Saharan Light Part I. Chapter II.

28 Feb

Night fell, and the games and races continued under brilliant light emitted from aerostats suspended high above the desert. Circle-dancers completed steps brought from ancient Greece by migrants. Folk musicians played instruments now found in European museums. A world that no longer existed in the homeland was being recalled in nostalgia here on the Sahara Desert.

Both city-dwellers and sandfarmers headed for the parking areas on the outskirts where kinitons waited to take them away. It was time for Hermes to part with his new acquaintances, the beautiful Echo and her employer.

“I’d better leave now,” he told them. “It is a long drive out to the Apollo Institute where I live and work.”

All at once, Cadmus smiled. A bright idea had occurred to him.

“I am having a party at my apartment in Gamara this coming Saturday evening. You think you can be there with us?” he asked the scientist.

It took less than an instant for Hermes to decide.

“Yes, I’d be delighted to come,” he replied with gusto.

“Good. I live on the eighth tier, the south side. My apartment has a wonderful view of the farm fields in that direction for miles away. It is a magnificent sight to look at from above.”

Echo then spoke. “We will be expecting your presence, Hermes,” she merrily beamed. “It will be a pleasure to see you on the high deck of our city.”

A wild desert wolf howled into the star-lit night enveloping the Apollo Light Institute. Small stucco houses resembling cubes surrounded the huge laboratory building at the center. As his passenger kiniton slowed, Hermes noticed that lights were burning in the section where he himself worked. He decided to investigate who was there long past midnight. What was going on in the lab? he asked himself. Who was busy there at this late hour?

The dry desert had turned cooler and comfortable for a few hours. What made the sand seem so much friendlier now than in the heat of day? It had to be more than the difference in temperature. As he walked to the lab, he was thankful for the temporary absence of burning, blazing Helios in the sky. Solar rays were gone for a time. Only with the dawn would the radiant eye once more return.

Hermes found the door unlocked. He hurried to his chromatology section. That door was also surprisingly unlocked.

As soon as he entered the large experiment chamber, a voice addressed him.

“You are back, I see. Did you have a good time on your time off today?”

The thick low voice belonged to Director Hebe Triton. In the three years she had headed the Institute her body had grown heavier, her face fuller. Hard work had toughened her. There was a self-confident authority in the way that she commanded her small kingdom out on the empty sands.

“The festival was a pleasant interlude,” replied Hermes. “Tomorrow I will go back to work, though.”

Hebe made a little grimace on her round, full face. “That is what I came in here tonight to look for. Do you have any more data that I can report to our trustees?”

So that is what she is searching for, Hermes told himself.

“Nothing definite yet,” he declared with regret. “Only the same random readings that always surface in these types of studies.”

The big woman’s brow began to wrinkle a little. She was worried and did not care to conceal that fact from him.

“It will be difficult to justify our high expenses in the next budget, Hermes. There is great pressure to take away equipment time and use it for what appear to be more practical projects, things with more immediate applications.”

All at once, the danger to his own plans became plainly evident to him.

“But I must have access to the light pulser. It’s absolutely essential for my explorations beyond the visible color spectrum. Without the pulser, I’d have to abandon the study of ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Everything that I’ve done will have been to no purpose unless I can go on into extreme areas of inviable forms of light.”

He stared at her, his face and eyes pleading.

The Director turned her azure eyes away, avoiding the power of his fixed gaze. The gears of her orderly mind spun rapidly, almost out of control.

“You must have some positive results I can show the trustees,” she quietly told him again. “Otherwise, there is nothing that any of us can do.”

“This is my life work,” he desperately murmured. His voice grew dry. “If I don’t win funding and use of the pulser, I might as well quit and go elsewhere. I would have to start my research all over again.”

Hebe sensed a blunt threat in his last words. She began to move swiftly toward the door. Then she stopped, turned about, and spoke to him with a hint of desperation.

“I will see what I can do. But it would help if you had some concrete results with promise in them, Hermes.”

The Director quickly disappeared.

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