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Evil Djinn from the Thirteenth-Dimension
Or, How I Invented BPC79 and Lost My Hand in the Process
by Hathno Paige
"Grandpa, tell me again what happened to your hand."
My grandson Timmy poked at the place where my fake appendage connects to the stub of real forearm below my elbow. It was pretty obvious where I ended and the rubber began, even if you didn't notice the metal studs that held it in place.
Most people that get something chopped off nowadays get bio-replacements grown and grafted that are almost indistinguishable from the original. But I never wanted something indistinguishable. I wanted something that I could see, something to remind me of how I really lost this hand; lest I forget, which would be damn easy, especially at my age.
But so long ago. And a story I never told another living being. Would it matter anymore? Ninety-six was a reasonable age to start losing one's marbles, wasn't it? I looked down at my grandson. He was precocious enough to understand, and maybe young enough to believe.
I said, "Timmy, come up here on the bed with me. I'm going to tell you the story about my hand, the true story, the one I never even told your grandmother."
Timmy's eyes lit up. "A secret?"
I smiled my favorite grandfatherly smile. "Up to you. Ready?"
"Well you know how everyone thinks I lost my hand when I invented BPC79?"
Timmy nodded. Barely eight, he already knew all about BPC79, just like every other school kid. It was textbook history now, a classic amongst science's fairy-tales, right up there with Newton's apple and Mendel's peas. This story went as follows: late one night in the lab a brilliant young graduate student -- yours truly -- looked at a Twing-Ding and had a moment of divine "What if I mix in a little...?" inspiration. He threw the new batch of ingredients into his experimental apparatus, where it underwent a powerful reaction that blew up the lab -- tragically removing his hand -- but creating BPC79, the first practical super-conductor. And thanks to that one inspired moment, we now have a material that saves us enough energy to eliminate our needs for fossil fuels and stop global warming.
I looked down at Timmy and said, "It's not true."
* * *
That Friday night started like so many others for me in my mid-twenties -- another night slaving away in a basement lab at the Cambridge Institute of Technology. I was a Ph.D. student in materials science, trying like every man and his dog to make a super-conducting material that functioned at room temperature. By the early 21st Century there were plenty of materials that super-conducted at the temperature of liquid helium, but they were pretty much useless for anything besides physics lab toys.
The developer of a super-conductor was guaranteed fame and fortune, and probably even a Nobel Prize. My thesis advisor was having some success with rare-earth metals in high-pressure crystal structures, and I was trying out a new concoction with a dash of neodymium and a pinch of europium.
Setting up the experiment was tough. It started with three tedious hours of mixing and processing ingredients, followed by another three hours setting up the multi-anvil device, a fantastic invention that allows you to create pressures and temperatures similar to those found in the earth's core. Basically, you take eight, one-inch square tungsten-carbide cubes and machine one sharp corner off of each -- which isn't easy because tungsten-carbide is second in hardness only to diamond. Then you arrange the eight little cubes into one large cube, with the machined-off corners all located in the center, creating a pea-sized, octahedral hole.
Into that hole you fit your experiment, complete with a micro-furnace to heat it up and a thermocouple to measure the temperature. Then you load your pile of cubes into a large hydraulic press designed to squeeze all the cubes together at exactly the same time. When you first start out, successful experiments number about one time in ten. After three years, you're getting one out of five. I was getting one out of three and regarded as something of a legend around the lab.
Anyhow, this Friday night I was off to a good start. I'd whipped out the mix and gotten everything set up in record time. Now it was time to check that the furnace's power lead wires weren't short-circuited to the thermocouple, a big no-no because it would blow up the temperature controller, which is worth a few hundred grand.
I touched the ohmmeter leads to the furnace and thermocouple lines. The little LED screen should have lit up with "no connection", but instead came up with about 3 ohms, which meant there was a short. Six hours of work and another Friday night in the toilet. I picked up the spongy, unnaturally gold-colored Twing-Ding in the plastic package lying on the bench. My grandfather sent me a care package full of junk food about once a month, and I'd taken to eating the Twing-Dings to celebrate my successes.
"No celebrating tonight," I said aloud.
As I turned to throw it into the trash, an idea hit me -- what would happen to a Twing-Ding at 30 giga-pascals pressure? Glenn, my officemate, and I joked about things like this every day at lunch. He wanted to try pepperoni, but I was more into cream-centered cake confectioneries, hoping the carbon in the cake might come together to form some kind of weird diamond with a creamy center. Of course we never got a chance to do it because we were too busy with real work, but here I was with the apparatus ready to go and a Twing-Ding in hand, so I figured "What the hell?" Maybe I'd even write some funny little paper about the whole thing to submit for the Ig-Nobel awards that the institute held every year.
It took a little tinkering to compress the Twing-Ding down to fit between the cubes, but by about midnight I had the apparatus loaded and started the hydraulic pump to pressurize the system.
