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In response to kelkyag's prompt "Building (on the work of those before you)" from my Unthemed Bingo card, I wrote this.
For those with limited time or spoons, it runs to 2,214 words.

“This is the pre-existing, published work on the subject.” Lisa dumped a stack of journal article copies on the table in front of her two team mates.

“I’m all in favour of not having to do too much reading,” commented Sadira, “but it’s not as much as I would have expected.”

“Well,” sighed Rachel, “we did get the topic that made other people snigger about fairy tales. It could be worse, it could be cold fusion.”

“But it wouldn’t be cold fusion because we could, actually, get published if we were doing cold fusion,” Lisa told the other two. “I’ve included the notices where publications said they weren’t taking papers on our topic anymore.”

“Wait,” Rachel looked flabbergasted, “We’ve actually been assigned a topic that the scientific journals have said they’re not accepting submissions on? I thought this was supposed to ‘expand our perceptions of science’?”

“We are the only ones in the class who aren’t doing this module as part of their major or a declared minor,” pointed out Sadira. “Someone had to get the dud subject on the list, so why not us?”

“I still think it would have been fairer to draw the subjects out of a hat,” grumbled Rachel.

Lisa intervened, “To get back on track, I think we need to read the literature, find out where things were when they stopped publishing and decide where we want to investigate from there.”

“Sounds good,” agreed Sadira. “You got us a copy each of everything, didn’t you?”

“Of course.” Lisa handed out the stack in three sections. “They’re in date order from the back. How long before we get back together to discuss our next step?”

“I can do Friday after two,” offered Sadira. “My crazy uncle’s crazier wife is visiting him and we’re all trying to avoid her. She’s trying to match make for us and some people she knows overseas. My mum was really furious with her last night; she was going on about how no-one needed an education beyond the madrassah and us girls should get married instead of going to university. As mum said, she’s got three degrees so why does she want everyone else to not have the same chances and choices she did?”

“Some people are just crazy,” Rachel assured her. “Or maybe she feels responsible for these guys.”

“Whom I don’t know,” added Sadira, “but who know my crazy aunt. Oh, help!”

“So, we meet here on Friday at quarter past two to discuss our assignment and keep Sadira away from her crazy aunt.” Lisa put her reading material in her bag. “I have to go now, I’ve got a class over near Broadway in fifteen minutes.”

On Friday they met again with annotated journal articles and additional notes. “Well,” said Rachel, “Doctor Ayer’s conclusions in that last article weren’t very conclusive, were they?”

“The quality of the data he was working with wasn’t very good, was it?” Lisa flipped to a highlighted page in the article in question. “I mean, I’ve got better cameras than the one he was using and he doesn’t seem to have considered, or perhaps been able to afford, anything outside the visible light spectrum. Besides, all of us are carrying around more computing power than he had to run the experiment and analyse the data.”

“So starting by repeating his last published experiment with better recording equipment and better analysis tools might give us a better data set,” said Sadira slowly. “That, in turn, would allow us to draw a better conclusion and then, perhaps, propose a suitable further experiment.” She flicked through her own set of notes. “I could build this device of his. Do either of you know if the Professor is free now? We want to get started as soon as possible if we’re doing two experiments and we’ll need lab space and equipment.”

“I’ll tee up the cameras,” said Lisa.

Sadira asked, “Should we have microphones and recording gear too? Dr Ayer was probably lucky to have a tape deck.”

A week later the three of them met in a science lab. “So,” Sadira told the others, “once the Professor approves our experimental setup, I think we’re ready to go with phase one.”

“You must have been working on this almost full time to get it finished so quickly,” said Lisa admiringly.

“It keeps me out of the house and away from my crazy aunt,” Sadira shrugged. “My parents and my uncle want her to go back overseas to where she’s been living but she keeps saying crazy stuff about why she can’t go yet. If she calls me ‘a good Muslim girl’ one more time, I swear I’ll stop wearing the hijab.”

“Do we need to be worried about you?” Rachel was frowning.

“I don’t think so,” Sadira sighed. “I don’t have a passport and my parents don’t agree with her. Heck, my uncle doesn’t agree with her. It’s just, I sometimes…”

“What?” Rachel had asked but both of the other young women looked worried.

“This is my crazy aunt, remember? Who knows.” Sadira changed the subject, “So where do we want to set up the cameras and the recording devices?”

On Tuesday, professorial approval in hand, they ran their experiment.


“Well, that was interesting,” said Lisa. “I’m glad we had the microphones and sound recording as well as the cameras. I’ll take copies of the picture files and see if I can enhance the background at all.”

“We have to tell the Professor about this, as soon as we can,” pointed out Rachel, “and decide what we’re going to do next.”

“I think we need to be careful about what we do next,” added Sadira. “I have a feeling that there’s an obvious pitfall we need to avoid.”



“I’m not sure,” Sadira admitted, “but I think part of what we saw was because people who’ve done what we did, and saw what we saw, then went and did the same thing as each other. Lisa, can you take another copy of those picture files and enhance the foreground detail instead of the background?”

“Sure.” Lisa smiled slowly. “That’s probably even better than enhancing the background.”

“We need both,” said Rachel firmly. “I don’t mind adding things to follow an interesting lead but we do need to include all our planned protocol.”

