"Geoffrey!" the woman screamed shrilly. "Oh, Geoffrey, it's so good to see you again!"
Geoff (publicly known as "Titus") groaned inwardly. Ex-girlfriends could be such a pain. "Hello, Sophie. How've you been?" Sophie kissed him on both cheeks. Her Oil of Olay fought a losing battle against stress on her Vietnamese skin. Her brown eyes crinkled in merriment, her crooked teeth licked by an inviting tongue. Too inviting, Geoff thought. Besides, I've got Lynn now.
"So what brings you to my office?" Sophie was an assistant registrar at Cal-Tech. "Did you sign up for the college and not tell me about it, hmm?" She giggled. Her memories of him were too sweet, even though he'd dumped her all those years ago.
Geoff sighed. "I need a favor, Sophie. That new fusion project? I need an appointment with the professor."
"Ah, Professor Brown. Right. Well, he's kinda busy, you know, what with all the attention his project is getting. Do you know what they're calling it?" Geoff shook his head. "Microfusion," she uttered, as if it were a big secret she was sharing. Why is Sophie always so bubbly?
"Yes, well," Geoff said bluntly, leaning forward and placing his hands on her desk, "I need an appointment with him. My company is thinking about underwriting a grant for him."
Sophie's whole demeanor changed. "Ohhhhh. Right." She became much more thoughtful, her tone serious and professional. She sat down and opened the school's scheduling program. "I can get you an appointment later today, at 1:15 pm. That's his break time, between classes he teaches. Best I can do is fifteen minutes, though -- there's a birthday party in the cafeteria at 1:45 pm for Professor Andrews. Do you know him?"
"Well, you wouldn't like him. Archaeology, ancient Inca. Pretty dull if you ask me." Sophie was back in her gossip mode.
"Uh huh. Just get me the appointment."
Sophie winked. "You got it, babe. Physics building, room 14."
"Anytime, sweety..." Geoff came off her desk and walked away.That lilt in her voice... she can't still be in love with me, can she?
I hate her.
At 1:15 pm, precisely, Geoff tried to walk into Room 14. There were two hundred students coming out of Room 14. It took Geoff three and a half minutes to get in. "Professor Brown?"
"Yes, sir?" The young man was starting to show signs of a beard.
"I'm Geoff Tolban, Titus Research."
"Ah, yes! I saw your name on my appointment calendar at lunch. What can I do for you, sir?" The professor shook his hand too enthusiastically, too firmly.
I was that young once, Geoff thought. "My corporation is interested in your research, Professor, and the board of directors was thinking about offering you a grant to continue your research into microfusion. I'm here as their CEO to find out exactly what the hell microfusion is."
"Ah. Well, if you'll come upstairs to my office, I'm sure I can help you. This way, please." The professor led him to the stage exit of the classroom, to the back hallway and stairs. "I'm gonna have to keep this short," Brown said as he walked up the stairs. "Being an associate professor, I have a lot of papers to grade and not a lot of tenure. Besides, I was a senior in college only a few months ago, and now I have to act all dignified and formal. It's not Berkeley... Here we go," he said jovially, opening his office by the stairway. It was cluttered with papers and was terribly small. The blackboard was covered in mathematics, as was every desk in the room.
"Microfusion." Brown grabbed his yardstick and tapped at a series of equations on the left side of the blackboard. "What is it? Quite frankly, we don't even know." Behind them, the door closed automatically. "My partner in crime then, Najla, and I were in a lab trying to see what would happen if we tried to make a fusion reaction happen in a smaller space than physics would normally permit. We ran our test, and came up with a continuous flow of energy long after the deuterium pellet was consumed in the fusion reaction. We ended up getting over four hundred times the amount of energy out of it that we put into it."
"Here at the Cal-Tech tokamok, I've been running tests to see what the range is for opening this energy source. I've got the statistics here for probabilities..." Brown handed Geoff a printout: a bell curve. "Basically, if you try to make it too small, the deuterium gets pushed out of the way and you never get fusion. Too big and we're talking ordinary fusion: a flash in the pan that lasts a few milliseconds. But at the right levels of constriction, the fusion does take place, and then this energy flow begins. Keep the constriction at those levels, and the energy flow doesn't stop. Widen it a little, and you get an increased flow. Shrink it a little, and it slows down. Kinda like a faucet. If you widen it too much, however, poof -- it's gone."
