The Time Catalyst

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Chapter 2

Wednesday morning…

There was a knock on Dr. Patrick McClain’s office door. He was in the middle of dictating some instructions to his Artificial Intelligent virtual agent, Charles. When the knock on the door was heard, they both looked at each other, startled…at least, that’s what Charles did a good job of imitating. Patrick jumped out of his posh chair and walked over to the door and opened it.

“Cheri, what are you doing here,” Patrick asked tersely. “I thought you were training new support staff!”

“Hi, Charlie,” she said to the avatar. The cartoon-like character winked back at Cheri with a smile that was not fit for family hour on television. Many men in the corporation were attracted to Cheri, even this virtual one.

Patrick swung the door open and let Cheri march in, obviously in her power-mode.

“Pat, Senator Taylor is here!”

“What! What does he want?”

“He didn’t say…he’s supposed to be on his way to Australia but said he wanted to swing by here and talk with you first!”

Patrick slapped one of his hands over his mouth and began to pace in his luxury penthouse office. Cheri looked at him with a worried face and waited to see what this thirty-something year old, financial wizard would do. He often liked to refer to modern technology and science in terms of magic or miracles and like to call himself a wizard. In fact, he had designed Charles in the icon of wizards—an old-looking man with a white beard, a sloping conical hat, and a magician’s gown is how Charles looked.

“Okay, Cheri, here’s what we’re going to do: have Sonya take over for you in the training at the Personnel Department and I want you to fill in for me at the board meeting—I was just preparing my notes for it with Charles right before you came.”

“Okay, Pat…do you want me to let him come up or do you want to see him downstairs?”

Patrick thought for a moment. “Where is he now?”

“On the first floor lobby,” she stated.

“I think I’ll meet him down there…you know, less private, he’s less likely to hang around with the public stirring about.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Cheri quipped as she turned and headed for the door.

A few minutes later, Dr. McClain had walked out of one of the elevators as he stepped out into the first floor lobby. Senator Myron Taylor, chairperson of the Science and Space Committee of the U.S. Senate, was already waiting for him. The tall, robust elderly man was in dark suit and tie. He spoke with a southern drawl. Patrick, by contrast, was a medium-height, very slender man with sandy-blond hair and was dressed in business-casual. He spoke with a flat accent, if one were to call it that, given that he had grown up in Seattle.

“Senator, good to see you again!” Patrick said this as they both shook hands.

“How are you doing, Pat?”

“Well, pretty good…Samantha’s still teaching at the University, I’m staying busy with Miracles…”

“You can say that again! I’m still seeing your pretty face on the news back in D.C. with all your scientific stunts that you pull, McClain. Speaking of which, Pat…”

The Senator gently took Patrick by one of his forearms and pulled him to the side of the bustling lobby. Patrick knew this meant trouble.

“Listen, Pat, I’m actually on my way to Australia for other national matters. Since my flight’s taking me through Seattle, I just saw the opportunity to swing by and have a bit of a talk with you.”

“Well, what’s on your mind, Senator?”

Senator Taylor inhaled and then blew out a soft sigh as he looked around the busy lobby. “Patrick, some of my colleagues have been doing some whisperings of late. Your company has been doing several contracts with the Federal government for several years now, but this is the first time that any of the members of the Science and Space Committee have been voicing concerns!”

“Concerns about what,” Patrick asked with as much respect as he could at that time.

“Well…let’s start with all this plutonium Miracles has purchased recently. Pat, this is the post-nine-eleven era, corporations can’t afford to even look like you’re engaged in anything that could be interpreted as terroristic! And then there’s all the satellites you bought from various governments, with some special zoning rights for them in space for goodness’ sakes!” The Senator looked at the young man with strained eyes. “Patrick, what’s going on here?”

Patrick was on good enough speaking terms with the Senator that he could pat him on the back and talk with him as an equal. “Myron, trust me, I’m as patriotic as they come. I wouldn’t sell-out our government to even a friendly nation in regards to my contracts with the Federal government. But, Senator, I respectfully say that some things are still off-limits to Big Brother. I’m currently working on a project that is private in nature. This time, Myron, the Feds don’t have a hand in my cookie jar, what I’m working on is for Miracles and Miracles only.”

