Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Shift: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 16:14 EST



    What did she think she was doing? Driving to Oxford, searching for some obscure professor, all because of what? Some madman and his delusions? And yet it had all seemed so real in the hospital. Outside, she wasn't so sure.

    And even less sure after her visit to St. Olaves. She’d found the Astropsychology department, but no Professor Stubbs. He was spending the month at Framlingham Hall, out on the Banbury Road.

    "You can leave a message if you want but it could be days before he checks his messages. Always out and about, that one,"the receptionist had told her.

    Was this fate giving Louise another chance to back out? What was it her mother used to say? That fate gave everyone three chances to change their minds. Three chances and then the page turned and the future set.

    Was this her third chance?

    She could easily back out. She hadn’t committed herself to anything. She and John had drifted apart years ago. What help could she be?

    Of course their parents had kept in touch, cards at Christmas - that sort of thing. Little notes saying this and that, how they were doing, what was Oxford like these days? With little pieces of news thrown in - how proud John's dad had been when he followed him into the Air Force, John's transfer to NASA, his selection for the SHIFT mission. After that who needed cards? John was headline news. The first man to travel the new space, the quiet-spoken hero. And then the political John Bruce, the master of the photo opportunity, the born again darling of right-wing Middle America.

    But the hype had never registered with Louise. She'd known the boy, not the man. As far as she was concerned, it could have been a complete stranger on the holovision. But today … she’d met the boy again.

    It must have been that which drove her down the Banbury Road, that and her love of abandoned animals. For, whoever it was that inhabited the recesses of Peter Pendennis's brain, whether John or not, they’d been abandoned there as much as any neglected dog or goat.

    She pulled up outside Framlingham Hall; one of those early Victorian statements of wealth: gothic, grey and rambling. She climbed down from the pick-up and looked up at the crumbling facade; the dirty grey stone, the cracked windows and paint-peeling woodwork. It couldn’t have been lived in for years.

    The gardens showed the same level of neglect. Once-formal regularity replaced by haphazard colonisation. Lawns grown wild; long grass and nettles folded over by winter snows, yellowed by frost and criss-crossed by nocturnal paths. Leaves and broken branches left where they fell. 

    She crunched along the gravel drive and stopped by the entrance porch. Her last chance to turn back. An ugly brass knocker stared back at her, daring her to knock. She grasped it with her right hand and rapped twice.

    A silence followed. Louise glanced back towards her pick-up and wondered how long she could wait before giving up. A few seconds, a minute? Shouldn’t she just turn round now and let John become someone else’s problem?

    The door opened.

    "Professor Stubbs?" 


    He was younger than Louise expected, and scruffier. He looked like a student straight out of the ‘40s - tall and lean with long unkempt hair and a straggly beard. And a fashion sense to match.

    Not that she could claim to be an expert on fashion. Her wardrobe came straight off the shelves of Two Counties Farmers. Discount clothing for the rural poor, hard-wearing and cheap.

    She held out her hand. "My name's Louise Callander, I was referred to you by a Doctor Ziegler - from Upper Heywood?"

    His eyes widened. "You've escaped? I always thought Upper Heywood looked after their patients better than that."

    "No, it’s…" She was flustered. "It's not for me. I was only visiting…"

    "That's what they all say, Ms. Callander. Now tell me, are you very, very violent or just mildly homicidal?"



    Nick Stubbs was enjoying himself. An amusing interlude in an otherwise boring day searching for phenomena that steadfastly refused to be found. And it had promised so much - a week ago. Come out and have a look at Framlingham Hall, they’d said. One of the most haunted houses in Britain. Guaranteed apparitions from dusk to dawn. They're knocking it down at the end of the month so it'll be your last chance. Can you afford to pass it up?

    Nick Stubbs couldn’t.

    His was a simple philosophy - never pass up an opportunity for who knows where it may lead. A philosophy that had served him well. He'd had his fair share of falling into life's open sewers but generally came up smelling, if not of roses, then of something only marginally less fragrant.

