Even before Lowell speaks, Samantha has an intuition that the phone call will be momentous, but that is because she is already in a state of febrile and heightened alert. She hears the under-and overtones when people talk. She imagines an aura of electromagnetic feelers extending invisibly from her skin and waving about her like angel hair, like the sustenance system of certain sea creatures on tropical reefs: as water rakes through their unseen silken mesh traps, all that is needed stays. Information is falling toward her. It adheres.
"Samantha?" Lowell says, and she recognizes his voice instantly. She has heard it often enough on his answering machine. She has scripted future conversations they will have.
An avalanche starts with a pebble. Samantha thinks of the random searchlight of Cassie's lucidity as setting scree tumbling, loose drifts of it that pull scattered data along in their train. They gather density and speed. Clusters of detail roll over each other and cling. They generate force and the force intensifies. Disparate pieces of information cohere, connections pick up momentum, new facts are exposed. Samantha has a premonition that critical mass has been reached, that the accumulation of data has hooked up isolated circuits, that currents are fizzing around the elaborate latticework and traplines of her research, sparks jumping gaps, missing information being sucked into the black hole of her intense need to know.
"Um ... it's Lowell," he says.
Samantha holds her breath.
"This isn't easy," he says.
"I know." She can barely speak, and an inner catechism warns: Don't breathe. Don't frighten him off. "Not for any of us. It's like picking a scab."