I should be working. I should actually be researching Persian female apparel circa 300BC. I should be absorbed in textiles and patterns and styles and not in any way thinking about Professor Rapson. I shouldn't be imagining putting my feet up and drinking wine with Peterson. I certainly shouldn't be staring out of the window listening to an imaginary conversation between Max and Professor Rapson. I'm never going to be a proper author at this rate ...
I was on my way to Peterson’s office for our Friday afternoon meeting. The one where he opens out a bottle of wine, I get out the glasses, and we both put our feet up and have a huge moan about the previous week. Sometimes the meetings are quite long.
Anyway, I was making my way around the gallery, juggling the half dozen or so files I’d brought with me as camouflage – because it doesn’t do the other ranks any good at all to see a couple of senior officers setting a bad example – although, to be fair, most people were outside watching the Security and Technical Sections eviscerate each other in the name of sport – when Professor Rapson erupted – literally – from his lab shouting, ‘Eureka!’
He was fully clothed. Trust me – it was the first thing I checked.
I said, ‘Good afternoon professor,’ because that’s how Markham would do it. Apparently now he’s Head of Security, standards must be maintained. What sort of standards of course, he never says.
‘Ah Max. Good news. I’ve done it.’
‘So I gathered, professor. Jolly well done.’
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I know it’s been a while but we got there in the end.’
‘Excellent news, professor’ I said, trying to ignore the glass of wine shaped hole in my life and failing dismally. ‘I look forward to reading your report.’
‘No, no, you don’t understand, Max. I’ve really done it.’
I stopped thinking about wine and concentrated. This was Professor Rapson after all. I asked the question I should have led with.
‘Exactly what have you done professor?’
‘Well, as you know Max, water is very heavy.’
I stared at him. He looked comparatively normal. His hair was standing on end. He had a huge acid burn on one sleeve of his lab coat of which he appeared
completely oblivious and was wearing one brown and one black shoe, so as I said – normal.
He was, however, waving around a beaker of clear fluid. I stepped back because it could be anything. The Elixir of Life. Cerebral brain fluid – although if it was his it would probably be a little murkier. An untraceable deadly poison that would kill us all in seconds. Anything, really.
He raised the beaker to his lips and drank deeply. I braced myself but nothing dreadful seemed to happen to him.
‘Water, Max. Water. I’ve done it.’ He raised the empty beaker. I half expected a flash of lightning and shouts of ‘It’s alive! It’s alive!’ but that usually relates to Markham.
‘What were you expecting, professor?’
‘Well, water, obviously, Max.’
Never had a glass of wine seemed so far away.
‘Professor, please tell me – what is the project you’ve been working on?’
‘Oh yes, of course. Well, as I said, Max, water is heavy. Leon’s always complaining about the weight of the tanks and how that messes up his calculations and he’s right so I thought I’d have a go.’
‘At what, professor?’
Oh God ...
‘Desiccated water, Max. Powdered water. The answer to all our problems. We reduce water down to a fine powder, bag it up in plastic and hey presto, portable water. No more tanks, no more heavy water bottles – just stick a couple of packs in you supplies and away you go. Small packs for your pocket. Something larger if you want a bath. Simple. Quick. Easy. Convenient.’
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘That’s brilliant professor. Well done.’
‘Thank you,’ he said modestly.’ I’m just off to show Chief Farrell.’
‘He’ll be thrilled,’ I said, happily sacrificing Leon’s Friday afternoon, but wine deprivation can do that to a girl. ‘You must give him a complete demonstration. Several, in fact.’
‘I will,’ he said, hair standing even more on end as he prepared to depart at top speed.
‘Just one question, professor.’
‘How do you reconstitute the powder?’
‘The powder. How exactly do you reconstitute desiccated water?’
‘Oh, that’s easy.’
He regarded me as an idiot.‘You just add water.’