If this works, I'll come back for you
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. But I can still smell her scent tangled with the lab's cleaning supplies. I feel her lips. When I wake from these dreams screaming her name, I sense she must hear me. Isn't that proof enough that it really happened? That she still comes to me in my sleep? They tell me it's not.
For four years, our research team worked on "The Flute,” a project inspired by the children's story, The Pied Piper. Our machine consisted of a long metal cavity with various holes, similar to the musical instrument. By sending microwave frequencies through the device, we discovered that it was possible to manipulate atoms at the sub-atomic level. Previously these photons rarely interacted. But now, given the correct wavelength command, photons could be controlled. As a result, the science community breathlessly began to consider the possibilities for quantum computing and perhaps to even better understand the physics of black holes.
The Draxx Institute did not care much for academia's glacial pace. Its Board, comprised of various Silicon Valley geniuses, preferred to cherry-pick the world's greatest minds and throw ungodly sums of money at us - to "disrupt things."
After graduation, our team moved directly to the California mountains. Our Draxx-sponsored lab was at the furthest end of the secretive campus. In a bunker-type facility, combining research and living quarters, we continued the Flute project, manipulating matter at its smallest building block. We rarely left the lab. Draxx provided food, recreation, television and even its experimental virtual reality experiences. Their Space Mountain really was quite something.
However, in my last year, my fellow researchers began to depart, citing better opportunities, fatigue from the project or fatigue for each other. I preferred to stay on, sensing that our years of false starts were on the brink of something truly amazing. The Board was happy to shovel more money at me as the project's primary investigator. I was a tad lonely, but I'd never been one for social interactions. I soldiered on alone, monk-like and determined.
After a few months alone with the device—a breakthrough.
When I excitedly updated Draxx's Board, I requested a new lab assistant. After years of hypothesis, it had become evident that there was potential to apply the Flute to more significant matter. I needed another pair of hands immediately.
That's when Dr. Ursula arrived.
I'd been manipulating my latest formula, almost giddy. Then, suddenly a voice behind me broke my revelry.
"Greetings, Dr. Klein. I'm Dr. Ursula Mayfair. I've been assigned as your new lab assistant. Is this the device?"
I spun around to a tall female figure with hair so blonde it appeared almost white. I'd never seen a creature with a more perfectly symmetrical face. Her eyes, deep blue, almost violet, bore into me as she extended a delicate hand.
As I yanked off my glove to gingerly accept it, I could feel my brain swirl as though I was drunk, despite the fact I never imbibed after that embarrassing Freshman year incident. I told you, I don't particularly care for social interactions.
"Pleasure, Dr. Mayfair." I barely recognized my own voice. It was so rare I spoke out loud (except to the Board, the janitorial staff, or my mother once a month).
"Please, I prefer Dr. Ursula - I don't like to be too formal," she smiled with her entire being. I felt the need to sit down but somehow steady myself.
"But I should still call you Dr.?" The flaw in her logic grated on me, and I couldn’t help but address this.
She stiffened like she'd made a terrible mistake.
"No, of course!" I quickly offered, "We all certainly earned our PhDs, Dr. Ursula!" I fumbled with the equipment. "Please allow me to walk you through the project."
Dr. Ursula was a quick study and knew the premise behind the Flute inside and out. I asked how she was so clearly at ease.
"Oh, I've been following your career for a very long time, Dr. Klein," she inputted the data as a maestro would play the piano.
"Really?" I blushed intensely. But again, there's a flaw. We haven't published in the journals since Draxx took the project private. But I kept this one to myself, assuming the Board had fully briefed her.
Together we continued the work, her data input as I manipulated the photons. We worked in concert so perfectly that it almost felt like a dance.
Later that night, still in her lab coat, she entered our living quarters, where I was eating my usual bowl of instant noodles. I asked if she'd like some, but she declined. There was awkward silence - even for me. As usual, I failed at any witty repartee, so I asked if she'd like to listen to some music. She seemed quite excited at this, and I played Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 1 in G-Major. There's something lovely and extraordinary in her face as she reacted to the piece.
"A big Mozart fan?" I inquired.
"I've heard other music, but not this," she closed her eyes. It almost felt like I was seducing her.
"It's quite like our project," she observed. "The other instruments take the lead from the flute- precisely how the device functions."
"Music can be quite cosmic," I attempted to be poetic, but she was lost to the recording again, so I slurped my noodles and let Mozart do the talking.
On the second day, she was already in the lab before I'd even made coffee.
"Greetings, Dr. Ursula! You also do your best thinking in the morning," I had barely slept. Her violet eyes haunted me all night.
She rewarded me with her perfectly symmetrical smile. In harmony, we ran new simulations and recorded the data so seamlessly that I couldn't help but be thoroughly impressed by The Board's ability to find such a perfect assistant.
That evening in our living room, she sat beside me as I ate my noodles. I remembered she had yet to eat anything, but in my line of work, when we are proving something so revolutionary, sometimes food becomes an afterthought- as well as personal grooming. I checked my breath.
