Read Seven Steps to the Sun Online

Authors: Fred Hoyle,Geoffrey Hoyle

Tags: #sf

Seven Steps to the Sun (2 page)

'Good morning, Mr Jerome. Lovely day outside,’ observed the commissionaire.
‘Lovely
.
I'll pick my mail up on my way back,' Mike said, opening the outer doors.
'Very good, Mr Jerome,' Sam called after him.
The morning air smelt great, as Mike worked his to the outer circle of Regent's Park, instead of bus-ing it down Albany Street. Rush hour was at its peak, and it took him a few minutes to cross the road. Every time he came back from abroad, he found himself looking left first instead of right. Making his way to the central path running through the park, he turned south and walked steadily along, relaxing in the fresh air. On a morning like this, he began to think of holidays in the sun. It was ages since he'd had a real break, in fact the last time must have been five years ago.
Mike crossed Euston Road to Regent Crescent. On seeing the B.B.C. building at the end of Portland Place, he made a mental note to pop in and find out whether there was any work he could do for them. He turned into New Cavendish Street, and made his way to Harley Street. The houses all had a neat well-kept appearance. He walked to the end of the street, checked the time, as he didn't like the idea of waiting too long, then turned and, walking back, punched the appropriate door bell. When no one came he tried again. Still no results, so he pushed the bell good and hard, and when nothing happened, grew impatient and tried the door. It didn't open, so he gave a really hard push. At the same moment the door gave and he flew into a quietly lit passageway. Gathering himself together he realized that someone was standing there closing the door behind him.
'Sorry about that,' said Mike, trying to see clearly the person who opened the door.
'That's quite all right, it was my fault, I was on the telephone,' said an extremely attractive woman. 'You must be Mr Jerome.'
'Right,' said Mike, staring a little. Pete had been
'This way please, I shall be ready for you in a moment,' said the woman showing him into a small waiting-room.
Mike slowly paced round the room. On the wall were hung old sporting prints, and on a table in one corner was a collection of
Country Life, Motor
and
Punch
.
'Mr Jerome, I'm ready for you,' said the woman, coming in through a communicating door dressed in a white coat. Mike smiled and followed her.
'You can undress here,' she said, indicating a small cubicle.
'Tell me,' asked Mike, undressing, 'I didn't catch the name on the phone.'
There was a delightful laugh. 'Colleen, Colleen Winston.'
'Irish?' asked Mike.
‘I don't think so. All I know is that my father was a grant romantic'
You know the friend who told me about you really underestimated your good looks,' said Mike dreamily from the couch.
'Really, and who was this friend of yours?' asked Colleen gaily.
Pete Jones, plays drums in a jazz club in Soho. Do you like jazz?' asked Mike feeling the vibrating I line rubbing hard into his knotted back muscles.
‘Yes, but I think Pete found me very naive,' said Colleen
‘I wouldn't say that.'
'Wouldn't you,' laughed Colleen. 'What do you do for a living?'
'Write.'
'Anything in particular?’
'No, not really. I flog certain hobby horses in everything I write but I work on anything,' said Mike, beginning to relax under the treatment.
'Why do you write?'
'I suppose, I suppose I like to entertain people,' Mike said thoughtfully, 'or at least to take them out of themselves. And maybe make them think a bit.'
'Have you ever thought of writing science fiction?’
'Yes, but I'm not a scientist and an idea has to have a smack of authenticity about it to appeal to me. Given a scientific theme, I reckon I could construct a good plot.'
'If you could talk to a scientist, would that help?’
'Of course, but most scientists are far too busy to be bothered,' laughed Mike.
'Well, I have a client, a physicist at London University, who is always saying writers can't get the science right. Would you like me to give him a call and see if he is interested?’
'Certainly.'
'Any time suit you?’
'Yes, my time's my own.'
'Good, I'll give him a call. I'll be back in a moment.'
Nice woman, thought Mike as the rubbers massaged deeply into his back. He began to feel a little giddy, almost as if he'd been out in the sun for too long.
'Did you get hold of your client?' said Mike, raising himself on one arm, as the woman reappeared.
'Yes, he said he'd be at the physics department, just behind the Royal College of Music, all morning on the sixth,' she said shyly.
'Day after tomorrow, that sounds fine. I'll be sure to go along. Whom shall I ask for?' said Mike getting off the couch, and going into the cubicle.
'Professor Smitt.'
'Right. And thank you very much,' said Mike, coming from behind the screen.
