“Irene Adler? Your rival?”
“Yes, Hannah. She is the roadblock to our success.”
“But how Mr Bernard?”
“Irene mostly delves in chemistry experiments nowadays, but there was a time when she was more interested in physics – predominantly quantum physics. But more than 80% of her projects failed, and thus, she switched to chemistry. She has her own factory funded by her wealthy fiancee which produces hi-tech equipment and apparatus for her experiments, and I’m cent per cent sure she has those time dampeners with her.
“Why would she have the time dampeners?
“You see Hannah, time dampeners not only find their application in quantum mechanics but any experiment which requires time as a contributing factor for its successful completion deploy the use of these dampeners. Now to answer your question, due to the recent discovery of Rutherfordium and it’s less discovered properties, Irene will never leave a chance to discover some of them. Isotopes of Rutherfordium have a half-life of a few seconds and to study its properties one must use those time dampeners. Hence, I am sure Irene has those dampeners. But she won’t even hear me out.”
“Apart from being competitive scientists, I heard you two have a history between you. You never publicly talked about it till date.”
“Yes. Irene was at Bordeaux University until her tenth grade after which she went to the University of Lyon for her further studies. The time we were in Bordeaux meant only one thing – the fight for the first rank and eventually the scholarship. And guess what? I won the scholarship almost every year – the very reason I could continue my studies even after my parent’s demise. She was miffed with this fact, and we always avoided each other. I always dominated her although it would be by a slight margin. The only place where she won it all was the violin competition where no one could even match her. I didn’t participate either. I remember she won the title for four consecutive years which is still an unbeaten record.”
“Yes, she plays the violin so beautifully. No wonder why her once-in-a-year show is always full-house.”, Hannah agreed.
“Yes. Fast forward to the present, both of us are now world-renowned scientists – equally successful with path-breaking discoveries and new inventions.”
“But how come no one else produces these dampeners? There might be someone else who makes these right?”, Hannah voiced her doubts.
“The production cost of this equipment is way higher than other apparatus we have possibly worked with till date. So, they are produced in limited quantities. Well, there is just one more factory which produces these type of dampeners, and it is located in the Soviet Union. Too expensive, plus the factory supplies these types of equipment only to the Soviet Military for research purposes. Losing cause.”, I sigh.
“You can directly deal with her fiance then. This will avoid you meeting Irene.”, Hannah gave a possible solution to this deadlock.
“Won’t work. If the hi-tech product is sold to any other scientist, instead of factories of some kind, it must pass the approval of Irene Adler. After their engagement, she bought stakes worth 49% of the company. Also, her husband very well knows the bitter enmity between us. Well, the entire world knows about it.”
“So what’s next? Meeting Irene seems like the only option left.”
“Yes. I have no other way out but to meet her after all these years and beg for the time dampener. I wish we were friends earlier; would have made things easier for me.”
“But that’d mean you wouldn’t reach here, at this revered position.”
“I will meet her tomorrow. Call her factory and take an appointment for 4 PM.”
“Will do, Mr Bernard.”
After checking me through, the security guards guided me to her grand office on the topmost floor of the factory. The walls were adorned with glass framed violins, a few awards from the scientific community, some posters of the legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler, scientists Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla, and some of her photographs with famous personalities like Catherine Deneuve, Serge Gainsbourg and Audrey Hepburn
“So who do we have here! The famous scientist Augustin Bernard himself? How can I help you, Mr Bernard? I’m sure you’ve not come here just to ask about my whereabouts.”, Irene flashed one of her well exercised fake smiles.
I had to be sure that I’d be at my polite best so that the deal goes through. Not to chide at her boasting was one hell of a task.
“I was working on an experiment, and I need one of the time dampeners which your fiance’s hi-tech factory – this factory – produces. Without the device, the project will remain incomplete.”, I request courteously, coming straight to the point. There was no point beating around the bush because she had somewhat sensed the aim of my arrival.
“What experiment are you working on Mr Bernard? I heard it was some top secret stuff.”, she looked at me with those glassy eyes, as she offered me a glass of red wine.
“Well yes. Government stuff. Military purposes.”, I manage to lie.
“Well well well, Mr Bernard. Since the ball is in my court, I’d like to know exactly what your experiment is; only then I will hand over the dampener to you.”, she showed her true nature without any remorse.
“I can’t reveal it to you according to the contract. I will lose my credibility and status at once. They won’t give me further projects to work on.”, I tried to reason.
“Well, you’ve to sacrifice something to reach somewhere Mr Bernard. Everything comes at a price. Here, it’s the time restraining device in return for the info.”
I realised the only way to get past this shrewd lady was by lying blatantly.