* * *
A voice shouted in my dreams, then my head banged against something hard and I realized that I was waking up.
The face was inches from my own, red with small fangs and a forked tongue, and shouting, "Kisim dipela din! Kisim dipela din!"
A medical student friend of mine once had a psych-patient brought in for hooking the family clock to the microwave to "catch the time between the seconds". Whatever we may think of that misunderstood genius, that unit of time he was chasing was all it took my addled brain to offer two possible interpretations of the situation.
The first was, "Oh my god, Satan is here and he wants to suck out my eyes!" This was followed by, "This is a joke being played on me by goddamn Glenn, my officemate. He must be killed slowly, in a manner that involves voles."
As I was about to settle on the second interpretation, Satan shoved his fist through the sheetrock wall next to my head.
"Kisim dipela din!"
My urethra realized before I did that we were in deep trouble. Satan yanked his fist back and licked the blue fluid dripping from his knuckles, then shook his head and said, "Gujah nan hinay, nan gujah?"
I tried to look meek. Satan nodded and said, "Yanna gada dipela din."
From a pouch on his belt he produced a small yellow ball which he popped into his mouth and started chewing. Satan's sourballs?
He motioned to my right with his head and pointed with his bleeding hand, features that were surprisingly human-like, only shorter and thicker, even if the rest of him -- especially his legs -- looked like a man crossed with a big, red frog. Anyhow, I looked right, falling for the oldest trick in the book as he pursed his thin lips and fired a huge goober straight into my ear. It hit with a burning thud. I swiped at it and tried pulling it out, but it felt almost welded in place, and when I yanked too hard I could feel my skull flex.
Satan said, "Can you understand me now?"
I said, "Get this out of my head!"
"There is no time for discussion. Where is it?" He was much calmer now.
"Where is what? Who are you?
"The djinn you released. It is a Level Five. Do you realize what it will do to your people?"
Now I was confused. "Djinn? What the hell are you talking about?"
Satan didn't answer, but his eyes rolled back in his head and I looked down at the muscles in his legs. They were huge! And that's when I noticed the lab. Pieces of multi-anvil and splotches of hydraulic oil were strewn everywhere.
Satan said, "I have conferred with my superiors. They have agreed not to press charges against you if you help me find the djinn."
"Help you? Look I have no idea, who the, what the hell are you?"
"I am Zim," he bowed, exposing a row of three small horns sprouting from the back of his head, "third warden of the dimensional containment center. You have released the djinn Rkaz from his prison cell in the Thirteenth through Fifteenth dimensions."
"Thirteenth through Fifteenth what? How the hell could I have done that? I've been in the lab all night."
"My superiors speculate that the crystalline structure created in your last experiment had a quantum configuration that absorbed thirteenth through fifteenth dimensional energy and re-emitted it as standard three-dimensional energy. In essence, you created a crystal key to Rkaz's cell that allowed him to escape into your world."
I must have looked confused, because his eyes rolled back again, and then he said, "Given the state of knowledge in your world, you might think of it in the way gems absorb white light, but re-emit colors. Now do you remember what happened?"
I recounted everything I could remember about the experiment. He took a leftover Twing-Ding from my grandfather's care package, saying, "We will have to study these," and dropped it into a large pouch attached to his Batman-style utility belt.
"Now, where would a Level Five djinn go in this world?"
"Well, I guess that depends on what a Level Five djinn likes." I smiled. I was just nervous, but he didn't seem to appreciate the attempt at humor. He just stared at me, the huge iridescent amber irises of his white-less orbs opening wide now, leaving nothing but huge black holes like shark's eyes.
"Make no mistake, Earth-dweller. Djinns are among the most destructive forces in the universe. On your world a Class Five djinn could easily annihilate all intelligent life."
I had about a million questions, but Zim scared me enough that I realized we had to find this thing soon.
"Okay, let's go outside."
I started for the door. Zim waited, then flew past, covering about five of my steps with his one hop. We weren't going to get anywhere with him moving like a giant frog.
"Zim, can you walk upright?"
He extended his legs and grew to about seven feet tall. "Well, that's a little less conspicuous." I threw him the biggest lab coat I could find and we walked out into the cool Boston night, him tottering like an amateur drag queen in her first pair of heels.
Now where would a djinn go for fun on a Friday night in a strange world? A crackling sound made me look over at Walker Memorial, a dining hall across the courtyard. The skylights were lit sparkling blue, like a giant arc-welder was running inside.
Zim saw it too, tore off the lab coat, and started hopping.
* * *
Walker Memorial was a big old dining hall on the edge of campus by the river. The building has that neo-Greek style architecture with building-width staircases and tall, fluted pillars so popular in the 1920s. On Friday nights they had concerts, and this Friday a post-punk/industrial band named "Big Christian Guilt" was playing.
