This is the first original fiction I think I have written and completed in about ten years. Writing has kind of gotten away from me, being excruciatingly lazy and dealing with raising a family has meant that writing really fell by the way side.
My other horrible habit is starting a story and then never, ever finishing the damn thing. This then, was an exercise in trying to ‘get back in the game’. I wasn’t trying to write anything groundbreaking or amazing, I just wanted to see if I could bang out a neat little tale somewhere in the mold of Tales from the White Hart. All the mad scientist cliches are deliberate, like I said, I wasn’t stretching myself with this one. Still, I liked this idea and it has been kicking around my head for sometime, nice to get it out in the daylight.
This is a first draft, I imagine it’s not that good and it wasn’t really meant to be but still, take a look and see what you think. Be gentle with me please.
Oh, it doesn’t have a title yet, I’ve been sort of calling it Patterson, any other suggestions gratefully received…
Patterson was probably exactly as you would imagine him.
He was of slight build, undersized and not helped by his apparent dogged determination to wear lab coats that were too big for him, requiring the sleeves to be rolled up around his wrists.
His hair was wild and un-kept and, of course, he wore thick, heavy glasses all the time.
He was as absent minded and lacking in the social graces as you would imagine a man who loved science above all other things would be, but the main thing you should know about him is that he was constantly and incessantly late.
Patterson’s utter inability to attend to any appointment in a timely fashion became his signature motif. If a meeting was planned for which he was a vital attendee arrangements were made to ensure he was either collected by someone responsible or he was told that the meeting was occurring at least an hour earlier than it really was. This would usually ensure that Patterson arrived relatively on time.
From talking to colleagues at other universities, it became apparent that this was a problem that had dogged Patterson all his life. In fact, an old school acquaintance of his told us that he remembered Patterson wearing two watches, one on each wrist. Apparently an attempt by his mother to try to instil a semblance of time keeping in the hopeless child, even this failed to work, with Patterson regularly turning up to lessons twenty minutes late with his nose buried in a book.
That said, there was no question that the man was quite brilliant. He would drop solutions to problems into your lap from out of nowhere, seemingly unmoved by the fact he may of solved, in the course of one week, a problem that had tied up a team of physicists’ for years. Even more galling for some staff was the fact that he didn’t even set out to solve that particular problem in the first place. It had simply loomed on his narrow, strange horizon as an obstacle to be overcome to reach his ultimate goal, whatever that may be.
Like Newton inventing calculus and not bothering to tell the world at large, Patterson would blunder from discovery to discovery, not really caring that he was setting the scientific community aflame and earning the ire of his colleagues for the ease at which he revolutionised thinking around him.
He was rarely excited about anything, so when I received a telephone call from him almost apoplectic with delight, late one summer morning, I was completely unable to resist his demands that I drive to his house immediately.
Patterson’s home stood on the edge of the university grounds, very close to some terraced houses and a playground.
Some children where heading towards the playground as I parked the car. They were noisily kicking a football down the street, hooting and shouting at each other.
It was a warm day, clear blue skies with only a slight breeze. I was excited at the prospect of what Patterson had to reveal. It was not like him to show such an outburst of emotion over his work, I had already decided that what ever he had discovered was going to be utterly groundbreaking and I was, of course, totally correct, although in reflection, I wish I hadn’t been.
He answered the door with a look of mad glee in his eyes, pushing his glasses up his nose and awkwardly ushering me into the house, trying to look over and around me into the street.
“You’re alone?” he asked.
“Of course,” I replied, some what confused.
He nodded frenetically and said, “Come, come,” beckoning me into the house and up the stairs, past precarious piles of scientific journals, old computer components and unwashed dishes.
Who would keep unwashed dishes on the stairs? Of course Patterson would. I had a sad image of him in my mind, perched on a step, eating listlessly from a bowl of noodles at 3am, getting the bother of re-fuelling his body out of the way so he could continue to work.
The second floor of the house (which was relatively large, yet still oppressive due to the sheer amount of, well, junk stored in it) was where Patterson’s lab was situated.
The University really hadn’t minded giving him such a sought after property as they knew from his track record he would deliver the goods. A blind eye was turned to his pet projects as even they yielded unexpected and welcome sideline results. But he did require ample space to let his projects…well…wander.
The lab took up most of the room and was light and airy, Patterson had thrown most of the windows wide and the breeze ruffled the odd paper left on a desk and weighted beneath a stack of circuit boards or what have you.
A whiteboard took up most of one wall of the room, covered in dense equations, worked out in red and black marker.
One corner of the room was taken up with a profusion of clocks, infact there were dozens of the damn things, of all types. Large, red, LED clocks, travel alarm clocks, a grandmother clock and even a silly Felix the Cat clock, slowly wagging its tail and rolling its eyes at me.
How can a man with so many clocks always be late? I asked myself.
