We are like Midas . . . Humans can never experience the true texture of quantum reality because everything we touch turns to matter.
—Physicist Nick Herbert
1.1. Denton Wyle
March Aboard the Coast Guard MLB Invincible II, off the coast of Florida
Denton Wyle was seriously reexamining his choices. His fingers were wrapped like living clamps around a pole, his blond hair dribbled water down his patrician nose, and his back pressed hard against the cabin of the rescue ship as sea spray slapped him on the cheeks like an outraged Englishman and the deck beneath his feet pitched like a bucking bronco.
He was on a ship, in a storm, smack dab in the Bermuda Triangle.
The Coast Guard crewmen, bright orange specks in a wet, gray world, moved about the tilting slippery deck with ease. They were on a mission to locate a yacht, the Why Knot Now, in distress off the Florida Keys. A sailing ad- visory was in effect and the yacht, manned by a couple and their teenage daughter, had radioed that their compass appeared to be in error, because they were lost and didn't know which way to go to find land.
It was the call Denton had been waiting for, hanging out in the Coast Guard station for weeks now, schmoozing with men who had sea salt in their eyebrows. A bad compass? A lost vessel? Denton Wyle, intrepid reporter for Mysterious World, was all over it.
Only now he realized, as his fingers spasmed from being clenched so tightly around the pole, that the two key words in this entire scenario were not bad compass or even Bermuda Triangle but sailing advisory. Sailing advisory meaning: "our advice is, don't go out on afreaking ship."
"Wyle?" A rain-soaked face in a blue hard hat appeared. It was Frank, a burly New Yorker. Denton had spent an afternoon watching him hose down nylon netting.
"Get. Inside. The cabin." The words were shouted over the howl of the wind and symphonic crash of waves. Frank hung lightly with one hand to the pole just above Denton's white knuckles. With the other he jabbed an index finger at the cabin behind them.
"I'm fine," Denton shouted back, because moving anywhere meant letting go of the pole.
But Frank had been trained in dealing with the hapless. He grabbed Denton's upper arm and pulled. Behind Frank the side of the rescue boat was tilted at a forty-five-degree angle, and its thin, insubstantial metal rail kept dipping in and out of churning water. Denton could so clearly imagine sliding into that maw if he let go, just like the scene from Jaws where the fishing boat captain slides down the deck into the shark's mouth.
"Come on!" Frank yelled.
Denton let go. There was a panicked moment of sliding feet; then the cabin door was in his hand and Frank shoved him through, slamming the door behind him.
Inside, Denton stood panting, trying to get a firmer grip on his breakfast. He made no pretensions of bravery. The right stuff had been left out of his genetic code; he could admit that. But he was also not a boat person. Even growing up on the shores of Massachusetts, where yachting clubs got better attendance on Sundays than churches, he had not liked boats. What on earth had he been thinking?
He hadn't been thinking about the Bermuda Triangle or the sea. He'd been thinking about woods, about a little girl and flashes of light.
The rain lashed the windows so hard you couldn't see a thing on deck from inside the cabin, only great watery swells as they blocked out the sky.
"They keep fading in and out of radar," one of the crewmen reported.
Captain Dodd looked from the window to the radar screen and back again, peering out with squinting eyes. "How far?"
"About five hundred meters."
"Move closer. Slowly." Dodd never took his eyes off that window.
Denton found this conversation curious enough to nudge awake his reporter's instincts. He remembered the camera that had been flopping around on his chest for the past hour. He dried it with his sleeve and took some snapshots. It made him feel a little better.
"Damn it, we should have a visual by now!" Dodd stomped to a rack of gear and grabbed a rain poncho. "I'm goin' out. I'll send Johnson in to watch for my signal."
The wind intensified as the door opened and closed. Denton moved in to get a tight shot of the radar screen. He didn't recognize the operator, a baby-faced kid, no more than nineteen. He seemed amazingly unafraid, unfazed by the heaving deck beneath them or the towering waves above. He was intent on trying to tune in a better signal.
