Will Eloquent Writing Be Valued In The Future?

In the novel 1984, George Orwell predicted the rise of a language known as Newspeak. A language of oppression, Newspeak is designed to limit freedom of thought, and thus synonyms, antonyms, and “undesirable concepts” are all absent from it. It is a language that makes people think how the regime wants them to, and any thought that cannot be expressed in Newspeak is designated as “thoughtcrime”.

I think Orwell’s prediction may eventually come true. But it won’t be enforced by a totalitarian government. It will simply arise out of pure laziness.

Technology, the internet, text speak and the ubiquitous emoji are changing language. New words are being introduced on a weekly, almost daily basis. But are these words symptomatic of an evolution, or a de-evolution of our collective consciousness?

Will the ability to speak and write eloquently still be valued 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now? Or, will it eventually be considered inferior to the skills of hype, sensationalism and social media output?

Such things keep me awake at night.

The decline of writing skills has been well documented over the last few decades. Most agree that technology is to blame. Everyone from employers to university lecturers have bemoaned the lack of literacy skills in today’s generation of students and job seekers.

“It’s not just that students aren’t demonstrating critical thinking skills in their writing, basic competencies like proper syntax, spelling, and even proper structure… are being done very poorly. Teachers have been reporting anecdotally that even compared to five years ago, many are seeing declines in vocabulary, grammar, writing, and analysis (e.g. Westin, 2013; Bloomberg News, 2012).”
Azadeh Aalai, Why Can’t College Students Write Anymore?

As time goes on I believe that the current generation will unite in their illiteracy. At that point – and it’s happening already – the use of uncommon, obscure words will be frowned upon, seen as archaic and unnecessary.

As a teacher I have been criticized by students for using words that require them to reach for a dictionary. Words like negligent, oblique, fastidious, ostentatious and divulge, are bothersome to the modern student. Why use such words when much simpler words are available, they ask. Slack replaces negligent. Off-handed replaces oblique. Fussy replaces fastidious, and so on.

To a degree, I think they have a point, but when we replace a group of synonyms (inform, notify, brief, alert, confide) with one word (tell), we lose access to a whole palette of subtle nuance.

In the field of fiction, also, I believe the finely-crafted sentence will eventually take second place to the hype, the sensation, the contentious subject.

Trends in language use cannot be avoided. Once set in motion they are irreversible. The proliferation of technology has sent literacy down a path from which it will likely never return.

Young people are now in editing positions, publishing positions, positions where they act as gatekeepers for the literary world. Increasingly we will see literary proficiency as an outdated skill. Hype, social media proficiency and sensationalism will become the new literary badges of honour.

Now I want to hear your thoughts on the matter. Debate, discuss, confer, converse, exchange views.
Or just comment.

Advertisements

– NOVEL UPDATE – Nightstone – Chapter Two (Weekly Chapter)

Nightstone
Paul Bimler

Chapter 2

Three carriages sped towards the portcullis of the Tirthovaan. Manos peered out the window as the battlements came into view, and caught a flash of light from the mirror-tower. Uncle Tirthos’s keep, surrounded by its high walls, was like a miniature of Khatradesh, the seat of the Manu dynasty and capital of the realm.
Clattering into the courtyard, the newly-arrived convoy of carriages startled a few khatra who were drilling at swordplay. Tirthos’ two daughters, Tala and Arianna, stood at the foot of the stair that led up into the little temple.
Who is that old khatra beside them? Manos thought
It took Manos a moment to recognize his Uncle Tirthos. He had grown his whiskers out, just like father, and wore a self-satisfied grin as the carriages shuddered to a halt. The driver of each hopped down from his seat to open the doors for King Manu and his family.
“Uncle!” Manos cried as he stepped down from the carriage. The old man came forward to embrace his nephew.
“Brother!”
Tirthos broke his embrace with Manos and looked the King up and down, shaking his head.
“Good day, my King! What has happened to you? Have you hurt yourself?”
The King frowned. “Old age does not agree with me, brother. All those battles are coming back to revisit me. This is what a forty-year reign does to a man.”
Tirthos shot a concerned glance at the boys. “Fifty, you mean.”
Manu’s eyes widened a little. Then he smiled. He reached up to tug on Tirthos’ moustache. “What in Hutha’s name is this, brother? You’ve finally given in to old age too?”
Tirthos laughed. “I thought you might like it. I was ready for a change.”
Tala and Arianna rolled their eyes as one.
“You need to get off that throne of yours more often, brother. Look at you, hobbling about like an old woman.”
The King went to respond to the jibe but instead fell into a bout of coughing.
“Oh, you’re a lost cause,” Uncle Tirthos joked, then turned to look over his five nephews who had all dutifully presented themselves before him. “Welcome my boys! It has been too long since I saw you last! Aaah, it is good to have some male company for a change! Sorry my daughters, but sometimes a man likes to swear and drink and fart and not have to apologize for it!”
Tirthos’ two daughters, Tala and Arianna, gave their father yet another withering look, then turned to the business of welcoming their Aunt, Queen Vishalya. Ignoring the boys, they bustled her off towards their quarters, bombarding her with chatter. Life in the country was quiet, it seemed.

After getting settled, the brothers visited the temple to pay their obeisances to Hutha. En route to the dining hall, Manos slipped away from the group, turning left as they entered the main building.
They didn’t even notice.
Manos entered the silent foyer, taking the stairs that wound up to a mezzanine level.
A reverence came over him as he emerged on the Warrior’s Walk. Rows of glass cases, filled with artifacts, stretched along each side of the wide gallery that ended in a passageway running left to right. More artifacts were displayed there.
Manos soon found something that captured his attention: a book, displayed on a small wooden stand, on the history of the Angowathi people, the first tribes. He gently took it off its stand and began poring over the yellowed pages..
“Aah, the book by Jullika,” Tirthos puffed as he mounted the final steps. Manos turned, surprised. “Yes, very interesting. And very rare.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Where else would you be?” Tirthos replied simply. “Which chapter do you read?”
Manos shrugged, turning his attention back to the book. “Its about the legends. The Angowathi myths.”
Tirthos nodded. “Yes… they are all that remains of the Angowathi. Apart from their language, of course.” He was at Manos’ side now, leaning in towards the tome. “Ah yes. I do love this. The legend of Lokos, as taken from enscriptures in a Mountain Temple near Ai.”
“Northern Angowathi?” Manos asked, a little surprised. He was not aware the northern prehistoric people had such similar beliefs to their southern counterparts.
“Exactly. Some of their customs were different to southerners, but the legends – exactly the same. Here,” he gestured for Manos to pass the book to him. Tirthos scanned the page with his finger, supporting the large book with his other arm. “Ah here we are. The wording is a little flowery at times. But it has detail you won’t find in the other histories.”
Tirthos read.
“Hutha, the Sun God, had two sons, Manu and Lokos… Both were great Khatra-Rishas, warrior-sages, and great sons to a proud father. However, when the time came to assign roles for the stewardship of mankind, it was decided by Hutha that Manu and all his descendants would rule, and that Lokos would be his general and master of his armies, guardian of the realm. And Hutha gifted Manu with the Hutha-shila, the Sunstone, a symbol of his divine appointment as ruler.
This angered Lokos, and he brought all of the potency of his dakas (penance), which was formidable, to bear on his own father. But to no avail… Hutha, the Sun God, was unassailable by his son who was somewhere between a god and a mortal. However, Lokos managed to take the Sunstone from Manu, which angered Hutha . The Sun God let loose his fury on Lokos, demanding he return the stone, but instead Lokos fled, retreating to a distant island. There Lokos used the Hutha-shila to tame the beast Ta’mak, a great monster of the sea capable of swallowing whole vessels.. Lokos rode Ta’mak to his brother Manu’s abode, (the site of modern-day Khatradesh), and unleashed all the potency of his dakas on the stronghold there, raining down fire and lightning using the power of the Sunstone. But Manu, who was undiminished in dakas and honour, repelled the attack and subdued Lokos, his brother, with a sword of pure nightstone the only weapon that could subdue such a demon… With the help of his risha Vinrika, the Hutha-shila was reclaimed and the traitor Lokos was imprisoned deep within the earth in an underground fortress made entirely of hyulweh, and the great immortal sage Vinrika used up all of his dakas to bring forth a mountain range to lock the labyrinth within the earth, further safeguarding mankind from Lokos… Ta’mak was set free, innocent beast as he was.”
Manos nodded. “That is exactly how it is told by Mandrika, the library risha.”
“Of course. No doubt he has a copy of this also.”
“It is hard to believe, Uncle, that bit about Vinrika.”
Tirthos smiled. “We should not doubt the redaks, nephew. They are the literal truth of our history.” Uncle Tirthos handed the book back to Manos and turned, walking off along the row of displays.
“Does the sword of nightstone still exist?” Manos asked, closing the book and replacing it on its lectern.
His Uncle turned, surprised by the question. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “That was many, many dynasties ago, nephew. Those things are lost in time.”
“So how do you know it is even real, this nightstone?”
Tirthos smiled. “You can see it in Rishapada, nephew. In the ceiling of the main temple.”
