Why We Didn't Become Physicists
First we learned the derivatives and the accelerations. Then the wave function calculus
. The eigenvectors
we transformed into themselves because they alone represented what was real and invariant, ever immune to our obsession with measurement. On paper we were taught to capture the exotic ever living particulate earth force with magnets and currents that made vector potential
s: invisible walls. The equations showed the harder we held on the easier the energy escaped, tunneling through us like bullets through cigarette smoke, leaving us with nothing but grainy, indeterminate images like tabloid pictures of aliens and UFO
s. But were still young and found that enthralling, not hopeless.
Then we learned that nothing was where it was or how fast it was going. Our reality was subject to an ever imperfect Fourier transform that irked Heisenberg and kept him from sleeping until even he had to insist that by the whim of the French precision was destroyed for everyone, forever. That when we peered into subatomic reality we became Godlike and we made happen what we saw. Only when we turned away did reality emerge. Because we could only ever see what we were expecting. And our most brilliant math told us that the everything that was hidden, was everything.
We read they saw the veil over reality and repeated their calculations - Einstein, and that guy Feynman and Dirac who was definitely on the autism scale before there was one. They yanked at the corner of that cloth repeating their spastic amateur magician moves and everything came clamoring, the knives and forks: the candles dropped and we could fall no faster than their flames. Plates shattered into millions of frozen porcelain suns. Mutilated clocks sputtered and slowed to stasis as springs and pinions sank into forever blackness on a floor that bent under us and gave us weight.
And then we found out that biggest part of everything God created was right in front of us, but invisible and untouchable. It bent starlight and weighed down the orbit of the galaxies themselves. And we could not name it because we could not see it, or feel it, or know it. So we did not love it the way we adored the particulate bits of ourselves that we collided in machines the size of cities.
You see what happened was that the puzzle from which at birth we could not withdraw our attention, withdrew from us not so much unknowable as that it refused to be known.
It didn't yearn to be discovered. It evaded us like prey.
I got tired of hunting. Then I ran.
I wrote the stories I wrote because they happened, Brian Williams-style. Half real, half not. Because there are no accidents we grew up together and saw the world like an Ansel Adams' print, with the contrast raised so even the muted gray was harsh. To be otherwise was boring.
So were there aliens? Real aliens?
I am a character in all my stories. And there is sex and there are loves won and lost. Lights in the skies. Children and lovers cast aside. And awakening to the brilliance of a warm spring day considering the next breath like Hamlet, knowing that rejection.
There are aliens and there are inconsistencies we all choose to ignore. The human race has mastered the art of denial. All the world has become equally subject to the reality peddled by carnival barkers and political bloggers. Therefore there is no global warming, even though there is. It's safer to risk your children contract polio than to subject them to a treatment that saved all of us from an iron lung.
We believe science is mutable. We believe it is religion. By turning science into religion we can reject it dogmatically and create a truth we prefer.
Therefore we are the most advanced race in a universe so large we haven't invented a number profound enough to describe it so we just take smaller numbers and repeat them until we turn away, fatigued.
The aliens in my story are as imperfect as the ones in my life. They never admit their mistakes. (It's easy to hide incompetence from children.)
They abide by rules by which we are also governed, but unknowingly.
They have no use for our Gods, and have one of their own which speaks neither to them or us. And they are looking for its favor.
My aliens are stuck in this ever expanding universe with us. And before our very eyes these things are true, though we wish them not.
Tarantula Season - Chapter W
Lazlo said, "Physics is easier than biology." Then he leaned back and smiled. He pointed to Elliot's notebook. "You're not writing. Write that down."
"Physics is easier than biology," Elliot said. How would he explain to his wife he'd blown their vacation money on the air fare to Vegas. The cab fare. The hotel room. All to track down this guy. She would think he was having an affair.
"What's the matter?" Lazlo said. "I told you - you weren't going to like this."
"I came anyway," Elliot said. Then to himself, "I came anyway." He looked at his watch. Too late for the next flight east out of McCarran. At this point, there was very little he could do to correct his mistake.
He said, "What else?"
"That's it. What more do you want?"
"What do I want?" Elliot said. "I don't know. How about something I can print? How about a story to make this whole thing something other than the career-ending boondoggle you turned it into?"
"Me? Hey, there. I told you, you couldn't use anything I told you."
"And you were right," Elliot said. He put his notebook in his laptop bag, took a sip of his coffee, and slid out of the booth seat.
He reached into his pocket for some money to leave the waitress but thought better of it given how much he'd spent already.
"This is on you," he said. "Thanks."
"Geeze, you come all this way to be so impatient?" Lazlo said, and he reached into his wallet and pulled out a picture just as Elliot turned to go. "Look, would you? Come on."
The kid in the picture was familiar but Elliot couldn't place him.
"See," said Emil. I told you. "He's twenty-five in this shot."
"Who is it?"
"Gimme a break, would you?"
Elliot slid back into the booth across from Lazlo. He took the photo, scanned it, and handed it back to Lazlo.
"So it's Marks when he was a kid," said Elliot.
"Marks when he was a kid," Lazlo said. "You're kidding me, right? Come on. Look again."
"I saw it."
"It's not Marks when he was a kid - it's Marks all grown up. It's not Aubrey. It's Sammy Marks."
Elliot took the picture and stared at it. He tried to do a mental comparison with the last baby picture he saw of the boy, but he drew a blank. So he pulled out his laptop, turned it on, and opened the folder for the Marks case. He double clicked the last known picture of young Sammy Marks.
"See the resemblance?" said Lazlo. "And don't tell me all babies look the same to you. You're supposed to be a critical journalist."
"So, this kid is eighteen, maybe twenty."
"Twenty-five," said Lazlo.
"Ok, and so?"
"I know what you're thinking. Sam Marks was two when he disappeared. Five years ago. That's only seven."
"I can add," said Elliot. "So you found someone who looks like him. Where'd you get this?"
"I took it," said Lazlo. "And he's twenty-five. Legitimately. He's been alive for twenty-five years, is what I mean to say."
"What the hell? You're supposed to ask questions, not pass judgment. Where did'ja you go to journalism school? Iran?"
"Loyola," said Elliott. He shut his laptop and pulled out his notebook and pen. "Ok, let's start again. Explain. How'd you get the picture?"
"I told you, I took it. I was with Sam Marks and I asked him for something to show his parents. And he said ok. I took the picture. You don't like taking notes on your computer?"
"I think better when I'm writing with a pencil. Where did you meet him?"
"Can't say. Right. Can't say. I'm writing that down. Happy? Can't say. How do you know it's Sam Marks? How do you know he's twenty-five?"
"Because I've known Sam Marks since he was abducted. I was there when it happened."
And then sun shifted, and the shadows on the diner table grew slightly. Lazlo's coffee was no longer steaming. The silverware had moved, he was sure of it. Elliot became aware of the quiet in his mind and the looseness in his neck and jaw. Emil Lazlo's words were themselves a drug that relaxed him.
Just as suddenly, his system accelerated. His heart began to race as he saw Lazlo staring at him with a furrowed brow as if trying to decode something written on his forehead.
"Are you ok now?" Lazlo asked.
Elliot looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes had passed.
"I mean, you just sort of disappeared on me there. Are you on some kind of pills?"
"In the figurative sense, I mean," said Lazlo. "You just went blank. Like you were having a stroke or something. Does this happen a lot?"
"No, it never happens," Elliot said, collecting his things, now certain he had to get away from his subject.
"Don't run," Lazlo said. "They can find you just like that. You can't hide. These walls and ceilings and floors and clocks - they mean nothing to them."
"Physics is easier than biology. It has to be. Think about it. Why would an advanced race, capable of interstellar and interdimensional travel - why would these guys come to this planet just to shove probes down our throats and inject us with chemicals and nanobots?"
"You're not making sense..." Elliot said. Now his heart was pounding and he began to feel warm and faint. "Sorry. I need some air."
He stumbled onto the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Emil followed.
"They don't get biology," Lazlo said. "See? They don't know what makes us alive. They don't know why anything lives. They can cross galaxies and build bases on airless moons but they are clueless when it comes to DNA."
Elliot slid onto a green bench at the bus stop on the corner. Lazlo sat down beside him.
"What did you do to me in there?" Elliot said. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and struggled to slow his breathing. "What the hell just happened?"
"I'm telling you they don't understand biology. They're giving us all sorts of technology for manipulating space-time. And they're not infallible. Their damned ships fall out of the sky like wounded birds all the time. They're working with the government - all the governments. They're experimenting on us. On this whole habitat. See, where they come from there are no animals. There's only them. All of them. Each of the alien races superseded all diversity on their planet until they were all that was left. They don't have animals. They don't have wars. They don't struggle like we do. They zip around the universe looking for answers but they can't get any. And the universe is expanding, or contracting, depending on how you look at it, and someday it's all going to just go in one big flash bang - poof. And they can't figure out how to get out. That's why they're here."
Elliot thought to take out his notebook, but then decided he didn't have the will for it. What sense would it make to write it down? Lazlo wouldn't sign a release - there'd be no book or article. Maybe as a sci fi. Joanie would have a field day with that. Blew their vacation money to research a sci fi novel. He said, "They're working with the government to get us to help them try to find a way out of the universe before it blows up?"
"What I'm saying is that maybe life doesn't come from this universe. They figured out all the physics. They have it all written in some galactic encyclopedia somewhere. But they don't know how this animation works. Why is this meat alive?" Emil tapped a finger against his arm, "And that one isn't?" He pointed to the McDonald's across the street. "And why are you not me? What is the essence of the soul? And where does music come from? And what's the secret that makes Orange Julius so devilishly delicious?"
Elliot remembered where he was the moment the calmness came over him. Then what got him so upset. So maybe there would be story. He said, "I'm going to have to report it, you realize. I can't sit on it or I'm an accessory. But not right now - it's been so long anyway. So, eventually. You said you have information about the Sam Marks kidnapping. You were there. Tell me about that. I'll keep from bringing in the law for as long as I can but I need to now. Right? So, at least you can get out your side of the story."
"He's not disappeared, he's just not around where you can lay a finger to him. He's alive. And he's doing really really well. Everybody should be happy about that."
"It doesn't work that way."
"Of course it doesn't," said Lazlo. He patted Elliot on the shoulder and then stood up as a city bus pulled in front of them and stopped. "You're a good man, Elliot. You report what you need to report. You know how to find me."