This day started well a cooler morning after a week of heatwaves. Stan Mitty strolled towards the meeting that the faculty was being at the University. Stan was an average-looking man of medium height. Only fitness and a cheeky smile for everyone he passed set him apart.
Today was another hurdle to jump in the never-ending politics that was University life.
As head of miscellaneous and support, Stan Mitty was only there to make notes regarding the subjects which would impinge on his department; He wasn't there to be consulted as most professors felt that a lowly master couldn't comprehend higher pursuits.
The meeting was progressing as normal until the last item; this being the retention of the support department; this happened every time a new Vice-Chancellor was appointed. The proposal stumped the senior heads as each didn't want the responsibility of liaising between theoretical and practical sciences, not that Stan's employment was in question.
After a bit of waffle trying to distance them from the responsibility for the decision, each head then resolved to write a proposal and submit it at the next meeting. This agenda left Stan somewhat amused by this as he had been through the inquisition several times with chaos reigning. The only change since the last was the appointment of three new department heads.
While Stan held masters in several disciplines, he was never able to complete a doctoral candidate programme; due to being too busy liaising between departments. As part of his task was to attend lectures and act as either straight man to their comedian or vice versa when an interface problem arose. Stan had participated in the required lectures and road-tested the exams. Therefore, he had completed the post-graduate requirements hence the multiple degrees.
Stan's responsibility was for organising all tasks from cleaning to experiment assembly, organising laboratory technicians and supplies. He was required to hold one lecture with all students each semester regarding safety during tests and demonstrating the adverse consequences of not following correct procedures. Theorists have great ideas, but no concept of potential outcomes when translated to the real world. The hard physics have no concept as to accidental exceeding limits feeling that the bigger the bang, the better the results. The responsibility of safety concerning cleaners and lab technicians was within Stan's purview as was the provision of their services to each department, being responsible to the Vice-Chancellor for this. One advantage that his staff held was each of the other departments is required to assign an extra 5% on their budget as ‘Miscellaneous’ to pay for the services provided. Every time they calculated doing the job themselves, it turned out they need twice the money which would then have to be fought for, having to invest considerable time and resources for this to occur whereas Stan operated off a scribbled note and a quick chat over a morning cup, his office door being open for that purpose.
However getting back to the day, Professor Symons said, “Stan, can you join me in my office, and we will work out a strategy.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that, should be no drama, same old same old,” Stan laughed as he followed Symons there.
“Sit down Stan; there is a change. The new heads aren't up to speed on how necessary is your function. The scuttlebutt is that they think they can do without you and divide your budget amongst themselves,” Professor Symons reported, “The new Vice-Chancellor only sees you as a budget black-hole that no-one wants to justify on paper.”
“Been there done that, I sit on my hands for a week then all hell breaks loose; then they are on their knees begging me to return and restore the status quo,” Stan said.
“Perhaps not this time, how about a research fellowship and do that doctoral dissertation that you always whine about?” Symons offered.
“Well if it is going to take more than a week or I get my marching orders, you’re on,” Stan shook hands on it, “Though I am surprised that you don’t already have a candidate.”
“The current batch is either a little wet behind the ears or rather chase a higher profile department,” Symons explained then smiled, “Besides I get exclusive service with your spare time and go one up on the newbies.”
“All my staff would then become the Vice Chancellor’s problem, sounds like a plan,” Stan agreed, “When do I start?”
“Immediately, I did the paperwork and slipped it into Dean’s office when I heard the rumour,” Symons smiled complacently, “Naturally you will be too busy to help any of the others. While not as flashy as your current office it comes with an entrance which no-one knows about.”
“As long as no-one bothers me and I can do some real thinking, I can dust off that dissertation proposal and throw it on your desk,” Stan announced, “I know the workload you carry as I usually enjoy doing it myself. So where is this marvellous hidey-hole?”
“That’s it,” Pointing at a door, “I sit in there when I need to be alone, and it is bigger than it looks,” Symons grinned, "I spotted it, then claimed it as it isn't on the plan."
Stan opened the door and examined the space; it wasn’t that much smaller than his current office with a window and ventilation. There was sufficient space in the room even with all his furniture, without a need for the filing cabinets. There was another door exiting onto the corridor, which also looked like another broom closet door; the outside marked with a code which indicated a cleaner’s supply room.