The sixth dawned another beautiful day, and as Mike walked down Albany Street looking for a taxi, he wondered whether Cornwall would be a nice place to continue his ideas for the television programme. Then there was always a possibility that this Professor chap might suggest something useful.
Mike took a taxi to the Royal College of Music. He walked round the block to the back of a complex of buildings and eventually spotted a sign saying, 'Engineering Department.'
'Excuse me,' said Mike to the doorman, 'is there a physics department here?’
'No.' The man said slowly, 'no, not that I know of.'
'Thank you,' Mike said, turning to look elsewhere.
'They might be able to help you in the Engineering Department,' the doorman said calling after him, 'along the corridor, first door on the right.'
'Thank you,' called Mike to the man.
He pushed the door to the lab open shivering for an instant in the sudden cool. The large laboratory was filled with the usual apparatus, electrical wiring, heating equipment and scientific hardware dotted around on various benches.
'Can I help you?' came a pleasant voice from the lab.
'Yes,' said Mike, walking in the direction of the sound, 'I'm looking for Professor Smitt.'
'Hang on, he was around here a few minutes ago,' said the fresh-faced young man.
'Thank you.'
'Mr Jerome?' said a tall, thin man coming from the direction of an office. 'Yes.'
'Smitt, Professor Smitt,' said the man, smiling and holding out his hand.
'I thought I might have got the wrong building,' said Mike, shaking hands.
'No, no, I was expecting you. Colleen Winston tells me you're an author.'
'That's right, Professor.'
'You make a living at it?' asked the man, smiling.
'Yes. The first years can be rough though.'
'I'm sure that's true, as it must be in many creative fields,' said the Professor with a fatherly smile. 'Well, not to waste any time,' he continued briskly, 'I think it would be simpler if I told you the idea. I had in mind, then you can tell me what you think. Let's go into my office.' He turned to look intently at his visitor. 'You know Einstein had a theory called "The Time Dilation", or just simply, "Time Dilation". Now it occurred to me that one might use this idea in a story.'
'Rather like H. G. Wells, you mean?'
'Well, the device would be different from Wells's Time Machine. You see, if we were to travel away from this planet at the speed of light, we would age very little in comparison with the people left here on earth.'
'I see, so if I were shot away in my high-speed rocket and returned in, say, five years Earth time, people here would be five years older, but I might be only a few minutes older?'
'Yes, but please remember, there is one very important point in telling time stories, and that is it is not possible to go backwards in time.'
'So I've heard, but never understood why,' said Mike.
'For the moment, let us say that, as far as physics is concerned, one can only go forward. I think to offer you a scientific explanation at this stage would perhaps be too confusing,' smiled the Professor.
'If one packs humans into a rocket that travels at the ·peed of light, even enthusiastic science fiction readers might be a bit sceptical,' Mike objected.
'Yes, I agree.' The Professor nodded briskly. 'I would say that one could use some source of light, perhaps a laser beam. Reduce the human structure into a form that can be transmitted as electrical pulses, shoot this information down our light beam, and at a convenient point reflect it back.'
'Very good, but how far can you reduce the human form into electrical information and how would you convert it back again?' asked Mike, liking the idea.
'I think you would have to use an explosive break-down of the human form, involving a highly organized source of energy. To reproduce the information you could use a hologram picture of the total information.
So if we used you, before we could proceed we would need such a three-dimensional picture. When the information came back, it would be passed back through the hologram picture and there you'd be. Here, I've jotted down some notes for you.'
'Thank you, Professor. It sounds most intriguing and certainly I'll be glad of the notes. Probably the best thing for me to do is to go away and write up a format and then let you read it,' said Mike, holding out his hand.
T shall look forward to reading it,' said the Professor.
'If this goes as a television project there's going to be money involved. How would you see your part in this?' asked Mike politely.
'What do you suggest?' smiled the thin man.
'Well, if we get paid for the format, how about a fifty-fifty split?'
'I think that sounds very fair,' said the Professor.
'Oh, by the way, do you think it is possible in the last moments before death, to see a certain amount of the future?’
'It's a thought, but without having the experience I couldn't really say,' said the man with a jovial twinkle in his eyes.
'Thanks,' said Mike jauntily walking away. The time idea was good. He started to hum as he left the building.

