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Resonance: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Thursday, July 14, 2005 21:04 EDT



    Graham set off for work the next morning, wondering if Annalise Twelve was watching. Was she floating, invisible, above the trees or crouched down between the parked cars? And who else was watching him? Was that Kevin Alexander sat in the parked car over the road?

    He tried to settle back into his old routine of counting paces between the landmarks but found it hard to concentrate. Part of his mind was analysing faces - was that woman familiar, hadn’t that man passed by on the other side of the road ten minutes earlier?

    It was the same on the tube - anyone getting on or pushing through into the carriage or hanging back by the doors. What would they do if he jumped off at Finchley Road, ran across the platform and took the next northbound train back to Harrow?

    Finchley Road came and went. He’d toyed with the idea of jumping off just as the doors were closing. He’d even edged forward onto the balls of feet, ready to spring. But something had held him back. His fear of attracting attention, his fear of upsetting his daily routine.



    He walked into the Post Room thirty minutes later, glanced over towards Sharmila’s desk and stopped.

    Sharmila wasn’t there.

    Michael was. Michael hadn’t worked at Westminster Street for six months, not since he’d been transferred to Greenwich.

    Michael raised a well-muscled arm in acknowledgement and carried on talking. He was on the phone as usual. He spent most of the day on the phone - organising his social life, keeping his girlfriends in line, checking all the players were available for the match on Saturday, booking squash courts, restaurants, arranging nights out. Michael lived enough lives for four people - all of them busy.

    Graham waved back. And almost said hello. His mouth started to form the word but his brain kicked in and promptly closed it. He wasn’t ready. Not yet. Talking to Annalise had been fun but it had been unsettling too. There was a warm protective feeling about silence. Silence couldn’t hurt you. Whereas words could tear your life apart.

    Graham’s phone rang. A sound as frightening to Graham as the low drone of a wasp. He swung round, Michael was still on the other phone, he must have switched calls through to Graham’s extension.

    The phone kept ringing. Graham hovered close by, praying it would stop, wondering if he could pretend he hadn’t heard it and walk out the door.

    The phone rang on. Michael laughed and chatted. Graham’s insides churned. He hated phone calls. All he could say was mmm for yes and uh-uh for no. And even that was a strain. His throat would invariably tighten or the person on the other end would shout at him.

    But what if it was urgent? What if in five minutes time someone came storming into the Post Room demanding to know why the phone hadn’t been answered?

    He lifted the receiver.

    “Michael, you were supposed to be here five minutes ago. What’s keeping you?”

    It couldn’t have been worse. Frank Gledwood. Graham didn’t know what to say. A thin voice attempted a cross between a mmm and a uh-uh.

    “Shit!” said Frank. “Shenaz, go and fetch Michael. There’s only that moron in the Post Room and I haven’t time to play twenty questions.”

    Graham listened, knowing that Frank hadn’t even thought to hold his hand over the mouthpiece while talking to his assistant.

    The phone clicked and the ringing tone purred. Shenaz would be on her way down.

    Graham hated telephones.



    Lunchtime came and Graham couldn’t leave the building quick enough. He didn’t unwind until he reached St. James’s Park, found an empty seat by a stand of bushes, sat down and started to unwrap his sandwiches.

    “Don’t look around,” said Annalise from somewhere behind him. “We have to talk. I’ll be here tonight at seven. Make sure you’re not followed. Take the subway as usual, lose your tail in the crowd, then double back. Scratch your head if you understand.”

    Graham scratched his head and fought the desire to turn around. Had Annalise received another message?

    He waited to find out. Hardly daring to breathe in case he missed a word. Five seconds passed, ten, twenty.

    No answer came. She’d gone.



    Back in the office, Graham thought about Annalise and what she might have discovered. He felt so useless. All he ever did was wait for Annalise to bring him news. Wasn’t there anything he could do? Something to convince the people at ParaDim that he was no threat to them, that he wasn’t the key or anything remotely deserving of interest?

    Maybe there was.

    He switched on his terminal and quickly navigated through the DTI screens until he found the search page. He typed in ‘ParaDim’ and waited. Would it be different this time? Would it show entries for resonance projects, maybe an explanation of what a resonance wave was?

    It didn’t.

    But it did show two hits:


    ParaDim Phase Two: General project overview and tender information.

    ParaDim: Census Project.


    Census Project? Graham stared at the screen. He’d heard that name before. In one of Annalise’s messages. Access the Census logs.

    He clicked on the Census Project and shuffled closer. A new screen appeared. A project overview and several sections of technical specifications.


    The Census Project, joint funded by ParaDim and Her Majesty’s Government and based in London, is seeking partner organisations to help expand its highly successful and recently completed pilot project into a fully operational global model.

    The Census Project is part of ParaDim Phase Two. Information on family and medical history will be gathered, collated and fed into the ParaDim model. The Census project seeks to identify people with natural immunities to various diseases and conditions.

    Information gathered will also be invaluable to the many other linked ParaDim research projects. As in Phase One, partner organisations will benefit through the distribution of shares in ParaDim Inc., details of which can be found on page 4 of the tender document.


      Graham read the overview again. What could any of that have to do with him? There was nothing in his family or medical background that could possibly interest anyone. He’d had all the usual childhood diseases and had never been exposed to anything exotic.

    It didn’t make any sense.

    He returned to the search results page and clicked on ParaDim Phase Two.


    ParaDim Inc. are seeking partner organisations to help in the collection, collation and processing of data for ParaDim Phase Two. After the phenomenal success of Phase One, ParaDim is expanding its model into Health and the Humanities.

    Data collected during Phase Two will be used to create the data reservoir required to power ParaDim Phase Three.

    Many of the Phase Two projects are joint sponsored by national governments. Appendix H gives details of countries offering grants and tax incentives for ParaDim partner organisations.

    As with Phase One, partner organisations will share in the success of the project by the allocation of shares in ParaDim Inc.. This will be at a reduced level, reflecting the lower profitability of the Phase Two work. However, significant breakthroughs in the areas of health and insurance are forecast and Phase Two partners will be given special consideration when assessing candidates for Phase Three.


    Pages and pages of technical specifications followed. Graham scrolled back to the top and logged out.



    By four o’clock, Graham was having second thoughts. He’d meet Annalise another time. He wasn’t cut out for clandestine meetings and even less for giving people the slip.

    But she’d told him to be there. And doing what other people told him was one of the tenets that paved his path of least resistance through life.

    He was torn and becoming more so by the minute. Why couldn’t Annalise slip him a note? Why all the cloak and dagger?

    He paced the fifth floor, tried to bury himself in work and in-trays but it wouldn’t go away. The fear, the foreboding, the certainty that something bad was going to happen. Didn’t she realise what she was asking him to do?

    Even if he didn’t make a scene at the tube station - which he was certain he would - she was asking him to break his journey home. A journey that had become a ritual. Seventeen years of treading the same path at the same time.

    Ignore ritual and bad things were certain to follow.

    He’d broken his journey home on Friday and, within an hour, a girl had unravelled in his hallway.

    What would happen tonight? He wasn’t just breaking his journey, he was going to change trains, run, hide, make a scene.

    The world was unstable, evolving. Its fabric wafer-thin and in need of constant reinforcement. Streets had to be walked, buildings observed, rituals honoured. Without that, the fabric failed and strands worked loose.

    A tree falling, unobserved, deep in the forest makes no sound. He’d read that years ago. It was so true. A tree like that would have lost all coherence, it would have faded as it fell, its timber eaten away by neglect. There’d be nothing left to make a sound.

    And it was worse today. You only had to read the newspaper headlines. Alaskan wilderness in danger, rain forests shrinking, ice caps melting. Take away the observer and the world unravels. Without observation there can be no substance and without ritual there can be no cement.

    Even the cities weren’t immune. So many people detached from their surroundings, walking by without looking. Was it coincidence that the oldest buildings were always the ones surrounded by tourists? Their walls thickened by centuries of observation and held together by the ritual of guided tours.

    And if he turned his back on his usual train who was to say if it would be there tomorrow? His defection might be the last straw. His use, his eyes, his belief might be the only thing keeping the train from fading away. It could be cancelled, re-routed, the entire line might unravel and reappear several miles to the west.

    Strange things happen. That was the nature of the world.

    But if he ignored Annalise?

    Wouldn’t that be worse? Wasn’t he caught up in a prolonged aftershock? Caught up in a thread where people broke into his home and threatened his life?

