Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 02

Location: Seattle, Washington, Earth

Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220

 

Earth

Val sat in the back of the room listening to the Admiral speak. She had never met the man, or even heard of him before receiving a hand-delivered invitation to join his team. Even after receiving the job offer, the only history she could dig up on the Admiral regarded his propensity for working primarily in classified projects. There were links throughout his career, what she could find of it, to everything from the search for alien life, to emerging faster-than-light technologies, and even time travel. Valentina Cooper, or Val as most people called her, immediately felt drawn to the mysterious job, despite having almost no information about what she would be doing. A very qualified pilot with an impressive history of flying nearly every type of craft, she still felt that there were other more qualified pilots for whatever the mission would be. Maybe someone with more history with the military would make a better choice for a classified project pilot. All the more reason to take it, she told herself. Maybe she hadn’t been the first choice, in fact, maybe many others already refused the project. There would be no way of knowing for sure without jumping in with both feet, and asking questions later. There would be no answers given, she knew, until after she accepted. Besides, she’d already been out of work for a few weeks and itched to get back into a cockpit.

Chan offered one last question to the press, which signaled to Val that she should hurry if she wanted to meet him behind the stage. Not listening very closely to the questions or explanations of the conference regarded, she only caught a few things about time dilation and something called Novikov’s Effect. Most of it went way beyond her level of science, and much of the press seemed to have an equal non-understanding of the issue, making it a thankfully short wait for this circus sideshow to finish up. She snuck out the rear door and walked down the hall that ran parallel to the press-hall, arriving at the backstage door just as he wrapped up things at the podium.

Brushing her short, fiery red hair with her fingertips from around her freckled face, she stood as tall and straight as she could. Not a tall woman, Val spent years of her life in flight seats that ruined her posture, making her feel shorter than she actually was. Val could just see him through the opening door as he turned his back on the reporters. They seemed to have little interest in him anyway, so he exited without anyone chasing him for one last question. Chan simply nodded his head at her and walked past Val, apparently expecting her to keep up.

Val walked quickly to keep up with his long strides. He seemed much older than her thirty-two years, although she couldn’t make out how much older. His hair was gray and thinning a bit on top, but his tan face still maintained a smoothness that might make some think he could be younger. Clearly, his name came from a heritage based in eastern Asia, but she found it difficult to identify if he had a specific country of origin. “Do you know why I gave a press conference today, Ms. Cooper?”

“No, sir,” she answered, finding it hard to keep up with him in her dress shoes and skirt, the only of each that she owned.

“Would you please offer a guess for me?”

Val considered it a moment. This, she knew, must be a test, one that she would fail if she weren’t clever enough. “A guess… All right, I would guess that you gave the conference because you are supposed to. You don’t seem like the type who would do these for any other reason.”

After a pause in conversation, her new boss slowed his gait, allowing her at last to come up beside him. Admiral Chan came across to her as a politician, someone who either employed yes-men following them around or else preferred no company at all, not someone to just be yourself with or make guesses to. Maybe her guess just cost her this job. That kind of thing seemed to happen to her a lot. “That is, quite possibly,” he remarked, “the most honest answer I have gotten from anybody all day. And very close to the mark, I might add.”

He turned and faced her in front of a bank of elevators, looking her up and down as if noticing her for the first time. “Did I pass, sir?” she asked him.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The question, my guess… I thought it might be a test. You offered me employment with no interview, and the first thing you asked for was my opinion. I guess I assumed thought it would be a good way to find out more about me, about how I think.”

Chan reached his hand out, past her, and pushed the button for the elevator. He stood in silence, regarding her, or maybe postulating a good reply, until the elevator arrived. The elevator closed with them inside before he finally answered. “We are going to the roof,” he said, apparently instructing her to press the button for the proper floor, which she did. “I suppose you must have passed, although I did not consider it a test. Your piloting record is impeccable, although you do tend to work on projects that have a definite end date. There is no criminal record to speak of, and your level of public service is admirable. Before I considered you for the position in my team, you already passed all but one test required for it. That test, I assure you Ms. Cooper, does not require your opinion of my goings-on.”

His voice came across to her as measured, as if he knew his answer prior to being asked a question. Maybe he hadn’t been carefully considering his reply at all. Maybe his silence was just a ruse, a show of intelligence to throw her off balance. Val followed up with another question, this one aimed to find out more about him, to figure out what he wanted from her. “Why ask for my opinion at all then?”

Chan chuckled. “Press conferences, I believe, are nothing more than mind-numbing wastes of time. All the information I provided might have been read from a statement without my flying to an historic building in Old Seattle to speak in person to reporters that will not bother to report on it anyway. My position is obligated, however, to update the public on the work I am doing, and I carry out that obligation, as you so distinctly stated, because I am supposed to.”

Val found herself chuckling also. As she did so, the elevator slowed. This man, she decided, wasn’t as stuffy as he appeared.

“I asked your opinion however,” the Admiral continued, “because it provided an opportunity to stop walking in silence with a person with whom I had never been properly introduced.” That thought sat in the elevator with them like a large elephant that Val seemed to have not noticed at all. She’d not even thought to introduce herself. Val decided it far too late now to offer a handshake now that the Admiral mentioned the missed chance for putting her best foot forward.

They exited the elevator together, Val feeling that their friendly conversation morphed into no more than an uncomfortable silence. In an attempt to regain composure, Val asked, “I understand that you have something new that needs a pilot.”

