He wasn’t sure if it was the alarm clock or the videophone that tugged away at the last string that tethered him to a restless sleep. He reached over to the nightstand next to the bed groping with his bad hand, the one full of IV holes, for the touch pad. Not long ago it would have been easy; the phone was big. You reached and there it was. It was another of the many small things that irritated him.
It was dark and his body, laced with pain, trembled as the screen opposite his bed lit up. His eyes hurt as he strained to make out the figure on the screen. He gave up and just listened.
“‘ello,” His voice barely audible.”An excited, heavily accented man responded, “Is this Professor Perry?” “Yes. Who is this?”
“I am the secretary for the Nobel Foundation. I am pleased to inform you that you have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for your work on Quantum Gravity and Broken Symmetry.”
“Are you there, Professor Perry? Can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes. I can hear you fine. Is this some kind of a joke? I’ve already won a Nobel Prize, years ago.”
“It’s no joke, Professor Perry. You are being awarded a second Nobel prize for your work on quantum gravity and broken symmetry as I said.” His arm began to shake more violently, followed by his entire body. His beating heart magnified the pain that mixed with an incredulous kind of euphoria. “I sent you an email.”
Why the hell did you call me then? I know how to read.
“Yes. Well, thank you very much. I am deeply honored. Before you go, tell me who I share the prize with?”
“No one, Professor Perry. It is just you alone. Your work is one of a kind. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Professor Perry responded, nearly inaudible.
Professor Perry pressed the touch pad to turn off the video phone and sat in darkness. The light hurt too much. He thought of his wife, Janet. He folded his arms across his chest, hugging the invisible presence. He started to tremble and sob. The only person he ever loved and still loved would not be there to share this moment.
Jesus! Why now? I’m half dead and can barely get out of bed. At least this time I won’t have to share it with that thief, Larz. All alone. Those old farts and young bastards will be so jealous. But fuck ‘em. The only two time winner. The one they called, the poor misguided one, as if that was to make me feel better. I suppose they’re right though. I haven’t done a damn thing in the last ten years. Well, except. . .
It was nearly forty years ago that Dr. Alfred Watts Perry wrote the paper that changed history and that won him his first Nobel Prize. Not only had he won the prize, he had made history as the first African American to win the prize for physics. He was a sixteen-year-old high school student at Crenshaw High when he happened to read a paper by a physicist at the Bell Laboratories, P.W. Anderson who also won a Nobel Prize in 1977. The paper, “More Is Different”, was on the subject of emergence or what some later called complexity. It was only three pages long but had such a powerful effect on Perry that it awakened a genius within him that he did not know he possessed.
Emergence theory dealt with the question of how immensely complex systems “emerge” from constituent parts that no one could possibly predict would yield such outcomes. How does consciousness emerge from the biochemical working and electrochemical workings of billions of neurons? What is more, how does the biochemistry emerge from the quantum mechanical workings of the atoms that make up the biochemistry? Whence is DNA? A collection of ribose sugars, nucleic acids with dangling phosphates?
These questions and others like them awakened in Perry a passion that caused an obsession, which ultimately led to some of the most creative research and testable theory in the history of physics since Einstein and Newton. His work revolutionized every field of science, from particle physics to zoology; and even changed the thinking of many philosophers and theologians.
Despite the many triumphs and now confirmed predictions of Perry’s emergence theory, one mystery had remained. How gravity emerged and separated from other fundamental particles during the big bang. This was the greatest mystery in physics. Professor Perry brilliantly explained how the breaking of symmetry at the moment of the big bang related gravity to the other fundamental forces. It was for this that he would be the sole recipient of his second Nobel Prize for Physics.
Though he was long past his productive years, he was revered among all scientists as the greatest thinker to have lived. He was worshipped in the African American community. More than a role model, he was an international superstar; his fame and notoriety unequaled in history.
He did not feel that way about himself. His head still heavy with sleep, his chin on his chest, the old genius felt for the handle to the nightstand drawer. The drawer slid open to the feeble tug of his dark, withering hand. He slid the palm of his hand into the drawer and lifted a folder and laid it on his lap. He found the light, turned it on and read the bold black letters:
Emergent Properties of Cosmic Holography
If the world really knew what my discoveries had spawned, I suppose they would execute me rather than award me a prize.
He pressed the button on his morphine pump. Ah. At least there is this. Then for an instant, in the corner near the door, he thought that he saw something move.
The Six Equations
Professor Perry was exhausted. If it had not been such a momentous historical event, acceptance of his second Nobel Prize, he would have skipped it altogether. It took all his remaining strength to make the trip to Stockholm. His speech was interrupted by many standing ovations as he spoke of the quest for reality and how the future would represent a quantum leap in human evolution and how the species would not be recognized as Homo sapiens for much longer. He called his speech, Emerging Reality: The Future of Homo sapiens.
