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Resonance: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Thursday, August 11, 2005 21:53 EDT



    Graham checked his watch as he entered Green Park. Five past one - he was late. Twenty five minutes helping Frank Gledwood had disrupted his morning schedule.

    He hurried along the wide avenue of massive plane trees, peering ahead trying to catch sight of Annalise. He couldn’t see her. His usual bench was empty and no one was on the grass nearby. He scanned the lawns beyond the trees; a few sun-bathers, a few people sprawled in groups, some men playing football. No obvious sign of Annalise.

    But now he got closer he could see there was something on the bench. He couldn’t quite make it out, something flat. He walked faster. There were two things - a folded newspaper and a notice.

    ‘Wet paint’, the notice read. He looked at the newspaper, was there a message inside? He bent down to pick it up.

    “Don’t look around. It’s me.”

    Graham froze, his hand outstretched over the bench. Where was she this time? He could have sworn the voice came from behind the bench but that was impossible - no one was there.

    “Pick up the ‘wet paint’ sign and sit down.”

    Graham obeyed, sweeping the park with his eyes as he did so. The only people nearby were three people on the path - a middle-aged couple and a young girl with a Walkman. He stared at the girl. She didn’t look like Annalise.

    “Pick up the paper and pretend to read, it’ll mask your lips when you talk.”

    The girl’s lips never moved. And the voice seemed to be coming up from the ground.

    The young girl passed by to his right, the older couple to his left. Graham picked up the newspaper and carefully unfolded it, looking for some kind of microphone or loudspeaker. Nothing fell out.

    “In case you’re wondering - there’s a baby monitor under the seat. Neat, huh? It’s got a range of 150 feet. I’m sunning myself out here on the grass, talking into my very large hat.”

    “Can you hear me?” Graham pitched his voice just above a whisper.

    “Hang on, I’ll adjust the volume … try again.”

    “Can you hear me?”

    “Loud and clear. Sorry about last night but I had to fly. Kevin’s found something important. Something to do with October 16, 1966.”

    “That’s my birthday.”

    “October the Sixteenth?”

    He nodded.

    “Are you still there?” she asked.

    Graham remembered the baby monitor and felt stupid.

    “Yes, I was born on October the Sixteenth, 1966.”

    He was even more confused. What had his date of birth to do with anything?

    “You think that might be the date when all this was created?” said Annalise. “And you’re the key ‘cos you were the first to be plugged in?”

    Graham shrugged, “Did they have VR in the sixties?”

    “Roswell was ‘47 and…” She broke off. “Best be quiet for a minute. There’s a man walking towards you. Doesn’t look like a tourist.”

    Graham turned a page of his newspaper and glanced to his right. The man looked like a businessman - smart suit, tie, shoes that shone. Graham slipped back behind the newspaper and waited.

    “He’s gone,” said Annalise. ”Didn’t look like a spy but can’t be too careful. Who can tell what the bad guys look like in a virtual world.”

    “Do you think everyone we see is trapped somewhere inside a VR chamber?”

    “Doubt it. Maybe a few dozen per program. You, me, Kevin, Gary, a few others we haven’t met yet.”

    “But why? And how?” He had so many questions - each fighting to be aired first. He shook his head, blinked and tried to order his thoughts. What baffled him the most? What didn’t baffle him? It all seemed so improbable. Virtual worlds, keys, resonance waves, two hundred Annalises…

    “Why are there two hundred of you?” he asked. “If Annalise Mercado’s such an unusual name, how come there’s two hundred of you strapped inside a VR chamber?”

    “Good question. Way I see it, we’re two hundred different people all playing the part of Annalise Mercado. And for some reason we can’t access our real memories. I might not even be female. But when I’m in here - I’m Annalise One Eight Seven. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Some of us have identical pasts - up to a point. We all have the same parents but Annalise Nineteen and me - we have the same aunts, uncles and cousins too. We lived in the same house, went to the same schools, had the same friends, the same experiences. Right up to the age of fourteen and then - wham - our lives diverged. I think that’s when we were plugged into the system - Nineteen and me - we were given identical memories up to the age of fourteen and then let loose in the world.”

    “To what end?”

    “No idea. I’m not even sure Kevin knows. But it has to be some kind of experiment. Maybe the CIA are using VR worlds for interrogation purposes. Maybe they’re testing two hundred simulators to find the best way to break someone down.”

    “We’re spies?”

    “Or test subjects. Trust me, governments don’t care about using their citizens when they’re short of guinea pigs.”

    Was that why his home was bugged? Had he been a guinea pig all his life, people observing his every move?

    “Or it might be aliens,” continued Annalise. “Setting up a VR lab so they can study us, tweak our environment and watch how we react to different situations. Gotta make more sense than those ridiculous medical probes.”

    “So, I might not be Graham Smith?”

    “Exactly. That’s your persona in here. But you’re also the key - someone important - who they’ve imprisoned in here.”

    “For thirty-three years?”

    “Not necessarily. Just ‘cos your character’s been here for thirty-three years doesn’t mean you have. And even if you have, who’s to say how much time has elapsed in the real world? One year in here might be the same as a minute out there.”

    He paused. Was that possible? Then he had another idea.

    “Are there two hundred Graham Smiths as well?”

    “I think so. We’ve met about ten. Every time an Annalise has looked for a Graham they’ve found one.”

    “So the key could be one of the other Grahams?”

    There was a pause. “I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe you should talk to the other Grahams? Compare notes. I can send a message now, if you want.“

    “I’m not sure that would work.”

    “Why not?”

    “When we first met, you asked me if I knew about the Annalises.”


    “But you never asked me how.”

    “Didn’t need to, you were the key, that’s the kind of thing you’d know.”

    “But I’m not the key. I knew about the Annalises because I’d met them. Annalise One has long black hair, I met her Sunday. And last week I was saved by an Annalise with bright orange hair who lives in a cardboard box.”

    “You met Annalise Seven!”

    “She didn’t say. And I’ve met an Annalise from Boston…”

    “You actually saw them and talked to them?”

    “Yes, Annalise One came to my house on Sunday and helped clear the bugs.”

    “That was you!”

    “That was me.”

    “So you think there’s just the one of you and you flip between programs?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “I’ll find out. Won’t be long.”

      Graham waited, wondering what Annalise was doing, wondering if it would be so bad if he casually glanced behind to find out.

    He didn’t. He turned another page of the newspaper instead, his stomach rumbling as he did so. Maybe he should take the opportunity to have his sandwich? He checked his watch. He’d give her five minutes and then he’d eat.

    Two minutes later Annalise returned.

    “Just got through to four of the girls. The others are elsewhere. But there’s at least five Graham Smiths sitting in Green Park at the moment. And you’re the only one reading a newspaper.”

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