Chapter 12: Christmas parties, the Dean recaps and Adrian gets burnt
To say the party was in full swing would be a considerable exaggeration.
There were a few limp decorations, which appeared to have hung around since last Christmas, and balloons expiring on the ends of string. Greetings cards were scattered across desks and filing cabinets and a tinny hi-fi was spitting out Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love”.
It reminded me of the seedy office parties I’d attended years ago and thought I’d grown out of.
Sarah introduced me to her boss Peter and Fritz and to the Professor and his two key researchers, Anita and Andrew. The Dean had yet to arrive.
“Sarah tells us you write for a life style magazine?”
The way the Professor raised a question at the end of the sentence made it clear what he thought of my profession.
“And you’re currently doing a series of interviews with theologians and scientists?”
I ignored the disbelief implied in his question.
“Yes, I’m quite pleased with the result; much more stimulating than I could have hoped for.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Please enjoy yourself – it’s good to see you here.” And he moved away as he hailed another guest on the far side of the room.
The phrase “smooth bastard” came to mind as I helped myself to a small glass of white wine from the drinks table.
“Darling, you’re driving remember.”
Sarah was at my elbow, she knew that stress, motorways and wine didn’t mix for me.
“I know I’m a bit sensitive at the moment but that Professor friend of yours is a wee bit above himself – you could smell the disgust in his voice.”
Sarah moved me away from the table.
“You must meet the Dean; I’d like your view of his theory.”
As she said that the Dean arrived and after being handed a glass of wine began circulating. After a short while he reached Sarah and me.
“Ah, Mr Proops, so glad you could make it. I think Sarah was getting worried about me – isn’t that right my dear?”
“No worried Dean just intrigued. You have to admit your theory is unconventional.”
“What do you think of it Mr Proops, I assume Sarah has explained it to you?”
“Y..e…ss”, I spoke rather hesitantly not sure what else to say.
“Let me help you then. It’s all to do with consciousness, whether the universe can be, is self aware. I argue that not only is our universe self aware, because of us, but also other universes have a consciousness. Whether it is similar to our own – localised here on earth or whether in other universes it takes different forms is not the issue. Once that universe is aware –it is conscious of its isolation, and searches for other consciousness.”
“And you argue that because the other universe felt rejected by our silence – it became resentful and malicious towards us? That’s a lot to take in Dean.”
“I agree Mr Proops, it is.” The Dean smiled at Sarah as he said that, as if, I felt, he was sharing a confidence with her.
“I’m convinced that my evidence is sound and that for the last 1600 years a malignancy has seeped into our universe which has been directed by that other intelligence. That has to be stopped and reversed otherwise we’re doomed.”
“You’ll have to bear with me Dean if I take a while to get to grips with this. This malignancy takes the form of quanta of information which make minute changes to the structure of our time and space?” I was trying to engage.
“Exactly, Adrian, I can call you Adrian?” I nodded.
“Much of what I have said is not my own. Professor Clements and his team’s own work invoke this flow of coherent information into our universe to explain the evidence of their own work into quantum computing. The effect of the flow is extremely, vanishingly small but if, as Professor Clements argues, this quanta of information can form accretions, rather like dust under the influence of gravity, then locally these changes could be quite pronounced, even if they’re effective over a very small region of space/time.”
“Adrian, one of the Professor’s research colleagues came up with one possible example. Didn’t he Dean?” While she was speaking Sarah reached over and refilled the Dean’s glass.
“Yes. I’ve been giving some thought to that. I don’t think the changes can be directed. The intelligence can’t, at a distance, effect a specific change in a specific location – that depends on how the accretion of information is governed, but if the accretion does take place I suspect the effects would be startling. Certainly unusual enough to be cause comment. They might even go against common sense or causality.”
“A number of things might happen. The simplest might be you press a letter “p” on your keyboard and on the screen a “$” appears. Or more dramatically you type “I will not kill you” and instead you see “I will kill you.”"
"At a very local level in one computer changes at the sub atomic level effect the way the processor executes the program instructions. In another case, a minute change in electric potential might have a dramatic (and impossible) effect on a piece of equipment. And chemical or biological processes might behave unnaturally, seemingly with malicious intent.”
That was too close for comfort for me. Missing words and changed punctuation happening mysteriously– he was describing what had happened to my interview with the Cardinal.
“Hold on Adrian, you’re getting ahead of yourself here. What the Dean has said was all speculation.” But even though my rational voice told me different, I couldn’t quite dismiss the Dean’s speculation.
