A New Reality
When scientists finally discovered the secret of consciousness – the C particle – they also discovered what the mystics had known all along: everything is conscious (in its own way). At least, those things that interact with the C particle. That includes pretty much all matter, anyway. And indeed, anti-matter, but that is of no importance, there being hardly any of the stuff around this part of the Universe. And, in theory, but noted by but a few, all dark matter.
Dark matter. That strange stuff that has gravity but interacts in no other way with ordinary matter.
It parallels all the properties of ordinary matter, but there is around ten times as much of it as ordinary matter in the Universe. Your room could be full of it and you’d never even notice without the most sensitive of gravity meters to detect it for you. You could spend your entire life in two worlds simultaneously – your own world, and a dark matter world occupying the same space, and not know, except that you’d be somewhat overweight (hmm…). But objects substantially smaller than worlds would be to all intents and purposes undetectable.
Except insofar as they have ‘C,’ as people would one day come to say. And as one person came to realise, it must therefore in theory be detectable – by consciousness.
Yes, ghosts. Invisible people made entirely of invisible dark matter, from invisible dark matter worlds lit by invisible dark matter suns. Detectable by conscious beings but invisible to all other instruments except perhaps the most sensitive of gravity meters.
“Spider” McCool was a psychic investigator. But when he read about dark matter in a science magazine one day, he had an epiphany. Ghosts? No! Aliens! Or, better, both! At last, a scientific explanation for ghosts that didn’t involve self-delusion.
That was why he was camped out in this dingy old abandoned mansion deep in the English countryside for the night. The place was supposed to be haunted, and he wanted to see what was going on. He had cameras set up, and thermal imaging equipment too. None of this should work on C, but people had obtained interesting signals at other sites, assuming they weren’t mistaken or faking it, so it was worth a try. He didn’t have a portable gravity meter: unfortunately, nobody had invented one yet and he wasn’t about to either. He would just have to rely on his built-in C: his consciousness.
Why wasn’t there a C-detector, he wondered. Too new, he supposed. One day… then nobody will laugh at his theories any more. Meanwhile he’d have to hang around in dingy places like this and hope to gather some evidence. Well, not evidence exactly, more hearsay. Without detectors, anything he said would be believed by believers and ridiculed by sceptics. Same old same old.
Anyway, better get down to work for a bit, he thought: it was 9pm and getting dark outside. According to his information, from the owners of the mansion, figures were reported to be seen every now and then walking past upstairs windows, usually after midnight. The owners themselves lived in a cottage about half a mile up the road and they had a good view of the mansion from there, even if the family couldn’t afford to maintain it in recent generations. They made a bit of money renting it out to ghost-hunters. Occasionally they’d call in a proper investigator to drum up a bit of publicity. Tonight it was his turn. And one day, when he was rich, maybe he’d be able to afford some assistants.
For now, though, he was on his own. He set up his cameras, thermal imaging thingamajigs and microphones in the most likely-looking rooms: those containing furniture. Scruffy-looking furniture, but furniture nonetheless: a four-poster bed that had clearly seen better days, some dressers, chairs, wardrobes; the usual for mansions that had once housed the rich. The cables from his gadgets snaked across the hallway into a sparsely furnished room on the other side he had designated as his ‘office’ for the night. Well, it had a mangy old wooden table and some cheap-looking wooden chairs in it, at least. He set his monitoring equipment up on the table, then went back across the hallway to the other two rooms to check that they were in fact being monitored. He waved in front of the cameras, and said “testing” into the microphones.
Then, turning out the light, but leaving the doors open for easy access, he ambled back to his ‘office’ to check the results: all working. Good, he thought. He pulled the door of his office almost closed, then sat down at the table and pulled a paperback from one of his bags. It was probably going to be a long night, and he had come prepared. He pulled out a gigantic thermos flask as well, and a huge stack of sandwiches, and began eating: might as well get scared on a full stomach, he thought to himself with a grin.
Time passed. 10pm. 11pm. He carried on reading, eating, drinking tea, reading some more, glancing at the instruments every now and then, and ignoring the occasional creak from the nether regions of the old building as it cooled down for the night: he was used to that sort of sound. He read some more.
