16,009 / 50,000
Brendan nodded and grinned. As he leaned against the wall, he was far more relaxed than his friend. Alphonse was a classic scientist, in every sense of the word. A little stuffy, a little rigid, but he did have moments of light behind it all. Even so, he was ill at ease with the fate of his baby, and it could be seen in the way he carried himself.
The two stared across the empty space between them, taking in each other without words. Alphonse had become like a father to Brendan, having lost his own shortly after the two of them met, in a car accident. Brendan's grades, and prospects for his future, began plummeting, but his budding association with the doctor grounded him, and kept him going through, and only strengthened their relationship.
They had both found something in the other, to fill in a hole in their lives, replacing something each of them lost, and they became each stronger because of it.
"So, Al, what brings us out here tonight?"
Kids these days, thought Alphonse. He had often tried to stop Brendan from shortening his name like that, but to no avail. Eventually, he just let it be, and the name stuck. Fortunately, he thought, it had not spread beyond the two of them.
Doctor McKenzie straightened up, adjusting his shirt as he did so. He cleared his throat before speaking.
"I've been working on the emitter's code most of the night, since the hardware is a wash for anything we can alter before the morning, and I'm running some simulations right now, make sure nothing will blow up. At least, theoretically."
Brendan nodded, listening to the doctor as he continued. "Figured I could stand to get out of that room for a few minutes while the calculations ran, and you looked like you could use a break too. Far too much time in those tiny rooms, and far too little sleep. Fortunately this will probably be all over in the morning, in that we can finally get some sleep. I'm afraid of putting in the wrong code and causing another overload, like...like that first time."
His mind wandered, thinking back to when David was killed, as it often did, especially when he was tired. Every time the accident came up, he felt it anew, like it had just happened, even five years later.
Brendan reached across the hall, and put his hand on Alphonse's shoulder, gripping it with a firm hand. "Hey, that wasn't your fault, and you know it. The equipment was new. The code was new. It was literally the first shot out of the gate. You can't expect things to go perfectly. And we've had no further incidents since then, and everything runs perfectly. Neither you, nor Professor Kelly could have forseen what would happen. His sacrifice won't be in vain. You've come so far with the project."
He had heard it all before, but it still helped Alphonse through those sudden dark moods that overtook him in such moments. He knew Brendan was right, of course, but it was still hard not to blame himself for what had happened all those years ago, and he was greatful there had not been a repeat of that incident since, and the only deaths had been willing volunteers who knew well what risks they were taking as they were strapped down into the chair.
"I know, lad. I know." He placed a hand over Brendan's, and nodded his thanks for the moment of support. It wasn't the first, and it wouldn't be the last, surely.
"Still, I wish David was here to see our work continue. Especially when we're so close. He would have been so happy to see even these minor results we've gotten so far. And David would have fought much harder than anyone here to keep the project going beyond tomorrow."
Alphonse was unable to stop a wide smile from breaking out on his face as he rememebred David's indomitable spirit. Or as it was often referred to, his ability to be a colossal pain in the ass. "He would have found some way to keep us going, even without government backing. David would personally be searching couch cushions across the nation for lost change."
With an uneasy laugh, Brendan smiled as well. "Well, it's a bit late for that, so I'm afraid I can't offer my own services in such a manner. Do you really think the new code will do any good?"
With a simple nod, Alphonse answereed the question.
"It's really the best chance we have. I can see some new pieces of hardware that might do some good, some cleaner sources to create the energt, et cetera, but there's simply no time for any of that. Trying to alter the process without changing the equipment is just about our only course. The calculations certainly bear it out. I've gotten the energy to still be created, but at different wavelengths, and at a more energetic level, which will hopefully give us a maximum response in a shorter exposure."
Brendan could only grin, as he got it. "With a shorter exposure, the energy could still cause the desired mutations, but not the more fatal ones, right?"
"That is the hope, lad. Granted, it's a long shot, but at least it's a shot, and no guarnatee of a dead marine tomorrow, eh?"
Alphonse shrugged the hand of his assistant off his shoulder, as he lifted up his watch to check the time on his ancient calculator watch. Brendan had never seen him without it, and had been told Alphonse had used it since high school, and even replacing it with an exact duplicate when the original finally died. It was an odd, yet very scientist-like, lucky charm, in a way.
