If it were within my power to give…
Ian hated not knowing the answer. He always had. Even as a child his deep blue eyes searched for the answers to questions most of the adults had never thought to ask. It was one of the things that drove him to become a scientist.
When he was first approached with this job offer, the secrecy surrounding the project intrigued him, but now it was driving him crazy. He enjoyed the cutting edge laboratory, the six-figure salary, and the molecular challenge that he was hired to fix, but the question of what it was all for plagued his mind more and more each day.
Casual attempts to gather information were either unsuccessful or met with looks of fear. This only increased the intrigue surrounding the facility. There were whispers of being under surveillance, but he had never seen any evidence of it. One thing was clear though, they were all on the same deadline and time was running out. The pace of their work had tripled over the past month. Red lines across the calendar on the wall sliced through their world of white like cuts from a razor reminding them of the deadline.
His contract would end in 18 days and no one had approached him to discuss any kind of extension or renewal. Others had said the same thing when they dared to say anything at all. As far as he could tell, every last man and woman in the lab would be unemployed on November 4th. His eyes began collecting details as his mind tried to piece them together to find out what their work was being used for.
Ian was staring into his microscope and stewing over the problem when he heard a click from the door. One of the maintenance men entered and began looking around for someone to acknowledge him. He was younger than the others Ian had seen and looked like a boy who had lost his mother in the super market. He abandoned his microscope to see what had brought this man-child into the lab.
“Can I help you?”
“Um, yes. I was told to come down here and borrow one of your carts.”
“Ok. What for?”
“We need to move a… part and ours is being used.”
Behind his blue eyes, Ian’s mind began raced ahead plotting the succession of events that were possible if he could steer this opportunity on the right course.
“When will we get it back?”
“Uh… I’m not sure. Not too long. I just need to take it, go grab Chuck, load the part, take it over to Building G, and then I will bring it back.”
He would have to play his part perfectly, mixing friendliness with a fatherly tone, but this might be the only chance he would get to peek behind the veil.
“Well I don’t like the idea of our work being held up because our cart is gone and not being able to confirm when it will be back. What if Chuck isn’t there and we don’t get our cart back until tomorrow?”
“I don’t think that will happen sir.” His voice fluctuated with uncertainty.
“Well I’m very sorry, but I can’t risk a setback because you ‘don’t think that will happen.’ How about I just go with you and help? That way when we are done I can just bring it straight back here. Saves you an extra trip.”
His eyebrows squished together as he looked at his shoes making him look more like a child than ever. It was clear that this task had become far more complicated than he was led to believe it would be. Ian patted his shoulder and gently turned him toward the cart.
“It makes perfect sense. And think how happy Chuck will be when you come back with the job already complete.”
It did not take long to learn that secrecy was not confined to his building alone. Pleasant conversation revealed that his chaperone’s name was Barry and he had only been hired a week ago.
“Ah. Is that why you don’t have your name on you uniform yet?”
“No. None of our uniforms have names.”
The maintenance building was not far, but upon arriving he was told he had to wait outside. When Barry returned he was pushing a silver box about the size of a microwave. On the count of three they lifted and slid the gleaming cube onto the cart. Before leaving Barry checked to make sure the door behind him had latched shut.
Ian took control of the cart and let Barry lead the way. They wove their way through the small maze of the industrial compound and stopped outside a building that looked like all the others. None of them had any markings on the outside, but Barry confidently inserted his security card into the door and immediately it clicked open.
Once his eyes adjusted from the sunlight outside, Ian could see that Barry was leading him down a hallway that looked identical to the one outside his lab. Halfway down they stopped at another unmarked door, but instead of using his card Barry knocked.
A large black man opened the door. His white shirt bore the same blue logo that adorned the back of Barry’s uniform and sat on the breast pocket of his own lab coat. Barry started to take a step when the man stopped him in his tracks.
“He can’t come in here.”
“Well who is gonna help me unload it?”
“I will find someone to help you.”
The man looked at Ian.