"Which blip is theirs?" Denton asked, teeth chattering.
The operator pointed to a faint ping, barely there. For a few seconds it went away; then it reappeared.
"We're not sure that's them, but we're close to their last recorded position." The kid looked up. "You okay?"
"You look chalky."
"I'm . . ." Denton glanced up and saw a gigantic wall of water. The wave slipped beneath them with a pitch and roll. ". . fine. Look, does the radar usually do that? Fade in and out?"
The operator looked around, as if someone else could answer for him. "It's not supposed to, but this is pretty bad weather."
The wind blasted again as Johnson came in and took up a position by the window. Denton watched the blip disappear. This time, it didn't come back.
And it didn't come back.
He felt a rising sense of excitement at the sight of that dead screen. A headline was taking shape in his head: Coast Guard Witnesses Disappearance of Vessel on Radar in Bermuda Triangle. He took more pictures, struggled to see out the window.
Johnson held up a hand. "Starboard! Thirty degrees!"
The atmosphere in the cabin changed instantly from one of grim worry to confidence and competency. It was amazing what the willpower of man could do, Denton reflected, even in the face of something as elemental as this storm. The ship turned, the men shouting instructions, working as one. Their energy was so intense that for a moment he glimpsed what it would be like to be one of these boatmen, mastering the great watery tide.
There was a flash of another vessel in the window, but it disappeared in the rain and waves. Denton couldn't see a damn thing in here. He had to go outside.
Now that the ship had turned, the deck was tilting the other way and Denton had no problem grabbing the pole from the cabin door. He clung to it, wrapping his legs around it like a pogo stick, and managed to bring up his camera. They were indeed approaching another ship.
Captain Dodd was at the bow with the other crewmen. He was motioning the helm operator into position as they approached the smaller vessel through the heaving sea. It was a small yacht. Denton struggled to make out the name on the side.
Why Knot Now.
Denton's excitement faded along with the headlines in his mind. They'd found the boat. There was no story. He'd come out here for nothing.
The crew secured a line to the Why Knot Now, and two of them, like Day-Glo monkeys, made a death-defying cross to the deck.
And Denton realized that something was wrong.
He snapped another photograph as the two men went inside the cabin of the yacht. The two men came out. One scrambled back over to confer with the captain while the other moved around the side of the yacht, his face turned out to sea, searching. And Denton knew: the Why Knot Now was empty.
"So what happened to them?" Jack demanded.
Denton had made the mistake of calling his editor on his cell phone before he'd gone out on the rescue, and there were three messages waiting when he returned to the hotel. By the time he'd gotten out of a hot shower, Jack had rung again.
Denton rubbed his eyes with both hands, the receiver crooked in his neck.
"The official report says they went overboard and drowned. But they didn't, Jack, I swear. There were two life preservers untouched on the rail. It's unlikely they all three would have gone in at once, and if they'd gone in one at a time they would have used the preservers, right? We searched for two hours—there was nothing."
Jack didn't answer. No answer was possible. They'd both been in this business long enough to know a dead end when they saw it. "Did you get pictures inside the yacht?"
"No." Denton sighed. "Dodd wouldn't let me on board. But one of the guardsmen told me nothing was out of place over there. Not so much as a cushion."
"Well . . . write up what you've got. See if you can make it work."
Jack didn't sound very enthusiastic. There was no reason that he should be. And the real frustration was that it might well have been a legitimate case. And he'd been there. He'd been right the hell there. And he still had squat.
The series of articles on vanishings had been Jack's idea, but Denton had been all over it. There were some interesting historical cases. In 1809 an Englishman named Benjamin Bathurst stopped at an inn. He went around the coach to check the horses and was never seen again. In 1900 Sherman Church went into a cotton mill in Michigan and never came out. Ever. In 1880 a farmer named David Lang was walking across his pasture when he simply winked out according to five eyewitnesses. The grass where he disappeared was said to have died and never grown back.
And there was one even Jack didn't know about. In 1975 a little girl named Molly Brad vanished in a flash of light while playing in the woods.
