Written by C.J. Chivers (NY Times)
For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have
desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance
called red mercury. There’s a reason that they never have.
The hunt for the ultimate weapon began in January 2014, when Abu Omar, a smuggler who fills shopping lists for the Islamic State, met a jihadist commander in Tal Abyad, a Syrian town near the Turkish border. The Islamic State had raised its black flag over Tal Abyad several days before, and the commander, a former cigarette vendor known as Timsah, Arabic for ‘‘crocodile,’’ was the area’s new security chief. The Crocodile had an order to place, which he said he had received from his bosses in Mosul, a city in northwestern Iraq that the Islamic State would later overrun.
Abu Omar, a Syrian whose wispy beard hinted at his jihadist sympathies, was young, wiry and adaptive. Since war erupted in Syria in 2011, he had taken many noms de guerre — including Abu Omar — and found a niche for himself as a freelance informant and trader for hire in the extremist underground. By the time he met the Crocodile, he said, he had become a valuable link in the Islamic State’s local supply chain. Working from Sanliurfa, a Turkish city north of the group’s operational hub in Raqqa, Syria, he purchased and delivered many of the common items the martial statelet required: flak jackets, walkie-talkies, mobile phones, medical instruments, satellite antennas, SIM cards and the like. Once, he said, he rounded up 1,500 silver rings with flat faces upon which the world’s most prominent terrorist organization could stamp its logo. Another time, a French jihadist hired him to find a Turkish domestic cat; Syrian cats, it seemed, were not the friendly sort.
War materiel or fancy; business was business. The Islamic State had needs, it paid to have them met and moving goods across the border was not especially risky. The smugglers used the same well-established routes by which they had helped foreign fighters reach Syria for at least three years. Turkish border authorities did not have to be eluded, Abu Omar said. They had been co-opted. ‘‘It is easy,’’ he boasted. ‘‘We bought the soldiers.’’
This time, however, the Crocodile had an unusual request: The Islamic State, he said, was shopping for red mercury.
Abu Omar knew what this meant. Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams. According to well-traveled tales of its potency, when detonated in combination with conventional high explosives, red mercury could create the city-flattening blast of a nuclear bomb. In another application, a famous nuclear scientist once suggested it could be used as a component in a neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag.
Abu Omar understood the implications. The Islamic State was seeking a weapon that could do more than strike fear in its enemies. It sought a weapon that could kill its enemies wholesale, instantly changing the character of the war. Imagine a mushroom cloud rising over the fronts of Syria and Iraq. Imagine the jihadists’ foes scattered and ruined, the caliphate expanding and secure.
Imagine the price the Islamic State would pay.
Abu Omar thought he might have a lead. He had a cousin in Syria who told him about red mercury that other jihadists had seized from a corrupt rebel group. Maybe he could arrange a sale. And so soon Abu Omar set out, off for the front lines outside Latakia, a Syrian government stronghold, in pursuit of the gullible man’s shortcut to a nuclear bomb.
To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist.
Legends of red mercury’s powers began circulating by late in the Cold War. But their breakout period came after the Soviet Union’s demise, when disarray and penury settled over the Kremlin’s arms programs. As declining security fueled worries of illicit trafficking, red mercury embedded itself in the lexicon of the freewheeling black-market arms bazaar. Aided by credulous news reports, it became an arms trafficker’s marvelous elixir, a substance that could do almost anything a shady client might need: guide missiles, shield objects from radar, equip a rogue underdog state or terrorist group with weapons rivaling those of a superpower. It was priced accordingly, at hundreds of thousands of dollars a kilogram. With time, the asking price would soar.
As often happens with durable urban legends, the red-mercury meme found just enough public support to assure an unextinguishable life. Chief among its proponents was Samuel T. Cohen, the American physicist and Manhattan Project veteran often called the father of the neutron bomb, who before his death in 2010 spoke vividly of the perils of nuclear terrorism and what he said was poor government preparation for such attacks. Cohen joined the red-mercury bandwagon as it gathered momentum in the early 1990s, staking a lonely position by asserting that the substance could be used to build nuclear weapons of exceptionally small size.
