Chapter Three – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Leap Of Faith

‘Inconclusive.’

The professor repeated what he’d told Ellie earlier that day.
It was nearing midnight and a young team of scientists had assembled on the ground floor of a Computing Laboratory – one of their agreed meeting points in the Department of Engineering Science.

They kept the room dark. Desk lamps glowed around them offering a soft light.
There were four shadows in the room: Ellie, James, another student named Sara and the professor, who was standing perched against a desk while the others sat in front of him.

‘Inconclusive? What the hell does that mean?’ Sara asked, rising to her feet.

Sara Morgan, a charismatic biologist studying Chemistry at Keble, was prone to speaking her mind. She was often considered fiery by the professors who taught her (or ‘worked with her’ as she would put it).

James was more composed. ‘Are they questioning the validity of the research?’

‘Not exactly,’ the professor said softly. ‘The Board have… concerns. Look, guys, this happens more often than you might think.’ The professor tried to reassure them. ‘The funding required to take this project to the next level is extensive. The Board need to ensure that all areas are covered, that the very best in their chosen fields are assembled and consulted… That the right approach is taken and that the correct equipment, support and… expertise is in place.’

‘Bullshit!’ Sara erupted. ‘They can’t do this! This is ours!’

Her face was red with fury, the vein on her neck throbbing and defined. Her fists clenched.

The professor spoke calmly.

‘They can, they did and it’s done. I’m sorry.’ He knew what this meant to them.

‘Motherfuckers!’ Sara shouted at the floor, pacing up and down. The professor let it go. Sara’s temper was always going to struggle when dealing with this.

‘So what’s the next step?’ James asked, ignoring the sound of Sara kicking her chair in the background.

‘There isn’t a next step, not for a while. The funding is pulled. But I can assure you that all your names will be credited as key contributors to the research when it’s published.’

‘And when will that be?’ Sara asked, barely holding back the aggression from her voice.

‘Most likely in the next few years. It depends on the Muscular Dystrophy research. I hear significant progress is being made. Perhaps in a couple of years they’ll…’

‘Oh, come on,’ James interrupted. ‘It’ll go private. They’ll never get the funding to take this all the way. Some corporate American pharmaceutical will take this on and reap the rewards.’

The professor paused before speaking. He had to choose his words carefully.
‘Perhaps… not exactly like that, but in a way… yes, that’s possible.’

Sara slumped into her chair, the stages of acceptance were passing quickly and giving way to the sadness now showing in her eyes.

Whilst they had been waiting for the decision their minds had run riot. They had convinced themselves that only the very best outcome was possible.

Ellie sat waiting for her turn. Unlike the others she had been given the time to process what had happened. But it didn’t make it any easier; she had watched as they arrived beaming with hope and eager to hear the news. The disappointment was unbearable.

Ellie looked around the room, deciding it was time to speak.

‘Look, I don’t know about the rest of you but this isn’t over for me. I can’t just walk away.’ Everyone looked at her confused. ‘Look, we’ve started something, and it’s more than… this…’ Ellie rose to her feet. ‘This would be a cure to the human weakness. It would change life as we know it. How can we be expected to step back? Is it vain that I want to be part of this? I’ve given two years of my life… We’ve all given… We owe it to ourselves!’

James slouched in his wheelchair, his spirit broken.

‘What are you suggesting? It’s over.’

Ellie hesitated before continuing. She’d been thinking long and hard on the best way to broach this.

‘Well, what did they say? ‘Inconclusive’, right? Fine, then we take that on board. We take it to the next level ourselves.’

‘Animal testing?’ James frowned.

Sara glanced at him pitifully, muttering something inaudible under her breath.

Ellie tried to sound as confident as she could.

‘This isn’t about the money… Screw the funding! We have nearly everything we need already. We take it to human trials.’

The room fell silent. Ellie was uncertain even as she said it, but she had done it. She had put it out there. If anything she was convinced everyone else was thinking it too.

‘Who would be the test subjects?’ James asked, knowing the answer.

Ellie gestured to the team, palms open.

‘I can’t just walk away… and I’m surprised you can?’ She turned to the professor.

He had kept quiet, choosing to observe. Often a closed book, he was difficult to judge at times.

‘I understand that you’re angry,’ he said, speaking with a tone that was more forceful than usual. ‘I can’t deny that I’m disappointed too, but we need the funding and this needs to be research accredited to the University. We can’t go rogue. We need the support. This is too significant to act alone. The risks are…’

‘I’m in,’ Sara asserted, biting her nails as she spoke.

The professor recoiled. Shocked by the simplicity the team seemed to view this decision with. Considering the time they’d spent together over the past two years it was easy to forget they were so young and their immaturity at times took him off guard.

‘Me too,’ James said, turning to the professor for a reaction. He had begun putting on his coat.

‘I’m sorry, I cannot be part of this. What you’re suggesting… It isn’t safe. I’d lose my job, my career.’

‘You could oversee the project,’ Sara offered. ‘Make sure that everything was being done correctly. We’ll do whatever it takes.’

‘No,’ the professor replied, putting a scarf around his neck and checking the time on his watch.

