Act I, Section 8 of Louis Slotin Sonata:


. . .(Lights out on Einstein.

Lights out on the Lord.

Lights out on Slotin.

Special up on Dr. Hempelmann and Nurse Dickie.)

HEMPELMANN: On the third day, edema--

DICKIE: I.e., swelling.

HEMPELMANN: Increased on the hands and arms until the skin had a waxy appearance and the swollen arm a ligneous--

DICKIE: Wood-like--

HEMPELMANN: Consistency. The blister on the thumb became larger rapidly and ruptured forty hours after exposure, draining yellow fluid.

DICKIE: The burning pain became more difficult to control.

HEMPELMANN: During this day, blisters appeared on the palm of the hand and on the interdigital surfaces of the fingers. The experience gained from the study of the hands of case 1.

DICKIE: Harry Daghlian.

HEMPELMANN: Permitted a realistic evaluation of the extent of tissue injury in case 2.

DICKIE: Louis Slotin.

HEMPELMANN: Thus, at this juncture a more aggressive treatment regimen recommended itself.

DICKIE: Both arms were packed in cracked ice continuously to control the pain.

HEMPELMANN: And to stop the progress of the injury. It should be emphasized at this point that prolonged refrigeration of normal skin below minus 6 degrees Celsius even for a very short time causes tissue necrosis.

DICKIE: Tissue death.

HEMPELMANN: The treatment in case 2--

DICKIE: Louis Slotin.

HEMPELMANN: Represented an attempt to-- quote-- amputate by refrigeration-- the hopelessly damaged tissue.

(Dickie follows a cross-fade to Slotin in bed.)

SLOTIN: So you see, it's simple. Think of it this way: neutrons are like ghosts.

(Phil enters.)


SLOTIN: Ah, Phil, welcome. Help me out here. I'm attempting to defend the humble but amazing neutron before Judge Dickie here, but she's having no part of it.


SLOTIN: She thinks they're evil.

DICKIE: No. That is not what I said. I said it's frightening how men are now toying with such strange forces and I just don't see what's so amazing about something that can do so much damage.

SLOTIN: But don't you see it's because they're so amazing that they can be so damaging. Tell her, Phil.

MORRISON: I'm sorry. I'm afraid I'm not as familiar as I apparently should be with the Slotin Ghost Model of Neutrons.

SLOTIN: It's simple. Protons are heavy and have a positive charge. Electrons are extremely light and have an equal but negative charge. Opposites attract and these two attract each other. In fact, that's all an atom of hydrogen is: an electron dancing around a proton, almost as if they were admiring each other's amazing charm from an unbridgeable distance. Other charged particles have a very difficult time pushing past the jealous web an electron spins around its proton. Now a neutron is as heavy as a proton, but it has no charge. It exists in the nuclei of all elements heavier than hydrogen. In the unlikely event that it gets jostled loose from its nucleus, it passes right through the electron shell, just like a ghost walking through a wall. It's as if it were both blind and invisible to everything around it.

And as for neutrons being evil—

DICKIE: Which I never said.

SLOTIN: Since they account for about half your mass, as they do mine, as they do Phil's-- and everybody knows Phil's a saint-- you might as well resign yourself to being half-evil, no matter what you do. No, they're just ghosts... clumsy ghosts. And on Tuesday, I unleashed an army of-- well, if Daghlian's accident was any indication-- 25 million billion-- 25 million billion (never have never will so many people ever live)-- 25 million billion clumsy ghosts to go crashing about the atoms of my insides.


SLOTIN: Yeah, Phil.

MORRISON: Please....


MORRISON: Could you... not be so... damned glib?

SLOTIN: All right Sorry, Phil.... I really am sorry. You, too, Annamae. I'm sorry. Jesus, I'm saying that a lot lately.


MORRISON: Geez, I almost forgot. We have a surprise for you.

SLOTIN: You do?

MORRISON: The engineering boys and I designed it. They've been working on it all night. Shall I have them bring it in?

SLOTIN: Yes, yes, of course.

MORRISON: All right then. I'll be right back.

(Phil exits.)

SLOTIN: A surprise, hunh? What do you suppose it'll be?

DICKIE: I'm sure whatever it is, it'll be marvelous.

SLOTIN: That's Phil, all right. Marvelous. It's the perfect word for him actually, because that's how he is. He marvels. To him the whole world is a marvel. You're pretty marvelous yourself, Annamae.


SLOTIN: No? Why not?

