The Fourth Side

by Robert A. Lawler

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3-4, 5-6


II

The second dream occurred on Henderson’s first night home in Philadelphia. In general, it followed the same script as before, only, this time, the gas clouds appeared immediately and came towards him more quickly. The music was also louder and faster-paced, both flutes and voices; but again the words, if there were any, were either mangled or in a language unknown to him.

The dream sped onward. Because of the faster pace, the gas clouds grew more quickly, as did the feeling of malign watchfulness which came with them. They came towards him, ever closer, blocking all else from sight. The clouds were almost on top of him before he managed to wake himself.

He sat up, perplexed. His dreams seldom recurred, and he’d never been bothered by nightmares. Half-angry with himself for bothering about so small a problem, he forced himself back to sleep without further interruption.

Earlier that evening, after a small party that his family had arranged to celebrate his return, John had shown his father the three-sided coin. At first his father was certain it was all a neat trick, especially when he failed several times to make the coin perform.

Only after the third side had disappeared several times in John’s hand did his father accept the strange nature of the coin. John also told his father of the strange manner by which he’d acquired the coin, including the shopkeeper’s talk about willpower and his insistence on selling it only to him.

His father studied the coin. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Well, Dad,” John answered. “The thing seems to have some physical properties I know nothing about. Tomorrow I’ll take it down to Drexel and show it to my old physics professor. Hopefully, after a few tests, either they’ll figure out the trick, if it is one, or someone will have some idea what it is.”

Like most engineers, Henderson had done very well in his physics classes as an undergraduate and had tried to keep up on the latest discoveries. “As to the symbol,” he continued, “I assume it has something to do with ancient Persia. Afterwards, I’ll take it to the University of Pennsylvania museum and ask their expert about it.”

This decided, he bade his father good night and they both retired.

* * *

Professor Fran Seelöwe was rather a unique individual. She combined a fine analytic mind with a great talent for teaching. More than that, though, she had become something of the grandmother of the Drexel Physics Department and the undergraduate physics students.

In charge of the freshman physics classes, she still managed to learn the name of every one of her two- to three-hundred students and become friends with many of them. It was not surprising, therefore, that Henderson took his find to her. It was also not surprising that, after all these years, she should still recognize him. They exchanged pleasantries for ten minutes before he showed her the coin.

“I’ve something to show you,” he said, taking it out. Dr. Seelöwe expressed interest in the age of the relic. “Well,” she said, “it’s quite a find, but I don’t see...”

“Let me show you,” he said. She waited in wonder while he made the coin perform and then watched her reaction.

Her eyes registered surprise but, conservatively, she asked, “Is this some trick?”

He assured her that, if it was, it was one he did not understand. Like his father however, she only became convinced after the coin had changed back several times in her own hands.

“How is it done?”

“It requires a great deal of willpower,” he answered. “My father can’t do it.” Briefly he described the workings of the coin and, after the doctor had tried and failed, the story of its acquisition.

“It’s very strange that the shopkeeper should give up such a treasure,” she agreed. “Undoubtedly he didn’t realize what he had. How much did you pay?”

“Only a hundred dollars.”

“Still,” she replied, “that was probably a month’s earnings for the man.”

“Yes, very likely. What do you make of it?”

“Well,” she said.,“I’d like to show it around and see if anybody in the Physics Department can do it. You said it requires a great deal of willpower. Let’s see what our big brains can do!”

So it was that, a half an hour later, most of the Drexel Physics Department was gathered in a seminar room on the top floor of Disque Hall. Experts in the fields of Cosmology, Quantum Optics, Chaos theory, Biophysics and Particle Physics, professors, post-docs and grad students all tried their willpower. Since what they were trying to do had to be explained carefully, the search took quite a while. Almost everyone had given it a try before one of them succeeded.

Their subject was one Sally Jackson, a young girl and graduate student. From what Dr. Seelöwe told Henderson, she certainly fit the bill. Abandoned by her mother, father unknown, she had been raised by her grandmother, yet she had still managed to work her way into a difficult and demanding field.

Henderson found her polite but rather one-sided. She seemed nervous when not talking about physics. With a start, Henderson realized she was a bit like himself. He made a mental note to do something about his neglected social life.

The gathered brain trust wanted to start experimenting immediately, but Henderson had to disappoint them. “I want to take the coin over to the museum and see if their archeologists can identify that symbol on the third side.”

“That might be a good idea,” Dr. Seelöwe agreed. “That’ll give us a night to think about what measurements we want to make, what we want to look for.” Looking at her colleagues she added, “Let’s not damage it before we can learn anything from it. We’ll start with a list of non-invasive, non-destructive measurements. When we have those, we can think about more extensive testing.” They agreed to meet the following day for the measurements.

* * *

John said goodbye and left Disque Hall and walked down Chestnut Street to 34th Street where Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania met. He turned south on 34th and walked to the nearby University Museum.

The museum housed the University’s departments of archeology and anthropology, along with one of the finest collections of finds from ancient civilizations around the world. Henderson’s search was unsuccessful. The experts on the ancient Middle East were all attending a seminar on the Amarna letters at Rutgers University, across the river in New Jersey.

Henderson did make an appointment for 4:00 pm the next day. He hoped Dr. Seelöwe would be done with her measurements by then. He decided he would drop off the coin in the morning at Drexel and pick it up at about 3:30.

In the meantime, he was going to have some fun. The Phillies were having a businessperson’s special game, and he’d not yet seen Citizens Bank park. Smiling, he walked back to his car and returned home.

The dream returned again that night, more horrible than ever. The gas clouds came closer than before and they now seemed to dance in time to the music, which had become wild and savage. The words, if they were words, had become much clearer but Henderson was now sure they were in a language unknown to him.

Several times words, or perhaps only syllables, were repeated and he began to recognize them. “Agra Manu,” was perhaps one, “Devas” another, and “Dahaka” a third. The clouds came closer and began to alter their shapes into obscenely suggestive shapes. They were almost on top of him before John managed to wake himself.

Shaking his head, he found he was short of breath and wet from sweat. These dreams, nightmares rather, were becoming a nuisance. He got up from bed and walked to the dresser where he kept the three-sided coin, and took it out. The thing was beginning to have a hold on his mind; he was positive it had something to do with the dreams.

“Tomorrow,” he said to himself, “after I’ve shown this thing to the archeologists, I’ll give it to Fran for good.” With a great deal of resolve, he returned to bed.


Proceed to parts III-IV...

Copyright © 2015 by Robert A. Lawler

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