Leo was barely two years old when he saw his first Dalek. Dr Who was on the telly and he was crouching behind his parent’s settee as usual. He always half-watched Dr Who this way, ready to spring to the door at a moment’s notice.
How his older brother’s and sister would tease him about it.
Dr Who was fighting the Daleks again. Dr Who was always fighting the Daleks back then, so little Leo thought. The Doctor was back in the ‘olden days’ when Leo had his first sighting. On the telly a woman in white dress was hiding as a Dalek whirred through the wood paneled corridors of an old house. Leo remembered this big mass of bumpy things and a mean looking grill for a face topped off by a head like a saucepan with a flash lights attached. He was so mesmerized by it all he forgot to run for the door.
The particular Doctor for this adventure was the one with the sharp looking nose and black hair. He reminded Leo of a pixie or an elf with his funny little mannerisms. He seemed to sit around all the time playing the flute.
As Leo remembered it the story ended with a big battle where all the Daleks were fighting each other. He had graduated to sitting on the settee with a cushion on his lap. Daleks were exploding all over the screen and foam was shooting out of their tops. Leo would have never guessed that the Daleks had foam inside them. They reminded him of his mum’s old twin tub as they boiled around, zapping one another with their exterminators, the emperor Dalek shouting at them- “you must not fight in here!” It sounded like his mum breaking up his brothers many rows. He felt strangely sorry for the poor emperor-it must really hurt to see all your children fighting, even worse when they were killing each other.
These crazy images of Dalek destruction remained in his consciousness for a long time afterwards. He became a big Dr Who fan and watched it avidly throughout the rest of his childhood. He always looked forward to the episodes with Daleks in them most of all.
He remained a fan up until his late teens, by that time Dr Who had long sunk into camp silliness and Leo wondered what he had ever seen in the programme in the first place. He looked for whatever that was elsewhere, in grown up things like sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and left behind such childish things. He still retained some vestige of his earlier passion in that he excelled in science subjects at school. When he went on to university he majored in physics, although socially he preferred the Arts faculty. He met Judith there and within a year of graduating they had married. Leo became a specialist in advanced astrophysics and worked towards a Ph.D. in the realm of quantum mechanics.
There he learnt about worm-holes and negative energy and first became aware of the controversy in astrophysical fields around the subject of time-travel. Leo was amazed to find that some physicists thought it was theoretically possible as he had not thought of such things since he watched Dr Who all those years before. Personally he was unconvinced and tended to side with Stephen Hawking’s view that the universe just couldn’t permit such things to take place.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t help but wonder.
Leo and his wife held a dinner party in honour of Professor Enrico, Leo’s mentor for the Ph.D. Their daughter was barely a year old and Judith had to juggle roles between being the perfect hostess and tending to Harriet’s constant demands. Judith did her best not to let the strain show.
“Well Professor, it looks like our little darling’s decided to join us for dinner,” she said with exasperation as Harriet bounced on her knee, giggling mischievously. “I’m ever so sorry!”
“Oh, do not worry my dear,” said the Professor kindly. “I’m sure the little bambino is welcome!” The Professor was a handsome, older Italian man with an intensely serious face and half-rimmed spectacles. He was like an indulgent grandparent when it came to the bambino.
Harriet grabbed at one of her mummy’s dangly ear-rings. She was a boisterous, clever girl, far more advanced verbally than other girls, let alone mere boys.
“ ‘ret play with Daddy’s ‘lek!” she ordered.
“Daddy’s ‘lek?” asked the Professor.
“Oh, she means the toy Dalek!” said Leo with delight. “Yes, Daddy will go and get his Dalek!” He left the table briefly and returned with a silver toy with flashing lights that lit up when you ran it along the table top.
“Daddy brought ‘lek!” lisped Harriet excitedly. “ ‘xterminate! ‘ xterminate!” she said in her best imitation of a Dalek.
“I didn’t know they still make those old things!” said the Professor with surprise.
“It’s one of my old toys,” muttered Leo with a certain coyness.
“Yes, that’s my husband’s way of reliving his childhood through our daughter, I’m afraid!” laughed Judith only half-jokingly. “Now you be careful with that thing Harriet, I don’t won’t you poking it in your eye!”