    And if he didn’t meet her tonight, mightn’t he miss forever the opportunity to break free? Annalise and her message unravelling away into dust?

    By the time he left work he was terrified. Terrified of drawing attention to himself at the tube station and terrified of missing his only chance to escape.

    The lights changed and he followed the crowd across the road. He gazed at the shop on the corner and let his eyes trace its outline. He could feel the building strengthen under his gaze. The bricks looked darker, the cement more solid.

    His inner voice agreed. Forget about the girl and celebrate the real world, observe and record. Who was he - an amateur - to think he could give professionals the slip? He’d only make things worse. Forget. Go home. Ignore. The girl was trouble.

    But why were people following him? Why were they bugging his house? How could he ignore people who broke into his home?

    He walked, he argued, he counted. He handed decision making over to fate. If the next set of lights changed on an odd number he’d go to the park - even, he’d go home.

    They changed on fifteen.

    A little voice in his head whispered, best of three.

    By the time he reached the station, it was screaming, best of eleven.

    He followed the stream of people onto the crowded east-bound platform and joined the small line of people snaking their way along the back wall.

    His little voice pleaded. Forget. Go home. Ignore.

    Graham pushed further along, stopping by an access tunnel to the west-bound platform. He sneaked a sideways glance down the tunnel, the far platform was packed too. A train couldn’t be that far off.

    It won’t work. They’ll see you.

    He felt terrible; the anticipation, the fear, the nausea, the rush of stale air against his face, the cold sweat, clammy hands, the feeling that a thousand eyes were watching his every move. The east-bound train arrived, roaring and rattling, lights flashing from the passing carriages.

    He thought he was going to faint. Train doors opened, people surged forward. He moved with them. Every fibre of his being screamed at him to get on that train, forget, go home, ignore.

    He closed his eyes, counted, dug in his heels. He had to meet Annalise. He had to!

    People all around - milling and shoving. He hunched down and turned, saw the tunnel and pushed, squeezed, elbowed his way towards it.

    He fell forward into the tunnel, stumbled, regained his balance and flew the twenty yards to the west-bound platform. He ducked left and pushed along the back wall. Another roar, another rush of air, another squeal of metal on metal as the west-bound train roared in. He reached the end of the platform, the crowd thinning, the train stopping. He felt himself move forward - a strange disembodied feeling - he pushed and squirmed his way to the far side of the carriage, grabbed the metal upright by the door and gripped as hard as he could.

    Eleven, twelve - he’d been counting forever - the train stationary, the doors still open. No one else getting on, the platform emptying. What were they waiting for!

    The doors closed on fifteen. The train lurched forward. Graham swayed against the pole, braced himself and tucked his head down as far as it would go, praying that he’d got away, praying that his watchers were speeding away on the east-bound train.

    He clung to the metal pole for three long minutes, his knuckles white from the pressure. He jumped out at the next station. He wanted to run, he wanted to get out, he wanted to push past. Why was everyone moving so slowly!

    He reached the ticket barrier, the lobby…

    Daylight! He blinked into the sun, took a deep breath, found his bearings, and started to run, glancing back every twenty yards or so, taking sudden lefts and rights though the maze of tiny side streets.

    Gradually, he calmed down. He wasn’t being followed. He slowed to a walk and adjusted his stride to the cadence of the street.



    He looked round as he approached the park bench. A final check that he wasn’t being followed. He glimpsed Annalise out of the corner of his eye, strolling across the grass to his right. Her long black hair had been bleached honey blonde and braided but it had to be her. Even from this distance, her walk was unmistakable. The way she floated over the grass, sinuous and effortless.

    He watched her approach. She looked distracted. No smile of recognition or friendly wave. Didn’t she recognise him? Was she a different Annalise?

    “Thank God, you came,” she said. “My name’s Annalise, Annalise Mercado and I’m here to help. Anyway I can. What do you need?”

    Graham didn’t know what to say. He’d expected to meet Annalise One, to hear what Kevin Alexander had to say. Not to start all over from the beginning again with another girl.

    He shook his head. He’d risked so much. And for what?

    “But you’re the key,” the girl said, grabbing his arm.

    “The key to what? I wish someone would tell me.”

    “The key to getting us out of here! Look, you can talk freely in front of me. It’s okay. I know what’s really happening. I know about the VR worlds.”

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