Here, There & Everywhere
By CHRIS ROBERSON Prometheus Books Copyright © 2005 MonkeyBrain, Inc.
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-1-59102-331-9
Chapter One Yesterday
OXFORDSHIRE, 1980 AGE: 10 YEARS OLD
Roxanne Bonaventure sat on the hard, unforgiving seat of the straight-backed wooden chair, the work of weeks lying in ruins on the headmaster's desk before her.
The headmaster, Mr. Campbell, all puffed cheeks, sweat-dappled forehead, and fringe of ratty white hair, glowered at her from behind his desk, joining with her teacher Mrs. Roth in a silent chorus of condemnation. That her father had still not arrived, she was sure, only proved that she was beyond all hope. Nature and nurture, dually embodied in the form of her absent parent, conspired against her.
Scattered on the desk lay the battered and brutalized remains of Roxanne's Junior Four Science Fair project. Pristine and new only a few short hours before, sparkling with possibility and the hint of mysteries revealed, it was now only a disheveled mass of developed photographic plates, a shoebox affair, and a mangled electrical apparatus and low-wattage lightbulb. At the tender age of ten years old, still a week away from her eleventh birthday, Roxanne understood how Galileo had felt, pilloried for his insistence on speaking the truth. That Roxanne only barely understood the truth upon which she insisted hardly entered into the equation.
After a long quarter hour more, marked at regular intervals by Mr. Campbell consulting his wristwatch and Mrs. Roth clearing her throat dramatically every sixty seconds on the dot, there was a clamor from the hallway. The door swung open, clanging noisily against the wall, and a scarecrow masquerading as a man appeared in the doorframe: tall, thin, and lank, with a mess of brown hair and circus fun-house glasses.
Professor Stephen Orien Bonaventure, Roxanne's widower father, rushed into the room, muttering sincere apologies and hurrying to the seat at his daughter's side.
"Terribly sorry," Professor Bonaventure said, sliding the chair across the hardwood floors with a deafening squeak. "Lecture ran long, you know."
"I'm sure I don't, Mr. Bonaventure," Headmaster Campbell replied, pointedly omitting the appropriate honorific. "Mrs. Roth," he continued, his voice growing icier with every passing syllable, sending shivers down Roxanne's spine, "do you 'know'?"
"No, sir, Mr. Campbell," Mrs. Roth answered. "I'm very much certain that I don't either."
Roxanne fidgeted on her chair, wishing that she could shrink to tiny size like some American comic superhero.
"Well, Mr. Bonaventure," Campbell continued, turning back to Roxanne's father and steepling his fingers. "It appears that neither I nor Mrs. Roth in fact 'know' about lectures running long. You'll have to forgive us, of course, as we are merely humble laborers in the field of primary education, and not honored academicians of your caliber."
Bonaventure shifted in his seat, suggesting some genetic predisposition to unease that had passed from father to daughter.
"Erm," he began uneasily, "quite all right, Mr.... Campbell?" That he'd obviously picked the name from the brass stamped plate on the headmaster's desk, any previous memory of the man's name lost to him, did not seem to fool anyone. "I understand," he went on to deafening silence and pointed stares, "that there was some trouble with Roxanne today?"
Headmaster Campbell sighed dramatically, and Mrs. Roth echoed by clearing her throat yet again.
"You might say that, Mr. Bonaventure," Campbell answered, "if you consider physically assaulting another student and verbally abusing a teacher as 'some trouble.'"
"She's a menace," Mrs. Roth added, her voice shrill. "It shouldn't be allowed."
"And it won't, Mrs. Roth," Campbell said.
Through it all, Roxanne kept quiet, eyes fixed on the ground, wishing she could disappear.
"I'm not sure I follow," Bonaventure said. He leaned forward in his chair, apparently trying to regain lost psychological ground by taking a more aggressive posture. "What, precisely, is Roxanne supposed to have done?"
"Do you recognize these items, Mr. Bonaventure?" Campbell asked, indicating the ruins of the science project scattered on his desk.
Bonaventure peered over the plastic rims of his glasses at the photographic plates, box, and electrical equipment. He nodded slowly.
"Yes," he answered. "It's a variation on Feynman's double-slit experiment, with a forty-watt bulb modified to release only one photon per half-second, set into a sealed box with a photographic plate positioned at the far side of the barrier. The barrier has a variable number of apertures, or 'slits,' and with the box sealed shut the only light in the system is that emitted by the light. After a set amount of time, the apparatus is dismantled, the photographic plates developed, and the results compared to previous trials with different slit configurations." He paused, and then looked up at Campbell, and over at Mrs. Roth, and back. Neither seemed terribly interested in his explanation.
"Well, if you're worried," Bonaventure continued, straightening, "I can assure you that Roxanne did all the work on her own. I gave her a bit of guidance now and again, but at no point did I contribute materially to the project's construction or design."
