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The machine hummed impressively as it reached
full power and a finger hovered over the release mechanism, trembling
A VOICE IN THE DARK.
'Is anyone there?'
'Ernie. Who are you then?'
'How do, Ernie.'
'So. How did you get to be 'ere then?'
'Well, me lungs were knackered and this doctor
bloke reckoned that, once I'd gone, he could take me brain out
and stick it in a fish bowl... or something like that anyroad.
How about you?'
'Yeah, similar mate, only it was the old ticker
in my case. Too many Ruby Murrays, fish 'n' chips, fags and the
like. The Doc reckoned I'd got a few more weeks, and then, wallop!
Like you said, couple of days as a thinking wossname, or else
oblivion. I mean. What you gonna do, eh?'
'My sentiments, exactly.'
'Oh right, yeah.'
THEY FELL QUIET FOR A WHILE.
'Bit dark in 'ere.'
'Yeah. Still. Not cold, though.'
'Nah. Not too hot neither.'
'Just right really.'
'Yeah. Just right.'
'Black as a black cat in a coal shed though,
'It is, now you come to mention it. Proper
'Murky? Can't see your hand in front of your
face, mate. Err... can't seem to try it just at present. How about
'How about me what?'
'Your hand! Can you see it... in front of your
'Can't move, can I?'
'Nah, on account of being stuck in an iron
lung. They must've wheeled me in 'ere while I was kipping.'
'Sorry mate, didn't realise.'
'No worries. Got used to it, really.'
THERE WAS ANOTHER HALT IN PROCEEDINGS.
'Try the bedside light, Ernie.'
'Cor, I'm glad to 'ear your voice, thought
you'd gone. Tried the light earlier on.'
'Can't seem to move either. Think I might've
'ad a stroke, or some such.'
'Blimey. Looks like we're both in the same
'Looks like it.'
'Probably why we're both in 'ere, I s'pose.'
'More like than not.'
'Nothing to be done then.'
'Seems like it.'
'He'll be along shortly.'
'Course he will.'
Want to see how we're doing, I'd imagine.'
'I should cocoa.'
THEY REFLECTED ON THAT FOR A BIT.
'Funny old game.'
'What's that then?'
'Oh, life... yeah... funny old game alright.'
'You're born, you 'ave a quick and happy childhood,
you spend years sloggin' away to earn a crust, and before you
know it, yer in ya dotage and some essential organ goes on the
blinking blinkity blink.'
'That's the way of it alright, Ernie.'
'Are you a religious man, Vic?'
'Well, not especially.'
'Ever read the Bible?'
'Flicked through it a coupla times. Used to
be a travelling salesman, so I'd come across a Gideon's in the
hotel room, once in while. I 'ad a quick gander, if there was
nothing on the telly. You?'
' 'ad a go, but... dull as the old proverbial
dishwater. Couldn't get into it, meself.'
'You said "Proverbs".'
'Nah, it was "Proverbial" mate.'
'Oh, right. So it never floated yer boat then?
'Which boat's that?'
'Same boat as what we're both in, I reckon,
'Haha, yeah, I reckon you're about right there,
'Should we 'ave a bit of a shout, do you think?'
'What good would that do?'
'Well, we might get one of them young nurses
come bustlin' in, that'd cheer us up a bit.'
'True, but we ought to wait for the Doc, really.'
'Yeah, s'pose you're right... best wait for
THE CONVERSATION DRIED UP FOR A FEW HOURS.
'What day is it?'
'Oi! I was trying to get some sleep.'
'I felt lonely.'
'I... oh, um, yeah, sorry. What did you say?'
'I was wondering what day it was.'
'I think it was Friday yesterday, or earlier
on, anyway. That's what day it was before I woke up in 'ere.'
'So it could be Saturday then?'
'It could be, or it could be Friday afternoon,
or even Sunday.'
'Do you think the Doc works weekends?'
'If he doesn't himself, then someone will.
Stands to reason.'
'I've only ever been seen by him, though.'
'Me too, now you come to mention it.'
'I expect he'll be along at some point.'
'Perhaps we should try shouting after all?'
'We've been through all that. If they need
to see us, they'll come and see us. They're busy people you know.'
'Ah, yeah, that's true. Busy people. You'd
think they'd 'ave left us with one of them little button thingies.
Push it for attention, like,'
'What good would that do? You can't push anything
and I can't move!'
'Fair point... sure you don't fancy a little
'To be honest, even if I did, and I don't,
then I'm not sure that I could.'
'I can't feel my mouth or lips moving, or even
my breathing, come to that. It takes a bit of oomph, does a good
shout. I'm oomphless at the minute.'
