Wednesday, April 1, 2015

22: Plans in Motion


Entry 022: Where plans in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.


                Felix had feared the worse when the extra two guards had shown up one day. They were dressed in the now sadly familiar security red and black uniforms with the D&S logo printed on the chest and had stood menacingly in the lab itself rather than outside in the hall like the others. They had watched him with their hooded eyes and grim expressions the whole day, setting his teeth on edge and getting on Redford's already tightly wound nerves.
                "Confounded woman," the rail-thin man muttered when they reappeared the next day. "What does she think this is, a circus? Bah!"
                Felix blinked, actually looking up from his work. "Did you just say bah? Like in the cartoons?"
                Redford shot him a bloodshot scowl and chose not to respond as he buried himself in his own side of the work. They were going over the first official plans for the design today and even the parrot-man was oddly focused on the task at hand.
                "Maybe  there's an actual scientist in there somewhere after all," Felix thought as he pulled up the file containing the blueprints and layout for the design on the computer set into the table he had chosen for the day. With a few keystrokes, a three dimensional hologram of the theoretical machine appeared above the flat surface before him without so much as a flicker to mar its surface. "I mean, he's obviously buried beneath sixty feet of insecurities and thieving immorality, but still. I know how he feels."
                The truth was, Felix reflected as he moved around the table to take in the model with a critical eye, that there was a small part of him that actually enjoyed getting back to work. Not working here mind – in this place with these people – just working. No interruptions from demanding passengers, no persnickety captains breaking down his door about avoiding the demanding passengers. No mechanical breakdowns or engine trouble or faulty cooling units bought on the cheap so they could afford fuel instead. Nothing but him and his work-
                "A circus, that's what it is. She's gone and turned my work space into a spectator's sport!"
                -and unfortunately Davis Redford.
                Felix rolled his eyes and ignored Redford's continued mutterings. Instead he reached into the hologram and enlarged the system that would modulate the power input/output. He cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers, face set as he looked forward to tinkering around for the best power balance he could wrangle out of the holographic machine.
                Of course, it was all complete busy work; he already knew the machine hanging in the air before him would never run. This blueprint was based on one of his earliest theories and was inherently flawed on multiple levels. It had taken him six months to realize it was a dead end before he'd scrapped it and went back to his notebooks. With Redford's inept talent and continued whining slowing him up, Felix figured it would take him closer to eight years to realize the same thing.
                "And speaking of whining..."
                "Do you think you could shut up about your girlfriend for two seconds?" Felix asked with strained patience as he oh-so-carefully adjusted the blueprints so that the projected power output displayed to the side in light green numbers went up by .38 exactly. "This isn't exactly rocket science, but it comes close."
                Redford snorted through his beaky nose, but his mind was still elsewhere. "Well, I'm sorry," he snapped, not sorry at all, "but that woman thinks she's in charge of everything even when she's on a different planet. And we only went out a few times. Hardly makes her my girlfriend.”
                Felix's head snapped up, hologram forgotten. "Wait what?"
                Redford hunched his shoulders up around his neck in a shrug. "I know it sounds unbelievable, but we were together for a few weeks. No big deal." Although the pride in his voice said otherwise. "Didn't really get out much if you know what I mean-”
                Felix cringed. "Really wish I didn't."
                "-but it was still dating, you know? Don't know why people always sound so surprised when it comes up though."
                Felix frowned at him. "No you idiot. What do you mean Kla's not here?"
                The man in the red researcher's coat stared at him, some hint of embarrassment hiding behind his fake lenses as he pushed them up on his nose. "Oh, that." He shrugged and turned back to his own part of the holographic blueprints. "O'Dowell sent her to some partners' meeting on Nexus Five in his place. Didn't you notice she missed her daily check-in yesterday?"
                Felix stood there. He hadn't actually. He'd been too freaked out by the addition of Dumb and Dumber two point oh.
