Chapter One

1
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Alexander Mueller walked steadily down a dark hallway. In his right hand a suitcase hung firmly beside his legs, which metronomed beside it. The sound of his polished leather shoes echoed up and down the concrete corridor as he neared an entrance to a well-lit room. When he emerged from the hall his deep-brown overcoat showed dark and professional, contrasting with the dingy white walls around him. His face remained mildly obscured by the shadow cast from a dark brown top hat as he observed the other occupants: six men in similar attire to his own – overcoats and suit coats – standing with their hands either in pockets or pinched around smouldering cigars. With a blank expression Mueller set the case down and briefly adjusted the wire-frame spectacles sitting on the bridge of his nose. By the fingers he pulled off a pair of long-sleeved gloves and tossed them to the ground at his feet. He addressed the audience in his slightly Germanic baritone, an air of arrogance with a hint of spite lying within his voice.

“Well, gentlemen, are we ready to begin?” He was obviously flustered, and with good reason. It had taken him nine hours to arrive at the installation, ultimately leaving him 30 minutes late due to an abundance of police and prying eyes amongst the general populace that he had to traverse. Alex himself was unassuming enough in physical traits, possessing a somewhat angular face with a humble handsomeness to its proportions, well-kept blonde hair, and an otherwise pleasant nature; he was over thirty and for the most part was undoubtedly an ordinary businessman who had worked his way up to that status over some few long years of hard work. But businessmen weren’t quite so common in the neighborhoods he had unknowingly entered in order to get to the installation, especially after dark; which naturally drew much more attention than he had been comfortable to account for. Due to this he spent longer than he had expected to, going through evasion tactics so as to minimize the chances of a tail. Not everyone thought this to be a quaint excuse for his late-coming however.

A black-haired, big-boned man with porky hands spoke up immediately in an unfriendly New Jersey accent. “Who do you think you are – where on earth have you been?” He growled.

“For your information,” Alex stared the giant straight in the eyes, “It was your Yankee police that kept me at bay – I’d have been even longer if I hadn’t risked public transportation to get here; the city is crawling with law enforcement and I no doubt have at least one of your shoddily-trained personnel to thank for that. True, I ended up looking conspicuous regardless because I hadn’t been informed of the poverty level in this section of town – but the police were out in force tonight, and it certainly wasn’t over some petty thievery; something big has been going on, and according to my newspaper it probably has something to do with a certain Jobe Tiller.”

“You don’t think I know how to run a tight shift here?” He sneered. “Pardon my inability to control a whole city – but he’s one man who has a shoddy connection with me; he is no legitimate part of my business.” He stated this matter-of-factly.

“No one else cares. We’re all here.” Another man with a crisp voice broke in with complete and casual dismissal of the two, snatching a cigar from his mouth in order to speak. He was an average-sized man, fair-haired, and had a less prominent inflection than his large friend; also an American. “We’ve got everything?” He followed up from the chastisement, not giving either one time to object.

“Yes,” a Russian man in full corduroy business suit replied.

“Yes,” Mueller replied, eyeing the giant known as Allen with distrust as he did so. The rest of the men simply nodded.

“Right then,” the fair-haired man said. “The project is this way.”

He gestured through a blue scratch-paint door behind himself, and held it open for everyone. The others antisocially filed through the door, alternatively looking blank or suspicious. The fair-haired man, otherwise known simply as “Jack,” half-smiled to himself once everyone was through. Lovely company you all are, come to see the greatest thing in the world, he thought before stepping in as well, slightly more aloof than everyone else. So caught up in the cat & mouse games they don’t even have the time to think about what they came for. Guess they have a right to be.

He wiped these thoughts clean of his mind immediately. An actor functions much smoother when he is in a single character rather than playing two separate people at the same time.

The next room was the same white color as the first, but was bigger and cluttered with chemical production equipment. It smelled strongly of commercial sanitizer, which may very well have been what established the whitewashed look of the place. It was a production facility for all sorts of chemicals, solvents, and solutions, but some higher-up business transactions meant there would be little usage of it for some time – at least for those particular purposes. The center of the spacious room had been mostly cleared of debris, which was stacked against the walls, and filled instead with a bizarre-looking metal contraption.

It was composed of three main pieces, with a fourth lying partially hidden behind the others. The first was simply a huge steel-lined box, which held what appeared to be a massive array of generators. The second was a circular platform attached to the generators by huge cables, which had, standing vertically on top of it, a sturdy Brown Bear-sized arch, at first guess made of electroplated steel, though the coating agent wasn’t easily identifiable. The third piece was a control station – essentially a gigantic rectangular box fitted with an overwhelming amount of levers, gauges, meters, and buttons.

The men filed behind the generators, gathering around a large, egg-like shell, which was the fourth main piece. The metallic surface of this member was distorted by inner mechanisms that bulged out into the shiny covering, as if stretching it from the inside. Hanging from a small manual crane, only inches above the ground, this was the most important piece of what they were here to see. A brief pause was held, spent gazing at the contraption and its matte bronze gleam, before anyone spoke.

“Well,” the fair-haired American asked, “Who would like to start with the proceedings?”