The steps were littered with people, most unmoving, but all muttering like they were very drunk. Zim pulled a vial from his belt and sprinkled some kind of dust around one of their faces. Out of each nostril and ear trailed a filament of blue light that led up through the dining hall's front doors like fiber-optic lines networking them to something inside.
Zim grabbed my arm with his fingers, the suction-cupped tips puckering my flesh.
"Zlikar! It is already charging!" He looked at me. "Djinns live off the neural energy of intelligent life. He's already burned out these ones."
He pulled a pocket-knife-sized piece of metal from somewhere on his belt, and proceeded to unfold it into a thin ring. The last section snapped into place with a bong and it started to glow -- first red, then green, and finally gold.
"I only have one of these, so please make the most of it." He held the ring over my head and let go. A little vibration, then nothing. I reached up and touched it. It was hovering, not connected to my head anywhere, but as affixed to my skull as the earpiece.
Then it struck me. "Zim, is this a halo? Are you some kind of devil-angel?" The window next to the door exploded outward as a human cannonball sailed through it.
"Look what he's doing to your people! We don't have any more time."
He yanked on a glove, then snapped open the largest box on his belt, carefully removing a dagger, its blade so dark that it appeared as a shadow shrouded in flowing mist. I reached out to touch it.
"No!" Zim jerked it away. "The blade is made of dark-matter, and instantly absorbs all energy from any normal matter that it touches. I can only hold it with this field-glove, and only then for a short period. You need to distract Rkaz while I stab him with it."
Distract a djinn? I didn't even know what it looked like, but before I could say anything Zim shoved me toward the door.
"No time to explain. Distract it now before it grows too powerful. Go!"
I glanced back as I stepped inside, catching Zim hop onto the nearest column, which he proceeded to climb with his suctioned fingers and toes.
I turned and entered hell on Earth. Dancing, screwing, bleeding, torturing, screaming -- if it was possible for humans to do it, they were. Only half seemed to be active participants, and some of them were staggering, while the others were collapsed in heaps. The band played on, seemingly oblivious, the techno-punk blasting through the speakers and fitting the scene like a tailored sonic glove. There was enough smoke in the air that I could see the electric blue tendrils from everyone's heads leading to the stage and ending atop a speaker stack, where danced a smiling toddler.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again to make sure. Could it be? The djinn was a baby, cherubic and pudgy, the little white-feathered wings on its back flapping as it jumped from one speaker stack to another.
It made some kind of twisted sense. Maybe djinns and Zim's people had visited Earth in the past and the telephone-game scripture-writing of our forefathers had warped their descriptions into something that made more logical sense -- fanged teeth, red-skinned frog-men as devils, and cherubic babies as God's assistants. And as I stood there pondering a Douglas Adams-style "Life, the Universe and Everything", I got knocked ass-over-tea-kettle into what was probably the nastiest mosh pit on the planet. Kicked and punched and bit and stroked and finally thrown under a table, I landed on a guy whose leg looked broken in at least two places. He ignored me, sucking away on a broken beer bottle like it was his mother's nipple.
Time to get back on the mission. I snatched the beer bottle -- feeling his teeth scrape the lip and cutting my palm on the broken base -- and jumped out from under the table.
"Hey Rkaz," I yelled, "This Bud's for you!" I flung the bottle at him.
Never one to get picked for the team, this was probably the best throw of my life, hitting the little bugger square in his chest. I expected it to bounce off, but it simply disappeared into his little folds of fat, appearing to be absorbed by him. Rkaz's fingers pawed the point of entry, while he looked at me with a quizzical expression. Then he opened his eyes wide and two beams of blue light streaked toward me. There was no time to move. The world disappeared in a flash of blue. My skin felt licked by fire and my eyelashes singed, but then the halo started to hum and the light disappeared.
Lightly toasted, but otherwise fine, I did the only thing I could think of, which was to flip him the bird. Rkaz bellowed with rage, blowing out his speaker stack pedestal and sending its horns and cones flying out over the crowd, who continued the mayhem uninterrupted. I caught movement above Rkaz and saw Zim on the ceiling, hanging vertically from his toes, then releasing and dropping onto Rkaz, who looked up just in time to see them collide. They tumbled off the stack into the drum kit with a crash of cymbals, then rolled off the stage and onto the floor in front of me.
Rkaz rose first, fluttering up like a dirty city pigeon to hover about a meter off the floor.
"Zim. My jailer."
His voice stung my ears like rusty steel dragged on concrete. He motioned to me.
"I should have realized that this pathetic creature was a decoy. Now drop that weapon or I'll destroy these animals."
Zim hesitated. Rkaz snapped his pudgy baby fingers and two men and a woman near us smashed their heads together with a bloody thud. Zim looked at me and tossed the dagger, which sizzled across the floor to stop between me and Rkaz. Rkaz fired two more blue bolts from his eyes, knocking Zim through the lead guitarist with a tremendous "Kerrang!" from the speakers that ended when Zim hit the amplifier stack in a sparkling crash.
