Ethan Zhou, engineer for SolTech Industries, figured out the solution to cold fusion while visiting the aquarium with his wife, Sarah. The grail of endless supplies of energy produced in a tiny box with water electrolyzed on top of palladium had been deemed ‘pseudo-science’ in many corners. He realized the problem hadn’t been with the particles. Not even the math. It was relationships.
It triggered when Sarah told him about an experiment where small sharks and fish were placed in a tank together. A transparent glass partition separated the two. Whenever the sharks instinctively moved to devour the fish, they banged their heads against the wall. A month of this and scientists removed the partition. The sharks had it so ingrained that the fish couldn’t be eaten, they’d leave them alone, even if they were floating right next to them.
Fish became atoms and Ethan realized electrons weren’t all that different from humans. Negative, positive energy, fission, anomalous heat production, mysterious reactions. Quarks were feisty son’s of bitches and the Heisenberg uncertainty was just another name for someone who was moody.
Normally, the discovery would have been a moment of joy. But Sarah also had an announcement. “I’m leaving for China next week.”
“For how long?” he asked.
She sighed. “Things haven’t been the same since…”
And he knew she meant the moment she’d been diagnosed with diabetes.
“I hate that I can’t have sugar whenever I want,” she said. “What’s the point of the American dream if I can’t have sweets?”
Or the freedom to be fat. He barely recognized himself in the mirror anymore cause the two gorged on desserts so much. His belly was more like a mountain and hers was no different. Pang fuqi, she joked. The fat couple.
Ethan worked in a huge lab with a fusion generator that looked like it was from Star Trek. Unfortunately, his job was clerical. Administrative. Boring. Even if it involved explosions that could rip the planet in two.
How to convince her to stay? he wondered. Tell her he discovered a way to provide interminable supplies of energy to the world? Tell her he’d make the sun obsolete by understanding that electrons were as whimsical as fireflies? Then again, it wasn’t like he would tell anyone his solution. SolTech Industries had the nasty habit of canning people who made important discoveries. Liabilities, the lawyers said. Basically, they didn’t want anyone to receive credit or financial compensation. Better to draw them out, take baby steps so he’d keep his job, mislead them just enough.
Part of his cynicism came from the fact that all his bosses cared about was promoting themselves to more grandiose titles, executive of this and president of that. They lived off the achievements of past years, eliciting grants like vultures, their hypocrisies more manifold than wavelength’s of sound. Not that Sarah cared. She just wanted her chocolate tapioca dipped in caramel and red bean.
He remembered that on their eighteenth date together, he explained how superstrings were reverberations in other dimensions that caused the physical manifestations in our universe. Marriage gurus said it was reverberations in our desires that caused attraction. Sarah had a confused look. Why was it so hard for him to simply say, “I love you.”
Maybe cause his nerves were fused together, like hydrogen particles that combined until they exploded and caused a catastrophic detonation. He wanted to hold Sarah that much.
“I’ve already bought the ticket,” she said.
“I’ve discovered the solution to cold fusion,” Ethan sputtered out.
She looked at him and said, “That’s nice…” She lowered her head. “Maybe next time, you can just find out how to say, don’t go.”
After Sarah left, Ethan watched manta rays chase hammerhead sharks and tropical fish slither through corals. His fingers were interlaced. He bought a strawberry shortcake ice cream and took a bite. It tasted bitter.
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