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The Singularity, Chapter One, The Physicist

11/02/12

  01:57:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2643 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter One, The Physicist

Knowles adjusted the rearview mirror to look down Claire's shirt. ?I've seen Goonies,? she said, adjusting it back, ?and if you can't behave yourself, you'll be riding the rest of the way in the back seat.?

?I get carsick in the backseat. And I was just affording you an opportunity to reference that beloved movie, television show or novel from your childhood.? He smiled, taking the next turn a little too wide. Claire dug her fingernails into the armrest molded into the passenger door, but the forest roads were almost entirely empty, and there wasn't a semi waiting around the bend to greet them, so she relaxed.

?Nice try,? she told him. He had the acne of a much younger man, and the paunch of a man much older, and Claire might have found the combination endearing, if she didn't find his overtures so overbearing.

She set her fingers back down in the home position on her laptop, even though she had no idea how to begin describing her research in scientific and non crazy person terms.

That was why, invasive though his voice was, she was thankful when he continued to distract her. ?You know, you could always drive. It's really pretty.?

?You're driving because you get carsick,? she said, looking out her window.

?Only when I try to read. Or look at my phone.?

?Which you wouldn't stop doing.? She took in the speckled sea of greens and browns of trees and underbrush barely contained on the side of the road, and she found herself imagining it was a wave, and she could practically feel the dewy coolness the next moment when it crashed down on her.

?We could tape my eyes shut,? Knowles suggested, bringing her back into the overly warm car.

?Wouldn't be the first part of you I'd tape shut...,? she muttered, and lowered the heat blasting out of the vents, ?and that would probably only make you carsick again.? She brushed a strand of strawberry hair from her forehead, and tucked it behind her ear.

?Yeah,? he admitted. ?Probably.?

Something about his immediate lack of forethought gave her reason for concern over their plans. ?You made sure you cleared our little trek with the head of the clinic, right??

?Uh...?

She nearly dumped the laptop off her knees. ?What's 'uh' mean??

?It means as your unpaid intern, sometimes I, uh... don't remember to do everything I was supposed to.?

She sighed in frustration, trying to shove her head through her headrest, and finally resigned herself to not getting any more work done, and closed up her laptop. ?If this trip is a bust, you're paying for the gas home.?

?I'm not sure how you think you'd accomplish that. You can't dock my pay- since I'm not paid, and as a college student I actually make negative money every month.?

She ignored him. ?So we're going to show up just to get shot down. Terrific. Maybe we should turn around, now; we might be able to make it back home in time for me to catch a Daily Show rerun.?

?We're like ten minutes outside town. And you're a pretty girl- for a physicist. I bet, you show up, bat your eyes, and there's no way they could say no. Who says 'no' to a pretty girl??

?First off, it's doctor semi-respected physicist pretty girl, and second, that never actually happens to me- being positively discriminated against for being a pretty girl.?

?Huh.? They returned to uncomfortable silence, and Claire was on the verge of being lulled to sleep by the thrum of the engine and the hypnotic blur of colors by the road when they passed a sign indicating that Cannon Beach was only six miles away. It reminded Knowles of a way to get back on her good side. ?Cannon Beach has a pretty cool history. The area was originally named Ecoli or something by Lewis and Clark. The city changed the name to Cannon Beach when a cannon was discovered here, they think from a shipwreck on the bar near the mouth of the Columbia River- which is called the Graveyard of the Pacific.?

?So this is what you were doing instead of making arrangements with the clinic staff so we didn't get bounced the moment we showed up??

?Hey. If you remember, you asked me to do some research on the local area so we wouldn't sound like uninterested out of towners, and to call ahead. And I did both. I just never follow-up called ahead to make sure they were cool with it.?

?Make sure they were... God, you left a message? You didn't even talk to a living human being??

?I thought I was, at first. The message just droned on, and on. I think I talked to it for three minutes before I figured out that he wasn't just constantly interrupting me. But I left a detailed message, and your number. I kind of figured, when you told me we were on for the research trip, that they'd called you back.?

She wanted to be upset with him. But it all seemed like an innocent enough series of misunderstandings. And the only other possibility was that he'd nefariously planned the entire screw up, just to share a hotel room with her in a secluded Oregon beach town- and that thought skeeved her too much to contemplate.

