Dev Pathmajaren sat at his desk as the clock showed eleven, feverishly scribbling his calculations on the paper that littered his bedroom. All along one wall, sheet upon sheet of complex mathematics was tacked up with masking tape, the sort of calculations that should have been beyond a boy of seventeen, the sort more suited to PhD students and celebrated professors. But Dev Pathmajaren was not an average seventeen year old; he was a borderline genius. Borderline because, apart from school, which had long since given up trying to keep pace with his learning, no-one knew just how clever he was; borderline because his genius was not confirmed.
His shelves were stacked with Newton’s Principia Mathematica and Euclid’s Elements which jostled for space with volumes by Einstein, Feynman, Faraday and Hawking. The great manuals, dog-eared from use, watched in silence as the tall boy bent over his formulae suddenly stopped and stared at what he had just written down. Dev gazed at his work in astonishment and was gripped by a sudden fear, the initial triumph of completing his theory long forgotten.
A bead of sweat broke out on his forehead as his considered his discovery and trickled down the bridge of his nose to be wiped away as he rubbed his face vigorously with his now damp palms. It had to be a mistake, it just had to be, he thought desperately as he rifled through the pages of calculation. But even as he did so he knew it was a pointless exercise because so far, he had never been wrong. And, as he searched, he found that his maths, as it always had been, was perfect.
He sat there, an icy pool flooding his stomach as he thought about what his discovery could mean. He smoothed his hair with his hand. What to do, what to do? For the very first time in his life Dev Pathmajaren didn’t know the answer. It was a frightening feeling. He stood up and paced for a while then sat down again and re-checked his calculations one more time. Yes, he was right and this time the answer had fatal consequences, not just for him but for the entire world.
He snatched up his mobile and called The Royal Institution. The line connected.
“Hi, yes, please, extension 623 please.” He waited to hear the familiar ring tone and imagined the office – covered in papers, empty coffee cups, books, calculations. He could see Professor Wilkins searching for the phone under a pile of discarded notes.
Typical Wilkins Dev thought, yes and hello merged into one for immediacy. He didn’t do small talk – his brain didn’t have room for it.
“Hi Proff, it’s Dev.”
“Mr Pathmajaren. How are you since I saw you last, what two hours ago?”
“Fine, fine. I’ve erm… I’ve finished my theory.”
“Ah. Have you?” A sudden wariness had crept into the professor’s voice.
Dev listened and thought he heard voices in the background. “Yes, yes and Professor Wilkins, I think I’ve found…-“
“Dev, Dev, Dev,” Wilkins began, “I know what you think you’ve found but I have to be frank with you, it’s not what you think it is. I don’t think you’re correct.”
“But Professor, you said that you thought…-“
“I know what I said Dev!” The professor’s voice had taken on an edge of aggression. He didn’t like to be challenged. Ever. “But I’ve had time to reflect and I don’t think that you’re right. Something in your calculations is wrong. They don’t add up.”
Dev couldn’t believe he was hearing this. “But…” He was going to tell the professor again that he had said Dev was right, had encouraged him all along to consider the theory and now, now he’d changed his mind? Dev felt a sickness claw at the pit of his stomach.
“While you’re on Dev, I ought to tell you that what with budget cuts and the rest, we need to make some changes here at the Institute. I’m afraid we’re not going to have room to take in young physicists like yourself without funding from the right channels Dev. We’re not going to be able to let you come and go as you have been doing. I’m sorry.”
Dev held the phone tightly. He’d been going to the Royal Institution ever since his parents had written to them about him, ever since he’d finished all the physics and maths exams at school, for years in fact. He felt the blow almost physically. He loved the place – it was the heart of Physics.
“I really am sorry,” Professor Wilkins said, this time more gently and Dev believed him. Whatever was going on there, Wilkins had always supported Dev.
“If you want my advice Dev, just forget this theory and focus on another aspect of physics. ‘ Bide your time until you go up to Cambridge next Autumn.”
“Yes, yes of course, I…” Dev was lost for words; he felt crushed. “Thank you Professor, for everything that you’ve…” He swallowed hard, but he didn’t get to finish what he wanted to say. The line had gone dead.
Molly Sharp lay on her bed, curled up on her side with her head phones on. It was 3a.m. and the music rebounded in her head as she drifted in and out of sleep. Tonight was bad.
