The Rock

 It was a mild day. There were some clouds in the sky blocking the sun at intervals, allowing the two men working a little rest. The two men were digging in the rocky ground that surrounded them.

A long ridge of mountains could be seen in the distance.

            The one was an older man; he wore a grey T-shirt and short brown pants. A hat covered his head, protecting him from the occasional sun beams. Next to him, busy digging, was a younger man, wearing much the same cloth.

The younger man paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and put his pick down.

“Remind me again why we left our office to do this?” he asked the older man.

“What do you mean? This is what archeology is all about. And by to by a meteor was spotted landing somewhere here in the area so I thought we might be able to find something interesting” the older man replied smiling.

“Always looking for that new mineral…”the young man muttered and got back to his digging.

 The older man climbed out of the hole and walked to a table set a few meters next to the hole. A big tent was erected around it, casting a shadow on it. The older man walked in and took a bottle of water from the cool box. He was just about to drink from it when he heard a sharp cry.

“Professor you would never believe what I just found!!” Michael cried

The professor dropped the bottle on the table and hurried out to look at the find. Michael was slowly climbing out of the hole, holding something in his hands.

The professor gritted his teeth in irritation.

“Not with your bare hands Michael, you should know better, use gloves or something of a sort”

“But professor, I’m not holding it in my hands”

Michael was now next to professor. He opened his hands for him to see. Inside of them, floating, was a remarkable piece of rock, or mineral it was very difficult to see what it was. There seemed to be a veil of mist covering it, distorting its image so that it appeared a mix of things.

 The professor stared for a minute open mouthed. A floating rock was unheard of; this didn’t fit in his definition of minerals, or rocks for that matter. Rocks were known to have a few minerals in them, thus making them rocks, but there has never been any record of a flying or levitating rock. There were some experiments done recently in the subject of levitation. They mostly involved using magnetic forces to levitate a certain object from a certain substance. But this had been dropped for lack of conclusive results.

What they had here was a marvel, a unique find.

They carefully put the rock in a small box double its size. They tried a smaller box, but for some reason the rock couldn’t enter it. They quickly folded everything working fast and efficiently, putting everything in their big jeep. Once finished they drove to their research lab, all the time remaining quiet. They both knew what they had found, and both were eager to find more clues on this mystery. There was no use in talking about it, both knew their jobs well.

 After a 20 minute drive they arrived at their lab. Michael quickly went to the back of the jeep and got the box holding the rock out. The rest of the things could wait. They got to their lab, the professor opening the door. Michael set the box on the table and opened it. The rock levitated lazily upwards. They both stared at it. It was beautiful. Colors shined across it, reflecting all the known colors across the room. They both looked at each other smiling gaily.

“Well the first thing we need to do is check what this field is around it. Causing this levitation” said the professor after a moment of thought.

“Right” agreed Michael “there can be only 4 possibilities I think, since there are only 4 known forces” continued Michael “electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear, and gravitation I guess we are dealing with an electromagnetic force”

The professor smiled, this kid really was his protégé. They were always on the same thought wave, many times Michael proved to be more than capable to continue on to a better place, a place where he would be head researcher. But Michael always pointed out that his experience is not sufficient. He did have a point, and he was still young. But sometimes he couldn’t help thinking of Michael in a big fancy lab doing some great important work for the future of mankind. Big words, but he couldn’t help them. Michael had ambitions and nothing short of a miracle could stop him from following his dreams.

“If that is so then we need to check what kind it is. Maybe we can overload it and break it that way” Michael added.

“What I find disturbing is that if this is some kind of electromagnetic force field then why is it so stable?”

They both looked at each other, neither had an answer. To make something levitate using a magnetic field, you needed a magnet. There was none visible.

“Maybe the rock itself is a magnet” suggested Michael.