?The spot where the clinic is was nicknamed the 'cannonade,' because when they were first clearing the area they found another cannon from that same wreckage, in the hills overlooking the beach. They think it must have been deposited there by the Good Friday earthquake in '64- or by the accompanying tsuname, at any rate. The cannon's in a museum in town, but it's... well, it's just one of the cooler places you could build a rehab clinic.?

Claire turned her head with one eyebrow raised, and had to hold it longer than she wanted since his eyes were focused on the road. ?Not that kind of rehab,? he said when he finally noticed. ?Like a physical rehabilitation clinic. It's kind of pricy. Most of the patients are old athletes, with a bias towards football players, and since it specializes in traumatic brain injuries.?

?Like Chris Mereta,? Claire said, squinting at the horizon. ?And we're sure this is where he's headed??

?One of my dorm mates had a girl doing her residency at OHSU on the hook, and, you know, presuming she hasn't realized that she's just his favorite drunk dial and is circuitously trying to screw with him by screwing with us, um, yeah, she said he transferred here from there.?

?I still can't believe I missed him. I've been tracking these kinds of manifestations-?

?It's hot when you start to talk like we're in Ghostbusters.?

?I will douse you with cold water.? She realized he wasn't just being difficult; he probably hadn't finished reading all of the documentation she gave him. ?We're tracking virtual particles, which don't actually exist, but which manifest interactions with our real, physical world. These manifestations are tell-tales of what I think are worm-holes- but not just the garden variety wormholes that dot 4 dimensional existence- they're part of a network of wormholes that connect various points in time and space together in a single, semi-traversable moment. It opens up the potential for limited time travel, at least to pass information between times.?

?The singularity. I know.? She blinked at him. ?I read the executive summary of your thesis. And skimmed the table of contents.?

?I hate that you were my best candidate for this internship.?

?I was your only candidate,? he said smugly.

?That's true. But I was the only teacher who would give you an extra credit to be able to keep your financial aid.?

?Also true. And depressing. I vote we skip this whole science thing, and get a gallon of ice cream and sadness binge in our hotel room while working on our social skills.?

?My problem isn't social skills,? Claire said, taking as much offense as she could at being lumped in with Knowles- even though she knew by virtue of them both being in that car together they deserved to be, ?my problem is that I just told you I believe in time travel. Not as a theoretical possibility. But in its reality. And I've been hounding manifestations around the country like a... like a psychotic tornado chaser.?

?Hey, Twister was- actually, for a movie about tornados, and the crazy people who chase tornados, it was actually pretty meh- which makes it kind of disappointing.?

?But my point, which I'm pretty sure entirely eluded you, was that I'm an intellectual joke to my colleagues. An ice cream pity party isn't going to fix that, though maybe getting myself some useful and maybe even verifiable data would have.?

?Sorry,? Knowles said, and for a moment she felt something like affection for him. The moment didn't last long before he combatively blurted out, ?But will it be verifiable? This singularity we're chasing, it's actually inside Mereta. And from what you've said in the past, they tend to be, uh,?

?Transient. So that instance of the singularity isn't likely to be verifiable. But if we can collect data about this instance, we can craft a strong enough hypothesis that it can be tested and retested by people who find other instances. Or, at least, so goes the theory. Even if I'm right about everything else, it's possible that the way these instances manifest, no two may be anything alike. I mean, the physics don't change drastically, so the manifestations should be similar, but we're talking the absolute margins, here, they're barely causing ripples in our world, so even the slightest changes could completely alter measurable effects.?

His phone beeped to life from the dashboard, and displayed two red dots over a map of the city as Knowles drove past a sign that said, ?Now Entering Cannon Beach.? He reached for his phone, but Claire slapped his hand away. ?It's a rental, and I'm not going to help you clean vomit out of it a second time this trip.?

?Okay. But that alert, it means we're in town, and have to make a choice. Should we go straight to the clinic, or stop at our hotel??

She pondered, and said, ?Clinic. Definitely. Cause when they shoot us down, we might be able to get a partial refund on our hotel room if we haven't checked in yet- if I pretend to cry on the phone.? He reached for the phone, and she slapped his hand again.

?Well, unless you know the way there by heart, one of us is going to have to pick up my phone.?

