"I've got this beautiful panoramic three-dimensional painting of Mars based on Martian photos. It's 30 feet wide. You can pick out every pebble on the Martian landscape. And who'd have dreamed you could do that?"
The Rhennius Machine was obtained in a sort of cultural exchange system. Once the Earth was admitted to a loose collection of planetary civilizations, the Earth participated in a system that improved cultural ties by exchanging artifacts of value in a sort of traveling exhibit. Since these items might be from civilizations that were vastly different, the purpose of the artifacts were typically unclear.
The Rhennius Machine turns out to have a very necessary effect; it is a great plot device. One of the effects of the Rhennius Machine is that it can reverse (replace with a mirror image) every molecule in any object passed through it's mobilator. Including people. People with an interest in organic chemistry will have a lot of fun with the extensive material on what it's like to be reversed from a first person point of view.
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