Friday, March 11, 2011

The String Mines - Excerpt From MacSchrödinger's Cat

"Ah-choo!"
Albert looked up to find himself in the presence of a large rotund man, who seemed to take up more presence than was socially acceptable.
"What are you doing muckling around with Time, in weather like this," the man said, in a rotund Irish accent.
For an instant, Albert thought this made sense, then realized it didn't and in a glaring way.
"Sorry, did you say Time just then, it sounded like you said muckling around with Time?"
"Ay, that I did indeed, muckling is what I said and muckling is what you've doing," returned the Irish gentleman.
"Ah-choo," sneezed Albert.
"Bless you," said the Irishman genially, "You'd had better come with me lad, I not seen anybody get rained on as much as you, since the great flood of Dublin in 62'. To be sure, and that was the year we were fishing Englishmen out of the Liffey." He gave Albert a quizzical look. "You're not an Englishman yourself, are ya?"
"No," Albert replied politely," I'm an alien."
"Laddy, where I come from, that amounts to the same thing."
He helped Albert up from the canal steps by picking him up by the scruff of the neck with one hand and carrying him bodily to the bridge above the canal. Thereupon, giving Albert an umbrella, before motioning him to follow as he walked off.
Albert stared for a moment at the retreating figure disappearing in the encroaching darkness, gave a critical glance at his only other option and ran after him: having realized his only other option; was to end up as a very wet spot-with a umbrella-in the rising waters of the canal.
They walked through the many winding alleyways of the ancient city, twisting in and out of the centuries old buildings for several blocks, the tall villas seeming to crowd out the falling sky: so close together were the buildings to each other above the canals and alleyways. Albert found the stranger playing a perpetual game of 'I can jump puddles' with the endless pools of rainwater; Albert thought it extraordinary that anybody should do this sort of thing at all, let alone in public. Albert found it especially extraordinary; when what appeared to be a shallow puddle turned out to be a deep canal and the stranger disappeared into six foot of water: leaving the umbrella sticking above the water.
"Damn!" came a voice from beneath the umbrella," What a place for a pothole," then the stranger hauled himself and they continued on their way.
Eventually, they came to a large dark building that suggested Gothic with Edwardian overtones covered with phantasmagorical carved stonework, gargoyles and griffins shrieking out eerie silent warnings against intruders and travelling salesmen. Next to the door, a huge dog tied by a chain was painted on the wall and over it was written in large capital letters 'Beware of the dog.'
The stranger took from his pocket a long chain, upon which hung keys of every shape and description imaginable, he choose from these a tiny one next to a fob-watch and used it to unlock a pocket on his waistcoat. From which he took a diners card and slipped it into an electronic lock in the door. The door immediately opened inwards to the sound of Irish bagpipes. They went inside and after they had removed their Mackintoshes, the Irishman turned to Albert and said,
"Come in laddy, I'll get you some tea," then caught sight of Albert's board-shorts." My god!" he exclaimed staring at the offending articles. "You're naked!"
"Is that bad?" asked Albert fearing he had trespassed some ancient religious custom and would now have his toes cut off in a fit of religious intolerance.
"No, no, just strange," Hamilton replied, looking at Albert as if he was a refugee from a war torn demilitarised zone like the Lebanon or Disney Land.
He went inside: Albert following with some trepidation.
Surprisingly, inside was an enormous empty white space, which was lit not by light but rather darkness visible. The stranger walked over to a pale blue-white table and lit the pale-blue gas stove for the pale blue-white kettle. Albert looked around and saw everything had the same soft pale blue-white. Which made it incredibly difficult to distinguish objects and their environment. In contrast to which, Albert and the stranger stood out in marked relief in their black wet clothes and sickly white skin. They sat down or rather fell into a comfy pale blue white sofa, which somehow stumbled into existence as they walked from the kitchen space into the living space.
Albert seeing how much it resembled the interior of his own space-time machine posed this question to the Irishman.
"Time machine? No laddy, it's my daughter and her bloody interior decorator friends. Cost a fortune to do up and what do we get out of it, a non-stop fog without the rain, can't see a bloody thing. Just like her Mother Alice, I say, just like her Mother."
Then went silent for a minute, till the whistle boiled and he walked back to the kitchen to make the tea and scones.
Albert tried to take some bearings on the room but found this impossible as there didn't seem to be any edges to the place, only a continuous white deafening silence punctuated by the occasional hint of furniture and what appeared to be indoor pot plants which had been soaked in white paint and left to bleach in the white sands of Mercury for a year.
The Irishman clattered around in the kitchen, swearing fluently to himself in Gaelic as he did so, "Pogue Mahone!" followed by, "I can't see the kettle for the kitchen," and "Damn, I've spilled the milk." He returned after this carrying a tea tray with scones and tea set in the ubiquitous white. He placed these down on the coffee table and asked if Albert took milk or sugar. Albert declined the milk, as he wanted to be able to see what he was drinking.
The large Irishman eased himself down opposite Albert the water still dripping off him onto the carpet, then introduced himself, "My name Hugh Hamilton, I am a Merchant of Time."
He paused-with a steady stare at Albert-for effect. This turned out to be very effective as Albert spluttered and spilled his tea onto the carpet and settee. Both of them noticed this with some satisfaction that this had rendered part of the carpet visible, with a large brown stain.
"Don't worry about it laddy, it comes out in the wash."
Albert, saw with some surprise, that as well as serving tea and scones that Hamilton had placed several packets of chewing gum on the tea tray and were in contrast to everything else in the house, wrapped in a nice nauseous green plastic that stood out just brilliantly on the coffee table. Hamilton caught Albert's eye.
"Have a stick," he said," you never know when they may come in useful."
"Err …," began Albert.
"Go on Laddy, I insist," said Hamilton encouragingly," gum is incredible stuff, you never know when you'll need it."
Albert took the gum hesitantly and then with a shrug of his shoulders slipped it into one of his pockets. After this Albert felt strangely more at ease with his surroundings and lent back in his chair.
"What do you mean, you're a Merchant of Time? You sell clocks I suppose," asked Albert with some circumspection, flicking a raisin to one side while Hugh's head was down.
"No not at all. I buy and sell Time in return for Energy. Sorry I didn't catch your name, laddy?" said Hugh.
"Albert - sorry what? ... how on earth, can you buy and sell time and energy. I mean ...well mean..." then gave up when he realized he didn't know what he meant.
Hugh smiled both at Albert's remark and the fact that as he was returning his saucer to the table he let it slip and crack on the table's edge. Inside was a thin layer of black glazing that stood out quite nicely.
"Well, you see I took advantage of one of the laws of nature. There's this thing called Heisenberg's Indeterminacy Principle which goes like," He paused for a second noticing Albert's gawking jaw hanging open like Queen Victoria's after she found out about superlite prophylactics, then Hamilton continued on, "which goes like this. Time and Energy are sort of like money and goods, their interchangeable, they're what the different parts of the universe like people, golf balls and black holes use to move about with, they're really the same thing only different, sort of."
He frowned, obviously not too sure about that part himself.
"Now you can borrow Time from the universe, which is, if you like a great celestial brokers house, but the trouble is you have to pay back the appropriate amount of Energy and vice versa."
Albert, who was long past the capacity to comprehend, smiled nodding.
"So, that's where I come in, if somebody wants to borrow some Time, for a time, then I lend them some in exchange for some work. Simple really, or not simple depending on how little you think about."
"I see," said Albert though not at all, simply wishing to be polite." But how do you catch Time and make it do what you want? It all seems a bit odd really."
"Yes, most people seem to think that. In fact I used to wonder about it myself, it's as if the universe is a bit odd on weekends, vacations and Cup Day then downright peculiar for the rest of the year, but don't worry about it, it all comes out in the equations. Something to do with taking the fourth root of minus one and going off at forty five degrees into the space time continuum."
"Oh,” said Albert wondering if he should start talking about Mexican food, since Hamilton was behaving in a way strangely similar to his professors, "I see."
"You do!" Hamilton said in genuine surprise," funny I've never quite figured it out. But that's what the boys in the back room say and since it works, who am I to complain." Hamilton said, as he scuffed some mud onto the carpet. Then caught Albert's eye and they both smiled the shibboleth of conspiracy.
Albert froze, as an idea was thrown up out of the unknown onto the flotsam of his mind like a rock, and hit him square between the eyes.
"You mean you can travel through Time and Space," he said excitedly.
"Well of course laddy, why do you think I brought you here?" Hamilton replied. "You've been muckling around in Time haven't you?" cocking an eyebrow at Albert.
"Yes, I suppose I have, if I knew what muckling was suppose to mean?" he grinned.
"Muckling, why muckling is a grand word, I use it whenever I don't know what I'm talking about. However I do know, because the boys in the back room told me, that you're not quite what you seem to be and their not even sure what that is, you ken they picked you up on the sedation which is meant to stand for String Detection And Timing Of Neutral current, but you'd best not ask what that means because it always sends me to sleep when I try to read the papers on it, you ken?"