It was a frustrating day for him. It was the happiest day of his life and it was about to be the craziest. The morphine drip made things all the more surreal. He had just returned from Stockholm to satellite trucks and news vans lining the road to his office. Reporters from all over the world competed to be the first to interview the science celebrity. He outsmarted them and parked far from his office near the campus maintenance yard. One of the groundskeepers drove him in a cart to his office.
The groundskeeper kept glancing at the old professor, building up his courage enough to finally say, “This is a real honor professor. I never thought someone like me would ever sit next to a real genius.”
Trying to be gracious, Perry managed in a strained voice to say, “Thank you.”
The young Asian groundskeeper, smiled as a wave of warmth washed through his body. To have Professor Perry actually speak to him not only made his day, it made his life. A bit more comfortable the groundskeeper asked, “Do you think I could get your autograph?”
Professor Perry had long ago decided not to give autographs. He disliked the idea of being thought of as a celebrity and that his discoveries were just that, discoveries of the wonders of which a power greater than he was the author.
“I’m sorry, I don’t give autographs. I hope you understand.”
A little embarrassed the groundskeeper said, “Oh, I understand. I read somewhere that you were pretty modest. They compared you to Neil Armstrong. He didn’t give autographs either.”
Professor Perry didn’t respond. They drove in silence the remainder of the short trip to Perry’s office.
He sat at his desk most of the day, rubbing his bald head and circling around images of equations in his mind until he became dizzy. He sequestered himself from the storm of media attention and asked his assistant to hold all of his calls. He could have stayed at home; should’ve stayed at home. He simply could not break a habit of nearly 40 years. The dusty, cramped corner office in Kohn Hall, which housed the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at U.C. Santa Barbara, was his hiding place. A cleft in the rock is how he thought of it.
The room, though spacious, seemed cramped because it was littered with books and papers. The walls were covered with all sorts of awards. There were numerous old wooden chairs surrounding his desk; and two large whiteboards took up a quarter of the space. A photography of his son, and wife, both now dead many years, sat on his desk. His life had been a mélange of tragedy and triumph. His wife, Janet, died of ALS twenty years after their son was born. She had been his best friend, advisor and critic. A day did not go by that he did not think of her; sometimes she was all he thought of for an entire day until he fell into a forgetful sleep.
Half the day had passed before Perry looked up from his desk and focused on the two white boards. The lines of equations looked different. Pushing passed the pain in his lower back, he rose from his chair, steadied himself by holding onto the edge of the desk, took a deep breath and shuffled over to the white boards for a closer look. In what appeared to be childlike writing, in between a line of equations in his own hand, he saw solutions to the equations that he had been working on for the past decade.
He squinted his eyes as he studied the whiteboards. He could see that there were six separate equations. His eyes clouded. He saw true beauty for the first time. A lone tear dripped onto his cheek awakening him to a purity of vision. He threw back his head, eyes toward the ceiling. Yes! Yes! Now I see. Professor Perry recognized the mistakes he had been making. He ran his fingers along the line of equations and mumbled quietly to himself. He was incredulous. This is impossible. How can this be?
Professor Perry could feel and hear his heart beat as if it were about to explode from his chest. His head became a seething mass of confusion mixed with joy and anger. He walked around and around in a small circle like a fish in a bowl until he saw his smart phone. He grabbed it from the desk and photographed the equations.
He started to amble down the hall to get his colleagues. He was knocked to the floor as his knee hit the jamb of the door. It would have been painful, except the morphine and excitement made him oblivious. He struggled to his feet and continued down the hall cursing and limping all the way.
Perry and two of his colleagues looked like the three stooges in slow motion as they walked down the hall. They crowded through the door to his office, shocked to find the equations were gone. The white board trumpeted the message: BEWARE OF THE DOG.
Professor Perry shouted, “What is this? What happened to the equations? They were right here on the whiteboards.”
Randall Sziller, a young assistant professor, immediately looked at the cell phone, still in Professor Perry’s hand. “Professor Perry, the phone has a camera. Did you take a picture of the equations?”
“Yes, I did. Look at this.” As he tried to tap the photo icon, he dropped the phone. When he lifted it from the floor and tapped the screen the phone went dark. Perry’s heart stopped for a beat. Lisa and Randall stared at him in disbelief. He hobbled to his desk to get the power adapter praying that it was just a dead battery and that the file had not been deleted. He found the adapter, plugged it in and began tapping the screen to bring up recent pictures taken. The files could not be found.
Sziller pulled the phone from his hands and tapped the screen and said, “There.” Perry took the phone and to his relief the photos of the equations appeared.
Dr. Randall Sziller an assistant professor and Dr. Lisa Meitner, a young female postdoc, gathered around the tiny screen of the smart phone. Sziller, whose eyes could not focus on such a small screen, finally said, “Enough of this nonsense. Write the damn equations on the board.”
Professor Perry limped to the board, squinting at the small screen of his phone. He hesitated for a moment and then erased the warning written in the same handwriting as the equations. With his hands shaking, He wrote the six equations. They could not speak. They stared in disbelief. It could have been a minute or an hour. Finally, Sziller said, “I can see God.”
“Or the Devil,” Meitner said.
