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Resonance: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 22:54 EDT



    Graham could feel the blood draining from his face. “Unconscious?”

    “But the resonance project here hasn’t closed - I asked - so you’re safe.”

    “There’s two days of tests. What if they close the resonance project tomorrow?”

    “I’ll call Gary tomorrow. I’ll call him every day. If I can’t get through or he says the resonance project’s been closed then we’ll get the hell out. We’ll have a day’s notice.”

    Graham wasn’t convinced. “What if they’ve changed their plans? What if they don’t wait a day any more?”

    “Maybe if you take the tests they won’t need to hurt you?”

    And maybe hurting was part of the tests. The final part. Just before his body was dumped on the street. He wanted to kick something - the lamppost, the front wall of the guest house. Anything!

    “Wait!” Annalise held up a hand, a smile breaking out across her face. “I just had an idea.” She grabbed him by the shoulders. “What if those other Graham Smiths weren’t really in a coma? What if they’d escaped? Have you thought about that? They found you unconscious because you’d got the hell out - your counterpart, that is - he’d unhooked himself from the VR and left his virtual body lifeless on the street.

    “And that’s why everyone’s so interested in you - you found a way out. And no one has a clue how.”



    They adjourned to the low wall at the front of the guest house. Graham needed to sit down. His head was spinning. One minute she was telling him he’d been found unconscious in the street, the next that it was a good thing.

    “I bet it’s something to do with the your ability to move between the VR worlds?”

    He shook his head. He felt drained. “I don’t move between VR worlds,” he said emotionlessly.

    “But you must. You’ve met other Annas, haven’t you?”

    He nodded, not looking at Annalise but looking straight ahead towards the Headstone Avenue sign on the other side of the road.

    “So how do you do it? Is there a portal you’ve discovered or some kinda machine?”

    He shrugged. “I don’t do anything. Things unravel from time to time. People disappear, change.”

    “So you’re just thrown from world to world?”

    “It’s all one world to me.”

    “You don’t notice any flashing lights or solid objects shimmering just before you flip?”

    He shook his head. “Yesterday I was talking to Annalise One Eight Seven and today I’m talking to you. That’s all I notice.”

    “But you have a different mother.”

    He nodded. “And different furniture.”

    “But you never know the exact moment that things change?”

    He started to shake his head then stopped. There was that one time. He turned his face halfway towards her.

    “Last Friday, I was talking to an Annalise from Boston. She went upstairs to the bathroom, I looked around and her suitcases were gone. She’d disappeared.”

    “Annalise Eighty Five?”

    “She didn’t say. I don’t think she had a number. She heard voices, and she had a recurring dream about me being bundled into the back of a black car.”

    “That happened to Annalise Twelve! She was right behind you when they grabbed you outside your office. That’s when we decided to warn you. Gary and Kevin didn’t seem to care - they were more interested in finding out why than warning anyone.”

    She held out a hand and touched his arm.

    “She still visits, you know? At the hospital. She says you look peaceful.”

    Annalise withdrew her hand and looked away. Graham rearranged the letters in the Headstone Avenue road sign.

    And wondered.

    How could he be in a coma? It wasn’t something that had happened to him and then unravelled. He’d never been bundled into the back of a car. It must have happened to another Graham Smith on another thread of reality.

    And it must have happened after that thread had been pulled from the fabric of the world.

    How long did these threads last? Were there whole lifetimes being lived out on these discarded remnants of existence? Were hundreds of Graham Smiths out there at this moment? Sat on walls, asleep in bed, running for their lives?

    Or was it all illusion? An experiment? A series of VR worlds created for God knows what?

    Annalise’s voice broke into his thoughts.

    “So you could be like sat there on the wall next to me and then next second you turn around and I’m gone?”

    He nodded.

    “And you get no warning at all?”


    Annalise shook her head. “How long has this been going on?”

    Graham shrugged. “As long as I can remember. The world’s always been an unstable place. Things changing around the edges, things you’d hardly notice. But it’s getting worse. Once I’d go a whole year without anything major changing. Now it’s every other day.”

    He turned towards her. “Hasn’t it ever happened to you? Haven’t you ever gone round to a friend’s house and had the door opened by a father who’d died the year before?”

    Annalise looked shocked. “You’ve had that happen?”

    Graham nodded. He remembered every face, he remembered every door. It wasn’t something you easily forgot. “You’ve never had anyone close to you come back from the dead?”


    “My father died three times.” His lower lip trembled. He looked away, surprised and embarrassed. His eyes pricked. 

    Annalise placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

    “Do you change too?” she said softly, changing the subject. “Physically, I mean?”

    “No,” he paused and sniffed. “Not really. Sometimes I might touch my face and find that I’ve shaved - though I can’t remember having shaved. And my hair - sometimes it’s long even though I went to the barber the day before.”

