Friday, June 29, 2018

Annoyance of Grackles snippet

Here's a bit from the first chapter of An Annoyance of Grackles:
Dr. Verrick stumped to the head of the table and regarded the four of us with the expression of a man who’s requested a SEAL team and received four of the Seven Dwarfs. At an age somewhere between seventy and a hundred and ten (none of us had the nerve to ask), you’d think he would have got used to people not living up to his expectations.
“In a few minutes,” Dr. Verrick announced, “you will have the opportunity to meet a young man who will be interning with the research department this semester. He will, of course, receive significantly less than a full research fellow’s stipend.”
That was an eyebrow-raiser. Considering the beggarly stipends he allotted full-fledged research fellows, the only way an intern could receive significantly less was if he paid for the privilege of working with us. And nobody was that crazy, unless…
“Oh, God,” I said involuntarily, “Tell me it’s not Vern Trexler.”
“Staff selection is entirely my prerogative,” Dr. Verrick said, and paused long enough for me to have one of those near-death experiences where your whole life zips past your eyes. I hadn’t had nearly enough life for this to take more than a couple of seconds; I was kind of counting on another fifty or sixty years of experiences to stockpile before getting to this bit.
“But no, Miss Kostis, the person I have in mind is not Mr. Trexler, but rather an exceptionally talented dissertation candidate who requires a brief sabbatical from his formal work.” I swear he enjoyed watching me start to melt down. Trexler – well, that’s another story. Not, praise gods and little stars, part of this one.
Nobody had ever suggested the Center for Applied Topology as a rest cure for troubled minds. We were more likely to shatter minds than heal them. Ben made that point and Dr. Verrick said testily,
“Exactly what gave you the impression that Mr. Bhatia was seeking a rest cure? I expect he will work harder here than he has in the entire rest of his academic career, and it will do him good.”
“Prakash Bhatia? That Bhatia?” Ingrid exclaimed. Maybe she knew the guy from graduate school. I’d have to get any juicy details out of her as soon as the meeting was over.
“Yes, that Bhatia,” Dr. Verrick confirmed. He went on to tell us that at this late stage in his studies, Prakash Bhatia had begun experiencing the minor, disturbing incidents that had drawn all of us – the research fellows, anyway – to the Center. Unlike us, though, he was determined to deny that anything unusual was going on. He hadn’t collected all the spades in play during a bridge game and spread them out in order on the table, somebody was playing conjuring games. He didn’t correct a research paper without touching it, he’d just forgotten that he had already edited it on the computer. And so forth and so on.
Continuous denial of reality is not good for the mind. Dr. Verrick hoped that being in contact with four research fellows who routinely did things a lot more amazing than messing with hands of cards would help Prakash Bhatia to accept the reality of his talent. But taking him in for this semester was not a work of charity; this young man had a lot to contribute to our work, if he could just let go of his crippling certainties.
He dismissed us back to our offices, saying that we should be prepared to interview the new intern in a few minutes. And that refusing to accept the appointment was not an option. We were going to work with Bhatia for a semester. Instead of giving him a conventional interview, he expected us to explain the structure and work of the Center for Applied Topology.

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