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Fiction

Shine forever

From the LabLit short story series

Liesbeth Venema 6 January 2014

www.lablit.com/article/805

He wanted to make all results public before anyone else could get their hands on them. But someone close had betrayed him

Once, he wowed the world with his good looks, easy-going charm and infectious enthusiasm. A sought-after speaker, a well-loved addition to any science show – the public couldn’t get enough of Matt Kerral. He was science’s equivalent of a pop celebrity.

His last discovery, the ever-shining diamond, delighted everyone. It was an outrageous claim. He had found a way to create atomic-scale defects in diamond crystals that converted low levels of heat into bright white light. It would be a self-powered light source – an incredibly useful invention. The trouble was, there was no convincing explanation for the effect and nobody had been able to reproduce it.

To me, it was clear the whole thing was a scam. Dreamed up by someone who craved ever more attention. Everything about Matt Kerral seemed too good to be true. And I was going to take him down a peg. Sooner or later he would be unmasked and I wanted to have the news scoop.

It was surprisingly easy to arrange an interview. I prepared well and felt sure I would catch him out. I had received tip-offs from experts who questioned his research methods. Of course they were motivated by jealousy but there was a ring of truth to the rumours. Or so I believed.

It turned out I was wholly unprepared for the interview. In person, Matt’s enthusiasm and charm were entirely genuine. Sitting close to him, our knees almost touching, I felt overwhelmed by his presence and it was all I could do to remember what I had come for.

I tried to provoke him, but my questions didn’t come out with the edge I intended. Matt said he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time trying to reproduce the effect. He was in the process of writing down a detailed set of instructions and was filming every fabrication step. I lost him while he explained all of this as I wondered how his eyes could be such an intense colour blue. I also wondered what would happen after the interview.

What happened was that my editor insisted that I write the article as planned. By that time I knew in my heart that Matt Kerral was genuine, but couldn’t explain this.

Soon after my article was published, Matt’s career began to unravel. Evidence emerged that he had manipulated data and intimidated students into claiming results they didn’t have. The diamond effect was caused by an artefact, probably the presence of phosphorescent impurities.

Two months later, while the investigation was still ongoing, Matt disappeared during a hiking accident.

I felt sick from despair. What role had I played in his downfall? Had he become reckless and killed himself? Pulling myself together, I knew what I had to do.

I felt certain he had been framed. It was strange how all information about the ever-shining diamond had been removed from the public domain. And nobody was willing to talk to me.

Then I remembered. Matt had said during the interview that he was collaborating with his old supervisor, an emeritus professor in the UK. Together they had been developing a theory for the diamond effect. Wouldn’t he be able to help? I emailed him and a meeting was set up.

Everything from the moment my flight landed seemed like a dream. When I arrived at the professor’s lab, tucked away in a small campus building outside a sprawling city, I was informed that I was too late, he had just passed away, at 72. Devastated, I walked away in a random direction. I lost my sense of time and suddenly realized it was dark. I had no idea where I was and coldness enveloped me, as I sensed I was being followed. A tall figure appeared from nowhere and held a gloved hand over my mouth. When he spoke, it felt as if my heart would burst.

It was Matt. He took my hand and said we had to go, fast. We ran through the night, first on a narrow cycle path, then along a muddy track near a river with ghostly white swans. While we ran, he explained and I tried to understand. His invention had drawn the attention of a foreign energy company, and they wanted him to work for them. He refused and they turned aggressive, threatening to kill him. He decided to fake his own disappearance and planned to complete his work in secret, with his old supervisor’s help. He wanted to make all results public before anyone else could get their hands on them. But someone close had betrayed him and soon he had to hide.

We reached a small cabin. Matt took out a torn cardboard box and there was a diamond ring inside it, glowing softly. He lifted my hand, and gently placed the ring on one of my fingers. The heat from my body made it shine much more brightly and tears welled up in my eyes.

He said we weren’t safe. We had to split up: he would distract any followers and I had to get the diamond to safety. I dashed away again in the dark, this time alone.

Then, a shot, piercing the night. They got him!

I have to keep running….

**********

“Moving on to Cindy Hawthorne, in a coma for 25 years. Bullet lodged above her right ear. One of our first patients in the q-MRI trial. The dream patterns we’ve been recording have become remarkably clear. Dennis, any news on whether there was anyone at all 25 years ago who resembled the main subject of her dreams, this Matt?”

The speaker looked questioning at a young man opposite him. A slight shake of the head was the response.

“Ok, never mind. Sooner or later her dreams may come closer to reality and provide a clue of how and why she was shot.”

The meeting was ended but the young man lingered behind, hesitating. He was about to mention the visitor, but knew he could be in trouble. An ancient physics professor had come to see Cindy Hawthorne. He had seemed nice and harmless and when he asked to see the diamond ring, the young man had forgotten and automatically replied it was still being investigated. He soon realized his mistake: this was confidential information. How could the old man have possibly known about the strange glowing ring that Cindy had been wearing when she was found?