Midnight. He shifted a little uncomfortably in his chair. He was getting tired now. He sat back and poured himself some more tea. He sighed. He stretched. He took a sip of tea. He heard something. He froze, stifling any outer reaction, pretending he hadn’t heard anything: he didn’t want to give the game away.
What was it? He quietly took another sip of tea, pretending nothing was amiss. He flicked his gaze quickly across the instruments arrayed in front of him: no reactions there either. He pretended to scratch his ear as he looked casually to one side and the other in the room. As expected, it all looked normal.
There it was again! Faint. Muffled. Something. A movement? Not in this room, but nearby nevertheless. Somebody standing, perhaps, and moving slightly. He hadn’t been able to place it properly, but his hearing was without peer. He knew what he had heard.
It was something that didn’t belong. He smiled to himself. He could smell a fake. Somebody was up to something. He shifted his position in his chair slightly, casual-style, so he could move quickly if attacked. Just in case.
Nothing happened for a few moments. He made a pretence of rummaging in his bag, and pulled out a second thermos. This one had been filled with boiling water to top up his other thermos, but it would make a good weapon too, should he need it. He loosened the lid and placed the flask on the table within easy reach. He sat back in his chair again, as if nothing was up. Instruments: normal.
He again sat back in his chair, stretching again and cautiously examining the room a bit more thoroughly. Ancient faded wallpaper. Unpolished wooden floorboards, with a worn-out rug covering the central portion under his table and chairs. Skirting board. An old wardrobe against one side wall; nothing against the other, or against the back wall.
He got up and opened the door to his office, and leaned against the door-jamb, again casually, looking out across the hallway, as if he was just a bit bored and had decided to stand there for a change. There was no sign of life in the hallway or the rooms opposite, but he handn’t expected any anyway.
He looked up and down the hallway for a few moments, then came back into the room, leaving the door slightly ajar as before. He put on a thoughtful pose and paced slowly around the perimeter of the room, secretly examining the floorboards and the skirting boards and the wallpaper. He was looking for… something. Something inconsistent. A clue.
He found it. Near the centre of the back wall, the skirting board had two tiny breaks, barely a millimetre wide, about three feet apart. He realised immediately that this could represent the base of a disguised door. But there was no corresponding break in the wallpaper: it may have been papered over a long time ago.
He carried on walking slowly around the room, thinking this over. Could somebody be watching him through the wallpaper? He remembered how, many years ago, he had somehow managed to calculate the ideal size for the pinhole when he had been making a pinhole camera for himself. One third of a millimetre, it had turned out, was just right. If there was such a hole in the wallpaper, or better, two, one for each eye, he would have little chance of spotting anything from this side without making it obvious he was looking. But someone on the other side would get a good view into the room if it was adequately lit.
Well, he hoped they enjoyed the show. He plonked himself back down in his chair and picked up the paperback to read some more. No doubt something would be happening across the hallway in due course.
After a couple of minutes, he heard slight movement again: someone creeping away, he decided, not looking up from the book. He waited a few moments, then went to examine the back wall closely, at around eye-height. After a short time, he spotted, as predicted, a couple of tiny imperfections in the wallpaper. Ha! He went and sat down again.
They were a little below his eye level, he thought; about right for the owner. Well, that was no surprise. Who else would it be? But what to do? Sit here and wait for the show? Or…
Well, he wasn’t a psychic investigator for nothing. He was going to investigate. He went back to the wall and felt around, to see if he could locate the edge of the presumed-papered-over door, or any means of opening it. He hesitated as his conscience pointed out that damaging other people’s wallpaper was not proper, but he replied to himself that he was doing it for the sake of science. Well, pseudo-science, anyway.
But what about these people’s livelihood? his conscience asked. That made him think. Well, they were committing fraud, he replied, in his mind. That shut his conscience up, finally. It’s good to be good, he thought with a smile, as he returned to groping the back wall.
Finding the edge of the door proved to be no problem, but how to open it? He felt about some more, looking for a handle. He didn’t find one, but he did find a depression where a handle might have been fitted at one time.
He nipped back to his bag and pulled out a penknife, then returned to the wallpaper and cut the wallpaper away from the depression. Looking in, he could see the axle, or whatever it may be called, on which a handle would be mounted. Excellent. He wondered if the door might be locked. He felt below the handle, but found nothing that might be a keyhole.
