Does she try and tell it to him straight and to grow up and take it like a man? Did she believe that was the right reaction or the he had it in him to do such a thing? I mean it was as close to his literal mother without being his biological mother.

“Once we get back to the states, we’ll take good care of her. You’ll see,” she said.

“She shouldn’t have been on this trip to begin with.”

“It was an accident, J.J. It could have happened to any of us.”

“I know you’re right.” He sat up straighter and gathered himself. “We need to finish the work, so it wasn’t all worth nothing. I’m heading back to the hotel to sift through the data.” He got up to leave.

“I can go with you. Plus I’m already crunching the data as we speak. I have a program running. Though in reality we need Ram, he seems to be the only one who makes any real sense of this stuff. To me it’s just a bunch of unrelated data points.” He nodded and she took his hand as they both left.

*    *    *

“What do you mean why didn’t I close it?” Ramsden said incredulously. “I had no idea water would come shooting out of it. It caught me off guard.”

“I know. I know. We were all excited for the find. And Marion would have happened no matter what.” Jude said as he gave a big sigh and leaned further down in the chair.

“Not if she had stayed back like usual. But I talked her into going. How could I not go on such an important discovery without my team. . .my family with me? That’s what I told her, which is when she finally gave in and agreed to come along.” Ramsden turned his head away as his eyes began to tear up.

“What all happened anyhow? I don’t remember once I got up top with the rest of you,” Ramsden asked, still facing away from Jude.

“After they lifted us out by chopper, we brought you and Marion to this hospital. Marion’s body is already enroute back to the States via plane. We obviously couldn’t leave till we knew what was going on with you. Mr. Jainukul called and J.J. spoke to him. He apparently said he’d cover the cost and help with Marion once she arrives. But he wanted to meet with you ASAP when you get back to the States. He seemed optimistic you’d be fine.”

“Physically I’m feeling better by the minute actually. Did we get good footage?”

Jude perked up and smiled. “We got great video and some of Silvia’s stills were dead on from the side that actually opened. As soon as you get your strength you need to prepare your presentation for A.S.E.R.T. Council meeting next week. They have to believe now and lift the bans off some of the locations we were hoping to visit.”

“Fat chance. You know Cantano disapproves of me and my methods. True he’s only one council member, but he’s the chairman. Maybe the video will help, but. . .” Ramsden trailed off.

“It’ll work out. When it comes to you, things usually do.” Jude stood and started for the door. “I’m heading back to the hotel, we’ll check on you tomorrow.”

“Gotcha,” Ramsden said and smiled back at his friend.

“And Ram?,” Jude started as he stood in the doorway, “J.J.’s taking it hard. Be easy on him.”

“I know. I loved her too.” Jude nodded and then left.

*    *    *

Cantano Qualifaro entered the San Francisco branch of the Association of Scientific Exploration, Research and Theory (ASERT). This particular division of the global organization was focused on think tank. Since most of the work here was non-profit and political focused, Cantano had never really been to this facility before. But there was a meeting of the minds that required heads of various divisions to spend the week in the city of the three H’s as Cantano called it: Homeless, Homosexuals and Hills. He cared for none of what San Francisco and it’s “progressive ways” offered him. He was a man of the rules. A man that relied on tried and true and tested methods. Granted he was never the best amongst his scientific peers, nor had he made any actual contributions to the scientific community other than he was the best at playing the game of egos and red-tape that bogged down the rest of the scientific community.

The ASERT offices were nondescript, with a small stone sign near the street announcing the building’s use, but it looked like any other five story glass structure in the city. He made his way through the revolving doors to a waiting Simon Carter. As expected, Simon was wringing his hands waiting for Cantano. Relief flooded the man’s face when Cantano entered the building.

“Oh wonderful. Good morning sir. Did you have any problem finding the place?”

“If I had, you would have heard about it. Good thing for you you sent me a driver. Where is the council meeting for today’s reviews?”

“Uh, yes sir. Please follow me sir, the council is meeting in the Golden Gate room.” The two men began to walk through the lobby toward the elevators. Their reflection showing back at them through the highly polished tile floors. The two story high ceiling gave the feel of a larger building on the inside then it obviously was on the outside. First they checked in with the security desk that stood between the the doors and the elevators.

“Here is your visitor’s badge and welcome to San Francisco,” said the thick guard behind the desk. Cantano didn’t know if the man meant it or was being sarcastic. Cantano chose to give a curt nod and continue on his way. Simon scuttled ahead, leading the way to the elevator. They entered the elevator and Simon pushed the button for the fifth floor.

“Golden Gate room? Who was the genius that thought up that originality?” asked Cantano.

“It was a vote amongst the office staff. They had several themes to choose from. I thought the theme on the planets would have worked, but the popular vote was for key locations around this city,” Simon explained.

“It was a rhetorical question, I really don’t care. Are we at least going to get a scheduled lunch break today or is it back-to-back reviews?”  Cantano chided.

“Only three reviews today. Since most of the efforts at this location work off charitable funding, the council isn’t bothered with this facilities work. Its the private labs in the area that have some proposals they need approval on.”

“When is Ramsden Burr scheduled?” Cantano didn’t both with keeping the dislike out of his voice when he asked.

“Actually Dr. Burr is first up in about fifteen minutes, followed by Dr. Holden, then lunch, then lastly Dr. Eves.” The elevator bell dinged announcing they had arrived. The doors opened and directly across the hall from the elevator were two double doors. The doors stood open with several tables seen beyond setup in a line for a panel, with a lone chair and whiteboard in front of these tables.

Cantano put on his warmest smile, as several council members who had already arrived made eye contact with him.

“Professor Williams, good to see you again,” said Cantano as he reached out a hand to shake. The bushy eyebrowed professor turned from his current conversation and wrapped his sausage hands around Cantano’s.

“Ah, good to see you again my boy. You’re looking as fit and proper as ever,” said the aged man. Cantano knew the man was getting too old for this position, but his peers kept voting him into the council. They’ll probably keep him here till he dies in his chair and they have to wheel his corpse away, thought Cantano.

“I try, you know how busy things can get. Ah, Dr. Chevlok, I apologize I didn’t mean to interrupted you and Professor Williams,” Cantano having already forgotten Profession Williams, as he stuck his hand out to the other man. Chevlok, was a pot-bellied man with rounded cheeks but his eyes were still sharp and always probing. He smiled in return and took the proffered hand.

“Chairmain,” said Dr Chevlok curtly. The man never really trusted Cantano but he never outright opposed the items Cantano had moved to push through either. Theirs was a distant, but amiable working relationship.

“Good to see you two gentlemen again. I’m going to make my rounds before the first review.” All three men nodded and smiled at each other as Cantano continued into the large room reserved for today’s activities. Simon followed like a puppy dog at his heal.

Standing by herself at the windows overlooking the street was Dr. Carol Bennett. Cantano, never really had time in his life for romance, but if he did make it a priority, the widow Bennett would be a good choice he thought as he made his way over to her.

In her late forties, she was about twenty pounds overweight but still curvy. Here long auburn hair was up in a bun and her business suite was impeccably tailored and pressed, just the way Cantano liked his own wardrobe. Seeing his reflection in the window behind her, she turned her brown eyes on him and he felt that he might be blushing if his dark features didn’t hide such things.

“Carol,” he said softly. She extended a hand which he took by the fingers and shook gingerly before releasing his grip on her.

“Cantano. Dapper as usual I see. How goes the run for power?” She had always been direct with him, which he appreciated. His demeanor with most seemed to intimated some or brought out hostility from others directed toward himself. Rarely did people give him clear, direct talk. He liked that about her. The fact that she had used his name too, instead of his title, told him they were still on very good terms. The seeds planted from other meetings must be taking hold.

“You always know how to charm a man, my dear. Things are good in the Chairman’s seat for now. I’m more than satisfied,” he said honestly. She raised eyebrow and an amused smile crossed her face.

“Well that felt genuine. I think today’s reviews should prove. . .interesting  to say the least then. Especially since our first presentation is from your favorite friend.” Cantano suddenly remembered one night at drinks after a long day of council reviews where he had actually opened up and shared his animosity toward Ramsden. He only smiled and turned as a rise in voices behind him drew his attention.

The council was taking their places around the table. The time for small talk over. He turned back to Carol.

“Continue this later?” he offered. She smiled and nodded. Without further word she proceeded to her spot at the table of seven council members. The others Cantano would have to hob-nob with later. He had to take his seat as the Chairman at the head of the table.

As took his chair at the center of the table, Cantano smiled at those council members he had yet to greet. He nodded to Simon who was hovering at the now closed doors. Simon nodded in recognition, stuck his head out as if calling someone, then opened the doors wider.

