Starman: 1945: Nuclear Furnace, Prologue: The Project

by Dan Swanson

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July, 1942:

Ted Knight walked into a room at the University of Chicago. A U.S. Army general who had been seated at the desk in the room rose to greet him.

“Welcome, Mr. Knight. I’m General Leslie Groves. It’s a real pleasure to meet you!”

“Thank you, General. I’m pleased to meet you as well. Can you tell me why I’m here? Your invitation mentioned a secret government project, but I’m still in the dark about the purpose of the project.”

“Mr. Knight, on behalf of the United States government and the War Department, we would like you to act as a consultant to the Chicago atomic energy research project. Are you interested?”

Ted’s eyes lit up. “You bet! Atomic energy is a favorite interest of mine. But why are you asking me? I’m not a physicist, and I’ve never published any papers on the subject.”

“Several reasons, Mr. Knight. To begin with, you are certainly aware that the War Department has taken an interest in many of your recent inventions and developments.”

Ted certainly was. The War Department had asked him to discontinue work on several of his pet projects, claiming that if the Axis was to get ahold of Ted’s technology, it could be used against the Allies. Ted could see the logic of this and had agreed to table certain projects until after the war. But he was no fan of government suppression of research and development, regardless of the reasons.

“We think that your talent as an inventor can be put to good use by the project.”

In the meantime, Ted added mentally, it will allow you to keep a closer eye on what I’m doing.

“Second, we know that, while you don’t have an advanced degree, you do have an intense interest in stars and the nuclear processes that go on inside them. So intense, in fact, that you have hired tutors in advanced mathematics and advanced physics to help you understand the latest theories. Your friend Albert Einstein says that you understand what goes on inside stars as well as any man alive. A recommendation from Einstein carries a lot of weight with us.

“Finally, President Roosevelt himself recommended you to the project. He didn’t give any reasons, but then, he often does things without explaining. I’ve always found that he has good reasons for whatever he does.” Ted was sure that the president’s recommendation must have something to do with his being Starman.

“General, I’m honored by the offer and flattered to hear that Albert and the President think so highly of me. Why don’t you tell me more about what you have in mind?”

And the two began serious negotiations.

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