Campbell began to shake his head slowly from side to side, and drummed his fingers on the desk's surface.
"No, Mr. Bonaventure," the headmaster answered, "that is not our concern here."
"Then what is?" Bonaventure asked, growing exasperated. He turned to his daughter, who sat as still as a mannequin by his side. "Roxanne, what's going on here?"
"She's filling the other students' heads with stuff and nonsense is what," Mrs. Roth fairly shouted, rising up. Campbell waved her to remain seated, so she crossed her arms over her generous chest and huffed. "Stuff and nonsense."
"Mr. Bonaventure," Campbell continued, "our concern with Roxanne today is not so much different from our concerns on days previous, spanning back over several years, to the point when she first arrived at our school. That Roxanne is inspired by your profession to produce"-he paused, indicating the experiment components-"objects ... such as these, is hardly grounds for chastisement. It should be encouraged, in fact, and to my certain knowledge has been at many different points. No, our concern is more with your daughter's general attitude and conduct."
Campbell swung his chair to one side, and pushed his not-inconsiderable bulk off the seat. Hands clasped behind his back like a movie detective putting together the final clues to solve the case, he walked around the edge of the desk, and paced back and forth in front of the beleaguered Roxanne and her father.
"It appears, Mr. Bonaventure," he continued, beginning to use the man's name more as punctuation than a form of address, "that in presenting this 'slit experiment' to her classmates and to the judges of the Junior Four Science Fair, Roxanne made some rather outlandish claims which disrupted the remainder of the proceedings."
"What claims?" Bonaventure asked. He turned to his daughter. "Roxanne, what did you say?"
"She said that that little box of hers proved there were aliens and such," Mrs. Roth answered for her, tone climbing shrilly to a near scream.
"Did not," Roxanne said in a small voice, not looking up, not moving.
"What was that?" Campbell snapped. "What did you say?"
"I did not," Roxanne said in a slightly louder voice, her eyes still on the grain of the floor. "I said 'other worlds'; I never said 'aliens.'"
Roxanne's father sighed, and began to nod. "I think I see," Bonaventure said, his expression softening. "It's okay, dear," he added quietly, placing a gentle hand on his daughter's shoulder. He turned back to the pacing Campbell and fuming Roth, his look hardening.
"And when my daughter," he went on, looking from one to the other, "explained that the unexpected results of the double-slit experiment provided compelling evidence of the existence of other worlds, what exactly did you say to that, hmm?"
"Well, I ..." Mrs. Roth began, sputtering. She'd obviously hardly expected the father to share the daughter's madness. "I told her it was nonsense, of course. The other children had started asking me if it could possibly be true, and I naturally told them that it couldn't. What would you have said?"
"For starters?" Bonaventure answered, climbing to his feet. "I'd have said you were an ignorant cow."
"That's what I said," Roxanne said in a low voice, a slow smile creeping across her face.
"Mr. Campbell?" Mrs. Roth's expression was one of pure shock.
"Now look here, Bonaventure," Campbell said, stepping nearer Roxanne's father.
"No, Mr. Campbell. You look here! I'm sure that my Roxanne might not always be the best-behaved student in your blasted school, but I'm just as damned sure that she's not the worst. And so far as her mind goes, she's worth the rest of your school rolled together, and that's including the damned teachers. Now, she's not had it easy these last years, with her mother gone and only me to look after her, but it can't be helping matters at all that she comes here to be bullied by you lot every day. She exceeds the limited grasp of your students with every step, and when they attack her for it your staff doesn't help her; they jump right in with the attackers. It's shameful, and I won't have it."
"Say what you like, Bonaventure, but we'll have order and discipline in this school."
"You can have what you damned well please, you ignorant bastard, but you won't be having my daughter." He turned his back on the headmaster and stalked over to his daughter. "Come on, Roxanne, we're getting out of here."
Roxanne, her heart stopped in her chest, climbed unsteadily to her feet on liquid knees. Her father stormed to the door, slammed it open, and then stood waiting to usher her through. Roxanne followed in a daze, but paused at the threshold to look back at the flabbergasted headmaster and teacher.
"You can keep my experiment," Roxanne said, in as even a tone as she could muster. "I've got a better one at home."
With that, Roxanne turned away and-her father at her side, his arm around her shoulder-walked out of the school forever.
* * *
That evening, in their little flat in the faculty housing just off the Oxford campus, Roxanne waited in her darkened bedroom while her father talked in hushed tones on the hallway phone. Roxanne felt as though she'd just immigrated to a new world of questions, leaving her old world of answers behind. What the future held was a baffling, frightening mystery.
She'd never liked the school; she had to admit that. But it was the only school she'd known. What else was there? Where else would she go?
