Chapter One: A Hard Night’s Day
“There is no way- no way!- you’re Browns are going to the Superbowl this year, Evans.” Marcus, Desmond and Giles were all sitting around the instrument room waiting for the results of their latest scan to come in. “You’re D-line is weak in the fourth and your QB has no idea what he’s doing!”
“Neither do you half the time but they still pay you!” Desmond responded. Desmond was an astrophysics research grad who had warmed the bench during his undergrad years at Stanford.
“Hey, hey, hey. I at least know what I’m doing three quarters of the time.” They all erupted in laughter. Doctor Marcus Oswald was known as a jokester. He claimed he had an audition set up with collegehumor once back when he was at NYU, but no one has been able to confirm nor deny this fact. “And besides, they will never be able to stop the Bengals passing offense!”
“Whatever! They already stopped it twice this year!” This was nothing more than a friendly argument between a sports fan and a comedian, Doctor O’Brien knew. Normally he would have stopped this conversation hours ago. But tonight they were scanning a rather barren, innocuous star with only one planet in the Goldilocks Zone. He peered back down to his comic book knowing it was better to let sleeping dogs- or in this case barking dogs- lay.
“Okay, okay. First off, one of those was a pre-season game, so it totally doesn’t count. The other time the Bengals got fucked by the refs.”
“Oh right, you’re a Cowboys fan so you’ve gotta find excuses for everything!” Desmond was making large, wild gestures to over-exaggerate his point. “It’s not the point!”
“Okay, mister still-not-a-Ph.D.; what is the point?” Marcus asked as he crossed his arms and rested his left leg on his right.
“Six consecutive Super Bowl victories!” Desmond shouted back.
“That’s the only argument you can come up with?” Marcus beamed a smile back.
“That’s the only argument I need, Marcus!” They all laughed at this before Desmond realized his breech of etiquette. “I mean Doctor Oswald.”
Marcus jokingly pointed a finger at Desmond. “And don’t you forget it, boy.” They all shared a chuckle. It was one of the most boring nights any of them had ever encountered. Normally they’d be working double time to run scans of all the planets in the stars habitable zone. But they had already catalogued this planet several times- granted with less accurate equipment- and had found no reason to suspect high levels of oxygen before. Might as well take a little work vacation they all figured. “Hey Doctor O’Brien, what are you reading?”
Giles looked up from his comic book and smiled as he removed his reading glasses. “Oh, it’s a classic. ‘Second Hand and the Butt Punchers.’” This elicited laughter from Desmond and Marcus before they realized he was serious.
“Seriously. That’s the superheroes name: Second Hand and the Butt Punchers?” Desmond asked.
“No, no, no, no. It’s the superhero group they all formed. You have Second Hand, whose the leader; AA whose the loose cannon; The Needler, who used to be their arch enemy but is now their technical expert; and Hash, their clairvoyant.” Doctor O’Briend calmly and intelligently responded.
“Didn’t that comic get, like banned?” Marcus asked.
“Only for twenty years and only in certain Muslim countries. Various special interest groups tried to subdue it here, but when the movie version made four point two billion dollars, they were quickly silenced.
“Wow, Doctor O’Brien. Just…wow. Never took you for a reader of controversial comic books.” Marcus shook his head.
“They’re not comic books, Doctor Oswald. They’re a series of graphic novels. It’s literature.” Doctor O’Brien smiled, knowing the general attitude towards comic books. He didn’t mind. It was enjoyable to him and he didn’t care what the others thought. Just like he didn’t care what they thought about him listening to J-Pop music. O’Brien was one of the most well-thought of, foremost scientists in the field of Astrophysical Chemistry, and yet he kept a blog about the most scientific way to make food for your cats. He didn’t even care when they discovered it. As a matter of fact, he was planning on publishing a book about it sometime in the future.
“Hey, so how do you think Doctor Archer’s presentation is going to go tomorrow Doctor O’Brien.” Desmond chimed in, gracefully changing the subject. “He’s been preparing for it for three months now.”
Doctor O’Brien put his reading glasses on and resumed the novel. “Honestly, Quentin could have prepared for this presentation his whole life. It still wouldn’t do us any good. I hope you two have your CV’s in order.”
“Why do you say that?” Desmond asked.
“Well for one, Doctor Archer has about as much public speaking ability as my 4 year old granddaughter.” O’Brien replied.
“What do you mean? I’ve heard him practicing. He sounds great.”
“Oh he practices well. But when ‘game-time’ comes, he nearly always chokes.” Marcus replied, jokingly using metaphors Desmond would understand.
“In reality, with proper presentation, this project could have received the funding it needed to get going fifteen or twenty years before it actually did. The only reason he was able to convince the last President to offer funding was because the Presidents scientific adviser was an old graduate student of Doctor Archers. I’m telling you, he just gets up there and freezes. He stutters when he’s up there. He actually stutters.” Doctor O’Brien mused.
“Yeah, like remember that one time he had that proposal for the military?” Marcus asked jokingly.
“Oh, god, we don’t talk about that.” O’Brien replied.
