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"[Science fiction is] anything that turns you and your social context, the social you, inside out."
- Gregory Benford

Demagnitizing Ray  
  A beam of radiation that makes even the strongest steel as brittle as chalk.  

The centre of the room was almost filled by a huge table, and in the middle of this was a piece of machinery which looked like an inverted searchlight, connected by several insulated wires with an electric battery underneath. Under the funnel was a wooden platter, and on this lay a piece of steel about a foot square and six inches thick. There was a strange light, which might perhaps be better described as a radiance rather than a light, falling on the block of steel. Another block, exactly similar, lay on one of the side benches. The Professor turned two switches in the table. A humming sound, which had pervaded the room when the Kaiser entered, ceased, and the radiance under the projector disappeared.

" Now, Your Majesty, this is the first experiment, and I shall ask you to make it yourself. These two blocks of steel are cut from the same armour-plate, the very finest that can be made at Essen. This one has been subjected to the influence of what I call my demagnetising rays. That one has not. There is a hammer and chisel beside it. Will Your Majesty be kind enough to see if you can make any impression on it."

"If this is Krupp's best I don't expect I can," laughed the Kaiser, as he took up the chisel and hammer and struck a smart blow in the middle of the plate. There was not a scratch on the steel, but the edge of the chisel was turned. "Good stuff, that," he said. " And that, you say, is from the same plate. What do you want me to do with it?"

The Professor held the wooden platter towards him, and said : " That, Your Majesty, is the best steel that Germany can produce. You have not been able to make a mark on it. This was the same steel, but it is steel no longer." " What do you mean, Herr Professor ? " interrupted the Kaiser with a quick lift of his heavy eyelids. " I hope this is not one of the solemn jokes which you scientific gentlemen seem so fond of making? "

" On the contrary, Your Majesty," replied the man of science very seriously, " I believe it to be the most solemn fact that has been discovered since tribes and nations first went to war with each other. Will you be good enough to take the hammer and strike this piece of metal lightly in the centre."

The Kaiser took up the hammer and struck the block rather smartly. To his utter amazement it vanished. There was a heap of fine dust on the platter, and more falling over the edges on to the floor.

" Heavens, Professor ! " he gasped. " What miracle is this?"

"There are no miracles, Your Majesty," he replied, putting the platter down on the table, and sweeping some of the dust into the palm of his right hand : " there are only discoveries. What I have had the fortune to discover is the fact that, by the influence of certain electro-ethereal waves, iron and steel may be demagnetised. But, to put it more plainly, I would say that, as Your Majesty is well aware, the molecules composing every substance revolve round each other in a given direction, but with varying speeds. The greater the speed, the harder the substance, and that is why the diamond is the hardest material known. But, for want of a better term, demagnetising a metal slows down these revolu- tions until they stop and reverse, and therefore, instead of cohering, the molecules repel each other. Thus, on the slightest shock, the hardest metal falls to dust. This dust, for instance, is composed of minute particles of iron, nickel, phosphorus, and carbon, once fused and hardened in oil by Krupp's special process. It has been for a quarter of an hour under the influence of the rays, and Your Majesty sees the result. It is all perfectly simple."

From The Lord of Labour, by George Griffith.
Published by FV White and Co. in 1911
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