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Chapter 10 Main Chapters Chapter 11

Interlude 10

The college at which Dr. Sanada worked hosted its own annual aeronautics and astronautics research conference, and both he and Dr. Rara had been among the interested attendees. Both of them had always enjoyed attending these conferences in the past because of their love for the idea of exploring outer space, and colonizing it if possible. Zinv's advanced technology gave them an opportunity to do exactly that, and their interest had turned professional.

Neither of the doctors wanted to miss the fancy dress party after the conference. Akane wanted to miss it, as she had the conference, but Ken had been so enthusiastic about it that she didn't want to ruin his fun by staying home. She also knew that Ken and Dr. Rara wanted to impress the scientists here, and she hoped that her presence might possibly contain their arguing or crazy theorizing.

Ayuko was enjoying herself, wearing an expensive and extravagant dress, pearls, and many other items of jewelry. Many of the items were ones Akane had never before seen in her sister's posession, and she knew what that meant for those unfortunate enough to engage her in conversation.

"Well, Rara," Dr. Sanada restrained himself from calling him an idiot, "this may be our big chance. We need talent like this to design and make the spacecraft."

"Of course we do, Sanada," Dr. Rara somehow managed to use his name instead of stupid. "This is where we can find the most knowledgeable persons in the field. I always say to hire the best and not worry about the cost."

"I'm not worrying about the cost either, since this is coming out of your money," Dr. Sanada smirked.

Dr. Rara surprisingly did not get riled. "It's my money, but our endeavour."

With that, they met a faculty member of the college. Dr. Sanada quickly introduced the man to the rest of the party. The unfortunate fellow made his fatal mistake when he complimented Ayuko on her jewelry.

"Why thank you," Ayuko was talking in a continuous purr. "I only just got them recently. One of my best purchasing experiences yet. This necklace is adorable, but I think it was overpriced. There never are any sales when you want to go shopping, are there? They wanted twice as much as it was worth. Of course, I usually don't take advantage of sales because usually they involve last year's fashions. This dress, though, is the very latest, even though I had to pay an exorbitant amount and the fabric..."

Akane liked clothes and jewelry herself, but her older sister had a tendency to talk the subject to death. It was awful to watch the subject himself as he realized what a trap he had gotten into with the compliment. Neither she nor her husband nor Ayuko's husband could unclench the trap now, so they stood there, making good use of patience learned in earlier, similar situations.

"Akane, were you with me then?" Ayuko asked her little sister, having come to a point in her story that she couldn't remember.

"This was a few weeks ago, wasn't it?" Akane asked, and Ayuko nodded. "Ayuko, I haven't been shopping with you for five months." As far as Akane was concerned, it wasn't nearly long enough. Ayuko's shopping expeditions ought to be packaged and sold as endurance workouts, Akane thought to herself.

"Oh, now I recall, it was when you and everyone were out at the island, for that test of the robot," Ayuko said.

"Test of a robot?" the faculty member asked desperately, hoping against hope that the shopping monologue could now be avoided. Unfortunately, before he could utter another word, Ayuko continued, "I nearly cried to have to return that bracelet I bought then, but the clasp was just so poorly made that it wouldn't fasten. Those clasps oughtn't to be made, they all ought to be the best kind of clasps, which are the..."

Dr. Rara nudged Dr. Sanada urgently and nodded into the distance. Following his gaze, Dr. Sanada nodded at Dr. Rara. Knowing perfectly well that there was no way to get Ayuko to stop, they bowed slightly and left, Akane matching them move for move. The faculty member was beyond their power to help.

The doctors and Akane walked towards their prime candidate for astronautical engineer of their project. Dr. Rara had managed to spot him only moments ago when he nudged Dr. Sanada.

Dr. Warai, the counterpart to Kent's advisor, turned to meet them. He recognized them instantly from previous years. "Good evening," he greeted them cordially, and they returned his welcome. He looked at their number with concern. "Dr. Rara, I trust your wife is feeling well?" he solicited.