In one edition of his autobiography, he claimed red mercury was manufactured by ‘‘mixing special nuclear materials in very small amounts into the ordinary compound and then inserting the mixture into a nuclear reactor or bombarding it with a particle-accelerator beam.’’ The result, he said, ‘‘is a remarkable nonexploding high explosive’’ that, when detonated, becomes ‘‘extremely hot, which allows pressures and temperatures to be built up that are capable of igniting the heavy hydrogen and producing a pure-fusion mini neutron bomb.’’ Here was a proliferation threat of an order never before seen.
The establishment largely dismissed him. ‘‘If he did ever reveal evidence, I never saw it,’’ said Peter D. Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist who served as chief scientific adviser for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at the time. He added, ‘‘I would have seen it, at that point in history.’’ Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation analyst at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., put matters less delicately, saying Cohen followed a classic formula for conspiracy theories, mixing ‘‘nonscientific mumbo jumbo’’ with allegations that governments were withholding the truth. ‘‘I could never figure out where Sam Cohen the physicist ended and Sam Cohen the polemicist began,’’ he said.
Russian news organizations in the 1990s nevertheless relayed claims of red mercury’s destructive potential at face value, and foreign news outlets occasionally repeated them, boosting the material’s credibility and mystique. Britain’s Channel 4 elevated the material’s profile with two documentaries — ‘‘Trail of Red Mercury’’ and ‘‘Pocket Neutron’’ — that presented, according to their producers, ‘‘startling evidence that Russian scientists have designed a miniature neutron bomb using a mysterious compound called red mercury.’’ Cohen held a news conference after one broadcast to say it confirmed his fears.
Outside this circle of the faithful, red mercury faced doubters. The substance was almost everything but scientifically verifiable. It was not even reasonably explicable. ‘‘Over all it doesn’t make much sense,’’ an engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory wrote to a supervisor in 1994. It was also devilishly elusive, turning up in tales of smuggling mafias but never quite finding its way to a law-enforcement body or nuclear agency for proper frisking. When hopeful sellers were caught, substance in hand, it reliably turned out to be something else, sometimes a placebo of chuckle-worthy simplicity: ordinary mercury mixed with dye. The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, it was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.
Among specialists who investigated the claims, the doubts hardened to an unequivocal verdict: Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. ‘‘Take a bogus material, give it an enigmatic name, exaggerate its physical properties and intended uses, mix in some human greed and intrigue, and voilà: one half-baked scam,’’ the Department of Energy’s Critical Technologies Newsletter declared. In 1998, 15 authors from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which helps maintain the American nuclear-weapons stockpile, published an article in The Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry that called red mercury ‘‘a relatively notorious nuclear hoax.’’ In 1999, Jane’s Intelligence Review suggested that the scam’s victims may have included Osama bin Laden, whose Qaeda purchasing agents were ‘‘nuclear novices.’’ The most accommodating theory held that red mercury might have been a Soviet code name for something else — maybe lithium-6, a controlled material with an actual use in nuclear weapons — and traffickers repurposed the label for whatever nuclear detritus they were trying to move.
A true believer of the legends might interject that official skepticism in public did not preclude another discussion playing out on classified channels. But when WikiLeaks published American diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011, snippets of the internal red-mercury dialogue were consistent with the public statements. In 2006, according to one cable, Sri Lanka notified the American Embassy in Colombo of concerns that the Tamil Tigers, a secessionist militant group, had tried to procure the substance. ‘‘Red Mercury is a well-known scam material,’’ a State Department nonproliferation official told the embassy. ‘‘There is nothing to be concerned about.’’
Few people are more familiar with the lingering red-mercury assertions than Zimmerman, who later became director of the Center for Science and Security Studies at King’s College in London. For years, he canvassed his peers in nuclear-weapons and nonproliferation communities. He asked about the substance in conferences. He brought it up in one-on-one sessions with weaponeers from multiple countries and scientists from the former Communist bloc. He concluded that the substance was not just ‘‘hot air, myth, smoke and mirrors’’ but also ‘‘a con job.’’
