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The Singularity, Chapter Two, The Doctor

11/03/12

  08:06:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2054 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Two, The Doctor

?This is awkward,? the doctor said, and smiled nervously from behind his desk. It was covered in papers, none of them neatly stacked. Instead, it looked like at some point in the now distant past, several chest-high stacks of papers had been organized, and time and occupation had seen them fall and mix and intermingle into a maelstrom of documents that encompassed the desk, like a freeze frame of a hurricane destroying a Kinkos.

?As you can see, I need a secretary, and a housekeeper, and probably a professional assistant for each of them. But like I said, it's awkward. Because I don't remember anything about you coming here.? Claire sunk down in her seat. ?So tell me what you do.?

Claire looked to Knowles, who she assumed would have this kind of speech down patter than she did, but he was hardly paying any attention to either of them, and was instead watching seagulls circling outside the doctor's window. ?Um,? she started, ?I'm a quantum physicist at the University of Oregon, and actually, my desk looks about this bad- and my car, worse. My particular area of expertise is temporal anomalies, specifically, I try to use virtual particles to track them, or rather, the manifestations of virtual particles, since they themselves can't be seen- only their effects on other particles can.?

?So you're studying the wind by watching the movement of the leaves on the trees??

She was surprised; no one had ever explained her research that concisely before. ?Yes. Exactly. And I may steal that description for my paper.?

?That's... really cool. But I'm not sure I understand how that brings you to my little coastal clinic.?

?Well, it shouldn't have. I tracked a manifestation to OHSU. But I missed it by something like five and a half hours.?

?Missed it?? the doctor asked, leaning in and uncrossing his legs.

?My research is cutting edge, like Galileo figuring out it's a heliocentric system after all, Charlie Brown. Even the science undergirding my monitoring equipment is still fairly experimental. So it's kind of like trying to track malaria through mosquito farts- only a million times more subtle.?

?But apparently less impossible than it sounds.?

?I don't think so. I've... had my moments of doubt, of course. I've gone as long as 18 months without so much as a blip on my equipment. But this instance, the one we tracked here, it's... it's a hundred times stronger than any other readings I've ever gotten. Strong enough that it was worth our time to track the patient we think is responsible for it from OHSU to your clinic.?

?So the manifestation is inside one of my patients.? He stroked his chin, and Claire recognized a day?s worth of beard growth catching on his fingers. ?And what are you proposing for this patient?? he asked.

?The monitor's noninvasive. It's monitoring all kinds of phenomena, from vibrations to temperature to electromagnetic radiation- and I don't just mean the visible spectrum. The clearest signal, though, is light.?

?Light??

?I don't know what it is, but it's light, technically in the visible spectrum, but because of the way the manifestations work, it's distorted, and usually gone so fast that it's imperceptible to the human eye. But the light was the first manifestation we ever recorded, and to this day I still think it's the strongest.?

He smiled and asked, ?So you think my patient is emitting light??

?I think your patient is emitting manifestations of all kinds of phenomena- radiation, particle waves, you name the bit of physical minutiae and I think he's shooting it out. But it's in small, so tiny it's beyond-our-ability-to-measure-them amounts. All we can measure is the things they interact with.?

?You're in charge, right? Forgive me if I'm being ageist and competence-ist,? Kevin smiled, and they both turned to Knowles, to gauge if there was any offence taken.

He realized they were both looking at him, and replayed in his head the last thing said. ?Hey,? Knowles complained.

?Completely fair,? Claire said.

?But he isn't secretly your research partner?? Kevin asked.

?Nope,? she said. ?That book you can file in the large print children editions based solely on its cover.? Knowles crossed his arms and relaxed back into his seat to pout, but was immediately engrossed in watching seagulls again.

?I ask,? Kevin said, lowering his voice so as not to bother the younger man, ?because I'd like to take a walk with you, and I?d hate to offend him if that?s the case. It?s Kevin, by the way,? he reached across his desk to shake her hand, but a cascade of papers shook loose in his wake and assaulted her before she could put out her hand to shake it. ?Sorry.?

?That?s okay. And it?s Claire. And my intern can cool his jets in your office, if that's all right. So long as it isn't moving he can amuse himself with his phone.? Kevin turned his head to the side, trying to figure out what she meant. ?Uh, he gets carsick, was what I meant; I'm kind of surprised you can't still smell it on me.?

?I did. It just didn't seem polite to ask,? he said with a smile, which made her unsure if he was kidding or not. ?But if you'll follow me.?

They went through a side door that took them right into the courtyard that overlooked the beach. It was spottled with glass-top tables and metal chairs, some with umbrellas above them. He led her over to a waist-high stone wall that was all that held them back from the steep drop towards the sand. She wondered if this was where he took every researcher who displeased him, so he could shove them over the ledge. She shook the thought out of her head; she always got unnaturally paranoid after rewatching Hitchcock movies.

