“Hey Mrs. Johns,” Carrie said before class. She wanted to know what things looked like behind that camera. What was so interesting about seeing heat?
“Yes, Carrie?” Her voice was like whipped cream, airy and light.
“Well, I was wondering if I could look through your camera.”
“My infrared camera?”
“Yeah, what else?”
Mrs. Johns looked away, contemplating something or other and running a hand through that red bedhead. Her facial expression changed for a moment -though Carrie couldn’t catch what it was- before she returned to look at Carrie, smiling a little too openly. “Of course you may.”
The camera screen was blurry until Carrie steadied it, but once she got a clear picture, the view was impeccable. Every shade from purple to bright yellow appeared on the screen, with orange being the typical skin color. The walls were bright vermillion, and the lights were almost white. Carrie giggled before turning the camera to look at her own skin.
Mrs. Johns materialized in front of her, snatching the camera away hurriedly. “That’s enough, young lady,” she scolded, a thin, forced grin on her face.
Carrie was sure her skin had been red on that camera. Not orange, but red. She was cold. And Mrs. Johns knew it.
“Mrs. Johns,” she started, before trailing off, uncertain of how to continue.
She gathered her courage and looked the teacher in the face. “Um, why is my temperature so low?”
The bell rang and the classroom hushed, every student in the room turning attention towards the teacher and student. Everyone wanted to know what question had been asked.
“What was that again? I didn’t quite hear you.”
“I-I-I’ll ask you about it later, Mrs. Johns,” Carrie stammered, before trudging back to her seat while her classmates eyed her curiously.
Noel heard him screaming in her head, and it was driving her bonkers. Will you stop it already, Wong! I get it! You’re suspicious of Mrs. Johns. Stop screaming at me!
The boy didn’t stop. He was too wrapped-up in it. No, I can’t. She knows someone did something to Carrie, I swear. Quick, Noel, tell me what I could have done to cause her low body temperature.
Noel slowed her in-place jogging. That brat. He should have just looked it up. Nothing, unless you can force her blood pressure to drop.
I heard you insulting me. Can low blood pressure really make your temperature drop?
Noel sighed, causing her classmates to try stealing furtive glances at her without the teacher noticing. So my dad says, she answered, but in order for it to drop as much as you say, she’d have to be dead.
No, and shouldn’t you be concentrating on The 1812 Overture?
He fell silent for a few seconds, and Noel was about ready to speed up again when he called for her attention.
Hey, I know this is irrelevant, but what do you think caused this power?
Noel sighed again. More people sent her quizzical looks. She could see herself furrowing her brows in the mirrors on every wall.
You don’t have a clue, do you?
Assuming it’s a computer like you say, no.
But you’re already thinking about it. Whatcha got so far?
It’s impossible, Theo. A silicon transistor computer simply wouldn’t match the computational power you’ve shown, not one that fits in your brain anyway. And the other option-
Superconductors? Theo interrupted. Noel shivered. It was jolting to have her very thoughts be halted.
Yes, superconductors. Those require-
Extremely cold temperatures. Right. But how cold exactly?
One digit Kelvin sort of temperatures. That’s like interstellar space.
Dang it. That’s cold.
You see? I don’t understand this either.
What about quantum? he suggested, having sensed her earlier dismissal of the idea.
Noel didn’t answer him directly. He’d already read her mind and fell silent.
Quantum computers were even colder than that. 0.01 Kº.
She sped up again, concentrating harder. There was a possibility she hadn’t yet explored. What was it again? Ah, she had it.
That’s it! Unfortunately I don’t know much about how that would work-
I’ll look it up. Thanks for telling!
You should probably work on that snare part instead, she thought meekly, looking back up at the fitness gym. She knew Theo heard her, it was only a matter of him paying attention.
At lunch, it seemed Carrie was telling the entire world that she was some sort of special human, and that she was exceptionally cold. And this was exactly the sort of thing Yvette had been waiting for. Granted, she hadn’t expected to find the quantum computer inside of Carrie, or even that she might be the one to find it, but this was her chance.