She had shut both the windows even though she liked the cold, fresh air in her room while she slept and she’d closed the curtains -pulling down the blackout blind she’d insisted her mother get for her -which sometimes helped, but not tonight. Tonight it felt like they were louder than ever. Incessant. Tonight even the head phones and the pumping beat couldn’t drown them out. The cat sat outside her door and wouldn’t come in. A bad sign.
At 4a.m., Molly got up. She took the headphones off. She stood in the middle of her room, a tall, thin girl of sixteen with a flame of dark red hair, normal, lovely and she shook her head.
“For God’s sake!” she cried, “Why don’t you all just shut up! Shut up for one minute will you and let me sleep!” She stopped. There seemed to be a moment of silence and she let out a sigh. Then it disappeared, lost in the swell of voices that rose up out of the darkness.
“GO AWAY!” She cried, much louder this time, “Will you please just all go AWAY!”
In the bedroom next to her, Sandra, Molly’s mum, also lay awake in the dark and listened to her daughter’s cry. She had been asleep when she heard Molly call out and woke with a start. The shout was loud enough to hear her voice, but not loud enough to hear the words, so as always, Sandra’s imagination ran riot. What was her daughter shouting about at 4a.m.? What had woken her? Was she in trouble? What could it be that made her sound so anguished and in pain?
Sandra sat up and switched on the bedside light. Climbing out of bed, she padded to the door and opened it, listening for any more sound from Molly’s room. There was nothing. She went out and knocked on Molly’s door.
“Molly?” She waited. “Are you okay?”
There was no answer. She cracked open the door and peered into the darkness. The night light was on and a low red glow suffused the room. Molly was in bed, under the covers with her head phones on. She was asleep.
Sandra went back to bed. She switched the light off and lay in the dark, listening to the silence underpinned by the distant hum of traffic on the main road. Perhaps it was a dream, she thought, a nightmare? She consoled herself with that thought as she closed her eyes and tried to get back to sleep. But whatever it was she thought, drifting off, it was getting more and more frequent.
A remote area of North Korea
Somewhere within the P’unggye-yoke area of North East Korea there is place that people have heard of, but know nothing about.
Until 2003 it did not, officially, exist and even today the government gives nothing away. Its function is described by them as simply an operating base for the Air Force. No one is known to work there; there are lawyers, engineers, insurance brokers but officially they don’t exist. Their life is secret.
The Colonel allowed himself a small smile as he thought what would happen if the conspiracy theorists really knew what was going on; fact, he thought wryly, was often stranger than the fiction.
He sat at his desk and looked through the four inch plate glass that separated his office from the rest of the huge, underground expanse that made up their work area. He watched the scientists mingle with members of the army and government agents; people hurrying along neon lit corridors with files; white coats, suits and grey uniforms. They were occupied; busy. The people here had a purpose and that pleased him.
A knock upon the door disturbed his thoughts. It was not the usual smart rap but a frantic hammering. He called the order to enter and the head scientist, Dr Johann Stamn, spilled through the doorway in a flurry of limbs, flushed and sweating. The Colonel allowed him to catch his breath. He turned and eased his gaze from the window to Dr Stamn. His eyes were cold and calculating.
“Sir, we’ve done it” exclaimed Dr Stamn as he composed himself, adjusting his glasses and wiping away the sweat of his palms on his lab coat.
The Colonel considered for a moment. He didn’t like to praise; it showed weakness.
“Good,” he said calmly, which for him was high approval. “Show me.”
He followed Dr Stamn down through twisting corridors and steel staircases, descending further into the bunkered heart of the base. They stopped at the correct section where Dr Stamn allowed his eyes to be scanned before gaining access and made their way into a huge room.
This was the room at the hub of the experiment. Filled with high tech computer technology not seen anywhere else in the world, banks of screens showing measurements and readings that were undecipherable to an outsider.
Stamn’s team, usually to be seen hard at work, were all milling around excitedly, shaking hands and congratulating each other, but they gradually fell silent as they noticed the Colonel’s presence. The Colonel let them have their moment of triumph; if they had truly been able to succeed in their mission then it was well deserved.