“I shift my stuff in there and tell my staff to refer all work to the Admin office, eh?” Stan proposed.
“Should make his day as the idea originated from his office,” Symons agreed.
Stan did as Symons suggested and moved into the new office. As he left the old one, posted a note, ‘Due to unforeseen circumstances direct all inquiries to the Vice-chancellor’s office, I apologise for any inconvenience’.
Stan then contacted his cleaning manager and informed him, “All yours when you need advice or funds ring the Vice-Chancellor, and he will look after you. I will see you around.”
“That’s sudden, what happened?” Bob asked.
“Reshuffle, I am off to join Professor Symons as one of his crew,” Stan Informed him, “Anne in the V-Cs office will look after you I am sure, sorry for the lack of notice, but the powers that be have made a group 10 decision without actually thinking it through. If you want a cuppa and chinwag, knock on C12 broom closet and don’t let anyone see you do it.”
“When the pigeons fly, the cat is nowhere to be seen?” Bob surmised.
“Yes, I have a new job and won’t be available for the usual running around,” Stan laughed.
“The whole place will fall apart, as long as they don’t blame me,” Bob shook his head.
“Throw it into the V-Cs lap, it is not my fault either,” Stan suggested.
Next job was to pass the same direction onto the senior lab technician who received the information with equanimity as this happened every couple of years and knew where to send the work orders.
Next step was to complete the transfer of furniture via Professor Symons office. No-one would be game to inquire as he has the reputation of having a very short temper regarding idle curiosity. When he was dealing with serious questions, he used the Julius Sumner Miller technique of throwing back the question “Why is it so?” He then supplied the inquirer with a standard form listing reference material. People who rose to this challenge were his favourites, especially if they gave him a new answer which required him to chase up himself, after which he would add the reference to the list.
The next day after the proposal was dusted off and handed to the professor who received it in the usual way, “What do you expect to achieve with this idea?” Symons asked then cut him off with, “And what if the wheels fall off? Well get on with it I expect results if you have been thinking about it for so long.”
The proposal was investigating parallel dimensions and practical application of the theory. The debate regarding several multiverse hypotheses still raged, and some of the experiments Stan had set up had anomalous results required rebuilding the test and rerun. Some of the multiverse theories hint that these anomalies are the sort of outcomes expected. So Stan designed an apparatus that embodied some of the unusual features of the failed experiments then added another feature until it either blew up or sat there inert. He would investigate each result to be integrated into the thesis, either as an unknown or proved false.
Rumours had arisen concerning a factory South West of Brisbane selling equipment that was still under patent-pending and yet demonstrates function without any explanation as to the how; including an apparent teleport device operating as a city bypass. While Stan was researching the background, it turned out that a Post Grad student in mathematics was the son of the founder and was doing some interesting research in the same area. Stan searched him out and had a chat; Tom Firebrand was his name, and while he was still working on his thesis, was willing to talk around the edges.
After a couple of hours asking questions and putting forward possibilities; the conversation became painted into the corner until Tom made a decision. “Why don’t you come up to Toowoomba this weekend and have a chat with my father?” Tom suggested, “I have spoken to him about your interest, and he thinks you may help fill the gaps in the theory .”
Puzzled by the form the invitation took, Stan was curious enough to take him up on the offer. “Sounds like a good idea,” Stan accepted, “OK if I drive?”
“Yes, beats walking as I don’t have a car,” Tom laughed.
"OK, see you Friday, and we will have a visit," Stan proposed.
Friday rolled around, and the pair drove up to Toowoomba to see his father's factory. At Withcott, Tom directed Stan to drive through the By-pass System using his pass card. "What do you think? Beats driving through a city, eh?" Tom asked.
"It certainly does. How does it work?" Stan asked.
"That's what I am working on discovering. Dad knows some things but the people he receives the data from, insist that we have to work out the actual mechanisms ourselves. So there is still a real mystery to be solved by us," Tom advised, "The maths suggests a parallel universe where we drive out of ours through the adjacent one then back into ours some distance away."
"That is what I am working on myself, except I am coming from the hardware end," Stan said.