Over two hundred thousand people were reported missing in the United States each year. And while most of those were probably runaways, deadbeats, or undiscovered homicides, Denton didn't think it beyond the realm of possibility that some of them, just a couple, were like David Lang.
But he was never going to prove it here.
"I'm ready to come home. The Bermuda Triangle angle isn't happening. I mean, I believe there are places where vanishings are more likely to happen, and that this is one of them. But if someone disappears out here there's no way to prove they didn't go into the sea. We need . . . I don't know, more of a ‘locked room' scenario. And call me a freaking idealist, but an eyewitness or two wouldn't hurt." Denton heard the whine in his voice. He was tired.
"Funny you should say that. Did you get that package I sent?"
Denton looked at the red, white, and blue mailer by the door. "Yeah. What is it?"
"Take a look. But don't get distracted. I need you to finish the Triangle article. It's due Tuesday."
"I know. It's almost done." Mostly.
"Good. You sound bushed. I'll let you get some sleep. Night, Dent."
He almost didn't open the package. His legs were the consistency of pâté from trying to brace himself on the ship for five hours, and the volume of adrenaline that had passed through his veins had left him with a hangover. But Jack's hints had taken hold. He couldn't go to sleep without knowing.
He ripped open the pull tab and looked inside. It was a book: Tales from the Holocaust.
It made no sense, because the Holocaust had nothing to do with the article he was working on. And yet that good old Wyle instinct roiled in his gut like the turning of some gigantic subterranean worm.
He opened to the earmarked page and began to read.
1.2. Aharon Handalman
Such a city. Rabbi Aharon Handalman had lived in Jerusalem for twelve years, and he was still amazed by it. He always left home before the crack of dawn so he could watch the sunlight warm the stones. There was a cold bite to the air this morning. His black wool coat and hat absorbed it like a sponge.
Aharon, along with his wife, Hannah, and their three children, lived in the new Orthodox housing near the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. At this time of the day, without the squeal and clamor of little ones, the plain, square apartments felt as hollow as cardboard boxes. They fell away behind him as he walked, the ancient walls appearing on his right like the edge of a woman's skirts.
He drew close to the Jaffa gate. Before it rose the Tower of David, a thin and pointed shadow in the darkness. He turned into the city, the stone rising above his head. His fingers trailed along the arch as he passed, the Shma Yisroel on his lips.
Down the ancient avenue he went, into the heart of Yerushalayim. The roads outside these walls—especially Jaffa Road—were too modern for his tastes. Advertisements for Camel cigarettes and doughnuts marred shop fronts. But once you were inside, the twenty-first century fell away. Now he only had to deal with the indignities of the Christian Quarter on the left and the Armenian on the right. He walked quickly past these invaders, his lip curling. He could continue straight ahead, but it was his habit to turn into the heart of the Jewish Quarter, choosing alleys and courtyards for their aroma of antiquity. Later today, they would be crowded with kaftans and T-shirts, with cheap madonnas and stars of David. But now they were only dim stone chutes that might have existed a thousand years ago, two thousand, more.
He, Rabbi Aharon Handalman, might have been from a different time as well: forty years old, of average height and weight, still handsome, brown eyes glittering, brown beard free from gray as it hung long and untrimmed, his black clothes roughly twentieth-century. If the clock were rolled back twenty years he would not be out of place; two hundred years and the cut of his clothing might be a bit odd; two thousand years, put him in a different outfit and call it good. He liked to think that at heart, at heart, he was unchanged from his ancestors, unchanged from an Israelite who trod this very path on his way to the Temple in the days of Jeremiah. Reading the Scriptures Aharon identified exactly with the feelings of the prophets: that Jerusalem was storing up sins for some divine retribution thanks to the unholy ways of her people. In the days of Jeremiah that had meant harlots and drunkards and Jews with no sense of their past. In the days of Aharon Handalman that meant cut-off shorts and Uzis and Jews with no sense of their past. Even Moses had voiced the same frustration: You are a hard-necked people. More than stones never changed.
