The young man fidgeted under the watchful eyes of the administrative official —
— So, shall I leave it with you, then?
The official — a glorified receptionist, really — put aside his papers and took one long, stern look at the man. And then, in a bored voice —
— Leave what?
— The thing! The thing that I’ve been telling you about!
— A checker?
— A chess pawn?
— Yes. Oh, have you really not been listening….
The official gave him a cold look from above his oculo-lenses.
— Do you know what department this is?
The young man was taken aback.
— Uh, Informatics and…I think Statistics? Super-statistics? Super-something, it said over the door.
The official put down his papers, now exasperated —
— If you don’t know where you are, he began. Then pray, tell me, what are you doing here?
— I told you, to show you this —
And with that, the young man plonked his satchel down onto the Touchdesk. The Official tried to stop him, but it was too late —
A small wooden figurine spilled out: a chess pawn.
Both parties stood staring at it for a moment. The official turned to the young man, with the demeanour of someone who didn’t nearly have time for this sort of nonsense, and especially before breakfast.
— Is this some ill-conceived practical joke?
The young man met his eyes in earnest.
— No, not at all! You’ll see it with your own eyes — or you won’t, rather. You see, the whenever you take your eyes off it for a moment, even a moment — for instance —
He looked down at the Touchdesk.
— the pawn disappears.
Indeed, the pawn had vanished from plain sight. The Official raised his eyebrows to maximum altitude—
— So this is a practical joke?
— No! Don’t take me to be a conjurer of —
— What is the meaning of this?
The Official was starting to really lose his patience now.
— I haven’t the foggiest! It’s no magic trick, I’ll assure — look! There it is again!
The pawn had reappeared, this time atop a chest of drawers in the corner. The official squinted at the item of furniture and finally spotted the piece.
— Is — is that?
— That’s the same pawn!
— But how—
— Beats me! It seems to happen when you look away, that’s almost certainly the case.
The official sat up in his chair, starting to get all of a sudden very invested in this little game.
— And you assure me it’s no magic trick?
— Certainly! I’m telling you, it’s —
— Look! It’s gone again! This time the official was the one who interjected, nearly knocking the papers off his desk in animation.
— You’re right! It’s only a matter of time now before —
— The security-cam — quick! Once again, it was the official who spotted the truant pawn. It was perched on the security-camera module mounted in the corner. It looked precariously positioned, as though any moment a particularly ungentle breeze would send it toppling over.
The young man scratched his head.
— But how did it get there?
— Don’t ask me. It’s your thing.
— It’s not mine!
— Well, whose is it, then?
— I don’t know! I found it, that’s all. Well, my Alsatian did. We were just going for a walk, down by the fjords…
— Save me the itinerary, young man, and tell me this: why bring it here?
— I didn’t! —What do you mean, you didn’t?
— You won’t believe it but — it did. I could feel it tugging away in my satchel —
— Young man, you mean to say this thing is alive?
— Alive — that’s a bit of a strong word I suppose —
— It’s gone!
The official was right. The security camera lay bare — once again the pawn had done a Houdini.
— See, the young man exclaimed. You tell me, does it seem alive to you? Anyway, it got itself here, it did — so you tell me what this is all about!
The official assumed an unusually officious tone, as officials are wont to do in moments that called for exceptional leadership. He soberly proclaimed:
— Well, we need to have a system. I suggest at least one of us never takes their eyes off it, at any given time.
The young man began gesturing excitably—
— Yes, I see it too, the official said. Look, we mustn’t give it too much attention. All we have to do is to make sure it doesn’t leave our sight, and we take it from there. Agreed?
The young man looked at him.
— Yeah, that’s a great idea — oh, darn —
It was gone again.
— You looked at me! I wouldn’t have looked away if you hadn’t looked at me —
— Sorry, it was instinctive. You’re right, best not to look at each other, that way —
The official was barely paying heed, for his attention was diverted by something else.
— Don’t react violently, young man, he began. But it’s in your hair.
— It’s what?
— It’s nestled in your hair. It looks rather comfortable actually.
The young man’s hand shot up to his scalp —
— No! Let it be. Better it is here where we can see it than somewhere we know not — tell me, young man, how did you trap it in the first place?
The young man gazed into the distance, trying to recollect the exact succession of events trying not to be too perturbed about the fact that there was a poltergeist pawn in his parting.
— Bobo brought it to me in his jaws, you see — Bobo, that’s my dog — we were on a walk, you see. I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded to toss it over a bush or some such — he likes that sort of thing — and the lovable beast bounded over to go and fetch it — is it still there, by the way?
