“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing consolation, because they are no more.”
—Jeremiah 31: 15
“You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.”
—memorandum, Jay S. Bybee
4. As Lewis turns, he sees a tall man hurrying down the steps toward the water where the huge ships are passing slowly under the crumbling bridge, their decks piled with containers bound for Bermuda or Saigon or the Panama Canal. The Verrazzano still burns eight weeks after the last salvo, occasionally dripping red-hot chunks of tarmac in slow motion onto the ships below. Last month, one freighter arriving from Shenzhen caught a huge piece of molten pavement as the wide boat floated on its way under the bridge toward the terminal. It sank flaming before it reached Bayonne, a viking funeral for 1.1 million video games, 5,600 large orange stuffed dogs, and 31 men ranging in age from 19 to 64. A passenger, a Middle Eastern man in his fifties, survived, and was detained, though there is no suggestion that he had been involved in the fire that consumed the ship, which had an obvious cause, or any other manner of harm. He is said to be badly burned. Lewis is worried about the man; one of his grad students advocated causing a public fuss at the college over it.
The steps lead down from a foot-bridge that arcs over the highway running along the water; between the highway and the bay itself is a sidewalk, where people used to jog and walk their dogs. Now nobody comes out here any more, except Lewis, and him, only to catch the disgusting fish. With his rod propped against the railings, Lewis watches with clinical interest as the man and a companion—short and fat, who follows him at a slower pace—clamber over it, a few yards further down the sidewalk. Beyond the railing there is a drop of eight or nine feet; there is nothing but rocks below the wall, Lewis thinks. Then, out of old habit, he looks with a laboratory eye, for what he is not used to seeing, and notices a dinghy, perched on the rocks below the railing. It is hastily painted matt black except for several scrapes where yellow rubber can be seen through it. A man stands on the rocks by the grounded dinghy, nervously fingering the cord around a very old motor he has hauled up out of the water and into the boat. A pair of oars, for stealth, sit in its shallow cavity.
Lewis leans over the railing himself to watch as the two try to lower themselves onto the rocks, the tall one helping his companion over the rails, the fat one trying to move quickly and comically pedaling the air, seeking purchase on the rocks a few feet below. Lewis does not particularly like or trust strangers, especially not at the moment, but no fish are biting. He reels in the drowned bug impaled on his little fishing hook and shoulders the rod; he picks up the five-gallon paint bucket he has optimistically filled with clean water for his catch, and he walks down toward the pair trying to get into the boat to see if he can help. The thinner one, he sees as he gets closer, has brown skin and curly black hair. The companion’s face turns away quickly; something he’d mistaken for a belly shifts under a too-large coat.
Lewis hears shouting from further up the walkway; one man in uniform is berating another man in uniform for something. Lewis has almost reached the pair trying to board the boat. The shouting intensifies. Lewis worries that he has left his driver’s license up the hill in his apartment and that this will complicate any interaction with the police, although these men do not appear to be NYPD.
He comes up close enough that he will not need to shout over the traffic to be heard. “Need a hand?” he asks in conversational tones. The man looks up at him, and then at the bridge, where the uniformed figure being dressed down sees him, suddenly, and points over his superior’s shoulder.
5. Lewis’s death comes as a shock to Peter. Peter still is not recovered as he sits with the emitter turned on, staring straight ahead, talking to Lewis, who is not there. Guiltily, he dials a vitally important phone number he has forgotten until now to call but it doesn’t even ring; it only makes a garbled, electronic sound like a violin in jello. The emitter makes no sound at all, gives off only a very faint blue light. It merely troubles the atmosphere in front of it, in a wave of visible distortion like heat, though the area is very cold in front of the dome-shaped enclosure where Lewis’s pet particles may or may not move. The apparatus looks like a flashbulb from an old movie; Peter has plugged it into a wall outlet and will catch hell from the chair of the department when the electric bill comes due, he knows. Lewis is in enough trouble for insisting that the retransmitter stay on permanently. But Lewis is dead.
No other lights in the laboratory are on. He ought not to be here. He has brought with him a large pipe wrench he used to fix his radiator three years ago; he keeps it in case he needs to storm the barricades, he tells his fellow TA, Ana, who visits his apartment sometimes, like a zoologist examining the habitat of a promising primate.
