84 Making Contact

Talking with Chad had given me a direction, at least for now. I needed to get in touch with Eric and ask him for ideas on who might have noticed Professor Davis’s disappearance, if not he. There was just one problem; I didn’t know how to reach him! I didn’t know his last name, and it was he who had called Vicky after Vicky had called Allie. Either of them should have his cell phone number, but Vicky had told me not to contact either of them, or anybody else in the Strangers. Marsh had never met Allie, so my Facebook contact trick wasn’t going to help.

I was still trying to puzzle this out when Terry knocked at my door and told me that it was time for dinner. Lee Ann was at Chandra’s, so we stopped there, and Chandra and Lisa joined us.

“Are you feeling better, Marsh?” Lee Ann asked, as we left their room.

Lisa looked closely at me. “Is something wrong?”

I shook my head. “Just a touch of stage fright, I think.” That was easy to explain, anyway. Obviously, I wasn’t going to tell them what I had discussed with Chad. At Terry’s prompting, I also repeated what I had told my roommates regarding the note from Dean Peterson.

“Whoa, that’s an awful lot, all at once,” Lisa commented. “I’m really looking forward to seeing your show; I hope you get this Dean issue straightened out.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Jay got to the table a few minutes after we had started eating, and actually glared at me for a moment, before shaking his head and sitting down.

“What was that about?” I asked him. “Usually, you wait until I actually say something before getting angry.”

He sighed. “Probably nothing; I mean, there’s no way you could have anything to do with this.” At my questioning look, he went on. “You and your time-travel obsession. Well, you’re not the only one. Some of the seniors in the department have this new game, where they read articles the professors have published in the past few years and try to make up reasons that they might be related to time travel.

“And it’s really a joke. I mean, solid-state physics? But one of them suggested that a paper on solid-state could lead to a new kind of semi-conductor that could be used to control a time machine. Seriously. They’re not even thinking very deeply on these things. Or a paper on sparse matrices – one guy suggested that you might need them to compute time travel possibilities.”

“So what’s the big deal?” Lee Ann asked. “It sounds like good, harmless fun.”

“It’s making a joke out of physics! Out of science! Science is not about fun. It’s serious business!” Then he looked at me again. “You’re a science major, Marsh – you know this.”

I shrugged. I wasn’t going to get into it with him, not now, especially not to let him know that I actually did have something to do with it. He didn’t realize it, but he had answered my question; Eric was at least trying something, and hiding it as a joke. Suddenly, I really liked him. And suddenly, I realized something else Jay could do for me.

“Jay, a girl I met mentioned that she had a brother who was a physics major. His name is Eric. Was he part of this?”

“Eric Anderson? Yeah, he was one of them. Why?”

“Nothing. Just wondering.” Eric Anderson, huh? Thank you, Jay.

“I just hope your friend doesn’t take after her brother,” he muttered.

As soon as I got back to my room, I looked Eric up in the student directory before rushing off to rehearsal. Adding his number to my phone, I planned to call him when I got a few minutes free.

The rehearsal starting feeling normal again, as we started getting used to being on our real set. We stopped a couple of times to fix lighting cues, and that gave me the chance to call Eric.

“Who’s this?” he asked.

“It’s Marsh Steen, Eric,” I said. “How’s the search going?”

“Marsh! Hi! Well, we’ve pretty much just started, but I’ve got half a dozen guys helping me out.”

“Jay Fowler tells me you’ve made a game of it.”

“He’s a friend of yours?” Eric asked cautiously.

“He’s a friend of a friend,” I explained. “We eat together, usually, and he yells at me every time I ask about anything to do with time travel.”

“Yeah, what a prig. Physics is supposed to be fun; that’s why most of us do it. He takes himself way too seriously.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

“Anyway, we’re only just starting. It could be a long time before we find the paper we need. If ever.”

“I figured that,” I admitted. “But I had another question for you.”


“You said that you didn’t notice Davis vanishing. Is there somebody who would have?”

“Hmm… well, I don’t know all the professors in the department… I’d think most of them would notice, or some of the grad students. Definitely the department chair, but if there’s a cover up, he’d have to be involved.”

“Yeah, so what I’m looking for is somebody who would have noticed, but wouldn’t actually have wanted to go along with it.”

“Hmm…” He seemed to think about that for a while. “The problem is, there are a few different groups in the department. It’s certainly possible that a grad student in the math physics group wouldn’t know all the profs in the high energy group, for example.”

“And we don’t know which group Davis would have been in, right?”


“Which group are you in?”