Brown looked at his blackboard again, this time the right side. "With these experiments, we've now proven that a fusion process is the ignition for this energy source, but beyond ignition, has no impact on the reaction. Since we're talking about an area too small for chemistry, the only thing we know of that could possibly apply is quantum physics. And there's nothing in the theories to cover this thing."
"It works. We don't know why. That's all I can tell you about Microfusion right now." The professor smiled, and with a little humorous imitation of dignity, he asked, "Any questions?"
Geoff looked down. It wouldn't be compatible with his bio-fusion power source, no way in hell. He chose his words carefully. "Do you have something in writing I can take back to my board of directors?"
"Absolutely!" Brown went to his desk and grabbed a pre-printed CD-ROM. "This contains my notes, lab reports, and press releases up to about six weeks ago. We print a new set of these every three to four months at Cal-Tech. There's nothing confidential about what we do here, so we serve the public any way we can." Brown chuckled. "Any way we can afford to, anyway. I'm still living in an apartment. Rental."
Geoff smiled. This guy was pretty cool. For a young pup. "Thank you, Professor Brown. I'm sure the board will love this. We'll get a grant to you within a week."
Brown beamed. "We sure could use it right now. The electrical bills the lab is charging me are astronomical."
Geoff turned, feeling good about the prospects. New quantum theory. Now that...
"Professor," Geoff said, stopping in his tracks. "what's wrong with your doorknob?"
"Oh, that," Brown muttered angrily. "Just some punks on campus. Maintenance never fixes a damn thing in here."
Geoff took a closer look. The doorknow was clearly distorted, as if someone's hand had wrapped around it and squeezed it... like it was clay. "Who did this?"
"That, Mr. Tolban, was about four days ago," the professor said loudly, grumpily. "A bunch of people asking about the project, just like you did. But they were damned rude about it. Trying to scare me. Picked up my heavy oak desk at the corner like it was made of plywood and dropped the corner back down. Broke a leg on the table that way." The professor was petulant, as if the desk and his office were his toys. "I had to lean it against my big lab table so I could work on it. The ladies were kinda cute though. But they didn't have to be so rough with my furniture."
You idiot, Geoff thought,you're lucky it was just furniture... this time. "What did you tell them?"
"Same thing I told you. I handed them a CD-ROM, and they left. They told me not to tell anyone else. I told them to go to hell. This is college science, not bathroom bullies from middle school. Then they had to go and break my doorknob. Campus security is looking for them now."
"What'd they look like?"
"Oh, anywhere from five foot five to six feet tall, brown hair, blue eyes, five guys and two girls. Big sons of bitches too, like something you'd expect to see at Gold's Gym or the WWF."
"Mr. Brown, do you know who they were?" Geoff had forgotten the man's title, the Microfusion project entirely.
"No, and I just said that! Just some punk kids."
"Professor, are you aware of the events of the past nine months: Denver, Tokyo, Lima, and Sydney?"
Brown stammered. "Well, yes, but..." Then his mouth opened slightly. "You don't think..."
Geoff walked very quickly out of the office and down to his car, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he went. The doorknob twisted in his hand eerily.
"What do you mean, Lynn's gone?" Geoff screamed into his phone.
"Just that, Geoff, she's gone," Junior answered him. "And the way things are looking, she's not going to be back in your lifetime."
"Oh, that's just great, that's just great! Listen to me: the Arions have been messing around at Cal-Tech. This new Microfusion project, they've been checking it out, leaving some not-so-subtle hints that they're interested. You got that?" Geoff got into his car, slamming the door. Hard. The glass of his driver's side window shattered from the force, spraying safety glass all over his suit. Geoff sighed. The rental car company was going to have his ass, and his deposit.
Instead of Lynn. But he'd deal with that pain later.
"Well, you know Mom and I can't go there: we're in enough trouble already!"
"Well, what the hell are we going to do?" Geoff asked, frustrated.
Junior exhaled into the phone; Geoff heard it through the speaker. "I'll talk to Co'ra'na, our new Scribe. She seems to think she's in charge anyway. We've got a Protector a little ways from Cal-Tech, in Nevada. Her name's Gel'tri Zor'el. Best we can do, I think."
"Yeah, well, get her down here. Fast!" Geoff hung up and drove for the airport. He was pulled over for speeding.