Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Resonance: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Saturday, August 20, 2005 22:30 EDT



    Graham didn’t have time to reply.

    “There’s a woman coming towards you on your left. She’s looking right at you.”

    He glanced furtively to the left, lowering the newspaper a touch and quickly pulling it back up. She was looking at him. A young woman, mid twenties, short hair.

    He waited, his hands tightening around the newspaper. She sat down at the far end of the seat, rummaged in one of her two voluminous bags, brought out a book and started to read.

    Graham observed her as he pretended to read. She showed no signs of leaving any time soon. Or of any interest in Graham, she just sat there, her head bowed over her book.

    Graham folded the newspaper, placed it back on the bench and took out his sandwich.

    No doubt he’d find another ‘wet paint’ sign in St. James’s Park tomorrow.



    He was unsettled for the rest of the lunch hour. The idea of there being other Graham Smiths hit him more than he’d expected.

    He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all.

    And the possibility that he wasn’t Graham Smith but someone else entirely was even worse. Admittedly his life wasn’t great. As a child he’d have given anything to be someone else. But not now. Now, he was used to being who he was. He’d adapted. And he wasn’t sure he could do that again. Especially given the choice of new identities - an abductee at the heart of an alien experiment or a guinea pig in a brainwashing project.

    Annalise must have got it wrong. And there were other explanations. His old theory for one; the unstable world shedding threads of existence. That’s where the other Annalises were living - on unravelled strands of reality that had been discarded and were slowly fading away. His was the only true reality, all the others were transient, ephemeral memories of what used to be and could never be again.

    The planet was alive, an imperfect unstable sphere that evolved by shedding its outer layers. Layers of reality detaching every now and then, part of the natural evolution of the planet. Wafers of existence shed like dead skin and replaced from beneath. Something similar but never identical. The planet slowly evolving, sloughing off its outer layers.

    And some of those outer layers could still harbour life - for a time. While they drifted aimlessly, slowly decomposing, unaware of their impending disintegration.

    And, somehow, Annalise had learned to bridge those strands of existence. She could talk to her other selves and those other selves could talk back, tell her something of their lives, of what they did and saw on their slowly degrading threads. Where his other selves, the shadow Graham Smiths, sat and ate and slowly unravelled into nothingness.

    By the time he returned to work, he’d pushed all thoughts of virtual worlds deep into the recesses of his mind. The world was real - imperfect and unstable, but real.



    Later that afternoon, Graham was waiting by the coffee machine on the second floor lobby. He wasn’t sure why, but the coffee always tasted better from the second floor machine. Brenda said it was because they cleaned it more often, though, he couldn’t see why that would be so. Why would anyone clean one machine more often than the others?

    Stephen Leyland was ahead of him in the queue, talking quietly to someone Graham couldn’t quite place. Brian was it? Roger? The name escaped him but it was someone from the fifth floor.

    “How long’s he been missing this time?” asked the unknown man.

    Graham tensed. Had someone else noticed that people were going missing?

    “Four weeks,” mumbled Stephen, so softly that Graham had to strain to make it out.

    “How’s Janie taking it?” continued the man, extracting his fifth cup from the machine and placing it precariously on a small tray.


    Janie? Wasn’t that Stephen’s wife?

    “Haven’t the police got any leads?”

    Stephen shook his head and turned away from the conversation while another plastic cup clattered into position, the machine whirred and a dark brown liquid streamed out.

      Had someone in Stephen’s family gone missing? Someone close?

    “They say he’ll probably get in touch when he needs money. And that the best we can do is check the answer-phone every day and wait.”

    “They told you that?” 

    Stephen nodded. “It’s no way to live, is it?”

    ”Can’t you hire a private detective to go round the shelters?”

    “The police say they’ve done that already. All the shelters have Jason’s picture.”

    Now Graham understood. Jason was Stephen’s son. Fourteen, fifteen? Something like that. Stephen had a picture on his desk. Always had, ever since Graham had known him.

    The lift bell rang. Graham watched the doors slide back. No one got out. And no one was waiting in the lobby either. Graham looked harder, expecting someone to suddenly remember it was their floor and rush forward from the back of the lift. No one moved.

    A tall, gaunt man stared back at Graham. Graham looked away. Seconds passed, the man continued to stare. Shouldn’t the lift doors have closed by now? Stephen’s friend loaded the last drink onto his tray, made his farewells and headed off towards the back corridor. Still the lift doors remained open. Were they stuck? Was the man holding them open on purpose?

    Graham edged along the lobby wall, following Stephen towards the head of the queue. He glanced back towards the lift. The doors were closing at last. 



    David Fotheringale, Her Majesty’s Minister of Trade, strode into Conference Room C. He’d been looking forward to meeting Adam Sylvestrus for two reasons. One, anything to deepen the working relationship with ParaDim was good for the country. And, two, it wasn’t that bad for David Fotheringale either. If he could keep in with Sylvestrus, maybe there’d be a directorship - something lucrative to step into when his political career started to wane.