"Ah, that simulation should be done by now. Was probably done five minutes ago, but it was good to get out of that little box. The blinking lights can start to drive a person a little mad, wouldn't you agree?"
"Oh, definitely," nodded Brendan. "And the firing area isn't much better. Everything in there is so white. If the door is closed, and the lights are on bright, or even medium, it's almost unbearable to look at it. Snow blindness should not be possible indoors, and before the snow actually falls. It doesn't look anywhere near as bright through ten feet of safety glass. When someone heard this was going to be called Project: Lightbringer, they took it quite seriously when it came to designing that room."
Alphonse laughed, his small body shaking with the noise, and he had to take off his glasses and wipe at his eyes afterwards. He didn't find it all that funny, but at the time, and with their lack of sleep, it was the most hilarious thing in the world.
"We probably should have designed the room to have a cooler palette, but we used up our budget of blue in the hallways. I don't think they'd allow us to request funds to repaint the room now, wouldn't you say?"
They both grinned, and with a sharp nod, they turned in opposite directions, each moving back towards the door they had exited from.
Returning to the computer, Doctor McKenzie saw that the simulations were indeed done, but had not gone smoothly. There were critical failings at several points in the virtual emitter, from the energy becoming too powerful before it could be utilised.
He looked over the results, and pulled out a pen from his shirt pocket, using it to follow the code, so it didn't all become one giant blur on the small screen. Even so, with the long hours, that was still a possibility.
It was easy to find the code that corresponded to the equations that would be triggered by which components. After so long, living with this code, having it run through his dreams sometimes, he knew almost exactly what every letter and number would do in the final results, although how they would interact with each other, and the equipment's capabilities, was always in question.
Doctor McKenzie double checked the equations, and found a few typos he had made, and fixed them. While he was knee-deep in what most would consider advanced gibberish, he also altered some of the code again, tweaking the math in some places, making the equations simpler on this second pass, and lowered the power output, just in case the typos weren't the only cause of the simulated power overload.
With his corrections made, Alphonse sat back for a few moments, and rubbed his eyes. He triple checked the code, making sure there weren't any mistakes this time, did a little more cleaning up. It was absolutely critical that everything worked perfectly, or as perfectly as this monstrosity could run. The more refining and simulations that were done now, would give them the best possible chance of not having to clean up another exploded body from the target room tomorrow. Or, as it turned out when he glanced at his watch and saw the time, later today. A few hours from then, even.
Alphonse yawned and stretched, the long hours finally getting to him, although it would all be over soon. If these simulations went well, he could grab a nap on the couch in the rec room down the hall for a few hours before today's subject, and the overseers came in for the final test run.
He grabbed the mouse and yawned again, picking up his tea in the other hand, and took a sip of the now lukewarm drink. He made a face at the taste of it, as he clicked the screen.
At first, he didn't know what was going on, the haze of too many hours on his feet made it difficult to comprehend. He heard the soft rumble of machinery coming to life, and powering up. Alphonse paused a moment, and as it sunk in just what was happening, he looked at the screen, and saw instead of a simulation, he saw that he had initiated a full firing sequence.
It still took a few moments to sink in, before he could get his hands moving to try and abort the sequence, forgetting the tea he had in hand. Alphonse was quickly reminded of it, as it sloshed on the laptop, spilling into it, and causing the system to short out and shut down.
The only other way to abort the sequence was to rush down through the corridors, but it would have been much too far into the power cycle to have done any good at that stage of the game.
While the good doctor frantically searched for a way to shut things down from here, short of smashing the emitter itself. Even that likely would have done little good, and could very well have caused further damage than it would now.
He quickly tried to restart the computer, but his attempts were only met with the stench of smoke from the ruined hardware. Next, he started disconnecting the wires, praying something would disrupt the normal operation, but deep down he knew that it wouldn't matter.
His attempts were interupted when he heard a grinding noise, and knew immediately what that was. It was the sound of the quarantine doors sliding shut to lock off the target room, sealing the subject in until the test was over, and the environment was deemed safe to be reopened.
Turning towards the safety glass, he saw Brendan, engrossed in his work, not even noticing any of the sounds that were coming from their project.
Alphonse banged on the safety glass, hoping to get his friend's attention, and Brendan eventually looked up from the console he had opened and was checking.
Once Brendan's attention had been caught, he heard the machinery rumbling to life, and knew all too well what it meant.