After Judith had eventually got Harriet off to bed, Leo and Professor Enrico retired to the patio. Tonight was a warm summer evening, the end of another long balmy day. They sat down on Leo’s garden chairs with their drinks. Leo fetched his mentor an ash-tray from the kitchen. He had given up many months before but didn’t mind smoking a cigar with the Professor tonight. This was a special occasion after all. They admired the night sky as the blue smoke of their cigars rose on the warm evening air. Upstairs Leo could hear his wife reading a bed time story to their precocious daughter. The Professor took in a deep breath.
“Have you heard of the student paradox yet Leo?” he asked, his grey eyes beaming with amusement.
“No, what’s that?” asked Leo, coughing copiously on the cigar.
“Well, it goes like this. Assume for the moment that all this talk of traversable worm holes and time travel is true. Now imagine a Professor who decides to use such a device to travel into the future. He goes forward in time, 20 years or so, let’s say to 2023,” he paused to blow some more smoke rings. “Anyhow, in the future he looks around his University Library and finds an article on a brand new theorem, completely unknown to science in his own time. So, being a good academic, he takes a few notes and zips back in time to 2003 and gives the notes to one of his student. The student takes the notes and works them into a paper on the brand new theorem, the same paper that the time travelling Professor saw when he went forward to 2023.”
Leo took a few moments to appreciate the full importance of what his mentor was saying. “So, you’re saying that the knowledge in the paper effectively came out of nowhere?”
“Because the Professor only read the result of his own student’s work,” said Leo in wonder. “So he got something for nothing!”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” said Professor Enrico. “That paradox in particular is very worrying for the time-travel camp. It makes such a mockery of the laws of physics, indeed of the whole idea of a universe that makes sense, that many people are convinced that this is reason enough to side with Hawkins and agree that Mother Nature just couldn’t tolerate such things.”
“Do you agree with them?”
The Professor allowed himself a wry smile. “Well, I take the view that just because something isn’t desirable that doesn’t necessarily mean Nature should pass a law forbidding it. The Universe just doesn’t work that way.”
“So, you think time-travel might be possible?” asked Leo in astonishment.
“If pushed,” said the Professor, “I would say it is pretty improbable, which is not the same as saying it is impossible. For me it is, as you say, a case of the jury still being out.”
That night Leo drove the Professor home. Although he’d had a few drinks Leo felt confident enough to drive. He was very excited about the prospect of his Ph.D. The Professor continued extrapolating on time-travel.
“Another thing is about the ‘student paradox’ is that in a way it may help to explain the greatest mystery of all,” he mused.
“Why there is something rather than nothing.”
“How can it do that?”
“Well, if you can get something for nothing in that way, than given the right conditions one could produce a whole universe in the same manner.”
Leo’s frowned as he simultaneously tried to concentrate on the heady conversation and driving. “Something for nothing? But are you saying God used a time-machine to create the universe?”
“God? No! Not God- maybe the universe is a massive time-machine, well we know it is since time and space are indivisible. That way it could be endlessly creating and recreating itself in a never-ending cycle.”
“A cosmic self-progenitor!”
“Exactly, just like the Midgard serpent from Norse mythology-endlessly devouring itself as it gives birth to itself. The universe is spewed forth from the guts of the cosmic singularity and in the end it returns to that state of singularity when gravity overcomes all the other forces in the universe. Then there is another big bang and the whole process starts again. It is a cycle you see, something I feel the human race has known all along, right throughout history.”
There was an awe filled silence as Leo ruminated over the subtleties of the Professor’s intellect.
“How wonderful it is to contemplate,” he said at last.
He was thinking of the cosmic serpent endlessly devouring itself and giving birth to itself again and again. The thought made him feel at once god-like and insignificant. So when the lorry jack-knifed in front of them he barely had time to drag himself back to earth before his car connected with metal.
Leo was in an endless nothingness. Before him the cosmic singularity opened up and he found himself drifting towards an infinitesimal point of light. How beautiful it looked. He felt an immense feeling of relief that it was all over and he was returning to the source of everything. But then a familiar theme tune started playing:
Dum-dum, Dum-dum, da-da, dum-dum! Dum-dum! Dum-dum! Dum-dum!
Little Leo was watching Dr Who from behind the cushion again. His family teased him about the cushion endlessly, but he couldn’t do with out it. The Daleks were fighting each other on the telly because the Doctor had tricked some of them into becoming human. Little Leo didn’t know why, but he couldn’t tear himself away from the screen.
Obey me! Your Emperor is ordering you. Do not fight in here! Do not fight in here! Obey! I am your Emperor! Daleks, obey me! Obey! Obey! Obey!
