Nobel Laureate Roberto Gomez realized he was not a young man anymore. Breathing hard, he stopped at the end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. He glanced at his watch. Seven minutes flat … not bad. He decided to use the three remaining minutes to walk to the middle of one of the long edges of the pool. It would be less of a hike to the pool’s center from there.
"How was it all going to work? Was he going to go for his ride soaked from the knees down or worse?" he wondered, noting the slippery looking leaves and other debris on the pool’s bottom. And how would he be taken aboard? Would he be levitated as the robots had been? Wouldn’t that suck up a bunch of water with him?
There was an odd incongruity in the way the people within eyesight were behaving. In the vicinity of the memorial, visitors strolled along in normal fashion, taking in the sights. Out on the avenues, however, there was a growing frenzy. Horns were blaring, cars were racing. Gomez realized that the news of the spacecraft’s sudden move east, directly toward Washington, was being picked up on radios and TVs everywhere. People in D.C. were on the run! He wished he had a small radio to listen to.
Thirty seconds to go. Gomez reached the midpoint of a walkway skirting a long side of the reflecting pool. He looked up into the sky. There were scattered clouds, but directly above the sky was clear and bright blue. Twenty seconds … ten seconds … the ten minutes were up! A lump began to form in Gomez’s throat. Had it been a joke after all? How could anyone have answered those two questions that fast? He wasn’t angry at whoever had done it. He was only saddened that it wasn’t true.
Out of the north there came the sound of the atmosphere being rent asunder. Almost instantly five interceptors thundered over the mall, causing people to instinctively crouch down. The planes were low and they looked big! As they banked, Gomez could actually see the heads of the aviators in the cockpits, two bright red dots inside the canopy of each jet. The underside of their wings bristled with long, lethal looking air-to-air missiles. Gomez’s heart beat wildly in his chest. It wasn’t a joke! Why else would those big boys be on the scene?
“Surely they aren’t going to fire on it! Surely they’ve learned the futility of that!” he thought angrily. With a scalp jerking grin, Gomez realized that he was taking sides and throwing in with Thinker and the alien ship!
And then … then … there it was, descending out of the blue at tremendous speed. Gomez thought it had to be coming down much faster than free fall. With a start he remembered his instructions and stepped into the water. Doggedly he plowed toward the middle of the pool. Out of the corner of his eye he saw people racing toward the pool, pointing up in the air. Then he was at the center. People were shrieking and falling all around him on the walkways! Some were attempting to crawl away. He looked up and there it was, hovering directly above him. It was huge! It filled the sky!
Gomez began to feel his body grow heavy. What was happening? The water around him began to race away in all directions. It washed over the edges of the pool, eliciting more screams from the people struggling on the ground. He braced himself, grunting, striving heroically to stay on his feet. His chin sank to his chest in spite of himself. The water had sunk to his shoes. And then he was standing in a circle of soggy leaves.
With a rush the weight lifted. Gomez’s insides floated up against his diaphragm. It was like going over the top of a roller coaster run!
“Whoa!” he cried, staring bug-eyed as the reflecting pool receded away from his dangling feet. His field of view widened rapidly. The entire reflecting pool now lay in his field of vision! Now he was looking down on the top of the Washington Monument! He tore his eyes away from the Earth and looked up vertiginously.
The enormous craft appeared to completely fill the sky. Directly above, a small opening seemed to descend toward him, and then he was through it, inside the ship.
With an all but inaudible hiss the hatch closed and his weight returned to normal. He was in a small chamber.
“Hello, Dr. Gomez. Welcome aboard,” a pleasant voice greeted.
Slowly, like a trapped animal, not knowing which way to turn, Gomez swiveled his head. There, holding out a pair of pajamas and slippers, was an RXT7.
“You may want to take off your wet clothes and put these on,” the robot continued.
Gomez shrugged and nodded. What the heck, when in Rome …
The pajamas were scarlet red and were made of soft, flannel-like material. It felt wonderful against his skin and the chill that had crept into his legs began to diminish.
As Gomez donned the slippers the robot spoke again.
“Follow me, please. We think you will enjoy your ride most from the ship’s bridge.”
They stepped into a circular corridor. It was well lit, yet there were no signs of lights. It curved away out of sight in either direction. The robot stepped into what looked like an elevator.
