Logic Is a Halfway House
by Regina Clarke
part 1 of 2
Anton had expected a larger room, and better lighting. Bad enough he had agreed to join them in the first place.
“My boy, we could do it in a closet, if we had to! Come on, help me set up.” Sellers hadn’t changed, the same old pat-on-the-back joviality, full of himself and making sure everyone else would be, too.
The building had been selected because it lay on the outskirts of the base but still well within the electric fence, isolated but with medical facilities available. Not that they’d need them, of course. According to Sellers, he never failed. Besides, it was a game, not really an experiment, he reminded Anton.
Two women entered the room. So they’d have the foursome.
“Anton, let me call you Tony for once, to hell with it, Tony it is, I want you to meet our fellow players. I wish there were another word I could use. But then, did you know that the origin of ‘fellow’ is the word ‘feolaga’, which means simply ‘partner’? Hmmm, I don’t know where I picked that up, but it is so.
“And that’s what we are, partners in a most interesting enterprise. Here, Tony, is Jeanine Torres, our resident expert in bioevolution, and Samantha Karig, first ‘fellow’ of anthropology who has spent quite a few years studying the Australian aborigine dreamtime phenomena; very interesting conclusions. Ladies, let me present Anton Tony-for-short Cantrill, who has agreed to try out my little invention.”
Wishing desperately he were somewhere else, anywhere away from Sellers, but unwilling to make a scene in the presence of the women, Anton greeted them civilly.
“Colin has told us something of your work, Tony. He’s quite proud of your success with multiple personalities,” said Jeanine, holding out her hand.
“Mechanistic, the man still insists on it, as if quanta had never arrived. But he’s come up with some interesting psychological studies, though, and yes, I am proud of him!” Sellers looked fondly at him.
As if I’m some kind of pet, Anton thought. “I think that we can’t simply dismiss cause and effect,” Anton said to Jeanine, taking her hand briefly. Her fingers were covered with rings of silver and turquoise, and around her neck were heavy ropes of multicolored beads. Ostentatious, he thought. Inelegant.
Samantha approached him. She seemed to be hardly more than a child.
“Surely there’s an age limit to this... game of yours?” he asked Sellers, who was busily outlining a white square in the middle of the tiled floor.
“What? Oh, Samantha, you mean. Of course there is, but don’t be fooled. Tell him how old you are, Sam.”
“Fifty-seven, at last count. Yes, I think that’s right,” she answered, smiling. “I’ve been on so many of these adventures of Colin’s that I lose track. It doesn’t matter, anyway, in the end.”
“End? What end? Don’t give away the secret. I want Tony to discover everything for himself. Imagine the glory — Sellers sells psychologist on secrets of the universe... not to mention the fountain of youth... I’ll be famous at last.”
It was too much. Anton started for the door.
“Hey, ho, Tony, can’t be done. The seal is set, we’ve already begun!”
“I’ve changed my mind, Sellers,” Anton said. “I have no intention of entering this game of yours. I don’t know what made me agree to come here with you in the first place.” In spite of himself, the old hatred surfaced. He saw the look of astonishment on Sellers’ face, then dismay.
“I see. Hmmm. It still holds, though, you know. There’s no way to stop it now. I certainly hope eventually to engineer better controls that way, but right now, it’s a forward-only deal until we’re done and back.” He finished the square and immediately Jeanine and Samantha walked to it, each standing on a different edge, their backs to one another.
“What are you talking about?” said Anton.
“Come on, it won’t hurt. I can promise we’ll be back here in ah, a microsecond at the most. No problem. You may as well make the attempt. You’re in the room, and we can’t do it without you. Takes four, always takes four to get the best results. Don’t know why, yet.”
“You know the objective?” Jeanine inquired of Anton.
“No,” said Anton. And I don’t care, he thought.
“Well,” began Samantha, “It’s to arrive back here, just as you are, unchanged, whatever happens, no matter what you see while we’re gone. A matter of mind over matter, you might say.” As she said that, Sellers broke into a delighted laugh.
“You might say,” he repeated, and went over to stand on one of the other lines, still chuckling. “Okay, Anton. Take your place and we’ll get started! I promise you, m’boy, you won’t be disappointed!” He held his ‘invention’ in his hand.