Peter Gorman, doctoral candidate in physics, drinks a bit more of the bottle of bourbon he took from Lewis’s office, using the keys he got from the cop yesterday. He has been here more or less since he got up, eating nothing, drinking to excess, slurring his imprecations at the absent older man, lecturing about the inhumanity of the less-24s decree and the fate of the Rahebs. He refers Lewis’s ghost back to the front page of the New York Times the week previous, the now-famous photo of a woman in jeans and a t-shirt named Rachel something kneeling, pleading before a man in SWAT armor who holds her off with one hand, a heavy white cloth bag in the other, a little foot clearly pushing down on the interior of the bag. He lists Lewis’s failings mechanically, his lecture a tour de force assembled around the gaping hole of Lewis’s death: The raft, the bay, the misunderstanding with DHS, the manhunt for the dangerous, vanished migrants. The emitter pulses blue. No one is there. Peter is drunk.
His mentor was cautious, and as apolitical as you could be and still look at yourself in the mirror, or so Peter has always felt. Peter would bellow to Lewis about the procedural stupidity of the EL faction in their eternal war with the AR party, often while wearing one of many t-shirts with a huge, stylized L on it, Lewis sitting patiently in his office and looking closely at him as though worried that Peter might actually jump out of his skin in an especially vigorous fit of rage.
Physics were not politics, Lewis would say, again and again, a bromide that only further caffeinated Peter, who told him that of course everything was political especially the hard empirical truth, that facts necessitated action, that the action must be taken, and he would soon write strong words telling everyone so. A man who proved out theoretical particles should understand that, he would tell Lewis in scolding tones, in an effort to at least squeeze a little anger out of his moral lodestar, a tactic that had never worked before and would not work now.
And write Peter did, reams upon reams. The police came to visit him twice; Peter loved that and as soon as they’d first left his apartment, *which they’d entered without a warrant*, wrote about it in florid detail. He had hoped for criminal charges from the state against himself, ideally of sedition, and a trial, where he would represent himself, but none came, only silence. He felt very white and privileged and that made him angrier and he wrote more, interviews with union leaders and heartbreaking profiles of prisoners’ mothers, for newspapers and for magazines and on his blog, but nothing helped. No one cared. Why read when you’ve won? he asked himself bitterly. Why learn anything new?
The theft of the retransmitter had enraged him the most. Peter was certain its inconvenient timing had been intentional and not a coincidence; Lewis was fairly confident that the little device, which he’d assembled in the housing of a television, had been stolen and fenced in a more traditional fashion. Crime was on the rise. Everyone knew who to blame, but no one agreed about who that was.
The cop who came at the end of Christmas break to visit Peter the second time, on behalf of Lewis, was a local man; Peter had seen him around the neighborhood in bars and getting coffee. They’d bonded over the awful thing at the Rahebs’ Middle Eastern deli just a few days earlier, Peter remembered. He had reached unsuccessfully for some requisite anger at authority and greeted the man, whose name he couldn’t remember. The cop was tall and Hispanic with a manicured moustache and a dimpled chin, his hair cut close, skinnier than most of the gym rat guys who patrolled and lived in the area around the bridge, where they loved to blast up 4th Avenue in the dead of night in crouching blue or black American sports cars, their windows tinted, mufflers packed with glass to make a sound like a lawnmower constantly about to start.
“I got bad news,” the cop had said with practiced sincerity: “Your friend Lewis Rathburn is dead. I’m real sorry. I brought his effects because I thought you might not wanna come down to the station, so you just have to sign this.” He held up a form. “You’re his emergency contact at work and I knew your name when the lady at the college told me.” Peter signed and stared, stricken. “Teresa felt bad after that thing you wrote about her getting on your case,” the cop continued. “I don’t blame you, but you know. She doesn’t ask for those jobs, nobody does. If we didn’t have to clear the fuckin’ ticket pad we wouldn’t do that shit either.”
“How did he die?” asked Peter.
“Ohh,” the cop said, and sighed. “Some DHS guys shot him a couple weeks ago. It’s really confusing. I’m sorry it took so long to get in touch with you. He wasn’t carrying ID. It wasn’t one of us. I hate those dudes. Not all of us hate them but I do. Write about it if you want, just don’t put my name in it.”
“I won’t,” said Peter. “Thank you.”
“You want a drink or something?”
They went down to the bar across the street, in an old fire station, where there were theatrical moans from the crowd of Giants fans every time the game was interrupted by the news: there were more fires, none close by, some in places Peter had visited, some man-made, some caused by unseasonable drought. Radiation abatement programs on Staten Island desperately needed volunteers over the long holiday weekend and for New Year’s Eve. The images Peter imagined and the images he saw between downs and forward passes ran together; he ordered them each a double scotch but the cop insisted on paying.
