Parallel Lives is published in paperback and as an eBook
Friday, 12 April 2013
Parallel Lives chapter 83
Jack, Karen, Alan, Michael and John sat around two tables pushed together. John was sat staring into space and had drawn unwelcome attention from the over-weight and under-clean chef at the service station cafe. Jack had persuaded him that John was drunk and in the process of being sobered up, a story that had seemed sufficient explanation. The chef had subsequently demonstrated a particular skill with grease which had been devoured by all bar John in virtual silence. As they finished their meals, Jack addressed Michael.
'Who's Jim?' he asked, wiping a slice of bread around his plate. Michael's instinct was to deny any knowledge of any Jim, or at least note that the question was far too vague. Then he realised who Jack was referring to.
'I take it you mean the airforce Sergeant, the ginger haired guy,' he asked. Jack shrugged, all he had was a name. 'Did he say anything?' Michael continued, nodding at John.
'Strange things, something about taking the gun off this guy Jim, that it was John’s fault and Jim would kill the two men,' said Jack, 'does it mean anything to you?' Michael sipped his tea, finding an unstained part of the rim to sip from.
'He said similar things in the room, started to shout out a warning when those Secret Service guys were turning over the next room,' he explained. Karen looked puzzled.
'Airforce Sergeant? Why were they involved?' she asked. Michael looked uncomfortable.
'Martin, my minder, felt we were under-manned. He co-opted some local help. I didn't see the need for it myself, but he's a law unto himself. I don't know anything about a gun, though,' he explained.
'Come on,' interrupted Alan, 'you promised you would explain all of this when we were all together. Go on,' he urged. Michael braced himself, this was going to be difficult.
'Sam Jackson had been a member of DTRU long before I was recruited,' he began. He had repeated his description of the DTRU to Jack when they had ordered their meals, surprised to find that Jack had been aware of their existence. Apparently he had been involved in some equipment trials while in the army that had involved the unit.
'He had joined the unit when his re-evaluation of American research into LSD in the sixties produced startlingly different results, due to ground breaking techniques he had developed. At first he didn't know what the new results meant but he knew he had to dig further. We had a good team back then and he was able to tap into a broad group of experts from the worlds of medicine and physics.
'What Sam noticed was that the hallucinogenic drugs created strange worlds which the drug takers believed in implicitly. The American research had suggested that the drugs simply distorted existing experiences into vivid dreams that took on a reality for the takers.
'There were, however, problems with the American interpretation. What Sam spotted was that there were similarities in the descriptions made by many of the subjects that suggested that they all shared specific experiences. These weren't drug addicts, by the way, sitting around a San Francisco commune, they were a large group of Government sponsored volunteers culled from the military, the main agencies and so on.
'He hypothesised that there was a possibility they were not seeing altered images from their own reality, but may be seeing images from another dimension,' stated Michael, watching the faces of the assembled group. Alan and Jack looked sceptical, Karen was desperately trying to show understanding.
'At the same time a new branch of physics was coming to the fore. String theory, its called. There's still a lot of work required, but essentially it describes the composition of the universe. In fact it describes a number of potential permutations to the universe. Specifically there are two main alternatives that concern us here,' he said, aware that the faces were now starting to look at him with interest.
'There is either just the one universe or there is an infinite number of universes. Technically there may be any number of universes between one and an infinite amount, but those two options are considered the most likely. Strangely enough, the mathematics to prove the single universe option is now proving a lot more elusive than the infinite version, making the infinite option the absolute front runner.
'Now, taking this infinite concept, the vast majority of these will not resemble anything like the universe we live in. Its a long story, but there are ten dimensions available to any given universe. We are used to a life that uses the three dimensions we all grew up to recognise and the fourth dimension, time. According to the theory there are six other dimensions sitting out there somewhere, curled up into a ball. We can only guess at the composition of the other six dimensions but it is a fair bet that any universe utilising them, with or without our familiar group of dimensions, would be quite different to the universe we live in. The only apparent constant in these alternate universes is the dimension of time.
'But what Sam was interested in was those universes that had the same composition as ours. In fact, he was interested in the subset that more or less tracked the physical existence of our universe, including parallel Earths.' Michael wasn't sure how this was being received, his listeners were sitting quietly, not indicating acceptance or otherwise. Karen decided to attempt to clarify.
'So you take an infinite number of universes, strip away all those that use the other dimensions we don't use, and then throw away all the others that have developed differently to ours. The remaining number of universes are the ones you are talking about, I suppose,' she said, 'and assuming that all of this is truthful that number by now must be quite small,' she said, drawing a look of admiration from Alan.
'Bravo,' he said, 'because I didn't follow a word he said.' Michael swallowed, aware that so far he hadn't touched the contentious part.
