Thursday, September 29, 2011


Here's a bit of a teaser from my current work-in-progress:



James Robert Smith

Copyright 2011.

“You know what they’re saying, don’t you?” The reporter would have jammed a microphone into Professor Maxwell’s face if they still had that kind of thing. As it was, the so-called journalist merely leaned into the scientist’s personal space, causing him to cringe a bit.

“Yes, I’m quite aware of what they’re saying,” the Professor replied. He stood tall and rather imposing over the news man, not at all the type of person one generally thought of when it came to String Theory and thermodynamics and the utilization of anti-matter.

Since the scientist had not taken the bait, the reporter pressed on. “There are those who say that when you flip your switches tomorrow afternoon, the world is going to come to end. They claim that you’re trying to harness energies that are untested and which cannot be contained no matter what safeguards you may have in place.” He paused, a look of false concern on his pale face. “What do you say to those people?”

Maxwell smiled his perfect smile, showing the great dimples and cleft chin that could have landed him roles in Hollywood (or so he’d been told). His eyes crinkled in amusement and his brow lifted his perfectly combed blonde hair a few millimeters. “I’d tell them what we’ve been telling them all along. There’s nothing even remotely dangerous about what we’re doing here at Concentrated Dynamics. We’re hoping to solve a lot of problems and begin to answer a lot of questions by a lot of the most talented minds on this planet.”

“And that’s all? You expect those words to salve the concerns of hundreds of scientists the world over?” Once again the reporter leaned in too close to the Professor.

Maxwell frowned, and he wanted to push the little weasel away from him, but he bit down and kept his impatience at bay. “Those concerns are unfounded,” he said, his voice deep and heroic and nothing like the bookworm nebbish most often conjured in the minds of those who thought at all about physicists and theoreticians and their type. “And it’s hardly the hundreds you mention, and I might add that these are the same kinds of people who were worried about the super-collider in Lucerne before it started operation. Nothing happened then and there, and I assure you that nothing unfortunate will happen here in Missouri when we start our operations in just a few hours.”

At that, the reporter turned to the camera man and made a slashing motion with his hand. He looked up at the towering figure of the scientist and smiled wanly. “Thanks, Prof,” he said. “We’ll have a bit on the news this evening if you want to check it out. News at Six and probably again later in the evening.”

“I’ll probably be much too busy to watch,” Maxwell admitted. It was true. But he could imagine that this fellow and his editors would add something inappropriate and ominous to the report, to suggest that the fate of the world was hanging in the balance of what they were trying to achieve, and over what they were going to do when next the planet turned on its axis.

“Well, thanks for your time,” he said. And quickly the reporter and his camera man were hustling into a plain white car of recent make—a hybrid, Maxwell noticed. Soon they were gone, the auto easing soundlessly away on its electric engine.

David Maxwell sighed in relief. That was the last of them, he knew, until the next day, of course. But he and his investors had refused any more press requests until after the dynamo was operational. It wasn’t as if the rubes could do more than glean the basics of what he and his associates were trying to achieve, so he had grown weary of the almost constant questioning and cajoling among the press.

As it was, he and the rest of the crew had fended off the endless requests for reporters to be present the next day when the system went automated. So far, they’d only run various computer simulations of what kinds of results they were going to get when they finally did flip that final switch and use the gigawats of energy they’d managed to procure from Danforth Power and Light. One of their chief investors sat on the board of that company and they’d managed to get what they needed:

For a little more than an hour, between 8:00 am and 9:12 am the following day, the entire output of the Lake Simmon Nuclear Plant would be at their disposal. Coal-fired steam plants would take up the slack during that time, so the average customer would never notice that one of the most advanced power facilities in the Midwest was going to be effectively offline for a short time.

But in that time Maxwell and his colleagues hoped to make history.

They were going to show that it was possible to harness unlimited energy production through the creation and utilization of anti-matter. And all done within the confines of a space not much larger than a child’s bedroom. He and the other researchers and theoreticians hoped to form a magnetic sphere within that space, and to fill it with a speck of energy that would create enough electricity to power the entire grid for a few moments, before the experiment was ended and the process was halted.

