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3 Quantum Suicide / Dissenting opinion

10 August 2004

‘Do you have a warrant for this?’ Dr Agcaoili said heatedly. He and his secretary were seated in the guest chairs of his room, while Senior Inspector OJ Tan paced in front of them. A second policeman stood over the doorway into the room; the rest of them were outside, combing the area for traces of Theresa Santos’s flight.

‘I’m operating under the national security statute, so I can conduct a search or arrest for up to 48 hours before presenting a warrant.’

‘I’m glad to hear that our honourable politicians are drafting laws to make this country safer,’ observed the secretary sarcastically.

OJ ignored her. ‘Now I’m doing the questioning. Theresa Santos was last seen here. Where is she now?’

‘She was here, yes,’ said the physicist, ‘but I don’t know where she went off to. We were talking about things you won’t understand, when suddenly I was knocked unconscious—somebody must have sneaked behind me and struck me. I just came to when you kicked down my door.’

‘You sure she didn’t pass your way?’ OJ asked the secretary.

‘I’m not blind. I’m sure I would have seen her if she had, and I didn’t see anyone.’

‘So that just leaves the windows,’ muttered OJ. There was no duct or vent of any kind into the room, no other opening save the door and the windows. A thorough inspection of the windows had revealed that they were locked from the inside, but in one of them, flakes of paint fell off from where the latch had been lifted, indicating that it had been opened recently. ‘But how was it opened from the inside?’ he asked, casting a suspicious glance at Dr Agcaoili.

‘How should I know?’ Dr Agcaoili said, glaring back. ‘Perhaps he has superpowers.’

‘“He”?’ said the police officer sceptically.

‘I’m using it as a neutral third-person pronoun. English doesn’t really have one. I can’t refer to a person with “it”, could I?’

OJ took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. He was hardly an uneducated person, but this scientist seemed to enjoy making a fool of him. He was hiding something; OJ was sure of it. He needed to find out what it was.

‘What did you and Ms Santos talk about?’

‘We were discussing various interpretations of quantum mechanics, and theories beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. ‘

‘A terrorist would come all the way here just to discuss science?’ said OJ, staring at Dr Agcaoili with eyes full of distrust. ‘Forgive my ignorance, O great physicist, but do those things have something to do with building a nuke?’

‘A terrorist? Who? Her? I don’t believe it.’

‘Supposedly we found her dead body in that explosion in Ultramall, but now we find out that she’s still very much alive; in fact, it seems she still has the time to discuss science. Also, the body she supposedly left behind didn’t have any ID on it, not even a bag or a cell phone. What was she hiding?’

OJ noticed Dr Agcaoili’s eyes widen for a fraction of a second as his phone started ringing. He took it out of his pocket as he walked towards the physicist. After sparing a glance at the caller ID, he stared straight into his eyes and said:

‘You know what I think? I think you’re lying. You know about Ms Santos’s condition, or her plans, and you’re here to stall for time while she gets away. Now, I don’t have any proof yet, but I’ll find them. And when I do, I’ll put you away for a very long time. And in prison they won’t care how many doctorates you have.’ He paused for a moment. ‘But if you tell me what you know now, I’ll spare you all that trouble. Now I’ll leave you to let you use that great mind of yours to decide what’s best for you.’ He strutted confidently away from the scientist, leaving him to consider his options while he answered the call.

‘What is it, Rivero?’

‘Where the hell are you? I want to tell you what I found out from the mass spectrometre.’

‘I came close to catching her. But I’ll find her trail again. Now, what do you have?’

‘“Her”?’ said Agnes, but she continued. ‘First of all, we found traces of gasoline and ethyl tert-butyl ether in the bag containing the unexploded bomb. ETBE’s a gasoline additive, helps reduce carbon monoxide emission. If you remember, the bomb didn’t use gasoline, so our terrorist must have had his bomb factory in or near a gasoline station. That might explain why he used that expensive detonator—he didn’t want to blow up all that fuel while he made his bombs. We got nothing else useful on the bag—it’s a cheap rip-off of a common brand, you could buy it anywhere. Ditto on the nitromethane; it’s just ordinary racing fuel. But we somehow hit jackpot on the ammonium nitrate he used. It’s fertiliser-grade, not explosive-grade, and there can’t have been too many people buying twenty or more kilos of the stuff just to make their roses bloom—composting’s much cheaper—so that’s something we could trace.

