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February 25, 2038, 11:02 a.m.
13 Years, 281 Days Ago
“It’s not working,” Doctor Endinger said.
Paul stood in front of the man’s ostentatiously large desk feeling like a criminal pleading his case. From one point of view, he was.
“The vacuum spheres have already created several new avenues of study in quantum physics.” Paul had to fight to keep the urgency out of his voice.
“Which is why I’m not firing you.” Edinger was a lanky man with wispy gray hair that never seemed to look the same way twice. It sort of looked like a button up shirt and tie had sprouted hair and started walking. “You’ve shown promise in your theoretical studies, and we encourage you to continue the research, but we can’t afford to fund any further experiments after this year ends. We won’t be budgeting for your project after this.”
“But I’m so close!” Paul stepped up and planted his hands on Edinger’s desk, though he still had to be about four feet away.
“We all thought that a year back,” Edinger admitted. “You came to us with your degree and the ability to generate self-contained vacuum spheres, but no amount of research or money has helped anyone, including you, figure out how to connect those spheres to allow for instantaneous transport.”
Paul’s head sank. There was no denying that truth. There were a few basic theories that might allow for two fields to connect, but none of them had any practical application.
Paul looked up, desperately playing the only card he had left to play.
“I’ve been thinking about one last thing,” Paul said. The formula made a kind of sense, but he wasn’t sure if it mattered. “If we created the fields in the same place, they would be connected that way.”
The formulaic data had some odd issues. There was a variable he couldn’t reconcile, but Paul hoped the viability of the concept would give him just one more year of funding.
Edinger offered a patronizing smile. “What would be the point of teleporting to a place you already are?”
Paul stepped back, finally slumping down in the leather chair behind him. It was over. His life’s work had reached its final conclusion, and there was nothing else to do.
“I imagine you’ll still spend a lot of energy working on this concept, and I’m not forbidding you to, but I am telling you that you need to start considering areas of study that have more immediate applications,” Edinger said.
He’d accepted a fellowship in the company’s applied physics division offering them a way to expedite shipping and delivery methods for the world. Edinger proved to be the only one even willing to hire him under those conditions.
Jordan and Lidia happily found other jobs, thus ending their friendship, or at least degrading it to nothing more than an occasional meeting for drinks and reminiscing. Paul was the last one left trying to do something he knew was possible. The problem was, the only person capable of doing it kept it a secret.
“I know how disappointing this is for you,” Edinger said. “Why don’t you take a week of paid leave to consider options and come back fresh. I understand what it is to set aside a long-held passion project to move onto something else. But I think in time you’ll be happier developing projects that bare more immediate results.”
Paul looked at Edinger, trying to appreciate what the man was doing. Paul nodded. He force himself up and headed to the door. He managed to mutter thanks and a promise to be back next week with some ideas.
He left the building in a daze, catching a ride to his condominium. He plodded up the flight of stairs that led to his particular unit and got inside. He finally realized what he was thinking when he stepped into the second room, which he’d converted into an office. The walls were covered with white-boards, papers, and formulas. The white-tile floor was hardly visible given desk and numerous stands that also had more and more formulas and theories covering them.
His most recent concept was on the desk. He was pretty confident he could indeed create a field that would form a sort of frozen moment in time. In that field one could travel from one spot to the other. Once the field went down, he’d have effectively teleported. Sure, all that really happened was that time didn’t pass in the vacuum sphere, but it would have the same result.
The problem was that field could only be so large. There was also the odd variable he couldn’t reconcile. For some reason, the space dimension worked exactly as he planned, but the dimension of time kept unbalancing the equation.
“What’s it matter?” Paul pulled the small rolling chair away from his desk and sat staring at his life’s work.
It was all over. He’d probably keep doing the math, but without funding for any experiments, he couldn’t prove whatever theory he showed. And without any experiments, he couldn’t verify if his theories would work. Sure, he had a little less than a year of funding, but he didn’t have any clue what to try.
“I guess you win.” Paul didn’t expect Nobody to appear. When he first moved into his condo, Paul thought Nobody would have a place he could teleport to. Of course Paul covered his home in sensors and measurement tools hoping for just such an event. But Nobody had never shown. Still, the man somehow knew what was going on, so it felt right to talk out loud.
“Why did you use such a wonderful thing just to pester me for all these years?” Paul asked. He could imagine what Nobody would say, but he didn’t want to think about the man’s sermons or viewpoints.
He waved his hands around the room. “This could send food to every homeless person. It could make shipping and traveling obsolete. Friends and family could visit each other in less time than it would take to open a door. And you use it to yap at me.”
Of course, he also helped. A small part of Paul understood that. He’d dressed Paul’s wounds when he was a child. He’d encouraged him to build friendships and bonds that were precious.
Of course they were all gone now too. Paul was alone. He was unsuccessful. He was angry and sad.
His PID buzzed. He glanced at it, seeing that his mother was calling. He briefly considered letting it go to voicemail, but his mother might be the only one left who cared about him, so he answered, linking his PID to the earpiece he always wore.
“What’s wrong?” His mother asked.
“What do you mean?” Paul asked.
“You said, ‘Hey,’” she replied.
“Yeah, hello. Hi. How are you? What’s up?” Paul gave a list of other greetings as if any of them would have worked.
“I hear it in your voice,” she said. “Something’s wrong. What’s up?”
He chuckled. “I just had a real bad day at work, Mom,” he said. “I’ll get over it. But what about you? I haven’t forgotten to call or visit.”
He’d called her pretty much every week and visited more and more just to spend time with her. It started to feel right in a way. It was just them against his father. It was just them before Bill and Jordan, and now it was just them again. He made sure not to let her feel the way he’d felt when all the other people in his life faded away for one reason or another.
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m calling today. I know it’s soon, but I was hoping you could visit again this weekend.”
“Sure,” he said. Maybe that would help him. He could talk to her about his job. She always made him feel better. “Why so soon?”
“Oh, I just felt like having my son around,” she said. “Is that OK? Are you too busy?”
“No,” he said chuckling. The more he thought about it, the better it was. He needed the chance to recharge and relax. “I’ve actually just taken some time off work to relax. I could be there tonight if you want.”
“Oh that would be perfect!” She sounded genuinely excited.
“What’s going on?” he asked again.
The line was quiet for a moment. “Why don’t you come down, and we’ll have some dinner. Then I’ll tell you why I’m so excited to see you.”
Did she have news? Did she finally meet someone new? More likely, she’d found some new project at her church she could work on, which maybe wasn’t the great news she always thought, but it mattered to her.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll see you tonight.”
… to be continued …