(I wrote this short story in the late 1990’s. Were I to start over, I’d make significant changes, but this is a part of my writing history, so here it is….)
“I found it, Martin” an urgent Alfonso whispered into the telephone handset. He ran a shaking hand through his wavy hair and repeated himself, “I found it, I tell you, but you won’t believe it. No one will.” Without waiting for the voicemail-received confirmation, he hung up the phone and turned back to his instruments.
Alfonso reached up and switched his personal recorder back on. The small, wireless, microphone attached to his lapel would record everything he said while the video camera mounted in the ceiling corner would visually record his activities. Paired wirelessly, they synchronized audio and video into a single seamless stream in the archives.
“The funny thing,” Alfonso spoke into the recorder as he recalibrated his instruments, “is that John Turberville Needham was correct. To think that the biggest twenty-first century mystery was actually solved in the mid 1700’s by a priest/philosopher.”
Alfonso allowed a chuckle to escape his lips as he spared a glance up at the camera. “Modern science has for decades been trying to find the answer to where all the missing mass is in the universe. Its effects can be seen in the motion of the stars and galaxies, but the matter itself has so far eluded recognition. Until now. And it’s…unbelievable.”
He took a moment to laugh again, and this time it emerged as a near-hysterical huff of air. “Needham proved that life could form from inert, lifeless materials. He called the spawning of such life spontaneous generation.”
He pounded a fist into his open hand to drive home the point, looking into the camera, “He proved it! But Voltaire had a personal grudge against him and he was discredited. The loss to mankind is staggering, all because of one lost theorem!”
Alfonso shook his head and took a breath, “Anyway, in this lab, I have replicated his experiments on spontaneous generation. From inert materials – an old dirty rag, a bag of oatmeal, and a cup of water, I have created,” he held up a jar with an insect crawling around inside it, “a perfectly viable life form that we all recognize: Periplaneta Americana. The common American Cockroach!”
He laughed again, slightly higher in pitch than before, “That’s not all. Not by a long shot. I did not set out to prove spontaneous generation; I was looking for missing mass in the universe.” He waved a slender hand at a stack of printouts next to his computer monitor, “This is the spectral analysis of all the stars within twenty light years of Earth. In my jubilation at rediscovering spontaneous generation, I admit I acted rather irrationally.”
Alfonso pointed at the computer screen, “I scanned one of my spawned roaches with a miniature spectroscope.” He ginned self-consciously, “It was all in fun. But when I laid the printout next to the readings of Barnard’s Star, I was surprised at how similar the readings were in this,” he pointed at the screen, “particular wavelength.”
He stopped and looked straight into the camera, “I’ve run these numbers every day for a month now. I know I’ve seemed distracted, but this discovery is so important! I not only rediscovered spontaneous generation, I found the missing mass in the universe!”
“Cockroaches,” he stated, all hints of hysteria gone. “The missing mass is cockroaches.”
A sudden light from above the camera lanced down and struck Alfonso between the eyes. He fell to the floor with a surprised expression on his face and was dead before his face hit the tiles. His recorder, sensitive as it was, managed to pick up faint audio.
“Yeah.” Thousands of tiny forms crawled into the camera’s field of view.
“We’ll erase the computer files, you take care of the body.”
“What about the recorder?”
The lead roach, half an inch larger than the rest, pondered the camera. “I sent a detail down the line to the archives to destroy this recording half an hour ago.”
“So the secret is still safe?”
“Yes. This planet is becoming a major nuisance. Two near-discoveries in three hundred years. We may not get so lucky next time.”