Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
My involvement in the experiment started only a few weeks ago. I was visiting my grandfather, who lives alone and needs someone to come over and help out with the house once a week. I’d usually go for the well stocked library in his office, and the long conversations about any book, from Harry Potter to The Odyssey.
While browsing one of the bookshelves for something new, the phone called. He keeps the phone on the office desk at all times, so I handed it to him before going back to the incredible worlds behind leather bound volumes and filigree titles. My attention snapped back to the phone when my grandfather said the name ‘Daneel’ in surprised recognition.
Daneel was my cousin, living in England. I’d met her once at a family reunion when I was ten, and remembered her mainly as the girl who kicked my ass after we disagreed which X-Men characters would win in a fight.
My grandfather got out of his comfy chair and left the room, something he never does. I usually let people have their secrets, but it was only last week I’d asked him how my uncle’s family were doing overseas. He’d died just after the reunion, leaving behind Daneel to be cared for by her mother’s sister. Going against all my instincts, I followed to the half closed door, and listened. He’d had some problems with his hearing the last year, and to my relief he chose to take the call over speaker like always. A young woman’s voice sounded over the phone, and with a slight chuckle I could clearly recognise the little girl arguing in Nightcrawler’s favor.
‘Hey, I’m sorry to just call out of the blue, I know it’s been a while.’
‘Not at all, my dear,” my grandfather replied. He had a slight accent, but he’d put a lot of effort into learning the language after his son married an English woman.
‘Heh, okay,’ Daneel continued. ‘It’s good to hear your voice again. I was just wondering about something. Something about my father? I’m at Sarah’s place, and going through some of his old stuff in the attic, I found a cassette tape. It looks pretty old. It’s just, there’s someone else’s name on it. Do you know if he had any friends named James?’
‘What does it say on the tape, exactly?’
‘Ehm. It says ‘England, 1985. James’ track 14′.’
My grandfather got really quiet. I frowned and thought I’d might have missed something, before I heard Daneel ask if he was still there.
‘Yes, my dear. No, I don’t believe he knew anyone by that name. I will look into it, and call you back.’ After that, he said a hasty goodbye, and hung up. I grabbed a few books, opened the door, and walked out while reading the opening page of The Count Of Monte Cristo. He paid me no attention as I sat down by the fireplace. The days were getting colder, and a warm fire was already sending dancing shadows over the walls. I didn’t ask any questions, and after about ten minutes, he said he was going to bed. It was still early, even for him, but I just nodded and kept reading.
Daneel started everything with that phone call. I couldn’t help being curious, because I knew so well that my grandfather had lied to her. Why, I had no clue. Pinned to a cardboard above his desk was an old polaroid photo, and after I’d made sure grandfather was asleep, I took a look at it. Once, when I was helping packing up stuff after grandmother, I’d turned it around to see if it had been hers. If I wasn’t too mistaken, the name James would be on the back.
‘Me and Timothy on our way to Reinsnos, 1978.
James wanted to be in the photo.’
I was right. The picture was of two young boys, maybe 13-14 years old, standing on the side of a road. The shadow of the photographer fell across the bottom part of the photo. James.
I opened my mail account on my ipad, and found Daneel’s old email address. I’d never used it before. I told her about the photo, and sent her a picture taken on my phone. I didn’t think much about it after that; I already felt like I’d invaded someone’s personal space. My grandfather rarely mentioned Aleksander. Losing him had been a hard blow to the family, especially since Daneel’s mother had left them right after she was born.
I went home, made dinner, watched some TV series with my girlfriend, and went off to bed. It would have ended for me, if Daneel hadn’t emailed me back the next day. She’d found a phone number connected to the other boy in the photo, Timothy. She’d talked to his twin brother.
That is why I, three weeks later, found myself outside the local police station, holding a folder full of printed pages. I will tell you the same things I told the officers. It was a lazy day, as it always is in a town of five thousand people. The officer in charge was a woman in her late forties, whom I’d seen many times and even talked to during career days at school when I was younger. She was a strict but gentle woman, and easy to talk to. Her office was bright and cosy, full of colourful files and documents neatly arranged in metal cabinets. Above her desk were the typical pictures of the king and queen, as well as the prime minister. The assistant closed the door behind me, and Officer Aune rose from her chair to shake my hand, and showed me to a chair opposite her.