    “How do you cope? How do you know where you’re supposed to be or who you might have planned to see?”

    He shrugged.

    “I write things down. I keep a note in my pocket at all times.” He reached into his jacket and brought it out to show her.

    “It’s got my name and address and where I work - so I know where to go. I keep notice boards at both places. Anything important, I jot down and stick on the board. Doctor’s appointments, holidays, collection times.”

    “So it’s like you wake up in a different body but with all your old memories intact?”

    He nodded.

    “I thought we had it tough, but you…” She shook her head. “How was that girl from Boston doing? The other Annalise you met. Was she having a hard time?”

    “She thought she was crazy. She wasn’t sure if she was picking up visions from a past life or a premonition of the future. So she quit her job and came over to find out.”

    He wondered where she was now. Would she have stepped out of the bathroom to find an empty house? Or a bewildered Graham Smith - one with no idea who she was or how she’d got there?

    He hoped she was okay.

    “We all handle the voices in the head differently,” said Annalise. “Annalise One became a medium, Annalise Sixteen discovered religion and I discovered chocolate.” She laughed. “I think I made the best choice. What d’you think?”

    Graham forced a smile.

    “Did you say you were with One Eight Seven yesterday?”

    Graham nodded.

    Annalise shook her head. “She’s another having problems adjusting. The voices came late for her. She was a college girl, life all mapped out, doing well at school. Then - wham - along came the voices and she freaked. Couldn’t handle it. Dropped out of college, joined a cult, ran away and then decided to blame everyone she could. She’s slowly coming out of it but she still sees conspiracies everywhere. Last month it was aliens, this month we’re all prisoners in VR worlds.”

    “You don’t believe we’re in a VR world?”

    “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But I do know it’s time we found out. I’ve lived with these voices for three years. There were thirty-one of us when I joined, now there’s two hundred. Soon to be two hundred and one if your friend from Boston makes it through the next stage. I don’t want to be still guessing in three years time. I want to know who I am and where I’m living. We all do.”



    They agreed to meet the next night - same time, same place. Graham borrowed a pen from Annalise and wrote the details - Belle Vue, Headstone Ave, 1:00am - on the back of his note.

    Just in case.

    Who could tell what world the sun would rise above tomorrow?

    He hurried back home, retracing his steps, squeezing past the motor bike, scaling the back fence, silently climbing the ladder.

    His bed felt cold as he slipped between the sheets. He shivered and then remembered his alarm. He flung out an arm and felt around for his clock radio. He set the alarm for 5:50, plenty of time to put the ladder away before his mother came down for breakfast. 

    And to remove the Post-its from the two outside doors.



    A car horn sounded from the street outside.

    “It’s here, Graham,” Eileen Smith said, peeling back the lounge curtain.

    Graham hung back in the hallway, fiddling with his jacket.

    “Come on, Graham. The man’s waiting.”

    He followed her outside, pausing on the step to complete his locking ritual. A large car - maroon, shiny and expensive - hung in the middle of the road, double parked and blocking the street. A chauffeur climbed out and opened the near-side rear door. Eileen Smith climbed in and slid across to make room for Graham.

    Graham studied the chauffeur closely before sliding in. Had he seen the man before? On the tube, in the park, standing in a doorway?

    He couldn’t tell. The door slammed shut behind him.

    The journey proceeded smooth and wordless. A radio played softly, the car’s engine purred. Graham felt small against the vastness of the back seat. He was so used to sitting on trains, wedged up against his neighbour, not knowing where to put his elbows, that the space unsettled him. His mother - that woman - was so far away a third person could have sat between them.

    He looked out of the window, ticking off the landmarks - a curiously shaped tree, a brightly coloured building. Comforting signs in an ever-shifting world.

    The car wallowed around a bend, Graham felt himself moving against his will - sliding across the shiny leather seat towards his mother.

    “Put your seat belt on, Graham,” she said as he pressed up against her.

    Graham straightened himself up and fumbled with the straps.

    The seat belt snapped home.



    Half an hour later, the car pulled up outside the Cavendish Clinic. Graham peered up at the Georgian facade, it looked more like a hotel than a hospital.

    A man was waiting for them on the pavement. He was young, tall and immaculately dressed. He ushered them through the clinic’s revolving doors into an ornate lobby - plush chairs, polished marble, fountain. More people came forward to fawn over his mother, who basked in the attention, refining her voice as she joined in the small talk. Graham sank further within himself. Wanting to be somewhere else but resigned to his fate. If he didn’t submit to the tests today they’d only hound him until he did.

    They took the lift to the first floor. Graham clung to the back wall as music played and people smiled.