‘Now, for the big news: I asked my friend from yesterday to check their stock of detonators. A box of it’s already gone, used for missions somewhere or another, but when he checked the rest, he found that a bottom box has been tampered with. He opened it and found five or so of them missing. Which means that a) our bomber had access to that armoury, or an accomplice who did; and b) he still has around three more detonators left, so if he still has some ammonium nitrate on him, that’s three more bombs he could use. The good news is, we’ve got so many leads on him I’m sure we’ll get him sooner or later. So, what’s your story, sir?’

OJ explained how he found a body with no identity in the blast yesterday, and then, after some digging, found out that she was still alive.

Agnes whistled. ‘We’ll you certainly had a more exciting time than I had, sir. But I don’t know if your zombie really did it… For starters, we don’t know if she had motive, or opportunity. ‘

‘I’ll find her and ask her about those. Keep digging with your clues. Maybe we can find the factory. Anything else?’

‘None, sir. Good hunting.’

‘You, too,’ said OJ before hanging up.

* * * * *

The typhoon, which had skirted the eastern coast of the country tentatively for most of the day, has finally started moving inland, causing its outlying clouds to pour the long-expected (if not hoped-for) rain upon the western edge of the city. Many commuters, despite having brought their umbrellas and raincoats when they left home, were caught unawares by the sudden downpour. There were a few (mostly those who left home after noon) who foolishly believed that it would not rain so late in the day, and so brought nothing to protect them from the elements, causing them to be drenched when the typhoon’s floodgates were opened. There were two such sullen people who stood in the midst of a fully-packed metro car, drenched to the bone and shivering. The other passengers gave them a wide berth despite the crowding, unwilling to stand close to the rain-soaked pair, and so they managed to hold a conversation without fear of being overheard.

A young woman, her hair tied in a clumsy ponytail and her face obscured by oversized sunglasses (which looked extremely out of place, considering the weather) began to talk to her companion.

‘Where are you taking me, Patrick?’

‘I thought at first to bring you home. Your home, that is. But since the police know your full name, they might also know where you live.’

‘You didn’t really answer my question.’

‘I’m taking you to my place. Sorry,’ he added hurriedly. ‘It’s not what it looks like. It’s just that it’s the only safe place I know.’

Theresa said nothing afterwards; she was in no mood to resist. Her mind recalled their hasty and unexpected departure from Dr Agcaoili’s office.

Theresa and Dr Agcaoili were startled to hear a tapping sound from behind the scientist’s chair. Dr Agcaoili drew back the curtains covering his windows and saw a frantic Patrick knocking on the glass. He opened one of the panes and said, ‘This is certainly unorthodox, Patrick, You could have come through the front door.’

‘No, I can’t,’ said a breathless Patrick with an emphatic shake of his head. ‘Theresa has to leave through here. Now.’

‘Explain, Patrick,’ said Theresa, her eyes boring straight into his.

‘You’re wanted by the police. They know you’re here. They’re coming for you now.’

‘How did you know that?’

‘I watched it on the news,’ Patrick said curtly, but Theresa caught the hint of uncertainty in his voice.

‘They’re coming for her?’ said an alarmed Dr Agcaoili. ‘Why?’

‘They think she had something to do with the bombing. That’s all I know. We need to leave now, Theresa,’ said Patrick impatiently. Every now and then he turned around, half-expecting the police to come running towards him.

‘But what will I do if they come?’ said Dr Agcaoili. ‘I can’t leave here.’

Theresa was silent, pensive. Suddenly she stood up. ‘Will you turn us over to them?’ she said, looking at Dr Agcaoili.