"Once we are at the factory, Dad will show you the mechanisms involved, though I must warn you that it is sealed and seems more magic than nuts and bolts," Tom advised.
"I see what goes in and what comes out; it would be a big help," Stan suggested intrigued.
Tom guided Stan into Senior's office and introduced his father as Steven Firebrand.
"Welcome, Stan? I hear you are interested in parallel worlds and their use for the everyday housewife," Senior said, "If so, you have come to the right place."
"Thanks, Tom told me that it is all sealed, works damn fine, and no-one knows the actual mechanisms?" Stan asked.
"True, we are encouraged to work it out ourselves then design our gear, in the meantime, we have the production equipment on loan," Senior explained, "The source is confidential 'backslash' unbelievable."
"Sounds interesting perhaps if you show me, it may give me some hints. Tom and I can then collaborate to achieve that outcome," Stan said.
"Yes, otherwise, you wouldn't be here," Senior agreed, "After delivery of the critical parts, we assemble them and test. If you have a sharp pencil and pad to write on, follow me."
Entering the factory Senior grabbed a package and opened it. Inside were plastic blocks with a multitude of contacts, "These are the Integrated circuits, any attempt to dissect them, and they disintegrate," Senior explained, "We have made a tidy sum from people buying and trying to analyse them. If you were to look under a microscope, we listed the component materials for everyone to read."
"Here's a blown-up photo," Senior offered a foolscap-sized photo full of metals and chemicals headed by the words 'thank you for your donation, works best if left intact'.
"I would rather not try to explain the where, but I am sure that you can fun guessing for yourself," Senior said, "Now these are the other components that we make ourselves and hold the patents." Handing Stan a bundle of engineering drawings and pointing at the conveyor belt bringing those to the assembly area.
"This line is the sleep guns, the next Kinetic Shields, then over here the portal gates for vehicle transport," Senior narrated, "Observe all you wish I will leave you with Tom, who can answer any questions."
"Thanks, I prefer to work things out for myself, the reason I love science," Stan assured. After spending most of the day watching the lines and observing the test procedures, Stan had seen all there was to see.
"Well, with this in hand, I should start to simulate the effects using the gear I already have. If I can return to see something I missed?" Stan asked as he farewelled Senior to go back to the Uni.
"Sure anytime, glad you enjoyed yourself," Senior offered, "I may come down and look over your shoulder if you don't mind?" The two shook hands on it, and Stan and Tom headed east.
Back in his office, Stan started by examining the charts for the contacts with the voltages going in and out, together with the design of the antennas. Stan was getting an inkling of the waveform that he needed to generate. Gloating over what he had discovered, Stan started the process of designing a series of experiments.
After the debacle of leaving the Miscellaneous Department, Stan had joined Professor Symons’ staff as a research associate and laboratory assistant. The trouble started when conducting experiments with time measurement and exploring the possible existence of a multiverse. There had been a leakage at Professor Symons' test facility; as the lab technician and postgrad student, Stan was assigned the task of finding and rectifying the problem.
As Stan located the area, he experienced a blue flash, as he was wearing protective clothing, Stan wasn’t overly concerned, after repairing the breach and then checking the dosimeters. They were all negative, and Stan informed the Professor that ‘All was well’.
Not really expecting much beyond a grunt, it was still a little off-putting to be ignored, Stan stood there until he received some recognition. It came as a surprise after looking directly at Stan for more than a few seconds to have the professor complain. “Could you whistle before you pop up in front of me in future?”
As Stan had been standing there for at least 15 seconds and reported in a loud voice as the Prof was a bit deaf; it was a bit off, but you don’t argue with the boss. Symons then said, “Carry on with apparatus B.” Stan walked to the other side of the room and then heard behind, “Aren't you going to move? I haven’t got all day.”
Thinking that the old fellows had finally lost his marbles, being at least 3 metres away, Stan thought no further about it at that time. Now years later, Stan often lamented that second sight was not a requirement for experiments; life would have been much simpler if he had stayed in bed that day.
Later, Stan was on a rare visit to the Uni checking on the progress with experiments, as he was ‘Persona non-Gratia’ he was in disguise and out of phase. If you haven’t heard about the poltergeist in the Technology Hall, you haven’t seen Stan. Stan wandered around checking on their progress since he had been there last. It would seem that they had eventually found out how to duplicate the effect, and there were observers to watch out for people like Stan.