Professor Perry saw his entire life’s work summed up on that board. They were interrupted by his assistant, Marcie.
“Professor Perry, a press conference has been scheduled for three this afternoon. Is that okay?”
It took Professor Perry a few seconds to understand what Marcie was saying. His colleagues gave him time to collect his thoughts. It was difficult enough with his illness to focus let alone with all that was now happening.
“Of course,” he finally responded. “Where will it be?”
“It will have to be in the large seminar room
“All right. Come and get me a few minutes before it starts.” Marcie nodded and headed back to her office.
Perry called to Marcie as she was leaving, “Have you seen anyone coming in or out of my office?”
“No. Your office was locked while you were gone. Why do you ask?”
“What about just a few minutes ago? Did you see anyone who shouldn’t be here?”
“There are lots of people wandering around with all the press here. Is there something wrong?’
“I’m not sure. I’ll explain later. Thanks, Marcie.”
Sziller began to sway. He lost his balance. Meitner caught him just before he fell. Her slender arm trembled against his weight. Her voice unusually tender, “Sit, Randall, we have got to calm ourselves and think this through. Professor Perry, you said the equations were already on the board when you got here. When did you first notice them?”
Perry explained how he had been sitting at his desk for several hours and that he had looked up at the board and noticed something was different. The equations that were interspersed with his old lines of equations were not there when he left for Stockholm. They must have been written between the time he left for Stockholm and his return.
“It is obvious what we must do,” Sziller said, his breathing uneven and labored. “Find whoever solved these equations.”
Meitner walked to the board and pointed at one of the equations. “Look at this,” she whispered. “If this is correct, it means we can manipulate space and time with resonance.”
She ran her fingers along each equation. She stopped at the fourth one, nodding her head in recognition. “And this one—”
“Yes! Yes!” Perry shouted. “It means space is indeed an emergent property; a result of initial symmetry breaking at the moment of the big bang. It predicts that space does have a fabric to it. This is amazing. It’s just as I thought. I tried for years to find this solution.”
Each equation yielded answers to mysteries that had plagued physics for centuries. The third equation was a solution to equations for which Professor Perry had just won the Nobel Prize. The Holy Grail of physics was on his white board: The Theory of Everything embedded in emergence theory. No, it was more than the theory of everything. EVERYTHING, lived and breathed on the white board. The board itself was alive with the equations.
“So simple, so elegant,” Meitner said placing her hand over her heart. “How could we have missed this? We couldn’t see the universe for all the stars.”
Sziller recovered and called attention to the sixth equation. “This last equation must be about dark energy and dark matter. This is unbelievable. If this means what I think it is, then—”
Before Sziller could finish his thought Paul Price walked into the office. A theoretical physicist, he had worked in Washington, D. C. where he studied Calabi-Yau Spaces at the Naval Observatory before joining Perry’s team. When he saw the equations he clinched his fists, his body went rigid. He began to shake his head.
Barely audible, “This is impossible. How could…? Who could have possibly…?”
Meitner continued running her fingers along the equations until she noticed the faint outline of the warning. “What does ‘Beware of the Dog’ have to do with the equations? Where did that come from?”
At that question it occurred to Professor Perry how much he resented whoever had solved the equations. Now, instead of contemplating the mystery of the universe, Professor Perry was contemplating the how and why of the solution to the mystery of the universe. He felt as if he was trying to prevent himself from choking. He remained calm though and attempted an answer, hoping he would not find the person who had solved the equations. After all if no one turned up the work was his and he would present it to the world as such.
Perry recounted for Dr. Price how he had discovered the equations.
“Don’t forget that beware of the dog thing on the board, it could be a warning,” Sziller said.
Dr. Price found an empty chair, turned it toward the window, looked at the ocean a quarter-mile across the quad. He shook his head periodically, patting his thighs. He rose, paced the floor between desk and window, glanced at the equations and sat again.
The other physicists sat with fixed gazes on the equations. Finally, Dr. Sziller spoke: “This reminds me of the discovery of nuclear fission and the realization that a bomb could be produced, except the consequences here are several orders of magnitude greater. They are also more complex. Like that discovery, we won’t be able to keep this a secret. Others must be close to the same discovery. It is always like that in science. At least half a dozen labs around the world were working on nuclear fission during the war, all making similar discoveries at the same—”
“Randall,” Meitner interrupted. “This is not nuclear fission. You said so yourself that this is much more complex. I don’t think anyone else is close to discovering the equations.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure, Lisa. Don’t forget Ida Noddack. Before anyone, she postulated that a nucleus could break apart. She did this independent of what other labs were doing at the time. When she finally published her findings even Fermi dismissed her. Somewhere, most likely in obscurity, a lone wolf has discovered the same thing. You know as well as I do that science is replete with ‘multiples’: Darwin and Russell both discovered evolution at roughly the same time, Bell and Gray both filed patents for the telephone within hours of each other, the list goes on and on.”
This back and forth about who discovered what when and if any other theoretical physicists could have produced the equations continued for some time until Perry noticed that Paul Price was gone.
