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Resonance: Chapter Twenty Four

       Last updated: Saturday, November 12, 2005 10:57 EST



    “Are you all right?”

    A girl’s voice. American? Annalise? He tried to focus but he thought his head was about to explode. Lights, shooting pain, he was falling.

    A hand dug into the top of his arm, pulling him back. Another wave of nausea, he lurched forward to retch.

    “Graham, what’s happened? What have they done to you?”

    She was standing to one side, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, a look of horror on her face. Annalise, with bright orange hair. 

    “Is that you?” he asked, his face breaking into a smile. “Annalise Seven? You’ve come back?”

    “No. I’m Fifteen. We met last night, remember?”

      He didn’t. Everything was so fuzzy. The last thing he remembered…

    “The girl? Where’s the girl.” He struggled, twisting and turning in Annalise’s arms. “Where is she!”

    “Who? There’s no girl here. Only me.”

    He was in St. James’s Park. He recognised the sweep of the lawns and the layout of the paths. The same view he’d seen a few minutes earlier but without the confusion and running people. All was peaceful now. No sound of explosions or screaming women. And the traffic was moving again! He could hear it rumbling in the distance.

    “There’s no riot?”

    Annalise’s eyes widened. “You’ve just flipped worlds, haven’t you? Oh, my God! Is it always this bad? I saw you from over there.” She flapped an arm in a direction too fast for Graham to take in. “You were walking along the path and then suddenly you kinda pitched forward. I thought you’d tripped but then you started acting real weird and people started moving out your way. You looked drunk and kinda crazy.”

    She stopped and gave him a long hard look. “You’re not drunk, are you?” She leaned closer and sniffed his breath. Then stopped. “They didn’t drug you, did they?”

    “No.” He tried to clear his head; everything was so fuzzy, he couldn’t think straight. “It’s,” he took a deep breath, “it’s never been like this before. I … I had to get the girl to safety. You haven’t seen a girl, have you?” He held out his hand. “About this tall, black hair. She was holding my hand.”

    Annalise shook her head. “There was no one with you.”

    He wondered if he’d held on long enough. Had he got her to safety? He’d tried his best but the pain … he’d had to let her go. He’d had to! Surely someone had seen them and ran out to help.

    “What happened to the riot?” he asked.

    “There’s been no riot here. Were you caught up in a riot?”

    “What about the trade talks? And ParaDim, what happened to ParaDim?”

    “Wait, slow down. What trade talks?”

    “The London trade talks. Maybe it happened here about a year ago. There were riots and they were threatening to break up ParaDim.”

    Annalise shook her head. “I don’t remember anything about riots in London. And no one’s threatened to break up ParaDim. Everyone loves ParaDim.”

    “What year is this?”

    “Two thousand. Why?”

    “And the date? Is it June…” He couldn’t remember the date. Twenty something but twenty what? He felt so stupid.

    “It’s June 21st. Why?” Her eyes widened once more. “Have you been back in time?”

    “No, I … I don’t know. Do reporters here have cameras that fly? Like little flying saucers.”

    Annalise gave him a long sideways glance. “You saw flying cameras in this other world?”

    Graham nodded. “And they could be modified to fire weapons.”

    “You’ve been to the future! I knew it! I knew this had something to do with the future.”


    “These VR worlds or whatever they are, they’re like simulations. I think these resonance projects are some kinda vast scheme to predict the future.”


    “I don’t know. Maybe someone plays with all these variables and ‘what ifs’ and then sits back and watches how the simulations play out. And we’re like the guinea pigs caught up inside it all.”

    Simulations. He’d heard the word recently - someone talking about simulations - but he couldn’t remember who or in what context. Would his head ever clear?

    “And it ties in with what Kevin Alexander’s been doing.”

    “What’s Kevin Alexander been doing?”

    She started to speak then paused, a brief look of uncertainty clouded her face.

