“Not philosophy, but fact. Let’s start at the beginning.”
“Let there be light.”
“Not that far back, Dr. Dunn. Basic chemistry. Water is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.”
“H2O,” Kara said.
A nod. “What’s strange about water is that it is a bent molecule.” Coral pointed to the first of the line drawings on the screen.
“It is this bend that gives water its slight polarity. A negative charge at the end with the oxygen atom. A positive one at the hydrogen side. The bend also allows water to form unusual shapes. Like ice.” “Ice is strange?” Omaha asked.
“If you keep interrupting…” Coral scowled.
“Indiana, let her finish.”
Coral nodded thanks to Kara. “When matter condenses from a gas to a liquid to a solid, it becomes more compact each time, occupying less space, denser. Not water, though. Water achieves its maximum density at four degrees Celsius. Before it freezes. As water actually freezes, that weird bent molecule forms an unusual crystalline shape with lots of extra space in it.” “Ice,” Safia mumbled.
“Ice is less dense than water, much less. So it floats on top of water. If it were not for this fact, there would be no life on Earth. Ice forming on the surface of lakes and oceans would constantly be sinking and crushing all life beneath it, never giving early forms of life a chance to thrive. Floating ice also insulates bodies of water, protecting life rather than destroying it.” “But what does all this have to do with antimatter?” Omaha asked.
“I’m getting to that. I needed to stress the strange properties of the water molecule and its propensity to form odd configurations. Because there is another way water will align itself. It happens all the time in regular water, but it lasts only nanoseconds. It’s too unstable on Earth. But in space, water will form and keep this unusual shape.” Coral pointed to the next line drawing. “Here is a two-dimensional representation of twenty water molecules forming that complex configuration. It’s called a pentagonal dodecahedron.
“But it’s best visualized in three dimensions.” Coral tapped the third drawing.
“It looks like a big hollow sphere,” Omaha said.
Coral nodded. “It is. The dodecahedron goes more commonly by the name buckyball. Named after Buckminster Fuller.” “So these buckyballs are found in space,” Safia said. “But last only briefly here.” “It’s a stability problem.”
“So why are you telling us about them, then?” Kara asked.
Danny danced back and forth on his toes behind them. He pointed to the lake. “The water here is full of those buckyballs, stable and unchanging.” “A good portion of the water,” Coral agreed.
“How is that possible?” Safia asked. “What’s holding it stable?” “What we came looking for,” Coral said, staring out at the water. “Antimatter.” Omaha moved closer.
Coral tapped a few keys. “Antimatter and matter, being opposites, attract each other, which is why you don’t find antimatter lying around on Earth. Matter is everywhere. Antimatter would annihilate immediately. In CERN Laboratories in Switzerland, scientists have produced antimatter particles and have held them suspended in magnetic vacuum chambers for periods of time. Buckyballs perform in the same manner.” “How?” Omaha leaned over Coral’s shoulder as she brought up a new drawing.
“Because buckyballs have the capability of acting like microscopic magnetic chambers. In the center of these spheres is a perfectly hollow space, a vacuum. Antimatter can survive inside there.” She pointed to the A inside the diagram’s sphere. “And antimatter, in turn, benefits the buckyball. Its attraction for the water molecules pulls the sphere tighter, just enough to stabilize the buckyball. And being perfectly surrounded by water molecules, the antimatter atom is held in perfect suspension in the center, unable to touch matter.”
Coral stared around at the group.
“Stabilized antimatter,” Omaha said.
Coral sighed. “Stable until it gets a good jolt of electricity or comes in close contact to a strong magnet or radiation. Either will destabilize the balance. The buckyball collapses, antimatter comes in contact with the water molecule and annihilates itself, releasing an exponential release of energy.” She glanced to smoldering ruins of one of her machines. “The answer to unlimited energy.”
Silence stretched for a time.
“How did all this antimatter get here?” Kara asked.
Danny nodded. “We were talking about that just before you got here. Putting pieces together to form some idea. Remember, Omaha, in the van when we were talking about the wobble in the Earth that caused this region to go from a rich savannah to desert.”
“Twenty thousand years ago,” he said.