‘But this is our chance!’ Ellie tried not to sound desperate. ‘You said yourself the amount of faith you put behind your science will reflect what you get out of it. This is our leap of faith. This is our moment. How can you say these things and then…’

‘Do not use my words against me, Ellie!’ the professor snapped. ‘I wouldn’t have got any of you involved in this if I thought it was dangerous.’ He seemed angered by the idea that the team were doing this under his guidance.

‘Let it go,’ he pleaded, lowering his head with almost a whisper.

‘We won’t,’ Sara spoke defiantly. ‘We can’t and you know that.’

The professor could see the determination in their eyes, the devotion. He’d seen it before.

‘You don’t know what you’re asking,’ he warned.

‘All we’re asking is that you trust us, Professor,’ Ellie pleaded.

They knew the truth just as he did. The history of pharmaceutical publications were rife with law suits and damage claims from scientists protesting that their research had been stolen or misused in some way. This would be no different.

The professor offered each of them a glance, acknowledging the sincerity in their eyes. He knew they wouldn’t let this go. How could they? Why should they? Of course they are right.

They were a young team and couldn’t help but be ambitious, but unlike them he knew what they were asking; the risks, the danger.

The project now verged at the pinnacle of two years in extensive planning; an Everest of research had been overcome. Their opportunity was now.

He needed time. Time to think, time to assess, time to weigh everything up, but there was none. If he didn’t agree tonight he may never see them again.

Was it too late to turn back? He had started this. He had put them in this situation. The responsibility bore down on him like a curse. They needed him. He couldn’t risk a side project led by a team of students spinning off out of control. No, he would have to see it through. And the risks? The risks would be the ante to a reward beyond comprehension.

The professor stood, rooted to the spot, muttering under his breath and privately debating. Eventually he nodded as if in agreement with himself.
Walking to the exit, he left the group awaiting his response. He opened the door and glanced down the corridor to check it was clear.

The professor looked back at the team he’d assembled, leaving an uncertain pause before he spoke.

‘Follow me. There’s something I need to show you.’
 
 

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Chapter Six – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Page 36-37.

“It started as a myth, a whisper around campus. Conor first heard the rumours over a pint with Samuel and then again during a Digital Systems workshop a week later. Some were saying that it began in Cambridge, but no one truly knew. It was never first hand, always a friend of a friend or the roommate of a stranger.

There was no explanation given, nor did there appear to be any pattern or connection, but students at the University were being chosen, singled out. Those who were selected spoke little of it, only to say that they had been sent a mysterious message, an encrypted invitation that they found in their mailbox or slipped under their door.

The message would contain a code that was unique to each student; a series of numbers and letters which would appear at random, encrypted by an elusive cipher.

Quickly, gossip had speculated on its purpose, the prize of breaking the code ranging from University acknowledgement to the absurd, but from there the stories would differ. Some would attempt to break it and fail whilst others instantly discarded the code refusing to participate in whatever this was.

Even now he couldn’t believe it. It had been four days since Conor had found a mysterious code in his mailbox, sandwiched between a pile of takeaway menus and college leaflets.

Everyone was talking about it, but not once did he imagine being chosen. To him this represented one thing alone: a test. An opportunity to stand out among the elite. To rise above the cream of Oxford.”



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Chapter Two – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Message In A Bottle

It had been over a week since Ellie had submitted her research. More than two years of intensive study and theoretical science, packaged into a collection of documents, flow diagrams and chemical formulas that equated to one of the biggest discoveries in human history. Finally the weight had been lifted.

At first there was relief, overwhelmed by a sense of achievement. She marvelled, reflecting on what they’d accomplished and gave some thought to what it meant for her future at Oxford.

The feeling wore away quicker than she expected. Now Ellie played the waiting game, indulging in a futile attempt at returning to ‘normal’ everyday life.

As she expected this wasn’t coming easy for her. All of the team had stepped up their commitment to the project when they realised there was realistic chance it could succeed, but Ellie had immersed herself from the start.

The world and its distractions had faded into obscurity – nothing else had mattered. Her only frustration was that this unreserved devotion to the research was known only to a select few. To everyone else, outside of the team, her consistent apathy throughout the lectures of the past year was puzzling and uncharacteristic; a balancing act she had failed to maintain. She was fortunate that her coursework had been unaffected.

It had been long over a week since the team had last assembled and nearly three weeks since she received the phone call she had so desperately been waiting for. ‘Ellie, I think we’ve done it. I think we’ve found Hawking.’

The plan was simple. Everyone packaged up their notes into the agreed format, submitted their research to the professor and waited. The professor would present their findings to the Board of Science at the University and request the funds to take the project to the next level.

Everything had seemed clear and under control. She gave her work blindly and waited patiently. But time had now passed and with hindsight playing on her mind she became mindful that nothing had really been agreed at all.
She didn’t know when the professor would present their research or when they would hear the outcome. How would they find out? What kind of reaction should they expect?

During the first few days Ellie had expected to be pulled out mid-way through one of her lectures. She spent most of her time during seminars watching the entrance, expecting to see a face appear in the glass panel of the door, gesturing her to come outside.

