The Orthogonal Galaxy

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Chapter 14

Conversation was light in the Palomar dining room on Saturday evening. The stresses of the evening before coupled with the grind of nighttime work in the astronomy induced significant fatigue on the part of Professor Zimmer’s graduate students. Each would eventually shake off the slumber of the day through their microwave dinners and choice of caffeinated beverages. Joram had already consumed half of his bottle of Coca-Cola, Reyd was sipping at his hot coffee, and Kath was savoring her peach-flavored iced tea. Engulfed in silence, the trio looked up from their meals as they heard the door to the room open.

“Professor Zimmer!” Kath exclaimed, relieved to see her mentor appear.

With bags under his eyes, it was clear that the toil of the last couple of weeks was even taking its toll on this seasoned astronomer, all too acquainted with nocturnal living.

“Hello!” Zimmer nodded and smiled. “I’m glad I’ll be able to assist you with your efforts this evening. I’m very sorry I left the three of you alone in your duties last night, especially considering the scare that you gave yourselves. However, I’m impressed with the accomplishments that you were able to make last night.”

“Accomplishments?” sneered Reyd, cutting a glance at Joram. “We spent the whole evening regenerating the same set of numbers from the same set of calculations.”

“Ah, but in the end, you made a discovery that has become a great piece of the puzzle,” Zimmer stated in a congratulatory manner.

After a brief pause, Kath broke the silence in an imploring tone, “Professor?”

“Yes, Kath.”

“I’m sorry that I jumped to such ridiculous conclusions last night.”

“Nonsense, Miss Mirabelle. They were not ridiculous at all. I was singularly impressed with your theory. It fit Mr. Anders’ calculations. It fit the manner of the brightening of the beam. It was a really clever piece of deduction.”

“Clever, indeed. It only took you five seconds to disprove it. I… I didn’t think it through enough.”

“Only because of experience, Kath. I’ve been around the block enough with scientific discovery that I’m constantly trying to analyze all of the data in an effort to disprove any theory which I might concoct, as it is always easier to prove a theory wrong than to prove one right. For example, take Einstein’s theory of relativity. It has dominated the thought process and laws of physics for centuries now, yet it cannot be proven. Just because we’ve observed that it holds true in a million and one experiments which have been conducted over many years doesn’t mean that experiment number one million and two will not provide evidence to disprove it—or at least provide a singularity to the theory. It would take infinite observational prowess to prove a theory, but it takes just one contrary piece of data to disprove it.

“That said, as you set forth your theory to me last night, my first objective was to disprove it. And so, I realized that the calculation of the distance from the beam to Mars was calculated by several teams over several days. All of these teams came up with the same number. 12,500 miles. This indicates that there was no motion of the beam towards the planet Mars, thus it could not be emanating away from the center of the Milky Way as you had proposed.

“Further, any such radiation would propagate through the empty expanses of the galaxy nearly at the speed of light. Had the beam been approaching from the center of the galaxy, we would have been hit with the radiation only minutes after it had rained its destructive powers down on Camp Mars.

“Further, we know that the radiation had already hit Earth, just not with the same punch that it had on Mars—which is most fortunate. We know that there was an unidentifiable impact of radiation on the side of the Earth which is facing in the direction of where the beam rests now. The Sun also received a radiation event at the same time as well.”

At this, Joram interrupted Zimmer. “That’s what’s got me confused, Professor. How can the event be synchronized between Earth, Mars and the Sun? How could it be omni-present at the same exact moment in time?”

“That, Mr. Anders… has cost me many a night of sleep in the last couple of weeks. It is a serious piece of the puzzle that must be understood, and as you know… in order to do that, we would be better served spending time over at 26, instead of here in the dining room.”

All three students got the hint, and each returned to their dinner and drink. Zimmer pulled an apple out of an oversized pocket on his windbreaker and instructed the team to meet him at the observatory as soon as they were finished with their dinner. The distinctive crunch of the juicy apple was clearly heard as the door shut behind him.