Monitors blinked on an off here and there and I had to step carefully over numerous cables both power and data, strewn across the floor.
The normally clumsy Patterson obviously had this terrain mapped down well and nipped through the trip hazards to the far corner of the room where, I have to say, a rather boring and obviously homemade piece of equipment sat.
“This,” he exclaimed, leaning an elbow on it, “is it!”
It was a long box, made of the sort of dull, grey metal that school scientific instruments all seem to be made of. At one end there was a roughly cut square aperture out of which coiled a profusion of cables and cords, spreading to the floor and across the lab to other various pieces of machinery and PCs. Stood next to the box was a tall cylinder of glass that held some sort of inert liquid, in which another glass tube was immersed containing an unidentifiable solid rod. Perhaps some kind of metal or ceramic? A heating coil? I don’t know, I still don’t.
A similar construction ran across the top of the metal box, only this almost appeared to be a neon tube of some kind.
In all: underwhelming.
I took all of this in and looked back at Patterson.
“I give up, “ I shrugged, “what is it?”
I’ll never forget the smile, a sort of horrible sickening smile that he gave me. If I had listened to my gut then, I would of left instead of being at the epicentre of it all, but my head prevailed.
It’s not that Patterson was evil or misguided. I’m sure his intentions were sound, if just a little selfish, but then you could argue that Da Vinchi didn’t have the gunship in mind when he postulated the helicopter.
“It’s time!” he said, “More time!”
I was confused.
“More time? More time for what?”
He shrugged and threw his hands into the air, “More time for anything. More time to make that bus, more time to defuse the bomb, to get the heart to the hospital for the transplant… It’s more time!”
“Patterson, I don’t understand…”
“It’s easier if I just show you…”
He punched a few keys on the PC closest to him and (I’m rather ashamed to say) threw a large switch.
The tube atop the box started to glow a dull red, while the liquid in the vertical one gently and lazily bubbled.
I was about to say something, what it was I cannot remember, when I felt the most extraordinary sensation and flavour in my mouth. It suddenly became incredibly dry and I was reminded of pressing the tip of my tongue to a battery, a sort of tingling, brassy, almost blood like taste and feeling.
The sensation spread to my fingers and nervously examined them as Patterson leaned there and regarded me with a look of superior glee.
I looked up at him and opened my mouth once more, this time to ask what was happening, he chuckled and pointed nonchalantly across the multitude of clocks.
Describing what happened next is hard.
So many things seemed to happen all at once and seemed so disjointed and paradoxical.
Above all there was the sensation of happening or potential. As if something was building up in the air. Energy perhaps. Maybe that literally was the case, the end physics were beyond me and most of them were lost anyway, at any rate there was this feeling of something building up in the atmosphere, in the lab.
There was a sort of ‘no sound’, I could clearly hear the children in the playground still playing football, yet there was a feeling of being stifled or distance, as if the shouts of the children were receding and a great blank were growing in their place.
As this crescendo of nothingness grew and the pins and needles intensified in my hands and feet, Patterson pointed at the clocks once more and hissed, as if very far away, “Look! Listen!”
I did as I was told, the clocks seemed to fill my vision and slightly waver, the ticking became ever more distinct and louder.
I watched the large red LED as the seconds marched towards the top of a new minute.
Fifty seven, fifty eight, fifty nine…
And then it happened.
How do I describe it? As if the world had a heart and it skipped a beat, there was certainly a weird, physical sensation in my chest, a pause a trip of some kind.
The nothing-noise ceased as I watched the LED stutter and read fifty nine again and the second hands of all the analogue clocks joined in, wavering once back before continuing on around the face and into a new minute.
I was clutching my chest and had begun to sweat, I looked back at Patterson who wore an expression of triumph the likes of which I have never seen and will never seen again on another human beings face,
“What the hell just happened?” I exclaimed.
Patterson clapped his hands together in glee, ”I just let a new second out into the world!”
“You did what!?”
“I created an entirely artificial second and released it into the time stream. The last minute was comprised of sixty one seconds.”
My head felt numb and I sought out a stool or at least a relatively clear, flat surface to collapse onto.
“Let me get this entirely straight,” I said resting against a desk, “you just created time? How the hell did you do that?”
Patterson chuckled and poured me a glass of water, “There are two tricks to it, the first is to force your perception of time to change, to make something abstract almost physical. There are a number of processes at work there, most very local, very low energy and with a few biological changes required, I had to synthesise a new drug, but I only required a very low dose myself, not anything you needed to be involved in for that little experiment just now.”
He handed me the water and I drained the entire glass, he poured another for me and continued.
“Once you force time into a quasi-physical state, or ‘chrono-matter’ as I call it, you need to collect an infinitesimal amount, a shaving of a Planck. Once stored in the correct magnetic field you can begin the process of a chronal-graft, such as the one we just felt.”