By the end of the week Ellie began to expect a phone call from the professor or an email to the team with an update, some sort of indication on his progress. But there was still nothing, not a word. She was now becoming impatient, annoyed even.

If this had continued she would have considered approaching the professor directly herself, something the team were strictly forbidden to do, but she needed to know, she’d worked too hard to be left in the dark this way. Thankfully she wouldn’t have to. Today the professor would come to her.

Like many of the courses at St Anne’s the diverse subject matter was separated into modules, covered by various Professors on the basis of their expertise and experience.

Ellie was taking a Biology degree, en route to a Masters, and the modules for Molecular Genetics and Cell Membrane Structure were being run by Professor William Henry Daniels, a man Ellie had grown to know outside of the University more so than in and who the team affectionately called ‘The Professor’.

Today she was set for another seminar on Molecular Genetics. One way or another, today she would find out what was happening.

Ellie started the day as a coiled spring. The time to think had given her every version of the conversation she was going to have.

She awoke early, lying in bed and watching intently as the sun rose from behind her window. The cream roller blind provided her small studio room with a soft and gentle raise in light. Soon after came the morning chirps from the birds and the occasional car setting off early to beat the traffic. She stared at her alarm clock, counting down the minutes until 8.00AM. Today everything mattered.

Ellie climbed out of her bed, tied back her hair and headed for the shower. By 9.00AM she was wide awake, fully dressed and focused, ready for the day ahead.

Her class didn’t start for another hour and it took less than fifteen minutes to get to campus on foot. She paced back and forth. This would be the longest hour.

* * *

Ellie arrived at the seminar composed and with plenty of time to spare. The room was already a third full. The professor’s teaching assistant, Angelo Mosso, had let the usual suspects in early to get the best seats. Given the choice she would have been among them, but that would have stuck out as strange and today needed to appear like any other day.

Ellie looked around to see that the professor was yet to arrive. This wasn’t out of the ordinary.
She sat in her usual spot, greeted by Marie and Sally, two distant, we must catch up friends she’d come to know during the course.

‘Hey you,’ she said to Sally, unpacking her module book along with some notes from the previous lecture.

‘Els, Marie was just saying, it’s been ages since we’ve seen you out. Where have you been?’

‘Oh I’ve been busy, this and that, you know.’

‘What’s his name?’ Marie asked, leaning in for some gossip.

Ellie smiled, shaking her head. As if! It had been years since Ellie had even thought about getting to know someone intimately – just another sacrifice that she’d given gladly to the project.

As students drifted into class, the room volume grew until it was awash with noise – a strange collection of characters allowing for an odd mixture of conversations. Idle chat that kept them preoccupied and oblivious to the professor’s absence.

Ellie tried not to clock-watch as the final minutes of the hour gave out.

She did her best not to appear relieved when the professor came through the door a handful of seconds past 10.00AM, the rest of the room remaining ignorant to his lateness.

Mid-sentence she stuttered whilst glancing over. He seemed distant, preoccupied. Unpacking his things without acknowledging the class or even thanking his teaching assistant. It was confusing. The professor’s manners were usually impeccable.

After several minutes he gave a thankful nod to Angelo before turning to face everyone. Standing in front of the class and leaning back against his desk, he quietly looked out at his students.

Ellie was now facing forward, noting with intrigue the subtle differences in his composure. As always his frame carried the comfort of middle age spread and his short brown hair was seasoned with the occasional grey. But she could see that he’d not shaven. There was at least three days’ worth of stubble growing on his face and his shirt, always immaculately ironed, was showing creases on the arms and shoulders.

One by one the groups began to quieten. They were accustomed to the professor telling them to settle down and take control but today seemed different and a gradual hush fell over in response to it. After a brief pause he headed for the white board.

‘Good morning marines.’

‘Good morning sir.’ The class responded as one; it was a running joke.

‘Before we get started today I wanted to touch on an important subject. Something that defines not science, but scientists; who we are and what we do.’ He then picked up a red marker pen and wrote on the board a single word. He turned, for a moment studying the puzzlement on his students’ faces. He had everyone’s attention.

‘Now, who can tell me the history of the first full-body MRI scan?’ he asked. ‘And lets stay away from the Nobel Peace Prize controversy if we can, please.’ He began pacing back and forth in front of the class.

‘An MRI is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan,’ a student called out. ‘It uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take pictures of the brain.’

‘Along with the rest of the body,’ the professor added. ‘Yes, thank you Steven, but we hopefully all knew this.’ He gestured to the room.

‘Let’s talk about her history.’

The professor picked out another student.

‘It was invented in America,’ a Spanish student offered. ‘In the seventies, I think.’

‘That’s right, but can anyone tell me about the first full-body MRI?’

The class fell silent. A history lesson on the tools and instruments used in pathology examinations wasn’t normally part of their seminars.

Ellie kept quiet. Where is he going with this?

The professor waited through several seconds of silence before starting.

‘Cancer tissue cells have an abnormal amount of potassium and sodium. Dr Raymond Damadian knew this. Collaborating with a team of graduate students he spent years developing a device that he hoped would one day help to diagnose cancer and other serious medical conditions without cutting the body open.’

He rested against his desk.

