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Dreaming
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Brian Williams

Crime

U





The Professor rolled his brandy around in his glass. I liked to call him the Professor, even though he was only a Reader in Sleep Studies at the University and kept pointing out to me that to be a Professor in this country, you needed a chair.

“You remember the case, don’t you?” he asked.

I nodded. He only asked to humour me, since he knew that I had covered the story for the paper.

“A 15 year old girl climbs up a crane and walks out across the jib. All the while she’s fast asleep – she only woke up in the morning. The crane driver had a hell of a shock when he turned up for work that morning, I can tell you. It took the Fire Brigade half the day to get her down. Poor thing was terrified of heights.”

“Yes. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? Terrified of heights and yet in her sleep, she manages to negotiate a 200 foot crane and then walk out across the jib?”

“Are you suggesting that there was something else going on?” I asked.

“Not at all. I’m merely illustrating a point. When we’re asleep, when the conscious brain disengages, we are capable of many things. We have no fear for one thing and frankly, it is usually fear that prevents us from doing something, not the lack of ability. If you look at that jib, to walk across it is nothing special. If it was a broad white line painted on the road, no-one would bat an eyelid. But because it’s 200 feet up in the air, it suddenly becomes an almost impossible task. Take away our fear and it’s back to being a white line on the road.

“True,” I assented. I could tell the Professor was going somewhere, but I wasn’t at all sure where it was.

“Tell me,” he asked, “when you interviewed the girl, what did she remember?”

He knew the answer anyway, but to humour him I replied.

“Nothing. Last thing she remembered was going to sleep at night in her bed and the next thing she wakes up out on the crane. No wonder she was terrified.”

“And that’s the other remarkable thing. The conscious brain switches off, so we have no conscious memory of it. I tell you, put those two things together, the lack of fear and the lack of memory, and if you can control it, you have something very powerful and very dangerous.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Think about it,” said the Professor. “Let’s say you’re a criminal and you want somebody out of the way. Or a government and you need an awkward individual silenced. Imagine the power you would have if you could call upon an assassin with no fear, an assassin who, even if caught, would have no memory of either the mission or those who ordered it. Remember, most of our security is based around stopping people by deterring them from trying because there is a risk that they’ll be caught. If they have no fear of being caught, you no longer have a deterrent.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“Sounds far fetched, doesn’t it?”

I nodded.

“Are you onto something?” I asked.

He merely smiled again and waved his brandy glass in a vague manner. Following the movement of the red liquid I suddenly caught sight of the clock.

“Shit!” I said. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go. It’s been a wonderful evening, but I promised the ex that I’d pick Jamie up after Scouts.”

“And when’s that?”

“Was that. About half an hour ago.”

“Well, you’d better run then,” he said, handing me my coat.

“Don’t forget about my proposition,” was the last thing he said to me as I headed out of the door.


---oOo---


Although I found the Professor’s theory fascinating and gave it some thought that evening, it is likely that I would have dismissed it as a flight of fancy had it not been what happened the following day at work. Just after lunch, the editor called me into his office.

“Sit down,” he said. Immediately I could tell that something was wrong.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“You know your friend at the University. The one you call the Professor?”

I nodded.

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but I’ve just heard that the police found him dead in his flat this morning. It seems he didn’t turn up for his lectures and they went looking for him.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Obviously I’d understand if you felt it was something that you didn’t or couldn’t cover, but I felt you ought to have first refusal on the story.”

It goes without saying that I took the story…


---oOo---


My editor had confirmed my worst fears: the police were treating the Professor’s death as murder. I know that Sherlock Holmes always says to gather all the facts with an open mind and then reach your conclusions, but frankly, when you’re a journalist, that’s bollocks. You start off with your story and then go and find the facts that fitted it.

So this was my story. The Professor had wanted me to know something. He’d called me in the afternoon and asked me over to his place for dinner that evening. That in itself wasn’t out of the ordinary, just a little unexpected. He liked to cook and entertain, but usually in greater numbers than just the two of us and usually with a lot more notice.

So the Professor was onto something and he needed to tell me urgently. Why then hadn’t he just told me? That was a question I couldn’t answer right away, so I filed it and moved on. The Professor had obviously discovered that someone was using sleep-walking people as assassins, or at least planning to do so. He’d tipped me off, and only just in time, since sometime between me leaving and the following morning, someone had killed him to keep him quiet.

