Bill Schroeder showed up for work the next morning, carrying his metal lunch pail and unbreakable steel coffee thermos. A spry and robust man with age-mottled skin and thin whispy white hair, Bill greeted him from the door. "Hey there, young feller!"
"Bill!" Paul ran up and hugged his old mentor. He'd learned a lot from Bill about how to tweak and twist the vagaries of abstract mathematics so it would fit around messy everyday engineering problems.
"Are you gonna share your lab with me?"
"I hope so, if you don't mind."
"H-ell no, I consider it an honor. When do we start?"
"How about right now?"
"Something about radar. I just picked up my TS on the way in," he said, pointing to the purple-edged badge with his photo on it.
Paul explained the whole matter to him, starting with the Ufimtsev paper.
Bill whistled. "Good call on that paper. How did you happen to find it?"
"I was browsing through some abstracts and some words caught my attentionelectromagnetic waves, diffraction, that kind of thing. I've already run some rough algorithms on the IBM mainframe, but we need to tweak this thing so we come up with the right shape."
"The exact optimum shape," Bill added with purposeful redundancy.
"Exactly." Paul was pleased. They'd always worked well together, and the old magic was back.
Bill took a few hours to study the mathematical construct, beginning with Maxwell's equations and Ufimtsev's summation of the work done since. "A wonderful paper," Bill commented. "Simply lovely. Very elegant."
Steve Rossi popped in to tell them that they would have uninterrupted computer usage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "We'll need that," Bill said.
Within a week, Bill told Paul: "We're getting a good handle on this." He chuckled gleefully and rubbed his palms together. "Let's surprise these guys and get the job done way ahead of time."
"I'd like that," Paul said.
"Are you nervous at all?" Bill said a while later, looking up over his glasses with a shrewd look, glasses sliding down his nose.
"Yeah," Paul had to admit. More about his personal life, but also about what would happen if this concept fell through. "I'll feel like a fool."
"Bah." Bill waved a hand. "You're young. That's the time to be a fool. Hell, more than one person walking around the Skunk Works has fallen prey to an ambitious but silly idea. If you get egg on your face, join the club." He twirled his glasses. "I don't think so. This whole situation looks great. Let me tell you something." He spread out some computer printouts and, with his pencil, drew diagrams on them. "With this new technology, I think we're going to find that the amount of return is the same, no matter how big the target."
"I think not. The amount of return is like a pinprick. A marble or something. A little round dot. Whether you're imaging a roller skate, a bus, or an aircraft carrier, you'll always get that same little dot."
"Bill, that's fantastic. Wow! Great!" It made sense, now that Bill had pointed it out. Steve and Ben would fliponce they got over their disbelief!
Paul's evenings were deliciously the same. After work, he'd go to Marsha's house for a warm supper, a luxury he had not had in years. So this is what married life is like, he thought. No wonder people do it so much.
After supper, he and Pete would go out and fly the planes. Sometimes they'd play Dueling Condors. Then they'd go to Paul's living room and draw their designs. With only a week to go, they both knew they'd better speed the process up.
"We're gonna build this extra sturdy so you won't need to do a lot of repairs," Paul said.
"My grandpa Kassner knows a lot about planes. He can fix it if it breaks. But Paul?"
"Yes?" Paul asked as he began to fit a dowel. Using the steel frame Mr. Garcia had made, Paul built a round edge and fitted inward sloping solid balsa pylons in symmetry. Around the outer edges of the balsa, he glued a fine sheet of roofer's flashing tin to protect the soft wood in case Pete ran the saucer into a tree. The plan was to then make a standard balsa crosswork and cover it with doped tissue hardened like a ceramic eggshell.
"Why don't you come with us?"
What could he say? "I wish I could, but I have important work to do."
"What about when you're done?"
"That's a long way off, Pete. And you need to be with your grandparents."
"I know, but." He made a face.
"I know. I'm sorry. You can come visit me from time to time. I'll always be here for you."
Later that night, after Pete was asleep, Paul stole across the lawn. This time it was raining. He lay with Marsha, skin against skin under her quilt, their body heat mingling, and kissed her long and hungrily while the water dripped in the eaves outside. His hands roved over the now familiar contours of her body, like a jet flying blindly just by the feel of its radar. He wanted to memorize every inch of her, every curve, every dip and hollow, as if he were building a monument of memory that must last him all his life.