Roxanne sat on her bed, knees up to her chest, eyes wide, waiting for her father to come and provide some answers.
She didn't have long to wait. The click of plastic on plastic as the handset fell back on its cradle, footsteps sounding on the thin and threadbare carpeted hall, and the rustle of her doorknob turning and her father was there, framed against the bare bulb light beyond.
"Roxie?" her father said to the darkness. "Are you awake?"
"Yes," Roxanne replied in a little voice.
Roxanne's father flicked on the overhead light, and sat down on the edge of her bed.
"I've just been talking with your Aunt Diana in America," he said, painting on a smile. "You remember how much fun you had when she and little Jon visited last Christmas."
"Uh-huh." Roxanne gave a reluctant nod.
"Well, she and I were talking about you, and how much fun you could have in America. There's this ace school that your cousin Jon attends in California that Diana thinks you'd just love."
"Uh-huh." Again, the reluctant nod.
"You see, that is ..." Roxanne's father left off, breaking eye contact. "Roxie, it wouldn't be easy to send you away, and you know that, but I just think that-"
"You're making me go away?" Roxanne's vision began to blur, her eyes pooling. Her voice quivered, no matter how much she tried to sound like a real grown-up.
"No, no, Roxie, it's not like that-"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Roxanne leapt up and wrapped her arms around her father's neck. "I won't do it again, I promise, I'll be good."
Roxanne's father took her up in a strong embrace, unbreakable despite his spare form.
"Of course you'll be good, dear, you couldn't be anything else," he answered softly, stroking her blonde hair. "But this isn't about you. It's never been about you. This is about me, and what I can't give you."
"I don't ... I don't understand...."
"Roxie, I know it hasn't been easy for you, with only me here to raise you; and I've tried my best for you, but I just don't think that I'm doing right by you. Between my hours at the university, and my hours here working, I've not been giving you the attention you need, the attention you deserve. I'll always love you, poppet, and I'll always be here when you need me, but I think you need more than me now, if you're to be the woman I know you'll be."
"But ..." The tears fell now in earnest. "But I don't want to go. I want to stay."
"I know you do, I know." Roxanne's father hugged her closer. "And you can come and visit me whenever you like, and I'll come visit you whenever I can. But in America you'll have your Auntie Diana there to help you grow up into a woman, and a school where they'll nurture your talents and not just shove you down into a box, and you'll have children of your own caliber as friends. You like your cousin Jon, don't you?"
Roxanne nodded weakly, her tears dampening her father's shoulder.
"Listen, Roxie, it's all worked out. You're booked on a transatlantic flight to America next week, first to New York and then all the way to San Francisco, where your Aunt Diana and Uncle Jake will meet you at the airport. You'll stay with them for a few weeks until they work out your enrollment at Jon's school, and then you'll be living the life of Riley."
"Riley can have his life," Roxanne muttered, choking back tears. "I want mine."
"There, there, Roxie. You'll see. You'll love it."
Roxanne's father tucked her into bed with practiced hands. After he'd shut off the light, and just before closing shut the door, Roxanne stopped him with a still-cracking voice.
"Daddy?" she said. "Is it true?"
"Is what true, poppet?"
"About the other worlds-the experiment, I mean. That every time a little something-"
"A subatomic particle," her father corrected.
"That every time a particle is faced with a choice of two or more options, that it chooses them all, branching the world out into different worlds every time, one for each of the paths it could have taken?"
"Well, it's a theory that fits the known facts. And the most plausible explanation for the double-slit experiment, if you ask me." He began to shift subtly into a lecturing mode, as he frequently did. "Collapsing probability states is just madness, so far as I'm concerned, as is just blithely swallowing the wave-particle duality of subatomic particles. Only by accepting that the photons are interacting with their equivalents in branching and bifurcating worldlines can one really explain the interference patterns the experiment produces."
In the dim light, Roxanne nodded, her habitual response to her father's impromptu lectures, even in circumstances such as these.
"So," she went on, her tone grave, "with a really big number of worlds-"
"Approaching infinity," her father added, "and it's 'worldlines.'"
"-worldlines, then there is just a big number of different worlds, right? Where everything that could have happened at any time happened in one of them?"
"Yes, I suppose so." Her father nodded. "That's a valid reading."
"So, I guess," Roxanne went on, her voice growing quieter and more deliberate with every syllable, "that means there must be a world somewhere where my mother is still alive, and where we all three live together, happy families?"
Her father took a deep breath, and held it for a long time.
"Yes, Roxanne," he answered slowly. "I suppose there must be."
After standing in the doorway, looking in at her for a long moment, Roxanne's father closed the door, leaving her alone.
Excerpted from Here, There & Everywhere by CHRIS ROBERSON Copyright © 2005 by MonkeyBrain, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.