    “I’m not sure if Kevin Alexander’s on the level,” she continued, her voice slow and measured. “I know a lot of the girls think he’s some kind of hero and all but if Kevin Alexander’s a freedom fighter why’s he suddenly so interested in lottery numbers?”

    “Lottery numbers?”

    “Exactly!” said Annalise, her natural animation returning. “He’s had all us girls hunting down State lottery numbers from Saturday’s draw. Thirty-seven states I had to surf through! Why’d he suddenly want that?”

    Graham couldn’t imagine.

    “And all that money he’s throwing around - where’d he get it? And why’s he more interested in the Annalises than in you? You’re supposed to be the key but he hasn’t done anything to help you, has he?”

    Annalise released her grip on his shoulders and brought her arms into the conversation. Graham swayed slightly.

    “What if he’s found something more lucrative?” she said. “What if he’s discovered that these VR worlds can predict the future and he’s using the girls to collect winning lottery numbers? He could make a fortune if it works.”

    Graham’s head spun. What kind of fortune could you make in a VR world?

    “Or maybe he’s got gambling debts and someone’s putting the squeeze on him? Or … are you okay? … Graham?”

    Graham wasn’t sure. The ground seemed to be moving away from him and he felt light headed and…

    Annalise grabbed his arm. “You better sit down before you fall down. Come on, there’s a bench over there.”



    Graham felt better closer to the ground, the world stopped spinning and his head began to clear. He told Annalise about the medical, his escape, the riots, the rise of ParaDim, the trade talks and the little girl. He pointed out where the police lines had been, which trees had caught fire, the line of bushes where he’d first seen the girl. It still seemed so real. Barely old enough to be called a memory, he could hear every shout and bang. If he closed his eyes he was sure he’d be able to see every face.

    “You realise what this might mean?” said Annalise.


    “Think about it. There’s this simulation of a future where ParaDim’s about to be broken up. There’s these real important trade talks going on. Maybe the future of ParaDim’s riding on the outcome. And you’re the guy chosen to deliver the disk.”

    She paused.

    “What if the success or failure of the talks hinges on you delivering that disk? What if the future of ParaDim depends on you delivering that disk? And what if someone at ParaDim has run this simulation before?”

    Graham didn’t need to hear any more. ParaDim ran simulations. That’s where he’d heard the word recently - Adam Sylvestrus - ParaDim tested their products by running simulations. Was that what these VR worlds were? Part of ParaDim’s product research to condense years of testing into a few hours of simulation? And in the course of their research had they stumbled upon something else, something unexpected - the demise of ParaDim?

    And if they found that the trade talks could be sabotaged by the elimination of one expendable little man?

    “Come on,” said Annalise, rising up from the bench, “it’s after ten, we’ve got some surfing to do.”


    “The internet. We talked about it last night.” She stopped. “You don’t remember anything about our meeting last night, do you?”

    Graham shook his head.

    “Well, today is the day we find everything out. We’re meeting Kevin Alexander at eleven thirty and we’re not letting him go until he tells us all he knows.”

    “I can’t…”

    “Because you gotta be at work,” interrupted Annalise. “I know, you told me last night. But we worked that one out. You’re on sick leave.”

    “I’m sick?”

    “That’s the cover. We came up with a plan. You go to work as normal, walk through the front door, march into the Post Room, drop the sick note on Sharmila’s desk and duck out the back through the delivery bay door. Anyone watching’s left stranded on Westminster Street while you circle round to meet me here. And no one’ll be looking for you until six tonight when you miraculously reappear outside your office. Neat, huh?”

    It was. And it explained why he was in St. James’s Park at ten o’clock in the morning. Would he have written it down? His hand reached instinctively for his jacket pocket and found his note.

    It was written on the back - take sick leave, meet A at SJP 9:30.

    He flipped it over. He was still living at Wealdstone Lane. He wondered if he was living there alone.