Apparently eager to begin the new topic as well, Chan charged, “I understand that you claim that you can fly anything,” as they walked through the security gate that made up the entirety of the roof’s elevator lobby.

The golden sunlight blinded her after having been in the lower levels for the last few hours. She arrived early to meet him here for her briefing, or interview, or whatever the Admiral planned to do before she began work. She only knew that he requested she meet him at the conference, with no other details offered in the message. Val thought of her car parked in the garage below as she noted that the building’s roof included a tarmac for landing personal shuttlecraft. “I have never been unable to pilot something which I have attempted to pilot,” she clarified. “And I am not afraid to attempt any vehicle.”

“Good,” Chan replied, simply.

He walked across the rooftop tarmac toward his personal transport. His craft was of the rare sort that could fly both in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere, but not limited to simply shuttling between the planet and its moon, where one could transfer to an interplanetary vessel. “Sir, my car…” Val started, not sure of his the plan.

“I asked that your vehicle be delivered to a facility for safekeeping moments after you parked it. If you are to be part of my team, there are a couple of things you will need to understand.” Chan stopped by the door to his ship and faced Val, looking her in her still squinting eyes. “First, everything about our project is top secret. I tell the public what they need to know, nothing more. Do not become a leak in my ship, and I will not become a leak in yours, I like to say. Secondly, I prefer members of this team focus on their individual tasks. We will not accomplish very much if we are distracted by trivial things like who is paying for a meal or where we parked the car.”

Just then, the door to Chan’s ship opened, the hatch being a stairway that folded down toward the ground to allow access, not very different from most shuttles. At the top of the stairs stood a young woman, maybe only nineteen or twenty. She wore her long blonde hair in a thick braid down to the middle of her back, although it hung in front of her shoulder currently. She worked on a Tekboard as the Admiral mounted the steps. “Ms. Cooper, this is my personal assistant, Ms. Audrey,” he said over his shoulder. “Ms. Audrey’s purpose in my team is to take care of all the trivial things.” Valentina expected a casual hello from someone so young, but instead she just tapped on the nine-by-eleven black board she held in her hands.

“We should be clear for departure as soon as you are ready, sir,” Ms. Audrey said, not looking up at either of them. Chan walked past his assistant, and Val climbed the stairs behind him.

As Val came within an arm’s reach of Ms. Audrey, she finally looked up, her bright blue eyes sparkling in the sunlight. Chan’s assistant suddenly seemed very warm with a shy little smile as she reached into her navy smock’s pocket and fished around for something. “These are for you.” As Ms. Audrey’s hand extended, Val saw she held two things. The first being a scratched pair of sunglasses that Val recognized as being from her car’s glove compartment. The other appeared to be a small bag of peanut-butter candy, Val’s favorite. “Welcome to the team.”

“Thank you,” Val said, astonished. Feeling rather hungry, she didn’t immediately understand why she would need her sunglasses in this spacious ship. It appeared to be a luxury yacht on the inside, with seating for thirty or so guests during launch or turbulence. She’d need only to sit away from the window.

“I trust that you will be able to pilot this, I’ll co-pilot for you, of course. If you’ll follow me…” Admiral Chan walked down a hall that led to the front of the vessel as Ms. Audrey began to retract the stairs. Val followed him down the hall to the small cockpit, and brushed Chan’s arm as she climbed into the pilot’s chair. As she started strapping herself in, she set the glasses and the candy on the console for a moment. “You may want to eat those now, while the engines warm up,” the Admiral suggested, with wrinkles in the corner of his mouth, like a smile he nearly failed to hide.

The sun shone brightly through the front window and Chan pulled a pair of his own sunglasses out of a compartment in the central console and put them on, exposing two bottles of water in the process. Val put on her own scratched pair and opened her candy while Chan turned the engines on. As she ate in silence, Chan continued as if they still stood on the tarmac outside.

“Third, I steadfastly believe that everyone has something to contribute, however small, to a given conversation. I want you to feel comfortable speaking your mind at all times, to me and any other member of our team, but especially to Mr. Sydney. That man has a way of paying more attention to his projects than he does to anyone else involved with them. If he is not listening to you, please tell him so.”

“Is that Cole Sydney? He’s on the team as well?” she asked. She knew of Cole Sydney as a crazy inventor who apparently claimed, at least to tabloids, that he could build a ship that could travel through time. Val read an article or two about him about him between jobs last year. It seemed like an interesting concept, and she felt bad that no one seemed to take him seriously.

“Yes, he is the one.” Chan answered. “Please do not be swayed by what you may know about him. He is the reason that we require a pilot at all.”

Val wanted to ask about ships that travel in time, to see if that would be what is what Chan hired her to do, but decided that the information would all be presented at the appropriate time. For now, it was enough for her just to fly this shuttle for the Admiral.

Ms. Audrey’s voice came across the intercom, interrupting this line of thought. “Coordinates have been entered into the skyway guidance system. We are clear for departure for LunaBase whenever you are ready.”

As she lifted the shuttle off the high-rise’s tarmac roof, Val supposed everything at her apartment should be fine until she returned, although she did not know how soon that would be. Val always drifted, never really settling down anywhere, so an impromptu trip to the moon shouldn’t be so surprising. Someone took care of her car already; they also retrieved her sunglasses, and even picked up her favorite snack. What about her luggage? Would someone have handled that, knowing she would be leaving the planet today? Trivial things, that’s what the Admiral called them. She pushed it out of her mind in order to focus on the task at hand, as she flew them out over the Puget Sound.

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