Professor Andronikov removed his reading glasses and placed them on the control desk. He ran a hand across his chin and stroked the moustache of his white Van Dyke goatee slowly.
George Andronikov, a Russian by birth, had defected from his country in the 1970s in protest at the restrictions placed on academics by the Soviet regime. A dent in his scalp, visible beneath the few wisps of white hair on his crown, was testament to his time spent as a guest of the KGB before he was finally able to get out. Brogan had known the professor since she joined the university as a lecturer in 1993.
‘Tell me, what were you working on? What was the original purpose for the satellite?’
‘After what happened last year and the revelations about how much our government know about what we do in cyberspace, Honor and I decided to protect our right to privacy. We would rather release our research into the public domain on our own timetable. So, I was working on a personal satellite. It started as a means to evade “Big Brother”.’
‘Also, we got sick of using Wi-Fi in public spaces that locked us out of LGBT websites because they were blocked by the service providers as pornography, even though they weren’t,’ Honor added.
‘The technology changes but the machinations of government remain the same.’ The professor shook his head. ‘I came to the West to be free.’
Honor smiled wryly at the professor’s irony.
‘We do a lot of our research work from home and, rather than sending data via email or walking about with it on a pen, we can upload it to the satellite cube. Its onboard storage has a much greater capacity than anything a pen, phone or camera can hold and we aren’t exposing the data to theft or eavesdropping,’ Brogan explained.
‘We call her Big Sister,’ Honor said and smiled.
‘You call her Big Sister,’ Brogan corrected. She turned back to the professor. ‘I added some neat little bolt-ons to the basic idea. All our GPS-enabled devices are synced with it, our mobile phones, tablets, the car’s sat nav and a number of these.’ Brogan reached across the desk and handed the professor a small black cube, about the size of a casino die. The cube was emitting a green light from behind one of its smoked faces. It had a hole in one corner through which a key ring was threaded. ‘When the light turns red, the battery is dying. At which point, you sling it and register a new one with the satellite. They’re really cheap to make.’
‘Very neat.’ The professor rolled it around the deep lines in the palm of his hand.
‘I call them fobs: find objects by satellite. You can attach them to anyone or anything: children who aren’t old enough for a mobile phone, grandparents with Alzheimer’s, your bike, your luggage, parcels you need to track, the cat—the list is endless.
‘I’ve designed some software to communicate with the satellite cube, tracking all the synced GPS devices and fobs, and showing you where they are in real time on a map. Having your own satellite means that nothing is lost, anywhere in the world, ever.’
‘Fun,’ the professor smiled. ‘So, how did the camera feed come into it?’
‘Well, that goes back to my original idea. I’m working on a nanotech project at the university that identifies cancer cells in a blood sample. It can take more than twenty-four hours for the results of testing to become apparent so I needed some way to be able to take my work home with me or, at least, monitor the feed at home from the microscope at the uni.
‘We tested the software and Big Sister in the lab. It worked and we got the microscope to send back pictures. Everything was good to go so I arranged with an old friend at Stanford to add our satellite to the next payload. She launched from the International Space Station a fortnight ago and I’ve been trying to get her working ever since.
‘Last night, Honor came to remind me that we have been known to share a bed. She kept talking about how late it was, and whether Big Sister knew what time it was and whether she had shut down in protest. I realised that the satellite didn’t know what time it was and wondered whether the program required a fourth dimension. The GPS co-ordinates of the remote device, in this case the camera on my desk, gave her a position in space—three dimensions—the where and what to film, if you like, but I hadn’t provided the when to film. I added a time variable and the result is what you’ve just witnessed.’
Professor Andronikov shook his head. ‘I have never seen anything like this, Brogan. It is a unique breakthrough.’
‘We know. We haven’t been to bed. We’ve been playing with it ever since. It’s so exciting, not just for scientists, but history departments will be rocked to the core, too,’ Honor said.
‘What I need to understand,’ said Brogan, ‘is why? Why the satellite worked down here but didn’t up there? What changed when it got up there and why did it require a fourth dimension in order to work?’
‘There’s also the question of why we are all invisible but women from some time ago are visible. We haven’t seen any men so far.’
Professor Andronikov held up a thin finger to silence Honor. ‘One question at a time. Dr Smith, I truly do not know why only women from the past are visible to Brogan’s device. One might guess at a number of reasons but they would be just that: guesses based on no evidence. Brogan’s questions may be a little easier to answer and, with further research, might be substantiated.’
Professor Andronikov leaned forward confidentially. His small brown eyes glittered and the white, almost translucent, liver-spotted skin of his pale face crumpled as he narrowed his eyes to address Brogan.
‘This is a hypothesis, only a hypothesis, you understand?’
‘I would say that your satellite has intersected with a phenomenon that, until now, has been hypothetical in nature.’
‘Are we talking about a fold in the fabric of space-time?’
‘Well, let us not get ahead of ourselves.’ The professor held up his hand. Brogan noticed it was trembling. ‘As I said, we need to do more research to establish what is happening in the area of space surrounding the satellite.’
The professor frowned and his face became a relief map of deep rifts and accented scarps. ‘What you have discovered, Brogan, is utterly unique. It is also highly desirable. Governments and corporations would pay large sums of money for this technology. I advise you to tell no one of what you have found until we understand more about it.’
Brogan nodded. Professor Andronikov looked at Honor, who nodded, too.
‘Good. Very wise. Now, ladies, I promised my wife that I would be back for lunch at twelve and I am overdue.’
The professor picked up his glasses from the desk and folded them into their case.
‘I will consider the best course of action to take and speak to you on Monday, Brogan. In the meantime, I suggest you write up your findings so far; the more detail, the better.’
On his way out of the house, the professor repeated the words, ‘So exciting, so exciting,’ at least twice. He said them again as he shook Brogan’s hand at the door.
‘I’m hungry,’ Brogan said as she shut the door on the view of the professor’s reversing estate car.
‘I’m not surprised,’ said Honor. ‘You didn’t have dinner last night.’
‘No. I brought you up a plate but you didn’t touch it.’ Honor had learned not to be offended by Brogan’s absentminded rejection of the meals she prepared when Brogan was working. It wasn’t personal.
‘It’s okay. The empty bed, uneaten meals and one-sided conversations were all worth it, my brilliant, brilliant scientist.’
Honor kissed Brogan triumphantly.
Brogan held Honor in her arms as she said, ‘Let’s play down the brilliant scientist bit until we know what’s happened. I can’t really take credit for a freak collision between Big Sister and a fold in space-time.’
‘When you were talking to the professor, I was thinking,’ said Honor, as she spread tomato sauce on her bacon sandwich, ‘that we should try taking the camera on a walkabout of the house. Our research has been confined to one room so far and, interesting though it is to see the changing decor over the years, it is a spare bedroom; it’s not the liveliest of places in a house. If, as you said, you’ve synced my tablet with the satellite then I could try waving it around down here. I’d love to see the kitchen when the house was first built.’
‘Okay,’ responded Brogan, through a mouthful of bacon butty. ‘But I’ll need to load a little piece of software on it first that will grab a feed from Big Sister and enable you to see what you are filming, so give me a couple of hours.’
Copyright © 2015 Liberation Publishing (www.liberationpublishing.co.uk)