I stayed up until sunrise. I hadn’t intended to. It just sort of happened. The first part of the night, I spent playing video game. I kept a bunch on my laptop, chiefly for conferences. Whenever I got bored, which happened frequently at conferences, I started playing with the volume turned down while whoever yammered on, repeating himself. I fully admit it’s a bratty habit. I fully admit that I’m a brat.
So yeah, I played, with the volume on full blast. Then I looked in the cabinet and found small drink bottles, like you find in hotels. I went through several. They became my dinner.
Eventually, though, I stopped playing. I closed my computer and finally did have that cry I mentioned earlier. I felt like I had taken a damn razor to Rick’s beautiful face and sliced it with wild, sadistic abandoned, all because I had some trumped up idea that it was within my right as a “well-off” white dude to do so because he pissed me off. Rick didn’t piss me off. And he sure as hell didn’t deserve the white Southerner routine, with me calling him “boy” and everything. I couldn’t stop crying for what seemed like hours.
At some point, I sort of came to. I started looking for some real food – I’m sure I could have called concierge and had something sent. Yeah, like I was going to assuage my guilt doing that. No, I poked around the kitchen and found odds and ends. Fruit. Some crackers and cheese. That was all I needed. Then I went back to the computer and logged in again. For some reason, the password came right back to me, even though it had been hours since Rick told it to me.
“N-I-A-B-D,” I recited, as I typed it in, slowly. The Island’s homepage came up on my screen. I found the video Rick mentioned and began watching it. It was a biography on Oppenheimer. No wonder Laura mentioned the Manhattan Project. I didn’t feel in a mood for it, but it sucked me in and I kept watching it anyway. It played for about two hours before it ended. Then I started surfing, first about Oppenheimer, then about Dr. Clarkson. I realized that I really didn’t know that much about her. I wanted to make the connection between her and Oppenheimer. When did her obsession with him begin?
The buzzer rang. At first I thought it was still the middle of the night, but then I opened the curtains and saw that it was well past dawn and the sun was up over the hills.
I walked to the door and found Rick, looking sharp and pleasant.
“Good morning, Dr. Gordon,” said.
“Good morning, Mr. Travers,” I said. “Please come inside.”
“I’ve come to tell you that breakfast will be served in the main dining room today, but you are welcomed to stay in your room, if you wish.”
“Rick, please come in. Please.”
He hesitated – could you blame him? – but did finally walk inside. I closed the door behind him.
“Rick, I want to apologize for my behavior last night. I am so, so sorry. I let the stress of the day make me say some nasty, ugly things to you and you didn’t deserve that. I deeply, deeply apologize to you.”
“Thank you, Dr. Gordon. I do appreciate that.”
“My ex always said I had a temper. Maybe that’s why he’s my ex.”
“Do you need anything, Dr. Gordon?”
“No, I’m fine, thanks. I couldn’t sleep last night. Couldn’t sleep.”
“No, don’t be. I watched the video, though. Most interesting.”
“Yes. It is. I’ve watched it a few times, but then I love good documentaries.”
I nodded. “Maybe you can help me with something. I’m wondering, Dr. Clarkson, when did her, when did she begin discovering . . .” My words kept coming out funny. “I guess I should start with coffee, shouldn’t I?”
He made that damn smile again. I nearly started crying. I didn’t deserve to see such beauty after the way I treated him the day before.
“I’ll make you some, Dr. Gordon.”
“Only on one condition,” I said. “That you stop calling me Dr. Gordon and start calling me Seth, alright?”
“Alright,” he said, still smiling.
We took the coffee outside to the patio and sat. The lush beauty of the place could make anyone want to stay here forever.
“Rick, about Dr. Clarkson. When did she get interested in Oppenheimer?”
“When did she have her Moment? That’s what we call it here, the Moment. That’s when you realize the double-edge sword of the work you’ve done.” I nodded. “She had her Moment after she made a discovery. I’m not a scientist, but it had something to do with electric particle force fields.”
“Force fields? I had no idea. She never published anything.”
“No, she didn’t. She never did. Not long after she made her discoveries, she saw a docudrama on Oppenheimer, a very old one, from the 1990s. She saw how much he lived to regret his work, even as Edward Teller went on to make bigger and more powerful weapons, for the sake of making them. Teller did not come off very well in the show.”
“I’m sure he didn’t,” I said. “He was a nut. Brilliant, but paranoid. In fact, he even joined up with Ronald Reagan, one of the paranoid presidents of the late 20th century, and talked up the idea of making a defense shield to protect us from the weapons he helped to pioneer.”
“Yes! Yes, that’s right. So it’s sort of ironic that Dr. Clarkson actually did develop such technology. But after she created it and saw the film, she saw very clearly how her discovery could be used as a horrible weapon. Instead of creating an energy field to deflect weapons, it could be used as a weapon itself, a sort of moving wall of charged electrical particles, erasing everything it touched. Whole cities, the size of New York or London, could be wiped out in a matter of minutes.”
He explained how the wall of energy could turn in on itself, closing in towards its projection point. From what he described, the whole problem with the force field was to keep this from happening in the first place, in order to make it practical. But I could see how it could be used to intentionally crush everything within it.
“She refused to publish her work after she made this realization, her Moment,” he said. “Instead, she dedicated herself to making this place.”
“I’m amazed she’s been able to keep the Island so under wraps.”
“People here understand the need for the place.”
“No, I mean how she kept it from being detected by planes or satellites. This is quite a complex.”
He smiled. “It’s all under her force field, Seth, the whole island and about five miles out to sea. No one knows we’re here. They can’t see us!”
And here I thought she was just an administrator. Wrong again.
“That’s extraordinary!” I gasped.
“She’s an extraordinary person. ‘Now I am become death.’”
“What did you just say?”
“Oh, that’s just a line from the biography, something Oppenheimer said after seeing the first detonation. It’s from the Gita, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’”
“‘Now I am become death,’” I repeated. Those letter were everywhere. On the walls, on the business cards. It was the network password. I couldn’t say I was having my Moment, but I began to understand the purpose of this place. Thus, my anger vanished for good.
“Rick,” I said, “do you think you could show me to the laboratories?”
He smiled. I melted. “I’d be happy to, Seth,” he said.
To be continued . . .
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.