                Feeling the men's disapproving gaze at learning this new information, Felix resisted the urge to ask when Kla would be back. Instead he jerked a thumb at the added security and went for the less suspicious, "Guess that explains the Tweedle brothers, huh?"
                Redford happily took the bait and ran with it. The rest of the afternoon was filled with his non-stop complaining about 'that infernal female' and her 'overbearing bureaucrat of a boss' and their joint 'lack of respect for his authority in the lab'.
                Tweedles' suspicion side-stepped for now, Felix worked in his usual silence, nodding in disinterest and sniping at Redford whenever the opportunities presented themselves.

***

                Over the next two days Felix kept a careful eye on the situation. With every hour that passed he expected Kla to come waltzing in, smiling like she was queen of the universe, and suddenly familiar with every aspect of his plan.
                By the third day he had to give himself a physical shake to keep the paranoia from eating him alive.
                "Get a hold of yourself!" He snapped in his mind, the only safe place he had left, as he shoved his hands through his hair only to immediately remove them again with a disgusted grimace. When was the last time they'd let him shower?
                He tried not to think of the answer. "Look, she's terrifying and completely crazy, but she's not a mind reader so get a grip! Besides," Felix reminded himself, heart slowing only slightly, "if Kla even thought that you were even thinking about a way out-”
                Felix shuddered, unable to even fathom what she would do to him if he tried to escape and failed.
                "Or worse," he realized grimly, scrubbing his hands over his face as he paced around the small confines of his sleeping room, "what she would do to Cor. Apparently they need me." He felt the frown lines etch deeper around the corners of his mouth. "Really starting to wish they didn't need me around so much. Certainly don't want to be here," Felix thought. Even the rare moments of true enjoyment when he lost himself in his work were coming less and less. It was hard to enjoy the challenge of creating something new when he was only building a wall, brick by brick, to stymie his competition.
                "That and I'm not sure how long I can stretch this out. Eventually they're going to want to build the dang thing and try the machine out. I can hide the flaws well enough on hologram, but once they run enough tests, Kla at least is going to see that I'm only stalling. Then my loop hole turns into a noose..."
                He was running out of time. A part of him – the cautious, methodical part that took joy in crosswords and math proofs – told him to wait a little longer. Another day or two to watch for any further information he would need to finalize the last remaining fluid points in his plans.
                But the other part of him – the one that had jumped the first shuttle leaving Earth an hour after his mother's funeral without even looking to see what its destination was – told him he might not have a day, much less two.
                "You have a plan." He reminded himself as he turned at a right angle to the corner he was approaching. "You have a way to find Cor." He winced. "If it works. And you can finish the pocketknife in less than twenty-four hours if they don't find the pieces. You even have a place to go once you get out of here. And then on top of everything else in the 'go for it' column, Kla – the one person that can read you like a transparent display – is on Nexus Five seven systems away. This is either the best chance you're ever going to get-”
                He stopped cold and tried not to finish the rest of that thought.
                "-or it's the worst trap in the history of sentient thought."
                Felix stood there in the small windowless room, thinking.
                Before he could come to a decision, the lock buzzed off and the door swung open to reveal Tweedle One's not-so-smiling face. "All right, you know the drill," he growled. "Arms up. Feet apart."
                Face settling into what was now a look of well-practiced indifference, Felix stopped where he stood and lifted his hands so his fingers were laced behind his head. Tweedle One – Tk'eye or something like that, Felix thought but wasn't sure – lifted what looked like a disk-shaped flashlight fit for a key chain. Felix let the blue scan light dart over him, unconcerned that it would find anything he considered important to his survival. He'd stolen bits and pieces over the last few weeks of a very interesting material Redford had brought in for one of the working prototypes he was working on. As near as Felix could discover, it was a new form of shielding material that not just prevented energy from leaking out, but actually negated the effects of nosy devices like scanners from picking them up. If he had to guess, he would say they were working on a kind of cloaking material. Very difficult, very profitable, and potentially very dangerous in the wrong hands.
