Grounded in Reality

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a proposal. ... view prompt



My dreams burn.

Flights of fancy.

Rockets rising on a cloud of steam and flame.

It's always the same thing. I go in, explain the data, then tell them why it works like that. And they never want to understand. Because it goes against their dogma. I've waited three weeks for this appointment. They have the experiment, so they should have confirmed the data. But they still won't believe.

The secretary, a type two middle-age woman, meaning obese rather than simply heavy, motions for me to go into the office of her boss, the engineer in charge of evaluating my proposal. It's only thirteen minutes after my scheduled appointment. Because my time is worth nothing to them. I have to be calm. It is always frustrating, dealing with someone who knows nothing but believes they know everything. Infuriating. Small minds are all alike; unwilling to accept anything outside their preconceptions. Their dogma.

I proceed from the blandly comfortable outer room into the inner sanctum. I barely notice the difference, I am so wrought with tension. I have presented my ideas to a dozen companies and all have done one of two things- either a business person with no understanding of science tells me to just publish a paper and they will take it from there, or an engineer tells me I cannot be right because they know everything in their field and have never heard of me.

Despite the name, Dan Fletcher, I am confronted with a type zero younger woman, fit and trim and no more than thirty. A rarity in the US, particularly in aerospace. Conservative business jacket and horn-rimmed glasses let me know she's no nonsense. I stop before her desk, still standing, and hold out my hand. She waves me to a seat. "I did not expect someone quite so old."

"You should have seen me ten years ago." I give her a level look. I have to keep calm and she's young enough that she must be related to somebody. Probably has a BBA or is a lawyer. "I had all three designs by then. I've been trying to get someone interested since."

"Ten years ago, I was still in college." She rifles through a set of papers. "Tell me why the data looks like it does."

"Do you have any contract for me?" I sit as I speak. "Or are you hoping to get more for free?"

"The data is impossible." She wants me to respond, but I sit tight. She continues, "Where did you get this experiment?"

"I predicted it from the characteristics of the shock wave in a combustion shock tube." I see her disbelief, so I elaborate, "I learned a single significant fact, that the accelerating shock wave left extreme low pressure in its wake. My first question was about the balance for momentum."

"How does the momentum balance?"

She has asked the big question. How does this not violate Newton's Second Law, conservation of momentum. "Are you familiar with the shock wave?"

"I read about it when I was reviewing literature for this."

"Did you see the problem?" Of course not, she's not even an engineer. "It accelerates but leaves extreme low pressure in its wake."

"Which clearly indicates the combustion products are moving extremely quickly and all are parallel to the tube." She looks irritated. "They must behave in a stacked tumble pattern so the lightest product is going back while the heaviest goes forward."

"Math doesn't work out. Not enough total energy for that scenario." I have to give her credit, she knows enough to sound credible. "Where did you study?"

"Stanford then MIT for a masters." She leans back. "Thought I was a piece of fluff?"

"Lawyer," I admit. "With connections. The only solution which satisfies everything, is that the molecular combustion sends all the products the same direction. Which makes sense when you think about it."

"Three words. Newton's second Law."

"Which now has an exception."

"You think you have math to prove that?"

"I know you did experiments which show it."

She glares at me. I made a misstep. I have to calm down. A few more rejections and I'll have no choice. Then I see it, the hunger in her eyes. She wants the solution for more than just money. She wants the big prize. "We can co-author the paper."

"What paper."

"Don't insult my intelligence." It's my turn to be indignant. "You know I have the solution you want. Just not the ability to get it published."

"Anybody can get published if they're right." Her tone sets my teeth on edge. "It's called peer review. You should look into it."

"You mean I could get published if I knew who to butter up in my citations." I know the reality as well as she does. "If I don't cite the right people, those peers who look at my bibliography will nix the entire paper for failing to glorify their particular academic lineage without reading a single word. Really helps to keep the dogma straight, but I'm not convinced it adds anything to the science."

