This is another notebook find, just a snippet. I remember having a very vivid idea of the scene come into my head all at once, and I just had to write it down. I have expanded on the snippet. The original stops where the main character first presses the blue button, but I couldn't leave you hanging there now could I ;-)
What is truth? The question popped into Patrick's head as he watched pedestrians in the crosswalk. The sign, lit from within, showed a green figure, animated, walking deliberately in place, knees raised high but the figure's feet stayed connected to the bottom of the sign, like the toes of his socks were stuck to the ground.
Patrick didn't know how he had come to be in this place or what he had done before. He knew his name and he could think in thoughts of language -- but still his place, in this place, felt wrong.
It was a busy street. Tall trucks painted red and blue and green, intensely chromatic in the sun, improbably yellow taxis, looking awkwardly fat and engorged, contrasted with monochromatic gray shadows like the color had seeped away by osmosis to the sunlit sections, rays of photon sponges splayed between the lees of towering office buildings that seemed bigger at the top than at the bottom -- something that Patrick thought to be not quite right.
The sign paused in its march. It went blank. It was replaced with an orange figure -- a face in a scream, rubbing its hands up and down the sides of its head, nodding slowly side to side, its mouth as wide as a bottom-feeding fish, a big black oval void punctuated above with an umlaut of black oval eyes.
"A scream," said Patrick. "Why is that familiar?"
A woman with a small child failed to clear the crosswalk before the face came on the sign. Both were hit by a large red truck. The red monstrosity skidded to a stop in the intersection, carrying the bodies forward with it on the chrome grill. The bodies looked deflated, limp, and bloodless, almost gluey in how they adhered to the truck.
Patrick stood transfixed. He felt a pressure inside his chest. Around him, the other people looked agape, eyes wide, mouths open like feeding fish, hands balled in fists, rubbing their ears, crouching up and down, nodding side to side. They let out little yelps, a not so primate sound, a chorus belonging in a forest canopy when a predator circles below, not on a busy, civilized, city street. Not quite right. Not quite right at all, thought Patrick.
The driver climbed down from his cab. He was doing the same yelping, crouching pantomime scream as the others. The driver looked at the bodies stuck to the grill and pointed -- his yelps suddenly more urgent. Patrick moved to help but was instantly surrounded by people looking at him with dewy eyes. He got the sense they thought it was too dangerous to move into the road. Patrick stood still -- he didn't want to push through the people barring his way -- he didn't want to touch them.
The driver climbed back into his cab, started the truck, and drove on. There was no trace of the accident, no blood on the pavement. The sign changed back to the green sock-footed marcher. The people stopped their 'screaming', dissipated, and crossed. Patrick stood there. It was as if nothing at all unusual had happened. Then his cellphone rang. He instinctively reached into his coat pocket.
"Hello?" No sound. "Hello?" Patrick wondered if he had pressed the right button. He looked at the phone. It was larger than he thought it ought to be. It rang again. It was gray and had an antenna. There was a large green button and a large red button, and three smaller blue buttons below it. The earpiece was surrounded with a clear rubber ring, the mouthpiece was covered in gray velvet. The green button was glowing with each ring. These were features that seemed not to match his memory of it, but he couldn't quite remember how it was supposed to be.
He pressed the green button and brought the earpiece to his ear.
"Where the hell are you?" It was a crackly, muffled voice.
"Stop dawdling! What are you waiting for?"
"Who is this?"
"Oh for --" the voice cut off, replaced by a dull tone. Patrick looked at the phone again.
"How do you make a call?" he thought aloud. The middle blue button started to glow. The glow pulsated, three fast beats followed by a slow beat. It repeated. Temptation overcame him and he pressed the blue button.
The tops of the office buildings zoomed up into the sky, the people in the street melted and dissolved into the pavement, the sun-drenched areas expanded in his vision, became more intense, bled to a white heat, then faded away. As the negative of the whiteness unbleached itself from his retinas, he found himself in a small room looking at himself. He realized he was looking at his reflection in a pair of stainless steel doors. A sense of familiarity washed over him. This was the elevator in his building.
The car rose to it's destination. There was a chime. The doors opened to his floor. Berber carpeting spread out before him as lavishly as it could, welcoming him back to familiarity. A woman in a skirt passed him.
