, , ,


“Despite the accuracy of the Standard Model of Particle Physics in explaining the nature of the physical universe, there remain some phenomena unexplainable within its framework. Because of this shortcoming some scientists have been looking for theories beyond the scope of the Standard Model.”

4 Beyond the Standard Model / The test

 15 July 2004

‘Dude, you sure about this?’ said Bets to Patrick as they ate an afternoon meal in a fast food restaurant in Sampaguita Drive. ‘We have a test tomorrow.’

‘Don’t worry. I’ll just skip sleep later and do my studying then,’ said Patrick.

‘You sure have screwed-up priorities, man,’ said Bets as she finished off the last of her fries. ‘But I don’t blame you—those new heroes they’re releasing are wicked!’

Finished with their meal, the two left the restaurant and headed for a nearby building, bustling with people in their late teens and early twenties—in other words, university students. The building was the nearest gaming centre to the university, with pool tables as well as an area for trading card games; but most of the building was devoted to computer gaming.

Bets and Patrick were awaiting the release of the latest version of Heroes of Olden Times, an online multiplayer combat/strategy game. They approached the gaming centre’s custodian to ask if there are vacant computer for them to use. Despite their fears that the centre would be full, they were given two spots on the third floor.

‘I’m so glad my ankle’s healed,’ said Bets with a laugh. ‘Imagine me having to walk three storeys up with just a leg and a cane.’

‘Lucky it was just a mild strain, and not fractured like you feared,’ said Patrick. ‘You’ve been taking paranoia lessons from Christianne, haven’t you?’

They reached the third floor and made their way to their stations.

‘I’ll try the new caster,’ said Patrick.

‘Yeah, I suck with those,’ said Bets. ‘I’ll take the new DPS then.’

Three games and four hours later, the two walked out of the gaming centre.

‘That new guy’s awesome, dude,’ said Bets. ‘The slowing attack’s way better than a regular bash. My target can try running, but it sure as hell can’t outrun me.’

‘And the caster,’ said Patrick, ‘mass disable and AoE nuke? He’s a freaking one-man combo!’

‘But, hey, it’s 7 pm already,’ said Bets. ‘And you still have to go home. You sure you’ll find the time to study? It’s our freaking Algebra midterms tomorrow, dude.’

‘Don’t worry about it. I have the whole night to study. But you sure are lucky to have the afternoon class; you’ll have the whole morning to study.’

‘I’ll need it; my head’s worse with numbers than even yours,’ said Bets with a laugh. ‘Later, man.’

‘Yeah, later.’

Patrick took a jeepney to the metro station, and after about half an hour he arrived at his boarding house. With a hurried greeting to the landlord, he rushed to his room, changed his clothes, and took out his Algebra notes. (They were actually someone else’s notes that Alvin and he photocopied.)

‘Hm, I need dinner first,’ he said, heading out of his room and towards the kitchen to heat the beef teriyaki he had left over from last night. Half an hour later, having had his fill, Patrick went back to his room, determined to tackle his Algebra notes.

Functions, slopes, linear equations, graphs of inequalities, roots of polynomials… Patrick ploughed through the notes, his determination ebbing with each passing moment.

‘Maaaan, I can’t remember this all.’ His head fell down on the table.

He didn’t remember falling asleep at all. He remembered reading about the quadratic formula, and then the next thing he heard was a knock on his door, followed by his landlord’s voice.

‘Patrick, don’t you have a class for 8:30? It’s quarter to eight already.’

‘What!’ said Patrick with a start, bolting upright from his chair. He saw sunlight streaming in through his room’s windows, confirming his worst fear—he had overslept! (He had fallen asleep when he didn’t plan to, so that counted as ‘oversleeping.’) He didn’t finish studying! And he’d be late for the exam!

Rushing through taking a bath and changing clothes, he zoomed out of the boarding house, hoping for luck to fall his way, like it did during the first day of classes. But there was no fortunate alignment of coincidences for him that day, and so he arrived at his classroom almost thirty minutes late. With a sheepish grin at the proctor, he took an exam sheet and went to his seat.