Leo awoke to find himself attached to a drip and with a tube down his throat. Judith was standing over him, a look of concern on her face.
“I was in the singularity with the Daleks,” he muttered incomprehensibly.
“Leo, you must rest now,” said Judith.
“There was an accident,” Leo gurgled. “Was the Professor alright?”
Judith hesitated before answering: “Don’t worry about that now Leo, you just concentrate on getting well.”
“But, the Professor, he is okay, isn’t he?”
Leo knew from her silence that he wasn’t, however he was still too drained from his near scrape with death to probe any further. It wasn’t until he had fully recovered a number of weeks later that he knew for sure that his mentor was dead.
The implications of the crash were immense for Leo and his family. The least of it was the postponement of his Ph.D. Although the physical insults healed relatively quickly, Leo was far too psychologically fractured by the whole episode to return to work. To make matters worse his insurance wouldn’t cover the costs of writing off the car because although he was within the legal limit to drive, he had consumed some alcohol that night. The insurers for the other vehicle were putting in a claim for costs based on the assumption that since he had been drinking he was obviously at fault. Leo was unable to contest this and so he looked forward to increased premiums next year. All of which was academic anyway for he was in no condition to drive.
Judith found herself forced out to work to support the family whilst Leo stayed at home looking after Harriet. Focussing his energies on his precocious daughter helped him get out of himself for a while. Nevertheless he felt terribly isolated and soon began to dip into a deep depression. However just as things were beginning to seem unbearable, there was an unexpected turn of events.
Leo was just sitting Harriet on the potty when the phone rang.
“Hello?” he said anxiously when he was able to answer it.
“Hello, Mr. Portnew?”
“Yes,” coughed Leo.
“My names Martin Vole of Smithwick, Symes and Vole, solicitors for the late Professor Fernando Gustave Enrico.”
“Oh, right,” stuttered Leo in dismay. He’d been dreading something like this happening for a long time, for he assumed that it was some kind of legal action against himself.
“We’re the legal executors of Professor Enrico’s estate. Would it be possible for you to drop by our offices in Loaded Terrace at 10.00a.m. tomorrow?”
“Yes, it would, but could you tell me what this is all about first. I’m going to have to organise child-care to come in you see.”
“That’s perfectly alright Mr. Portnew. We have arranged Child-care at the nursery across the road. And there is no need to worry, although I cannot go into details over the phone I can indicate to you that it is in your interest to come to my office tomorrow.”
“Right, so you can’t give me any indication then?”
“Come to the office tomorrow Mr. Portnew and I shall explain all. Believe me it will be to your advantage to do so.”
“Okay then,” muttered Leo, unsure of what to make of this summons. “Ten O’clock it is.”
Leo was barely able to think of anything else for the rest of the day and well into the early evening. Judith came home at seven, having just completed another twelve hour shift at the hostel. She was full of work and needed to unload badly so Leo pushed the news of the phone call to the back of his mid for the time being. Judith wasn’t around for long, she had another shift starting at six the following day, so after checking in on Harriet she retired early.
“Don’t stay up too long,” she said to Leo as she hauled her tired body up the stairs.
“Don’t worry, just a few things I need to check out on line,” he said as she started cleaning her teeth. He heard her mumble something over the buzz of the electric toothbrush. He ignored this and carried on with what he was doing.
Ever since his odd experience during the crash he had become more and more intrigued by the memory of watching Dr Who all those years before. That had felt so real, almost like he was there, back as a two year old watching the Daleks fight each other again. He had looked on the internet to try and find out more about the episode he had been watching. The most likely candidate was the last episode of Evil of the Daleks, starring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, first broadcast in July 1967. He would have been about two and a half back then. He was astonished to realise how far back his memories went. It also occurred to him that if that was an old memory he re-experienced then it was a very vivid memory.
1967- so whilst revolution and war reigned supreme in the real world the same was happening on Skaro. As students everywhere started to question their teachers, so the Daleks had learnt to question their emperor after ingesting the ‘human factor’. The result was civil war and the destruction of the Daleks’ home world. Leo felt the story fitted in well with the sixties zeitgeist.
Leo was disappointed to find the BBC had trashed all but one of the installments of this particular story in a purge of their archives in the early seventies. He so much wanted to be able to compare what he saw in his ‘vision’ with what was actually on the screen. Now he would never know.
