Anchors No More #43: The Basic Ontological ParadoxNov 10, 2014
Uncertainty overwhelmed Gary as the door to the Marshall Temporal Device shut behind him. He had never felt this before. Complete cognitive dissonance, only able to act on inertia, no confidence in his current capacity for reason or rationality.
There was one thing. One solitary fact that he held onto in the midst of his mental storm. Count to ten while fine-tuning the gas mixture then press the button. “One…” Muted gunshots and shouts came from outside the rounded chamber, sounds muffled beneath the low droning hum of the machine and its thick curved walls. Gary’s mind raced, unable to keep up with the conflicting emotions colliding off of one another in his overwhelmed brain. “Two…” Images flashed before him, in the summer as a child, ice cream on a cone, swatting a bee away from the strawberry creaminess as he brought it up for a big bite… laughing on his father’s lap, learning to drive the van on empty country roads, classic rock on the radio, the sun beating down on the hilly landscape…
“Three…” graduation, the day he was hired at ARLIS, it all felt like someone else’s life, someone else’s dream. “Four…” He and Holly walking home from a long day. They were simply lab rats doing their work, excited by the research but bored by the drudgery of corporate America. Holly complained as she liked to do, “I just don’t think they take us seriously,” she told him, “I mean, if they really understood the work we’re doing, they wouldn’t give us any hassle about it, right? I mean, take your vacation anytime you want, just keep getting the work done. I just don’t get it.”
Gary, ever the peacemaker and bright-side looker, gave his stock response, “Well, it’s just the business, the financers don’t care about the researchers, only the research, and they have their deadlines and we…”
She interrupted, “Deadlines? Whatever. It’s just pointless protocol. You can’t take your vacation here, but you can take it here. Is my life, our lives, just supposed to start and stop at whatever arbitrary regulations and schedules they want? No, I take it back, not protocol, it’s just simple control, they want to control. “
His first day in the lab, she did ignore him. She completely ignored him and Gary thought ‘oh no, the infamous Doctor Holly Marshall lives up to her reputation of being too smart for her own good.’ A friend of Gary’s had worked briefly with Holly’s first lab partner, a recent college graduate named Liam. Liam told Gary’s friend that Holly Marshall was quite sweet, very lovely, and amazingly closed-off. It was hard to get more than a few complete sentences out of her in a whole workday, he said, and it’s not because she is necessarily rude or inhospitable, but because she didn’t feel comfortable or she didn’t understand how two people were supposed to interact in a non-scientific researching capacity.
That first day, Gary watched her working and he never told her that he fell in love with her in those first fifteen minutes, seeing her fingers fly over the keyboard when she got in the zone, watching her stop, think a moment, scrunch her nose and place one finger on her cheek as she thought. She was intense, beautiful, and accomplished: everything Gary could ever want. “Five…” He saw her eyes light up when she got excited, her gaze sink to some shadowy depth when disappointed, so moody, so emotionally pure: a true artists temperament. Gary held her when her father died, it was the first time she had been in his arms.
As the light in the temporal chamber grew brighter, the pressure rising as the wormhole was generated, as the stabilization process began, the negative energy disrupting bonds and building energy, he felt her wrapped in his arms that day, warm and small, like an angel, something ethereal and fragile, weeping against his shoulder, bathed in that expanding swell of light… “Six…” After the funeral, he told her it was going to be all right and she said she knew, she looked him in the eyes and he wanted to wipe a tear away but he dared not, her pale cheek seemed too sacred to touch. She said to him, “I know, I don’t know how it’s going to be, but I know it will.” Gary saw her now in the light, glowing… she leaned forward, kissed him deeply on the mouth and whispered, “Seven…”
All this passed before his mind in flashes, in instances, passing through the dissolving barriers of his mind and body, time swelling and constricting, the past dumping into an unseen future, the present nowhere to be found, there it was, now over there, now… He remembered how Holly explained it to him late one night in the basement when they were about halfway finished building the machine, “It’s like your body leaves the continuum for a moment, your mind stays but your body skips dimensions. But your body doesn’t really leave, right? It’s like mind and body separation, it’s nested, it’s structural, the mind within the body, but it’s also perceptual, right, the body doesn’t actually leave the space-time continuum, not in a distinctive, substantial manner, but it is perceived to leave, just as the mind is perceived to stay. They really both stay, but they really both leave. It’s the basic ontological paradox that just must be accepted because that’s how we move forward. We accept the paradox and then set about explaining it, that’s the experience, that’s what were doing.” He was here and there, nowhere yet…
He hoped she was safe, that she was still alive and could somehow stay that way… “Eight…” he knew James and Steven were dead, he couldn’t be sure about Daniel, Mike or Restrepo. What about Elizabeth? They had left her in the lab upstairs guarding the scientists and the ARLIS men they had tied up. And Pierre? He would most likely still be in the main control room, holding hostage all security measures and buying them time… “Nine…”
They were all good people, everyone, and he couldn’t blame Holly for her feelings, he saw it in her eyes when she looked at Daniel and in his eyes when he looked at her. It means nothing, Gary would always love her, as a friend and as something else. He hoped she knew that, he hoped she could understand that… because that’s all that matters… “Ten…” He felt pulled and squeezed, blinded by a million cold suns, maybe he saw Holly kneeling beside him, backpacks and wetsuits, his own finger near the button it was in the process of pressing but it was only a possibility, it was so instantaneous, a picosecond, a fraction of a fraction of a fractured moment.
He may have seen it but it couldn’t matter, it was over. He was gone.
© David Edward Wagner 2014. All Rights Reserved.