Perhaps he had stayed in one place too long, as one young fellow started to pull out a stun rod to zap him. Because Stan had a 5-second jump on the youth, he was standing behind him when the student had brought the end to bear, and Stan whispered in his ear, “A bit slow there, try to get Professor Symons instead.” This voice in his ear made him jump and indeed, that was who he zapped; causing much confusion. In the resultant turmoil, Stan decided to move on to the lecture rooms and see where the present talk was heading.
The lecturer had been a post-grad student when Stan had been the centre of attention. He listened keeping a low profile until she mentioned a historical fact incorrectly, stating that Stan had discovered the process and afterwards had been unhelpful in describing how he did it. Somewhat irritated Stan dropped back into normal phase so then became visible and addressed the lecturer.
“Excuse me, Sue, that’s not entirely correct, it was an accident, and I was helping as best as I could to find the cause; that is until they started talking about vivisection,” Stan stated, “As any sensible person would do, I got myself out of there.”
"Stan, I didn’t see you there, we are both right it just depends on viewpoint. However, no-one mentioned that last bit; I don’t blame you,” Sue said, “People this is Professor Mitty, who has been the subject of this lecture.”
“Doctor, I'm not on the faculty. How’s the wind blowing are they still after my blood?” Stan asked, “And other bits and pieces,” He couldn’t refrain from adding.
“Not anymore, there is an open invitation to return; the prodigal son is welcome all is forgiven,” She laughed.
“Yeah, I had a taste of the welcome a few minutes ago. Old Prof Symons won’t be happy when he wakes up after his boy zapped him,” Stan returned.
“Would you like to give an insight into how you discovered the process?” Sue asked, “If you would, I am sure the class would appreciate it.”
“I would love to, but perhaps I had better hear the invitation for myself before I remain too long in one spot around here,” Stan demurred, “Better be off nice seeing you again.” With that, he phased out, and then stepped quickly through the door, hearing the gasps, as to the class Stan vanished. Now being difficult to see Stan made his way to Professor Symons’ office to await his return. Prof Symons strode in grumbling about “Idiot boys.”
Stan spoke up from the visitor’s seat, “Feeling OK, Prof?”
Without thinking, the older man replied. “That idiot Jones decided to practice his stun gun on me. Luckily I had Tubby to land on.” Then realising who had asked the question, “Mitty, when will you learn to whistle when you pop up? Did you have something to do with that?”
“Might have, he was aiming at me, and I ducked. Since when do you have a welcoming committee?” Stan asked in turn.
“Since you and the others became a nuisance and kept popping up,” Symons answered, “When are you coming back, I could do with a bit of common sense around here.”
“As soon as everyone puts away the scalpels and stop looking at me with a speculative eye,” Stan replied.
“Don’t need that now, we have real lab rats who don’t complain all the time,” Symons said tersely, “Seriously, we do need your experience to control the effect. So whenever you are ready, I will post a notice that you are off the open season list.”
“Sounds good; it a bit lonely in the big world out there,” Stan answered, “Just where are you with the project?”
“We can put the phase effect on anyone, but they don’t have the fine control that you have,” The Prof said, “The rats for instance flash in and out without rhyme or reason. The volunteers have a little more control; that is why we need a welcoming committee; a couple of them think it is funny to stir things. That part has ground to a halt.”
“Well over the last year I have had a lot of practice, and I think that I have the control down pat,” Stan replied., “Perhaps if you wave that scalpel at them, they will get the message and learn control.”
“Yes, might work at that. So are you back?” Symons asked, “Since we have the rats and can do the surgery, we have found no physical change can be detected. So that is a dead end.”
“Okay, as soon as I see the notice board welcoming me back, I will be here to help,” Stan stated.
Professor Symons reached down and picked up a document, which was all official-looking and signed by himself. “Feel like putting that up yourself?” Shaking my hand as he handed it over and indicated towards the hallway noticeboard.
It read: Associate Professor Stanley Mitty has returned to the technical faculty with all privileges and signed Professor Alfred Symons. It was dated five days ago.
“All prepared are we, just hoping or did you expect me to turn up?”Stan asked with a smile.
