If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
**** **** **** ****
I stared at her blankly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You mean he’s a guinea pig,” said Daniel. “A fricking human guinea pig. And you’re doing tests on him.”
“I told you he was stupid,” said Athena Papadopoulos to the Bishop, looking at me disdainfully and further fueling my annoyance. “This is pointless. Why couldn’t it be the other one? At least he has a brain.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a rude bitch?” I said to Athena Papadopoulos. Now I knew why she’d annoyed me from the moment I’d first laid eyes on her, back at the hospital. That combination of arrogance and beauty – of course she was going to piss me off! She’d piss anyone off.
But I still needed to know what she was up to, especially if it involved some sort of study and my brain.
“Miss Papa-whateveryournameis,” I said. “You’d better damn well explain what this is all about, in a way that an ordinary guy – like me – can understand, right? Because if you don’t, this ordinary guy here is going to walk right out on you and your dumb experiment. And then you and all your schmancy-fancy talk will be screwed. Geddit?”
She stared at me with open hostility in her eyes, then lowered her voice in a pretty blatant attempt to give herself more cred. I’ve seen that before, waaaay too many times. Liars love it. You can pick a compulsive liar by the way they lower their voice at you and look you straight in the eye. The whole dang pantomine, straight from ConArtists ‘R’ Us.
Oldest tricks in the book. Well, second oldest, after Kayly’s trick of taking her clothes off and getting a guy’s body to do his thinking instead of his brain.
“Mr. Hocking,” she said. “This is not a joke. This is top secret research we’re conducting. The only reason you’re being informed at all is because the results we’ve been getting have been so…extreme…that it seems we’re now in a position where we have to share information with you in order to proceed. This interview is not through any choice of mine.”
“It isn’t my choice, either,” I said. “So why don’t you just go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, and leave me alone!” I couldn’t resist insulting her, the bitch, but even so, I wanted to hear what she had to say.
“I suggest we quit with the insults,” said the Bishop, clearly frustrated with the way things were going. “We’re wasting time. Doctor Papadopoulos, perhaps you’d like to explain why you’re here and what the Order is about.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And why you’ve made the last few days of my life a complete misery.”
Athena Papadopoulos sighed. “I’ll be as brief as I can, and keep it as simple as I can.”
I could feel myself wanting to growl.
She looked at me sideways, and proceeded. “Bishop John and I are members of a worldwide group of scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, geologists – various experts in fields you’ve probably never heard of – working together on a new understand of the energy fields that govern the earth.”
So far so good. That, at least, was easy to understand.
“You’re aware, I presume, of the Expanding Earth Theory (or “EET”) and how, over the last decade or so, new evidence had come to light supporting it, when not so long ago the theory was commonly ridiculed by experts?”
Daniel and I both nodded. Geology had been a hot news item my whole life and even before that, ever since the first little quake that levelled Christchurch way back in 2011. People started noticing changes even way back then – and that was before the big quakes started happening, and the geo guys really went to town on how the earth was put together.
“So I gather you’re aware that, with recent data based on volcanic and earthquake activity around the pacific rim, it is pretty much undisputed, apart from in a few rather conservative religious circles…” Athena Papadopoulos looked meaningfully at the Bishop, then continued, “that the earth is now leaving its dormant phase. It is now beginning to expand – or grow – again.”
“Yeah,” I said, interested in spite of myself. “People can be really dumb. I mean, you can see by looking at maps of the world that once upon a time it was much smaller.”
“It’s much harder to see the interconnection of the coastlines across the pacific, though” said the Bishop. “Any child can see that the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America once fitted together, because the Atlantic is a lot smaller. But seeing that the west coast of South America and the east coast of Australia were once joined is a lot harder…you have to be looking for it.”
“I dunno,” said Daniel. “Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up knowing the earth is growing, I’ve always been able to see the connection, but for me it’s really obvious that Australia and South America – with New Zealand in the middle – were once together.”
“But you forget,” said Athena Papadopoulos, in that clear, crisp voice of hers, cutting through. “Scientists didn’t want to believe that a planet could grow, so they invented rules that suggested everything had always been as it was, and the earth had always been the same size. Science, just like religion, has been susceptible to fallacy.”