'Ah. Me too.'
'So, no shouting then.'
'Looks that way.'
'Probably for the best.'
'Let's wait and see what he says.'
'See what cards are on the table, sorta thing.'
'This brain in a fishbowl malarkey.'
'I wonder what he meant, exactly?'
'Did he go into any detail with you?'
'Nah, he was pretty vague with me an' all.'
'Maybe it's all a bit complicated.'
'It'll be that alright!'
'Perhaps he's gone to think it over with his
colleagues. Second opinion, and all that.'
'Third, fourth and fifth, I shouldn't wonder.'
'He could be some time yet, then.'
'Bound to be.'
'He'll turn up though.'
'You can be sure if that.'
'He's probably writing a paper on us.'
'Do you think so?'
'Yeah. We're probably gonna be world famous,
in medical circles, you and me. Ernie and Victor, they'll say,
pioneers amongst patients, they were.'
'Makes it all worthwhile, in a way.'
'Well, all this, you know, waiting about and
stuff. In the dark. Just each other for company. Gotta mean something,
'If nothing else, we'll 'ave made a major contribution
to medical science.'
'For the benefit of others.'
'That's the spirit.'
'Yeah, good on ya, mate.'
'And you, Vic.'
CONTENTED, THEY FELL QUIET FOR A LENGTHY PERIOD.
'Cor blimey, you put the fear of God into me,
old son. I thought it was him!'
'I thought I 'eard something.'
'Don't be daft, it's as silent as the grave
'Don't say that.'
'Don't talk about the grave. It scares me.'
'Just a turn of phrase, mate.'
'Alright, alright, I'm sorry. Okay?'
'Yeah, alright. Just feeling a bit touchy,
like. Seems to 'ave been ages.'
'Do you feel hungry?'
'No. Why, do you?'
'Nah. Wish I did in a way. It'd give me something
to think about.'
'Yeah, know what you mean.'
'What would you 'ave though Ernie?'
'How do you mean?'
'If you were hungry. What would be the one
thing that would really do it for you?'
'Curry, mate. A nice chicken tandoori with
all the trimmings, washed down with several pints of lager. What
'Gotta be a Sunday roast. Nice bit of crackling,
butter melted over me peas, plenty of gravy, roast spuds, big
old fatty slab of pork, maybe some cauliflower and carrots, bit
of 'orse radish. Cor, that'd make the old North and South water,
that would. If I could feel my mouth, that is.'
'Yeah, but lovely image mate... lovely.'
'Maybe we could get 'em to bring something
in for us, when they turn up.'
'Not good for us though, is it?'
'Is it gonna make all that much difference
at this stage?'
'S'pose not really. Might be best not to rock
the boat though.'
'The same boat we're both in, you mean?'
'Haha, yeah, that's the one.'
'Maybe we could smell it, at least.'
'Yeah, that'd be nice.'
'What do you reckon it smells like outside
'The usual, I'd 'ave thought.'
'Disinfectant, antiseptic wipes... you know,
hospital smells. Maybe the occasional waft of perfume from one
of those young nurses, or a visitor. I like that.'
'No, no, I mean outside. Way out... in the countryside,
'Fruity, I should imagine. Cow pats and muck
'Oh, very funny. It's autumn, isn't it?'
'Er, yeah, I guess it must be. I've been in
'ere a while now, but that'd be about right.'
'Ah, autumn. The smell of bonfires as the gardens
get tidied up, soft musty dampness of leaves on the ground, the
last few flowers giving it their all in the early evening. A crispness
in the air, as winter approaches.'
'You're quite the poet, aren't you Vic?'
'Haha, just a little daydream, Ern. Just a
little flight of fancy.
THEY SPENT A WHILE WITH THEIR PRIVATE THOUGHTS
'You still there Vic?'
'Yeah, still 'ere.'
'Wonder when he'll turn up?'
'Yeah, Been a long time now. Seems like ages.
Hope everything's alright.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, these plans, this scheme of his. Don't
mean to be funny, but we're not gonna last forever, are we?'
'Now who's being morbid?'
'Nah, not that exactly, more... umm...'
'More what, then?'
'Well, I don't know. Don't want to miss the
boat, do we?'
'What? That same boat, do you mean?'
'Haha, nice one Vic. Yeah, that same boat.
Do you think we'll meet up when we're... whatever. When the Doc's
got our brains sloshing around.'
'On who goes first.'
'No really, if you think about it.'
'Thinking about it is all I can do.'
'Yeah, but what's the likelihood that we'll
both go at the same time, or day, or week, or month? Eh?'
'Exactly, and nor 'ave they, I shouldn't think.'
