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The Thinking Molecules of Titan: Ending by Michael Owen

Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. This is one of four endings we're posting this week. Vote on this week's endings here.

Michael Owen writes:

"Mozart?" Regan said incredulously. "Interesting."

"Let her hear it" Mason said as he motioned for Claire to hand Regan his iPhone.

"Well of course I've heard it," she looked at the device playing the pattern in Claire's ear. Regan reached out her hands for Claire to let her hear it again.

"She's going to say it sounds exactly like the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Alex said looking away from the group.

Claire chuckled.

"The what?" Regan said looking at Alex but still listening and focused on the "music".

"Wow, don't tell me she's never seen or heard of…" Mason said as he made the sound of the infamous five note bar from the 1977 film. "Doo-Doo-Doo..DOO DOO!" he tones loudly.

"What is that? Is it D-E-C…" Claire asked, referring to the notes Mason hummed.

"DOO, DOOOO!" Mason repeated with even more emphasis.

"E-F?" Alex said almost asking.

"What are you all talking about?" Regan asked them looking up quizzically from the iPod.

"Definitely E then G….I think" said Claire.

"Oh", Regan said closing her eyes to hear the sounds from the iPod, "It's G, A, F, F, C."

"Two F's?" Elliot asked.

Mason chimed in. "That's right!" He looked at Regan as if his curiosity about her has suddenly grown immensely. "The second F is an octave lower." Regan opened her eyes and glances over to Mason, then closed them again squinting a bit as if to make the sounds from Titan clearer.

"What was that?" Mason thought to himself? Had he detected a micro-expression from Regan? "Whoa", he thought in his best unintentional and internal Keanu Reeves voice. Mason had never told anyone but he had in fact always had a huge crush on Regan. So much so that he'd secretly considered her his "work-girlfriend." In this moment he wondered about two things: if he needed to have a "real" girlfriend in order to consider someone a girlfriend at work and if he was making up that Regan had given him a "look."

"G,A,F,F,C" Claire said with the accompanying notes.

Regan pulled the one earbud from her ear and slammed it down on the table as if raising a bet.

"Sounds like Laurie Anderson as interpreted by IAMUS to me", Regan said.

"Like I said," said Alex, "Lunar intelligence."

"You may be the only person in the world to compare frigid oceanic molecules on the moon of a planet 1.2 billion kilometers from us to an '80s performance artist and a Spanish supercomputer…just awesome." said Mason.

*****

"Well this had never happened," Mason thought. For whatever reason there had never been a day when all three of his co-workers had in fact left the building at the same time. Certainly it had never been the case that all four of them would be waiting at the same stoplight at University and Lincoln in order to get off of the complexes enormous lot and there certainly had never been a moment when he and the rest of his team were sitting at the same intersection, on the same side waiting for a train to slide past them. The chaos that was each of their respective lives had made it beyond difficult to gather them all here at this moment. But maybe, Mason thought, this was the chaos of Chaos theory and not "regular" chaos. This may be the chaos that made little things matter and little things emulate larger things. The kind of Chaos that might compare molecules stuck near a NASA lander to people stuck near a train. The kind of Chaos that would smirk when someone began to understand it.

As it happened the train had picked the most inopportune time to prevent everyone from going home or…wherever they may be going, adding to the serendipity of this interesting and awkward delay. Mason realized that he could often hear the train from his station inside the building and might have even heard the crossing bells from his office window, but he'd never experienced the train in full form before today. What a "perfect storm" this had to be in order to choreograph that Regan, Alex, Claire, Elliot and himself would be stuck here at the same time? In his rearview mirror Mason could see Alex's Audi was two cars behind him. He leaned over a bit to see if Elliot was with him. Mason found him sitting in the passenger's seat next to Alex. How long were those two going to keep their relationship a secret he wondered?

Where was Claire now, Mason wondered? He thought he'd seen her one car behind Alex and Elliot.

Mason glanced over at Regan who appeared to be reading. He wondered if he should honk at her to get her attention. Or at any of them for that matter.

From inside her car Regan was not in the least interested in the train. She had put her car in park and had pulled out a book that she kept in her car for just these occasions. She secretly felt joy at being stuck in her car somewhere and had made a point to have a different reaction than everyone else while waiting for a train. She knew that she had a tendency to anthropomorphizing most inanimate objects and this pattern hadn't stopped with the train. She remembered that as a child her parents would curse at the drop of a hat and waiting for a train had seemed to produce a peculiar type of wrathful expletives.