“I think your theory was brilliant, Kath,” Joram complemented. “You had Reyd and me convinced, you know.”

“It’s not so much the theory that’s bothering me.” Kath shared. “I really am starting to wonder if I really want to do this type of research. I’m afraid of what we might find.”

Reyd attempted to console her. “You know, Kath, even if we discover it without you, you’ll eventually know what the yellow beam is. As soon as the phenomenon of what happened here is understood, it will be broadcast to the world. You should be thrilled—honored—to be a part of it.”

“I know, but what if we actually come in contact with extra-terrestrial life, Reyd?”

“Well, they’re just as likely to be friendly as they are to be ornery, aren’t they? Besides in thousands of years of human history that we can piece together, what do we have to show for it in terms of any alien interaction?”

Joram, attempting to lighten the situation, fired off a fast answer to the question. “Well, we do have all of those accounts of alien abductions and UFO sightings.”

Kath pursed her lips and playfully slugged Joram in the shoulder. “Oh, stop it, Joram Anders.”

Joram simply shrugged his shoulders, covering up his smile by stuffing the last piece of lasagna in his mouth.

“Well, anyway, what do I really have to contribute to the team, anyway? I’m just a meteorologist, remember? I’m not an expert astronomer, or a computer whiz.”

Joram got serious. “Kath, you are a first-year astronomy graduate student, just like Reyd and me. We have an education in front of us. What better way to obtain it than to be on a research team, obtaining our knowledge of the universe from one of the world’s foremost astrophysicists. I have a feeling that we’re going to learn a lot as we continue to work with Zimmer. This project he’s assigned us to—it’s large, very large! When there are questions that Zimmer cannot answer…” He trailed off. Realizing that he had made his point, he opted to use his mouth to consume the remainder of his garlic bread and soft drink.

Being the first to stand up, Reyd and Kath took their lead from Joram and followed him to another evening of research.

On that evening, the four astronomers organized a plan to continue their study of the beam. They used computer models to calculate the trajectory of the circle around the Milky Way. After dispelling Kath’s emanation theory, the team returned to an orbital theory. That is, their major assumption at this point was that the beam was the trail of an object orbiting the center of the Milky Way, since the arc calculated by the team just the evening before perfectly represented an orbiting body.

For a couple of hours they tried to zoom in on the beam and study its undulating pattern. They had hoped to orient the direction of its travel, but they could not make out from the near-randomness of the oscillations which direction any of the radiation was traveling.

After a midnight break, the group returned to their stations to resume their work. The beam was undulating on all of the monitors, precisely where they left the telescope focused on it.

Shortly after sitting down, Reyd turned in his chair. “Hey, Kath. What’s the forecast for tonight anyway?”

“Clear skies. Why do you ask? Are you hoping to call it an early night, partner?” Kath winked playfully at him.

“No, but I do believe my eyes are clouding over, because it looks like the beam is more dim. I thought that maybe there was a light haze or perhaps marine layer developing.”

Professor Zimmer squinted at the screen from behind Reyd’s chair. “Are you sure it looks more dim, Reyd?”

“Well, it looks like it to me, but maybe my eyes are just fogging over during these late night studies.”

“Joram, Kath, what do you guys think? Does it look like it’s dimming?”

Joram shook his head, and Kath shrugged her shoulders.

Zimmer slapped his forehead. “Drats!” he exclaimed while stepping away from Reyd’s station. He quickly pulled out his cell phone and paced anxiously around the observatory.

“Hi, Stan. Carlton Zimmer here… Listen, I completely forgot that we should start a bolometer on the beam… I’d like to use the AstroLab for greater precision, and round-the-clock capability… Yeah, that’s all. No, wait… First, let’s go get the tangential points along the horizon of the curve. That should be about 7000 AU away… Thanks, Stan. I’ll be in touch on the analysis.”

