Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Marvin-Levene Experiment

Advert for Job Cigarettes - Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939)

I handed Lartigan the whisky and sat beside him. He had been looking out of the window at the large advertising hoarding opposite. It was a large poster with an attractive young woman, it always seems to be young women, advertising cigarettes. Below the image, an old image was the motto, 'Long life and pleasure'. Well in those days we were still innocent about the dangers of smoking. But I digress, Lartigan had been looking at the advert and as I sat he smiled. Then he sipped his whisky. I tried to draw him out on the reason for his smiling but he would not be drawn and after a while I turned to other subjects and forgot about it.

At that point I had not heard of Kirby Muxloe or his theft. I heard of it beforehand when Lartigan showed up at my door late one night. He had not been drinking he assured me, though he seemed distracted and wild.

"I'm telling you this, though I really ought not to, because tomorrow it will be all over the press anyway. I want you to know the whole story, because if anyone will treat it fairly, I know you will," he told me.

He sat in the same chair he had last time and again I fetched him a whisky. I sat beside him, my coffee half-drunk. It never got finished. Lartigan's story was such that I never look at anything the same again. It appears that in the search to win the Cold War, the military had created a science department. Two professors had been persuaded to join - Wilson Levene and Richard Marvin who were experts in physics, chemistry and biology had worked for some time when Marvin came up with a theory that Levene joined him in. They believed, so Lartigan told me that as well as living in actual time we also live in unconscious time and that this time runs parallel to our actual time. It was thought that a subject might be sent into unconscious time to change events in actual or conscious time.

They carried out a series of experiments that were abandoned when their subjects began to confuse unconscious time events with actual ones and with their own memory of time sequences. At best this led to mere confusion, but at worst it led to near if not actual psychosis. Marvin and Levene had explored these results, but the military thought them negligible. The project was shut down and the subjects who were thought to be safe were moved elsewhere to join different regiments. Mostly the subjects did very well with some psychiatric treatment. But they were not all safe or well and the result was the Wittering Incident.

A soldier who had been one of Marvin and Levene subjects, Private Ashby Folville had left the base where he lived and travelled to the Carrington Arms in Wittering to find a spy he 'knew' had been there and to kill the spy. The event had been remembered in actual time by Folville when he was a boy. Folville had remembered a 'spy' being found dead at the Carrington Arms and reported in the press. However, he had not killed the spy in either actual or unconscious time. Folville very nearly killed a commercial traveller, but was captured in time by the military police and found to be deeply psychotic. The psychosis had gone so deep that Folville took on what the military doctors called 'as advertised' symptoms. These meant that adverts remembered by Folville were seen by him as instructions. So he would only use Fresh! toothpaste because the remembered advert had the line 'Use Fresh! to stay Fresh!' and he ate the Gioia chocolate bar because it 'brings you sheer joy!'

Folville was irretrievable and what was worse, he began to fade also. Marvin and Levene did a few non-invasive experiments and decided that he was becoming detached from actual time and was retreating into his own unconscious time. After three days Folville was gone. He was not invisible, he had completely disappeared from actual time. Nobody, Marvin and Levene included knew exactly where Folville had gone other than he was in unconscious time. He might be anywhere in it for all they seemed to know.

Lartigan toyed with his empty glass and I took it from him and refilled it. He told me that the file on Folville had been sent to be destroyed, but the military had got a temporary worker to do it. The worker, Kirby Muxloe had found the file and taken it to the press. The rest of the files had been retrieved and Muxloe arrested. Muxloe pleaded that the files were in the public interest, but a judge had refused that argument. It was too little, too late. The Folville file and information on the Marvin-Levene experiment had gone to the Chronicle who had copied it and handed back the original file. The experiment and it's result would be all over the media the following morning.

"The thing is, I know where Folville is. Or at least where he was last night," Lartigan said shuddering.

"You said he'd disappeared," I answered somewhat confused.

"The Rocket Holidays advert. I saw the poster yesterday and there was a man in the background smoking. I swear it was Folville. I saw his photograph and his file soon after he was brought in after the Wittering Incident. I'd know his face anywhere," Lartigan said.

He took the whisky from me and gulped it down. He told me to write it as he'd told it to me and went to my spare room to sleep off his shock. I took my cold coffee to the kitchen and threw it away. The magazine on my living room table was full of adverts. I opened it up and began to flick through it. When I came to the Rocket Holidays advert I looked carefully. There was a man in the background, with a martini in his hand. He was a rangy looking character and seemed out of place with the other people somehow. That was the first time I saw Ashby Folville. Thanks to the abundance of advertising around, it has not been the last.

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