25: On Split Atomic Nuclei

Like most nights, they sat in their rocking chairs by the fireplace, Itero smoking, and the Devourer reading. The sound of the rain against the roof and windows drenched out the crackling of the fire. Itero blew rings of smoke that grew as they moved through the air before dissolving entirely. On a table beside the Devourer, stood a table torch illuminating the pages of the book he was reading. The old man got up from his chair to put more wood on the fireplace. He held the pipe between his teeth as he used both hands to break a twig into two against his knee. The flames grew as soon as he stuck the twig into the fire. He followed it with a thicker log that he situated as far into the fireplace he could get it without burning himself.

Listen, Said the Devourer, This section explains the inner working of old world weapons, The most commonly used fissile material for nuclear weapons is uranium-235 and plutonium-239, but also uranium-233 has been used to a lesser degree. Fission weapons use a mass of fissile material that is forced into supercriticality, which induces exponential nuclear chain reactions. This can be achieved either by shooting a piece of sub-critical material into another or by compressing a sub-critical sphere of material using lenses of chemical explosives. However, only the latter approach can be used if the fissile material is plutonium. Additionally, neptunium-237 and some isotopes of americium are theorized to be usable as well. Regardless of which fissile material used, all fission reactions create radioactive remains of split atomic nuclei.

Wonder if those could be reverse-engineered, Itero said as he got up from the floor and sat down in his rocking chair again.

Uranium-235, plutonium-239, The Devourer quoted. Sounds like codewords for something. And what’s a split atomic nuclei?

I’m afraid I don’t know, Itero said and blew out a large cloud of smoke through his nose. Maybe we should let the scholars take a look at it.

They could’ve done that for all the years it was in the archives.

No, Itero said. They can’t read it, but you can.

Forgot about that, The Devourer said. Nevertheless, I don’t know if the world needs any more weapons.

I rather we and the Kingdom has those weapons than anyone else.

If you let this cat out the bag, you can’t ever put it back in again. And how would I explain the fact that I could read it? They’d much rather study me than any one of the books in the archives. Dissect me like some fish and scrutinize the very marrow of my bones.

You’ve got a point. You know, Nihil, I would like to thank you for what you did with the healers. I can’t ever thank you enough. You saved my life.

You’ve thanked me many times, Itero. And I would do the very same thing again. A couple moons of work for a friends life, ain’t anything.

What does he have you read?

Mostly history, chronicles, whatever touches upon the old world in any realistic sense. And religious books. He seems to have a knack for them. Listen, here the book goes on about some other weapons, he said and continued, Binary munitions contain two isolated chemicals that do not produce lethal effects until mixed, which usually happens just before battlefield use. In contrast, unitary weapons are lethal in their existing state and make up the majority of the chemical weapon stockpile. Examples are GB, GA, GD, VX, and blister agents such as sulfur mustard formulations, for example, HD, HT, and H, which become gaseous when released but are otherwise liquid at room temperature. The sulfur mustards H and HD freeze in temperatures below 12.8 °C. Mixing lewisite with distilled mustard gas lowers the freezing point to −25.0 °C.

Interesting? Itero asked.

Perhaps, The Devourer answered. Maybe there’s someone that could understand it. Sounds like some kind of coded language to me. He closed the book and got up from the chair and went over to the bookshelf. There he put the book back in its place before tracing his finger along the spines of a couple of other books. Makes you wonder, He said, Are there others circulating out there? How did they survive for so long, wouldn’t paper deteriorate over the millennia that must’ve passed since they were created.

Imagine if they were forgery all along. When you think about how much I paid for them, it would’ve been lucrative for whoever made them.

But they did sort of serve their purpose. Didn’t they?