‘I’m dead,’ said Patrick as he read the questions. There were fifteen problems, worth three points each. He could answer only the first four with confidence; the next five problems were vague for him, as he had read about them during the waning hours of his consciousness. The last six questions were complete mysteries for him. Since the passing score for Algebra was sixty percent, he needed to get all nine questions perfectly correct to pass. He could try for partial points in the other six questions, but try as he might, he couldn’t remember how they were solved. His memory for numbers was quite short-term; he could remember most of what he studied yesterday, but he couldn’t recall solutions based on a week-old lecture.

In any case, his tardiness struck the final blow. He was about to tackle the ninth question when the proctor declared time’s up.

That was it—he had failed his midterms. He knew it even before the test had been checked.

‘There’s a bonus question, by the way, worth one point,’ said the proctor. ‘I’ll give you time to answer it before I collect your papers.

Patrick saw a glimmer of hope. If he managed to sneak a partial answer for question number nine and answer the bonus question, he could still get the twenty-seven points he needed to pass.

‘Give me the complete etymology of the word “algebra”; its original language, its meaning, etc.’

And just like that the glimmer was extinguished. Patrick dejectedly sneaked his solution for the ninth question in when he heard the increasing pitch of an approaching siren. It seemed louder than normal; their classroom was a fair distance away from the road—

16 July 2004

—and Patrick opened his eyes just as the headlights of an ambulance passed by his room’s window. He didn’t have a clock, so he reached for his cell phone and checked the time there. It was almost five in the morning. He accessed the phone’s calendar function just to be sure. July 16th, the day of the exam. He sighed in relief, as he realised that he had averted a terrible disaster. And speaking of disaster… He returned to revising his notes with a renewed frenzy. He had less than four hours before the exam began, but now he knew which topics to focus on and which ones to ignore. It took him a little over two hours to study for all the questions he had remembered, and so, having time left before he had to leave for school, he decided to consult his thick dictionary to look for the etymology of algebra. According to his dictionary, the word ‘algebra’ came from the Arabic ‘al-jabr’, meaning restoration. Full of certainty that he had done everything he could to pass the exam, he prepared for his departure for school.

Almost an hour later, he entered his Algebra classroom with more confidence than he had entering any other classroom before. He was ready for this exam. He was eager for it to start. He hoped that he hadn’t forgotten everything he had studied for.

The exam had come and gone, including the bonus question, and Patrick marched out of the exam fully relieved, as well as convinced that he had done a job well-done. He saw Theresa walk away unconcerned, as if the exam for her was about as arduous as a regular lecture. He caught sight of a tall, lanky teen who read his Algebra notes anxiously, as if he was just about to take the exam, instead of having just finished one. He tried to remember his name: Peter Garcia, or something. But he did know that he was the topnotcher in last year’s entrance examination. He walked over to Alvin who, like Theresa, did not resemble someone who had just finished his Algebra midterms (though, in Alvin’s case, he always bore that unconcerned look) and said:

‘Hey, don’t you wonder how come the top two in our batch are in this section, taking up Algebra? Why didn’t they take the advanced placement exam, or something?’

‘About as much as I wonder about what Ashlee Simpson had for lunch,’ Alvin replied in a deadpan tone.

‘Huh?’ said Patrick, his face muscles forming that accustomed look of puzzlement. ‘What does she have to do with this? Anyway, don’t you hate her?’

Alvin shrugged, seemingly in surrender to his friend’s ability to miss jokes. ‘No, I don’t wonder about it. Anyway, how did you do in the exam? You walked into the room like Napoleon into Russia or something.’

‘I think I did well.’

Alvin chuckled lightly, an excessive display of emotion for him. ‘That’s a first. You got, like, a peek at the questions beforehand, or something?’

‘What?’ said Patrick with a start. His face displayed not the usual bemusement, but alarm.