With the penknife, he then cut from the skirting board up and all around the edges of the door, freeing it from the clutches of the wallpaper. Then he went back to his trusty bag, and pulled out a pair of snub-nosed pliers. Gripping the handle-axle thingy with them, he turned it, easily, as it happened. The door opened towards him.
Beyond the door, he saw a narrow corridor, about a metre wide, stretching to either side. He poked his head in and looked each way. The corridor stretched for some distance in either direction, and he could see other doors. Inspecting the back of his door, he could see that holes had been drilled in it to make peering through possible. He wondered if the Lairds of times past had had a good time watching the servant-girls undressing. Probably, he thought. Some people get all the luck.
Just then, one of the instruments on the table pinged quietly. He looked back. The expected action was beginning. He dismissed it and went back to his trusty bag. The cameras would pick it all up anyway.
From his bag, he took a hefty torch: all the better to see with and all the better to pretend isn’t an offensive weapon should it be necessary to defend himself against the not-so-big bad landlord, and his mobile phone, which he turned off, since it wouldn’t do for it to be ringing when he was sneaking about. Could be useful in an emergency though. And… his secret weapon, a CCD camera, sensitive to infra-red: good for snapping people in dark places. He looped its strap around his neck.
Quickly and quietly he stepped into the secret corridor and pulled the door nearly but not quite closed behind him, so he could find it easily on his way back. He turned right, switching on his torch and quietly walking along the corridor as it passed behind various other rooms. At the end of the corridor, at what he guessed must be the end of the building as well, a steep wooden stepladder on one side led down to another level a short way below. He switched off his torch and listened and watched for a few moments: he could hear something, and after his eyes adjusted, he could see some faint light coming from somewhere.
Very slowly and carefully, Spider McCool climbed down the stepladder, hoping he wouldn’t be seen. When he reached the bottom, he crouched there and looked around. He was in what looked like a low-ceilinged-cellar, maybe 1.5m high. Yet it wasn’t the cellar as he was just below the top floor of the old mansion. He hadn’t gone far enough down to have reached the floor below either. He was between the two floors. Interesting, he thought.
Looking around, he saw columns of bricks and short lengths of walls supporting the floor above. The light was coming from some distance away and whatever was going on was blocked by some of these columns.
He moved quietly, so he could peer around one of the columns.
Sure enough, maybe 15m away, the landlord was up to something. Spider could see some ropes hanging and some rods sticking down out of the ceiling above, a computer, and some sound equipment. Rubbish, he thought, readying his camera.
He waited until some wailing noise was happening, and snapped a picture. He hoped the infra-red sensitivity of the camera wouldn’t spoil the shots, since there was visible light here after all. He snapped a couple more pictures, then retreated back up the stepladder. Smirking to himself, he made his way back to his room, and closed the secret door carefully behind him. He sat down and poured himself a nice big cup of tea: a job well done, he thought to himself.
Now: how should I appear when Mr Fraudster takes another peek into the room? he thought. I know: I should be peering out of the doorway to try and see what is going on across the hallway with my own eyes.
Well, OK, I’ll sup some tea and when the instruments die down, I’ll do just that, he thought. He sat back in the chair feeling quite satisfied with himself and enjoyed his tea as the instruments went haywire.
He finished his tea quite quickly as it happened: all that adventuring in the secret passage had generated quite a thirst! He put down his mug and went over to the doorway and peered across the hallway towards open doorway of the room opposite. He casually watched the furniture there bobbing up and down. He folded his arms and leaned against the door-jamb of his room, not really all that interested in the nonsense going on opposite. He glanced up and down the hallway, then back at the room. There were some moving lights in there now, and some wailing again. He wondered how anybody could be fooled by this trash.
But… they had been. There’s no underestimating human stupidity, he thought.
Eventually, the show stopped, and he decided he’d better look interested. He moved back into his office and arranged himself so he was poking his head around the doorway looking across the hallway. This pose was rather boring and a bit tiring, but he stuck at it, one hand massaging his lower back every now and then to ease the strain a bit.
Everything was once again totally silent. He listened carefully.