    And now, here he was, standing under a musty, cobwebbed door-frame talking to an attractive young woman. The day was looking up.

    Louise looked less sure.

    "Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Perhaps I should…"

    "Nonsense. Ms. Callander. Please come in. I insist."

    He beckoned her inside with a theatrical bow and then wished he hadn’t. The poor girl was on the verge of running away as it was. One day he’d learn to rein in his eccentricities.

    But not any day soon.

    He led her through the dark and musty entrance hall, over the bare, echoing floorboards, past the peeling wallpaper and into the light of a large front room. Library, morning room, study, billiard room - it could have been anything in a previous incarnation. But today, stripped of its former elegance it was just another empty room; four walls, imposing marble fireplace and a high, moulded ceiling.

    And an array of tripods in the far corner. An oasis of modern technology in a desert of emptiness and decay.

    "They're mine." He’d noticed her interest. "Higher Dimensional Imagers. Cameras, if you like." He walked over and patted one of them, feeling like a proud parent amongst strange misshapen children. "Now, how can I help?"

    She looked nervously towards the door.

    "Please," he said, trying to put her at ease. "If Anders Ziegler referred you to me, it’s got to be important." Earth-shatteringly important. The two men barely spoke.

    "I’m not sure where to begin," said Louise.

    "Then just start talking and we’ll work it out from there."



    She started slowly, nervously stringing facts together and then becoming more animated. Nick listened, fighting the urge to interject. John Bruce, multiple personalities: he could see so many possibilities, so many unexpected avenues of research.

    He waited until she’d finished and then jumped in.

    "Interesting. The involvement with John Bruce in particular. Did you know most of my instrumentation came from the SHIFT project or offshoots from linked research? Well, no reason why you should. Higher Dimensional research owes a lot to SHIFT. And if John Bruce was subjected to a bombardment of higher dimensional stress - which is not that implausible, there was supposed to be adequate neural shielding but then again it was early days and more trial and error than proven fact. Given all that, could the extreme stress of the launch have had some adverse effect on the higher dimensional component of his mind?"

    Louise raised her hands. "Whoa, you've lost me. That Higher Dimensional stuff passed me by. When I left school, it was still Newton and Einstein."

    He was only half listening. Thinking of all the different ways a personality could split and still remain viable. Was it possible? Was any of it possible? All thoughts of the non-existent Framlingham ghosts had been firmly put aside. This was something new. Something with potential. And it was his for the solving.

    He looked at Louise. Suddenly aware of her existence. Wanting to hug her for opening such an unexpected door. Rescuing him from boredom and frustrated inactivity. Feeling like Sherlock Holmes on one of his bad days, with Moriarty dead and not the hint of an interesting crime on any horizon.

    But how could he explain it to her? This dark-haired woman waiting nervously for an answer while all he could do was witter and play the fool. And he was getting worse. He knew that. What had started out as playful affectation had all but taken him over. Sometimes he'd find himself saying things that even he couldn't believe, making impossible connections, playing the wayward genius like a ham actor in a bad amateur production.

    And that was another thing - tangential leaps in his thinking processes. He'd start thinking about one thing and end up God knows where, with no idea how he got there. A brain stuffed full of butterflies, all of them flapping at once.

    And then Louise came back into focus; still looking at him, still waiting for an answer. How could he explain things to her without first taking her through an introduction to Higher Dimensional Theory?

    "You see you've got to know the context."

    And then he was away. Switching into lecture mode, recalling facts and personalities, reeling off the talk he'd given so many times before.

    He told her about the search for a unified theory. How the laws of gravitation, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, relativity and possibly a few others besides had all been brought together under the umbrella of Higher Dimensional Theory.

    "You see, the universe is not just the three physical dimensions that we see around us but ten - can you believe that - ten physical dimensions. Eleven if you count time. Isn't that just amazing? Here we are - barely coping with length, breadth and depth - and suddenly we’ve got another seven to worry about.

