Sam had his team working on technologies he secretly intended for the shipyard: higher capacity batteries, more efficient pumps, and stronger rivets, among them. That these technologies would have applications beyond shipbuilding was obvious. Now he was ready to get them started on another huge endeavor.
“Let’s assume something.” He glanced up at the group of scientists and research assistants reposed around the laboratory. They were all watching him, used to these meetings by this time. He would call them to attention, throw out a few ideas and ask them to come back with something. A way to invent it. A way to use it. Prerequisites. Whatever they could think of. They often laughed and shook their heads, but a job in Sam’s laboratory was the most coveted spot a local science student could get upon graduation. Graduate students clamored for part-time work. Word had gotten around that he even wanted women to apply, that he would hire them and pay them the same as the men, and let them do the same work.
Sam encouraged results, but the truth was, if they managed, just a few times a year, to invent something and sell it to a manufacturer, they made enough to support their work for the rest of the year. They came up with results a lot more often than that. Sam’s ideas were often bizarre, sometimes terrifying, but if a researcher followed through, the universe seemed to open up. Now they waited to see what he would throw at them, next.
“Let’s assume our world is heading for extreme technological change. That we’re going to discover ways to travel quickly, communicate faster and more clearly, learn about news from halfway around the world almost the minute it happens. Assume Jules Verne is right and we’ll explore space, travel to the moon.” There was a stir around the room and Sam grinned. It seemed that no matter the era, a scientist always got excited about space exploration. Why was that?
He continued, “What is the one thing we need in great supply, to accomplish all of this?”
He waited. A few of them looked at others, but most seemed lost in thought, staring at the floor or wall. Finally, Ellen Brendan spoke up. “Energy,” she said, and raised an eyebrow at him.
He wanted to cheer. Not only a right answer, but from one of the women on the team. He clapped his hands together and rubbed them.
“Indeed! Energy is exactly right! Where are we going to get it?”
“Rock oil.” Those words were the current name for petroleum, and they were spoken by several of them at once, the others all nodding in agreement. Sam put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the table behind him. Everyone got quiet. When he did this, they knew they had the wrong idea.
But they were frustrated. “Why not rock oil?” Alan Mackey gestured to the globe in the corner. “It’s everywhere, in nearly infinite supply. Companies are making impressive gains in extraction and refinement. It’s the way of the future, no doubt about it.”
Sam stood straight and paced for a minute. He had to go carefully, here. But if he were very, very lucky, he’d be able to completely turn the tide of several future crises. Of course, humans could always find other ways to screw things up, but that wasn’t his problem. He stopped and looked up at his team.
“All right. Let’s make another assumption.” He saw their amusement, but hey, he was the boss. “Let’s assume there isn’t enough rock oil. Let’s assume that there are problems we don’t know about, yet. Let’s just assume we can’t use oil. What else is there?”
With the air that they were humoring him, they began shouting out ideas.
They all laughed and Ellen spread her hands. “Well that’s how silly the other suggestions are. None of them can provide enough energy, all the time.”
Sam spoke over the agreeing murmurs. “You may be right. But let’s start there. With any energy supply, we need a way to put the supply into a usable form, store it and distribute it. Agreed?”
“Let’s do that with all three of our more practical suggestions. Sorry Ellen—no elephants.” He paused to let the laughter recede. “Think of ways to capture, develop, store and distribute energy from these sources. Wind and water have strong potential for local energy use, but sunlight just might be usable everywhere except for the southern and northern extremes. Let me give you a hint about sunlight.”
He watched them for a moment. Were they ready for this? “You’re going to think in terms of mechanics: what machines and processes do we need to use sunlight? That’s okay. I want to see your ideas on that. But also consider how the planet, and all living things on it, use sunlight. How is it captured, stored, altered? Can we replicate that?”
He left them to it.
“So, Altair, still twisting the minds of our youth?”
Sam sighed and turned toward the voice approaching him as he was on his way to see the Dean of the Science Department at Queen’s. He’d noticed Riley in the office he just passed and had hoped he’d sneak by. No luck today.
“Dr. Riley. You’ll be happy to know that despite your efforts, I’m able to set them right in a relatively short time, once they come to work for me.”
Riley’s face darkened as he glowered at Sam. “You’re not getting all of them, Altair. I’ve managed to send some to safe employment on the continent.”
“Excellent!” Sam leaned forward solicitously. “Is there anything I can do for you, sir? I’m on my way to a meeting.”
“I intend to discuss your paper at the regents meeting later this month, Altair,” Riley told him.
Sam’s eyebrows nearly obtained orbit. “My paper? I have no paper out, Dr. Riley.”
Riley stood straight. “It makes no difference if one of your team wrote it, sir. You and I know the truth behind the work you are doing.” He reared back a little and examined Sam as if he were a specimen. “Capturing the sun? Is your plan to destroy the earth, Altair? Is that why you were sent here?”
Sam’s laugh was spontaneous and amazed. He found he couldn’t stop to even respond, so he just held up a hand, turned it into a wave, and stepped back to his path. He chuckled all the way to the dean’s office.
Later, Sam settled into his chair in the library at Dunallon, for a satisfying read of Einstein’s latest letter. Their correspondence had become a source of deep enjoyment for him, and he thought, for Einstein as well. Without ever acknowledging, in so many words, that Sam and Casey had traveled through time, Einstein had simply started writing as if it were all true and a simple fact of life. This allowed them to discuss all the ramifications, all the theories, all the dangers inherent in living in another time.
Although his theories were still new, and he had not completely worked out his General Theory, Einstein leaned toward the idea that Sam’s experiment had created an alternate universe. In that case, he admitted, he couldn’t see the point of trying not to change things. From his point of view, the future hadn’t happened yet, so he was open to any suggestions.
Sam loved Einstein’s sense of humor and joviality. Their letters touched on all subjects, including their own lives, frustrations, and joys. Sam wrote often about Casey and Tom, eventually telling him about Titanic and what they were doing. This was in response to Einstein once again inviting Sam to visit, so they could meet and perhaps work together.
“I will come out one day,” he had written, “but not until this situation is resolved. I’m actively helping Tom with the ship and with what I know happened that night. And I can’t leave Casey to face this alone. She is already afraid, but if we fail…I will never be able to leave her. She will need me, and I will stay with her until I die.”