‘I’m joking. Relax,’ said Alvin before he walked away from Patrick. ‘I still have a class after this, so see you later.’

Patrick remained rooted to the spot where Alvin had left him. He did get to see the questions before the exam, although he was sure nobody would believe him if he told them how. Did his actions count as cheating? He did study for the exams, and not just lift the answer from some answer key. But he saw the questions and therefore knew exactly which topics to study for. What if he were discovered? Should he turn himself in now, so could explain himself? What if they didn’t believe him? Would he be expelled?

19 July 2004

In the end Patrick didn’t turn himself in, despite being consumed by guilt. He convinced himself that he had no way of avoiding the way he saw the exam questions, and that he would have studied in any case; it’s just that the knowledge inevitably drew him towards the topics concerning the questions he saw. His actions were not done out of malice, but out of a desire not to fail.

By reminding himself of these, he managed to keep his conscience still. He thought of looking for someone to talk to, to keep his mind off his worries. But he couldn’t muster the courage to start a conversation with Sarah, and Theresa seemed to be as unapproachable as ever. He thought of leaving his chair and walking over to Alvin, but their instructor walked in as soon as that thought occurred to him.

After taking a seat, the instructor said, ‘I didn’t know we have a sleeper math whiz in here. The one who got the highest score for the whole batch of this year’s Algebra midterm takers came from this class. And no, it ain’t your topnotcher Garcia or the runner-up Santos, though they both got perfect scores. Actually, Santos, you missed a minus sign in question ten, but the bonus points made up for that. Anyway, the one who got a more-than-perfect score—got everything correct, including the bonus question—is Mr Cruz. Congratulations.’

As much of the class applauded him, Patrick smiled weakly and nodded, though inside his mind he wanted to sink into his seat and through the floor. He glanced over to Theresa; her face was inscrutable as she clapped lightly. And then his head swung over to Peter Garcia, who appeared to be in distress; his hands cradled his head, which was shaking as he stared blankly at his desk. Patrick wondered if his not being the first in the exam had anything to do with his present condition.

* * * * *

Later that day, the four friends met in front of the main administration building of Universidad Central. The grounds in front of the building resembled a huge garden or a small park, and in its midst stood Panorama (nicknamed ‘Ken’), a bronze statue, slightly larger than life-size, of a young man looking into the future. But to Alvin and Christianne, it looked more like someone doing a clumsy salute.

‘Dude, I heard you aced a midterms,’ said Bets to Patrick as she walked over to where the other three were.

‘More than aced it,’ corrected Alvin.

Patrick has grown very uncomfortable with what happened during the Algebra midterms. He was anxious to avoid discussing the topic with his friends, but it seems that it was a hopeless cause. So he tried to shrug it off and mumble, ‘It was nothing, you know; just studied harder.’

‘I was just the second highest in the Calc midterms,’ said Christianne with a pout.

‘And I bet you had to study long and hard for it,’ said Bets. ‘This guy was playing HoOT with me until seven last night!’

‘Wow,’ said Alvin in a voice far removed from the emotion conveyed by the word. ‘That’s an interesting study habit.’

Christianne looked as if she was straining to say something. Bets noticed her and said, ‘Spit it out, Christianne. You look like you’re about to lay an ostrich egg.’

The two boys turned to look at her, but she persisted in her silence for a moment, before saying, in an attempt at an offhanded voice, ‘Did you notice that an ambulance entered the campus?’

Bets and Patrick nodded, while Alvin shook his head.

‘Figures you’d miss it, Al,’ said Christianne. ‘It was headed for the College of Science and Technology area. The Chem lab, more specifically.’

‘What happened?’ said Bets.

Christianne didn’t answer, staring at Patrick’s face, her eyes both downcast and pleading.

‘What?’ said Patrick with some alarm.

‘Peter Garcia drank some acid in the chem lab,’ said Christianne. ‘He died on the way to the hospital.’

[Back to Crossing Everett index.]