"Good morning Patrick," she said. Patrick couldn't quite make out her features, and couldn't remember who she was. As she walked away, she looked slightly blurred as if she wasn't quite there. He walked automatically to his desk in a gray cubicle near the elevator. There was a picture of a family member, an out-of-date computer, and an artless splay of papers, pens, coffee stains, paperclips and other desk ephemera. His cellphone, his real cellphone with letters and numbers lay in the middle of his desk. He looked at it, and thought about the weight in his pocket. He thought about reaching into the pocket, but fear overcame him. He stood behind his chair, trying to let the memory of the strange street slink into oblivion. He sat down and the chair squeaked in familiarity. The air conditioning turned on and a cool breeze flowed from the vent in the ceiling above his desk. He began to feel lulled and sleepy.
His phone rang. He looked at the phone on the desk. It was not ringing. He reached reluctantly into his pocket, and brought out the odd phone. The green button was pulsing. He pressed it.
"For God's sake man, what's taking you so long?" It was the same voice as before.
"Who are you? Why are you calling me?"
"Listen to me carefully now. Have you recently lost your memory?"
"What? How did you know?"
"Nevermind that. Open your desk drawer. Take the box, and meet me in the meeting place. Do not forget to bring the box."
"Just do it." With that the line when dead. Patrick felt red in the cheeks. He looked down at the desk drawer. Even with the air conditioner on, the atmosphere in the office felt increasingly hot, humid, and oppressive.
Patrick reached down and pulled at the drawer handle. It would not budge. He got out of his chair and knelt on the ground, pulling with both hands. The drawer door moved a little -- it felt like a very strong magnet was tugging back. He pulled again but it wouldn't open more than an inch. He sat back, put a foot on the desk, and pulled back with all the weight of his upper body. The drawer suddenly came loose and fell out entirely as he hit his back and head on the wall of his cubicle.
He looked into the drawer. In a nest of loose papers sat a black cube. Patrick reached in and touched it. It was very cold. He took it out. It was quite light, and covered in a dull material. There appeared to be no seams in the box, and no apparent way to open it. He shook the box, but no sound or sensation responded.
Patrick looked at the odd phone again. The leftmost blue button was pulsing. One, two, three, five beats, in sequence, repeating. He pushed the button. Nothing happened except the button stopped glowing. He walked out of the cubicle. Perhaps it only works in the elevator he thought, then he wondered why he thought that. As he reached the elevator, he noticed faint blurs around him. The blurs were swirls of colors that looked like faint impressions of people moving about. The carpet, walls, and furniture began to fade to transparency. He could see below the floor -- floor upon floor all with moving blurs of their own all dissolved away. His feet tingled with the sense that he was about to fall so he looked up and there was the sun, as intense as ever during the day. He looked down again, saw solid pavement beneath his feet and found himself in an ally, back in the city. At either end of the ally, primary-colored vehicles whizzed by.
"Pssst." Patrick turned to look for the sound. There was a door in the wall of the building next to him, and it was cracked open a few inches. A wrinkled face peered out. "Come on. Bring it here."
"Who are you?"
"Just come inside. I've been waiting eons for you. Quick now."
"Did you call me on that phone?"
"Yes, yes. Inside now. Please. I'll explain everything. Just get inside." Patrick moved towards the door. He felt queasy doing it, but he didn't feel that going out into street would be useful. The room inside was large, dank, and poorly lit. There was some large electrical apparatus in a corner that was buzzing faintly. One wall was lined floor to ceiling with shelves of drawers, each labeled with a yellowed piece of card and faded brown ink. He was too far away to read what they said. A table sat in the middle of the room with three folding chairs. A wave of nausea welled up from Patrick's stomach.
"Please, sit." The old man gestured absently towards a chair. "I'm glad you made it safely, considering your condition. Being out there too long does fuzzy things to the memory. Which I suppose in the long run, is a good thing."
"I feel sick," said Patrick. His tongue suddenly felt thick in his mouth.
"Oh, that would be the magnetic field." He glanced at the electrical apparatus. "It's extremely strong. It keeps that," he pointed towards the door, "from coming in. Keeps this little corner of the universe, uh, stable. Just take some deep breaths and sit down. And put the box on the table."
