Patently Obvious

The air fills with a chorus of hums and beeps.


The typical “lab scene”: workbenches, computers and equipment at once abstruse, arcane and esoteric. Surrounded by all is a small, featureless and otherwise unremarkable silver cylinder enmeshed by wires & sensors and a plethora of flashing LEDs.

A massively handsome man and ridiculously beautiful women are bent over a complex control console.

TaaaaaDaaaaa! The long-awaited sound rings out. Tension releases. Joy and celebration ensues.

She gushes, “You’ve done it honey! The only person who could. You've made fusion work! Cheap, clean, sustained, energy-positive fusion.”

“And you’ve packaged it up and made it usable.” Gestures to the cylinder, “No-one else could have built that.” Gleefully: “We’ll make old Jiang-Lin Abernathy eat his hat!”

“That’ll be a sight to see!”

“What a team we make!”

They kiss, and while in his arms, she stiffens, blanches and pulls back.

“What’s wrong?”

She shakes her head slowly. She is wild eyed, clearly shocked by the thought that has just struck her.

“The key to all of this,” she waves wildly around the room, “is that you realised that the fraction of normally inert dark matter and energy that is always carried along for the ride with any normal fusion mass becomes interacting at the extremes of temperatures and pressures everyone has been using. The more they try to push the fusion mass together, the more the associated dark matter produces a back pressure. The harder they try, the more the dark matter prevents them.

“Your simple idea…”

He interrupts, playfully, still elated. Her mood has not yet infected him: “Almost two decades of hard work, and she says ‘simple.’”

“Shush. Your simple idea was that separating the fusion mass into it’s dark and light components would allow us to select only the normally interacting 15% matter fraction. It’s worked out beautifully. Look!” Points. “Fusion is now almost trivial to get going.”

“So what’s wrong?”

“We’ve been discarding the 85% dark fraction. I just thought: ‘What if we try fusing that?’ You tell me: where does that take us?”

A pause, then: “It would be much more energetic.”

Much more energetic. And…?”

Another pause.

“One reason I love you so much is that you are simple.”

“That word again.” He appeals to the unseen universe: “I’ve just changed the world as we know it and I’m ‘simple’ still!”

“'Uncomplicated’ then, if you like.

“You’re still thinking of using fusion to prduce energy. A nice, peaceful use. Golden Age Of Humanity and all that stuff, but don’t you see? If fusing an impure mixture of normal matter gave us the energy of the Sun and H-bombs, what sort of weapon would a bomb made from the pure dark matter fraction be?

“Remember Robert Oppenheimer’s famous quote: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’? Oppenheimer’s fusion bomb would look like a birthday cake candle next to this. That old Russian Tsar Bomba Lithium bomb that set the whole world ringing when it was set off is nothing, absolutely nothing in comparison.” Almost a wail: “I don’t want to destroy the world!”

“So? Should we drop out and go and live in the woods?” He presses on without waiting for a reply. “I can’t cower in a corner and pretend that nothing happened here today. You know the old argument: ‘Information wants to be free.’ Sooner or later, the cat is going to get out of the bag. Abernathy is almost as far along as we are and you can bet your life that he won’t share your qualms.”

“A hermit’s life is not for me, thank you very much. But what can we do? You know that old saw about how Teller had a mathematical treatment that showed how his bomb could fuse all the Nitrogen in the Earth’s atmosphere and still Oppenheimer went ahead and set it off. OK, so it couldn't actually have happened thanks to energy being transferred into light and then scattered away from the reaction but that was then and this is now. The first dark matter bomb exploded on this planet will also be the last. It’ll be bye-bye planet for certain.” She waits for his reply, gets none and continues.

“How can we gift our work to the world and not also point the biggest gun ever made at everybody’s head? It’s an age-old question that has never been answered but it’s patently obvious that we need to do something.”

Something ‘clicks.’ in the man’s head. “Hmmm? Hmmmmmm. Hmmmmmmmmm! ‘Patently obvious’ you say!” The man pulls the women into close embrace.

“Darling you are a GENIUS!”


Lights come up in the little cinema as the rather stilted renactment comees to end; the hologram dissipates.

A bored tour guide turns to her charges and continues the story that all have just witnessed.

“I am sure that you know the rest…

“Fred Brookes’ idea was to use the patent system to ensure that no-one other than he and Kathleen Keen could possibly make a dark matter device.

“Still, the pair were mocked and their noble idea mostly ignored. Only their childhood friend Gordon Woo believed in them. Despite—or perhaps because of—having no previous experience in patent law he drafted what most now regard as a masterpiece. Many place it on-par with the U.S. Declaration of Independence or the African Union Bond of Solidarity. Even the Greater Chinese Nations treat it with respect.

“The patent ultimately granted to Brookes, Keen and Woo gave them sole domain over all possible uses of dark matter and energy and is credited with enabling our current age of peace and prosperity. The Brooks-Keen-Abernathy Very Much Faster Than Light Space Drive is taking us to the stars.

“No challenge to it has ever been successful, whether the challenger has been private citizen, commercial interest, miltary organisation or state.

“The original patent grant document—validated with the handprints of Brookes and Keen overprinting the holostore encoded certification—is behind you. Please take a moment to look at it before exiting to your left. Copies are available for purchase in our gift shop.

“Thank you.”