“There is a dynamic in us that beckons us to something deeper.”
-Professor Fred Parrella
Derrick Lucious had never known his father.
His mother had managed to successfully raise him in a world full of schoolyard bullies and street-side temptations. She worked hard to teach him to be a good kid and raise him into a good man. She made sure he worked hard, too; he had made his grades in school, gotten an AFROTC scholarship, earned his degree in management, served his term on active duty flying planes for the Airborne Rangers, and then made his way into the business world. He was now the head pilot on the west coast for Lightning Air, a small but lucrative charter airline service that delivered everything from small parcels to people. Lightning Air had found its niche for those overnight deliveries that just cannot be trusted to anything but a small private jet. Derrick had bought his mother a nice home, far away from the inner city of Oakland she hated so, and now provided for himself and for her quite nicely.
But he had never known his father.
So now, sitting in an upscale café in San Francisco across a table full of overpriced food from the most beautiful woman to ever give him a second look, he had to answer her question with, “Never knew him,” in that nonchalant way that made everyone believe it didn’t bother him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Why didn’t you?”
Derrick sipped his wine. As far as he knew, his father had been with Navy Research and Development when Derrick had been born. His mom divorced him just after getting pregnant for reasons that … well, that mom just did not talk about. From talking to other family members, Derrick had managed to piece together that he was always at work and never with mom, and then mom found out that dad had been running around with some young ensign.
“I just never wanted to meet him,” he said, looking up from his wine into his date’s concerned green eyes. “I’m sorry, but do you mind if we talk about something else?”
“Oh, okay … sorry.” Derrick’s date, a gorgeous redhead from Russia named Rebecca Gannistov, put her head in her hand and picked at her food with a fork.
There was a stiff silence as they both thought of something else to talk about, and about how badly this date was going.
This sucks, thought Derrick. He was definitely into this girl. She was smart and funny and concerned, and when her accent came out, which it rarely did, it made him want to sing. He could tell that she liked him too, at least enough to stick around and see if this repressed flyboy could do any better. Why, god damn it, did he have to be such a depressing guy?
“Listen,” she said, refreshingly breaking the silence, “I know you’re a pilot, and I know you flew for the military, so you’ve got to have a few good stories.”
Derrick grinned a little. Thank God, he thought. This he could do. He didn’t hang out much with the other pilots, but when he did, he could always keep up with their war-stories. It was, Derrick was sure, the only social skill he was good at when he wasn’t in a pecking order. “Stories I can do, Rebecca. You sure you want to hear them? Some of them are pretty long, and they’re all guy-stories.”
Rebecca smiled right back and took Derrick’s breath away for a moment. “Derrick Lucious, if you don’t tell me the longest, raunchiest ‘guy-story’ you have, right now, I will be so offended that I will have to order a helping of fresh lobster.”
Derrick laughed and told her about the time one of his co-pilots got an in-flight bachelor party.
“You do understand what it is we have here, right?”
Kim was not quite sure that he did. The substance they had developed was supposed to be a shield against electricity. It was a gel made for sensitive equipment that had to go into areas with a high risk of thunderstorms or electrical damage. They had made it this way so it could be easily integrated into any system: just a small layer of the gel around the inside of any casing would have been enough to let it survive a direct hit from a lightning bolt.
At least, that was what it was supposed to do.
Now, every time they ran a current through it, they would get a strange, brilliant white shard that would form itself inside the gel. The size depended on the voltage, and when the shard was exposed to enough conductive metal, it would disappear, there would be a small popping sound, and the metal would be magnetized. It had hardly any weight, but was extremely resilient. In fact, they had been unable to break it, so far, even in their pressure chamber and kinetics lab.
Was it a new element? A new state of matter? The data on the computer screen in front of him seemed to indicate something like that, but Kim somehow sensed that his supervisor was not thinking along those lines.
“Solid electricity,” said Doctor Thompson when Kim did not answer. “We have created a substance that somehow puts electricity into a solid form.”
Kim looked at the information on his monitor one last time and slowly turned his expensive rolling chair around to look Doctor Thompson incredulously in the eye. Doctor Thompson was in his fifties with gray hair and beard marked with a few determined streaks of its old auburn. He had a countenance as imposing as a sheer cliff and a stare that reminded everyone he turned it on just how much time he had spent mastering his field. As if that were not enough, the weight of his position as the New York head of research for Kirven Labs made it seem even more imprudent to try and question him. Even so, Kim Law found himself asking, “Are you serious, sir? Is that even possible?”
“We’ve just proved that it is, son.” Doctor Thompson stood up from where he was sitting on the edge of Kim’s white-topped desk and walked out of the cubicle, his feet stomping loudly along the thinly carpeted floor toward the labs where some technicians were testing other energy types on the gel. “We have to get a sample of this to San Diego.”
Kim stood up as well and hurried after Doctor Thompson. “Can’t we just send them the data, sir? They should be able to reproduce what we’ve made here.”
“No, Kim,” said Doctor Thompson, irritably. “Those stiff-necks at headquarters are more bureaucrat than scientist. They won’t want to spend the time or money to make it and test it themselves, and even if they believed the data they wouldn’t do anything about it until they saw a firsthand demonstration. We’re going to have to take what we’ve got here and ram it down their throats.”
Doctor Thompson strode powerfully into the steel, concrete and chrome world of the lab, shoes now clicking against the hard floor. He ordered some technicians to drop what they were doing and get some of the gel packs into a locking transport case. As they hurried about, Doctor Thompson handed Kim the key to the case and said, “I can’t go. I need to keep research going here. You’re going to have to present this stuff to the higher-ups in San Diego.”
Kim’s heart skipped a beat and his breath stopped. The blood drained from his face and he found himself unable to speak. Kim had grown up in New York’s Chinatown with his parents; immigrants who barely spoke enough English to run their threadbare but excellent restaurant. He had always been the nervous kid in school, smart enough to do math in rings around the other students, but never very good at literature or, heaven forbid, presentations. Kim was a firm and dedicated member of the populace that fears death less than it does public speaking, and there was no way he was …
“No getting out of this, Kim. I’m sorry. Other than me, you know the most about the gel, and I’ve got a dozen other projects to oversee.” He turned to take the transport case from a technician, then turned right back to Kim and put it into his very unwilling arms. “Now get going. Use the company card wherever you have to, and take that courier service. Lightning Air. They do good work. Good luck, Kim. Call me when you get there.”
Before Kim had realized what had happened, he had been ushered out of the lab, and Doctor Thompson had closed the door and headed back in to continue his work. Speechless, Kim looked down at the precious case he held in his arms and realized that he held what might become the defining scientific discovery of the twenty first century.
He hurried back to his desk to call up Lightning Air, unaware that someone else had watched everything, made the same realization, and was making a call of her own.