Hit Enter to Send

Reaching under her desk, Jamie grabbed the sheaf of papers from the output tray. She leafed through the stack until she found the email. Of course it came from Dad’s university IP address. She scanned it quickly as she reached for her nearly empty water bottle. Flipping open the top with one hand, she tipped it up, gulping down the last drops.

The email was a series of quotes pasted from various academic journals, peer reviews of Dr. Gibson’s latest published paper on quantum mechanics in star formation. Nothing personal (not that she expected it) and not a single question about Jamie, personal or professional.

Looking away from the paper, her hand left the empty bottle and jiggled the mouse. Her computer screen went from screensaver to a live shot from the GoPro camera submerged in the 75 gallon saltwater aquarium back in her apartment. Her fingers lightly brushed the computer screen as one of the angel fish floated gently by. She looked at her left hand and realized that it was still holding the email printout in a grip so tight her knuckles had turned a dead white.

Jamie crumpled the paper and tossed it toward the overflowing trash. Next she opened the file on her desktop marked, “Reviews.” She opened the newest doc. It was copy of an email from her father, addressed not to her, but to the department head from Jamie’s last university post. There was one attachment, the senior Dr. Gibson’s as yet unpublished work. She next opened a file marked “fishing.” Her cursor hovered over the most recent document titled, “A Critique of Gibson Theorem of Mechanics in Early Stellar Formation.” She began reviewing the document. A few tweaks here and there and it would be ready to send off to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Review. It was tricky keeping track of just which of her several identities submitted to each scientific journal.

Dad had no clue that eight of the ten quotes he’d been so incensed over actually came from her. By choosing publications from all over the world and by carefully selecting retired or inactive professionals to spoof, Jamie was able to undermine her father’s work with no fear that he’d be able to track down from where the arrows originated. Not that she had any suspicion that he’d even try. He preferred to create a firestorm of bluster, rather than confront any of his perceived accusers. After all, the critiques were valid. His work didn’t stand up to scrutiny and hadn’t for years. Now that Jamie was working at a small college, far away from her father’s sphere of influence, she knew there was no one in his world that had any standing with him. He’d never listened to her, and he’d long since stopped giving any credence to those he claimed to respect.

Just then her office phone rang and Jamie abruptly closed the file. Her face felt hot. A glance at the caller ID didn’t tell her much except that the call was coming from somewhere on campus. Stupid, antiquated system.

“Gibson,” she snapped into the receiver.

“Well, aren’t you the sunny one?” A sarcastic voice on the other end snapped in return. “I expected to leave a VM, sorry if I woke you.”

You wouldn’t be sorry if you really thought you had. She sighed, “What do you need, Carly?” Jamie wasn’t in the mood.

“I’m just trying to get a final count for the end of year banquet. You haven’t responded to any of the emails so the committee sicced me on you and a couple of other stragglers. What’ll it be, James. One…or none.” Jamie could hear the smirk. Might as well be on face-time.

“None. I have a conflict.” She’d attended one faculty function since arriving at the college. Never again. Carly had spent the entirety of the evening making Jamie feel small and ugly. Why she’d zeroed in on the newcomer became clear when another member of the department pointed out that Jamie had been a sharp critic of Carly’s work without realizing it. The beautiful but mediocre Dr. Carlynn Wilson had married and assumed a new name after being brutalized in the astrophysics world after publishing an error-filled paper. Jamie, then a post-doc candidate, had led the charge. Carly Whithers (née Wilson) would never forget it.

“Is that it, Dr. Whithers? I have work to do.”

“That’s it. And what I expected.” The line went dead.

While she was on the phone she’d unconsciously brought the GoPro feed from her aquarium back up on her screen. She pushed the crazy curls out of their face and spent several minutes watching anemone drift in the current. A pearlscale butterfly fish kept swimming back and forth in front of the lens, as if putting on a show for her. After musing a bit she’d formulated a plan.

Jamie re-opened the “fishing” file, and brought the critique back to the front of the desktop. This time she changed a few words. Now the sharp, clean review of her father’s work contained some glaring errors. Two birds with one stone. Anyone reading it would have to take another look at the original paper. But the critic herself wouldn’t stand up any better under examination.

She opened another file in which she kept the IP addresses of several past and current colleagues, friends and enemies. She chose the address she was looking for, an old, unused address for Dr. Carlynn Wilson. Clicking a few more times, she’d composed a cover letter and attached the doctored critique from a bogus email account.

A vague memory of her father squatting down next to her has she looked at the ringed glory of Saturn through his backyard telescope came to her. She could almost smell his cologne. She remembers his whispered, “Isn’t it magnificent, Frisé?”

There were salty tears on her lips as she hit “Enter.”

I'd love to hear your perspective.