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On the Division of Labor

classifications: Science-Fiction / Humourous / Hard

A tribute to the late, great Isaac Asimov

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Alfred C. Méni's eyes, undimmed by the years, stared down at the scrap of paper his sweaty hands held, and slowly, slowly, a smile began to find itself among the folds of his face. Peters could see the thin lips part into an expectant grin, the creased lines stretch backwards and the eyebrows rise; and then, with a cry of absolute jubilation, the 80-year-old form of the world-famous physicist leapt two feet straight upwards onto the pressed leather chair and shouted, "Eureka!"

"What is it?" Jolston Peters had been leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe, but now he glanced up with a small amount of genuine curiosity accompanying his universal cynicism. He began to pick his way across the book-strewn floor.

Two years before, the standard model of physics had been shaken to its foundations by the first experimental evidence to contradict the basic assumptions of quantum mechanics, and the science world was in an uproar. The 5 minutes that passed from the moment the small, gnarled Salverson Dantham took to the podium, to the moment the thickly accented words, "Einstein and Bohr were wrong!" filled the listening ears of 500 physicists and the halls of the Geneva Academy, were the most momentous since Newton's brief experience under an apple tree.

Dantham's results were, quite simply, unexplainable. It had been a double-slit experiment like any other, like the thousands that had come before, with 2 simple exceptions: This time, the experiment was performed at atrociously high energy levels. And this time, the pattern on the photograph was not one of wave interference, but the simple two slits of light indicating particle interaction.

The new results were not easily melded with existing knowledge. In fact, the scientific community could not find a single way to incorporate the data into the standard model; it was apparent that something was missing.

The experiment indicated an undiscovered particle, or force, or something affecting the behavior of light in that thin realm between the quantum and the relative - and it seemed that not a scientist in the world could figure out what to look for.

"I've done it, my boy." The bright glow of discovery had yet to leave, and Méni was scrambling down from the chair. He looked like Michael Jordan winning a game, like Charlie Parker finishing a solo; his face was alive with mathematical euphoria.

"Here, let me see that." Peters stepped over and looked across the shoulder of his teacher. The half-crumpled page was a jumbled scrawl of formulas and proofs, symbols that looked Greek but weren't, graphs and diagrams and charts and separations. Méni grinned and watched him catch the basic gist, watched him forget for a moment his carefully molded bearing and merely stare. Then, with a flash, the 22-year-old face lit up like an Olympic torch.

* * *

Eight months later, the new particle was discovered.

It was named after its renowned predictor, named in honor of the man who had died the week before, named the Ménian (Méni + suffix -an, for the particle was so fundamentally different from any previously found that its discoverers forewent the usual -on ending; pronounced with the nasal an in hand, accented on the last syllable). A grant typo called it the Méni-an, with the hyphen intact, and the name stuck.

And now the world knew.

Now it knew the truth, the revelation, it knew of the latest piece in the quantum jigsaw puzzle.

Now the world knew:

Méni-ans make light work.

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