After registering to fulfill the test requirement part of her application process, Cariad was called into the office of a member of the admissions staff which she and those who were in earshot found peculiar including members of staff as none of the other registrants before her received this treatment.
The admissions person who introduced himself as, “Mr. McCune,” sat her down in the cramped office that resembled more of a research nook than a proper office and politely asked her a series of random questions which she automatically assumed to be a sort of psychometric test. No, test wasn’t accurate because tests were graded on right or wrong answers. This was more of a verbal questionnaire to discover what kind of person she was in ways that a person wouldn’t necessarily admit to in an interview, with questions designed to expose how Cariad behaved and what motivated her.
When he felt he had gathered enough information to make an assessment, McCune thanked Cariad for her time, escorted her out of the office and asked her father to step in for a moment. McCune closed the door but the latch hadn’t slid into the strike plate so the door remained slightly open. She considered walking away back into the corridor but the opportunity to eavesdrop was a temptation she couldn’t avoid so she loitered at the door.
“Thank you for taking the time, Marco,” her father’s voice said.
“You’re one of our top contributors and a damned fine lecturer, Rupert, so how could I refuse?” McCune replied. “Besides, for a twelve-year-old, she has a top-notch mind as a result of your homeschooling, no doubt, so if she aces her test I’ll make sure she tops the shortlist.”
“I should probably warn you, she tends to be a homebody, one of the unfortunate traits she picked up from me, so her social skills aren’t yet what they should be which means her professors can expect for their hands to be full.”
“What genius doesn’t have social rough patches? I can remember a ruddy-faced freshman who was so full of himself and piss and vinegar when he first attended Uni.”
“Stop exaggerating, Marco, I wasn’t that bad.”
“The hell you weren’t. Do you want to know the best thing that ever happened to you, aside from marrying Ruth and having Cariad, I mean? Meeting me.”
Cariad found that she felt uneasy listening to the rest of the conversation. She had never considered that life her father had outside their family or before she was born and the fact that her father had friends he never discussed with her made her feel envious and left out. Logically they were crazy emotions but she couldn’t help the way she felt at the moment. Something else nagged at her, clearly, she was here because of her father’s connections with Candida so why had he lied to her and said it was Mom’s doing?
The admissions test was pretty much what Cariad expected, a timed, written exam designed to show the academy how she thought: how she analyzed and solved difficult questions as well as how she applied her knowledge to texts or problems she hadn’t encountered before.
The hardest part for her was deciding which course she wanted to study as she could only apply for one course in the same year and time studies, which technically fell under the category of horology or clockmakers, wasn’t presented as an option on Candida Isca’s course list. She opted to follow the path her father had paved for her and selected theoretical physics. Physics did not require written work to be submitted as part of the application process but Cariad completed four papers on Understanding Time as The Fourth Dimension, Traveling Through Wormholes, Alternate Time Travel Theories, and the Grandfather Paradox.
When she received her letter to interview, despite knowing that her father’s friend placed her on the shortlist as a favor, she felt a wave of excitement washing over her. She wouldn’t allow herself to race but she walked at a rate quicker than her normal pace and made the announcement to her parents. Rupert caught her up in a bearhug and nearly squeezed the life out of her so strong was his pride in his daughter. Ruth smiled a genuine smile that somehow seemed equal to the hug and announced that she would be making the trip with Cariad to Candida this time.
The academic interview was not at all what Cariad had expected. She had read up on interview techniques and how to avoid falling into traps on certain types of questions aimed at catching interviewees unawares, but none of it was relevant. Yes, there were four tutors in the room but they were very friendly and simply asked her questions regarding physics and her thoughts on higher dimensions and time travel. Without meaning to, she rambled on for an hour, reiterating things she had written in her papers and the tutors smiled and nodded along in agreement the whole time. Then the tutors presented her with something she hadn’t encountered in her father’s lessons: The Hierarchy problem.
“Why is gravity such a weak force?” Tutor Lefevre asked. “It becomes strong for particles only at the Planck scale, around 1024 GeV, much above the electroweak scale—100 GeV, the energy scale dominating physics at low energies.”
“Why are these scales so different from each other?” Tutor Valdez added.
“What prevents quantities at the electroweak scale, such as the Higgs boson mass, from getting quantum corrections on the order of the Planck scale?” Tutor Abrams inquired.
And Tutor Wood chimed in with, “Is the solution supersymmetry, extra dimensions, or just anthropic fine-tuning?”
The questions came in rapid succession and Cariad realized it was designed to rattle her, which it did. She stumbled in the beginning but began applying the knowledge she possessed to offer solutions. She even asked if she could work the problem out on paper and before receiving an answer began jotting down mathematical equations and when she became stuck at certain points she was surprised to discover the tutors were offering hints to steer her in a direction around various obstacles. By the time the interview had ended, she left feeling rattled but her mother dismissed it as a normal reaction to being verbally tested and suggested she should concentrate on doing something frivolous to distract her until they received word from the academy.
It was just the two of them on this trip, not because her father was too busy or too disinterested to make the trek but because he thought it best that the two most important women in his life get to spend some alone time with each other. Cariad was full of topics she wanted to discuss with her mother including why Ruth wanted her out of the house so badly, what didn’t her mother want her to know about what was going on behind her back, but she refused to make the first move. Her mother would have to initiate conversation first, make an effort to bridge the gap between them because that’s what a mother was supposed to do. It was her responsibility as an adult to own up to her actions, actions that made Cariad feel like an outcast, a burden, an unwanted thing. Her mother should have known something was wrong and if she cared she would have spotted it months ago and done something about it. And since she made no effort whatsoever to reconcile their relationship and Cariad refused to make the first move, the pair travel home in silence.
In January of the following year, the Boerums were notified that Cariad’s application had been successful. This was followed by direct communication from the academy that she had completed all the necessary administrative steps and was given an unconditional offer, which meant her place was guaranteed at Candida Isca, even though the college she would go to had not yet been specified and would not be decided until after her final examination results had been published.
To be continued…
‘Til next week,
©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys