Nancy lives in an apartment, like most of us. It's south of the big downtown complexes, near the far edge of the weather shield. The air conditioning breaks down a little so close to the shield, and the air is uncomfortably hot. Naturally, private air conditioners require a permit; so Nancy has a little portable fan, and she sets it to 'HIGH'.
We come in past the kitchen table, which is scattered with loose paper, and sit on her bed and talk about stuff. I am still a little curious about the project, but we talk about school politics and personalities and life with all its details and problems, and she is more engaging in civilian life than she is in class. Two hours pass almost unnoticed.
The "sky" outside is unbroken by clouds, but when the real sun goes down, the colour of the light is first red and then a beautiful velvet blue. We open the window, and the heat vanishes; for a long time we have a cool breeze, and then it gets cold and we shut the window again.
At about nine pm, Nancy's mom shows up. We hear the apartment door being unlocked, and someone moving around in the kitchen, taking down bowls and microwaving things.
"So, I don't think you've met my mom," Nancy says. She's sitting at the table, eating a bowl of curried rice, and reading a thin yellowed book. The pages are tattered, and some of them are badly torn or stained. I try to read upside down, with little success; but when she notices it she glares at me suspiciously through her bifocals. "This is Ability," Nancy says in some haste, having noticed the dynamic.
"Nice to meet you, Ms., um, Oppenheimer?" I say.
Nancy's mom shoves out her hand, trying to get me off balance. "You a friend of Nancy's?"
"Yes, from school."
"Mom helped me with the project," Nancy says.
"Seriously?" So what's her day job? Nancy's mom keeps on glaring although now she is looking at both of us.
"Ability Laney," she growls.
"I read your blog," she tells me, in tones of infinite contempt.
"—Thanks, I appreciate when—"
"So what are you going to write about this?"
"—Just the facts, ma'am," I smile sweetly.
"A reporter," she says. "I see."
She refused to say a word more, so I thanked Nancy for having me over and skipped out before her mom exploded. The mystery was solved, more or less. I could now understand why Nancy hadn't given the answer right away. Her mother had probably demanded to do that part of the work, and I had never figured Nancy for dishonest at all.
But Nancy's mom was another matter. I have met geniuses, at the Shimura Institute and elsewhere; she didn't seem like a genius, but she wasn't another salarywoman either.
Some kind of evil and strange energy animated her. And, fearless of personal danger, I wanted to know what it was.