"Yes, thank you. She's over there," Dr. Rara reassured him, and then noticed that his wife and the faculty member were gone. Then he spotted his wife mingling elsewhere, and the faculty member clinging to a different large group of people. He had made a miraculous escape, and knew it well.

Akane mentioned, "My husband always enjoys your presentation, Dr. Warai, and this year was another success, he tells me."

"Oh, yes, it was excellent," both Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada agreed simultaneously.

Dr. Warai chuckled slightly. "It always is a pleasure to have your approval, doctors," he told them, "but I can't take all the credit myself. My graduate students always help out a lot, and I've got a new one who's very promising." Dr. Warai looked about briefly, saw the promising student coming to join him, then said in a stage whisper, "Stop talking about him behind his back! His face is fine!" When the person arrived, he said in a voice full of pride, "I don't believe you've met my student Kent Slade!"

Kent had walked up with a glass. He knew perfectly well that his advisor had meant him to hear the comment about his face, and returned dryly, "Yes, my face was scarred in childhood by a horrible accident involving rabid lab rats."

His face was clearly unmarked, so Kent and all three doctors promptly guffawed. Akane simply stood there. That joke was horrifying and bizarre, not funny.

"Hello, ma'am," Kent greeted her. She responded, "Hello, Mr. Slade." He turned to Dr. Warai, "In a way, sir, I've actually met all of them, though not formally."

"You didn't tell me!" Dr. Warai complained.

"It was in the course of my handyman job, and I had no idea you knew them," Kent explained.

"I certainly remember," Dr. Rara massaged his finger though it was completely healed, "but we ought to introduce you properly," Dr. Rara decided. "I'm Dr. Hiroshi Rara, candidate for the Nobel Prize for Physics. This is my brother-in-law," he indicated Dr. Sanada, "a nobody with derivative ideas, and-"

Dr. Sanada pushed forward. "I'm Dr. Ken Sanada," he proclaimed, "and I'm the leading candidate for the Nobel Prize for Physics. You've met my wife Akane-"

"I'm the leading candidate for the Prize!" Dr. Rara snorted.

"Pleased to meet you both," Kent interjected before anyone else was cut off. "I noticed some construction in the lot next door to you, Dr. Sanada," he continued. "Is there going to be a new house there?"

Dr. Rara grimaced, while Dr. Sanada smirked and quipped, "No, they're still removing the rubble that was Dr. Rara's house. Of course, all his plans end in his own destruction."

Dr. Rara retorted, "Oh yeah? Well, I've still got an island laboratory, a house on the island, and a townhouse near you. What have you got?"

Dr. Warai frowned. "I've been meaning to ask you about that, Dr. Sanada. It was just difficult to know how to phrase it. There've been a lot of rumors about the destruction of that house next door to you."

Dr. Sanada leaned toward Dr. Warai. "Do you want to know how it happened?" he asked fervently.

Dr. Rara stepped closer as well. "We've been wanting to ask you something too. It's a great secret that could change our destiny as a species!" he passionately informed him.

Slade was unmoved by the theatricals. "I could leave, if you like," he offered.

Akane fixed her gaze on him. "Mr. Slade, as you're a student of his, and a promising one, we'd like you to stay. This offer applies to you as well, and I think you'll be very interested in the benefits."

The ground vibrated slightly, people stepped about nervously: then the motion ceased. There was a slight hesitant murmur in the crowds, and then everything returned to normal. Kent had been completely still, and now drummed the fingers of his free hand on his leg as he announced, "3 on the Richter scale."

"I'll bet you lunch that it's only 2.9," Dr. Warai offered.

"No thanks, doctor," Kent replied firmly. "I had a lot of experience with earthquakes back in California," he explained to the others. "Although I'm sure you're all much more familiar with them than I am. Dr. Warai likes to make a big deal of this for some reason."

"You say it like an oracle from the gods," Dr. Warai pointed out.

Kent mimicked his tone of voice as he had announced the scale: "Granted."

After yet more laughter, Dr. Warai returned to business and cautiously spoke, "Is it possible for you to tell me this secret before I make any commitments?"

