With thanks to David Gerrold for the fantastic premise/device.
Too bad it won't work. The mass of a proton is less than the mass of a neutron, so proton-to-neutron conversion is a little beyond the pale.
If you've got too tight a pucker where you sit you might not like the way I use the English language. Well, I was brought up in a foundry, so tough. I've been beaten up over it by better than you.
My dad was a ceramicist--part artist, part high-temp chemist. I owe my success to him. I went to University of Illinois in Champaign on a free ride for Physics. I learned how to induce a strong magnetic field at a distance over a charged plasma guided by a laser bootstrapping a collimated microwave beam. That got me my Free Ride and Ph.D. My masters came about after a drunken binge drawing crystal structures on the wall of a bar and playing with MAPLE, a high-end math package.
I came up with a high-temperature superconductor.
Now, I meant something different in high-temperature than most physics geeks meant. They meant something over the temp of solid CO2, around 110 below F. I meant about 470 Degrees F. I had a Superconducting magnet running in boiling water and the damned thing wouldn't quench. (When a superconducting magnet quenches things kind of go "BANG" and parts have a tendency to fly around at high speeds. This puts kinks you your day and your budget.
The day I demonstrated a practical superconducting solenoid machinegun that made ball bearings go mach three to the nice Department of the Navy man I retired. I wanted to retire to some nice property with deep water and mountain views. It was too expensive in the good old US of A so I started Googling around to see what looked worthwhile. I had the strange feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder more than they should have been when after doing some deep research on Chile I got a visit from the State department that implied in their oh-so-snotty way that no way in hell was I going to get a passport.
Well, fuck 'em. I took a rolling vacation. I bought a white panel van, installed some toys and a bunk and headed West. I found a Computer Cafe in Denver and sent a few messages to the Chilean consulate in New York encrypted with PGP.
I described myself as a rich businessman with several patents running his own personal witness protection program, and I had a good chance of wiping out their national debt within five years. What the hell. I was twenty-one and ambitious. We worked out an ocean voyage in the spring.
I went back to the lab to see if what looked like something interesting really did happen when I was working with the collimated microwaves. Whoops, it did.
If I modulated it real high and tight then electrons had a tendency to loose their poop. Metal ions started flying around like drunken bees, bonding themselves to anything grounded. This was 'fasten-ating'. With a negatively charged plasma fed in parallel to the microwave beam, far enough away not to arc, I could feed the ions back to a receiving pole. I had a metal leach.
It took a few seconds to work, but when it started working it affected the target to a depth rather than a surface effect. I guessed that the oscillation was setting up a parasitic effect, driving the local signal density higher and higher, like a standing wave. Suddenly big whacks of metal went mushy and disappeared. My toy did wonders for my sense of security. A naked soldier with a sunburn would scare me a hell of a lot less than an armed seal team.
End of phase one. I could get twisty with the bad guys and all they could do was wave their dicks at me and talk dirty. Ooh, talk dirty to me, big boy.
I documented everything on three sets of archival (read solid titanium) DVDs and tore down all my research equipment to nice, anonymous parts in truly random groupings. The circuit boards went off premises and into a camp fire where everything got mooshed up real good. I started reading up on where Spanish and Portuguese gold ships went down. With a little work I could limit the metals I stripped with the voltages involved. I'd have to work up the electrovalent chart, but I could probably get chemically pure metals with it at the cost of the vessel and electricity. I bought a used trawler and had it outfitted with an enormous spool and motor, reminiscent of the transcontinental cable laying ships.
I used a plastic, electrically neutral hose to bring up the charged ions in solution and plated them out as the water was dumped. I had to electrically isolate the pump housing and impeller with the help of a mechanical wiz off the oil fields.
Wherever refinery outflows polluted alluvial fans, there we went. (Map out where big rivers hit oceans. The suspended sediment settles out in a big fan-shape) When we had brought up our sixth ton of beryllium and our twelfth ton of magnesium to the secure government dock in Valparaiso I received an invitation to the president's residence for Christmas dinner. Boring.