                However in his own the material had gone into the casing of his little contraption. He'd gotten his hands on it in sheer dumb luck more than anything, but once he'd realized its potential he'd kept an eye out for more and used it to protect the pieces of his electronic pocketknife that he'd concealed on his person. Not all of them though. To avoid suspicion, he'd put together a handful of dummy appliances – all easy to assemble and none vital to his plan – for Kla's minions to find.
                "Have to give them something to sink their teeth into or they'll start sniffing around for themselves," Felix thought as the scanner beeped and the Tweedle held out a hand for the offending device.
                Felix soured his expression, reached to the back of his waistband, and pulled out the flat micro-disk that had set off the scan, making sure to slap it down irritably into the guy's hand.
                Tweedle One chuckled. "Don't learn easy, do you smart guy?" he gloated as he tucked the disk into his own pocket for later disposal. Felix didn't even think they checked to see what was on the things.
                "Kla might," he reminded himself, "Kla would. But hopefully he'll toss that one down the garbage chute before he thinks to check it. I didn't have time last night for anything more than an unflattering eight bit portrait of Redford with tail feathers."
                It was a bit risky – especially since it wasn't the first demeaning portrait he'd done of his captors – but he was trying not to focus too much of his time on the dummies. They were throw aways after all; something shiny to distract everyone else from the big picture.
                Tweedle One stepped aside and let him out into the lab when the follow up scan came up clean. Felix made sure to shoot him one last heartfelt scowl before ignoring him entirely and taking in the room. It looked much the same as yesterday – clean, well kept, obviously mopped and waxed overnight – just like it had the day before that and the day before that. There wasn't a calendar on any of the walls and no seasons outside that he could discern, so time was starting to bleed together, but Felix thought that the days had turned into weeks some time ago. He wouldn't be surprised if, when he finally got out of here, months had gone by since they'd been shanghaied from Carpathia.
                Redford was already there with his morning cup of coffee, looking downright perky in his bright red lab coat. "Good morning," he crowed, "today's the big day!"
                Felix glowered at him, feeling just how unwashed he was and the fact that he hadn't brushed his teeth since the Helix 7. "What're you talking about?" he grumbled, sure he wouldn't like the answer as he slouched over to his work station where someone had left a tray of oatmeal, mini muffins, a pre-wrapped energy bar, and glasses of orange juice, hot tea, and coffee for him. He ignored the hot stuff for the power bar – not trusting Tweedle Dee and Dum not to have spiked his food with some kind of focus enhancement drug – and took the tea for much the same reason, knowing there was little the delicate taste could hide if they did try to slip him something.
                He cringed at the floral taste of the tea, shot a envying look at the steam curling over the dark surface of what he knew must be very fine, expensive coffee, and then stubbornly put his back to the tray. At this point he hoped they had drugged his breakfast. It would at least make missing out on all the good stuff worth it.
                "Probably'll never know," Felix thought as he sipped his too-hot tea and broke open the power bar and took a chewy bite. "Least it's peanut butter."
                "Oh come on," Redford said with a ridiculous grin on his face as he finished off his own coffee and took Felix's off the tray without asking. He drank off half of it before Felix could so much as lift his eyebrows. Ah, finally. A willing test subject.
                "You know," he kept going, "today. The day. The best day in the history of all days!"
                "If you say it's your birthday, I'm going to slug you."
                Redford shot Felix a stare over the top of his decorative glasses. "We're testing the new gravity generator today. Been working on it for the past three years and if it all goes well, " he crossed his fingers dramatically, "then my baby will finally get the funding it needs to go onto its own round of testing.
                He beamed like oncoming headlights and Felix resisted the urge to shade his eyes. "Your baby? Yeesh, no wonder you have Kla as an ex. Who'd you date before her? Your coffee maker?"
                Redford rolled his eyes and pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. "Don't pretend you don't care."
