Maybe you’ve been wondering what I mean by “science-inspired fiction.” Sometimes I wonder what I mean, too. A few years back, I wrote a story called Spin, which is part of a collection I’ve been working on, on and off over the years, under the working title Omniscience. This story reminds me of what I mean when I talk about science-inspired fiction–and what I want to do more of.
(Also, it’s currently making the rounds, so wish me luck in finding a home for it =)
Their encounter was a kind of collision—occurring, like so many thought experiments, aboard a train. Specifically, during a minor electrical crisis on the T, when their subway car ground to a halt between Harvard and Central Square. The overhead fluorescents flickered, as if flustered, and she appeared in the aisle beside him: a very white woman with long red hair crouched over an immense handbag, her slender fingers feeling along the individual plastic ridges of the floor.
From where he stood, it looked as if the handbag may have been impeding her search. Dr. Pindar stooped to lend assistance at precisely the moment the train resumed service; she thrust out a hand to steady herself, and he caught it. He’d been about to ask what it was she’d misplaced. He’d been about to volunteer the services of the high-powered laser pointer/pen light he kept at all times on his person. But no sooner had the train entered a tunnel than it stopped again, as if balking at the prospect, and he, in a motion both equal and opposite, stumbled into her. Sidestepping her bag in the half-light, he crushed his glasses instead.
Still stooped, aware only of the vague shapes of seats, commuters, and the woman before him, Dr. Pindar felt along the tacked-on metal border of the aisle for his glasses. Mangled at the bridge and cracked through one lens, they sat on his face fiercely askew.
The lighting in the train car stabilized and they rose to their feet. There they stood, amid the rustling of disgruntled newspapers and abruptly consulted watches: she with her right eye missing a contact, and he with his left lens entirely obscured.
It had been six months since, at least, since Dr. Pindar had asked a woman on a date—six months, in all honesty, since he had even spoken to a woman who was not his mother or his secretary. The window of opportunity for such things, he’d come to realize, was brief. By the time the train emerged from the tunnel, it would be too late.
Denied as he was his full range of vision that day (along with much of his depth perception), he had very little idea what this woman looked like. But he liked the way she’d caught his hand when she stumbled, liked the way she’d risen to her feet with him and smiled. And so, forgoing even a basic introduction, Dr. Sanjay Pindar, senior professor at MIT, took a step suddenly close to Gloria Sullivan, an intermittently employed member of the Common Ground Dance Theatre, and asked if she would like to observe the meteor shower with him that weekend.
The quantum theory would suggest that for every possible decision, a near-infinite number of possible outcomes exist. It would suggest, for instance, that if Dr. Pindar had happened to hurl an object—a watermelon, say—at an unsuspecting wall of the train car that day, a real and finite possibility exists that the melon in question would have passed directly through the wall and splattered on the landing outside.
Gloria had enormous brown eyes, dark lashes, and an Amazonian figure that had fueled the fantasies of boys and men since she’d entered the seventh grade. Dr. Pindar suffered the inadequacies of a genotype that included such generally maladaptive traits as extreme myopia, male pattern baldness, and social dysfunction in traditional mating environments. As his position in society had improved, so had his prospects, but there was no denying that, in his forties, he looked essentially like what he was: a sedentary academic in mismatched socks who stood just over five foot three.
That two such specimens would find themselves on an actual date, accompanied by a telescope, on a blanket in a field outside of Swampscott, culminating in actual sexual intercourse, was, by any estimation, highly unlikely—an event, it might even be said, on a similar order of magnitude as that of a hypothetical watermelon appearing mysteriously on the landing of the MBTA that day, smashed to a startled pulp.
(S. DeFreitas Timmons)