DICKIE: Well... let's just say I'm not inclined to marvel... not lately.

SLOTIN: Why not?

DICKIE: Why not? Louis... are you joking?

SLOTIN: Annamae, people are dying all the time. Let's not make this some unique tragedy. It's happening, that's all. Slower than a train wreck, quicker than cancer.


DICKIE: Do you know what people are saying, Louis? They're saying that the experiment you were doing was unnecessary. That you were showing off. That you liked to show off and that you were due for an accident like this.


SLOTIN: Maybe we're all due.

DICKIE: Maybe that's just so much philosophy that I don't understand.

SLOTIN: What... what do you want me to say, Annamae? I was performing a demonstration of an experiment. It was very dangerous. I understood the risks. I had done this experiment over two dozen times prior to this. I-- my hand slipped-- I--

DICKIE: Louie, don't...

SLOTIN: Don't what? Don't you want me to explain how this could happen? Piece it together? Make it make some sense?

DICKIE: How would that help?

SLOTIN: What do you want me to say?

DICKIE: What do you want me to say, Louie? What is it you want from me? ...I...


SLOTIN: I don't want anything from you.

DICKIE: I apologize.

SLOTIN: No, I should--

DICKIE: No. That was completely inappropriate.


SLOTIN: I know what you’re thinking.

DICKIE: You do?

SLOTIN: Us... getting to know each other... like this.... It’s like this once in a lifetime thing that should’ve never happened.

(Awkward silence, then two men enter, Frank and Sam, rolling a strange- looking contraption, like a metal bed tray with a short steel lectern attached. Phil follows them.)

FRANK: Hi ya, Louie.

SLOTIN: Ah, Frank. How are ya?

FRANK: Good, good.

SLOTIN: And Sam! My gosh you're a sight for sore eyes.

SAM: Dr. Slotin. It sure is good to see ya. You look good. He looks good, real good.

SLOTIN: Well, you know, they're keeping me on ice here, Sam. I'm as fresh as a fish in the market.

SAM: Where do you want her, Dr. Morrison?

MORRISON: Well, I think Louie's ready to try it out? Don't you, Nurse Dickie?

DICKIE: Of course.

SLOTIN: Let's try her out, whatever she is.

(The men roll the contraption to Louie's bedside and then position it over his torso.)

DICKIE: Be careful, please.

MORRISON: It's all right; it's all right.

Gently, fellahs.

SLOTIN: Don't worry about it.

Ah fellahs, I think I know what this is.


SLOTIN: A reading machine.

SAM: That's exactly right.

SLOTIN: Ah... and these clips, they attach to the pages. And then I turn them somehow... How?

SAM: We were thinking you could use your feet.

SLOTIN: Perfect!

SAM: Tug the right foot for forward, the left for back.

SLOTIN: Brilliant! You have no idea how much trouble this is going to save me, and, more importantly, Nurse Dickie. I've nearly brought her to her death of boredom by having her read to me from long, dry and completely fascinating accounts-- at least to me anyway-- of the Allied invasion of Europe.

DICKIE: I like reading your boy books to you, Louie. But this is good. You can have your privacy and you won't need to feel so dependent upon me. I

SLOTIN: But I do. I do depend upon you. And Phil. And you fellahs. My gosh, this is marvelous. Just marvelous.

SAM: Well, we should get back to the shop. Right, Frank.

FRANK: Oh, yeah. It just keeps piling up.

SAM: It's... it's a damned shame what happened, Louie. I shoulda... I shoulda retrofitted that damned assembly months ago. There was no cause for what happened. No cause. Louie, I'm sorry.

SLOTIN: No, Sam. No. Don't do that. Don't you do that. You know better. You are the best goddamned precision machinist I have ever known. Every single thing you built for me met or exceeded my specs. You understand? Those were my specs. The assembly you gave me was exactly the assembly I wanted. You understand?

SAM: I understand, Louis.

SLOTIN: Not another thought, Sam. Okay?

SAM: All right, Dr. Slotin. I-- I gotta go.

SLOTIN: So long, Sam. Frank.

FRANK: So long, Dr. Slotin.

(Sam and Frank exit.)

SLOTIN: Well, let's go. Hook me up. I have books that need reading. Annamae left me hanging with the Allied forces crossing the British channel and I'm dying to know what happens next.

MORRISON: Well, all right then.

(Phil begins hooking up Louie's feet to the cords that operate the reading machine.

Fade to black. . .