Aurora Orientalis: The Bow Creek Utopia

Ash Malik shouldn’t be talking to me. ‘Stuff like this makes investors nervous. Which is kind of the opposite of my job’. He is a planning officer for the council, and the stalled building site we’re on – in the eastern reaches of London’s Docklands – is testament to the challenges of the role.

There’s no shortage of new developments on the archipelago-like patches of land between Bow Creek, the Royal Docks and the Thames. So why did this one fail? ‘It’s complicated’, says Ash. But the withdrawal of a major stakeholder didn’t help.

For those of us drawn to a London loose of its moorings, the events that led to that withdrawal are worth recounting.

George Philip & Son, 1891

The TimeEye prototype

When Ash was handed the public engagement remit for a proposed development near Bow Creek, he was pleased. He grew up nearby, and was keen to involve the community in the area’s regeneration.

The scheme would build new housing around a ‘creative business hub’. The hub needed a flagship business, and when the relocation of a major tech company’s augmented reality (AR) division was secured, Ash saw a way to fulfil his remit.

His idea was simple. Docklands already has a sculpture trail. How about an AR version? An ‘invisible’ art trail of digital works, routed in the history of the area, revealed by downloading an app and pointing your phone at the landscape. Pokemon Go meets an interactive walking tour.

Local artists and museums were happy to help. Before long the app had a name – TimeEye – and a beta version was downloaded to a handful of phones, ready to be tested.

The glitches began almost immediately.

Part of the proposed site

The aurora field

Instead of superimposed evocations of farmland or the area’s wartime history, the TimeEye users encountered something that bore no relation to the landscape around them.

Their phone’s screens showed an interference. One commenter called it a ‘digital aurora’ – a shimmering field of apparently infinite depth, in which innumerable filaments seethed and crackled.

Since you could trace your screen across this vision, as if it actually filled the world around you, users assumed it was intentional; the result of a complex algorithm. By the time the app’s coders made clear they had nothing to do with it, it hardly mattered.

People had begun to explore.

Unique geometries

Some noticed patterns. The constant interaction of ripples and waves within the field were not random. It was possible to locate ‘nodes’, places in the the aurora-scape which emanated and received activity.

These nodes had a fixed place, traceable in the outside world. That is, by using your device’s screen as a window to the aurora, you could follow a trail of disturbances to its source. Ash describes restlessly fizzing mini-suns ejecting streams of light and popping pixelated clouds of primary colour. He found one above a residential roundabout in Silvertown.

It soon became clear this node system was unique to the viewer – in other words, each aurora was different. Some began to map the vast matrices suggested by lines of communication within ‘their’ aurora.

But these investigations stopped abruptly. The AR team deleted the app.

Which might have been the end of it, had Ash been using his phone to test TimeEye. Instead, he was trialling the prototype of a set of ‘fully immersive AR glasses’, aimed at VIPs. The coders were unable to delete Ash’s program remotely. Now they wanted the glasses back.

But Ash had seen something others hadn’t:

The field was consolidating.

Shadows in the aether

Ignoring the tech company’s emails, armed with the glasses, Ash traipsed the eastern Docklands (‘I must have looked a right tool, but it was great for my step count’). As he did so, he saw the aurora field fade to background static, watched shadows coalesce in the aether, solidify against a strange new sky.

He was looking at another city.

On this hidden plane, structures of impossible scale and architecture rose dizzyingly. A mega-city of vast, interlocked geometries, in which only traces of natural geography were familiar: the mirrored edifices that vaulted Bow Creek’s muddy meanders and warped high above the Thames’ tidal reaches defied description.

Not that the apparition stayed still long enough to be described.

Ash saw elements one day that he never saw again, or else he saw them again in different places. At the edge of vision, entire buildings folded in and out of existence, the ribbon-like structures that wove through the city’s upper reaches snapped and reared and writhed away in helixes.

Only when Ash viewed it directly did the city remain still.

He viewed it from every angle, climbing the roofs of disused mills, riding semi-deserted cable cars. He could see no endpoint to the city. But the vision itself had strict boundaries – it would flicker and falter, blur to the aurora should Ash approach a specific building, or stray beyond a certain area.

So he didn’t stray.

‘It was beautiful’, says Ash. ‘A utopia. Totally impossible. And yet, there it was… Except-‘

Except. Something was wrong. Something Ash hardly considered at first, but which slowly chilled him to the core:

The city was empty.

A pristine, perfect metropolis, deserted. Not a soul, not a light in a window, not – Ash saw now – a single natural movement in the whole contorting cityscape.

One day, wandering long into the synchronous twilight, he became frightened of the dark, unknowable, towers.

He returned to his office and locked the glasses in a filing cabinet.

He continued to fob off requests for the glasses’ return. But when -as he knew he would – Ash went to use them again, they were gone. The lock on the cabinet broken.

Visions

We have been walking. I am disoriented, unsure where Ash has lead us to. Beneath a low, muggy sky in June, the landscape seems like a vast interior. It has its own enclosed soundscape. The hum of an A-road, the rattle of the DLR.

Dull clanks from a nearby construction site give way to a gentle chatter: a hi-vis crocodile of school children has appeared, and disappears again – a nature reserve lurks beyond a gap between hoardings.

Suddenly, the air is torn open by a jet-roar. City Airport. The noise jolts Ash out of a reverie.

He isn’t interested in who took the glasses, or why the tech company broke ties. It’s time, he tells me, to get back to work. Strategic plans to follow, longterm visions to realise. I watch him set off, head down, for the office.

I have forgotten to ask Ash the best way back to a station. Somehow I don’t want to use my phone.

