From the author: Dr. Ferenczi's attempts to manufacture a special kind of super nitrate in the lab continue to fail. Is it sabotage? Yes, actually. It's definitely sabotage, and it is essential that she not ever succeed.
"Sometimes," the scientist said to Geoff, "I feel like there is someone who does not wish me to succeed."
Geoff froze in the midst of a calculation. Had he been discovered? What had he done wrong? How much did Dr. Ferenczi know? He only said, "What do you mean?"
"Ugh!" the scientist ejected, "It's like there is some force of will, some aspect of the universe which desires my failure! A hand reaching down from above to strike each trial with... problems!"
Geoff took a deep breath, relieved. His assignment with Dr. Ferenczi had not been easy. He'd been on deployment here for three years already, and it was becoming more and more difficult to think of plausible ways to sabotage her experimental trials. He knew the importance of his work though, and of being trusted by the scientist. "You don't actually believe that, do you, Doctor?"
The scientist sighed and sat heavily into the other chair at the console. She glanced through the large, plate-glass window above the controls into the sterile trial chamber. Geoff looked also. The chamber contained pressure vats of various sizes and powers. Some were large and free-standing, but most were sitting on stark white lab tables. At the table nearest the glass, a pressure vat was cracked, and green muck oozed from the crack.
"It doesn't make sense, Geoffrey." Ferenczi said.
"What's that?" Geoff asked, turning back to look at the scientist once more. The woman had taken off her glasses, and was rubbing the bridge of her nose with two fingers. For a moment, Geoff felt sorry for what he was doing to her. She wasn't an evil person. That's what he had expected when he had arrived. The media's depiction of Dr. Ferenczi, when he was a young man, ranged from mad-scientist to angry radical, working to create the world's deadliest weapon due to anger, radical philosophy, or at least an apathy toward her fellow humans. But the real woman was just a person, like any other. She was brilliant, and did poses a certain detachment, but she was neither crazy nor malicious, and she didn't seem to really know what she was going to create.
"The data," she said, and reached for the console to bring up colorful illustrations of the results from the most recent trial. "It should have worked. It should have worked eight iterations ago." she gestured vaguely toward the screen. "The data are contradictory. The simulations show that we only need 15 GpA to fuse the super nitrates. We've had to invent a whole new type of organo-stable pressure vat, just to exceed those levels, and it still hasn't brought us anything. If we manage much higher pressures, we're going to start accidentally making vats full of diamonds." Geoff laughed then, and the scientist smiled at his reaction. "I'm not kidding, Geoffrey..."
"I know," he said, not bothering to stifle his amusement. "It was just a funny image."
She sighed deeply again, and looked out at the vats. Her vats. An unexpected side-effect of his mission. He wondered if their creation would change anything.
"Doctor," Geoff started tentatively, "I've taken a position in another lab." He was lying, of course. His assignment was ending by necessity; it would be his birthday in a few weeks, and no one from the agency was ever allowed to work within their own time-line, even briefly. It was just too dangerous. He'd delayed Dr. Ferenczi for three years now, but someone younger than him would have to take up the job if that wasn't enough. "I've made a short list of people I would like to recommend as my replacement."
Dr. Ferenczi visibly sagged. "I understand, Geoffrey. I wouldn't want to be tied to this project anymore either, if I were in your place," she said, then looked over at him, "maybe I should give it up too, eh?"
Geoff tried to keep his face expressionless. If Dr. Ferenczi gave up on the project now...
She looked out the window again. "No," she said after a moment, "I guess I need to see this through. We'll miss you though. You know more about this project than anyone, second to me." She smiled. It was clearly forced. "Is the new position closer to home, at least."
"Yes," Geoff said, letting himself breath, "right outside of London actually.
"Good," she said, "It'll be nice for you to be near family." Geoff only nodded. "Will you be here still for next week's trial?"
"It'll be my last one." he said.
"We'll make it count then." she said.
"Of course," he said. "This will be the one that gets it right."
The scientist nodded, tight-lipped, and the two of them began to work on the calculations for next week's test, though Geoff already knew how it would go, how it had to go.
This story originally appeared in eSpec.