‘Good heavens, no, of course not.’

‘Will you do anything to help us escape?’

‘So long as it doesn’t cause me trouble with them.’

‘Then you never saw Patrick. Someone attacked you from behind, then we escaped through the window.’

Dr Agcaoili sank weakly into his chair. After a moment of consideration, he said quietly, ‘If you must…’

‘Patrick, get me a rock.’ He did so and handed it to her through the window.

‘I’ll try not to kill you, sir,’ said Theresa to Dr Agcaoili before she brought the rock down upon his head. The physicist slumped before his table, unconscious.

‘Let’s go,’ said Theresa, climbing out the window.

Dr Agcaoili’s windows offered a view to a grassy hillock, a refreshing contrast to the otherwise dull greys of the city. There was no path through it; Patrick’s exposed skin was already full of small cuts and pricks, mementos of when he walked through the hillock to approach the IRHEP building from behind. As the blades of grass and thorns inflicted similar injuries to Theresa, rain fell down from the murky sky, adding to Theresa’s misery. Patrick broke the sullen silence while they were at the summit of the hillock.

‘I bought a hair tie and shades on the way here. We need to disguise you before we go any further.’ He handed a plastic bag over to Theresa, who opened it and extracted its contents. The sunglasses were huge and out of style; the hair tie was a plain pink loop of elastic cloth. With a light sigh, Theresa put the shades on and attempted to tie her hair up.

‘This is quick thinking, coming from you. Have you run from the law before?’

‘What?’ replied a confused Patrick.

‘Never mind.’ Theresa’s expression then turned sober. ‘What about you? Not disguising yourself?’

‘I’m not wanted; only you are.’

They spent the rest of trip in silence. Theresa felt thoroughly depressed as she trudged after Patrick. Their trek ended at the jeepney stop of the Office of the University Registrar, where they found a blessedly empty jeep for the metro station.

A jolt brought Theresa back to the present. She became aware of Patrick’s voice as the metro passed through an underground section.

‘Theresa, what were you doing back there?’ said Patrick with unaccustomed assertiveness. But Theresa countered with her own question.

‘I could see how you would know I was wanted from the news, but how did you know that they knew where I was? Patrick, was this from your dreams?’

‘I don’t know, to be honest,’ said Patrick. ‘But I think so. I may have fallen asleep on my feet while I was walking home. I’m so tired, after all. Suddenly, I saw this news report on the TV that you’ve been arrested, so I ran back to rescue you, then I just stopped running without slowing down. When I checked the time, it was still twenty minutes before five. So I realised that I couldn’t have actually seen the hourly news, so it might have been a dream. But it’s strange; I’ve never had a dream while standing up before, and I’ve never had a dream that short, either.’

Theresa recalled Dr Agcaoili’s words regarding Patrick’s dreams: They’re merely glimpses his subconscious takes of this world’s future. He must have temporarily lost consciousness while he was walking home, allowing his subconscious to view the future where Theresa had been arrested. She then remembered another thing Dr Agcaoili said about his dreams. She gripped his shoulders, shaking him.

‘Why did you do that?’ said Theresa loudly, causing some of the passengers to stare at them. She muttered a hasty apology and released Patrick, but she glared angrily at him.

‘Why are you asking me that? I had to save you,’ said Patrick.

‘Patrick, promise you won’t change your dreams again,’ said Theresa, her voice shaking due to anger and desperation.

‘What’s this about, Theresa?’

‘Promise me!’ Theresa shouted, ignoring the renewed stares she got from the other passengers.

‘Um, Theresa,’ said Patrick calmly, bowing in apology at those around them.

‘Look, when you do something different from your dreams something bad happens. Just trust me on that, and promise me you won’t go changing your dreams again.’

‘What did you and the doctor talk about?’ said Patrick, eyeing Theresa with suspicion.

‘I had some questions for him, and he answered some of them. He didn’t tell me where you got those dreams, or how I got in this world, but I think he knows about it.’