“Dr. Ramsden Burr,” he announced as the man entered.

Cantano noticed the thirty-two year old was as fit and relaxed in his gait as ever. The man’s hair was cut short that it spiked up on top, but the sides were already growing out unevenly, as if the man had cut it himself then ran some gel through the top. His unshaven face showed several day’s growth, but was offset by a nice bright smile. Burr seemed slightly, different than before, but Cantano couldn’t put words to what was different about the man.

“At least the man wore a tie this time,” said Cantano just loud enough for those sitting to either side of him to hear. Quiet chuckles from his peers sounded in response.

“Greetings Council,” said Ramsden as he approached a chair and a TV cart that stood in the middle of the room, directly across from Cantano.

“Hello Dr. Burr,” said Cantano in a congenial voice, though it grated on him to have to give honorifics to this man.  “I don’t see on today’s agenda what you are presenting today,” said Cantano as he leafed through the stack of papers left for him.

“Ah, yes, that is because you all are too busy to bother reading another fifty pages of thesis. It would be more efficient if I presented the information to you. If you still want specifics, I can have those sent over,” Ramsden replied as stood easily behind the chair, with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Very well Dr., please continue then and let’s hope this is as much a time saver as you promise.” Cantano waved him to begin.

“Firstly,” Carol interrupted,”Ram, my condolences on your loss.” Ramsden froze as if caught off guard. Something passed briefly across his face and Cantano swore it was genuine remorse.

“Thank you Carol. That means a lot.” Of course Cantano had heard about the death of one, Marion Fulke. It was a card he’d play if he needed to in order to further discredit the man and his methods. But he was holding onto that Ace for now.

Clearing his throat, Ramsden began,”Very well. Honored Council and peers, it is probably easier to start with String theory. . .”

“We know very well what string theory is Dr. Burr,” interrupted Cantano.

“String theory,” Ramsden continued as Cantano had not interrupted, “also known as the Theory of Everything or TOE. In it’s the simplest terms it uses math to explain the forces in the universe how they function and is the basic structure of all matter. In other words, even an atom is not the smallest component, but is made up of oscillating strings.” Cantano, leaned back bored by such trivial items. True Cantano no longer contributed to the actual research of theories, but through the years he had proven bright enough to discuss all the major theories, which in part allowed him to move through the ranks of academia and research. But to start with a child’s explanation mean this could be a long review.

“Thus it could be postulated that since everything is made up of strings and strings are modeled through math, that with math we can interact with these strings. This is what I believe the ancients had discovered and that is why there are thousands of years of cultural documents referencing the mystical power, alignment of the stars, even the Bible says Jesus holds all things together through him. . .similar to how string theory is the Theory of Everything.”

“Please Ramsden, are you going to get spiritual on us? You do realize we are a scientific community?” said Cantano with a chuckle. Ramsden returned his look with evenness.

“Dr. Qualifaro, please let the man finish, I think he’s actually getting to the punch line rather quickly,” Carol Bennett chided. Cantano was taken aback. Why would she defend this loser? But he didn’t want to upset Carol and she found something interesting in what was being said. He’ll have to probe her with questions later on what exactly about Ramsden or his theory is tickling her fancy.

“You are correct, Dr. Bennett. My apologies. Please continue Dr. Burr,” Cantano said. Ramsden nodded to Carol  before continuing.

“There is a fine line I believe I’ve found between science and recorded records of mysticism. There is a connection between string theory and the theory of ley line alignments — those lines of power that criss-cross the world and intersect at places of power — and. . .advanced mathematics, along with quantum physics.”  Cantano could see where this was leading and he leaned forward waiting for Ramsden to say the words.

“I didn’t want to take up much of your precious time,” continued Ramsden, “But I humbly request the Council approve my research into ley lines and dimensional portal theory through the use of mystical incantations and mathematics. I’ll need access to records and sites ASERT is currently has guardianship over.” He said it with a straight face. Cantano couldn’t believe it. He had to consciously check to make sure his own mouth wasn’t hanging open. It took Cantano a moment to gather himself. The rest of the Council was silent.

“So are you saying Dr.,” this time Cantano dragged the last word out for emphasis. Then with incredulity, he asked, “Are you  saying that you would like the Council to approve your research into. . .magic?”