“That’s fascinating, Dean I wish I had been able to interview you for my series, it would have been really tremendous. I’m sure the theologians who have had plenty to say about conscious universes!”
“How was this malignancy to be stopped?”
“Oh Adrian, that’s simple, by sending a huge energy surge to disrupt and reverse the malignancy.”
“The Dean believes that the “Boltzqubit” would provide the necessary “shock”. Don’t you Dean.”
“That’s right Sarah. I believe the main purpose of the “Boltzqubit” was to generate enough energy to disrupt the flow into our universe – not to create a super computer.”
“I’m not sure Professor Clements would share your view.” I said.
“And do you think this intergalactic shock therapy will work Dean?”
“I hope so my boy. Yes, I most certainly do.”
Just then there was a loud bang, we turned round to see one of the young research assistants rushing out of the photocopier room screaming “Help somebody, he’s going to die”.
We were the closest to the room so got there first. Laid out across the photocopier with his trousers and pants round his ankles was a young man – who I assumed to be a student or assistant. The photo copier light was flashing erratically scanning backwards and forwards, and there was the unmistakeable smell of burning flesh – his naked backside. There was no way to switch off the machine at its controls; the flaying legs and heat made that impossible.
I dashed to where the copier was plugged into the wall, and tried to pull out the plug. The plug must have shorted because it was welded into the socket. All I could think of doing was to disconnect the machine from the electricity supply. I grabbed hold of the cable and yanked it hoping to rip the plug out of the socket or sever the cable. It came away, but as it did so the electric cable sheared and some of it remained in the plug. As the cable gave way I fell forward and in stretching out to break my fall touched the live wires still in the socket.
There was a loud bang, followed almost immediately by a much louder one and I lost consciousness.
Chapter 13: It turns out nice in the end
I don’t think I stopped screaming until they had managed to get Adrian away from the socket. His hands were horribly burnt as were his arms and chest where the current had sparked across him. He wasn’t breathing, and if he had a pulse – it was too shallow to be hopeful.
The next few hours were a horror.
Adrian was rushed to the nearest A&E, where a team of doctors and nurses spent ages trying to bring him back. It looked as if they’d failed. I was looking in at their frantic endeavours and could see their shoulders sag and the look of failure and extreme tiredness on their faces.
“Oh God,” that’s all I could say as I buried my head in my hands. The Dean placed his jacket round me and took me in his arms.
“I wouldn’t give up, just yet.”
As he said that he turned me towards the window and the tableau framed in it. Adrian was stretched out but I didn’t see anyone else, no doctors, no nurses, no equipment just Adrian and his snow white gown.
As I looked on a stream of particles radiated away from him in a perfect sphere. The sphere expanded until it almost filled the room and then stopped. The particles just hung in the air for what seemed to be an age and then they slowly contracted back towards Adrian; the sphere getting smaller and smaller until it vanished.
And then it was so much noise and movement. The doctors and nurses were talking excitedly and one turned towards the window and gave the thumbs up sign, mouthing “We’ve got him back”. I was then aware of the Dean still holding me.
“Well, that was extremely close – far too close for comfort. Let’s get you a nice cup of tea, my dear.”
Adrian was still in a bad way, but by New Year’s Eve he was well enough to sit beside his bed and to have visitors. The Dean visited regularly, and I believe Adrian grew increasingly fond of him. One afternoon the Dean and I were sitting talking to Adrian by his bed when his mobile rang. It was Harry, his boss. After about ten minutes Adrian put the phone down.
“How are things at the office?” I asked.
“Oh they’re fine, couldn’t be better.”
Adrian paused then looking directly at the Dean said.
”You won’t believe it but when they re-ran the interview with the Cardinal there were no errors. No one had touched anything. The IT experts could find nothing wrong with the systems, they were working perfectly. Yet somehow the errors corrected themselves. Now what do you make of that Dean?”
“I suspect the Cardinal might be moved to call it a miracle.”
“And the scientist?”
“Oh I don’t know - a quantum perturbation possibly?”
The” Boltzqubit” was re-built from scratch, yet the huge energy flows we all got so excited about were never repeated. Other research centres built similar machines and none of them witnessed the energy flows.
One evening in early summer I was sitting with the Dean in his garden. The rose above his cottage’s doorway was in full bloom, and the ancient garden wall cast a long cooling shadow where we sat.
“When we were here just before last Christmas I asked you how will you know if it has been successful? You didn’t answer.”
The Dean smiled and said:
“Well, my dear, it has been hasn’t it?”