Manos nodded. Rishapada. That’s so far away.
His face must have shown how he was feeling; Uncle Tirthos put a hand on his shoulder. “You will go there one day,” he consoled. “Plenty of time for that.”
The Prince shook his head. “I’m barely allowed outside the Huthavaan gates without an escort. I wish I could just… escape. You don’t know what its like for me, Uncle. I’m a prisoner. My blood means I have dominion over everything… but I’m not allowed to enjoy anything. Even experience it!”
Tirthos nodded, smiling. “One day you will be thankful for who you are, my boy. You come from a great family. And one day, you will be King.”
Manos ignored this comment, and turned to walk over to a display of beautiful ancient swords and armour, glittering softly under torchlight, blades dancing with a hundred golden stars. He stopped by a large, ornate helm. The style was unfamiliar, as were the characters that adorned the eye slits.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Tirthos remarked. “And in perfect condition. Go ahead, pick it up.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Go on.”
Manos lifted the helmet from its stand. It was uncommonly heavy, and large. Whoever wore this must have been a giant, maybe even bigger than Bhumos. Manos turned it this way and that, inspecting the detail. It was one piece of metal, bronze probably, with slits for the eyes and a row of small circles at the mouth to allow for breathing.
“Where is it from?”
“Far Shore,” Tirthos answered quickly. “An ancient Kingdom that invaded us around the time of the Matsos Dynasty.” He paused. “Put it on.”
“Pardon?” Manos thought he had misheard.
“I said, put it on.”
The Prince obeyed. It felt even heavier on his head.
“Yes, it belonged to a large man, no doubt. Perhaps everyone was a bit larger back then. Take these longswords, for example. They bear the same characters as that helmet.” Tirthos took two longswords from the wall, handing one to his nephew. “Feel the weight of that!”
Manos gauged the weight of the old blade, discerning that it was heavy, but perfectly balanced. Suddenly his uncle had the other in his right hand and was standing opposite, in battle stance. “Square up, my Prince.”
Manos tutted. “Uncle. Come now.”
“Nephew, please. Humour an old man. I may be old, but I still know how to use a sword. The one you kill with, and the one between my legs.”
Manos failed to stifle the laugh. “I’m surprised that still works.“
The sword came swiftly arcing down.
Manos watched his own sword rise to block the stroke, as if someone else were controlling it, but the force still made him step back. Quickly he moved to face his Uncle’s left hand side.
“Aaaahh, yess, there’s my boy,” Tirthos said as he adjusted his stance accordingly. He gave the aged old weapon a couple of twirls to warm his arm up. “You see, nephew, you have many generations of Khatra behind you. So, whether you like it or not…”
Without warning, Tirthos advanced quickly on him, and began raining solid blows down on Manos’ upheld sword. The Prince quickly shifted out of the path, pushed his uncle in the back with a foot and levelled his sword at the back of his head. When Tirthos turned, Manos’ blade was just under his chin. His Uncle grinned, breathing heavily.
“You are khatra,” he puffed. “It is in your blood, in your soul. Inescapable, my son.”
Manos lowered his blade, and held out his hand. “I wasn’t saying that, Uncle. I know I am khatra. I’m proud to be khatra.”
“Come on. I see it. I’ve known you your whole life. Your father, the King, is old. As am I. You know that your rule may come soon, and you feel it. It is clear as day, written on your face.”
Manos shrugged. “All I was saying was that I feel trapped. I want to get out of Khatradesh, see more of the realm, before ministers and generals are dogging my every step.” Placing the longswords back in the stand, Manos sighed. “Come, Uncle. Let’s rejoin the others.”
Uncle Tirthos shook his head at his nephew as Manos walked past and took the stair.
The stair wound down past a large window that looked out on Tirthos’ front courtyard. Night had descended. The lights of Tirtharya were visible to the south-east, and a range of low hills were visible against a blue sky to the south. As they descended the long, curving stair, they saw flashes coming from those hills.
“A beacon,” Tirthos remarked. He quickened his pace and Manos did the same. Walking out onto the front landing, he hailed the mirror-tower. “Reghos! Are you manning the beacon?”
