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Chapter XII

            The Earth became aware of the fact slowly, slowly. The atmosphere was thinning---oxygen was becoming scarce. In scientific circles, conclaves of the greatest minds gathered to discuss the most pressing problem: lack of oxygen. The workaday world, of course, had no inkling of the problem; people breathed well; they were not dizzy; they had nothing to worry about, they thought.
            Ernest Sinto was rapidly making a name for himself. After his brother Matthew's death, Ernest had ransacked his files in hopes of finding some notes, some clues, as to the matter that his brother had spent so much of his life's work in doing. He knew from the scientific journals that still came periodically to his home in his brother's name that there was to be a shortage of oxygen that would affect the whole of the world. He tried to find some of the calculations or formulas that he knew his brother was working on---he didn't. That fatal night at the observatory Professor Sinto had taken all the notes and information that he had acquired to his study, which had been razed by the fire. There were no notes, no clues, left in the world. None except one. Everyone knew that Matthew had confided in his superior at the observatory; unfortunately, that professor was beyond all communication; he was dead. None except one. Not everyone knew Matthew Sinto talked incessantly in his sleep; not everyone, just Ernest and a few close friends at the Institute. These friends told the president of the Convention that met to discuss the problem about his habit of the Professor's; once considered a bad habit, it now became a benefactor of the scientists.
            Never in history has there been such a fuss over one ignorant man. Eminent philosophers and psychologists were called in from all over the world. There was a chance, a very dim chance, that the subconscious mind of Ernest Sinto might have perceived and remembered some of the pertinent phrases that Matthew might have uttered while he slept. Mesmerists from the European continent came as rapidly as they could, confident that they could plumb the depths of Ernest's subconscious and obtain the valuable information, and to gain the publicity that would be heaped on them and the practice of mesmerism. Religious cults sent their most powerful "witch doctors" to extract the details from the man.
            After precious months had fled past, the practitioners went back to their cults and their retreats; next to nothing had been gained for all the time and currency that had been expended in the project. The intricate technicalities of the mutterings had completely passed over the head of his brother; therefore, they made no impression on the subconscious. Oft-repeated phrases and details that had been more concrete and substantial had been grasped and retained in the memory. Professor Sinto had been desperate; inklings of despair were intermingled with the important facts. A recording that had been made of a particularly fruitful night's relating was played in all parts of the world. These are the main facts obtained from that recording: "Oxygen 21% of atmosphere---8/9 of water---3/5 human body---1/2 minerals---oxides of mercury, silver, gold and platinum---peroxides of hydrogen, barium, and manganese---ignition of niter---ignition of manganese dioxide---heating potassium chlorate with 1/8 manganese dioxide---contains chlorine---can be removed by caustic soda solution---manganese dioxide to be tested---coal dust in it can be fatal---electrolysis of water made slightly acid with sulfuric acid---makes pure oxygen---nothing to do with hydrogen---can explode---become inflammable with oxygen---chlorine---fluorine---converters set up---can make---,"---from there on, the best efforts of the psychoanalysts could make nothing out; it became unintelligible.
            The scientists were disgusted; having worn out Ernest, they threw him aside and started off on another track. They had to verify their calculations; that was the information that could have been gleaned from the professor if he still lived; if the final absorption of oxygen was inevitable---if NOTHING could be done to avert it. They also could have found out when, if ever, the final wisps of oxygen would be sucked in the seared lungs, and the poisonous carbon dioxide exhaled to take its place, never to be taken in by vital plants. They went to work.