Newt, who had failed all his classes at Cornell, wrote in his letter that he was a four-feet-tall midget. He also mentioned his happy engagement to Zinka, a Ukrainian midget who belonged to a dance company. However, John soon read in the newspaper that a week after their engagement, she returned to the Soviet Union. Although Newt refused to offer an explanation to the newspapers, one reporter discovered that Zinka was 42, not 23 as she had claimed.
John arranged for an interview with Dr. Asa Breed, the man in charge of the General Forge and Foundry Company's Research Laboratory where Felix worked. The night before the interview, John met Sandra, a prostitute, and a bartender who attended school with Frank. They said that Frank was a reclusive and secretive youth, known among his peers as "Secret Agent X-9."
From Sandra and the bartender, John learned that Felix was supposed to give the commencement speech for Frank's graduating class, but he failed to show. Another scientist gave a speech in his place that condemned superstition and praised science, which would surely discover the key to life one day. Sandra and the bartender added that "some protein" had recently been discovered as the "basic secret" to life. Another bartender told John about a bum who had come in the day the bomb was dropped to ask for a free drink because the world was ending. Asa Breed's son came in thereafter and announced that he was quitting his job at the Research Laboratory because everything a scientist did was destined to become a weapon. Sandra told John that everyone believed Asa Breed had carried on an affair with Felix's wife; some people thought he had fathered all Emily's children.
When John met with Asa the next morning, Asa told him that Felix had once inexplicably abandoned his car in traffic. Felix's wife, Emily, picked it up, and while driving it home suffered a terrible accident that damaged her pelvis. Asa attributed her death in childbirth with Newt to her injury. Asa introduced John to Francine Pefko, the secretary for one of the research scientists. She knew nothing about her boss's work, and she believed scientists spent too much time thinking. Afterward, Asa took John on a tour of the Research Laboratory, where he teased Naomi Faust, one of the many secretaries who did not understand a word of the documents they transcribed.
As John asked him questions about the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Asa became increasingly irritable because he sensed that John believed scientists had no moral conscience. He complained that people did not understand or appreciate "pure research." Asa stated that increasing the store of mankind's knowledge was a noble goal. He proceeded to tell John that a general once asked Felix to invent a solution to mud because the troops were tired of slogging through it. Felix thought it was possible to create a small seed of a new isotope of water, which he called ice-nine, that was solid at room temperature. If this small seed were dropped into mud, then all the water in the mud would crystallize in the same fashion.
Horrified, John asked what would happen if such a thing were dropped into the hypothetical mud. Asa irritably replied that the mud would freeze, but so would the rest of the water on earth because the chain reaction would seep into the streams, rivers, and oceans. If it rained, that water also would freeze upon contact with ice-nine. John asked if Felix had actually developed a seed of ice-nine, but Asa vehemently denied it. Asa ended the interview because John's questions made him furious.