These are Juno’s First Words

I answer their questions as best I can, but half the time it’s hard for me to remember my own name. My name is Jeff. They want me to tell them about my daughter. They always want me to tell them about my daughter. Juno. They also want me to tell them about the people who had kidnapped me before they did. It’s hard to say. Everyone wears masks. All of them give me drugs, which messes with time. It’s difficult to remember what happened before or after what. They all tell me this should be easy, that I should just tell them what happened in the order that it happened.

I don’t know anymore what happened when. I really don’t think it matters. I don’t know if they want to kill my wife or if my wife wants to kill me, and I’m not sure why she would, and I tell them this, and they say they don’t believe me.

I don’t know if the Badgers got into the Final Four, and I don’t know why I care because I don’t like basketball. The drugs make it hard to put thoughts together, so I just give them whatever answer comes to me when they ask.

Sometimes they ask me questions that make me think about the person I was when I was a child. They ask, “What do you think your daughter was thinking?”

I answer them honestly. I tell them that when I was five, the only thing I cared about was dinosaurs, so I think that whatever she’s thinking about probably has to do with dinosaurs. I tell them that my parents took me to see a movie that had them and after the movie, dinosaurs were all I could think about. I was always asking to go to the museum, and for books, and to look up things wherever I could. I tell them that’s where she’s at. It makes perfect sense. Kids love dinosaurs. Also, she insists on buttering her toast with a butcher’s knife. It’s one of her many eccentricities, but she hasn’t cut herself yet and seems to know what she’s doing. I tell them she could be considering alternative delivery methods of butter to toast.

The masks they wear and the questions they ask make me pretty sure other people in masks have asked me these same questions before. I tell them this. They seem very interested and want to know more. They want to know when. The drugs make this impossible. I do my best to tell them what I know about whenever it is they’re asking. The drugs make everything distant. I tell them this. They do not care.

• • •

My phone rings all the time, same number, same sound of nothing on the other end. I tell my wife, Janet, that our daughter’s speaking in websites.

“That’s nice, I guess.” she says, “She’s growing up so fast. Eventually she’ll be dead, just like everything else.”

I tell her Juno misses her and that she should get out of bed.

“Has my father called?” she asks.

I tell her no because her father never calls, and I don’t mention that she’s treating our child the same way her father treats her.

Janet will only eat toast and drink cucumber water, and the old outline of her in the bed looks like a late day shadow because it’s much bigger than she is now. The way she squints her eyes when she talks to me makes her look even smaller.

I bring our daughter, Juno, to Dr. Wu’s office so she can tell me what she’s saying. On this day there are more people than normal. There are four extra people. Two women and two men. No one in the office looks happy to see me, but they also don’t look unhappy. They more look like static representations, like the office was put on pause right before we walked into the room.

Dr. Wu tells me they’re here to help him with my daughter. That she’s found an online domain that matches what my daughter’s been saying.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them,” she says, pointing at the others. “Please understand that I wouldn’t have called unless I thought they could help.”

Because I’ve stopped, their eyes stop following me, and they all look like a three-dimensional photograph again. My phone rings for the thirteenth time today, and I don’t answer it.

“These two women, Johnson and Myers, are from the FBI,” says Dr. Wu, motioning to his right. “These two, Smith and Kranz, are from the CIA,” he motions to the two men to his left.

Johnson steps forward.

A loud bang comes from the reception area.

I don’t remember closing the door, but I must have because it bursts open behind me, and several people, I cannot tell if they are women or men, enter the room with automatic rifles. They wear black winter coats, black work pants, black ski masks, and black reflective goggles. All of them have knifes, presumably they are not for buttering toast. We all put our hands up and do not speak. None of them speak, either. One holds up a picture of my daughter. One holds up a picture of me. Dr. Wu points to me and to my daughter. Then one of these people puts a blindfold over my eyes and holds a rag over my mouth and nose.

• • •

When they take our hoods off, they tell me that my wife has arranged for me and our daughter to be kept in a safe place. They tell me that everything will be fine. I just need to cooperate. I tell them I’d be happy to. They tell me they need me to speak to my daughter, and I tell them I wish I could, but there’s actually no one who can do that. They tell me they’re going to give me drugs. I say, great, also you might want to wait at the door for the next set of kidnappers to come because that’s what always happens.

