The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Twenty-six: Scrutiny

       The next few weeks were very busy, as the team of distinguished scientists showed up one-by-one and began their various examinations. Alex had half-expected them to be characters from a bad movie, but they were as a group too varied to be easily stereotyped. He couldn't tell by looking at most of them that they actually were scientists. Their clothes varied from GQ to Wal-Mart, there was quite a span of ages, they came in all shapes and sizes, some were fit and others fat, and not one of them brought an assistant that was either a babe or a hunchback.
       He had also expected them to be somber, studious, serious — and ultimately frustrated by the nature of Sara's opaque and ultimately unilluminating enigma. He knew she would be a very cooperative brick wall against which their curiosity would founder, a nut too tough to crack open to see what was inside.
       Instead, what developed was a mood that was best characterized as intensity with joy. Astonishingly, they seemed to be quite happy to be confronted with a mystery that stumped them. And the more intractable the mystery, the happier they seemed to be.
       First of all, they could not hide their universal enthusiasm about meeting a real, live space alien — and were delighted when that alien turned out to be someone as cheerful and charming as Susan (Sara went by her 'official' guinea-pig name). After all, probably every single one of them got into the science biz as the direct result of a childhood addiction to reading sci-fi.
       Second, the fact that they didn't really have the foggiest idea about how she worked and what she was made of promised to be a tremendously exciting challenge to some fundamental concepts of what they thought they knew about the universe. As far as they were concerned, it was probably better that she didn't come with an operator's manual.
       Conan Rhodes, the guy from Stanford who had more or less crashed the party, told Alex over lunch one day that, "It's like the project I've been working on, confronting the observable fact that the solar corona is a thousand times hotter than the solar surface. According to our current understanding of physics, that shouldn't be possible. But the data is undeniable, so we must not know as much as we think we do. Which means that figuring out what's happening will require that we learn something. That's what we're in this business to do. Susan represents an unexpected chance to voyage into the unknown. No way any of us would miss out on that."
       So here they were, eager campers in the grandaddy of all summer camps, with all the toys they could hope for, surrounded by the best of their own kind, and with the chance to play with the very incarnation of their wildest dreams. There hadn't been anything like this since the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos (before Trinity).
       So they puttered and tinkered, probed and prodded, experimented and examined. There was a bustle of activity surrounding Sara constantly, but she seemed to enjoy the attention and did everything they asked. In the background, there was a tremendous flow of presumably secure transmissions to and from labs, universities, think tanks and other congregations of enquiry around the world, and a great deal of coming and going by various members of the team to consult with ad hoc committees that sprang up to deal with certain problems or revelations as they occurred.
       It seemed to Alex that a lot of their time was spent in what he thought of as 'jam sessions', akin to jazz musicians' bouts of heavy (and competitive) improvisation. Alex felt like an outsider at these impromptu meetings, but they were pretty much where the action was — as far as he was concerned — where they came together to share what they had learned, propose new procedures, or thrash out their latest theories. There were often heated arguments, bouts of creative brainstorming, occasional musings on fanciful topics, flashes of illumination, grandiose ideas, cat fights, cooperative agreements, interdisciplinary cross-fertilizations, hare-brained schemes, bawdy limericks, clever ideas, stunning revelations, and even periods of quiet reflection.
       Take, for instance, discussions about the nature of Sara's ability to fly. Alex had come to represent some kind of 'Everyman' to many of them, so there were times when they would sort of gang-lecture him, as a stand-in for a wider audience (he suspected that there was maybe a little Carl Sagan or Mr. Wizard in most of them — with many of the symptoms of other show-business wannabees he'd known over the years). In this case, four of them practically dragged him over to a corner table equipped with a computer.
       Alex was familiar with the old rubber-sheet analogy of how mass warped space — a bowling ball would depress the sheet, making a depression into which, say, marbles would roll. This illustrated the effect of gravity. One of them had a nifty little computer program that showed this graphically, with yellow gridlines distorting around virtual bowling balls.
       Dr. Best ran the program through its paces. "It's just a crude approximation of the underlying mathematical reality, you understand."
       "Sure," Alex replied. Sometimes he felt as much like a guinea pig as Sara. "I think I saw this on Nova once. The book was better."
       "So," she went on, "If we postulate a hitherto unknown anti-gravity that is symmetrically equivalent to gravity, we can represent that by putting a ball on the underside of the sheet that responds in exactly the same way, only in the opposite direction."
       "You mean," replied Alex, playing the part of the simpleton he felt like, "A bowling ball on the underside of the sheet bends it up, right?"
       "Precisely," answered Best, pointing to the monitor. "As you can see, two balls placed on the top of the sheet will roll toward each other. The distortion of the sheet between them creates what is known topologically as a saddle…"
       "Yee," Alex interjected appreciatively, "And also hah." He was a Texan, after all.
       She ignored him. "Similarly, two balls placed on the underside of the sheet will also roll toward each other — as if the model, here, was just turned upside down."
       Dr. MacBeth kept things rolling, "But if you put a ball on top, bending the sheet down — and a ball underneath, bending he sheet up — they will move away from each other."
       Alex nodded. "Same as pushing your fist up underneath the sheet. All you need is an antigravity bowling ball."
       "Unfortunately, we don't know of any type of matter that exhibits this antigravity characteristic," said MacBeth.
       Dr. Howdershelt added, "But then, we don't know the kind of matter of which at least ninety percent of the the universe is composed — the so-called 'dark matter'. And there is recent news from Hubble observations that something akin to Einstein's discredited 'cosmological constant' may in fact exist, which would be a type of universal repelling force similar to antigravity. In any event, she is observed to levitate, and I — for one — don't believe it's magic. A rational explanation involves embracing the concept of antigravity of some kind."
       "Wait a minute," Alex interjected skeptically. "If she was made from something that was basically endowed with antigravity, she'd have to expend as much energy of some kind to keep her from flying off into space as she would need to keep her from sinking into the ground if she wasn't."
       "What we are suggesting," chimed in Dr. Cyan, "is that Susan P's structure may be somehow composed of equal parts of positive- and negative-gravity material, intermixed in some way."
       "Look here," said Best, working the keyboard furiously. "Two balls lined up precisely on opposite sides of the sheet cancel each other out. The sheet does not deform at all, but it's a very unstable configuration. Unless the balls are linked in some way — perhaps magnetically, for purposes of this analogy — they'll soon be off in opposite directions."
       "Now, here's where it gets interesting," said Cyan. "Let's say you have two magnetically linked balls on opposite sides of the sheet. If you tilt them in relation to each other, it doesn't really make much of a difference as long as the link remains intact. They'll stay put unless some outside force is applied. But, if you put another ball on top of the sheet nearby — what happens?"
       Alex shook his head, "You're asking me? Well, for the record — duh."
       "It breaks the symmetry locally," replied MacBeth, beaming. "If you rock the alignment a little bit one way, the bound pair is 'attracted' to the other ball. Rock it the other way, and it's 'repelled'. See, the sheet between the bound pair is distorted when you tilt it around. And that creates a slope."
       Howdershelt added, "If Susan P is composed of equal parts of 'up' and 'down' and can somehow deliberately introduce a kind of hyperdimensional misalignment, then she can have enormous mass…"
       "Which," Cyan interjected, "seems to be the case."
       "… without having a high surface gravity of her own," finished MacBeth.
       "And," added Best, "doesn't have to expend an enormous amount of energy to maintain position — or change it — in Earth's gravity well."
       They were practically excited now, coming at Alex from four directions almost simultaneously.
       "Every time she moves…"
       "By adjusting the alignment of her constituent 'up-ness' and 'down-ness'…"
       "It's like she's just falling in the direction she chooses…"
       "Though we haven't worked out how she's able to vector her movement at right angles to the 'host' mass yet…"
       "We've actually been able to measure the gravity waves she produces as she changes directions and speed…"
       "They're like ripples…"
       "From their effect on satellite orbits when she maneuvers close by…"
       "Bobbing like corks in a pond…"
       "Which implies that…"
       "Acceleration is dependent on the relative density of the 'host' mass…"
       "The more massive…
       "And the more proximate…"
       "The better…"
       "If she shot off from Earth toward, say, an asteroid…"
       "And used its mass to boomerang back…"
       "She'd sling the asteroid away in the opposite direction…"
       "Proportionate to the mass differential times the velocity…"
       "Except that tidal forces would probably be severe enough to break it up…"
       "Which could also apply to the crust of planet Earth if she's not careful…"
       "Since her intrinsic mass makes for some pretty tight space-time curvatures…"
       Alex held up his hands. "Whoa! Hold it, guys. I think I got the gist of it. Give me a break, here."
       They blinked at him and looked at each other.
       Alex said, "What you're currently guessing is that she's made up of equal parts of some kind of extremely dense — whaddaya callit —  'unobtainium' and 'anti-unobtainium'. Like matter and antimatter. Maybe it is antimatter. Isn't that potentially dangerous?"
       "That depends on the containment," a new voice interjected. Two more scientists joined the group.
       "We might have an interesting hypothesis regarding how this would relate to both her supply of energy and the heat-loss problem," began Dr. Akima, visibly containing some kind of excitement at unveiling some new ideas to the ongoing discussion.
       "Her apparent extreme density may be sufficient to curve space at subatomic scales just enough to change the manner in which the compacted n-dimensional substructure interacts with three-space."
       His partner, Dr. Starks, produced a small stack of printouts covered with arcane markings, Greek letters, strange symbols, charts, graphs and Feynman diagrams, spreading them out over the table next to the computer. The others gathered around to peer at the data.
       Akima was pointing, stabbing his fingers at successive clumps of equations and illustrations, "See? This interacts with that — and that changes the effect of this — and when you plot it out — these terms cancel — and this field locks into a stable resonance — as a second-order harmonic — that's generated by the n-space curvature — modulating the mass distortion  — to provide a feedback loop…"
       Alex observed sotto voce, "The music goes 'round and 'round…"
       Akima finished triumphantly, "And it comes out here!"
       Starks added, "Quantum wormholes."
       By now, the others in the room had gathered around,  muttering to each other as they pored over the figures. Alex found himself crowded to the edges, ignored and forgotten. The hubbub went on for quite a while until an annoyed Alex cleared his throat, attracting everybody's distracted attention.
       He looked at them for a long moment, feeling a tinge of insight that only an outsider could experience. They waited tolerantly for him to make a fool of himself.
       "This is all very interesting, guys. But do y'all think this actually has anything to do with reality?"
       Alex realized that, under the circumstances, the question was not only rude and obnoxious, but embarrassingly irrelevant.
       Rhodes stood up and looked around the room. Some returned his inquiring gaze by shaking their heads, others by looking down. He finally turned back to Alex and shrugged his shoulders.
       "For now, maybe it doesn't matter," he admitted to Alex. "And that's what makes this whole discussion," he gestured expansively, "this whole operation, so…" He groped for the right word, "So damned — cool."
       He went on, "Here we are, an impromptu summit of some of he best and brightest — if I may be so immodest — that our little planet has to offer. It may be that we can't help but feel that perhaps we're no more than a pack of tribal shamans trying to figure out a space shuttle. We're acutely aware that it's possible we may find that there are some things in the wide universe that we humans fundamentally cannot comprehend. Still, I believe that everyone here is glad of the opportunity to try to find out."
       "So," Rhodes  finished, "In answer to your question, the point is…" He paused to look around at the others with what appeared to be a twinkle in his eye, "We don't know. Yet. And isn't that wonderful?"
       For some reason, every distinguished scientist in the room laughed uproariously.
       Science marches on, thought Alex.

       Bruce Wayans watched the videos from White Sands in the darkness of his undergound office. He ran straight through them, saying nothing, never pausing or rewinding to dwell upon any particularly interesting scene.
       When he was through, Robbins eventually broke the ensuing long silence by piping up, "Interesting, huh? I guess  that confirms our reports."
       Wayans didn't reply for a while, lost in thought. Several times, Robbins made as if to speak up again, or maybe sneak out, but thought better of it. He recognized the mood.
       Finally, Wayans spun his chair ponderously around to face Robbins.
       "You are certain that these tapes will not be publicly released before the President's news conference?"
       "Yessir, a few days after the NASA show."
       "And we can expect him to act true to form?"
       "He plans to welcome this alien with open arms."
       Wayans smiled, "As he would embrace any pretty, young thing. He always had a certain weakness."
       Robbins made a contemptuous grunt.
       Wayans stared into the darkness, eyes unfocussed. Finally, he said. "Cancel my announcement speech."
       Robbins was taken aback. "You're not going to run?"
       "Later," Wayans replied. "Timing is everything. I see a window of opportunity."
       "You're going to use this?"
       "In due course."
       "Then you must know that precautions must be taken. I do not doubt in the least that this — thing — is aware that we are monitoring it."
       "It must be assumed so," Wayans nodded.
       "Then may I suggest that Team Blue must not communicate electronically by any means. No computers, no phones, no faxes. Only face-to-face in controlled environments."
       "You are sure that this is necessary?"
       "Absolutely. With every passing day, it becomes more entrenched in every aspect of global communication. We have reason to believe that its AI 'virtual agents' have infected every router on the Internet. It is close to being omniscient."
       "Truly an invasion. Yet she," Wayans emphasized the pronoun, making Robbins wince, "would seem to be such a sweet child."
       "It," Robbins countered forcefully, "is no more a 'sweet child' than I am."
       "Ah, yes. Appearances," Wayans said musingly. "And that is our stock in trade, is it not?

       'Area 52' at the Johnson Space Center outside Houston was the eye of the biggest hurricane to ever hit the area, in terms of the intense scrutiny of most of the civilized world. Everybody now seemed to know that something was going on, and that it involved a visitor from another world. There were certainly leaks aplenty, but there was so much absurd speculation as to overwhelm the tidbits of truth that occasionally surfaced.
       The tabloids were there, the Roswell conspiracy theorists were there, the goofball cults were there, the exploitative hawkers of anything that could be sold were there. It was becoming a madhouse, stimulated and perpetuated by word-of-mouth, the Internet, speculation, outright whoppers, eyewitness accounts, swear-to-God sightings, bogus interviews, close encounters of every kind, alternative journalism, visions, apocalyptic preaching, vicious innuendos, self-serving pronouncements, position papers, speculation, pseudo-punditry, stream-of-consciousness renderings, artistic statements, wishful thinking, street theater, lies, damned lies and statistics.
       The mainstream press regarded the whole unsightly mess with a combination of horrified distastefulness and eager anticipation. In the absence of anything verifiable, the elite reporters and news organizations were pretty much confined to reporting on the smoke rather than the fire. The usual 'reliable sources' who actually were in on everything were deriving a certain perverse pleasure from their pet newshounds' discomfiture.
       That some kind of alien being was involved was generally understood. What was not understood was why nobody who should be in the know would say anything about what kind of alien it was, where it was from, why it was here, how it got here, the purpose of its visit, the nature of the civilization it represented — and on and on and on. Instead, all they got for the usual off-the-record 'deep background' they felt they were entitled to was some kind of crap that sounded like it came from comic books.
       They couldn't go to press or on the air with that.
       Eventually, though, the NASA Press Office announced the time and date for a news conference to, "…announce a significant discovery with far-reaching implications for increasing our understanding of the Universe."
       There wasn't enough room in the Astrodome to accommodate all the frantic requests — demands — for seats. News pool rules had to be strictly enforced, but that didn't stop Clear Lake from being overrun with heavy equipment from every bureau and network on the planet. Comparisons with Super Bowl media hysteria soon proved to be inadequate.
       Inevitably, one trail led to Mrs. J's little slice of Heaven. She was not amused.
       "Vhat ze hell you are vantink? Askink you nosy snoops to be comink here nobody vas. Is beink no news for you. Get out! Go avay! Shoo!"
       They wandered into and around the compound in a gradually swelling mass, with a grimly determined Mrs. J all but waving a broom at them. They'd heard stories about the little blonde flying girl that was supposed to possibly live here, and they wouldn't go away until they tracked down the rumors.
       The Russian residents were not pleased. Unpleasant memories stirred. They stayed inside. The Cubans disappeared. Eventually, Dinah showed up and started making obnoxious lawyer noises, which thinned out the crowd a little. Director Silvers put Alex and Sara up at JSC in the old Moon landing quarantine trailer. It was days before normalcy — of a sort — returned.
       Everybody began counting down the hours to the press conference, wondering what their lives would be like in the aftermath.   

Chapter Twenty-seven: Debut

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© Patrick Hill, 2000