Danny continued, “Dr. Novak postulated that perhaps an antimatter meteor, large enough to survive passage through the atmosphere, struck the Arabian Peninsula, exploding and burying itself into porous limestone bedrock, creating this crystalline bubble deep underground.”
Coral spoke up as everyone gazed out at the cavern. “The explosion must have broken into an Earth-generated water system, cascading its effect through the deep-Earth channels. Literally shocking the world. Enough to affect the Earth’s polarity or perhaps bobble the spin of its magnetic core. However it happened, it changed the local climate, turning Eden into a desert.”
“And as all this cataclysm happened, the glass bubble formed,” Danny continued again. “The explosion and heat of the impact triggered violent fog generation and expulsion of antimatter atoms and sub-particles. As the place cooled, self-contained and sealed, water condensed around the antimatter atoms and formed the protective, stabilized buckyballs. And this place remained undisturbed for tens of thousands of years.”
“Until someone found the friggin place,” Omaha said.
He pictured a tribe of nomads, stumbling upon this, perhaps searching for water. They must’ve quickly learned of the water’s strange properties, an energy source in ancient times. They would hide it, protect it, and as Kara had mentioned earlier, human ingenuity would find a way to harness it. Omaha remembered all the wild tales of Arabia: flying carpets, magicians and sorcerers wielding incredible power, enchanted objects of every shape and size, genies bearing miraculous gifts. Had they all hinted at the mystery here?
“What about the keys and other objects?” he said. “You mentioned something about magnetism before.”
Coral nodded. “I can’t begin to fathom what level of technology these ancients managed. They had access to a power source that will take decades to fully understand. But they understood enough. Look at the glasswork, the stonework, the creation of the intricate magnetic triggers.”
Kara stared at the city. “They had a thousand years to perfect their art.”
Coral shrugged. “I wager the liquid inside the keys came from this lake. Buckyballs do have a slight charge to them. If that charge could be shifted all in one direction, then the iron container would magnetize. And as the buckyballs inside are aligned with the iron’s magnetic field, they remain stable and don’t annihilate in that field.”
“What about the iron camel at the museum?” Safia asked. “It exploded.”
“A chain reaction of raw energy,” Danny answered. “The ball lightning must have been attracted to the iron and the strange polarity of its watery heart. Maybe even drawn to it. Look at the roof here, tapping static from the storm.”
Omaha glanced upward as the electrical display flared with greater-than-usual brilliance.
Danny finished, “So the lightning gave its electricity to the iron, giving its energy in one jolt. Too much. The effect was dramatic and uncontrolled, leading to the blast.”
Coral stirred. “I wager even that explosion only occurred because the antimatter solution had been slightly destabilized by the trace radiation given off by the uranium atoms in the iron. The radiation excited and increased the fragility of the buckyball configurations.”
“What of the lake here?” Omaha mumbled, eyeing the water.
Coral frowned. “My instruments are too crude for a proper analysis. I’ve detected no radiation out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not present. Perhaps somewhere farther out in the lake. We’ll have to bring more teams down here, if given the chance.”
Clay spoke up for the first time, arms crossed over his chest. “So then what happened in A.D. 300? Why all the bodies embedded in the glass? Was it one of those explosions?”
Coral shook her head. “I don’t know, but there’s no evidence of a blast. Maybe an accident. An experiment gone awry. There’s untold power in this reservoir.” She glanced to the city, then back to Safia. “But, Dr. alMaaz, there is one last thing I must tell you about.”
Safia turned her attention back to the physicist.
“It’s about your blood,” Coral said.
Before the physicist could elaborate, a noise drew all their eyes to the lake. A low whine. Everyone froze. The noise grew sharper, rapidly, fast.
Across the lake, a flare shot high into the air, lighting the water crimson, reflecting off the roof and walls. A second flare arced upward.
No, not a flare. It fell toward the city…toward them.
“Rocket!” Omaha yelled. “Get to cover!”
P AINTER WAITED for his chance.
The cinder-block room shuddered as the brunt of the sandstorm wailed against doors, boarded windows, and roof flashings. It sounded like a ravenous animal digging to get inside, unrelenting, determined, maddened by bloodlust. It howled its frustration and roared its might.
Inside, someone had a radio playing. The Dixie Chicks. But the music was small and weak against the continual onslaught of the storm.
And the storm was creeping into their shelter.