'Well, if I'm gonna be a brain floating around
in a fishbowl and you're still alive, then we won't meet up. How
would we talk to each other anyway, even if we were both just
down to our brains. Even if we were bobbing about right next to
'That's a bit beyond me, mate. All a bit philosophical,
kind of thing.'
'Yeah, well I guess he knows what he's doing.'
'Yeah. He'll be along in a while.'
'Yeah, he'll turn up soon enough.'
IT'S THE NEXT DAY. THEY'VE SPENT ALL NIGHT
TALKING ABOUT THEIR LIVES.
'Still no sign then?'
'Not yet. Maybe you were right.'
'How do you mean?'
'Perhaps he doesn't work weekends.'
'Is it still the weekend?'
'Hard to tell. It's always night in 'ere.'
'Not even a digital clock display.'
'You'd 'ave thought they could run to that.'
'You would really. Just a little LCD job.'
'It'd give us a drop of light. Something to
focus on, like.'
'Maybe they can't?'
'I dunno. Maybe it's part of the process. Maybe
we've got to be in total darkness, or else the operation, or whatever
you wanna call it, wouldn't work. Maybe it's just against the
'Ah well, such is life.'
'I just wanted to say...'
'...I just wanted to say, that I've really
enjoyed your company.'
'Well that's very kind of you, Vic. Likewise,
I must say.'
'I think we're what could be considered as
good friends, after this time together.'
'Definitely mates Vic, definitely. I'm glad
to 'ave made yer acquaintance.'
'Shame we can't go down the pub, really.'
'I'd like to buy you a pint.'
'Spend an evening chatting like we 'ave been,
but watching the regulars come and go.'
'Yeah, Make it a regular thing if you like.
Every second Tuesday, sorta caper.'
'Yeah, why not.'
'I'd really like to shake you by the hand.'
'Give you a hug and a slap on the back.'
'Bit too continental, eh?'
'Haha, maybe, maybe not.'
'I feel happy now.'
'What shall we do now, do you think?'
'Wait for the Doc, I guess.'
'Yeah, nothing else to do. I reckon you must
know me pretty well, old friend.'
'Well enough. And you must know me too.'
'Can't be much of our lives we haven't discussed.'
'Covered the vast majority, I reckon.'
'That we can still remember, that is.'
'Photo's would've helped.'
'They would at that.'
'Do you feel tired at all?'
'No. Do you?'
'Not at all. Funny really, seems like we've
been awake for days. All those memories, all that ground we've
'Should be ready for forty winks at least.'
'Wonder if it's day or night?'
'It's all the same to me.'
'And me. There was a time when my body would
know the difference, all by itself.'
'Not now though.'
'No. Not now.'
THEY ARE BOTH AWARE OF A STRANGE SENSATION.
'What was that Ernie?'
'I've no idea Vic.'
'Did you see anything?'
'Not as such. Did you?'
'Did you feel it then?'
'Not in so many words, no.'
'Nor did I.'
'There was something though, wasn't there?'
'Could it be him?'
'The Doc, you mean?'
'Yeah, the Doc. Maybe he's come at last. Maybe
we're both blind, for some reason?'
'And numb, and deaf to anything except us talking
to each other.'
'Something's working though or else we wouldn't
have noticed that... thing... occurrence.'
'I'm not so sure that I still want to go through
with this fishbowl lark, Vic.'
'Well, present company accepted, I'm not too
keen on my current state and it can't get any better with this
cutting edge experiment... or can it?'
'We don't want to burn our boats at this stage
though, do we?'
'Haha, that same old boat that we're both in,
'Haha, that's the one.'
'Did you feel that?'
'More and more.'
'Like... movement without moving.'
'Sound without sound.'
'Flashes and sparks without light.'
'Metallic tastes without flavour.'
'Do you think it's him -'
Dr. Pozzy had spent ten years exploring his
interest in telepathy. What had started out as innocent curiosity
had rapidly grown into an obsession; such was his preoccupation
with the subject, that it had almost cost him his marriage and
many of his professional colleagues had become concerned for his
sanity. Despite this, he remained convinced that telepathy was
worthy of genuine scientific investigation.
He had come to realise that thought processes
were more than simple electrochemical interactions, that unique
energy signatures were attributable to each thought and that they,
in turn, were associated with the generation of outward electronic
impulses, given form by the magnetic field encompassing the individual.
Research literature was full of examples and it was the phenomenon
of global telepathy that he had recently been concentrating on.
He had read of hundreds of cases of people - usually related through
birth or marriage, or a close friendship - where an apparently
telepathic event had occurred at a time of tragedy, or great emotion.