Did the Professor know he was going to be killed? Probably not, I reasoned, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so obscure. Also, he might have done something to protect his own life. That might mean he didn’t even know that someone was onto him, but it was more likely that he realised he’d been rumbled and thought it was time to start sharing his suspicions. They just got to him sooner than he thought, or had been more fatal in their response.

The police obviously had things they could tell me: when he died, how he died, but that didn’t really interest me. Besides, this early on in the investigation, it’s not always easy to get things out of the police. I decided to let them get on with their side of things and instead get to the heart of the matter. In many ways, I was already one step ahead of the police: I had a motive and the roots of that motive lay in the Professor’s work at the University.

Contrary to what some people think, being a journalist is not a well paid job and it’s also a fairly stressful one. For years I’d suffered from problems sleeping, which is how I’d met the Professor in the first place. The University was always on the look out for volunteers for their sleep experiments and I was happy to oblige for a reward of a potential cure and a few quid extra in my pocket.

The obvious starting point was the Professor’s current Ph.D. student. He was in the process of writing up his thesis and I’d known him since he’d started with the Professor. If anyone was going to help me, it was him.

I found him easily enough, in the common room. He looked awful.

“Hi,” he said. “Have you heard?”

“About the Professor?” I asked. He knew who I meant. “Yes, I’ve heard. Look, I’m not going to beat about the bush. I need your help. I think that the Professor was onto something, something that might have got him killed. I want to look at his papers.”

“Shouldn’t you go to the police?”

“Not at this stage. It’s only a hunch and I’m going to look pretty stupid if I’m wrong. Besides, they’ll have their procedures to go through. All I need is to look through his notes and talk with you about what he’s been doing recently. Will you help me?”

“Okay.”

“Let’s go then.”

We made our way to the Professor’s office. He unlocked the door and opened it for me.

“Aren’t you coming in?” I asked.

He looked nervously at me.

“Come on,” I said. “I need your help. I’m not going to understand his papers by myself, am I? Besides, I need to know what he was working on.”

I led the way into the office and he followed, closing and locking the door behind us.

“Are you sure this is legal?” he asked.

“Of course it is. All we’re doing is looking. Why don’t you start by telling me what you and the Professor were working on? Was there anything else going on in the department that he seemed particularly interested in?”

He shook his head.

“No. Ever since the cuts, we’ve been pretty much the only active research team in this area. As you know, we’ve been looking at influencing dreams, either through external stimulus or through planting themes prior to sleeping.”

I nodded. I’d taken part in plenty of the Professor’s experiments over the last few years. They’d give you a specific task or other focus before you went to sleep or they’d play you some music or fill the room with scent or something like that when you were asleep. Then, once you were dreaming, they’d wake you up and try to find out as much as they could about your dream.

“Well, I mostly worked on the dream recall bit. My thesis is all about a new technique for recalling what you dream when you’re asleep.”

I remembered that too. His hairy face staring down at me as I was dragged from my deep, comfortable sleep. He was good though. Normally I can only remember the outline of my dreams, with the odd vivid detail, but his techniques let me almost relive some of them.

“You asked if the Professor has been doing other stuff. I don’t think so, but because I’ve been busy writing up these last few months, I’ve not been attending most of his sleep experiments. It’s partly because I don’t have the time and also because I’ve got all the data I need. He should have had another student to help him start this year, but she didn’t get the grades, so he’s been doing it on his own.”

I nodded again.

“Okay then,” I said, “let’s getting looking.”

It didn’t take long for even me to realise that there was something wrong. There was nothing there. None of the meticulous notes that the Professor kept in his hardback log books, none of his dairies where he recorded his daily work and nothing on his computer. Everything was gone.

We let ourselves out of the office and made our way back to the common room, which is where we ran into the police.


---oOo---


Naturally they had come to see the Professor’s student, but it was a good opportunity for me too. When I explained that I’d been at the Professor’s house the previous evening, they were very keen to take my statement, so I accompanied them back to the police station, where they also took my finger prints. I was happy to help since my prints were bound to be all over the house and if the Professor’s murderer had left any, they needed to be able to eliminate mine. Chatting on the way back to station I was able to get the basic facts from them: the Professor had been stabbed in the chest several times, had died at some point in the small hours of the morning and there were no signs of forced entry or an obvious struggle.