“Yes my lord,” came the reply from across the courtyard.
“Bring the message to us, when you have it all.”
“Of course, my lord.”
In the dining room, the topic of conversation was as predictable as it was heated. Manos and Uncle Tirthos took their seats.
Not more politics.
“These mines you speak of are owned by merchants from Vishadesh, father,” Bhumos said. “They bought these mines from Manu the Eigth of the Matsos Dynasty, centuries ago. This is heirloom property, passed down for generations.”
“Certainly,” the King replied. “And if I want them, I can easily buy them back.”
Javos paused, weighing his words. “Not without angering our northern friends… I think we should tread lightly here, father. The situation in Muuthavarsha is complex. Our governance there hangs by a thread.”
“I think that is enough talk of politics,” Queen Vishalya said firmly, leaning forward. “This can wait. Manos and Tirthos are back, we should eat now. Then it will be bed, I think. We want to be back in time for Huthadin. Tara and Arianna will be inconsolable if we miss that!” The girls nodded vigorously at this, smiling gratefully at the Queen.
“And you, mother,” Drunos remarked quietly. Manos smiled, glad to hear him speak.
“Your mother loves a good festival,” King Manu enthused. He looked at Manos again, and they exchanged an awkward smile.
On cue, the dinner courses started arriving: three types of sharji and shaan, various filled and plain chupas spiced with seeds, rubbed with butter, whole legs of bullock and goat, aromatic fish stew, and an endless parade of pastries, soups, and breads. Manos was not hungry at first, but found his appetite when he tried a particularly fine nimba sharji, his absolute favourite. The others had soon all eaten their fill and barely a dent was made in the banquet. Bhumos was still eating heartily, of course, but everyone else had finished. Even Uncle Tirthos was loosening his belt as Manos’ huge older brother ripped the flesh from a spiced leg of goat, sauce dripping down his beard.
“This is excellent, Uncle,” Bhumos said through the mouthful of meat. “We may have to kidnap your cooks and take them back to the Huthavaan.”
“Ugh!” Arianna grimaced. “You eat like a pig, cousin!” Bhumos returned a sauce-stained smile.
“You’ll have to excuse my son, Arianna,” Vishalya said, smiling. “He does not know how to act around young ladies. Too many years spent in the company of khatras, I fear.”
Tirthos laughed. “I am looking forward to our stay in the Huthavaan, brother. The country is nice, but I miss Khatradesh. I’m looking forward to seeing what has changed.”
“A lot of building,” Javos said, leaning back in his chair. “Much expansion. A bit like your waistline, Uncle.”
Uncle Tirthos chuckled. “Yes, I think we have all eaten our fill.” He summoned a servant with a wave. “Take it all away. Leave the goat, though.”
Soon a contented calm descended on the table; the evening was winding to a close. The Princes leant back in their chairs, exchanging a quiet joke or story as the fire dwindled in the hearth. King Manu sipped his wine and the girls chattered to the Queen on the far side of the table. All had eaten and talked their fill.
The peace was broken by Reghos, Tirthos’ sentry on the mirror tower, who entered the room in a clatter of armour.
“You asked to be notified of the beacon,” Reghos said. The brothers, the King and Uncle Tirthos all turned their attention toward him.
“Yes, Reghos.”
“It comes all the way from the village of Rukos. The people there complain of a disturbance in the mountains.”
“Brigands?” the King asked.
“No, your Highness. Loud noises at night. They fear a demon of some sort.” Reghos exchanged looks with Bhumos, a quick smile; there was some secret joke going on there, Manos thought.
King Manu shrugged. “Well, I suppose we ought to send someone. I will send one of my own guard at first light, brother. You are light enough on men here. Thank you, Reghos.”
“Nonsense!” Tirthos said. “One of my men can leave immediately. He’ll be there by daybreak.”
“Very well, Tirthos,” King Manu said. “Send one of yours.”
“I will send Ghujos, my lord,” Reghos said, bowing his head.
Tirthos gave him a nod and a smile. “Yes,” he said, and stood. Reghos disappeared out the door, and a command was called.
“And now, to bed.” The old man turned and ambled off, followed soon after by the King, the Queen and her nieces.
The brothers sat at table until late, drinking and joking. As Manos felt his lids grow heavy, he thought, If I have them around me, perhaps I can be King. We can all be King.