Claire could see Alex and Elliot and Mason and Regan from where she had stopped her car. She had gotten a little upset that the train had come at this particular time and cursed herself for thinking that this route would be quicker. In fact as soon as she had seen the crossing guardrails light up and come down she instantly remembered her reason for abandoning this route months earlier. "No matter" she thought to herself. As she was at the back of the queue she could easily turn around if it seemed the train was going to stop or just be extra long.

Four or five cars ahead of her Claire could see that someone had gotten out of their car and left their own car door open. It was Mason. "Who was he talking to?" she wondered. As she moved around to get a better view she could see that Mason was at Regan's car. Through her windshield Claire could see Mason leaning over to talk to Regan who had rolled her window down. Mason smiled a little then looked uncomfortable, then half-smiled and then had a look on his face like he was listening to someone's response. Claire guessed, since she couldn't see Regan's expressions, that Regan had probably giggled and maybe had pushed up her red framed glasses a little bit in a way that had always seemed to be interpreted by males as allure and confusion simultaneously. Claire put her Miata in reverse and her and her automobile about-faced and left the intersection. Somehow her car managed to drive away as perturbed as Claire felt.

Claire hadn't stayed long enough to see Regan smile and nod to Mason. She hadn't stayed long enough to see Mason smile back and almost skip back to his car, climbing inside.

*****

Mason awoke from a very strange dream in his bed. He groggily realized that he was on his back and his immediate view was of his ceiling of which was relatively desolate save for a remnant of a spider that had apparently been there long enough to leave webbing to dangle delicately the way a windsock does when there's only a moderate to light breeze in the air. Mason enjoyed this transitional state of being when he came out of sleep. He had noticed long ago that it's at these moments where he felt a little more in tune with the universe and of its possibilities, seemingly free from judgment with a more focused imagination. He wondered if he closer to Jung's idea of a collective unconscious where a oneness of "knowing" exists. A oneness of memory. A oneness of a shared experience without having had to experience an event firsthand.

In this early morning state that seems to be made partly of slowed down time it was more possible for Mason to view his ceiling as an alien world. Looked upon as a satellite would on a world's landscape below. Similarly this vista comparatively had sunlight shining on it. And a shadowed part as well. Pock-marked bits of terrain that resembled topographical features but were in fact just popcorn style paint from possibly the sixties. Mason mused as whether this terrain would be hospitable to human life. Perhaps the presence of asbestos in the ceiling paint might mean that a person walking on the surface of this landscape would need a ventilator to breath oxygen rich gas in lieu of its toxic chemicals. Certainly he would not be able to walk around freely on Titan without a mask of some sort. Aside from the fact that he knew that it was definitively not going to smell good on that moon given the intense quantities of ammonia there.

Regan's pale toes with nails, painted black, melted into what would be Titan's idea of a snow and dirt mixture. The sensation beneath her feet was one that she'd imagined what it would be like to step into frigid and freshly dampened Pop Rocks. With each step the pulsing and popping assailed the soles of her feet making it an almost unbearable and yet sensual experience. Regan felt as if she was really on Titan completely unaware that this was a dream. A very vivid and realistic dream.

Off in the far far distance was a vista unlike any human had ever seen. If there was a fairy tale that started off "Have you ever wondered where Dreamsicles are born?" this would be the planet where they came from. The orange sky with a larger and deeper orange globe taking up a third of the sky with ever so faint orange-ish rings encircling this monster. Blocking out a portion of the globe were immense cliffs. White cliffs that shone almost smooth and glinty in the rays that are from the Sun. The orange color to the atmosphere reflected onto and off of the cliffs making the cliffs appear alternately orange and white with white and orange icebergs down at the base of the cliffs. Is that really water, she wondered as she imagined venturing out onto one of the bergs.

Regan took a moment to internally chastise herself for never having thought of publishing a story on the extraterrestrial origins of frozen childhood summer confections like the Dreamsicle…or was it Creamsicle? She could never remember.

Back on Earth Mason looked away from his ceiling and moved his now more lucid attention to the person lying next to him. He noticed that as he moved his thoughts from Titan to this young woman that they both seemed a bit hard to believe. Briefly he felt that having finally gotten up the courage to express his feelings to her seemed just as fantastical as thinking that there might be music emanating from a moon billions of miles away. Regan began to stir slowly.

Mason neurotically worried if he should quickly get out of bed to give her some space to wake up. He really hated the awkwardness that could follow now.

Regan opened her eyes. Mason still was not used to seeing her without her trademark red frames or headphones on.

"Hi."

"Hi."

"Tell me you made breakfast already," she said as she stretched delicately.