Sure enough, after a few minutes, he heard the quiet sounds of movement from behind the back wall of his room. It stopped, and he felt goose-pimples arise, knowing that someone was watching him now.
Abruptly, he turned and went back to his table and sat down. He checked the instruments. He sat back and waited, hoping to bore the watcher into clearing off. He didn’t like being watched. After a while, whoever was watching obviously got the hint that Spider McCool was not going to be doing much else: the oh-so-quiet sounds of someone creeping off reached Spider’s ears.
After a few moments, Spider quietly picked up his infra-red camera, got up and went across the hallway into the ‘haunted’ room opposite. He left the light off in there but walked over to the window so he could see out. He waited. A couple of minutes went by and then he saw someone walking down the path away from the mansion. It was too dark to see clearly who it was, but he quietly opened the window and snapped a picture with his infra-red camera. Then he shut the window again and ambled back to his office.
Now, he thought, to get some proper pictures of that stuff downstairs. He kept the infra-red camera, and pulled a digital camera from his bag: this one was for conventional light and it had built-in flash and picture preview too. He stepped back from the table and took the conventional camera and snapped a picture showing the location of the secret doorway: might as well document the whole thing, he thought. He picked up his pliers and opened the secret door. Stepping back, he snapped another picture, showing the door open. He walked back to it and looked either way along the secret corridor. Nobody there.
He snapped a flash picture in each direction then headed back towards the stepladder. He snapped that too. He climbed down the stepladder. It was dark in here now. He couldn’t see a thing, and he didn’t know where the light-switch was. Spider McCool had forgotten to bring his torch. Oh, well.
He aimed himself roughly towards where he had seen the computer, and snapped a picture, looking at the preview panel on the back of his camera. The flash lit everything up for an instant, and he could see the scene on the preview panel. He would navigate like that. He felt his way around the column of bricks he had hid behind before, then snapped another picture in the general direction of the computer: yes, there it was. Feeling his way, he walked over to it and snapped a few more pictures, showing the computer and the rods and strings going up into the ceiling.
Turning around, he snapped a few pictures showing the whole ‘cellar’ as seen from there.
He heard a sound. He froze. What was it?
Looking down at the preview panel on his camera, he moved quickly to one of the brick columns so he could hide behind it if necessary. Surely the stupid landlord wasn’t coming back?
He thought furiously. He had left the secret door open upstairs. Damn! He could be in danger.
The air turned cold. His goose-pimples came back. Something was going on. There was no air-conditioning equipment down here to make it cold all of a sudden. Oh, shit! he thought, clutching the camera. The air turned colder still. It was suddenly icy down here!
Something’s absorbing the energy! he thought. The landlord isn’t doing this, he reasoned quickly: it’s too sophisticated for him.
His camera felt damp: condensation. His forehead felt damp: stress.
He looked around in the pitch blackness. Nothing.
A sound. Shit!
He was shaking, unable to see anything, too scared to move. He promised to buy himself some night-sight goggles if he got out of this.
The sound of something inhaling, noisily. Nearby! His eyes were wide open, but saw nothing but blackness. He pressed his back against the brick column.
Something grabbed his face. He cried out and tried to knock it away – but there was nothing there! He swung his arms about but hit nothing but air. He nearly fainted. He grabbed his camera and snapped a picture. Nothing on the preview but empty cellar. He turned quickly and snapped two more: nothing. He could see the stepladder in one. He fought his fear. He snapped a couple of pictures with the infra-red camera, hoping something would show up when the pictures were uploaded. If he survived. He took a deep breath, as quietly as he could.
Spider McCool decided to stay. Something bloody-minded and stubborn had taken over his brain. Terrified he might be, but fear is only a sensation, he told himself. If his number was up, it was up. Fuck it. Nobody was depending on him for anything. He moved away from the brick column into an open space. He snapped flash pictures and watched the preview: nothing. He was still so scared he hardly dared to breathe, but he studiously ignored it. Control. He gritted his teeth and listened carefully. He was determined to find out what was happening.
To his left he caught a glimpse of motion. Turning sharply, he saw nothing. Blackness still. He snapped a shot: empty cellar. Peering into the blackness, he listened carefully and waited impatiently for his eyes to adjust to the darkness after taking flash pictures and looking at the camera’s preview screen so much.