S C I – F I SHORT NO.1 : Proof Of Dark

Neutrino

On 25 April 2053, the most important day of my life, everything in the world seems to be conspiring against my success.

I am hunched over the massive console that dominates the middle of the cavern. Our facility – the LOBE – consists of two rooms – the one I am in now, where we search for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPS; and the Neutrino Chamber, a vast tank half-filled with water and lined with sensors.

Dark matter is what we search for.

My name is Dougal Carles, and I am a man on the brink of insanity. It is a strange thing, searching for something that may not exist. Does strange things to the mind. And now, after fifty years of this search, I think I am beginning to see patterns. This leads me to ask two questions. 1) Am I finally decoding the mystery? And 2) Am I finally going insane?

I have made a resolution not to speak of it to anyone. Not even Agathe.

#

The buzzer goes off. Someone up top.
“No, no, no, no, NO!”

“What is it?” Agathe asks. I put up a hand, silence her. “Not… not now, dear,” I say, trying to keep my train of thought. You know when you’re trying to remember and it’s on the tip of your… brain… I squint harder at the readouts, trying to block out all distractions. The sound of a door creaking open, damn it! Raffy is just leaving the neutrino chamber. But couldn’t he do it a bit quieter?

Through the intercom, a low-res voice: “Professor? It’s Sam. I’m up top. Can you buzz us in?”

It’s hopeless. I let out a sigh, lean forward and push the talk button.

“Hi Sam. Can’t buzz you in, sorry. It’s not working.”

“Um…”

“Don’t worry lad. I’m on my way up.” I pause. “Did you said buzz us in?”

“Yeah. I’ve got my girlfriend with me. Tabitha. I’ve was going to show her around.”

I stand, sighing again. “On my way,” and flick the talk button off.

“That coffee ready?” I ask Agathe.

She gives me one of her shy little smiles. “It is.” She walks over with a cup. “Here you go Dougal.”

As the lift doors open, Raffy appears by my side. “Professor, can I quickly show you something…”

“Not now, Raffy,” I snap, stepping quickly into the lift, sloshing coffee on my lab coat. “Damn it.” I reach down to brush it off, then look up to see Raffy’s hurt expression disappearing behind the lift doors. He looks like he’s about to cry

As the lift starts ascending, I instantly regret my shortness. “Shit,” I curse quietly. Poor old Raffy. Wonder what he wanted to talk to me about?

The lift picks up speed. I watched the rock walls accelerate past the perspex. Have to get back to those readouts. Hopefully Raffy or Agathe could give Sam and his girlfriend the guided tour.

After about 20 seconds we are up to a respectable speed. I take a sip of coffee, watch it swirl. I remember my readouts, again… Damn it, it was just starting to form into something, which simultaneously excites and annoys me. After all, what business did particles have making sense? But it’ll get the American excited, which means money. Money we desperately, desperately need.

A good 7-8 minutes later the lift slows and the doors slide apart. Without disembarking I lean out and punch the release button for the outer door, which pops open, letting in an ice cold, howling wind.

That’s right. Cragness, for Newton’s sake. It always comes as a surprise, even after 20 odd years. The LOBE is on an island off the northern coast of Scotland, reachable only by ferry from John O’Groats. Two kilometres above our little underground paradise is a miserable, rain-drenched hell.

