Third Novel in Ferg Series – unpublished

My name is Simon Truscott, though most people just call me Ferg.  No, not that one, he was my great grandfather, the forensic geophysicist, or that’s what he liked to call himself.  He loved to tell stories on any manner of topic, but mostly they were related to his life in some way, like where he had travelled to, the fabulous people he had met, unexplained coincidences or most likely some weird science he had just thought up. That Ferg was like a father to me as I was growing up.

My great grandmother Safrina Kanjin died a few days back, after a very long and happy life.  She was one hundred and twenty nine years old in body. Her telomeres had frayed and allowed her DNA to start unravelling, just like a missing aglet does on a shoelace, but her mind was that of a twenty year old, still full of fun and a desire to learn.  I have just attended her funeral, and am about to head over to her wake, but need a minute to assess where my life is going and fathom what is happening to me after an eventful few months.  Well probably a bit more than a minute, but you have to start somewhere.

I sort of followed in Ferg’s footsteps, studying heliophysics, or in other words, the association of the sun and the earth and all of the material in between.  After the great Carrington event of 2091 it had become a popular field of study and now, as I approached the ripe old age of twenty four, I had managed to achieve the reassuring milestone of completing my PhD.  It was received with massive fanfare world-wide as some of my peers had suggested that I had conquered the discipline of quantum gravity and that nothing would be the same again.  And they were certainly right about that.

Albert Einstein theorised, in his General Theory of Relativity, that the force called gravity was simply emergent from the shape of spacetime, and by doing so, created a new era for the field of macro physics.  A fellow German, Max Planck also established the basics of the micro world at about the same time, over two hundred years ago.  This was the world of very small, quantised units of pretty much everything.  All things had a smallest unit; matter, light, space, energy were all seen to be discrete and digital rather than continuous and analogue, but these smallest units did not contain any hint of how gravity emerged.

For two hundred years both theories, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics had a remarkable success, explaining all manner of phenomena, and giving us most of the technological goodies that we have today.  They just had one problem, they did not agree with each other.  The micro and macro worlds just could not be brought together into one believable theory.  That was until my thesis, apparently.

I called my thesis document simply “It’s About Time”, because that was the real problem, an understanding of time and what it really is.  Could time be seen as an emergent property of Space Gravity?  Without space and matter, there is no gravity and hence no Time.  And where better to study relativity and quantum weirdness than in the vacuum of local Space.

But, enough of these unfathomable details.  For the moment I am simply trying to unravel the preposterous events that have occurred around me since that day of the publication of my thesis.

Saffy was involved, that much is for certain.  Ferg would have been too, had he been able.  I can just see the input he would have had along the way, but he is gone forever, whatever that means in this new understanding of time.  He now belonged in the time cone of my past.  I could imagine myself at the apex of a 3D cone, where I am the sole survivor, all of my ancestors relegated to the annals of time. Two parents, Murdo and June, four grandparents including Tilley and Dave, eight great grand-parents, doubling up each generation in an exponential progression to make a very wide and ever inclusive circle of humanity at its base.  A cone defining my future may extend in a similar way in the opposite time direction, depending on what my future held for me, creating a kind of Minkowski diagram of family-possible, end to end cones in my head.

My family history included many people from my past, tapering down to a pinpoint of me in my present and extended out again into the future.  People outside my family cone may never impact me or my family, but remain forever on the outside of my history.   My girlfriend Maitri would potentially enter this cone or may just brush past like a ray of light, a beam of individual quanta.  It was as yet undetermined, or perhaps more importantly, unobserved.

It was my thesis that everything worked in this same fashion.  Time was different for everybody and all things had their own Minkowski cones of broad past, narrow present and an unknown future.  This was just an extension of the old quantum loop gravity theory or possibly the even more ancient I Ching. These light cone thoughts had chewed up my own teenage brain until everything I now thought about took on the same structure.

“Are you coming over?” Maitri’s approach burst me back into the real world of funerals and wakes, relationships and all that future planning based on past decisions.

“Hey, thanks for holding the fort.  I just needed a minute to myself, and I am sure everyone can do without me for a short while.”

“I am sure they can too, but no one can relax if they can’t see that you are handling it all OK.  It might be time out for you, but it is time spent worrying for everyone else.  You will have plenty of time alone soon enough.”

