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Slow Leak

"Have you had any luck with the leak?"

Wilder looked up from the console with mild annoyance, his train of thought derailed by the interruption. Stiles stood in the doorway, ever-present clipboard in hand.

"Well, yes and no," Wilder replied. "I've got a pretty good handle on how big it is, and I think I know where the missing flux is going, but I'm not sure where it's coming from." He yawned and stretched elaborately, producing an alarming series of pops and cracks as he worked out the kinks.

"So, then - how big is it?" Stiles prodded.

"Microscopic. Just barely big enough to show up on the alarm circuits, and intermittent. It doesn't show any growth trend, either - it's a minor annoyance, as far as we're concerned."

Stiles nodded. "You don't think it's a problem, then?"

"Certainly not for us. We've got more than enough power to maintain our speed and course - the energy lost to the leak is miniscule, not even enough to keep a cup of coffee warm. I should probably just tweak the alarm setting a little higher and ignore the whole thing."

"Where is it going, then?" Stiles cocked his head curiously, and Wilder bit back a groan, trying to come up with a way to explain quantum mechanics in bite-sized terms.

"We're leaking quanta into the timestream, as far as I can tell," he began. "As I said, the energy transfer is so tiny as to be negligible, and I can tell for certain that we're not leaking into our own timestream - you could think of the quanta as being charged, in a way, and they're repelled by our timeline." Wilder winced, imagining how disgusted his Temporal Mechanics professors would be by such an oversimplified, lame explanation. Stiles seemed to eat it up, however.

"So the leak can't affect us, in other words."

"Right." Wilder debated trying to explain higher dimensions and p-branes, then decided against it. "Tiny little bits of temporal flux are being lost to the timestream, where they'll rattle around a bit and then attach to some other timeline."

"Hmmm, hmmm..." Stiles stared off into space, and Wilder mentally crossed his fingers, hoping to avoid getting into any more detail. "Anyway, the real reason I came down here is to bring you the latest details on the sensor modifications from the research group," Stiles continued brightly. "They want to try out some enhancements right away."

Wilder took the printout from Stiles' hand, scanned it briefly, and turned to face him with eyebrows raised.

"They want to screw with the sensor array IN FLIGHT? That's just plain nuts!" Wilder dropped the document on the console.

Stiles offered a placating smile. "Now, you know no one would ever suggest compromising flight safety. We just want you to review the proposal, see what's involved, and write up an action plan to see how far we can go to accommodate their requests."

Wilder ran his hands through his hair, taking deep breaths.

"All right, fine. I'll take a look."

Stiles backed a step away from the door. "Johnson told them you'd have something put together by this afternoon..."

Wilder shot Stiles a sharp glance. "This afternoon, huh? Well, that's just dandy. Do you want me to deal with the leak, or spend the day chasing this goose?"

Stiles took another step back, raising the clipboard like a shield. "The leak is important too, of course - just do what you can." With that, he stepped around the corner and made for the lift.

"Do what I can, my ass," muttered Wilder, picking up the latest pipe-dream from Research and rolling his eyes. Two paragraphs into the equations, the alarm panel chirped. Wilder looked up at the console in annoyance, noting that another packet of flux had shot off into the timestream God-knows-where.

"Ahh, hell with it.." muttered Wilder, punching keys and resetting the alarm threshold.

* * *

The day was warm and sunny, and James watched the birds chirping in the tree by the window. Elbowing Sara, his neighbor in Miss Tucker's third-grade spelling class, he pointed at the clock at the front of the room.

"Do you think this day is EVER going to end?"


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