Chapter 7

Neil sat at his workstation, thinking about the last few weeks and how things had been since the altercation with Conrad. He had been keeping his head down since the fight. He had been trying to make progress.

He lost count of the number of new formulas, the number of computer simulations, but he was motivated by the incremental progress coming out of this hard work. For the first week, he was sure that he had signed on to do the impossible. That he had sold his soul to the devil and had truly found himself in hell.

He looked at his computer screen. It felt so bright. He looked up and realized the office lights were off. Rubbing his eyes, it dawned on him that yet again he wound up working into the morning. He realized it was 3 am. Too late to bother renting a motel room. Neil debated whether he should keep working or stop to find a place to crash here in the office. His leg was throbbing, as it typically did when he was too busy to remember to take his medications. He reached down at the burning pain and rubbed. It didn’t help. He would need to drug himself and sleep.

Neil grabbed his bottle of water, forced down some pills, grabbed his cane and coaxed himself up off the bench. The pain was even worse with weight on it. Gritting his teeth he surveyed his options.

“I’m gonna have to settle for close, rather than comfortable,” he said aloud to the empty room. He took a few steps towards a chair, practically collapsing into it. As he sat down, the back of the chair tilted somewhat and it was far more comfortable that it looked.

“This might even be a decent sleep after all”, Neil thought to himself as he leaned back a few times to settle in.

Neil closed his eyes, waiting for the stinging pain in his leg to dim to a dull throb so he could consider a way to prop his legs up against the nearby desk. He concentrated on his breathing, labored and short, from the exertion of moving ten feet. His breathing began to get slower and stronger. His leg finally stopped complaining. It felt too heavy to lift. Still, Neil felt pretty comfortable with it down. He decided to just sleep like that. He started to settle in and cleared his mind. He briefly thought of Tom. He shifted his thoughts to the fight, in this very room. He started analyzing the last few weeks over and over again. If he kept this up, sleep would not be coming tonight.

Neil ran through the whole thing again in his head. The fight – if you could call it a fight - no, an unprovoked assault on a man with a cane. Then, he thought about the threat.

At first, Conrad’s threat hadn’t bothered him. After all, Neil had no loved ones left. Things were pretty strained with Tom. There was no relationship left with his father. Even now, thinking about it, he wondered why he didn’t feel guilty about the fact that he actually felt comforted by the idea that the three of them would be dead. He wondered why the threat was enough to force him to keep working on this.

Neil pondered his mental state for a while. He knew that something was fundamentally broken in his head. He was emotionally cold. He was numb. It didn’t even bother him when he realized that emotionally, he had become closer to the type of person Conrad is.

He thought about the aftermath. Soon after the event, he learned who the mysterious stranger was. It was Chuck Karlsson. Chuck was now Neil’s boss. Tom had been demoted. Things changed too quickly.

He thought about Tom. His demotion, the stress, everything was taking a toll on him. He thought about how flaky he had become, how irresponsible he had been.

The lights flickered on in the office. Between the fact that he was exhausted and the fact that sudden light shocked him, it felt so bright and intense that he couldn’t make out any shapes. The entire room was bright white light. Yet again, he had wasted his night analyzing unimportant things and depriving himself of the sleep he needed to finish his work.

Neil put his hand on his leg and was shocked that his leg wasn’t sore. He looked down and saw his leg bone sticking out of his leg. Rebecca suddenly appeared in the room, screaming in pain. Confused and scared, he sat frozen in shock until he felt a hand on his shoulder and opened his eyes. He was confused. He was dreaming after all. Tom, looking concerned, stood right next to him.

“We’ve been trying to wake you up for a bit,” said Tom. “You’ve been laying there since Friday night, um, rather, Saturday morning at 3am – it’s Monday morning. You’ve been sleeping for over 48 hours.”

Neil felt confused. He was sure he hadn’t slept, but as the feeling of extreme hunger crept into his belly and the feeling of extreme pain pulsed up and down his leg, he knew they were right. As the groggy feelings passed and things started to become more and more clear he concluded that weeks of sparse sleep had finally come to collect on their debt.

He looked at Tom and the various lab techs huddled around him with nervous faces. He knew that trying to reassure all of them was a waste of breath. His main concern was whether Conrad was in the room and whether or not this would make it back to Chuck and Conrad.

“What time is it?” asked Neil. His mouth felt so dry. He probably snored that entire time. He leaned forward, feeling his back cracking and popping as it resisted against moving. He felt lightheaded as he exerted himself.

“7:28am” responded Tom.

“Is Conrad here yet?”