After hanging up the cell phone, he could tell by the gaze of his students that an explanation was needed.

“That was Stan Rodgers, a mission specialist at Johnson. In fact, Stan was one of the specialists on duty the morning of the disaster on . Dr. Gilroy has given me 24-hour access to his team, and this happens to be Stan’s shift.

“Anyway, I can’t believe that I didn’t start bolometric analysis on this thing the moment it appeared in the sky. We should be measuring its luminosity constantly to see if we can determine what is emitting the light, how much energy it is giving off, and how quickly the energy is dissipating.”

Turning his focus back to the yellow beam, he continued, “I just hope that the adage ‘better late than never applies now’ because that is a huge oversight.”

“Professor.” Joram asked. “Did I understand that you were going to get measurements at either end of the beam?”

“Precisely,” Zimmer smiled at the observation. “As you no doubt had calculated, the orbit is 1.4 million miles away from here. At that, we can see about 7K AU away before we get to the visible horizon of its orbit. By taking a quick luminosity measurement at either end, we should be able to assess the direction of travel, since one end will be brighter than the other. The bright end is the one where the origin of the trail was more recently attended. That will help us determine the direction that this thing went as it flew by.”

Kath wanted to ask Zimmer a question, but she was afraid that this might not be the time, as he returned to the computer monitor where he stared intently at the live images of the beam on the monitors. Focused on the image, Kath whispered to Joram, “What the heck is a bolometer?”

“It measures electromagnetic radiation intensity. If the radiation is in the visible light spectrum, it is used to calculate the luminosity. No doubt Professor Zimmer would like to have the data on this beam as it has come into existence. If it is the tail of some orbiting object, then we can be certain that it will disappear. The rate of dissipation could help us determine what...”

Joram stopped dead in his tracks as the professor spun around with wide eyes. His first thought went back to that first day in class when he was sure that Zimmer noticed him whispering to Kath. He now thought to himself that Zimmer must have a very keen sense of hearing. Joram began to offer a lame apology for distracting the professor’s attention on his work.

“No, No, it’s not that,” Zimmer replied. “There’s something I just noticed about the beam that is very perplexing.”

The three students stood at attention waiting for this latest nugget of information from their mentor.

“Come look,” he pointed to the screen. “You see the thickness of the beam here. Since it is dimming, it appears as if the light is not solid, and yet, I can see no light coming from behind it. And now look at the edges of the beam here. It appears that there is a dark band both above and below the beam. Even where this beam is not giving off light, it appears to be obscuring the light behind it. Reyd, can you bring up the star atlas on the other monitor. I’d like to see what we’re missing in the sky if this beam is truly obscuring its background.”

Within a minute, the left monitor had an image very close to the one on the right, except that there was no yellow beam. This image was a digitally-rendered simulation of the same section of the night sky for their present location, date, and time. “Ok, so what I’d like to do, Reyd, is to follow the beam to the star Deneb,” Zimmer said.

“Alpha Cygni!” exclaimed Joram Anders. “Great choice, Professor. It should be right in the galactic plane such that it would be obscured by the beam.”

Zimmer turned in his seat and peered intently at his first-year graduate student. “Actually, Mr. Anders, if my calculations are correct, Deneb will still be perfectly visible in our sky. It will clear the beam to the north of the galactic plane. However, Deneb—or as you point out, Alpha Cygni—is the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, as well as one of the brightest stars in our sky, with an apparent magnitude of 1.25. While it is about 3500 light years away, its radius is more than 200 times that of our own Sun, making it about a quarter of a million times brighter.”

Kath pursed her lips together and let out a soft whistle. “200 times the size of our own Sun?”

“Yes, Kath,” confirmed Professor Zimmer. “As you may be aware from your primary school science instruction, there is an elementary analogy that demonstrates the difference between the size of the Earth and the size of the Sun.”

