The Breakthrough

by sagire

This short story is based on the following writing prompt from reddit:

You worked alone for many years; finally, you’ve achieved commercial nuclear fusion

One more try before lunch, I thought to myself. Maybe by the end of they day I can get the geometry of the magnetic field just right. It was surprising how the changes were improving efficiency.

Once the unit started humming I could see the plasma ebbing and flowing in the magnetic field on the computer monitor. Then it just seemed to click, the plasma was staying in a steady shape and the power intakes dropped. Shit, did the adjustments throw off all the work on my power intake controls?

Just as my hand reached the shutdown button I saw it. The power generation had remained intact, it was a self sustaining reaction.

It felt like the eerie calm before the storm, sitting in the near silence in the room broken only by the humming of the unit. Had I done it? All these years working alone, being kicked out of the faculty, losing my wife – was the payoff finally here?

The next three hours were a blur, I had to record everything. Then I had to restart the unit and recreate the reaction. I may not have eaten but by 9pm I was sure, my goal had finally been achieved. My whole life had built up to this moment and I had changed the course of humanity!

Looking at the phone I realized I had never thought this far ahead. My eye was always on the fusion, not so much on the aftermath. Who would I call first?

My ex-wife, I would love to see the look on her face. Or Gary, I bet he would regret taking me off the team. Maybe Fred who had helped me gather all my supplies.

As I picked up the phone I knew it would be Gary. He had humiliated me and now it was my turn. I worked for 7 years at the university before he forced me out, convincing everyone fusion was impossible, a waste of time.

The line connected “Hello?”

“Hey Gary, is Brian Stein calling.”

“Hey Brian, how long has it been since we talked, 3 years? Hope you’re doing well.”

I could feel my mouth curl into a smile. “I’m doing better than well Gary, I did it! I created a stable fusion reaction, without any help with funding, all on my own.”

“You’re still working on that? Brian, I hope everything is ok.”

“I’m more then working on it, I’m finished! I just thought I would give you the heads up before it hits the paper’s. And to tell you I told you so.”

There was a long pause on the other line and I could just imagine the look on Gary’s face. But when the voice came back on the line Gary didn’t sound frustrated or angry… he sounded scared.

“Brian… If what you are saying is true then watch out for yourself. It wasn’t me that wanted you out, my hand was forced. Take care of yourself.”


The trembling in Gary’s voice and the sudden silence sent a chill through my body. I heard loud knocking on the door and a voice telling me to open up. As I turned towards the door my elation slowly turned to fear.