He laughed. “I’m an undergrad, Marsh. The groups are the professors and their graduate students. But I’m taking an advanced course with Davidson, in astrophysics. He’s the one I really know best. Tell you what; let me think about this for a bit. A grad student is probably your best bet, but I don’t know which one. I mean, I only really know a few of them. Is this a good number to call you at?”

“Yeah, it’s my cell.”

“OK, I’ll get back to you. Take care.”

“Thanks, Eric. You, too.”

Alvin had us run the show twice, so we didn’t get out until after eleven. Some of the cast decided to go to the Student Union, but I was exhausted, so I just headed back to my room and collapsed into bed.

The next morning, I called the Dean’s office during my first break.

“Piques College,” intoned the secretary who answered the phone. “Office of the Dean of Student Affairs. How may I help you?”

“My name is Marsha Steen. Could I speak with Dean Peterson, please?”

“One moment.”

Then a new voice came on. “Hello, Marsha! Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

“Hi!” I said. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, whenever it’s convenient for you. Are you able to come into the office today? Or maybe tomorrow?”

I hesitated. Now that I had actually called, I was getting a bit nervous. I would really have liked to talk things over with Vicky, first; unfortunately, I had no idea when that was going to be possible. Better just to get it over with, then, so it wasn’t hanging over my head during a performance. “This afternoon is fine,” I said. “I have no classes after lunch.”

“So, would 1:30 work for you?”

I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. “That’s fine.”

“Great! I’ll see you then.”

As I hung up, it occurred to me that he really did sound like what he was claiming to be: just a friend of the family who was looking out for his friend’s daughter. It was certainly possible that I was getting all worked up over nothing.

“So,” I told my roommates as we walked home after lunch. “I’ve got an appointment with the Dean in about forty-five minutes.”

“Oooh,” said Terry. Then she tilted her head at me. “If he kicks you out of school, are you still going to finish my gown?”

“Terry!” I gasped.

“Dibs on her wardrobe,” Lee Ann said in a mock serious tone. “I could use a second one.”

“Guys…!” I whined. “I’m kind of nervous about this!”

Terry laughed. “Relax, Marsh. He’s not going to do anything to you.”

“… Except maybe bore you with stories of when he and your Dad were young,” Lee Ann suggested.

“You’d better be careful, Marsh,” Terry added, wagging her finger at me. “He might have a son he wants you to meet.”

“Oooh, married to the son of a Dean. What a fate!” joked Lee Ann.

It’s really hard to stay nervous when you’re laughing, and my roommates had gotten to me again. I was still smiling to myself when I left my room half an hour later. As I got closer to his office, however, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what Dad had told him. Had he mentioned my claiming to be a boy, or a victim of the experiment at all? That might be bad. I was going to have to let him take the lead in our conversation.

The secretary showed me into his office shortly after I arrived, and the Dean greeted me at his door, and shook my hand. “Hello, Marsha. Very nice to meet you. How’s your family?”

“Um, fine…” I replied, taking the seat he indicated.

“That’s good. Classes going well?”


“Anything I can do, for the daughter of an old friend?”

“Mmm… Nothing that I can think of.” If he was trying to make me comfortable, it wasn’t working. He had alluded to the events mentioned in that article, dismissing them as ‘pranks’ and the more he delayed talking about it, the more worried I got.

“So,” he said, finally leaning forward and getting to the point, “your father tells me that you’ve gotten involved with our little hoaxers.”

“Um,” I started, and then realized that it was a statement rather than a question. “I don’t know…”

“Marsha, you do realize that we take this kind of thing very seriously.”

I nodded.

“A hoax that is intended to amuse the student body is one thing, but this was a slander against the college, published in the local paper where many people could read it.”

“That… that doesn’t sound very good.”

“It’s not good. It reflects very badly on the entire college, on the professor who is supposed to have performed this experiment, and on the administration for permitting it. Our rules forbid any experiment that could cause harm to a student. Do you understand me? The idea that we would countenance such a thing…!”

“I see,” I whispered, feeling very small and vulnerable in the face of his verbal assault.

“I’d like to have every one of them here in my office, so that I could explain this to them personally, and hear them apologize,” he insisted. He stared at me. “I’m not asking you to betray your friends, Marsha, but I would hope…” He lifted his head. “How did you get involved with this group, if I may ask?”

A direct question – and that meant that I had to answer, with at least a kernel of truth. “I was… curious,” I admitted. That was safe; anybody in my dining group could confirm that. “I went to meet the reporter who wrote the story and asked how I could reach the people he cited.”

“And he told you? He wasn’t as forthcoming with us.”

