Anchors No More #1: The Problem With DecisionsJan 20, 2014
“Should we do it?”
Holly looked at him with the same eager uncertainty, “I don’t know, what do you think?”
He swallowed, his throat acidic, and he tinkered the switch lightly with a gloved fingertip. Gary hated decisions. They were always so defining. “We kind of have to,” he said, “It’s here. We did it.”
They were in the basement, just a short flight of stairs away from their lab. The lights were dim, only enough to see what they were doing. If the others found out what they had been up to… probably not jail time, but heavy fines for sure, ostracism certainly. They tried not to think about it and just do their work, but sometimes late at night, after the facilities had closed and they were making their way home through the clean streets of the campus, they talked about it. Hushed conversations on mostly empty streets. They were getting close, they knew it, and they had to keep pushing forward.
The final breakthrough had come late last week after a month of theoretical stalemate. Gary and Holly simply went back to toiling around the lab during that time, focusing on their jobs, letting their minds wander while their hands labored. As the only optical engineers in the small laser product R&D organization, they enjoyed a certain amount of privacy in their work environment and a fairly free ‘come and go’ policy on the schedule they kept. Their job required inspiration and except for the hours between two and five in the morning they were free to work when and as they chose as long as the deadlines were met. They worked together well and had earned their lax schedule with creativity and punctual reliability.
The whole thing was Holly’s idea initially. She had mentioned it in casual conversation and later brought it up again. “Why not?” she asked when Gary dismissed the thought. “Because it’s impossible,” he said, “the theory is sound but the physics are messed up.”
She argued, “The physics aren’t messed up, they just need tweaking.” She looked at him with hard certainty. “We can do it.”
Gary wanted to believe in time travel but it was just too much to take at face value. His analytical nature proved superior to his rational curiosity. The well thought out scientific argument supporting time travel and the argument’s defense were compelling, quite definitive he thought, but the material actualizations of those reasonings negated their conclusions in his eyes. He cited Hawking and Goldtrap and Timmons and Lu, telling her, “In the end it’s just snake oil, a sophist’s ruse for the physicists and poets.”
She smiled and said, “Come look at this.”
She showed him her work, half a notebook full of calculations and quick sketches. Holly took him through the first five pages, explaining every step, showing him how a deep meta-deviation in the mechanics of the quantum set the whole structure off. “But if we do this,” she said, flipping to page six, “then we have it.” He looked at the page, studied it, eventually getting his own pad and recalculating her mathematics. She was right, it all worked out. Goddamn, he thought, we can really do it. Within weeks they had built their secret lab in the basement, covering for each other when they had to, working together when they could and it all went smooth and surprisingly prompt.
The hardware was constructed first, a small chamber with enough room for two if they carried almost nothing. Attached to the chamber by thick cables was a thin pedestal holding the control panel and dimensional-setting matrix. With the machinery finished, they began on the programming and it was there that they hit their snag and entered their thirty-day theoretical doldrums. Holly found their way out of it, casting her sail on the briefest breeze of an idea and managing to gather enough momentum to set off on course again. Ten days later there they were, kneeling in front of the chamber, their backpacks packed and sitting between them as they fumbled with their choice. Gary moved his gloved finger from the switch and gazed at Holly with a sudden confidence. “If we do it, no matter what – if it succeeds, if it fails, if whatever – something is going to happen. I’m afraid that if we flip this switch, it’s going to disrupt something.”
“That’s the plan,” said Holly, “that’s why we built it.”
Gary’s expression stiffened, “You know what I mean.” She didn’t answer but he already knew she knew. He rubbed his chin, “What do you think?”
Holly contemplated, her jaw and chin scrunching up in that way that Gary found adorable, her short blonde hair held down within the hood of the wetsuit she wore. While she pondered, Gary adjusted himself in his own wetsuit, fiddled with the laces on his tennis shoes. Finally Holly caught his eye and without a word, she reached out and flipped the switch on the control panel. Only one side of her mouth smiled as she gave him one last look and picked up her backpack. Gary said nothing, only gazing around the basement one last time as the machine whirred to life. After a half minute, which may have well been a lifetime, he grabbed his pack and joined her in the chamber. Setting his pack down, he closed the door while she entered the code and fine-tuned the mixture. Holly saw the question in his eyes, ignored it for a moment as she finished the preparations. Then she turned to him and said, “It’s too late now.” She gave him a long kiss on the cheek and with a deep breath and lingering look she pressed the glowing green button. The chamber grew brighter and brighter with a white light, Gary closed his eyes, felt the pressure rising, his heart thrashing in his chest. And then they were gone.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.