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Resonance: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2005 19:42 EDT



    Graham watched her leave, standing rooted to the path as she cut across the grass. His meetings with Annalise always left him feeling slow and laden with questions that he knew he should have asked but had never found the opportunity. She never gave him a chance. He’d have a question ready and she’d knock it out of his head by saying something completely unexpected. And while he was still grappling with the ramifications of what she’d said, she’d be several sentences into the next story.

    He’d never get the hang of conversation.

    He sighed and watched a child run in front of Annalise, stumble and fall down. Annalise stopped and helped the little girl to her feet. The girl ran off, tottering on unsteady legs back to her mother.

    There was something so natural about that scene and yet … if Annalise was right none of that had actually happened. The girl, the mother, Annalise - all computer generated.

    How could anyone tell?

    Was the little girl strapped inside one of Annalise’s VR chambers being forced to live out her life in a fictional world of someone else’s making? Or was she a fabrication, a prop, a slice of background colour generated by a computer subroutine to make the park more believable?

    Was there enough room inside Annalise’s VR chambers to house the entire population of the world? Surely not. Which meant that most of the people he saw - people he’d worked with for years - were nothing more than computer-generated fabrications.

    Was there a way of telling who had a mind and who was controlled by a line of code? Would they think differently, act differently?

    Or was Annalise wrong? Was everything around him real? The lake, the trees, the people? 

    How could anyone possibly tell?



    He walked back to the station confused. Everything suddenly looked so artificial, the people, the cars, the buildings. Could he really have missed so much? A man who spent his life observing his surroundings, who ticked off landmarks and counted the paces between lamp posts?

    He boarded his train. Could he have been wrong all this time? Was his life of ritual and repetition having no effect on the fabric of the world?

    He shook his head. He had made a difference. He was sure of it. He remembered what it had been like before. But could he trust his memory? Were the horrors of his childhood real?

    He leaned back in his seat and rubbed his eyes. He used to be so sure of everything. His view of the world had barely changed in twenty-five years. The world was an unstable place - imperfectly formed and still evolving - old threads unravelling to make room for the new. A subject so complex to understand and so unsettling to contemplate that people looked the other way.

    Had he been wrong all this time? Should he have questioned more?

    And what would have come of those questions? More ridicule, more anger, more isolation?

    He shook his head. This was getting him nowhere. There were probably people waiting for him at Harrow, wondering where he’d been for the last hour.

    A thought that worried him for the rest of the journey. He’d look guilty, he knew he would. The moment he stepped off the train, he’d have ‘clandestine meeting’ written all over his face. They’d see it, push him into the back of a big black car and torture him. Real or virtual, the pain would be the same. 

    He had to have a story, a reason for the missing hour. Something to make him feel less guilty.

    Shopping! He could have gone shopping! Maybe broke his journey at Oxford Circus, walked around the shops, bought something small, something that would fit inside his pocket, no need for a bag.

    He thought himself into the part. He could almost feel the imaginary object in his pocket.

    The train braked hard and a platform streaked by the carriage windows, streaks of colour gradually forming into people and kiosks, waste bins and brick.

    Graham stepped out, patting at his pocket. He was pleased with his purchase. It was something he’d been planning for weeks. A facade he maintained all the way to his front gate.

    When it hit him. Even if they bought the story about the missing hour, there were still the bugs. He’d removed them from his house. The two cameras would have shown it all.

    His imaginary object dissolved in his pocket.

    He latched the gate and hurried towards his door. His key danced on the metal scratch plate of the lock. Nerves. His hand wouldn’t stay still. Even Annalise Twelve had been taken away from him. Which house would she be watching? His house? Or would it be like Rosie’s bar, would she see another house altogether?

    He clasped his right hand with his left, steadied, found the lock, turned - left, right, left, right, breathe and count, turn and push. The door shuddered and flew back. Graham followed, reached for the edge of the door and swung it shut behind him.

    He fell back against the door, closed his eyes and tried not to think.

    Seconds passed, he listened to the slow tick-tock of his lounge clock. He counted each beat, then every other beat, synchronising his breathing to the clock, lengthening the interval as his breathing slowed.

    He opened his eyes.

    He’d check each room, see if anyone had been inside. Maybe he could leave them a note, explain how it had all been a terrible mistake, he wasn’t a key, he didn’t need to be watched. He was Graham Smith. That was all.

    He stepped into the lounge.

    And stopped.

    His jigsaw had gone. He stared down at the bare stretch of carpet. Had it unravelled? He had met a different Annalise today. Did his home change every time she did? Had their lives become so inextricably linked that they shared the same thread? Were they unravelling together, snagged in a long succession of aftershocks? Or did they share the same corrupt segment of program memory, a segment that was forever being reset?

    His eyes strayed to where the camera had been. It was back. Same place, same disguise. 

    He looked away quickly.

    Maybe on this new thread, he hadn’t found the bugs. A thought which took him into the kitchen and the far left-hand corner of the kitchen table. He swung down to take a look. It was back. A small metal button pressed into the wooden corner brace of the table.

    He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. Sunday’s bug hunt had unravelled away. No one would plant identical bugs in identical places the day after they’d all been discovered. He was free again! In this new reality he hadn’t removed any devices. The only thing he was guilty of was disappearing for an hour on the way home from work.

    And if he left all the recording devices where they were, they’d soon realise he was no threat. They’d leave him alone. They were bound to, he was harmless.

    He put the kettle on while he made a cursory inspection of the rest of the house, opening windows in every room while taking note of anything that had changed. Little had, other than every ornament being misaligned.

    He hovered as usual by his parent’s door. Tapping on the door just in case. Waiting those extra few seconds for an answer that, deep down, he knew would never come.

    It didn’t.

    He leaned over his mother’s dresser to open the window and wondered if knocking on the door had been a mistake. The room was bugged, what would people make of him knocking on a door to a room that was supposedly empty? Would they think he was harbouring someone?

    He looked down at the dresser, his mother’s hairbrush was half and inch further to the right than it should have been. He nudged it back into position and shook his head. What possible interest could his mother’s hairbrush hold?

    He felt angry. The thought of a stranger picking through his mother’s things, looking through her wardrobe, touching her clothes. He shivered. He’d have to spring clean the whole house - every room, top to bottom. He wouldn’t be able to settle otherwise. 

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