“Can we keep this between you and I?”

Tom stepped back and looked around the room at all the techs. He shrugged. Neil looked around and none of them seemed interested in mentioning anything.

Neil haphazardly shrugged as well. Slowly the techs started to shuffle out of the room. He concluded this probably meant that they didn’t care enough to mention this to anyone.

“How’d you know I was here since Friday anyway?”

“You never logged out of your computer and it’s been idle since then. I came in early to get ahead and noticed you were sleeping. I decided to let you sleep. When I saw your terminal on, I thought I’d take a look. Once I figured everything out, I tried to wake you up. It’s like you weren’t even in your body anymore.”

“Just exhausted, I guess. I should have probably slept a little more.”

“Come stay at my place again. I know you’re not happy with me, but you know you just can’t keep doing this.”

“No thanks.”

“Come on. I know I screwed up. I know you’re angry. I’ll avoid you like I’ve been doing at work. It’s just a safe place to sleep. I’ll leave you alone.”

“I’m not mad at you, Tom. I’m indifferent. It’s just inconvenient to have to stop working whenever you stop.”

“What do you mean you’re indifferent? Wait, you know what, never mind. Why don’t we just rent you a car?”

“Because I’m never getting behind the wheel of a car again. It’s bad enough being the passenger in one. I feel like I’m going to scream the entire time.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I know you didn’t. I was ashamed to tell you. Now I don’t care.”

“Well, we have a long-range battery for the golf cart. I made it myself.”

Tom motions over under a desk at a ratty looking battery-like contraption.

“I don’t even want to know,” said Neil as he attempted to get out of the chair.

“Hold on” said Tom. “You’re going to pass out if you get up. If your leg even holds you. At least have some juice. Get some sugar in your system.”

“I’m not sure it works that way, Tom.”

Tom nodded dismissively. “Just wait,” he added. “I’ll go grab you an orange juice. It’ll make me feel better.”

Tom ran out of the room. Neil sat there impatiently and started to lean forward out of the chair. The feeling of lightheadedness started to kick in. He sat back cautiously. Tom might be right.

Just as Neil attempted to sit up again, Tom entered the room again. “No, no, just sit still!” he spoke between huffs and puffs of breath. He handed Neil the juice. Neil sipped it slowly. Orange juice did not feel as satisfying as he expected. It burned his dry mouth and throat. He coughed and wretched.

“You OK?” asked Tom

“What? It’s acidic juice. I’m feeling dry. What do you want?”

“I’m not talking about the juice. The sleeping. Are you…” Tom trailed off before looking at his feet.

“Just say it, Tom,” Neil blurted impatiently?

“Was the sleep thing because of drug abuse? Are you doing OK?”

“I’m not abusing my medications or taking any illegal drugs. I hadn’t been sleeping much last week and I guess I finally had to pay for it.”

Tom’s expression did not change. His crossed arms and closed body language told Neil this would not fly.

“I’m not going to discuss this, Tom.” Said Neil. “You promised me breathing room. I’m not OK, but it’s not because of drugs. It’s because of the situation and the fact that I’m not resting because I’m not able to rest, so instead I’m working round the clock to finish this asinine project so I can leave this entire company and maybe this entire town behind.”

“OK, fine.” Tom shrugged. “Hey, Listen, can I trust you?”

Neil shrugged. He found that to be an odd question. He considered whether or not he was trustworthy in his current state. He responded.

“I guess.”

“I want to finish the project.”

Neil could feel his face contorting in confusion. He answered glibly.

“Well yeah, that’s what we all want. Should I be asking you if you’re on drugs now?”

Tom lowered his shoulders. The comment obviously stung him.

“No. I. Shit. Neil, don’t be such a prick. Hear me out.”

“Fine.” Neil shrugged again.

“I want to finish the rifle and make Conrad look like an idiot.”

“OK.” Neil nodded. This piqued his interest. He continued. “How would you do that? What’s your plan?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what went down a few weeks back. He said ‘any size’” Tom paused for emphasis, and repeated himself with his hands in the air. “’ANY SIZE’ – so, I figure we make it giant. Like five feet tall giant.”

“How are you going to make Chuck and then Conrad buy in?”

“We’ll say it is advanced prototyping or something to do with the formulas needing more quantum space. We’re physicists, we’ve got tons of bullshit that confuses business people.”

“Yeah, but business people know that you nail it, then scale it. Who’d be stupid enough to think you go big and try to scale down?”

“But, go big or go home. Do you honestly think you can’t sell this idea? Computers used to need an entire room to operate. Can’t you sell that idea?”

