For the first ten minutes I sat there listening to all of these colleagues, folks I hadn’t seen for ages, go on about my great achievement. And I first I was pissed off. How did they know about my work? How would they know so much about Lambda when I hadn’t published anything, not even a working paper? And where the hell was I?
But their flattery started to mellow me. I admit it. I like getting stroked as much as the next scientist. Or writer. Or whomever. And this wasn’t just a room full of scientists. These were the best of the best, folks I had looked up to for many years. They were also people I hadn’t seen and haven’t been heard from for a long time. So, OK, the combination of flattery and relief at seeing folks I greatly admired wore away my anger. I dropped my defenses to where I began conversing with the group. At first I only made slight corrections, but then I began explaining in detail my whole discovery and hypothesis about Lambda and how it could ultimately be used for interstellar space travel.
“We can finally break the light barrier!” I exclaimed, to another round of standing ovations.
I got high off their energy for me. The stratagem totally worked. In the end, I presented my paper, after sitting for five minutes determined not to say a damn word until someone explained to me why I had been kidnapped and brought to this place. When we adjourned to the next room for food, I still talked enthusiastically about Lambda and its implications.
Reality set in during the breakfast. It was a sumptuous meal of native fruits, delicious baked good, and old-fashioned scrambled eggs and ham. I denied myself nothing. I was damn hungry. But then, as they say, it came time to pay for the soup.
One by one, each person who sat at my table began asking if I had plans to get a grant to fund research for Lambda. Duh! I said, jokingly. Then I rattled off the usual suspects, government and private donors that would likely fund such work. That’s when they all got rather quiet. It seemed like the whole room got quieter. Then, Dr. Clarkson spoke up.
“You can do your research here. I think you’ll find our laboratory can rival anything the top places have to offer.”
In that instant, I snapped to. I remembered that I didn’t even know where “here” was. And I told her that.
“We’re on the Island,” she said.
“I can see that it’s an island. Looks like nice beaches, too. But where is this island? And what are you all doing here? And how did I get here?”
“We’re here by choice, Dr. Gordon. We all are. I’ll admit, that it did not start out that way.”
“Lord knows I didn’t!” Big Dumb Frank chimed in. “And you know what a stubborn son-of-a-bitch I am!”
Laughter ensued. I looked around and the whole room started to laugh. It died almost as quickly and uniformly.
“But the thing is,” Frank continued, “I knew what I was doing could only lead to problems, so I agreed to do it here. This is a safe environment for us to work in.”
“Safe? What safe? And what problems? Frank, you’re work would have revolutionized computer science!”
He came up with a way to process more info in one second than all the computers in the world had processed in the history of computers, dating back to the old Univac.
“But then you vanished!” I continued. “And John, you were on the verge of harnessing the tachyon, and then you vanished.”
It was like an epiphany. I looked at all the faces in the room and saw variations of the same story. Each one of these scientists had come up with a new, unheard of, revolutionary breakthrough, only to disappear before their works could be fully published and vetted by peer reviews. The food stopped tasting so good and I put down my fork.
“We can do peer reviews here, Dr. Gordon,” Dr. Clarkson said.
“On the Island?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “On the Island.”
“What if I don’t want to be on the Island? Can I get voted off?”
More canned laughter. It began creeping me out.
“You can leave. Anyone can, Dr. Gordon. But we strongly advise against it. In time, you will understand.”
I have to admit that prior to all this, I didn’t know Dr. Clarkson all that well. I was familiar with some of her work, mainly in dark matter, but she had a reputation more as an administrator than an active scientist. She alone did not fit the same meme that the others did. She did not have a breakthrough and she did not disappear. This got me thinking. But before I could ask any questions, everyone got up from their tables and began to leave. They filed out of the room through various doors that I hadn’t noticed. Most passed me on the way out and patted me on the shoulder. Yeah, right, whatever. Then it was just me, Dr. Clarkson, Big Dumb Frank, and Laura. Laura.
“Normally, I begin the orientation process,” Dr. Clarkson said.
“What orientation?” I asked, thoughts of brainwashing going through my head.
“But,” she continued, ignoring my question and paranoid state, “I thought it best if you talked with someone close to you from off the Island. You and Dr. Spiel worked together for a long time. She can start the orientation process.”
Then she got up, and Big Dumb Frank accompanied her. Now it was just Laura and me. I just stared at her. And stared and stared. It had been three long years since we last saw each other.
“Your name should be on the paper,” I said.
“You worked on Lambda as much as I did.”
She sat there, silent.
“Laura, what the hell is all this? Where the hell are we?”
“Let’s walk,” she said, standing.
I almost grabbed her, but thought that too much. Instead I followed her.
We ended up taking a shuttle out of the compound. It deposited us on one of the beaches. It looked like a travel brochure. Not so much as a grain of sand sat out of place.
“Where did you go Laura? Did you come here?”
“Dr. Clarkson is very persuasive.”
“Persuasive? Yeah, I’ll say, in a Jim Jones kind of way.”
