By Crista Tompkins
The middle-aged man in front of me at the airport was dressed for a vacation and quite obviously looking for conversation. Vacation Man’s eyes skittered right over me, choosing instead someone working feverishly on an iPhone.
Vacation Man asked iPhone Man to tell him a little bit about what he did for a living. Without missing a beat and never taking his eyes off his screen, iPhone Man said “Sure, but first tell me what you know about quantum mechanics.” I still admire that response. What a great conversation ender.
College professor Jason Dresden actually knows a lot about quantum mechanics. Reasonably happy with his job teaching undergrad physics at a small college and life with his artist wife and their son, Jason wonders, as we all do, what if.
What if that blind date had turned into something wonderful? What if that job interview had gone well? What if we’d spent that night at home instead of going out? For Jason, it’s what if he had taken that lucrative, but life-consuming research opportunity: The one that would have kept him away from home and family.
Jason gets an up close and personal look at what if when he attends a celebration held for his college roommate, Ryan Holder, who has just won a multi-discovery award for his work in a quantum mechanics-related field, an award that Ryan admits Jason would have won easily if he hadn’t given up research. Ryan accuses Jason of giving up and taking the easy way out, saying all that really matters is science and research. The evening doesn’t end well.
Jason heads home angry enough to forget what every city dweller knows: always be aware of your surroundings. Still mulling over the fast track he gave up, Jason eventually notices that he’s walking through a very dark construction zone. Stumbling a bit and more than a little scared, Jason encounters something more sinister than darkness and unfamiliar footing: silence.