The Second Time Around

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13

Dr. Gregory Paite stepped into the metal elevator and the doors slid shut automatically. There were only two buttons, and Dr. Paite pressed the bottom one. The elevator began to move with a sudden lurch that left Gregory’s stomach suspended for a moment. The descent was fast and smooth as the elevator dropped fifteen stories to a deep excavated cavern. When the doors slid open, Gregory found himself in a long stone tunnel lined with banks of high output LED’s.

A small battery-powered golf cart was parked next to one wall and plugged into a charging outlet. Gregory unplugged the cart and drove it down the quarter mile long track to the research facility. A pair of heavy blast doors stood open, and he drove through them without pausing. There were no security guards in the subterranean levels of the research facility. If someone made it through the multiple levels of surface checks and access points, the assumption was that they belonged here, and they were allowed to move freely. Of course, since there was only one entry and exit point, it was very easy to control who gained access to the lower levels in the first place, rendering it a somewhat moot point.

Dr. Paite parked the cart outside the main control room and straightened his tie and his lab coat before opening the heavy metal door and stepping into the maelstrom on the other side of the door. Lab techs were hurrying everywhere and systems engineers were checking computer displays and adjusting hoses or cables as they thought necessary. At the far end of the row of computer and monitors was the director of operations’ office, Gregory’s immediate supervisor on site, and the only person to whom Gregory had to report.

As soon as Gregory was inside the door, his assistant spotted him and nodded towards the Director’s closed office door. Gregory swallowed hard, and started the long walk to the boss’ office. He knew he’d have to explain Dr. Mathis’ unexpected visit somehow, and he’d been working on a convincing story that he could spin to gain Dr. Mathis access to the lab and the experiment. As he stepped into the Director’s office, though, that convincing story flew right out of his head.

“Dr. Paite,” The Director said impatiently, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but the United States government has invested considerable time and money into this endeavor of yours. And, as you so aptly pointed out to your former professor, we expect a return on that investment and we cannot accomplish that return without your expertise. Understood?”

“Yes, sir, but I—” Gregory began, but the Director cut him off.

“Dr. Paite I am not a scientist or a researcher, but I have been placed in charge of this experiment. Do you know why?” The Director asked, but he didn’t wait for Gregory to answer. “Because I am and administrator, and a damned fine one at that. I know how to keep people organized and on task, and above all, I get the job done. Now, I trust we won’t have any more uninvited guests or unscheduled breaks in our scheduled ramp up and initial test run, will we?”

“No sir,” Gregory replied with a heavy sigh. “We’re putting the last settings and preparations in place as we speak. We should be able to launch the initial test in a few minutes.”

“Good,” The Director said, shuffling some papers on his desk without looking up. “I expect a full run once it is complete.”

“You don’t want to watch, sir?” Gregory asked.

“I told you, Dr. Paite,” The Director replied with that same impatient tone, “I’m an administrator, not an academic. I trust you’ll perform just fine whether I’m there or not.”

Gregory nodded and closed the door on his way out. As soon as the door was closed, the privacy glass fogged, and the interior of the office was cut off from view. Three lab techs were waiting for instructions on how to solve minor issues with the vessel, and he sent them off with instructions on how to stabilize the Helium flow and how to balance the magnetic load on the spherical field they would generate.

Finally, Dr. Paite led the research team in a pre-launch checklist, marking off each of the key indicators as either go or no-go. They had green lights across the board, and everything was set. Dr. Paite gave the order to begin liquid He pumping to cool the outer shell. As the cryogenic pumps whirred to life, the lead technician in charge of the highly sensitive photometer within the vessel called out in excitement. “Dr. Paite! Dr. Paite! We’re getting a spike here on the detector!”

Gregory rushed over to the computer read out and checked the display. “Are you sure? What’s the wavelength?”

The technician tapped some keys and brought up the graph with a clear spike at the 1266nm wavelength. Gregory felt his pulse begin to race. He looked over at the laser control group, who looked like they had seen a ghost.

“Have you guys fired up the 633nm HeNe laser yet?” Gregory asked.

The lead technician shook his head slowly. “No sir,” He said, “We weren’t even set to switch on the power supply for another four minutes.”

For a brief moment, the room was deathly silent.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Gregory said, his voice tinged with awe, “I think we’ve just received our first message from the future.”


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