'Very good, but you need to be careful when dealing with infinity. You can take a subset of infinity and end up with an infinite amount again. We can't be certain yet, but we think the number of alternate universes that bear sufficient relationship to ours probably numbers tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands. Maybe more,' he shrugged. Jack was quite uncomfortable with all this, but felt quite drawn.
'When you say "sufficient relationship", are you talking geographically?' he questioned. Michael looked into the near empty tea cup, momentarily marvelling at drinking so much of it.
'Yes, that's a big part of it. We don't expect every land mass to be identical, all inorganic matter to have settled in the same places. But geography has moulded such a large part of our history, formed the basis for war and trade that to expect to find analogues of you and me implies that it must be similar,' Michael stated. Jack wasn't convinced.
'Are you saying that you actually believe there are absolute copies of me, Karen and Alan asking a copy of you these same questions in other universes. I can't see that,' he said. Karen rested her hand on his lap under the table to calm him. Michael continued.
'Copies, not the best word, but it'll do for now. Yes, there is a probability that this is happening in a cafe several times over in this approximate location. It's probably also taking place in other locations, which I meant to ask you about earlier. Why here?' Jack wasn't prepared to walk away from this subject just yet.
'We can talk about that after, I don't think you've convinced all of us yet, certainly not me.' Michael nodded, he hadn’t intended to finish here, it just seemed a good point to ask his question.
'What you've got to realise is that there are many different permutations of your existence that won't change the overall direction of human endeavour,' said Michael, adding, ‘and the same is true for myself, of course.
'Consider the plane accident the other week, I doubt if anything you three did, whether you knew each other for example, would have had a bearing on that event. Long term the small number of deaths that occurred on that crash may possibly have some effect on human history, but probably not. It probably takes something world shattering to make a major difference, like the Kennedy assassination.
‘In some universes Kennedy might have survived that Dallas bullet, and it’s easy to see how things could have worked out differently. He may have handled Vietnam less aggressively, might have directed the American resources onto his dream of putting a man on the moon instead. American foreign policy might be much more amenable to us in these universes, the ones where he survives. They might have supported us on the first Falklands war, instead of the Argentineans, saving many British lives and preventing the split we find now.
'But most of us have such a minor impact on the grand scheme of things that our individual activities and relationships are largely irrelevant. Jack, you may not be married to Karen in many of these universes, may never have met,' he explained, aware that Jack didn't like the way this was going. Alan intervened.
'So, we have alternative universes where we may or may not know each other. How does John fit into this?'
'John is what we term a level three candidate on the project. You may remember that I said time was the only dimension believed to be common to all universes. We see time like a huge multi-faceted tube, hollow in the centre, in fact literally dimensionless; the only true void. All dimensions spur from this tube in streams of strings.
'The theory goes that universes link through the common dimension of time. Because it’s time that links them it allows us to link between individuals that exist independently as analogues in different universes.
'DNA is probably the link, that unique mathematical code which defines you,' Michael said, surveying his audience. It was probable that most of this was wasted on these three people, much as scribbling down onto a napkin the multiple order differential equations Michael had derived to demonstrate the feasibility of resurrecting the project, or the super-calculus developed by DTRU staff to make the sums work would be wasted.
'Right,' he said, taking a different tack, 'we believe that there are three levels. Level ones simply don't have an analogue in any parallel universe. They may have had at one time, but they are the last example,' he said. Alan interrupted.
'Or the first,' he shouted, seeing the agreement in Michael's face and feeling the excitement of a child finally getting a sum right in school. Michael continued.
'Of course there has to be a first and a last by definition, but well spotted.’ He didn’t expand the observation that the first would also be a baby, so would be oblivious to any of this regardless of the level it occupied. He continued, ‘Level two-ers compromise the majority of us. We have analogues in other universes but to all intents and purposes we are unaware of their existence, and they of ours. But in certain stress situations, when our individual Dopamine and Adrenaline are in certain states, we can connect.
'Moments of elevated Adrenaline levels, usually associated with absolute fear, seems to send a one-way signal across the barrier our minds have in place. Adrenaline, perversely, also acts as a barrier to these signals when incoming. What this means is that at times of great fear we send out a message to all of our analogues not currently experiencing the fear, but cannot contribute to those in the same boat.
'Its like advance warning really, and we think it accounts for reports of premonitions, out of body experiences and dozens of things lumped into the paranormal pile,' he explained. Jack was being sucked into this now.
'And John, you said he's a level three, what does that mean?'
'Up to this morning it meant that in life he is much more connected to his other selfs. Whenever anything dramatic happens in one life, it passes more than the sensation of fear, it passes chunks of the other life's memories across.’ Alan was retracing through the last few sentences.