“That’s not very kind.”
“Well forgive me if I don’t jump up and down with enthusiasm after being kidnapped!”
She gave me that look, with drooping eyes, and a long face.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have snapped. Look, Laura. Tell me honestly.” This time I did take her with both hands on either shoulder. “Where are we? Why are we here?”
“This is the place where our work cannot be perverted,” she said, in a normal tone. “Each of us has developed new processes or devices which can advance mankind’s knowledge a thousand fold. It can also destroy mankind just fast.”
“What? Destroy? Laura, Lambda isn’t a bomb.”
“To you it isn’t,” she said. “Do you remember the Manhattan Project?”
“There were trying to make a bomb. And they did, they made a bomb. Lambda isn’t trying to make a bomb.”
She started walking again. “The day before I dis . . . I came here.”
“When you were kidnapped, is that what you mean?”
“The day before,” she repeated, “I had completed the energy curve calculations. I saw for myself just how much energy Lambda could produce.”
Well yeah, I thought. We need that type of energy to bend space-time. That was the whole point. But I kept quiet and listened.
“And all I could see then was the whole world getting vaporized, like in Star Wars.”
“I’m not building a Death Star!” I said, laughing.
“But someone else might, Seth. That’s the point. Someone else could take what you created and turn it into a Death Star. And they could use Frank’s computer work to make it think faster than anyone could react to or John’s work to make a machine that could wipe out the ancestors of a whole civilization, make it so they never existed in the first place. None of us want our work to be used in this way, but that’s how it could be used. Humanity has not changed. We’re still full of hatred for ourselves and hatred for those we call ‘others.’ The US only granted gays the right to marry within our lifetime, and after years of struggle. We still have wars. We still have drones. We still have all the evils that we were supposed to leave behind in the 20th century. Now we’re about to carry them all into the 22nd. All while the planet is slowly dying due to climate change. We’ve slowed the process a bit, but it’s still dying. We’re still hell bent on destruction.”
“So what you’re saying is, that everyone on this Island came here, of their own free will, to stop doing their work, because it might get perverted into something it wasn’t intended to be?”
“Yes,” Laura said.
“And that’s why I was brought here.”
“Seth, Lambda is the most dangerous of them all. It could literally vaporize this planet. I know.”
“Laura, when you left, you must have taken your work with you.”
“Yes, Seth, I did.”
“That means that I had to recreate your work, because it was missing.”
“Laura, do you realize that you put me, put our work behind by two years because of that?”
“I thought it best.”
“You thought it best? Are you shitting me?”
“Don’t shout, Seth,” she said.
I was red and getting redder.
“I was worried sick about you, thinking you had been killed or murdered. They ransacked the lab to make it look like a break in. You and your laptop were gone. And now you’re telling me that you did it because of some goofy idea that someone, somewhere might make a Death Star to blow up the world? Are you fucking shitting me?”
“Look, Seth, I did it because. . .”
“I don’t care, Laura! I just don’t care!”
I began stomping through the sand, at least I felt like I was stomping, though I was probably making my own locomotion more difficult. But I was too hot to care. My feet pounded the sand until I reached the walkway. I walked passed the shuttle and walked all the way back to the compound. I never looked back to see if Laura followed me or not. At that point, I honestly didn’t care what she did.
After a fashion, I found my room again. I began packing up my stuff. That’s when the buzzer sounded.
I stomped to the door, thinking Laura was on the other side, but it was the dreamboat again. This time, though, his smile did nothing for me.
“Look, Mr. Travers,” I said, “you say you work concierge?”
“Yes,” he said. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Yes, you can get me off this god-damn island. I want out.”
His smile faded. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dr. Gordon.”
“Then get the hell out. I’m getting off this island if I have to swim off.” I stomped back into my room and started packing again. I have to admit, my feet were getting sore from all the stomping, but I kept doing it anyway.
“Dr. Gordon, please,” Rick said, following me inside. “We ask all of our guests to give it at least 48 hours to think it over. Have you visited the laboratory yet? It’s really quite a remarkable . . .”
“Save the sales pitch, alright, pretty boy? It’s not working. I’m here against my will and I want out. If you don’t want the whole fucking US Marines on your pretty boy ass, then I suggest you let me go, alright?”
I wasn’t shouting. I was barking. I snapped like a white landowner does at his black servant, his boy, when he feels his orders are not being obeyed fast enough. I saw 500 years of oppression written across his face, which he tried to hide behind veils of imposed dignity. He’ll cry later, I thought, because I knew that I would.
“As you wish, Dr. Gordon,” he said, stiffly. “I’ll see what can be done to accommodate you. Meanwhile, please consider watching the film prepared for all of our guests. You can find it by logging on to your computer. It’s on the welcome page.”
He then turned and walked to the door.
“Look, Rick, I’m sorry, alright?” But he closed the door, firmly, but not too hard.
“Shit,” I said.
What was that Laura said about carrying old baggage into the 22nd century?
Happy fucking New Year.
To be continued. . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.