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Rated: E · Short Story · Scientific · #2136660
A professor deals with memory loss.

Sigmund Meerschaum sighed.

He stood at the lectern, tall and gaunt, sporting his horn-rimmed glasses and graying goatee, holding his Peterson pipe while peering out across the stage at the hushed audience--an audience of fellow professors and researchers from all over the world.

All waited with breathless anticipation to hear this respected man of renown, the foremost authority on both brain chemistry and geophysics, give his talk and present his novel hypothesis.  There had been rumblings of it over the grapevine for months.  It was no secret.  Sigmund--so it was said with certainty from Milan to Minsk, from Harvard to Honolulu—would present a new and revolutionary conjecture on memory loss.  That much, at least, was culled from the vine.  Further details, however, were nothing more than fertile imaginations running riot.

Sigmund inhaled one more mini-cloud of cherry tobacco, then removed the pipe from unseen lips and began speaking--slowly, as usual:

“Well, it certainly is a pleasure to see so many familiar, and especially so many unfamiliar faces.  I am honored.  As you may or may not know, I have, for quite some time now, been doing studies on memory loss.  Since both my mother and my grandmother suffered from this condition, I felt obliged to do so.  Along with a number of colleagues, we examined the brains of many patients, and performed both practical and theoretical testing of brain chemistry.”

“Of course, this was nothing new, as this has been done in clinical trials, and in medical facilities for years all over the world.  My research, however, led me in a new direction, a direction that led me to speculate an unusual cause for the plaque buildup in the brain--specifically, that the buildup on the neurons themselves, may be the result of mercury vapor in the atmosphere.”

“I was virtually compelled to run with this speculation when I recently discovered huge and previously unknown pockets of mercury in close proximity to the Earth’s molten core--a core, as most of you know, composed of iron and nickel.  Furthermore, it was then discovered that huge amounts of this mercury vapor were out-gassing readily, through volcanic eruptions, and even through thermal vents deep in the oceans--the mercury, in time, being released from the oceans through evaporation.”

“To be sure, the dispersion and subsequent saturation varies wildly and is contingent on many factors.  However, from repeated tests conducted with the most stringent of methodology, such as double blind control, my conclusion is that the mercury is the catalyst for the conversion of amino acids, such as acetylcholine, to plaque.  Of course, like it is with a myriad of other chemical processes, the individual’s ability the process this pernicious catalyst is the most important factor--some are more susceptible than others.”

“Yet there seems to be little doubt as to the fundamental findings: that mercury is the cause of the plaque, and that there is far more mercury in the Earth than we ever knew.”

Most everyone in the auditorium had something to say--to their immediate neighbor, in groups of three or four, to themselves--and what was once silence was now a kind of low yet increasing entity of sound, like some giant maw gnawing leather pillows, and realizing its displeasure with impolite throaty heaving.

Sigmund raised his right arm and held it steady until the maw stopped its groaning.

“Please, if I may, there is more here that I think you will find of interest.  Indeed, I do not wish to leave you without hope.  With some distinguished colleagues working at Cern, that is to say at the Large Hadron Collider, we have produced a new type of alpha particle, and initial calculations and computer studies indicate this to be quite effective against the brain plaque.”

Professor Halding, an eminent Englishman wearing a tweed coat, stood up:

“Professor Meerschaum, is such a remedy possible?  My dear sir, would that not be, as with most radiation, a lethal risk?  We all know what radiation does to the brain tissue.”

Sigmund smiled and came forward, losing the use of the microphone but gaining a measure of intimacy with the prominent gathering, much like that of a town hall meeting.

“It is my pleasure to say, Professor Halding, that the new alpha particles are carried on harmless frequencies, frequencies no more intense than those of radio waves.  And that, my dear sir, is a far cry from the damaging intensity of x-rays, and of course further removed from the lethal certainty of gamma rays.”

Professor Halding, after some spontaneous applause had abated, requested very politely of Sigmund Meerschaum to explain in detail how the new alpha particle was brought into existence.  Sigmund, with a wry smile, began speaking once more, this time with noticeable pace, as silence once again commanded the auditorium. 

"Yes, it will be my pleasure to explain that.  The new alpha particle was created by the Large Hadron Collider, as I mentioned earlier.  I know it well--I was there when it happened, on September 11, 2001.  It was very exciting, a triumph of physics.  Yes, I dare say that it took my breath away, but it was overshadowed by the terrible terrorist attacks in New York."

Professor Halding, along with others, eyed Sigmund narrowly.  No one said a word to contradict Sigmund as he stood there smug as upstairs sass.  He was wrong, of course, in his recollection.  The Large Hadron Collider didn't have it's first test until 2010.  What Sigmund remembered never actually happened.

921 Words
Writer’s Cramp Winner

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