Back at the paper, I wrote a small, factual piece for the next morning’s edition and then settled down with my theory. It was all looking fairly clear. The Professor had stumbled onto something, but had given himself away. Knowing that they might be onto him, he’d told me, but they’d moved sooner than expected. They’d stolen his records and notes or simply destroyed them, since they obviously feared they’d directly or indirectly give the game away. Finally, they’d murdered him. The lack of forced entry or a struggle might suggest that they were known to the Professor: certainly it didn’t sound like a professional killer. It struck me that they might have gone round to talk to the Professor, perhaps hoping that they could change his mind or silence him. Knowing the Professor, that was never going to be likely, so they’d killed him instead.

The only problem with this theory was that it didn’t really give me enough to go to the police with or even to write a story on. It was still a hunch and I needed some evidence. It also didn’t give me that many obvious leads. I was going to have to do some digging in the world of sleep research, but I would have to tread carefully. After all, the Professor had found enough to get himself killed and I didn’t want to go the same way.

Luckily for me, the case was about to take a whole new turn with the revelation of the identity of the murderer…


---oOo---


I had only just got home when the police turned up on my doorstep. They wanted to ask me a few more questions down the station. Something, they said, had come up and they needed to clarify my statement.

Now, the general rule with the police is that you don’t antagonise them if you can help it. The two detectives who’d come to see me were quite insistent that I came and I saw no point in saying no. However, there is something about policemen and when you’ve spent as much time as I have around them, you begin to get a nose for these things. By the time I got back to the station with them, I was beginning to think I might be in serious trouble, so, when they came to interview me, I thought it best if I asked for my lawyer.

Now while this is a sensible precaution, it can also send out the wrong signals to your average policeman who generally thinks that you’ve got something to hide when you ask for your lawyer. If you’re innocent, why would you need a lawyer? Once they’ve started to think ill of you, it only confirms their suspicions. So it was with me.

They took me through my statement, which was pretty superficial, and then took me step by step through the evening with the Professor from the moment I walked in the door to the moment I left. They wanted to know where I’d been and what I’d done, down to the very second. They seemed particularly keen to know if I’d helped out in the kitchen (which I hadn’t).

This all took about an hour and when they were done, they showed me a blood-stained knife in an evidence bag which I immediately recognised as the Professor’s carving knife.

“Can you tell me how your finger prints came to be on this knife?” asked the senior detective. I had to say that I had no clue and was more perplexed than anything else when they said they were arresting me for the Professor’s murder.


---oOo---


I had plenty of time, sitting alone in my cell, to contemplate the case against me. As I said to my lawyer before he left, I obviously didn’t do it, otherwise I’d have made up some story about helping out in the kitchen and mentioned that I picked up the carving knife. The other thing that could have saved me was a solid alibi, but I didn’t have one of those either. Being divorced (another side-effect of the job), I lived alone. According to the police, the time of death was around 2 o’clock in the morning, when as far as I was concerned, I was fast asleep in bed.

And yet, the facts remained. My fingerprints were on the knife used to kill the Professor and I had no recollection of ever having touched it. In fact, I was asleep at the time of the murder. The truth was shockingly simple: I really had killed the Professor, in my sleep. I was his sleep-walking assassin. I know it sounds strange, but I did laugh at that and I’m sure that the Professor would have been amused at the irony of it all, being killed by the proof of his theory.

It was fairly clear to me that the Professor must have noticed something in his recent sleep experiments, seen something in my mind that led him to realise what was going on. His digging had alerted my secret masters who had ordered me to kill him while they stole or destroyed his research. Could he have known, while he was warning me, that I’d be the one that they’d send to kill him? If he had, he’d hidden it remarkably well. More likely he was warning me of my danger without realising the danger he was in himself. Poor Professor.

My problem was, of course, that while I had a brilliant theory, it was just that. I had no evidence to support my views, not even the Professor’s papers. Worse still, I was stuck inside a police cell with no immediate prospect of getting out. I shouldn’t have worried really. As I was learning with this story, events had a habit of overtaking me.