When I called him, he laughed and referred to people convinced of its powers as ‘‘Red Mercurians.’’ Some of the stories he’d heard, he said, resembled ‘‘an old Jack Benny routine.’’ He paused to be straightforward and clear. Red mercury (or, for that matter, any mercury compound of any color), he said, had no nuclear-weapons application of any sort. The particulars of its supposed martial utility do not square with basic science. ‘‘It cannot be true,’’ he said, and spoke as if restating a longstanding challenge. ‘‘I have plenty of times staked my reputation on these statements, and no one has ever called me on it.’’
And yet a generation after the hype first burned bright, shopworn legends of red mercury’s powers, lodged in fringe provinces of the popular imagination, continue to surface, rekindled by shifting casts of jihadists, tomb looters, smugglers, journalists, YouTube salesmen and other wannabe profiteers. One thing about red mercury: If it’s not nuclear, it’s viral.
Abu Omar had joined a long line of players. It was impossible not to wonder: Did he really believe in red mercury himself?
When the Crocodile placed his order, Abu Omar said, the smuggler asked how much the Islamic State was willing to pay. The answer was vague. The Islamic State would pay, he said, ‘‘whatever was asked.’’ This was not the practical guidance a businessman needs. So the Crocodile sharpened the answer. Up to $4 million — and a $100,000 bonus — for each unit of red mercury matching that shown in a set of photographs he sent to Abu Omar over WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging service.
The images showed a pale, oblong object, roughly the length of a hot-dog bun, with a hole at each end. It bore no similarity to the red mercury that smugglers often described — a thick liquid with a brilliant metallic sheen. It appeared to be a dull piece of injection-molded plastic, like a swim-lane buoy or a children’s toy. But it had an intriguing resemblance that hinted at how the Islamic State’s interest might have been piqued: It was the exact likeness of an object that in 2013 the Cihan News Agency, one of Turkey’s largest news agencies, had called a red-mercury rocket warhead.
In that case, three men were said to have been arrested near Kayseri, a city in central Turkey. Cihan’s coverage followed the familiar arc of red-mercury hype. Footage shot at night showed officials in protective suits and masks approaching a van. The news presenter reported the operation in matter-of-fact tones, noting that the seized rocket component ‘‘was examined by six different institutions, including the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority, all of which found that it contained the material red mercury. The liquid can cause large explosions and is worth $1 million per liter. Red mercury is used for intercontinental rocket systems and hydrogen bombs.’’
With that validation, the photographs traveled on social media, finding their way to the Islamic State and then to Abu Omar, who said he remembered something he had heard from his cousin in Syria, a fighter for Jabhat al-Nusra, the Qaeda affiliate and bitter Islamic State rival. This cousin, he said, had told him that Nusra fighters had taken red-mercury warheads from a now-defunct rebel group, Ghuraba al-Sham, which the jihadists had overpowered in 2013, executing its leaders. The warheads that the Nusra fighters confiscated, Abu Omar said, matched those in the Crocodile’s photographs.
Not long after leaving Tal Abyad, Abu Omar said, he tracked down his cousin near the front lines outside Latakia to arrange a sale. The plan quickly tanked. His cousin, he said, suspected Abu Omar was shopping for the Islamic State. He refused to discuss terms. ‘‘I want you to end this talk about red mercury because I know where it is going to go,’’ Abu Omar recalled his cousin saying. ‘‘I know ISIS wants them. But we will never sell.’’
Abu Omar was describing all this in the lobby of a Turkish hotel, where he appeared one night this fall after several phone calls and chat sessions. His stories were more than far-fetched; they were confounding. Anyone with an Internet connection could quickly discover that the red-mercury meme was widely regarded as nonsense. Even a visit to Wikipedia — whose entry on the subject began, ‘‘Red mercury is a hoax substance of uncertain composition’’ — would surely be enough to raise questions for anyone disbursing Islamic State cash. I told Abu Omar that I had spoken with several nonproliferation experts, and they roundly agreed: Red mercury was a scam. Did he believe otherwise?
