"Hmmmm. Sodium nitrate, calcium chloride and cesium nitrate. There goes one with barium chloride."
Lee Crane, captain of the famous submarine Seaview turned and looked inquisitively at the blond officer standing beside him on the sub’s flying bridge. The pair were viewing the July 4th fireworks display in New York harbor. "What did you say?"
"You know, the fireworks; yellow, orange, blue…and green of course."
Lee chuckled. "Of course. Since when are you so interested in chemistry?"
Chip Morton, Seaview’s XO, grinned. "It seems our visitor, Dr. Jordan, has been so wrapped up in his work on that island he’s never actually never seen a fireworks display. So while the admiral gave him a quick lesson I listened in. As you may recall from military history class, fireworks were developed in China sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries. Chinese "fireworks" used a black powder recipe withsulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal."
"Exactly, but long before guns…"
"Gentlemen, there is something to be said for scientific serendipity. Chinese alchemists created the ‘fire chemical’ they called huo yao quite by accident. They were trying to make a new medicine when it ignited."
The officers grinned and turned towards Admiral Harriman Nelson, Seaview’s own scientific genius who had come up behind them. They greeted Nelson in unison.
"Never ones to let a discovery pass them by they started placing the black powder into pieces of green bamboo or logs. When they lit it, the resulting explosion blew the container apart."
"And the world had firecrackers."
"Exactly, Lee. Initially fireworks that produced sparks, smoke or noise were used for celebrations and rituals. If you wanted to impress your deity you just placed an open-ended firecracker inside a statue so the flames would shoot from the mouth and eyes. Eventually fireworks were developed with many more colors and were sold in the open markets."
"As I understand it the early makers of fireworks were held in high regard," commented Chip.
Nelson nodded. "Impressing the gods quickly turned to impressing enemies. Only a short time after fireworks were developed the Chinese army began to deploy them to scare invaders so having a chemist on board became a necessity. Developments came rather quickly after that. One of the most fascinating early adaptations of open-ended fireworks was known as the ground rat. Picture a firecracker attached to an arrow and fired along the ground. The erratic movements made them look just like rats. They rattled horses enough to throw their riders."
At the mention of rats Lee turned to Chip and grinned.
"The armies began to lob larger and larger firecrackers and other fireworks at their enemies, using them like grenades or bombs. The ground rats were modified with fins to become the first controlled rockets. It was from there that modern day weapons were developed."
As the distant display reached its crescendo, the three men turned and watched in silence. Each became lost in his own thoughts about how far weapons development had come.
Eventually waves of smoke from the explosions began to drift their way. Lee patted Chip on the shoulder. "Hey, why don’t we all head for the wardroom and you can tell the admiral about the time you took care of the neighbor’s rat problem with a little serendipity of your own."
As red crept over the blond’s neck and cheeks, Nelson cocked an eyebrow. "You never told me about that one, Mr. Morton. By the looks of you I think it’ll be a good one."