Gauss Anne was sitting at Alphus’s kitchen table not drinking the hot chocolate Alphus had put in front of her. It was four in the morning, and it was the most Alphus could do to keep his eyes open. She had made a discovery.
“Call me Copernicus!” she had said.
Alphus stared at her from across the table, his chin on his hand and burgundy robe snuggled around him.
“You know how I’ve been telling you about the snow’s equilibrium point? …Alphus?”
Alphus lurched upright before his chin slid completely off his hand and crashed onto the table.
“The snow should be up around our ears! Well, I mean, it should be up around an elephant’s ears or someone quite as tall as an elephant. Eight meters. Eight meters and 47 centimeters, based on the data that I have extrapolated. And it’s certainly not that since you yourself saw me manage to make it to your front door. It’s got to be going somewhere – I am not willing to throw out all conservation laws on account of this phenomenon! And I believe I know what’s causing the sink –”
Alphus had fallen asleep. This time he had slid backwards in his chair and rested, mouth gaping open. Gauss Anne talked long enough without any encouragement for Alphus to dream.
Alphus dreamt that he was in an attic. He was at the top of a robust set of stairs, at least robust by attic standards. The floor was unfinished blond pine, and there were dead beetles; they lay squished everywhere. Alphus was standing at the top of the staircase and off to the side. A blue vapor was all he could see at the bottom. A group of people, two men and a woman, were grouped at the other side of the attic. Their backs were hunched so much that they looked to be almost crouching. They were carrying black pipes made out of metal or plastic, Alphus couldn’t tell which. They all stared at him and started to creep forward. They were moving in sync with one another: left foot forward and a bounce as if they had springs and right foot forward….
The girl, Jennifer, was folded up behind Alphus, between him and the wall. He knew they were after her. They wanted to capture her and put her into a jar. She had been in a brief case, but she had escaped. She had been on the run until they cornered her up in the attic. He looked down at the girl; in his line of vision his legs looked like tree trunks, tall and sturdy in his black jeans.
“Aller!... Va!” Alphus had taken French in school and it came back to him in his dream. The second time he shouted he remembered to conjugate the verb. He was commanding the people who were trying to get Jennifer; he was pointing for them to go down the stairs.
“Va!” He could feel his anger streaming out of his eyes as he willed them to obey. They seemed not to notice and kept coming towards him. All he wanted was to protect her, to scream at the bad people that they needed to va, to get out. Maybe they didn’t know they were doing a bad thing, or maybe they knew but they needed to be told not to do it. Maybe he could scream at them long enough for Jennifer to escape, to make sure that, if nothing else, the bad people were alone.
“Va!” Alphus yelled and pointed, thrusting his whole arm. “Va!”
“Alphus, that’s not an appropriate response to my discovery.” He had yelled, and Gauss Anne had woken him from his sleep.
“I rushed over here to tell you because you are my friend and I thought you cared about this. That’s exactly what I get for acting on the basis of an assumption instead of fact. Based on your behavioral output you have not been listening and the only thing that I can think to conclude is that you do not care about me or my research!” At this she started to cry.
Alphus was much more awake now than he had been before. He sat at his table across from his friend in silence, as if turned to stone.
“The rigors of scientific life are taxing and could seem selfish to other people in a scientist’s life, but in the long run any form of discovery is for us all, isn’t it? And someone needs to be measuring, making quantitative analysis, so that we know that seven plus five is twelve, though our senses might deceive us. I know that they sometimes do, but I have the audacity to project that mine do not, and I conduct tests in order to get useful results, but for what? For no one to listen to my work, to appreciate my labors…”
Alphus helped her from the kitchen table and guided her to the front door. He was tired and not sure what to do with someone who spontaneously erupted in such fashion. Gauss Anne’s tirade was starting to fade as she fell short of breath and tears, and she gulped for air more regularly. When they reached the door, he patted her hand reluctantly as if she might burn him, shuffled her out, and closed the door behind her. With her thus muted, he walked back over to his kitchen chair, having judged the bedroom to be too far, and slumped back down into it, asleep, his head on the kitchen table.