"Mr. Stonegal will see you now."
Dr. Nicholas Ozark had been expecting the words, but was still a little startled to hear them spoken. He forced himself out of his seat and followed the woman past the intimidating horseshoe-shaped desk and through the oak-paneled door into the cavernous office beyond. There was a tastefully understated brown-and-tan carpet underneath, a vast wooden desk, various cabinets displaying various treasures, and a floor-to-ceiling picture window revealing a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline. Behind the desk sat an elderly man with white hair in an immaculate dark blue suit.
The man rose to greet Ozark as he walked across the office, all too aware of the shabby nature of his own blazer and slacks. But then, he told himself, how often does a physicist need to wear a business suit? He felt a sudden wish that he had worn his lab coat to the interview, as a way of establishing his bona fides as a scientist. He dismissed the wish as silly, and shook the man's hand.
"Doctor Ozark?" said Stonegal. "Have a seat, please." Stonegal gestured to an antique chair to the left of his desk, and Ozark sat uneasily.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mr. Stonegal," Ozark replied.
"I was . . . intrigued by what Professor Woo had to say about your paper," said Stonegal. "He assures me of its validity."
Ozark had to admit that Jennie's suggestion had been a good one. What was the point in being in the same department as a Nobel Prize-winning physicist like Shen-Biao Woo if you didn't take advantage of the fact? He had written up a paper on what he called the Electromagnetic Effect and showed it to Woo. That worthy had seen the implications immediately, and this interview with Jonathan Stonegal was the direct result.
"Let's be clear," Stonegal continued. "You believe that millions of people are going to just vanish into thin air as a result of some . . . "
"Synergistic field effect," Ozark offered. "And it's billions. At least a billion and a half, possibly over two billion."
"And this will happen why?"
"Well, if you've read my paper --"
"I read the parts that were in English," Stonegal said with a wry smile.
Ozark found himself smiling in response. It was really uncanny the way Stonegal was able to put him at his ease. He must, Ozark decided, have had a lot of practice dealing with people who were intimidated by his family name.
"Well, as best as I can translate the mathematics into English," Ozark said, choosing his words, "the various electromagnetic fields that our civilization has created are interacting with the Earth's own magnetic field, and with the sudden flood of radiation that was released last year during the Russian attack on Israel. There's never been as much radiation permeating the Earth's biosphere, not even back in the '50s when the United States and Soviet Russia were testing nuclear weapons. It turns out that the unique conditions that have been created are not allowing the radiation to disperse, as it has in the past. Instead, it's being concentrated in the bodies of living organisms, especially human beings. At some point in the near future, we will cross a threshold, a tipping point --"
"A phase change," Stonegal suggested.
"Exactly, a phase change that will cause the radiation to interact with the various electromagnetic fields surrounding us, and also with the human body's own nervous system. The result will be like turning off a light switch, only instead of a light bulb going out, the switch will cause all the molecular bonds holding the human body together to momentarily cease operating. The effect will last less than a second, but that will be enough to cause all the body's atoms to separate. The bodies will literally disintegrate."
"But why children? Why children under twelve?"
"It has to do with the length of time the body has been exposed to the various electromagnetic fields, and the nervous system's maturation process. I can't explain it any more exactly than that, not if you want me to continue speaking English. As for the pectoral crosses . . . " Ozark sighed. "I don't even know how to translate those particular equations into English. All I can tell you is that anyone, adult or child, who is wearing a plain metal pectoral cross will suffer the same effect."
"What sort of time frame are we talking about here, Doctor?"
"I can give you probability forecasts, but it would be simpler to say that it might happen ten seconds from now, will probably happen within the next six months, and will almost certainly happen within the next year."
"And will there be any more of these . . . events?"
"No. This upcoming event will serve to disrupt the synergistic effects." With what he suspected was a ghastly smile, he added, "Unless someone else decides to detonate several thousand nuclear weapons all at once."
There was a long pause. Ozark had made his explanations. There wasn't anything else for him to say.
"And there's nothing we can do?"
Ozark sighed again. "If we were to shut down every power station, every appliance, cease using electricity for a year, that might be enough to head off the phase change, allow the radiation to dissipate to safe levels. And I know as well as you that that's not possible. It would also help if we could persuade people to stop wearing crosses, but that would be nearly as impossible."
The old man's gaze narrowed, and Ozark found himself pinned beneath those eyes. Eyes as sharp as knives had only been an expression before, but now the physicist knew what that phrase really meant. "So what do you want me to do?"
Ozark took a deep breath. "The world is on the verge of experiencing the most terrible calamity it's ever faced. There'll be chaos, shock on a scale that's never been experienced before. We can't prepare everyone for what's about to happen, because most people wouldn't believe it, and the ones who did would go mad. What we need to do is warn certain key people, important people, so that they can plan ahead and be prepared to act when the time comes. We have to keep our civilization running, keep things together until the shock wears off enough for people to resume their normal lives. Or as normal as they can ever be."
There was another pause before Stonegal said, "You've given me a lot to think about, Doctor Ozark. I'll contact Professor Woo when I've reached a decision."
"Thank you, Mr. Stonegal." Ozark rose and shook the older man's hand again. "And thank you again for seeing me."
Once again, Ozark felt the other man's eyes pierce him. "You're a great man, Doctor Ozark. You may have just helped to save the world."
There was nothing Ozark could say to that. He released Stonegal's hand, and turned away.
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