Keeping Up with Scotty

They walked briskly together down the sidewalk and paused at the corner to wait for a break in traffic. Lewis's mind was full of questions, but once again, he couldn't figure out where to start. It seemed abundantly clear to him that it was Mr. August's job to begin the conversation-- as he was the one who had waited for Lewis without any assurance or even the slightest indication that Lewis was even coming-- and yet, the man said nothing. Was it Lewis's place to explain why he had followed, when the man had apparently anticipated that he would do so? How did he know? How could he possibly have known? Lewis, deciding that this was a fair question with which to break the ice, cleared his throat.

"Mister, um, Doctor August... " he began.

"Scotty."

"Scotty, then. Were you waiting for me outside the pub?"

"Yes," said Scotty.

"How did you know I would come out?"

"I saw it in your face."

"I don't understand," said Lewis. "I wasn't planning to follow you or anything... It was just, this completely random decision at the last minute. I had a question, that's all."

"A bunch of questions, actually," said Scotty. "Why don't you ask them already?"

"Well..." said Lewis. But he couldn't think of an argument. He was still quite unsatisfied by this explanation, but here was a perfect opportunity for him to start asking away, and he couldn't possibly ignore it.

"What's this trans-dimensional rocket capsule you were talking about?"

They crossed the street together, walking at the same uncomfortably fast pace as before, and Scotty launched into an explanation.

"I've been working on trans-dimensional transportation for a while now see, and I've built this machine to blast little capsules through a sort of vortex and come out somewhere across the world. Basically. Well, only two of them have actually shown back up. The first one landed here, but it was jammed shut and I couldn't open it, and I finally got it open a minute ago, but pretty much everything in there was too damaged to be any use. Which is actually a good thing, but anyway. I have to go track down the second one now. Just got the signal from it while I was here."

He seemed like he had much more to say, but paused enough for Lewis to jump in.

"What was inside the capsule?"

"Sensors and stuff. Tracking devices so I can find it later, temperature and pressure sensors, cameras, you know."

"So why is it a good thing that those are all broken?"

"Ah! Good question," said Scotty. "I've sent about a dozen of these things and haven't heard back from any of them until now. But I haven't got a clue what happened to them. Did they explode before they ever entered the vortex? Did they get crushed while they were in there? Did they go through it but come out someplace where I can't track them? Or, maybe they actually did come through, and the only reason I haven't heard from them is that the tracking devices are all broken. That's what I'm hoping for, of course. So, in this one here," he nodded toward the steel case he was carrying, "everything was broken except most of the tracking stuff. That didn't work exactly right either-- It was supposed to lead me to the precise location, but it only got me within a few kilometers. Still, can't complain. Because that means it's likely the other ones are all damaged too, so maybe the transport really worked."

Lewis considered this. It made sense if he didn't really think about it, but when he did, it was all a bit crazy. He wondered whether Scotty could be making this up. That would mean that he had been making it up when he'd told the bartender about it... which would have been the obvious thing to do, Lewis realized, if the bartender had asked what Scotty had been doing, and if what he'd really been doing was something complicated and scientific and way over the bartender's head. Lewis suddenly felt extremely embarrassed for having taken this blatant lie to be true. And, on top of that embarrassment, he had gone out of his way to inquire about the details of this ridiculous tale, and had no easily discernible way to get out of the conversation without admitting that he no longer believed the story. This was the most awkward day of Lewis's life, and didn't appear to be getting any better. 

Scotty had stopped talking, and Lewis was anxious to break the silence. With... something. Anything. Surely his words would start to make sense on their way out of his mouth...

"Are you... How... What is... " he paused for a breath. "Are you making this up?"

Scotty laughed. "Why would I lie to you... what was your name?"

"Lewis Gladstone."

"Why would I lie to you, Lewis Gladstone?"

"I don't know," said Lewis. "Maybe because you have more important things to do than explain yourself to me?"

Scotty laughed again. "I do have important things to do, sure. But if you hadn't noticed, I'm doing it right now. I'm walking. And as soon as I get to the plane, I'll be flying. So in the meantime, why not have a chat with a stranger?"

"So you're telling me, this stuff is all real? You really have a machine that sends a box across the world instantaneously?"

"Well, this one was instantaneous. Thing is, the one I'm about to go find, I launched it two weeks ago. Only just heard back from it today. So I don't know what happened. Could have been transported instantaneously but come out broken-- like the others, I hope-- and been found by someone who was able to fix it. But that seems unlikely. On the other hand, maybe it spent two weeks traveling through the vortex. But that seems unlikely too, and even more unlikely that it would still have come out in decent enough condition to ping me its location. Fascinating, isn't it? Can't wait to find it!"