They shoot me full of something. There’s a hood over my head so I don’t see it, but at this point it doesn’t really matter because it’s all the same as before, and I tell them that. Just pass me off, I tell them. It’s not like it matters. They could be anybody, really. It’s possible they don’t know my wife at all. They could be the same people I talked to before. They could be the people I talked to before that who also said my wife sent them, or maybe they’re the first people I talked to. I wonder if I’m forgetting other times I’ve been kidnapped. I guess that’s always a possibility. And they wonder why I have such a problem keeping track.

• • •

Janet’s suffering from postpartum depression. Except, since our daughter’s birth was seven years ago, it’s probably safe to say she’s suffering from just plain old melancholic-depression, and probably she always felt this way. Juno knows who her mother is. They don’t talk. Our couples therapist tells me depression affects people in highly idiosyncratic ways. My wife’s father calls us once a week to ask how his granddaughter is doing and to tell us he will once again be unable to visit on Christmas because he’s made plans to go to Boca. I don’t tell this to Janet.

• • •

I am blindfolded. I hear four gunshots. I assume four people are dead. I hope my daughter is also blindfolded and also not dead. They’re going to move us again. I want to say something, but the last time I did someone hit me, and I woke up with a horrible pain in the back of my head and I didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks. At least I’m assuming it was a couple of weeks. It’s hard to know. I try to hold on to good memories, like the time when Juno pounded out in Morse Code that she loved me more than anything in the world.

• • •

Two and a half years into little Juno’s life and she still isn’t talking, though she pounds on whatever she can get her heels or fists on.

Whack, slam! Whack! Whack, slam!

It’s 3 a.m.

Whack, slam! Whack! Slam!

I don’t know what my daughter wants.

Whack, slam! Whack! Slam!

There is a part of me that wonders if my infant daughter is dying.

Whack, slam!…

Is she going to die or is she just hungry? Probably she’s just hungry.

My wife, half awake, tells me not to worry. She mumbles, “Our universe is made up of equal parts of matter and antimatter, which means that all that ‘is,’ all that we know, can be expressed in a null equation. Everything ‘is’ minus nothing ‘is.’ Don’t you see? The balance of everything equals indescribable absence.”

I tell her that is simply not true.

She pauses for a moment, then says, “It’s Morse code you know. She’s hungry. She’s pounding out, ‘E, a, t.’”

I tell her that we should go to her.

“Has my father called?” she asks.

I tell her no and go feed our Juno. Once she’s fed I cradle her in my arms and rock her back and forth until she sleeps.

• • •

We’ve moved again. This is not in doubt. I still think we’re on State Street though, because I can hear someone who sounds like they’re drunk yelling they are happy the University of Wisconsin’s basketball team has won a game.

One of the agents takes off her scarf and mask and flashes her badge in my face, “You’re here because we need you safe.”

I ask from what

“Terrorists,” she says.

The room we’re in is dark and the windows are covered. I point to the window and tell them, “They had us in a dark room on State Street. You have me in a dark room on State Street. How is it that my daughter and I weren’t safe there but are suddenly safe here?”

“We can keep you safe from them,” she says, and takes out a syringe to give me more drugs.

“You moved us down the block,” I say. “And they gave me drugs already, and why are you giving me drugs?”

“We’ve taken those terrorists into custody,” she says. She points to the bottle she just used to fill up the syringe. “This is just something to help you relax.”

I tell them I’m worried and that I’d like to see my daughter and talk to my wife.

“You have nothing to worry about,” she tells me. “Your daughter is safe. She’s in the other room. Your wife,” she lets the word, “wife” hang in the air for quite a long time before she says, “Don’t worry about her. We know what we’re doing.” She leans toward me so I can see her face in what little light there is. She has hard features. Satisfied features. Like she’d just cut off someone who’d cut her off a mile back down the road.

“Because you’re from the NSA?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “and we’ll send you home just as soon it’s safe.” The room is empty except for chairs. There are exactly enough chairs for everyone to sit, though not everyone is sitting, probably it’s those people’s jobs to stand.

“We want to know,” the agent says, “how your daughter knows quantum language.”