Aharon went past the Dung Gate, down a set of stairs, and through a security checkpoint. The soldiers knew him but insisted on patting him down. Orthodox rabbis drew as much suspicion as Palestinians these days, but with the crazy state of the world, who could blame them? Then he was through and in front of HaKotel, the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Second Temple.
The light was rosy, pinkening the cream-colored edifice. As always, he approached with a sense of privilege, of excitement, like a bridegroom. He crossed to the wall, lowering his hands gently to the cold stone, then his forehead, with the tender sigh of a lover.
Around him were several dozen others saying their morning prayers at this sacred spot. Some were haredim with beards, side-locks, and fur hats. Aharon, who was Orthodox but not haredim, had a beard but no side-locks, and his hat was a simple black wool fedora with a kippa, a skullcap, underneath.
He joined a minyan of early risers from his synagogue and opened his briefcase. He took out his tallith and tefillin, kissing them. He wrapped himself in the prayer shawl and put on the ancient leather straps with their boxes of Scripture on first his left arm, then his forehead. And he began to pray, rocking in front of the wall.
Even though there was no pretense in it, he was not unaware of the picture he made: stately, paternal, rabbinical. He was proud to be making it. Someone had to show the world what being a Jew was all about.
An hour later, Aharon was in his office at Aish HaTorah. Aish HaTorah was a "master of the return" school, designed to teach Unorthodox Jews the ways of Orthodoxy. The Jews in question were usually young Americans whose parents were nonpracticing or (which was maybe worse) Conservative or Reformed. Aharon taught Talmud and Midrash. It wasn't much money, but it placed him across from the wall all day, and his class schedule left him plenty of time to pursue his real passion—Torah code.
The code was the flame in Aharon's heart. The greatest rabbis had always known there were messages hidden in the Torah, but the sages, may they rest in peace, didn't have microchips. Now you could run a program, give it a keyword like heaven, and the search routine would scan the Hebrew letters of the Torah looking for the keyword hidden in the text. A "hidden" word appeared via Equidistant Letter Spacing—the ELS or skip. For example, the plaintext phrase "The Rabbis hoped and prayed for God to lead the people over land and over sea to the kingdom of their being, Eretz Yisrael" contained the hidden word heaven at a skip of eleven: "The Rabbis hoped and prayed for God to lead the people over land and over sea to the kingdom of their being, Eretz Yisrael."
What had really stunned the world was the presence of arrays of related words and phrases in the Hebrew Bible. Arrays were arrangements of the plaintext letters into columns the width of the skip. These arrays made it easier to find related words or phrases near the original keyword.
T h e r a b b i s h
o p e d a n d p r a y e
d f o r g o d t o l e a
d t h e p e o p l e o v
e r l a n d a n d o v e
r s e a t o t h e k i n
g d o m o f t h e i r b
e i n g e r e t z y i s
r a e l
The fact that such arrays were sought in the Hebrew version of the text made the task both easier and harder.
But . . . the scientific community was outraged, naturally. What good could atheists have to say about divinely implanted messages? Their most damning rebuttal showed that similar "themed word arrays" could be found in any text—War and Peace, for example. Hence Aharon's current line of research.
He was still puzzling over the latest stack of printouts when Binyamin Yoriv came in.
"Good!" Aharon grunted. "I have a riddle for you."
"Is that from last night's test?" Binyamin crossed to the desk.
Aharon shrank back. The boy had halitosis and a skin problem that left scales in his wake. It was written that God gave everyone a mix of assets and flaws, but Binyamin's assets, like the Torah code itself, were extremely well hidden.
"What happened?" Binyamin asked. "Was there a bug in the program?"
"But there are too many pages."
"Nothing is lost on you, Binyamin."
Aharon waited for the boy to catch on as he scanned the three-inch stack. His scaly eyebrows went up. "Hey, one of our search phrases, ‘Yosef Kobinski,' is really in all these arrays. That's strange."
"Strange? Three hundred arrays for one little rabbi. As usual, you understate the case."