Akane replied, "I think that'd be best, don't you?" She and Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada looked at each other a moment, then Dr. Rara told them, "All right. This is rather important, though. What if we got everyone together to talk this over?" Noting Akane's concern, he modified, "Well, everyone who can make it on a school day."

Dr. Warai and Kent exchanged a startled glance.

"Yes, Dr. Warai, if you, Mr. Slade, and any other of your graduate students you trust can come and meet us, that'd be wonderful," Akane continued.

"Who would we be meeting?" Dr. Warai inquired mildly.

Akane eyed them all seriously and stated, "Myself, Dr. Sanada, Dr. Rara, Ayuko, and Mrs. Nanjyoin."

Dr. Warai nodded, impressed by the last name.

She had foresightedly gotten from Mrs. Nanjyoin times that she would be available. Mrs. Nanjyoin had also made available one of her corporate meeting rooms for them all to meet in. All of them agreed upon one of the times Akane had listed.

Kent took out his personal digital assistant so he could record the appointment. Dr. Sanada, Dr. Rara, and Akane stared at it. Kent thought it was simple interest in technology, but Dr. Warai thought there was something else behind their interest. Kent placed his hand upon a small button, and a holographic interface was projected a short distance above the device. He rubbed the device with broad sweeping motions of his hand, guided by the holographic display, recording the appointment in just a few strokes, and then turned the device off. Noting the stares were continuing, he joked, "Nothing up my sleeve, and presto, I make it disappear." He placed it carefully in one of his pockets. This time even Akane laughed.

"Wow, that's a really neat device!" Dr. Sanada enthused. "Maybe we should get one for Kazuki!"

Kent considered. "I think he'd like it, but it is a bit expensive, being the latest model. How are Kazuki, Dee, and the Mitsukis? Oh, and Mrs. Nanjyoin?"

"They're all quite well, thank you," Akane thanked him.

"We don't want to keep you all to ourselves," Dr. Rara suggested, "so I suppose we'd best meet some other people."

"We'll see you at the meeting," Dr. Warai and Kent offered.

When they were a safe distance away, Akane, Dr. Rara, and Dr. Sanada looked at each other meaningfully.

"It looks a lot like the device Kazuki's father found at the construction site," Dr. Sanada reminisced.

"I remember similar hand interface technology being in that stone pyramid in my garden on the RaRa island, integrated into a design with a lot of circles," Dr. Rara reminisced. "I managed to figure out some principles of its operation, and for a while I had some people working on duplicating it before, uhhh." He didn't finish his sentence: they all knew it was before he ran away and started the RaRa Army.

Dr. Warai and Kent were standing together some distance away.

Kent patted the pocket where his personal digital assistant was quiescent. "There is some point to their wonder," he mused aloud. "I hadn't thought we had developed the technology for holographic interfaces. At least not so portably, and cheaply and reliably enough to be mass-produced. Yet here they are, ready before their time. It is a marvel."

"What do you think about the meeting?" Dr. Warai asked Kent.

"I think they're overly enthusiastic," Kent coolly commented, "perhaps even crazy. What do they have that's so important and worth so much secrecy? This is outer space we're talking about: uncharted territory. Nobody has any hidden shortcuts. People like us are just going to have to build the technology to get us there, in baby steps. They probably just want to hire us to round off some aerospace startup."

Dr. Warai shook his head, and talked at what for him was a moderate speed. "If they were starting a company, they'd want to make their company as well known as possible, especially to people like us. In all the years I've known them, they've never said anything about starting a corporation. Mrs. Nanjyoin runs businesses, but she's a friend of the family, and I think her capacity in this meeting is just as a friend. I imagine she'd insist on advertising if there were a business in the making. Name recognition is the life blood of a corporation."

Kent shrugged, granting his advisor the point.

"Haven't you heard the rumors about how that house got destroyed?" Dr. Warai continued, his words issuing rapidly. "They say that a huge android swam out of the ocean, shot across the land, and crashed right into that house! Now what if they have something like that? Something that really could get us out into space!"

