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The story I am writing takes place in a world where someone invented time travel. This technology, and the control of anti matter is only available for the creator (and the protagonist that helps him). This univers is a bloc univers, meaning no one can modify past events, everything that happened will happen. The antagonist is not happy with that and want to break the bloc univers in order to create nex timeline at every time travel.

One of the caracters is the creator of the time travel, and he also created a machine that prevent time travel, from the moment it is turned on, to the moment it is turned off, meaning no one can used a time machine while it's on, and no on can travel to this time period. This machine, once used, was left on place.

The antagonist wants to create an alternate universe, to break the time continuum. He uses the existing machine that prevent time travel, modify it a little so that after a charging time (10 min maybe) the machine will release something and the bloc univers will break, allowing time to be changed. But this machine will also explode and destroy earth (or at least damage it enough so that human life is hard to sustain). This last effect is collateral damage, but the antagonist does not care since he will travel back in time and create a new timeline if the machine succeed.

The protagonist is trying to prevent the explosion part, but not the time continuum part. To do so, she used a powerful flame thrower to heat up the device because the explosion can not happen if one of the components evaporates. When she is stopped by the antagonist, she uses a teleportation machine to teleport the device and herself into space, where the component is exposed to zero pressure and instantly evaporates.

My question is about the "the explosion can not happen if one of the components evaporate". My main idea would be that the antagonist plug a module on the existing machine, and reconduct some components to create the needed reaction. But without a certain balance, the machine produces a waste, that would happen to cause the destruction of the earth, and this waste is the thing that needs to evaporate in order to be turn harmless. The waste does not need to explode but needs to be a threat to humanity. This component should be an existing matter so that its propreties (evaporating on high température or low pressure) seems normal.

What component/chemical could be harmfull when liquid, but harmless when gaz ?

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  • $\begingroup$ To be clear: the chemical is liquid and either exists inside the machine and possibly released due to the protagonist's actions OR the liquid is created as a byproduct of the protagonists actions (doesn't really matter which). If released in its liquid state, it endangers the entire planet. If the protagonist's actions are performed properly, it evaporates with no risk to the planet. Right? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ The chemical is liquid, yes, but created as a byproduct of the antagonist, all the reste is right $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 16:25

4 Answers 4

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Nitroglycerin

Nitroglycerin is a very explosive liquid. It is liquid form, shocks and bumps can cause it to forcefully explode.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitroglycerin#History

In June 1869, two one-ton wagons loaded with nitroglycerin, then known locally as Powder-Oil, exploded in the road at the North Wales village of Cwm-y-glo. The explosion led to the loss of six lives, many injuries and much damage to the village. Little trace was found of the two horses. The UK Government was so alarmed at the damage caused and what could have happened in a city location (these two tons were part of a larger load coming from Germany via Liverpool) that they soon passed The Nitro-Glycerine Act of 1869.[11] Liquid nitroglycerin was widely banned elsewhere, as well, and these legal restrictions led to Alfred Nobel and his company's developing dynamite in 1867.

Nitroglycerine is also volatile. It does not explode as a gas. It might even help you.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/nitroglycerin

Being a volatile liquid, fumes of nitroglycerin were constantly inhaled by workers in the dynamite factories in Stockholm. The result of this inhalation was two-fold. Nearly all workers developed headaches during the weekdays, which disappeared on weekends when the factories were closed. A small group of workers who normally suffered from angina pectoris, chest pains attributed to poor circulation in the heart due to coronary artery disease, noticed prompt relief while working in the factories during the week. However, the chest pains often returned on weekends. The physicians in the community quickly recognized the therapeutic benefit of nitroglycerin and, in a very short time, tiny tablets of nitroglycerin mixed with sugars were developed to treat persons with angina pectoris.

As regards the prospect of heating up nitroglycerine with a flame thrower to cause it to evaporate to inactivity... well, in theory, maybe. Nitroglycerine does not explode because it is oxidizing or catching on fire. But let me stand over in this next city while you try that. I am prone to headaches you know.

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    $\begingroup$ Hands up everyone who thinks that rapidly boiling the incredibly sensitive high explosive with a high pressure jet of fire is a good idea! Anybody? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ (also, inhaling large quantities of volatile nitrates isn't just used for medical purposes... it has recreational uses, too) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but even if heating up the nitro were safe, I fear the audience would not believe it, and think this is a mistake $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 9:56
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I'm having a pretty hard time thinking of something that's a harmless gas but deadly liquid or solid, so late me suggest an alternative for you.