‘Now, how can I help you, my dear?’ She asked.
‘I’m here to report a missing person,’ I said. She looked surprised, to say the least. Things worse than the occasional lost dog or drunken vandalism rarely happened here. She nodded, grabbed a pen and a pad, and looked at me in a much more serious manner.
‘I see. Name?’
‘Daneel Selwyn,’ I said. Officer Aune looked up from the pad, one eyebrow raised.
‘Is this person a tourist, or…?’
‘No. I-‘ I breathed in deeply, looking down at the floor. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come here. Thank you for you time.’ I quickly rose to leave, but she picked up on the tone of my voice.
‘Hold on, it’s okay.’ I hesitated, and turned back to her. ‘You have nothing to worry about, we will do everything we can to find your friend. I just need all the information you can give me.’
I nodded slowly and sat back down. ‘She’s my cousin. I think she left England maybe two days ago.’
‘And she came here?’
‘Yes.’ I put the folder on her desk, opened it, and revealed the first printed page. ‘Three weeks ago, she called my grandfather, asking for help with identifying an old friend of her father. Since then, she’s been investigating what happened to them in the 80’s.’ I folded out the pages. ‘She started keeping this blog, to show me everything she found out. There’s pictures, emails, phone calls…’
‘And you think this all led her here?’ Officer Aune leaned forward and looked through the pages. ‘Why?’
‘That’s exactly it. She’s not posting anymore. I haven’t heard from her in a while.’
Officer Aune leaned back and breathed out heavily. ‘What makes you think this girl is missing? To me it seems she came to find something, and wants to pursue it alone. Why do you worry about her?’
I hesitated, wondering how much information I could hold back. The experiment hadn’t expected me. I was an outsider. I felt that for some reason, I could break the rules. I could spread the research. ‘Because someone is following her.’
Officer Aune frowned. ‘Who?’
I leaned over the desk and looked through the pages until I found the right one. It was a copy of an old newspaper clipping. ‘Daneel found something that linked all the people in this photo.’ I pointed to the photo I’d sent her. ‘There was an accident in 1985, just outside of central London. A bus went off the road, and five people died. Both of Daneel’s parents were on that bus, and both survived with minor injuries. James and Timothy were there too.’ I pointed to the writing at the back of the photo.
‘Wait,’ Officer Aune said. ‘You’re losing me here, kid. How is this relevant to your cousin being here, thirty years later?’
‘Because I found something she hasn’t seen. I can’t get a hold of her anymore. You’re the only one who can.’
Officer Aune got quiet, and just stared at me for a few seconds.
‘You said you would do anything you could to help me find Daneel,’ I said. ‘So…in your records. There has to be something about Reinsnos in 1978.’
‘Wait, what? Kid, you’re making no-‘
‘Please, just check it! That’s where Daneel is going. It has to be!’
She sent me a disgruntled look, before she logged onto her computer. She clicked around a lot, like her generation usually do, before she typed in a search field. I could see text reflected in her glasses, and waited impatiently. After about a minute, she nodded slowly.
‘What exactly would I be looking for? You know, this information is not exactly for your eyes.’
‘Most of it is already in public archives,’ I replied. ‘I’ve read most of it. I just… I don’t know what they were looking for. I don’t know why they were all gathered on that bus, and why they needed them.’
Officer Aune shot me a sideward glance from behind the screen. ‘You’re right. It’s public. If you’re referring to the experiments?’
‘Yes, that’s it,’ I said quickly. ‘Daneel’s father went to Reinsnos when he was thirteen, and that’s where he met Timothy and James, probably Daneel’s mother too. Their families were being paid pretty well for the experiment.’
‘What kind of experiment was this?’
‘The only thing these kids had in common. Daneel’s father had Hyperosmia. Timothy had Hypergeusia. James had-‘
‘Slow down,’ said Officer Aune. ‘Explain these words to me, please.’
‘Heightened sense of smell. Heightened sense of taste,’ I said. ‘James had unusually good hearing, while Daneel’s mother could see better than most. They all went to Reinsnos in 1978 to be part of an experiment having to do with their senses. Then, in 1985, they came together to continue the experiment in England, only they never got there. Five other subjects died, and the rest almost seemed to go off the radar after the accident. Timothy died three months after he left the hospital. Daneel’s father died when she was eight. Her mother disappeared shortly after she was born, and god knows what happened to James. For some reason, everyone connected to that experiment, are now gone.’ I paused, dragged five fingers through my hair, and looked down at the file on the desk.