?This place has a history,: Kevin said, putting his right foot onto the ledge and leaning out to look at the sea. ?I didn't know about the cannon. I chose this place, because... it was where I proposed to my wife.? He touched his wedding band, and smiled wistfully. ?It was the most frustrating weekend we were together. And I remember having the ring and thinking that I should wait for our next vacation, or the next big whatever, because we spent the whole thing fighting, or having the car break down, or having our reservations messed up. And we were on the verge of calling the whole weekend off and driving home when we got a flat. And I yelled at her, because just everything was going wrong, and I hated myself for it, and for the fact that I knew it would be hours before I could man up enough to apologize for snapping at her.?

?I got out, and in my best pants, the ones I planned to drop to one knee on, I kneeled in the rocks and the mud by the side of the road, swearing at the tire iron and at the spare and at my hub cap. And she got out and stood with me in the rain, handing me things, helping however she could. And there was just a moment, after I had the spare on but before I started tightening bolts, where I looked up at her, and realized, horrible as that weekend was, brutal as the ice cold Pacific Northwest rain falling in pea-sized droplets down my collar was- and absolutely ruining this beautiful blue dress she had on- she wanted to be there with me, and I wanted to be there, in that freezing Oregon hell, so long as it was with her. And I had the ring in my pocket, so I gave it to her. On this spot. Well, technically, out by the road. And when she died, I used the money from the settlement to buy this land- not knowing that it was going to have an ocean view when we cleared the trees away to build. It was just, it was serenity, for me, and I wanted it to be that for my patients.?

He turned to her, then, his face hidden by the brilliance of the sun at his back, and asked, ?So what do you want with my patient??

The question caught her off guard, especially juxtaposed with such a personal story. ?Honestly, I don't want anything with your patient. If this were manifesting in a frog on the beach, or in the spare tire in my rental car- I'd be where the instance was, taking readings, and trying to understand the phenomenon.?

Her pursed his lips, thinking. ?Is it dangerous?? he asked.

?I don't think so. But the manifestations I'm studying, they're not at all understood. We don't know what the reaction would be if this were happening inside an inanimate piece of rock, but it's manifesting inside a person. And I couldn't even begin to guess what that might do on a subatomic, maybe sub-particle level. But I'd like to help, lend my expertise to help you figure out if it is dangerous.?

?Okay,? he said.

?Okay??

?Chris Mereta?s the only new patient we have, so I assume you mean him; I mean I'll let you talk to the patient, see if you can get consent.?

?Like that?? she asked in disbelief.

?You could have scared me, told me he was bleeding radiation, or that there were any number of made-up medical complications that would require me, ethically, to comply. Instead, you told me you want to find out if my patient is safe, and as a side benefit to advance scientific understanding, if possible. Those are both goals I agree with. Not that it guarantees anything. The patient, or his family, might object, and then doctor-patient confidentiality kicks in and I'm ethically bound to stonewall you. But I'll let you present your case, just like you did to me.?

Kevin noticed Sam, standing on the other end of the courtyard, bouncing his weight from one knee to the other like he had to pee. ?Could you excuse me for a moment?? he asked, and she nodded, taking advantage of the opportunity to stare out at the water.

Kevin motioned for Sam to come over. Sam nodded to his wrist watch, and Kevin pulled back his sleeve to look at the time. ?Moll,? he mouthed, as Sam said the name out loud. ?It's time for me to pick her up from school.? Sam stared at Claire, but she was hardly paying him any attention, because she was captivated by the ocean view.

Sam nodded to an area further removed from her. ?Are you sure you can handle things here?? Sam asked.

Kevin looked from his burly cousin to the slight woman staring at the waves, and found himself lost in the way her skin caught auburn off the sun's light. ?Yeah,? he said, ?I'll be fine.?

?You sure? Because I think the only reason I'm not escorting her and Pizza the Hutt off the premises is because she has good skin, a nice smile and jeans that make her legs and butt look like a stack of summer sausages.?

?You know better than anyone we've had several researchers from OHSU make extended stays. Most of them weren't pretty to look at, and several of them were men.?

?And none of them were physicists. And even fewer of them were crackpot physicists.? Kevin raised an eyebrow. ?Several of her colleagues have savaged her online; academic snark can get surprisingly petty.?

?Okay, she's pretty. And she seems sweet. And maybe those things influenced my decision. But she might also have interesting or useful things to add to medical and scientific understanding.?

?Or frilly black underthings.?

?Now you're just projecting.?

?I hope not. It'd be good for you to be interested in a woman's underthings again. I just don't want you to make stupid decisions in the pursuit of frilly black underthings.?

?I'll be fine. She's not going to roofie me. And I won't do anything insane like ask her to dinner.?

?That'd be fine,? Sam said. ?Just don't propose until after the third date. No matter how pretty the sunlight looks reflected off her skin.?

?Deal,? said Kevin. ?And tell my daughter I love her.?

?Can't you??

?Never often enough.?

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