"Not in the least, "said Albert in complete befuddlement," it's like reading Arabic backwards."
"Laddy" Hamilton grinned," you're supposed to read Arabic backwards. It's written that way: right to left. But aye, I suppose it's all a bit picturesque when you think about it. "
"Yes," Albert said slowly, "it's all a bit picturesque."
Albert had even less of an idea what 'picturesque' was suppose to mean.
"Anyways now, getting back to you muckling around in time. I take it you're trapped here on this evolutionary forsaken planet and just possibly you need a ride back to wherever you came from." Hamilton said with a low intensity and leant forward in his seat to emphasize the point.
"Yes, I guess I do at that. Actually, I'm not even sure I'm on the right planet, come to think of it I'm not even sure I'm in the correct universe. What are you suggesting?" Albert queried cautiously.
"Well I'm a Merchant of Time and I would like to sell me some Time." His eyes glinted in the ever-present white of the room.
"Really, I mean can you really, can I travel around with this Time. You know jump to somewhere else in the universe," said Albert excitedly. "How much does it cost?"
"It doesn't cost any money at all. In fact money has no meaning when you're dealing with time. What I want is raw energy!" Hamilton smiled maniacally.
"Energy! What do you mean raw energy? I can't just give you energy. Don't I have to do work or something for you to get energy. There isn't such a thing as raw energy. It's not something anybody had even seen or touched. It's like light, you can see what it does and where it goes but the instant you try and catch some it disappears, doesn't it?"
"Yes laddy," whispered Hamilton and as he leant forward on the edge of his seat," but everything has energy, it's energy that makes things, don't you ken."
"You want me to give you something?" returned a puzzled Albert.
"Ay."
"Anything in particular?"
"Ay."
"Such as?"
Hamilton paused dramatically then spoke.
"A pound of flesh," the pound sounding more like poooondd.
"What!"
"A pound of flesh."
"You're joking surely?"
"Ah…Sort of."
"Sort of, what do mean sort of. Are you saying you sort of want to hack me into little bits."
"Yes and no." He paused in a moment of introspection. "You see as a child I was forever frustrated as a Shakespearian actor by my parents who wanted me to be a surgeon and every now and then it just erupts out of me, you ken."
"Err… yes I suppose so. Well, what do you want then?" insisted Albert relieved at not being somebody's alternative to haggis and potato.
"If you work for me for a month, I'll give you Time off from the universe."
"What, that’s all?" asked Albert wide-eyed. "What do I have to do then?"
For a moment Hamilton tensed.
"You have to go down the String Mines!"
"The what?"
"The String mines."
"You mine strings!" said Albert in amazement. "Is this another Shakespearian play."
"No, no you don't understand, these are no ordinary strings, laddy, these are Super Strings," His voice low and with intensity.
Albert laughed. There was obviously something quite out of the ordinary with Hamilton's mind, like reality.
"What, you mean like 'Superman', 'Batman' and 'The Thing That Ate New York’?"
"No, No laddy," flustered Hamilton," They're sort of like…their very unusual you ken. You'll understand when you actually see them or don't see them, whatever the case may be. Well, do you want the job?"
"Job! It's a job you say, what mining strings," Albert thought for a moment then rapidly said," yes of course. If it will get me back home, then certainly!" nodding his head so rapidly he almost gave himself whiplash.
"Good then, you can start tomorrow," Hamilton said slapping his knees," I'll take you down the string pit myself and introduce you to the foreman, Herr Planck."
At that moment, there walked into the room a particularly pretty girl of about nineteen with long black hair; that offset very well the by now blindingly white room, that was giving Albert a blinding headache.
Hamilton looked up at her entrance and smiled before introducing her to Albert.
"This is my daughter Alice and sorry what was you're name again?"
"Albert, I'm from another universe."
"Good, you should get along very well with Alice's friends then," said Hamilton, as in behind Alice came what must have been the weirdest collection of people and quite possibly not-people that Albert had ever seen. What made them so extraordinary was principally the clothes they wore or didn't wear for that matter or lack of matter.
"Hello," said Alice who was a stunning beauty with a pointy nose that seemed to glow in the ever-present white. "These are my friends Kristiansand, Bergen, Molde, Tonsberg, Oslo, Tromso and Smegma."
For some reason know only to the group, all of them with the exception of Alice and Smegma were tall, named after Norwegian cites, dressed in black clothes from head to foot and constantly giving soliloquises from Hamlet. Smegma it seemed was a bit odd and nobody liked to talk to unless he forced them to, which turned out to be most of the time.
"Hi there guy," said Smegma, "What cha' doing?"
The entire group with the exception of Smegma seemed to moan and strike postures of sublime resignation.
"Oh hello," said Albert getting the hint from the behaviour of the rest of the group that Smegma was something to be avoided at all costs.
"You like the layout?" Smegma said, somehow contriving to insert an extra vowel in his question; and hence reinforcing Albert's view that Smegma didn't adopt the sort of behaviour that was commonly acceptable to all the higher life forms; like a common mode of speech and wearing clean underwear.
Hamilton interceded at this point; suddenly finding a reason to take out last weeks garbage, "Well, you must excuse me now," he said as he blundered his way through the discombobulating whiteness to one of the doors," I'll leave you in Alice's hands and I'll see you tomorrow down the mine."
Then walked head first into a wall that should have been a door and was forced to feel around with his hands to find the exit, which he promptly fell through.
Alice and her friends turned slowly and looked at Albert. A thin veneer of complete dislike filtered across the empty whiteness and enveloped Albert like a thick and gooey Irish stew.
"I suppose you need some new clothes," Alice said, looking him up and down.
"Yes, I suppose I do," replied Albert as friendly as he could.
Alice gave a significant look to her entourage, as if Albert was a harlot amongst a sect of modern day Vestal Punk Virgins. Albert found this surprising, as up till then he had always looked upon himself as being a male and quite proud of it, thank you. He wondered if they might dress him up as a transvestite.
Alice turned back to him and said causally.
"I hope you like black."
"It goes with my eyes," returned Albert, with his piercing blue eyes.
At which point she led them out of the day of the room into the night of the hall.
Albert straight away found himself tripping up incessantly in the dim murky hallway, that seemed to be deliberately furnished with every possible object and objet ‘art that could possibly put a dent in his shins.
"Ow!" he cried as a crash of pottery resounded along the hall, "What was that?"
"A twelfth century Ping vase. I think they’re priceless," said Alice somewhere ahead of him in the dark, "Daddy collects them."
"Isn't there a light switch of something? I'm not sure I can afford to go on walking."
"No sorry," piped Oslo," you see if we did that it would spoil the complete feeling of overwhelming darkness and isolation which in juxtaposition to the omnipresent light of the living room truly objectifies the tautological difference between good and evil."
"No, I don't see that's the whole problem," snapped back Albert, "How about a walking stick for the blind or is that too sane for you."
"One must try to break away from such plebeian concerns and come to grips with the true echt of reality, "said Oslo," to release oneself … Shiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" and never finished the sentence; having groined himself on a medieval grommet for castrated medieval monks.
Albert applauded silently.
Suddenly a door opened before them and light rushed out to greet them in the form of a teapot which smacked into the head of Oslo: knocking him out cold.
In the doorway, silhouetted by a blaze of storm tossed hair, stood a withered old hag, with a large head and extraordinary temper.
"Got im!" she shrieked, cavorting in the doorway, "Whee! I never did like Oslo!"
She then looked over the new arrival with a predatory expression that reminded Albert of sharks in a feeding frenzy.
"Mother, how could you," screamed Alice," why do you always have to pick on Oslo but never Tonsberg or Bergen? What is it you have against Oslo?"
Tonsberg and Bergen glanced around for ways of defecting to Russia.
"Cause his so dammed prissy that's why!" her mother screamed back." Who's he? Why hasn't he got any clothes on?" indicating Albert, vaguely waving another teapot in Albert's direction.
"His going to work for daddy down the mine. His name is Albert and his from another universe."
"So was Oslo."
"Hello," said Albert in a timid voice hoping to avert a fate similar to Oslo.
Alice's mother fixed Albert with a glittering eye.
"My name is Alice," she said slowly and with great deliberation, "do you like chess?"
Albert pondered this for a moment before replying with what he hoped was the most diplomatic response.
"It's very mathematical."
Alice and her Scandinavian retinue shuddered.
"Do you like mathematics?" furthered Alice in a tone not unlike a piano wire as it reaches its breaking strength.
Again Albert pursued in his mind the real meaning of the query and again he prompted a middling reply.
"It's very useful."
"Useful? Useful for what?"
"Oh' I don't, know counting sheep when you go to sleep at night or paying bills," he attempted.
"That isn't mathematics you idiot!" snapped back Alice, "that's arithmetic. Mathematics is ideas about numbers and formal relationships like curves in spaces or probability. Counting sheep, baa!"
Even so, everybody relaxed and followed Alice into the room with Albert trailing in behind them, completely mystified by the whole encounter, while Oslo was left outside to fend for himself.