    The lift doors opened. More luxury, more opulence - paintings on the wall, decorative mouldings on the ceiling, thick blue carpet on the floor. Graham hung back as his mother and her two new friends walked along the wide central corridor. He looked down at the carpet, felt the lush pile spring beneath his feet. And wondered. Why was a hospital floor carpeted? Wasn’t that asking for trouble? All the hospitals he’d seen had floors you could wash easily.

    Maybe it wasn’t a hospital?

    They were shown into a room on the left - more smiles, more handshakes, more observations about the weather.

    They sat down, they filled in forms - all of them on differently coloured pieces of paper. Graham signed everything automatically, not bothering to read a single line. He just wanted everything over with as soon as possible.

    More smiles ushered them back into the corridor.

    “Jasmine, could you show Mrs. Smith to her changing room?”

    Jasmine could. The two women walked companionably towards the lift.

    “And now, Mr. Smith, if you would follow me.”

    Graham followed, wondering why they were walking away from the lift. Were the male and female changing rooms at opposite ends of the corridor?

    Graham was shown into a room at the far end.

    “A nurse will be along shortly. If, in the meantime, you would be so good as to remove your clothing?” He smiled and pointed to a coat-stand with a sweep of his hand. “There’s a dressing gown provided.”

    The man left, clicking the door closed while Graham stared at the coat-stand.

    He sat down on the chair provided and started to untie his shoe-laces. And stopped. Why did he have to take off his clothes? Couldn’t they test him fully clothed? What kind of tests were they going to do? They’d said earlier he didn’t have to undergo anything he didn’t want to.

    And he did not want to take off his clothes.

    He opened the door a crack and looked out. Perhaps he could have a word with someone?

    His mother was in the corridor about twenty yards away. Fully clothed. Why wasn’t she in her changing room? And who was that she was talking to? He looked familiar.

    Recognition hit him an instant later - the tall gaunt man. Even side-on, he was unmistakable. But what was he doing talking to Eileen Smith?

    Had it all been a ruse? She’d delivered him to ParaDim and now she was being congratulated?

    Graham drew back inside the room. He had to get out. He had to get out now. This wasn’t a hospital, this was a trap.

    He knelt down and quickly tied his shoes. His mind raced. There was no window in the room. The only way out was back through the corridor.

    He pressed up against the door and opened it a crack. The two of them were still there - his mother and the man with the eyes - still talking amiably. Someone else - a nurse by her uniform - was waiting by the lift.

    He opened the door further. There was a door to the stairs opposite. Ten feet away. He could be through it before anyone could react.

    He hesitated, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. To go or not to go? Fear on both sides. He had to decide. He had to decide quickly.

    He threw himself across the corridor, his right hand outstretched, praying that the door was a push and not a pull. The door gave way, swinging back behind him. He was on the stairs and running, his ears closed to any possible pursuit. He didn’t want to know if he’d been seen. He just wanted out.

    The stairs took him to the ground floor. He pushed though, slowing to a brisk walk, trying to look as though he belonged. The corridor was wide and empty, his shoes squeaked faintly on the polished black marble.

    He kept walking. Double swing doors came off to his left and right. None of them looked like potential exits. He could see the entrance lobby, the fountain, the lift. Everything empty. Maybe he could slip out unnoticed? Thirty yards, twenty. Still no one had seen him.

    A phone rang in reception. A male voice answered.

    “No, Mr. Cross, no one has left the building in the last ten minutes.”

    Graham hung back out of sight. The reception desk was set back against the wall opposite the entrance. Whoever was sat there couldn’t see down the corridor.

    A light above the lift doors flashed. The lift had left the first floor. It was on its way down.

    Graham ran for the exit, his footsteps echoing on the marble.

    “Excuse me!” shouted a voice from reception. Graham kept going, across the lobby towards the doors.

    “Stop!” A shout this time, the scrape of a chair pushed back against the hard marble floor. The lift bell rang.

    Graham continued, his hand outstretched towards the door, a silent world, just him and a glass door, everything else pushed far away into a peripheral world of slow-motion inconsequence.

    The revolving door gave way with a stutter, Graham pushed harder, the doors began to fly, Graham chased after them, his feet dancing in small staccato steps.

    He lurched through onto the pavement, almost toppling over. Everything quiet, just the groaning of the doors and his feet bouncing off the paving stones. He skidded into a turn and ran blindly towards the corner. The pavement empty, the…


    A shout from behind. Graham kept going. A strange whine split the air, increasing in volume and then … an explosion. A few yards above his head. Shards of stone and brick dust fell like rain, hitting his head and shoulders. He flinched and ducked but kept running, blinking through the cloud of dust. There was a left turn, a side street up ahead. He was almost there. A few yards to go. Another whine, he could feel the air crackle, his hair felt like it was standing on end.



He ducked and threw himself into the side street, lost his footing and tumbled onto the boot of a car parked on the corner.

