by Bob Sorensen
Coming back from lunch a few days later, Stewie grabbed Dave by the arm. “Let’s go this way,” he said, leading Dave away from the direction of their cubicle city and into a distant wing of the physics research lab. As they walked, Dave noticed there were fewer doors and more twisty hallways. After a few turns, they stopped running into people altogether.
Finally, referring to a scribbled map on a torn piece of paper, Stewie halted in front of a door simply marked ‘4X02 NHB.’ There was no doorknob, but set into the wall at eye level was a shiny black plastic pad. Stewie reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a blue card.
Dave looked at him. “Where’d you get that?”
Stewie smiled. “It’s probably best if you don’t know.” He looked at the card. “Here goes nothing.” He waved it in front of the pad on the wall.
Nothing happened for a few seconds and then silently and quickly the door swung open. Stewie grabbed Dave’s arm and pulled him in just as the door closed behind them.
The two young men were standing in a large lab filled with specialized, exotic, and no doubt wildly expensive equipment. There were also racks of computers of various size and manufacturer as well as other advanced electronics connected by cables of varying thickness and color that essentially covered the floor.
The room was deserted, and it had the faint musty aroma of having been abandoned for some time.
“I figured no one would be here. The file said the project was pretty much a failure and the Government cut funding about six months back. Everyone ran away from this mess as quick as they could.”
Dave surveyed the room. He whistled. “There’s an awful lot of computer power in this room. What the hell were they up to?”
Stewie walked over to a rack of computers and started flipping power switches. The room filled with the smell of dust burning on warming electronics.
“The project, code-named Stone Ghost, was being run for the military. It had the grand goal of enabling our government to spy on other governments. With no risk to the collector.”
Dave pushed up his glasses. “A laudable ambition. I’ll give them that. How?”
Stewie waved his hand around the room. “Using all you see here to create small wormholes. They wanted to open rifts in space-time, allowing them to observe what was happening on the other side. Anywhere and any time.”
Dave frowned. “Theoretically possible, but it would draw some pretty heavy power, more than this building, — hell, more than this galaxy — uses at any given time.”
Stewie nodded. “Exactly, that’s why they were concentrating on observation rather than sending any matter through the wormhole. Keeps the power requirements down.”
“So why did they stop?”
“Because the physicists on the project decided it couldn’t be done. They had some good reasons to think that. It’s hard to put into words. if I had a white board I could show you the equations.”
Dave looked at Stewie. “I’d like to see them. But if the project failed, then what are we doing here?”
Stewie tried to run his hands through his hair, but he got caught up in a knot that had been growing in the back for a few weeks. “Well, I’m pretty much convinced they made a mistake. I think we can get it to work.”
Dave broke into a big grin. “That’s great. Let’s go tell Mr. Gladstone. He’ll be thrilled.”
Stewie put up his hands. “Yeah. Thrilled. Especially when we get to the part where we broke an amazingly large number of national security laws to get in here.”
Dave turned towards the door. “Oh God, not again. What have you gotten me into?” He started walking. “Let’s get out of here.”
Stewie grabbed Dave’s elbow. “Not so fast. Don’t go all Boy Scout on me. We’re safe in here. I changed the code. Besides, you haven’t heard the best part. I’m pretty sure with some minor hardware tweaks by the boy genius — that’s you, by the way — we can increase the efficiency of the wormhole generator. Not much, but enough.”
Dave swallowed. “Enough for what?”
Stewie paused for effect. “Enough for me to go back to Woodstock and get Pete’s guitar.”
Dave went white and started to hyperventilate.
Stewie reached into his back pocket and pulled out a paper bag. He handed it to Dave. “Breathe,” he said to Dave. “And then we can talk.”
It took Stewie about three days to convince Dave the problem was workable from both a theoretical and legal standpoint. Theoretical in that the physics made sense, legal in that they probably wouldn’t get caught. So every day, after they finished their regular busy-work, they ran over to 4X02 and worked the Stone Ghost problem.
Stewie crunched the equations while Dave reconfigured the hardware. As usual, once they started on a problem, they rarely came up for air. The two young men took to sleeping in the lab and going home only to change clothes. At least Dave did.
They did break for lunch every day with Zoe, although Dave made Stewie pinkie-swear an oath of secrecy. One day Zoe brought along a friend, Janna. She was a small, quiet girl, cute with short brown hair. Everybody at the table knew it was a fix-up, but Dave as usual found himself powerless to move beyond single-syllable sentences and well-intentioned nods. Stewie just rolled his eyes at Zoe.