Abu Omar listened patiently. His face gave nothing away. Then he replied politely, as if addressing the uninformed. ‘‘I have seen it with my own eyes,’’ he said.
Two years before in Ras al-Ain, another Syrian border town, Abu Omar said, he was with a group of Islamic fighters that organized a test with 3.5 grams of liquid red mercury and a container of chlorine. The experiment was led by Abu Suleiman al-Kurdi, who commanded a small fighting group that has since joined the Islamic State. Al-Kurdi gathered the jihadists around his materials as the test began. ‘‘I will count to 10, and whoever stays in the room after that suffocates and dies,’’ he warned.
The chlorine was held in a foil-lined container, Abu Omar said. As the group watched, al-Kurdi dipped a needle into the red mercury and then touched the needle to the chlorine, transferring a drop. ‘‘Everything interacted with everything,’’ Abu Omar said, and a foul vapor rose. All of the fighters were driven away, first from the room, then from the house.
The powers of red mercury, Abu Omar said, were real.
Almost every aspect of this story, like so many other breathless accounts of red mercury, was unverifiable. And even if something did happen in that room, the noxious vapors could have a simple explanation: Chlorine alone damages the respiratory tract and can be deadly if inhaled.
But Abu Omar had answered the question. He stood firmly in the red-mercury camp. He was hardly alone.
Safi al-Safi, an unaffiliated rebel and small-time smuggler specializing in weapons, antiquities and forged documents, sat in an open-air cafe beside the Syrian-Turkish border. He was smoking scented tobacco from a water pipe while discussing the cross-border mercury trade. ‘‘Red mercury has a red color, and there is mercury that has the color of dark blood,’’ he said. ‘‘And there is green mercury, which is used for sexual enhancement, and silver mercury is used for medical purposes. The most expensive type is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.’’
This primer — passionate, thorough, outlandish to its core — fits a type. In meetings with smugglers in several towns along the border, red mercury inhabited the fertile mental terrain where fear and distrust of authority meet superstitious folklore. Descriptions of the material varied slightly in detail and sharply in price, and there were ample contradictions. But there was a remarkable consistency in several intricate legends and origin stories, even among people who did not know one another and who were separated by many miles.
Another smuggler, Faysal, who said he was awaiting results of vetting by the United States government to join a Pentagon-backed force opposing the Islamic State (the program has since been dropped), continued the lesson. ‘‘It has two different types: hot and cold,’’ he said. The cold form, which other smugglers sometimes call ‘‘spiritual mercury,’’ he said, ‘‘can be found in Roman graveyards.’’ He added: ‘‘Kings and princes and sultans used to take it to the graves with them.’’
This type of red mercury, the smugglers said, has been recovered by Middle Eastern grave robbers for at least several decades. ‘‘In previous generations, old women wore it in a necklace to keep the devil’s eye away,’’ Faysal said. More recently, rich men shopped for cold red mercury as either an aphrodisiac or to improve their sexual performance.
The substance was so valuable that dishonest traders, al-Safi said, often trafficked in fake red mercury. ‘‘In my village at least 15 people trade in it,’’ he said. ‘‘They buy normal mercury, and they color it. They use red lipstick and put a little on a spoon and heat the spoon until it turns to powder, and you put the powder in the mercury, and you mix it, and it becomes that color. This is how you cheat it.’’
Identifying such cheats was easy, the smugglers said, because real red mercury is attracted to gold but repelled by garlic. Wise buyers bring gold and garlic to test the product before cash changes hands. ‘‘You put a drop on a plate and you approach it with garlic, and that drop is going to move away,’’ a third smuggler, Abu Zaid explained. ‘‘But if you put red mercury on a plate and move a piece of gold under the plate, the red mercury is going to move with it.’’
Cold red mercury, these smugglers said, could not be used for nuclear weapons; that was the role of hot red mercury, which had a more recent origin. Only sophisticated laboratories manufactured it, and the hot red mercury available in Syria had come from the Soviet Union — usually, according to Raed, another smuggler, ‘‘in a specially maintained box with equipment and a manual and special gloves.’’
