Monday, September 28, 2009

114. Ununquadium


Island of Stability

Ununquadium has lasted for thirty seconds without breaking up, which is very rare for an element this heavy. We're all terribly proud of it. Let's hear a big round of applause for ununquadium. Everybody! That's good.

The transfermian elements tend to be high-strung, everybody knows that. They're thoroughbreds, hothouse flowers, pampered little bundles of neuroses. You can look at them cross-eyed and they'll fall apart.

Not ununquadium. It had long been predicted that an atom with 114 protons and 184 neutrons would be particularly stable, and, well, just look at it! A little shaky, perhaps, a little damp on the forehead and jittery in the eyes, but still with us. That's because ununquadium is the first element in what's called an "island of stability," a region deep in the periodic table where an element's half-life is appreciably longer than those of its predecessors.

Why should this be? Well, evidence is mounting that it's a matter of character. Ununquadium began well by admitting that it has a problem holding things together. Then it sought help. It wasn't afraid of looking foolish. It didn't worry that people might think the less of it. It saw what needed to be done and did it.

But that's not all! I understand that ununquadium has an important message for us. Something about God and the meaning of the universe, is that right? Yes, I see that it is. It's urgent that we know this, you say? I'm sure that it is. And in just a moment I'm going to ask you to come up front and share it with us.

First, however, I have a few brief announcements. Will the owner of the white Ford Taurus station wagon parked out front please move it? It's blocking the driveway, and if it's not moved soon, it will be towed. Next week's meeting has been postponed to the eighteenth, due to a scheduling mixup. Please mark your calendars. Those of you who haven't yet paid your annual dues should—

Oh. Dear me. Ununquadium seems to have split.

That's really a terrible pity, because I gather that what it had to say really was important. In fact, if I may share this with you, ununquadium confided to me just before I came up here that this might well be the single most important message any of us ever received. And now, alas, we'll never know what it was.

But let's not dwell on it. Life is too short.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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