---oOo---


I spent the night in the police cell and then received two very interesting visitors the following morning. The detective who’d arrested me came and got me. He said that I had no obligation to speak to them if I didn’t want to and then left us alone in an interview room. I have to say that my detective looked very troubled as he closed the door, which didn’t really improve my mood.

“We’d like to ask you some questions, if we may,” said one of them, a man in a plain, dark suit. His companion, a woman, was dressed in a similarly non-descript fashion.

“No tape recorder?” I asked.

“No,” said the woman. “This isn’t a formal interview.”

“And I suppose you’re not going to tell me who you are?”

“Not yet.”

“So why should I answer your questions?”

“Because,” said the man, “you’re going to be charged with murder. And the case against you is a good one. Furthermore, since this isn’t a formal interview and nothing is being recorded, nothing you say can be used against you.”

“Let’s put it another way,” said the woman. “Why wouldn’t you answer our questions?”

“How do you know it’s a good case against me?” I asked.

“Let’s just say we’ve seen the evidence,” said the man.

“And read the transcript of your interview,” added the woman.

I had a sinking feeling when she said that.

“Go on then, ask away.”

“Why did you kill him?” asked the man.

“I have no idea. I have no recollection of the event.”

“So why do you think you killed him?” asked the woman.

“You tell me.”

“You were the subject of certain sleep-related experiments. Isn’t that correct?” asked the man.

“Yes.”

“Were you ever told what those experiments were about?” asked the woman.

“The impact of external stimuli on dreams.”

“And you were never taken into any confidences about the true nature of the experiments?” asked the man.

“True nature?”

“Speculation,” said the woman, rather too hastily and the man looked away. “We are merely considering the possibility.”

“No,” I said. “Were you?”

The two of them exchanged glances and then seemed to come to a decision. The man nodded and the woman turned back to me.

“You really have no idea at all, do you?” she asked. “You can’t even remember doing it.”

“No, I can’t,” I said, starting to get a little annoyed. “If I had, do you think I would have gone through that entire interview without dropping in a line about going into the kitchen and picking up the carving knife?”

“We had taken that into consideration,” said the man.

“Look,” said the woman. “The fact is, we can help you, but we need your help. We’re with the Government. The Professor, as you so quaintly call him, was working with us on a classified project. Its aim was to plant information into a subject’s subconscious to be retrieved at a later date. You can see the obvious attractions. Agents can be given information which, even if they are captured, they cannot reveal since they don’t know it themselves.”

“Cunning.”

“The point is, the experiments were going very well. And then, well, this happened. You, one of the Professor’s experimental subjects, kill him without apparently remembering a thing about it. And,” she said, looking at the man at this point, who nodded, “all the Professor’s notes have gone.”

“To be blunt,” said the man, “We think this is the action of a foreign power. The problem with this technique is that it can be misused by the unscrupulous. The Professor himself warned us about it. He was worried that you may be able to plant an instruction in someone’s mind, much as we had hoped to plant information. Then, at some point in the future, that instruction is activated and the person carries it out. The key way that this differs from previous hypnosis techniques is that it all happens when the person is asleep.”

“The point is,” said the woman, “we think that someone got to you, planted an instruction to kill the Professor and then activated it. At the same time, they took all his research notes.”

“Alternatively,” said the man, “you took them while you were asleep.”

“Either way,” the woman continued, “we need to find out what you know. Or rather, don’t know. This is where we need your help. The Professor’s student has the capability, we believe, to recall your memories of the events which occurred while you were asleep. He may even be able to help you recall the instruction itself and who gave it to you.”

“So, will you help us?” asked the man.

“And what’s in it for me?”

“A way out of this charge,” said the woman. “If we can show that you were instructed to kill the Professor, we may be able to get the charges dropped.”

“And you think this’ll be admissible in court, do you? I’m amazed you’d even be prepared to let your little project become public knowledge.”

“Let’s just say, shall we,” said the man, “that if we can show you were instructed, the whole thing need never reach a court, providing it never reaches the pages of your newspaper either. Do you understand?”

“Abundantly.”

“Well then,” asked the woman. “Will you help us?”

“Do I have a choice?” I asked, getting up.


---oOo---


The police were never going to let me out of the station, so the Professor’s student was brought to me. Fortunately he didn’t need much equipment and what he did need was very portable. It wasn’t too long before I was back in the interview room with him, his kit and the two government agents.