‘By 1977 they had constructed a superconducting magnet that could be used to detect the abnormal cells. It was impressive stuff for the time I can tell you.’

The professor paused, seemingly for effect.

‘So it was finally ready, everything was in place. But there was just one problem… Can anyone tell me what the problem was?’

The room was still but for a few mumbles. He looked out at his students, appearing expectant.

‘Anyone?’

It was rare for the class to be so regularly silenced. Often at least a few vocal students would have an opinion to offer, but everyone seemed caught looking to someone else for the answer.

‘No one wanted to go first,’ Ellie replied, her eye line fixed to the floor.

‘That’s right Elizabeth,’ the professor said, pushing away from his desk. He still insisted on calling her Elizabeth as opposed to Ellie in front of the other students. ‘No one wanted to be the first. No one wanted to be scanned. After all it wasn’t safe, why be first? Why take the risk?’

The professor continued pacing.

‘So who went first?’ Sally asked, appearing drawn in by the story.

‘Dr Damadian,’ the professor answered. ‘But it doesn’t end there. When they tested it on him nothing happened. Damadian and his team were looking at years of research and funding wasted.’

The professor came to a stop.

‘Moments of trial are often weighed by the ‘what ifs’. Perhaps Damadian was too big for the machine? Perhaps it would work for someone lighter? Someone thinner? Possibly someone younger? But who could know for sure? Not Damadian and not anyone in his team.’

The professor began pacing again.

‘Someone had to believe… Someone had to see past their fear of the uncertain… It was July 3rd 1977. A graduate student volunteered. And this is known as the date the first full body MRI examination was performed on a human.’
He paused next to Ellie. Close and yet seemingly going out of his way not to give her any eye contact.

‘You all want to be great scientists. I see it in your eyes. The hopes that you’ll discover a cure to a disease, that you’ll save lives. I was the same. And on a good day, I too will have that same glint in my eye. But what you need to remember is that with every inspiration there is always at first belief.’

He stared up at the word he’d written on the board: Faith.

‘The very definition of an experiment is a test for the purpose of discovering something unknown. As scientists some of what we do is blind journey, an adventure even, and the amount of faith you put behind your science, the amount of belief you invest, will reflect what you get out of it. If we forget this, if we stick to what can only be proofed and formulated, we lose something. And perhaps it’s not something we can put into words but it’s something important, it’s something that defines us.’

The class sat quietly, smiling and acknowledging his advice. Historical metaphors always seemed to pack a punch.
‘You’re the new breed, the next hope for the future of science. Believe in what you can offer and you’ll make a difference, I promise.’

He rubbed the board clean and opened the module literature.

‘OK, let’s pick it up from our last session. Can you all turn to chapter seven for me please.’

* * *

Ellie sat muted and still, blankly gazing forward as the session passed her by in a two hour blur. She couldn’t move on from what the professor had opened with.

She had covered the rise of the Fonar Corporation and its multiple patents in MRI technology as an essay during her A-levels. The company was founded by Dr Raymond Damadian himself.

Ellie had given it as long as she could before answering his question. She hated standing out, but she couldn’t help feeling as if the question he had put to the class was for her.

Language was an incredible tool. The ability to say multiple things with a single statement. The same words sending entirely different signals depending on the tone and context.

The professor had delivered a message, in a way only he could. Subtle, delicate and allowing time for Ellie to digest it.

The clock above the white board bore down on midday as the professor began summarising the points that had been covered. The class recognised this as the round up and promptly folded up their notes.

‘Your take home assignment is on my desk. I want you all to take a copy of this.’ He held up an assignment sheet. The students began rising from their seats.

‘Also spend some time studying up on Protein Interaction Networks and Signal Transduction ready for Tuesday’s lecture. If you have any questions please take these up with Angelo.’ The professor gestured to his teaching assistant.

The lecture room emptied quickly. The students bustled out of the door, their noise gradually filtering away.
Ellie sat, pretending to write, as if she were making her final notes. She said her goodbyes to Marie and Sally, and offered a series of plastic smiles and we must catch up promises she’d never keep. She packed her bag as slowly as she could, anxiously waiting for them all to leave. Poised at the edge of her seat, doing her best not to lose composure.

Professor Daniels wished the last of his students well before turning to pack up his things. ‘I’ll meet you in the Main Hall,’ he said to Angelo, filling his leather bag with books and the remaining assignment sheets. Angelo nodded with a smile and left the room.

Ellie took a deep breath to gather herself. The professor offered a brief glance before walking over to the main door to close it. He pulled down the window blind, concealing them from the human traffic in the hallway.
She stood up, her face filled with a mixture of emotions. They stared at each other, sharing silence for a few moments before the professor began walking towards her. He didn’t need to say anything. She couldn’t believe it.

‘They said no, didn’t they?’




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Chapter Five – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Page 26.

“Conor and his new friend Samuel Milton took in the view as they sat comfortably in the warmth of the Eagle & Child. They watched as the rain lightly tapped against the windows, as the puddles slowly formed on the street corners. Passers-by were pulling out their umbrellas and frantically running to shelter. The tables and chairs inside quickly filled up with shivering punters shaking off the rain.