“Oh, yes,” Kath recalled excitedly. “If the Earth were the size of a garden pea, then the Sun would be the size of a basketball.”

“Great memory, Miss Mirabelle. Now, if our Sun were the pea, then you would have to be a giant to play the basketball of Deneb, because it would be over five feet in diameter.”

Kath reeled at this imagery. It was hard enough to imagine the size of the Earth, let alone the Sun. Now to find out how massive Alpha Cygni is in relation to our own Sun was simply hard to fathom.

“So, if I understand correctly, Professor,” said Joram closing in on Kath. “If the Sun is the size of a pea—” he said bending over slightly and holding his finger and thumb about a pea’s diameter apart in front of Kath’s abdomen. “—Then Deneb would be a five-foot tall basketball,” he said placing his other hand on top of Kath’s head.

Reyd attempted to suppress his laughter, but instead let out a bursting snort that was clearly heard by all.

Kath turned the corners of her mouth down and narrowed her eyes in feigned irritation. “Very funny, Mr. Anders.”

“Indeed,” said Zimmer dryly in mock agreement with the prank. “Anyway, Deneb will be very easy to find, and it gets me in the ballpark of the object I really want to look for—NGC 7000.”

“The North America Nebula?” asked Joram with some confidence in his question.

“That is correct, Mr. Anders.”

“Why that feature, Professor?” asked Kath with curiosity.

“NGC 7000, Miss Mirabelle, is about the size of the Moon in our night sky. And it will be very easy to see with our 26 here. While looking for stars only gives us certain points in the vicinity of the beam, the nebula will give us a cloud of ionized gas that we can use to find the border of obscurity and perhaps measure the width of the beam. Turning to Reyd, Zimmer restated his direction. “To Deneb, Mr. Eastman.”

“Yes, sir,” nodded Reyd and gave a glance towards Joram just before returning to the console.

Zimmer returned to the telescope platform to dial in the adjusted coordinates of Deneb as Reyd reeled them off. Joram and Kath watched as Reyd and Zimmer worked towards the bright star.

“How does that look, Mr. Eastman?” Zimmer asked.

After a pause, Reyd turned towards Zimmer. “Professor… I don’t see Deneb in this image.”

“Perhaps I misheard your coordinates, Mr. Eastman. Can you please repeat them?”

“Right ascension: 20 hours, 41 minutes, 25.9 seconds.”

“Got it.”

“Declination: Plus 45 degrees, 16 minutes, and 49 seconds.”

“Yeah that looks right,” Zimmer said shaking his head in dismay.

After several attempts, the team had to admit defeat. Deneb was nowhere to be found in the sky above the beam. Reyd pulled up both the live image on the left monitor and the digitized image on the right.

“I don’t understand,” Zimmer said quietly. “You can see that the beam’s obscurity borders are just below the indicated position for Deneb, and yet while other stars are visible, Deneb just isn’t there.”

“Deneb is a white supergiant, Professor.” Anders suggested. “As such, it is in its last phases of life. You don’t suppose…”

“Supernova, Mr. Anders?” Zimmer asked in amazement. “We would not have missed that event. And what are the odds of Deneb dying precisely with the beam?”

As silence ensued for a few moments, the team pondered this new mystery. Kath was the first to be heard. “Well, this may be a crazy idea…” Her voice trailed off, as the entire team wheeled around to see what Kath was thinking about.

“Go ahead, Miss Mirabelle.”

“Well, what if the yellow beam is the death of Deneb.”

“Not a bad piece of thinking,” Zimmer admired while rubbing his chin. “However, such an idea would only hold under your previous emanation theory. That is, the light would be emanating at the speed of light right past us if Deneb had already exploded some 3500 years ago—the time it would’ve taken for the light to reach us—and as we know, this beam is just not radiating in that manner. But, do remember, Team that we must not dismiss any crazy notion. Please speak every thought that comes to your mind.”

For some time, the team continued to stare at the two images. The next to break the silence was Joram. “Reyd, is there a way to overlay these two images?”

