Harlan and Ward took turns with the fetal specimen. They changed their nicknames for it at a whim, always after a pioneering astronomer. One day Harlan would ask, “How’s Einstein?” Or, if Harlan were the caretaker, Ward might ask, “What’s happening with Galileo?” and the other would deadpan, “I dunno. Let me ask him.”
They could not leave the specimen jar in plain sight. Someone would soon ask questions about the entity in the syrupy fluid. There were no answers that would satisfy the needs of all parties.
While the two teens were masters of their own bedrooms, regular invasions were scheduled. George and Estelle paid a service to come once a week and do the basics. We have pointed out that Scilla rejected hiring a weekly cleaning service, but three or four times a year she would ask her co-workers who had teenage daughters if any of them needed cash enough to join Scilla in a seasonal deep-clean. Then she would announce to her kids that, on such and such a day, their rooms would be vacuumed by someone getting compensated to do it; shelves and work surfaces dusted and polished; disinfectant spritzed around, just in case.
So Einstein had to be hidden but ready, close at hand, for the FOSOA to examine it and discuss it as needed.
Ward salvaged from the recycling bin a cylindrical container from a bottle of scotch his father had received from a colleague. The specimen jar fit nicely. The cardboard tube had a shiny metal lid that snapped shut. And, as it is not unusual for teenaged boys to display in their rooms the discarded packaging of the high-end liquor culture, it was inconspicuous amid the clutter of their rooms. After every FOSOA meeting, Newton went back into the Oban can till he emerged from his hiding place for more study.
While the FOSOA “owned” the jar and its contents, they did not know what to do with it, other than to use it to speculate on its origins and play around with outlaw science hypotheses about it. That, and coming up with new nicknames. Oban came into play for a while, from the block letters on the large can that was Newton’s home.
In August, two or three times a week, the FOSOA had meetings to discuss new experiments and, usually, their specimen. Geordie did not know it had been “borrowed” from his father’s new arrivals for the museum. When Geordie asked his two cohorts where it came from, Harlan looked at Ward who looked at Harlan till the latter said, “This guy we know. He lent it to us. Indefinitely.”
They all three marveled at it. It seemed very real. The minute interstices between skin cells looked like they had evolved in nature. It was the pale pink of undercooked barbecued shrimp. Subcutaneous red veins were visible under a close scrutiny.
Yes, argued Harlan, it would be possible to fake this, for some hoaxer to make this thing. But why? It would have required so many months, perhaps years, of painstaking labor to make such a marvelous creation that someone, somewhere, would have eventually alerted the world to this work of genius. The patterned yet varied cell membranes were as miraculous as something that has evolved through an organic process from a long line of antecedent life forms. To create this in a hoax-maker’s lab would be beyond impressive.
Another hypothesis they danced with was that the thing had been created by genetic scientists. Maybe even outlaw scientists. And maybe they found they were being watched, and had to dump their project onto an auction for sideshow freakery, then get out of town and change their identities.
Geordie thought it had to be of extraterrestrial origin. The other two did not rule this out, but played with other hypotheses as well. Had it evolved in some deep, under-explored ocean canyon? Is it marine in origin? Maybe it was full-grown, and not fetal. That could help explain how the eyes of something this dead can suggest so much capacity for intelligence.
Einstein did not provide much in the way of new opportunities for experiments. Oh, they could have gotten the jar open, even if they had to break it. This option had entered into their discussions a few times. But — then what? Take skin samples and put them on a slide and send them somewhere for analysis?
Too risky. What if the recipient were to ask them where they got it? What if it had been stolen from a real museum and someone with authority wants to know how the FOSOA got possession of it? There was too much to risk. And what if it is an extraterrestrial entity? Ward and Harlan had learned enough about the e.t. hypothesis when they were working on their project for the science fair to know that few people in mainstream science would bring an open mind to that body of phenomena.
This was the lesson in cultural bias that was also the rock upon which the FOSOA was founded. Those crop circles made next to the Chilbolton radio telescope observatory in England, largely ignored in the mainstream press, might have been a hoax. The human-made technology to do that kind of work could exist secretly. But who and why? And so public? And so ignored.
As with the fetal specimen, those crop circles could have been faked. But the fakery would go far beyond the most awesome conceptual art work known to humankind. Why, then, were these phenomena not studied as mysteries or celebrated as the most brilliant hoaxes ever perpetrated?
Only Outlaw Science had the balls to look at this, because only Outlaw Science had no middle-class lifestyle or prestigious social standing to protect.