 

2
It's dogged as does it. It ain't thinking about it.'
Trollope

 

Standing on the pavement, he wondered what to
do.
The urge to go back to the flat and write was strong, but he felt reluctant to leave the clear sunny morning. He knew he would have to wind himself up.
He didn't know why, but he worked better under tension. When he finished whatever he was writing, he was like a wet cloth.
Defiantly spinning on his heels a couple of times, he set off in the direction of Hyde Park. He aimed a light kick at a piece of paper laying conspicuously on edge of the pavement. It rose about a foot in the before being sucked away into the middle of the road by a passing car. That's life, thought Mike as he stopped to cross Kensington Gore to Alexandra Gate.
The lunchtime traffic was dense. Cars, vans and lorries roared by giving no time to cross, unless one were an Olympic hundred-metre gold medallist. Mike held up his hand to the oncoming traffic and stepped out into the road. Cars manoeuvred to avoid him, and eventually he reached the island in the middle. He looked up at the traffic light standard, but the signals weren't visible. Mike shook his head at a motorist trying to inch into the road from Alexandra Gate. Typical British efficiency, he thought to himself as he made a dash for safety.
The Metropolitan Police were exercising their beautifully groomed horses, completely unaware of the chaos building up outside the Albert Hall. Mike waited for the horses to trot by and crossed towards the Serpentine. Small boys knelt by the water playing at being admirals and ships' captains, while their coloured blocks of wood plied backwards and forwards over a few feet of water. The line of prams with their custodians in neat pressed uniforms reminded Mike of a picture of a royal gathering in Elizabeth the First's time, watching some gallant sailor going off to sea. He made his way round to the east end of the lake, to a small coffee shop. A duck looked at him from the water and laughed in a cynical fashion. The smell of newly-mown grass was strong, and Mike could almost hear the sounds of a Sunday afternoon cricket match on the village green.
'Yes?' said the mini-skirted waitress, showing off her hips by shaking them.
'Coffee, please,' said Mike, sitting down at the small metal table.
'Anything else?' inquired the girl- Mike shook his head, and the girl turned, revealing a very compact behind.
A motley selection of humans sat stuffing their stolid faces with cakes and inedible-looking sandwiches. No wonder the British economy was in such a pathetic way. Mike couldn't quite see these people around him as the driving force behind the swinging, advancing, new economic growth that the Government had been urging.
'That'll be one and nine,' said the waitress. Mike felt in his pocket and produced a handful of pennies. He laboriously counted out the money, but was four-pence short. In his wallet he found three ten-pound notes. The girl grudgingly took one.
'Your change,' she said curtly, bored with this Inattentive young man.
Mike felt elated as he began to ponder on the morning's meeting. A boat with a young couple in it noted its way gently along without the assistance of oars.
The idea that Professor Smitt had mentioned to him was developing. Although much had been written on time travel, he felt that the new idea had the makings of a very good story. His central character would be a musician, perhaps a top-flight concert pianist who knows that his illness cannot be cured for some time to come. He is involved with an eccentric physicist, who suggests that he should be thrown forward in time, say ten years. The pianist is both amused and angry at the ridiculous suggestion, but after consideration he goes back to see the professor. The man had vanished. He searches round the laboratory, and without warning is swept up into a time change. The mechanics of the time change could be left to Professor Smitt, Mike thought, as he finished his coffee.

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