Robert was, quite frankly, bored with the party. He never was much of a ‘party animal’. The church had come through very nicely, mind, and the service had been well done, with the doctrinal weirdness of his father coming out subtly but, still, clearly enough. Even Grace’s mom had seemed to be satisfied, and had changed her goal for their church from a ‘ceremony’ to a ‘reception’, which she was busy planning in her head.
The kids were all enjoying themselves. They had, basically, been given free reign of the second floor, and Caleb and Jenny and a couple of their friends were holding court up there; having divided the rooms up into sleeping, games, and story telling. One of Jenny’s friends, Suzy, was even doing face painting.
Robert had, thankfully, been released from his ‘follow me around and greet all of my friends’ duty with Grace some time ago and was was now enjoying the excellent tasteful and tasty buffet. Someone had brought, or bought, these little drummette things and they were one of his favorites.
Suddenly he stopped chewing, his eyes fixed on a corner of the dining room, where a boy was standing, very much out of the way, and out of the crowd. It was Jervis. He finished chewing and, armed with his plate of drummettes and a sense of determination, he made his way over to the corner.
Jervis saw him coming and paled. “Hello,” Robert said, coming over rather close and looking Jervis right in the eye.
“Hi,” Jervis said, nervously.
“Glad you could come,” Robert said.
“I, umm, Suzy said we were all invited, and she is upstairs doing face painting, and my mom and dad are over there…”
“I said I was glad you could come,” Robert said. “I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t mind.”
“Not here,” Robert said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
“OK…” Jervis said, but he didn’t move when Robert turned toward the front door.
“Come on!” Robert said. “Don’t worry, I won’t kill you. Probably, anyway.”
Jervis, looking nervously around, followed Robert. Robert noted several very curious looks and, when he got near the door, saw Grace, looking concerned.
“So,” Robert said, as soon as the door had closed, “You’re name is Jervis, and you’re Suzy’s brother?”
“Yes. My father is Mark Adamson, the president of the bank,” Jervis said, as if hoping that would protect him from whatever Robert was about to do. They were walking down the walk, dodging a bunch of young men playing some sort of game, and Robert waited until they were well down the sidewalk and out of earshot before he said,
“What do you know about dreams?”
“Dreams?” Jervis said, sounding genuinely confused.
“How about ‘alternate universes’?” Robert asked, remembering Caleb’s hypothesis from the dream.
“You read my papers?” Jervis asked, sounding surprised and, truth be told, a bit pleased.
“No,” Robert said. “I heard about it elsewhere. Tell me about it.”
“I have this theory that there are an infinite number of possible universes, all kind of ‘parallel’ to ours, but each with a tiny difference from the next, some decision made differently, that kind of thing. In the next universe, for example, you might have turned right instead of left to go around the block, you understand?”
“More than you know,” Robert said.
“And I think communication of a sort might be possible between them. Not, like, talking and all, or radio or something like that, but something more subtle. I was working on something having to do with the unconscious.”
“Like, say, in a dream?”
“Yeah, I guess. That might work. Anyway, I postulated that we could send these rays of energy between the worlds….”
“You DID read my paper!” Jervis accused. “That’s exactly what I was calling them. It’s not a proper name, you understand. They aren’t really gluons.”
“You say ‘was’. Did you not go any further with your research?”
“No I… my Dad…” Jervis grew extremely quiet and Robert thought he knew why.
“Since that incident with the little girl?” he asked.
“You… you heard about that?”
“Some. Tell me what happened.”
Robert stopped, turning back to Jervis, who had stopped and was staring at him. “No one… no one has ever asked me that,” he whispered. “Not even my Dad. He beat me…” he stopped, panicked, “Please, don’t tell anybody I told you that!”
“I won’t. It’s nobody else’s business but yours and your dad. What happened with the little girl?”
“Why… why do you want to know?” Jervis asked, and Robert saw that he was practically in tears. He walked back and stared at Jervis for a whole minute.
“I have my reasons, which I might tell you. But it seems you want to tell somebody, so tell me. It won’t go any further.”