“I don’t know,” I say because I don’t. “Have you thought of asking her?”

The agent lets out a long sigh, and so do the rest of the agents. “We can’t speak to your daughter. She’s speaking in quantum. We don’t speak quantum. No one does. The only way we know how she’s speaking in quantum language is because we have people who think they know what it looks like.”

One of the agents takes their knife from their belt and lays it on a table.

“That’s unfortunate. I don’t either.” I say. “Have you thought of asking her grandfather? From what I understand, his company has been working on quantum computing for quite some time.” I assume the drugs are working because I’m not supposed to be saying this and also because my body is vibrating with the frequency of several bee hives.

“You understand that your daughter, if she is speaking in quantum computer code, that that would make her the most dangerous person on the face of the planet?”

“Sure,” I say, and realize she’s referring to the only person on the planet I care about. I remember when she started speaking in html and made a beautiful website devoted to her and her dog, only she was the queen of the moon, and I was her loyal star dog.

• • •

The year after our daughter is born, there are weeks my wife does not leave our bed, and there are other weeks when she is fine. On her bad days, she lies under covers in a dark room, doesn’t talk unless it is to ask after her father who never calls her, and is certain life has no meaning. On her good days, she goes to work where the entire physics department at UW basks in her brilliance as she works in tandem with Dr. Wu. Everyone she meets is impressed. When they ask if she has any children, she tells them that she has a daughter and that her name is Juno.

They make comments about our infant daughter. They say things like, “Her eyes are so brown. If your daughter has even half the intelligence you have,” and then trail off in the way people do when they feel they don’t have to finish their sentences. Every so often they ask what I do, and she tells them I teach economics online for the local technical college.

When our daughter Juno is one year old, she has yet to make a sound remotely resembling a word. Instead, she pounds on things. The whacks and slams echo through our substantial townhouse as I try to work in my study and Janet stares blankly at the TV in our dark room.

Lying under a thick down comforter with a Madison blizzard whiting out the view outside her window, she says, “It’s okay. I don’t want her to speak.” Her phone is filled with messages from her TAs, and many of them from Dr. Wu, because she hasn’t been to the University in weeks. She hasn’t said/spoken more than two words to me in longer. Now she wants to talk about Juno, who is crawling in circles around the living room, and stopping every now and again to pick up blocks and pound them on things.

I ask Janet why she doesn’t want our daughter to speak.

“Because,” she says, “when she learns to speak she will ask us lots of questions and we’ll have to answer them.”

But she’d be talking, I say.

She points at the shadow the lamp casts of itself on the floor, “That shadow is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object.”

The shadow looks like a very thin man in a funny hat.

“We’re three-dimensional, Jeff. Three-dimensional objects give off two-dimensional shadows.”

I don’t ask her if she notices that, because she mostly never sees her, our daughter treats her in the same way she treats strangers, and I don’t tell her that I happen to know how Juno acts around strangers in the park because I am the one who takes her there.

“There’s a fourth dimension, Jeff. What do you think that makes us?”

I do not ask her if she thinks the reason she is depressed and doesn’t engage with our daughter is because she’s just reenacting all of the same mistakes her own father made.

“We’re three-dimensional. This means that in four-dimensional space,” she says, “we’re just shadows. Does it make you feel good that we’re probably just echoes, just impressions,” she pauses trying to think of a better descriptive, and finally settles on, “just outlines of something far more complete? Is that something you want to tell our daughter or should I do it?”

I ask her if her dad ever talked to her about things like this when she was younger.

She says nothing, and leaves the room to go lay down. It’s not surprising. She’s never talked about her dad for as long as I’ve known her. She only asks if he’s called.

• • •

It’s spring, and Juno is four when she starts talking because she doesn’t want to take a bath.

The sun’s falling, and I tell her it’s time for one.

She says, “0100111001101110.”

Her voice is weak and light and squeaky, and rings to me like the opening bell of the stock market.

I ask her to repeat herself.

“0100111001101110,” she answers.

I run into the office and write down the string of numbers fast as I can.

I go to my wife who is laying in the dark in our bed, read her the numbers, and ask her what it means.

“She doesn’t want to take a bath,” Janet says. “It’s binary.” She then spells out the zeros and ones, “‘01001110’: capital ‘N’; ‘01101110’: small ‘o’.”