“I’m sorry. It’s the rules. If you will wait here this will only take a minute.”
“Damn it!” was the first thought ran through Ian’s mind, but he was careful to ensure the man only saw was a friendly smile and a shrug.
Barry returned quickly, just as promised, and began escorting Ian back down the hall. Knowing that this might very well be his last chance to learn anything, Ian he made one last desperate attempt.
“Is there a bathroom in here?”
“Can’t you hold it ‘till you get back to your building?”
“Holding it is not good for the prostate.”
“Oh. Alright. But hurry up.”
Three more doors passed before they came to the first doors Ian had seen with any markings on them. He pushed open the door that didn’t have a picture of a girl on it and went inside.
The restroom was empty. He didn’t know what he hoped to find in a restroom anyway so he proceeded to the furthest urinal. The sound of flushing suddenly echoed off the white tiles.
An elderly man emerged from a stall and walked to the sink. He wore a white jumpsuit with the same blue wave looking logo on the back. Ian zipped up and chose the sink next to the man. He was met with a reflection that smiled warmly at him as he turned on the water. Ian was thinking of what to ask when he realized that the man was speaking to him.
“…labcoat that you must not work in this sector.”
“Oh. No. I work in another building.”
It was now or never. One last desperate attempt to solve the enigma that plagued his mind.
“Do you know what we are doing here?”
The man turned and studied Ian’s face for a moment.
“I only know my part.”
“What is that?”
“I am a mechanical engineer. They have me designing and testing a liquid transfer system for liquids at high temperatures. What about you?”
“I am a chemist. I specialize in bonding compounds. What could you create that requires our special skills? And why work so hard to keep it secret?”
“Hmmm… Well I’m not big on all this secrecy. It’s a bit too much for me. I’m kinda glad I’ll be done in a couple weeks.”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
The tile floor announced Barry’s entrance even before he asked, “What’s taking so long in here?”
Time was up. Another piece to the puzzle, but Ian didn’t even know how many pieces there were, let alone what picture it was meant to create.
Ian ignored the attempts at small talk that Barry offered up on their walk back to the lab. He knew it was unfair to the kid, but frustration got the better of him.
Eighteen days passed quickly and Ian’s team finished their project just in time. Nights spent on Google had not turned up anything on the company and when November 4th arrived Ian was ready to just put the last year of his life behind him and forget about the whole thing.
William Miley woke up on November 4th with a feeling he had not felt since he was a boy on Christmas morning. He had waited two years for this day. Sitting up, he looked out the windows that filled the west side of his bedroom and stared at the Pacific Ocean. There was only one thing that could make this view better.
William had not installed cameras inside his villa, but somehow his assistant always seemed to know when he had woken up. As if on cue, Bentley strode into the bedroom with his usual air of professional servitude.
“Good morning sir.”
“Good morning. Is it ready?”
William peeled back his silk sheets and headed downstairs. The floor to ceiling windows revealed the same spectacular ocean view as his bedroom, but his eyes were locked onto the stainless steel machine that now sat on the floor. It was the size of a small refrigerator.
“Have you tested it?”
“They have tested the components separately, but left the final test for you.”
“How much have I spent to design and build this?”
“Close to 30 million sir.”
“Well let’s see if it was worth it.”
Bentley pushed a series of buttons along the top and the machine whirred to life in a series of hushed clicks and buzzes.
Less than a minute later the machine went silent again.
William opened the small door on the front. Bentley was watching him the way a cat watches a mouse, waiting for any movement. William willed himself into a statue until his assistant could no longer take it.
“Well? Was it worth it?”
A smile lifted William’s cheeks as he began to laugh.
“Try for yourself.”
“It was not my millions that were given to produce this. Only you can tell if it was worth the cost.”
“Yes. It was worth it.”
He turned once again to gaze out on the Pacific. It seemed bluer now. The world would never be the same. He had done it. The 4th of November would go down in history as the day that the perfect cup of coffee was born.
Copyright © 2011 Adam Drake