They exchanged stares. Dr. Meitner, who never trusted nor liked Dr. Price, bolted out of the office, a tinge of anger on her face. Perry yelled after her. She ignored his calls. He began to chase after her. He only got as far as the door before thinking better of trying to chase down colleagues forty years younger. He turned to Sziller and said, “Go after her and see what’s going on. I’ll stay here in case whoever solved the equations returns.”
Sziller, caught up with Meitner. They headed across the square to a clump of buildings that had served as the original physics offices while the campus was being built. “Lisa what’s the matter? Where are you running off to?”
“To find Price, I don’t trust him. He’s probably recording the equations or telling someone he’s solved them.”
It occurred to him that she could be right. Lisa was running; Sziller trotting by her side. When they arrived at Price’s office he was on the phone.
Meitner shouted, “Who the hell are you talking to?” Surprised, Price fumbled with the phone, his eyes wide. He glared at Meitner. He mouthed the words, “My wife.”
Meitner strode defiantly to Paul. “Wife my ass,” she said. “Give me that phone.” She reached up to grab the phone, her long bony fingers wrapped around Paul’s wrist instead. They struggled for a moment until Paul relaxed and let go of the phone.
She spit out, “Who is this?” Paul saw her face turn from anger to embarrassment. Her voice was sheepish as she said, “Oh Carmen, I’m sorry. I thought–” Red-eared she persisted, “Did Paul say anything to you about his work or equations?”
At this Paul snatched the phone and pushed Meitner aside. He took a deep breath and said, “Honey I’m sorry. Lisa is under a great deal of pressure. She believes I’m infringing on her work. I better go now. I’ll see you soon.”
Meitner turned on Dr. Price. Before she could speak he was within inches of her face yelling, “Don’t you ever, ever interfere with me and my work or enter this office again. I’ll end your post doc here so fast you’ll be back teaching in junior college.”
Like a rabid rodent, Meitner snarled and inched closer to Price’s face. “Why did you sneak out of Professor Perry’s office? Who else did you call?”
They were like two rats fighting over a piece of garbage. Sziller tried to intervene with no success. Neither of them would hear him.
“I don’t have to explain my actions to you, Lisa. It was personal.”
“Then why didn’t you let us know you were leaving? Why did you just walk out on what is probably the greatest discovery in physics without saying a word to us? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“It wouldn’t to someone with no life.”
Meitner turned and bolted out of the office headed back to Kavli. Paul followed with a long gait, head down, Sziller trailing behind.
They were all back in Perry’s office mesmerized by the equations. No one spoke. No one moved. Perry wanted to run out and tell the world that the greatest discovery in history was scrawled on his white board. Dr. Price looked at each one of them with suspicious eyes and said, “We should try to find whoever solved these equations before we make any decision about what to do next. We shouldn’t tell anyone about this until we have confirmed for ourselves that the equations are correct.”
They nodded to each other, including Meitner. Passionate, brilliant, her attractive features obscured by anorexia, Meitner defied the stereotype of a female physicist, brainy and boring. She continued for some time to argue the unbelievability of what had happened.
At the end of her tirade, Paul Price caught his breath. “She’s right about one thing, we don’t have much time. Excuse me, I have to go and pick up my daughter. I’m already late.”
Perry thought that Paul lied. He usually picked up his daughter on Wednesday. No one questioned him. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys, jangling them as he walked from the office.
Meitner went with Professor Perry to the news conference, leaving Sziller who stood at the white board, touching each line of the equations and humming.
Dr. Paul Price drove home from U.C, Santa Barbara gripping the steering wheel so tight that his hands hurt. He honked at cars for the slightest infraction and shook the wheel as if trying to push the car along. The unmistakable odor of road killed skunk assaulted his senses. His eyes watered. It fit his mood. He sniffed the foul smell and liked it. It was to him the sweet stench of anger.
He had been sloppy and gotten caught by of all people, Lisa Meitner. It was just a matter of timing that when she grabbed the phone it was his wife, Carmen, on the line and not Bob.
He had told Bob as much as he could about the equations and the need to let the “dog” out. That was the hardest thing he’d ever done. They had to stick to the plan, his plan. It was the only way to protect EPOCH.
Paul had the time to quickly write the sixth equation on a scrap of paper and place it in his wallet. He had seen the first five equations before, but not the sixth. He knew it had something to do with dark energy and dark matter. He did not know exactly what it meant. If it was what he thought it could be, then the problems plaguing EPOCH could be solved.
He had made plans to meet Bob on the Lost Coast. It was why he called Carmen, to let her know he would be coming home early and that he had to leave for Berkeley that evening. He never got the chance because his nemesis, Lisa, had interfered.
His anger abated as he walked into his home that sat just off highway 154, which leads to Cachuma Lake and the Los Padres National Forest. He had wanted to buy the house across the street because of its view of the Channel Islands and the campus just off to the Northwest. The Spanish style house was more than he had ever hoped to own when he was a struggling graduate student, and there was a narrow view of the ocean over the hedges in his backyard.
Carmen, his wife of fifteen years, greeted him as he walked into the kitchen. He was intoxicated by the scent of her Cuban cooking, and for a moment he forgot about the equations and the dead skunk.
“I love it when you come home early,” she said. “What? No big discoveries today?”
He came to her, slid his hands just below her waist, and kissed her. “Yes,” he whispered in her ear. “You are my great discovery today.”
“You are so full of it sometimes.” She laughed. “I love every minute of your b.s.”
He laughed with her, stopped and said, “I have to leave town for a few days. I’m going to Berkeley.”
“So that’s why you called. And what’s up with that crazy Lisa. What was she going on about some equations?”
“You know Lisa. She’s nuts; thinks I’m trying to steal her work.”
“So why the sudden trip?”
“My collaborators at U.C. Berkeley called. There’s a meeting to tie up some loose ends of my work. Some of my colleagues are in town from Russia. They’re meeting over the weekend to go over some of my old research. I volunteered to meet with them.”
“Why am I just hearing about this? You didn’t say anything about your colleagues coming to California before just now.”
He sighed and buried his head in her bosom. “Forgive me.”
“Only if I can come with you?”
“You can if you want to. I won’t be around. You’ve been with me long enough to know what these meetings are like.”
Carmen quickly changed her mind. She knew how he could disappear into meetings.
He hated manipulating his wife. What choice do I have, he thought.
He embraced her tighter, looked into her green eyes. She returned his gaze. They kissed. He tasted cumin on her tongue and felt the stirring within; the same stirrings he felt when he first saw her on her father’s dive boat in Miami. He was hard. His body shuddered as he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom.
They wrestled together; each pulling the other deeper into the other’s senses. They did not talk. He cupped her firm buttocks in his hands as he lay on top of her and pulled his desire deep into her body, slowly, rhythmically. They sang together at once and Paul, for a brief moment, was the man he wanted to be.
He released her reluctantly and said, “I have to pack.”
After he showered and packed a small suitcase he walked into his daughter’s room. He saw Allie sitting at a small table stacked with Legos. “What cha doin’ there, Sweetheart?” Paul surprised her from behind.
“Building a world,” Allie said.
“Building a world? That’s a big job, even for someone as smart as you.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Paul kissed Allie on the head and sat down beside her. He watched her building, helping here and there. “This is a fine world you’re building. You will be God?”
“I can’t be God, just queen.”
Paul took a deep breath and said, “I am going out of town for a few days. Will you take care of your mother for me?”
“I always take care of Mom when you’re gone. Are you going to disappear there like you’ve done before?”
“What do you mean? I can’t disappear.”
“I watched you, Dad, in the basement last night. I was looking at you and you just disappeared.”
“Allie,” Paul was laughing nervously now. “I can’t disappear. You must have been dreaming again. People can’t disappear. I’m a physicist, remember? Did you tell your mother? We’ve talked about this before, remember? You promised no more talk of disappearing.”
“I know. Mom said I was dreaming, too. She said I have a good imagination.”
“Well, you do. Look at this world you’re building. That takes imagination. I’ve got to go now. I love you.”
Paul got up. He walked to the door. He turned to look at the stack of Legos taking shape, sighed deeply again, found Carmen and lingered in her arms, lost in her eyes. “I miss you already,” he said.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You seem worried.”
“Everything’s, fine. It’s just all this travel.” He continued to embrace her, a little tighter than before. “It’s also, Allie. She has such an imagination. I worry about her sometimes. She thinks she’s seen me disappear again. Maybe all my traveling bothers her and she thinks I’m not going to come back.”
“She’s okay. She does dream a lot, though. She told me that she saw you disappear in the basement last night. She says she can disappear, too. I wouldn’t worry. She’s just ten with an overactive imagination. Add to that the doctor’s recent diagnosis and that she speaks three languages already, we’re going to hear some weird stuff sometimes. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Allie was not only gifted, she was a beautiful child. She’d inherited her mother’s tan skin and green eyes. Her hair was golden and slightly curly. She defined precocious. Most of all, she was happy and inquisitive. She wore her parents out with question after question: Why did her eyes hurt if he looked at the sun? How far away is the moon? Why is the countertop so smooth and the driveway so rough? What happens to you when you die? English and Spanish she learned easily from her parents, but they still had not figured out how she learned French; and not only French, a dialect spoken in Switzerland.
“You sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll be back before you know it.”
A sense of dread came over him. He knew when he returned home, if he
returned home, things would not be the same. Although he relaxed his embrace, he had difficulty letting her go.
After he closed the door, Carmen stared after him. She wrapped her arms about her body and shuddered. She knew something was wrong.
Wrong. Yes, she thought. I am wrong. I should have told Paul years ago. Each time Carmen heard or thought of the word wrong it triggered guilt. Two past indiscretions with the same man had marred her otherwise perfect marriage and love for Paul.