I looked directly into her eyes and saw the obvious compassion, concern and a hint of fear and so I did as asked.  While the funeral had been orderly, the wake was the opposite.  People were getting stuck into the alcohol and telling loud stories about Saffy and her amazing life and I could not help but join in.

“I just wish that I had been able to meet her when she was young.  Her life was unreal.  What an adventurous time she had, growing up in India and travelling the world, saving the coral reefs.  I did so much appreciate her presence on our recent adventure.  Without her, I don’t think I would have made it back.”  Ben was massive, standing at over two hundred centimetres and built like the proverbial brick shithouse.  He was a good man to have on your side at any time, and as Maitri’s brother, that was inevitable.  His dark, curly hair, dark skin, broad nose and ever present smile were part of his obvious aboriginal heritage.  From my point of view he had regularly saved the day, rather than Saffy.

“I think that you got to know her better than most in those few meetings and I am sure she learned to love you dearly. You had so much in common, with your love of adventure and I am sure you will agree time is always such a malleable concept.”

“Not tonight” Maitri intervened.  “We do not talk about time tonight, just Saffy, family and good times.  I just loved her stories about when she first met your namesake in that bar in New Delhi.”

“Not a bar, a restaurant called the Dum Pukht and it still makes me laugh.  Old Ferg was quite a character.”  The old song would always burst into my head at the mention of the Dum Pukht. But I would walk 500 miles…

“That he was” added Beatrice, my somewhat laconic cousin and family counterpoint.  “We had a great time exploring the Himalayas around the remnants of the old Badrinath Glacier, researching the changes to plant species for my research paper.  He had me entertained the whole time with those endless stories of the ancient Indians, the Harrapans.  It was that knowledge that saved me.”

Beatrice, or Trixie as she was generally addressed was a concern.  As the only other known descendant of Saffy and Ferg, she stood to inherit a small fortune once Saffy’s will was read.  Having not ever submitted her Doctorate treatise, her career was always on life support, never progressing in any particular direction and always requiring family intervention.  She was a good thirty years older than me, but had not yet reached maturity, financially or otherwise.

“They both appreciated your generosity of time in their later years, probably as you were the only one always ready to listen.  I never had the time, always too busy and I missed out on so much.  I for one am grateful for your knowledge of the Himalayas.”

“You are always too focussed on your research and have little time for anyone else’s foibles, young Ferg” Maitri admonished. “You need a real world hobby or two.”

And Trixie is just the opposite I thought and fought hard to keep the thought private.  Everyone knew of my personality quirks and mostly let them go without question.  I am what they used to call an Aspie, or an SP in my own nomenclature.  I thought of Asperger’s as an experiment of evolution, perhaps creating people better equipped for the modern world.  My thought processes tend to highlight logical progression and ignore things I see as irrelevant.  I have enormous empathy but the emotions that come with that are just too hard to deal with, so I do my best to put all emotion aside, except of course for fun times and laughter with close friends.  Those emotions I let roam free.

“Come on, snap out of it.  Let’s find a whisky and have a drink for Saffy and Ferg and forget everything else for tonight.”  I looked at Maitri and realised my mind was wondering again and her suggestion was enticing.

“Yes let us do just that”

Next thing I know is that today has become tomorrow, or is that the other way around.  How is that even possible I ponder, as I do most mornings on waking. There is a quantum pinpoint of now between yesterday and today, generally marked by a measure of sleep.  Today my head hurts and my mouth is horribly dry but I manage a smile as I think about the previous night.

“Ready for a coffee?” asks Mai in her usual cheerful way, and I smile a little deeper inside.  Why would anyone ever be depressed about life when every tiny facet can so easily be appreciated and enjoyed.

“Thanks.”  My attention immediately wonders back to last night and I briefly think that I should not have been so forceful in my arguments with Florence.  She means well, but her obsession with achieving immortality or longevity in her life is a bit extreme.  I can never help myself and always feel the need to knock her back a peg or two. But I know that I should be more appreciative of her knowledge of materials and remember to thank her next time we meet.  We would not be here still without her sharing that knowledge.  I figure that our characters just clash.  She is an Entee or NT after all, a NeuroTypical who craves order and the mindless honouring of tradition.

