Sunday, January 19, 2014

Strange Astronomy

I don't usually work in public. The noise, curious onlookers and general disruption is simply not conducive. But the sun was shining and an empty stomach can be just as much a distraction or more. So I packed up my papers with a few books and went down to university cafe.

I was halfway through my cup of coffee and scribbling in my notebook when I noticed him. A young man had seated himself across from me at my otherwise secluded table. I'm sure I scowled as I pushed my barely nibbled sandwich to the side, making a bit of room. Despite this, he smiled warmly.

"Doctor Iverson?" he said, extending a hand which I grudgingly took. "I'm an admirer of your work. I couldn't help but come over and say hello."

I was surprised, certainly. He was young, but not quite young enough to be one of my students. He was certainly not old enough to be the kind to consort with the sort of stodgy, aged academia that would be interested in the few papers I had published. His blue-grey suit and fedora combination certainly didn't lend itself to that conclusion. Despite it being eleven o'clock in the morning, he looked ready for a night on the town. With a raised eyebrow, I shook his hand.

"Astronomy doesn't get many admirers," I replied. "Certainly not my brand of theoretical astronomy. I'm not even sure my colleagues appreciate my efforts." I chuckled, though half serious in my sentiments.

He smiled again, and it struck me oddly, as if his mouth were abnormally wide. As I looked him over more, he seemed sickly pale. His large eyes, which at first I had taken for sparkling with interest, now seemed glassy. The hand he had proffered suddenly felt clammy and I withdrew my own, surreptitiously wiping my palm on my pants under the table. If he noticed and was offended, he made no sign.

"Someday they will understand, Doctor," he said, his voice sounding serious in contrast with his outward demeanor. "There are more things in heaven and earth..." he paused mid-sentence, making a gulping sound before continuing, "than you could ever dream of. Your work has the potential to touch the gods themselves."

At this statement I did laugh. "Well, I don't know about that. All I am doing is trying to find stars we can't see yet, the ones beyond our telescopes. Charting gravity wells and the like. If God exists, sir, I doubt he cares much about my work, mister..." I trailed off, realizing he hadn't given his name.

"Wells," he replied, "John Wells. God exists, Doctor, and is much different than we imagine. It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Iverson. I really must be going." He made that strange gulping sound again then stood, smiling that odd smile, and strode away with an odd, bow-legged gait that caused him to bob through a crowd of students before disappearing.

Bewildered, I shook my head and went back to my work. Unfortunately, I ended up returning to my sandwich as I could not finish my notes. In addition to being thoroughly disrupted, I had left my star charts in my office, though I thought I had brought them with me.  I'm still having trouble locating them and fear I may have lost them on the way to the cafe.

It simply does not pay to work in public.

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