Authors: Edward Chilvers
Published by One Fine Day Reading 2013
Chilvers asserts his right to be identified as the author of this work
By the Same Author
The Shallow Valleys
The Executioner’s Apprentice
The Executioner’s Apprentice: The Siege
To the Land of the Vertical Mountains
From a very young age Dr Harley Huxtable had been convinced he was destined for greatness. He had been a strange child, one devoted to his studies and making no friends, completely uninterested in sport or the play of other children. Much of the time he had appeared lost in a world completely of his own making, either reading avidly or wandering up and down the grass concourse of his boarding school muttering inaudibly to himself, his daydreams such that not even the most vicious of bullies could rouse him from his musings. At school he had been brilliant, at university he was hailed a genius and by the time he became Professor of advanced matter physics at one of the greatest universities of the world he was considered a great man. His work on particle theorem was unparalleled and by the time he reached his fortieth birthday he was hailed by some as a modern day Newton. And yet Harley never really seemed to enjoy any of it, never seemed to appreciate the lauding of his teachers, the adulation of his fellows or the dinners given in his honour at which the greatest scientific minds of the country would line up to pay homage to him. He never really awoke from his dreaming. Most of his colleagues and students found him to be vague and aloof, sometimes even downright rude. He did not seem to be at all interested in the simple pleasures of alcohol, entertainment and sex – rumour persisted that he did not even own a television. But he must surely, they wondered, be up to something in that huge farmhouse he had managed to acquire for himself in the Thames Valley countryside just outside Oxford.
Many in the scientific community worried that Harley was too lazy, that if he only applied himself a little more his brilliant mind (a mind that came around only once every few hundred years, they said) could advance the cause of physics into a new epoch. Though his research papers were brilliant he produced few of them. He did not like to lecture and was rarely at the university when he didn’t have to be. When his colleagues tried to share notes with him or come together with him to benefit from his wisdom he simply snubbed them. Most of his time he spent shut up in that farmhouse of his, a farmhouse which did not contain any animals and where the grass on the fields was simply left to grow as it pleased.
“Just a little deeper into the rock.” Dr Harley Huxtable stood back and watched as the great quarrying equipment bored down even further into the Scottish mountainside. All around him people in white coats and goggles hovered around, hanging on to his every word. He had told his colleagues and financers he was conducting an experiment into the gas particles found deep within the prehistoric rock as a means to investigate their aging processes, but this was all nonsense. His research assistants and fellows trusted him absolutely because he was a genius. And the fact none of them really knew or understood the experiment was not really all that surprising, in fact it was typical of Harley because the great man was quite simply on another plane to the rest of them. He did not trust anybody enough to reveal the true meaning behind the drilling. Behind him stood a huge wooden crate the size of a house and inside that crate, packed tightly with foam and sawdust, was the realisation of his lifetime dream.
Benjamin Rutherford, former SAS Major and winner of the Military Cross, was a broken man. His career in the army, where he had once been tipped all the way to the top, was now at an end, had ended in an ignominious dishonourable discharge and he had narrowly escaped prison. He had been unlucky. Nobody who truly knew what had happened could doubt that and yet he had been in charge when the disaster had happened and the buck now stopped squarely with him. He could not stand to be inactive and yet with his record none but the most menial of occupations would have him. Certainly the army was not willing to take him back. It was galling. It was strange. It was as though his memories had suddenly been transplanted, overnight, into a completely different body. It was as though he had been lobotomised. All his life Benjamin Rutherford had craved the thrills of the great outdoors. He had hiked and flown. He had tunnelled and climbed. Above all he had led, a true leader who had inspired loyalty by the very tone of his voice. Now, with the great betrayal that had led to his disgrace, all this was at an end. Benjamin Rutherford no longer wanted to go out. He no longer sought out the company of others; in fact he now ran from both of these things and rarely left the four walls of his self-imposed prison. From his nondescript one bedroom flat on the outskirts of an industrial estate just outside, Ipswich Benjamin Rutherford stared out at the driving rain, sighed and got ready to go out and claim his benefit cheque.
Everything was in place. Dr Harley Huxtable almost allowed himself a little smile. The great metal box was ensconced snugly into the mountainside and the diggers were packing the rock around it. The box could be accessed only by a narrow passageway and even this would be closed up in time. Harley turned to leave.
“Did we succeed?” Asked one of the research assistants as he passed her on his way to his car. Harley glanced at her and paused. “Succeed?” He asked in puzzlement.
“With the experiment, Professor. Was the experiment a success?”
Harley licked his thin lips and treated her to a penet
rating stare. “You are a doctor yourself are you not?”
“I am, P
rofessor,” she replied.
“Then you tell me whether the experiment was a success,” said the professor simply, and he walked away. The research assistant shrugged in bemusement.
A few months later Harley published a paper on the experiments he had apparently been conducting in the Highland rock. The paper was well received, as all of the great man’s papers were well received, but there was a general consensus amongst his peers that this was by no means the professor’s best work. Many commented that it was in part a rehashing of old ideas, confirming what they already
knew with only a slight angle to advance the scientific knowledge of gas particles. Some of his harshest critics pointed to the paper as yet more evidence of Harley’s laziness. But the professor, as usual, seemed not to care at all. The paper was duly noted and forgotten about.
