Monday 1 June 2015

One night in a disused laboratory

Come down to my lab and see what's on the slab

I’m sitting here in a cellar, with a bench full of very old scientific equipment and a TV monitor in front of me. The screen is showing me one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen, the inside of a gaseous tank, actually an ancient aquarium. We’re wondering what to do with it.
It’s no ordinary tank, but one made by my Uncle Thaddeus. He was completely crazy, but in that very British way that can pass as eccentricity. 
Others said it was his natural bonhomie and amiability that kept him out of a straitjacket.
It went back, family legend says,  to an argument with someone who believed the world was created in six days. Thaddeus, had taught at Oxford and decided to prove him wrong. Many would have countered the proposition with reason, logic and science. He took a path less traveled by constructing a large chamber in his basement.
Into this chamber, an aquarium from one university expedition or another, he recreated what science then considered to be the mix of chemicals and gases believed to be on the planet before life began.
He showed it to me, as a young boy in the 60s. By then it had been going for 40 years or more. The chamber was hard to see into, with thick cloudy gas inside and some sort of mold growing on the wall, in fact you could only see anything when the electrodes fired and a huge spark flew across the tank, replicating the effect of lightening.
I’m here now because the experiment is about to come to a close, after 100 years or so. Thaddeus never could remember when it had started, only that the fellow he was in dispute with passed away in 1924, by which time it had been running for some time. Neither did he ever make any usable notes about the experiment.
The only reason it outlived its inventor was because the wily scientist bequeathed the house to a nephew on condition that the experiment was continued. The nephew thought it a good deal and added a small TV camera, some sensors and instruments, but soon got bored of looking at nothing much at all and largely forgot about it. It was designed to be left alone, it just needed to be plugged in.
Sadly, he also passed away, but with no bequest and so the house has been sold. The British scientific community isn’t interested, saying there’s no validity or even data to the experiment.
There’s nothing I can do. But to me it is precious, I felt so proud that my uncle could do something like this, just because he wanted to, because he could. I’m sitting here, thinking of him looking at the monitor, with the sparks illuminating the gas cloud. Everyone should have a slightly dangerously eccentric uncle, I miss him so much.
But that’s not why I’m feeling scared right now. It’s not the being alone in a dark basement. It’s not that.
I’ve just looked at the monitor. There’s something in there.
Looking at me.

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