    An explosion rent the air. Masonry tumbled from the first floor of the building opposite. And glass. He looked up. Two windows had blown out. There was a hole in the building the size of a football.

    He pushed himself off the car boot. The car was damaged too. The roof was crumpled and the rear window stoved in. But not from the explosion. This was old damage.

    He glanced around. The whole street was damaged - debris everywhere, buildings pock marked, windows missing, blinds sucked through shattered panes.


    That voice again, nearer this time. He ran, his feet crunching over glass and chips of stone and brick. Everything so empty - no people, no traffic - nothing moving except him and his pursuer.

    And there was a burning smell in the air. Why hadn’t he smelt it before? And a distant roar - like passing within a mile of a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon.

    And a whine.

    That whine.

    The one that split the air, shrill and growing in volume.

    There was a doorway on his left - recessed into the building. An office. He leapt sideways. He could feel the air burn as he did so. A car ten feet away exploded. It’s roof jumped fifteen feet in the air. A cloud of black smoke, the sound of debris falling like hail on the pavement.

    The office door was locked. He rattled the handle. The sound of running feet was coming closer. There was a slab of masonry on the floor. He picked it up, heaved it through the glass door, kicked the remaining shards free and climbed through. If there was only one man he could lose him in the building. There’d be a fire exit, a back door, a place he could hide.

    He raced up the stairs, swung around the landing, glanced back to the door, no one there.


    He took the next flight. Everything was dark but no hint of the carnage that had wrecked the street. He cut across the first floor, following a corridor that snaked between rooms. White walls, blue carpet, natural wood doors. He reached the end, not the lobby and back staircase he’d been hoping for but a large open plan office with windows on three sides.

    “Where are ya, ya bastard!”

    The words came - fast and angry - from the stairs behind him. Graham slipped away from the door, looking left and right, desperately searching for somewhere to hide, a fire exit, a back door, anything!

    Crash! Graham jumped. It sounded like a door being kicked in back down the corridor. Graham wove in and out of the clusters of desks towards the back of the building. There were some screens in the near corner, he squeezed through. There was a desk and a large array of filing cabinets. He found a gap between them and the wall and wedged himself into it.

    Another door flew back against its hinges.


    It was more a scream than a shout. A man losing control. Graham pressed himself further back against the wall.

    More doors, more shouts, the man sounded close to tears.

    Crash! Another door, much closer this time. Maybe too close. The man might be in the same room as Graham.

    “Andy? Are you in here?” A second voice - male, authoritative, further away.

    “Come on out, ya bastard! I can smell you.” The first voice again, getting higher and higher pitched.

    A click. A low whine. That weapon, it must be charging again. Graham squeezed his eyes shut and tried to dissolve into the fabric of the wall.

    Footsteps along the corridor, fast and heavy.


    The whining continued, building up.

    “Andy!” The second man was in the room now. “Are you mad? Andy? Listen to me! Put that weapon down.”

    There was no reply. Graham swallowed hard.

    “Come on, Andy. Don’t be stupid. Put the gun down.” The voice calm and authoritative. 

    “That’s an order, constable. Put the gun on the desk. Now!”

    There was a click and the whining stopped. 

    Then there was a crash. Graham could feel the internal wall at his back vibrate. One of the men must have been thrown against it.

    “What are you playing at, lad? Are you stupid? You could get put away for using one of those. Where d’you get it?”

    Another crash, another vibration in the wall.

    “Answer me! Where d’you get it?”

    “From one of the smellies,” Andy said, his voice quiet and subdued at first then becoming more animated. “You saw what it was like out there, sarge. They’re better armed than we are.”

    “That’s as maybe but…”

    “They were killing us out there. And laughing at us. That looter must have been one of them. I couldn’t let him get away. I couldn’t.”

    There was a burst of static followed by a metallic voice. “All units report to Brompton Road immediately. Repeat. All units fall back to Brompton Road.”

    “Come on, we’d better go,” said the sergeant.

    “What about the looter?”

    “He’ll keep.”


    Graham listened to them leave, following their feet along the corridor and trying to catch the sound of their boots crunching on the broken glass in the foyer. Only then did he feel safe to come out of hiding and brush himself off.

    His hands hit an unexpected pocket. He looked down. His jacket was different - more pockets, lots of zips. He hadn’t noticed before. Though he should have expected something like it. He must have unravelled leaving the clinic.

    He checked his pockets, searching for his note. He found a computer disk in an inside pocket and stared at it - surprised - why would he carry a computer disk? He flipped it over, there was nothing written on either side. He put it back and continued his search. He found his note in the next pocket.


Graham Smith

    Home Address: 47, Wealdstone Lane (but staying at 12, Westminster Street until it’s safe)


    He re-read the last line. Staying at 12, Westminster Street until it’s safe. He was sleeping at work? What could have happened to make his home unsafe?

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