"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
"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?"