I felt like a butterfly that had been swatted with a telephone directory.
“A chronal-graft…” I repeated like an idiot.
“That’s right and grafts are just the start, I have enough material to attempt the next stage, or temporal cloning as I call it.”
“Patterson, what are you talking about!?”
He placed the water jug down gently on the table besides me and pushed his glasses back up his nose once more.
“Collecting the very small amount of chrono-matter for the graft was extremely delicate work. I had to capture a second on the cusp of formation, like a butterfly about to hatch from its pupae. I had to define a point that is utterly indefinable in nature, a finish and start point that does not really exist.
Once I saw that second begin to emerge, I had to strike, to trap it in amber if you will, slow it down to the point it practically wasn’t moving, then I sent a remote nano-probe in to remove the material I need.”
“A nano-probe?” I asked.
“Yes, think of it as undersea exploration, the nano-probe is the ROV and I the operator aboard the ship. Only the next time, I intend to make the dive myself.”
He crossed to the computer next to the metal box and began to punch in numbers once more.
“I’m going to stop a second. I’m going to go inside it and take the material I need and then I am going to give the world a whole, new, shiny minute. Just think, more time with loved ones, more time to cure an illness. No one need ever be late again…I will never be late again!”
I croaked his name and held out a hand as if to stop him but it was useless, he threw the switch before I could do anything.
And then the world was lost in an invisible whirlwind.
The rest, you already know. Until now, you will never of realised how or why it happened but you will of read the newspapers and seen the TV reports, I expect you’ve even got one of the many books on the phenomena on your bookshelf, even if you haven’t read it.
In the space of a nano-second, probably less, the world changed, literally and figuratively.
The lab was completely different. The clocks, the machinery all of it was shifted around me.
The vast majority of the equations had been erased from the white board, some new ones remained but they were incomplete, quite deliberately I think.
There was rubbish everywhere.
Piles of clothes and food wrappers lay strewn around my feet.
I was taking in the sudden and inexplicable change when I realised the children were shouting out side again.
Their shouts were not part of their game, I crossed to the window, passed piles of books that I was positive were not there mere moments ago, over discarded wrappers of chocolate bars, hundreds of the damn things had settled on the floor like a snow drift of gaudy silver foil.
Out of the window I could see my car was in the middle of the playground, the bonnet was up and most of the engine strewn across the grass. I almost made to shout at the kids, convinced that they had done this in some way when an inkling of what had occurred began to take root in my mind.
My mouth was open, about to form an expletive when the thought struck and I reached for my car keys, which of course, were gone.
The car had only just appeared there, that was why one of the boys had run full pelt into the door and two others had fallen over a battery and some cabling leading to a lamp post.
I looked at the uproar of the lab and back out at the street, most of the front doors of the houses were open, litter drifted down the road.
Some of the cars were like mine. Was it the batteries he was after? I think so.
You will of heard how the university library was turned upside down, the labs ransacked, all in an instant and all around pupils, staff and faculty. There was no transition, no sign of movement (although, even know I fancy that I imagine the briefest of buzzing noises, the gentle waft of his countless passings by me, but I know that there would be no way my senses could record it, they are just the product of my imagination) the rooms went from order to chaos instantly. People found their belongings scattered, items moved around their offices and homes, even, in some cases their pockets turned inside out and, perhaps more disturbingly, their bodies physically moved through space.
Whole supermarkets had shelves cleared. The food, vanished. The packaging scattered around the city.
There was talk of some effects further a field, as much as one hundred miles, could he really of travelled that far? I find it so difficult to imagine his life, let alone him tramping over a hundred miles on foot, through constant sunshine, constant temperature, through a sea of frozen, laughing people.
Patterson had gone inside his nano-second, his planck, he had entered his frozen moment and then, for some reason, he hadn’t left.
I have no idea what went wrong. I think he destroyed a lot of his research to prevent anyone making the same mistake, but how long did he spend trying to escape? Just what was life like for him in that single, still instant? Did he have to keep moving to breathe (the gases in the air would not be stirred by any breeze)? I imagine not otherwise suffocation would of occurred so quickly, he wouldn’t of had a chance to tear through the libraries and offices seeking any written knowledge to help him out of his plight. Computers, the internet, they would of all been useless to him. But then I wonder why he took the car batteries, the mobile phones and such, surely electricity would have been a useless phenomenon to him frozen in time as he was?
I often wonder if he encountered a naked flame, if he placed his hand in it, would it burn him or would being frozen in time freeze the flame as well?
How lonely he must have been. All around us, all the time yet unable to speak to us. How long did he last? Who knows?
There was, of course, no body. I should of imagined it decayed and faded away instantly, at least by our perception.
An entire lifetime, lived out in an invisible frenzy before us.
Poor, poor Patterson…