Sam and his girlfriend appear in the doorway, soaked head to toe.

“Come on lad, let’s go. In you get.”

The door automatically closes and seals behind them, and we’re enveloped by silence once more. Sam and his girlfriend start taking off their raincoats. She looks flustered, a bit out of her element.

I switch the mug to my right hand, lean forward. “Hi. I’m Dougal.”

She smiles, shakes my hand. “Hello Professor. I’ve heard a lot.”

“What was your name?”

“Oh, sorry,” she laughs. “It’s Tabitha. Tabs for short.” She is exactly like Sam in girl form. Bit awkward, dark hair, tall, quite charming. Perhaps a bit more confident than Sam though. Bit older too, I think.

“Right. Tabs. And what do you do, Tabitha?”   

“I’m a nurse. Well, studying to be a nurse. Doing a placement at Caithness Hospital.”

“Poor you,” I say. She laughs. “Student loan?” Ooh. Probably a bit personal.

“Nope. All paid for by the NHS.”

I nod appreciatively. We are plummeting now, hewn rock faces flying up transparent walls. Tabitha looks a bit queasy. “And who pays for all this then?” she asks.

“Oh, the LOBE? An investor. American bloke.”

“Right.”

“Wants his name attached to a Nobel Prize before he croaks. Can’t blame him for that.”

“Sorry Professor,” Tabitha says. “At the risk of appearing ignorant, what does LOBE stand for?”

“I told you this, Tabs,” Sam whispers, poking her in the ribs.

“I can’t remember your geeky stuff, Sam. Just like you don’t share my enthusiasm for Famecast.”

“Oh come on, that’s hardly -”

“Large Obscure Bolometer Experiment,” I butt in. “That’s what it stands for.”

“Right,” Tabs says, face registering total incomprehension.

“He wanted to call it LUBE,” Sam chuckles. “I convinced him not to. Replace underground with obscure, I told him.”

“Sam’s big contribution,” I say, giving him a thwack on the back.

“You are 1 kilometre from the LOBE facility,” the lift interrupts.

“Professor,” Sam says. “You looked a bit pre-occupied when I called on the intercom before.”

“Hm. Yes.”

“Have you found something?” There is the slightest hint of maniacal enthusiasm in his voice. He leans in eagerly. “New scintillations?”

For a second I consider telling him my crackpot theory. “I -”

The lift intercom crackles into life. “Dougal?” Agathe’s voice.

“Agathe? What is it?”

“It’s Raffy… please, you must…. just come quick.”

#

We hit bottom and the doors slide open. I walk quickly over to Agathe who is seated at the console. She points up at the monitor where I see Raffy, inside the neutrino tank, in the little inflatable dinghy.

“Repairing sensors?” I ask.

“No,” Agathe says, sounding worried. “He’s just sitting there, staring into space. He won’t answer me.”

Behind me, Sam is hanging up his and Tabitha’s backpack and coats. Tabitha is gawping at the sheer size of the place. “Bloody hell,” I hear her mutter. “What’s that big metal thing?” She’s pointing at the detector, which is no doubt a shock to behold the first time. 30-odd feet of shining metal, tubes, sciencey-stuff.

“That’s the WIMP detector. The Professor uses it to look for dark matter particles.”

“WIMP detector? Really?” She lets out an incredulous laugh. “How come its not going off now that you’re here?”

I turn my attention back to the monitor. “When did he go in there?” I ask.

“Just after you left… He was muttering, and then he went back in the neutrino tank. He’s locked himself in there, Dougal,” Agathe says. The image of Raffy was small, lost amidst row after row of sensors. Hell, its like a cathedral in there. A huge cathedral of sensor-candles, half filled with water. Quite spooky.  

“He’s been spending more and more time in there lately,” Agathe says, just holding back the tears. “I didn’t…”

“Why didn’t you tell me, Agathe?” I demanded. She looks down. Always so quiet… Twenty years together, and it’s always me in the limelight, getting the accolades, giving the lectures. I suppose that would make anyone fade into the background.

“Well, just open the bloody door from here,” I say impatiently, leaning forward and smacking the release button. Nothing.