“Yes, I can make a transparent overlay of the digital image on top of the live image. However, you won’t really see anything new, because all of the stars in the digital image will simply sit on top of stars in the live image.”

“I’m not so sure that they will, Reyd.”

“What are you suggesting, Mr. Anders?” asked the professor as he leaned farther over in his chair.

“I’m not sure, Professor, but it looks like light may be bending towards the beam. As such, the light from Deneb would be pulled southward enough to be in the region of obscurity.”

“Well, ok… However, keep in mind that what you’re suggesting is that the beam is carrying a vast amount of mass to produce the gravity necessary to bend light, right, Mr. Anders?”

“I know, Professor. It’s a crazy idea.”

“But… as I said, no crazy notion dismissed.” Professor Zimmer conceded. “Go on, Mr. Eastman. Let us overlay the images. Heaven knows I have nothing better to suggest at this bizarre turn of events.”

Eastman worked the keyboard quickly, dialing in the correct menu settings to overlay the two images. The resulting image was a noisy chart of pinpoint lights of varying brightness and size all over the monitor.

The entire team leaned forward staring at the image with captive attention. At length, Zimmer’s eyes grew wide in recognition. “Reyd,” he said softly and calmly, as if in shock. “Falsify the color, please.”


“The digitized image. Can you falsify the color of the stars? Perhaps turn them all fluorescent green.”

“Oh, yeah, coming right up.”

With a couple of mouse clicks, the live stars maintained their yellowish-white glow while other green dots appeared across the screen.

The rest of the team quickly understood what they were seeing. Far away from the beam, the green dots overlayed perfectly with the stars, but going closer into the center of the image, where the yellow beam sat, pulsating its mesmerizing light, the green dots remained farther and farther away from the beam, while the live starlight grew closer and closer. And at least one green dot, the digital location of the star Deneb, was alone in the night sky, with its live counterpart completely missing. The light was indeed bending towards the beam, and those stars which were closest to the beam found that their starlight was completely consumed behind the obscure background of the beam itself. Another momentous discovery had been made, but as have been the case with all discoveries thus far, more questions were created than there were answers afforded.

While Reyd and Kath congratulated Joram on this huge find, Zimmer remained at the monitor studying the image. He began pacing and mumbling incoherently. The noise level of the trio of graduate students diminished as they understood that Zimmer was still consumed in thought and concern. The tension of silence resumed and was broken by a tension even greater in the form of a phone call.

“Dr. Gilroy,” breathed the crackling voice of Zimmer into his cell phone. “We have a huge problem… about the rescue mission… I’ll need to come to Johnson immediately.”

A voice droned and echoed throughout the domed room. “Apparent magnitude can be calculated as follows. The variable M-sub-x denotes apparent magnitude, where x denotes the specific band of electromagnetic radiation for which apparent magnitude we are measuring. Thus, M-sub-x equals negative two point five times log base ten of F-sub-x plus C. F-sub-x is the flux in the band x, and C is a constant calculated for the band of interest. As you already know from Maxwell’s equations, the flux can be derived by calculating the surface integral of an electromagnetic vector field…”

Kath could barely keep her eyes open. As her head began to nod, she forced herself to attention once more.

“… equation by John Henry Poynting, where S, representing the energy flux in watts per square meter, equals one divided by mu-sub-zero times E cross B, where mu-sub-zero is the magenetic constant, defined as four times pi times ten to the minus seven power…”

It was no good—Kath could not stay focused. She looked to her left and noticed that she was not alone in her inability to follow the monotone nature of Dean Scoville, filling in for the absent Zimmer. She looked to her right and saw more of the same. Heads propped up by hands on desks, gravity-afflicted bodies slinking out of seats towards the ground, and—you gotta be kidding? One student taking fastidious notes, consumed with rapt attention. A smile formed on Kath’s face. She couldn’t resist the moment.