“I almost want it to, the way the rumors are going around,” Jervis said, bitterly. “It was bad enough, what I did do, but I didn’t’ do half of what seems to be going around.”
There was another silence, and then Jervis said, “I, we, there was the family over, and the little girl came up to my room. Suzy was out visiting someone, and I was alone in my room, reading or something.”
He stopped, and, eventually, Robert said, “Keep going.”
“And I… it was really stupid. I had these cameras on my computer in my room, and they were always on. And I… I tried to talk her into taking her clothes on. I invented this game, kind of a doctor thing…”
“Well, at first she started to go along, and then she suddenly freaked, I guess I said the wrong thing, or she just got a bad vibe, and before I could think of stopping her she was racing off downstairs.”
“What happened then?”
“I dunno what happened downstairs. The girl’s family left town soon afterward, much richer, I have no doubt. That is my dad’s way. But after they left the house I got called downstairs, and got a beating like none other I had ever had. And he trashed my computer. And somehow people found out…”
Jervis trailed off, and Robert thought this through. He knew who Jervis and Suzy’s dad was, of course, everybody did. The president, or whatever, of the local bank, and a powerful man. Good socially, or course, he and his family went to Robert’s church, when they went anywhere, but were always there for any particular ‘function’, such as today, working the crowd, showing the flag, being polite. Indeed, he had given Robert and Grace a substantial gift, a genuine silver serving dish, and on the spur of the moment like this they must have a stock of such gifts. Being his son would be a hard job for the wrong type, and Jervis, a well-known genius and social imbecile, was just the sort that would have a hard time.
“You asked me why I wanted to know. I would hope that it was because I am a loving Christian person that really cares about you and your problems. But I’m afraid I have some other motivations as well. Something very worrying had happened, and I’m afraid it concerns you and your research.”
“Me? You mean you think someone did something with my research?”
Robert stopped and turned to him, “No, I think you did.”
“But I didn’t! I promise!”
“Not this you, another you….”
Jervis’ eyes got wide, and he stared for several seconds before he managed, “You mean… from an alternate reality?”
“Yes, I think so. And not a good type. I’m not sure what he did could be considered good under any circumstances, but I think he made it clear that he isn’t out for our good.”
“I… I’m sorry…”
“You don’t have to apologize for him. But. You say your dad stopped your research? Would you like to start it up again?”
“Yeah, but, my Dad…”
“Would you like to start it up again?” Robert asked, again.
“Yes,” Jervis answered, finally.
“Well, I would like you to talk to Caleb. You know Caleb?”
“And I would like the two of you to go over your research. If he thinks it might be what is going on, then I would like you to set up a lab, or whatever you call it, either here or at Caleb’s house.”
“I think your father will be pleased if you are out of the house, doing things socially with respected members of the community. That would be me and Caleb. And if you hang around with us, that might go a long way toward fixing your rep… as long as you keep clean. I have a younger sister…”
“Jenny, I know, she’s Suzy’s friend.”
“That’s right, and she’s Caleb’s girlfriend. And I don’t ever want to hear anything, anything, ever, about you and her, you hear?”
Jervis nodded, nervously. “I suppose some day you’ll make some woman a fine husband, but the stuff in the dream is a bit too fresh for me. OK, we’re back at the house, you go find Caleb and talk to him.”
“Yes, now. Can you think of a better time?”
Jervis obviously seemed to think that pretty much any time would be a better time than ‘right now’, but he trooped obediently off to find Caleb.
“Robert, what were you doing with him?” Grace asked, seconds after he got into the house, after she had dragged him off into a corner.
“I was trying to figure out if he was involved with this dream thing. You remember, he was in it, in a big way.”
“I remember!” Grace said. “I had this whole interview with him, It was horrible!”
“I didn’t know that!”
“Well, you weren’t there,” Grace said, giggling.
“No, I mean you didn’t tell me in the dream.”
Grace thought, “No, I suppose I didn’t. I had a long cry with Becky about it, though. I think she and I really got closer because of the dream, actually.”