“He’s disabled it somehow.”

“How?”

“I don’t know!” she says frantically, looking near breaking point herself.

Christ, what have I done?

I look up at the screen again. Sitting limply in the dinghy, Raffy has gradually drifted back closer to the camera. What the bloody hell is he up to in there? I take a breath, clear my throat, and find the button to patch the mic through to the neutrino chamber. When was the last time I used that thing? Years.

“Raffy,” I say evenly. “It’s Dougal. What’s going on mate?” I leave his end open, switch the intercom to the Genelecs to pick up more sound.

Something indistinct comes back. A muffled sentence. I’m gonna… what?

“What was that, mate? I couldn’t hear you.”

Agathe puts a hand to her mouth. “I’m gonna bring it all down,” she says. I turn to look at her. Her eyes are wide with fear. “That’s what he said, I think.” Sam and Tabs are beside us now, looking concerned.

“Has he got his netphone in there with him?” Tabs asks.

“His phone? What’s that got to do with anything?”

Tabs is calm, despite my rudeness. “I don’t want to call him, Professor.” I have no idea what she’s talking about. I pull out my own phone, quickly find his number, thrust it at her. She pulls out a slim black unit, like a cellphone but narrower, and copies in the number from my cell screen. A few seconds later, a bunch of oscillating readouts and graphs pop up on her screen; Raffy’s vitals.

“He’s ingested something,” she says. “His heart rate is elevated, look at this.” She holds the screen up to me. 176 bpm.

“That’s high.”

“Very.”

I’m getting bloody worried now. I hit the talk button again. “Look Raffy, whatever it is mate, we can talk about it, right? No need for all this carry on, mate!” I laugh nervously.

“I’m gonna BRING IT ALL DOWN!” roars through the Genelecs, making the cones pop.

Holy shit. He’s lost it.

Then a sob. Raffy is facing away from the camera. “I can’t fucking take it any more.” His voice is strained, tortured. “Can’t take being down here. You don’t respect me, I’m not your equal, am I Professor? Just your facilitator. Your servant. After all those years at Cambridge together. And to think,” he laughs bittery, “I had the naivety to suppose you might want to see what I’d found! Haha! Ha!” He turns, looks up at the camera, teeth gritted. “I wanted to show you. But you chucked it back in my face. You don’t deserve to see it! 20 years, Dougal. 20 fucking years, you bastard!” HIs shout causes the Genelecs to pop again. I cool the volume a little.  

“Show me what Raffy?” I say, trying to keep my voice calm. But inside I’m scared shitless. This is my oldest friend. “Tell me, Rafael, tell me what you’ve found.”

No answer.

“He’s gone quiet again,” Agathe quavers.

I clear my throat. “Professor McCord,” I state firmly. “I demand that you share your findings with me!”

“I’m going to try and get in,” Sam says, jogging over to the door.

“I was going to tell you I found a pattern,” Raffy sobs through the speakers, voice breaking, mind breaking. “In the neutrino readings.”

“A pattern?” Agathe breathes, shaking her head. “He’s mad.” I glance at her.

“It’s jammed,” Sam calls from the other side of the room. “I can get it open a little bit, but he’s wedged an axe under the push bar. I can’t get to it.”

“A pattern?” I breathe, trying to collect my thoughts. “Raffy?”  My head starts spinning, conflicting emotions, possibilities. Excitement mixing with dread mixing with panic. “Raffy? Come back, damn you…”

“Goodbye Professor.” The sound of the intercom being flicked off at the other end. How did he do that? I look closer at the screen. He’s got some sort of unit in his hand. A remote. Must have made it himself.

“He’s losing it,” I say.

Tabitha shakes her head. She has taken on a brusque professional air. “He’s far past that point, Professor. We need to get in there now. He’s going to try and kill himself.”

“What?” Agathe cries. “How can you know that?”

Tabitha looks me straight in my face. “Get in there, now,” she says flatly.

We watch the monitor. We can see Raffy’s actions, but they are accompanied by utter silence. He pushes a button on his little box, and in the background the tainter gates start to rise, water gushing through the openings.

“Holy shit. Holy shit.” I stand up straight, eyes moving from the monitor, to the console, to Sam. Sam. Quickly, I run over to the door to the chamber.