‘Have you ever heard of the human regression theory?’ Samuel asked, handing Conor a shot of tequila. He glanced to the new arrivals coming in from the cold. Conor shrugged.

‘It’s the belief that the human race will eventually peak in its ascension. Achieve all that we are capable of, and then over time, slowly regress, forgetting all that has been learned.’ He picked up his tequila and gestured to the room. ‘It can make you wonder, when will we know that we’ve peaked?’”



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Chapter Eight – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Page 37.

“It started as a myth, a whisper around campus. Conor first heard the rumours over a pint with Samuel and then again during a Digital Systems workshop a week later. Some were saying that it began in Cambridge, but no one truly knew. It was never first hand, always a friend of a friend or the roommate of a stranger.

There was no explanation given, nor did there appear to be any pattern or connection, but students at the University were being chosen, singled out. Those who were selected spoke little of it, only to say that they had been sent a mysterious message, an encrypted invitation that they found in their mailbox or slipped under their door.

The message would contain a code that was unique to each student; a series of numbers and letters which would appear at random, encrypted by an elusive cipher.

Quickly, gossip had speculated on its purpose, the prize of breaking the code ranging from University acknowledgement to the absurd, but from there the stories would differ. Some would attempt to break it and fail whilst others instantly discarded the code refusing to participate in whatever this was.

Even now he couldn’t believe it. It had been four days since Conor had found a mysterious code in his mailbox, sandwiched between a pile of takeaway menus and college leaflets.

Everyone was talking about it, but not once did he imagine being chosen. To him this represented one thing alone: a test. An opportunity to stand out among the elite. To rise above the cream of Oxford.”



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Chapter One – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

Hawking

It was late January and the seasonal weather had brought with it a cold and bitter winter. By 3.00AM the soft wind had become a freezing chill and the windows of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford were showing the first signs of frost.

This was one of the bases of operations for the Biomedical Research Centre, a defining partnership between the University of Oxford and its surrounding Hospitals.

Throughout the empty corridors and closed reception areas an eerie stillness hung in the air, like a school playground with all the children missing. Only the Accident and Emergency Department remained open, responding to the infrequent patients arriving throughout the night for treatment.

In the west wing of the Hospital, in a laboratory, sub-basement level to the Medical Sciences Office, a young postgraduate student sat alone in the darkness, slumped over his desk, a solitary desk lamp offering the only light in the room.

James McCarthy sat in his wheelchair, arms crossed out in front of him and head rested. He had one half of a pair of headphones plugged in to his right ear and was listening while an mp3 player slowly made its way through his eclectic music collection. His left ear was free to listen to the instruments on his desk purr and click with another kind of repetitive rhythm.

In front of him, his laptop ran a search program connected to a frequency emitter. The program was rotating through EM waves, continually modifying the emitter with new frequencies, oscillating at varying units of gigahertz and terahertz.

A digital microscope observing a small glass slate of cells sat linked up to a desktop computer running continual scans, poised to record the imagery based on movement.

A seismometer, commonly known for its use in recording earthquakes and other seismic shifts, read the activity fed back through the CPU whilst drawing a continuous and uneventful straight line down the middle of its digital display panel.

Alone in the dark, James remembered the sense of pride he had felt when this first started. When he was enlisted to be part of a project that could one day change the world, something that would triumph over every scientific accomplishment achieved in the past century.

His disability had made him accustomed to sitting and observing for great lengths of time. Composure was everything, but overnight research was taking its toll, overpowering any enjoyment he could get from the covert nature of his work.

He had been at this for weeks now, weeks of nothing. It had seemed inevitable at first, simply a matter of time. Every hour lost was an investment. But as the days and weeks rolled by his patience had begun to fade. Someone else needs to take over, it’s only fair.

James hated this laboratory. During the first few nights of the experiment his fear of the dark that he had suppressed as a child had almost resurfaced. The silence of the laboratory at night offered a chilling atmosphere, like a morgue under a full moon. But he understood why it had to be this way; the access to the equipment, the isolation, the necessity of secrecy. It was all essential.

James slowly raised his head and rubbed his eyes, jaded and semi-conscious. He couldn’t hold out much longer. He squinted, barely making out the time on the monitor; it was 3.04AM. His eyelids were heavy and his head was cloudy. This had become an all too familiar feeling. His secret second bedroom was beginning to feel comfortable again, a home away from home. He had two more hours before he needed to clean up and get out. There was time to rest.
His thoughts became more and more distant. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply to relax his upper body, letting the white noise from the equipment fade away whilst the glow from the desk lamp kept his face warm. Slowly darkening, he soon passed, accepting the eventual drift into a peaceful sleep.

Within minutes James was resting comfortably. The laptop on his desk clicked as the program switched to the next frequency. The repetitive purr and ticks soon followed.

It was faint at first. The seismometer offered a minor ripple, but another soon followed, then another and another.

With a sudden twitch the lines grew thicker, darker and wider in succession. The PC responded with an alarming ping, recording the cellular reaction being sent through the microscope.