"Another piece?" I'd obsessively contemplated what would be a perfect follow-up and opted for J.S. Bach's Flute Sonatas.
After a few bars, she stood up suddenly, "I know this!"
"It's Bach," I excitedly replied. "An amazing composer. Carl Sagan definitely thought so. He included it on Voyager's Golden Record. You know Voyager?"
Her face turned white as her hair, as though she'd seen a ghost. I assumed she was confused, something I tended to do with most people.
"Voyager," I continued. "In 1977, NASA launched a probe including a record entitled, Sounds of Earth. It was a friendly gesture should any extraterrestrials discover it and figure out how to play it."
She sat closer to me as we listened to the rest of the album without talking.
Finally, she said, "It's extraordinary, your deep appreciation of art and science. Usually, it is an 'either or' case among people. A heart vs. mind paradox?"
"Well, I didn't have many friends," I admitted. "I suppose the music filled the void." Such vulnerability to a direct report.
"Music certainly fills many voids," she said, "it's a language that transcends like nothing I've ever encountered." She placed her delicate hand on mine. I played this moment over as I lay in my bunk, wondering which room she’d selected. I felt her presence pulsing through the concrete walls.
On our third day, our synchronicity was so strong that it felt like Dr. Ursula was reading my thoughts. She transcribed the data before I'd even told her the numbers.
That evening, I sat in the living quarters. She glided in, still wearing her Draxx lab coat and politely declined the soup. Something seemed to have shifted, though I couldn’t put a finger on it. Perhaps her hunger is setting in? Why does she not put on something more comfortable? She said she didn't want to be too formal.
"Tonight, I thought we'd try G. P. Telemann, Fantasias for Flute," I announced ceremoniously, "keeping with our theme," I openly grinned and noticed my facial muscles required to smile were suddenly reactivated after my years of endless seriousness.
We listened again without talking.
"This is different," she said finally, "The patterns-"
"Oh yes, a fantasia was the beginning of improv in music. Very innovative for the time!" I hope I don't sound too braggadocious.
"Oh, when people make it up as they go along, it still works within the larger structure."
Finally, she's next to me again. I felt the noodles bubble up in my stomach. Despite our brief time together, I’d never felt so deeply connected with another being in my entire existence.
At the album's end, she said, "Do you know what else was on The Golden Record that Earth launched all those years ago?"
I thought for a minute, “Whale songs?"
Then Dr. Ursula leaned in and placed a kiss on my cheek. She pulled back; her eyes shone with tears, "The record includes the sound of a kiss- I did not understand that one until now."
I sat dumbstruck. No one has ever kissed me except my family. I panicked about what to do next. Why are there tears?
But she'd already risen, "Improv, right, Dr. Klein?"
Inexplicably, I slept deeply that night, floating on a violet sea, entirely under her spell. The next morning I fixed my hair and polished my glasses. I bounced down the corridor, buzzing with anticipation for our day together.
But the lab is…empty.
The Flute, computers, monitoring devices, and thousands of pages of notes have simply disappeared, vanished like they never existed!
My heart pounded. I must still be asleep - this is a nightmare.
The only thing that remained was a single white piece of paper with the words:
If this works, I'll come back for you.
I sprinted through the halls of the lab, called for her, and answered only with echoes of my screams. I grabbed Draxx’s red emergency phone.
“THERE’S BEEN A BREACH!" I sobbed and collapsed on the floor.
Later Draxx’s Board informed me that the lab's security feed went black for three days without warning headquarters that any systems had gone offline. More strangely, the Board had not yet assigned a lab assistant.
Immediately, I'm the suspect of some ingenious corporate espionage.
When your life's work has evaporated, you're subject to a criminal investigation, and there is no evidence of the existence of any Dr. Ursula Mayfield, save a single cryptic note-
You have a nervous breakdown.
So now here I am in a different institute - unfortunately for the mentally disturbed. In group, we're encouraged to talk about our feelings, but I cannot. Instead, I sit in my room and play the music I played for her. Tonight I'm listening to fantasias when I feel a presence behind me. I turn-
There is Dr. Ursula.
"Dr. Klein," she crosses tentatively to my bedside, "please forgive me for what I had to do. My people sent me on a mission to save our world. Your technology provided the key to manipulating a black hole that had moved into our orbit."
"How-how-did you know about Earth?" I am shaking.
"We learned many things from the Voyager record," she replies, her eyes glimmering with happiness, "I promised I'd come back for you. We've 'improv-ed' a plan to make it work. Will you come?"
I nod, unable to speak as her frame envelopes me in an embrace. I haven't been held in so long that I'm weeping again. Please don't let this be a dream too.
"We will be there in a few moments," she whispers in my ear. The prison-like walls begin to disappear as violet light swirls around us. "Help me shatter the darkness. Show my people your light.”
Great story, love your writing style!