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Paul Preuss

“‘Perhaps it is a miracle – that the world is real,’” says Manolis Minakis, the physicist-protagonist of this intensely believable SF novel…. The SF content is almost secondary, though it provides a powerful symbolic gloss to Minakis’s fascinating life.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“Preuss combines cutting-edge quantum physics with fascinating Greek archaeology to make an absolute masterwork of a book, full of compelling images, intriguing characters, evocative settings, and scientific verisimilitude. This is his best science fiction novel to date, and he’s written some excellent ones.”

— John G. Cramer

Secret Passages (Large)

 
 
Watch for the new digital editions from Diversion Books

Secret Passages centers on Manolis Minakis, born a shepherd boy on the island of Crete and, because of his untutored gift for mathematics, sent to Cambridge University by archaeologist John Pendlebury. He becomes a renowned physicist and later a successful industrialist, returning to Crete in retirement. Using a cache of Minoan treasures, Minakis lures photographer Anne-Marie Brand, and through her Peter Slater, a theoretician, to aid his experimental attempts to recover the past.

Read a chapter.

1

 

At the edge of a high terrace, under a grape arbor supported on slender columns, two men sat watching the autumn twilight. Below them the lights of Athens rippled in the thickening haze; the shadow of the Acropolis rose like a stone ship on a phosphorescent sea.

“The fellow was competent enough, occasionally creative,” said the taller man. Manolis Minakis poured brandy into balloon glasses and slid one across the marble tabletop. “It wasn’t a complete waste of time.”

“You said the same thing about Ostrovsky when you gave him the sack.” Richard Wingate was small and neat, with manicured nails and graying hair trimmed close to the skull.

“Bloodless characters, with passion only for their next publications,” Minakis replied.

“Ambitious youngsters, rather, not religious acolytes. And they agreed to help you, despite the absurdly remote location and your insistence on secrecy.”

Minakis raised his glass — “Yeia sas, Richard” — and leaned back comfortably, his blue cotton sweater draped loosely over his shoulders. “It’s good of you to defend them. And they did teach me an important lesson.”

“Which is?”

“That I need something more than a bright young experimentalist.”

Wingate’s laugh was dry. “You need a disciple.”

Minakis did not reply, but studied the purpling sky through the curve of his glass. Behind him, over the tile roof, a pale glow in the sky announced a fat moon rising.

“Who’s the next candidate?” Wingate busied himself lighting a thin black cigar with a cylindrical brass lighter. “I’m sure you have someone in mind.”

“I’m thinking of Peter Slater. Presently in Hawaii.”

“Slater. Really.” Wingate blew a thin stream of smoke. “How do you propose to lure him away from his comfortable position to follow you into the desert?”

Minakis grinned, baring white teeth under a broad gray mustache. “There are signs that, like Saul on the road to Damascus, Peter Slater has recently undergone a conversion. He is willing to admit that the world is real after all, even at the quantum level. I intend to discuss this with him at Delos II. Of course, I also intend to make him question the worth of his heretical new beliefs.”

“And if he doesn’t choose to attend Delos II?”

“I’m afraid the whole affair will have to be postponed.”

Wingate shook his head. “Am I to understand the corporation is underwriting this conference just so you can play devil’s advocate to Peter Slater?”

Minakis raised his brows, all innocence. “The invitations are strictly Papatzis’s concern. I only suggested that it would be appropriate to invite those who were at the first Delos.”

“I had no idea Slater was that old.”

“He’s an ancient — almost half as old as you or I. I’m told he’s on the verge of acquiring an instant family, by marrying a woman who brings her young children with her.”

“Then why not let me pull a few strings and have him invited to CERN for a year? Surely it will be easier to move your experiment to Switzerland — which I’ve been trying to convince you to do since you started — than persuade Slater to move his family to Greece.”

“I trust you’ll find a way to indulge me,” Minakis said complacently. “That is, if you haven’t grown weary of my stubborn quest.”

“Really, given the chance, slight as it is, that you will someday get around to changing the world with these experiments of yours … Well, I’ll find out what I can. But don’t set your heart on acquiring Slater as a junior colleague.”