“Get me a dampener unit first. Then I’ll give the entire information to you.”, I said after some moments of silence.
“Nope. Won’t work here. I don’t think you have the power to offer a deal looking at the position you are in Augustin.”, she was enjoying this now.
“Stop playing games, Irene. I know even if I tell you what the experiment is, you won’t hand over the unit to me.”, the situation was slowly getting to my head.
“I won’t let go of the opportunity of a lifetime without having some fun, Augustin. It’s payback time.”, she said, taking a sip from her glass of wine.
“I have never seen someone so heartless before. The only exception being Hitler himself.”, I speak out my mind.
“See Augustin, the equation is clear. Your constant blabbering of your helpless state won’t help you get anywhere. Give me the project info in return for the device for which you came here.”
If I had the power, I’d have got up and smashed one of her glass framed violins to pieces to let go of my anger. But currently, the onus was on me to play smart. It was clear she is rigid in her motive to make the most of my dependent-on-her state.
“This is a huge risk, Irene. It can cost my future. Fooling the Government is not a joke. Please try to understand.”, I pleaded.
“Some risks are worth taking even though it may prove lethal in the end. Such risks are what we all live for Augustin.”, she smiled.
“Well, I don’t have any other option. Do I?”
“Of course, you have the option to leave my factory without the unit then, maintaining your sense of integrity and truthfulness.”, she pointed towards the door behind me.
“The experiment is related with improving the accuracy of the French bomber planes and also strengthening the metallic structure of the tanks.”, I tell her maintaining a straight face.
“And where exactly does the dampener come into play?”, she shot the next question immediately.
“Forget the device then.”, she stood up from her chair, turning back to leave.
“Wait! I thought you’re smart enough to understand the application of those dampeners once I tell you about the project. But all these years of experience has not added a single per cent of common sense that you lacked since the school times.”
Seeing her infuriated, I continue, “The dampener is required to slow down the feedback response of the aircraft’s controller. This will allow us to study them and make necessary changes to improve the accuracy of bombings; and as far as the tanks are considered, we are looking for alternatives to the presently deployed framework and trying to replace it with materials better suited to sustain the impact. So you now understand these dampeners are of utmost importance to us! Will you now help me with them, Irene!”
I look at her and add, “Please!” which I regret a moment later.
“There you are. Stripped of all the moral values you so rigidly maintained and fought for so far. So much for a goddamn DAMPENER Augustin?”, she asked, her hands crossed as if she was some detective who wasn’t convinced by my answer.
“I had no other option. And anyway, in the world where we live in currently, I doubt whether moral values do hold ground anymore. I know it’s a risk, but such risks are what we all live for. Right?”, I smile nervously.
“That sounds pretty much right Augustin, except one small thing which is..”
“What now? Stick to your word Irene. I don’t have time for further games of yours.”, I stood up from my chair in angst.
“If the project is for the Government as you claimed, they’d have provided you with all the necessary hi-tech equipment themselves in one way or the other. There was no need for you to come here – begging your biggest arch nemesis ever for help, and you in your weakest of senses won’t approach me after all the history between us.”, she caught the loophole in an otherwise perfect story that I had built up from scratch in the last few minutes.
“Err..let me explain…”
“Also, I know what project you are working on Augustin – the time machine one. I always like to keep a tab on my rivals in some way or the other; healthy competition you know.”, she winked.
I was left agape at what I heard. My brain couldn’t just register the fact that she knows about my most ambitious, life-changing project ever. All these efforts and acting in vain.
“But..but how! How did you know this?”, I was exasperated.
“None of your business, Augustin. Just remember to look around you once in a while.”, she flashed her quick smile.
I had nothing to say in return. I was rendered speechless.
“I enjoyed the show very much, Augustin. Thanks for the stellar performance. But plan well in advance the next time when you come here – if there’s a next time, that is.”, she left the room, leaving me alone to ponder over the apparent fool I made of myself.
Coffee and a good nap was the only remedy to forget what happened an hour ago at Irene’s factory. The sun had already begun to set, and I decided to crash at the cafe before going to my lab, where Hannah would be anxiously waiting for me, expecting to bring some equipment called the time dampener alongside.
At the same time, I felt that the humiliation I faced was nature’s way of telling me not to venture ahead with my plan. The devious plan of going back in time, asking my parents to visit the child version of me at Bordeaux – hence saving them from the bomb blasts. At times, I even thought of murdering Hitler in the process. That’d be the perfect way to end my hate against him and gift the world a sense of hope and peace. The letters made things worse, disturbing my peace of mind. But I don’t know how things will go after that incident. It’s a huge risk, and I am not brave enough to take that chance. Controlling my tempt to kill Hitler seemed like the only option at the present moment. But I may not be able to control myself once I travel to the past. What will happen eventually – only time will tell.
