In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree.
It was stately and it was a dome. Rick and I rode the tram around to the other side of the island, a longer ride than I would have expected. But around one final bluff there it appeared, a translucent, geodesic dome at least six stories high that at once looked pronounced and yet still a part of its environment. The glass of the dome seemed to reflect the green of the lush vegetation that surrounded it.
“That’s the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen,” I said.
“Welcome to the Toy Room, Seth,” Rick said.
The tram stopped in a sort of hanger space. We disembarked. Rick led us to the opposite end of the room and opened a door. We walked up a broad flight of stairs and into the dome itself. It seemed to stretch forever in all directions.
“Did we walk aboard a TARDIS?”
“Maybe we have, Seth,” Rick said teasingly.
I loved hearing him call me by my first name. In addition to just making me feel warm inside, it also assured me that my attack of asshole-itis was all forgotten and forgiven.
The inside contained various levels that flowed against the outer walls of the dome, sort of like the ramps inside the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin. But each level held a whole floor where I could see people working with various types of equipment, or on workbenches, or hunched over computers. Palms and ferns filled the floor space, where some people sat on benches or the grass and read or ate.
We walked up a gently graded ramp that carried us to the upper levels. On the first level, after rows and rows of workbenches, I saw Big Dumb Frank hunched over a bench fiddling with something. We walked towards him. It didn’t seem like he noticed us at all.
“Can you hand me that triangle shaped chip?” he said, not looking up. At first Rick reached for it, but then I stopped him with a finger over my smiling lips and I took the chip. Frank took it out of my hand without looking up.
“Needle-nose,” he ordered.
I passed it on to him. He fiddled with the part against a circuit board for a while.
“Will the patient live?” I asked.
He fiddled some more and then stood up, though still not looking our way.
“I think so,” then he looked at me. “So you finally came out of your room, huh? What do you think?”
I looked at the thing on his workbench. “What is it?” I asked.
“Not this thing, Seth, this place. The Toy Room. What do you think?”
“We only just arrived, Dr. Reynolds-Holst,” Rick explained.
“It’s a stately pleasure dome,” I said.
“Yeah, it gets called that, too. Come on, let’s go upstairs.”
We followed Frank up the ramps a couple of levels until we came to a large space that housed what looked like a vacuum chamber. A few folks futzed around the edges of it. One turned around. Laura.
“Look what the cat brought in!” he said to her.
Rick and I approached, I with hesitancy in my steps. I hadn’t seen Laura since my little tantrum from the other day. It seemed like weeks ago, though it had in fact only been one day. She smiled at me and gave me a hug.
“You need to be slugging me,” I whispered to her.
“I’ll slug you later,” she said. “Come on, let’s see of this thing works.”
“What are you working on?” I asked.
“Didn’t Frank tell you? This is your baby.”
“What, that little silver box?”
“Yes, that little silver box!” Frank said in his booming voice. “We’re shoving it in the vacuum and seeing if it works.”
After closing the vacuum chamber door, everyone took positions at various stations.
“The Lambda?” I said to Rick. He smiled and nodded.
“Come this way, Seth,” he said, gently guiding me to a viewing room.
Big Dumb Frank boomed out orders. Others echoed them. Red! Gold! Turn down! Synch it, synch it! I half expected to hear him shout, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ The device suddenly turned a bright orange, then it went to red, then orange again, and then finally settling on a dull yellow.
“Alright, good. Good,” Frank said. “Everyone ready? Alright, then, Seth, it’s all yours. Hit the green button in front of you and we’ll see if this thing works.”
“Go ahead, Seth,” Rick said.
“I hope this doesn’t blow up the Toy Room.”
“We’ve had a good track record so far, Seth,” Rick said. “Go for it.”
I hit the button. I expected vibrations or something, but no, nothing like that happened. Instead, the box turned from yellow to its original silver. And then, it turned a bright, bright blue before becoming almost invisible, until you could only see its outlines. Finally, a 3-D shadow appeared from the upper left corner, a shimmering, pale blue replica of the doohickey Big Dumb Frank tinkered with just moments earlier. I felt awe in my heart and a tear crawl across my face.
“We did it,” I said, barely above a whisper. Rick took my hand and I began to squeeze his. Everyone in the room erupted. Then it sounded like the whole dome was shouting and clapping my praises. I felt deeply embarrassed.
I had a fruit salad with some coconut milk drink, while others had similar fare. We sat in the garden on the ground floor among the palms and ferns. The sun glistened through the glass, though it was neither too warm nor was the air canned – more evidence of the genius of our host I suspected, but I didn’t ask any questions.
While most of the gang, Laura, Frank, et al., talked about Lambda and how it would revolutionize the power demands of interstellar space travel, I found myself staring at the blades of grass we sat upon. They looked immaculate, just the sort of perfect plants one would expect to find in a greenhouse. I couldn’t stop thinking about greenhouses.
Rick accompanied me back to the living compound, just as the sun began its descent into the sea. Hues of red and pink painted the blue of the sky. I put my arm around Rick’s shoulder, and he put his hand on my lap. We said nothing during the rest of the ride, alone together in the tram.
He walked me to my room.
“Dinner will be in about an hour or so, Seth. I hope you’ll join us.”
“Yes. Yes, I’ll be there,” I said.
“Is anything wrong?” Rick asked.
I smiled, a sad smile I know, but then I don’t really have a poker face so I didn’t try masking what I felt. I asked Rick to come inside with me.