Lewis could see the genuine boyish excitement on Scotty's face as he spoke, and, true enough, wanted very much to believe it all. But he was still hesitant. Lewis had no real scientific education. He enjoyed reading scientific articles, but only understood them from a layman's perspective. As a journalist, he was keen on picking up small details and noticing and remembering things that the casual reader might miss; and perhaps for this reason he felt that he understood science slightly more than the average non-scientist. And he was certain that if he'd ever read anything about objects being able to travel through vortices to different locations around the planet instantaneously, he would have remembered it quite distinctly.

And yet, Scotty August had published a groundbreaking study on neurology that had first baffled and then humbled the top neurologists in the world. Was it so unlikely that he could have discovered something new in another field? Perhaps Lewis needed to change his angle a bit.

"Weren't you a neurobiologist?"

For a split second, Scotty paused, and Lewis thought they were going to stop walking. But it passed so quickly he could hardly be sure it had even happened.

"I was. Still am. Did you read my work then?"

"I read about it," said Lewis. "I didn't read the actual work. I wouldn't have understood all the technical stuff."

"How do you know that if you didn't read it?" Scotty turned to look at Lewis. "You seem pretty smart to me."

"Oh, um," Lewis stuttered. "Thanks. I just, never studied much science. I prefer to let people who do understand it translate it for me into something more straightforward. Less math and symbols, you know. I'm just a journalist."

"Sure," said Scotty. "Well, whatever works for you, I suppose."

"What happened after you published your study, though?" asked Lewis. "They say you never responded to anyone who tried to contact you. Didn't you want to... I don't know... hold seminars, or... debate with the people who opposed you, or something? Get some actual recognition for it?"

"Someone opposed me?" asked Scotty, amused. "Who was it?"

"Oh, no, I just meant... There's bound to be someone trying to disprove everything, right? I don't know of anyone in particular though." 

"Oh," said Scotty, seeming almost disappointed. "Well, to answer your question, no. I didn't want to do any of that. That sounds really boring, don't you think?"

"Hmm. I guess so," said Lewis. "I sort of thought of it as a reward for all your hard work. But, if you've got better things to do..."

"Damn right I do! Things aren't going to fling themselves through wormholes, are they?"

"I should hope not," said Lewis. Scotty laughed.

They walked on in silence, as Lewis contemplated all the things they'd said. For once, this was a silence which he didn't feel an urgent need to break, so he gratefully took his time with it.

They were past the part of town that Lewis was familiar with. The shops and bars and restaurants had turned into small houses, which had turned into spaced-out larger houses, which were dwindling in number the farther they went. Finally they turned a corner around a large, fancy brick house and entered an open field of wild, unkempt grass. And there, right in the middle of the field, was a small white plane with the word August painted on the side in large brown cursive letters.

"Here we are!" said Scotty, wading through the tall grass toward the plane. Lewis followed.

"Is this your plane?" he asked, then silently scolded himself for asking such a dumb question.

"Yep."

"Then... you're a neurobiologist, and a pilot, and you study teleportation?"

"Something like that, yeah," said Scotty.

"That's quite a lot to be keeping up with," said Lewis. "Do you ever get tired?"

"Not if I can help it." Scotty smiled. "You coming or staying?"

Lewis-- surprised by, among other things, the offhandedness of this invitation-- answered, "You mean, you would just take a stranger on a plane with you to go find some capsule in the middle of nowhere, no questions asked?"

"Never said I wouldn't ask you questions," said Scotty. "I thought I'd let you work through some of yours first, though."

"That was polite of you," said Lewis.

"I try," said Scotty.

"Right, then... so, next question. WHY are you willing to take a stranger on a plane with you to go find some capsule in the middle of nowhere?" This time, for once, Lewis was pleased with the accuracy of his question, and was positive it would ensure a satisfactory answer. This, after all, was the nature of a good question.

Scotty paused for a moment before answering, "Because I'd rather take you with me than have you follow me on your own."

Lewis, taken aback, stood still and watched Scotty begin putting on his helmet and jacket and preparing the plane for the trip.

"I wouldn't follow you," he said after a moment. "Honestly, I just wanted to talk for a bit, see if you were telling the truth, I don't know."

"You're right," said Scotty. "You don't know. But trust me, you would have followed me all the way here if I hadn't waited for you outside the bar. And I don't know how you'd follow me to Artigas, but I'm sure you'd find a way. You're smart. And you're a journalist! And I'm an elusive scientist that no one else has gotten a chance to question, and you find that interesting. Anyway, the point is, are you coming or not? I could use an extra pair of hands. I can't say exactly when I'll get you back home, but I get the impression you don't have much to return to, am I right?"

Lewis gaped. How on earth...? But there would be time for speculation later, and the fact was, Scotty was right. There wasn't much holding him to this town anymore, and no one in it would mind seeing the back of him. He waved away a fleeting warning of possible danger. It was time for one of those annoying fast decisions again. But somehow, this time, he felt almost comfortable making it. 

"Why not," he said. "I'm coming."

"Good!" Scotty tossed him a helmet. "Suit up."

The End

4 comments about this story Feed