Without a Trace

By Stenger White

I know what happened to Eva Connolly.

You probably don't remember her. But if you were in Tucson around 1991, you might have seen the newspaper articles about a University of Arizona student who disappeared. There were lots of guesses: somebody snatched her, she ran off with someone, she ran off by herself. How many ways are there to vanish?

I was there, and I saw it all. You won't believe me.

I met Eva in the Student Union. I was walking out of Sam's Place, where they used to have all the SUPO Boxes, sorting through my mail. I still have the letter: my Physics Department scholarship had been renewed for another year. I don't consider myself an expressive person, but I must have been beaming, because I heard a voice.

"You look like you got some good news." I looked up from the letter and saw her. I think I noticed the red hair first, because it was so red. Long and straight and parted in the middle. Her brown eyes flashed at me. She smiled with a smile I still remember, the sort that makes you trust someone instantly. Braces on her teeth. Powder blue T-shirt, khaki slacks. She stood before me eye-to-eye. Six feet tall.

"Hi," she said, "I'm Eva."

"Hello. Scott." We spent the rest of the day together.

She was an artist. Her major was art, or fine arts, or media arts. It could have been English. As a physics major, it was my duty to look down on all those people. We called them all "poets," regardless of the details. We scoffed at them because they couldn't understand our work, and because they didn't care. But with her, I kept forgetting to be biased. We were from opposite worlds. I don't know how we got along so well.

She was spooky, which I liked. It was a few days after we met when I invited her up to my dorm room. "Watch out for Newton," I had warned her. Newton was my Contraband Cat, a nasty feline who could stay in my room despite the dorm's No Pet policy because he was utterly silent and because I had generously greased the palm of the residence assistant on my floor. Newton would ignore you, unless he liked you, in which case he would take a swipe at your ankles.

She breezed in, and saw him in the corner. She crouched, and said "Hi, kitty." I thought the most he would do was look at her. Instead, he trotted over to her, put his front paws on her knee, and mashed his face into her chin, emitting a rattling purr. "Nice cat," she said, and then she saw me staring.

"What?" she asked.

We talked about art, and we talked about science. "Ptolemy," I once said, "came up with epicycles to explain the observed motions of the planets. Circles within circles."

"Sounds harmonious," she replied.

"Not really. It was just complicated. But people stuck with it because it fit the observations of the astronomers so well, and it said that Earth was the center of the universe."

"Of course. That was important to people." She spun herself in my desk chair. "There were probably some artists who didn't believe it, though."

"Not very many, I bet. When Copernicus proposed heliocentrism, it barely made a ripple. It didn't fit observations any better than Ptolemy's stuff, but for some people, it really stuck. Kepler loved it. He was one of the first."

"That makes no sense to me. If Kepler was a scientist, he should have gone with the facts, with whatever theory fit the data better."

"Well. Yeah." I looked past the water pipes on the ceiling. "The heliocentric model was simpler than epicycles. Sometimes scientists will describe a theory as being elegant. Heliocentrism was elegant. Epicycles were clunky. Kepler spent his life trying to prove heliocentrism was true. He did, in the end."

She tapped her chin. "So Kepler, a scientist, fought for it because it was beautiful, not because it fit the facts. And he was right." Her eyes sparkled.

Eva found the beauty in science, and showed me the logic in art. I wondered what kind of person could comprehend these opposites simultaneously, could fit both extremes and all that lay between them in a single mind.

The night before she disappeared, I walked her back to her dorm room. We paused outside for a moment, and on impulse, I leaned in to kiss her. I stopped short when I realized. what? She hadn't pulled away, but she wasn't leaning in herself.

"I don't know," she murmured.

"Me either," I replied, surprised by my own honesty.

The next afternoon, we were back in my dorm room, and it was as if that moment had never happened. Newton eyed us coolly from under the bed. The topic was cosmology. She was convinced that the universe had an edge.

"If the universe is expanding," she said, "it has to have an edge. And a center, come to think of it."

"No. Well, yes. But the center and edge aren't in three dimensional space."

"Oh! That's good! Tell me about three dimensional space."

"Well, 'dimension' is just another word for direction. Zero dimensions would be a point. One dimension would be a line. Doesn't matter how long. It indicates one direction of travel, back and forth."

"Wouldn't back and forth be two dimensions?"

"Huh-uh. It's the same path. You're on a single line. You get two dimensions if you slide the line sideways. That makes a square, which has length and width. A line just has length."

"Maybe," she said.

"If you lift the square, you get a cube. Length, width, and now height. Those are your three dimensions. Left-right, forward-back, up-down. That's all we can do."

"What if I go diagonally?" she stood and dramatically crossed the room. "Isn't that a dimension?"

"Nope. That's just a combination of the first two."

"No, I think it's a dimension."

I smiled. "All dimensions are ninety degrees opposed from each other. Otherwise there would be an infinite number of dimensions, instead of three."

"So then, where is the center of the universe, Mr. Physics Guy?"

"Well, the cosmologists say that the universe is three dimensional space curved into a fourth dimension, and expanding into that fourth dimension. And that's where the center is. I can't point to it, because I'm a three dimensional being."

"I thought the fourth dimension was time."

"Only in general relativity."

"In other words, only when convenient."

"Pretty much, yes." We were at the point where most people give up, but she pushed on.

"So the fourth dimension is just a direction." She sounded as if she was speaking to herself. "It's not another place. It's right here. I should be able to see it."

"Sorry," I said, "you only have three dimensional eyes."

"No. It should be easy," she insisted. "'I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space!'"

"What?" I asked.

"Hamlet," she said.

I pushed the window curtains aside, and looked out to the traffic on Seventh Street. To this day, I wish I had been looking at her.

"Oh!" she said, as if suddenly realizing something. And again, "Oh." Softly, the tone of her voice saying, So That's How It Is. I turned back to her, and caught a glimpse of her as she stepped into a direction my eyes couldn't follow.

My room was empty. I heard her giggle, just barely, a sound coming from far away and from within me at the same time. She was gone.

The End

Copyright © 2002 by Stenger White

Stenger White teaches and writes in Seattle. His science fiction and fantasy have appeared in the February and April, 2002 issues of Aphelion, as well as the June 2002 issue of Nuketown (www.nuketown.com).

E-mail: messier109@netzero.net


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