“Of course, I never leave anything to chance in this business,” Symons said, “Now run along there is much to do, I need to get some results for the Dean.”
First, Stan went to the Tech Hall and showed the welcoming committee so that he wasn't on the target list. Having done so, Stan proudly carried the sign and placed it on the notice board. When Stan arrived, there Sue was nearby and applauded as he pinned it up. “Welcome back, Prof,” she said, “When are you going back to the rostrum?”
“When I have settled down.”
Later Stan was in the cafeteria, and Sue sat down and asked, "What have you been up to lately?"
"Up the hill with Tom and Steven Firebrand sorting out their patents," Stan replied.
"I have been following the progress of the papers that Tom and you produced for your doctorates. They put the science world on its' ear with some of the theories uncovered. I have tried to follow some of the logic but have come to the conclusion that there are a few red herrings among the writing," Sue said.
"Now, Sue, why would I do such a thing? Okay, perhaps some details could be a little more transparent. We decided that clarity in some areas would tend to remove believable aspects," Stan said, "Tom and I were able to defend our theories."
"Any chance that you could clear some things up for me?" Sue asked, intrigued.
"Perhaps, would you like to visit the Firebrand factory then I will point, and you can whistle?" Stan suggested, "You are the only one invited."
"You're on, when?" Sue responded.
"I have this afternoon free if that suits you? Tell me when it suits you," He agreed.
"I am free, but it is a two-hour drive each way if all roads are clear," Sue suggested.
"I thought you read the paper?" Stan asked rhetorically then looking to see if there were eavesdroppers then added in a conspiratorial tone, "Meet me in the lab, and I will show you my etchings."
"If Fred from Engineering suggested that, it would deserve a slap," Sue laughed, "OK, I will be there in ten minutes."
Once they were both in the lab, Stan rang Steve and cleared the visit, having been given the go-ahead ushered Sue over to the portal.
"Step into my parlour said the spider to the fly," Stan quoted, "Follow me if you can handle a little disorientation." Stepping from the lab into the way station, then into the Firebrand Lift, which opened onto Steven's office vestibule.
"How is that for a nifty trick? Good afternoon Anne, is Senior busy?" Stan asked then introduced Sue, "Sue Travers meet Anne Bartholomew, CEO of Firebrand Industries."
"Hello Sue, you're game to hang around with Stan," Anne stood and welcomed Sue, "Senior knows you are here, he is waiting on the factory floor, and if you meet him, he will show you around,"
"I know the way, if you follow me, the first pointing that I did was the portal gate, take notes?" Stan asked.
"Fine example of white man's magic," Sue commented, "I guess we stepped into a next-door world and then stepped back out up the hill?"
"Very close to describing the process," Stan confirmed, "Come in here, and I will show you the assembly lines."
As they entered the building, Steven spotted them and called them over, "Welcome Sue and Stan, shall I give the grand tour?" Steven invited.
"Yes, thank you, Steve, Sue would like to see the process in action to see past the red herrings," Stan accepted.
"Yes those bits, if you can spot them I have a few research projects that may interest you," Steven offered.
"I love a challenge, should be interesting to find out more," Sue responded.
Sue was given the grand tour and was pointed at the obscurities and then to the testing bay where each component was demonstrated working. "I will have to do a lot of whistling to explain those effects; it has been very illuminating. Where does Stan's affliction come in?" Sue asked.
"That's one project you can take on, Tom suggests that if we were to discover a hyperspace drive, a treatment like this perhaps should protect the voyagers from the harmful relativity effects," Senior advised.
"I will write some ideas and send them to you; it will take a while to assimilate what I have learnt this afternoon," Sue considered.
"I will look forward to that, which is the reason that Stan invited you up here, I have heard a lot of good things about you and your work," Steven observed, "Organise with Stan any time you want to visit. Very nice to have met you."
"An afternoon spent fruitfully; I may take you up on the offer. Goodbye for now," Sue farewelled and then accompanied Stan back to his Laboratory.
"Thanks, Stan, probably take a couple of days to think all that through, see you around, " Sue said as she arrived before returning to her office.
"My pleasure, if you think of a curly question, I will either answer or pass it up the line," Stan offered, "See you then."