Once to defy her father and later out of loneliness and resentment, she reasoned. It was more than that, hence the guilt. Now she sensed that somehow it was all mixed up together and the tangled web was about to claim its prey.
Allie sat in front of the world she was creating. It was no ordinary world. Had her father looked closer he would have noticed that the world looked a lot like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. To Allie, Notre Dame was a world. She had wandered its corners, rooms, secret passages, and climbed to the tower so many times that she knew it intimately.
Her journeys began late one night when she heard the door to her parents’ bedroom open and the creaking of the old wood floors. She pushed the covers off; crept out to the hall to follow her father who she knew often went down to his basement office during the night. She had been too slow, however and her father was not in sight. When she got to the kitchen she noticed the door to the basement was open. She stopped, stood in front of it trembling slightly. She had always wanted to know what her father did in his office so late at night. She wedged her head into the crack in the door. She could see nothing except the descending stairs. Pulled by curiosity she reached the bottom of the stairs before she knew what she had done. To the left was a small brightly lit room. The large shadow on the wall of the room caused her body to shake; fearless and fearful all at once she walked to the door, looked in only to find the shadow was gone and no one was in the room.
Allie could feel her heart all the way down to the bottom of her stomach. “Dad? Are you there?” No answer. She slowly entered the room, bathed in light that seemed to make her glow. She walked to the far end of the room near the door that led to the furnace room.
Allie heard a high pitched sound and turned to see light in the middle of the room begin to shimmer, dim and then brighten. A figure began to appear in the light. Allie ran into the furnace room, panting softly. She could not move until she heard the footsteps, coughing, and what she was sure was her father’s voice saying, “Oh my, what a trip that was.” The light in the room had dimmed. Allie peaked through the sliver of opening near the hinges and saw her father.
Paul Price stood in the middle of the floor and puckered his lips as if to whistle. Again Allie heard the high pitched sound. The bright shimmering light returned and her father disappeared.
Allie ran as fast as she could back up the basement stairs and into her bedroom. Her heart was pounding in her head. Beads of perspiration dotted her forehead. Her hands clutched the edge of her bedspread. Despite her fear, Allie fell asleep. When she awoke the next morning, she knew she had not been dreaming.
On subsequent nights, Allie timed her father’s basement escapades. She became adept at following her father without being noticed, always in time to see him disappear and return. One night, while her father was out of town, Allie had decided she would imitate her father’s every move and see if she could disappear. It had proven easier than she imagined and more frightening.
Allie mastered inter-dimensional travel with ease. It became her private play time. She was afraid to tell her parents. She was not to get out of bed after lights out and following her father into the basement was definitely out bounds for her.
However, one morning at breakfast she began to sing a song in French and her troubles began. “Un, deux, trios/ Cherché dans le bois. . .”
“Allie what are you singing? Where did you learn that song? Absent-mindedly Allie, answered in French, “Suisse.”
Her father was suspicious. He spoke to Allie in French who replied in perfect French. Carmen and Paul exchanged concerned stares. Allie explained that she had seen her father disappear in the basement. That she had practiced how to do it too, and had traveled to other places during playtime in her room. She had discovered that she did not need to be in the basement, nor did she need to make the whistling sound.
Allie was questioned extensively by her parents. They took her to child psychologists; had her tested for autism and just about every other psychological disorder to explain her apparent genius and her compulsive story telling. It was decided that she was a functional savant, a kind of genius. It was too early to tell if her abnormal tendencies would affect her ability to function in society. While it pained her father, who knew the truth, or suspected it, he said nothing, save for a brief conversation when they were alone in the car.
“Dad, why don’t you believe me? I’m not crazy.”
“I know, Allie. Sometimes our minds can play tricks on us.”
“I think you and Mom are trying to trick me.”
Paul laughed out loud. “You are one smart kid, you know that?”
“Yes, I know. I don’t understand why you don’t believe me. I know you can
disappear, too. I saw you.”
“Allie, I can’t disappear and neither can you.” Paul relied on the fact that he was technically correct. They could not disappear. They could, however, move from one spacial dimension to another. This technical fact allowed him to deceive his daughter.
“Okay Dad, I can play the game. I know that you know and you know that I know and we both pretend that neither of us knows. I get it.”
Paul marveled at his daughter’s capacity to reason at such a young age. It had occurred to him and Carmen that there was something different about Allie when at age two she began solving Sudoku puzzles. Yet, they were proud of their little girl and bought her more complicated math puzzles as she to older.
He drove on, momentarily stunned to silence. He suddenly felt compelled to tell Allie everything. He decided to remain silent. There was too much at stake.
Now sitting in front of her toy world, Allie had to decide if she would obey her father and no longer travel in inter-dimensional space and accept the fact that her father did not want others to know what he was doing, or make at least one more trip that might save someone’s life. Her former travels had revealed more about her father and what he was doing than she led him to believe.
He was happy to be home in his own bedroom; alone with his morphine pump to ease the pain that now ruled his entire body. He took off his suit jacket and let it fall to the floor. He sat heavily on the edge of his bed, then stood up with more speed than he had mustered in years as he thought he saw something move in the far corner of his bedroom. He had.
