The Depth of Darkness, Part 1

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Chapter 3

The loud and incessant hooting noise of River’s alarm clock brought him fully back into the world of consciousness. Still drunk with sleep, he slowly pushed the thin comforter blanket aside and with supreme effort managed to swing his body into an upright position. He killed the alarm with minimal celebration and sighed resignedly. It had been two days since the life form had vanished into the air vent and, with that, disappeared with no trace. Not knowing what this newly discovered life form represented and what danger to man it presented, the scientists had set off with minimal excitement, or energy, to find the little organism and bring it back for further study.

Edison had been furious. He had rampaged and screamed out the levels of incompetence he felt them to possess. Thereafter he had stormed off to find a place of quiet contemplation or whatever it was that Edison did – River hardly had an interest in finding out that detail. Edison’s fury had cast a dim atmosphere into the laboratory and River had ordered the search to be started before retreating back to his private sanctuary. He had decided that he would continue working on his pet project and ultimately his reason for being at the Saucer. The HEC saw the possibilities for his experimentation and had simply decided that it would not do to have River working for a private consortium that would be able to horde, patent and sell the technology for billions of credits.

River was in danger of stagnating with his research. A significant amount of time had passed since he had last made any real progress with his work, and he was beginning to think that he might need to step back to the absolute basics. Perhaps even as far back as what the accepted rules of nature were. It could very likely be that he needed to challenge the reality of time and space to make his next breakthrough.

That would require a significant paradigm shift. I think I should contact HEC HQ and see about moving to a new facility. One where I receive better support, he considered. “I think I should send out an exploratory query,” he concluded aloud.

It was a strange habit for one who should be pragmatic, but River often found that making a decision statement aloud was a firm way of committing himself to a decision. Society was sceptical of people who did that, though, and so River had learnt to not make those statements in earshot of any other people.

On shaky, sleep-heavy legs he made his way from his bed towards his com-console and fell heavily into the padded chair that had not been pushed in under the desk. His rooms were slightly larger than those of some of the scientists, due to his ranking and time on the Saucer, but they were still cramped. All the plastics in the room were white, with thin blue lines painted in the crevices between larger panels. Still, due to the fact that most panels were large and cast from a single strip of plastic, white was by far the prominent colour in the room. The com-console came out of standby quickly and showed a barrage of received messages. From the first subject line, River could see that he had forgotten his own birthday again, but all his loving friends and families probably had reminders going off this morning and so had begun to send through the expected well wishes. He spent a brief amount of time selecting all the messages, and marking them as read before moving them off into a subfolder.

He tapped the screen to compose a new message and addressed it to the Head of Scientific Research, Human Earth Confederacy. He spent roughly twenty minutes composing and reviewing his request. He had to make sure that he didn’t implicate Edison in any way for a number of reasons. Firstly, the top woman of the science division would undoubtedly contact Edison for comment and River did not want any animosity to spoil his chances. Secondly, she had little patience for people who could not sort out their issues and challenges through direct confrontation. River had only met her three times, twice during the awarding ceremonies for his two doctorates and then the third time when he’d found out that his experiments had caught the eye of the Confederacy and that he would be reassigned for duty, away from RF1501, the research facility on the Moon, and to the Saucer, RF601. That had been almost four years ago. Back then she had struck him as a woman who knew exactly what it was that she wanted and that she expected all working under her to know that and fully buy into what she wanted. She had wanted him here at RF601.

River hovered his index finger above the send button for a very long time, before taking a deep breath and tapping the button as he exhaled. The Outbox icon flashed bold briefly and then the message was gone. It was done, his request was sent and he may be on the precipice of either doom or a bright future in the coming days. It took a number of hours for digital communications to travel the distances of darkness between the planets and then there was still the timeframe for discussion and thought to take into account.

“Nothing for it but to continue on as usual. Let us commence day three of searching for that little life form,” he said, discarding his sleeping trunks and stepping into the shower. Water was precious in a space station, but the shower water could easily be recycled and used again. Humankind had spent many years perfecting that art.

River entered the meeting room precisely an hour after waking up. He was the only one aside from Edison who was punctual; the remaining staffing was late. He chose not to say anything to his superior, as keeping up false pretences was not something he was very comfortable with and invariably he would struggle to keep a harsh tone out of his voice. Instead he helped himself to some coffee that had been brewing at the counter and seated himself at the far end of the table. Coffee was a rare treat out in space. The beans would not grow in containment and with the long time it took to fly out to the station, coffee was usually only brought along as a gift rather than stocked as part of the supplies. He enjoyed the taste slowly and did not rush to finish his cup. The other staffing began to sidle into the room shortly after he had seated himself and within ten minutes the room was full.

River endured some of the well wishes, most being delivered warmheartedly. Only Edison chose not to wish him anything. River was not surprised.

“Let us get this meeting underway,” announced Edison. “Prof. Goldstein, could you please provide me with some feedback on your searching and then also your research?”

It was unsurprising that River had been targeted first, but he had nothing to feel ashamed about and so he steadily answered, “On the search for the missing life form, we have made no progress whatsoever. On my research, I feel I might have hit a brick wall. I need to revert back to basics and take it from there.”

Edison fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “What do 22 you mean brick wall?”

“Well, I can’t seem to get objects to accelerate beyond a certain point. Although, according to all theoretical paperwork and calculations, the objects should be able to accelerate well beyond that point.”

“What is the acceleration point that you cannot break?”

“It’s not a matter of not being able to break the acceleration point, it’s the challenge I face when I use substantially massive objects. With smaller particles, I am able to achieve the figures I am hoping to achieve.”

“So it comes down to a matter of force, then.”

“Yes, I suppose it does.”

“I’m sure you will think of something. Dr Carson, could you please provide me with some feedback on your searching?” And with that Edison had moved on to the next scientist in line. River was a little stunned that for the first time in his remembrance Edison had said something slightly encouraging. And his simple line of questioning had brought him back to one of the most basic formulations in science, F=ma. His mind instantly began to reconsider many of his calculations.

“Professor Goldstein!”

River snapped back to reality. “Yes, Professor Edison?”

“So nice of you to join us.” The sarcasm was back, River noted. “I was saying that it is of the utmost importance that you locate the missing life form. I have a communication from HQ that no more samples are available to us and we must discover the nature of this life form. I will accept no failure here. Have I made myself clear?”

Edison waited until River confirmed his understanding of the instruction before continuing. “OK, ladies and gentlemen, the meeting is dismissed.”

The room emptied quickly to the sound of chairs being scraped back and mumbled conversations. River followed the procession out and made a beeline for the exit of the office section. The disc-shaped space station was divided into quadrants, though all the souls on board merely referred to them as sections - the most important of which was the laboratories quadrant. This was the sole purpose of the facility. The remaining three sections were necessary requirements to sustain life on board the facility. They were administration, residential and engineering. Meetings took place in the administration section, whereas all life support machinery and the various transport berthing areas were to be found in engineering. A long column that extended well beyond the diameter of the station pierced the disc; it housed the gravitational field generator, as well as the shield generator and some defensive cannons that retracted into the structure itself when not needed. The column also stored fuel for any passing ships, as well as solar panels for energy creation. A long curving corridor that ran along the inner circumference connected all four quadrants and the column. It was for this corridor that River was heading with urgency before Edison could find a reason to call him back. The reminder of the most basic formula had sparked off a memory, which River was urgently seeking to explore further.

As he slipped through the door into the main corridor he heard, on the edges of his peripheral consciousness, someone calling out his name but he ignored it. He needed to see his friend off and he was leaving in less than an hour.

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