The young man fidgeted as he sat 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,
—The thing! What I’ve been telling you about!
—A chess pawn?
—Yes. Oh, have you really not been listening….
The Official gave him a stern look from underneath his oculo-lenses.
—Do you know what department this is?
The young man was taken aback.
—Uh, Informatics and…I think Superstatics? 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—
—Just have a look, that’s all I’m saying—
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—
—Is this some ill-conceived practical joke?
The young man met his eyes in earnest.
—No! It’s not that at all. You’ll see it with your own eyes. You see, the whenever you take your eyes off it for a moment, even just a moment – for instance –
He looked down at the Touchdesk.
—…the pawn disappears, he continued.
Indeed, the pawn had vanished from plain sight. The Official raised his eyebrows to maximum altitude—
—So this is a practical joke?
—No! Do not take me to be a conjurer of –
—What is the meaning of this? The Official was starting to lose his patience, the young man, increasingly exasperated—
—I don’t know! It’s no magic trick. My best guess is that—Look! There it is again!
The pawn had reappeared, this time atop a chest of drawers in the corner. The Official had to strain to see it.
—That’s the same pawn!
—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, I have no—
—Look! It’s gone again! This time the Official was the one who interjected, nearly knocking his papers off the desk in animation. The young man squinted.
—Yes, you’re right. It’s only a matter of time now before—
—The security cam—quick—look! Once again, the Official who spotted the truant pawn. It was perched on the security camera module mounted on the ceiling, in the corner. It seemed precariously positioned, as though any second 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! I found it, that’s all. Well, my Alsatian did. We were just going for a walk, down by the fjords—
—But why bring it here, young man!
—I 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?
—Well…alive, that’s a bit of a strong word I suppose, but –
The Official was right. The security camera lay bare—once more, the pawn, indeed, had done a Houdini.
—See, the young man exclaimed. You tell me, does it seem alive to you? Anyway, it got itself here, so you tell me what this is all about!
The Official assumed an unusually officious tone, probably in some attempt at leadership, and proclaimed,
—We need to have a system. 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 we don’t let it 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—
—Don’t react violently, young man, but it’s in your hair.
—It’s nestled in your hair. It looks rather comfortable actually.
—Let me get it out—the young man gingerly began lifting a hand 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’s eyes rolled back as he reminisced, trying not to be too perturbed about the fact that there was a poltergeist pawn in his parting.
—Polo brought it to me in his jaws—Polo, that’s my dog—we were on a walk, you see—and I immediately tossed it over a bush (he likes that sort of thing) and he went to go fetch. Is it still there, by the way?
—Yes! It’s still there. Don’t move. Continue.
—Well, shortly thereafter, Polo returned, quite confused, and empty-handed, so to peak. He’s usually quite good at this sort of thing, but it was a few paces further down the promenade when I reached for my can of electro-Lite that I noticed why: it was in my satchel. Quite inexplicable, of course, because I hadn’t put it there—but I suppose all that is not very shocking 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 Polo to fetch, it was somehow back there in my satchel when I looked. You know how some things can be frustratingly, almost unreasonably easy to lose, like keys, and 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 pawn in at least his periphery) and opined—
—It is playing with us.
—If this dastardly disappearing act was trying to hop into your purse—
—then the damned thing is playing with us.
—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. Soon, it had bounded entirely out of sight.
—Where is it? I don’t see it…
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?
–The leafy thing, in the corner.
–The potted plant?
–No, on the shelf.
–You’re right, young man, it appears to be in the pot pourri. Wait—
The Official gestured to remain silent as he creeped 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 with the ease of a veteran ballerino. As he reached the location of the pawn, he deftly grabbed a nearby box of paperwork.
–Look at it! Now!
The young man squinted.
And from overhead, the Official lowered the box, overturned, over the pawn. He thought he heard a diminutive, barely audible squeal, but he convinced himself it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
—Did you get it?
—I don’t know.
—Well, there’s no point, is there?
—I 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! We’ll have to ask Schrodinger,
—Nothing. Just look in the damn thing, will you?
—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 beginning to amble 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. Don’t worry, we’ll review the footage. 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 foot, 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 in the corner of its eye.
And so the little pawn made its way into the office of one Sergei, a new recruit Engineer at the TACC, and nestled snugly amongst some papers that were placed on a sheaf upon the windowsill. In a few minutes it was discovered by Sergei, 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? It’s almost as if you’re alive…