Inside the room, it was as if the whole universe had suddenly reached the peak of its menstrual cycle.
There was a cluttering display of memorabilia, bric-a-brac, tea pots, playing cards and broken mirrors which lay strewn in every direction and possible position about the room like idolatrous pornographic holiday souvenirs. As Albert walked to the centre of the room, he found a large square table set with the remains of a decaying array of mouldy cakes and broken crockery about which in the chairs sat human size chess pieces with idiotic grins painted appropriately where their visages should have been, beaming insanely off into space as if the cinnamon cake was spiked with L.S.D. Dozens of rats scuttled around the table picking up scraps of left over food tasting them, before violently vomiting it back up again and squeaking madly, running around in circles collapsing on their backs, curling up their tails and dying of a drug overdose, having found the cinnamon cake really was spiked with L.S.D..
"Interesting decor," chanced Albert, having only once before seen a disaster like it in the wake of a hurricane.
"You like it?" asked Alice in mild surprise.
"It's genuine Entropy," quickly followed Alice.
"Really, genuine Entropy, you don't say," he said having not the faintest idea what she was talking about.
"Specially imported from Chaos in Greece, you know," Alice continued on merrily, having got over any initial dislike or murderous intentions she might have originally harboured towards Albert.
Everybody seemed to relax and Albert took this to mean he was out of the matriarchal demilitarised zone. Till Alice decided to tell him her life story. She achieved this by grabbing him by the throat, forcing him onto the sofa and pinning him down to it with her knee.
"Are you sure you know nothing about Symbolic Logic?!" she yelled at him.
"Yes! Absolutely nothing - I failed kindergarten because of it. I'm allergic to symbols, they make me break out in rashes, please don't kill me!" spluttered Albert as he begged and lied convincingly.
"Very well," said Alice, as she removed her knee from his chest and replaced it with her buttocks; so that he was trapped beneath her on the sofa.
Albert looked around the room and found to his surprise that all the Hamlet clones had settled themselves quite comfortably into the remaining furniture and had begun discussing such secular concepts as the meaning of existence and whether `tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous geriatrics.` Seemingly oblivious to the predicament that Albert was now undergoing: Albert had a suspicion that this was a normal behaviour for them.
It also occurred to him, before Alice had a chance to start again, that people have a tendency-when confronted with the indelicate issue of their seniors-to take an inordinate interest in such prosaic subjects as classical architecture and football averages. He wondered for a second if it was just possible that all these activities that people concern themselves with on the weekend, were just a way of escaping from the horror of their relations: then Alice poked him in the eye and began to tell him her life story.
"My name is Alice Pleasance Liddell, does that mean anything to you?" she cocked a beady eye at him.
Albert tried thought for a moment but found thinking difficult with Alice's behind constricting his breathing.
"No," he finally managed.
"Good, have you ever heard of Lewis Carroll?"
"Why, yes of course, he wrote 'Alice In Wonderland', everybody knows ... no that's not possible, you can't be ... that was over a hundred years ago."
"That's what you think, anabolic steroids can do wonders you know," she grabbed him by the ear and twisted it," I really am the Alice In Wonderland."
"That's extraordinary," he said in genuine amazement and just a twinge of pain. "You must be very proud to have had a book written about you, especially one as famous as 'Alice In Wonderland'."
"Proud! Proud!" she shrieked grabbing Albert by both his ears and shaking his head.
"Do you know what it's like to go through life with that sort of stigmata attached to you. Ever where you go, everything you try to do, you find people pointing you out saying "There's Alice, you know 'Alice in Wonderland'" and of course they come over and start asking me question about symbolic logic or crack jokes about mad hatters tea parties, do you know I hate tea! I absolutely despise the stuff!
"And if I ever tried to pick up a guy, the first thing he would say to me is -What was Lewis like in bed?-, that bastard! He used to photograph me in the nude you know, in the nude and I was only eight years old! How dare he!"
"Surely not, I mean, that's not possible!” Exclaimed Albert.
"That shows you just how good the Victorian propaganda machine was and I was only eight for god's sake! You know what he once wrote, go on I dare you, guess what he wrote!" smacking his face.
"I …"
"He wrote 'I am fond of children -except little boys-' meaning girls of course! There, now do you see what that raving, low-life, pedophiliac, gonorrheaic, impotent scumbag did to me? What right had he to stuff up my life with his stupid books, all I ever wanted to do, was to get laid!"
"Ah," said Albert, who like the sun rising had no alternative, on nothing new.
"You know, for years I really thought I could walk through mirrors; you can't believe the amount of plastic surgery my parents had to fork up for. And logic, bloody logic, don't talk to me about tautologies. I had `em up to here," indicating her temple.
"I hate chess, I hate rabbits, I hate eggs, I hate mirrors. If fact after that bastard finished with me, there isn't a bloody thing that I don't hate!"
At this, she bounced up off Albert and tore round the room picking up things like mirrors and tea pots and smashing them to the ground; then jumping up and down on top of them to give them that final touch of obliteration.
As she was doing this, Alice crept over to Albert and motioned him to follow her out the door, which he did so with the others, with a speed that would have surprised a cheetah being chased by bush fire. As the door was closed they heard her final parting Carrollian curse:
"Bloody Snarks!"
They stumbled away in the dark of the hallway.
They soon made their way down the hall, down some long and winding stairs and into another room.
"How did she ever marry your father?" asked Albert as they reached the bottom of the flight and into a new room.
"It's a long story," replied Alice." But to cut it short, he had the money, she the brains and she needed him to build a time machine, which she had invented."
"She invented a time machine! But what would she do with a time machine, for heavens sake?"
"She always wanted to go back and chop off Carroll's head," said Alice sadly. "But every time she travelled back, she got caught in a temporal paradox and found Time wouldn't let her have -an effect without a cause- as Carroll himself put it. So she's trapped in our future. Which is probably why she gets a bit frustrated at times."
"Frustrated, frustrated, is that what you call it!?" shot back Albert.
"She needs to be institutionalised, she's a frustrated sociopathic psychopath with homicidal tendencies suffering from manic depression. She's a raving loony."
"She's also my mother." Alice said quietly.
"Ah…sorry…err," he stuttered." I didn't quite mean it that way."
"That's alright, most people seem to think the same way. She's really a nice person, deep down she has some nice attributes, it's just there a little too deep down for people to ever see them," Alice said biting her lip.
Inside the room, everybody scattered into groups of two or three and began discussing dialecticism of John Stuart Mill and the evolutionary advantages of being a red herring, all except for Smegma who was involved in a fascinating conversation with a pot plant, which managed to convince him that potatoes were a higher life form than humans.
"Don't they seem to mind your mother, I mean, she could have killed poor Oslo?" asked Albert.
"I suppose they do in their own way," replied Alice." Mother's a bit like hang gliding, once you're there there's nothing you can do about it so you might as well enjoy the scenery."
Albert suddenly felt he was caught up in one of those weirdly abstruse Ingmar Bergman movies; which analyse things like life and death, good and evil and how to confuse the living daylights out of its audience. He glanced around to see if there were any cameras present. He was relieved to find nothing more intrusive than a defunct Box Brownie with a sign on it saying - Bergman Was Blind! - signed Andy Warhol.
"Here, I'll get you some clothes," said Alice and walked Albert over to a walk-in wardrobe, which as Albert peered into it seemed to stretch for acres.
"It's enormous!" he exclaimed but what he found even more surprising was the clothes that it contained. They were all either black - completely black or completely white.
"Don't you think a little variety might be, well interesting?" he quizzed Alice.
"Not at all," suddenly boomed Tonsberg behind them. "Black and White like Day and Night. Makes perfect sense, when you don't think about it, that is."
Albert jumped, it was the first time any of the Hamlet clones had spoken to him directly: besides Smegma and Smegma didn't seem to count.
"But what's it supposed to mean?"
"It's the ultimate juxtaposition between mind and reality."
"Yes, but what's it supposed to mean?"
"It is the sublime dichotomy twixt being and nothingness."
"And what's that meant to signify?" Albert's voice starting to crack under the strain.
"Who cares, I'm a work of art," and walked back to the others to discuss the ramifications of post-Proustian data retrieval systems.
Alice who by this point had come back out of the closet with an assortment of clothes thrown over her arm, she held up a shirt for Albert to view.
It was so black; it gave Albert vertigo staring into it.
"It's very, err, dark "he managed, hoping not to offend Alice.
"Yes, isn't it," she said gaily." Here try it on, it goes well with the trousers."
Albert looked at the trousers and sure enough they were the same insidiously black inky murkiness as the shirt. Albert smiled and slipped them over his board shorts followed by the shirt and black shoes, when he had done so he felt as if he was wearing the night. Then realized that was how people were supposed to feel about the unknown, in the dark and without perception.
Albert sighed -life had not been kind to him- indeed life seemed to go out of its way to make his existence an absolute misery.