James heard the beeps as if from a distance. He was slower to react. Gradually opening his eyes, he stared with a narrow gaze at the monitor. The alert sounded for a second time. A message was now displaying on the screen in front of him. ‘Processing…’

He froze, disorientated, so used to the rhythm and ticks. Seconds passed before a third alert sounded with another message. Frequency Registered. James could feel himself waking up, his head beginning to focus. Registered?
His head rose from the desk as he rubbed his eyes, yawning, stretching. He stared again at the message. Has it just? No… Yes, yes! The realisation snapped him into action.

Peering through the microscope, his face lit up with excitement.

‘Oh my god,’ he whispered, scanning through the readings.

He took a breath and reached out to snatch his mobile from the desk, pausing for a moment before selecting a contact and dialling. His pulse raced as he lifted the phone to his ear.

‘Please be awake,’ he pleaded as the dialling tone began to ring out. ‘Pick up, pick up!’

* * *

A mile away, in a small one-bedroom flat off St Clements Street, Ellie Swanson lay sound asleep in her bed.
A copy of The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy lay open face down on her bedside table.
In the darkness, her studio room was lit up only by the light blue glow that came from her alarm clock. You could barely make out the stacks of books and research material laid out over her desk and floor.

Her TV sat in the far right corner of the room, disused, collecting dust on a wooden stand that cased equally neglected DVDs and music CDs. Her laptop rested on the floor in the opposite corner, charging from an electrical point.

Her mobile was next to the book on her bedside table. The display lit up and a soft ringtone began to play out across the room.

It rang for several seconds before Ellie stirred, giving out a slight groan. She peered at the clock making out the time. It was later than usual but she knew what had woken her; this wasn’t her first late night phone call. She’d stopped counting the false alarms weeks ago.

With her eyes still half closed she instinctively reached out, pressing the phone to her ear as she answered the call.

‘Hello,’ Ellie whispered. It was her first word of the day and her throat was dry.

‘Ellie, I think we’ve done it. I think we’ve found Hawking.’

She lay motionless on her bed.

‘Are you sure?’ Her tone was doubtful.

‘Pretty sure, this isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. You need to see this.’

Ellie leaned forward to turn on her bed-side lamp and gather herself.

‘What are the readings?’

‘The program is at full alert, we’ve never had a probability rating this high before. Cellular response is at fifteen percent.’

‘Fifteen?! Are you sure?’

‘Fifteen point six.’

‘Who have you rung?’

‘Just you, I figured you were the most likely to answer this time of night.’

Ellie smiled, appreciating that her commitment was acknowledged.

‘What’s the metabolic activity?’ she asked, now getting out of bed.

‘Hold on.’ James swung round and stared briefly at the monitor before putting the phone back to his ear, smiling uncontrollably. ‘Cellular growth. There’s been an increase in cytoplasmic and organelle volumes. It’s taking.’

‘You’re sure?’ Ellie reached for her clothes.

‘We’re at sixteen point seven.’ James glanced back at the monitor. ‘Seventeen percent, Ellie, she’s climbing.’

‘OK, OK. Call the professor, I’m on my way.’ She hung up her phone and tied back her long brown hair into a pony tail. It was 3.12AM; if she hurried she could be there in twenty minutes…




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David P. Philip


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Chapter Nineteen – Excerpt from ‘A Game For The Young’

Page 122-123.

As she said it Conor suddenly leaned forward, breathing heavy and erratic. Ellie could see his expression change, noting it with a smile.

‘Let it grow in your mind. Believe you know.’

He gripped the bench and flinched, briefly closing his eyes only to open them wide. Staring intensely at the ground, he gasped for air.

‘Don’t hold your breath,’ Ellie said, leaning forward.

Like a childhood memory, at first it had felt distant. A feeling he couldn’t explain. A burning muse of fulfilment and yet it was building to pure elation. Something was rising to the surface, a recollection. And then it happened.

An explosion of memories broke through the wall in his mind, pouring through into his conscious, a rush of hormones. Conor’s eyes began to water as he felt his senses increase ten levels, a desire overcoming him to cry out, whether it was to laugh or scream he couldn’t understand. He was suddenly everywhere and anything. The world was limitless.

Ellie could see it in his eyes.

‘The first time is always special.’


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David P. Philip


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Chapter Thirty – Excerpt From ‘A Game For The Young’

An Interesting Choice Of Words

 

Dr Arthur Zimmerman had been a fully qualified psychiatrist for gone thirty years, graduating with honours from Oxford’s prestigious Keble College back in the days when students were gentlemen and study was the product of paper, ink and a library card.

Strolling around his office with notable pride and holding a dusting cloth, he polished the surfaces of his bookcase, the drawers on his antique pine desk, always excessive in his attention to detail.

His day had begun as any other, the morning appointment spent negotiating the inevitable divorce between a distant couple struggling under the delusion of their marriage. A tedious series of backward conversations, encouraged along by the odd probing question. It was all in the timing.

By midday he was sat back in his crisp leather chair, spraying his table plant with cool fresh water, half-way through the chicken sandwiches his wife had made him. He followed it with the one solitary cigarette he’d allow himself every day.

But finally he had come to it. An intriguing appointment that made its way into his schedule only two days earlier. A referral from an old friend at the University.

The doctor repeatedly peered to his watch in anticipation, the minutes baring closer to 2PM. He perused through the online Guardian. He was reading a business article when the phone rang, breaking the calm ambience in the room.

