Read the rest here, but...A Plus B Equals Your Worst Nightmare
As the twenty-eight foot rental truck emerged from the east side of the Holland Tunnel, the driver flipped the switch flopping around on the seat behind him. This signal traveled along the pair of twisted wires leading to a small, neat hole drilled from the cab through to the spacious cargo area behind him. But, instead of an explosion, this signal triggered the operation of a handful of electric motors and a heater in the apparatus behind him. Tied to the electrical power system of the truck’s engine, this equipment hardly caused any effect on the vehicle’s power as it climbed the grade from under the Hudson River toward Manhattan. By the time the driver reached Canal Street, the weapon had already started its slow operation.
Had anyone bothered to inspect the vehicle, they would have found most of the cargo area occupied by pairs of large, inverted, conical bins arranged throughout the length of the truck. These bins, appropriately enough, struck their designer as resembling miniature missile silos. One bin of each pair contained a liquid substance, the other a granular solid. Piping above the liquid bins had delivered a freshly prepared load of the active ingredient (we’ll call it “A”) from a garage specially equipped for the manufacture and purification of this substance out in New Jersey less than an hour before. Soon, the area immediately around that foreclosed garage would be declared uninhabitable, but no one would notice this in the media frenzy which would soon embroil the island fortress from which economic terrorism is waged on the world’s economies.
The second substance (we’ll call it “B”), a dirty-tan granular material the appearance and consistency of cheap brown sugar, was indefinitely inert, and so required no special handling or precautions. This material had been prepared first, and had sat in a grain silo in Eastern Pennsylvania for two years waiting for its mate.
Once the switch had been engaged, several events happened simultaneously. First, valves opened allowing metered amounts of the liquid to splash onto an augured quantity of the solid leaving its bins like so much chicken feed. This wet mixture passed through an additional auger section where it was mixed thoroughly, and then entered a screw press similar to that used for making wood fuel pellets. Instead of pellets, though, a thick wet spaghetti emerged from the dies then passed over a screened roller which blew hot air over it. Mostly dry now, the brittle extrusion rattled apart, with clumps of the now intimately mixed materials falling through a specially prepared chute, along with the waste hot air stream, just behind the rear axle of the vehicle. No one watching the truck pass by would even notice the tan material falling from the cargo area. The few who might would simply dismiss it as dried mud falling from the axle and wheel wells.
Once mixed, the material did nothing at all. At least not to the naked eye.
But at the atomic level, something very interesting was happening. The material began to come alive. First, at totally random intervals, the nuclei of substance A began to emit high-energy alpha particles. Alpha particles are merely helium nuclei stripped of their electrons. This simple material is harmless, except at the energies the substance began to vomit them. At those energies, these lighter-than-air particles are deadly if ingested. This is what killed Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, high-energy alpha particles streaming from the well-known Polonium-210 poison he had ingested. Polonium-210 is also well-known as an initiator material in primitive atomic bomb designs, a radioactive power source for space vehicles, and a subject of study for weapons labs worldwide, including the Weizmann Institute in Israel, where a couple of oopsies killed a half-dozen or so scientists by accident a few decades back before they learned how to handle this deadly poison.
But this liquid, consisting of a solution of substance A compounded in a simple, yet uncommon, salt, doesn’t contain Polonium-210. That isotope would be far too expensive, too detectable, and much too fast-acting for the dried mud which had by now been scattered along the southern half of Broadway as the truck neared the raging bull. No, this material released the deadly yet secretive alphas much more slowly than Polonium-210, and is unfathomably cheaper (and abundant worldwide). But these alphas alone aren’t a problem unless swallowed or inhaled. No, despite their high energies, they can’t even escape an aluminum can, or a small air gap. The driver of the vehicle is perfectly safe, as is the equipment inside the cargo area. No suicide missions here.
An alpha-emitter, even one as deadly as Polonium-210, has to be ingested or in intimate contact with some other material before that target material could be affected. Intimately mixed with the granules by first wetting and then being augured through a die, that is exactly what happened. Now our alphas come slamming into the nuclei of substance B, spalling neutrons off of them like splinters from a sheet of plywood hit with a twelve-gauge shotgun. There isn’t a one-to-one conversion, of course, since almost all of the alphas miss their targets; our shotgun marksman is blindfolded and standing in the mostly empty space at the subatomic level. Plus, the target nuclei wear electron Kevlar which turns glancing blows into complete misses. Never fear, though, the few hits that do barrel straight in are enough. Shortly after the machinery began to operate, neutrons begin pouring out of the dried mud by the millions, but even this is still undetectable at street level, for even a tiny BB still contains trillions upon trillions of iron nuclei.
Give them time, though, because proper selection of substance A allowed the driver of the truck to complete his circuit through every street on Manhattan Island south of Central Park with plenty of time to escape before real damage began. Plenty of time, meaning weeks, or months. A few days or weeks after the attack the symptoms were detectable, if anyone knew what to look for. By then, the apparatus had been removed from the truck, the cargo area pressure-washed to remove any spilled traces, and then returned to the dealer. No tell-tale axles here. No, by the time anyone realized an attack had happened, the perps had simply vanished, along with any leads that might have been gathered. A trick of math allowed investigators to track the mud back approximately to the attack date, but even that was off by a couple of days. An alert traffic pattern analysis might have revealed a truck that covered each street on southern Manhattan Island, but that could apply to hundreds, or thousands, of delivery trucks among the uncountable numbers that visit there each day. Besides, this attack could have been carried out by twenty trucks just as easily as one. No, this attack was as silent and as mysterious as a whisper in the wind.
Each of these granules of mud, discharging their supply of neutrons over time like a time-release medication, became detectable only after enough atoms of substance A had decayed to allow the gammas of its daughter- and granddaughter-products to uniquely identify the mother substance. A few weeks after the attack one street-level gamma radiation sensor triggered, then hours later a few more, until by the end of the second day of triggering the entire southern half of the island was ablaze with warning signals. As if this wasn’t bad enough, had the designers of the mud weapon bothered, they could have easily salted substance B with substance C. This third material, when exposed to the neutrons streaming out of the dried mud, converts into another isotope which can be used to irradiate food, removing all traces of living organisms. Or for that matter, remove all trace of living organisms such as people when exposed directly.
No, the designers left that little detail alone, opting for more juicy targets for their neutrons, like the legs of the millions of people who walk those streets each day, which also happen to contain critical moderating substances needed to slow those neutrons down into the more deadly so-called thermal variety. Neutron by thermal neutron, day after day, trillions of nuclei of all sorts are converted into dangerous irradiators such as substance C. Why bother to reduce the dose that the truck can carry when all of those people carry sufficient quantities of good-enough in the minerals in their bones? Beyond people being converted into their own walking death chambers, the minerals in the streets, walls and windows also became activated by this constant wash of thermal neutrons. By the time the activity had increased enough to trigger all those alarms, the damage was increasing at rates too fast to stop. And who was going to go into those streets to clean all this up? Hardly anyone cared to volunteer. Not that they could get past the mad rush of those millions who, too late, decided to leave, clogging the bridges and tunnels in their escape.
The Snooper Report.
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