                "Not pretending," Felix muttered.
                Redford clapped him on the back, making Felix cringe at the physical contact so early in the morning. "Never do that again."
                Redford was too happy to listen. "You played a vital part in this after all. You should be just as excited."
                Now Felix was confused. "What are you talking-” It hit him.
                Felix froze, head upright, nostrils flared. "Gravity generator," he repeated. "You back stabbing, pretentious, bird brain." His voice rose the longer he went on until he was actually shouting at the end. "That's what you did with my notes? Another stupid generator? You couldn't come up with a single thing more inventive then that?"
                It must have been a sign of how used to Felix Redford was getting that he only shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Stepping stone to bigger and better things my friend. I needed funding for my original project and O'Dowell wanted to show off the soundness of the math to investors. Hence the Surestep 1000, name subject to change."
                 Felix snorted. "Change it quick before marketing slaps a jack rabbit logo on it. And what original project? What could be so bad that it was beat out by yet another, overdone, gravity generator? "
                His cynicism didn't even put a dent in Redford's mood. "A true anti-gravitational emitter."
                Felix stared at him. "Yeah right. Like you could come up with an actual anti-grav device. Do you know how many other, smarter, people there are out there looking for that Holy Grail?"
                "Yes, and I'm one of them." Redford finally sounded indignant. "You're not the only one with a pet project, buddy. I've been designing this emitter since grad school and I'm not about to let some snotty drop-out like you ruin my big day. Just feast your eyes on this."
                He punched  in his company passcode and pulled up his overall design. A large air platform sprung into existence over the table and in spite of himself, Felix looked at it. The platform itself appeared to be a typical floating island on the outside – roughly a mile long and half as wide, capable of holding a small city on its surface – however when the hologram switched to a view of its underbelly, Felix found his interest piqued.
                "You've nixed the high power engines," he said in amazement. Hover engines were the only ones now allowed to run in planetary atmosphere, but they downed fuel like elephants drank water making them expensive but necessary, at least for the moment.
                Redford shrugged, grinning from ear to ear. It was so nice to have someone around who could truly appreciate his genius. "Don't need them. With my emitter, there's no natural gravitational force to counteract."
                The hologram kept changing, giving Felix a generic view of the internal mechanisms. A long, undulating coil took up most of the space inside the platform, capped on either end and placed between each peak were large circular disks – the emitters themselves that would push back the force of gravity, giving the platform a bubble to float in, suspended in the air.
                Like Felix's own near-instantaneous travel, anti-gravity was still somewhere between the realm of science fact and science fiction. Many great minds had worked towards it, and all of them had failed. The closest anyone ever came was by using a gravity generator to push back the force of the planet's natural gravity with its own force, but that wasn't true anti-grav as much as it was fighting gravity with gravity.
                "Definitely not the same thing," Felix thought, remembering the last gravity debacle. Some years ago on Starka Cassis, the Marissa IV – an air platform serving as a customs hub for the nor'eastern quadrant of the planet – caused a series of catastrophic floods along the coast of the underlying continent, damaging several large cities and outright drowning numerous smaller towns, when the gravity wells it produced to counteract the pull of natural gravity disrupted the delicate tidal forces.
                "That whole lawsuit got gravity generators banned from atmospheric use in three fourths of the civilized systems altogether," Felix remembered. "But this would create a bubble of space where natural gravity would be negated rather than counteracted by a potentially dangerous force. It's very clever."
                The words sounded wrong even in his head.
                Redford sucked in air through his teeth, nervously rubbing his hands together as he surveyed his own work in excitement. "If everything goes well with this generator, O'Dowell will give me funding and I can start building prototypes of my baby by the end of the month. I've been waiting for this day for almost a decade and I gotta tell you kiddo; it feels pretty freakin' great."
                "Good for you," Felix grumbled, a peculiar feeling in his gut making his stomach fizz and bubble. It took him a moment to realize he was actually jealous of the other man.
