date with Eva had just been dashed by Erich.
“Uh, sir, I am of the opinion that this idea is sci-fi at best. It will never work.”
Erich glanced at Gary and nodded.
“And that is why I am teaming you together. Sometimes the best science of all comes out of debate between those who say it is impossible and those who dream it is not. The one reaches up while the other keeps their feet on the ground.”
He smiled again.
“And maybe, just maybe, the pragmatist learns to float a bit as well and believe in dreams. In the early days of Apollo, there were damn near duels using slide rules as swords.”
“Slide rules?” Gary asked.
“Ancient instruments of calculation not requiring batteries,” Erich said and now there was a smile again.
“Now, you two get to work, and no dueling!”
“I feel as if the last eighteen years have been a waste,” Gary sighed, gazing morosely into the teacup that Erich had filled with several ounces of Scotch.
He looked up at Erich, who was silent, the old man’s gaze steady. Erich was not the type of person to pour out a line of self-pity to. He recalled that the first time he had done so, Erich had shut him off with an angry wave of his hand and asked him if he had ever been shot, been left behind by his comrades, had a friend press a pistol into his hand with the obvious message that he would have to finish himself off, because an SS unit was sweeping the field, looking for survivors of the recent fight. The SS did not take prisoners when it came to commandos, though they did entertain themselves by extracting what information they could before finishing their prisoners off. A Yugoslav resistance fighter found him first, and it was a five-mile hike to a safe haven, where a doctor finally took the bullet out of his chest, with only a single shot of morphine to deaden the pain—a bit. For years he kept the bullet pulled out of him and that pistol in his desk—empty, of course—until firm rules were sent out that any firearm was forbidden at the center. He said that when any adversity beset him, the pistol and bullet were a reminder that he had gone through worse.
After that brief story, Gary never went for self-pity again.
Eva sat by his side, sipping her tea without comment, while Victoria, sensing the three wanted to be alone and talk freely, had taken her iPad and was sitting outside. Gary could see her outside the office window, sitting against a tree, iPad set to one side, just staring off in the distance. He felt a swelling of pride and love just looking at her. At sixteen, she was far beyond her years in maturity, already focused on following her parents, and had already been accepted at the end of her junior year in high school to Purdue, to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering as well. She was almost up to the same level as they were on the engineering that would go into a space elevator. While other girls her age had posters of the latest rock phenomenon plastered around their rooms, she had photos up from Curiosity , a mission that absolutely enthralled her, and the classic old photo of a wild-haired Einstein. For her birthday, they had given her a somewhat beat-up old Subaru, but what made her grin was that her parking place in their driveway had a sign with “Genius Parking Only” and a picture of Einstein on it.
“The next step,” Erich grumbled, interrupting his thoughts.
“What next step?” Gary asked, attention focused back on his mentor.
“There is always a next step,” Erich replied.
Gary did not reply. After the grilling and humiliation of this morning, he felt all their dreams had been permanently dashed.
“You have any plans for the next week?” the old man asked.
“Well, if my wife and daughter would let me, I think I’d just go home and get drunk, sir. It is the end of the road. Our positions are cut, as you know. Eva can find a teaching position, but me? You know I was never the one to stand in front of a class of