Seeing as no one moved, the Russian businessman stepped forth. He handed over the case he was carrying, then stepped back into the semi-circle rank that had formed. The American then handed it over to Allen who promptly took off towards a thick door and disappeared into the yellowish room behind it, where he alone would determine the validity of the case’s components. He then came out with an unlocked case in his hand. The fair-haired American received the case from him and placed it on a table, wherefrom he carefully sorted through the green, papery components and accounted for them himself – letting everyone glare impassively at him while they stood idle. Allen took another case after a Nigerian man stepped up. The same process of giving and unlocking was repeated for him and for the other three – namely Alex, a smaller Russian man with a prominent black moustache and a top hat, and a silent other German.

With all the money received, Jack pushed a buzzing call-button on the wall nearby, whilst Allen took the cases into a different room to be secured. Several anonymous men in un-hooded military coveralls entered the room and rolled the crane with its load over to the bear-sized arch, where the shell was then placed snuggly between the arch‘s arms. Having completed their task of installing the shell, the workers immediately left the room. Once they were gone, the fair-haired American spoke again.

“That’s all there is. Any questions?” A moment of pause ensued before a reply came.

“Has it been tested before?” The Nigerian asked boldly.

“Ahah,” Jack made a bemused noise. “No, not quite – this shall be our first legitimate test run. I assure you we’ve been very forthright about our progress up to this point.”

A small Russian with a prominent black moustache stepped up to the plate. “What are your speculations as to the usability of this project? Even if it is possible, what will be the financial drawback?”

“Cost-wise, we’ve run through one and one-quarter trillion dollars’ worth of production altogether,” (everyone either gasped or blew air from their mouths) “including the manufacturing materials, construction, and power needed for system checking.”

“A trillion!? What, are you insane? How on earth could…” The man hesitated, unsure of what other baffled words to use.

“Our financial methods are no concern of yours.” The fair-haired American retained his composure. “We’ve been in this sort of business for quite some time and know how to get things done without stepping on toes.”

“But how on earth could something like that not show up in the global market? There’s no way this could have been done without major foul play and without major repercussions on the market.”

“Don’t be so sure of that: you should know wealth is not entirely exclusive to the market. In any case you’ve already thrown your vote in with us, so it’s not as if you’re being cheated out of anything even if you were right – assuming this work goes as planned, which in any case it eventually will. This is but our first step into a very delicate science – and there will inevitably be more with or without your help. Next?” The mustachioed mouth remained agape until the other Russian, a brown-haired man in corduroy, spoke up.

“That doesn’t completely answer the original question though: the question is, is it worth it or no?”

“That’s what you’ve come to find out through the test run, is it not?”

They remained silent and nodded, acknowledging his point, until the Nigerian shot another question.

“Are finances then the greatest drawback of this project?” He clamped his fingers together in front of his nose, looking slightly anxious. He didn’t seem very pleased about the price-tag.

“The greatest but for one other – namely the materials needed to construct it. Not only are they incredibly expensive, but they are top-of-the line in both manufacturing and science. The discoveries made due to this enterprise outdate our national scientific standards by perhaps forty to fifty decades, and that’s in reference to the idealized projection of American national standards in said time.”

“Will it be possible to make more of them? Certainly you don’t expect us all to share one.”

“That will be a matter of time, just like every other aspect of this endeavor. Space programs will almost certainly be necessary for any abundant amount of these.”

This was met with outrage – everyone clamping or throwing their cigars away and roaring at Jack about the amount of time, effort and money needed for space programmes, or simply staring hate into him, incapable of words. He seemed to be expecting this and waved his hands in dismissal. “Hold your horses! You came into this fully aware that it is a prospective work in progress. We’ve offered you a front-row seat to witness what we are capable of doing through this tool and that’s what you payed for – not only that but to earn first dibs on resulting manufacturing and to simultaneously donate towards the achievement of that process. We never said you’d be getting immediate results – in fact we never even clarified that you’d get a return on your investment within your own lifetimes. This is a long-term investment.”

“Well thanks for clarifying.” Someone grunted.

    The room fell silent but for some low grumbling from one of the Russians. Jack picked it up. “If you think you’ve been conned that’s a result of your own lack of perception and patience. We didn’t need you in order to go about this endeavor, but it sends the process further along and much quicker.”

    “I’ll believe it when I see it.” The formerly silent German commented.

Mueller, the late-coming German, spoke up for the first time, defusing some of the tension. “You state in your report that this machine requires two contact points in order to function: where, may I ask, is the other contact?”

“The other contact lies in this very facility and we shall see that one immediately after the test run – as we know nothing else will likely convince you all but your own eyes. In order not to disappoint, if all goes well, we can even see about testing it on different objects of choice, simply to give you the benefit of the doubt. We know how the science works – it’s just a matter of getting it to work.”

Some soft muttering ensued between the men, and Jack asked if there were any more questions. None came forth.

“Well then, let’s not waste any more time dickering. Now, seeing as this device has never truly been tested, it would be advisable to watch it from a safe distance. Nothing dangerous is likely to happen, but it’s best to be safe. We‘ll start with a dry run to make sure everything is in order, and then we can see what she‘s actually capable of.”

He gestured to a large blast shield jutting out of the wall, about eight meters above, below which was a dark door. Everyone walked single file – the Russians first, then the Nigerian, the silent German, the big-boned American, and finally Alex. All shambled up a gantry-like flight of stairs, inside of what was a tall, dark closet in order to enter the blast-shield room.

©Neil Schultz – September, 2014

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