Episode 7: Sophia Page Mitchell
A gray stone exterior with a modern, standing seam metal roof. One floor, with no windows. Two doors, one at the front and an emergency exit at the rear. Both required keycard access and only those with certain government credentials could enter.
Relative to the other buildings on campus that catered to a student population, the facility was small, square, inconspicuous. It could have easily been mistaken for a maintenance building and sat back from the main student path, partially concealed by evergreens.
The school had a stellar reputation. A small liberal arts college with a population of 5,124, known for its modern architecture, open spaces that encouraged collaboration, and a psychology program that rivalled even the bigger universities.
Named after a famed behavioral science researcher, the campus was constructed in the 1950s next to the town where the researcher spent his final days. A sleepy town for generations where most worked at the nearby quarry, the evolution of the college brought about a neighboring renaissance with a busy main street full of cafes and shops. When the quarry closed, jobs changed, people moved away, others moved in, and the socioeconomics of the town changed. A place was carved out for the intellectual elite from the college. There was a host of professionals and entrepreneurs wanting to cohabitate within a college town culture and the leftover families there for generations doing the work that supported the backbone, from the mechanic to the local hardware store. And still others who waited tables and cleaned bathrooms and picked up trash. A microcosm of the greater country’s disparities.
There was gossip, like any small town. When neighbors know each other, they talk to each other about the neighborhood. Seldom did the conversation involve the college, less the occasional griping about the occasional drunk college student being disorderly. That is, until the unassuming building was constructed at the far end of the campus – the experimental physics building.
There was a sound. A low, humming vibration like the frequency range of the bass guitar, thumbing the lowest notes over and over. A driving rhythm. Fast like punk rock or speed metal, or even synth pop, dance, the hypnotic bass. The pounding, the big low beat that could be heard on campus, and travelling outward to the town. On Thursday nights, only, like clockwork, around ten pm or so, the houses rattled. The ground reverberated. The rhythmic pumping, deep low, would last for twenty-five minutes. Then disappeared abruptly.
The sound started three weeks after the building was constructed. That’s when Sophia Page Mitchell returned to her hometown to oversee the secretive goings on within the walls of the facility.
Sophia started working for the federal government in the area of applied physics as soon as she received her Ph.D., because the government had the funding and enough interest to permit her to explore notions that were contemplated at the fringes of practical science. Years after first accepting an offer from the Department of Defense, she was building on the work of pioneering theoretical physicists scratching the surface of the possibilities on a quantum level, and even the more controversial propositions that questioned the very nature of reality, and potentially the pliability of consciousness.
The notion, the range of possibilities were unveiled to Sophia that summer night when she was 15, and she was transported hundreds of yards to be dropped into deep dark water, only to return dry. Something she would have eventually chalked up to imagination coupled with the adrenaline and stress of the evening. If not for her experience with one of the lights, which in close view was revealed to her as a tiny orb of energy, she would have left the whole thing in the realm of the imagination. As she considered the mere seconds of that evening, of her life, throughout the years of study, explanations always came back to the idea of consciousness.
As she furthered her education, Sophia’s theories evolved, and finally could be synthesized into equations, with certain assumptions about what the orb was, and how it was a conduit to the brief journey, and how much energy it produced, and how it acted on a quantum level. Of course, the equations would remain theoretical if they could not be put to the test.
Her theories received mostly skepticism from her peers in the scientific community. The idea of consciousness being pliable at the quantum level was more philosophical even though it was proposed by physicists. What consciousness actually was alluded science. It was real, but how was it real and what propelled it?
Sophia’s equations relied on a hypothetical energy source from an orb she could not prove actually existed. A child’s imagination, maybe. A teenager’s anger manifested into escapism, some would say. Sophia saw the orb as real as the waters that rippled in the quarry. She felt the sensation of the unknown thing perforating her skin and muscles and organs. The sensation was indescribable, but very real.
Along with the criticism, there was interest as well, the most enthusiastic being the federal government, imagining the possibilities for military use. The ultimate stealth. She received plenty of funding, finally a brand new building and particle accelerator to be built where she could find that theoretical energy source.
Sophia left out the most controversial part of her experience at fifteen. When she was thrusted from the shore of the quarry lake to its deep middle, for those brief seconds, night turned to day, and an abandoned quarry was alive with mining sounds, laborers and heavy construction equipment. For a few seconds, as she flailed about in the water, seemingly, Sophia had gone back in time.