Closing the browser window, he answered the call on loud speaker.

‘Susan?’

‘Mr Daniels is here for your two o’clock, Dr Zimmerman,’ a lady’s voice responded.

‘Send him in,’ he replied eagerly, rising from his chair and repositioning his pad and pen.

Looking up to the door, he watched as it opened to a man he’d never seen before.

‘Professor Daniels?’ he asked.

‘Good afternoon, Dr Zimmerman,’ the professor replied, stepping forward and offering his hand. Zimmerman walked round his desk to shake it gladly.

‘Take a seat,’ the doctor said, gesturing to the leather sofa positioned just off-centre in the middle of the room. He took up his usual seat on the opposing chair.

‘So, Professor Hendry pointed you my way, did he?’

The professor rested into the sofa, responding with a friendly nod.

‘How is Mike?’

‘Getting married,’ the professor replied.

‘Again?’

‘Fourth time lucky.’

‘Yes, well, I should know…’ Zimmerman stopped himself there. ‘Would you like a drink? I can get you a pot of tea?’

‘No, thank you,’ the professor replied, looking around the office. ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’

‘If it makes you comfortable,’ Zimmerman retrieved an ashtray from his desk drawer and placed it on the small glass table between them. Neither felt the need to fill the silence as William lit his cigarette. Zimmerman opened a small window to let the smoke escape.

The professor took in a long exaggerated drag, followed almost instantly by a series of coughs and splutters.

‘Do you often smoke?’ Zimmerman frowned.

‘No, not really,’ the professor confessed, looking down at the cigarette. ‘Not since the Gulf. I started up again about a month ago, filthy habit,’ he flicked some ash into the ashtray.

‘So, William – can I call you William?’

‘Of course.’

‘I hope you don’t mind me saying but when we spoke on the phone you seemed a little guarded.’ He chose his words carefully.

‘Yes, well the last psychiatrist I spoke to was appointed by the Forces. Our conversations didn’t flow, shall we say.’

‘I see, well let’s see how we get on. This is a place where we can discuss in confidence what you like; free of embarrassment, guilt or self doubt. I am here to listen.’

‘And judge?’ the professor swiped.

Zimmerman kept a straight face.

‘Think of me as a guide. I will ask important questions to steer us, offer an opinion perhaps, but we’re only here to discuss what you want to talk about.’

The professor rose from the sofa, leaving his cigarette burning in the ashtray, and began pacing around the office, staring at the paintings on the wall and soaking up the literature on the shelves. Dr Zimmerman watched with interest.

‘How do we get started?’

‘Why don’t you tell me what you’re thinking?’

The professor stood for a while, frozen, before finally turning to speak, his palms placed together.

‘Look, I don’t want you to think that I’m wasting your time or being frivolous with your company. It’s just that I need to talk to someone, someone that will listen. I don’t know if we’ll have many sessions, if any after today.’

‘Could you talk with anyone else if not me?’

‘My life has been very… Specific, for the past…’ William tripped up on his own words. ‘However many years it’s been now. I’ve been very focused.’

‘And distant?’

‘My friends, family, they’re a distraction.’

‘Why is that?’ Zimmerman asked, making notes in short hand.

‘They wouldn’t understand.’

‘But you hope I will?’

The professor folded his arms as he leant against one of the bookcases. Dr Zimmerman continued to write on a small notepad, never straying his eye contact from the professor for more than a few seconds.

‘What would you like to talk about?’

The professor pushed away from the bookcase, pacing back and forth.

‘I’m… I’m involved in something, an experiment if you will. It’s something that will change a lot of people’s lives. In time maybe even everyone.’

‘In what way?’

‘It’s complicated. No, sorry… I don’t mean to be patronising,’ William apologised. ‘It’s just that there’s only so much I’m prepared to say. I trust you understand?’

‘What are you able to tell me?’

The professor wished he’d thought this through better; scratching his head, he retreated into silence.

‘Is it a cure?’ Dr Zimmerman asked.

‘Oh yes,’ he smiled. ‘Very much so.’

‘And you wish others understood and were thankful?’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘A theory. Human nature.’

The professor shook his head, reaching into his pocket to pull out some pain killers.

‘Teaching is a thankless profession,’ he said, tapping two pills into his hand.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Fine; well, I’ve been suffering from migraines.’

‘Interesting.’

‘Painful,’ the professor sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

‘Do you crave… Rest? Peace?’

‘I’ll get all I need when the job’s done.’

‘Do you crave… Acknowledgement?’

‘Must I crave something?’ William asked, appearing defensive.

Dr Zimmerman paused his line of questioning.

‘Perhaps not. I’m simply trying to understand the reason you wish to talk with me.’

He allowed a moment to settle the tension.

‘Is what you are doing dangerous?’ Zimmerman asked.

‘There’s risk with the project, yes, but great reward.’ He pointed at the doctor, holding his gaze for several seconds to amplify the point.

‘How so?’

‘It will help a lot of people change their lives for the better.’

Zimmerman smiled.