Excerpt From Macschrodinger's Cat - all rights reserved

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Coming of the Jabberwocky


Meanwhile, outside the fort the washing machine had completed its rinse cycle. Whereupon the machine began to rock from side to side as deep primeval groans sounded from within the device. Suddenly the door burst wide open, and the body of some strange creature erupted out of it backwards. It was covered in great black scales and had a long whipping tail that lashed from side to side, a pair of gigantic bat wings thrashed about to knock against the palm tree. The two long and spindly legs ended in savage sharp nails which raked the ground with uncontrollable vehemence, as its horrific arms with their even more horrific claws slashed at the washing machine which sat twisted and writhed upon the end of its long sinuous neck, having remained caught upon the head of the terrible Jabberwocky. 
Also, for reasons, which were best known to itself, it wore a natty little green vest with the words 'Teddy Loves Bunny' sewn into the lapel.
Suddenly the beast, after reaching its neck back as far as it could, jerked its head forward, throwing the washing machine up over the parapets of the fortress, to reveal the nightmarish head of the beast of darkness. Its eyes were milky white with flame and hideous like ping-pong balls dipped in molasses which swivelled grotesquely in their orbits above the huge parrot beak incisors of the teeth from which green slime dripped in two putrescent streams on either side of its gaping mouth. The creature lifted up its head upon the long sinuous neck to stare uffishly at the fortress, snickering and snickering its beak-like teeth as it did so.
The sentries after first catching sight of the washing machine sailing over the wall, and then this extraordinary creature detonate itself into existence immediately began immigrating to Iceland, leaving the fort to defend itself.
Inside, the washing machine screamed in like a dive bomber bounced across a roof onto the kings open air court before flattening the guard who was just about to turn Erwin into diced salami. Whereupon the machine promptly turned back into a post war radio with a sense of humour as Bing Crosby started up again.
With blinding speed Erwin rolled onto his feet, grabbing the dropped sword as he did so and with a short step crumped his fist, weighted with the sword, into the back of the head of the soldier about to skewer Werner. Erwin kept moving around the falling figure to bounce off the balls of his feet and throw his shoulder into the chest of the third guard and as they tumbled to the ground gave him a sharp chop to throat that floored him.
Erwin made straight for the king who was just on the edge of throwing a spear at Erwin's head. Erwin half crouched as he ran up the steps, jumping over the reclining Margret, jolting from foot to foot as he moved, twisting to one side as the spear blade whizzed through the air, scoring a thin red line along his back to smack into the washing machine, effectively turning it off. Erwin grunted in acknowledgement to the pain but kept moving to finally slam himself head first into the stomach of the king, knocking him back into the throne. Whereupon, the two of them toppled back over the chair, to lie in a sprawled mess behind the throne. Then grabbing the king by the ponytail at the back of his head, Erwin pulled back him onto the dais and poised the blade at the king’s throat, while the rest of the court ran screaming from the room, as a terrifying shriek pierced the air, heralding the arrival of the Jabberwocky.
The great leathery wings of the beast snapped and flapped as the Jabberwocky bounced ungainly to a halt upon the parapet. It paused for a moment, then lashed out with a claw to catch a soldier around the waist and dragging him screaming towards it, its green spittle splattered the man as the beast gave out an insane primeval shriek and buried its teeth in the man's chest.
Erwin dropped the king, raced down the steps to lift up Margret by an arm and a moment later pushed Werner towards the low wall of the court's terrace. Pulling the cube out of his pocket as he did so and bowling it over the edge.
The Jabberwocky dropped the soldier to the ground, its green putrescent slime mixing the violent red of the man's blood. It swung its head around for a second till seeing the retreating figures, raced forward on its two legs towards the three, using its wings for propulsion and its horrific clawed arms for crutches.
The three stood at the wall for a moment, then toppled over as Erwin grabbed them around the waists and pulled them over.
"Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!" they screamed, as the head of the Jabberwocky snaked over the parapet screeching behind them, sliding through the air behind them.
They fell into the time crystal lying on the ground into the nothingness beyond, but the head of the Jabberwocky still came after them, the long neck whipping in past the crystal arms, through the open door. The beast's foul breath polluting the air as it opened its jaws, screeching as it did so and just as it was about to crunch its way into Erwin's torso, the door snickered shut, neatly incising off the head of the Jabberwocky.

Excerpt From Macschrodinger's Cat - all rights reservered 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Biggles and the Weapons of Mass Destruction


