Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Quest: Shopping list

“I am going to need four things to start the nitrate program” Dr. Sam Wilder told the war committee.

Sam was comfortable presenting. It had been part of her life before-Ebola. The other reason was that one of the men on the committee was her husband, John Wilder.

Sam passed a single sheet to each of the men at the table. Each item was identified and a few, key characteristics were written below the item.

Sam read out-loud:

Air compressor
-oil-free, 3000 psi or more

-200 face-cords, dry, ready to burn

Anhydrous ammonia
-to jumpstart downstream processes

Charise Virgil
-Chemist, currently lives in Howell

Rick Salazar winced as he heard the needed items. “These are not going to be easy to come by”

“If they were easy I could get them myself and not bother you” Sam said. She didn’t have any energy behind it. She firmly believed that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Besides, she had seen how the planning was beating the tar out of the men.

Rick sighed. “Let’s go through these items one-at-a-time”

“The process runs at 3000 psi. I need to be able to pump nitrogen and hydrogen to that level.” Sam said.

“Can you drive a diesel engine with a motor and get that pressure?” Salazar asked.

“I think I can only get 1000psi, and it won't be oil-free.” Sam said.

“I have seen multi-stage compressors where three cylinders fed one cylinder. We might be able to get to 3000psi doing that” Kelly Carney said. Then he asked “What happens if there is oil?”

“Over time it poisons the catalyst” Sam said. She didn’t expect them to understand what that meant.

“We can only do what we can do” Carney observed. “Maybe you can filter out the smoke. How big of a compressor do you need?”

Sam smiled. “I am sure that anything you come up with will be more than big enough.”

Salazar read out “The next item is 200 face-cords of firewood and you want it seasoned.”

“I am sure we can get you the firewood but you know that nobody is going to want to part with seasoned firewood going into winter. Especially after last winter when even the most paranoid ended the season living hand-to-mouth” Rick said.

“We can put out the word that every family in Capiche has to pony up a face-cord of firewood. We can say it should be dry and seasoned but we aren’t going to police it” Rick said.

Sam graciously accepted the help. “Thanks. That is better than I hoped for.”

Looking down at the next item Rick read “Anhydrous ammonia...I thought that is what your assignment was.”

“Actually, the assignment was to develop nitrate based explosives and propellants” Sam said, smoothly. “Synthesizing the ammonia is the first and hardest step of the process.”

“So why do you need the anhydrous?” Rick asked.

“Suppose you wanted to canoe down a river and you knew there were a bunch of trees that had fallen across it making it impossible to canoe. If you were in a hurry, would you just send one guy with a chainsaw?” Sam asked rhetorically.

“I don’t think so. You would send three or four guys. One would start where you were launching the canoe. You would send the second one a third the way down the river to start there and the last guy you would send two-thirds the way down the river” Sam said. “I am doing the same thing. I need anhydrous so one of the teams can work on a process to turn it into nitrates.”

“How much do you need?” Rick asked.

“We could make a lot of progress if you can find a tank with fifty or a hundred pounds in it.” Sam said.

Rick looked around the table. “Kelly, you took the compressor assignment. I took the fire-wood assignment.”

Looking at the men, in turn, Rick sighed again and said “Looks like I am the best guy for the anhydrous assignment.”

Everybody pretty much knew that Kate would do most of the work. She would put us a sign asking for anhydrous and pass the word to the other store keeps in Capiche.

“OK, I give. Who is Charice Virgil and why is she important to you?” Rick said.

“I found one good chemist and one sort-of-OK chemist. I need a third. My good chemist is married to Mrs Charice Virgil and he vouches for her abilities. If we scoop her up, then I get another good chemist and the eternal loyalty of the one I already have.

“Chernovsky, this looks like it is in your court” Rick said.

Chernovsky mulled it over for a minute before asking “Have you considered asking Mr Virgil to send her a letter. Maybe she doesn’t need ‘getting’. Maybe she needs an invitation. If your guy writes the invitation, I can make sure it gets in her hands.”

Twenty-four hours later, Miguel found himself skulking through a dark, mobile home park trying to find a specific address.


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