Minakis’s black eyes reflected the curve of the moon. “Don’t concern yourself with my heart, Richard. Whatever will happen has happened.”

 

Anne-Marie walked barefoot at the edge of the surf, hugging her daughter to her shoulder, and Jennifer crowed in ecstasy when the high waves crashed beside her, partly because her mother squeezed her extra tight each time. But on Anne-Marie’s face tears mixed with the salt spray. The cool breeze, the warm sunshine, the thunder of the turquoise ocean, every sensation reminded her of yesterday’s happiness; with every retreat of the seething water, the wet sand beneath her feet slipped away as if she were sliding back into the sea.

For half a year she’d been living an anticipatory dream, of building a home with a man she loved who would be a loving father to her children — a life filled with the simplest of pleasures, the things most people have, what seemed to her a normal existence — a life she had hardly dared dream of before she met Peter. At last she would belong in one place in the world, belong there by choice, instead of drifting or running or being held prisoner to someone else’s whims. As soon as the divorce was final, as soon as Charlie had finally accepted the inevitable and done what was right, she and Peter would marry. The dream would come true.

But when she came home from her job at the ad agency that day, the baby sitter told her about the thick envelope that had arrived in the morning mail. Before the door closed behind the woman, Anne-Marie had ripped open the envelope.

“Re: Marriage of Phelps. Dear Anne-Marie; I am pleased to inform you that the court has entered a judgment of dissolution, effective 1 November… . Because the dissolution was contested, the court has decided a number of issues. While we were not given everything we asked for, nevertheless …”

Her fierce hope exploded in despair. She had lost; Charlie had won. He had won the right to carry Jennifer away for weeks at a time and worse, much worse, Carlos would go on living with him. Charlie had taken her son. The daughter who was more Peter’s than his, the son who was not his at all.

For an unknown time her mind was filled with no coherent thought but instead with a kind of howling light. Then she heard her ten-month-old daughter’s tiny voice — “Ma, Ma — and felt a tug on her skirt and forced herself to bend and take up the little girl, to flee the beach house, to trudge the sand where the blurred light resolved itself into waves making their thundering landfall.

The lawyer’s letter lay open on the kitchen table, beside the stiffly folded judgment. She had not read the letter a second time, had not read the judgment at all. Why should she? Without her children, what did the rest matter? She was through with lawyers and judges and social workers and hearings, through with trips to California to beg for what was hers, through with postponements and empty days waiting in motel rooms, through with decisions made without her. What was left to her was what she had never used but should have begun with, the truth. Charlie’s money and connections wouldn’t save his pride when he heard what she had to tell him.

As for her own pride … that was only a part of the dream.

Jenny was tiring of the beach walk; she fretted and struggled in her mother’s arms until Anne-Marie soothed her. “We’ll go back, honey. We’ll go home now.” She walked toward cottages standing among palms and ironwoods at the edge of the sand, and when she was far enough from the surf, she set the girl down. After a few moments of staggering and falling down and bulldozing the sand, Jenny was glad to be carried again.

As they came near the house — all angles and raw wood and salt-streaked plate glass, a modernistic bachelor’s pad too small for the three of them, but in the months since Anne-Marie had moved in, she and Peter had yet to find better quarters — Anne-Marie saw Peter’s antique Triumph turn into the driveway and pull up behind her Honda in the carport. She felt a sudden rush of relief, an urge to run to him and hide in his arms.

Then she remembered the letter. She wished she hadn’t left it out where he would find it. Inevitably he would feel sorry for her, and his pity would drain what strength remained to her, the strength of her anger. With each step from the beach to the deck, she willed herself to erase all expression from her face.

Inside, past the Baldwin baby grand that took up half the living room, Peter turned from the kitchen counter where he was busy emptying ice trays into an ice bucket that held a fat bottle of champagne. “Great! I won’t have to start the celebration without you.”

Anne-Marie stared in confusion. Had Peter seen the judgment? Did he think it was good news? But it lay undisturbed on the dining table.

“Da!” Jenny twisted toward him and flung her arms wide. “Da!”