“Biggles! Put down that cat!” Group Captain Wilkinson stormed into the officer’s mess with a looked that could curdle ennui.
“It may be a spy!” Biggles stared closely into the cat’s eyes as it struggled to escape. “I caught it listening to me!”
      “Put it down, I have a mission for you,” Wilkinson threw a briefcase on the table and sat down with a thump.
“Can I take the cat? Could be a double agent?”
“No,” snapped Wilkinson, “now sit down before I shoot you and the cat.”
The cat flew out the window the instant it was let go. “There see!” Biggles pointed. “Escaping custody proves it is guilty.”
“Shut up Biggles, this is important.”
“So, am I - I’m the famous Biggles!”
“Which is why I’m risking you and not someone I might miss.” Wilkinson slid a map across the desk and drew a circle around the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran on the Persian Gulf. “You are to be equipped with only a Yakovlev UT-2 monoplane and a Russian camera. We need you to fly over Iran and take photos and destroy the nuclear plant. Either way, the plant will be destroyed.”
Biggles looked quizzically at the ceiling.
“Bother,” he whistled, “but blow me down with a bunch of trifoliate gorse berries, but how am I supposed to destroy a nuclear plant with just a camera.”
“This is part of the plan, since the town of Bushehr has over 100,000 troops stationed around it, armed with Russian ground to air missiles, state of the art phase array radar and a terrain so rugged camels commit ritual suicide rather than traverse it. You will almost certainly fail.”
Biggles rolled his eyes and looked wistfully at the window the cat had left through.
“Still not following you, old strumpet.”
“You are to be equipped with a Russian Lubitel 166 Universal single reflex camera. In advent of your certain capture or death, the spy mission will be blamed on the Russians and almost certainly start a small war between our good friends the Russians and our not so good enemies the Iranians. In the ensuing fog of war we are allowing our extremely good friends the Israelis to fly in and bomb the crap out the place and the world will be saved.”
“Saved?”
“Saved by Biggles, I mean,” smirked the Group Captain.
“I’ll do it!” Biggles jumped up, “after all saving the world is what I do! Hang on, didn’t I do this two chapters ago?”
“Yes, which is why the Iranians will not expect us to try the same plot twice!”
The Yakovlev UT-2 turned out to be an open two-seater, cockpit trainer left over from the Great Patriotic War, with all the handling characteristics of an Abyssinian goat in a windstorm. Biggles had tied the cat into the passenger seat and decided to call it ‘Copilot Biggles’ after himself; rationalizing if you are going to call a cat something - Biggles is as good a name as any.
“Pilot Biggles to Copilot Biggles, do you read copilot?” Biggles said into the mouthpiece once they had reached 10,000 feet.
“Meow!” the cat shrieked in terror as it struggled to free itself from the complex of webbing Biggles had used to tie it in.
“Meow it is, old bean,” Biggles smoked a pipe and flew the airplane with his feet. He wasn’t the famous Biggles for nothing. “What’s our E.T.A.?”
“Meooow!”
“That soon, still time enough for a spot of tea, do you want Irish Breakfast or Earl Grey? I expect you’ll want milk.”
The cup of tea blew straight out of the cup and covered the moggy in Irish Breakfast. The sound of the aircraft, the rush of the wind, and the presence of captain James Bigglesworth was too much for it and it relieved itself at every opportunity. The ground crew was going to have a fit when they saw the cockpit.
They soon flew into a sandstorm that not only filled the intake valves, it also covered the instruments and swamped the cockpit with sand up to the ankles. Under any other pilot, the plane would have gone down faster than an archdeacon on the under-fifteen rugby team, but Biggles managed to achieve the impossible by redirecting the exhaust pipe to the front of the intake and blew all the sand out - quicker than the above mentioned archdeacon discovering the Parents and Friends Association was due in the Gym in five minutes.
Meanwhile the cat had wriggled itself free and was climbing out on the wing, to get as far away as possible from the madman in the cockpit. Biggles was having none of this, put the plane on autopilot, an instrument the plane didn’t possess and joined the cat on the wing for a spot of catch-the-frenzied-moggy, before finally dragging it back to the cockpit and tying it back in again. Just in time to stop the plane nose-diving into the side of a mountain.
Three minutes later the Ack-Ack over Bushehr opened up with all the fury of Madeline College all girls hockey team, as 100,000 Iranian troops let fire with enough ground to air missiles to bring down a category nine hurricane.
“I say Copilot Biggles!” Biggles whistled through his moustache, “the blighters are expecting us.” As he ducked and weaved through the maelstrom of gyrating missiles with all the aplomb of Bradman discovering a dozen Bengal tigers hurtling down the pitch.
That Biggles was able to avoid be hit while flying a fifty year old plane, says as much about the inadequate training the Iranians gave their troops as it did about how amazing was the famous Biggles. It couldn’t last long, and it didn’t, as the plane suddenly gave up the ghost and pointed directly to the ground; a move the Iranian guards were not expecting as the plane came screaming towards them, accompanied by the caterwauling of both Biggles and his co-pilot. At the last moment, Biggles pulled a 90 degree turn out of the exhaust pipe and landed on the roof of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant.
It was the sort of move that only a Biggles could have achieved.
Instantly the anti-aircraft fire ceased as dozens of senior Iranian commanders stared anxiously at a plane perilously sitting on the Iranian nuclear power plant.
Biggles pulled the goggles onto his leather helmet and looked about to size up the situation. He was sitting on a giant concrete egg, the primary reactor of the power station and beneath him two megawatt thermonuclear reactors were slumbering. In every direction 100,000 Iranian soldiers were equipped with their Khaybar KH2002 assault rifles, or Saegheh 40 mm anti-personnel rockets, or most importantly Mersad Surface-to-air missiles and all were pointing them back at him. He also noticed that any move on his part meant the plane creaked ominously.
It was at this point the cat meowed.
“No Copilot Biggles!” Biggles yelled, “Now is not the time for kitty-litter!”
A bullhorn came sounding up the side of the dome.
“Who is that? Is this war?” the Iranian general yelled.
“I’m pilot Biggles and this is copilot Biggles.”
“Wait - which Biggles is the Biggles?”
“Both Biggles is the Biggles!”
“There is only one Biggles!”
“That’s me!” yelled Biggles getting irate.
“Then who is the other Biggles?”
“The copilot!”
A subdued whispering could be heard over the loudspeaker, until after some shoving and fierce punching, another general grabbed the handset. “Who is flying the plane?”
“I am! The famous Biggles!”
“And who’s the copilot?”
“The not so famous Biggles, well not yet, but after today who knows.”
“Is this an invasion?”
“Is this Iran?”
“Yes.”
Biggles peeked over the side of the plane. “Then no not yet, but if you want to, you can surrender.”
Again there was fierce muttering from behind the bullhorn, followed by a squawk as someone pushed the wrong button.
“We are holding you hostage, until the West surrenders.”
“Righty-ho!”
Biggles stared furiously at the control avionics. “Fine pickle we’re in here Co-pilot Biggles.” He pursed his lips. “Speaking of food, time for a spot of tiffin. Do you have the marmalade?”
The cat continued rolling its eyes in fear and bit at the harness. Biggles searched around the cockpit for anything that resembled a tin of marmalade, then on reflection remembered he had no muffins to consume it with. He leaned over the side of the plane and yelled once more at his captors.
“I didn’t bring the muffins, have you got any?” he whistled through his moustache.
Once more there was a jostling around the tannoy and each general fought for supremacy over the only functional bit of kit in the Iranian army.
“If you surrender, we have a lot for muffins down here, and cucumber sandwiches as well.”
“Toasted or with crusts?” Biggles grinned.
“Both!”
“Ha! You’ll need to get up early than that to fool the famous Biggles. Cucumber sandwiches are neither toasted nor crusted. Show me your muffins!”
This oddly translated into Iranian as an inexcusable insult and one of the generals would have ordered the Bofors 40mm antiaircraft guns to open fire on Biggles on the nuclear reactor if the other generals had not wrestled him to the ground.
It was a classic Biggles Impossible Situation, the sort of unattainable adventure that only a Biggles could get himself into and then get himself out of without ending up in a box, and in this case there were two Biggles. The cat once more worked itself into a frenzy and escaped from its complex of webbings and dried cat vomit. Then it leaped out of the passengers seat and raced out to the wing where it hissed angrily and defecated over the side.
“That’s it copilot Biggles,” Biggles grinned, “you show them.” Then he shrieked as the plane started tipping ever so slightly under the weight of the cat. “Stop showing them old bean! I can’t trim the airspeed! Oh wait there is no airspeed!”
The ancient plane slowly inclined on top of the enormous dome, and everyone held their breath, until the cat –like all cats– ran up to the highest point around which was the other wing. Immediately the plane started tipping in the other direction.
All the Iranian commandos oohed and aahed as the plane seesawed back and forth, they all started leaning from one side to the other matching the cadence of the craft.
The cat started slipping on the fabric of the plane and accordingly leapt onto the only thing with any purchase, which turned out to be the leather helmet on Biggles’s head.
“Waaaaaaaah!” he screamed as needle sharp claws bit into his scalp. Biggles threw out his hands in sharp pain; one of them collided with the start button just as the plane started slipping down the side of dome.
“Waaaaaaaah!” screamed 100,000 Iranians as the screech of the airframe dragged itself down the concrete like the world’s largest nails on the world’s largest blackboard.
The engine started just as the plane slipped off the side of the nuclear plant and it picked up just enough airspeed to avoid smacking to the ground like a dollop of strawberry jam.
“Gory! Gory! What a terrible way to die!” Biggles grinned manically he raced above the heads of the Iranian generals.
“Hit the deck!” came the sole voice of the leading general as the plane’s propeller missed him by inches. Unfortunately, this was not only broadcast over the tannoy but also radioed to every platoon within a hundred miles, this had the overwhelming result that everyone was too busy spitting out sand to open fire, and Biggles had slipped across the Persian Gulf before anyone had the good sense to shoot him down.
Biggles was court-martialed for failing the mission and the cat was awarded the King George Cross for gallantry in the face of overwhelming stupidity.

Copyright reserved by Jim O’Brien © 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Maxwell and the Demon




James Clerk Maxwell was a Scotsman. Now if you’re a Scotsman this is all you need to know, however for the rest of the world there is much more of a story. The year was 1857 and the rain pattered down from the Edinburgh sky with the endless enthusiasm of a monsoon suffering a cold and wearing a mackintosh. Underneath it all, the department of natural philosophy bore the rain with the air of an old grey aunt who has been left out in the cow paddock to scare the crows away.

Maxwell paused for a moment in his laboratory to stare out the window at the falling rain, and wondered if the modern fascination of vulcanising Wellington boots would ever catch on, the pause was only for a moment as he seemed to suffer from an almost saint vitus dance of animation, leaping from one desk to the next, jumping up on a chair, poking his head in a cupboard and bounding back across the room, with all the vivacity of a rubber haggis being kicked round a golf course.

“Have you heard of this new idea about Duals?” his friend Tait asked him walking in the door without knocking.

Tait was Maxwell’s best friend, a bespectacled balding fellow Scotsman, whose idea of a holiday was living in a coffee house in Glasgow reading the latest pamphlets on mathematics.

“We’re not fighting with pistols at dawn, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Maxwell replied with a grin and studied an apparatus of glass prisms.

“No,” Tait rolled his eyes, “spelled with an A, and not fired with a pistol. Everything has a dual opposite, and I mean everything has a dual opposite.”

“Not really a new idea,” Maxwell muttered as he rotated the pair of prisms to see if they produced any new types of polarized light. “Greeks had ideas like that, all geometry has ideas like that.”

“Ah,” Tait lit his pipe, “but not just lines, angles and circles. Even complex things like trees and rabbits have duals.”

“Like an negative-rabbit?” Maxwell smirked, before bouncing across the room and peering into a kaleidoscope. “What happens when you add a rabbit to a negative-rabbit … rabbit stew.”

“Not anti-rabbits,” Tait smirked back, “but dual-rabbits.”

“Duelling rabbits sounds even less convincing than anti-rabbits,” Maxwell espoused and sprang back to the polarizing prisms.

“William Rowan Hamilton doesn’t seem to think so,” Tait said slowly and blew pipe smoke into the air.

Maxwell looked over his glittering prism and squinted at his friend. “Hamilton said that?”

“His very words,” Tait produced a paper from his pocket and read aloud, “The principles of duality may very well be applicable to all things, large, abstract and real. Even our very selves may have some counter in another dimension which we can not imagine.”