    Formalities exchanged, the two deputations sat. Three men on each side of the table. Fotheringale watched how Sylvestrus let his two American associates do most of the talking and how often they glanced towards him - as though seeking approval. And when Sylvestrus spoke - in that still recognisably English accent - people listened.

    He was a very impressive figure - Sylvestrus - tall, gaunt, eyes that missed nothing. And he had a reputation to match. He had turned ParaDim from a little-known research project into the world’s fastest growing company. A company with the true Midas touch. Everything they undertook succeeded. So many patents, so many discoveries. It was staggering.

    And incredibly profitable too. Every major country had vied for the Census project, they knew the money that would be generated from the spin-offs and the benefits of being in bed with ParaDim. It had been one of Fotheringale’s proudest moments - the day Sylvestrus announced that Census was coming to Britain.

    As the meeting progressed, he wondered if this might be another of those days. The first results from the Census project were coming through. Several exciting medical discoveries had been made.

    “In fact, minister,” said the younger of the two ParaDim aides, “one of your employees was flagged in our latest medical sweep. Very interesting family history. Potential breakthrough.”


    “Yes, a Mister…” he glanced at his notes, “Graham Smith. He works in this building.”

    “This building?” The minister sat up. “Are you sure?”

    “Positive. It says here he’s a messenger based at 12, Westminster Street.“

    “Would you like to see him?”

    Both ParaDim aides looked towards Sylvestrus.

    He leaned forward, placed his elbows firmly on the table, brought his finger tips slowly together in a triangle ending at his chin and looked directly at Fotheringale.

    “Yes,” he said. “That would be most agreeable.”



    “Graham, where you been, man?” asked Michael as Graham walked into the post room. “We been looking everywhere for you. They want you in Conference Room C right away.”

    Graham was surprised. Why would anyone ask for him? Did they want the furniture moved?

    He took the stairs to the third floor - no point waiting for the lift if people wanted him in a hurry - and arrived outside the conference room, out of breath and sweating slightly.

    “Graham Smith?” asked an impeccably dressed young man who Graham had never seen before.

    Graham nodded nervously and forced a smile.

    “If you’ll wait here, I’ll enquire if the minister is ready to see you.”

    Graham’s eyes widened. Minister?

    The young man disappeared inside, closing the door quietly behind him.

    Graham smoothed down his hair with a clammy hand and flapped at some dust on his right trouser leg.

    And waited.

    The young man returned and opened the door wide. “The minister will see you now,” he said, standing back to allow Graham room to pass.

    Graham felt even more self-conscious, walking through that huge door into that long rectangular room. He’d never been inside before. Not this room. He’d helped move the furniture a couple of times in the other conference rooms but never this one.

    “Take a seat, Mr. Smith.”

    Graham wasn’t sure who’d said it, he was still taking in his surroundings - the huge conference table, the panelling, the paintings, all those important people looking at him. All of them in shirt-sleeves, showing the new relaxed attitude - we’re powerful men but, deep down, we’re just like you, see how we dress down to make you feel comfortable.

    It didn’t.

    The choice of seats didn’t help either - there were about twenty of them and only six were taken. Should he sit by the door, well away from everyone else? Or sit closer? And how close? Or should he take one of the chairs by the wall, like that man taking notes?

    Graham hovered by the foot of the table, smiling nervously. The impeccably dressed young man appeared at his elbow and gestured that he join the others at the head of the table.

    Graham obeyed. A chair was pulled out for him, next to a man whose face he dimly recognised - a deputy secretary? Permanent secretary? Someone like that. Whoever it was, he smiled at Graham and held out a hand. Graham wiped his right hand down his trouser leg and shook hands.

    “I expect you’re wondering what you’re doing here?” asked the minister.

    Graham nodded, his fixed smile widening to a death rictus grin.  

    “I’ll explain. These gentlemen here are from ParaDim. You may have heard that name before.”

    Graham swallowed hard. The minister was still speaking but it was as though he’d suddenly stepped back twenty feet and started talking through water. All the words were squeaking and smothered. Except one. ParaDim. Which broke against his ears like a crashing wave. ParaDim. They’ve come for you. They’re sitting opposite. They’re here!

    He swallowed again, trying to unblock his ears. He looked down at his hands and clenched them firmly in his lap.

    “Mr. Smith?”

    Graham looked up, forced another nervous smile and swallowed.

    “You’d be making an important contribution to the advancement of medical science,” continued the minister. “A contribution that would not go unnoticed.”

    “Indeed,” said the man next to him. “I’m sure the gentlemen opposite will recompense you handsomely for the two days they require of you.”