“If it is then why can it levitate on every surface? I mean look at it. It just floats in the air, without any source of power. Ok wait, let’s think it over logically. Magnetic materials come in three different flavors right?! Ferromagnetic, paramagnetic and diamagnetic. Ferromagnetic materials, such as iron, can be permanently magnetized. Paramagnetic substances, such as the mineral biotite, become magnetized only while they are exposed to an external magnetic field. They are attracted to permanent magnets and thus do not help in the quest for stable, passive levitation. Diamagnetic substances act differently. They repel permanent magnets, and in this way make such levitations rather easy. So if you take all that in consideration what are we dealing with?  …Damn this is giving me a headache”

Michael stared at the professor. He remembered some of this back when he took physics. But that was quite a while back. Why couldn’t things ever just be simple, he thought to himself. But then again if things were always easy where would the challenge lie. He needed a cup of coffee. That would get him back in business.

“What was that idea of yours?” asked the professor suddenly

“What idea?” replied Michael

“Something about hitting a field with a different power thus overloading it or something of the sorts”

“Ah that, well I guess we could try bombing electrons on this field so that it becomes more and more powerful maybe then it would be overloaded and collapse?”

“It could work, since that usually works with standard magnetic fields, right?” he said looking at Michael

“Well actually everything that levitates by it self against a different substance needs very little power to break the field… But this is another matter. It could be that there is something in between the rock and the field that responds in a way to the rock and creates the field that way. But it’s still the same thing since we are looking for the rock itself. So if we just bomb the electrons in the field we should be able to remove it. If something bad happens we can always stop. Although we should take good care that no side effects happen.”

“Right” said the professor grinning “let’s get started”

They setup all things they would need. They put the rock in a closed glasslike structure that was almost unbreakable. This done, they got ready. The professor closed the lights, the electrons being bombed would emit light when passing through the different energy fazes thus allowing them to literally see what would happen. Michael slowly started the electrical current, the professor looking closely at what was happening.

At the beginning nothing seemed to happen. The rock stayed at the same place, floating in the structure, but as Michael continued putting a higher and higher current, something seemed to occur. The rock shook a few times and then everything went dead. The machine, the emitted electrons, everything turned black.

“Michael?”

“Yea, I’m still here… hang on I’ll turn on the lights” Everything was quiet for a while. “Drat, the lights are gone too guess we blew a fuse. I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and just open the curtains” said Michael

Light filled the room. The sun was still shining outside. The professor looked closely at the rock. It lay on the bottom of the glasslike structure. He took a small device and looked at its gage. “Well no radiation from what I can tell” he stated and slowly opened the locking mechanism. Nothing happened. He put on a pair of gloves and lifted the rock. Its weight was remarkable. It looked very small, no more then a few cm but it weighed at least 2kg. He quickly took the rock to a scale and looked at the weight. The scale registered 200mg. The professor looked dumbfounded. Had he just imagined the rock being so heavy? He picked it up again, it now felt as light as a feather. He put it back on the scale. The scale display showed 10kg. He turned to Michael.

“Maybe the scale is broken?” he suggested.

“Well it’s not just the scale, I picked it up twice, and twice the weight was significantly different. Grab a pair of gloves and tell me what u make of it”

Michael put on a pair of gloves and lifted the rock; it nearly flew from his hand. A look of surprise registered on his face.

“What is it?” asked the professor

“I expected it to be 10kg, but this weighs nothing, it nearly flew from my hand. It weighs less then a pebble.”

“So the scale is not broken, there is something very strange about this thing” muttered the professor.

He took the rock from Michael and put it on the table.

“Let’s forget the weight for now and try to classify it” he said turning to Michael.

He took a very small chisel and very delicately, under a magnifying glass, tried to break a small piece off, with which he could perform the analysis. But nothing seemed to happen. He tried a few more times but nothing. No small piece would break. No matter how strongly he used the chisel the rock would not give in. He looked closely at the rock under the magnifying glass. If he was unable to break a small piece, he might be able to scratch the surface of the rock thereby determining its hardness. He pushed the chisel on the surface. He looked closely at the magnifying glass. The chisel went in the rock. He shook his head, maybe he was too tired. He asked Michael to continue the analysis.