The process is a very simple one which I’d been through numerous times before at the end of the Professor’s experiments. You put yourself into a light trance, certain stimuli are applied (in this case by the student) and your dreams come back to you. If you get a good recall, which doesn’t always happen, you can actually relive the dream as if it’s happening to you. However, as far as anyone else is concerned, it happens in a split second. You go into the trance, the stimuli are applied and you wake up, just that like, which is exactly what happened to me.

“Well,” the man demanded as I woke up. “Did it work?”

“Oh yes.” I said, smiling. “It worked alright.”


---oOo---


“Hello, old friend,” said the Professor.

It was two o’clock the previous morning. I was at the Professor’s front door.

“Right on time, I see.”

“What am I doing here?” I asked, a little confused.

“You’re asleep. You won’t remember any of this. You’d better come in.”

I followed the Professor into the kitchen and we sat down on opposite sides of the table.

“You see, my friend, I have a confession to make. I’ve gotten myself into a terrible mess and I’m afraid that this is the only way out. I’m telling you this now so that you’ll remember it later, so that you’ll know what went on.

“It all started about five years ago, during that last round of savage funding cuts. They were going to close the department, you see, when along came these people from the Government. Well, that’s what they said, ‘the Government’, but they’re from MI6 really. You’ve probably met them by now: a man and a woman. They do all their public-facing work.

“Well, they wanted to fund a research program. It was all about planting information into people, things that they didn’t even consciously know, and then recalling them at a later date. Well, they’ve probably already told you that. It fitted in well with my research and I was desperate, so I leaped at the chance.

“At first, everything went well and it was like they said it would be. But then, as we got more successful with hiding things in people’s minds and getting them back later, they started to change the goal posts. It was only about a year ago, when it was far too late, that I realised what they really wanted. It was their plan all along to plant instructions, not information, in people’s minds. It’s like I told you this evening. That girl on the crane. She was one of mine. I’m a bit surprised you never noticed when you did the story, but she’d been coming to the other sleep clinic I run. The one on the alternative Wednesdays. Still, you always were sloppy. All that pressure to get the story out the next day, I suppose.

“She was the first practical test outside of the laboratory and she passed with flying colours. We’d planted an instruction in her mind, an instruction to do something she’d never have done in waking life, and she did it. It was then that I knew that they were serious and that they were the wrong people to have this power. What did they care about that girl? What if it had been a windy night or if she had just slipped and fallen? I raised all these objections, but I was overruled. They didn’t care for her. As far as they were concerned, she was expendable.

“That’s when I made my mind up that it had to stop. The problem is, I couldn’t find a way out. I know, afterwards, when you wake up, you’ll rant and rail against me, saying I should have come to you, and we could have published the story and blown the lid off the whole thing. Perhaps you still can, but it wasn’t a way out for me. There was too much risk. Risk that they could have stopped publication, risk that they could have got their hands on me. I know, you see. I know how to do it and that knowledge is too dangerous, too dangerous to let anyone else get their hands on.

“So I made my mind up. Then, last week, the time came. They gave me the name of a man. They said he was a Russian, an arms dealer and drug smuggler. They wanted me to prime one of my subjects and instruct him or her to kill this man. It was to be the ultimate test.

“Well, they wanted a test, and they’re going to get a test and a successful one at that. Just not the one they thought. It’s the only way out. I’ve already been to the lab and destroyed all my notes and records. It’ll take years for anyone to replicate what I’ve done, but as long as I have the knowledge, there’s a danger they can get at it or me. So, you see, you’re going to kill me. I’m the final test. With me, the knowledge dies.

“I do owe you an apology though. I know this will be hard for you and you’ll probably be charged with my murder. The problem is, I couldn’t see that I could pick anyone else. You’re the only one who stands a chance of actually stopping this thing. I couldn’t do it to anyone else. I wouldn’t be fair. Not that’s it’s fair to you, of course, but there it is. Consider it a compliment if you like. You’re the only one who can pull this off.

“Publish it. Make a fuss. Expose them. Stop them. Don’t let what I’ve done become a weapon in their hands.

“Anyway, now you know. It’s time. Goodbye, old friend.”

And then I picked up the knife and started stabbing him in the chest.


---oOo---


“Oh yes.” I said, as I woke up, smiling. “It worked alright.”



© Brian Williams, 2005






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