[Original Novel] Down in the Steam Tunnels, Part 1


“What is nothingness? Can you show it to me?” More irrelevant questions. I was beginning to regret answering his email. The portly, withered old man with the severe dowager’s hump sitting opposite me in the stately little office identified himself when we met as Professor Heironimus P. Travigan. Ogled me through a little pink monocle, invited me in, then began this bizarre spiel.

“Your email said that you knew something about the university’s steam tunnels that wasn’t in my article.” He shifted anxiously in his seat. “In good time, my dear boy. I assure you, this is all related.” I couldn’t see how, but that didn’t seem to trouble him. “You know, these days we’re meant to believe that the universe sprang from nothing.”

I braced myself for a religious diatribe. It turned out to be stranger still. “In truth, Our universe exists due to an act of separation. Two substances, divided by some unknown force, which some understandably deify. When those substances are together, there is nothing.

But because they are divided, you and I can be sitting here talking about it. The Biblical ‘waters above and below’. Matter and energy, negative gravitational energy. Pleasure, and suffering. Yin and yang. Light and darkness, life and death, good and evil!”

He waved his arms about for effect. I stared for a moment, then challenged him. “Alright then. Can YOU show ME nothingness?” He flashed a devilish grin and withdrew a strange leather case from under the desk. Once open, it revealed a set of five syringes filled with some sort of black syrupy fluid. I protested. “That’s clearly oil, or ink of some kind. Don’t waste my time.”

“Not so! A stable liquid suspension by all appearances, I will give you that much. But whereas any other liquid is comprised of atoms, this stuff simply continues to appear as it does to you now, however small a scale you examine it at. Which is to say, it isn’t made of anything.”

He then withdrew from the desk drawer a jar of blue luminescent gas. Not so easily identified. As he slid the jar near the syringes, both rattled subtly and the glow of the gas wildly fluctuated. They settled down once he restored the distance between them. “Magnets” I uttered, deadpan. “Are we done here?”

He released a quiet sigh. “You’re quite right to be skeptical. I sensed that quality in your writing, it’s why I contacted you. The proof’s in the pudding, isn’t it? Here, take this.” He handed me an unfamiliar device consisting of two glass chambers, one containing the black fluid, the other containing the glowing blue gas. Between them, an ordinary electrical outlet.

“What is it?” I queried, studying the weird little mechanism. “A battery! But then so is the universe and everything in it.” I continued searching the gizmo for any signs of a hidden pair of double As or something that would explain the blue glow. That’s usually how it works. So called free energy magnetic motors, or perpetual motion machines of any kind always conceal some conventional means of motivation.

“A battery, when charged, is simply maintaining a chemical imbalance. Allowing that imbalance to slowly equalize, re-balancing itself, is what generates the current. Like a wind up toy, the weight in a grandfather clock, or any other method of storing energy.

Our universe also exists in a state of imbalance which equalizes as the energy supplied at the moment of the big bang very gradually depletes. The whole mess is slowly running down, lad! And every little thing in it.

Stars will some day burn out. The molten core of the Earth will go cold long before that. And of course, the finite quantity of Orgone you were infused with at birth slowly depletes with every breath you take, your body deteriorating along the way.”

I chose that moment to pick a nit. “I’m sorry, did you say Orgone? As in, the pseudoscience of Wilhelm Reich?” Not at all put out, rather, he seemed delighted I knew something of the matter even if I deemed it baloney.

“Indeed! That’s what the blue stuff is in the trinket I’ve just given you. Highly concentrated primordial energy, not very far removed from the original form. You couldn’t look at the truly pure stuff without the brilliant white light it emits destroying your retinas and roasting your skin!

So for practical purposes, most in my line of work subdivide it according to the light spectrum into a variety of less potent but more manageable varieties. You’ve seen Orgone, the blue stuff. There’s also a golden substance called Vril, and so on.

The higher the concentration, the warmer the color temperature, the more energetic reaction you get when you recombine it with the black stuff. There is of course just one variety of that, as nothingness cannot be subdivided for obvious reasons.”

Oh, that’s nice, I thought. Thank you for sharing an insight into the severity of your dementia with me. “You write for the university paper” he continued, “so you must have one of those portable computers they sell nowadays.” At times like this, his age seemed to exceed even what his appearance suggested.

“Plug it into the device I’ve supplied you with. Use that alone to charge it. Even just with the orgone it would take at least a week to run out. But because it’s reacting with….the other stuff….the amount there should last you no less than a month.”

I made a point to scrutinize the petite, fragile vials. Each the diameter of a pencil and perhaps two inches long. “Yeah, whatever. I’ll give it a shot. Don’t contact me again unless you’ve got more info about the tunnels.” Day wasted, I thought to myself. At least now I know where the administration stashes their fruit loops.

On my way out, some hippie with blonde dreads, a sacred geometry t-shirt, khakis and sandals burst in through the front door. “I came as soon as I heard!” The geezer appeared behind me. The two embraced, then shook hands. “Zachary, m’boy! No doubt you enjoyed having this place to yourself in my absence!” professor Travigan wheezed.

“Zachary” gives him a dubious look. “Please. You’re a fixture here! I managed without you, but only that. You look great, all things considered! Those two were as good as their word.” I began backing towards the door. Neither noticed, just continued catching up. “Indeed. But there’s been somewhat of a…hostile takeover since then. I’ll need your help securing a new supply of…medicine.”

Once back to my apartment I threw my notebooks on the bed, then myself. I’d really hoped this lead would go somewhere. Ever since learning of the urban legend surrounding the network of corridors under the school, service access for pipes carrying steam to heat various buildings, I’ve been obsessed with discerning how much truth there is to any of it.

The story goes that during the tail end of the 1940s, William H. Shendon and Ernest A. Horton undertook an experiment requiring all incoming freshman at Ivy league schools to be photographed in the nude, with a set of metal pins in their spine. Purportedly to study posture. Some say they favored eugenic theories involving the posture of “higher” and “lower” orders of people.

Still others say it was nothing to do with either, but a ruse to gather blackmail material for use at a future date against students who went on to high ranking positions in government. I have my own ideas. What all sources agree on is that some, but not all of those photos were shredded, then burned by 2001.

As for the rest? Available on the black market supposedly. Or exclusively to initiates of the Skull and Bones society. But again, my own research indicates otherwise. One by one over the past two years I tracked down everybody who claimed at one point or another to be in possession of even a single photo from that collection. Mostly cranks, out for attention.

A few of them really had the goods, though. And, once convinced I was sincere about getting to the bottom of the matter, all shared with me details not found in any mainstream article or documentary. Details which, to my surprise, more or less lined up. Even more tantalizing, one of them claimed to have scanned many of the photos which were later shredded and burnt.

She’d provided me only with a cryptic clue as to their location: “You will find what you seek in the book of the all-seeing eye. It’s closer than you think.” I’d have dismissed her as one of the cranks except that she still had one of the deadtree photos to show me, and her story matched up with the others. So began my quest for the ‘all-seeing eye’.

I’m no good with riddles. Even simple ones. As a consequence it took me months before I figured out the intended meaning. In that time most of my focus was on the all seeing eye depicted on dollar bills.

Parts 2 and onward available to members only!

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