Andy stood as Moira left, frantic confusion driving all other thoughts from his mind. What on Earth had that been about? What did she mean, “her own plans”? Why did she have to wait for college? He turned at the sound of Kebbie’s staccato steps.
The older man raised a brow at Andy’s expression, then glanced around the room. “Where’d she go? Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Andy brushed a hand through his hair in frustration. “I just asked a simple question and she went into fits. Dashed out of here like demons were on her tail.”
Kebbie sank into a chair, lips pursed as if he were trying not to laugh. He held up a finger. “Now Andrew, you’ve been around those girls long enough to know that sort of behavior is not unusual. Teenage girls are silly animals.”
“Moira’s not.” Andy flung himself into his chair, crashing the back of it into the console. He stared at the floor. “She’s bloody brilliant, Kebbie. She’s assisted me for two years and she knows almost as much as I do. But now she tells me she’s not going to college.” He held up a hand. “Worse, she acted terrified. Almost like …” He let his voice fade away as he stared at the floor, trapped in a memory.
“Like what?” Kebbie was leaning forward in his chair, a finger not quite touching Andy’s knee.
Andy blinked and glanced up. “Like the day I met her. My first day teaching at Strickert, at the start of term two years ago. I was bloody nervous … intimidated by everyone I met there. Especially the girls.”
Kebbie winced. “I can imagine. All those tits and you couldn’t even look interested.”
Andy shook his head. “I was too nervous for that to even be a problem. Teenage girls can be vicious. My early class was with primaries. They were bad enough, but at least they were only ten years old. Then I got the older girls.” He narrowed his eyes at Kebbie, certain the man wasn’t seeing his point. “I wasn’t much older than them, you know. They’d never had a male teacher as young as me. You’re a handsome man, Kebbie. You don’t realize how cruel girls can be if you don’t meet their criteria for good looks.”
“Oh, I’m familiar with the phenomenon.” Kebbie brushed a finger over his lips. Andy still saw his smile. “But after all, you weren’t there to date them. What matter if they didn’t swoon over you?”
Andy’s brows flicked upwards. “They broadcast contempt and boredom quite well, and they had it turned up full blast that first day. I had an introductory lecture prepared, on the history of physics. It was like talking to ice cubes. I tried to get them involved, asking questions, but no one answered. Then one girl finally raised her hand.”
Andy nodded. “I called on her and she mumbled something, looking at her desk. A school rule is that students have to stand when addressing the teacher or class, so I reminded her of that and asked her to repeat her answer.” He paused, remembering. “The girls weren’t nice to her, either. I learned later that it was her first day at Strickert, too. They were all snickering at her. She started to repeat her answer, but she was still looking at the floor and no one could hear her.”
He saw her again in his mind: small, shapeless in the uniform, unremarkable. “She looked so scared and shy. I felt like a bully, but I had to tell her to look at me or the class when she answered, and to speak up.” He shook his head. “She looked at me as if I were mad. As if it never occurred to her to look at a person when speaking. But she came through it, started in about Richard Feynman’s Letters, and how the natural log underlies all that we see.”
He glanced at Kebbie. “You know what it’s like, when you get a student who belongs in your field, who understands it in a way that the average student doesn’t. Even on that first day, I knew she could see the reality of the universe, that it wasn’t some abstract thing “up there,” that she had to learn about for a grade. By the time she finished speaking, her face was bright and she sounded confident and happy.”
He bit his lip. “But tonight, she looked like she did when I first called on her to speak. Terrified.” He tapped a fist against his knee, “Why?”
Kebbie shrugged. “You’ll have to ask her, I’m afraid.” He jerked his chin at the monitor behind Andy. “How’s the research coming?”
“Good,” Andy said, glancing back at it. “Bloody good, in fact.”
Kebbie snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. I need a favor. You have Hubble access, don’t you?”
Andy nodded, watching as Kebbie searched through a couple of pockets and finally pulled out a datastick.
“I can’t get to it for a few weeks, yet,” Kebbie said, holding the stick out. “I need a spot of data from the January search. The Read Me file will explain it. Do you mind?”
Andy reached for it. Whatever instructions the Read Me file contained, it wouldn’t have anything to do with Hubble. This wasn’t the first time he’d done “favors” for Kebbie, who passed the information on to a rebel cell. Andy approved, in principle, of the rebels’ work. He didn’t mind helping them, but he refused to risk his career by actually joining them.
His hand shook as he slipped the stick into his own pocket. No doubt it was just a simple hacking job. But the consequences if he was caught …
His thoughts returned to Moira and her fear. She faced consequences, too, that much was obvious. But from what source? He couldn’t allow her to miss out on college. He would ask her again, perhaps ask her other teachers. He was not the only one enamored of Moira’s genius.
But he would be careful how he asked.
He understood about avoiding consequences.
Just after breakfast the next morning, Andy realized he hadn’t given Moira the data on Belfast. He saw the datastick in its pocket as he threw clothes into his backpack, and hesitated. What’s the point? If she’s not serious about a career in physics, why am I bothering?
