Not much was known about Charles Wallace Murry, even to his colleagues. He had an unnerving habit of smiling quietly when other physicists were arguing the finer points of the GUT, like he knew something they didn't, but he was never one to boast and, had they been asked, his colleagues would have said that the strange expression seemed to be entirely unconscious. He liked to be called Charles Wallace, though he didn't object to Charles. Any attempt to call him Charlie or Chuck was met with a polite but firm insistance on at least Charles. He worked dilligently, amassing a respectable number of publications quite quickly. He preferred tea to coffee, and was likely to leave mugs with sodden bags in them anywhere around the department, forgetting them, sometimes, until they grew mold. He had the smallest office in the department, but he never complained.
Despite his reticence to converse socially with his colleagues, he was well liked as an instructor, and far from being the kind of genius professor who simply failed the students who did not perform he seemed to have a knack for noticing when a bright student was nearly there, just needed a different approach to finally hit their stride as a scientist in their own right. He was quietly empathetic to many of the people around him, which was something of a rarity in a department full of world class physicists.
One Monday morning he was seen waiting at the window of the print shop for a stack of exams. Mary, the secretary, hurried to the window, already apologizing for the delay.
"It's alright," he told her, "it was good of you to come in today. It must be hard for you to be here right now. I'm sorry about your mother."
She pushed the stack of papers towards him. "Thanks, Dr. Murry. It's just, start of the week, wanted to make sure things were set up here. And the funeral isn't until Wednesday."
"We appreciate it," he said, "but we'd understand if you had to go, even on a Monday."
The look she gave him stated as clearly as speech that she doubted that everyone would understand, and he'd given her a rueful smile, an admission that she was probably right.
Weeks later she thought of that conversation and wondered how he could have heard first thing on a Monday that her mother had died over the weekend. Or had it been first thing, maybe he'd heard from someone else? She shook her head and forgot about it.
He was in the middle of reviewing a paper with one of his students when he suddenly looked up, his eyes focused on something further away than the room would allow. After a moment he made a soft, surprised huh sound, as if he'd had the wind knocked out of him.
His student waited a moment. "Professor?"
"Oh, sorry." Charles Wallace looked at him, a real, broad smile on his face. "My sister just had her seventh child," he said, his eyes losing focus again for just a fraction of a second. "A girl this time. I'm so glad, I know she and Calvin were hoping for another girl." He turned his attention back to the paper.
"You just happened to think of this?"
Charles Wallace looked up. "Yes, you might say that." The small, enigmatic smile was back, and he looked down at the paper, his pencil tracing over the lines of text as he checked for any minute errors. "You know," he said almost twenty minutes later, "it's worth noting that forces felt between particles are often far below the known threshold of the human brain, and yet we do not doubt their existance." He tapped his pencil on the bottom of the last page, done with his review. "Our livlihoods depend on that."
His student nodded, wondering if he was supposed to draw a parallel betwen the Laws of Attraction and Charles Wallace's implied prescience. He put the question aside, as it had no bearing on his paper.
Over the years it became harder and harder for other members of the faculty to wave away Charles Wallace's eccentricities. Most of them were in regards to his family. He never name dropped, so while it was well known that his father had once had connections to the White House, that information had come from his curious students' research. He mentioned his mother from time to time, but only in passing, never in regards to her Nobel Prize, and certainly not to his well known role in her discovery. Most of his strange comments were in regards to his sister. She lived off the coast of Portugal on an island no one had ever heard of and was doing research on starfish, though Charles Wallace had readily admitted that she did not have an advanced degree, nor was she seeking one.
His research interests shifted. He spent more time considering the ramifications of the Higgs boson, though when asked if he had any desire to work on the Large Hadron Collider he always demured. Towards the end of term he abruptly left a lecture, breaking off mid-syllable and going silent, blank-faced, and walking out the door, all but running to his office. Those who saw him said he seemed not to see or hear them at all, though he moved very quickly without hitting anything. He left the door to his office open while he made a series of increasingly frantic phone calls-- to his parents, to his sister, each of his twin brothers, family friends, all regarding his insistance that his niece had been kidnapped. Those who heard his end of the conversation said it sounded like his family was agreeing with him, at least humoring him. He begged his secretary to help him secure travel to Portugal, then gave up on the idea after his family insisted that he stay put. He called in sick for a week, then returned without any indication that anything had gone wrong at all. When his colleagues questioned him he stated simply that Polly was fine, returned to her family, and his sister said that they were all doing well.
Some of the physicists gathered in one cramped office to discuss his behavior. No one had heard from his family except for him, they noted. There was no way to know that anyone had been on the other end of those phone calls. Perhaps the most disturbing thing was the way in which he had walked out of his classroom, then run to his office, receiving the information out of thin air.
A meeting was called. Charles Wallace was the subject. He was offered a variety of options, all of them beginning with a psychiatric evaluation. He politely declined. The longer it was offered to him, in various guises and by various modes of persuasion, the more disconcerting his calm refusal was. His colleagues had expected him to break down, to become violent or emotional, or perhaps to exhibit some of the strange behavior and claims that had brought them here in the first place. Nothing of the sort happened. Finally an ultimatum was levvied, that he either accept or leave his post, immediately, sever ties with the school, give up his housing and vacate the premisis forthwith. An expression that could best be called disappointment flickered across his features, but he agreed, let them follow him to his office where he collected his few personal belongings. He didn't fight their assertion that his lab notebooks belonged to the school, and he left without a fuss. Still stunned by the turn of events, two of his colleagues helped him carry his boxes to his car.
To their surprise there was a woman standing next to his car, long arburn hair radiant in the late afternoon sun. Charles Wallace set his box on the trunk of the car and turned to her with open arms. They embraced, Charles leaning his head on the woman's shoulder.
"Saw this coming," she said. "You did too, even if you didn't know you did."
"You're right, Meg." He stepped back, looked up at her, almost sheepish.
"Well, come on Sport," she said, opening the back door of the car and gesturing to the other two men to put the boxes inside. "Time's wasting, and you've got a job to do."