Abu Zaid said hot red mercury was sometimes offered for sale in Syria and could be useful for the Islamic State, which has a cadre of former Iraqi officials who would know how to harness its power. But he cautioned that buyers could easily make a grievous mistake. ‘‘It is not only about getting the red mercury,’’ he said. ‘‘The very small box needs special equipment to open it, and special reactors to work with it. If you open this box, a radius of eight kilometers around you will be destroyed.’’
This was especially dangerous, because hot red mercury could also be harvested from junkyards and seamstress shops. Al-Safi described how this came to pass. To prevent the weapons-grade material from falling into the wrong hands during what he called ‘‘the American occupation’’ of the former Soviet Union, he said, Russians safeguarding the stock late in the Cold War cached tiny reservoirs of red mercury in sewing machines and radios bound for export, which were then scattered throughout the Arab world. (Another version of the same tale says that red mercury is hidden in old television sets.)
These rumors have been circulating for years, once driving prices for old sewing machines as high as $50,000 in Saudi Arabia, according to a 2009 Reuters report. Often the most-sought-after machines were the Singer brand — which, considering that Singer was an American manufacturer, did not quite align with the Soviet fable. No matter. Abu Omar also insisted that old sewing machines were a red-mercury source. ‘‘Specific machines,’’ he said, ‘‘with a butterfly logo on them.’’ He said he knew this from experience because the red mercury used in the jihadists’ chlorine experiment in Ras al-Ain had come from his grandmother’s machine.
If all of this seems like a bad and ever-expanding joke, it can work that way. When I mentioned the garlic-and-gold tests and red mercury’s supposed qualities as a sexual stimulant to Peter Zimmerman, the nuclear physicist, his answer came quickly. ‘‘Take that with a grain of red mercury,’’ he said.
Jokes may be as useful a means as any of understanding red mercury, considering another origin theory that has made the rounds for years: that the hoax has roots in an intelligence-service put-on, a disinformation campaign of phony news articles planted decades ago in Russian newspapers by the K.G.B. and one of its successors, the F.S.B.
There are other variants of this story, including one in which Washington and Moscow collaborated in circulating red-mercury stories to flush out nuclear smugglers and to waste terrorists’ time. American soldiers and officers in bomb-disposal and counter-W.M.D. jobs shared that version with me, although, once again, no one had evidence for its veracity. It was something that they had heard on their jobs and a story they admitted that they liked — the thinking being that if the Four Lions wanted to shop for photon torpedoes, let them shop; that would be preferable to how the Islamic State otherwise spends its time. (Abu Omar, for example, said the Islamic State had also sought his help in abducting Western journalists.)
And yet the U.S. military and its allies, too, had found themselves expending resources on the hoax. In early 2011, a European military unit in Afghanistan handed over supposed red mercury to their American colleagues at Task Force Paladin, the command charged with countering and analyzing improvised bombs. The handoff triggered an international counterproliferation response, according to several American soldiers familiar with the events and an officer who participated in the operation but requested anonymity because parts of it remain classified.
Task Force Paladin alerted the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, the primary U.S. Army unit trained to eliminate threats of W.M.D., that they had an unknown substance that could be dangerous material. Back at the command’s headquarters in Maryland, teams of specialists in nuclear disablement and chemical response were packed into a C-5 military-transport jet and rushed to Bagram Air Base, where they were shown two small, lead-lined containers. One was about the dimensions of a quart-size Mason jar; the other roughly the size of a pint glass.
The nuclear-disablement team went first but found no sign that the containers held anything radioactive. They then passed the job to the chemical-warfare specialists and bomb-disposal techs. External tests on the containers were inconclusive, the officer involved said, so the soldiers took up the unenviable task of breaching the vessels to find out what exactly was inside. Wearing protective suits and breathing apparatuses, they put the first lead-lined container inside an airtight glove box within what the officer called a ‘‘secure, reinforced’’ shipping container, and then monitored it from afar by video as the spinning bit from a remote-controlled power drill plunged through the container’s soft wall. Out spilled ordinary mercury, the old standby of red-mercury scams. The second container was empty. In all, the officer said, the mercury amounted to ‘‘about a quarter or half cup.’’