Patrick did as he was instructed. The man sat down opposite him, and observed him with rapidly darting, clear blue eyes. "Yes, yes, better now?"
"No, not worse."
"Fine." The old man turned his attention to the box on the table. "Lovely. I'm glad we finally have this. Let's open it shall we?"
"What is it?"
"Ah, it's nothing more than the truth. What we've been looking for, for so long. I couldn't remember it."
The old man sighed and slumped back his chair. "This isn't the way things are supposed to be. This, hopefully, will fix things."
"Can I go back to, uh--"
"To your real life? The life you think you've led?"
"Yes." Patrick felt another wave of nausea and suppressed the urge to retch.
"What is real?" The old man stared at him, leaning forward on the table. After a few moments, Patrick realized the question wasn't rhetorical.
"Uh, I don't know. I think I must be dreaming."
"You are most definitely not dreaming." The old man sat back in his chair and smiled. "Reality is relative. How you perceive it, or how you fit into it depends on your frame of reference. Change your frame, change your reality."
"My, you do have few words. We'll get you fixed right soon. I'm sorry to have put you through all this, but the greater good requires it. It's our fault all this," he gestured vaguely about the room, "came unhinged. We must lock it up again. Or rather I." He paused, and looked reflective. "Alright, time to open the box."
"But it can't be opened. There's no way into it."
"Apparently you forgot the story about the Gordian knot. Luckily I remember it. It only looks like it can't be opened." The old man drew a pocket knife from his pocket. He opened the knife and stabbed the tiny blade into the top of the box, sawed across, then down one side, flipped the box, and cut across a third side. He put the knife aside an pulled apart the box. A folded piece of white paper fell out.
"Oh," said Patrick. The old man grinned broadly and winked at Patrick. He unfolded the paper, read, and knitted his brow.
"What does it say?" asked Patrick.
"Here." The old man passed the paper to Patrick. He looked at it. There was a small brown spot at the bottom edge. In the center was a blob of symbols he didn't recognize.
"It looks like, an equation. Is that right?"
"Yes it is."
"What is it? I can't read it."
"Hmmm. If you were right in your head right now you would understand it. You wrote it."
"It was in your desk, wasn't it?"
"Well, what does it mean?"
"There are only two things in existence, information and energy. Everything is some combination of either. This equation describes the relationship of information to energy and vice versa. When all this started, we were working--sorry--I was working, on a way to translate thought into action, to put it simply. I wanted to find a way to imagine something, and just have it become real, without any physical labor. Of course this meant that one could also create something entirely novel in the universe, something that couldn't exist based any normal rules of physics. There would have been a massive cultural shift. We could explore every dream, and since objective mother science has her dark side as well, our every nightmare. But the benefits would outweigh the problems, or so I thought. The original experiment was to be confined to just a room, this very room in fact. Hmmm. Anyway, the experiment, though successful, went awry. Going into it, we did not realize that the scope of the experiment could not be contained. It was naturally infinite. We tried to contain it using magnetic fields, but those act over a finite distance. It was not enough. Everyone's thoughts became real, and everyone went into their own unique frame of reference. I still have a hunch that even inanimate matter has influence over what became reality."
"Um, okay." Patrick's brain was whirring.
"Yes. It's a bit much to take in, isn't it."
"I have a question."
"If every person has a different frame of reference, why are you so real to me? Everyone else I've seen today, isn't quite real. Why would that be?"
"Oh, well that's easy."
"Yes of course. Really, I'm surprised you haven't figured it out, I know I would have haha!" The old man began to laugh hard.
"That's a bit insulting, when I don't quite know what's going on around here," said Patrick. The old man was tearing up with laughter.
"Oh I'm so sorry. It's funny because I am you and you are me."
"Yes. When I put you right you will know."
"Are you saying I'm a time traveler? Am I a younger version of you? Isn't there some sort of timeline conflict going on?"
"No, nothing that sordid. There's no messing with timelines, or one event erasing a future event or any of that nonsense -- though I suppose there could be if you imagined it out there, but please don't. There's no point in making this mess even more complex. You've watched far too much television. Horrid derivative claptrap."
"But I am a younger version of you. How does that work?"