The Senator didn’t so much as blink an eye after Patrick’s speech.

“Then, please tell me that you’re doing all the essential filings with the FCC for the satellites—and I mean all of them, Pat.”

“I mailed them off just a week ago…”

“I’m glad to hear that, Pat. You are right about keeping your personal business to yourself. But as the ranking member in the Senate’s Science and Space Committee, Pat, I still have an obligation to warn you to watch where you get your materials…remember, there are a lot of people in this world with dangerous ideas, Dr. McClain.”

The Senator gave a loose salute to Patrick, turned, and walked out of the lobby. Patrick shook his head as he sighed. He walked over to the bank of elevators and headed back to his penthouse office.

Later that evening, Patrick stayed in his office late. It was around ten o’clock at night when he left the office. Earlier, he had called his wife, Samantha, and warned her that it would be another all-nighter for him. Just as well, for she had several essays she had to grade for her university students in the law college.

Patrick left his 95th floor office open for the cleaning person to have access to it. He saw a young man dressed in a maintenance jumper suit pushing a cleaning cart with a mop bucket and other cleaning supplies on it. He wore a neck badge with his photo and identification on it.

“How’s it going,” Patrick greeted the worker with a firm nod of his head.

The young man barely glanced at Patrick, until he noticed who he was. He then shined a broad smile and went up to Patrick and shook his hand…for a long time.

“Dr. McClain, it is great to work for you, even as a janitor!”

“Well, thank you…” Patrick was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the janitor holding on to his hand for so long. Patrick craftily slid his hand away from his. “What’s your name?”

“Tage, sir,” the young man said as he held up his id badge and showed it to Patrick.

“Tage, huh…? Is that European? I’ve been there several times on different projects.”

“Uh…yes, yes it is. So, you invented the Miracle Mach Speedster! That’s a pretty incredible jet, if I may say so, sir.”

“Oh, thanks. It took quite a bit of fumbling at first, but my team and I finally got it after a few years.”

“Think it’ll ever go to the Moon,” Tage asked with shifty eyes.

Patrick gave out a sharp laugh. “No, it’s not quite that advanced. But, eventually, those of us in the aeronautics field would like to build a re-usable craft that can go to space and back as easily as airplanes fly in the air.”

The janitor’s smile melted a bit, as did his voice. “Oh…you never know how far our decisions effect history, Dr. McClain.”

Patrick’s own smile melted after seeing how serious Tage was. Tage just stood there, looking at the young billionaire. He was starting to make Patrick feel uncomfortable.

“Hey, listen,” Patrick finally said as he began to walk off, “I’d better get going…welcome to Miracles, Inc., Tage.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, Dr. McClain.”

Tage wheeled the cleaning cart to Patrick’s opened office.

Even after a long day at his regular office, Patrick yet had hours more work to do. He got off the elevator and walked out onto the first floor lobby and walked past one of the guards as he made his rounds. They chatted for a few seconds then they went their separate ways. The guard went to the circulation desk to join another guard there, with the bank of surveillance monitors underneath the circular counter top, while Patrick secretly made his way to the back of the lobby. He made sure to glance back in the guards’ direction to make sure that even they did not see where he went.

It was a hidden door, built right into the wall of the lobby. A very large, potted plant was always there to cover up the door, so Patrick slid passed the plant and held up his id card to a certain part of the wall. After he had done so, the smooth door quickly slid open with a hiss, revealing a darkened stairwell. Patrick rushed inside and the door automatically hissed to a close behind him. Again, automation was at work. After the door closed, lights winked on in the stairwell. Patrick descended the stairs until he reach, yet, another secured, hidden door that required his id badge to open it. After that door, there was a long, meandering hallway that took the entrepreneur to one more door. Again, Patrick presented his badge and the door opened.

The scene behind the door was a fully operational laboratory that was filled with life. Scientists, approximately fifty in total in the lab, were running around with note pads, palm pilots, or cell phones on hand, while many more were stationed at computer terminals. Many printing machines were spewing out reams of paper with information that only a geeky scientist would see as art. At one of the lab sections, there were about ten monitors with pictures of space with all its blackness and pinpointed, white stars. A couple of the screens showed Earth.