"I can get published without you."

"You want it, but you need more. That's why you're asking questions."

"Your proposal lacks a lot."

This is the infuriating part of dealing with these sort of people. They want something for nothing. For them, life is a zero sum game and they want me to lose so they can have extra. "I told you that I have solutions for the lack of thrust and the ignition problems in the PDRE. The initial interest in a pulse detonation rocket engine was the extremely high fuel efficiency. Triple the lift per unit fuel mass and you make every other rocket obsolete overnight."

"You have yet to convince me we need you."

"You have two choices. Give me a contract or not." I stand, pacing back and forth. My wife says it makes me seem like a caged tiger. "With the contract you are guaranteed to be ahead of everyone else. You get the supporting author credit on all the papers."

"I can get all the credit if you're not on the team."

"If a single company works with me, they'll publish first and you get nothing." I can't let my antagonism show. I have to let her see the best side. "Look, this is bigger than either of us. This is the way to shift mining and refining into space with no pollution. This is endless cheap resources. This is a better future for people around the globe, not just a few corporate executives and their favored minions."

"And if nobody takes your offer, I can win. I'm better than other researchers."

They all think that. "The Chinese already made an offer."

"Why didn't you take it?" She smiles a sly, knowing grin. "Not enough money for you?"

"They would misuse it and make the world a worse place. You only have exclusive use for the life of the patent. They would keep it a national secret for as long as possible. If they have thirty years, they will never let anyone else into space."

"Then I don't have to worry about them." She glances at her clock. "And we are out of time."

She failed to understand, but still nailed the truth. I am slowly starving. At some point, I will go to the Chinese. Then, it will be too late for everyone else.

We will all be out of time.

My dreams will fail to fly.

Author's note- this is only partially biographical. I have never met with a woman when discussing my rocket. 

July 15, 2020 03:16

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13:57 Jul 23, 2020

I really liked the story. I like the struggle of a person wanting to help the world with something that is beneficial to all. But in trying to get it off the ground is met only with narcissistic or power hungry (or both) people who refuse to help unless there is a big payoff for them. The only ppl that would happily help pretty much just want to use it as a weapon. I felt sorry for the hero and was hoping that this time he would find someone that understood and was willing to be altruistic or at least joined with him as an equal partner. Kin...


Charles Stucker
14:06 Jul 23, 2020

Thanks. Writing about myself is really hard. Glad that you got the gist of what I meant. I mean, when I first saw the solution it was AMAZING. It's been ten years and I still only run into people who want to shut me out entirely or ignore me completely.


16:33 Jul 23, 2020

The Bastards!!!! ;P


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Ananya Bhalla
22:22 Jul 21, 2020

I love the amount of research and detail you’ve put into the idea that your main narrator has. I will recommend being a little careful when it comes to the message you mean to convey, because while the writing is intelligent, there’s no takeaway for the reader. No lingering emotion. You’re narrator is brilliant, but a static character. Maybe next time, add a bit of background, some characterization, so your readers are invested in what happens to your lead. But that aside, your story was impressively written. Your vocabulary and knowledge...


Charles Stucker
23:29 Jul 21, 2020

Yeah, I have trouble because if I put too much of myself in, it sounds cynical and bitter. But if I don't, then it's like reading a transcript of one of those interactions. I may have too much emotionally invested in this tale to tell it properly. I don't want to sell to the Chinese, but cash is so short...Of course writers don't make as much as EMPLOYED rocket scientists, but once you're out... and now I sound bitter and cynical.


Ananya Bhalla
03:46 Jul 22, 2020

No worries. Writing is founded on experience and on your personal knowledge, so there's nothing wrong with being emotionally invested in a story. In fact, it can even make your characters stand out more. I think the main problem here isn't the emotion, but rather the plot. The story reads like a simple transaction because it is one. Maybe adding some different events and dynamics to your narrator (like why this project is so important to him and how he began studying rocket science) will help give a story-like structure. For future stories, ...


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