When Jack had suggested going to the Smithsonian, Aaron thought it was a great idea. He thought that what with him being away on cases so much, it was time that he and Jack had a fun father-son day. He thought that it was a wonder that he lived so close the Smithsonian, and hadn’t taken Jack yet- he thought Jack would be especially fond of the zoo and space parts.
Oh, how wrong he was.
As soon as they got there, they looked around in awe, realizing how truly BIG the museum was- It must have been around ten buildings. Aaron spotted a map at an information kiosk and showed it to Henry.
“Let’s see… this is where we are,” Aaron said, pointing to a spot on the map. “Where do you want to go first?”
“I want to see the spaceships! And then can we see the airplanes?” Jack said excitedly. Aaron laughed happily at his son’s enthusiasm.
“Of course! Let’s go!” Aaron said, picking Jack up and putting him on his shoulders, making airplane noises and ducking through the other tourists. Jack laughed with a huge smile on his face, and they went off to see the spaceships.
Aaron was lost. He had about ten maps in his hand, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out which one was for which building, or which way they were supposed to be going. They were holding up traffic, standing in the middle of the busy open space, surrounded by giant aircrafts. Aaron shuffled through the maps, trying to find the right one for the Air and Space Museum. He finally found it, but then he looked around- what floor was he on? Jack tugged at his hand.
“I think it’s this way, daddy,” he said impatiently.
“Just a second Jack, I think I’ve got it…” Aaron said, desperately trying to unfold the entire map.
“Do you need some help?” Aaron looked up from his map to see soft eyes in glasses looking curiously at him, head tilted. He had curly brown hair that fell into his angular face over his browline glasses. He wore a collared shirt with a tie under a brown sweater vest and dress pants.
“Yes!” Jack responded immediately to the stranger, staring at him with his big pleading eyes. The young man smiled at him. Aaron laughed at Jack’s taking to the museum employee, whose name tag he now saw read “Spencer”.
“Yeah, I think so… Spencer. Would you happen to know where we could see some spaceships?” The stranger’s face lit up.
“Yeah, of course! It’s right through here,” he said, pointing in front of them.
“See, I told you,” Jack loudly whispered to Aaron as he gathered up his maps and shoved them in his backpack.
“Yeah, you were right, buddy,” he said back, ruffling his son’s hair. The museum guide smiled brightly at them and lead them through to a section where aircrafts and spaceships hung proudly above them.
“So that over there,” he said, pointing to a large spaceship with long wings and stars on the body, “is the SpaceShipOne. Designed and fabricated by Scaled Composites, a company owned by Burt Rutan, It’s the first privately built spacecraft, and flew into space seventeen times- on June 21, 2004 it flew 100 kilometers, flying just above the atmosphere, then back to Earth, the first commercial spaceflight, lasting 24 minutes total. It’s really quite an amazing craft, since it was privately developed yet reusable. It won a $10 million Ansari X Prize, plus the Collier Trophy for greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in 2004, and the National Air Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement. It can carry a pilot and up to two passengers. Interestingly enough, it was launched in midair at about 15,000 meters from the underside of another ship called White Knight. White Knight itself is a jet-powered carrier aircraft. After being used as the mothership for the SpaceShipOne it was contracted to perform…” All of a sudden he stopped and looked back at Aaron and Jack, whose faces were those of shock and amazement.
“Sorry, I ah… tend to ramble,” he said nervously, adjusting his glasses and clasping his hands together.
“No, no, that was um…” Aaron said, struggling for words.
“That was so cool!” Jack said enthusiastically, grinning up at Spencer.
“How do you remember all of that?” Aaron said in awe at Spencer. Spencer laughed nervously and adjusted his glasses again.
“I um, have an eidetic memory.” he replied with a nervous smile.
“What’s that?” Jack whispered loudly at Aaron, looking up and tugging on his dad’s sleeve.