?Then I'll navigate,? she leaned forward, and gave a little grunt as the gymnastics necessary to not drop her computer and to reach the phone made it hard to breathe. ?You just focus on not plowing over any pedestrians and not exploding oddly seafood-smelling hork onto the driver's side floor mats. Possibly not in that order.?

She swiped her fingers over the screen, and stared intently. ?So?? He asked. ?The suspense is killing me. Where to??

?Just follow this road. Eventually we'll be taking a right once we get to the other side of the city, and then it looks like more winding, hilly roads.?

The road through Cannon Beach rolled over hills, wending past bakeries and saltwater taffy shops. The main stretch was largely a tourist trap, speckled with mom and pop restaurants and shops.

At the edge of town, Knowles turned up the hill, and immediately their rental car slowed to a crawl, and the engine complained loudly about the strain. He popped it down into a lower gear, and the engine quieted. ?This reminds me of every rollercoaster ever,? he said, ?where there's the long, click-clacking hill you're dragged up to get enough momentum for the actually rolling part of the coaster. I hope there's a loop de loop.?

?You get carsick, but ride rollercoasters?? she asked, astonished.

?I've never gotten carsick on a rollercoaster. Of course, I've never tried to text on a coaster- I'm afraid my phone would go flying.?

She wanted to take that for a suggestion, and throw his phone out the window, but it was the only thing keeping them from being completely lost- not that his map app was helping much on that account. ?Where the hell is it?? she asked impatiently.

?Do I look like Google maps to you?? he shot back.

?You kind of resemble one of their vans, maybe.?

He didn't have time to complain, because the forest cut suddenly out, and Knowles pulled their car into a gravel driveway. He stopped in front of a heavy metal gate. Claire got out of the car first, drawn by the way the lawn seemed to glow with reflected sunlight, and the way that the clear, blue sky framed the eccentric architecture of the building, combining an art deco facade with a baroque tower.

The manicured property stretched several acres, and was rimmed on three sides with a wrought iron and rounded stone fence that culminated in the gate in front of them. The fourth side was dominated by a steep, rocky cliff punctuated with bursts of green trees pushing fragile tendrils out from the rocks, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Claire pressed her face into the metal gate, and checked the corner of her mouth to be certain she wasn't drooling. ?I would let Bruce Wayne do me in the uncomfortably warm batsuit to live in that Manor.?

?It's not that impressive,? Knowles stared, ?you know, unless you're into palatial chateaus with a gorgeously high overlook of a beautiful beach on the ocean, with that big, cool, weird rock jutting up out of the sand... okay, yeah, the Batman thing you said, for me, too. Hell, I'd let him make me his Robin- tights and all.?

?That image is never getting out of my head, is it??

?Or mine,? the deep, resonating bass of a barrel-chested man said from behind them. Claire spun around, defensively curling her fingers around the bars on the gate as the man neither of them had seen stepped closer to them. ?This is private property, which I'm going to have to escort the both of you off of.? The man was taller than Knowles by six inches, and heavier by fifty pounds. But he carried most of the extra weight in his belly, and in combination with the beige shirt and pants he wore, it made him look like a cartoon sheriff.

?Wait, wait,? Knowles said, squirming out from between from the larger man and the gate. ?We're researchers. We called in advance.?

?Researchers?? the man asked suspiciously. Claire bobbed her head enthusiastically. ?Give me a second.? He crammed his hand into a breast pocket and it came out with a phone. He dialed it, and it rang for a second, before it was picked up. ?Kevin?? he asked. ?Caught a couple of weirdoes peeping through the front gate.?

?Press? Or the passing-by curious?? Claire heard from where she stood.

The man, whose engraved brass name tag said, ?Sam? on it, seemed to recognize that she'd heard the other man on the line, turned away and covered the phone in his large hand. ?They claim to be researchers. A pretty lady and a fat kid.?

?I remember a voice mail, from, uh, a physicist?? Kevin said. ?Crap, did I ever respond to it?? Sam could hear papers shuffling around in the background. ?Um. You know what? You can bring them up to my office. I'm sure they're harmless. And if they're not, I'll let you rough up the fat one on the way out.?

?Deal,? Sam said, smiling at Knowles. The intern shifted uncomfortably under his gaze.

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