Kent looked at Dr. Warai askance. "If I remember my science fiction correctly, giant androids from space usually arrive to destroy the planet, not transport us to space. Rumors are pointless to listen to. Tabloids are full of rumors, all extremely false and therefore useless."

He fell silent as he contemplated Dr. Sanada and Dr. Rara. The college had very few rumors about either of them, a fact for which he was extremely glad.

"I'll go to the meeting," Kent finally said, "despite their odd claims. At least I said I would go after hearing them act crazy, and didn't commit myself before they made crazy claims. I'm not going to set my expectations very high."

"I agree; we must be resolute in the face of disappointment," his advisor agreed.

Dr. Warai and Kent were joined by Narayanan.

"Good evening, Narayanan," Dr. Warai greeted him.

"How are you doing?" Kent asked of him.

"Good evening to you as well. How am I doing? Very well, thank you," Narayanan responded to them both.

"What are you doing here: this is the wrong discipline!" Dr. Warai teased him. "Your department's party is next month!"

Narayanan smiled at them. "What I am doing here is my own scientific observations. I wanted to observe how you space people enjoy yourselves. This is more lively than I thought."

"Tonight is one of the better parties," Dr. Warai told him, looking around the crowd. He noted that Ayuko was now moving towards them. He whispered simultaneously in the ears of Narayanan and Kent, "You must not mention clothes or jewelry to her!"

Ayuko now joined their threesome, and Dr. Warai hailed her, "Good evening to you! I'd like you to meet Narayanan, one of the graduate students here. Ayuko Rara is the wife of Dr. Rara, the dimensional physicist."

"How nice to meet you," Ayuko told Narayanan.

"The pleasure is mine," he returned.

"This is Kent Slade," Dr. Warai continued, "my newest graduate student."

"How do you do?" Ayuko asked him.

"Very well, thank you, ma'am," Kent replied.

"Your husband just set up a meeting with me," Dr. Warai told Ayuko. "He was being mysterious about it. Can you tell me what we'll be talking about?"

An odd grin appeared upon her face. "Probably we'll be talking about your specialty. Interstellar travel, and colonization. I note that, after all these years of my pointing this out to you, you haven't yet answered the question of who will own those colonies."

Dr. Warai was unconcerned. "It's rather hard to deal with issues like that in a white paper. That's what I always tell you. There's another point: I'd rather leave decisions like that to the people of future generations. We won't be getting beyond the solar system anytime soon, and they'll be the ones who'll have to live with the consequences. Also," he smiled, "it's the core belief of every engineer that whenever anything terrible happens with technology we designed, it's the politicians' fault."

Kent laughed at that, and Narayanan chuckled. Ayuko's expression amplified until it was nearly smug. "The nations of the world may be warring over who owns colonies in space sooner than we think," she intoned, delighting in her crypticity.

No one could figure out anything to say, and it was in this state that Naoko Yoshi joined them for some mingling. After the round of introductions, she pontificated, "One of the things I like most about formal dress parties is the formal dress. I think everyone should wear it more often."

Dr. Warai, Kent, and Narayanan shared a stricken glance.

"I agree in many ways, my dear," Ayuko began to speak. "On the other hand, some of the latest designer fashions can be excellent attire in many situations, even in casual situations. Slade, I was just thinking that perhaps with some adjustments to the seams and sleeves, there are some informal summer clothes just out of Paris that could suit you well."

Slade kept mum. Many of the words she was saying were escaping his grasp of the Japanese language. The context indicated they had to do with fashion. He had very little idea of what she was saying about fashion, and cared about it even less. Ayuko certainly didn't need him to speak or care, as she continued that herself: "Yes, although really, custom ordering would be for the best. The colors that the line comes in through standard channels would not be apropos for summer informal footwear. You'd need to order it in a different color, and possibly acquire a hat as well. A tasteful birthstone ring could round out the ensemble, assuming the color balance is good. Of course, that all depends upon which style of shoe is being used, and the length of the sock..."

He had lived through this before, Dr. Warai reminded himself.

Chapter 10 Main Chapters Chapter 11