For a moment the dream flowed back, dissolving, but even in tatters comforting her; she broke into a smile, her pale eyes shining. Peter dropped the ice trays on the counter and crossed the living room in three long strides, flinging his arms wide to surround them both.

Anne-Marie met him with a soft kiss. Meanwhile Jenny hooked her sharp nails in his ear and tugged.

“Oww!”

“Welcome home, Da,” Anne-Marie said as he freed himself from Jenny’s grip. She set the baby girl on the floor. “What are we celebrating?”

“The Greek islands, Ma, all expenses paid — kids too, if we want to bring them — and all I have to do is give one short talk to a bunch of people I’ve been dying to trap in one place.”

“Fantastic. This just came out of the blue?”

“I mentioned I was at a conference a few years ago, only time I was ever in Greece? The sponsors are putting on Delos II, and they want us old-timers back.”

“Good for them. When do we go?”

“Not until spring. The time will fly.”

“Mm,” she murmured in agreement. “Tell you what, let me feed the cherub while we’re waiting for that bottle to get cold.”

“Food fight!” he called gleefully. “This demands suitable accompaniment.”

He leaped to the piano, seated himself with a flourish and — while Anne-Marie wrestled Jenny into a high chair and covered her with a bib — plunged into the urgent, falling and climbing runs of the final movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, making it sound like the score to a Buster Keaton movie, no moonlight in evidence. Peter’s hands raced over the keys, and Jenny squirmed frantically in time to the music, shrieking ecstatically every time she managed to divert an incoming spoonful of pureed squash into her hair or onto the floor or, best of all, back onto her mother.

Through the noise and mayhem, Anne-Marie smiled and laughed and imagined herself having as much fun as they were.

Two hours later Jenny was asleep in her corner of the little bedroom. Peter and Anne-Marie, having raided the refrigerator and made a quick supper of leftovers, sat close on the wooden love seat on the deck, sipping cold champagne as the sun sank into the sea off Kaena Point.

Anne-Marie snugged herself closer into the curve of Peter’s arm. “I got a letter today too.” She was too close for him to see her face, but she felt his chin resting on top of her head.

“A letter. And?”

“I’m single again. Or will be, first of the month.”

He put his glass down on the deck and pulled her closer. “That will never do,” he said softly. “Will you marry me?”

“I don’t know. When?”

“Second of the month?” She said nothing, and for a long time he didn’t realize she was crying. He waited until her sobbing subsided and she was breathing evenly again. “I didn’t mean to rush you,” he said. “The third will be fine.”

She pulled away and looked up at him, her pale eyes rimmed in red. “The rest of the letter wasn’t good news. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

“Carlos?”

She bobbed her head and swiped at her nose with the back of her hand. “And Jenny. I was a fool to think I could beat Charlie.”

“What exactly was the decision?”

“Carlos has to live with him while he’s in school. I can have him for a month in the summer and two weeks at Christmas. And weekends, if I’m in San Diego. And he can have Jenny in the summer — after she’s two — and any weekend he’s here.”

“That doesn’t make sense. We’ll fight it. Together. We can hire people to see how he treats Carlos. We can reopen the case.”

“No more courts,” she said with heat. “Charlie stole him. He says I ran away. He lied, and he paid other people to lie. He did it to punish me, not because he cares about Carlos. He never spent any time with him before. But he claims I abandoned him.”

“Then I think the first thing you ought to do is schedule a trip to San Diego to see your son. Surely the settlement gives you that much. It’s been a long time.”

“I will. But I’m not leaving it at that.” She stared at the ruddy glow on the horizon where the sun had gone down.

“Anne-Marie …” Peter put his hand on her shoulder.

She twisted her head and looked back at him. Her smile came jerkily. “I … won’t do anything stupid. Don’t think I’m crazy.”

“I know you’re not crazy.” He pulled her to him again, and she clung to him as if he were the only fixed thing in her life.

Later that night when Peter lay sprawled under a sheet, one arm dangling to the floor, snoring steadily, Anne-Marie crept quietly out of the bed. She peered into the crib where Jenny’s tiny snores were as steady as Peter’s, then went into the living room and found the cordless phone and carried it onto the deck.