‘Wouldn’t this be easier if you simply told me? I am bound by the laws of confidentiality if it helps.’ He gestured to the room, hoping he wouldn’t have to draw attention to the numerous certificates on the wall.

The professor tapped his right foot on the floor, appearing anxious and unsettled before finally shaking his head.

‘Let’s look at this another way.’ Zimmerman changed his approach.

‘Why would someone not appreciate what you’re working on?’

‘Fear.’ The professor‘s reply was instinctive. ‘Change.’

‘Fear of change?’

‘Perhaps… That’s the risk we’ve taken.’

We’ve taken?’

‘Soon, I’m going to have to take the next step, I’m out of time, I can feel it. But I’ve put this off for so long, I’m not sure how to take it. I’m at a crossroads. You’re a therapist, you’ve heard all the metaphors?’

‘Are you afraid?’ Zimmerman asked.

‘Not for me.’

‘So you feel responsible for others in your… Project?’

‘Their lives will never be the same.’

‘They’re not ready?’

The professor frowned, unable to answer, settling for a shrug.

‘Don’t worry,’ Zimmerman assured. ‘I expect to ask more questions than I get answers.’

The professor glanced to the doctor’s pad, noting a few of the scribbles with curiosity.

‘What have you got?’

‘It might be better to wait – until the session is over, perhaps.’

‘Humour me,’ he pushed.

Zimmerman sighed as he held up the pad.

‘ “William indicates signs of fatigue and stress. Symptoms extenuated by migraines, the renewal of smoking habit and an irritable demeanour. Dismissive towards friendships and family, demonstrating trust issues with insecurities potentially routed by childhood trauma. Gives reference to a project which may or may not be metaphorical, but appears to be the source to representations of anxiety and unresolved tension.” ’

‘Interesting,’ the professor rolled his eyes.

‘There’s more, I just haven’t written it down,’ Zimmerman explained. ‘By not sitting or accepting a drink you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to associate this session with comfort. You’ve avoided three or four questions by either responding with opposing questions or ignoring them entirely, all of which has been done, subliminally or intentionally, with a view to staying in control. You’re accustomed to managing the environment around you. I appreciate that letting go can be difficult.’

‘Mike was right about you,’ the professor said, heading back to the sofa to sit down.

‘I’ll presume that to be a compliment?’

‘It was.’

‘Thank you… But we both know this doesn’t scratch the surface.’ Zimmerman briefly looked at his notes.

‘From what I’ve seen and what you’ve said and not said, we’d need ten sessions or more to go through all of this. So I’m left wondering how I can help you, William? Or whether you really want my help?’

The professor leant forward to pick up the cigarette he had left burning in the ashtray and took an exaggerated drag before stubbing it out.

‘I came here wanting to know if how I’m feeling is the only way I could feel? I know that in the long run what I’ve done will make lives better.’

‘And yet you don’t know if what you’re doing is the right thing?’ Zimmerman offered.

‘Exactly. It’s a paradox… And it’s consuming.’

‘Given the choice, with hindsight, would you have done anything differently?’

‘Yes, I believe so,’ The professor answered almost instantly.

‘That’s good to hear.’

‘It is?’

‘Yes, by acknowledging that there are better alternatives you’re showing that your mind is open. It would be more concerning for you to think that the things in your life are the only way they could be. Although it does suggest that you could be dwelling on the past.’

The professor broke his eye contact to look away to the window.

‘Is there anything about the past that could be relevant?’ Zimmerman pushed carefully.

‘There are things that I would do differently, but nothing that I’m ashamed of.’

‘Ashamed?! That’s an interesting choice of words.’

‘Perhaps a poor choice,’ the professor replied softly.

Dr Zimmerman made some more notes before raising his head.

‘Let’s try some simple word associations. Say the first word that comes into your head.’

The professor rose to his feet and began pacing, eventually turning to explain.

‘I think better on my feet.’

Zimmerman smiled in response.

‘Home?’

‘Oxford.’

‘Work?’

‘Teach.’

‘Sleep?’

‘Memory,’ the professor sighed.

‘Future?’

‘Hope.’

‘Past?’

‘Dar…’ the response was instinctive.

‘Dark?’ Dr Zimmerman queried.

The professor shook off the question.

‘Look, it’s not metaphorical. The project’s real.’

‘But you can’t tell me anything about it?’

‘That’s right.’

Dr Zimmerman made some more notes on his pad.

‘Perhaps you’re right.’ The professor put his hands in his pockets. ‘Maybe this should be a weekly thing for a while. Why don’t we pick this up in a few days? I’ll check my diary and we can set something up?’ The professor picked up his packet of cigarettes from the table and began backing away to the door.

‘William, if you leave now we both know I’m never going to see you again.’

‘I promise I’ll think about it.’

‘Before you leave may I offer you some advice?’

The professor turned with curiosity, sparing one last minute to give the doctor his due. Zimmerman tried to make his words count.

‘The end of anything is often bittersweet. Sometimes you need help to make it over the finish line. Now in your case that might not be me, but it does need to be someone. Keep your friends close, William, you appear very much alone.’

The professor nodded, for a moment appearing to ponder the doctor’s advice. Poised with indecision, he offered a respectful salute before turning for the door.

 
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David P. Philip


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