Aharon wheeled his chair to the left, not only to get away from Binyamin's exhalation zone but also to pick up Chachik's Encyclopedia—a Who's Who of Jewish scholars. "I would say my theory has been disproven, wouldn't you?"
"What was your theory?"
Aharon felt a spark of aggravation. He had explained this three or four times already. "Witzum, Rips, and Rosenberg, in their Statistical Science article, took the names of the thirty greatest rabbis from this very encyclopedia. They found code arrays for each rabbi where his name appeared close to his birth and death dates, nu?"
"That's good that you know. I know, too."
"So they took the rabbis with the longest entries in this encyclopedia. I took the shortest."
Binyamin appeared to give it a legitimate effort. He shrugged.
"Someday you're going to learn how to use that brain of yours. Then again, someday the dead will rise, so it is written."
"So we run the same test they did with a new set of data; that is point one. If we find arrays for all these rabbis also, it is further proof of the code. As for my own theory, I had a little idea that the ‘lesser' rabbis would appear in the code less often than the ‘greater' rabbis. If we could show that it would be very difficult to explain with War and Peace!"
Binyamin pointed to the open encyclopedia. "But Rabbi Kobinski has only one paragraph, yet he appears in three hundred arrays. That's even more than the Ba'al Shem Tov, the most famous rabbi ever."
Aharon tapped his temple, looking pained. "Didn't I say it disproved my theory?"
"So how come—"
"That's the question, Binyamin, how come, as you so eloquently put it."
"Must be a characteristic of the name—common letters or something."
Aharon stroked his beard. "Yosef—perhaps. But the phrase we searched for was ‘Yosef Kobinski.' How common could it be?" Aharon picked up Chachik's and began reading the Kobinski entry out loud: " ‘Yosef Kobinski, Brezeziny, Poland. Born, Tish'ah b'Av 5660.' "
"Nineteen hundred," Binyamin calculated quickly.
" ‘Died Kislev 5704.' "
Aharon rolled his eyes. The boy had failed a test on dates last month. As usual, he had learned it only after the rest of the class had moved on.
" ‘Rabbi Kobinski was a student of Rabbi Eleazar Zaks, the famous kabbalist of Brezeziny. He studied physics at the University of Warsaw and later taught there before leaving to pursue kabbalah. Rabbi Kobinski was considered by many to be a genius of kabbalah. His first and only book, The Book of Mercy, was a prelude to great things. Unfortunately, he was lost in the Holocaust when he died at Auschwitz.' "
Aharon leaned back, the chair groaning with his weight. Yes, this certainly killed his theory. Who had even heard of Kobinski-of-the-300-arrays? Nobody. A burning in his chest bothered him enough that he popped antacids from his linty pocket. He noticed that his fingers were puffy. (Salt, Hannah would say, heart, she'd remind him, and he'd ignore her.)
"Maybe he is important. Or will be." Binyamin poked his glasses up with an extended middle finger.
"He's dead. Somehow I don't think he has any more tricks up his sleeve."
"So whaddya wanna do?"
Aharon frowned at the boy from under bushy eyebrows. "What do I want to do? Is that what you're trying to ask, with your fine language? I'll tell you. We're going to see if there's something special about our new friend. We'll take a few other words from the biography. Let's see." He scrabbled for a pencil and notepad. "Brezeziny. Eleazar Zaks. The Book of Mercy. Auschwitz." He tore off the page and handed it to Binyamin.
"All together?" Binyamin regarded the list with a squint.
"No," Aharon said, with a martyr's sigh. "No, no, no. Run each of them separately as keywords. See if you can find any of those words in these three hundred arrays." He fanned the stack on the desk.
Binyamin shoved up his glasses again, his mouth open in an "oh." "That will take a while."
"Nu? You have better things to do?"
Aharon went to the hook on the back of the door and took up his prayer shawl. It was time for his first class of the day. He opened the door, waited. Binyamin just stood there lumpishly.
"After class?" Aharon reminded him.