It was a noisy laboratory. Patrick’s special scientific team was in the middle of running tests on his latest mad scientist project. It was called the Solar Unlimited. The basic idea behind it was unlimited solar energy from the Sun via Dr. McClain’s specialized satellites that he had purchased not too long ago. The satellites would soak up some of the Sun’s energy and beam it back down to Earth. In turn, that beamed energy would be caught by a special receptor, called the Solar Converter Receiver, or SCR. What was nice about the project, and likely to be its biggest selling point, was that anyone with the SCR was able to receive large amounts of solar energy at any time…day time or night time!

The potential financial benefits to Patrick and his corporation from the Solar Unlimited were also unlimited. But the societal impact on the world from his project were incalculable…

“How did we do on this round of tests, Thomas,” Patrick asked one of the managing scientists in the beehive.

“Oh…hey, Pat.” The scientist had his back to him looking at the results on a computer. “We did excellent! Our Receiver handled the Sun’s energy load just fine without any power surges…all of our satellites remained in perfect formation during the whole test…”

“So, why do you have that worried look on your face?”

Thomas, a heavy man with boyish looks, finally pivoted his chair around to fully face Patrick. “What are you talking about, Pat? I told you, we did excellent.”

“Tommy, I’ve known you the longest out of all these people here…I can tell when you have something on your mind.”

Thomas nodded his head in consent. “Okay, there was a little anomaly that showed up that was also there in the last three tests…it was a glitch. Just a simple one. But significant enough to lower the energy input from the Sun by five percent.”

“Five percent,” Patrick said as he looked over and pulled up a chair and sat next to Thomas. “How come I didn’t know about this glitch during the last three trials?”

“Well, we’ve ran, what, twenty tests up until that time? What we’re trying to do is very complicated, Pat. Anomalies are expected to show up every now and then…what’s weird about the glitches, though, is the timing.”

“What do you mean?”

Thomas thought on his words before he voiced them. He shifted in his chair as he explained himself, using his hands as if he were using sign language. “Think of our project as a pipeline running all the way from Earth to the Sun…now, each time that we run a test to suck up the Sun’s energy, its like opening up a spigot and we pour out the Sun’s energy to Earth and catch it with the SCR. These glitches I’m telling you about, Pat, are, well…they’re more like someone stealing a drink of water from that pipeline each time that we open it up to let the water out, if you get my analogy.”

Now Patrick shifted in his seat. This was a relatively small matter, but there were larger implications to it. His face was now in a deepened frown. “Yeah…I do get your analogy. But, Tommy, that would mean that someone would have to know exactly—and I mean to the nanosecond—when we are doing our tests! But we’ve been keeping this a secret! In fact, I had to politely tell Senator Taylor to mind his own business earlier today.”

Patrick looked at Thomas with suspicious eyes.

“Hey, McClain, don’t look at me! I love my paycheck and my benefits! Is it possible that someone else in this lab has loose lips? Sure. But can we prove it? Besides, like you said, Pat, for someone to graft onto our experiment at the precise time takes an incredible amount of accuracy…if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was like someone opened a door during our experiment and then shut it after stealing some of our solar energy!”

Patrick sighed as he looked around the busy lab. He ran his hand through his medium-length hair as he thought on the matter some more. “Other than this little mystery, the Solar Unlimited worked all right?”

“Yeah…like I said before, we did excellent. I just suggest that we run at least three more tests to make sure we don’t have any more anomalies.”

“Agreed,” Patrick said as he playfully slapped one of Thomas’ thick arms. Patrick, then, got up from his chair. “Why don’t you all take a break first, and then run two more tests tonight and then three more tomorrow…how does that sound?”

“Sounds good to me, boss. Look, Pat,” Thomas called out to him before he walked away, “there is a possibility those glitches could mean absolutely nothing. It could just be space junk from all those space launches humans have been doing…”

“Tommy, I want you to look at me in the eyes and tell me that’s what you really think those anomalies are.”

“Of course not,” Thomas said without a second’s delay. “But as a scientist, I’m supposed to look at as many possibilities as possible, right?”

Patrick laughed at Thomas’ response. It was so obvious that Patrick should have thought of it as well.

“That’s why I hired you for the top position, Tommy!”

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