Tuckby then began expounding the mathematics behind his discovery of Interim Space, a non-place which exists between the smallest possible division of time. It took more than forty years and thousands of ferrets, but he finally made the breakthrough of firing two concentrated bursts of tachyons to… do something or other, Parvo had no clue, he had zoned out as soon as the Fudd guy started jabbering.
Had there been signs, with Kelly? Some subtle indicators he might have noticed had he not been blinded by love and six-inch-long skirts? She had seemed to favor pony tails a lot, but that could have been a Japanese thing. And she did disappear between 6:30 and 3:30 each day but she had assured him that was the early shift at the pesticide taste-testing facility where she worked but would never let him visit.
Tuckby was now waving his arms like a pissed-off windmill and raving something about time-space and induced causality-suppression and yadda yadda yadda. Her skin was awfully clear. And she did have that habit of waiting outside when he bought booze… No, this was insane, it was one of Buchanon’s tricks. Parvo’s job was fine, Kelly was waiting for him, he wasn’t going to get railroaded into volunteering for some idiotic science project with Dr. Wabbit Season, here. Parvo took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and started listening again.
“–which is why doing so would be the most dangerous thing imaginable, with consequences for our entire solar system, so don’t ever, ever do that,” Tuckby finished, wild-eyed and breathing heavily.
“Sure, no problem, doc,” Parvo said. “But look, I’m really not going to JUMPING JUDAS IN A JELLYBEAN BASKET!” he yelled, pointing. Behind the doctor the table had… done nothing at all, really. One second it was empty, the next there was a small wire cage containing a briefly contented ferret, which immediately became a very agitated ferret at seeing and smelling humans who had, as far as the ferret was concerned, just appeared. Sunflower hurled herself to the far end of the cage and proceeded to evacuate her bowels and bladder with alarming alacrity and volume, following her biological imperatives and imparting a valuable metaphor about science in the process.
Tuckby clapped his hands together. “Ah, there’s my girl! Just like we last saw her.”
“When… when was that?” Parvo asked.
“Six months and one day, exactly. We had originally set it for six months but when the time came near one of my techs hit the snooze button instead and, well, it threw us all off.” Behind him one of the techs looked away, whistling, while the others mumbled and glared at him.
“But she’s in perfect shape, so you should be just fine.”
“That’s great to hear, doc.” Parvo shook his hand and turned to face Buchanon. “What the hell is he talking about?”
The older man produced a cigar which he proceeded to light despite the many posted signs explaining why what he was doing was wrong on a moral, physical, and scientific level. He took his time. Once a few acrid blue puffs were floating between them, he grinned at Parvo. “Do you know why we’ve never reached the stars, Vince?”
“Besides those. We’ve never gone to the stars because we don’t live long enough. And we need to. We need to spread humanity out as far and as wide as we can, because even with the remarkable strides we made toward turning our planet into a paradise there’s always that chance of global disaster. We need the stars, Vince. But at our best speeds it would take hundreds of years to get to the closest one, and bad things happen when you put a colony of people in a can for a few dozen generations. So we need a way to put people on ice, so to speak, for the trip.”
“Right, cryo, no big deal.”
“Cryonics is an excellent answer if your question is ‘how do I freeze this dead guy?’ It’s not so good if you want to defrost one. Ice forming between body cells, ischemic injuries, a certain amount of accidental breakage, cryo just isn’t an option yet. But this device lets us put people in stasis, on hiatus, for as long as we want so we can send ‘em wherever we want. So that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Parvo was getting a very bad feeling that the smell in the room wasn’t all from Sunflower. Of themselves his hands started balling into fists. “And what is that, exactly, Admiral Buchanon?”
“Install a Tuckby HyperConditional Interimator in a generation ship. A ship with a working colony, set up and ready to go. A ship that needs a fully qualified captain.”
Parvo blanched. “No! No! A thousand hells of no,” he said frantically, backing away through the techs with his hands held up in front of him as if to ward off evil. “No way are you sending me anywhere, much less to another star.” He grabbed the littlest tech and held him up as a whimpering shield.
“Come on, Vince, it’ll be just like taking a vacation in Barbados, if Barbados was 26 trillion miles away. There’s sunlight there, I know you like sunlight–”
“Get away from me!” Parvo began swinging the tech in a wide, shrieking arc in front of himself. “I’ll use this, this–”
“Rothman!” the tech screamed.
“–this Rothman, if I have to. He’s armed and ready!”
“Agh!” Rothman yelped.
“Vince, put the man down. We don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“You know, I really kinda do,” Parvo said, easing himself backwards toward the far door.
“He really kinda does!” Rothman yelled.
“But we both know you’ll do this,” Buchanon said calmly. “Because you’re an adrenalin junkie, and you need this.”
“I’m a what?”
“You crave excitement, adventure, derring-do. You have a need for speed that working at a restaurant, however nice, just won’t give you. Eventually you would have discovered a conspiracy amongst the waiters or rushed off to save the life of a princess who was abducted during the soup course. You can’t help it.”
“You’re lying! I crave boredom! I demand sameness and regularity and conformity! It’s relaxing, dammit!”
“When two guys tried to rob the place, why did you beat them up, track down their boss, beat him up, and then assault his family and his entire 25th reunion party? Instead of, you know, calling the cops?”
“I love my job!” Parvo said, a bit helplessly.
“So why did you come here?”
Parvo stopped still, releasing the Rothman to cartwheel into a work center. There was a spray of sparks and a brief scream. “What do you mean? You sent a message.”
“And you could have sent one back, or called me, or e-mailed, or just ignored it. You’re right, I have no control over you. Instead you took the first chance to leave your beloved job, did an interballistic jump instead of a conventional plane or even a bus, and came here to punch me.” The admiral, all elegance and assuredness, stepped forward to look Parvo in the eye. “You want this, Vince.”
“Tell me, old man.”
Buchanon smiled broadly and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re going to save the world.”