“I remember everything I read. It’s nothing, really,” Spencer said nervously, tugging on his sleeves.
“What do you mean? That was incredible. You must be a genius,” Aaron said, smiling at Spencer.
“Well, I mean, I don’t really believe in intelligence being quantifiable. But, I do have PhDs in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering, and BAs in Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy, and can read 20,000 words a minute…if that’s what you mean.” Spencer smiled softly at him, expecting the reaction he would get. Aaron just stood there for a moment in awe at the young man before him. PhDs and BAs? The kid couldn’t have been older than 30.
“You must be pretty smart,” Jack said thoughtfully at Spencer. Spencer laughed at his candid expression and nodded his head.
“But… if you’re that incredible, why do you work here? Shouldn’t you be working at some sort of science innovation lab or something?” From the way that the smile left Spencer’s face, Aaron could see he asked the wrong question. “If you… don’t mind me asking,” he said, his voice softer.
“It’s alright. I just like to share my knowledge and plus, this job gives me lots of time to read and publish scientific journals. I don’t really know how I ended up here, but I really like it. But not for forever. I’m not sure what, but I’m sure I’ll find something.” His face told Aaron that he was asked this question a lot, and it was a bit of a sore spot for him.
“I’m sure that anyone would jump at the opportunity to have you work with them. You must be swatting away job offers left and right,” Aaron commented. Spencer laughed, and it made Aaron smile. He wasn’t sure why, but he couldn’t help grinning whenever he made Spencer laugh. He made a note in his mind to do more of that.
“I get plenty, sure. But none that have jumped out at me. Don’t mistake me, I’m really lucky to be as fortunate as I am, with my, well…you know, I can’t help but think that I should be doing something… more. Curing cancer. Something like that.” Aaron smiled. He knew the feeling.
“You’re still young. You have the rest of your life to find what you want to do. A guy like you, I just know that you’ll do incredible things.” Spencer blushed at that, and Aaron had to fight the urge to smile. He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see Jack looking impatient.
“Daaaad. I want to see more spaceships!” Aaron grinned.
“You’re the boss. Spencer?” He looked to him, who was smiling.
“Let me lead the way!” he said, and started off at quick pace towards the other end of the hall.
“Not so fast!” Jack complained, running after him. Aaron, not for the last time that day, felt his face fall into a large grin.
By the end of the day, they had managed to get through the entire air and space museum, planetarium, plus a little bit of the American Indian Museum, for kicks. All with Spencer’s running commentary and trivia facts, of course. It was practically like they had hired their own personal tour guide. By the time they had exited the American Indian Museum it was dark and getting close to dinnertime. Aaron turned to face Spencer, trying to stop from profiling how his whole body seemed to slouch in on itself. There was a small smile on Spencer’s poorly illuminated face as he looked up at Aaron
“Hey. Thank you.” Spencer shrugged back at him, looking down. “Really. I don’t know about Jack, but I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun going to a museum.”
“Yeah! You’re so smart and cool!” Jack said to Spencer. Spencer laughed at that, and the smile on his face was big. Aaron got a good idea all of a sudden and started fishing around in his backpack. He finally pulled out a pressed business card.
“If you ever want to, um…” This time it was Aaron who was blushing. “I’m away a lot on business, but if you ever want to have a coffee. Or… if you’re ever interested in doing something other than being a Smithsonian employee. Or, should I say, being the best Smithsonian employee.” Spencer was now grinning unabashedly.
“Alright. I’ll see you around. Bye Jack!” Spencer said, dropping down so he was Jack’s height. “High five?” Jack smiled and slapped his hand. Spencer stood back up and grinned sheepishly at Aaron. He gave a wave and then walked back towards the museum, as Aaron and Jack walked back towards the parking garage.
After a few minutes, Jack said, “Hey dad. Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure thing,” his dad answered happily.
“Are we going to see Spencer again?” His tone was wavering like he didn’t want to impose.
“I hope so. I hope so."