“The Grand Old Man said that?” Maxwell fixed his friend with a thoughtful gaze, and then shook the idea loose, “It’s a meaningless statement, for equally I could say there is an exact copy of me in another dimension, only the other one doesn’t wear tweed. Preposterous.”

Tait tempted his friend by wafting the paper in front of his face. “That’s not what the old man said.”

“I’m not biting,” Maxwell frowned and returned to the prism for a few moments, but his restless energy overcame him and he bounced across the table and grabbed it out of Tait’s hand.

“Guess it’s salmon season after all,” Tait grinned.

Maxwell eyes raced through the paper so fast it was surprising they didn’t pop out, and then he tossed it back to Tait with no interest at all before returning to the prism apparatus. “Rubbish, the Grand Old Man has gone a wee bit daftie,” he said with his eyes squinting along the axes of the prism. “Has he published this?”

“It’s for personal circulation,” Tait looked at the paper, “but it makes you think, doesn’t it?”

“Everything makes me think - for I am James Clerk Maxwell,” dramatically holding his hand up and putting the other in a fob pocket, “now hand me that five iron.”

“But what if,” Tait folded the paper up and returned it to his pocket, “what if for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, not just here but in another universe.”

Maxwell paused significantly, which in his case was to stand motionless for a full ten seconds, an almost unheard of occurrence in his life.

“What,” he said looking puzzled at the desktop, “you mean there’s a more general rule of Newton’s Third Law?”

“Precisely.”

“You know that actually seems to make sense,” said Maxwell, “well, as much sense as Glasgow being the cultural centre of the Highlands.”

They both folded up with laughter at this, and took several moments to recover.

“All the same,” Maxwell continued, “if you really going to generalize, you’d have to include things like books and writing. That surely is preposterous. I mean if you really included everything you’d have to include even the equations we use to understand such abstract ideas.”

“Precisely” his friend countered, “Everything has a dual. That’s what Hamilton is alluding to.”

“He will have to be a little more precise about what a dual is,” Maxwell scratched his beard then fell on all fours and began rummaging in a cupboard for an anemometer to test the airspeed in the windless room. “More importantly, has he a mathematics to discuss these abstractions.”

“He calls them quaternions,” Tait explained.

“Oh that old hat, throw a four numbers together and toss into some complex notation and he thinks he understands the universe.” Maxwell paused again as he hung from crossbar on the ceiling. “Still, it is the Grand Old Man. I wonder what happens if I write an equation describing how my dual does things?”

“You mean will that affect your opposite number?” Tait raised an eyebrow hyperbolically.

“Precisely,” Maxwell grabbed a bolometer and fell from the ceiling like a cat on to the desk, where he plugged the bolometer onto the end of the anemometer just to see what it would do. “After all, if we are connected to our duals, we should be able to affect their behaviours.”

“But might they not affect our actions?” Tait prompted.

“Nonsense we’re part of the British Empire,” Maxwell retorted, “We won the Austro-Prussian War didn’t we?”

“Well no, we skipped that particular war, but go on.”

Maxwell grabbed a pencil and began writing out a series of equations in quaternion form, which he thought would match the physics of his dual universe, and at the end of it he tacked on a curious symbol.

“What’s the last bit,” Tait asked looking over his shoulder.

“Me,” Maxwell laughed.

“You?”

“Well, me in the other universe.”

It was at this point the World went a bit strange.

#

In another universe, an exact copy of James Clerk Maxwell was in her laboratory, wondering if the modern fascination of vulcanising Wellington boots would ever catch on. This copy of James Clerk Maxwell was exact in ever detail except she wasn’t wearing tweed and, of course, she was a woman. Like her opposite James Clerk Maxwell, she was extraordinarily animated and seemed to whirl about the room with all the vivacity of an electrified salmon.

Her friend Peter Guthrie Tait walked in the door without knocking. “Have you heard of this new idea about Duals?”

“Yes, I wrote something down before,” she bounced up to the windowsill to adjust a telescope point at the horizon.

“What?” Tait was surprised, “did Hamilton write to you before me?”

“No, I had an idea using quaternions to describe duals. Almost clever, really.” She vaulted the desk, grabbed a pantograph to sketch out the diffraction patterns made by the polarizing prisms.

Tait looked at the paper on the desk and whistled.

“That’s extraordinary,” he said holding the paper up to the light, “that’s almost word for word what the Grand Old Woman wrote,” he paused and pursed his lips, “except for the bit down the bottom.”

“The equations?” James Clerk Maxwell pulled apart a Faraday induction coil to see if the prisms would fit inside it. “Yes, I wondering if I could describe my dual in my dual universe.”

“What’s the bit at the end?” Tait pulled out his glasses.

“The squiggly bit? I call that my personal constant, it’s the bit that describes me, well my other me in the other universe.”

“Should it be a function or at the very least a parameter?”

“Does that work?”

“Does for me,” Tait insisted, “I would have thought, only don’t make it a function of Time, make it a function of our universe.”

“Bah,” Maxwell snorted and started twiddling with the dials on an electroscope, “might as well say our universe is a parameter of the dual universe. Sorry, Tait it just doesn’t make sense.”

Tait pulled out pencil and tacked on a function with the dual universe as a parameter, and as he did so the room seemed to shrink a little. Maxwell stopped in her fiddling and looked about the room in some alarm.

“Is it me or have I grown?” she found herself looking down at her friend Tait.

