Here’s the thing about the Prism.
It didn’t exist in all the dimensions it should have existed in. And when I say that, I say it as a more or less complete layman in classically-accepted scientific fields. Oh, I’m sure I could blow a mind or two in the more esoteric fields of the extra-terrestrial and meta-real sciences, but there’s a point at which it just sounds like I’m making things up. Which is all ordinary scientists do all day long as well, but I’m going to stop myself there before I digress even more than I’m already about to.
When I say ‘dimensions’, I am aware that there are a couple of dominant and semi-overlapping definitions of the term, one rather more old-fashioned than the other. It’s sort of like how there’s a couple of main definitions of ‘element’, the old-school one being that things like water and air are elements, the new-school one being that things like hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and argon are elements.
Well, there’s a whole heck of a lot of different dimensions in physics, and we’ve come a long way since H.G. Wells talked about time or duration as a context-lending dimension to the three physical dimensions that outline our existence. But in both the layman’s sense and the deeper-physics sense – and yes, even the wacky-wacky I-once-went-to-a-dimension’s-wedding-to-a-gravitational-anomaly-and-we-all-had-to-wear-grounding-cables-to-keep-from-being-transtemporally-dislocated-and-the-hangover-happened-before-the-actual-party sense – the Prism is missing a couple of really important dimensions.
In the simplest possible terms, then. The Prism doesn’t seem to exist in time. What I mean is, it only exists in a single infinitely tiny now. For us linear consciousnesses, this isn’t particularly odd on its face, of course. We, too, exist in such a moment, sandwiched between the past and the future. We call it ‘the present’ and feel desperately unhappy about it a lot of the time, because the other two options seem better. That’s one of the defining characteristics of sentience. The difference is, our little sliver of temporal existence moves. We have duration along the time axis, having existed at some point in the past and being destined to exist for a certain distance into the future. These are almost infinitely dubious and arguable qualities, but the Prism lacks them entirely.
This ought to make it basically not exist at all in the universe as we know it, but what appears to have happened instead is that its now has pasted itself into every moment of history. So whenever you look at it, there it is. And there it continues to be because it’s there, too. The fact that I can stand looking at it, or go away and come back a few hours later and look at it again, is just a trick of linear consciousness. Like an optical illusion in time. It wasn’t actually there last time I saw it, except when I saw it, it was. It always was.
That doesn’t, obviously, make a whole lot of sense. If I stand and watch the Prism for ten seconds, for example, the world and the universe around it will have moved, physically, by a significant amount, and yet the Prism just sits there. Is it moving along with us? If so, it must have some kind of chronological quality. My current theory is that since space and time are just different expressions of higher physics, the Prism simultaneously exists at every point in space along which any observing force might occur, making it into some sort of extra-dimensional and really, really long geometric shape, and we’re just sliding along it in space and time and seeing only the discrete slice of it that our brains tell us makes sense at any given moment … but the bits extending out on either side along the trajectory of the temporal universe are invisible, because they’re happening in another of its missing dimensions.
For further example, I’m pretty sure the Prism wasn’t actually here when they built the department store. Chances are they would have made a bigger deal about it. I’m not entirely clear on where, altitude-wise, I was currently standing in relation to Olde Worlde Barnsley Yard, but I thought the department store D-level was somewhere under the ground even by olden days standards, so maybe they wouldn’t have found it … but if they had, in the course of mining salt from Lake Philip-or-whatever-it-had-been-called-then, they probably would have mentioned it. For that matter, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in the gardening and hobbies department of the store a couple of weeks ago, not that I’d been down here recently. It was the appearance of the Prism a few days ago that got our attention, after all, which in turn implies that it has some sort of temporal coordinates, before which it wasn’t here. A few days ago, it hadn’t been down here. And yet, here we are.
So the easiest way to describe it, really, is that it appeared at some point, at which point it had always been there. And if that sounds like a tired and lazy sci-fi trope, at least in this case you can look at the rambling above and concede, perhaps, that at least I’ve done some legwork on the idea and arrived at the conclusion that it’s just easier this way. Yes, I’m fairly sure that if I’d pinpointed the location of the Prism back in Barnsley Prison Yard, and dug down to it, I would have found it there – but only because I was part of a space-time event in which the Prism had always been around. My now would have been the one doing the digging, and of course the Prism’s permanow would have intersected with that.
In fact, this very lack of temporal responsibility is why, I believe, the whole mess with the cursed cookhouse trumpet even became an issue in the first place. But I can’t be sure of that. Maybe Creepy would have taken the trumpet anyway. Maybe the two phenomena are both causes, maybe they’re both effects. Maybe they’re a cause-effect loop that depends on which direction you look at it from. Does it really matter, when the bodies start to float to the surface?
Maybe all the none-of-the-above basement-cellar time-wrinkles would have existed around the place without the Prism running a pale-pastel-yellow railway spike through the space-time continuum, or maybe they wouldn’t. Rose, at least, seemed to have a bit of familiarity with the damn things, so maybe they’d been around for a while. Or maybe they hadn’t. If they had been around for a while, Rose was either the most dramatically unambitious time traveller in the universe, or she had caught onto the basic futility of time travelling and now just used it to get around without having to worry about traffic lights or rising swamp-muck.
What? Oh, yes, maybe I didn’t mention it yet. The Prism was sort of pale pastel yellow in colour. That much, I can tell you. Whether it was the same for everyone, or whether that was just how it appeared to my eyes and brain, I don’t know. A really quite interesting thing had happened when I’d tried to take a photograph of the Prism. But I don’t have time to go into that right now and besides, it’s not immediately pertinent to the story. Like the appearance of the thing itself, the whole series of events just raises more questions. Because if something only exists in a single infinitely-brief permanow, how is the light from it travelling to my retinas?
Let’s move on.