A short sci-fi story originally written for the SFX magazine
Pulp Idol competition. Replicated here so as not to waste it.
By Owen Niblock.
Peter stepped out of the car and onto the gravel drive, he'd
done drugs trials before, but this was the first where they'd
wanted quite so many references. The first where he'd had to show
three lots of ID just to get through the gate. The list of firsts
went on with each step, and it did nothing to help the feeling of
unease set deep in his stomach.
"I guess this must be government funded" he muttered to himself
as he traipsed the long pathway to the reception. Inside, his fears
were confirmed, two burly men stood at either side of the sliding
doors. They weren't wearing uniforms but they didn't need to. They
had military personnel written all over them.
Peter approached the reception desk, "Hello Mr. Strachan.
Welcome to IMR incorporated. If you'll just take a seat, someone
will see to you shortly."
The receptionist motioned Peter over to some plastic chairs. He
shifted around in the uncomfortable chair and looked around. There
was no reading matter to pass the time; nothing but a deadly
silence echoing loudly throughout the entire room.
Just as Peter's patience was beginning to wear thin, a door at
the end of the waiting room opened and an attractive brunette
strode out, clipboard in hand.
"Hello Mr. Strachan. Here's your ID badge. Please have it visible
at all times."
"Thank you, Miss. Erm..." Peter paused.
"If you'll just follow me, we'll begin with an interview, then
we'll go through the treatment before you take part."
With that, the woman turned and sauntered back the way she'd
come. A slightly stunned Peter Strachan stood up and followed her
through stark, clinical hallways. There were no posters or other
signs of life, nothing to say "Do this" or "Don't do that". Every
now and then they passed a door and Peter couldn't help but think
of all the possible tortures people might be receiving just a short
pace away. He shook his head and tried to start a conversation with
"You never told me your name." He began.
The woman turned to him, although there was kindness in her eyes,
her voice was stern."
I must inform the subject that conversation is not permitted until
after the termination of the experiment."
Peter looked at her, the word "termination" reverberating round
his mind. This was the best paid medical research he'd ever been
involved in but he wondered if he was in over his head.
Just as he was about to try talking to the woman again, she
stopped and opened a door, ushering him in. Inside stood a small
metal table and two plain metal chairs. He was pointed to a chair
and the woman whom Peter had started to think of as "The Bitch" sat
opposite. She slid a piece of paper and a pen over to him. "If you
could just sign this, we'll begin the interview." She said.
Peter looked at the document; he'd seen it's like before, when
he'd done contracting work for the government. A standard issue
non-disclosure document. So he'd been right about it being a
military operation. What had he got himself into now?
Warily he signed the documents and handed them back to The
Bitch. To his surprise, she smiled. Peter noticed just a fraction
of bosom showing through her white medical coat. "Stop it, don't
get distracted" he thought to himself, "this is what got you in
this mess in the first place". She picked up the pen and looked at
She started with the standard questions about age, illness and
family history. Nothing to raise any alarm bells, nothing until the
"Just one more question Mr. Strachan. Have you ever experienced
This question took Peter a little by surprise.
"Déjà vu? Erm... Well, yes of course. Hasn't everyone? I mean, at
"Good, now, before we proceed any further, do you have any
"Yes," eat this Bitch, thought Peter "What's your name?"
She raised her eyebrows, then after a moment smiled and said "It's
"Thankyou." Peter let out a sigh of relief. At least they were
"Now, what's the experiment?" he continued.
"As you may be aware, during déjà vu, a person feels like they've
done something before, or been somewhere before."
"Yes, I'd say that's fairly accurate." He agreed.
"What you may not be aware of, is that recent studies have shown
that human brains work in a similar fashion to a quantum
"Uhuh." Peter concentrated.
"When used to compute, quantum phenomena can achieve exceptional
speeds. A very simplified explanation of how it does this, is to
imagine the computer existing in parallel in an infinite number of
dimensions. So in layman's terms, a quantum computer is just a very
high-tech parallel computer. Performing calculations seemingly
Peter nodded, he'd read a little bit about quantum computers but
didn't really understand the finer points.
Sarah continued "Well, our scientists theorise that déjà vu is
actually a product of the conscious mind propagated throughout
these dimensions. When you get déjà vu, you're actually
experiencing a parallel universe where everything occurs just
moments before it actually happens in Universe Zero."
"Universe Zero?" Peter asked, he was starting to get a little
confused, but thought he followed most of it.
"Universe Zero is our name for this universe, the one we're
conscious of now, what you and I refer to as The Universe."
"The experiment is designed to stimulate the brain, creating the
patterns associated with déjà vu and therefore enabling you to
predict the future."
"That's a very impressive aim, and, if I may say so, a little
unlikely?" Peter said carefully.
"We've already had a small amount of success Mr. Strachan. Now, if
you'll follow me, I'll show you to the lab."
Sarah stood up and led Peter into another, busier room. In the
centre sat a chair which looked like something out of a dentist's
surgery, to either side lay tables covered in implements. Crouching
over a monitor to the side of the room was a bespectacled man.