Geordie liked the e.t. hypothesis. Not so easy for Harlan and Ward, who did not like themselves if they lost their objectivity in the rush to a hasty conclusion. Harlan quoted Martin Glendenning at more than one meeting of the FOSOA: “Magic and miracle are always the first explanations. Then comes reason and science to uncover the truth. Some people so love their magic and miracles that they hate the scientist, the rationalist. But, in the end, truth is all we have.”
The three young men batted about different explanations for the Chilbolton Crop Circles, for Kepler, but, once their testosterone was sufficiently exercised in several flagrant, teasing put-downs of one another, they all came together with a commonly agreed-upon notion: their access to study a part of the world, of the environment wherein they dwelled, was denied them by the mainstream press and the government.
This conclusion — that someone, somewhere, or, in the plural, some individuals somewhere, are not sharing reality with a vast majority of their fellow citizens — bound the three FOSOA into their collective quest.
They stood up after each meeting and said together: “FOSOA! Dudes! They cannot tell us what we can or cannot study! They protect the old, false worldview. We are here to show how wrong they are!”
The meetings and activities of the FOSOA were Harlan’s happiest moments that summer. When he was alone, though, the very notions that linked the three boys unsettled him.
Not only the three FOSOA, but, it seemed, nearly everyone, had been told lies of some kind. Big lies. And these lies were presented as given or proven truths. They were passed off as the current, unquestioned reality.
Harlan had a sense that someone was opening and closing the lenses through which we see the world, the universe, ourselves. But neither Harlan nor the other two FOSOA knew what to do with this knowledge.
Not having a plan of action to address this reality fed a growing agitation Harlan felt in the month before classes resumed.
In solitude, he ruminated: Certain areas of inquiry are not approved for us. Not even for scientists with kick-ass degrees and prestige up the yin-yang. They, too, are held back. Is anyone enforcing this restraint? I mean, intentionally? So, what can we do? Wage war on them? Not. I mean, what? How? Hacking? Maybe, maybe hacking. Week-by-week Ward was steering his intellect in that direction. But, now, it is more important to find other people who also see what is going on.
Pondering such thoughts took up all Harlan’s spare time that was not devoted to, numero uno, crafting arguments to humiliate the other FOSOA on whatever happened to be the issue of the week; next, sex with online Porn Babes; and, then, Giants baseball, a team going down in August like a plane with too small a fuel tank for the long flight it had booked.
Harlan reflected on the fact that the education system spends a great deal of money on him. Mostly Grandpa’s, according to his dad. Ostensibly, this money is invested in showing the scientist-in-training how to figure things out in the world, and in the universe. But, at the same time, society does not want some of these things figured out. Yet they never say these subjects are off-limits.
Like the science fair. You are supposed to know what not to look into without anyone saying what this is. Weird.
Heavy thoughts for a kid who has just turned 15. But, with the right encouragement from a Martin Glendenning and a friend like Ward Dixon, not that uncommon among brighter kids. When they are older and their lives are refocused on middle class goals, they often forget they ever had such thoughts.
Harlan worked pretty hard in his private mind to find ways to balance these mental activities, and this work paid off with a sense of energized calm.
The FOSOA would keep Aristarchus in his Oban can as if he had found refuge in a cave in the cliffs depicted in the line drawings on the cylinder. They would devote discipline and diligence to keeping secret their possession of the specimen. They could afford no outraged Roger Bartholomew who could drop a dime on them and get Harlan and Ward expelled from Hout, Geordie clobbered and grounded. There must be no furious moms, no furious dads, no disappointed, heartbroken grandpas. They must conduct the matters of the FOSOA with perseverance and meticulous secrecy.
School would start soon, with a new science teacher. No more Mr. Glendenning. Something else to balance, in the thought-overload of late August.
As if this were not enough, with no warning, with no shift of topic back and forth between Ward and Harlan to suggest that this was even on the table for discussion, Harlan’s so-called tight bud tells him one day, “Regina Conklin thinks you’re hot. She texted me last week. I know I should have told you sooner. But, anyway, you gotta call her.”
Ward looked his silent friend in the eye and said, “She knows a lot, and she thinks you’re hot. We knew this. That was why she put up the page on the Hout website for us. We knew this, dude. Audre Freeman thinks you are, too, OK? But Regina is wondering why you haven’t called her to ask her to go somewhere, to hang with her.”
“Because I don’t want to.”
“She knows a lot, dude!”
“I don’t want to call her!”
“She wants to go to a poetry slam with you.”
“I don’t want to!”
“Dude! Come on.”
“No! Anything but that!”
“Hey, we made a deal with her. Don’t be a weenie about this.”
“This so sucks! This so eats it!”
“What else can you do? We promised her, and she did what she said she would, and we have not done our part.”
“Maybe if I continue to ignore her it will all just go away.”
“No way. Text the girl. At least text her. And now. She knows way too much!”
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