"I was going to ask you the same thing," he responded smiling.

Regan perked up just a little bit. "After the dream I had I think I need something sweet…and I never crave sweets," she said.

"I think I can do pancakes," Mason said.

"With Creamsicle sauce?" Regan said.

Mason's face changed from softness to confusion and surprise.

"I know. It doesn't sound good at all," Regan offered him.

"That's just weird," he said losing focus and looking away from her.

"I know. Pancakes and Creamsicles don't go together at all," says Regan.

Mason looked back at her and his face softened again. "No. I mean. I had a dream. I was on Titan. Barefoot. Walking around…and it reminded me of a Dreamsicle…I think." he says.

*****

Regan and Mason had made it all the way to the lab after grabbing a quick breakfast at the Capital. They had spoken about subjects that were esoteric and grounded. Airy-fairy (a term Mason loathed) and factual. Areas of science and areas involving pseudo-science (a term Regan loathed). They were reeling from the idea that they had had a shared dream. Mason suggested that she write her dream down as best as she could remember and that he do the same, they would exchange the papers and compare notes. Aside from the intense visual of the environment of Titan, Mason and Regan also realized that during the dream the musical pattern had been playing. An eerie soundtrack to the surreal landscape. Over breakfast they shared an idea of the type of pattern that had seemed "far out" to mention but interesting nonetheless. The idea that the molecules next to the NASA lander had used a specific pattern that, on Earth, was known as an Alberti bass. A classical style of arranging chords in a way that was counter to what had been done before and realized by a composer that didn't live past thirty years old over 270 years ago. They shared their sudden knowledge and seeming memorization of the science-fiction book "The Moon Pool" and in particular a quote about bubbles and froth and "Titan's young."

Mason and Regan hadn't simply had a similar dream. It was the same dream.

Mason and Regan approached their respective work areas to find Bruce and Alex already there in what appeared to be a passionate conversation.

"Here's the thing", Alex said, "Everyone knows that methane doesn't ACTUALLY smell so I wouldn't worry about that."

"ACTUALLY, I didn't mean the methane," Bruce said, "I was thinking more of the ammonia."

"Oh", managed Alex.

"But anyway who cares about how it smells ya weirdo! We were talking about the music to begin with," said Bruce.

"What about the music?" Regan broke in the conversation looking very interested.

"Well Alex and I were listening to the sample. Again and again. Well we thought that we distinctly heard a…" Bruce paused and looks at Alex.

"An Alberti bass,", Alex finished Bruce's statement.

Regan's eyes widened and she looked at Mason, who was already looking at her with something of a shocked look on his face.

"Just to be clear," Mason said, "We're talking about the broken chords pattern right?"

"Yes", replied both Bruce and Alex nodding.

"Ok. So. Wow," Regan said, letting out the smallest of giggles.

"This is weird," Mason said.

"Not really," replied Bruce, "If you listen to the…"

"That's not what Mason means," Regan interrupted.

"Both of us heard it too", Mason said. "Last night. We each had a dream. Regan did. And I did. Separately. We each listened to the music this morning and we remembered something from a dream we each had last night."

Bruce and Alex looked at each other and then back at Mason and Regan.

"This IS weird", Alex said.

"Ok so I'm going to say something,", Bruce said as he looks around the lab. He motioned for them to sit and they all find a chair or cabinet to sit on. "I'm just going to say this and I want you to finish my statement OK?"

Mason and Regan nodded in agreement.

Bruce looked at Alex and then intently at Regan and Mason and said, "They drifted past like bubbles blown from froth of rainbows…"

Regan and Mason looked at each other and then back at Bruce and Alex and said, "…by pipes in mouths of Titan's young."

Suddenly Claire appeared. "Hey!" she says startling them all. "Want one?" She shoved a box at them. To their astonishment and amazement they saw that she was offering each of them a Dreamsicle.

"What?" she said, "I just woke up with a craving.

*****

This was a Chaos theory postulate that didn't simply ponder the butterfly's wings across the Earth. This is a Chaos theory that encompasses and is inclusive of at least our very own solar system. Where on some pulp magazine's cover a depiction would show the Thinking Molecules of Titan chasing a be-helmeted beautiful woman, the reality is that those molecules were powerful enough to bring us together finally. The serendipitous chaos had orchestrated a confluence of circumstances that had led up to the now. It had taken the sounds from billions of miles away to bring him closer to Regan. Mason wondered if one day the thinking molecules of Titan would actually meet and hit it off with the thinking molecules of Earth.

And so the molecules wait.

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