Scientists are a strange bunch, thought TJ. In his four years of working as Lucerne Valley Hotel’s night-receptionist, he had seen all kinds of people, but these nerds were something else. He had no complaints about their manners, it was their thoughts that troubled him. Their brains. Did they ever use them? And if so, did they manage to do so successfully?
TJ was busier than ever. These men, and a few women, were the most incompetent beings he had ever known. Not just socially incompetent, with their awkward gestures and jumbled words, but functionally incompetent; they were unable to execute the simplest tasks.
They repeatedly asked him which rooms they were in; they called to ask how the kettle worked; they didn’t know how to switch on the TV, and if they managed to, were unable to adjust its volume or change channel – but had no trouble finding adult channels and turning them up to full blast. They burnt themselves, or black-fringed iron-shapes right through their suits. They couldn’t figure out which switches operated which lights so often read books in near darkness, or slept in bright light, at least for a while before calling him for help.
TJ spoke to every guest, he guessed, ten times daily, and after two days knew each one by name. The only exceptions were male scientists who had brought along their wives. They seemed to cope better with hotels, giving the impression that they were competent beings in touch with the modern world. They never credited their wives for this, but TJ knew better.
This morning the scientists were leaving. TJ realized that he had been so busy with requests for extra tea bags and toilet rolls, remote control batteries, and more shampoos – not that they needed any for their eggheads – that he didn’t know why they had come here.
While Dr Simoniski studied his bill, TJ asked about his stay.
“My stay? Here? Oh yes! The hotel? It was very good, thank you. It is pretty big for a B&B. Much bigger than I expected.”
TJ said, “Sir, it is not a B&B. It is a fifty-room hotel.”
“Oh yes! You are right. I had a mix up. That was when I was in Lucerne, Switzerland.”
“Were you there on holiday?”
“Holiday! Holiday!” Dr Simonski laughed uncontrollably. “Holiday!” He looked at his wife coming down the stairs. “He said holiday!” Then he turned back to TJ. “There is no time for holidays. I was visiting the Large Hadron Collider, searching for the Higgs boson particle. Have you heard of it? Good, good. It is an elementary particle of the Standard Model of particle physics, and predicted to exist for theoretical reasons. It creates a field with non-zero strength everywhere, even in otherwise empty spaces! Identical particles can also exist in the same place!” His enthusiasm caused his mouth to foam lightly.
TJ asked, “If it is only theoretical, how can you detect it?”
“It is unstable and decays into other particles almost immediately. That’s what the Large Hadron Collider picks up – their atomic signatures.” Sweat appeared on his egg head. He finished checking the bill and said, “That’s why we are here. To celebrate its discovery.”
“Have you found it, really? Where is it?”
“Oh, in a very special place. No wonder it took so long.” He smiled at his wife and handed her the bill to sign.
She had the craziest signature that TJ had ever seen. The ink flowed everywhere – in lines, dots, jets, and scribbles. She smiled weakly and said, “It was in my handbag all along. I didn’t want to steal his thunder. I’ve got a few of them in there.”