its first alchemical transmutating velvet glove, turning everything from beakers to electron microscopes into gold. When he turned lab assistant LoriAnne Gandhi into a statue, Smith-Singh is reported to have quipped, "I always said she was worth her weight in gold!" to the amusement of all present.

(An inquest into the disappearance of Gandhi is scheduled to begin next month.)

Problems began when, having turned every inanimate object in the lab into gold, Smith-Singh decided it was time to remove the glove. He couldn't. Nobody quite knows why, but the nanobots in the M.I.D.A.S. glove had somehow bonded to his hand. Worse: his entire body had become a nanobot conductor: anything he touched with any part of his body turned into gold.

"Well, this is awkward," several of the students who testified at the inquest claimed that he said.

How awkward became apparent when Smith-Singh tried to eat: whenever he picked a tasty morsel up, it immediately turned to gold. "Chicken soup was not going to help cure this illness!" medical examiner Schlomo Lakme wryly commented on the stand. Having assistants drop food into Smith-Singh's mouth was not helpful, as it turned to gold as soon as it hit his gums or tongue.

Realizing the extent of the problem, Smith-Singh was advised to get some of the best minds in the field to help solve it. He refused to let anybody outside of the lab know what was going on until he had written the definitive paper on his velvet glove. This effort was hampered by the fact that he had already turned his computer, his PDA and his cellphone into gold. He tried dictating the paper, but the complex nature of the subject and his increasing physical weakness made progress slow and difficult.

Once completed by his surviving students, the paper will be published posthumously in the Journal of Foolish Scientific Studies.

After Smith-Singh's death, the lab was considered a danger zone, but the hazmat team that went in to deal with it found that the M.I.D.A.S. glove was no longer active. "Sometimes, a velvet glove is just a velvet glove," Padme Loucan, who led the hazmat team into the lab, told the coroner.

Although the verdict was widely accepted, some people thought the inquest was too restricted in its scope. "Do you know what would happen if the glove had actually worked the way it was supposed to?" Atherton rhetorically asked. "If anybody could turn anything into gold with a single touch? The whole international economic system - which is based on the scarcity of gold - would collapse! Powerful forces wanted us to fail!"

Until evidence for this extraordinary accusation surfaces, the coroner's inquest will be the last word on the death of Mohinder Smith-Singh. And, that word will, of course, be: greed.

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If you came to Les Pages aux Folles curious about my writing thanks to science fiction or fan fiction, welcome! You can find the complete text of Alternate Reality Ain't What It Used To Be, +

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