                "Jealous," he thought, incredulous, "me jealous of Davis Redford, the idiot that plagiarized the notes of a hero-worshiping twelve year old. I didn't think I could sink so low!"
                Because the worst of it was that he knew exactly what Redford was talking about. After years of sleepless nights, stunted relationships, and pulling out your own hair when things didn't add up like they should, you were supposed to get that feeling. It was the payoff for your isolated existence, when everything you'd worked toward, everything you'd given up, was made worth it.
                And his had been stolen right out from under him. Davis Redford, idiot that he was, got his good day and what did Felix Cauldwell get? Threats, grief, and his friends thrown in prison.
                Without thinking about the repercussions, Felix approached Redford's table to admire his design. "That's pretty impressive," he admitted grudgingly, "it looks like it'll work and everything."
                Redford shot him a glare over his shoulder. "Well you don't have to sound so surprised about it. I'm not about to design a dud on purpose. I'm not an idiot."
                Felix bit back the comeback that jumped onto his tongue as he circled the desk. "Whatever, just put your 'baby' away and let's get to work already. Where's the plans for the navigational system in this mess?" he asked as he started sifting through the towers of file work stacked up to one side of the holo projector.
                Redford ran over shouting, "System! Mind the system!" but was too late to keep Felix from putting one file too many on the farthest stack. It over balanced and the whole thing went careening over the edge of the table to land with a papery-sounding splath on the floor.
                "Oh for the love of-" Redford cut himself off, hands shoved through the sides of his hair. "See what happens when you ignore the system!"
                Felix held his hands out in front of his chest, still surly. "Sorry," he grumbled, but after a moment knelt down and started picking up handfuls of out-of-order files and jamming them into the crook of his arm.
                "Look at this mess," Redford grumbled as he scooped papers back into their appropriate manila folders. "This is why people aren't allowed to touch my stuff. They always mess everything up."
                "Uh-huh," Felix grunted as he picked up a handful of pages, glanced at their identification numbers, and slid them into the correct, mostly empty, folder. There were so many that Redford didn't notice there was now one more than there should have been.
                "What's going on here?" The Tweedles had finally noticed the mayhem. "You! You're not allowed near any lab orders. Kla's orders-"
                The scowling guard advancing on Felix bumped into Redford's table, making the rest of the paper towers sway. It was only Felix's quick dive that kept the whole file city from going down.
                "All right, that's it!" Redford finally lost it. He flung out both his scrawny arms, hands gripping reams of crinkled paper. "Everybody back! Move away from the desk. The next person to throw the system off balance gets to help me color code everything that comes in for the next year!"
                "I think he's serious," Felix told Tweedle Two.
                "I said back!" Redford shrieked.
                Felix backed away with a shrug. "Just trying to help."
                Redford ignored him in favor of muttering to himself like he usually did when he was stressed. The Tweedle stayed where he was, giving Felix the stink eye until he was certain Felix wasn't about to come back. He didn't return to his usual place by the sleeping room door until Felix was once again working at his own table.
                Felix bent double over his desk, hoping he at least looked like he was concentrating. His heart was pounding in his ears and he felt a bit sick to his stomach, but he didn't feel nervous exactly. Even if someone had seen him with the stolen paper, there was very little chance they would have realized it was a plant. Like every other paper that had left the lab since Redford had last asked Felix for notes, it was written in Redford's own hand. Felix had taken it the day before and its project number only differed by one digit from the folder he'd slipped it into. But it was a vital digit, the difference between experimentation with chemical gasses and engine blocks actually.
                "Twenty-four hours," Felix guessed, "I bet that's how long it takes for the folder to get down to the labs and the chain reaction to go off."
                Which meant in twenty-four hours he would either be a free man or – and he found this much more likely – a dead one.
                At this point, Felix found he was fine with either one.



< Entry 21                                                                                                                                             Entry 23 >

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