Episode 18: Dr. Chettiar
“The applied physics building, it’s really new, right? Built before we got to campus but only within the last few years, right?” Elliott sparked up a conversation after the usual silent chess match, who would speak first at the beginning of the session.
“I believe so,” Arya responded.
“I mean, it definitely wasn’t hear when I was growing up. I never really came to the campus, but I knew a lot about the campus. Besides, it looks brand new.”
“Yes, you are probably right. I think it is new.”
“Did you know they are on their own network? I am responsible for IT for the entire campus, and I have no access to it.”
“Really?” Arya contributed to the small talk.
“Don’t you think that is strange?”
“Why the sudden interest in the physics building?” Arya asked.
“Why not?” Elliott shot back. “You ask me to talk about the things that interest me, right?”
“O.K. Why does the building interest you?”
“Why wouldn’t it? You know about the rumors, right?”
“I have heard a few.”
“And the sounds from the building you can hear in town?”
Arya nodded with recognition. As often was the case with their sessions, she was letting Elliott direct the course of the discussion. Usually, Arya would interject at times, if only to makes sure the direction Elliott took would eventually get him to the heart of his pain. After the last session, she was reluctant to push too much. There were obvious trust issues now and she needed to find ways to work back into good favor.
Blue Universe was still a mystery and Elliott had given no indication that he was interested in providing anything other than vague references during the last session. Arya found the website, sort of. She found the URL that led to a plain, blue screen with only a field for a password.
“Do you know the woman who sits on the bench in front of the physics building around lunch sometimes?” Elliott asked. “Her name is Sophia Page Mitchell. It is like the only time anyone on this campus seems to see her.”
Arya was surprised by the question. Of all the people on campus he could have asked about. She thought back to the request for an interview she received from the college in the form of a letter, with a mention of a personal recommendation from someone she did not know. That fact still bewildered her. What was more bewildering was Arya’s inability to contact Sophia Page Mitchell and say thank you. Despite the fact that the woman worked on campus, at an official building of the college, she had no college mailbox, no email account, attended no faculty or personnel meetings. When Arya asked the President of the school who was very friendly and outgoing, she was told to stop trying to make contact with the woman in the unassuming building.
“I know of her, Elliott. But we have never met.”
“I never met her either,” Elliott replied at the same time his expression turned into one of despair. In an instant, as the words left his lips, the muscles around the eyes and lips and jaw went slack and toneless. “But I know her.”
“What do you mean, you know her?”
“They say coming home you find the source of your troubles. I come here and I see her. The same her. Twenty some years older but it is her, from the carnival.”
Arya studied Elliott’s anguished face, and the series of coincidences flooded in. She could have shrugged Elliott’s comment away, chalked it up to his current condition, influenced imagination, and an ever malleable memory. And after all, he could only be remembering a re-occurring dream. Except the coincidences.
It was lunchtime and Arya strolled along the campus path on the way to the food court when she saw a woman sitting on a bench in front of that building. Long brown hair, hidden in a perfectly sculptured bun. Chestnut brown eyes barely discernible behind plastic framed glasses. Arya reluctantly abandoned the commute to the food court and strolled up the off branch of the main path that led to the bench. The woman was eating soup from a thermos and drinking a cup of coffee.
“I am Dr. Chettiar, Arya. Psychology.”
The woman seemed surprised, but not startled. Expecting something would happen, but not sure when or who. The day prior she saw him. Older, sadder. But it was him walking along the path toward the psychology building. His eyes were as beautiful as the first time she saw them. Then saw them over and over until she got it right.
Nice to meet you. Sophia.” She smiled and shook the psychologist’s hand.
“May I sit?”
Sophia moved her things and made room for her guest on the bench she sat at every day watching students scurry along the path and the birds up in the trees. A reminder that she couldn’t change every single thing.
Arya sat next to her and took in the nature around. The trees and other natural landscape were an amazing preservation in the middle of a grand and contrived university confluence.
“It’s a nice place to sit and take in the scenery.”
“That it is,” Sophia replied.
They sat together watching the birds in the trees. The activity, for the moment, drowned out the flurry of student interaction in the background. The other bodies were unaware of other conversations taking place outside of the building few knew much about.
Arya wondered what could be inside the building. She was sure they were working on something she would be uncomfortable with. Government contract, anyone in that building needed security clearance. She wasn’t a half-brained conspiracy theorist; she didn’t completely trust her government either. A new weapon, maybe.
Elliott’s emotional connection to a young woman he saw for mere seconds was of course contrived. To him the connection was profound. She thought about how he described it.
I am certain she is not part of my memory, yet I feel as though I know her better than anyone. I feel as though I can see inside her, everything she thinks and feels. She’s a stranger and she can’t be a stranger. She is a lost love. Like I love, I loved her. Like I shared everything with her and never experienced anything like that again. And I haven’t. Just her, but I don’t know her. I wake up from this dream, every time, with a real sense of longing.
“Sorry for interrupting your lunch. This is a bit awkward and probably inappropriate.”
Sophia capped the thermos of soup and placed it at her feet. She wiped her mouth with a napkin from the campus food court and sucked her teeth to eliminate any remnants of the beef and barley. She felt her insides drop, a fluttering feeling, like that night on the carnival ride, where she screamed out with fear and excitement, and held his hand tight. “What is it?” she asked.
“I had a session with a patient yesterday. Too early to tell, I am thinking he has a dissociative disorder. Simply stated, he has serious detachment from personal memory and sense of self. Obviously, I am not at liberty to say who or to talk about him in any detail. What I can say, he saw you yesterday and, for whatever reason, has made you a major player in his manufactured life. Manufactured memory, that is.”
It pained Sophia to know he was hurting. It was better than the alternative. No decision is easy. There are implications with every choice made.
“I am not sure I understand.”
“This probably all seems strange coming out of the blue,” Arya apologized. “I have treated this disorder many times and I believe an eventual confrontation would be very beneficial to this person. When the time is right, of course. I am wondering if, down the road when the time is right, would you be open to interacting with him? Completely supervised of course. It will help to separate his manufactured world from the real one.”
Sophia couldn’t help but to admire the warm and inviting smile of her benchmate. The woman had the perfect disposition for such a career. She was confident the therapist would do her best to help Elliott, maybe even be able to convince him to enjoy what he has and not dwell on what cannot be.
The risks she took. The program was a failure as everyone knew it. She hadn’t failed. The theory was correct. The modified use of the molecular assembler coupled with negative energy density was a success. She had achieved time travel no less than three times.
The first two times, she went back to that moment and place when and where Elliott had sacrificed himself to save others.
The first two times, she went back to that moment just before it happened and she fixed it so he would not sacrifice himself. But it didn’t work.
The final time, considering that maybe she was too close in time to the actual occurrence, or maybe that her connection to Elliott was a driver, Sophia went back to that moment before they met. They were in line to go on the ride and he saw her, and she saw him. They were supposed to get on the ride together, where there was a spark and where the two knew they were meant to be. Instead, she got out of line and walked away.
“I am sorry,” Sophia said. “I can’t help you.”
She picked up her cup of coffee and thermos and headed for the secured doors. She would stop having lunch on the bench and limit her campus activity to the research facility. She would disappear so Elliott could find some semblance of peace and happiness. Acceptance of what is.