Slight of Mind, Chapter 1
No Rest for the Weary
I have never been so tired in my whole life.
The flight back from the Hawaiian Islands was long and turbulent and nobody on board got a wink of sleep. I'd've preferred to go straight home and at least take a shower and change clothes, maybe get a bite of something to eat--it is my personal belief that airplane food should never under any circumstances be consumed by humans-- but Pete had said that he needed to see me as soon as I got back to the Mainland. So I obediently hired a cab to take me straight to the Phoenix Foundation.
It was a wasted trip; Pete wasn't there. Helen found me banging my forehead against the doors of Pete's office and told me that he was at the Western Research and Development Facility. Of course she added that he had said that he wanted me to join him there right away.
The really frustrating thing was that I had nothing to report! I hadn't found the people I'd been sent to find. I hadn't found anything... except a pair of blood-shot eyes and a stiff back from sitting in a Coach Class seat with my knees pressed up against the back of the seat in front of me. Next time I'm going to insist on Business Class at the very least... First Class if I'm in a bad mood!
However… Pete was the boss…and I knew that the situation was rather important… so off I went to Western R&D.
But not without a bit of trepidation. Even as tired as I was, I couldn't help but think about the last few times I'd visited that facility. One time, a vial of Anthrax culture had been stolen by a friend of mine, and before that the entire underground laboratory had been destroyed by an explosion to prevent a deadly virus from spreading. Not what you'd call a good track record, if you know what I mean.
I tried to sleep in the back of the taxi but the road was too bumpy. By the time we got to the lab, I was too exhausted and discouraged to care much about anything.
And to add insult to injury, this last taxi ride took all of my remaining cash. This was the end of the road for me; if Pete wasn't here, I would have to hitchhike home!
Mac sighed as the door slid aside with a swish. He had swiped his pass card through backward three times before he thought to turn it over so that the magnetic strip was on the correct side. He stumbled into the airlock and wait while the outer doors closed and the air was circulated and purified. Once the procedure was complete, the red light on the door went out and a green light below it lit up. The inner door opened automatically. Mac stepped through and looked around as the door slid shut behind him.
There was no one in the corridor other than the guard. He was sitting at a desk on one side of the entrance. Mac handed him the pass and waited while the man studied it carefully and consulted a clipboard.
"Yes, Mr. MacGyver. Mr. Thornton has you on the access list. Just go on ahead."
"To w-w-w-where?" Mac asked through a yawn. "'Scuse me."
"Sorry… it's been about forty-eight since the last time I got any decent sleep. Where do I go to find Pete... er, Mr. Thornton?"
"Oh! Sorry, sir... um, Mr. Thornton is in the research lab on level three. Take the elevator down and follow the corridor. The door will be clearly marked."
"Thanks." Mac turned away toward the elevators that led down to the laboratories.
"Sir?" Mac turned back at the sound of the guard's voice. "You look a little tired, sir... would you like a cup of coffee or something?"
Mac smiled wearily. "Have you got a pillow and a blanket under your desk?"
The guard laughed. "No sir! Just a teddy bear."
"Then I'll take a cup of coffee... thanks. I need something to keep me awake."
Pete looked up from the stack of papers he was examining as the door opened. "Mac! Where've you been? I expected you hours ago."
"I'd have been here sooner," Mac said dryly, "if you'd told me where you were going to be. I went to your office. Helen told me where to find you."
"Oh... sorry, Mac," Pete said absently, "I thought that I'd told you I'd be here all this week." Pete leaned forward and said in a low voice, "I'm here doing budget reviews for the Board." He glanced toward the observation window between the office and the laboratory. Inside, Mac could see two people moving about, working on opposite sides of the lab. "I haven't told them yet," Pete continued, "and I don't look forward to breaking the bad news to them."
"Bad news?" Mac said, stifling another yawn; the coffee was wearing off quickly.