It was good to talk to the cop. The demise of the deli had been unnerving and he’d spoken of it to no one, not even Lewis. Samir and Samia Raheb, the two Sams, had simply been gone one day last week, as had their staff; no one was sure exactly when. The store had stood open, unlocked and unmanned until Peter noticed it was open on Sunday. Samir, the gold crucifix always around his neck, would never have opened the store on Sunday, not at gunpoint. Peter saw the cop standing outside in his NYPD Scuba Team t-shirt. He looked at Peter.
“Stinks in there,” he said. “All the food’s spoiled.” Peter stood and watched while the cop called it in; the dispatcher said a report had already been made.
“When?” the cop asked. Two weeks ago, the radio said.
“Fine,” said the cop. He and Peter carried the trays of spoiled crab cakes and spoiled bhaba ghanouj and spoiled pork chops and spoiled walnut paste and a huge vat of cold tomato soup that smelled like death. He emptied them all into reinforced black trash bags they found under a sink with dirty dishes still in it in the back of the store.
“Isn’t this evidence?” Peter asked. “Shouldn’t you put up crime scene tape?”
The cop looked at him steadily and Peter had the impression, not for the first time, that a person he had just met was trying to decide whether he was an idiot or a troublemaker. “I don’t think so,” the cop said. “If there’s an investigation, you can give a statement and say I told you to do all this.”
“*If* there’s an investigation?” Peter insisted. “Why would you not investigate an obvious missing persons case?”
“That’s a good question,” the cop replied, and emptied an awful-smelling tray of stuffed previously green squashes into one of the trash bags. Peter was stricken. He had loved the squashes, now he would never eat one again.
He didn’t say anything else; they finished throwing away the food in silence. When he was done, the cop had hugged him with such suddenness that Peter at first resisted, then hugged back.
“They had a nephew,” the cop told Peter. “Yusuf. Sweet kid. Worked at the CVS, gigantic chip on his shoulder. They haven’t heard from him in a bit and they’re worried with all the shit. Do you political guys ever hear from people in trouble?” Peter shook his head. Us political guys usually just talk to each other and fight on Twitter, he said. “Okay, well, here’s the nephew’s phone number,” the cop said, and scrawled it on the back of a business card, with his name on it, which he thrust at Peter. Peter took the card.
“I can’t call him,” the cop had said. “Somebody else has to call him.”
Peter remembers it as a strange moment.
6. In the bar, Peter thanked the cop for the drink and asked him how he’d been. They talked and bullshitted and complained about what an awful season the Giants were having, look at them, the fucking Atlanta Falcons are murdering them, they’re like if the Washington Generals were a football team and everybody else was the Globetrotters.
“What do you do?” the cop asked. “I thought you were a poli-sci guy but Rathburn was physics.”
Rathburn was the smartest person alive, Peter told him, smarter than anyone in the world, maybe smarter than Einstein. What happened to him? You have to tell me.
“It’s the thing with the Rahebs,” the cop says. “The Sams. There was all this bullshit about them having a less-24 hidden, God only knows how anyone got that idea. And most of the guys in the 68th won’t take people’s less-24s. They know that’s not right. I mean a few guys will. The ones you’d expect. I guess, it gets really easy to get a promotion if you do it, even, like, once, so that’s why. I guess they hope all the higher-ups will eventually be those guys, who’ve done it at least once and know what it’s like. But so now they have Feds come down here and chase people around, make a big fuss, tell everyone they don’t just get to obey the laws they like, your less-24s are the next generation’s domestic threats, that’s how we got into this mess and blah blah blah.
“I mean it’s literally word for word the same lecture from each of these interchangeable assholes. It’s not always the same guy but it might as well be. They go home after a few days and we get to clean it up and of course everybody fucking hates us because of them.” The cop empties his tumbler. “I had a domestic homicide last month, I couldn’t even get the *neighbors* to talk to me. They just ‘weren’t home.’ I mean what am I, gonna bang on people’s door shouting ‘I know you’re in there’ like somebody’s crazy drunk boyfriend? That one’s still open. Probably will be until the guy does something else. I mean, I know who did it. The whole family knows. But I have no evidence. Because nobody trusts anybody now.
