"Maybe we ought to call the police," I gulped nervously, still trying to get the pounding in my chest under control.
"What," he objected, "and spend the rest of the day in a police station? Besides, my Earth identity isn't all that solid. A little poking around and I'd be in real trouble, and so would you." Wordlessly I allowed myself to be dragged along as we left the unconscious thug where he'd fallen. (Not that I felt sorry for him or anything.)
"All right," I demanded once we were safely on the road again, "suppose you tell me what that was all about. 'Bad bullets' my ass. And what did that plastic thingy have to do with it?"
"They are now," he grinned. "That 'plastic thingy' uses a combination of certain frequencies of light and sound to convert any lead styphnate within range into a harmless compound."
"Let me guess. Lead whatever-you-said is the explosive in bullets."
"Close," he agreed. "It's the detonator for the firing pin. Alan Brinkman invented this thing a few years ago when we were threatened with mass importation of firearms to the Twin Planets."
I could hardly believe my ears. "Brinkman? The Brinkman?" I'd idolized the legendary physicist for years. He'd mysteriously disappeared over a year ago from his teaching position at one of the California University branches and had never been heard from since. Gossip variously had it that he'd been shanghaied by one of the radical Moslem countries for nuclear weapons development, that he'd willingly gone to work for the Russian Mafia, and that he'd been abducted by aliens from outer space.
"That's him," Rann said. "He's been living on Deshtiris for quite a while now. He and the Empress go back a long way, I've heard." So that's what really happened to Alan Brinkman, I thought.
By now we were out of the downtown area and well into the many communities strung along Interstate 10 all the way to San Bernardino. Traffic was relatively light for a change. "Alan Brinkman, huh?" I marveled. "He's really on Deshtiris?"
"Yeah. You know him?"
"Sort of. He was part of the reason my parents split up. No, not like that," I added hastily, seeing the startled look on Rann's face. "I guess I better tell this story from the beginning."
A year and a half ago I'd entered a contest for the best physics paper from a high school student. I wound up receiving honorable mention; the winning paper had dealt with optical rotation in crystals. Mine was a speculative paper on the asymmetry of the universe.
A few weeks later I'd received a letter from Alan Brinkman. He'd been impressed by the ideas presented, he said, even as he pointed out several math errors and a major inconsistency that basically invalidated the entire paper. I had great promise, he thought. Would I consider coming to California University/Fontana to study with him? I wrote back explaining that I was only a sophomore in high school. No problem, he'd replied; when you do graduate, consider yourself as having a standing invitation. In the meantime, he did a free-form summer workshop where academic standing wasn't important; in fact it included people of all ages and backgrounds.
My mother, the believer in healing crystals and psychic forces, had been thrilled. We might have been on opposite sides of what amounted to a religious gulf, but for as long as I could remember she'd supported my enthusiasm for science with wholehearted sincerity. It wasn't long before we were looking at a calendar and making plans for me to attend.
When my father returned home I'd eagerly broken the news. His first reaction had been typical: science was for men, not girls. Just who did I think I was? Then Alan Brinkman's name had come up and he'd hit the ceiling.
"Don't you know anything about his reputation?" he'd raged. "The man's a notorious pervert. He should have been fired from Fontana years ago. He'll chase after anything in a skirt."
"I don't wear skirts, and I don't care if he's a sado-masochistic necrophiliac," I'd shot back. "He's the most brilliant physicist on the planet, and this is the opportunity of a lifetime for me."
It had taken me a moment to comprehend why I was on the floor, my face at first numb, then burning with pain. My father was standing over me yelling something, but I was too stunned to take it in. I felt something trickling down my face and wiped the back of my hand against my nose. It came away bloody.
And then my mother was there between us. "That's it, Matt," I heard her say in a tone I'd never heard her use before. "Don't you ever touch her again." For several seconds there'd been dead silence. "I want you out of this house within an hour," she'd continued quietly. "You can send someone for your things."
"You can't order me out of my own home," he'd shouted.
"No, I can't," she'd agreed. "But I can call the police, and I will if I have to." For a moment it looked as though he were going to slap her as well, but she didn't move a muscle. "Go ahead, Matt, hit me," she'd said calmly. "Your patients will read all about it in tomorrow's newspaper. Is that really what you want?" Her voice was perfectly steady. There are times when you find that someone you thought you knew has powers you never dreamed of. At that moment I discovered that my mother was Wonder Woman.
For a few seconds longer he'd stared at her, his face a frightening shade of red. I thought his eyes were going to pop out with fury. (I hoped they did.) Then he'd stormed out.
"Oh, Hal, dear, are you all right?" my mother said soothingly, as she knelt beside me and wiped the blood from my face. "Should I call a doctor?"
"I'll be all right," I said, my voice shaky. "It's just a nosebleed. Oh, Mom, your dress..."
"It's okay," she reassured me. "It's only a dress." After stuffing a few shreds of tissue into my nose she put her arms around me and held me tightly.
"Wow, Mom, you were fantastic," I managed. "I never knew you were so--" and then I was sobbing uncontrollably while she stroked my hair reassuringly.
Meanwhile, for the next half hour we heard my father storming around downstairs, throwing together a few necessities. Then we heard the door slam, and he was gone.
The next day she'd started divorce proceedings.
Oh, yes, about Alan Brinkman. I wrote him back, saying that I would really love to attend his next summer workshop. That was in October.
Then, the following April, he'd disappeared. That's the story of my life...
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|