“At least not in front of Doctor Archer.” This elicited an eye roll from O’Brien. “Anyways, nube, here’s what happened.” Marcus said as he turned his attention on Desmond. “Doc Archer had this great idea- he was going to use the microwave emissions from our deep space telescope as a way to test a hypothesis about using microwave emissions as a fusion based weapons. Basically, according to all the data, it would be one of the coolest flippin’ weapons ever. Plus getting military money would mean more breathing room in our budget. So he set up a meeting with the top military scientific and financial brass. I’m telling you, nube, Doc Archer practiced his presentation a zillion times. I can still remember it word for word. But…”
O’Brien chimed in “Two minutes into the presentation he soiled himself.” The room burst out with laughter at this. In between laughs O’Brien managed to elaborate the story. “And the thing is- he just kept going. All nervously playing with his hair like he does, awkward stance and all…with an enormous and unmistakable piss stain running down the front of his pants.”
“We were there too! He actually took us with him! We saw the whole goddam thing!” Marcus interjected.
“Oh my god!” Desmond got out in between fits of laughter. “What did he do?”
“Well eventually one of our old grad students, Melissa, couldn’t take it any longer. She interrupted the presentation and blamed it on Doctor Archer’s ‘advanced years’, asked that he be excused. I wound up finishing it for him, but by then the damage was done.” O’Brien continued. The laughter continued for a few moments before the feminine voice came in.
“What are you three fart factories laughing so hard about?” Doctor Chambers asked like a suspicious mother.
“That time you had to save Doc Archer from pissing his pants in front of like…”
“Eight generals! Oh my god, that’s a classic!” Melissa finished. “I just felt so bad for the old guy, but I could barely stop laughing!” Their own current laughter continued for several more moments before it finally died down. “Anyways, Marcus, it’s your turn to fix the microwave.”
“I would make a joke about how I ran all the calibrations earlier, but I’m pretty sure your just trying to heat up a twinkie, aren’t you.” Marcus joked.
“Yeah, why do you heat up twinkies, Doctor Chambers?” Desmond asked.
“Because I like the taste you cum stain, now leave me alone! I’m hungry!” She answered defensively.
“Well maybe this will finally convince you to go on that diet, you fat cow!” Marcus burst out. It was an ongoing joke amongst them because Melissa was actually really skinny. Ethiopian skinny if that paints a good enough picture. “All you need to do now is hit them gym.”
“Screw you asshole, I run three miles a day.” She knew they were just poking at her, but she still couldn’t help but feel her womanly insecurities rise up.
“On what, you never eat anything you fuckin’ AIDS patient!” Marcus always loved delivering that punch-line.
“Oh, ha-ha, Marcus, Really funny. Seriously though, fix the fuckin’ microwave, I’m starvin’ Marvin’.”
“Oh, that’s right. I went to college for eight years and go two post-secondary degrees in Astrophysics and Nuclear Engineering so that I could come here, to beautiful, sunny Salt Lake City, and play engineer to your wayward microwave.” Marcus at this point was just pulling Melissa’s strings.
“Okay, if you don’t go fix the fuckin’ microwave, I’ll fix it by breaking it over your head!” She feigned a motion to hit him.
“Boss, you seeing this! Workplace violence! ‘Help, help! I’m bein’ repressed! Come see the violence inherent in the system!’” Marcus exclaimed, quoting his favorite Monty Python movie as he ran out the door.
“Jesus, you’d think we could just buy a new one but nooooo! Uncle Sam’s gotta spend that money of beans and laser sights for the Army which hasn’t seen combat in ten years.” Melissa started in. It was a rant the guys were all too familiar with. For a skinny chick, she sure did enjoy her microwaved twinkies. “I’m just sayin’. I’m just Super Saiyan. If I had the chance to go in front of those sniveling little weasels, I’d put them in their fucking place. There’d be no…” The beeping of the computer interrupted her.
“Doctor, we’d love to continue this one sided conversation, but we actually seem to have a little work to do. Desmond, if you will.” Doctor O’Brien directed.
“Sure thing, Doc.” Desmond rolled his chair over to the computer read-out screen.
Melissa continued, whispering. “I’m just saying, a new microwave’s like sixty bucks at Wally World. They can’t spare sixty bucks so I can indulge my one sin in this Mormon hell hole.”
“Why don’t you just use a Bunsen Burner?” Doctor O’Brien asked.
“Oh really, funny, heir doctor. And besides, we only have, like, three of those.” Melissa hissed. “And they take forever. I’d never be able to enjoy a twinkie on my breaks with one of those things!”
“Not with that attitude…”Doctor O’Brien started.
“Um…guys…could you…could you take a look at this for me please?” Desmond chimed in.
Melissa wheeled her chair over. “Well technically I’m still on my lunch, but whatever. Let’s see…hydrogen…carbon dioxide…wait. What? No fucking way! Run the analysis again.” They both sat tensely for a few moments as Desmond plugged the numbers back in.
“What is it?” O’Brien asked from behind his comic book. “Guys?”
Silence permeated the air as the two junior scientists analyzed the results. Melissa turned and looked at him with shock in her eyes. “Um, Doctor O’Brien…we need to book a flight to Washington. Now.”