Ashwin was working late into the night, again, for the umpteenth time, and he was only halfway through. The reason for that seventeenth night of June was due to a glitch that had appeared on the space and time continuum system. There appeared to be a set of data missing. Like it had just vanished out of thin air, bottoming out of space in a tail wind, leaving in its place a ripple.
Time ripples didn't happen often enough to be considered as a major disruption in the space and time flow. Nor was it likely to affect space travelers if left on its own for the next twenty-four hours until he could figure out the problem. But Ashwin didn't like to take chances, even those that were that slim. He was a worrier by nature.
Even though he was worried about the time ripple that had just been created, Ashwin had decided not to call in his mentor, Dr. William Fodds, since the scientist wouldn't like being woken up halfway through the night. He would call if he absolutely needed to after he had tried everything. But Ashwin felt confident enough, having resolved a number of time ripples that had cropped up in the past several years that he had been working at the Head Researching in Time and Space, located in York, New United States, since the completion of his educational degrees in History of Space and Time. All that was needed was to input the coordinates in order to sew the ripples of time together. Oh, how wrong he had been mistaken.
That time ripple was like none that Ashwin had ever fixed. Just when he thought it was all fixed, alert after alert after yet another alert flashed on the panel he had pulled up before where he stood in the lab that was more a home than his condo was these days. All the alert flashed was Code Red with the emergency red lights blinking in the whole laboratory.
Ashwin was unable to shut down the Code Red alert due to not having the clearance responsible for the task required to terminate the alert. He would, after all, need to contact his mentor, and Dr. Fodds was disgruntled over the comm when Ashwin's call connected. But Dr. Fodds still arrived at the lab within fifteen minutes, always ready for an on-call emergency despite being woken up.
"When did you notice the ripple?"
"About an hour ago," Ashwin said. "I was just closing up, about to head home, when the notice was dispatched in by a team of space explorers."
"Why not leave it until the morning?" Dr. Fodds questioned. "Time ripples can usually wait until morning since they start out too small for anything to slip through."
Ashwin liked knowing that he had completed all tasks and issues that filled his dockets before he allowed himself to punch out for the day. It was more fulfilling for him to know that he had finished all the work for that day and that the next would bring new jobs to be handled. But Dr. Fodds was the opposite. Even though Dr. Fodds would finish up everything that was presented to him upon arrival, the scientist wouldn't complete anything that cropped up beyond six in the evening. Like clockwork every day, Dr. Fodds left the lab at six o'clock on the dot; not a minute sooner, nor later.
"Callahan," Dr. Fodds started, using Ashwin's surname as he was accustomed to do, "I'm tired of you working overtime just for minimal occurrences that can wait until the morning."
The alert was still blaring and flashing as Dr. Fodds spoke, which was somewhat distracting as Ashwin tried to formulate a defense.
"I know, sir," Ashwin said. "But wouldn't you agree that I was in the right to stay after tonight to work out this ripple?"
"Perhaps," Dr. Fodds said, "though we may never know at this point, now will we? Nevertheless, had you not been here, it could have been even more catastrophic than a Code Red."
Ashwin swallowed back a lump. More catastrophic than a Code Red? He had never, in his years with Head Research of Time and Space (HRTS), seen any issue greater than a Code Red, and those were even a rarity. Code Reds happened anywhere from once to five times in the span of a month or two.
Then, at long lost, Dr. Fodds managed to shut the Code Red off, the alert blinking out in time with the panel that had been an LCD of commands and coded text floating in the air before them. Ashwin watched as Dr. Fodds brought up the lighted scroll of text yet again, using his finger to navigate through the system, like treading through water. Smooth and easy.
"Alright, the ripple seems to have come in from some time in January 1941, though nothing appears to have been affected in that time as of yet," Dr. Fodds said, reading the text as it moved upward, "however that doesn't mean we should just ignore this glitch it caused in space. I'd say keep an eye on things as protocol states. I'll close up the ripple now. You should head home to get some rest; I'll see you first thing in the morning. We have that board meeting at nine."
Ashwin had forgotten until Dr. Fodds reminded him of that meeting. Good thing, too, since he would have been in major trouble if he had missed it.
Dr. Fodds had specifically chosen to take Ashwin under his wing when Ashwin had applied for an internship while still in university within HRTS. But mentors would always think of their mentees as students, even once they were getting paid for the work they completed. In fact, it became that much more important to the mentor that they wouldn't screw up. Messing up would make the mentor look like a bad teacher.
"Callahan, go home."
Ashwin jumped, nudged out of his mind. "Yeah, alright." He then walked out of the laboratory, still in the white lab coat that was still the only thing that made Ashwin truly feel like a living, breathing scientist. He kept imagining the Board to suddenly realize they had made a mistake in certifying Ashwin and adding him to the list of scientists on their payroll. He felt like a fraud in that coat.
With a sudden rush of disgust that overwhelmed him, Ashwin yanked the coat off and dropped it on the tile in the changing room, not bothering to put it in his locker before leaving. The coat had his name on it. Either way, he would find himself wearing it first thing in the morning. But for now it felt freeing to leave it, shedding it like a snake slithering out of its skin.
Sometimes all one needed was to be able to walk away with some dignity without the pressures of responsibility. Walking away had never felt so good. Until tomorrow Ashwin was free of work; free of any number of chances to mess up.