Episode 17: Sophia
The first six months back in town, Sophia conducted an intensive study of the lights. She spent very little time in town, made only the briefest and most superficial attempts to get re-acquainted with old friends and family. She worked tirelessly from early in the morning until late at night, allowing for three or four hours to rest, which did not always mean actual sleep. She ate when she remembered, drank sometimes eight cups of coffee throughout the day and night. Sophia had pushed her body and brain to sheer exhaustion.
The days were spent inside the inconspicuous building on campus reviewing equations and tweaking plans, and hours of calls with the military liaison to secure the necessary field equipment to ensure a successful experiment. The nights were spent at the quarry.
It was, as it had been when she was a teenager. The lights, for reasons unknown, returned in close proximity every time Sophia was present, that fateful night somehow linking her to the energy source, a confoundingly simpatico relationship. As soon as she settled near the quarry lake, the peculiar lights seemed to blink into reality, like someone flicked a switch. Not in the sky where the other witnesses caught a glimpse, all three appeared at eye level and floated, always staying about twenty feet away, and remained sometimes until the sun inched toward the horizon. Then, without any indication, the lights seemed to blink out of reality. Switch flicked off.
Sophia made sure never to touch the water. It was part of her theory, the very first part that was surmised at fifteen, shortly after going ankle deep into the lake that was quickly followed by the experience of a lifetime. She wasn’t sure if it was the introduction of water in general, or something special about the chemical composition that quarry water, a heavy concentration of calcium oxide from the limestone, was the cause. She would take no chances and use the very water that bathed her feet decades ago.
The next eight months saw a series of experiments designed to capture the energy. Millions of dollars of state-of-the art encapsulation technology was at her fingertips, including all the support she needed to haul the equipment, and to supply energy to run the equipment, to fill the tank with the quarry water, and to section off the old quarry to curious eyes for months, including the popular overlook.
The rumors were abundant throughout the neighborhoods and the college campus. The armed guards at the road’s entrance to the quarry, and the unmarked trucks rolling through town in the dark of night, fed the appetites of the imaginative and the paranoid. The county Sheriff had no answers, neither did the Mayor, both of whom had placed several calls to various factions of the federal government to demand answers with no avail. Sophia operated freely without exception, a thought that rarely crossed her occupied and fatigued mind, focusing only on the goal at hand and pushing aside anything that could be considered a distraction.
The failures were numerous, a monetary expense that would have broken most experiments, that for the deep pockets of the government’s black projects. Regardless of the failures, the success came quickly by scientific exploration terms.
All through the academic years, as she formulated the hypothesis, and eventually the equations, there was always the thought – what if… Certainly, a theory so ahead of practical science would take a lifetime for applied physics to catch up. But what if… Working in parallel, Sophia formulated a complicated justification for changing time, if in fact she was ever able to. In the fight between the rational and irrational sides of internal conflict, even in the smartest of us, the part of the brain that makes emotion possible has a winning record. A statement Sophia never forgot from an undergrad psychology class, a bit of editorializing by an eccentric professor.
There was emotion behind the intent. A well kept secret, Sophia was near robotic in the explanation to her supporters. Every action that was taken, from the formulation of the hypothesis, to the implementation of the experiment, every action was conducted with utter scientific credibility. Her first experience with the lights, more meaningful than equations. Her reason for burrowing so deeply into the rabbit hole, just two years later when she made another amazing discovery, him.
1987. Sophia strolled under the balloon arch into an instant attack on the senses. From an orderly cattle call toward the entrance, to a chaotic motif of scurrying children, beer garden buzzed adults, trouble-seeking teenagers, carnival smells and sounds, and spasmic amusement lights, she immediately absorbed the stimulus like the crawling starved for nourishment. She loved the carnival. It was the antithesis of the leading up to, and following. Those other moments were spent stuck in a small private school that shared space with a college, with the spoiled and entitled, when there was an entire town she barely interacted with aside from a few places where the wealthy shared space with the towners – movie theater, diner.
The towners were generational residents going back to the town’s founding. The wealthier section were transplants, a product of the introduction of the college. The private school followed, because it was needed, because the transplants believed they deserved better. Sophia would have killed to go to the public high school.
Even with the senses invaded by the carnival stimuli, and the dense crowd rolling through the entrance, Sophia saw him in the corner of her eye, to the side of the entrance, and the fleeting sight made her smile. She didn’t know the boy, but she had seen him many times, at the movie theater and the diner.