Finished: April 10th, 2006
Victor Pearson read over the pages of notes intently. Theories, equations, bits he had copied from textbooks and science journals. Some were typed, others he had quickly scribbled into any available empty space he could find. The notes went on for pages and were the result of years of research. He had many of them memorized but he read each word again anyway, to make sure there was nothing he had missed.
Painstakingly, Victor punched numbers and symbols into his laptop computer. He waited as the computer thought about what he was trying to do.
"INSUFFICIENT DATA. PLEASE RE-ENTER" flashed across the screen.
More numbers and more symbols were entered.
"EXPERIMENT FALLS OUTSIDE OF THEORETICAL PARAMETERS."
He cursed softly under his breath. He stared at the screen for a moment, and the numbers and symbols seemed to melt into a blurred incomprehensible jumble.
Victor rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his vision. It was no surprise that he was seeing things. For weeks now, he had been working for hours each day, trying to make sense of everything that had happened and of all the data they had collected so far. He stopped only long enough to eat quick meals, usually micro-waved t.v. dinners or cans of soup, or to get a few hours sleep. He had always been a hard worker, but this was way beyond his normal work ethic. He knew his staff had noticed, and so had Vaughn. But he couldn't stop, not now. The answers were there; he just had to find them, and make sense of them.
It wasn't just because of Josie Trent's disappearance. That was troubling, but not entirely unexpected. He had warned her of the consequences of her actions, and she hadn't listened. Of course, there was no actual proof that she had gone through the vortex, but in his heart Victor was certain that was what happened to her.
More disturbing was the fact that she hadn't come back yet. Others, including his own son, had gone through, but they always came back within a day or two. But it had been three months now, and she still hadn't returned. It was almost like…
"…like when Sarah disappeared." He had been searching for her for so long. And he felt close now, closer than ever to discovering where she had gone. That, plus Josie's disappearance, and the things Vaughn had told him about the vortex, all combined to give him a sense of urgency like he had never felt before. There was the feeling that he was close to the answers, close to something great. And there was the knowledge that his funds were getting low.
But even more pressing was the distinct feeling that time was running out. He didn't know why, but he knew instinctively that he must solve the puzzle soon, or it would be too late.
Victor's thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his office door. "Come in," he called, never taking his eyes from the computer screen.
The door opened, and a petite blonde woman entered. She spoke no greeting, but her eyes scanned the office critically as she strode purposefully across the floor. She stopped midway between the door and the desk and crossed her arms.
"Why, Dr. Trent," Victor said, finally looking up from the laptop. "What a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?"
"Cut the crap, Victor," Kelly Trent answered curtly.
"Charming as always," Victor mumbled. He studied her for a moment. "How are you doing?" he finally asked, his tone more gentle this time.
Kelly glared in response. "My daughter has been missing for three months. How do you think I'm doing?"
Victor sighed. He hadn't really needed to ask the question. It was obvious by her appearance how she was doing. She looked thin and tired. The dark circles under her eyes stood out prominently against her pale cheeks.
"Have the police found anything new?" Victor asked, knowing full well they hadn't.
Kelly shook her head. "They think she ran away." She gave a short, sarcastic laugh, and shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry, Dr. Trent, we can't find your daughter anywhere. She must have just run away." She dropped her hands, and her eyes went to the floor. "She wouldn't do that," she said softly, a tremor in her voice. "She's too intelligent…and she wouldn't just leave me, and her friends, with no explanation…"
Victor closed the laptop and walked around his desk. "Why don't you sit down?" he asked, motioning to a chair. "Let me get you something to drink."
"No," Kelly said forcefully, the tremor suddenly gone. She looked up at him with new resolve. "I didn't come here for a social visit, Victor. I came for some answers."
Victor remembered several years ago, when Josie said almost the same thing to him. "And what answers would you hope to find here, from me?"
Her eyes flicked up and down him coolly. "A national news program wanted to do a story about Josie," she said, as if she hadn't heard him. "They had heard that strange things sometimes happen at Blake Holsey High, and that a major research laboratory was just a stone's throw away, and they thought there might be a connection to her disappearance."
Victor's face betrayed no emotion. He knew the media had been all over Josie's case in the first few weeks, and he was not surprised that someone made the connection to Peradyne. "And? What did you tell them?"
"I told them no. And do you know why I told them no?" Her mouth twisted into an incredulous grin. "Because I knew that your research was top-secret. I know you wouldn't want reporters snooping around here, digging up information about Peradyne and your work.
"I appreciate your discretion," Victor began, but Kelly took no notice.
"And then I realized how ridiculous that was." Her voice rose steadily in pitch as she continued. "My daughter is missing, and I'm worried about protecting you?!" The statement was punctuated by another sarcastic laugh.