    He was in his element now, pacing and expounding, arms windmilling. Like a child let loose in a toy factory, flitting from one subject to the next. But with a structure this time. A practised discipline that held the speech together. Taking Louise through the labyrinthine twists and turns of a complex subject. Passing on his excitement as only a true enthusiast can.

    He talked of acupuncture, he talked of dowsing. He explained how they accessed the hidden - the higher - dimensional component that all matter was composed of. How so much material was hidden from the five physical senses. How telepathy, near death experiences - maybe even ghosts someday - could be explained by reference to HDT. Senses and skills that exploited the hidden universe.

    "And just think of the implications for space travel. How for years we've only considered the three axes of movement - up, down, left, right, forward and back. But in eleven dimensions we've got another seven. Astounding, isn't it. Unfathomable! How can we, trapped inside our three dimensional thought, conceive of what these other seven axes look like?"

    But Nick Stubbs could. Tracing pictures inside Louise's imagination, he drew her deeper and deeper into his strange world.

    "Imagine a two dimensional universe. Like a picture on a piece of paper, it has no depth. Imagine this world as a blank piece of paper inhabited by little stick men - just like a cartoon. The stick men can move left and right and up and down across the page but they can't move forward and back - that’s the third dimension that doesn't exist for them. They would have no concept whatsoever of this third dimension, the same as we have no concept of our extra seven."

    He hoped she could see it. The imaginary paper world he held fluttering before her. And then, with a flourish, he screwed it up into a tight little ball.

    "You see, the universe is no more flat than the Earth."

    He stared at his creation, breathing belief into it. A tiny paper ball universe balanced on an outstretched palm of thought.

    "We still have our piece of paper and stick men who can travel only on the surface but now we have something else, don't we? With our three dimensional knowledge we can see that many points on the paper have been moved closer together. Not for the stick men, because they'd still have to walk along the surface of the paper, but if they had a three dimensional capability they could reduce the distance dramatically and travel directly through the ball. That was the driving force behind SHIFT, to reduce the vast inter-stellar distances that we've measured in three dimensions by utilising some or all of the other seven. Forget all that 'no one can travel faster than the speed of light' crap and fly to the stars in a matter of minutes!"

    He paused, breathing hard.

    "Now, of course, not everyone believed that was possible. For years it was thought these extra dimensions had to be minute - rolled up upon themselves, no bigger than an atom. They had to be or else we’d see them, right?"

    He waited for Louise to nod. And then shot her down as he’d done to a thousand other students.  

    "Like we can see infra-red or ultra-violet?" He shook his head. "We’re adapted to sense a fraction of what’s out there. The fraction we need to get by and that’s it. I can’t sense a magnetic field but give me the right machine and I can show it to you. Same goes for the higher dimensions. Those cameras over there. They’re calibrated to display the higher dimensional energy spectrum.

    "And guess what … some of those higher dimensions are as infinite as our physical three."



    Another pause for effect, another sweep of his arms.

    "What followed was one of those golden eras of scientific discovery when the interests of politicians, big business and science all coincided so that everyone could pull together and make the thing work. You know - national pride, promises of new industries, new markets, undying fame. All other areas of research put on hold.

    "Which is why we now know more about travel in the higher dimensions than any other aspect of HDT. Take my research - we know little more about the mind today than we did fifty years ago. There are still eminent doctors who deny the existence of HDT or its relevance to psychology - your Doctor Ziegler, for one. If we'd had the same resources put into our research as SHIFT it might have been different. But I'm not complaining - far from it. As I said, most of my machinery comes from SHIFT or SHIFT-related research. These higher dimensional imagers and translators - all SHIFT based technology."

    He patted one again, noticed a speck of dust and brushed it away. Then he was off again. Talking of the mind and its mysterious higher dimensional component.

    "You see, most of the body's higher dimensional matter is located in the area of the brain. What we see - the visible part - is but a small component of the whole. It’s like…" He searched for a suitable analogy, his eyes flashing and flickering. "A mushroom! Just like a mushroom. You have the fruiting body above ground - the visible component - and a vast array of tendrils and God knows what else spreading and permeating about underground - the unseen component, so easy to overlook but absolutely essential to the understanding of the organism.