I ask my wife why our daughter is speaking binary.

She shrugs and says, “If you want to understand our child, all that you need to do is learn ASCII. It’s so simple an infant could learn it.”

I look up ASCII and start to speak with my daughter in ones and zeros. I learn that my daughter sees the world is beautiful. I learn that she loves colors. I learn that she loves me and thinks her mother is sometimes sad and other times scary.

When my wife is feeling optimistic enough about life, she goes to work out equations with Dr. Wu, tells her co-workers I talk to our daughter in ASCII, and that her father is making great strides with research and development concerning quantum computing.

The other students and faculty are impressed. These are good days. The happy days. The days when she is out of bed, talking, working to advance all knowledge to limits previously unimagined. These days are not common.

The evening before my wife decides it would be a good idea to lie in bed for a year, I tell her at dinner how our daughter just told me in a large amount of ones and zeros that her new favorite color is bright pink.

My wife explains it can’t be true, “There are an infinite number of wavelengths in the EM spectrum, and the amount of space between each color can be broken up into infinite sections and that any two possible points have an infinite number of points in between them. When Juno says she likes bright pink, she’s saying she likes an infinite subset of an infinite number of possible colors, which isn’t possible. We can’t like infinite things, no matter how much we would like to.” Janet rolls her eyes, “I think our daughter’s entering her lying phase.”

I do not respond. I do not ask her if it’s true that her father was considered a person of interest by the police when her mother disappeared thirty years ago. I do not ask her if she remembers her mother. She’s never once talked about it.

• • •

I stand in a room with five people who say they’re from the NSA, though unlike the last group who kidnapped us, they’ve shown me no identification and have not taken off their goggles, masks, or coats. I’m in a dark room lit by only one small battery-powered lantern. I tell them I am happy to speak with them and do not need any drugs and perhaps they could provide me with their names.

They give me drugs, and do not give me their names.

“Can you tell us why your daughter has been in contact with nearly every single person of interest we have on file?” one of the agents asks.

I figure outside must be State Street because we haven’t traveled far, and I can hear the howl of drunken college kids after a Badger game, though it’s true the howl of drunken Madison kids is not exclusive to State Street.

“I don’t know,” I say, in the precarious position of having to assume these people are indeed from the NSA. “Maybe you should ask her. Also maybe you should let us go. I can’t imagine any of what you’re doing right now is legal.”

“We’re putting your wife on speaker,” says one who might be the same one or might be one from before or might be a different one altogether. “When she answers, you are not to say anything unless we ask you a question, and in that case, you are only to answer it, nothing else.” The person speaking pauses a moment to let this sink in, then asks, “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I say, though it’s stupid they should imagine that I’d answer that sort of question any other way.

Janet doesn’t answer the first time they call her. Nor does she answer the next dozen times.

“What do you want?” Janet sounds like she always does when she speaks, like she’s exhausted and would rather not be talking.

“We have your daughter and we have your husband,” one of the maybe NSA says. “If you want to see them again, you’re going to have to answer some questions.”

Janet doesn’t reply.

Everything seems very far away.

“We want answers, and we want money. If you don’t give us these things, we will kill your family. Is that clear, Ms. Janet?”

These people are not NSA agents. I look around for my daughter but cannot find her, but that’s normal for both the kidnappings and my recent dreams. We’ve been kidnapped six times, or at least I think it’s probably six, more or less.

“Time has no meaning,” says Janet.

“We’re serious,” one of the masked kidnappers says, “When we say we’ll kill your family.”

It must have been cloudy, and those clouds must have parted because there’s suddenly much more light in the room, and I’m wondering if these people are adolescents because they all look pretty short and thin to me. They remind me of a dream I have were Juno and I are kidnapped by terrorists and strapped with bomb vests and fired over the White House fence.

“We’ll kill them. We’ll kill your family. And we’ll do it if you don’t give us the answers we want and the money we want. Isn’t that right, Jeff?”

Everyone in the room look at me. “Honey,” I say, “these people are telling the truth. I think they might be terrorists.”

“Sure,” Janet says.

“Your daughter has intimate knowledge of our dark web activity. Where did she learn of this?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by intimate,” Janet says.