“P-S-S-S-S-T.” The letters formed quickly on Joram Anders’s Digital Note Tablet inline with the notes he was rapidly copying from the whiteboard which Scoville had filled for the third time during the lecture. “One divided by the quantity two times mu-sub-zero times P times S times S times S times S times T all multiplied by E-sub-zero squared.”

Irritated, he looked up and glared at his fellow student. As Kath shrugged her soft shoulders in a most flirtatious manner, Joram felt a tingle in his stomach and knew that he couldn’t be the least upset with his delightful research partner.

He shook his head, fixed the equation, and returned his attention to Scoville—sort of. He could still feel Kath staring at him, and glanced over as she gave him a wink. He gave a sigh, looked over and mouthed the words “Stop it”, concerned about how easily she was able to steal his attention away from weightier matters.

After class, Joram had to scold her. “Note passing, Kath? Isn’t that a bit juvenile?”

“How could you focus on that lecture, Joram?” Kath attempted to change the subject.

“Kath, it’s not the speaker that I care about—it’s the subject.”

“I know, I know,” Kath surrendered. “I’m sorry, Joram. It’s just that I’ve been having a hard time sleeping. These weekends at Palomar are really throwing my body into sleepless disarray. I’m not sure if I’m cut out for astronomy, Joram.”

“Don’t say that, Kath.” Joram loathed the idea of losing Kath from the program. “Give it some time, you’ll adjust. It’s just been two weekends so far.”

“And then, with Scoville… I swear if Zimmer doesn’t get back soon, I’ll become infamously known throughout the department as Kath Van Winkle.”

“Speaking of Zimmer,” Joram took advantage of the segue, “What do you think he’s doing?”

“I suspect he’s still at Johnson.”

“Really? But he left on Sunday. Three full days?”

“Yeah, I suspect the longer he’s gone, the worse news it is on the rescue mission, not being able to figure out how to counteract the effects of gravity on the beam so close to the spaceship.” Kath’s voice trailed off.

“What’s wrong, Kath?”

“I just can’t help wondering about the astronauts. How awful it will be if we have to leave them up there. I understand they can survive for several months. What a miserable demise it will be to be left waiting that long. Talk about a slow death.” Kath stopped on the sidewalk and turned to Joram. “It could’ve been worse, you know.”

Joram returned a curious stare. “What do you mean?”

“If you hadn’t discovered the gravitational effects of the beam, we might have sent up a team of rescuers to an most unexpected and unfortunate doom. You have probably saved a handful of lives, Joram.”

“Well, before you award me with that medal of honor, the act wasn’t anything close to heroic, Kath. I just stumbled across something, that’s all… any of us could’ve done that. Besides, it was Zimmer’s decision to go find Deneb. Any other star, and we probably would’ve just looked over the detail.”

“Do you think a rescue mission is still possible?” Kath asked the question that had weighed on her mind all week long.

“I’m confident that Zimmer will come up with a way to save them—and study that beam too.”

“But how, Joram? What would you do to save those astronauts in light of the gravitational risks of the beam?”

“I really don’t know, Kath. I suspect that we might need to take advantage of the beam’s gravity. Use it as a slingshot to hurl us away from Mars and then bring us back in a sort of orbit around the beam perhaps. It might take a lot longer to get there, depending on how strong the gravity of the beam is, but what’s a few more weeks, or even a couple of months if need be to bring those astronauts back. Any politician who loves his career is going to do all that he can to bring those men back alive.”

“I sure do hope you’re right, Joram.”

The pair resumed their course through campus at a leisurely rate, when Kath’s cell phone rang in her backpack. Opening the phone up, she looked at the caller’s phone number and gasped. “It’s Zimmer!” she said quietly to Joram, as if the professor might overhear her.

Without saying a word, Joram gestured anxiously for her to answer.

