THE HOURGLASS (Sand)
Sanderson wakes up and sees, through glass, Wes. There's a look on Wes' face he's never seen before and he can't place it. Of course, he's used to talking to a white-coated back, as Wes peers into the microscope or leans into the fume hood, so perhaps the look was there all along, but he doesn't think so. He really doesn't think so.
That is a familiar smell, Sanderson thinks. And that is Wes' palm resting against the pane. So unlike Wes to leave a print on any glass surface. Always wiping down the precious lenses, with the loving care others reserve for dogs and children. Is that tears running down Wes' cheeks or is it just a refraction of the light?
The sound is familiar too. Gas spraying from a nozzle. But why would Wes…
…Sanderson tries to cry out, but…
…he claws uselessly at the floor where he fell when…
There is absolutely no doubt in Sanderson's mind that he's dying, only so very slowly. Months, perhaps years, seem to pass between one breath and another. His eyes remain open. If he closes them, he'll die.
He knows his name and Wes'. He knows that the fundamental structural unit of silicate minerals is a single silicon atom at the center of a tetrahedral array bonded to four oxygen atoms. In his mind, the tetrahedrons connect and twist into delicate chains, sheets, rings and framework structures, all of them spiralling away into infinity. His vision is narrow, like looking down a kaleidoscope tube. And just like a kaleidoscope, it contains every possible combination. You shake it and and everything changes; the pieces are thrown wide.
Words and movement are, at all times, beyond him. Sanderson watches the glass in the pane flow downward, Angstrom by Angstrom. There are no atomic planes in fluids. With time, the borosilicate occupies random lattices to form amorphous structures. It makes no sense, he thinks, and it's ugly.
He much prefers the harmony of his tectosilicates and how they reach out in all directions like delicate scaffolding. He's acutely aware of the distance between each atom; however large and intricate the structure, nearly all of it is vacuum. An electron spinning is neither here nor there, neither now nor then. Deliberate intersection is unlikely, accidental almost impossible.
And if most of mass is empty space, so is time. Like a typewriter with the spacebar stuck, time metes out row after row with only the occasional letter. Each moment of warmth a bead on a neverending string of winter and all of them so few and far between.