“She has knowledge of things she shouldn’t.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by knowledge,” Janet says.

“By knowledge, we mean that your daughter knows about where, when, and why certain factions in hidden locations are operating.”

I’m reminded of a dream I have where Juno tells me she loves me so much she’ll make a new world for me, and she does, and we fly through space to this beautiful new world that has rainbow skies, and when we get there we are kidnapped by people in black ski masks and voice modulators.

“I’m not sure what you mean by operating,” says Janet.

“This is not a game, Janet. We know your daughter is smart, but she couldn’t have known of these operations by herself. Did you turn her on to us?”

“Who is us?” Janet asks.

“Us is the terrorists.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by terrorists,” Janet says.

“You should know we are not playing games. We will kill your husband and your child.”

There is a long pause.

“I understand why you would think this would concern me, but you’ll have to understand that I’m not sure what death is, and I’m also very tired, and I don’t think I can talk to you very much longer. I am very tired, and I’d like to go to sleep.”

“We will kill your husband and your child. We demand you give us answers.”

I’m reminded of a dream where Janet lifts us over her head, and while she’s doing this, she’s growing taller and taller, and I’m telling her she needs to spend more time with our child, and she’s just growing bigger and bigger until we’re right next to the moon and she sets us down and there’s a house there and Janet says that she made this for me and Juno and that we should be happy here and I tell her thanks and she says she has to go, but not before we butter toast with sharp knifes. I like that dream. I always wake up wishing I was there.

“I don’t have any answers,” Janet says, “and I doubt anyone else does either.”

“Then you will send us money, or we will kill your daughter and husband.”

There is a long sigh on the other line that I have heard many times before.

The person who says they’re an NSA agent and a terrorist cocks his rifle, ejecting a bullet that was already in his chamber. “That’s the sound of the people you love about to die. I hope you’re happy.”

“I’m not,” Janet says, and she hangs up the phone.

• • •

When my daughter is five, she says, “5EB52.”

I tell my wife, who ignores me and replies that she would like a piece of buttered toast with honey, and asks me if her father has called.

I tell her no, and I get her buttered toast with honey. I dress Juno in a bright pink dress and take her out to the university.

When I bring my daughter to Dr. Wu, Juno says, “5EB52.”

Dr. Wu’s eyes light up. “It’s hexadecimal,” she says. She kneels down and excitedly looks into my five-year-old daughter’s tiny autumn eyes.

Wu is a very serious woman and doesn’t speak. She just watches and records Juno.

Wu shows her a red plastic box, and she says, “9E7TC.” Dr. Wu writes this down. She shows her a multitude of other geometric shapes that are a multitude of different colors. She shows her pictures of animals living in sub-Saharan Africa. She shows her movies about bees in Ecuador that may no longer exist.

Sometimes Juno talks, sometimes she doesn’t. Her listing of numbers and letters starts slow, and then continues to get longer. Wu watches doggedly, taking notes.

• • •

There are tears in my eyes because I’m wondering for the briefest of moments if these people are going to shoot me and my daughter like they said they would. But then the door bursts open and more people dressed in black who all have automatic assault rifles come in. My tears go away. Everyone is surprised and we all put our hands up.

“No one move,” says one of the people dressed in a black long wool jacket and ski mask and reflective sunglasses. Their voices are also modulated.

One of the new people puts a hood over my head. They give me drugs to make me talk.

• • •

After three days, Wu tells me it’s Hazni, the classic Chinese character group, that she’s using hexadecimal code so she can speak Hanzi with less effort, “There are over ten thousand characters in Hanzi.”

She says, “I showed her a yellow octagon. She said, ‘This shape is round and bright like the sun. If it had more sides, and was more bright, it would be more like the sun. If it had fewer sides, and was less bright, it would be less like sun and more like a featureless shape.’ When I asked her what she knew about the sun, she said, ‘I have a lamp that lights my room. The sun is a lamp for all room.’”

Dr. Wu is silent for a moment, “Then she started speaking in html, and she’s not making any sense.”

• • •

I am thankful because my kidnappers are keeping my daughter in the same room as me for once. She has stopped speaking in letters and numbers, and now only screeches, which she does very seldom, which is good because the screeching is so high-pitched it can be painful at times.