He drew the datastick out of the pack and stood staring at it. She’s brilliant. I need to know what she thinks of this. He didn’t believe that she wasn’t interested. Whatever was keeping her from college was something beyond her control. And anyway, he had a contract with her. She would assist him with his work, and he would see that she got college credit for it. He’d already completed the paperwork for that with the Headmistress. The fact that these data were above and beyond the scope of his thesis work was irrelevant. He’d give it to her to look over on the trip back to Strickert.
Still, he wavered when he saw her waiting to board the bus. She was standing with her friend Grace, staring at the ground and making no attempt to talk. Her hair was loose, which hid her face from him, but when she reached to push it back after a breeze blew it in her eyes, he sighed. Her mouth was tight, her eyes half closed. He suspected she hadn’t slept much. But damn it, what had he done that was wrong? He’d been perfectly correct to ask about the college day. How was he to know there was a problem when she’d never mentioned one?
He waited to board until all the girls were on, this thought disturbing him most of all. Moira had let him think she was going to college. All the months they’d worked together, she’d never once suggested otherwise. Why?
She looked up in surprise when he stopped by her seat, holding the datastick out. He tried to keep his voice matter-of-fact. “I forgot to give you the data I collected the other night. Can you look it over on the way back?”
Her face reddened, but she took the stick without meeting his eyes. “Yes, of course.” The words were a whisper, and she looked down at the stick in her hand. He blinked, seeing again the terrified little girl from early in their acquaintance. What was wrong with her?
He tapped the top of the seat in front of her. “Right, then,” he said, falsely enthusiastic. “I’m anxious to hear what you think.” He left her to it, sliding into a seat at the front of the bus. Too disturbed to engage in conversation, he took out his Pad and lost himself in working on his thesis.
An hour went by before his seat shook with the weight of another body. Moira sat next to him, holding her Pad for him to see. She made no effort to look at him, instead pointing to the screen. “I double-checked,” she said, sounding slightly breathless, “and Belfast has not blown up. Since that is true, I added a fudge factor to the equation, so we’d come up with that result.” Andy choked back a laugh, relieved to see a brief, answering grin touch Moira’s lips. “I realize the fudge factor is totally bogus,” she continued, “but I want to use it as a starting point. What do you think?”
Just as if their talk last night had never occurred. He perused her work for a few minutes, scrolling back to the beginning of the equation, nodding slowly as he followed her logic. He tapped a spot and handed the Pad back. “It’s unconventional.” His voice held a warning.
She tilted her head, her eyes meeting his for a moment before glancing back down at the Pad. “But we’ve admitted that this occurrence has not ever been seen before. Moreover, it’s impossible by every physical law we know. This was the only thing I could think of to try. Although,” she held the Pad against her as a shield, “there could be any number of functions that I’m not yet aware of. If so, can you give me an idea of where to look?”
“If there are, I’m not aware of them, either,” he said. “And you’re right. This is something new. Still, it’s always wise to apply what we know before looking elsewhere.”
She nodded. “But everything I know says that there should have been a release of energy big enough to rip the UK off the planet. That didn’t happen, so there’s something going on that we don’t know about.”
She looked at him then, worry and excitement warring in her eyes. “Hasn’t anybody else said anything about it? There was nothing on the news sites.”
He shook his head. “Complete silence. And you should know that some of the data I found the other night are no longer available. Or they’ve been changed.” He raised a finger and spoke very low. No one was paying attention to them, but he didn’t want anyone to hear. “That means this event has been classified. I don’t know who classified it, or why. But you need to understand they may not be happy we have this much information.”
She stared at him, her face pale. “But …” she stopped, thinking about it as she continued to watch him. Then she glanced back at her Pad. “Are we supposed to just forget about it?”
He smiled. “If I wanted to forget it, I wouldn’t have asked you to look at it. But we’ll have to do this under the radar. No web searches that might hint what we’re looking for. Electronic work can be traced too easily, although I think I can use some of the Oxford equipment. The thing is,” and he raised an arm to rub his neck, “something about this makes me itch. It’s close to ideas I’ve been thinking about myself. You might not have noticed the overlap with my work. It’s rather subtle. But some of this would have come into play during my doctoral work, if this year’s study proves a dual nature in neutrinos. And I think it will. In fact, after this weekend, I’m certain it will.”
A small thrill lanced him at Moira’s quiet gasp, and he smiled. “I’ve just got to write it up. And I’ll need your help with the last bit of data mining. But you saw where the data were trending last night.”
He was afraid that mention of last night would return her to her funk, but her eyes were shining. “Yes,” she said. “It did look good for you. But,” she tapped the Pad, “you’re saying that the neutrinos in the Belfast occurrence have something to do with your duality hypothesis?”
He almost laughed out loud. He could see her mind zooming off into all the possibilities. “Yes, I do. But it’s my idea, Miss Sherman. You’ll have to find something else for your PhD thesis.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll have to, I guess. You’ll have it all sewn up by the time I get there.” She laughed, and he laughed with her, their sudden cheerfulness mingling with the chatter and laughter surrounding them in the bus.
He was relieved at the apparent return of normalcy to their relationship. But he couldn’t ignore the confusion he felt. If she wasn’t going to college, why did she say things like this?
Where is Chapter 8? Buy the book!