Straightening up, he rushed over to meet them.
"Mr. Strachan! How very pleased I am to meet you!" Exclaimed the
man. "My name is Professor Churn. Please, call me Dennis." Dennis
took Peter's hand and shook it fiercely. "Good, good." He said,
almost to himself. "Let's get on with it shall we? Yes. Lets get
Every word was hurried, breathless. Peter didn't even have time
to think about saying anything before being pushed back into the
chair."Now, don't worry Mr. Strachan. I'm just going to strap you
in, wouldn't want you moving and causing your self an injury! No
no, wouldn't want that at all!"Peter felt the harness belts tighten
around his head, body, arms and legs. He swallowed hard.Dennis
smiled warmly at Peter and rubbed his hands "Now then, I'm just
going to open up your skull Mr. Strachan."
"What?! No, you can't, I mean, I never would have...!!" the
complaints burst out of him so fast, not finishing one before the
"Oh dear, this one's going to be trouble Sarah. The sedative, if
you please." Dennis took a needle from Sarah and stabbed it into
Peter's arm. As things started to go dim, Peter opened his mouth,
but only one word escaped his mouth "Bitch". Peter floated in a
void, images flashing and swirling around him. Sarah appeared,
"Why?" she asked. He looked at her, refusing to say. She began to
strip, letting her clothes fall slowly to the floor, always swaying
gently to unheard music. Peter reached out and took her hand,
pulling her close, smelling her hair. He pushed her away, "No!" he
shouted. "I can't do this to her!" she looked him in the eye. It
wasn't Sarah anymore, she reached for him.
Anger flashed across her face. "No? No! You can't say no to me
Peter. If you do, I'll tell your dear wife what we've been up to.
And don't think I won't."
Peter sighed. "What do you want Emily?"
Everything changed. Peter was sat in an office, head in hands. He
could hear a man talking "I'm sorry Mr. Strachan, but if you don't
pay in 30 days, we'll have to take your house." When Peter
eventually regained consciousness, little had changed except for a
dull ache and a strange itch on the top of his scalp. "Welcome back
Mr. Strachan." Peter struggled to clear his head and looked
blearily toward the Professor. "I was hoping it was a dream." He
"The dream is yet to come! If you co-operate, this will be over a
lot sooner and we can all go home." Dennis showed his teeth in a
manic smile. "Now, I'm going to stimulate your brain and I'd like
you to tell me what you see and feel."
Peter began to protest, "think of the money Mr. Strachan." The
Peter grunted his agreement.
The Professor pressed a button on the computer and a strange
tingling sensation went through Peter's entire body.
"It feels like pins and needles" he exclaimed.
"Don't worry," the Professor explained, "that's perfectly natural
at this point."
The moment he'd finished talking, the room filled with colour.
Blues and reds, gold and crimson and green, constantly flashing and
pulsing. Peter could feel himself being sick, choking slightly he
tried to shout out. He could feel someone wiping his chin.With a
jolt, everything snapped into place.
"It's stopped! Everything is how it was before." he said. Only, he
didn't say it, he could hear himself saying it, far away, but here
and now was only silence.
"I think it's working" came an excited and muted reply.
Peter was quiet, what was going on? Had the insane professor
actually done it? What did this mean? Just as he was trying to work
it out, he felt himself speak. It was a strange sensation,
"It's very strange, it's like I'm there, but not there. I can
talk, but I don't say it."
"Very good," Dennis replied "could you read the exact time on the
clock Mr Strachan."
"It's three thirty five."
It wasn't, Peter could see quite clearly that it was 3:30.
"We've done it Sarah!" Dennis said excitedly, turning to his
assistant. He smiled at Peter again, I'm going to try and send you
further Mr. Strachan."
Peter felt a shiver go through his body, then his mouth began
"It's 6, there's no-one here. I feel... I feel cold."
Peter could hear the other Professor in the back of his mind. He
tried to ignore it.
The Professor in front of him spoke, "Well it's a success Sarah.
If you'll pass me the other syringe, I'll finish the experiment."
Sarah handed the Professor another needle and he turned back to
Peter, jabbing the point into Peter's arm "You've been very useful
Peter." He told him. "Thankyou... and good bye."
"Wha..?!" Peter started to shout, and then everything faded away
Peter could feel the world grow cold around him. The Professor
turned to Sarah, "Get someone to deal with the body will you Sarah?
I'm going home."
Peter was stunned, then he realised the questions were still
coming thick and fast in the back of his mind. Thinking quickly, he
formed a reply. "It's gone back to colours, there's nothing there.
Just, just darkness." As soon as he said it, it became truth.
Nothingness. Sarah turned to the Professor, "Another brain
haemorrhage Professor?" The Professor sighed. "I'm afraid so Sarah,
every time we seem to get so close and then, nothing."
"You'll get it soon Professor, we're so close this time." She
"Yes, you're right. Get someone to deal with the body will you
Sarah? I'm going home."