Michael sat down behind the table to continue where the professor left off. He tried to put the chisel on the rock. The chisel went in the rock. Michael stared for a second and took the chisel out. He tried again, this time pushing the chisel deeper in. The chisel looked like it was 3 times the size of the rock; it was now almost all the way in the rock and didn’t appear to come out. This was not rock. Michael put the chisel down and picked up the rock. He tried too feel it, see how the surface feels like, but for some reason he couldn’t. He looked down, the rock was in his hand, his brain was telling him the rock was in his hand. He could feel its weight pulling at him, but he could not feel the rock. He wasn’t shocked, just intrigued. He held the rock next to the window looking at the color. If you looked at it from afar, it looked red purple. But a closer look revealed it was neither. It had shifts of color, slowly switching from every known color.

 Michael put the rock back down. Maybe they have been going at it the wrong way. Maybe it wasn’t a rock. That was the only explanation. A rock does not change its composition, its features. The only thing that does that is…

 He turned staring hard at the professor.

“I think” he said trying to appear calm “this is not a rock but something different entirely… I think it’s alive”

The professor looked at him, trying to discern if Michael was joking. What he saw was a young man with a dead serious face, a hint of fear reflected in his eyes.

“How could it be alive?” said the professor finally.

“I… I don’t know, but that seems to be the only explanation. It changes colors never keeping a single one. At first I thought it was red-purple like but it’s not. If you look closely it changes colors almost like it changes its weight. Maybe there is some connection to that. I don’t know, but I know rocks and minerals and I know that this thing, whatever it is, is not one of them. I tried scratching it, and the chisel just went in it. But it didn’t come out again. I mean look at the thing it’s what 2cm?! And I went with the chisel all the way in. No wonder we can’t break a piece off, there is nothing to break. From what I can see it changes its structure, its size, its color and god knows what else every few minutes. I mean…”

Michael stopped for a moment, thinking hard.  “Oh my god!” he cried.

“What?” demanded the professor

“What if it changes its ion configuration as well? What if it’s radioactive? If this thing had a force field like that it could change its ion configuration and from the different weight he must be changing his molecular structure as well, maybe even produce a radioactivity”

“That’s impossible; we would have noticed it in the glass box, remember?”

“But that’s just the thing. It keeps changing; it could very well be radioactive now!”

They both looked at each other fear creeping up on both of them. Michael ran towards the rock. It was gone. He looked at the desk where he had left it. It wasn’t there. He searched franticly about, but it was nowhere to be found. They kept on searching for a whole hour and then gave up. There was nothing more they could do. Their biggest discovery was lost. No one would ever believe them now without proof. They haven’t even made pictures of it. They were too busy conducting their research, and now it was too late. They sat down next to each other.  

“Maybe it is for the best that it’s gone” muttered the professor.

Michael looked at him. He agreed with him only partly. If it was truly a life form then it was the most unique thing he had and probably would ever lay his eyes upon.

            They sat down together thinking about the strangeness of life, trying to make out what has happened to them, when suddenly a disturbing thought fount its way into the professors mind. Michael said the rock was a life form. That was the only logical explanation he had said. The best way to study something was observing them, and then slowly changing something in order to observe a different reaction. See what would happen if slowly gradually something changed that forced you to act in a different way. It has been done before many many times. The study of mice behavior was done much the same way.

            A cold shiver went through his spine. Could it be? Did the rock test them? Study them?

He looked at Michael. He had a faraway look on his face. 

 

This was originally titled the mysterious rock, but actually I didn’t like the sound of that so I changed it to just simply the rock. It was the very first “official” short story I wrote back in 2005. I had the idea for it for a while, but for some reason it just got more and more complicated and a bit too 80s science fiction like. At the end I thought that less in this case would be more, so I skimmed through it and this was the end result. 

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