Read Empty Sky Chapter 10 – The Arctic Night
Dr. Capoçek Lupicen sat at his desk in the dark, an oversize computer screen’s dim afterglow lighting his face. His left hand arched over the keyboard, his long, thin fingers resting on a large red trackball. A switching panel stood to the right of the screen, its red lights reflecting off his glasses making it appear that an ovoid headed demon with large red eyes stared at him from his computer. Other labs had virtual displays and keyboards. Dr. Lupicen preferred the human touch keyboards, screens, and trackballs afforded him..
A small, old, worn, black and white photograph of two boys — one about ten years older than the other and with similar features — in a silver frame held pride of place, standing between his keyboard and screen. He’d check something on his screen then look at the two boys smiling out of the photograph, gently tap the older boy’s face, smile then return his gaze to the computer screen, as if confirming the screen’s information with the boy in the picture before continuing.
He cupped his narrow chin in his right hand and reread what he’d entered in his journal, evaluating every sentence, every thought. He’d release his chin and cup his ear, letting his fingers beat a mindless staccato on his short gray hair as words were considered, phrases whispered, accuracy determined. When a passage dissatisfied him he’d lift his glasses from underneath and massage his sharply etched pince-nez. Often he would adjust himself on his seat as if a slightly different position clarified his thoughts. The sharp citrus and pine aromas of laboratory cleaning solvents tinctured his nose and he’d exhale sharply. Sometimes the scent of the stronger, industrial solvents would waft through his lab and he’d pull back, hurry to pull a handkerchief out of his pants pocket before he sneezed, wipe his nose, absently return the handkerchief to his pocket and continue writing and editing.
Each night he came here to enter the day’s events into his journal. Each night, after all the postdocs and grad students and assorted degree candidates and research associates had left and the sun had set, he quietly unlocked the door and tiptoed in as if he had no right to enter the lab his research funded. He would look right then left then right again, looking first through then over his glasses as if the clear vision they granted might prove a lie. He never turned on a light, all old habits from an even older part of the world, from a place and time when silence and stealth were the secrets to life itself.
Satisfied with his entry, he sat back and put his hands in his lap.
Footsteps approached in the hall. That would be Mr. William Murphy — the janitor the students referred to as “Wild Bill” because he was often slightly drunk, dressed like a woodsman regardless of season or weather, and sang to himself quietly but offkey — working slowly, methodically, intentionally, all things Dr. Lupicen admired and approved of. Sometimes, when he’d finished making his entries early, he would invite Mr. Murphy in to chat, to sit and share some tea. Mr. Murphy was a good listener, smiled and nodded at things he couldn’t understand, then said thank you, cleaned, dried and replace his cup on the shelf above the sink, shook hands and went about his ways.
Lupicen appreciated the quiet friendship.
But not tonight. Dr. Lupicen sat motionless until the casters under Wild Bill’s wringer bucket, the sloshing water, swishing mop, and Wild Bill’s own nasally singsong voice and the sharp smells of his cleansing chemicals echoed away.
Lupicen turned his chair to look out his lab’s western facing windows. His lab was the largest in Vail Hall, in the last cluster of academic buildings on the north side of the Dartmouth campus, and occupied the entire west side of the second floor.
A few cars could be seen under the lights of the parking lot behind the building. Trees created a small woods extending past the parking lot down several hundred yards past some roads and eventually to the Connecticut River. Across the river he saw the glow of Norwich and Thetford, Vermont, and beyond them the eastern faces of the central Green Mountains.
The faces were lit by the moon rising over in the east. On the night his staff worked late he would take a moment from observing the people sleeping in the chambers he’d designed to watch the moon slide down behind those mountains.
The moon in the mountains.
Turning back to his computer, he tapped the trackball and the screen flickered to life. He logged out of his PC then toggled a switch on the panel beside the monitor. Its connection, along with the connections to the trackball and keyboard, went from the PC to the APS System 70v3 computer, resting like a plexus between the sleep chambers, its cables like the webbing of a fat, dark spider in the center of his lab.
His fingers moved the trackball as if he were cracking a safe. The screen lit up and a blue door appeared centered in a deep ocean background. He opened a drawer and pulled out a HUVRSA, a Heads Up Virtual Reality Sensory Accumulators helmet, two cybergloves and a cybersuit. He undressed and slid his mantis-thin body into the tight fitting head-to-toe cybersuit. His cybergloved left hand made a knocking motion in the air. On the computer screen his knocking became a cartoon balloon with the word “knock” repeated three times on the surface of the door.
“Ann? May I come in, dear girl? Hmm? May I come in?”
Nothing happened. He looked at the ’70’s dark display, then spoke directly into the HUVRSA’s voicelink. “Are you awake, Ann?”
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