“How did you get in here? Where—”
Calmly, as if nothing could be more natural the girl said, “I just whistled.” Professor Perry placed his hand over the morphine pump attached to his belt.
He closed his eyes and pressed the tiny touch pad that started the flow of morphine. He felt the rush and was sure that when he opened his eyes there would be no one there. He was wrong. He opened his eyes and there, right next to him, belt high, staring at the morphine pump was the girl.
Professor Perry had spent his life searching for a deeper understanding of reality. He had learned long ago, that denying empirical evidence was the biggest mistake one could make in the quest for reality. That lesson was severely tested as he looked down on a little girl that by the same lessons of reality should not be there. Occam’s razor prevailed, that often misunderstood and misquoted philosophy, first put forward by fourteenth century logician and Franciscan friar, William of Ockham that said, “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” or as Newton later put it, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than are both true and sufficient to explain their appearance.” A bit more complex an idea than that, the short hand often was adequate for physicists and scientists as a guide to explain most phenomena. Professor Perry had used the philosophy to great effect during his long career. Now, a little girl appeared before him and in the back of his mind he searched for the simplest explanation. He began, “Well little girl. . .”
“My name is Allie,” she interrupted. “And I’m not a little girl, I’m ten years old.”
“All right, Allie. You are obviously real; you are here; yet just as obvious, you shouldn’t be here. You were not here when I came in. There is no possible way that I know of that you could have gotten in here without coming through that door.”
Allie, quick minded as ever said, “That you know of. Then again, maybe you should know.”
“Ah,” He said, breathing deeply; feeling as if he were talking to Alice in the novel, Through the Looking Glass. He caught himself glancing at the mirror in front of him to see if Allie had a reflection. Of course she does. Still. . .“Tell me about the whistle. How does it work? It gets you from one place to another?”
“More like one space to another, but I really don’t need the whistle. It just helps me concentrate,” Allie said, as she reached out to touch the morphine pump.
Startled, Perry said loudly, “Please don’t touch that. Please.”
Allie remained calm and did not react to his loud command except to ask, “What is it? Some sort of drug delivery device?”
“What do you know about drugs? Besides, I’m asking the questions. Speaking of space, you are in my space and you still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”
“I’m here because I like to explore.”
“You’re a very smart girl. Why are you being so evasive?”
“You mean why won’t I answer you directly? Well, I’ve got reasons.”
“Those reasons are?”
‘Want to play a game?”
“I’m not good at games.”
“You’ll like this one, I promise. You get to ask me yes or no questions one at a time and I have to answer truthfully. If you ask the right questions, then you will know why I’m here.”
“Are you earthly human?”
Laughing, “Yes, I’m human and from earth. Very clever of you, two questions in one. You are a Nobelist, after all.”
“Ah, so you know me?”
“That’s two questions. Yes, I know—”
“Wait just a minute you little con. That was a statement. Not a question.”
‘Well, your voice had an inflection. I’ll let it go this time so watch yourself.”
“You’re a little smart-ass aren’t you?”
“That was definitely a question, and yes I suppose I am. Next question.”
“Does the audible whistle help you move from space to space?”
“I already answered that question. And you’re doing it again. You tried to
“No. You’re too smart for that.”
“One question at a time. No more tricks.”
Coughing to smother laughing, Perry asked, “Did you come in through the
door and then hide?”
Allie sighed, “That’s two more questions. No and no.”
“Do you know that emergence theory predicts the ability to travel in inter-dimensional space?”
“Finally, a real questions. Maybe I do.”
“Now, you’re trying to trick me. Yes or no?”
“How did you. I mean who. . .Okay, did you learn this in school?”
“From your parents?”
Allie hesitated to answer. She was not sure if she had learned it, just overheard it, or copied it from her father. She decided to play by the rules the best she could. “In a way I learned it from my father.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Your father is a physicist?”
“Do I know him?”
Perry had been standing for some time. Losing strength, he sat down on the bed and thought. There’s a physicist who I know that has a child smart enough to not only understand emergence theory, she can use that knowledge to somehow navigate inter-dimensional space.
It didn’t take him long to figure out who it might be. “Does your parent work for me?”
“Ah. You must be Paul Price’s little girl?”
A slight smile on Allie’s face as she whispered, “Yes I am.”
“Ah ha. He sent you hear to spy on me?”
“No, no. That’s not it at all. I’m here because—”
“Go on. Enough of this game. Why are you in my bedroom and how did
you get here?
He’ s right. This is stupid. I may as well tell him. It’s why I came here.
“I’m here to tell you that you may be in danger. There are people who think you are too old and sick and that you might make a mistake.”
“Who are these people?”
This was difficult for Allie. She loved her father and the thought of betraying something she knew about him that she should not know made it even more difficult. Her bold confidence that she was doing the right thing was replaced by doubt. Time had gotten away from her. It was later than she had imagined. “I’ve got to get back. My mother will be home any moment. She can’t know I’m gone.”
