“If Only…” Those were the words written in red ink on the report cover in his hands as he waked to the podium.

“If only we could have checked things more. Done more…” he muttered under his breath. “£22 Billion wasted all for the want of an ‘if Only’ ”

He could still hear the statements in his head:
“If only we run the tests one more time” the designer said
“If only we checked the materials more closely” another said
“If only the parts were double checked when fitting” a technician said.

John Gaw reached the podium and grabbed it to keep from fainting.  His other hand puts the folder down. A handful of paper tissues is fished out of his jacket pocket and used to wipe his brow. His voice comes out of the sound system Softly but with determination “If only we could start again. But we cannot”

The quiets as everyone listens.

“I have a short statement then I’ll open the floor for questions.” He looked around the room filled with the brightest minds in the world. All looking at him to explain what just happened a few short weeks ago. “The loss of the craft, however tragic, gives us hope. It is said their is no such thing as a failed experiment, with each failure we learn a bit more about ourselves and our task ahead of us.” He looks around the room, taking his time.  He never did like audiences. But today is different as he knows their is much more to come. He must get through this, and this fear building in his chest will subside soon.

It always did.

 

Chapter one.

25 Years Earlier

The laptop screen was filled with moving commands and the bottomless cup of coffee stood cold and empty.

“Something is not right? Ahh! no coffee.” It dawned on his dulled mind that he left the café 12 hours ago and was now in his dull dark student dorm room.

The room was like any other dorm room of a student, who lived on coffee, piles of takeaways and cans either filled or empty of whatever alcohol was on sale that week. Clothes that gave up trying to stay in piles of clean/dirty and unsure merged into a lump in the centre of the room. Beside a mattress on the floor, was a desk held together by nails, duct-tape and sheer will power. It gave a bit more than emotional support to a bulky laptop atop it.

He rolled out of the chair towards the door, got to the handle and then stopped. His mind was screaming something to him but he could not exactly hear it till he opened the door and the bright lights of the hallway hit him.

“Shit Cup!” he turned round and lumbered towards the table holding the cold empty cup. At that moment he thought it strange that the pile of clothes was coming up to meet him.

He hit the floor with a muffled thud, face first into what he hoped was the clean pile of underwear.

“Only 2 more weeks. Only 2 more weeks. Only 2 more weeks” the mantra mumbling from John Gaw’s mouth.

It was the last 2 weeks of John’s first year at Glasgow University. 2 weeks left to hand in a small, what he originally described as, “A weekend project” for his Astronomy course. “Sure Professor. It’ll only take me a few hours at the weekend to throw a program together.”

Professor Ian Wilson, slightly less youthful looking than the students he taught, sat behind a desk tidily filled with piles of folders which were nothing important looking “It’s only supposed to be a small project you know! So you to can demonstrate what you’ve learned.”

It was too clean for a real professor’s desk thought John, Something was fluttering around in his hungover mind, this office is not right. it’s too clean and tidy! he must be up to something.

“I know.” John snapped back to reality and flipped through a folder filled with brightly coloured pictures of the sun, fished out a page of code and handed it to the professor. “I just want to put together a small program to sort all these images from the “N.A.S.A Stereo” satellites, you know, into date and time groups, so that each group of images hold a picture of the sun at 3 main wavelengths at the same moment. Or well as close as possible and map those images onto a 3D model”

“John I know you want to do make it in class.” The Professor said “You just are not cut out for the level I’m teaching at this term. Your last few assignment were terrible! I was generous to give you a D” The Professor pulled out a folder and pulled out a form. “This is a application for Jainkens class. It’s an Intro to Astronomy course, it’s short part time, only a few weeks long and you can do it over the break. ”

“Sir. Jenkins is an idiot! ”

“Jenkins is a good lecturer, just because he hates you does not make him an idiot!”

“It does in my book” John  replied

“Well you two do have history”

“It was just one mistake, anyone could have made it!  How was I to know his daughter was a ballet dancer! Everyone assumed she was an exotic dancer after the Freshers Ball incident last year. I was just the only one to say so out loud!”

“Over the University P.A. system?”

“In my defence that microphone button in the PA room has always been dodgy”

“Ok I’ll give you this one last chance” He put away the form and looked at John’s proposal. “If you can get an A or A+ on this it will pull you into a C average.”

John was relived, he could now coast his way to an easy pass. He had this program nearly finished a week ago. Just a few tweaks and some polish and it was a sure fire A.

“and no extra credit” the Professor studied one of the pages of code. “those are the rules! You get an A or society wasted a years tuition on you.”

“Sure. No problem” John ran out of the office back top his dorm room.

That was 3 months ago.

“So floor we meet again” he sniffs “Must be my lucky day! clean pants” Those words drifted through his mind as he fell asleep for the first time in 52 hours. He just heard the chimes of his laptop telling him his code had finished before he was snoring loudly with a thin smile on his face.