Victor forced himself to remain stoic, though her demeanor was increasingly unnerving him. Dr. Trent did not know enough about his research to ruin him, but she knew enough to be dangerous. A little information in the wrong hands could demolish everything he had been working for.
"Kelly…I know this must be very hard for you." He reached out to gently place a hand on her shoulder. "But I don't see how I can help you. I don't know what happened to Josie, or where she is now. I don't have the answers you're looking for."
Kelly jerked away from his touch. "Oh, but I think you do," she said softly, but firmly. "I know you do." She stepped back and looked up at him with a steely, determined expression.
"No one has seen or heard anything from Josie in the last three months. The police can find no trace of her. There is no evidence to suggest that someone abducted her. There's no evidence to indicate that she ran away. Not to mention how illogical and out of character that would be for her. She disappeared, without a trace." She took a breath, then continued.
"The only place I know where people disappear without a trace is right here. At Peradyne. And, from what I've recently discovered, at Blake Holsey High. This isn't the first time someone has gone missing. Students, teachers…this goes back years. And the only connection between Peradyne and Blake Holsey High is you" She crossed her arms and glared at him.
"Kelly, be reasonable," Victor replied, although he felt pang of nervousness inside. "Do you honestly think I would do something to hurt your daughter?"
"You never liked her, and you never trusted me. Maybe she interfered with your plans in some way, or found out about your research…"
"While it's true that Sarah did not trust you, I never shared her suspicions," Victor interrupted. "I trusted you enough to let you share in my life's work. And so far, I consider that trust to have been well founded. I hope you're not planning to prove me wrong." His expression grew troubled. "And I also hope you're not seriously suggesting that I would do anything to hurt a child. I have one myself, you know. I thought after all these years, Kelly, you would know me better than that."
Kelly's expression softened slightly. "No…no, I don't think you would intentionally hurt her, or place her in danger. But I do think you know what happened to Josie. Or at the very least, you know more than you're telling." Her voice grew steely again. "It's been a long time since I worked here, but not so long that I've forgotten everything. I know what you're working with, and what you're trying to do. I played your games for a long time, Victor. I protected you, and it cost me a lot. But I won't let it cost me my daughter. Either you tell me what happened to Josie, or I'll tell the media what I think happened to her!"
Victor glanced at the laptop. He could explain everything to her. Exactly what had been going on over the past two years. What he was working on now. Maybe she could even help. Next to Sarah, Kelly Trent was the most brilliant scientist he had ever worked with. She might have insights that he didn't have, or be able to see something he had overlooked. If nothing else, it might give her some hope. Then again, it might make things worse for her. She could spend years going over data, running experiments, ending up with theories but no real answers…just like he had.
Kelly seemed to sense his indecision. She tried another tactic. "Victor, I don't know where my daughter is. My only child. I don't know if she's cold, hungry, sick, injured… I don't even know if she's alive." Her voice trembled a bit. "As a parent, can't you understand that?"
Victor swallowed hard. He could understand. He had had similar thoughts when Vaughn went missing, although they were mercifully short-lived. He remembered his gratitude to the Trent girl for finding him and brining him back. Though she was a troublemaker, he did not wish any ill will on her. He felt a pang of guilt as he realized that his research, his creation, was responsible for all of this. Josie's disappearance, Kelly's anguish, Sarah's "death," Vaughn growing up without a mother…
Kelly studied him carefully. "Well? What's it going to be, Victor?"
Victor took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they were hard and narrowed. Any uncertainty had disappeared.
"Unless you have some basis for your accusations, I suggest you take your theories and leave my office immediately." His voice was cold and unwavering.
Kelly looked surprised for a moment. "Victor-"
"I don't know what happened to Josie. If I come across any new information, or if I find any possible explanations for her disappearance in the course of my research, you will be the first to know." He motioned towards the front of the office. "Let me show you the way out."
"I know where it is," she said curtly. She turned quickly and strode towards the door. Her hand was reaching for the knob when she paused, as if to gather herself. When she turned to face him, her eyes held new determination. Her voice was steel.
"One way or another, Victor, with or without your help, I will find out what happened to Josie. And if you had anything to do with it, I will ruin you." The last four words were said slowly, each one deliberately emphasized. She slammed the door so hard behind her that one of Victor's plaques fell off the wall.
He took a shaky breath, then sunk back down into his padded office chair. He opened the laptop and stared at the equations again. Somehow, they seemed fresh again, full of promise and purpose.
Science had begun this mystery, this series of events, and science would conclude it. The answers were there, inside the equations. It was up to him to draw them out. Guilt and regret were a waste of valuable time. He felt focused again, and determined. He would find Josie, and find Sarah, and he would not stop until he did.