“Wait. Answer one last yes or no question. Does this involve EPOCH?”
Allie’s eyes widened. She stared at Professor Perry as if looking through him. As she puckered her lips slightly she nodded her head. Professor Perry shouted one last question, “Did you write those equations on my whiteboard?”
It was too late. She disappeared into a reddish white distortion.
Perry reached out his hand as if to feel for Allie. He quickly drew back when his hand began to tingle. Well, I guess I was right. It is possible.”
Murder from the Light
No matter how hard she tried, she never seemed to get home before dark. The day the solution to the equations were discovered it was a wonder she made it home at all. She never knew so many varied emotions could exist in her head, each so distinct as if she could taste them. Her mind hurt. It was just not possible, she thought, that someone could have solved all the remaining riddles of emergence theory with just six of the most beautiful equations she had ever seen. There must be a flaw. We’ll spend weeks searching for a possible flaw, anything that is wrong, she thought. Yet, the equations seem to be perfect. She could tell by their beauty and symmetry. As complex as they were she remembered them easily.
How did she get here? She didn’t even remember walking up the stairs let alone driving home, which made the day’s events seem all the more surreal. She often worked late not knowing how she arrived at her door. She thought perhaps some cold water on her face and a shower would help ease her mind.
She walked into the bathroom with the garish green tile she hated and turned on the light. She looked in the mirror and cringed at the thin, drawn face framed by dark brown hair; a body on the verge of anorexia, and deep-set dark eyes, under thick brows, looking back at her.
Lisa Meitner used to be pretty and personable enough to draw the attention of both men and women. The damn work, look what it’s done to you, she yelled at the face in the mirror. Her high, grating voice assaulted everyone’s ears. Her students and colleagues could not stand it when she lectured or spoke at seminars; though they recognized her talent and often compared her to a young Professor Perry.
Lisa Meitner was not her given name. She was adopted as a baby. She changed her name in high school because Lise Meitner (born Elise Meitner in Austria in 1878), who she and many other physicists believed discovered nuclear fission, inspired her to become a physicist. In one of the most egregious slights by the Nobel committee she was not awarded the Nobel prize for physics despite her singular contribution to understanding nuclear fission. She recognized that Einsteins equation, E=MC2 perfectly described the amount of energy given off when an atom is split.
Lisa’s talent matched the rigors of emergence theory. She knew it would take all the perseverance and sheer hard work that she could muster. Working with Calabi-Yau spaces and multidimensional geometry challenges the best of minds. It was not for the faint of heart or lazy, nor the physicist looking for a simple problem that would lead to multiple papers.
Calabi-Yau shapes or Calabi-Yau spaces, named for two mathematicians Shing-Tung Yau and Eugenio Calabi who discovered them mathematically, were critical to understanding emergence in space-time. Calabi-Yau shapes were first used to study string conjecture, which never became a viable theory.
She walked from the bathroom toward her bedroom. Her head down, she absentmindedly flipped the switch on the bedroom lights. The lights did not come on. She flipped the switch again. Nothing. Looking into the darkness of the room she blinked her eyes at the sight of a ripple of light. Frozen by fear, she could not move as a shaft of light in the shape of a hand reached into her chest. She pulled back. It did no good. She could not move as her heart was clenched in what felt like a fist. She screamed. Her face was contorted and her body trembled as pain took control. Her mind struggled to figure out how to break free. The only thing she could think to do as she slumped to the floor was place her middle finger near her mouth in the hope someone would understand sign language. Light!
Students worshipped the forty-two year old physicist. For five years in a row, Dr. Randall Sziller received the Freshman teaching award.. However, tenure eluded him. His students had rallied to his support, launching a campaign to save his job. The academic senate would vote at the end of January. He did not anticipate a favorable vote.
He loved the elegance of emergence theory. He could not handle the degree of difficulty associated with algebraic geometry or partial differential equations. His keen mind was attracted to the question, though and he puzzled through it, not as a mathematician, rather as a philosopher.
Dr. Sziller had his fifteen minutes of fame when he proposed a Theory of Everything while a post doc at the University of Georgia. The theory involved what was then called E8, a complex eight-dimensional pattern with 248 points. The chairman of the physics department at U. C. Santa Barbara recruited Dr. Sziller. When the theory went bust he was relegated to teaching freshman physics. He wasted most of his time trying to revive a dead theory.
Dr. Sziller came to Santa Barbara as much to surf as to teach physics. He surfed every morning, catching whatever waves he could before his classes started, or before attending a seminar or doing real work. The morning after the equations appeared on Professor Perry’s whiteboard, he paddled into the surf to catch his first wave of the morning. The sea pulsed blue from shore to horizon, the air smelled a chilled saltiness and a breeze helped the swells. He paddled ahead of a swell. He stood to ride the wave. He swung left to duck into a small tube when he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He tumbled head first into the surf. His board sprang into the air, its tip pointing to the sky. It fell back into the churning foam. Sziller’s body washed onto the beach. His board, still tethered to his ankle, lay beside him.