Leonard Wang joined the Prometheus Project on a Saturday.
The day began quite normally; the scientist awoke in his rather large bed and found himself staring at a thin crack in the ceiling. He blinked several times, inhaled, and exhaled. Leo sat up and stretched, noting the yellow aura from the sunny window. He turned to the empty right side of the bed, blinked, and walked out of the room.
Leo hobbled into his bathroom. He rubbed his eyes and looked into the mirror; a young, moderately handsome man stared back at him. Right above the white t-shirt, a jade pendant dangled from a red string. It had once belonged to his grandfather. He was dead now.
He brushed his teeth with the handy electric toothbrush and mint-flavored toothpaste. Gargling mouthwash, Leo walked to his living room and turned on the television. It was mounted on the wall and faced a grey couch and glass table; it was all quite expensive. The newswoman talked about Alder Corporation's competition with Fleming Enterprises, the latter having announced a better version of the former's bulletproof fabric. Leo studied the schematic shown on the screen before returning to the bathroom, spitting out the mouthwash. It had tasted quite fine, though had left a moderate stinging sensation; he considered going to the dentist to get his gums checked out.
In the kitchen, the physicist made himself cereal and poured juice into a tall glass. He briefly remembered how his grandfather used to make their breakfast early in the morning, before the sun had risen, before the boy had awakened. But he was dead.
Carefully carrying the bowl and glass, Leo walked to the glass table and put them down. The table was now quite photogenic; it was a pity that he had no camera.
Eating his cereal and drinking his juice, Leo continued to watch the news: conflicts in the Middle East, the weak economy, severe storms, murders, rapes. It seemed to be a normal day.
After finishing his breakfast, Leo took the spoon, bowl and glass to the kitchen to be washed. He used a big green soapy sponge to clean them. It was quite calming.
He changed into his blue buttoned shirt and beige pants. They were very comfortable. Leo turned off the television and walked out of his house, locking the door on his way out. Checking his watch, Leo found that it was 7:03 AM. Looking upward, he saw that it was partly cloudy, partly sunny. He turned to his house, smiled, and walked across the street.
Strolling through his neighborhood to the train station, Leo admired the trees that lined the streets; he walked down one of these scenic avenues, careful not to be hit by a car. The idyllic chirping of birds, the dancing shadows on the asphalt, the aroma of damp leaves played with the scientist's senses.
The road went onward, only to terminate at a series of identical houses. There were two side streets; Leo took the one to the right, where the station entrance awaited.
On the train, Leonard tinkered with a broken pocket-watch. He had found it recently in a dusty box of his grandfather's. The old man was a repairman. Now, he was a corpse, beyond all repair.
The back of the watch was engraved ZW, his grandfather's initials. He had taught Leonard how to understand how the watches worked and how they didn't; he taught him how to learn. After prying open the back, Leo immediately saw what was wrong: a small, deformed spring very much out of place. He tried forcing it into shape and position but it resisted. It jumped out of his fingers into the face of a boarding passenger.
“Oh,” said Leo. He turned slightly red.
The passenger blinked and pulled the spring from her collar, where it was caught. She smiled awkwardly and handed it back to him. She sat next to him.
“I didn't know you were a watchmaker,” the woman said. Leonard observed that she was pretty.
“Um, well, you know, uh,” stammered Leo. He found himself staring into her eyes, which were brown.
“I'm Dr. Adams. Your new boss.”
“Oh. From Prometheus?”
“Ah. Oh...” Leonard looked at the spring.
“Don't worry, I won't hold that against you,” laughed Audrey. Leo liked her smile. He smiled back.
“We're close to Dante's house,” stated Leo, in lieu of something better to say. “Yeah.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Um, so you live nearby?” Leonard consciously maneuvered his eyes from her chest.
“No, I was just visiting a friend of mine.” She nodded. Leo studied the cascading waves of hair. “Ex-girlfriend, actually. She had something I wanted.”
“Ah.” Leonard amassed his considerable repository of knowledge and performed a search for something brilliant to say. “That's a, uh, nice necklace.”
“Nothing. Oh look. We're here!”
Dante's apartment was only a few blocks from the station but the two new acquaintances covered much ground in the interim.
“So,” began Audrey, as they exited the underground station. “You and Dante have quite a history together.”
“Together? We're not together,” responded Leo quickly.
“Oh, no I meant-”
“Oh, sorry. Um, well, after my grandfather died, his foster parents – he still doesn't know who his parents are – they took me in and I grew up in their house. Actually, I knew Dante a while before moving in with him. We went to the same elementary school, played the same video games. We used to go to the park near our houses and go through all the slides and ladder things. It was nice, back then.”
Leonard paused and Audrey nodded.
“After my grandfather...died, he left behind his clockshop. It's still there, but I don't go there too often but I have some of his tools. I became a part of Dante's family, if you could call it that, they're so eccentric, all of them.”
“Dante...he has this insane photographic memory that lets him learn anything he wants to. He knows five languages the last time I –”
Leo saw two strongly-built men haul the limp form of his foster brother. Before he could shout for them to stop, Audrey whipped out a taser and took down the kidnappers. Amazed, Leonard turned to his new boss.
“What?” said Audrey, moving toward the three bodies. “I'm always prepared.”
She lifted Dante up and smacked him. He awoke.
“...OW!” said Dante. He blinked several times and stumbled a little. He looked around him. “Hey guys...What happened again?”
“I thought you said he had photographic memory,” said Audrey to Leo, kneeling and taking the kidnappers' firearms.
“Not after I've been hit over the head or something.”
“Why were they after you?” asked Leo. He looked cautiously around himself.