Scanning the skyline, the Dome’s insectoid protuberances must be south-ish; their analogues at the Excel Centre are north. To the west, a familiar totem completes the triangulation: the ever-winking pyramid of One Canada Square, still just about visible within a mutating sphere of skyscrapers.


  • Candidate: The Bow Creek Utopia
  • Type: Multiverse Infringement (unconfirmed)
  • Status: Monitored

Author: portalsoflondon

Working towards a catalogue of London's inter-dimensional gateways.

13 thoughts on “Aurora Orientalis: The Bow Creek Utopia”

  1. Excellent! Really makes you wonder.. My son in law works with VR development…..has seen some odd stuff once in a while.

  2. A charming addition to the mostly historical (and lateral) portals catalogued thus far — one that appears to point forwards. Or even to the Other Side. 🙂

    POL is always the most intriguing thing I read every month.

  3. Thank you once again for a fascinating account of one of the mysterious portals of our ancient city.
    Your evident erudition on the subject prompts me to ask for more stories that may illuminate some of the current hypotheses that are being widely debated within the Portology world – both in the United Kingdom and beyond.

    I suspect that you will be familiar with some of the thoughts around the well-known series, Black Mirror?

    From a mainstream perspective, obviously this is a satirical black comedy set sometime in the future, documenting the often grim consequences of technological and socio-political innovation.
    However, as you may know, there are some respected Portologists, including Prof. Vincent herself, who hypothesise that it is not fiction. They believe that the authors may be, consciously or unconsciously, documenting interdimensional slippages from parallel timelines.

    Increasingly, it is being said that this may prove to be the only explanation for why many of us in the United Kingdom find ourselves waking up in the morning and listening to the news and being filled with an overwhelming sense of being in a particularly grim episode of Black Mirror.

    When one gives this serious consideration, it becomes evident that it is entirely plausible. Of course, it would be ludicrous to suggest that such slippage could affect an entire country, but we know that it only needs to affect a few key figures for significant changes to occur.

    The Houses of Parliament is obviously located in London, which as you document on this blog, is notorious for interdimensional transgressions.
    The very location of the Houses of Parliament on the confluence of a number of well-known energy lines suggests that it could be particularly vulnerable to such incursions. Indeed, of course it has been suggested that the ill fated actions of Guy Fawkes were never intended to blow up parliament, but were in fact an inept attempt to close down the portal affecting the House for once and for all with a countering blast of energy.

    Going back to the present day, if we look at the governing bodies of Scotland and Wales, it seems that they have not been affected in the same way as the ruling body in London – which aids weight to the hypothesis that this is a local phenomenon.
    Indeed, there are increasing calls for Hansard to be examined for evidence of the point at which this trans dimensional slippage occurred and how many senior members of Parliament could have been affected by the malign influence of an alternate, darker, UK timeline…

    In the meantime, as a long time enthusiastic amateur Portologist, I can at least console myself in these troubling times with the thought that it is fascinating to be a first-hand witness to the extraordinary impact of open portals between timelines.

    If you have any further information that may inform our understanding of this otherwise incomprehensibly turbulent period of our history, I’m sure that we would all be very interested.

  4. leads one to wonder if inter-dimensional travel is a very real thing, which I personally do, but strange little happenings like this make me wonder if inter-dimensional and time travel are happening right now as we speak. If it were, I wonder if that glitch in the app was purposeful, if someone were trying to communicate with our dimension, in our time. This could be a clue. Or, it could’ve been an accident, a mere “oops” in a future event, in some future dimension of space and time, that somehow led us to receive a mathematical VR construction of this Utopian city in the future. This doesn’t mean it’s our future, though. Let me specify what I mean when I say “other dimensions”. The concept is as simple as waving at someone hello. Either you do, or you don’t. That event in a vacuum has 2 possible realities. One where you wave, and one where you don’t. This leads to the infinite and ever-complex splitting of realities, and a “dimension” refers to a particular reality at that specified given time. We are moving through dimensions all the time. It’s not so much that we’re stuck in this dimension, rather we’re constantly moving through a series of choices and events, leading to the splitting of realities, ergo, the constant moving through dimensions. When JFK got shot in the head, we entered that small dimension, along with millions of others at the same time, little choices from billions of people and organisms alike creating an ever-moving flow through dimensions. And dimensions can be affected by past ones. Past affects the future, and the future affects the past, respectively. Present affects everything. If Lee Harvey Oswald had a different life, or if his parents didn’t hook up in some past reality, JFK might not have been shot. So what’s the point of my long rant about dimensions? Time travel. Inter-dimensional travel. Theoretically, we could go to this place. But that’s without saying we haven’t uncoiled the mysterious unknowns of our universe and how to harness them, time being one of them. Time is a very real thing, just not in a Gregorian calendar type of way. Time is simply but a series of events. There is no such thing as “seconds”. The passing of time is simply how we measure it. Time can be easily bent, through light, dark matter, wormholes, black holes, etc. I’ve also come to theorize that gravitational waves could play a major role in these sci-fi fantasies of spacial travel. I’m determined to dig deeper into these subjects, and particularly start an ongoing project on the possibilities of inter-dimensional and time travel, and theorize how we could make it possible. If you are interested in joining this little talk, leave me a reply. I’m looking for KNOWLEDGEABLE PEOPLE with EXPERIENCE and CREATIVITY. If you don’t already know about about binary black holes, gravitational waves, and wormholes then I’m sorry but this won’t be for you, it’ll get too complex for you to comprehend early on in the project. So without further ado, I’m looking forward to seeing who responds to this thread. I’m hoping to find some of you who are just as thrilled by time travel and inter-dimensional travel as I am. See you on the other side.

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