The transfer of thoughts or feelings was usually immediate, as
was evidenced by the huge number of people interviewed. The receiving
subject would often feel compelled to pick up the telephone and
converse with a friend, or loved one. The usually unwitting sender
would be surprised and the call would be met with a reaction such
as, 'I was just thinking about you.' More oft than not, the two
involved would be considerable distances apart, sometimes on opposite
sides of the world. In such cases the thought impulse had enormous
distances to travel, and yet it appeared to do so instantly. This
meant that the 'thought impulse/energy signature' must be travelling
at the speed of light, and must, therefore, obey certain laws
of particle physics. He had conjectured that the impulse was transmitted
through, by, or on the magnetic field which surrounds the Earth,
and this had led him to embark on a series of experiments.
He predicted that at the moment of death, and
therefore a potential instance of extreme emotion, that the last
thoughts of the deceased would exist in their own right; albeit
for a fraction of a second. He had developed a theoretical technique
which he hoped would enable him to capture and hold such a thought
impulse, by suspending it in time.
One of the few people to take him seriously
was an old acquaintance called Professor Humberton. The Professor
had an extraordinary understanding of the laws of Quantum mechanics
and had conjectured that they could exploit the theoretical wave-particle
duality properties of thought impulses. Their working hypothesis
had resulted in the construction of a new piece of medical equipment,
a Terminal Signature Retrieval Unit, which they christened the
Dr. Pozzy's faithful old spaniel had fallen
ill and had to be put down. With the vet's permission they had
assembled their equipment and hooked up the dying animal to an
electroencephalograph, in order to monitor brain activity. At
the point that brain function appeared to terminate, they captured
the last impulse. The next step was to travel to the nearby synchrocyclotron,
transporting the suspended impulse within the Thought Catcher,
hoping that the battery pack would power it long enough for them
to reach the particle accelerator and release it.
Dr. Pozzy had managed to secure an open arrangement
with the scientists overseeing the newly upgraded Bevatron at
the Meridian Quantum Research Laboratory. If they were about to
run an experiment at the time of a call from him, then they would
delay for a maximum of one hour. They had arrived with twenty
minutes to spare and set up the Thought Catcher, such that it
could release the thought impulse at the exact same time that
the Meridian team conducted their own experiment; effectively
getting a free piggy-back ride. It was over in seconds, and the
subatomic scintillation plates at the points of entry and exit
showed no discernible change in the pattern signature of the thought
wave (when superimposed on the pattern of a previous control experiment).
He hadn't known what to expect, although he had thought that there
might be some subtle change in the final signature, as the particle
acceleration would theoretically slow down time from the impulse's
perspective. It seemed as if they had captured little more than
a snapshot, but it was only the first attempt.
Dr. Pozzy had been on a recruitment drive for
a human subject and had concentrated his efforts on the terminal
wards of the hospital in which he worked. Despite a certain amount
of skepticism and concerns about ethical issues, he had been successful
in attaining the permission of a handful of patients. He had been
vague about the precise nature of the research, but had likened
the impulse to a cross between a mayfly and a short-lived goldfish.
He wasn't sure if the patients understood what he meant, but they
had given their consent.
The call came in at 5am and he rushed through
the wards with the equipment. The subject was a middle aged man
who had been dying from heart disease and the output from the
monitoring equipment strongly suggested that he was about to expire.
Together with his colleague they captured what they thought to
be the last impulse. Minutes afterwards his pager went off. There
was another potential subject! They raced down the corridor and
into another isolated room where another man was slipping away.
Things were complicated by the iron lung in which he rested, but
they managed to slide the Thought Catcher past it and into position
around his cranium. Timing the process with the EEG output they
successfully obtained another terminal impulse. Following a quick
call to the Meridain team leader they raced off, through the Blackwall
tunnel, to the Bevatron.
The next experiment wasn't due to take place
until lunchtime, but fortunately it was agreed that the Thought
Catcher could be plugged into the laboratory's power grid, and
they spent the time checking and rechecking the release mechanism
and the scintillation plates.
Dr. Pozzy gazed at the plates in amazement,
surrounded by the entire research group; who had abandoned their
own analyses when they'd heard about his results. The entry and
exit plates showed considerable alteration in both of the impulse
signatures, but there was more to it than that alone. Superimposed
on each one were characteristics of the other! This meant that
they had partially combined during their passage around the particle
accelerator, and even more extraordinary, it appeared as if they
had actually interacted. The results were far more complex than
could have been achieved by basic sub-atomic rearrangement, it
was as if - could it be? Was it really possible that the last
thoughts of the two men had actually communicated?
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