Thanks in advance to all who care to comment.
PANDORA’S BOX, excerpt.
In just a few years, the venture will begin. The visitor will be in a state of panic, eyes open but unseeing. The after-image of a brightly lighted room will be still burning in his brain, but will rapidly fade as the darkness wells up to surround him, to crush him. For a frightening few seconds he’ll succumb to an irrational fear that, with the fate of the mankind in his hands, some careless screw-up is rendering him permanently blind.
The world won’t wait for him to complete his evaluation of the situation. His momentum will carry him forward and he’ll stumble, trying vainly to catch his balance. He’ll be down, landing hard on his knee, painfully hard. He’ll break out in a sweat as he fights the stabbing agony that tries to rob him of his reasoning ability, and all the while his mind is going to be working frantically to make sense of his unseen surroundings. “Focus,” he’ll think. “Where is the backpack that went flying when I fell? Focus. Where the hell is William?”
An image of his new environment will miraculously appear in a mystifying blue-white flash. Even as he seeks to inspect the new scene etched on his retina, it will deteriorate like a photograph might fade if centuries could be compressed into milliseconds.
“What was that?” he’ll wonder. “Is the internal wiring of my brain trying to jumpstart my vision? No, that’s not it. It’s not a problem with my brain. It’s something else, something more familiar. I’m not blind, after all,” he’ll realize.
As the reality of the situation begins to hit home, his fear will subside and he’ll start to recover his sensibilities. By then the pain in his knee will have begun to ease. He will register the location of the backpack that had momentarily flashed into view and he’ll begin to edge toward it, feeling his way along in the darkness. Still the critical unanswered questions will remain.
“Where the hell is William? How can he not be here? Unless William is here, how can I, myself, conceivably be here? This entire scenario absolutely demands the presence of William Prescott Smith.” Those are some of the thoughts that will be racing through his mind, but the only thought that will make it out through his lips, will come in the form of a barely audible whisper: “The Keepers are coming.”
William Prescott Smith was hard at work in his laboratory at Cal Tech when he looked up to see a drop-in visitor walk through the open doorway.
“William, you’re working too hard. Time for a break.”
“James. Come on in, my brother. I’ve got coffee brewing and it’s almost ready.”
James Jefferies smiled pleasantly. William stood up from the stool he was sitting on, leaving his journal open on the counter top. He gestured toward a small wooden table with mismatched folding chairs and said “Have a seat.”
“You know, it good to be back on the West Coast,” said James as he sat at the shabby table, ignoring the multiple layers of paint – yellow showing through blue showing through white, where chips and scratches marred the surface. “When we were roommates at Oregon State, you were always there at the end of the day, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed listening to all your B.S.”
“Well, I’m glad your back,” said William. “Five years at MIT, that’s a long time, and then… you might have ended anywhere. It’s nice that you chose JPL”
“Yeah, well, occasional email and phone calls isn’t quite the same thing as daily face to face, is it. Good to really reconnect.” James let his eyes drop to the familiar wad of paper stuffed under the short leg of the table to damp out the slight jiggle. “You know, you could manage a more permanent fix for this rickety-made-rigid-with-a-wad-of-paper table,” he said. “Or for that matter you could manage a new table, couldn’t you? The price would be an insignificant fraction of the uncertainty in the cost of your lab equipment. You don’t need to scrounge rejects from the resale store.”
“The quality of lab equipment matters. The table, not so much. I gots my priorities.”
“And they don’t teach English here at Cal Tech?”
The coffee was done, and William put two mismatched mugs on the table and began to fill them. After he poured, he sat in silence. James would never be a good poker player. His tells were too obvious. He was a likeable sort, boyish good looks, curly blond hair, prominent chin, pleasant smile – but easy to read. And William read the excitement behind his eyes, and waited.
James sipped his coffee for a few moments, then smiled and said, “I’ve got some good news.”
William nodded. “Share.”
“We’re going back to the moon and I’m assigned to the team that’s going to make it happen.”