“Your wife hired us to bring you here,” is what these people tell me.

It doesn’t make any sense because she doesn’t care about anything. There is no reason why my wife would have us kidnapped. There are many days when I wonder if she even remembers that we, her husband and daughter, even exist. We’ve been gone for weeks, which means there’s no one to bring her cucumber water or dry toast or toast with honey. She must have noticed that. This is not to say that she thinks we exist because that would be far too much to expect.

“Your wife knows that you two,” starts that woman, or man, I can’t tell because he or she is wearing a ski mask and is pointing one finger at each of us, “will fetch a lot of money.” The woman or man stops for a moment and looks to the right, or I imagine that they look to the right because I can’t tell which way they’re looking because they’re wearing googles. “Or at least one of you will. We’re pretty sure it’s the girl, but your wife wants you both, so that’s that.”

My daughter emits a screech for what feels like thirty very long seconds. At first we all cover our ears. But one of the kidnappers puts a rag over her mouth after a large crack appears in a windowpane that faces down into the busy street outside.

This doesn’t appear to hurt Juno. She is, as far as I can tell, still screeching her mind. It’s just that it’s more muffled. I wish I knew what she was saying, but seeing as she’s never really been comfortable around her mother, I imagine she’s saying something about her mother being scary or dangerous.

“Does this mean you’re going to take us back home,” I ask. “Back to my wife?”

“No,” the agent says. “We’re going to keep you here until your wife can sell you to whoever bids the highest.”

This is something I don’t understand, and I tell them, “I don’t get it.” When they don’t answer, I say, “Is she giving you a percentage?”

The agent looks at me for a moment. I have no way of telling what they are thinking. I can’t see their face.

“No,” the agent says. “Flat fee.”

“That seems like a bad deal,” I say. “I feel like you could probably do the same thing that she’s doing and keep all of the profits. Plus, how do you even know it’s her.”

Juno’s screeching gets higher. It gets louder and louder through the rag. She goes on. The agent with the rag over her mouth looks at the agent who is talking to me. No one seems to know what to do. Juno goes on some more, emitting a high screeching sound that reminds me of the sound I would get when I was a child and would want to use the phone, but I couldn’t because my sister was on the internet, only it’s as loud as a rocket launch.

One of the agents gets their phone out and starts recording. “This will be useful,” they shout, and it’s hard to hear them.

I look over to Juno, and she stops screeching just as soon as I open my mouth to speak. I have no idea why this is.

“Useful for what?” I ask, but I don’t get an answer because, just as I finish my sentence, the door bursts open and a group of people burst into the room. They must have a battering ram because the door shatters into a million pieces as they enter. They wear all black, and their faces are covered with ski masks, and their eyes are covered with ski goggles, and their voices are disguised with voice modulators.

“You are coming with us,” one of them says. “This is a matter of national security.”

They put hoods over our heads, and Juno starts screeching again.

“Record that!” I hear one of the new kidnappers yell over the sound of my daughter.

• • •

When I first start dating my wife, I tell her that I used to be into guys. She says she doesn’t care, and I take this to be a good thing but only later find out she doesn’t care about anything. I wonder why she likes me. She tells me I am kind.

I don’t ask her about her family. I know they must be well off because she looks very nice, which is to say that she looks very nice in a way that only a good deal of money can make a person look nice.

I am not wrong. Her family is in the business of making beer, or at least it was in the business of making beer. Now it’s making beer and many, many other things. She is always very vague about it, like she’s ashamed. But apparently they own a good part of the Milwaukee docks and over the years have gotten into politics and, in her words, “Everything that goes with that.”

I meet her family one Thanksgiving. I’m nervous because Janet always talks about how important it is she make her father happy, and this makes me nervous. I sit at a dinner table as large as my first apartment and talk about my graduate school work. They all seem to be interested, even her father, and my soon-to-be wife later tells me that they all like me. Dinner goes well. I’m not sure I have any way to connect with a single member of this family, and I feel like they’re judging me because I would judge me if I were them, especially if I were her father because I could never, ever offer her what he can.

When she is pregnant, she gets on the phone to tell her parents. She doesn’t get to talk to her father, but she talks to her sister. She tells me the family is happy, and not just happy, but oh, so happy. I decided long before this that I would never let her ask them for anything. Not after the way her father treated her, still treats her.

