The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 12
Philip smiled. He wanted to kiss her eyelids. He wanted to rip off her scrubs and then everything else. He wanted to ignore the careful protocol that had kept them from so much as touching hands during all his pre-op tests. He wanted more of whatever drug they’d already given him, because this recklessness was a drug reaction — wasn’t it?
He didn’t need more drugs to tell her how he felt, how he’d been feeling since the moment they met. “Julie –“
She cut him off. “No. Don’t.”
“You’re drugged, Philip. Don’t talk.” She smiled. “Unless it’s about physics.”
“It’s not. I –“
“Look at this.” She held up a tablet, which held an image of green and red worms.
Her rejection should have made him feel bruised, but it didn’t. They both knew what lay between them. It would happen, when he was no longer her research subject. Everything would happen at exactly the right time!
Only, what if, afterwards, he —
“Philip, don’t get amorous. It’s a side effect of the drug. Look at this. Do you know what it is?”
“No.” Sulky now. He didn’t seem in control of his emotions. He was as bad as Tara. Tara — where was she? Had he remembered to tell Rachel Landry —
“Focus, Philip. Be you. This is an electron microscopy image of neural connections. This is what the implants are going to boost.”
Of course it was. Did she think he didn’t know that? Why was she telling him what they’d spent so much time discussing already?
He realized the answer: Because she’d wanted to be with him during the operation, but she didn’t want to discuss anything personal. The green-and-red worms were a distraction. She wanted him to be detached, cerebral. He wanted desperately to please her. Only all at once it was hard to think, hard to talk.
He said, “Gamma rays,” and she smiled.
“Yes. Gamma rays.”
That was what the operation was for, yes. The brain produced them naturally. They aided memory, the immune system, concentration. Deep-brain stimulation from implants had been used even on old Earth to combat a growing list of ailments and memory problems. Serious meditation dramatically increased cerebral production of gamma rays — but not, for Philip’s purposes, enough of an increase. The implants would boost that production.
Someone started the gurneybot moving. Julie walked alongside. Philip wanted to say something, but he couldn’t find words. Finally he mumbled, “Physics… of nothingness.” She didn’t hear him, or she chose not to respond.
But Philip knew what he meant. The physics of nothingness was why he was here. Julie was interested in his brain. Philip, who’d spent every spare minute reading as much physics as he could understand, was here for the void.
Which didn’t exist. Even “empty space” roiled with gravitational waves. With particles that popped in and out of existence, brief excitations in fields of energy. With non-locality and unseen dark matter. With energy that became particles and particles that became energy. Everything in the universe was entangled with everything else; particles existed in all states at once until observed, and observation changed the whole system, even the dimension of time, so that effects could happen before their causes. It was a seething jungle out there, and he was a blind man trying to stumble through it encased in a cage of meat.
But the number of potential neural connections in a human brain, which also operated partly at a quantum level, exceeded the total number of…something. Stars in the Milky Way, maybe? Julie had told him that — hadn’t she?
There was something he wanted to say to Julie, to himself, something written by someone…Eddington? Yes, Arthur Eddington…but what?
Then there were people moving around him, and very bright lights, and someone saying, “Breathe,” and then a genuine nothingness.
He woke, slept, woke again. The third time, he lay in a hospital bed, in a small room with dimmed lights that were nonetheless still too bright. Monitors hummed softly around him, and footsteps went by in a corridor. A man laughed, low and pleasant, and said something Philip didn’t hear clearly. The footsteps receded.
He was alone.
He touched his head: bandages under some sort of thin film. A nurse appeared, somehow looking both compassionate and stern. “Mr. Anderson? You’re awake. I’m going to ask you some questions, all right?”
As if Philip had a choice. But he said, “Sure.” He wanted to get this over and again be alone.
When the simple questions were over, sternness took over from compassion. The nurse said, “One more thing, and it’s very important. Dr. Hampden left word that when you awoke, you are not to try to meditate yet. Wait until after both the doctor and she have seen you. All right?”
“Repeat back to me what I just said.”
Philip did, word for word. The nurse fussed with machinery for a few minutes and then left.
Philip began to meditate.
Clear his mind, concentrate on his breathing, let the emptiness-that-was-not come as everything else faded away. It was surprisingly easy, easier than it had ever been before, but then he had to push away the elation he felt. Elation wasn’t emptiness. Push away everything, let his mind just be….
Time passed. He touched something.
A second later, it was gone.
With a deep shudder, Philip returned to himself. Daylight flooded the room. Julie, two of her researchers, and a doctor stood by his bed. The researchers were absorbed in the screen displaying his brain waves. The doctor looked grave. Julie looked quietly furious.
Disappointment tsunamied through Philip.
Julie said tightly, “You were told not to do that.”
The doctor said, “There doesn’t seem to be any harm done.”
Philip said nothing. Whatever had just happened had been brief, partial, unsatisfactory. Nothing like the transforming experience of five years ago. Yes, he had touched something, but he couldn’t sustain it, couldn’t understand it, had gained nothing from it.
A researcher said, “Increased production of gamma rays, yes, but fitfully — look at this graph. He wasn’t –“
Philip stopped listening. He closed his eyes. For this he had machinery in his brain — for a graph that didn’t even excite researchers all that much?
Then the researcher said, “I wonder if there’s a learning curve. If he can control the gamma wave production with practice. We need to set up a schedule that controls for variables.”
Practice. Like a concert pianist, an athlete, a dancer. Practice and discipline. And then maybe…
Philip opened his eyes. “Yes,” he said.