As they walked down the hall, Aharon felt a new lift in his step. He had the distinct feeling he had just had a stroke of luck. That in itself was not so amazing. The sages say, "Even a fool has luck." What you did with the luck, that was the tricky part.
Fortunately for him, and perhaps for the cause of Torah code also, Rabbi Aharon Handalman was no fool.
1.3. Calder Farris
The Doubletree hotel where the convention was being held was large and generic and smelled of suntan oil. Calder Farris made his way to the registration desk, where he would use his own name but not his rank. No one would take him for a soldier in his civvies.
He kept his sunglasses on.
He didn't expect a lot from the convention. Its title, Holism and the New Physics, was typically lame. Still, it was his job and he had other reasons to visit Orlando. Dear old Dad.
The woman at Registration had long gray hair and a gauzy skirt-and-top ensemble. People like her were into ESP or auras or some such shit, but she obviously couldn't have read vibes with a manual, because she made the mistake of flirting with him. She tittered on about the sessions, laying her pink hand on Calder's black-sweatered arm.
"My goodness!" she gasped, squeezing the unyielding muscle. She gave him a predatory gleam, her eyes telling him that she liked the iron hardness of his arm and that she'd love to explore other hard things of his as well.
Calder had an overpowered urge to smack her. Instead, he removed his dark sunglasses and inspected them casually.
The woman's hand fell to her side. For a second he got the satisfaction of her queasy face as she stared into his eyes, mesmerized; then she busied herself with someone else. He put the glasses back on and walked away, registration packet in hand.
There was nothing wrong with Calder Farris's face—it was a tad lumpy, a result of teenage acne, but it had improved with age. At thirty-two it looked more rugged than pockmarked. He was six-foot-three and he ran and pumped weights obsessively. With his sunglasses on he could be mistaken for the tall, dark, and handsome type. But sooner or later he had to take them off.
It was his eyes. His irises were a blue so light they were nearly white. People didn't like that. It was as if they made a window where the cold inside him seeped through. He couldn't hide his essential nature when people looked into his eyes. The demon peered out. It was fucking inconvenient.
But, like everything else, it had its uses.
He sat down in the hotel bar and ordered a coffee. He went through the list of sessions, slashing with a felt-tipped pen.
Healing and Synchronicity. Slash.
Wormholes and Frank Herbert's Folding Space. Slash.
Quantum Leaps: Leapfrogging the Laws of Physics.
He'd been to so many of these things, he could practically give the lectures himself. But there was always the remote possibility something useful would turn up someday, the proverbial pearl among the swine. This topic had potential. He flipped to the credentials of the speaker. He recognized the name; the guy was a hack. He slashed out the session.
The bartender refilled his coffee. A few stools away sat two young men engaged in casual conversation. They were obviously a couple. That was nothing out of the ordinary for Florida or for weird science conventions like this one, wherever they might be. That was the fucking state of the fucking country he'd vowed his life to serve and protect.
Calder's body tightened. A feral smile bared his teeth.
He wished the faggots would approach him. He'd take them out to the parking lot and teach them the true meaning of male–male penetration—his fist down their throats.
The rage inside him flared momentarily, like a black sun. He tamped it down. Of course, he wouldn't really do anything, not even if provoked. He wouldn't touch the young men if they stuck their hands down his pants and said howdy-do. Beating up civilians of whatever proclivity did not look good on a service record, and Calder cared very much about his service record.
Besides, he was a trained professional. He didn't kick ass pro bono.
A flicker of humor assuaged his anger. He refocused on the schedule of events.
A Symphony of Strings and the Theory of Everything.
Calder glanced at his watch. It had started ten minutes ago. He gathered up his papers and went to find the room. He didn't leave a tip.
The conference room held about sixty chairs and most of them were full. Calder settled down in the back and looked up the lecturer's bio. Dr. Larch was a young professor at Florida State. Probably half the listeners were his students, brownnosing. Calder sized him up. Intelligent-looking. Showy. The guy had the style of a talk show host. Calder hated that. He folded his arms over his chest and settled in to listen.
