In the lab, Albert settled himself at his assigned station and glanced at the bottles of chemicals arrayed before him. He had little interest in them and the experiment he was preparing to replicate. What’s the point of doing what others have done before? He thought. I want to break new ground. He sighed and resigned to the inevitable boredom ahead. He barely noticed the redheaded woman in the white lab coat who hurriedly left the room.
“Today we will perform experiment seventeen, Transmission of Pressure.” Professor Heilmann pointed to the blackboard. “The components of the experiment have been placed on your desks.”
There was more muttering as the students compared the supplies on their lab benches with the list that had been written on the blackboard. After a brief pause, the professor continued, “Gentlemen, you may proceed with the experiment.”
Albert poured the clear liquid into the test tube that stood upright, supported on the wooden stand. Then he began emptying the mercury on top of it. As he poured, the number 33 suddenly appeared to Albert in holographic form, blinking rapidly just above the test tube. Albert’s eyes narrowed. “That’s odd,” he muttered to himself. He recalled Pater Benjamin’s warning, but how could a mere experiment with water and stable mercury be a danger to him?
Before his eyes, the two liquids began to sizzle and bubble. Albert threw his right arm up to shield himself and ducked under the sturdy, wooden lab desk, and shouted, “Duck, everyone!” No sooner had the words escaped his lips than the experiment on the lab desk exploded with a fiery flash. Albert’s sleeve was spattered with burning liquid and burst into flames. He frantically pounded his burning jacket with his left hand, trying to extinguish it. All around, his classmates were screaming and rushing out of the classroom.
Down the hall, Countess von Baden stood smiling, satisfied with the result of having substituted water and stable mercury in Albert’s experiment with clear sodium nitrate and unstable mercury—a lethal combination. Composing herself and pasting an appropriately concerned look on her face, she rushed toward the classroom. As she neared the room, Professor Meiss joined her, offering an approving nod before they entered the lab. Instead of finding Albert’s fatally burned corpse, they were both dismayed to see the young man clutching his arm where the blackened and charred remains of his jacket and shirt still clung. Albert’s lab station was aflame, but he was fine.
Raka was furious. How could his plan have failed? The thought. “Get out of here before someone wonders about your presence,” he hissed quietly at the Countess. Then, pulling himself together, he surveyed the destruction. “What have you done?” he exclaimed angrily to Albert. Pointing to the doorway, he said, “Get out of here before you burn down the building!”
Professor Heilmann rushed over and cast a cautioning glance at Meiss and said a bit more calmly, “Yes, Herr Einstein, you must get that arm looked at.”
Dazed and in shock from the trauma, Albert staggered out of the classroom and into the hallway where the rest of his class milled around. His friend Marcel rushed over to him, “Albert! What happened? Are you okay?”
Albert looked at his friend. He could see he was talking, but he could only hear the ringing in his ears. “I... I...” was all he managed to get out before he collapsed into his friend’s arms.
* * *
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