                                               ITERATION CYCLE TWO
In the first universe James Clerk Maxwell looked up at Tait and wondered if arthritis had set in a little early, even for a wee Scotsman.
“Tait is it just me,” he asked his friend looking up at him, “or have you grown?”
“Well, five minutes ago, I would have sworn we were the same height,” Tait looked down at his friend. “That’s odd, it’s almost as if you’ve lopped six inches off your height.”
“In under five minutes? Now that’s preposterous.”
They looked at the heels on Maxwell’s shoes, but found beyond their being a little worn they were unchanged. They stood next to the doorframe and measured their heights with a yardstick. Tait was now definitely the taller and unquestionably Maxwell seemed to have diminished by a few inches.
“Perhaps you’re ill?” Tait offered.
“What?” Maxwell sounded alarmed, “I’m so dehydrated I’m shrinking?”
“It’s possible,” Tait shrugged.
“No it isn’t, if I was that dehydrated I would grow thinner not shorter. No, there has to be another explanation.”
“Well let’s work backwards, what has happened in the last quarter of an hour since I arrived.”
“Ha!” Maxwell laughed as he pointed at all the scientific apparatus he had dragged out of the cupboards and tacked onto each other, in his pursuit of examining polarizing light. “There may be a few things.”
They went through each of the instruments and examined them carefully, but found nothing that could even begin to explain how he might have lost his height.
“My wife is going to be so annoyed,” he sighed.
“Maybe it’s time to see the physician?” Tait prompted, “This could be serious.”
“Serious would be turning up home and asking the wife to get the marmalade off the top shelf. No, we are not leaving here before I’ve found an explanation.”
They looked about the room for anything at all that might help with the problem. Tait stood in front of the workbench and stared at the equations on the piece of paper as Maxwell ran up a ladder to the rafters.
“James?” he quizzed, as Maxwell’s posterior was about to disappear into the ceiling. “I don’t remember this symbol being a function.”
Maxwell fell out of the ceiling and landed on the desk.
“What?” he said with more surprise than Queen Victoria discovering the Loch Ness Monster in her bathtub. “I didn’t write that. Did you?”
“No, it’s all yours.”
“But that would make the equation of the dual universe a function of this universe, or a function of me to be precise.”
“If I wasn’t brilliant I’d be getting a head ache at this point,” Tait grinned. “Mind you, the equation really was the last thing you did before you shrank.”
They looked at each other in disbelief.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Maxwell.
“Wouldn’t that make me the dual?” Tait laughed then frowned when he saw how annoyed Maxwell looked. “I’m thinking, the dual Maxwell wrote in that function, and since every change in one universe must have an equal and opposite reflection in the other. Therefore it’s responsible for your transformation.”
“It’s not quite Newton,” Maxwell made a face that invented a whole new topography, “but it does have the gist of making sense. Here, let’s rewrite the equation, but leave out the bit which refers to me.”
He drew a pencil line through the first one and wrote a series of equations, only this time without himself as a function. Suddenly he found himself looking eye to eye with Tait.
“Great Robbie Burns!” he yelled, “it worked!”
 “It’s like magic,” Tait cried with joy.
“It is magic!” Maxwell whooped.
They stared in amazement at the paper.
“I wonder what else we could do?” Tait murmured.
Maxwell began walking up and down the aisle with his hands behind his back like a wound-up mechanical toy soldier. In his head he was formulating a dozen different ways he could manipulate the equations to solve various physical problems he had been working on, then in a flash he leapt upon the apparatus of polarizing prisms and started measuring their dimensions and refractive index.
“What are you thinking?” Tait asked almost dancing with joy. “What’s next?”
“What if we include this machine into the equation? What if …?”
“That’s brilliant!”
#
In the Dual Universe, there was a brilliant flash of rainbow light as everywhere the colours of the rainbow cascaded through windows, gems, clouds and water. The whole Universe, as through every galaxy the index of refraction of all light shifted by a negligible fraction. None of which was noticeable by any of the inhabitants, as they blinded by the rainbows in their eyes.
“Ouch!” Maxwell and her friend Tait exclaimed, as their world became an unbearable wash of colours, the very lenses in their eyes filling with a kaleidoscope of images and colours.
“What happened?” asked Maxwell.
“I can’t see properly!” Tait shot back at her.
“I’m blind too! Are we having strokes?”
“What simultaneously? Both of us? At our ages?”
“It must be gas!” Maxwell cried and dragged her friend to the door. “Quick outside before we collapse.”
It was to no avail, as outside there was an equally bewildering rainbow of images filling their visual field and making it all but impossible to make sense of anything. Every time they leant out to grab something they were deceived by the multiplicity of images and they ended up flailing at empty space.
“Wait, I remember I don’t have gas.”
“But what is happening?!” Tait became frantic.
“It’s the index of refraction in our eyes,” Maxwell gasped for breath and felt nauseous. “It’s been changed - somehow.”
“Will we go blind?”
Maxwell threw up her breakfast and held onto the door.
“I don’t think so, I also don’t believe it’s gas,” she explained between retches, “quick back inside. I have an idea.”
They staggered once more into the laboratory and for many anxious minutes as Maxwell rustled through the cupboards and drawers, before she pulled out a sheet of coloured glass and held it to Tait’s face.
“There,” she said and then held another piece up to her own face.
“Green glass?” Tait was relieved and astonished at the same time.
“Monochrome light,” Maxwell explained to her friend, “only one species of light enters our eyes, so no refractive dispersion and no rainbows everywhere. Just keep your eyes closed while I make some masks to hold it to our faces.”
Several minutes later she had made some masks out of a pair of stereoscopes and tied them to their faces. It was as peculiar a sight as one was ever likely to witness in the heady days of the Victorian Industrial revolution.
“What going on?” Tait asked her, feeling his stomach revert to normal.
“I don’t know,” Maxwell put her head outside, “but we’re not the only ones.”
Up and down the street, people were thrashing about with their arms, crying in bewilderment or staring up into the sky with amazement.
“What could have caused this?” Tait asked.
Maxwell thought very carefully for a full minute.
“We may have, well, indirectly we may have,” she stared through the mask like a drunken parrot at her friend. “The Equation.”
“Nonsense,” Tait retorted, “a mere equation can’t change the whole world.”
“No, but it might change a whole other world.”
“The Dual World.”
“Precisely, if for every action in this world …”
“…there is an equal and opposite reaction in the dual world.”
“Then my Dual Maxwell has inadvertently changed this world.”
“So what do we do?” Tait asked.
“We have to put right what is wrong,” Dual Maxwell grabbed her pencil and began scribbling equations. “Obviously my opposite number has made an adjustment to the refractive index of this world, presumably because said opposite number had been working with polarizing prisms. Ergo, let’s send a message.”
“But how?”
“We need to show our opponent the terrible changes a few parameters can make,” Dual Maxwell leapt on the anemometer, the device used to measure wind velocity and held a ruler to it, “Wind velocity is dependent on air-viscosity, let’s add that to the equation and nudge it all so little to the left and see what happens.”
She pounced on the paper and after a great deal of scribbling managed to shift the room’s airspeed by an imaginary fraction.
“There,” Dual Maxwell breathed deeply, “just a little and just enough, that should make them understand.”
                                           ITERATION CYCLE THREE
   
A force-twelve gale was blowing through the Maxwell’s laboratory. Maxwell and his friend were hanging on by their fingertips to the desk and screaming in terror.
Tait yelled above the roar, “I know Scottish weather can be bad but did we forget to close the window?”
Maxwell dragged himself to the window and slowly pushed it shut, only to find the wind was still whirling around the room with all the energy of an angry maelstrom.
“It’s in the room!” Maxwell let go of the wind and flew across to Tait. They collided and together flew out the front door with the alacrity of two lemmings learning to fly off Edinburgh castle. They landed in the garden outside and were rained upon by the various scientific instruments Maxwell had been using.
“I heard of storm in a teacup,” said Maxwell as the bolometer landed in his lap, “but I’ve always looked upon it metaphorically not meteorologically.”
“What happened? Was that a bomb?” Tait asked staggering to his feet.
“If it’s a bomb,” Maxwell rubbed his head as a microscope landed, “it’s still going off. No, I don’t think we need look too far for an explanation, for I expect my Dual Maxwell has been doing just the same as I have, and fiddling with the laws of the universe.”
“Wait - that could kill us!” Tait’s terror escalated to horror.
“Yes, so we need to send them a message and quickly.”
“Like stop what you’re doing, it’s murder!”
“Something along those lines,” Maxwell grinned weakly, “now we need to find that paper with the equations on it before all of Scotland disappears into Loch Ness.”
They scrambled about the lawn picking scientific instruments and paraphernalia out of the dahlias, until they found the equation paper jammed on an iron railing, all the while the roar of the storm in the laboratory thundered on regardless.
“Write out what you wrote before!” Tait yelled.
“Why?”
“Maybe that’s the bit that’s causing the storm!”
“But that was optics, that storm in there is meteorological!”
“Meteorological or not, I nearly got decapitated by volume F of Encyclopaedia Britannica! Now put everything back to normal.”
Maxwell scribbled out the offending equation but nothing happened, they watched the storm growing in the laboratory.
“I think it’s getting worse,” Maxwell frowned in desperation. “Maybe if we sent our Duals a message.”
“What?” Tait looked amazed at his friend, “Add something to the equation like a coded message?”
“Yes, if we add something to the equation that changes their world just enough to make them realize that what they are doing is violently affecting our world.”
“But what?”
“We need to shock them, just a little, just enough to get their attention,” Maxwell grabbed the Faraday induction coil out of a bush and measured the number of coils on the wire, “this should do nicely.”
#
The bewildering kaleidoscope of images ceased in Dual Maxwell’s world.
“It worked!” said Dual Tait and he gingerly removed the filtered glass from his face. “I can see!”
“So can I,” said Maxwell as she stopped feeling nauseous, “I think we got through to them. Alright whatever we do, we mustn’t make any more changes…”
“Wah!” They both screamed as a mild shot of electricity raced around the room, and this time she really did leap about like an electrified salmon.
“What was that?” Tait asked in surprise.
“Was it the physical laws settling down?” Maxwell asked equally shocked. “I certainly hope that doesn’t…Wah!”
They jumped up and collapsed on the floor.
“Was that you?” Tait asked.
“No, all I can suggest is my Dual Maxwell is still tampering with…Wah!”
They ran out of the room in alarm.
“I think we’re safe,” Maxwell finished. “It seems to be confined to the laboratory.”
“You think they may be reworking the equations?” Tait asked staring back in the room.
“Great Robbie Burns! I hope not,” said Maxwell, “but wait, the refractive index for everything is back to normal. That means our counterparts first reverted the equations.”
“So why are they now shocking us?”
“Either they don’t understand what’s happening and they are simply writing random equations to see where they lead, or they are attacking us by changing the laws of our universe.”
“Why on earth for?” Tait shook his head in disbelief.
“Perhaps they believe we are attacking their universe, after all, I did start changing the equations first,” Dual Maxwell walked back and forth in her skirts. “It is possible of course, well at this point anything is possible.”
“Wah!” they both jumped on the spot.
“The area of effect is increasing!” Dual Maxwell exclaimed.
“Wah!” they both shuddered as the electric shock made them tense their muscles.
“If it grows… wah! It might eventually cover the …wah!” Tait tried to say.
“Back in the …wah!” Dual Maxwell yelled, as they were shocked yet again. “We have to insulate our … wah!”
They crawled back into the room, leaping every few seconds into the air, until Dual Maxwell grimacing her teeth was able to grab the pencil and scribble out the world equation with factors for the anemometer and the air wind velocity crossed out.
Nothing happened and the shocking became more intense.
“Add something … wah! Else,” Tait rolled his eyes in pain, “anything … wah!”
“Can’t think … wah!” Dual Maxwell yelled.
Tait pointed at a set of weighing scales. “Try gravity! … Wah!”
“Can’t … wah! Too dangerous … wah!”
“Just do it! … wah!”
                                              ITERATION CYCLE FOUR
  