I knew how selfish this would sound and how mind-numbingly things may go wrong in the process, but this is the only chance I have got to have my parents alongside me. Hence, I didn’t reveal it to Hannah until now. But I know how smart she is. A quick glance at how emotional I’m when it comes to my dead parents, how vocal I’m about Hitler and his heinous crimes even after his death and the date or the location to which we tried to time travel in the first place is enough to make things easily clear for her. I just hope that she didn’t judge me knowing about my ulterior motives. And now that I couldn’t get a hand on the dampener, all my hopes were crushed in an instant. The fact that Irene was the one who did this made the wound even deeper. I was shaken to the core when I heard her nonchalantly revealing the fact that she knew about the time machine all along. But how did she know about it was the question to which I had no answer. The only person except me who knows about this project is obviously…
As I think, staring at my cold coffee, regretting the course of action and how ill-planned I was for meeting her, a gentleman in his early thirties sits across the table. This was highly unusual since most of the people in the cafe knows that I don’t prefer talking to anyone except the waiter. The least I used to do is sign autographs for upcoming science nerds and people who are a fan of my work.
I had been noticing this gentleman since the past few days, always lurking around my seat, fiddling with a copy of ‘The Hidden Philosophies in Physics’ – the last book which I published four months ago. The book was critically acclaimed by the scientific and the literary community alike. It further cemented my status as one of the brightest scientists in the twentieth century.
“I’m a fellow scientist and a big fan of your work, Mr Bernard! Can..Can I get an autograph?”, he asked meekly, his smile resembling a 100 Watt bulb.
“Sure, why not! What’s your name?”, I ask, taking the book from him.
“Raymond Darcy.”, he smiled.
“You don’t look French though.”
“You’re right, Mr Bernard. I was born in the United States. My father was in the US Army, and my Mom is French. He met her when he was here during World War II.”, he smiled, maybe thinking how things fell into place.
“Interesting.”, I smiled back.
Stay curious, ask questions, read more and stay true to yourself Raymond. – Augustin Bernard.
“Thanks a lot, Mr Bernard. Means a lot!”, he was all smiles as I handed back the book to him.
“Mention not!”, my focus was slowly drifting to the leftover croissant, and that’s when he decided to surprise me off the hook.
“I have been thinking to approach you for an autograph for the past few days, but I didn’t know how would you react. So I stalled it every time until today.”
“I know. So what made you to finally approach me today huh?”, I ask playfully before taking a bite off my croissant.
“I saw you at Irene’s factory a while ago. I was surprised because the entire world knows about your rivalry.”, he said plainly.
“Wait a second. Did you just say Irene’s factory? What were you doing there?”, I was stunned for the second time in the past sixty minutes.
“Yes, you heard it right. I’m a scientist there, and I assist the product development team.”
“Oh..”, I just didn’t know how to react to such a situation. My mind had already begun working on a probable solution to the crisis I’m in.
“Mind not, but I overheard the conversation between you and Irene about your requirement for a time dampener and the latest project of your’s – the time machine.”, he said it plainly as if he had done nothing wrong.
“That’s enough surprises for today! Thank you, Mr Darcy. It’s my time to leave.”, I stood up and began to leave without any further delay. I was too embarrassed about the whole situation now.
“By the way, I guess you forgot this package of yours, Mr Bernard.”, he called from behind, as I reached the street.
I look back, thinking it might be the parcel I had ordered for Hannah a few minutes ago, but it wasn’t. The smile on his face made things even more confusing.
“No. It isn’t mine, Mr Darcy. Thank you.”
That’s when the waiter arrived with the parcel. What an impeccable timing, my friend.
“At least this one seems to be yours!”, he chuckled as he came forward with both the packages.
“Here’s your parcel and here’s the time dampener which you badly needed, Sir.”
That left me speechless. Was he joking? Or did he actually…
The next moment he opened his package and lo! There it was! The goddamn time dampener!
“I managed to sneak one unit out just for you. Each unit is worth over 1,25,000 CFP Franc. I couldn’t see one of my idols begging for help, that too from one of his well-known nemeses.”
I was still not sure why would a person working for my rival would do something like this for me, but I let my emotional-self take over the intellectual one. I went ahead and hugged him. I just couldn’t believe this was actually happening!
“I just don’t know how to thank you for this, Mr Darcy. I won’t forget this gesture for my entire lifetime.”, was all I could speak out.
“You’re welcome, Mr Bernard. It’s an honour to help you. But..”, he slowly retracted the dampener away from me, much to my disbelief.