She punched a long number on the pad and listened to the click of the circuit connecting. She heard the phone’s nasal buzz. High overhead the moon was small and bright, washing the stars from the sky, but in Switzerland, almost halfway around the world, it was the middle of the morning.

 

Two weeks later: in another part of Switzerland, the intercom chortled softly in Richard Wingate’s office. He pressed the button. “Yes, Rudi … Good, bring it in.”

The Andwin-Zurich building was hardly distinguishable from any of the modernist glass-and-steel corporate headquarters overlooking the lake and the mountains, but Wingate’s office was deep inside it, a windowless room paneled in carved oak from a twelfth-century abbey. One panel opened on oiled hinges, and Rudi Karl entered carrying a thick report. He was a young man with a blond ponytail and the wiry build and deep tan of a downhill skier.

He laid the report on Wingate’s long desk, as big as a library table. “Wait here,” Wingate said, and Rudi took a chair at the end of the desk, sitting motionless as Wingate opened the report and read, quickly and silently:

 

… Upon the retirement of Bronislaw Lasky, head of the theory department, Slater agreed to assume the chair. During the next six months he produced numerous papers on theoretical particle physics, exploring new areas opened by a flood of data from the reconstructed proton-antiproton collider (see Appendix II).

Last spring, Slater’s output of theoretical papers abruptly slowed. A number of review articles have since appeared under his name with titles such as Things, Objects, and Quantum Field Theory (see Appendix III), which his colleagues have characterized as “a useless rehashing of questions that have persisted since the formulation of quantum mechanics seventy years ago,” and “physics for philosophers.”

According to several sources, TERAC’s director has asked Slater for more theory and less history and philosophy, but this request seems to have met with incomprehension. A colleague suggests that “Peter always did have a tendency to think that whatever interests him is supremely important. Until now he’s been lucky….”

 

“‘Until now he’s been lucky,’” Wingate said aloud, and looked up from the document. “I told Minakis we ought to get Slater to CERN, but I doubt that any of the world’s high-energy physics labs are in the market for philosophers these days.”

Rudi nodded in solemn agreement, patting his silk tie. Wingate went back to reading. For five minutes they sat in silence, until Wingate flipped the cover closed and leaned back in his chair.

“Well, Rudi, based on this, I think I’d better tell Minakis to forget about Slater. Even if Slater doesn’t care about his job, the other fact that stands out is that Mrs. Phelps — his fiancée, I mean …”

“Ms. Brand.”

“If she has any influence over where he lives, her first choice is likely to be Southern California, where she can be close to her son. “

“Before you make your recommendation,” Rudi murmured, “depending on how important …”

“It’s important to Minakis.”

“May I?” Rudi leaned forward, reaching for the report. “Here in Appendix VI, biographies of next of kin …”

“I don’t see any help for us there.”

“Ms. Brand’s brother, Alain …”

“Mm, the fellow who sells old books. What about him?”

“I’ve heard his name mentioned in other circles.”

Wingate raised an eyebrow. “What circles? Coins?” His assistant had a fondness for ancient coins; since many of the world’s leading dealers were located in Switzerland, he was well placed to indulge his hobby.

“Not only coins. It occurred to me, given Ms. Brand’s brush with the law in North Africa …”

Rudi let the suggestion dangle until Wingate impatiently broke the silence. “That was years ago. Recreational drugs according to this, not antiquities. Anyway, apparently they haven’t seen each other since they were children.”

“But in Appendix IX, telephone logs …” Rudi found the page he wanted and slid the report back in front of Wingate, holding his muscular index finger against the long list of phone numbers. “Alain Brand’s bookshop in Geneva.”

Wingate peered at the log. “Eleven minutes, sixteen minutes, twenty-three minutes, almost half an hour … four times in the last two weeks. What have they found to talk about after all these years?”

Rudi shrugged. “Without a phone tap … illegal, of course …”

“I can’t imagine we’ll learn anything useful.” Wingate leaned away and steepled his fingers under his chin. “All right, see what you can find. But only at this end. You’d better go to Geneva and handle it yourself.”