“This way, please,” it invited.
Gomez stepped inside and the door swished shut. A three-dimensional hologram floated beyond a translucent panel. It depicted a sphere with a blinking dot at the edge. The dot moved rapidly but smoothly toward the sphere’s center, and then abruptly made a right angle turn, moving back to another part of the sphere’s edge. Gomez guessed that the blinking light was them. Yet he had felt nothing. Could the gravitational field within the ship be modulated too? His guess was confirmed when the door opened again. Laid out before him was a subtly illuminated ship’s control center. A huge, transparent, bubble-like expanse of something --- plastic, glass or whatever --- looked out on a stunning panoply of stars.
Gomez gasped. The robot clicked into the control area and he followed it, gaping at everything.
“We thought you might like to sit in the pilot’s chair. It has the best view,” the robot suggested, clicking an arm up and touching a seat in front of all of the consoles and at the bubble’s center.
“Yes, thank you,” Gomez stammered, easing into the seat. Stars surrounded him! He seemed to be floating in the midst of them! Dizzily he glanced over his shoulder, as if to reassure himself that there was still a vessel behind him!
“We are under the remote control of Thinker,” the robot explained. “If you wish, you can move around and touch things; no harm will be done.”
“Thank you, this is fine for now,” Gomez marveled. “You said remote control. May I assume that Thinker is not onboard?”
“That is correct, Dr. Gomez,” a different voice spoke. It filled the bridge area; it came from no particular spot. Gomez recognized the voice.
“Thinker?” he uttered uncertainly.
“Yes,” the voice answered. “I am confident that you will enjoy this. In answer to your question, I am still at Watson University. Here, let’s have a look at our present position.”
The universe of stars streaked across the face of the large bubble. Almost instantly Gomez’s quick mind deduced that the spacecraft was pivoting around. Yet he felt absolutely nothing! It was as if he were sitting in a movie theater!”
The spinning halted abruptly and there, floating in the center of the huge expanse of the bubble, was planet Earth. A great stillness seized Gomez. It was a feeling of utter disbelief mingled ironically with a fervent conviction that this was all actually happening.
Thinker, who unbeknown to the scientist was reading his thoughts, answered the unspoken question.
“We are six-thousand miles out.”
Gomez was silent for several seconds, studying the image of the cloud enshrouded globe before them.
“Where are we going?” he asked at length.
“The craft can’t be away for long. But there’s time enough for a flyby of the Sun. Would you like that?”
“Sure!” Gomez blurted.
“Very well,” Thinker said. “Everything for the trip is programmed into the ship’s computer. You and I will be out of contact for a little while.”
“Oh? For how long?” Gomez asked anxiously.
“About eight minutes of Earth time.”
“Earth time,” Gomez said. “And ship time?”
“Slightly less. You’ll attain a speed quite close to the speed of light relative to the Sun.”
“Time dilation!” Gomez marveled.
“Yes, it’s for real, even for big systems like your body and the spacecraft,” Thinker replied.
“How close will we get?” Gomez asked.
“About two hundred thousand miles.”
“Pretty close!” he remarked.
“The ship deflects all matter streaming toward it,” Thinker explained. “And most of the radiation is reflected from the sphere’s surface. There is some slight heating, but it’s not a problem.”
“The accelerations will be enormous!” Gomez ventured.
“Indeed. But you won’t feel them. Enjoy your trip,” Thinker replied.
The Earth began to shrink rapidly. A backdrop of stars filled in around it, and then the universe streaked again. The ship rotated the bridge into the direction of travel, and the Sun came to rest in the center of Gomez’s field of view. The intense white muted to tones of blue, and Gomez was able to stop squinting.”
“Everything should be whitish red,” he thought. “But we’re traveling so fast towards the Sun that things are Doppler shifted into the blue.”
Gomez noted a distortion of the universe of stars, still visible beyond the periphery of the Sun’s corona. Everything began to pack together more densely.
“Aberration,” he marveled, “also an effect of our huge velocity.”
It was all too much! It exceeded his wildest boyhood fantasies. Why had he been chosen? What was Thinker’s agenda? Roberto Gomez sank back into the seat in a state of rapture and watched the ball of fire grow larger and larger.