THE COMFY CHAIR
Water. Hands. Face. Charlie rubbed the smell of death off himself. He found himself in a large suite on the top floor of a building in Sand City. This building wasn’t here six months ago, the last time he was in the area. He could have sworn there was a city regulation against buildings this high. Yet here he was, with a beautiful view of the Monterey Bay that stretched up the coastline all the way to Santa Cruz. He could see a large facility a little less than halfway up the coast. Must be the power plant at Moss Landing. He didn’t remember being able to spot it from a distance, though. It must be twenty miles north of here. Something seriously weird was going on in this town.
Shower. Hot water. Steam. This was the headquarters of CTC Industries. Supposedly a huge operation, with factories all over the county producing equipment with names like singularity generators, causal loop detectors, temporal scrubbers and vortex scaffolds. It all sounded like nonsense to Charlie, and when he asked the mystery man in the limo about it all the response he got was “You’ll familiarize yourself with the equipment soon enough. I’m sure the big guy is anxious to give you a tour of the facilities.”
Soap. Shampoo. Hair. Eyes. Ouch. Charlie didn’t know what to make of his mysterious new friend. He seemed the sort of person who would happily carry out any task assigned to him by the boss, be it driving a new recruit around in a limo, murdering a policeman, or fetching coffee. He must be the ultimate personal assistant. At one point Charlie asked for his name. “Names are not important,” he said, “it’s probably best you don’t know mine.” Fair enough.
Towel. Comb. Mouthwash. Suit. There was a closet full of suits, with a note on the door reading “pick your favorite!” Charlie tried on a random suit from the rack. He wasn’t one for formalwear, and never could tell the difference between a nice suit and a fashion faux pas. The suit he tried on fit nicely, however. Arms and legs just the right length, if a little loose about the midsection. His instructions from the mystery man were to go down to floor 13 when he was ready. He figured he was as ready as he would ever be for a job interview with a boss he didn’t know at a company he had never heard of in a building that seemed to pop up out of nowhere in a town where skyscrapers were never built after almost being killed by a crazed policeman seeking revenge for something that didn’t happen. It’s not like his day could get any weirder, right?
The elevator arrived the instant Charlie hit the button. Wow, the penthouse suite had its own dedicated elevator. Why was he receiving the VIP treatment for a job interview? Why did it take all the way until he figured out that the penthouse had a private elevator for Charlie to notice he was getting the VIP treatment? Stop wondering, Charlie. Nothing about today has made even a little bit of sense, and there is no reason to believe that things would start making sense now. Just hang along for the ride.
Charlie hit the 13 button on the panel. It beeped at him, and the button promptly disappeared from the panel. Well, it didn’t disappear, exactly. It slid into a hatch in the panel and the hatch closed over it. That’s cute. A building with a secret 13th floor. The door opened and revealed a long hallway with marble floors. The walls were lit up by compact fluorescent bulbs made to look like torches in an ancient dungeon. Each torch illuminated a photograph. Some of the pictures were of people that Charlie didn’t recognize, some were of places that looked vaguely familiar. There was a picture of Candlestick Park, or whatever it was being called these days. Another of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A nuclear power plant. The facade of the New York stock exchange. Some horse racing track. The last one really caught Charlie’s eye. It was an aerial view of a several mile long building, shaped like an L. This couldn’t be an interferometer, could it? Was that why this company was so interested in him? Had they got ahold of his grant proposal?
He approached a large desk in front of a large door. Behind the desk was a little Asian woman. “Are you Dr. Calloway?” Charlie nodded. “Mr. Littlefield will see you now.” The large door opened dramatically on its own. It creaked a little as if struggling against the large swaths of sunlight now pouring through the opening. Charlie never liked dramatic entrances, but even he was impressed by this display. Charlie stepped through the threshold onto the other side. The door creaked again and shut solidly behind him.
A cigar smoking man in his seventies was leaning back in a chair behind an even bigger desk than the one outside, facing away from Charlie, and enjoying his view of the bay. “Have a seat, my boy!”
Charlie sat down in an absurdly comfortable chair. The chair seemed to drain all the tension out of Charlie’s body and left him in a blissful state. No, not blissful, but somehow focused, sharp, ready to make decisions and solve problems. Before Charlie could speak up about how amazing this chair was, Mr. Littlefield explained it to him. “The boys in R and D tell me that they had to solve what was previously thought to be an intractable problem in order to design that chair you’re in. They had to figure out how to make it the most comfortable for as many people as possible, while simultaneously helping posture, and blood flow and some other things I can’t recall at the moment. Oh, and this was the tough part: I told them I didn’t want anyone falling asleep in that chair while I’m talking to them. I tend to go on, you see. They somehow designed a material that increases alertness. If I hadn’t seen the results I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Oh, I do tend to ramble a bit in my old age. Forgive my manners, I should properly introduce myself. I’m Tex Littlefield, the proprietor of this establishment, as I like to say. It is an absolute pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”
Mr. Littlefield stuck out his hand. Charlie shook it, and tried not to grimace from the extra hard grip that was squeezing his hand. Normally Charlie would have mumbled something like “nice to meet you, too” back at him, but for some reason Charlie felt that for once on this inexplicable day he would take charge in a situation. “If you really want to hire me, you should call me Dr. Calloway.”
Tex took a thoughtful puff of his cigar. “Builds confidence, too! I tell ya son, sorry, Dr. Calloway, that chair has been in here a solid week and I still get surprised at what it can do. I’m gonna have to give the boys in research a raise or something. When this thing hits the market in six months, it is gonna change the world! Hooo-whee!!”
Charlie did feel more confident, but was a bit discomfited by the thought that a chair could alter his behavior like this. “What is it that you do here, exactly?”
“Ah. Yes. Well, I can understand your curiosity. It has been one helluva morning for you, hasn’t it? Trouble is, and I’ve been warned about this, you are probably not going to believe what this company does. Hell, I didn’t believe it when I came on board last year, I’m still not sure I believe it. So I’m gonna have to ask you to keep an open mind, because we want you to be a major cog in this machine.”
Charlie knew what was coming. He supposed he knew all morning long, but simply refused to admit it. “Let me guess, you build new gadgets through the use of time travel. I saw your infomercial this morning. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. But since you’ve treated me so nicely today, I’ll hear you out.”
Tex took another puff off his cigar. “Well, I must say that the stories are true, you are a sharp one. Fair enough. Tell you what, after we’re through chattin’ here I will take you on a personal tour of the facilities. All our factories, labs, power centers, you name it. I know you are a scientist, so I can appreciate that you need to see some rock solid evidence before you believe anything so fantastic as commercial time travel. But if you are convinced, you’ve got to agree to come work for us. Deal?”
Charlie didn’t see a choice here. If he wasn’t convinced, which seemed likely, then he would just go home and keep searching for a postdoc position or a regular job. But if he was, however crazy that might sound, there must be some fantastic new physics discovered here. Not just fantastic, but mind blowing, Earth shattering, rewrite the textbooks kind of stuff. How could he refuse to be a part of that?