And there lay the fears, of course. A few of their rivals claimed that the process, once begun, could not be stopped. They feared that a constant and growing stream of anti-matter would be siphoned into the magnetic sphere and eventually overwhelm that area and spill out of it. Dylan Maxwell grunted and his Hollywood face was marred with a frown. He was tired of dealing with the doomsayers.

And, too, he had to admit to himself that one of the computer models that he and his fellows had run indicated something very much like that could happen. The chance was very small—less than one in ten billion. But it was there, and that’s why some men feared the coming experiment. Those men had figured it was the last such effort Mankind would ever make.

Shrugging to no one and to the World, he walked up to the door of the building that housed the whole of Concentrated Dynamics and keyed in his personal six-figure code. The lock disengaged for him, and the first thing he saw when he opened that door was Millie’s smiling face. He smiled back. She was, in addition to being one of the finest physicists he knew, also his lover, his wife, and the mother of their two children.

“Did you have much trouble with him?” she asked, her right arm reaching out to take him by the waist. She was wearing a white coat and slacks, and her hands were in latex gloves. She’d obviously just come from one of the clean rooms.

“No. He tried a few leading questions, but I avoided them.” His own arm was around her slim shoulders and he leaned over to kiss the top of her head and get a whiff of her hair. He loved the smell of her.

“I hate that little bastard,” she admitted. “He’s really a creep.”

“You’re talking about the reporter.”

“Yes. Stossel. What a shithook.”

Maxwell nodded his head and grinned with some guilt. He never had been able to quite get over his wife’s potty mouth. She could curse with the best of them, he was forced to admit, and there had been plenty of occasions when she’d embarrassed him completely. And now he feared the kids were going to take up her form of speech. They were both boys—seven and nine—and he didn’t quite know who they most took after: himself or his wife. So far, though, the cursing had not manifested itself in public.

“Well, I suspect that we’re done with that bunch until tomorrow around 9:15 in the morning.”

“As long as we don’t answer the goddamned phone,” she added.

Maxwell winced, and Millie saw the reaction. “Dear,” he said.

“Sorry,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “I’m just sick to death of those bas...those guys. If I don’t have to talk to another reporter for the next ten years it’ll still be a sore spot with me.” By then they had moved down the hallway and were preparing to go into the control room, the spot where, soon, David Maxwell and his crew would make history. If they were successful, the world would never hear the end of it. If they failed, their little group would never live it down.

A lot of money was tied up in this venture. Not as much as in something like the CERN reactor. But still plenty. That was the beauty of this project. It utilized a series of supercomputers to synthesize what others were trying to achieve with pure mechanics and raw energy. “If everything works, we’ll all wake up to a new world in twenty-four hours.”

Once again Maxwell found himself keying in a six-figure code and exposing himself to a face recognition camera. The door hissed open pneumatically and the Maxwells were greeted with a puff of sterile air as the high pressure in the room blew out into the low pressure of the hallway, admitting them, and leaving out the dust.

The rest of them were all there, working madly in the absence of their glorious leader.

Lewis Steiner was at his desk checking his software. Arnold Drake was going through a stack of schematics, his pen racing across the paperwork while he talked at a staccato pace into his cell phone, his head tilted at an odd angle to keep the phone in place. Carole Crain looked up from her own workstation and smiled at the married couple, waving from her spot in the clean room where the magnetic field would be created. And Larry Scofield was leaning against the wall, having taken up one of the few spots in the room that consisted of a bare space. He was, as usual, brooding silently, his genius mind working through the possibilities and the millions of conclusions that they might all face come tomorrow.

Going to his own desk Maxwell looked down at the red button that they’d all installed there. It was something grand and old-fashioned. It was true that the actual circuit would be computer activated, but they had hooked up the garish button as a kind of joke, and a nod to the physicists of old who had actually pressed such things to initiate a reaction. In a few hours, when he pressed that button, he would start a chain reaction that was going, he knew, to change the world for the better.

When the rest of the crew were secreted away in a lower bunker buried in the earth beneath the facility, he would be braving the experiment above ground, where he’d have to face the music up close and in person.

Later, he would wonder if it was his proximity to the workings of the experiment that saved him from the worst of it. At that point, though, he was only looking forward to the things that would soon take place, and he was filled with optimism and the promises their research offered. And he would always tell himself that all of the others, even the perennially gloomy Scofield, were likewise happy and expecting nothing but success. Success and flowers.

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