The American soldiers quietly packed up and flew home. Their mission is memorialized in the Army’s classified records with a title — Operation Chimera — that members of the American bomb-disposal community said suggested a certain sense of humor about the whole affair. How the Europeans had been deceived is not publicly known. (One American familiar with the events said a European special-forces team had been lured into a bad buy.) On that matter, the American military declined to comment.
This was hardly the worst of the hoax’s real-world effects. In southern Africa, it has cost lives. According to a regional and especially cruel variation of the legend, the substance is found in conventional military munitions, particularly land mines, there to be claimed by anyone daring enough to take them apart and extract the goods. Tom Dibb, the program manager in Zimbabwe for the Halo Trust, a private mine-clearing organization, said he and the local authorities have documented people being killed in explosions while hunched over land mines or mortar bombs with hand tools.
In the bloodiest incident, in 2013, six people were killed near Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, by a blast in the home of a faith healer. One victim was an infant. Dibb spoke with the police and said ‘‘they were pretty convinced that it was a tank mine being taken apart for red mercury.’’ In another case, which Dibb examined himself, two men were killed and another wounded as they tried harvesting land mines for red-mercury extraction from a minefield. The most recent death that the Halo Trust investigated occurred on Nov. 1, Dibb said, when a 22-year-old man, Godknows Katchekwama, was killed while trying to dismantle and remove red mercury from an R2M2, a South African antipersonnel land mine about the size of a tuna can.
The explosion outside Harare prompted Michael P. Moore, who manages the Landmines in Africa website, to start a second site, the Campaign Against Red Mercury, which documents hoaxes and urges people not to believe them. Moore said he tried tracing how the meme leapt from sewing machines to explosive devices but could not figure it out. Public-education campaigns were needed, he said, because ‘‘it’s enough of a pervasive myth that it’s not going to go away anytime soon. And people are dying.’’
The Crocodile kept inquiring about red mercury for more than a year, Abu Omar said, pressing for results. He reached out one last time on WhatsApp in June 2015. At the time, Kurds were attacking the Islamic State in Tal Abyad, and the commander also sought what he called ‘‘thermal panels’’ to deceive the weapons-guidance systems on American warplanes. But by November of this year, Abu Omar was still empty-handed. By then Tal Abyad had fallen to the Kurds, and the Crocodile had gone silent, leaving the quest without a sponsor for now.
Abu Omar had kept busy with other work; he said he had recently delivered 23 commercial drones to the jihadists. He remained a storehouse of red-mercury yarns. Word was that the Kurdish fighting groups opposing the Islamic State had been buying up the stuff. ‘‘People I know sold it to Kurds three times,’’ he said. And eight red-mercury warheads had been found in the Aleppo countryside, too. The story was similar to one from Reyhanli, another Turkish border city, where smugglers insisted that rebels in Idlib had overrun a military checkpoint and captured a few grams of red mercury. This material was said to be available for sale, although no one who said this could arrange to see it. It led to an obvious question: If Syria’s military possessed red-mercury weapons, why hadn’t it used them? Why would an imperiled force with a well-documented disregard for restraint forgo uncorking such a weapon as its garrisons fell?
If red mercury seemed a perfect fit for the particular nature of this brutal, shadowy war — an apocalyptic weapon for a terrorist group driven in part by the belief that we are approaching the return of the Mahdi, the final defeat of infidels and the end of the world — it was not making itself easy to get. All this, and the police were drawing near. In June, Turkish news agencies reported another red-mercury bust, this time of a pair of Georgians. And Abu Omar said an associate of his had managed to obtain the material, only to be arrested in Ankara before he could unload it. The authorities released him but kept his red mercury, he said, for themselves. ‘‘His phone was monitored,’’ Abu Omar said, and thus the bad turn.
None of this was verifiable, either. The Turkish government declined to answer questions about its red-mercury arrests over the last two years. And his friend? Abu Omar said he had fled to Sweden. He provided a link to the man’s Facebook profile, but the man was not replying to requests. You can’t be too careful in the red-mercury game.