Friday, September 20, 2013

To the Moon - Part 2

He was entirely disappointed to see the elevator open onto a reception area, complete with potted plants, a dish of candy, and a pleasantly-average-looking young lady seated behind a desk.  The sign on her counter identified her as Cheryl.  She looked up and smiled at him as he stepped out of the elevator, rather rumpled, and stuffing his papers back into his bag. 

"Can I help you, sir?" she asked sweetly.

"Maybe, yes.  What floor is this?"

"Floor, sir?  I'm not sure what you mean.  Do you have an appointment?"

"No, well, yes, but not here, I think.  What floor of the building are we on?"

"It's just one level, sir; do you have an appointment?  What's your name?  I can look you up on the schedule."   She blithely opened an appointment book and tapped her pencil in it.

"Crawford, thank you, but I don't think I have my appointment here.  It's on the fourth floor."

"Well, since we only have the one, you'll probably be late!" she giggled.  "I don't see you in here, but the director is available now, if you'd like to step in and see him."

He was entirely puzzled by this turn of events, but following the mantra of an old physics professor "confidence before competence, if you know what I mean", he simply smiled and said "That would be great, thank you, Cheryl."

She bustled out of her seat and over to a heavy mahogany door and knocked twice.  "Come in" boomed a deep, leonine voice.

"Oh good, he'll see you know, sir!  Have a great day!" She bustled back to her desk, and as Crawford walked to the door he saw her pick up a deck of  cards and resume a hand of solitaire.  He pushed the heavy door open, revealing a spacious office, paneled in dark wood, with large, arching windows on the far wall.  Behind a deep desk that had been shaped from a cut round belonging to some giant tree, complete with bark encased under the finish, sat a man in a well-pressed suit, writing furiously with a fountain pen.  He looked up, and his gray eyes clouded.

"I do not believe I have had the pleasure," boomed that deep, rich voice.  The man half rose and extended a meaty hand that engulfed Crawford's and shook it vigorously.

"Crawford, sir, Michael Crawford, of the Fundamental Research division.  I work out at the Palo Alto facility, mostly."

"Crawford, eh!  I've read you, sir, and I'm very glad you stopped by.  I am Delvins, John Delvins, head of the Lunar group.  I was expecting to see the digest of your report today, but you were good enough to come in person.  You've found us out, you have!" Delvins sat back in the brass-studded leather swivel chair and chuckled, interleaving his fingers and shaking his head.

"Found you out, sir?"  Crawford looked sideways at the man behind the desk, then looked straight at the windows behind the man, then stopped breathing.  Out the window, a gray-white plain stretched away into the distance, until a cliff edge shot up abruptly, only to give way to an immensity of blackness rising up above the horizon.  Crawford gulped air a few times, and forced his eyes back to meet the twinkling ones locked on him from behind the cut tree desk.

"Yes, you found us out, you scamp.  Your albedo measurements were too good, and they caught us fiddling with our window shades and radiators.  Of course you did not know that, and your work would have been deliberately dismissed as noisy data, and you would have been frustrated and gotten on with your life, but here you are and now you know!  Now, tell me how you got here."  Delvins pierced him with a glance that was as quizzical as it was accusative, and drummed a tattoo with his giant fingers on the giant tree.

Crawford blinked a few times, and could only fumble out "I took the elevator, sir."

Delvins furrowed his brow and pushed a white button in a perforated brass plate, "Cheryl, is the elevator running?"

A moment, a crackle, then "Yes, sir, it seems so.  The door just opened when I pushed the button."

"Hmm, well that's new.  They ought not to have started service without telling me.  Crawford, they gave you a key?"

"No, sir," stammered Crawford, "I just pushed the button labeled 'MOON', and it went."

"We have a button labeled 'MOON'? This is too much.  Truly?"

"Well, they had taped over the label, but I peeked."

Delvins began to laugh, shaking the chair, the room, the very moon itself.  "You rascal! And those lazy maintenance men!"  Delvins continued his tectonic mirth for some time, before settling down and wiping his eyes with a starched white handkerchief with a golden-stitched JD in the corner.  "Well, Crawford, you work for me now.  Congratulations."

Crawford found himself entirely without confidence or competence, and could only shake the proffered hand and mumble a thank-you.  He was entranced by the window, by the arid stark moonscape made so simple when framed by potted plants, by the star field that was just visible around the edges of the black and sunlight sky, and by the confounded familiarity which this man Delvins had with it all.  Crawford had studied the moon since boyhood, joining astronomy clubs, buying and upgrading his telescopes, taking a degree in astrophysics with honors, working for the CPI for six years, and this man Delvins officed on the moon.  It was almost too much.

"Crawford, go talk to Cheryl about your first-day packet and get an office set up.  I'll want you up to speed soon, but you have a good background, and I don't doubt that you will be a fine addition to my department.  And..."  Here his voice dropped and he leaned over the desk, wagging a menacing finger at Crawford's chest  "up here, do not push any buttons unless you know what they do!"  He chuckled as he sat back down and turned his attention back to his writing, scribbling away on cream-colored paper like a man possessed.  Crawford turned and slowly walked out of the office, casting a lingering glance out those tall windows and into space.

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