Chapter 1

 

JOSHUA stood as the door to the conference room opened, unconsciously wiping his right hand on the pant leg of his suit in case he had to shake hands. The bearded, silver-haired man who entered was dressed casually in a maroon sweater and jeans, and his pleasant smile put Joshua at ease.

“Dr. Bannon?” the man asked, extending his hand.

“Joshua.”

“Call me Max.”

Max gestured for Joshua to be seated again, as he took another chair on the same side of the glass table. Max sat in his chair for a long moment, looking at his hand as he rubbed his fingers together, apparently toying with his wedding ring.

“I’ve brought a copy of my CV,” Joshua said at last, growing uncomfortable with the silence. He slid his curriculum vitae along the table.

Max made no move to pick it up. “Yes, I’ve read it. So has Dr. Riley. It’s fine.”

He leaned forward, tapping his index finger on the tabletop. “What we’re more interested in is your doctoral dissertation on post-selected closed time-like curves in quantum mechanics.”

Joshua looked at him, dumbfounded. “You’ve read it?”

Max gave him a quirky half smile that looked vaguely familiar, though Joshua couldn’t figure out why. “Dr. Riley and I are friends with Professor Garcia. He pointed us at your dissertation when we were at his house for dinner a few weeks back.”

“It was largely based upon Dr. Riley’s published research,” Joshua said. The thought of Patrick Riley actually reading it was mind-blowing.

“I know.” Max sat back in his chair again. “Patrick was flattered that you were so well-versed in his work. And he was impressed by your ability to extrapolate on his data.”

Joshua cleared his throat nervously. “I’m sure he’s already thought of everything I came up with.”

Max didn’t respond, merely smiled at him calmly. Apart from his age, he was handsome enough and seemed to have nice eyes behind the glasses he wore. Not really Joshua’s type, though. Especially with that beard. If anything, Max reminded Joshua too much of his father.

“Why don’t we go inside,” Max said, standing abruptly. “Patrick’s looking forward to meeting you.”

This wasn’t the way Joshua had expected the interview to go. He’d been prepared to argue that his work in Professor Garcia’s lab qualified him for the open position at Dr. Riley’s lab in the Eloi Institute, but when he reached for his CV, Max dismissed it. “You won’t need that. Follow me.”

Joshua left the stack of papers on the table and followed the man through the large double doors.

Max led Joshua through a maze of long corridors, pointing out various other labs in the building and giving Joshua a quick rundown of the work they were doing. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based lab had connections to MIT and UMass Boston. Eloi’s cutting-edge reputation—and Dr. Riley’s rockstar-like status in the field of quantum research—had made the lab a popular destination for grad students from both universities.

Max brought Joshua past the men’s locker room, and said, “I recommend keeping a change of clothes in your locker. We don’t have many spills in the physics lab, but all-nighters aren’t uncommon, and who wants to start another day without taking a shower?”

They stopped at a large door, where Max swiped his security card and pressed his hand against a scanner. The door hissed and slid aside.

The laboratory was enormous. Steel girders crisscrossed high above their heads, reminding Joshua of an airport hangar. Computer stations and lab equipment took up every bit of space along the four walls, and the center of the room was dominated by a sphere of metal with pipes and other apparatuses jutting out from its surface. It was surrounded by a circular walkway with a metal staircase curving gracefully up to it.

“We call this contraption ‘Saturn’,” Max commented, as they approached it, “because that’s what that circular catwalk around it puts us in mind of.”

Standing on the walkway was Dr. Patrick Riley, a pioneer in the field of quantum time effects and the man whose career had shaped Joshua’s life since high school. From the moment he’d come across an entry in his physics book providing a brief summary of Dr. Riley’s work, alongside a photo of a surprisingly handsome man with wavy ash-blond hair and soft, intelligent gray eyes, Joshua had been fascinated by the physicist. He’d looked up everything he could find on Dr. Riley in the school library and soon graduated from reading watered-down descriptions of his experiments in popular magazines to reading the original abstracts in physics journals.

Joshua had never told anyone about his “celebrity crush” on the handsome physicist. He’d come out his sophomore year, and his family had been cool about it. But telling them that he was harboring a crush on a physicist? That seemed epically geeky, even to Joshua. Not that it had stopped him from carrying a small picture of Riley in his wallet, snipped out of one of the journals.

Patrick Riley’s attention was on something in his hand, but as Joshua and Max approached, he thrust the object into his lab coat pocket and closed the curved hatch on Saturn’s side. Then he removed his safety goggles and leaned over the railing, those amazing gray eyes looking directly at Joshua. For a split second, the man seemed… Joshua wasn’t sure. Surprised? But then Riley smiled, revealing dimples in his cheeks that made him seem far younger than his fifty years.

“Dr. Bannon, I presume,” he said with mock formality. “Welcome to Eloi.”

 

 

THE first thing that struck Patrick was how strikingly handsome the young Joshua Bannon was. His penetrating blue eyes were set in a face as perfectly sculpted as a Roman statue, and his high brow and angular features were softened only by the sensual curve of his mouth. Even his short, golden-brown hair reminded Patrick of a Roman senator. But almost as quickly as Patrick noted all of this, he sternly admonished himself.

He’s far too young.

True, Joshua was twenty-five and already had his doctorate. There was nothing technically wrong in Patrick finding him attractive. But he felt like a lecherous old man, nonetheless.

“Dr. Riley,” Joshua said, looking up at him. He seemed a bit awestruck, and Max had already warned Patrick that Joshua was a “fan.” Which was yet another reason to put on the brakes. Flirting with a naïve young man with a case of hero worship was definitely not something Patrick felt comfortable doing.

He descended to floor level and offered his hand to Joshua. “Please call me Patrick. If we go around ‘doctoring’ each other all day, it will drive me insane.”

He laughed, but Joshua didn’t seem to find it that amusing. The young man was still holding his hand and looking intently into his eyes, until Patrick was forced to look away uncomfortably.

Patrick tried again, taking his hand away and putting it in the pocket of his lab coat. “Did Max tell you that I read your dissertation on P-CTCs?”

“It was largely a summation of your work,” Joshua replied.

“Up to the point at which we seem to be stuck.” Patrick began walking, and Joshua fell into step beside him. “We’ve succeeded in creating a temporal distortion inside Saturn that fluctuates for a few nanoseconds, but the net result is always null. I thought your ideas on the subject were very fresh, and I’m hoping you’ll give our research a boost.”

“I hope so.”

“Why don’t I give you the grand tour, and then we can discuss what your duties will be over lunch?”

Joshua glanced over his shoulder, perhaps noticing that Max had deserted them. Then he asked, “Do you have other applicants to interview?”

It was a fair question. The research associate opening had been posted all over the physics department at the university. But the other applications had been set aside upon receipt. There hadn’t been any interviews, apart from this one.

Patrick simply said, “No. The job is yours.”