“So yeah the Rahebs are gone somewhere. I don’t know where, but at least whoever’s there’s got good food.” The cop grins and looks at Peter for affirmation and doesn’t get it. “It’s fucked up, though,” he concedes. “We all know it.”
7. Ana finds Peter before anyone else does. He is hungover, or rather, has been drunk all night, and is too stupid with it to fight her taking away the bottle, which, blessedly, still holds enough liquid to suggest that Peter will live. She gives him the bag of McDonalds she really, really wanted to eat herself, because who needs to take your ungrateful not-a-boyfriend to the ER for alcohol poisoning first thing on Tuesday. He can chew, at least, she observes. She considers telling him he has a class today and thinks better of it; instead she guides him up to Lewis Rathburn’s office, which is empty, and arranges him on the pine-and-vinyl love seat opposite the window, under a framed photo of Richard Feynman at the chalkboard. She goes to the bathroom, dumps out the ridiculous spheroid bottle of Blanton’s into the sink and fills it with water, then puts it next to the love seat on the floor. He says something she likes to believe is “thank you.”
She goes back downstairs to survey the mess; Peter appears to have smashed poor old Lewis’s pride and joy, which he swore up and down proved the existence of theoretical particles by emitting them, which Ana’s own mentor, the amazing Harriet King, often said was putting the cart before the horse, with a chortle that makes Ana hate her a little. Harriet is a truly gifted scientist, someone for whom the answers to brain-destroyingly complex logarithmic equations are as self-evident as the color of a flower. Ana has the fingerprint of this quality on her own brain, too, she knows; it is not a trait much admired in women, who do not get to be irascible geniuses, only bitches. The sorority of arithmetic savants is a small one and she is happy for her membership in it, though she does not agree with Harriet that Lewis’s penchant for gadget construction makes his intellect less pure. She wonders if this dumb thing really did give off Cherenkov radiation. She resolves to leave it for whoever comes down to the lab next. Perhaps it will be the soulless asshole cops who refuse to protect the locals from the less-24s policy the way they swore they would. Perhaps it will fuck up their investigation. Perhaps they will unjustly imprison Peter, who would love that.
Ana sighs and picks up the broken pieces of the machine and puts them in the HAZARDOUS bin, wincing each time she touches something and leaves a fingerprint. There is a janitor’s cart outside, so Ana props the pipe wrench up next to the broom and leaves. She is late for class; her good deed for the day is done.
1. In the dream, in a white room, Maria sees a box made of plywood and pine two-by-four frames, a blue paint bucket filled with water on a stool next to it. A hose from the bucket leads into the box, and two wires, one black and one red, lead into the top of the box from a disassembled electrical outlet in the wall. The box is shorter than she is. She realizes Josh is with her, standing knee-high next to her. He does not exactly walk yet so much as hurtle, every journey as likely as not to end with him on all fours laughing and saying “Whoops!” His vocabulary is limited, and that word is his favorite.
Maria looks at the box for a long time. Josh watches, too. It is a strange sight and he has a fistful of sweatpant for consolation and stability. Then, without warning, the box’s sides slide away smoothly, screws sheared off with little pinging sounds, each moving softly in a different direction. Inside the box, curled into the fetal position, is her husband Yusuf’s uncle Ara, who has been expected by his sister Samia for months now. Samia is one of Yusuf’s aunts; Yusuf has a huge family but no parents – everyone is an uncle or an aunt or a cousin.
Maria has never met Ara but she knows this is him; she can tell by his wings of blue flame. Five large, shiny spiders are walking on him, on his hip and his flank and the side of his neck, questing worriedly, unsure of where they are and why. Ara lifts his head and looks over at Maria and smiles happily. He brushes the spiders off his body and tries to stand up, though he staggers as he does. He seems not to have stood for a long time.
She feels the telltale release in her pantleg as Josh starts the voyage toward Uncle Ara and his spiders. An odd thing about her little boy is that he must help anyone who seems unhappy, immediately, whether it is another child with a skinned knee or Yusuf staring glumly at his phone. Usually he helps by patting the appendage closest to him, which, she admits, is comforting. She tries to tell him no, but her mouth has something wadded up inside it. Ara is on one knee, breathing heavily; Josh topples in his direction, falling twice and pushing himself back up until he reaches his second cousin and pats his calf with a chubby hand. Maria loves him so much. She spits out the object in her mouth – it is a little scroll of what feels like leather. She opens it, looks at it, and then up at Josh and Ara. One by one, the spiders pick their way fussily up the electrical cords and make their way into the wall. Ara is sitting more easily and Josh is trying to climb up his knee. Ara streches his wings luxuriously; the blue light from them intensifies, and from it Maria can hear a voice.