“Religion had a lot to do with those old beliefs too, I’m afraid” said the Bishop. “Remember, it’s only a few hundred years since people believed the earth was flat. Only a few generations ago, a majority of well educated people sincerely believed we were descended from Adam and Eve, in a garden six thousand years ago.
“Even science is susceptible to social and religious beliefs suggesting stasis; suggesting that maybe the world has always been the same. It’s hard for people to recognise – even when the evidence is right in front of their noses – that the truth might be very, very different.”
“So how big was the earth, once upon a time?” I asked. “And how big is it going to get? And what has this to do with me? I mean, doesn’t the earth work on a completely different time-scale to people?”
“Evidence suggests the earth was originally about a quarter the size it is now,” said Athena Papadopoulos. “As to how big it is going to get, who knows? But we’ve seen an increase in the earth’s diameter of just over two kilometers in the last forty years, so whatever is happening, it is happening quickly.”
She took a deep breath, and her cool reserve seemed almost strained. For the first time. I could tell that, beneath her icy exterior, this was a subject that fascinated the lady. “And this is where it gets interesting. While taking measurements of the growth patterns, changes in the earth’s magnetic field – anomalies – were noticed. Energy pathways criss-crossing the earth were observed, with poolings of energy gathering at certain key points on the globe.”
“At this point, when all this was noticed and confirmed, the entire study was clamped down as Top Secret,” interrupted the Bishop. “And various philosophers and religious leaders were called in for advice. This was the point at which I became involved in the project. Because, you see, the points on the globe were not random. Not at all.”
He gazed at both of us, deeply and meaningfully. “You understand what I’m saying? None of this was random. None of it. The points of energy – the poolings of energy, the pathways across the globe – weren’t what scientists would have expected. They weren’t linked to volcanoes, or fault lines, although some were associated with significant natural features. Uluru – Ayers Rock, in Australia – is one.”
He looked down at the papers in front of him, the maps, the history books, then back at Daniel and me.
“What we observed was this: the energy was gathering across pathways connecting sites of religious and spiritual significance. Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. Lourdes in France. Newgrange in Ireland. The Great Pyramid. The Temple in Jerusalem. The Kaaba in Mecca. Bodh Gaya and Uttar Pradesh in India.
“For the last decade we’ve been measuring regular increases in the flow of energy between these sites, and around them, the creation of some sort of vast energy network.”
Daniel started laughing suddenly, like a maniac. “Naah!” he said. “This is all bullshit. I don’t believe it. I mean, it just doesn’t fit in with what we know about the world. Someone is stringing you a line, mate.”
“Neither did time travel fit with what we knew about the world,” said Athen Papadopoulos quietly. “Things change, Mr. Palmer. But in the last few months we’ve developed ways of using the energy on this network to skip back and forward in time, and manipulate the absolute fabric of the space-time continuum. Time travel has become a reality. Everything is connected, and everything you thought was real has changed. What seemed unbelievable has become reality.”
“I still don’t believe it,” said Daniel. “Science is one thing, but you’re talking about magic, and religious garbage. Next you’ll be garbling about Gods. It’s rubbish. It’s all rubbish. There has to be a logical explanation.”
Athena Papdopoulos stood up. “Explain this then!”
And she disappeared, right in front of us, from her pew.
She was gone.
“Holy crap!” I said, jumping up and looking around for her. “Where’d she go?”
“Behind you,” said a voice. Agatha Papadopoulos was standing right behind me, as if she’d never moved. Her eyes gleamed wickedly. “Still don’t believe?”
Daniel made a strange noise in his throat, a cross between gargling and choking. Athena Papdopoulos disappeared again, from behind us, and reappeared back in her pew opposite us, sitting neatly with her legs crossed, as if nothing had happened and she’d never moved.
It made my brain hurt.
I shook my head, trying to get a grip on what I’d just witnessed. “Can you explain to me to me WHAT I just saw?” I asked.
