by T. Gene Davis
I barely finished writing the note, Mom, I promise I still remember your birthday. I hope you had a happy one! before Heidi joined me in good old conference room 812.
“What’s that?” Heidi interrogated as she flopped into the conference room chair next to mine. She gasped the words, like it was the last chore she could manage before succumbing to overwork and collapsing into unconsciousness. She still managed to point accusingly at the birthday card. I wanted to say, none of your business, but she had already snatched it from my lap.
“Do we need another talk about personal space, Heidi?”
“This is nice.” She examined the glitter covered front with candles and cake, then she examined the interior. “You forgot your mama’s birthday. Oooo, you really forgot her birthday. Just a tip, … putting the date of her birthday inside the card doesn’t make it any less late.”
I reached for the card, not really in the mood, but she gave me a hands-off kind of look, and moved the card just out of reach.
“I’m not done looking yet. Don’t be so grabby! Sheesh.”
I put my hands on my lap feeling slightly guilty as if I had broken a standard of etiquette that no one had the courtesy to tell me about. I took a deep breath, reminding myself that I’d be giving two weeks notice after this meeting. I visualized myself pretending to like my unexciting job, and rude co-workers for two more weeks. The sad part was I had had such high hopes for this place. This institute was supposed to make you famous. Mostly, it just prevented me for getting birthday cards out on time.
All work, no fame.
She finished examining the card and kept it. Of course. She’d taunt me with it for most of the day, and maybe return it tomorrow morning.
“It’s late. I need to get it mailed off.” I tried to appeal to the part of her that didn’t act ten years old.
“Relax. Mike’s here. The meeting’s starting.”
The meeting was on another boring quantum tunneling project.
“What’s new about that?” someone asked.
I enjoyed the luxury of ignoring the answer. Instead, I kept an eye on my mother’s card. At least, Heidi wasn’t bending it.
“We’ve had enough fun with distance. Now we’ll take a shot at another dimension—time.”
“How will we know we actually sent the data back, and didn’t accidentally or intentionally create false results?”
“Now that is the real trick. We’ll need to send the tunnel to a third party that has no knowledge of our tests.”
“Send the tunnel?” another soon-to-be-former co-worker asked.
“We’ll be sending data to our own wireless network through quantum tunnelling. We want to send something verifiable. Maybe an email, or something. The problem is that no one knew to look for the data we are sending back, so verification will be difficult. An email is easiest to verify, but a spam filter may catch it, or it might be deleted and forgotten because it seems like a joke.”
Heidi jumped to her feet waving my mother’s card.
“We have a winner! Look at me boys!”
I stood to grab the now definitely wrinkled card from her. I got it in hand, then she grabbed my arm and dragged me to the front of the conference room.
Mike looked at us with a question on his lips. He had no idea what that question was, but looking at Heidi did no good. She seemed ready to pass out from her exertion. She waved her hand at the card in my hand in a broad sweeping gesture, as though that was enough.
I really wished I had paid attention to what everyone had been talking about. I didn’t know how my mother’s late card could be of interest to the forty-plus engineers in attendance.
“What is that in your hand?” Mike asked.
“It’s a birthday card for my mother.”
Heidi gasped out, “It’s late.”
“We were in the middle of our last crunch. I completely forgot.”
“Just answer the man.” Heidi had caught her breath.
“Three weeks.” I ground my teeth wanting to give my two weeks right then and march out dramatically.
Mike’s eyes lit up. I’d never seen eyes light up before. “I could kiss you.” I thought for a moment he might. I took a step back, bumping into Heidi.
Someone in the back, Allan I think, spoke up. “So in theory, we could look for verification that the data was sent, now. Then, we’ll know if we were successful, and save ourselves the effort of attempting the project.”
Heidi pulled her phone out from somewhere. I really didn’t see or want to know from where. She put it on speaker, and the room got quiet.
“What’s your mom’s number?”
I didn’t bother arguing. I think I had figured out where this was all heading. She dialed. It rang a couple of times, and my mother picked up.
“Henry? You sound like your calling from the toilet. You’re not calling from the toilet are you?”
The room erupted in laughter.
“Is this a prank call?”
“No Mom. I have you on speaker phone. I’m in a meeting. Here. I’m going to let my boss explain. His name is Mike. Here he is.”
Mike spoke loud enough for the phone to pick up his voice.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jameston.”
“Same to you, Henry’s boss.”
Mike smiled. “We just called to apologize.”
“For what?” My mother sounded interested, now.
“The entire team has been working Henry so hard he never had a chance to call you for your birthday.”
Now he had to be guessing, because he only knew I hadn’t sent a card.
“That’s okay,” my mother answered. “I’m used to it.”
There were snickers from around the room. Mike silenced them with a serious glance.
“Mrs. Jameston, did he at least send you a birthday card?”
“He emailed me one. He promised to send me the real one as soon as you all stopped working him so hard.”
Mike laughed, and a cheer went up through the conference room. As the cheer died down, someone started up singing “Happy Birthday.” The whole room joined in and from their enthusiasm obviously meant it.
Heidi elbowed me hard to the ribs, still holding the phone up for everyone to see. “Looks like everything’s done but the work!”
I grinned at her joke. It looks like I have a reason to stick around after all, I thought to myself. Then, I joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to my mother.
T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, poetry, articles, books, and computer software.
T. Gene Davis notes, … “We’ve all forgotten to mail off a birthday card on time, but few of us have the ability to bend space and time so the birthday message gets there on the right date anyway.”
Follow his daily exploits on Twitter @TGeneDavis or visit Gene’s blog at http://freesciencefiction.com on the web.