“This place is paradise, Rick.”
“It’s a very special place,” he said.
“It’s a microcosm of what the world should be like.”
“But I don’t think I’m ready for paradise just yet.”
Now Rick looked sad. It was the first time he ever looked sad to me.
“Rick, I just feel like I won’t be making much of a difference if I stayed here. God knows I could go on with my work. But that’s not enough for me. I realize that now, especially after last night.”
“Do you wish to do your work back home instead?”
“No! Goodness, no. When we did the experiment today, I saw the power Lambda had. Dr. Clarkson is absolutely right. It would be a horrible, horrible weapon.” The Oppenheimer quote went through my head. Strangely, none of those letters appeared anywhere in the Toy Room. “After last night and today, I feel like I’ve finally had my Moment, but it’s taking me in a different direction. I don’t want to do science anymore, at least not for science sake. I have an idea of what I’d like to do, but I have to go back home to do it. I know, I’m not making sense.”
“I think I know what you are saying,” he said, though he studied my face closely. I could tell. He wanted to figure out if I was jiving him or not. He concluded that I was not. “I’ll make sure you sit at Dr. Clarkson’s table tonight, Seth.”
And he did. Had me seeing right next to her. Laura and Frank sat with us. I wish Rick had been there, but he had other duties to tend to.
After showing my deep appreciation for the experiment and all that the Island had done for me, I started talking about greenhouses. Dr. Clarkson absolutely possessed a poker face, so it was hard for me to tell what went through her mind. I had developed such great admiration for her, as a scientist and a human being, I felt obligated to representing myself in the best light possible. Though I’m sure my decision not to stay disappointed her deeply. But after a while I saw a smile of recognition on her face. She heard what I was trying to say in my roundabout way. Normally I’m more direct, but like I said, I felt somewhat awed by her, and this interfered with my language.
“Let’s walk, Seth,” she said to me.
We excused ourselves and walked outside along the veranda that ran along side the building. Stars dominated the sky and just above the trees I could see the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
“You know, until today I didn’t think that even a Lambda powered starship could get us to those nearby galaxies. But now I’m beginning to think that even they would be in reach.”
“Yes. Your work has brought us to the fourth dimension. Lambda will fuel our experiments for a very long time to come, Seth. It is quite a remarkable thing you have worked on.”
“Me and Laura. Don’t forget, Laura did a great deal of the groundwork on Lambda back in the day.”
“Yes, but she didn’t stick to it the way you did. Her work here has been in other areas. You would have been a great addition to our team, Seth. A major asset.”
“But you understand why I want to leave?”
“Yes. I do. You don’t want to become a hot-house orchid, is that it?”
“Yes, that’s it exactly.”
She nodded her head and we walked around the complex to where were could see the ocean.
“The folks I brought here are all great minds. They’d languish without the intellectual stimulation of problem solving. That’s why we have the Toy Room. It gives them a place to live out their dreams and conduct their research. That is their major purpose in life. How their research is applied in many ways is secondary. And, thankfully, they lack avarice. But then, I chose very carefully who I bring to the Island.” I nodded. “I’ll admit, Seth, I took you on as a bit of a risk. Laura told me how you could get.”
“Yes,” I said, snickering.
“But the work you did was so important, and potentially deadly, that I took the risk. I attended a few of your lectures before bringing you.”
“Really? Wow, I didn’t know.”
“I like being incognito. That’s the name of the game here. And I talked with folks who worked with you. I began to get a clearer picture of who was Seth Gordon.”
“Who am I, then?”
“Someone strong-willed, determined, driven. An alpha-type for sure, but one with a strong moral sense. That gave me hope. Talk to me more about your Moment.”
I told her about my blow up with Laura and with Rick, especially with Rick. I felt like I was confessing to the principal, but she was kind and nonjudgmental. Basically I told her that I saw in myself the very flaws that keep humanity mired in bullshit, even though I had always felt that I was “above” all that.
“I hope that whatever you do, Seth, that you help to spread what you learned far and wide.”
“I’d like to. So you’ll let me leave the Island?”
“Yes. This isn’t a prison, Seth.”
“I’d like to come back someday,” I said.
“You will, Seth. You’re always welcomed.”
I began to pack when I returned to my room. Dr. Clarkson said that I would leave as I had arrived, incognito. I told her that I understood.
All the while I folded clothes and packed toiletries, Rick filled my head. The thought of leaving him made me ill. I hadn’t been so smitten with anyone in a long time, not even my ex. Not any ex, and I have a few. Rick grounded me more than any person I had ever known, and felt like without him I would drift.
So imagine my delight when he came to my room as I packed. He asked if I needed any help. I contrived something, just to keep him with me in my room. I kept talking about things I looked forward to seeing again, even the traffic of greater New York City. He laughed. He said he hadn’t been to New York in a long time.
“Please come with me,” I said, or more like blurted. “Rick, I need you.”
He gave me the sad eyes again. In their own way they were just as effective as his smile. I almost began unpacking my bags.
“Dr. Clarkson is like a mother to me,” Rick said. “She’s been so good to me. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave just yet.”
I nodded my head. I must have looked like I was ready to let the water flow, because the next thing I knew, he was up in my face pressing his lips against mine. Our lips locked and our hands began touching each other’s bodies. I could feel the glass in the room steaming.
To be continued. . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.