‘But there’s something Daneel missed.’
‘What is it?’
‘The distance,’ I almost whispered. ‘Of the five victims, two of them died at the hospital less than ten hours after the accident.’ I looked up. ‘They died at the exact same time. They should both have survived. Then Daneel’s parents and the rest of the survivors disappeared, until Timothy’s body was found in a field three months later.’
‘What did you mean when you said ‘the distance’?’
‘The two in the hospital. They went the same distance from the crash site to the hospital, so they died at the same time. Timothy, he travelled around for three months. He kept moving, so they couldn’t catch up with him. Then Aleksander, Daneel’s father, who died many years later. He moved back to Norway, then went on business trips all over the world, so he made it for a long time.’ I could feel the adrenaline pump through my veins. Officer Aune looked at me with a mixture of shock and interest, and what I guessed had to be a hint of concern.
‘Don’t you get it?’ I asked. ‘The subjects of this experiment died according to the time and distance they moved away from the location of the accident. Daneel figured this out too. They were never supposed to get to wherever the bus was taking them. It was supposed to crash, because that was the experiment.’
‘Alright,’ she said, and folded her hands on the desk. ‘Let me now just assume that this is all correct. Why the distance thing? Why would that matter?’
I swallowed hard. ‘Because… Because of their conditions. The experiment started when they went on the run. It’s the only explanation. Whatever or whoever was after them, James was the only one who could hear it, Aleksander was the only one who could smell it, and Daneel’s mother was the only one who could see it. That’s why Timothy died. A heightened sense of taste wouldn’t be much help. Something followed them after the accident, something normal people wouldn’t be able to sense at all. I just don’t know what it was, or who.’
Officer Aune clicked with the pen, and looked down at the pad. ‘I will contact the London police department, and her family. Then I’ll call the officer in charge in Reinsnos. If that’s where she’s headed, they’ll know it when a foreigner comes around.’
I managed a grateful smile. ‘Thank you. I know this sounds just… strange.’
‘No, not at all. I actually wondered when you’d come around.’
I stared at Officer Aune, trying to find the right words. ‘Wh…what do you mean?’
Officer Aune crossed her legs, rested one cheek against her fist, and smiled. ‘I mean, you are Aleksander’s nephew, after all. Don’t you think we’d keep an eye on you in case you showed some similar skills?’
I felt as if I’d frozen to the chair. ‘You’re joking. You don’t believe me, so you’re joking.’
Officer Aune chuckled. ‘Nope. Not at all. You actually did a wonderful job. We’ve been looking for Daneel for a while, and now we have a chance to find her.’
I slowly rose from the chair, never breaking the eye contact. I could feel my voice shaking. ‘Why? Why would you drag her into this?’
‘She’s been part of it since she was born. It was no one’s choice.’ She sent him one last smile, as she closed the folder, handed it back to me, and turned toward the computer screen. ‘It was nice talking to you, and thank you for your cooperation.’
I stared at her, stunned, before I took the folder, and walked towards the door. I stopped at the sound of her voice, but didn’t turn around.
‘Oh, and… Henrik, isn’t it? As for what is following Daneel, you really shouldn’t worry about it. She may not have a choice in the matter, but so far, you do. Go back to your flat, to your girlfriend. Clean your grandfather’s house once a week, and finish The Count Of Monte Cristo. Let me worry about finding Daneel for you.’
I slowly turned the handle, and closed the door behind me. My head was spinning as I made my way outside in the fading sunlight. Yellow and orange leafs lay scattered outside the office building, and a sharp wind played in the treetops. It will be winter soon. Daneel went far north, alone.
I’ve told you everything I told the police, and I know it was a huge mistake the first time. But I have to do something. I’m leaving soon. I’ll be going north, to find Daneel. She needs to know.
The address to her blog is daneelselwyn.tumblr.com, and the password is ‘aleksander’. Whatever happens, I need to find her first.
Credit: Henrik Syvertsen, Daneel Selwyn