Anton had asked him about it earlier that week and now wished he never had. He wished only that he could be somewhere else instead of where he was.
They had met in the atrium at the club they both frequented. Sellers was fingering the delphiniums and talking to the usual crowd he always seemed to attract. On seeing Anton, he’d left the group immediately and nearly pushed Anton onto one of the velvet lounge chairs scattered around.
“Just the man I want to see — isn’t that how the sale begins?” he said, laughing, and then he waved what looked like a small, compact transmitter in Anton’s face. “This will intrigue you, Anton, m’boy, I promise you.”
They were sitting near a Japanese fountain, and Anton concentrated on the sound of the water to keep his anger from showing. Against his will, to be polite, he rationalized later, he asked about the device.
“Why,” Sellers had said, a gleam in his eye, “it’s what I call my pocket particle accelerator. My P.P.A. Interested?” And Anton had been curious, more because it had seemed so absurd, another of Sellers’ follies.
“It takes acres of equipment to achieve even the slightest results in that realm,” Anton had stated, smugly.
“Ah, yes, so it does, most of the time. But — and here’s the point — only if one requires such collisions as that equipment seeks. My ambitions were much greater, while at the same time, much simpler. I didn’t want to create new matter, I wanted to explore the moments before it was created. I don’t require the impact — so I open the door for the ‘almost’, as I like to think of it, do you see? And ‘thinking’ is the key!” Sellers had moved closer. Leaning back further, Anton found himself nearly smothered in the branches of a weeping willow, and furiously twisted them behind his chair.
“Now, here’s what I’m doing. It’s a question of probabilities. Were I to produce a rate of acceleration that occasioned impact, we’d probably — no pun intended, m’boy — but we’d probably not return. Who knows what would come of it? Explode us into smithereens, perhaps. Make us the ‘off’ impulse of the particle instead of the ‘on’ in this universe, at least? Or re-shape us into a different form, more likely. Hardly beneficial. Or we could get all muddied up in parallel redundancies.
“No, what my invention does is allow us to see and feel those moments just before imminent change — it’s wild, psychedelic, I suppose. Very likely that old mushroom business was similar to my P.P.A., actually — utilizing our capacity to hear and ‘see’, such as it is, at a sub-atomic level. It’s all part of the same spectrum, after all. But my contribution is control. We get back where we started, safe from alterations. But what an adventure while we’re gone! The ends of the universe!” Sellers had leaned back in his chair, waiting expectantly.
Anton wanted to tell him what he really thought. They had parried back and forth all their adult lives, but Sellers never seemed to hear the irony always hovering in Anton’s voice. If pressed, if someone had asked him in the right way, at the right time, Anton might have told them he hated his friend and colleague, Colin Sellers. He knew what Sellers did repeatedly was break the envelope, and do it with resounding success. What Anton called Colin’s follies, the world had embraced.
This new device probably did work. It wasn’t patented yet, and if he joined in the experiments, the “games” as Sellers insisted they were, at least he could make himself a name that way. Use Sellers as a stepping-stone. He could swallow that, for a little while. A psychologist should be open to possibilities, after all. His bailiwick was consciousness, and Sellers had a way to explore it faster. It was something Anton could, just maybe, capitalize on.
Reluctantly, sitting in the atrium, he had asked Sellers the question the man was waiting for. “Okay, how can you control it? At certain speeds, Sellers, you can’t assume anything. The variables increase geometrically, or something like that.”
Sellers’ smile had broadened. “Something like that, indeed! But only in relation to matter, and therefore to light. Nothing presupposes that our mind undergoes the same process. In fact, my presumption is that moving at the speed of thought, we can absorb the material transformations without difficulty.
“The only problem lies in our point of reference, the baggage we have in our heads, the rules, you know what I mean. It can be a frightening process if you don’t leave all that behind you. Personally I think the parallel universe business is a product of exactly that. A pet theory. But that’s why I select people who have proven ability to disregard appearances, to survive with minimal, even zero stimulation, to remain intact within radically altered experience — essentially, to overcome fear. Your work with those poor souls in the isolation tanks has shown me that you understand this.”
“Who else are you working with now?” Anton asked him, with reluctance.