“I time-skipped,” said Athena Papadopoulos. “St. Paul’s is right at the epicentre of a newly developing energy vortex. The vortex has just popped up in the last week, and we’re trying to figure out why. But within a vortex – any vortex – if you have the right tools, you can skip easily from point to point and time to time. I could just as easily have skipped backwards a hundred years, forwards a millenia, or across to any one of the other developing vortices around the world.”
“Ah…oh…ahhh, um, yeah,” I said. There didn’t seem much else to say. I was still trying to wrap my head around all this, but things were starting to make sense, as long as I suspended disbelief.
“What are ‘the right tools’?” asked Daniel, cluing on part of what Papadopoulos had said a lot faster than me, as usual. “What tools are you talking about? Like – a machine or something?” Then he looked at me and we knew.
Not a machine: tiny, miniscule machines.
“You are probably familiar with one tool we can use,” replied Athena Papadopoulos, with a half smile, watching our expressions. She knew that we understood. “Panadeine forte can bring about the desired effects.”
“It wasn’t panadeine forte, lady, and you know it!” I said, angrily. I wasn’t going to say that we’d learned the “drug” was actually nanobots, but it was pretty obvious that she knew we knew about the so-called ‘panadeine’, so it made no sense to pretend otherwise.
“Of course not,” she answered, cooly. “What I gave you was, let me say, a ‘drug’ in development. This is an entirely new field, you see. But what we gave you was low dose, short term, mild effects. We didn’t want you skipping off into the past and not returning, did we? You weren’t a volunteer, choosing to be skipped. Who knows what damage you could have done back there? We’re still not entirely certain how travelling back in time affects the present.
“Of course, logic suggests that any changes we make to the past have already happened here in the future, so there’s no real damage we can do. We think. In other words, we believe that everything is fixed, and you can’t change it. History is fixed the way it was, including any changes we’ve made to it by travelling backwards, because any changes we’ve made or are going to make have already happened. Do you see? But we don’t know that for certain, so every time we run tests, we’re gambling the history of the human race. Just a little, just a bit.”
Daniel grunted his disapproval of the situation, but I had one overarching question that was dominating my thoughts.
“But why me?” I asked.
You see, I was stunned by everything I’d heard, and didn’t know what to believe and what to ignore, despite the demonstration of time-skipping Athena Papadopoulos had just given us.
“Even if all this is true,” I added, “And everything you’ve told me is really happening and real, why have you brought me into it? I’m an ordinary guy. I’m nothing special. Heck I’m not even religious, so all this energy stuff ain’t going to pool around me! I don’t get it. Why have you brought me into it all?”
The Bishop regarded me thoughtfully, as if debating with himself whether to answer my question or not. Then, slowly:
“Our instruments could sense the pathways that we’re dubbing ‘ley lines’ where energy is gathering. They can also sense the vortices – some of the places that I’ve mentioned around the world where the energy spirals into a vortex, gathering power. We don’t know the purpose of that power yet, or where it is coming from, although we have our suspicions.
He swallowed. “We also noticed anomalies of energy that were fluid, inconstant, moving about. It didn’t take very long for us to realise that they were pooling around certain people. Then it was just a matter of tracking those people down, and following them – an easy task.
“Eventually it was decided to incorporate some of those individuals into our study – some of them as volunteers, and some without their knowledge, as blinds. You were in the second group, studied without your knowledge.”
I felt hot, clammy, disoriented. “You’re saying that this weird-arse energy field is collecting around me?”
“Yes. And it is getting stronger, more intense, almost by the hour.”
“Do you know why?”
“We have our suspicions.”
“Why then?” I asked.
“Regretfully, I am not able to say,” said the Bishop, looking me straight in the eye.
“What – you don’t know, or you do know, and you’re not allowed to tell me?” I asked furiously, already knowing the response.
“The latter. But regardless, I hope you’ll co-operate with us,” said the Bishop.
“And why would I want to do that?” I said, bile rising in my throat. “Why on earth would I want to do that?”
“Because,” said Athena Papadopoulos levelly. “Every other one of our test subjects has died horribly in the last twenty-four hours. Every single one of them. Except you. What we know about the energy fields, and what we choose to tell you IF you co-operate, may just keep you alive.”
**** **** **** ****