“Um, no. But I gave him my name and number and he passed them along, and the group contacted me.”

He nodded. “Clever…” although I wasn’t sure if he meant the Strangers or me. “So, you could ask them to come see me.”

It wasn’t a question. “I… well, I don’t think they’re talking to me anymore,” I explained.

“And why is that?”

“Well, I mentioned that I had said something about it to my father–”

“You did more than that, didn’t you?” he asked, cutting me off. “You claimed to have been a boy and that you were turned into a girl.”

I paled. I had hoped that Dad hadn’t told him that part.

“Did they put you up to that? I don’t think so. It sounds as though you were trying to top their already ludicrous claims. None of them went that far. They couldn’t. There’s no way that… anyway, if they won’t speak with you anymore, don’t worry about it. Just tell me whom to contact and I’ll take care of it myself.” He looked at me expectantly, his pen hovering over a notepad.

“I… I’d rather not. I mean, they seemed afraid of what you might do.”

“Ridiculous,” he scoffed. “What do they think I’m going to do to them? I’ve already told you all I intend. I want an apology and an explanation. Nothing more.”

“I… still don’t think I should tell you,” I insisted, but maybe a bit more timidly than I should have.”

He slammed the pad and pen back on his desk. “Alright. Alright, I can’t force you. But I want you to think clearly on your responsibilities to your fellow students, and to alumni such as your parents, who don’t want to see the reputation of their school sullied.” Then he smiled. It was clearly meant to be a friendly smile, but to me it looked as friendly as the smile of a shark. “You know how to reach me, Marsha. Think about what I’ve said. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision. Let me walk you out.”


  1. von says:

    >>but this was a slander against the college, published in the local paper where many people could read it.”

    Oh, good grief. Is that the line he thought of taking??

    I found the whole scene with the Dean bizarre, especially where he gets angry at the end. Is he related to Jay somehow?

  2. von says:

    Edited to add:

    It seems to me that he plays this oddly. A friendly approach, such as he showed earlier, would have been better. But his attack, and use of the of the legal term ‘slander’, would have clammed anyone up, and definitely mixed the message he is trying to send. And is Marsh *still* down to this level?

    >>“I see,” I whispered, feeling very small and vulnerable in the face of his verbal assault.

  3. von says:

    BTW, overall I like this chapter, inspite of the Dean. Even that was good, just not as good as I would like to see 🙂

  4. von says:

    >>My name is Marsha Steen. Could I speak with Dean Peterson, please?”

    “One moment.”

    Then a new voice came on. “Hello, Marsha! This is Dean Peterson. Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

    “Hi, Dean Peterson,” I said.

    Is it just me, or are there two too many ‘Dean Peterson’s in this exchange. It sounds forced to me. Assuming that there is more than one Dean in this office, I would assume:

    My name is Marsha Steen. Could I speak with Dean Peterson, please?”

    “One moment.”

    Then a new voice came on. “Hello, Marsha! . Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

    “Hi,” I said. “I just got your note.”

  5. scotts13 says:

    I’m confused. When Marsh is talking to Jay, she doesn’t volunteer unnecessary information. She doesn’t get flustered when he seems upset with her. She actually manipulates him (well, a little) into giving HER some information. It’s almost as though she’s doing that thing with her brain; it’s called thi… think… something like that.

    The conversation with the Dean reads two ways – he could be a clumsy manipulator, or he could be borderline bipolar. But the sequence doesn’t read quite right either way. BTW, does anyone see significance in the line “They couldn’t. There’s no way that…” ?

    And I REALLY dislike Marsh’s father.

  6. von says:

    Scott, add more of the quote:

    >>None of them *went* that far. They couldn’t.

    Very interesting.

    And why do you dislike Marsh’ Father? Not that I disagree, necessarily.

  7. Russ says:

    Just to announce that I am going to try to stick to a new schedule; three days a week has been difficult for me, so I’m switching to two days a week: Mondays and Thursdays at 1:00 AM EDT. I already have the next installment queued up.

  8. Hoopla says:

    Sounds good Russ, looking forward to the next part.

    I’m a bit surprised Jeremy isn’t Von’s favourite character in the story 🙂 /ducks

  9. von says:

    Jeremy? I thought Jeremy was intriguing, but we haven’t seem much of him.

  10. Mitchell says:

    hi, I have recently found your story, and I just wanted to say I really like it and to keep up the good work! by the way, I don’t know if its just me, but I feel like marsh’s name when introduced to new people should be her full name like jennifer. O.O but that may just be me lol.

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