She bid goodbye to Noel in the band locker room that afternoon before trailing Carrie to Mrs. Johns’s room.
The room was filled with slightly wilted plants, all of them having been abandoned for this new teacher. Carrie and Mrs. Johns were talking excitedly by the computer while Mrs. Johns clicked in grades.
“So, about my low body temperature, Mrs. Johns,” Carrie started, trailing off a little awkwardly at the end.
Yvette leaned forward in the door opening before realizing her mistake and ducking away. If only she had a glass or something for eavesdropping.
“Ah, yes, what about it?” Mrs. Johns replied after a few moments of grading.
“Well, you must have known about it already, so I was wondering if maybe you could tell me about it. I mean, this seems too supernatural even for my friends, so, you know.”
“You want an explanation? Hmph, I suppose I’ll humor you.”
“Oh thank you-” Carrie was cut off by Mrs. Johns’s theory.
“You see recently I tracked a cold spot here. It was something of a shooting star, but so cold, that interstellar space paled in comparison.”
“Wouldn’t interstellar space be kind of warm? There are stars everywhere giving off heat.”
“Believe me, Carrie, space is a cold place. Anyhow, I tracked this spot until it fell in this area, but I only had a general sense, not an exact location. I had to find it, and make sure that its coldness didn’t spread, because I believe this particular object is capable of forcing heat away from other substances. Unfortunately the National Lab here in town thought I was a lunatic and ignored my request for lab space and a team.”
“Okay, but how does the object draw heat from other things?”
Mrs. Johns did not answer the question. “But imagine my surprise when I found a person, you, who must have had brief contact with the object, thereby explaining your cold body temperature.”
Carrie seemed satisfied, but Yvette wasn’t. Lowering the human body temperature past ninety-five degrees would already induce hypothermia. At eighty-nine, hallucination could occur, and under eighty, well, that was death.
“So, based on the camera, exactly how much colder than a normal person am I?”
“Oh, I’d say around fifty degrees or so, maybe colder. That would leave you around forty-eight. ”
Yvette wondered whether Mrs. Johns was lying, or some chemical change had occurred in Carrie’s body, something that allowed this temperature. If only Noel was there to back everything up with her extensive trivia knowledge. Wasn’t there a kind of frog with anti-freeze blood?
No, she scolded herself, You know better than to involve earth-people.
It didn’t matter now. She’d heard what she needed, and Mrs. Johns was already getting up to close the door.
Yvette had disappeared from the poster-lined hallway before Mrs. Johns reached the door to pull it closed.
She must have sprinted through the school, because before she knew it, she had arrived at Mr. Wills’s door.
Knocking, she called for him. “Mr. Wills! It’s Yvette, I have urgent news!”
“Come in,” his deep voice said back. He was calm as a lion, watching its prey flounder in the grip of his pride-mate’s jaws.
She rushed in, her face set in determination. “Sir, I heard a student named Carrie Thornquist has an unusually low body temperature. Around fifty degrees, so I heard.”
“Ah, Carrie Thornquist,” the man breathed, stroking his beard as he always did. He lifted his eyes from the computer screen to look Yvette in the face. “Wasn’t she a friend of yours?”
She did not correct his use of the past tense. “Yes.”
Mr. Wills’s face transformed. He smirked, and his eyes glinted. “It certainly took you long enough to find out. My source had me informed on friday.”
“Didn’t I tell you before?”
“No.” Yvette was hurt. It used to be that she knew everything Mr. Wills did, when Mr. Wills did. Sometimes she knew more. This was the first time he’d kept something from her.
“Well, I did hire another hand. She’s very good. The lady has identified two possible hosts already. Coincidentally, you’re acquainted with both of them.”
“And who might they be?”
“Why, none other than your friends, Carrie Thornquist and Lillian Kartal.”