Eddie sat beside Armelle, having long since gotten bored of walking circles around the diner. A guy could only stare at pictures and framed newspaper clippings for so long before going stir crazy. Of course, he had to admit listening to Armelle and Vančura would drive him just as crazy, but it was a different variety of crazy.
For the most part, Eddie wasn’t a thrill-seeker. Variety being the spice of life, he was quite happy to endure a bland existence. However, with a full belly and nothing worse than cops to worry about, he was willing to court a little variety for a change. Things seemed to be getting interesting.
He played idly with a salt-shaker, listening to Vančura sort through the tangled story Armelle was telling.
“Let me get this straight. You published a paper about a theoretically feasible time-machine on your website. Somebody, somehow, put aside science fiction long enough to realize it could actually work. The government created the Sandglass project to build it.”
Armelle nodded. He nodded in reply, without a trace of sarcasm or disbelief.
“Okay, with you so far. But you lost me at the patent infringement lawsuit.”
She took a sip of coffee, made a face, and put the cup down.
“I hope they dispose of this stuff with a hazmat team. Okay, how did that lose you? It’s the usual way to shut somebody down if they’ve stolen an idea. It’s a roundabout way to keep time-travel out of the wrong hands, but I had to try. The lawsuit fell through because I published the paper before the patent was accepted.”
Vančura blinked at her. Eddie grinned to himself; they were doing a lot of that since they met her. Of course, he had to admit there was a good reason for it. He considered blinking, too, but decided it would be better if he pretended he didn’t know how patents worked. A guy never knew what information might turn out to be an ace in the hole.
Armelle looked from Vančura to Eddie and back, then gave them a bewildered frown.
The big man downed a gulp of coffee, which seemed to lubricate the seized gears in his head. He spoke slowly and carefully, as if to make sure he wasn’t dropping any words as he went.
“The lawsuit… fell through because… the patent hadn’t been accepted? Are you serious?”
“Of course. You can’t argue patent infringement if there’s no patent. And publishing it where just anyone could read it was a mistake, but I was awfully excited. I had noses I wanted to rub in it.”
Eddie coughed into his salt, then gave it a mournful look. She eyed him suspiciously, then turned back to Vančura. With her attention elsewhere, Eddie’s cough turned into a grin.
Vančura had conquered the urge to blink again. It was getting repetitious.
“That must have been a shock.”
She gave him a puzzled smile.
“Losing your lawsuit to the same people responsible for processing your patent application. I mean, there was a pretty good chance you’d have won, if it was just a top-secret military project you were up against. Once they got the patent office involved, though, you didn’t stand a chance.”
He shook his head and shrugged sympathetically.
“When they play dirty like that, what can you do?”
The glare she gave him could have melted diamonds, but it was wasted on Vančura.
“You don’t have to be sarcastic about it. I knew there wasn’t much chance, but it had to be tried. The absence of patent was just the excuse they gave, but it convinced anyone who wasn’t looking too closely.”
Eddie frowned, trying put words to the problem in her statement. Vančura beat him to it, so he just nodded supportively.
“You’d have been better off if you hadn’t tried.”
Armelle scowled at them both in turn.
“Some of us prefer not to resort to criminal methods if we don’t have to.”
The veiled insult had as little effect on the big man as her glare had. As for Eddie, it might have injured his feelings a little, if he’d recognized it for what it was.
“Well, your nice, law-abiding observance of the rules put you square on their radar. As the mathematician, you were just a face behind a digital publication. The lawsuit made you a threat.”
Vančura gave her an apologetic smile.
“Not much of a threat, but even a small one can gum up the works very badly in something like Sandglass. After all, people with top-secret projects don’t usually like the sort of publicity a lawsuit generates.”
She started to reply, but he interrupted her with a sudden frown.
“Hold on. Speaking of top-secret, how did you know they were building it in the first place?”
He got a cheerful smile in response.
“Oh, the STAd makes a very unique signal when it’s powered on. It doesn’t even have to be actively tweaking the temporal stream; just powered on. The signal is basically a massive anomaly across pretty much every possible energy spectrum. It’s weakest in the visible light and auditory ranges, but the radio signal is detectable for thousands of miles. When I published the paper, I set up a computer to listen for an STAd signal and alert me if it ever picked one up. It was only a matter of time before someone tried to build it and I wanted to know about it.”
Vančura nodded thoughtfully. It even made sense to Eddie, even though he wasn’t paying much attention. If you were going to release the plans for a time-machine to the general public, keeping tabs on their progress was just good sense.
“If y’didn’t want somebody buildin’ d’knothole, why’d you publish d’plans?”
Eddie frowned, then rephrased his question.
“I mean, why’re you tryin’ to stop d’government from buildin’ d’thing?”
Across the table, Vančura’s eyebrows rose and he leaned back in his chair.
“Now that is an interesting question, indeed. You do seem to be quite sanguine about the idea of a time-machine being built, except you seem to be doing your best to sabotage the Sandglass project.”
End Chapter 11 – Part 1
Go to Chapter 11 – Part 2
1,029 words. Wow. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of story right there. It might be the biggest single installment of ‘Twicebound’ published to date. I hope you enjoyed it!
Want to read the previous installments of ‘Twicebound’? They’re right here!
Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine