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.
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
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
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
Dr. Best ran the
program through its paces. "It's just a crude approximation
of the underlying mathematical reality, you understand."
replied. Sometimes he felt as much like a guinea pig as Sara.
"I think I saw this on Nova once. The book was
"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
replied Alex, playing the part of the simpleton he felt like,
"A bowling ball on the underside of the sheet bends it up,
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..."
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."
"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."
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."
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
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
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..."
interjected, "seems to be the case."
having a high surface gravity of her own," finished MacBeth.
Best, "doesn't have to expend an enormous amount of energy
to maintain position -- or change it -- in Earth's gravity
They were practically
excited now, coming at Alex from four directions almost
"Every time she
"By adjusting the
alignment of her constituent 'up-ness' and 'down-ness'..."
"It's like she's
just falling in the direction she chooses..."
haven't worked out how she's able to vector her movement at
right angles to the 'host' mass yet..."
been able to measure
the gravity waves she produces as she changes directions and
effect on satellite orbits when she maneuvers close by..."
corks in a pond..."
dependent on the relative density of the 'host' mass..."
"The more massive...
"And the more
"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..."
the mass differential times the velocity..."
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..."
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
"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.
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..."
triumphantly, "And it comes out here!"
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
"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 --
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."
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,
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
When he was through,
Robbins eventually broke the ensuing long silence by piping up,
"Interesting, huh? I guess that confirms our
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."
"As he would embrace any pretty, young thing. He always had
a certain weakness."
Robbins made a
Wayans stared into the
darkness, eyes unfocussed. Finally, he said. "Cancel my
Robbins was taken
aback. "You're not going to run?"
replied. "Timing is everything. I see a window of
"You're going to
"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 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
invasion. Yet she," Wayans emphasized the pronoun,
making Robbins wince, "would seem to be such a sweet child."
Robbins countered forcefully, "is no more a 'sweet child'
than I am."
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
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.
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
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.
counting down the hours to the press conference, wondering what
their lives would be like in the aftermath.
Chapter Twenty-seven: Debut
© Patrick Hill, 2000