After a few seconds, he saw a few faint strands of wispy-looking smoke, slightly blue against the blackness, maybe two metres from him, at about waist height. He felt like backing away, but refused to allow it. He breathed in attentively: he couldn’t smell any smoke.
The strands of whatever-it-was seemed to be collecting together: clumping slowly, forming a shape.
How can I see this? he asked himself. There’s no light source in here. Everything else is totally dark. He felt the controls on his camera and switched off the flash. He set the exposure to manual, f1.8, 2 seconds. He hoped it would be enough. Standing very still, he aimed the camera at the smoke, and took the shot. He looked at the preview: nothing. He changed the exposure to 10 seconds and tried again: nothing. He changed the exposure back to 5 seconds. He took a quick shot with the infra-red camera, then set its exposure to 5 seconds as well and took another. He would look at the results later.
He waited for his eyes to adjust back to the darkness. The smoke was now clearly visible, glowing its strange bluish colour, and forming some roughly spherical shape.
He edged towards it, shaking again, but still refusing to allow the fear to dominate him. He reached out a hand – unable to see it even with the bluish glow – and passed it through the smoke: he felt nothing, and, strangely, his hand remained completely invisible even as it must have been passing through that illuminated space. The smoke did not respond but continued gathering, giving the appearance of solidifying.
He thought: ectoplasmic materialisation? There’s no such thing. Fraud. But he couldn’t see how this could be faked. Anyway it wasn’t solid. He hadn’t felt any material. Nothing was ‘materialising’ in this space, unless it really was some kind of smoky substance. He blew at it: no reaction. Not real smoke.
It began to form a recognisable head: his head. It was about 20 degrees tilted from the horizontal, and tipped towards him slightly as well. The neck just faded out. His body balked, but he edged closer still, and bent down to look more closely. It still looked smoky, and he felt he could have seen through it if it wasn’t so dark in here. He snapped another time-exposure with each camera.
He reached his hand up carefully and again tried to feel the object. Again, he couldn’t feel anything, and he couldn’t see his hand in the darkness: the bluish glow illuminated nothing.
It isn’t really there, he thought. It must be in my mind, somehow. Telepathy. Or an illusion.
Or… C. His mind might be the only thing around here that could possibly detect it. The blue glow would be dark light: visible only in his mind with C. It wouldn’t illuminate his hand or anything else in this world.
His goose-pimples came up once more this night. This… thing… wasn’t a ghost. It was a dark alien! This could be our two species’ first contact! Or at least, the first time a human would have known what was going on. He felt a burden of responsibility. What should he say? Did it know he was here? Would it ‘hear’ him with C?
“H… Hello,” he said quietly. It turned a little and looked ‘up’ at him. He gulped and his eyes opened wide with shock. It had heard him. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up.
“Wh… what are you doing here?” he asked it, a bit stupidly.
Its mouth moved slowly, as if the creature was struggling to use this unfamiliar body. “I,” it hissed quietly, “am a psychic investigator…”
Spider’s eyebrows shot up. What?
The creature continued talking, however. “I… must warn you…” it said, its image fading slightly, the sound distorting slightly, “The Galetsian is aware of your world, and wants it…”
“I… I don’t know what you mean!” exclaimed Spider. “What is the Galetsian? Why does it want our world?”
“Galetsian,” it replied, with difficulty, “One who determines the actions of others. Your world is close in space: easier than long flights between stars… if transfer can be made.”
With that, the creature looked suddenly past Spider’s shoulders briefly, then back to him. “Must go, meet here in 14 of your days,” it said, and it turned and raced away from him, vanishing in a moment. Spider turned quickly to look behind himself, but there was nothing there.
He stood there in the darkness for a few moments, or maybe much longer, collecting his thoughts. Could it be true? Does someone or something covet our world?
No longer bothered by the mere trivia of the darkness in a haunted house, he eventually made his way back to the steps, and along the corridor to his office, where he packed up his things and left without ceremony, locking the hallway door as he left. He would have to persuade the landlord to let him back in in a couple of weeks… or maybe not. He didn’t want to explain. And he didn’t want the landlord occupying the cellar trying to haunt him with his ridiculous tricks. He examined the locks as he left. Yes… he knew how to pick those.