The rest happened so fast that I know I didn't have time to think about it, which was probably just as well, considering what happened. I grabbed the dagger with my bare hand and lunged at Rkaz. I didn't know if I'd got him or not, but my hand and wrist felt cold and strange as I rolled against the base of the stage. When I looked up, Rkaz was bellowing again, wings flapping furiously as he flitted about like an obese moth. He bounced off the stage-edge and I saw the dagger sticking out from his now-black rump with my hand and wrist still attached. Wait -- MY HAND AND WRIST? The stump near my elbow had been snapped off clean, but cauterized somehow so it wasn't bleeding.
Rkaz's feathered wing-tip kissed my face, and I saw that the black had quickly spread over most of his body. He shot up high, almost to the ceiling, then one wing seemed to go and there was a brief moment of aerial ballet before a fighter-plane death spiral to the floor. He shattered on impact, bits of him and my arm sizzling away in all directions, leaving only part of one feathered wing, two little pink feet, and his round baby head.
The crowd and band immediately collapsed. From those nearby I could see that they were still breathing, but unconscious.
Zim's red face appeared on the stage over me. "Thankfully he wasn't fully charged!"
I sat up against the stage wall and he dropped down next to me.
He looked at my ruined arm. "You grabbed the dagger."
"That was brave, Earth-dweller."
I looked over at Rkaz's head. His mouth still moved furiously, but made not a sound.
A cadre of Zim's brethren hopped into the hall and over to us. The lead one said, "Apologies for not getting here sooner."
Zim pointed, and the leader looked over at the remains of Rkaz. He nodded and said, "Begin clean-up."
A few hopped to the injured, while the others sucked up bits of Rkaz and my arm with hand-held vacuums. Rkaz's wing, feet, and grimacing head went into a sack.
Zim explained to the leader what happened, while one of them checked my arm. When Zim finished, the leader said, "You have saved your planet and done the galaxy a great service." He bowed, exposing a set of horns a little longer than Zim's. "Is there anything we can do for you?"
Maybe it was the shock, or too many years of graduate school -- hell, I don't know -- but all I could think of to say was, "How about a super-conductor?" You'd think I might have said "And by the way, please fix my arm? And before I forget, who the hell are you guys?"
The leader's eyes rolled back the way Zim's had earlier. After a few seconds he said, "My superiors say that if your world is getting to the point where you can accidentally free a beast like Rkaz, then it is probably time for us to start accelerating your technological development so that you can become full-fledged members of the galactic community. They are transferring the data into your head now."
The thing in my ear started to get hot, and then I started to feel woozy, like I was about to pass out. Zim took my good hand in his, then bowed his head and touched my hand to his horns and said, "I am proud to have worked with you, Earth-dweller."
That's the last I remember of Zim or anything else from the night. Next thing I knew, my officemate Glenn and a bunch of paramedics were waking me up. I was back in the lab, surrounded by the wrecked multi-anvil and in my remaining hand was a little bit of BPC79, the world's first room-temperature super-conductor. Of course Zim's people fixed everything so it looked like I invented it myself, complete with an implanted story in my brain about how I speculated that a super-conductor might have a heterogeneous crystal structure. And much as a Twing-Ding has both a sponge cake shell and a creamy center, maybe the super-conductor would be a combination of the graphite ring structure forming a tube-shell around a chain of super-conducting rare-earth metals.
They'd also made the Walker incident appear as a terrible electrical accident, and most of the audience recovered fine. And my initial ramblings about everything were chalked up to shock, though nobody could ever really explain where my hand had gone.
* * *
"And that's the truth of how I lost my hand and discovered BPC79."
When I finished Timmy just sat there, staring at me with a puzzled expression. He was a bright kid, and I could practically see the neurons firing in his brain as it processed my story. Finally his lips stretched across his teeth in a little line and he said, "Grandpa, is this what Net-therapists call a 'coping strategy'?"
A coping strategy? I smiled and fingered a loose rivet on my stump. I'd made billions of dollars off BPC79 and spent the rest of my life giving it away to charity and the families of those killed by Rkaz, even funding SETI research in the hopes of hearing from Zim again, which of course I never did.
But could it all be a giant coping strategy? A way of dealing with my missing limb or even a manifestation of my own Christian guilt for being so rich? Wasn't that much more likely than a galactic super-cop who looked like a satanic frog and a galactic villain who looked like a cherub?
I smiled at my grandson and gave him a hug. "Could be Timmy, could be."
But then again, at my age who really gives a damn?
Story copyright 2001 by Hathno Paige email@example.com
Illustration copyright 2001 by Matt Morrow firstname.lastname@example.org
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