05 July 2013
By Curtis C. Chen
"Shouldn't you be talking to your advisor about this?" I ask Nicole as she pulls another book off the shelf with purple-gloved hands.
"I don't trust my advisor," she says. "Is that thing ready?"
She points at the old film camera which I borrowed from the campus art center and lugged down here at her behest. She still hasn't told me why she wanted it, and I can't imagine a dozen dusty old books in the library's basement will make for an especially compelling student film project. Unless maybe she's planning to take off her top and read them aloud.
I check the camera and nod. "Willing and able. But you know you can record videos with your phone, right? And why don't you trust Professor Wigan?"
Nicole starts opening books carefully—some of them look like they could fall apart at any second—and arranging them on the table. "My phone won't work for this. And Wigan is the one who started me down this path. I think—" She shakes her head. "I don't know what I think anymore."
"Nicky, have you been getting enough sleep?"
She laughs, then looks at me with unfocused eyes. "Start the camera."
I flip some switches, and the camera clicks and whirs. "Okay, it's going. You've got about ten minutes before this cartridge runs out."
Nicole looks into the lens and starts talking.
"My name is Nicole Redberg. I'm a master's student at Leland University. My thesis is on the phonological evolution of Sino-Tibetan languages during the seventh century AD. I found these rime dictionaries in the university's rare books collection and was studying them when I discovered—something."
She holds up one book, showing a dense grid of Chinese characters.
"There are gaps in the rime tables," Nicole continues. "Missing sections corresponding to sounds which are known to exist. In fact, the gaps are different in every book, and tones which are missing from one book appear in others. They have been excluded deliberately.
"Each table has a specific grid pattern, and the gaps indicate a unique sequence of excluded sounds. When combined, they don't correspond to actual words in any of the known languages from that period, but there is something else interesting about them."
She puts down the book, pulls a folded-up paper from her jeans, and recites a series of vaguely Asian-sounding noises. I wonder if it's supposed to mean something to me. After all, Nicole could have finagled her own camera; why did she want me here, too?
"Do you see it, Rachel?" she asks quietly.
She points at the table. Twelve open books, just as before, the overhead lights casting their shadows across the wooden surface--
The books are all floating several inches above the table.
I stumble backwards into the wall. I gape at the levitating books, then look at Nicole. She's smiling.
"Good," she says. "You see it, too." She nods at the camera. "Now let's develop that film and make sure we're not both crazy."
Photo Credit: citizenoftheworld via Compfight cc