Rambling thoughts move in every direction but I quickly return my mind to the issues at hand.  First and foremost is the possibility that someone is trying to kill me.  I can’t get my head around the concept still but the police feel that there is enough evidence to believe it is true.  When the ai-car dropped me off at the port a few days back, it continued on its journey only to drive over a cliff and into the sea.  There was now incontrovertible evidence that the vehicle had been tampered with and, had I not disembarked early so that I could walk the last stretch, I would have still been inside as it plunged into oblivion. 

There was also that near miss with a rampant arrow and the poisoning incident on the day of my dissertation, but I still could not believe that they were potentially all deliberately targeting me.  Was my assertion about quantum gravity that controversial?  Who has the most to gain?  Is the biggest threat of a commercial, theoretical or military nature?  The security now surrounding my every move, suggested it was possibly all three.

Then there were the myriad events of the last month, after I began addressing my discovery of TIME.  I had no idea on how to interpret those and where they would lead next.

But the most pressing matter today was the reading of the will, and that was happening later this morning.  It would all be organised and controlled by the AI from the Downer’s law firm and security would be so high that there was little to no likelihood of any interference, but nevertheless it would be a complicated process.  KTE had become a massive holding company, controlled by Saffy and breaking it up would not be a straight forward matter.  Saffy would have left a large share to me as the major beneficiary, of that there was no question, but it was also certain that there would be a number of other beneficiaries, creating the certainty that there would be fighting over the spoils.  Mai and Trixie would also be most certainly directly involved, as the police had most pointedly informed me.

My home is a penthouse suite in the town of Davenport, on the southern coast of Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.  It had become home to automated manufacture in Australia since the massive Fusion Power Generation and Desalination Plant was built in the sixties.  Rapid seawater movement through Investigator Strait made it an ideal location for a game changing desalination and pumping scheme which utilised that unlimited baseload power generation. The lack of topography allowed this fresh water to be pumped right across the peninsula with ease.  Sea level rise had turned the area into an island once more, just as it had been in geologic history.  The old Peesey Swamp was now a waterway filled by luxury yachts with their brightly coloured electrically controlled sails.  It only required a metre sea level rise and a little geoengineering.

It should just be a short walk to Downer’s or even a pneum ride on any normal day but security needs put an end to that.  Today it would be via a drone, beginning with a landing on our roof port, and would include a small security force and an optional manual pilot.  This was not the way I like my days to go.  I much prefer the peace and quiet and beauty offered by the natural world.

The squeal of the high velocity rotors announced the landing and I was escorted aboard.  A second drone would take Maitri as we had been advised to travel separately.  Two other drones hovered nearby and I assumed they were heavily armed.

We were soon seated in Downer’s office, provided drinks and snacks by an office clerk and then introduced to Rob, the lawyerbot. Rob was a hologram of indeterminate sex, age or humanity who spoke in a comforting voice.

“We are gathered here today for the reading of the last and final Will of Safrina Kanjin, who passed away on the 14th of July 2113.”  Rob paused for effect and looked at each person in turn.  Beside myself and Mai in the main office, holos of Beatrice, Florence, Ben and numerous lawyers and potential beneficiaries were also looking on.  Each acknowledged Rob in return.

My mind had already drifted.  How on earth had a robotic AI come up with the concept of passed away?  What did it think it meant by that phrase?  Surely deceased was a better, a more descriptive word.  Why would an AI assume that Saffy had passed away somewhere, perhaps now non-living on a desert island?  Of course, it was just a marketing tool, for the benefit of us living humans, an attempt at softening the experience.  I wondered if it had been learned from observation and experience, genetic algorithms, neural networks or had the concept been implanted by its human controllers?  Marketing was an insidious process, the direct opposite to the demands of Science, the reading of the Signs.

Mai nudged me back to attention, freeing me from my runaway thoughts.

“… read the Will in its entirety and then address any specific questions as to how these instructions will be carried out.”

As expected, I was to inherit control of the Truscott Kanjin group of Companies or TKE as it was mostly known and a fortune in property and possessions.  I was always aware that this day would come but I had refused to consider all of the implications.  There was little point pondering the hypotheticals and so it came as a shock when I began to take in what it all meant.  My simple life would disappear and I would be expected to be involved in endless management duties for the good of thousands of direct employees.  In my head though, I had moved on.  I was a scientist, first and foremost and had recently come to think of myself as a Time Lord to boot. 

This was all too much.