Breathless Page 27

Now Puzzle looks at Riddle, and Riddle looks at Puzzle, and by unspoken agreement, they choose a panel and begin.

Holding the tool, she reaches between the bars and bends her wrist severely, inserting the curved head of the blade into the slot in the round head of the bolt.

Between thumb and forefinger, Riddle pinches the square nut in which the bolt is seated, inside the pan of the cage. His small black hands are strong, and strong they need to be as Puzzle begins to turn the bolt.

The revolving bolt, the stable nut, the threads unthreading now and then produce a scraping, a brief squeak, but the soft sounds are only a whisper short of silence, and the man on guard outside will never hear.

After setting the blade aside, Puzzle turns the bolt the last few times with her fingers, the better to capture it when it comes loose, so that it will not fall and clatter against the platform on which the cage stands.

The nut releases the bolt, and freedom is a quarter won.

Hurriedly but without any concern, they engage the second bolt, which begins to turn. Puzzle’s calm—and Riddle’s—is a grace of their condition, their unique position. She relies—he relies—on the highest knowledge that precedes all learning, and they know that whatever will be will be for the best.

And now their freedom is half won.


Shortly after seven o’clock, Grady and Cammy were reviewing the contents of the refrigerator and freezer, deciding what to have for dinner: salads and frozen pizza or salads and frozen fettuccine Alfredo, or salads and frozen homemade meatloaf, or just beer and chips.

Usually, Merlin would be at the refrigerator door, alert to the discussion, hoping to discern what kind of scraps he might be able to wheedle from them at the end of the meal. Instead, he prowled the room, sniffing here and there, and Grady had no doubt that the scents he ceaselessly reviewed were those left by Puzzle and Riddle.

As the dinner decision seemed to be sliding toward grilled-cheese sandwiches, cole slaw, and frozen waffle-cut french fries, a knock came at the door. For privacy from the Homeland horde, they had not raised the blinds at either the window or the French door, which Paul Jardine had lowered during the laser-polygraph sessions.

When he answered the knock, Grady expected to find someone with an agenda that would make him want to throw a punch, but the identity of the visitor surprised him. “Dr. Woolsey. Come in, come in. What brings you here?”

“The fate of the nation,” said Lamar Woolsey with a sly smile. He closed the door behind him, and nodded to Cammy. “Dr. Rivers, I have the advantage. I’m Lamar Woolsey, but please call me Lamar.”

Grady said, “He’s Marcus Pipp’s father.”

“Stepfather,” Lamar corrected. “Mr. Pipp died when Marcus was three. I married Estelle, his mother, when he was seven, raised him from then.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Lamar. Grady speaks so highly of your son.”

“He had a great heart,” Lamar said, “and a mind to match it. I don’t go a day without thinking of him.”

Abruptly tumbling to the truth, Grady said, “You’re part of the crisis team.”

“Now don’t hold that against me, son. Often, Homeland Security does good and necessary work. This just isn’t one of those times.”

Merlin came to stand before Lamar, gazing up at him solemnly before breaking into a grin and wagging his tail.

Pulling a chair from the table and sitting down, the better to rub the dog’s head, Lamar said, “This one could eat the hound of the Baskervilles in a single bite.”

Grady had met Lamar only once, eleven years before, between overseas tours of duty, when he had gone home with Marcus for a week while on leave.

“What do they have you doing in something like this?” Grady asked.

“There’s never been something like this. Previously, in a crisis response, I’ve had two roles. Probability analysis—such as reviewing a planned response to a terrorist event that’s still under way and developing a best-guess report on the likelihood that the proposed response would work as intended, work at all, or exacerbate the crisis. And pattern recognition in apparent chaos.”

Cammy swung a chair away from the table, positioned it behind Merlin, and sat facing the mathematician, with the dog between them. “You said there’s never been something like this. That’s been obvious to Grady and me since we first saw Puzzle and Riddle. But what is it, Lamar? What’s happening?”

“The end of one thing and the beginning of another.”

“Lamar is a mathematician and a physicist, but he can go mystical on you,” Grady warned.

