Evanston signed his name with a flourish. "That's all, Mr. Morgan," he said.
"That's 'Jason'," Morgan replied. "There's no need for formalities here, Daniel. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."
Evanston sighed nevertheless, remembering all of the previous failed attempts. "I'm sorry, Mr. Mor... Jason," he said. "Sometimes the pressure just gets to me."
"I assure you that I don't squeeze too hard," Morgan laughed. "Ten years is plenty of time, especially considering the advances that you have already made. You've passed all of my conditions with sterling results."
"Usually I don't even get past the first interview," Evanston admitted.
"Well... you don't exactly bring the most serious of studies to the table."
"You mean my temporal manipulation theories?" Evanston asked. "I always thought that it was an interesting science... a hard science, given what I've developed so far."
Morgan sat back. "You can blame the media," he said. "You can blame the fundamentalists, and you can blame the science fiction writers. Regardless of what you call it, they'll see it as 'time travel' and push you down to street level. It's difficult for people to take the subject seriously."
"Yes, well... this is a very generous grant, sir."
"Please," Morgan said, holding up a hand. "I can spare the money. If your experiments succeed the way I expect of them, then the effort will be absolutely priceless."
"I'm glad that you see it that way, sir."
"Good," Morgan said. "Of course, I must also insist that your research be kept a carefully-guarded secret. If the technology does exist that will allow us to travel in time, then the knowledge must be controlled."
"Oh, indeed. There's no telling what might happen if someone were to use it for... less than noble... purposes."
Morgan smiled. "I was thinking more of the possible financial loss, Evanston. All that effort expended, just to have my own rivals crawling over it."
"Ah. Well... I suppose that the financial impact would be considerable."
"But you do make an excellent point," Morgan said, brushing well-manicured nails against the rim of a nearby drinking glass. "You mentioned it yourself during one of your presentations. The first impression that I have is that time travel seems to be the scientific equivalent of a late-night drunken binge."
"That's a rather... graphic way of putting it, I think. But yes, I mentioned a hypothesis of temporal fluidity."
"You have me at a disadvantage."
"Imagine that you had access to time travel in the present," the scientist described. "And now imagine that you travel a hundred years in the past, only to kill the first person you see. What happens then?"
"I would imagine that he would be dead."
"But with this person dead, then his children would hypothetically never exist! And those childrens' children would never exist. And so on, so forth, down to the third and the fourth generations. You would be wiping out an entire family tree!"
"And you mentioned that this was a theory of..."
"Temporal fluidity," Mizuichi answered. "Change something in the past, and you return to find the present irrevocably altered. There will be quite a few pundits who will contest the notion of changing what we know as a 'fixed' timeline."
"We can always set rules," Morgan said. "I find restrictions to be rather refreshing. Governing bodies can be set up, perhaps by-laws concerning the use of any of your developments once they come about."
"But that won't solve the problem. Sooner or later, somebody's going to do it."
Morgan gave him a skeptical look. "So what would you propose that we do?"
"That is why I fully agree with your security recommendations. The research — and eventually, the technology — must be kept fully hidden from the world. We can attain the capability, but it must be used carefully, not floated around like some child's toy."
"Much like a nuclear missile," Morgan observed quietly.
"A nuclear missile," Mizuichi corrected, "that will eradicate certain elements of our world as surely and as swiftly as the very force of creation itself. We wouldn't even realize that these elements wouldn't exist anymore."
Mizuichi looked up. "You don't seem to be perturbed."
"Oh, I am, Mizuichi-san. I just learned that I granted two billion dollars in credit to fund an entity that I can never show to the rest of the world," Morgan laughed.
"But the results of the effort will be priceless."
"Yes," Morgan said, behind folded hands. "Priceless to the point of worthlessness."
"I am sorry if you see it that way," Mizuichi said. "But the truth is there. There are powerful hypotheses in the mixture, forces of which the unscrupulous could easily take advantage."
Mizuichi hesitated, watching the expression on his sponsor's face. "If you wish," he finally said, "we may rescind the contract right now. I am sorry that you had to learn the risks of my proposal in this way."
"No," Morgan said, gently placing one slim hand on the topmost sheet of paper.
"But I thought..."
"There are dangers involved, yes. You've made the risks perfectly clear. And I am certainly disappointed at the lack of obvious financial gains," Morgan said, crossing her legs. "However, I must admit that I am curious to see if you would be successful, Mizuichi-san. I place the greatest of trust in your consortium."
"I do not have much at my disposal, unfortunately. A small mechanics laboratory, perhaps some slight security precautions..."
"Two billion dollars will buy what you need, Mizuichi-san. And if even that does not turn out to be enough, you may ask for a check."
"That is... quite generous."
"I like to indulge my curiosity sometimes."
Mizuichi stood, giving a formal bow just before taking up his coat and hat to leave. "I promise you that I shall do my best to succeed. You won't regret your decision, Miss Morgan."
"That's 'Jacqueline'," Morgan smiled. "There's no need for formalities here, Mizuichi-san. I ask that of each and every one of my partners."