“I have found it slightly harder to engender an interest in this on the part of men. The women seem more responsive, a detail that is unclear. In fact, that’s one reason I want you along. Not only are you a man, bless you, but you have devoted your energies to helping your patients test their fear of the unknown, stabilizing their responses, with wonderful results. Possibly you will have some insights into why the women are more receptive to this process without side effects? Listen, I need a drink, what about you?” And before Anton could say anything Sellers had ordered Irish whiskey from the waiter.
“Best kind there is, in my opinion,” said Sellers when the drinks arrived. “Glad we didn’t get rid of the old supplies when the club switched brands. Which committee decided to do that, by the way? Pity, sometimes, our need to control what we eat and drink. Well, what do you think?”
Anton looked at him moodily. The last thing he wanted was to participate in anything Sellers was doing, yet he’d given himself enough good reasons why he should. And he would not give Sellers any reason to think he was afraid to try.
“So the people you’ve already selected are women, I presume?”
The whiskey tasted sour to him as it burned its way down his throat.
“You are so formal, Anton. It’s part of your charm, I think. Yes, two women. One has spent six months in isolation on a polar expedition, nothing but night, no radio or communication, a single oil lamp, which, incidentally, she could use only two hours in twenty-four, given her small supply of oil. One of the conditions she had set herself. Whiteouts occurred there twice a week. When she experienced hallucinations, which typically begin around the fourth month in such cases, she rode them out by reminding herself that the mind was infinitely creative, and each of the things she saw were real — not, mind you, trying to tell herself that they weren’t real — that’s the route to madness. No, she saw them as valid formations from her consciousness and wrote descriptions of them, and then analyzed their origin — came up with some startling ideas on alternate multi-dimensional reality stuff that’s had real implications in your own field. Maybe you’ve read her reports, I should think so. Torres. Jeanine Torres. I don’t think she’s afraid of anything.”
“I don’t recall. And the other?” The drink left him feeling light-headed, and more relaxed. Sellers’ intention, obviously.
“Ah, Samantha Karig. She’s strong stuff, I’ll tell you. Been on every session with me except the first, which of course I took alone. That’s when I realized that four people were necessary, has to do with the magnetic directionals. Couldn’t meet a nicer woman, but she was a real stickler for details. Had me going for a time.
“Met her some months back at that survey conference — I don’t think you went, did you? No. Well, she presented a paper on the nature of fluid consciousness. She has this idea that perceptual distortions are a product of our need to find finite entities — that our definition of sanity revolves around that premise, as does all our scientific research — one could say, I suppose, that we define sanity according to science. Her thesis — proven, mind you — is that if we suspend that need, if we actually allow our consciousness to float, you might say, then we access information absolutely unattainable by ordinary speculations and experimentation, and yet we have concrete results at the end of the process as proof!” Sellers took a large swig of the whiskey.
“She believes we evolved with this capacity,” he continued, “and were limited in using it by theoretical constructs that insisted upon a specific matrix, one that was comprehensible to us. Thus, logically, we would only ever find what we were looking for, and so miss the other ninety percent of whatever is there to find. Really fascinating work, caught my attention right away — inspired some of what I’m doing, I have to admit.”
“What possible proof could she offer for such a thesis?” said Anton with an acerbity that Sellers either didn’t catch or chose to ignore.
“Well, I like to think I’m part of that — I am her proof, as much as anything else she’s offered up. Look at me, I’ve entered worlds at speeds just slightly below that of light. Almost at the turning point. I’m here, unchanged, aren’t I? I let my conscious mind ‘float’ — and so I have remained intact. I felt no need for a material ‘me’, you see? For my sanity, I mean.
“So we can play a little, use the transformations creatively — for there are many to go through. And then we return. I’m surprised, you know, that you haven’t heard of Samantha. After all, her work has direct reference to your own field studies. That’s what made me think of you as an ideal candidate!”
Anton got up to leave. Sellers stayed, ordering another whiskey, and by the time Anton had gotten to the door of the club Sellers already had another crowd at his feet and was entertaining them. Anton saw this and the old, familiar tension ran through him again. He would take the dare, since that’s what it was now, just as Sellers had intended. But he, Anton, would absorb only what was useful to him, and then make a point of never seeing the man again. There was peace in the thought of that.
Copyright © 2012 by Regina Clarke