“When a scientist tells you that ‘the science is settled’ in regard to any subject,” Lamar said, “he’s ceased to be a scientist, and he’s become an evangelist for one cult or another. The entire history of science is that nothing in science is ever settled. New discoveries are continuously made, and they upend old certainties.”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Cammy asked.

“Most people tend to believe that the scientific theories of their time are the right ones, and that what remains for scientists to do is find ways to develop wondrous new technologies from their absolute understanding of nature’s laws, structures, and mechanisms. Even many scientists succumb to the illusion that they live in the age of ultimate enlightenment. They become so committed to a theory that they spend entire careers ever more desperately defending it as new discoveries ever more rapidly undermine it.”

Receiving the attentions of both Lamar and Cammy, the wolfhound sighed with contentment, but in the context of their conversation, he seemed to be expressing exasperation with the scientists of whom Lamar spoke.

“Aristotle’s theory that the universe was not created in a singular event, that it had eternally existed, was the unanimous scientific view for twenty-three hundred years. Then in the early 1950s, we discovered the universe is expanding, driven ever outward by the force of the big bang that created it. What was known for twenty-three hundred years was wrong. Even in the latter part of the nineteenth century, it was believed that living organisms could spontaneously generate from inert matter—insects from rotting vegetables or dung, for example. How ludicrous that sounds now. And much of what we believe we know now will appear equally ludicrous in a hundred or two hundred years.”

“If Puzzle and Riddle signify the end of one thing and the beginning of another,” Grady said, “what’s ending?”

“Darwinian evolution.”

“But that’s been proven. The fossil record.”

“There isn’t one,” Lamar said. “Darwin knew it. He accounted for it by saying paleontologists hadn’t yet looked in the right places. He predicted that in a hundred years, they would have found thousands of the dead-end versions of species against which nature selected. More than a hundred fifty years later, not one has been found.”

As Grady pulled up a chair to a third side of Merlin and got in the game, stroking the wolfhound’s broad back, Cammy said, “But evolution itself, a species adapting to its environment, changing over time—there’s a fossil record in a couple of cases. At least with the horse, the whale.”

Lamar shook his head. “They say—here are fossils showing the horse in stages of its evolution. But they’re only assuming the fossils are related. These fossils may more likely be of different species instead of stages of the same one. They prove nothing. The other species became extinct. The horse didn’t. And the assumption that those fossils are arranged in the correct order, showing progression in certain features, can’t be supported with evidence. Neither carbon dating nor any method of fixing the period of a fossil is precise enough to support that arranged order. Again, they’ve been assumed to belong in that order, but mere assumptions do not qualify as science. Understand, I’m not making a case for God.”

“Then what are you making a case for?” Grady asked.

“I believe what I believe about God,” Lamar said, “but that has nothing to do with my opinion here. Darwinian evolution offends me simply as a mathematician, as it does virtually every mathematician who has ever seriously thought about it.”

“Just remember,” Grady said, “we’re not mathematicians.”

“I’ll keep it simple. The tiniest measure of time isn’t the seconds shown on a clock face. The smallest measure of time is how long a ray of light takes, traveling at the speed of light, to cross the smallest distance on the molecular level of the universe. For argument’s sake, let’s just say it’s a millionth of a second. The Earth is four billion years old. If you multiply four billion by the number of millionths of a second in a single year, you get a staggeringly large figure, arguably greater than the number of grains of sand on all the beaches around the Pacific Ocean.”

“With you so far,” Grady said.

“Now think about the complexity of a single gene. It contains so many features—thousands of bits of data—each of which had to be acquired by mutation. But the tiniest worm on Earth could not have evolved from a one-cell organism in four billion years even if there had been a mutation in every one of those millionths of a second.”

Playing devil’s advocate, Cammy said, “Maybe Earth is older than we think.”

“It isn’t older by much. By observing and measuring the rate of the universe’s expansion and calculating backward to the big bang, we can date Earth’s creation in the process. The entire universe is only twenty billion years old. So let’s be irrational and say Earth was formed an instant after the big bang, though it couldn’t have been. That doesn’t help our little worm. There still wouldn’t be enough time in twenty billion years for him to evolve from a single-cell organism at the rate of one mutation per millionth of a second.”