In the first universe the windstorm in the laboratory ceased.
“We got through to the other side!” Maxwell yelped as the rush of wind fell to a peculiar silence. “We’re communicating!”
“Try sending a coded message, like the telegraph.” Tait suggested as they went back inside.
“I don’t know telegraphic messaging,” Maxwell explained. “And how do I put that into an equation?”
“Try a exponential function, anyone will do, just as long as signal grows until they signal back.”
Maxwell tacked an exponential function around the electrical component and stood back. They waited for a few minutes and nothing happened.
“Maybe they’ve had enough sense to stop?” Tait suggested, “maybe we should stop?”
“Yes, I expect your right,” Maxwell nodded his head and scribbled out completely the electrical component.
“All right,” said Tait and they grinned at each other in relief, “it’s over.”
At that moment they started to levitate off the ground, Maxwell grabbed the desk and Tait grabbed onto Maxwell’s legs.
“Not Gravity!” Maxwell shrieked, “That’ll be the end of us all!”
About the room bits of smashed furniture, broken glass wear, pencils, paper, scientific instruments floated free from the floor in a strange aerial mound about the desk.
“Look!” Maxwell pointed, “It’s localised! The further from this desk the less the effect! I’ve got an idea.”
“No!” Tait yelled.
Maxwell let go of the desk and they gently floated to the ceiling to find themselves resting upside above the room.
“It’s alright,” Maxwell said, and breathed slowly, “that point on the desk must be where Dual Maxwell is writing the equations. That’s where the effect is the greatest; it’s not as bad as I feared.”
“I feel ill,” Tait looked quite green hanging upside down in midair.
“Must be the world’s first case of airsickness,” Maxwell grinned. “Think Tait old man, we are the first people in the history of the world to fly if not the history of the universe!”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Tait moaned.
“Here use this paper bag,” Maxwell said inadvertently inventing the world’s first airsickness bag.
“Now what?” Tait said after he emptied his stomach.
“Lets kick off the ceiling,” Maxwell grinned, “if I’m right, the field of gravity should increase towards the door and we should naturally drift to the ground.”
This happened exactly as he predicted and they found themselves in a crumpled heap by the door.
“Great Guns!” Maxwell exclaimed, “we’re discovered the world’s first anti-gravity field, and we’re the first people to fly and invent air traffic control.”
“And proved the existence of another universe,” Tait sighed, “Although I wished I didn’t feel so poorly.”
“It’s for science!” Maxwell pointed a finger at the ceiling, “This is as great as Pythagoras proving his theorem of triangles, Columbus discovering the New World. Hmm, I wonder what else we can do?”
“No James,” Tait shook his head in alarm, “enough is enough. Besides have you asked yourself, why our Duals are playing around with our gravity?”
“To tell us the electricity equation worked!”
“On the other hand, didn’t the whirlwind almost kill us? And what if the shrinking had gone on? You might not have been able to pick up the pencil.”
“Technical trivialities,” Maxwell said and leapt into the air across the arc of gravity to the other side of the room. “Woah! Tait we have to try something else!”
“We could destroy a whole universe with this meddling! We could destroy our universe!”
“We won’t know until we try.”
“Remember Icarus.”
“Icarus flew too close to the Sun,” Maxwell dragged the paper out of his pocket before his friend could stop him, “now what else could we try? A steam engine?”
“James! No!” Tait wrung his hands together. “Haven’t you learned enough already?”
“It’s for science, for science we can never learn enough!” Maxwell dragged a model steam engine from out of a cupboard. “Hmm, motive power?”
#
In the Dual Universe the electrical shocks stopped and the two other heroes breathed sighs of relief. The room was a shambles, the two heroes were covered in sweat and a sense their lives would never be the same.
“Is it over?” asked Tait, viscerally shaking from the repeated electric shocks.
“I think so,” said Dual Maxwell, “I really should remove the gravity function.”
“What if they use it?” Tait asked wiping the sweat from his eyes.
“You mean – the other me?” Dual Maxwell looked curiously at her friend, “I doubt it, once I knew what it was capable of doing I would never do such a thing.”
“What if they don’t know?” Tait panted heavily, “What if they are simply writing equations to see what would happen? I say – is it me, or is it rather hot in here?”
“That’s probably the air-conditioning.”
“We live in Scotland, there is no air-conditioning.”
“Outside!” Dual Maxwell yelled and grabbed the paper with equations on it.
As they ran out the door, there was a sudden whoosh of air and they were expelled like a couple of corks from a cider bottle. They landed so heavily in the shrubbery that Dual Maxwell was surprised neither of them was injured.
“If this keeps up,” said Tait brushing himself down, “we will be turned into Englishmen, and I can’t think of a worse fate.”
“I’m a woman,” Dual Maxwell looked dourly at her friend, “to be turned into a man is the worse fate.”
Still hanging onto the paper she flattened it against the stone fence and scratched out the terms involving gravity.
“Perhaps they still don’t understand the problems we are having in our universe?” Tait suggested.
“I’ve got it,” Dual Maxwell exultantly held a finger up, “we will do the exact same thing to them as they are doing to us, that way they’re bound to know what’s happening. Trouble is - what precisely are they doing?”
“Something to do with heat and air?” Tait suggested and they looked at each other with the same thought.
“Steam Engine!” they yelled together.
“Quick, go back in and grab the model engine,” Dual Maxwell said to Tait and pushed him towards the door, as a great wave of heat from a furnace blew through the portal.
“You go in!” Tait yelled back, “It’s your equation!”
“Yes, it is my equation,” Dual Maxwell grinned at her friend, “and if I remember correctly, it was you who turned my constant into a function and made all this mess happen in the first place.”
“Ah,” Tait made a wry smile and slapped himself in the forehead, “I’ll give you that, but if I don’t come out again make sure my golf clubs go to a good home.”
He took a couple of deep breaths and ran in the room, all the while the rush of air entering and leaving the room began to take on the sound of a giant bellows. After a few tense moments there was a muffled cry and Tait shot out of the room so fast he somersaulted like a highland caber and knocked Dual Maxwell to the ground.
“Got it!” Tait stood up covered in sweat and handed Dual Maxwell the tiny model steam engine, “I could do with a glass of water, no wait make that whiskey I’m still Scottish,” he felt in his trouser pocket, “yes, still Scottish.”
Dual Maxwell rolled her eyes, and then looked carefully at the notation on the model engine.
“Got it, ten psi at 212 degrees Fahrenheit,” she wrote on the equation paper muttering to her self, “now we add in the Carnot cycle in some vague way.”
#
“Great Ghost of Robbie Burns!” the first Maxwell cried, as he broke out in a sweat, “is it just me or did the monsoon just come to Edinburgh?”
Then they watched in relief as all the objects in the room fell to the ground.
“Gravity is normal again,” Tait looked about the laboratory mystified, “James, is that steam or fog forming in the room? I mean shouldn’t the Dual Universe have the steam in it, not ours?”
Maxwell thought very carefully for several moments.
“What if our Duals are also using a steam engine in the personal function?” Maxwell mused as sweat poured out of his eyes.
“We must stop!” Tait cried and tried to drag the pencil out of Maxwell’s hand. “Before it’s too late!”
“It could also be too late to stop!” Maxwell broke the pencil dragging it out of Tait hands. “We must go on! Don’t you see, now they are doing the exact same thing as we are, we need to balance the equations to put everything back to normal!”
“Madness! Madness!” Tait dragged at his hair with his fingers, “I say - it is hot.”
There was a sudden rush of hot air and they found themselves gasping for breath.
“It’s like an oven in here,” said Maxwell.
They looked at each other in alarm and jumped out the windows, just as an enormous rush of hot air pushed them out like a piston.
“I fear you may be right,” Maxwell said ruefully, still holding onto the piece of paper. “We need to stop them, before they completely stop our universe.”
“Easy to say,” Tait breathed a sigh of relief, as his friend finally understood the danger they were in, “but how?”
“We need to put some sort of shield or insulation around the other universe, we need to control what they do to our universe.”
“A sort of infinite wall constant?” Tait pursed his lips in thought, “It won’t work. Their universe is connected to our universe, if we cut it off then it could just very well backfire onto us.”
“How about a door function in the wall? One that we control, and our Duals can’t touch?”
“Like a box around the other universe?”
“Precisely!”
“James, it’s not some demon in a box we’re dealing with here. It’s a whole other universe.”
“It’s them or us, and I’d prefer it’s them,” Maxwell clenched his hands in frustration.
With this, Maxwell tacked a wall function onto the Universal Equation, which meant only he was able to write equations and not his Dual, it was the penultimate act in the great battle. Thereupon Edinburgh returned to its unending drizzle, as the people were left wondering if the modern fascination of vulcanising Wellington boots would ever catch on.