Harley Huxtable returned to his Oxfordshire farmhouse and looked thoughtfully at the large empty space in his barn which had once housed the culmination of all his dreams. For the first time in his life the professor was uncertain. He was not quite sure how to proceed. “I must find myself the vital cog,” he muttered to himself as he paced up and down in the early hours of the morning. “I must find the perfect specimen. The man to help me realise my life’s work.
The man of one million years.
“Now you have been a silly boy, haven’t you?” Said the nurse patronisingly. “It won’t be a very quick death if you swallow the pills down with water, just destroy your liver and cause you all kinds of problems. But the point is it won’t kill you outright, that’s all just nonsense.”
“So did I do any damage?”
“Not this time. You were lucky you chickened out and called us. But still; silly, silly boy.”
Benjamin Rutherford sighed and sat back heavily against the fluffed up cushion of his hospital bed. It was all going wrong for him. Even his death was not proceeding to plan. He would be sure to jump off a bridge next time. That was certain to do it. Nobody ever survived a jump off a tall bridge. Benjamin closed his eyes and tried to sleep but it was no use. His mind was abuzz with memories of his past.
He remembered the great wilderness of Afghanistan; leading his men into the most hostile and inhospitable regions, deep into the heart of enemy territory. He remembered how he had pushed his men, and they had pushed themselves even further, because they had wanted to please him. He remembered how the captured insurgents had trembled before him and begged for their lives, begged to tell him every one of their secrets, for here was the great Captain Rutherford, a man whose reputation had travelled the entire length of this arid land. Now, just a few months later, he was being called a ‘silly boy’ and a ‘chicken’ because he was no longer able to cope with even the most simple trials of life.
If only it was all over.
“Good afternoon Mr Rutherford.”
Benjamin was of a mind to pretend to sleep. He did not want any more unwelcome interruptions, condescending medical staff treating him like a child or psychologists trying to get him to open up about his past. But he knew they would only come back later. Reluctantly he opened his eyes. The fellow sitting on the chair beside his bed surprised him. He did not look like a doctor. Indeed it was a surprise to Benjamin that the man had been allowed to enter a hospital at all because he looked most disgracefully unhygienic. His mousy brown hair was long and greasy and he wore a pinstriped black blazer around a size too big for him that positively glistened with dirt and wear. He had a matted beard that was completely unkempt with tufts and strands sticking out here and there. And yet Benjamin was sure he recognised the man from somewhere. “Are you a doctor?” He asked warily.
“Of sorts Mr Rutherford,” replied the unkempt man. He had the slow and nervous voice of one who was not used to talking. “But that is not why I am here. I wish to offer you an opportunity, so to speak. A chance to, how can I put it, escape from the life you so clearly despise.”
“Are you from the army? The secret services?” Asked Benjamin, hope rising in his veins.
The unkempt man shook his head. “My name is Professor Harley Huxtable, Mr Rutherford. I am a scientist.”
The professor regarded the former soldier thoughtfully. Benjamin Rutherford appeared a perfect specimen for what he had in mind. In his mid-thirties and of average height, slim and stocky with not an ounce of fat on his body, and his dark features gave him an almost Mediterranean look which Harley found a most pleasing aesthetic. Best of all the former soldier had had enough of this world and was seeking to enter another, but whether that was a world of death of something else entirely was open to question. The man would definitely ‘do,’ so to speak. “I suppose I had better tell you what I want,” said the professor at last.
“I suppose so,” replied Benjamin apathetically.
“First of all I would like to say I know all about you, Mr Rutherford,” began Harley. “I know about your military career and how it ended, and how you were unlucky. I know what you have been doing since, and that is not a lot. I know you have tried to end your life and that you are deeply unhappy. I am sorry if what I say is distressing to you, Mr Rutherford. Would you like me to address you as Captain?”
“Whatever you want,” shrugged Benjamin in a bored tone.
“I think I should like to call you Captain,” said the professor. “It has a far better ring to it, I think. So Captain Rutherford,” Harley cleared his throat. “My name is Harley Huxtable. I am, as I have said, a scientist. Perhaps you have heard of me, for my colleagues tell me I have a certain amount of celebrity.”
r name rings a bell,” said Benjamin. “Can’t really say I’m a fan though.”
“Never mind,” said the professor. His voice dropped an octave. His face became grave. “Captain Rutherford, you and I are complete strangers and yet I am about to open up to you more than I have ever opened up to anybody in my entire life.”
Benjamin sat up in bed, his interest piqued. “Go on,” he said cautiously.
The professor cleared his throat. “All my life,” he began. “I have been fascinated by the notion of perfection, the idea that it possible to create something that cannot be bettered and indeed that the elements of perfection are already apparent in our universe. A particle, for example, is a perfect manifestation. One cannot improve upon a particle, it can simply be changed to create another particle which is equally as perfect. It is true we may find different uses for the different types of particle we
create but this in itself does not alter my contention that the particle itself, as the very essence of the universe in which we live, cannot be improved upon. That is to say it is impossible to create anything without using particles, nor would it be desirable to do so.”
Benjamin Rutherford nodded slowly, not really taking it in.
The professor continued. “Time is also perfect, Captain Rutherford. Time is something else that cannot be altered or improved upon. The physical world cannot survive without time; a world without time is beyond our understanding and this is why we find the notion of infinity so difficult to grasp. Everything in our universe must react to time. Time is the ultimate and unalterable catalyst of change. We cannot improve upon it and nor would we desire to.”