Two days later, at the soonest time their Professor could give them time to talk about their assignment, Lisa knocked on his office door. He surprised them by opening the door himself, instead of calling out to them from inside. He looked pale, dishevelled as if he’d been running his hands through his hair, and nervous. “Ah, you’re on time,” he said. “Please come in.”

Once inside his office they found that the Professor already had visitors: the Dean of the Science Faculty, the senior physics professor and an unknown man who stood in a corner with his hands behind his back. “Ah, ladies,” the Dean greeted them as the Professor closed the door behind them, “delightfully on time. I wish more of your fellows shared that trait and I am sorry that Professor Kelso can no longer offer you a seat due to our influx into his office.” He stopped being jovial. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

“Oh,” Rachel looked around the room. “What sort of bad news needs four people to deliver it?”

The senior physics professor took a deep breath and began, “I’m afraid Professor Kelso made an…administrative error when he gave you your assignment subject.”

“An administrative error?” Sadira looked at the Dean and asked, “What sort of administrative error?”

“Following several incidents in a number of research locations,” the man in the corner spoke, “that resulted in the death or disappearance of researchers and facility security officers it was decided that research into this subject would be reported only on a restricted basis and strictly controlled. Professor Kelso was, unfortunately, unaware of this when he selected assignment topics for your class.”

“And who are you?” Lisa asked that.

“I work for the organisation tasked with policing that decision,” the man smiled, “and that organisation sits almost directly under the UN Security Council, but quietly enough to be practically invisible – ask about us and you will be told we don’t exist.”

Rachel asked, “And the UN Security Council’s interest in suppressing science is, what?”

“The UN Security Council’s interest is that they don’t want to wind up fighting an interdimensional war started by some bright young mind focussed on getting themselves published or on winning the Nobel Prize for physics.” The man in the corner smiled again.

“Although I believe it would be an intersubspace war,” corrected the senior physics professor, “our visitor has explained why you are not going to be allowed to take the next experimental step and breach the subspace barrier.”

“But we don’t want to breach the subspace barrier,” interrupted Lisa, pulling out and flicking through the folder of photographs that she’d been carrying in her bag. “We think it would be a very bad idea.” She pulled out the image she’d been looking for and held it up to show the men in front of her. “I spent some time enhancing the background of the images we got when we ran the apparatus at 570.753 megahertz as Professor Ayer did.”

“That’s an impressive piece of science,” commented the man in the corner.

“It’s an impressive piece of photography,” corrected Lisa. “The science was the same as Dr Ayer’s but the recording devices, and quite possibly the equipment build, were better. These background figures can be enhanced in multiple frames from different cameras. I don’t believe they are an artefact.” She stepped forward and laid the photograph showing what appeared to be ranks of armed bipedal beings on the professor’s desk between the Dean and the senior physics professor.

“They match what I’ve seen in security footage,” added the man in the corner. Everyone in the room looked at him. “I did say we’d lost people.”

“By people,” replied Lisa, putting down another photo, “we’d assume you mean Dr Ayer,” and she followed with more photos, “Dr Sakharev who was pacing him on other subspace detection, these two gentlemen who appear to be Chinese, Dr Elizabeth Tremboth and this gentleman who appears to be a Japanese security guard, among others. We also have digital sound recordings.”

Rachel spoke up. “There appear to be more of our people in the images, but these were the ones whose faces could be most easily cleaned up with Lisa’s software. We got the names by matching faces to photos attached to published articles. Dr Tremboth’s name tag did tell us who to look for and that is the face attached to her articles.”

“If you don’t want to broach the intersubspace barrier,” asked the Dean, “did you have something you wanted to do instead or did you plan to ask for advice in this meeting?”

The students looked at each other and it was Sadira who spoke. “We thought about it and the impulse is to rescue these people but it occurred to us that maybe that was what led to so many of them getting, well, stuck there so we thought more data might be useful. For instance, it’s been decades but Dr Ayer and Dr Sakharev look almost exactly the way they did in the pictures attached to their articles. Also, all these people seem to have come from different places at different times.” The man in the corner nodded. “We wanted to move the apparatus around to generate the connection first, at a different point in much the same location and then at different parts of the campus and see if we see the same thing every time. Although Dr Ayer’s published pictures were very poor quality, we believe they show the same point in the other subspace as ours.”

“What we want to test,” said Rachel carefully, “is whether this particular subspace can only be contacted from our subspace at one point in their subspace. We would do this by reconducting the experiment at other points within the campus and analysing the comparable results.”

“If we do get the same scene in each location we want to compare data and see if we’re getting the same time point as well,” added Lisa. “Time may work differently between the two subspaces or we could be looking at some sort of recording…”

“You’d have no chance of it being published,” pointed out the Dean.

“Well,” replied Rachel, “Lisa’s a photographer, Sarida’s an engineer and I’m a historian. I think we can all cope without having a scientific article published.”

Some four and a half weeks later.

“An A?” Peter Buchanan sounded like a disgruntled four year old. “They didn’t even present in class and they got an A?”

“Hey, it’s not like they got a good topic and our group got an A too, so what’s the problem?” His team mate gestured broadly as he spoke. “Maybe they got it for being good sports and not making a fuss about the lame topic in class.”

“Who knows?” The third in their group shrugged. “We got an A and I’m going to have a coffee to celebrate. Coming with me?”

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I'm not sure if I'm more interested in the subspace they found, or in what's up with Sarida's crazy aunt.

The crazy aunt idea was trying to take over a bit. :)

Welcome to... The Twilight Zone!


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