January 26

1905 — Worlds largest diamond discovered in South African mine


“The guy who cut the Cullinan diamond got so nervous, he fainted.”

“I think that story’s apocryphal.”  Heath adjusted his tray of instruments and brought his laser saw closer to the table.  It was the size of an infant’s fist — by far the largest rough diamond he’d ever seen, let alone been given the chance to map and mark and cut.  They were now approaching the make-or-break stage of the process.

“It was good publicity, at least.  They had a nurse on hand to catch him when he fell.”  Lloyd Cordell III, the diamond’s owner, had been breathing down his neck most of the day, as was his right.  He’d paid a fortune for the diamond in its rough state; once cut, particularly to the specifications Heath had identified through refined mapping algorithms, his investment would return a thousand times over.

If the cut succeeded, that is.

There was a tremor in Heath’s hands today.  It shouldn’t matter, with the laser’s computer programmed path.  But the slightest sliver of miscalculation could cost millions.  It felt to Heath like his diamond-cutting career was in danger if he messed up.

And, given rumors about Cordell’s underground connections, his life might be in danger, too.

“Tell me again what happens to the little guy in there.” Cordell said.

He was referring to the black shape at the stone’s center. The colors around it were beautiful when it caught the light, and as you turned the stone, the shape had a life of its own, like ink in water.  In one position it seemed like a spider.  A quarter turn, and it seemed vaguely humanoid — a crouching “little guy” who seemed to fascinate his client.

“He’ll be fine,” Heath said.  “I’ll be working around him.”

He’d spent time convincing Cordell that the inky shape wasn’t a flaw.  It was a sign of tension within the rough stone, and Heath calculated an initial cut that would maximize the carat weight in the largest segment… which could then be girdled, crowned, and polished into one of the world’s finest jewels.

“You’ll just have to trust me,” Heath said.  He turned on the guidelines, which projected a grid over the diamond.  The laser saw hummed as it warmed up, and soon a thin red beam followed its programmed path.

Cordell seemed uninterested during the first minutes.  The tremor in Heath’s hands subsided.

Then the beam came closer to the black shape.  From Heath’s perspective, it was the spider, a sparkle of colors radiating from legs of dark wire.

Cordell had suddenly pressed closer, nudging his shoulder.  Heath’s hand wasn’t on the laser saw, so the jostle didn’t affect the cut.  But it changed his perspective.  Within the stone, two spider legs thickened into arms, two into lower legs.  One wire stretched thin into a tail behind the crouching torso.

The laser continued its path.  A horned blotch turned at the top of the inky shape.  Two pinprick dots opened in the blotch, a fire-red as bright as the cleaving beam of the laser.

The beam tore through the dark anomaly, and Heath imagined the wince of pinprick eyes, tiny legs and arms tensing in agony.

The rough jewel cracked open onto the worktable.  A terrible animal cry filled the air, followed by the smell of sulfur.

Cordell coughed and choked beside him, and Health felt a strange distortion over his whole body, as if welts and scabs began to crust over his skin.

Heath had half-joked to himself that his life might be in danger if he botched this job.  Maybe not just his life, he thought now.

The laser continued to cut, and an inky cloud rose from the ruined stone, spreading its poison in the room, and reaching to rooms and rooms beyond.