When the twenty tons of titanium, sixteen tons of vanadium and eight tons of chromium hit the national vaults El Presidente started to make noises that sounded like 'marry my daughter, please.' Err, maybe later. He was a little bummed, but the nickel, gadolinium, germanium, selenium and rubidium loads turned him right around. The country had laws that kept foreigners from buying property, businesses or any other large assets. I had a shiny new Chilean citizenship and passport which opened a lot of doors.
I had finally gotten the crew bribed enough to trust them. We went out for Niobium. We stopped at two tons. Next was Molybdenum, eight tons. Rhodium, a half ton. We went for the gold. I stopped at twenty three tons. We went out for silver. twenty eight tons of silver. It just kept coming. I wanted tungsten. We cruised the Mississippi delta and upriver to St. Louis. Fourteen tons. Cesium. we stopped at a half ton, stored in half ounce test tubes in graphite/boron blocks.
We risked our asses as Plutonium is toxic as hell. We harvested over a half ton of plutonium in a mixed isotope solution. We took bids for the plutonium from Israel and India. I put in an order for a pebble-bed reactor and generator system. (They're damned near foolproof.) With credentials like that I didn't get a goddamned quibble. For the thorium we could get another two reactor/generator systems, no questions asked. I put in the order, pre-paid. The Indian government was a pleasure to deal with at that level. The Israelis were snotty. I could afford to be shitty right back. Oohh, that got their goat. I never saw such crocodile tears.
The Chilean international debt was paid off within three years. We did it slowly enough so that we wouldn't overly-depress the international metals markets. Anywhere there was a heavy-metals polluted wet environment I volunteered a cleanup for a million American, significant results guaranteed. Zero organo-phosphorus cleanup, though.
Chile reduced its fossil fuel imports significantly as the new nuclear infrastructure took over most of the power generation needs, backed by hydroelectric systems.
We did a number on lake Balaikal in Southern Russia. They hired us for a couple of other booboos that never hit the international news, such as the sunken nuke carrier off Vladivostok. We got another 350 pounds of enriched uranium off that one.
I sold it to the USAEC just to piss off the state department. I exchanged the metals for high-end electronics, lab equipment, satellite ground stations and the most modern switching technology that Sprint had. I bought into their core monitoring software. The state department couldn't touch me. The AEC were co-signers of the restricted technology list. Pthbbbt. (That's a raspberry to you, partner.)
End of phase two. My bona fides were solid and I had a cushion. I was building a tech base. We still hadn't stripped out the heavy metals around the platinum group, much less the lanthanides. We just couldn't harvest anything with this method that reacted violently with water.
I gave each of the sailors 50 pounds of gold and swore them to silence. I had my own little smuggling mafia should I ever ask. There were twenty-eight little clusters of people that were sworn to me and I was sworn to them. Favors at that level are usually done by governments and promptly forgotten. When done for families they are never forgotten. A lesson should be learned, there.
I found a beautiful spot in the south called Puerto Aisen, just north of the glaciers.
It was in the lakes area. I bought a big bluff and had it dozered flat. We poured a footing six feet deep reinforced by welded diamond rebar. Then I had pre-stressed concrete slabs flown in by heavy copter and assembled by lavish amounts of modern industrial construction adhesive into four stories of a building modeled on the ancient Spanish hacienda, but with a half square mile of soil surrounded by 48-foot tall walls with rooms embedded in them. the wall/room structures were 40-feet thick. a reinforced footing was laid in a distance from the hacienda for the pebble-bed reactor complex and roofed over with three layers of reinforced concrete slab separated by four inch thick lead sheets.
Then we covered it over with dirt and rock. We got to it by a maintenance tunnel. the water cooling feeds and return flowed into the great bay through sixteen inch pipes venting well out past the shore. We had juice.
I bought a carniceria in town, then a fruiteria. I imported high quality meats, vegetables and fruits as well as canned goods from the rest of the country, Europe and North America.
.... There is more of this story ...