It was always the two of us, James (myself) and Francis (my colleague), both budding scientists and best friends. We were drawn together by each other's intellect from the end of high school, and had not separated since.
We both longed for recognition, but to no avail- we never made a discovery or invention that would truly earn us such.
And then one day, Francis began a project. I knew he had because he began to disappear sporadically. I wouldn't see him for days on end, then he would return. He always worked in secret. His mind is brilliant, but that was his one flaw- he was constantly paranoid. He would share none of his ideas with anyone.
It’s also the main reason he hasn't talked to his family in years, as every time they asked about his line of work he’d become defensive and cease talking to them.
It’s just the way he is. And because of this, we were all the more closer, and so I was the only one who had a chance of learning of his projects before he’d completed, tested, and painstakingly copyrighted every aspect of the design and his ideas and checked for loopholes.
Only since we were so close, I guessed the notion he was building it underground- and it was some form of machinery. But that was all I knew. And then suddenly, one day in autumn, it was complete. He arranged for us to meet at his house. He promised to show me something, and I instantly took that to mean his newest work. Arriving at his residence, he confirmed my suspicions.
He took me through a concealed archway in the basement, through a number of coded doors and slowly we progressed downwards under the ground. Lower and lower we went until, at last, we stood in a factory-sized, concrete ‘room’ the size of a small warehouse. The whole place was cemented so grey.
A grey desk was littered with paper covered in an ineligible writings and equations. Thick, haphazard wires snaked the floor, some connecting to small-scale devices. And in the middle there stood a magnificent invention, like a huge metal capsule or basin, a translucent plastic window in it, on poles at the base.
Yet I had no idea what it was.
“It looks quite daunting and brilliant, my friend. And knowing how thorough you are, I’m sure it works perfectly” I commented.
As he stood next to me, absorbed by his own pride, but I distracted him and his gaze flitted to connect with mine and he answered. “This,” he began, “Is a simple idea, which I’m surprised no one has attempted before.”
He sauntered over to caress the thing, and casually added, “I’m sure you know what a centrifuge is, no?”
“Why, of course,” I replied. “A machine designed to separate substances into their individual elements, using their different densities to do so.”
He smiled at me, and turned then turned his back to me and continued.
“I am glad to have a friend who knows his stuff. It will be a shame when I no longer have you.
Concisely, yes that is exactly what a centrifuge does. My invention is like a centrifuge, but bigger and slightly different. You could technically put anything in there and take out whatever you like. It could be used to separate samples, but also make huge quantities of oil from fruits et cetera...”.
Immediately, I realized what this meant. “This could make you a fortune...!” I cried.
He turned around dramatically (I think that he enjoyed this), and declared “Yes! It could." And it does work.
I've tested every aspect and capability of it...except...” he shook his head, as if to clear it. “Never mind, but still. And I have decided to share my idea with you James...you’d never steal my idea and use it for your own means, would you?”. His ending statement left him short of breath, as he’d shouted it and looked half mad.
Shaken, I replied “Of course not! Never!”. I’d had to repeat myself few times before he’d believe me though.
And so it was decided. We stood, drank a little to celebrate, and talked awhile about business plans. He had told me: “I've already created some interest as I began to look for investors myself. One is coming...in four days. I've given him the ‘codes to get down here so I can unveil it to him as I did with you. Though of course, being a man of business rather than science I’d guess he won’t appreciate the work necessary as you do.
"Your appreciation means a lot to me”. I accepted his gratitude, but then realized something else he had said troubled me. “You...gave him all of the passcodes to get down here?”.
“What’s wrong with that?” he whipped back.
“You never give anyone the passwords! Not even me! If you don’t mind me saying, you know you can be paranoid about these things...it just shocked me, that’s all,” I said.
“Well, you never know what could happen do you?” He smirked at me. I didn’t understand, but dropped the subject.
And that’s when it happened.
There was a sudden shudder of the whole floor, and a groaning noise. Then, the sound of crumbling rocks and a splash of water. We’d managed to keep our balance, and Francis ran straight over to the door. It was an airtight door, metal, with one window showing the passageway back upwards. I followed, but with less haste, scared of what I would see.
Through the window, we saw dirt, rocks. Little else as it was only illuminated from the light in this room.
Francis turned to me, and smoothly said “There’s been a collapse in the corridor down here. We’re trapped”.
I sank to the floor. “No way out?” I said.
“None. I was too through, it seems”.
“Is there...any food?” I ventured. Nothing, again.
I worked down here, food or drink could have disrupted me.
“No water?” I mouthed.
“In all honestly” he said brusquely “we won’t last more than three days.”
I clutched at one last straw of hope “But the client you contacted! He has the codes! He’s coming in...” then I realized “four days. Could we hold out?”
And gravely, grimly, and smoothly as ever he stated “The alcohol has probably already dehydrated us. Neither of us are in peak physical condition either. It’s unlikely.”
It had been evening when we descended, so it was already night, and we both decided the best thing to do was sleep. As I lay in the darkness, I pondered life and accepted my inevitable death. I thought of my family.
I drifted into a hazy sleep, but was awakened by Francis muttering, a sibilant babble in which he sustained arguments with himself. “No phone...too deep for signal...computers, none...but electricity for the centrifuge, as you planned...biology...remember...just enough to last a week...60%...James...”. Soon after, I fell asleep again.
And then I awoke a second time. This time Francis stood above me, a small object in hand. Just as I had opened my eyes, it was enough to see him deal a blow to me. I felt it, cried out, and then drifted into blackness...
Then I woke up for the third time. At first, I was confused. I could see white plastic and metal above me. And then realization hit me, harder than Francis had hit me on the head.
I sat up in the centrifuge and clawed at that plastic window. Francis was on the other side and smiling grimly. I hit it with my fists. “LET ME OUT FRANCIS!”.
He just smirked. “We're 60% water dear friend, and I can survive on your fluids alone for a week.
"You dehydrate quicker than you starve. In some ways, this fulfills something for me...I’d always wanted to try it out on a living, human subject, the lab mice and kittens just weren't enough. Then, I'll escape and show the world my invention. My sincerest apologize...”
I watched in horror as he slowly climbed down from the window, and walked towards a switchboard. A big, red button was in the center, and I didn't need to be near to see what it said.
In black letters, the button was labelled ‘ON’.
He pressed the button.