Amazed, Grady said, “So it’s not exactly a closed case.”

“It’s why evolutionists hate mathematicians. Here’s another thing to think about. The minimal number of genes required to support cell function and reproduction in the simplest form of life is two hundred fifty-six. Our little worm may have a couple of thousand. It’s estimated that the human genome contains anywhere from thirty thousand to a hundred fifty thousand genes. If the worm couldn’t have evolved during the entire existence of the universe, how many hundreds of billions of more years would have been required for us to evolve?”

Cammy said, “Puzzle and Riddle. They weren’t made in some lab.”

“No,” Lamar agreed. “Humankind has never created a new life form and will never have the knowledge to do so. We can selectively breed, modify, but not create. And your Puzzle and Riddle … they’re new.”

Perhaps sensing that he was no longer the wonder at the center of their attention, Merlin wandered off, sniffing the floor for the scents of his missing pals.

“Then where did they come from?” Cammy pressed.

Lamar shrugged. “Taking a strictly materialist point of view, their sudden appearance suggests some mechanism entirely different from evolution through natural selection. In the Cambrian period, at some point during a five-million-year window, which is as close as we can calculate it, a hundred new phyla appeared, thousands of species. They could have appeared steadily throughout that period—or in an instant, for all we know. No phyla have appeared since. No new phyla have evolved. Today, only thirty phyla remain, the rest having become extinct. Now maybe we have thirty-one.”

“So what are you saying?” Cammy asked. “That one minute, Puzzle and Riddle didn’t exist—and the next minute they did?”

“I’m a mathematician and a scientist, and from that materialist perspective, I’ve told you what there is to tell about the origins of those two stunning creatures. To give you an answer that makes any practical sense, I have to turn away from materialism and turn to intuition, to that knowledge with which we’re born and from which we seem to flee most of our lives. T. S. Eliot wrote, ‘What you do not know is the only thing you know.’ What I do not know is where Puzzle and Riddle came from or how they got from there to here. But what I believe is that one moment they were inert matter or perhaps not even matter but only concepts, existed only as thought—one moment breathless, the next moment breathing.”

A noise drew their attention to the back door, which opened.


From the cage to the table to the floor, Puzzle and Riddle descend, fearing neither capture nor harm of any kind. They trust in the wit they have been given and in the covenant that has been made with them.

They cross to the closed portal in the eastern wall of the room, through which no one ever enters and no one ever leaves. The way out is zippered shut, the pull-tab resting on the floor. Puzzle pulls the tab up, and the wall becomes a door.

She steps with Riddle out of strong light into night, into early moonlight, as only the previous day they had stepped out of infinity into the finite, from out of time into time. She has no memory of her creation, but of suddenly existing and filled with elation. She is here for a reason, and her life in time must be well-lived to ensure that she lives again outside of time. This she knows.

On all fours, they hurry around the place in which they were caged, across the grass on which so recently they played, to the steps and to the door.

They would rap, but the door is unlocked. They enter from the dark into the light, where the fearless gentle good dog greets them with delight. And the three people abruptly rise from chairs, Cammy and Grady, and the one who cried when he took their hands through the cage bars.

Puzzle approaches Cammy to return the short blade she used to extract the cage bolts, and Cammy drops to her knees. She is full of grace, it shines in her, and yet somewhere she is sad inside. This Puzzle knows.

As Cammy takes the offered blade, Grady says, “Mom’s old cheese spreader. She loved that Santa Claus handle.”

Having listened to many people talking, having listened well and closely, Puzzle believes that time has brought them to the next path, to the next step, as time always will. She looks at Riddle, and Riddle looks at her—and, yes, the time has come.

To Cammy, Puzzle says, “You are clear, so clear, and good and beautiful. You are a strong, strong light.”


Life in Death


A turning point in the history of science and of humanity, the passing of one great theory and eventually the devising of another: That was one thing, that was a major event, but the moment Puzzle spoke, major event became an inadequate description, and even the word singularity, used as scientists used it, would not suffice.

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