"I'm afraid so. Their research has not been very conclusive. There's just not enough money to spend on projects that don't produce at least a minimum of results."
Mac picked up one file and leafed through it. "It appears to be based on sound scientific principals... as far as I can say. What is the purpose of the research?" He squinted and blinked at the equations that covered the pages; it was getting hard to keep his eyes focused.
"'To discover a way to bring out the potential that lies dormant within the unused portions of the human brain'," Pete read from the top of one page.
Mac rubbed his eyes wearily. "Huh? Come on, Pete... have mercy! Do you know how long I've been awake?"
"Extra sensory perception, Mac... you know, ESP. The paranormal."
Mac dropped his hand and stared at Pete in disbelief. "You're kidding, right? How did the Phoenix Foundation get mixed up in cultivating research on parlor tricks?"
"Parlor tricks? Mac... have you forgotten about that Russian mentalist you met... that Starkoss fellow? Didn't he find that missing aircraft… the GX-1? And he knew things about your mother that you've never--"
"Yes, yes..." Mac cut his friend off, "I remember... but just because I didn't understand how he knew doesn't mean that there wasn't a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation. Right now I'm too tired to... to explore the possibilities."
"Yeah, you do look beat. Look, I'm sorry that you had to come all this way, but I needed you to sign off on this report from the assignment you completed before you left for Hawaii. See... you forgot to add your signature here," he flipped open another file and pointed to the bottom of the last page. "I can't submit it without your authentication..."
"No problem, Pete." Mac plucked the pen from his friend's pocket and added his distinct scrawl to the document. "Nowcan I go home and sleep?"
Pete chuckled and patted Mac on the shoulder. "Yes… absolutely… just let me finish here and I'll drive you home myself. Make yourself comfortable... this might take a few minutes." Mac obediently slumped into the closest chair and closed his eyes.
Mac dozed off almost immediately, but was awakened when he heard voices coming through the glass partition that led to the lab. The walls and glass were pretty thick, so they were really shouting. Curious, Mac opened one eye and saw his friend facing the two scientists, a young, thin man and a petite, sever-looking woman. They were both speaking urgently, with much waving of arms and red-faces, and both at the same time. Pete was standing solidly before the onslaught of their argument.
Thinking that he'd better at least go in and add his support, Mac got to his feet with a groan. He didn't really think that the situation would come to violence, but one could never tell. Scientists sometimes proved to be quite irrational when they felt that their work was being threatened... Mac hadn't forgotten about Jill Ludlum… or Dr. Millhouse.
Mac stepped into the first door to the airlock and waited for it to close and pressurize. When the door into the lab opened, Mac was nearly driven back by the sheer volume of the argument. He hurried to stand behind Pete.
"You can't just pull the plug..."
"Do you have any idea about the potential of what we've been working on..."
"... I don't see how anyone without experience in this field could think that they have any right to judge the worthiness of..."
"... take my project somewhere where it can be appreciated..."
"Whoa! Whoa!" Mac said, raising his voice to cut through the chaos. "Everybody calm down! Just take it easy!"
"But," the young man said, his voice swiftly rising in volume the longer he spoke, "he's trying to cancel our projects! And I'm so close... so close to achieving my results! I just need more..." he stopped when Mac raised his hand and made a sharp gesture. "I'm sorry... er, sir... sorry, Mr. Thornton... I'm just... very passionate about my field of research."
"I know, Dr. Sonne," Pete said gently. "I'm very sorry, but I have no choice... really. The Board has discussed this very thoroughly and the decision has been made. Now, there is always the possibility that you and Dr. Brooks may qualify for a grant, or may find support from a private donation..."
"Thank you, Mr. Thornton," the woman cut in on Pete with a rude, hard voice, "but if you and your precious Board have decided that we're not good enough to work here, it really is none of your concern what we do--or don't do-- from now on."
"Clare..." Eddie said softly, but the woman ignored him.