A hush finally pervaded the lab, but the excitement and tension in the room was still palpable. Dr Stamn cut a path through the small crowd and The Colonel followed him. They reached the far end of the room, a steel reinforced concrete wall, lined with lead that ran the length of the lab. It had one long, thin eye level slit cut into it, fitted with a reconstructed glass-like material, six inches thick, which allowed a small view into the bunker beyond the wall.
The Colonel, Stamn and the other scientists gathered along this thin viewing panel and looked into a vast cavern, its walls reinforced as the room was with steel, lead and concrete. Littered throughout the enormous fissure were an array of vehicles and objects; the latest model of attack tank used by the army, reinforced houses, models of soldiers wearing the latest flak jackets and protective gear and the rats that had colonised the expanse long ago. The Colonel felt the muscle in his neck twitch with excitement. He turned to Dr Stamn who was by now working with a team at a computer, preparing what was about to happen.
Dr Stamn looked up from the screen. “I’ve placed it in the centre of the cave and prepared a tiny amount of energy to be released.” He stared at the Colonel. “From our calculations that is all we need.”
The Colonel acknowledged this fact with a small nod of the head.
“Preparing for countdown,” he said. Suddenly warning sirens blared out across the vast plain of rock, startling the rats so that they scampered into corners and cowered. There was absolute silence. A countdown appeared on the screen:
A blinding flash dazzled the Colonel. For a moment he lost sight and was forced to steady himself as the ground shook from under him. Blinking furiously he looked around. People stood dazed and shaken. He peered through the sight line at the cavern. He blinked again.
There was nothing left of the houses, of the armoured vehicles or even the rats which had scurried into corners. They had evaporated.
The Colonel surveyed the barren wilderness with awe, and thought about the potential that these geniuses’ had uncovered. He turned and, pausing briefly to shake the hand of a shaken Dr Stamn, walked swiftly away to relay news. News of a discovery that would build the state of North Korea into the supreme and unchallenged force in the world.
The snow came to Newcastle, at first a few gentle flakes fluttered down upon the late night party-goers, dusting them quietly with frost. They drew their coats closer about their shoulders as the cold bit, and hurried home, their drunken laughter quickly snatched away by the howling wind and lost. The flurry grew heavy on the banks of Tyneside, erupting into a blizzard that roared its anger through busy streets and deserted alley-ways, blanketing the earth
In one forgotten corner a homeless youth huddled against the doorframe of a quiet house, arms wrapped around his knees and head bowed against the storm. He shivered uncontrollably in a thin hooded sweatshirt over a dirty vest top. He hugged his knees closer, in a vain effort to block out the arctic chill and could feel his fingers grow numb and lose their grip. His toes too began to lose their feeling, his worn trainers doing nothing to guard against the bitter cold that seeped into every pore of his thin body.
He sat there, frozen, and felt the numbness spread up his legs, his arms and through his chest, the cold gripping his heart in a vice making him gasp. In his ear he could hear the thump of it, once so rhythmic but now it seemed to beat slower, missing beats, shutting down. The boy slowly looked up from the crook of his arms and everything seemed blurred, the shapes of arches and streetlamps indistinguishable in the whitewash around him. It was becoming harder to breathe; the cold air was painful as it passed his blue and swollen lips. He couldn’t think straight. His thoughts had slowed along with his heartbeat and all his mind was telling him to do was to remove his hoodie in an effort to keep warm. Conjuring the last of his effort to stay conscious he looked up and thought he saw a flash of white light glimmering; a light so close he thought that he could reach out and touch it, but his arms were too heavy. He sank back against the wooden doorframe with the last of his breath. The white faded into black and disappeared. His eyelids drooped.
The church was quiet and dark as Father Tom sat in prayer. He hadn’t been able to sleep and so had left the priest’s house across the road and let himself into the vast old crumbling building that stood on the side of a main road in the east end of London. There were a couple of homeless sleeping in the porch and he’d covered them with the extra blankets he kept in the back of the church, leaving them where they were, not having the heart to move them on as the Bishop wanted him to do.
He lit some of the candles but kept the electric lights off to save money and sat in a pew near the front, praying for the poor and the sick, the homeless and the needy. His lips moved silently. He was deep in thought. There was a sharp crack behind him.