“Probably because he's a new member of Prometheus,” said Audrey, getting up. “They may have overheard our conversations. Come on, we have to get out of here. More Agents may be coming. I'll scan for any tracking bugs on you.”
“Oh cool,” said Dante as she moved a handheld device over him. She plucked a black speck from his shirt.
“There,” she said, crushing it under her feet. “That's that. Let's hurry, shall we?”
“Where to?” asked Leo, following Audrey around the curb. “Isn't the base, the bunker thing, in the middle of Nevada?”
“Yeah, but we have shortcuts.” Audrey smiled at Leo.
“Wormholes?” whispered Leo. Audrey nodded. Leo squealed. Dante grinned.
“We're here,” said Audrey, opening the glass door of a nondescript office building. The secret base was only four blocks from Dante's apartment.
“What?!” said Dante, upon realizing that profound fact. “That close?”
The lobby was moderately narrow. Leo observed that the walls were grey and not recently painted. A security guard nodded to the visitors. He sat at a desk with monitors linked to the security cameras in and around the building.
After a short ride in an elevator that was too cramped, slightly smelly, and had mind-numbingly bad music playing, the group entered a relatively crowded office complex, with dutiful government workers doing their respectable jobs. The floor was filled with cubicles, themselves home to the workers and their computers. As they – Dante, Audrey, and Leonard – strolled toward a hallway, Leonard perceived a quiet sense of blandness emanating from the area, the people. The workers were not boring, but the work was.
“Clerical work gets handled here,” said Audrey, opening a side door in a hallway. “The fun stuff is over here.”
“Here” seemed to be a small worker's lounge containing cups, coffee-makers, a small fridge, a microwave, and, of course, bagels. Next to the fridge, a plain door stared blandly at the three visitors.
And yet it seemed to beckon them, suggesting secrets hidden within. Perhaps the blue light coming from the edges had to do with that.
“Cool,” said Dante. “A mysterious door with blue light coming from the edges.”
There was a panel next to the door; Audrey swiped a keycard and held her thumb over a scanner. A click later, the biologist revealed the "fun stuff".
There was a magnificent Device in the center of the room: it was a metallic ring with a radius of 2.5 meters. A thinner ring of equal radius hovered gently above it, as if it were a patient hound waiting to play. Leonard was partially put into a trance by the ring's bobbing up and down and the blue lights coming from the base. He snapped out of it when a technician called out Audrey's name. The technician looked a bit like Leonard, only Leo was taller and had glasses on.
“Audrey!” said the technician. He smiled awkwardly. “I didn't know you were coming.”
“I have to Induct these two into the program, Brian,” said Audrey. Leo noted that she looked a tad annoyed. “Get us to the Bunker.”
“Sure thing,” responded Brian, a tad annoyed.
“How does this work?” asked Dante. He and Leo knelt and examined the lower torus.
“Basically–” began Brian.
“The upper torus is injected with a flow of repulsons,” interrupted Leo. Brian made a face. “From this tube,” pointing to a tube connected to a box in the back of the room. “The repulsons are then fired at the upper torus' center. The conglomerate becomes too compact and it rapidly expands, opening a pre-made micro-wormhole. The passenger steps into the rings and, thus, the wormhole. The upper ring floats upward, buoyed by repulsons. Once it gets over the passengers' heads, the transition is complete.”
“Impressive!” said Audrey. Leo smiled slightly as he got up. Brian reddened. “If I hadn't known any better, I'd say you made the thing.”
“Why isn't it, you know, vertical, sideways?” asked Dante. He rubbed his chin. Brian bristled; what was this historian doing here anyway? He went on with the activation sequence. The machine hummed. Leo smiled; he delighted in explaining physics.
“The problem with a door-like design is that the plane of the repulson ring would be at a right angle to the gravitational field. This would lead to irregularities in the expansion of the wormhole and it would collapse almost immediately.”
There was a woosh from the Device and, looking into the newly formed wormhole, Leonard saw that the tiling of the floor changed. The three travelers stepped in. Audrey nodded to Brian and he pressed a button. The upper ring floated up past their ankles, past their knees, past their waists, up to their chests. Leonard looked at Brian; the latter seemed to glare at the former. Then, the ring went beyond their eyes and Brian vanished.
What replaced the room was a nexus of sorts, with Devices arrayed along the walls.
“This reminds me of the Floo network,” commented Dante, following Audrey to the next room.
“You'll be briefed and given quarters shortly,” she said, walking briskly. Leo forced himself to look away from her posterior. Dante chuckled and Leo blushed slightly.
As promised, they were briefed and given quarters. Audrey and another administrator, whose name Leonard forgot, explained the Inductees' positions; Leonard was tasked with working with the USE to map a sector of space in the Milky Way, while Dante was to append more information to the USE's history database.
“This sounds like a fun job,” said Dante, as he and Leo were going to their rooms. “And you have a new woman in your life!”
His quarters, his “home away from home” as Dr. Adams had put it, was rather minimalist, like his home. But Leo knew this was just a fancy word for empty. There was a simple wooden table, a plain couch, and a widescreen television. He supposed that the nails on the walls, the small side table, and the empty space in general were places to put photographs, trinkets, and other mementos; it pained Leonard to see such empty space, for it was a sad truth that he had little to put in it.
Sitting on the edge of the bathtub – the bathroom was spectacularly clean, he noted – Leo contemplated the nature of his new job: to explore an empty spot on the map.
It gave him some comfort, that mission. For he knew that by reaching into that mysterious emptiness and pulling out all that he could find, he would not be alone. He would have stories to tell, truths to share, and wonders to behold. And a room not empty.
The scientist smiled.