    “Anyway,” she looked at her watch. “It’s getting late. We’ve gotta be in Victoria in twenty-five minutes. You show me the way and I’ll tell you why we’re going there.“



    “You gotta remember," said Annalise, “I’ve been stuck at home listening to this story unfold for the past month. It’s been driving me crazy. All you guys out there detecting. I’ve had my bags packed for two weeks.”

    They walked back through the park towards Buckingham Palace. Graham found himself eyeing suspiciously any large group of people, wondering if they had concealed New Tech weapons, wondering if at any moment they’d turn and charge across the grass.

    “So, I started doing what I could - using the net to search for dirt on ParaDim. I mean, they come out of nowhere and in two years they’re one of the top ten companies in the world. How’d they do that?

    “Anyway, I was getting nowhere - there were so many hits and so much crap to wade through that I thought I’d try something different and started looking for entries under Artificial Intelligence. Guess what I found?”

    Graham shrugged.

    Annalise waited, looking as though she was going to pounce as soon as he opened his mouth.

    “Come on! ParaDim - big company, made its name with its revolutionary AI engine. What am I gonna find under ParaDim and AI?”

    “Details of ParaDim’s AI engine?” he hazarded without any confidence.

    “Urrrr!” Annalise smiled as she pressed her imaginary air buzzer. “Wrong answer, Graham. I didn’t find a thing.

    “Which is seriously weird. I mean, ParaDim have gotta be the guys when it comes to AI, don’t they? I searched through pages and pages of articles on AI and PhD research papers and came up with nothing. No mention of any research using AI the way ParaDim claim they do. Don’t you find that strange? I mean, did the ParaDim algorithm come out of the blue? There had to be some initial research, didn’t there? An idea, a theory, some mention of work that went before.”

    “Perhaps they kept their research secret?”

    “But how? And who? ParaDim wasn’t even incorporated until two years ago. The algorithm and the company appeared at the same time. So who kept the research secret?”

    “The government?”

    “Not according to your flip to the future. The U.S. government were trying everything to get hold of the ParaDim algorithm, weren’t they?”

    They left the park and walked down Buckingham Palace Road towards Victoria. The traffic was heavy as usual, the pavements filled with people.

    “Anyway, last night it came to me. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place. Maybe I shouldn’t have been looking under AI but VR.”

    “Which is why we’re looking for this internet cafe in Redfern Street?” asked Graham.

    “Exactly. Kevin couldn’t see us ‘til late morning, we had an hour to kill, there was a cyber cafe nearby. Made sense to use the time constructively. The more dirt we have on ParaDim, the more serious Kevin Alexander’s gotta take us. I don’t want him using the ‘you don’t understand’ line and bailing on us.”



    They found the internet cafe - a small converted shop with nine computers laid out in three rows. Five heads looked up as they opened the door. Annalise folded away her Cyber Cafe Guide and walked over to the assistant.

    She handed over four pounds for an hour and was directed to the computer in the middle of the back row. Graham pulled up an extra chair and Annalise took the keyboard.

    They searched in vain using ParaDim and VR, scrolling through pages and pages of hits with only passing references to ParaDim or VR. Time ticked on. Annalise scrolled faster and Graham’s eyes hurt as he tried to keep up with the moving text.

    “How about looking for rumours about ParaDim?” suggested Graham.

    “Search on ‘ParaDim’ and ‘Rumour’, you mean?”

    “Yes, if you can do that?”

    She tapped in the words and waited. Another mass of hits scrolled onto the screen.

    “Welcome to the web,” she said sarcastically. ”We could be here for hours wading though this crap.”

    “Try adding ‘AI’.”

    “Okay.” She tapped in the new search criteria. Fewer hits than before but still several hundred. Annalise scrolled through them, moving so fast that Graham had to look away.

    “This one sounds marginally less whacko than the rest.” She clicked on the site and a new screen appeared. The Truth about ParaDim. They read the text as a picture loaded.

