IT STARTED, AS THESE THINGS ALWAYS DO, with some bright spark saying, “Yeah, no problem, I can do that.” This particular bright spark was named Clark Kent, a wunderkind in biology. His specialty? Spiders. Big spiders. Kent thought he was accompanying his buddy, Dwight Eisenhower, to Bill Wiley’s presentation. Dwight, though, had other ideas, big ideas with Bill Wiley, who started in on his presentation to the NASA engineers and scientists.
“I give you the Space Elevator,” Wiley began. And, with a flick of the wrist, a slide appeared illuminating one wall. Wiley had skipped the usual pulldown screen wanting to showcase Mark Rotherham’s fabulous artwork on an entire wall. He hoped to dazzle the assemblage. They had seen it all before. Weary scientists who had heard it all before too and would need something spectacular to elicit even mere interest.
Wiley’s reedy voice betrayed his excitement as he moved through his presentation. And, as the last slide of the completed elevator hung on one wall like a slender, silvery thread stretched beyond imagination, he looked pleased with himself. The smile didn’t last long.
Silence filled the room. A silence that began to unnerve Eisenhower, as it stretched. He glanced around the room, uncertain, then looked to Wiley. The man looked a little less confident than when he’d started.
One of the assembled, a grizzled veteran from the Gemini days frowned, scratched his chin, leaned back in his chair and said.
“Son, you expect us to believe you can make this thing as strong and as flexible as a spider’s thread?” The implication wasn’t lost on the room and at least two snickered.
“No. . . not just as strong as spider’s thread,” Wiley hesitated but a fraction before sweeping a glance around the entire room and added, “we’re going to make it from spider’s thread!”
Without waiting for a reaction to his bold statement he turned toward where Kent sat, and waved a hand at the rotund man.
“Doctor Kent, our spider specialist, has written a paper, published in Nature no less,” Wiley pointed out, “that outlines how we’ll be able to farm spiders and harvest their silk, and in such quantities as to make this,” he punctuated his speech with a fist pump into the air, “not only a possibility, but a reality!”
The moment of stunned silence lasted a nanosecond. The room erupted as first one, then another, decried Wiley’s ludicrous claims.
Kent shot to his feet in agitated surprise and felt his extremities begin to shake. He knew it, he had been a dupe from the start. He glared at Eisenhower who, to his credit, did have the good grace to look abash at Wiley’s extravagant claims. After all, they’d only discussed the possibility of how using actual spider’s thread might work in a test controlled situation, on a miniature scale, though nothing like on the gigantic scale Wiley had just proposed.
Rooted to the spot nearest the only exit from the room, Kent didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. With sidelong looks and asides of disgust, the NASA engineers and scientist brushed past him and herded out the door.
Wiley, unperturbed, fended off Eisenhower as the large engineer rounded in on him.
Only Kent saw the lone guy in the crumpled suit waiting at the other end, staring at him with a look that began to make his skin crawl. Kent edged toward the door taking a step backwards hoping to make his own escape before either Wiley or Eisenhower remembered him, and embarrassed him further. He was sure he’d never get another paper published anywhere, not even in this century, let alone find grant money or any kind of funding ever again once word got out about this. No wonder Wiley had been reticent about wanting to share too much about his presentation, and why Eisenhower had niggled him for weeks on end about his latest spider project and just how big could he grow the spiders.
Kent made it through the door and out into the deserted corridor and looked either way. This was not his territory, not even his building, he was lost. Someone coughed behind his right shoulder. Kent spun around and came face to face with the man in the crumpled suit.
“Is he right?”
“Right?” Kent repeated the word, flustered.
“Can you build something anywhere that big outta spider’s thread?”
Kent felt his face go hot, he fumbled for words, “Yes. . . and no. . . it is theoretically possible,” which it was. Anything was, in theory, possible. All he needed was time and an awful lot of money. Neither of which he shared with the unshaven stranger. The man continued to eye him, then rubbed his chin as if reading his thoughts.
“Red eye,” the man supplied. Not knowing what to say, Kent nodded.
“I work for some people,” the man said with what Kent could only describe as an ironic smile. The guy took his elbow in a firm grip and walked them down the corridor to where, Kent had no idea.
“So, can you do it?” The man asked.
Kent thought about it for a split second, “Yeah, sure. . . I can do it.” Why not, he thought, I’ll play along.
And that’s how it began. . .giant spiders bred out of earth’s gravity, to spin tensile steel-strength thread.
No one stopped to think about the consequences of breeding so many large spiders until, that is, some of them escaped in the Space Station module and hitched a ride home.
Then, all bets were off.