‘And why did you go alone? Why were you trying so hard to send me away?’

‘Well, he’s your father’s friend…’ said Theresa weakly.

‘And you think that meant something? I don’t even know my father, let alone his friends. Tell me the truth, Theresa.’ The last sentence was said in a particularly forceful manner.

‘Look, Patrick, you don’t need to know what we talked about.

It was Patrick’s turn to raise his voice. ‘I thought we’re in this together? We both had weird things happen to us, and we approached him ‘cause you thought he could help us, and now that he starts answering our questions you decide I don’t need to know?’

‘Patrick,’ said Theresa, biting her lip. She wasn’t close to tears, but the frailty that he once saw in her eyes returned. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said hoarsely.

Patrick shook his head. ‘I’m sorry. I said I trusted you, and I should have.’

Theresa raised her free hand and laid it gently on Patrick’s arm. ‘Why—’ she uttered in a plaintive tone, but suddenly she turned her head away and dropped her hand. When she turned back to Patrick, she had regained her composure. ‘You’re a normal person, Patrick, who just happened to have strange dreams. Remove them, and you’re back to normal. I can never be normal again. So all these secrets, I’ll tell you if you need to know them. But I want you to have a normal life. So…’ She let her head drop, at a loss for words.

Patrick watched the forlorn Theresa. He had noticed how she had always kept things inside, concealed behind a wall of lies and coldness—her worries, her fears, perhaps even her own happiness. To think that she actually worried about him, even when she had problems of her own… He wanted to take this woman in his arms and comfort her with soothing words, but he knew that it wouldn’t work on her—in fact, it might even lead to his early demise. So he smiled at her and said, ‘I’m sorry I doubted you, Theresa. And I believe you’re normal.’

The corner of Theresa’s mouth twitched as she looked at Patrick.

‘So you don’t think that I’m scary, or that I have ESP or superpowers?’

Patrick laughed as he scratched the back of his head. ‘I forgot about those.’

They spent the rest of the ride in silence, but not an uncomfortable one. Patrick closed his eyes, trying to get some desperately needed rest, and Theresa gazed at his face; the usual intensity in her eyes was markedly absent. They got off at the familiar (to Patrick) station, and, since they were still soaked, decided to walk to Patrick’s boarding house. Luckily the rain had stopped sometime before they got off.

‘So, what’s the plan?’ said Theresa with a smirk.

‘You can have my bed; I’ll sleep on the sofa,’ said Patrick.

‘How boring,’ said Theresa, laughing softly. Then she turned serious. ‘Am I even allowed there?’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Patrick. ‘My landlord and his wife went up north to meet their new-born grandchild; they won’t be back ‘til Thursday.’

‘“Don’t worry, nobody’s going to bother us,” you mean?’ said Theresa, the smirk in her face making a comeback.

They were within sight of Patrick’s boarding house now. Patrick replied hurriedly,’ No! That’s not what I mean. I mean you don’t have to worry about not being allo—’

BOOM!!!

The bungalow suddenly turned into a fireball, and a wave of heated air knocked the two to the ground. Theresa was the first to get back on her feet.

‘Was that your boarding house?’ said Theresa loudly, as adrenaline coursed through her body after the brush with death. But Patrick remained rooted to the ground, staring in horror at the conflagration as a familiar part of his life turned into a nightmare. Someone wants me dead…

‘Snap out of it, Patrick!’ said Theresa, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him vigorously. Patrick’s glazed eyes returned slowly to normal and cast a tentative glance at Theresa’s concerned face.

‘Patrick, you survived, okay? You’re alive. Now we need to get away from here before the cops arrive. Do you know anyone who could help us?’

Theresa’s calm and reassuring voice was like a rope that Patrick’s mind grabbed hold of, using it to climb back to sanity. ‘Christianne’s place. Follow me,’ he said as he got back to his feet.