Father Tom opened his eyes but stayed very still. He kept his breathing steady. He was frightened. At the back of the church he heard whisperings, a scuffle. He held his breath.
Suddenly he felt his head being yanked backwards and a tight grip on his throat. He closed his eyes as a blow hit him across the temples. When he opened them he was staring down the barrel of the gun. He glanced up briefly at the man who pointed it at him. He wore a mask.
“Where do you keep the valuables?” The man snapped. The voice was young; too young to be doing this, Tom thought briefly. The voice was young and afraid.
“In the safe in the room behind the altar.” Father Tom answered. He sounded calmer than he felt.
“I-in a safe?” The young man was caught off guard. This was too easy; he was suspicious.
“Yes. The number is 32, 24.” Father Tom quietly replied. He’d done this before; theft, pain.
Tom stayed very still. He saw a signal to two others out of the corner of his eye and he heard a scuffle; the faint click of the lock as they broke into the safe quickly and quietly.
They returned, one of them, short, a hoodie pulled up over his head, a bandana round his mouth, had a small rucksack slung over his shoulder. The other one, bigger, more cumbersome, also with a hoodie and bandana, folding away a small knife he had used to prise the hinge without fingerprints. The gunman nodded to them and they proceeded to check every alcove of the Church for anything else of value.
Finding nothing they signalled to the gunman who turned, and strode menacingly towards Father Tom. The man raised his gun steadily, confidently.
“Empty your pockets,” he said.
Father Tom raised his arms to try and pacify him. “I-I don’t have anything in my pockets…” He stammered. “Please, you’ve got everything…” A bead of cold sweat trickled down the back of his neck.
Father Tom gulped, the fear rising in his chest, yet he had to reason with them. “I swear to God I’m telling the –“
Wham! Before he had even blinked the young man had stepped forward and hit him hard across the cheek with his gun. Father Tom fell to the ground in a heap, his frame folding as he covered his head with his arms, waiting for more.
Suddenly a white light flashed across his vision. His attacker cried out with terror, his accomplices shouting and scrambling. Father Tom stayed where he was, cowering on the ground and heard them flee down the aisle and out of his church, their boots booming and echoing in the vast space. He stayed like that for some time, too afraid to uncover his head, too weakened to get up.
Finally, unsteadily, Tom got to his feet. He touched his hand to his lip and tasted blood. He’d have a shiner tomorrow but just a shiner. Relief flooded him. He’d survived; he was still alive.
He cast around the dim church and saw they’d taken nothing except the stuff in the safe. He made a mental calculation; a chalice, two communion plates – all worthless. They used to be silver, but the church had been robbed three times and now they were polished nickel; worthless.
Again he touched his face and felt for the swelling as he made his way to the back of the church. He had no idea what had just happened. He stopped. He remembered the gun, the hit and then… then a light. Where had it come from? He tried to think but his head throbbed in agony; it made him wince. He stumbled to a pew, sat and stared into the gloom of the church.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted something strange; something glinting in the dimness. He stood and walked stiffly to the wall where something lay on the floor between a statue of the Virgin Mary and a portrait of the crucifixion. He knelt, his back aching from the blow, and picked up a small metal badge; silver enamel with a sharp pin on the back. He turned it over in the palm of his hand and saw the word ‘science’. He held it and closed his fingers over it. The church had been cleaned that morning; he’d seen the ladies go round the skirting with the hoover. This wasn’t here then; it couldn’t have been.
He glanced at the wall and it was then that he saw it. He caught his breath. There, right at the base of the wall and carved into the stone was a symbol. His sense of unease grew. Bewildered, he leant forward to examine it, moving his hand over the strange shapes that had not been there before. Shapes, symbols, lines, all connected, but somehow separate. It looked like some celestial sign.
Tom stood up and shook his head. He was becoming fanciful; white lights and celestial signs? He took a breath and walked towards the sacristy to get some cold water on his face. It was nonsense; it was the blow to the head. He ran a bowl of icy water and splashed it onto his swollen eye and cheek. Then he stood straight, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and walked back into the church. He turned on all the lights and hurried across to the sign on the wall.
Nothing in this world was nonsense and signs didn’t just appear for no reason. He knelt and began to copy it onto the paper. He didn’t know what any of this meant, but he sure as hell was going to find out.