“Hello, Professor… Really? Oh, that’s great news… launch on Friday… oh, I’m so relieved. But what about the gravity? I’m sorry, say that again… But… I don’t understand… Houston, you say? Weekend after next… Wow… yeah that will be great! Joram? Oh, he’s probably too busy reviewing Dean Scoville’s notes after the last lecture to turn his cell phone on…”

Joram’s jaw dropped as he threw open his backpack and rummaged through its contents looking for his phone.

“Yeah… he says he’s really enjoying the dean’s lectures… he’s absolutely smitten with the man’s intelligence…”

Joram looked horrified. This little prank was just going too far, and he made gestures to get her to stop—frantically waving hands, jumping up and down, making slicing motions across his neck, reaching out as if to strangle her for this level of imprudence.

“Just kidding, Professor… he’s right here with me. We just got out of 21, you know… yeah, I’ll let him know… See you on Friday.”

Kath roared with laughter. “You should’ve seen your face, Joram Anders.”

Joram stood there motionless, not wanting to give away any emotion, but as he watched her jubilantly engaged, with her soft brunette hair bouncing around her face he felt his irritation, once again, melt into attraction.

Taking a deep breath, she composed herself once again. “Let’s go to the Red Door Café, and I’ll tell you all about the call.”

Joram jumped at the offer, all too eager to hear progress of Zimmer’s activities. Joram prodded her for information all the way, but Kath refused to divulge any details until she had a peach-flavored iced tea to drink.

“Well?” Joram asked as he and his raspberry lemonade took a seat next to Kath.

Kath held up a finger to hold off Joram just a moment longer. She took a swig of her tea along with a long drawn out breath.

“Are you quite sufficient to talk now, my lady,” Joram said bowing to his regal companion.

In a burst, Kath let out all of the details of the conversation in the longest run-on sentence that Joram was ever aware of hearing. “Zimmer said there’s no worry about gravity; after studying the gravitational effects of the beam on Mars, they realized that the light was not bending because of gravity, but for some other phenomenon, because the beam had not shown any effect whatsoever on Mars; of course, we’re going to have to figure that one out now too, you know, but Zimmer said he’ll brief us on that the next time we’re at Palomar, which won’t be for a week and a half, but let me get back to that little detail later; anyway, the mission will resume with just one day of delay, so the launch will be on Friday afternoon instead of Thursday morning; the professor needed extra time to add a few items for studying the light-bending phenomenon up close; the mission is going to launch the experimentation equipment prior to landing on Mars in 18 days, which means that the experiments will begin on our next research weekend, not this weekend but the next one, but of course, you already know that; what you don’t know, however, is that we’ll not be going to Palomar that weekend, we’ll be going to Houston instead, in order to be in the rescue mission control room while the experiments are under way; Zimmer thought it would be best for us to be there collecting data in real time; by the way, Zimmer was steamed that you didn’t answer your cell phone when he tried to call you first…”

“What?” Joram’s jaw dropped. “But… but… but c’mon we just got out of class. I didn’t have a chance to turn it…” Joram cut himself short recognizing the look in Kath’s eyes. “Oh, I am so gullible. Would you just stop doing that to me? How many times will I fall for it?”

Kath chuckled. “Hook, line and sinker.”

“Yeah, but just you wait, Kather Mirabelle. I’ll start recognizing your bait before long, and then you’ll have to pick up and move to a different pond, because this fish ain’t gonna bite anymore.”

Kath feigned an expression of seriousness. “Oh that will be a sad day, Joram Anders… a sad, sad day.” Looking at her watch, she finished her tea hurriedly. “Would you look at the time? We should get going. I’m meeting a friend at the tennis club for a game this afternoon, and you need to start reviewing those notes from Scoville.”

With a quick peck on the cheek, Kath immersed herself in the crowded walkways of the CalTech campus. Joram watched and admired her gait for as long as he could see her. After she disappeared, he allowed the moment with Kath and the news from Zimmer to settle in while enjoying the rest of his lemonade.

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