After the phone call, when we’re getting in bed to sleep, she asks me if I understand that the scientific method is irrefutably flawed.

I tell her that I’m not sure that it matters. At least not right now. Not with a baby on the way.

“It’s important because I’m a scientist,” she says. “The scientific method requires that all hypotheses be disprovable. That means that a scientist has to come up with one possibility that is disprovable. But the problem is that for any set of circumstances, there are actually an infinite amount of possible outcomes. If you disprove one outcome, you still have an infinite number of outcomes. If you work even harder and disprove orders more outcomes, that’s great, but really, what have you done? There’s always going to be an infinite number of outcomes you haven’t disproven.”

I tell her that I don’t think that’s right, that there are statistical probabilities.

“Please don’t patronize me?” she asks, and stares at me for a long time.

• • •

Everything seems so distant. I try to remember Juno, and I know the name means something to me, someone who loves me and who I love, but everything’s hard now.

I tell them no more drugs. I can’t think good. They give me some anyway and take my hood off. Janet is standing there. In front of me. Not in bed.

“Why aren’t you in bed? Did you suddenly find a reason to live in a universe that doesn’t care about you?” The words come out, and I don’t know why because I didn’t make them.

“I like my bed,” she says. “I want to stay in it. It’s comfortable. Daddy says I can stay in my bed as long as I want if I get my daughter to just say what these nice gentlemen and ladies need her to say.”

She motions at the people behind her who are wearing all black from head to toe.

“And those people?” I hear myself ask about the kidnappers who took me and Juno to the room we’re in now.

“I asked them to bring you. But they don’t need to be here right now,” she says, “because this is a private conversation.”

The agents look at Janet.

“Now,” she says, and they abandon the room, leaving all of their equipment behind.

“Our daughter,” she says, “is very smart, and she has the attention of the Pentagon because, they say, she can understand code at the level of a quantum computer. Do you know what a quantum computer is?”

I do, and I do not care. I see myself motion to our daughter, and hear myself saying, “She’s right there. You don’t need to talk about her like she’s not in the room.”

Juno starts screeching. It’s a sound that I cannot describe. I can tell the frequency is changing. I don’t know what she’s saying, but I like it. Juno always speaks in ways I can’t understand, but she always sounds like she loves me.

I hear multiple dogs start to howl. Juno stops screeching. She looks at me like she knows what I’m thinking.

“That’s great,” I hear myself say. “She’s speaking in quantum.” And then I see myself point to our daughter, gently, trying to let her know that even though I don’t know what she’s saying that I still love her and will do whatever I can to get her through this because I don’t want her to feel any more pain because she doesn’t deserve it. I wish I were closer. I wish I could be part of this.

“If she’s speaking quantum,” I hear myself say, “then that would mean it would take a quantum computer to decipher what she’s saying. There are no quantum computers, which makes me wonder how anyone could know that.”

“She can show us how to make one,” my wife says. “We need her. She’s the next step. We just need to figure out what she’s saying.”

Juno gets up and walks to her mother. I wonder how well she recognizes this person because she’s only mostly ever seen her in her bed under her sheets explaining to the both of us that there isn’t, and has never been, a good reason for anything.

“My father,” Janet says. “This is what he wants.”

“He wants to take our daughter,” I hear myself say. I see Juno take something, some object, off the table.

“I’m his daughter, and he had me and wasn’t that impressed, nor should he have been. Anyone can have a daughter. He wants quantum computing. I can’t see a reason why he shouldn’t have that.”

I’m not sure, because it seems so far away, but as my wife talks it looks like Juno has a knife.

Juno then begins plunging the thing that I think could be a knife into her mother, and it must be a knife because there’s so much blood, and my wife is screaming. Juno is screaming, too. But she’s not really screaming so much as she is screeching. I can’t tell what she’s saying, but I can tell that she sounds like she loves me.


Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Saul Lemerond lives in Madison, Indiana where he teaches creative writing at Hanover College. His work has appeared in Drabblecast, Dunesteef, and elsewhere. He also has a book, Kayfabe and Other Stories, which is available on Amazon.com. You can find him on Twitter @SaulLemerond.