    "Which brings us to John Bruce. He was supposed to be fully shielded during his journey. All his bits picked up and brought back but what if the shielding was flawed and not all of him came back. What then?"

    "Wouldn't he die?" asked Louise.

    "Depends which bits he lost. My profession used to advocate lobotomies - you know, surgically removing bits of the brain. They survived. Who's to say you couldn't lose some higher dimensional matter and survive - quite likely really. The only problem with that theory is that SHIFT were so thorough, I can't believe they wouldn't have picked up an anomaly like that when comparing the before and after scans. Otherwise - nice theory."

    "Are you saying that John Bruce might have lost a part of his mind during the voyage and somehow that lost part has surfaced within Peter Pendennis?"

    "Was I saying that?" He thought for a while, trying to remember. Sometimes his brain moved so quickly he lost touch with his thoughts once he'd committed them to speech. Or so he liked to think. He always fancied himself as something special, something exceptional. Others were less charitable and said he talked so much drivel it was no wonder his memory was too embarrassed to store it all.

    "It’s one possibility," he said, regaining his thread. "One of many, I should think. The voyage might have affected John’s higher dimensional abilities - accentuated his telepathic skills, for example. Pendennis might be a receptive, a medium, who can pick up telepathic messages. Or the shift through the dimensions might have ripped at John’s mental fabric - maybe dislodged a bubble of memory so strong that it could exist independent of its owner. Who knows?"

    And what fun it would be to find out. He could see months of research opening out before him, maybe even years, maybe even a new branch of science.

    "And if I could get hold of John Bruce's brain scans, there might be something the SHIFT team overlooked."

    "I don't remember hearing about any other SHIFT missions after John's. Couldn't that be proof that something went wrong?"

    "What?" He was half in the room, half racing into the future. "Oh, that. No, that was down to navigation problems. The craft was supposed to slip into the higher dimensions and then return. A short journey just to prove that flight was possible. Trouble was it came back fifty miles away from where it was supposed to. Spectacular sight mind you - one second it was there, hanging in space, a couple of thousand miles above the Earth, then..." He clicked his fingers. "It winked out of existence and reappeared fifty miles to the left."

    "So it did go wrong?"

    "After a fashion. They knew about the navigation error long before John got anywhere near the craft. But it wasn't seen as a problem. You see, they experienced the same magnitude of deflection during the unmanned flights. It was predictable. They didn't know where he was going to reappear but they knew it would be about fifty miles from the start point. And it wasn't as though he was going anywhere. Just nipping into the void and back."

    "Seems one hell of a risk to me."

    "Ah, but you didn't have half of Washington breathing down your neck. SHIFT could have been cancelled if there were any more delays."

    "Still seems a crazy way to run a project."

    "It's a crazy world. Anyway, SHIFT's on hold now until they sort the navigation problem out. No point venturing to the stars if you can't find your way back, is there?" He paused, thinking. Then smiled. "I don't know though. It does have that certain appeal, doesn't it?"

    "So SHIFT was cancelled after all?"

    "No, not cancelled - put on hold. The funds are still there. If and when they crack the navigation problem"

    "So, what do we do?"

    He didn't answer immediately. He stood, staring vacantly out the window, mulling over the possibilities. What was the best plan of action? Rush off to the States and try to persuade John Bruce to submit to a brain scan? What chance was there of that? And what if the whole thing was a fake? An opportunist telepath reading Louise's mind and regurgitating events for … for what? Attention? Prestige? Some strange twisted plan that might never be fully understood?

    "Tell you what, I'll get in touch with SHIFT and, in the meantime, let's have a look at Mister Pendennis before Ziegler changes his mind."

    "Do I have to be there?"

    "Definitely. If there is a telepathic link between the two of you, end of story. I can calibrate the imagers to pick up even the weakest telepathic bond so there'll be no chance of him faking anything."

    "And if there is no link?"

    "That, Ms. Callander, is when it starts to get interesting."

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image