“What would the military want with my project?” Gregory asks. Brilliant as he is, he possesses the same sort of tunnel vision that so many scientists do—they understand every aspect of the mechanics of their project, but they don’t see the sinister repercussions if it falls into the wrong hands.
“Imagine your device working perfectly. You can manipulate it so it will send an object to any point in time that you specify. You could send a weapon back to the twelfth century. You could send a letter with very specific information about future events back to a time before those events happened, with the intention of preventing them.”
“And that’s bad?” he asks.
“It could be, if the wrong people did it.”
“So it’s bad to have knowledge of an event and work to prevent it from happening.” I smell where this is going. “Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?”
“We’re avoiding the more important issue, Gregory. I’m not the wrong people. I want to help keep you and your family safe. Everything I know tells me that the military will threaten and even endanger you and your family if you don’t give ITTCh to them after Friday’s science fair.”
“Then I’ll give it to them,” he says simply.
“It seems to be the easiest answer. If X leads to Y, and X-prime leads to Z, then X-prime is the logical path to take.”
“In an algebraic equation, yes, but there’s more at stake here. When a powerful group shows this much interest in anything, you have to examine their motivation. I’m concerned about what they might do with it.”
“Then I won’t enter the science fair,” he says, still sounding unruffled.
“Gregory, that’s not why I’m here. If I were sent to stop you from completing your project, I would know.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Finally, the voice of the frightened boy appears. In a way, it’s reassuring to me; it suggests that he does see the implications of this and that he may yet listen to reason.
I gesture toward a chair nearby him. He sits, and I sit close. “We’ll figure that part out. Anytime I’m sent on an assignment like this, it’s because I’m able to make a difference and prevent the bad thing from happening. I don’t always know ahead of time how I can do that, but I always know it’s possible. If you’re willing to trust me and keep me with you during the science fair, I swear to you that I’ll do everything possible to keep you and your family safe.”
He thinks about it for a moment, scans my face, looking for tells—anything that will convince him that I’m sincere or dangerous. “You don’t think I should drop out of the science fair?”
“No, I really don’t. I have every reason to believe that what you’ve created could change the world in positive ways. I don’t want you to miss out on that.”
“That’s okay. It helps you pay attention to important things.” He nods in response. “Tell me about the science fair. What are we looking at on Friday?”
“Well, it’s held at a convention center downtown. The winning projects from about seventy area schools compete for the countywide prize and a chance to go to the state science fair, and then regional and national.”
That’s not encouraging news. As strong as his project is, he could likely win competitions all the way up to national; protecting him could turn into a full-time job for me. Still, one thing at a time.
“Is there a central presentation of some kind in an auditorium, where each participant presents their project to an audience and the judges?” I ask.
“No. Everyone sets their project up at a table, and the judges come around to hear the presentations and watch the demos of each project.”
I like this answer; it motivates the seeds of a plan. “Hmm. Gregory, how reliable is ITTCh?”
“How reliable?” he repeats.
“Can you get it to work every time you want it to?”
“Once I get the synchronizer calibrated, it should work fine each time.”
“Can you make it fail on command?” I ask.
The question throws him for a minute. This is clearly someone not used to failing. “I suppose if I deliberately misalign the harmonic resonances, it would fail. But why would I want to do that?”
“Well, you want it to perform perfectly for the judges. No reason to spoil your chances of winning this thing. But when our friends from the military come around, I doubt they’re going to want to go out of their way to take something that’s defective. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yeah, I guess they wouldn’t, would they?”
“Okay, good. Now, let’s get this thing working perfectly, so it will work imperfectly when we need it to.”
He looks at me strangely, reminding me that I’m nowhere near qualified to work on this device. “I may not be a physicist,” I remind him, but I know my way around a tool box. I also follow orders pretty well. So you focus on the software, and I’ll quite literally tighten the nuts and bolts. We have two days to defy the laws of nature. That’s really not much time.”