Forty-five minutes later, Calder watched the rabble stream out and kept his seat. As usual, there were three or four supergeeks hanging around the lecturer chatting him up. Calder doodled on his pad—guns, stark faces, dark slashes on white paper. Once or twice Larch glanced at him curiously.
The professor finally walked by, heading for the exit. Calder unfolded himself from the chair with a deliberate display of strength.
"Dr. Larch? I'm Calder Farris."
Calder held out his hand. Larch shook it. His grip was damp but not completely mealy.
"Hello." Larch's greeting had the lilt of a question. And you want . . . ?
"I'd like to speak with you about your lecture. Can I buy you lunch?"
"I'm . . . rather busy."
Calder smiled. "How about a drink then? And it's Lieutenant Calder Farris. United States Marines."
Half an hour later, Calder sat across from Larch at an Italian restaurant down the street. Getting out of the hotel had been Farris's idea. The Italian place, Larch's. He'd decided to get a free meal for his trouble after all. The Marines bit had done it. Larch probably didn't meet a lot of Marines. Not a lot of Marines would be caught dead anywhere in his orbit.
"So, Lieutenant Farris, what exactly do you do for the military?"
Farris poked at his salad. "I'm in Intelligence."
"I really can't say anything more than that."
Larch smirked, so Calder pulled out his wallet and showed him ID. The identification was official United States Marine Corps, had "Intelligence Division" written on it and a tough-looking picture of himself in uniform.
"So what does the Intelligence Division of the Marines do exactly?" Larch asked, leaning forward. "Reconnaissance mostly? Isn't that what you guys do? What's your interest in physics?"
"Dr. Larch." Calder had been perfectly civil so far. He'd even kept on his glasses, though he'd switched to a darkly tinted pair that was not prescription but looked it. Now he let a thread of something heavier enter his voice. "We have limited time. I'd like to discuss your work, if you don't mind."
Larch studied him. "Can I ask in exactly what capacity you're conducting this interview?"
"It's not an interview; it's lunch," Calder explained in a reasonable tone. "And you could ask, but, well, you know . ."
"Then you'd have to kill me." Larch snorted. Calder didn't. He sat and looked at Larch from behind those glasses, cold as stone. Larch's amusement faded into an awkward uncertainty with just a touch—yes, Calder could smell it—just the smallest trace of fear.
It was the perfect moment and Calder didn't waste it. He began firing questions, calmly but insistently. The lecture had been on string theory and there were a couple of points he wanted to explore, a few unexpected threads that had interested him. He pressed in those directions, one by one.
Larch talked. Calder was pretty sure he held nothing back. There was no reason that he should. This stuff was probably regurgitated in front of several hundred students every day, most of them too brain-dead to pay the slightest fucking attention. And here was a golden opportunity—a guy who actually wanted to hear him yak.
There was nothing earth-shattering, but there were a few ideas that were new to Calder, and he stored them in his memory mechanically.
When he was done with the conversation he let the waiter clear their plates. Calder was ready to leave, but Larch ordered spumoni. Calder watched him poison his body with sugar and saturated fat and felt his muscles flex in response as if itching to work out. In ten years, Larch was going to look like a sack of potatoes and have the use of about 30 percent of his arterial capacity. Fucking desk jockey.
Calder glanced at his watch. He felt as if he'd just gotten laid. He had gotten what he wanted from Larch. The man no longer interested him.
"So," Larch said, "maybe now you can tell me about your work. Nothing classified, just . . . what's it like? Do you travel a lot?"
"Married?" Larch eyed Calder's bare hands speculatively.
Larch licked his spoon. "You're good at physics. Did the Marines train you for that?"
Larch was only making conversation. It was what normal people did, Calder knew that, but still the demon inside him reached out its hand and squeezed his heart until it was full and tight. Larch wanted to poke behind the shutters, lay his soul bare. Calder was tempted to let him.
Then he realized that he was done with Larch; he didn't have to play nice anymore. Slowly, he removed his glasses and smiled.
"Check?" Larch called, signaling the waiter.