Neil considered the whole picture. He could probably convince Chuck. Would Conrad take the bait? It was getting tempting. Had Tom thought this out? He needed to check. “Tom, I’ve literally got nothing to lose, and I kind of like where you’re going with this, but I have to wonder if you’ve thought this through. You’ll end up fired. Your career will be over.”

“And what do I have to lose, Neil? I’m single. No family to speak of. Nobody to disappoint. Besides, it shouldn’t matter if it works perfectly every single time we demo it to Conrad. I know you’re making progress.”

Neil winced, “Yeah, but once it fails, we’re dead.”

“Well, Here’s the whole plan. Make it big. Make it work. Make it fail on demand at an inopportune time. As a result, maybe it kills his career and saves mine and gets you out of this situation. You’ve got to remember that although he’s being vicious, he’s desperate and the board is fed up.”

Neil allowed the idea to entice him for a few seconds. The thought of revenge actually stirred some emotions for a second. He felt a surge of energy and some excitement. The feeling subsided quickly. Tom sat there, jaw agape waiting for a response. Neil provided one.

“I’m not interested. Once I’m done this, I can leave.”

Tom’s shoulders sunk again. Neil continued.

“So, let’s move on. I’ve been working on simulations and I’ve found the issue is that somehow the phase of the beam is changing. It’s actually blown quite a few of my theories apart. I’ve started adapting for it, but ultimately we were on the right path. Plasma and Ion.”

“OK. Can I help?” asked Tom.

“Yeah. For the most part, you’re going to need to get started on sourcing the material to build this. Conceptually, it needs to look like this.” Neil grabbed a piece of paper and started sketching. He felt another flicker of emotion as he considered the feeling of revenge again. He looked back up at Tom and continued. “And Tom, if you’ve got your heart set on this stupid plan, go ahead and scale it to whatever size you want, as long as it is designed to fit these parameters. I’ll talk to Chuck”

“OK!” Tom replied, nodding enthusiastically.

“Also,“ Neil said, motioning to the table with his pencil. “This part will need to spin without cables. It has to be able to do 360 degree rotation. Can you handle the engineering part?”

“Yeah, not a problem. I’ll get started.”

Hastily, Tom scooped up all of Neil’s notes and papers and headed out of their office.

Picking up the phone, Neil took a deep breath and started punching in the numbers for Chuck’s receptionist. After a second, the receptionist picked up.

“Yeah, can I please talk to Chuck?”

Neil takes another breath, waiting.

Chuck’s voice comes over the phone. “Chuck speaking.”

“Hey Chuck, it’s Neil. You told me to call with progress. I have great news, a small setback and more great news. I’ve figured out most of the glitches and we’re ready to build a new prototype, but it needs to be bigger.”

“Bigger? Sounds expensive.”

“It’s not. Think computers. They used to be the size of a room, now they’re not. Miniaturization is costly. If I build a full-size model instead of the downscaled model we’ve been trying to build, I can overcome some of the quantum spacing issues.”

“Quantum spacing?”

“It’s highly technical. Do you want to go over it?”

“No, no, get your pitch together, I’m going to conference Conrad in, if I can and we’ll talk this out”

Neil winced. He should have realized it would go there. He waited while the phone went quiet. Muting the phone, he took a few seconds to breathe aloud a few more times.

“Okay, Neil? I’m back and I’ve got Conrad,” responded Chuck. Neil quickly un-muted his phone.

“Hello, Neil, Hello, Chuck,” spoke Conrad. He continued. “Chuck gave me the quick overview. You need it to be bigger. Listen, I know you’re a passive-aggressive twat. You wouldn’t have called Chuck if you didn’t have some kind of plan. I know you want out of here and I want you out of here, so I’m willing to give you a long leash. Make it as big as the state of Texas if you want to. Grab any resources you need, equipment or people, or whatever.”

Neil was taken aback. He did not expect this response. Meanwhile, Conrad continued to speak. “All I want from you is a deadline. I want it working on Friday!”

“Friday?” Neil pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it incredulously. He placed it back to his ear.“This Friday?”

“Yes,” said Conrad “This Friday. I’m sure it’s doable and frankly I’m tired of you being here. Get it done.”

Neil heard a click on the line.

Chuck piped up. “Well, Conrad just hung up. You heard the man. Get it done.”

With that, Chuck hung up as well. Neil looked at the phone again in shock before hanging up.

“Well,” Neil spoke to himself. “I guess it’s going to be a busy week.”

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

Richard Belzile and, 2015-2018.

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