"Just go, if you don't mind. We apparently have a lot of packing to do!"
Pete nodded and retreated with dignity. Mac began to follow him, but looked back at Clare; she had turned away and seemed as if she were about to cry.
Tired as he was, Mac's heart went out to her, and he felt compelled to at least try to comfort her. "Dr. Brooks, I know it's hard... but this is no reason to give up."
Clare Brooks raised her head from her hands and Mac saw that he'd been mistaken. She wasn't crying. Her face was red and twisted with anger. "Hard? What do you know about how hard it's been?" She picked up a glass full of pale blue liquid and held it up as if to show it to MacGyver. "What is this? Time? Sweat? Do you think that it is as simple a thing as closing a book or washing out a test tube? This... is... important!" She screamed the last word and threw the bottle at Mac's head.
Mac ducked quickly, but the throw was not aimed well. It smashed into a control board and shattered, splashing liquid over the console. Mac managed to get his arms up to protect his eyes from flying glass, but the some of the fluid splattered onto his shirt and hair.
Sparks began to fly from the console, accompanied by smoke and a burning smell. Eddie gave a distressed cry, fumbling for a fire extinguisher. Mac grabbed Clare's arm and propelled her toward the door. She fought him, pushing him backward so that he bumped against a table laden with many bottles and glass apparatus, causing a great clatter. Clare gave another cry, this time in alarm that her research might be destroyed.
"Get her out of here!" Mac shouted at Eddie. He took the extinguisher from the young man and pushed him toward the door and Clare. Eddie took the woman in his arms and persuaded her to come into the airlock with him. The door slid shut automatically. Seconds later a piercing alarm began to sound; the fire had been detected by the internal computer surveillance system.
Mac easily got the fire under control with a few short bursts from the extinguisher. The console was a ruin of melted plastic and the computer monitor had cracked from the heat. Still, a few red lights glowed out of the mess, and Mac could hear a deep throbbing hum filling the room.
The machine that young Eddie Sonne had been working on was active, pulsing with light and sound. Mac could feel a tingle in the air like just before a thunder and lightning storm.
Pete was watching the whole scene with horror through the observation window. He found the intercom microphone and switched it on. "Mac! Mac, can you hear me?"
"Yeah." Mac plucked at his saturated shirt, "I got some of that stuff on me. Ask Dr. Brooks what was in that bottle."
Clare refused to answer, so Eddie said, "I'm not sure… it was Clare's experiment. I was working on the electro-stimulator."
The tingling sensation was increasing. "Can you tell me how to shut it off?" Mac asked.
"With the console out of commission, we'll have to cut the power to the generator directly… but that could be dangerous. I should do it..."
"No, you stay out of here," Mac said. "I think I can handle unplugging a generator."
"Be careful, Mac," Pete added.
"O-kay," Mac said. He approached the machine slowly, hoping that it wouldn't blow up in his face. A power line ran from the machine to a large electron battery. He moved toward it, but each step that took him closer made the sensation stronger, and soon his hair was standing up with static. Even his eyelashes seemed to be sparking.
The power line was attached to the battery with clips; he tried to remove them but the rubber substance on the grips was smoking-hot. Instead, he grabbed the lines yanked them free.
Immediately, the humming decreased sharply and wound down to nothing. However, the static charge in the air did not subside. Mac felt the intensity of the energy crackling around him. The feeling seemed to get inside of his skull. A headache close to the magnitude of a migraine struck him, and Mac thought that he would go blind with pain.
Two or three steps he managed toward the door, and then MacGyver seemed to stumble. To the three concerned persons watching through the safety glass, it appeared that he collapsed upon the floor for no obvious reason.
Pete tried to enter the laboratory to help his friend, but the doors had sealed when the fire alarm had sounded. He pounded on the door with his fist in frustration.
MacGyver lay on the floor unconscious, as if he had finally found the sleep he had so desperately been craving.