“…couple who run the falafel place, the one on 95th and 5th,” the voice is saying. “I had to empty the whole store out, Jesus. Jesus. It was so awful, Lewis. Somebody thought there were hidden babies there. I don’t know, as a nation, what we’re…”
There is more but Maria cannot make it out. Ara is motioning with one hand for her to sit next to him, the other hand steadying Josh, who is standing on Ara’s lap with a loook of concentration on his face as he tries to balance.
Maria sits down before Ara, who smiles. He bends to pick up Josh and Maria can see horrible burns on his back, where his wings meet his shoulders.
The voice intensifies but it is harder to hear; Josh jumps from Ara’s hands to Maria’s lap, where she almost doesn’t catch him. He chuckles and she and Ara share a smile. Then Yusuf is shaking her awake.
“We have to go,” Yusuf says. He has been watching TV they bought at the pawnshop, he tells her, the one that doesn’t work. It started ringing, he said, he’d thought it was his phone, but when he answered the phone, the broken TV showed a weird program, just a guy slightly offscreen talking about them, about how the police know they’re there. It must be a way to freak us out, Yusuf says. The whole thing was tinted blue, for some reason. It was on a really high channel that usually just gets static. “Whoever was talking clearly thinks my aunt and uncle are dead,” he says.
“Baby, you were dreaming,” Maria tells him. “I had a dream, too. It was a good day, remember? They let Ara out. Maybe it’s not going to be that bad.
“That’s a good idea,” Yusuf says, and pulls out his phone. He has a conversation in Syriac, which Maria hates; she knows more than he thinks she knows, though. She can tell that it is Ara on the other end. She goes and picks up the baby, who seems just fine with bunking in the basement under a deli with only a space heater and some stuffed animals Maria hopes to throw out very, very soon. Lately Yusuf has become obsessed with “go bags” and emergency first aid; Maria has insisted they make a special go bag for the baby. It is powder blue and has elephants on it and Yusuf pretends to be annoyed by it, but he also stocks it with applesauce. Josh is not sleeping, but not crying, either. He is so good.
“Let’s go. Ara will meet us. He can get a boat tonight.”
“Go where?” Maria asks.
“Down the coast,” Yusuf answers. “Ara knows a place.”
There is noise above them; up the ladder, Maria can see blue and red lights through the crack in the hatch that opens on to the sidewalk.
2. ABSTRACT: A tachyon is a theoretical particle that can travel faster than light, necessitating a receiver-retransmitter of a tachyon or tachyon impression, here assumed to be Cherenkov radiation, that must receive-retransmit those impressions before their emission. It is therefore assumed to collapse a number of necessary superpositions, invalidating probability-based branches of contemporary physical scienctific inquiry including the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model and regressing the entirety of particle physics as far back as the Newtonian era. In this paper I will argue for the continued existence of superpositions even with tachyon interference. In this paper I propose that the act of turning on the receiver-retransmitter now running in our physics department, where it broadcasts on a number of known and demonstrably safe EM spectra, in fact heralds a new epoch in physical science. Its transmissions are for now garbled by their backward journey but, I will here demonstrate, inarguably of human origin. These transmissions cannot affect a past in which there is no receiver to witness them and so cannot correct mistakes or alter our lives. Nevertheless as the loop of communication with our children and our children’s children widens, our knowledge might increase infinitely, as we are able to separate generations of communication doubtless being sent back to us, to this one, most vital point in our history. It is a difficult task but I hope I will have the help of my colleagues in it. These moments of understanding are rare in the sciences, and often received with fear and anger by the men and women who have worked so diligently to understand the model I will show has failed. The new model, I believe with the full weight of my understanding, is good news for all people.
3. Having been warned in a dream, Yusuf goes first across the walkway, quickly. Maria follows, with Josh concealed in a carrier under a big black poncho. They descend the stairs to the sidewalk that borders the water. When he was a boy Yusuf would have loved the thought of leaping across it, a knife in his teeth, onto the rocks to board the stealthy boat with his valiant cousin Ara. Now he cannot get enough air into his lungs and feels guilt with every step he takes away from his beloved and their child. Ara sees him; he lies low in the boat. There is an old white man fishing a few yards away.
He can hear sirens behind him.