One afternoon, Stewie cut out of work early. He met up with Dave later that night in the Stone Ghost lab with a big smile on his face, and he was lugging a stained green duffel bag.
Dave looked up only for a second when Stewie came in and then went back to work connecting a bank of servers to a high-speed optical router he had found in a closet back in the lab’s well-stocked storage room.
Stewie grabbed Dave by the shoulder. “Hey. Take a break. Look what I got.”
Dave sat up straight and pushed up his glasses.
Stewie opened the faded duffle and pulled out a guitar, a bright red electric guitar.
Dave frowned. “What’s that for?”
Stewie strummed the guitar. It was out of tune. He winced, but kept playing. Badly.
“It’s my replacement. You told me a roadie recovered Pete’s guitar from the crowd. I’m not one to challenge the flow of history. At the concert, I’m going to plant myself right where we know Pete’s gonna throw his guitar. I catch the real one and make sure the roadie gets this one. No one’s the wiser.”
Dave grabbed the guitar from Stewie, if for no other reason, then to get him to stop playing. “It looks like the one in the video, already beat-up pretty good. Where’d you get it?”
“Some Internet, some e-mail, a couple of trades: the usual. In those days, our buddy Pete liked to play a Gibson SG special, always in cherry red.”
“Excellent,” Dave said. “And your timing is perfect.”
Stewie grabbed back the guitar and hugged it to his chest. “Meaning what?”
“Meaning,” Dave said, “I think I’m ready. We should be able to try this tomorrow. That is, if you are still willing to go.”
Stewie nodded. “You bet I am. Look what I got to go with the guitar.”
He reached into the duffle and pulled out a horrible multicolored t-shirt. He put it on. “It’s called tie-dyed. It was all the rage in 1969.”
The next day seemed to drag on forever. Gladstone called a monthly review meeting where the technical staff had to present what they had been up to, in what everyone but Gladstone seemed to think was agonizing and pointless detail.
When the meeting finally ended, Dave and Stewie sprinted over to the Stone Ghost lab. As soon as they were through the door, Dave started powering up various systems, bringing his homemade network on line and making final adjustments to the large polished steel cylindrical chamber where the wormhole would be generated.
He was so intent on his work he didn’t notice Stewie had gone silent. Stewie was standing over in the corner of the lab, wearing the awful t-shirt and clutching the duffle with the Gibson special.
Only after Dave had brought up every system to ready status did he notice Stewie. “Stewie, you look green. You feeling okay?”
Stewie swallowed, nodded. “Gotta be honest, man. I’m a little freaked out right about now. We’ve done some bizarre stunts before. But, this is out there. Real deep-space crazy.”
Dave looked at his friend. “You say the word, and we stop. We don’t have to do this, you know.”
Stewie took a deep breath. Then shrugged. “What, are we crazy? One, I know the math works. Two, you know the hardware works. Three, I’ve got you covering my butt if anything goes wrong with one or two. How many times have you pulled me out of trouble?”
Stewie moved next to the wormhole chamber. He pushed the duffle into the small door at the bottom of the chamber and then ducked down to crawl inside.
He turned. “Okay. Remember, I get there two days before the concert, that’s Friday, August 15th. That gives us plenty of margin for error. Worst happens, I have a couple days to kill. And a half a million hippies to do it with.”
“Then let’s get going, before I get old,” Stewie said, flashing Dave the peace sign. Stewie ducked into the chamber and pulled the small access door closed behind him.
Dave walked over to the central server console and typed in the series of commands that would activate the wormhole generator sequence. He took a deep breath and watched the scripts work their magic. When the final instruction had run, the monitor paused for a second and then displayed the simple text, PROGRAM COMPLETE, in green letters on a black background.
Dave waited a second and then walked over to the wormhole chamber. He opened the door, knelt down, and peeked in. There was a sharp odor that smelled a bit like burned rubber, but nothing else. Stewie and the guitar were gone.
Dave slowly backed away. He almost tripped on an operator’s chair, then sat down. He exhaled and smacked his thigh. “We freaking did it.” He laughed out loud.
And then every light in the room went out, taking down the computers and the other electronics with it, leaving Dave alone in the dark.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bob Sorensen