    It started by casting doubt on ParaDim’s use of Artificial Intelligence. How can an AI algorithm come up with over three hundred patents in two years? Isn’t it more likely that ParaDim is a front for a government-backed alien resettlement program? The aliens giving their technology in return for a homeland on Antarctica?

    “See what I mean?“ said Annalise. “Every whacko with an opinion and access to a computer can upload their two cents.”

    She hit the back button, scrolled through the other entries and stopped.

    “What’s the matter?” asked Graham.

    She hit the forward button and returned to the previous screen - The Truth about ParaDim.

    “Look,” she pointed to the words on the screen. “ParaDim and AI. My old search engine should have flagged this site.”

    “Are you sure it didn’t?”

    “I think I would have remembered an alien resettlement program in Antarctica.”

    Graham agreed, it did have a certain ring to it.

    “Search engines only look at a small subset of the web,” said a male voice at the station to Graham’s left. “Sorry, couldn’t help overhearing,” apologised the young man, not taking his eyes from the screen in front of him. “But what you want is a meta search engine - like this one.“ He pointed to the address line on his screen. “It calls fifteen other search engines to make sure you get the widest coverage.”

    Annalise leaned over and copied down the address. “Thanks,” she said, smiling. “No problem,” replied the young man.

    Graham watched the exchange in silence, discomforted by the sudden intervention of a stranger and feeling, irrationally, that, somehow, it should have been him - Graham - and not the outsider who had furnished Annalise with the solution to her problem.

    Annalise called up the new engine and retyped the search criteria. The number of hits multiplied. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on ParaDim. They were too big, too fast and there had to be a catch. Some thought they bugged the universities and stole ideas, some thought they had a mind reading device or a time machine or access to the UFO that crashed at Roswell.

    They waded through hundreds of pages. They followed links, going back and forth, refining the search, trying to find some common credible theme amidst the paranoia.

    And then they found a site that made them sit up and look at each other.

    It was a simple, plain text site with a minimum of a colour or artwork. But it raised a question that neither Graham nor Annalise had heard before.

    How come no one at ParaDim has a background in Artificial Intelligence?

    They read further. It published the names of the original ParaDim research team along with their specialities. Every one was a theoretical physicist or a mathematician.

    “Can we find out if that’s true?” asked Graham.

    Annalise thought for a while. “We could search on those names but there’d be no guarantee that any information we found would be true. We don’t even know if this list is the original ParaDim research team.”

    “What about Kevin Alexander? We know he works for ParaDim. What’s his speciality?”

    Annalise typed in Kevin’s name and paged through the entries. The young man on Graham’s left gathered his papers together and left. He looked like a student - young, undoubtedly bright, confident. Graham watched him walk down the aisle towards the door and noticed Annalise watching him too. The young man turned and smiled at Annalise as he lingered by the door. Annalise quickly looked down and started tapping at the keyboard while Graham hoped the door would suck the young man out onto the street.

    The young man left leaving Graham feeling stupid and ridiculous. His life was in danger, his world unravelling and, suddenly, he starts feeling proprietorial about a girl that, arguably, he’d met less than an hour ago. Ridiculous!

    “Maybe we should type in Canada?”

    “What?” Graham’s thoughts were still elsewhere.

    Annalise pointed at the screen. “All these Kevins and Alexanders. If we added Canada to the search criteria it’d cut down on all this lot.”

    Graham agreed, Annalise typed in the new query and out came another long list of sites. They found one with a link to Toronto University which looked promising and clicked on it.

    Kevin Alexander’s details came up. He’d been a fellow at the University of Toronto. He was another theoretical physicist. A picture gradually downloaded. A broad, smiling, open face.

    “That’s him,” said Annalise as soon as the picture sharpened. 

    A list of published books and papers gradually formed on the right hand side of the screen.

    The title at the bottom of the list stood out from all the rest.

    Parallel Dimensions: The Science of Alternate Realities.

    “Parallel dimensions?” said Annalise, thinking out loud.

    The connection hit them both at the same time.

    “ParaDim!” they exclaimed in unison.

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