A critical component of the time machine is a superconducting magnet. Like most commercial devices that require superconducting magnets, such as MRI machines, the magnet needs to be kept exceedingly cool in order to function... below 5K, to be precise. As such it needs to be cooled with liquid helium.

By turning the protagonist's flamethrower (or whatever it is) on the device, the magnet is raised above the critical temperature at which point it will quench, which will cause it to rapidly cease to be superconducting and all the energy stored in that magnetic field will be released. To quote wikipedia:

This is accompanied by a loud bang as the energy in the magnetic field is converted to heat, and rapid boil-off of the cryogenic fluid. The abrupt decrease of current can result in kilovolt inductive voltage spikes and arcing.

The resulting damage to the machine may or may not be permanent, but it will definitely need serious repairs and you can't just pick up a few hundred or thousand litres of liquid helium at the corner shop.

Now, the escaped helium gas will very quickly dissipate in any unsealed environment, but at the point of initial release it can cause asphyxiation in a confined space as it displaces all the oxygen that was there. This will also extinguish normal fires, by way of a bonus.

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  • $\begingroup$ Cu needs 5K to become superconductivity. YBaCuO needs to be at 92K (liquid Nitrogen 77K) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKutz not so many commercially deployed products with that, though. Difficult to get the stuff in the shape that you want. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 14:41
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You have a condition my honored co-worldbuilders seem to have not considered...

If the byproduct is a fluid, not a gas, it must threaten the entire planet.

If you think about it, water would fit your basic bill. Throw enough liquid water at humanity and we die an agonizing death! Turn it into vapor and it's more-or-less harmless. (In fact, do this during a cold, dry winter and you'll help everyone's sinuses.) But the amount of water that would have to be discharged to threaten the entire planet is, frankly, biblical....

So I think we need to think outside the box! Your Anti-Time-Travel-Space-Time-Continuum-Locking-Engine (ATTSTCLE, lovingly known as "the phone company's testicle") depends on something radical! What if the discharged mass is a biological component of the time engine suspended in a nutrient fluid. In other words, you can't travel through time (or stop such travel) without the influence of life! And the problem is that if there's enough medium (aka, if it's a liquid) and that medium is exposed to uncontrolled oxygen (oh, like an atmosphere), what you get is a mutation of the biological component into the honking nastiest mother-of-all-viruses ever to be the bane of humanity!

Muahahahahaha!

But when it's expelled as a vapor, there isn't enough of the medium to allow the biological component to mutate into the planet-killing virus. The biological component, thanks to exposure to that uncontrolled oxygen, burns itself out before the virus can form — there's not enough nutrient to allow the mutation to complete.

And, of course, keeping with the appropriate trope, use of the planet-threatening medium is simply the only way the machine could possibly work. I mean, it's not like you could just replace the testicle biomass with a transistor... right? Right?...

And the cool thing is, you can decide on a practical amount of fluid to threaten the entire planet — anything from a cup to a gallon or maybe enough to flood the parking lot. My point is, someone couldn't claim that the whole problem could be avoided if people would just build arks.

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  • $\begingroup$ The liquid form of the component does not have to be the direct threat, it can be a coolant to another machine, or a conductor to another machine, or a part of another chemical reaction (for example, some water entering in contact with Cesium). I like the outside of the box response, because this is a very interesting idea. Unfortunatly, my story already have a biovirus intrigue, puting another virus, or even the same, will be very odd and a lack of diversity. But having something developping only in liquid component could be the indirect threat I am looking for $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ Ho, and I LOOOVE your Anti-Time-Travel-Space-Time-Continuum-Locking-Engine (ATTSTCLE) joke, I am keeping this in mind ;) $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 9:41
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Have a key module of the machine being protected by a conductor based on a saline solution or another liquid conductor like mercury: when it evaporates the circuit is open and the module cannot operate, resulting in the entire machine not operating.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea, that would need a few changes but that might work better than my main idea so far... Could that liquid conductor have similar phase diagram as water, in order to instantly evaporate in space ? $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Raphy: Water does not "instantly evaporate" in a vacuum. Some part of it boils off, which cools down the rest of it, which freezes. (And then the ice may sublimate slowly, depending on the conditions.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, sorry I made a short cut, you are absolutly right. The effect is the same tho, if some of the liquid conductor evaporate (and the rest freeze), the machine would turn off $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ Mercury vapour is far, far from harmless... In fact, liquid mercury is safer. Ever hear the phrase 'Mad as a hatter?' Hatters were mad because of mercury vapour... $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ Any liquid conductor that would fit better than mercury ? Should I just go with salty water ? $\endgroup$
    – Raphy
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 14:54

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