‘You say all this is linked through DNA? I know its generally supposed to be unique, but isn’t there some instances when its not?’ he asked. Michael was impressed, for a man who'd been way behind the other two he was aware of some useful background.
‘You’re right, identical twins may have the same DNA and this was part of what Sam noticed from the trials the Americans carried out. These people don’t need to reach out across universes to make contact, they have their own closed loop within our own which we believe accounts for some of the behaviour associated with identical twins.
'However, as far as people like John are concerned, none of this fits in with his day-to-day concept of life and these people usually will end up scarred and clinically insane by the time they are in their teens. That's why John was so important to the project; sure, he's damaged goods, but much better than most of his peers. We think its because he tried to rationalise his situation, write it down and make sense of it all, that has helped him.' Karen had been trying to interrupt.
'Up to this morning?' she asked. Michael nodded, suddenly feeling the urge for another foul tasting cup of tea, he knew the next bit wasn't going to be popular.
'We expected, partly based on some old experience from early on in the project, to have to mess about with chemical levels to get John to see across to other universes. It was expected to be like probing a cat's whisker radio but in fact the preparation really paid off. It was more like a dial up modem. Pump the chemicals into him and he's there, in one of his parallel existences. Ramp them down and he disconnects, except since this morning he's stayed connected, apparently shifting from one reality to another. A but like broadband,' he suggested lamely. Michael was right, this was not a popular statement. Karen came straight back.
'What’s the purpose of all this? I can't see how it helps John,' she blurted. Michael agreed.
'My view, exactly, which is why I'm here and my career is sinking somewhere in Manchester,' he responded. 'John almost certainly would never have benefited greatly except we would have understood his condition better, perhaps directed counselling and a drugs regime that would make him less susceptible to the extreme elements.
'The pay off, the hook that made the project worth investing in, was the potential to use volunteers to explore events in parallel universes, occasionally getting the inside track on some intelligence,' he said. Alan wasn't having a bar of this.
'But you said level three-ers were less common, and that they had burned themselves out by their teens. Where do you expect to draw these "volunteers" from?' Michael was unflustered at this one.
'We needed a level three candidate to experiment with the drugs. Trying with the less sensitive level two-ers would be looking for a needle in a haystack. Because John responded so well and quickly, we think we are well on the way to devising a programme that doesn't need level three-ers.'
'So, why are you here if the programme was going so well?' asked Jack.
'Because they were trying to get too much out of John. The intelligence guy, Martin, saw it as a continuing process, with John here a virtual prisoner of the State. There were signs that we were seeing what we term the “nightmare scenario” and Martin didn’t want to quit in case we couldn’t get access to John again. I wasn't prepared to sign up for that, we had enough information,' replied Michael. 'Personally I think we have damaged John already and I need to find a way of getting him to proper Psychiatric treatment without DTRU finding him.’ The group turned their attention to John, who had sat virtually expressionless throughout the discussion, muttering occasionally, but generally so quiet that it had become quite natural to talk about him as if he hadn’t been there. Michael returned to his question.
‘Why here, I think I’ve fulfilled my promise. At least I’ve told you enough that is understandable, if perhaps not believable, by non-scientists.’ Jack pulled out a road atlas he had brought into the café. Opening it on the pages dedicated to North Devon he pointed at a location stuck midway between the main Devon resorts.
‘Here,’ he said, ‘this is where I think John’s first memory occurred.’ Michael was dubious.
‘On what basis?’ he asked.
‘He told me,’ replied Jack, ‘or at least I worked out where I thought it was and he confirmed it during one of his few lucid moments.’ He sat back, pleased with his result. He was surprised when it was Karen who challenged him, he expected that to come from one of the men.
‘Worked it out? From what?’ she demanded. Jack leaned forward, elbows on the table.
‘I more or less knew that first day, when he came to see me. You see, he was talking about a holiday that took place in the sixties. I knew he was from Manchester and I guessed he didn’t make trips to Devon that frequently, not back then. He described it, both to me and in his journal, as a typical Devon “sheer drop” down to a beach with static caravans. Well I come from Bristol, and my mother arranged a holiday in Devon every year, usually at the cheap end due to her circumstances. I knew back then that, although Devon is blessed with many sheer drops, most of the holiday beaches are accessed from fairly level approaches. There were few that I knew about that filled John’s description and when I mentioned this one he recognised the name immediately. In fact, I got the impression he was keen to revisit it. The way I look at it, its his first memory if we are to believe any of this stuff, and it may help with unscrambling his head.’ Jack sat back. Karen and Alan seemed satisfied and Michael didn’t care. His priority was to find a way to get John into some sort of care, and for now he needed time.
‘Sounds good to me,’ he said.
Parallel Lives is published in paperback and as an eBook
Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011
The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence. All rights reserved
Parallel Lives is published in paperback and as an eBook