The two walked swiftly away from the firebombed house before arriving at a semi-detached house with a maroon gate. Theresa hid behind one of the gateposts as Patrick rang the doorbell. The door opened a fraction, and then was flung wide open as a small figure in an oversized white shirt and short blue shorts ran out.

‘Pat?’ said Christianne. ‘What are you doing here?’

Patrick gestured to the fiery sight illuminating the night-time sky. ‘My house just got bombed. Can we stay the night here?’

Christianne’s reply was a blur. ‘What happened, Pat? —wait, what do you mean, “we”? —WHAT IS SHE DOING HERE?!’

Christianne’s wide eyes were locked on Theresa, who had removed the sunglasses and the hair tie as she stepped out from behind the gatepost.

‘Well, um, Christianne, see, Theresa has some problems at home, and she can’t stay there for some time, and—’

‘My God, Pat, you planned to let her spend the night with you?’

‘It’s not what you think—’ Patrick began, but Christianne dragged him by the arm past the gate and into the small front yard.

‘What are you doing?’ Christianne whispered furiously. ‘Why are you doing this much for her? You barely even know her!’

‘She’s going through a tough time, okay, and part of it might be my fault. I’m just trying to help her. Now, can we stay for the night or not?’

Christianne released Patrick’s arm and nodded once, although she was frowning as she did so. He smiled and said a quick ‘Thanks’ before going out the gate to let Theresa in. Christianne stared at them with a heavy heart.

‘What about Sarah?’ she said in a voice so low only she could hear it.

‘Um, Theresa,’ Patrick whispered to her before they went in, ‘a word of advice. Christianne and Sarah were best friends since way back in grade school. So Christianne might be a tad harsh with you. Just bear with it, please?’

‘Why should she? What did I do to Ms Tan?’ said Theresa, but her eyes said that she understood. She nodded almost imperceptible to him.

‘Hey, Christianne,’ said Patrick as they stepped into the house, ‘we’re kinda soaked from the rain, so could we take a bath here?’

‘Fine,’ she barked. ‘You take the bathroom here; she can use the one in my room.’

Patrick’s head swung around toward Theresa. She just glanced at him for a fraction of a second, and with a look she said to him, ‘Don’t worry, I know,’ before walking away to follow Christianne to her room.

Christianne was rummaging through her closet for a spare towel when she walked in. Finding one, she threw it without a word to Theresa, who caught it and said a polite ‘Thank you.’ Christianne remained obstinate in her silence, crossing her arms in front of her chest, and so Theresa walked into the bathroom. When she was done she found a plain white blouse, maroon shorts, and underwear laid out on the bed.

‘My clothes might be too small for you,’ said Christianne in an almost conversational tone. ‘Well, my bra might be too big’—her eyes flicked towards Theresa’s thin chest—’but I guess you’d have to make do with them.’

‘I understand. Thank you.’

‘Pat said he’s fine with the sofa, so you can have the guest room. Next door on the left.’

‘Again, thank you very much.’

Christianne glared at her, as if she found her incessant politeness grating on her ears. She sat down on her computer chair and turned to face Theresa as she dressed.

‘Let me tell you something about Pat,’ said Christianne, this time using her normal voice. ‘He’s just a naturally kind guy. You see, during lectures, he doesn’t take down notes for himself, but he knows I do, so whenever I miss class, if I’m sick or in a contest somewhere, he takes them down for me. He did the same for Sarah, too, during our third year in high school, the only year they were classmates, and all he knew about her was that she’s my friend. Sarah’s asthmatic, you see; she’s absent a lot. So getting those lecture notes and a little get-well message from him, it endeared him a lot to her. She thought he was interested in her, and so she became interested in him. But that’s just the kind of guy he is, a naturally helpful soul.’ She stared coldly at Theresa as she added, ‘So don’t you go mistaking all these things he’s doing for you now for something it’s not. You might just get hurt.’ She flashed a smile without a hint of warmth at her. ‘A little advice, one woman to another.’

Theresa’s face was a guarded blank mask as she replied.

‘Don’t worry; I’m not that naïve.’

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