“Out of the way, boy!” I shout, grabbing the door, pulling hard. It’s jammed. Heart pounding, I move to the edge of the door and look inside. The axe, wedged behind the push bar, has a metal handle.

“Who the fuck makes axes with metal handles?” I growl, and try again to wrench the door open. Shame mixes with a feverish desire to know. What patterns? Raffy is my friend, but now a part of me wants to save him so I can see what he’s talking about.

My brain is imploding. I’m a terrible shit of a person.

The door is not budging, it’s never going to budge, and now water is streaming out through the opening. Sam stands, panting, looking hopeless. I turn to look at him, and at Agathe and Tabs who are standing over by the console. The horrible truth invades my mind.

You have to close the door to the chamber.

Agathe has read my mind. Tears are flowing freely down her face. “You have to do it,” she says.

I stand there for what seems like forever, water gushing out of the door and around my ankles, stronger now. Slowly, with limbs of stone, I turn and place a hand on the door. Leaning in, I push, waiting for the click.

Nope. The door is shut all the way, but it’s not clicking shut.

I let it go and the water pushes it open, jamming it back hard against the axe handle. It’s flooding out now, about a foot high beyond the door.

“Sam, come here!” I shout. We both lean into the door and give it all we’ve got. But it’s not closing, and now the water is too strong.

This can’t be happening.

“Professor, we’ve got to go,” Sam says, putting a hand on my shoulder.

No.

Numbly, I walk over to the console. Spread out over the far side are my readouts. Agathe is feverishly downloading everything onto an external HD.

“How long will that take?” I ask, feeling suddenly strangely calm all of a sudden. Twenty years of our lives, gathered into a little silver box.

“Done,” she says, picking it up, and sliding it into her pocket. Grabbing the paper readouts, stuffing them in my pockets, I look around. The place is bare apart from the instruments, we never kept much down here, apart from coffee. Up on the monitor, water has half covered the view, and Raffy is nowhere to be seen. Light from a thousand sensors has turned the water a bright golden colour.

“Professor, let’s go!” Sam shouts, shaking me out of my reverie.

The lift is a foot deep in water. We board. “One passenger must leave the lift,” it announces. the voice malforming digitally.

“Just go, you bastard!” I shout, punching the emergency door close button.

“One passenger must le-eave the lift.”

I turn around, wide eyed, gazing at the others. “I’ll do it,” I mutter, and just then the doors start closing.

“One paa-a-aasss-ee-eeenger,” the voice breaking up. Now the doors are closed, and we start the ascent, ankle deep in water. We’re all standing there, panting, shell-shocked. Then I see the little black unit in Tabs’s hand. Its still showing Raffy’s vitals, but the bpm now reads 0.

Breathing heavily, I pull the readouts from my pocket and start to fold them carefully. The tears come without warning, bursting out of me in convulsive sobs. I collapse to my knees in the water, and Agathe comes to my side, kneels down, embraces me, crying. Sam comes over and gently takes the readouts from my hand. “I’ll look after those, Professor,” he says quietly.

We’re moving up slowly, steadily. I breathe, composing myself.

Something hits me.

“Tabitha?”

“Yes?” she says, shocked that someone is speaking to her. Her eyes are wide, shot with red.

“That little… unit. What else can you get from Raffy’s netphone with that thing?” Tabs looks blankly at me. “Everything,” she says, wiping her tears. “I can get everything.”

BBC World Service, May 1st, 2053:

“Two Scottish Scientists Crack The Dark Matter Mystery: The international scientific community is this week praising the achievements of Professors Dougal Carles and Rafael McCord, who have made a breakthrough in the study of dark matter particles. Carles and McCord have discovered how the elusive particles interact and shape our universe, bringing a fifty-year search to a close. The scientific community have said the pair have “cracked the code of physics,” and it has been intimated that a Nobel Prize is imminent. Unfortunately, for Professor McCord, the Nobel Prize will be posthumous. Condolences from scientists, academics and dignitaries around the globe are flooding in following the laboratory accident which resulted in Professor McCord’s death not long after their breakthrough. Professor Carles could not be reached for comment…”