The official nodded.
— Indeed, it is. Don’t move. Continue!
— Well, shortly thereafter, Bobo returned, quite confused, and empty-handed, so to speak. He’s usually rather good at this sort of thing. It was a few paces further down the promenade when I reached for my can of electro-Lite that I saw it again — it was in my satchel! Quite inexplicable, of course, because I hadn’t put it there — but I suppose that is not all that surprising to you now.
— Didn’t put it in your hair, did you?
— And it did that again?
— Multiple times. Each time I threw it for Bobo to fetch, it was somehow back there in my satchel when I looked. You know how some things can be almost unreasonably easy to lose, like keys, cards, and that sort of thing? This was like the opposite of that. I even tried burying it under a bush, but no cigar.
The official looked him up squarely — all the while taking care to keep the peripatetic pawn in his periphery — and opined,
— It is playing with us.
— You think?
— If this dastardly disappearing act was trying to hop into your purse —
— Then the damned thing is playing with us.
— I don’t understand — how — why —
— I know it sounds strange. But any sufficiently advanced technology … you know how it goes.
The young man considered this.
— You know, my grandmother used to always say, even if Miracles happened today, we would not see them for what they are, for we are so used to His Miracles everyday.
— What the hell are you on about? I’m saying the damned thing is playing with us.
As soon as these words left the official’s mouth, the pawn, for the first time acting in full view, leapt off the young man’s head and pirouetted onto the Touchdesk. From there, it rappelled down a table leg, bounded across the room, and soon it had vanished entirely out of sight.
— Where’s it gone? Do you see it, young man?
The two of them scanned the room.
— Look! the young man began. It’s in the … he trailed off. The … what do you call it?
— Call what?
— The leafy thing, in the corner.
— The potted plant?
— No, I know what a plant is! The thing on the shelf.
— You’re right, young man, it appears to be in the pot pourri!
And then he had an idea. He gestured at the young man to remain silent, and crept around the side of the room. For a burly man, he was surprisingly nimble, and he tiptoed across the foyer of the Department of Informatics almost with the ease of a veteran ballerino. Upon reaching the other end of the room, he deftly grabbed a nearby box of paperwork.
— Look at it! Now!
The young man squinted hard.
And then he lowered the box, overturned, over the pawn. He thought he heard a diminutive, barely audible squeal, but convinced himself it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
— Did you get it? The young man asked from across the room.
— I don’t know.
— Well, there’s no point, is there?
— I just realised that if it can apparate into containers, then it can also apparate out of them. It’s out of our sight now, isn’t it?
The two men looked at the box.
— Do you think it’s still in there?
— Ha! Schrodinger only knows —
— Nevermind. Just look in the damn thing, will you?
The young man went up to him and peered nervously under the box as it was lifted up a inch.
— Well, that’s that, then.
— What now!
— We’ll have to keep an eye out, I suppose.
The two of them waited and waited, scanning the room from wall to wall with rapt attention. Seconds passed, then minutes. Finally, enough time had gone by that they began to suspect they were alone in there after all.
— Well, I don’t think it’s coming back again.
— I think you might be right, young man.
— I hope it found whatever it was looking for.
— I hope we all do, young man. The official was already ambling back to his desk. This was certainly not the strangest thing he’d seen, working at the TACC.
— Do you believe in guardian angels?
—I’ll have to get back to my paperwork, young man. We’ll review the footage later. The official gestured at the security-cams.
— What about aliens?
— Get out of my office, son.
Just a few metres outside the Informatics, Q-Informatics and Superstatistics office of the West Collider Wing at TACC, the pawn hand already begun its whimsical canter down the main driveway.
Soon after, it managed to latch onto a passing boot, where it was a stowaway for a few paces until it chanced upon a serendipitous skateboarder. Hitchhiking on the board, the pawn journeyed all the way to the Engineering Wing at which point it hopped off to continue on foot, so to speak. Almost no one saw it as it skipped into the backyard and careened up the fire exit — save for a collider technician, but he had not slept for two nights in a row and was used to seeing strange things out the corner of its eye.
And so the little pawn made its way into the office of one Sergei-SAPIENS, a new recruit Engineer at the TACC, and nestled snugly amongst a sheaf of papers placed upon the windowsill. In a few minutes it was discovered by said Engineer, who had entered his office to retrieve something.
— There you are! I was looking everywhere for you — I’m playing a Swiss with the other technicians soon. How do you manage do get lost so often, and then turn up in the most unexpected places? I swear, it’s almost as if you’re alive…