The following day he reported to the solicitor’s office in Loaded Terrace. Collecting a docket from the reception he was able to deposit Harriet in the care of the nursery just across the road. Finally he was shown into a pale blue office at the top of the stairs where he met Martin Vole.
Mr. Vole was a lot younger than Leo had imagined, in his early thirties with a full head of dark brown hair sitting over green eyes and a confident smile.
What he had to say was even more of a surprise than his age.
“The Professor made me a beneficiary of his will? But I only knew the man briefly, surely there has been some kind of mistake?” Although it was not in Leo’s nature to look a gift horse in the mouth his recent experiences had left him understandably wary of everything.
“Well it is all here in black and white,” said Vole. “Professor Enrico has left you and your family considerable assets, including his house and the contents of several savings accounts as well as various stocks and shares in cybernetic industries.”
“But why, I don’t understand, were there any conditions?”
Vole coughed politely. “The Professor did stipulate one condition, but before I explain that I need to show you this video recording he made before his death.”
So without any more ado he reached over behind his desk and inserted a disk in a DVD player and switched on the TV that was mounted on the wall. An image appeared on the screen of the Professor sitting at his desk in his study, surrounded by books with the sun streaming in through the window. His eyes seemed fixed on Leo’s, which felt extremely odd.
“Hello Leo, if you’re watching this, then I must already be dead,” said the Professor causally. “And doubtless you are wondering why it is that I’ve agreed to make such a bequest to you and your family.” The Professor paused for a moment to consider his words, his hands clasped together on the desk in front of him. “What I’m about to tell you requires a leap of faith, but the reason I chose you Leo is because I judged you capable of making just such a leap.
“During the Cold War I worked for the British military on a project called Distant Star. I am probably in breach of the Official Secrets Act telling you this, but as you know, I am far beyond the reach of the British State by now.” He allowed himself a dry chuckle at this before continuing. “I digress, Distant Star was your country’s equivalent of the Remote Viewing Project run by the CIA at the same time. I was one of the remote viewers, trained psychics who would direct their energies towards the Soviet Union in hope of being able to detect troop movements and military exercises by use of telepathy. We had some very promising results and were able to verify our observations with satellite surveillance.” His face contorted in disgust. “But it was all too radical for the top-brass and within eighteen months the funding had dried up! Many of my colleagues went over to the states to work on the remote viewing project. I however chose a different path, as I was no longer enamoured with the idea of letting the military have control of what I had discovered.
“During my period with Distant Star I found that I was not only able to view objects in distant space but objects at a different time. This had been half-recognized by the project in that they had a sub-detail whose task was to investigate powers of pre-cognition. However it wasn’t until after the project folded up that I was really able to give it my full consideration.
“I started to experiment with what I came to call psychic temporal displacement. My researches, as you can well imagine, took me to some strange places. But I found I was able to distantly view different events in the past and future with increasing accuracy. For example, I was able to help police locate the remains of the body in a fifteen year old murder inquiry in Hampshire. In Cambodia I was able to discover the buried remains of Pol Pot’s killing fields after almost thirty years in the ground. Fine as these small victories were I soon became aware of a major limitation of the temporal displacement. Any displacement was limited to the life-span of the individual. I began to theorize about why that might be so and experiment with ways of getting around it. I did this because I could see endless applications opening up before my eyes. It was then that I started to test out moving forward in time, ironically because I was looking to see if I had found a way round this difficulty later on. What I found instead was the greatest shock of all Leo, and that is where you come in.”
Although it seemed likely the Professor was about to expand on this, Leo signaled that he wished Vole to stop the machine there.
“This is total and absolute madness!” he exclaimed in dismay. “I just do not recognize the man in that video! I feel as if someone has taken a film of the professor and dubbed their own sound-track using voice samples!”
“Mr. Portnew I assure you that most certainly is not the case!” said Vole somewhat testily. “And I agree that Professor Enrico’s ideas were very extraordinary. Nevertheless, it is a point in his will that you continue to watch the rest of the recording and then carry out the deceased’s instructions as to the best of your ability.”
“Yes, all in good time Mr. Portnew. Now do you want to see the rest of the recording now or not?”
Leo meekly nodded his head. He could see no other way out now and the thought of spending the rest of his life struggling to finance his studies was too much for him to bare.
Story © 2003 Andrew Panero/Visagraph Films International.
Singularity photo by Jillian of Gothos http://www.dragonweave.com/gothos/html/black_holes/