"Well, in a sense I guess you are. But there are more dimensions than just those that describe space and time, so time is just one variable. It's not a particularly important one, in this context anyway. Some of the other dimensions, were, uh, freed from their moorings, in the experiment, and they flutter and flail with any thought they encounter. Time can be manipulated but it's still, thankfully, quite stable on it's own. I'm sure that doesn't make any sense."
Patrick felt defeated. It really was too much, and he was wondering when or if he would wake up.
"Look," said the old man, "take another look at the equation." He nudged the paper back towards Patrick. Patrick the younger looked down. It seemed familiar, but still had no meaning.
"I still can't read it, and I don't know what it means."
"It doesn't matter that you can't interpret it, but I know you will remember it."
"Why, how do you know that?"
"Because I remember sitting where you are. I remember seeing the equation for the first time, right from that chair. We've come a long way since then. Ironic isn't it? That the equation only exists because it exists here? Haha. Yes." The old man looked down fondly at it. "When you get back, you will remember it, and you will write it down."
"But if I write it down, won't that cause all this problem?"
"Well, yes, but it's also the solution. I can now stabilize everything using this. Unfortunately everyone will still have their own frame to play around it, whether they realize it or not, but it will stop the, uh, expansion."
"Why didn't you do it before? Why wait?"
"I put it in the box so I could forget it. I was embarrassed to tell the truth. I could not admit to myself that I made a mistake. It was arrogant of me to even think it was a good idea in the first place. I'm still not sure if it's the right thing to fix it. Frankly, I just can't bear to go out there." He pointed to the door again. "Have you seen those brainless creatures out there that are standing in as people? I thought of that and now I can't unthink them. I've never really like people. I never thought that my internal opinion of the unwashed masses would be rendered into reality. It was never what I intended." The old man sighed and looked downtrodden.
"If I don't write it, then it won't happen," said Patrick.
"You don't understand. Write the equation, don't write the equation. It doesn't matter. Anything that can happen does. In an universe that is really a multiverse of infinite parallel universes, every possibility is automatically explored. Whatever path you may choose, you have also chosen the other path, but that one is not in your frame of reference. It's in the other you's frame of reference, and on and one. Like a hall of mirrors. No, that's not quite the correct analogy." The old man lost himself in thought. Patrick looked at the old man--looked at himself. He did bear a striking resemblance to himself.
"You said you could, put me right. Can you?" asked Patrick.
"Yes of course. This will be unpleasant. I am not a medical doctor, so the solution I came up with was just the first thing to come to mind. Obviously. I should have thought about it a bit more, or given it some more thought, but I have to go out there to render a new idea, and I don't like going out there." The old man got up and crossed to the wall of drawers. He opened one, glanced back at Patrick, then drew out an enormous hypodermic needle, a vial of amber liquid, and a small black object. Patrick stood immediately up at the sight of the needle.
"You're not using that on me!"
"I'm afraid I have to. It's really not so bad, just unpleasant." The old man inserted the needle into the vial and drew up the entire contents. He put the vial back in the drawer and turned back towards Patrick.
"It takes effect extremely quickly," said the old man, "it will be over in no time." Patrick picked up his chair and pointed the legs at the old man like a lion tamer.
"Get away from me."
"Oh, you're always so difficult." He pointed the black object at Patrick. Two prongs shot out on wires and bit into Patrick's skin, giving him a paralyzing shock. All of his muscles instantly stiffened and he fell to the floor. The pain was excruciating. The old man knelt over him, turned him on his back, shoved the needle up his nose, into his brain, and pushed down on the plunger.
The room shimmered and swayed. The old man turned to smoke and evaporated. The pain went away instantly. Gravity righted itself and Patrick found himself sitting upright at his office desk. He slid his hand into his pocket. The odd phone was no longer there. He felt relief. Everything felt and looked solid. Everything sounded right, everything smelled right, and the ambient temperature was as it usually was. He had a definite sense that he had been dreaming.
Suddenly the equation came to mind, and he finally knew what it meant. It made total sense. It was the discovery of his career, and to think that he dreamed of it! He took a blank piece of paper from a half-used ream, and found a suitable pen. He put the paper in front of him, and was poised to write when a drop of amber fluid fell to the bottom edge of the paper. He wiped his nose, and stared at the droplet as it seeped into the pulp fibers.