    “That we will,” said one of the Americans. “Five hundred dollars a day plus expenses.”

    “Pounds,” said a voice - English, well-spoken, assured. “Make that five hundred pounds per day.” Graham looked up. The man was staring at him - more than staring - he was dissecting him with his eyes. The same eyes that had watched him by the coffee machine. The tall, gaunt man.

    “We have access to one of the world’s premier medical facilities,” broke in the American opposite. “We’d pick you up from your home in the morning and take you back at night. Or we could put you up at a top London hotel, if you’d prefer.”

    Everyone was looking at Graham. He could feel the entire room willing him to say ‘yes.’

    “There’d be nothing invasive. All the tests are state of the art. We’d need a small blood sample but that would be all. If you’d prefer we could take a DNA sample from your saliva instead?”

    “Or your hair,” suggested the other American.

    “Whatever you want. We can show you a complete list of the tests involved and talk you through everything they entail. You can choose the two days which are the most convenient for you.”

    Again the wall of faces turned on Graham. Again he stared back blankly, waiting for everyone to give up and let him go.

    “If there’s any test you’re unhappy with, we’ll cancel it.”

    “You really would be helping medical science. Lives could be saved.”

    They all looked at Graham. Well meaning smiles, encouraging nods. Waiting for the ‘yes’ that had to come.

    Graham was torn. He was terrified of ParaDim and he was terrified of saying ‘no’. He’d spent his life agreeing with people, pursuing the line of least resistance through life with his nods and smiles. Do what people say and they’ll stop bothering you. Life’s hard for people like you. Don’t make it any worse.His mother’s advice. Advice that had served him well.

    The minister broke in. “You wouldn’t lose any holiday entitlement, if that’s what you’re worried about. You’d be on full pay for the duration of the tests and we’d offer you time off in lieu as well.”

    More smiles, more encouragement. Should he tell the minister he didn’t trust ParaDim? That once they had him, they’d likely keep him? No one at the department would care if the two days turned into a week and then a month. And then what - an accident? A tragic unforeseen event? A car crash, a fatal allergic reaction, a mystery illness?

    How could he say anything without sounding paranoid?

    People are out to get me. They follow me everywhere. Annalise told me. She hears voices.

    Smiling faces turned quizzical. He recognised the look - surprise and pity rolled into one. The look before people changed the subject or walked away.

    Would these people walk away? Would ParaDim ever give up?

    Graham looked away. His skin burned so much, he was certain his face was bright red. His hands knotted together in his lap. His mouth opened and closed like a fish - struggling to speak, struggling not to speak. Constrained and impelled in equal measures.

    “Perhaps you need time to consider?” asked the tall, gaunt man.

    Graham looked up, eager, smiling, nodding. A way out!

    “Here’s our card,” he said, pushing a black and gold business card across the table. “Contact us when you’ve had sufficient time.”

    Graham nodded again and reached out eagerly to take it. The man didn’t let go, he kept his index finger pressed down hard on the card.

    “If you have any questions,” he continued, looking directly into Graham’s eyes. “Don’t hesitate to ring. There will always be someone to take your call.”

    He raised his index finger a fraction and released the card.

    Graham took it and almost tripped over the chair leg in his haste to get to his feet. He smiled, grasped the card to his chest with both hands and nodded deferentially several times as he backed away from the table. Then turned and almost ran to the door.

    He grasped the ornate handle, pushing and pulling, rattling the door until it flew open. And then he was flying, down the stairs and away.



    Graham kept on the move for the next hour. He didn’t feel comfortable at his desk - they’d called down for him once, they could do it again. He took over Michael’s rounds - except for the third floor. Michael didn’t mind. Michael was always flexible.

    Just after five, Graham was walking through the ground floor lobby on his way to the stairwell when he was called over to reception.

    “Could you take this up to 515?” the receptionist asked, holding out a small parcel, the size of a book. “I’ve tried ringing through but it’s engaged. The courier said it was urgent.”

    She managed to smile and look pleadingly at the same time. Graham smiled back and took the package.

    Five minutes later, the parcel delivered, he pressed the lift button and stood back to wait for it to arrive. He rocked gently back and forth on his toes and heels and counted the first row of ceiling tiles. They were all there. A good even number to finish on.

    The lift arrived. He got in, pressed ‘ground’ and walked to the back. He liked to stand at the back - dead centre, heels against the wall. He stretched his arms out against the back wall, judged the distance between the corners and the tips of his fingers and shuffled a few inches to his right. Perfect. Lifts appreciated equilibrium - all machines did. He watched the lights descend, five, four…

    The lift stuttered as it braked for the third floor. A muffled bell tolled in the lobby and then the doors slid back.

    Three people were waiting.

    All of them from ParaDim.

    The tall, gaunt one spoke.  

    “Such a small world, Mr Smith?”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image