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Joys of Rayovision

E. W. Farnsworth

Dr. Wilson F. Engel, III, writing as

E. W. Farnsworth, lives and writes in Arizona.  Forty of E. W. Farnsworth’s short stories will be published in 2015.  His collected western stories, spy stories and a romance will appear in 2015.  Bitcoin Fandango, his mystery/thriller appeared in March,2015.  


             Lucille Grady hadn’t taken two steps from the spaceship when she was informed by a disembodied voice that she was not following the guidelines provided for arrivals.  She looked down and blushed that she had stepped on the line, but fortunately not over it.  How they knew these things was no mystery for Lucille since she was a certified space scientist and knew better.  Television viewers were everywhere now, and millions of people made their livings monitoring the screens while cameras video-logged every movement everyone made.  This was most important because it was a matter of life and death.  One misstep and she might be fried by a power ray running close outside a line.  An acquaintance of hers had been badly electrocuted that way and would never be the same.  Lucille stepped back and then, following the image on her two-way wrist television, continued her way forward just inside the bold white lines toward the access portal. 


            Lucille grimaced and told Brad Fillet her flight companion, “I have to be careful not to amass demerits.  I always have a frisson just thinking about Tesla rays that now silently criss-cross the planet.  On clear days on Earth you could see on the ground piles of thousands of poor birds that had been crisped by those rays.”


           As the two astronauts passed through the airlock, Brad laughed uncomfortably and offered Lucille a cigarette to calm her down.  She accepted the gift and a light, and the two breathed out whorls of smoke into the smoky air of the settlement.  It had been a long, hard flight, particularly on re-entry when the spacecraft’s nose tipped up and the fins sank down onto the dusty surface.   All-in-all, the moon was a better place to land than Earth or Mars because of the lower gravitational attraction, but rocket science was overcoming all impediments to comfortable travel for everyone.  Within Moon Compound XL-1 the air was kept at Earth’s balance through infusions from large cylinder tanks of compressed gases.  Purifiers were arranged so the smoke remained at a breathable level.  You had to stay within the lines inside as well as outside because of the wave conduits, but on the moon monitors outnumbered humans by three to one, so you would always have a warning of transgressing.


         “For what it’s worth, that was a swell trip, and I’m glad we finally had a chance to talk.”


         “Brad, I enjoyed the trip too, and I hope everything goes well with your experiments.  Transformers are so special, and they are changing the world.  It must feel grand to be part of the team that is making the future every single day.”


         “As I said, Lucille, we are taking baby steps now, but soon we’ll be beaming that energy straight from Earth to the Moon and then soon, who knows, we’ll beam electricity from planet to planet and even to the stars. Everything depends on how we channel and split energy.  Well, here’s where we channel and split.  I follow the green path to the right.  You follow the red path to the left.  I’ll look forward to seeing you in three weeks right here.  I hope by then I’ll be able to report progress.  If I don’t this will be my last trip to the Moon, and someone else will take my place.”


          “Good luck, Brad.  See you then.”  Lucille continued down the red path to her berthing and messing compound.  She was delighted to be back in her own room, unpacking, combing out her long auburn hair, freshening her makeup and viewing the materials her watch captain had left for her.  She would just have enough time to wash down a meal of meat and vegetable pellets with bottled quinine water before she began her evening watch.  She had been assigned to the monitors that showed images of Brad’s lab.  He did not know that she was assigned as his security person, but she was pledged not to tell anyone what her duties were.  So when she had finished eating, she sat down behind the desk and looked at the video monitors that covered her walls.  If she used eye routines, she could remain alert as she surveyed the many screens.  On the desk were switches corresponding to each screen, and all she had to do was flip a switch and speak into the microphone on the desk to bring her subject back into line if he strayed.


          Brad never strayed.  He was a straight arrow.  He had been an eagle space scout, best of the best.  He had earned coveted merit badges in electrochemistry and wave formation.  One day he planned to get a graduate degree at the Joint Physics Lab in the new state of Calimexico.  Lucille thought of her job as keeping Brad alive, not monitoring him for any sort of mischievous behavior, but you never really knew anyone, did you? For that matter, Lucille thought, “You don’t know a heck of a lot about yourself.”  She drummed her red-painted fingernails on the ink-blot paper on her desk pad and pulled up a fresh ash tray for her first cigarette of the evening.  She dimmed the overhead lights, making the video screens glow with a bluish silvery, even ghostly hue.  It was going to be a long eight hour stretch, but she was an expert and people counted on her.


          Brad had evidently been as efficient as she was because Lucille saw him enter his lab just as she drew her first puff on her cigarette.  He looked up at the cameras and waved before he brightened the lights and got to work on his array.  Someone had told her that Brad’s grandfather had known Nicola Tesla personally and interviewed the curmudgeonly recluse when he was living in Canada.  That meeting provided enough insight into wireless transmission to give outsiders a glimpse of the technology that, together with television was going to create a new species of humans.


          It was ancient history now, but the very threat of Tesla’s rays had kept the world in awe and stopped what might have been a war that ended humankind.    Peace settled on Earth for long enough to deliver the keys to space exploration, colonization and installation of power systems that were the first instantiations of the New Environment.  Brad was now aligning his power cubes and cones.  His monitors were replicated on Lucille’s wall displays.  When he threw the switch, the--at first invisible--ray between the black boxes was noticeable through the registers on the displays. 


          As Brad increased the power on one side, the ray became a continuous bolt of lightning.  Brad regulated the ray repeatedly at different levels of power and recorded the results.  When he had completed these tuning exercises, he introduced more cubes and began relaying the rays across an increasing number of channels until he had created an electric grid of visible lightning bolts.  Finally, he began to orchestrate the bolts, making them jump and fly out like a static electricity generator.  Brad stood on his rubber-soled space shoes like a mad professor, waving his hands and glowing in synch with his experiments. 


          Then Brad stowed his boxes in a neat pile and stepped up to a giant ball on a post in the center of the lab.  He threw a switch, making the ball’s surface dance with electric fire.  He was careful to stand on a mat of rubber, and he held out a stick with his hands covered in thick rubber gloves.  The white-coated scientist coaxed the electricity from the globe to his stick again and again. The bolts flew up and bent around, always returning to the ball.  As Brad continued, though, Lucille began to discern a pattern.  Brad was writing in cursive with lightning.  She could not believe her eyes, but the pattern was clear: “Hi Lucy!” 


          Brad knew.  But how did he know? Lucille looked around her station to discover a hidden monitor.  Then, she turned crimson when she remembered that she had turned on her two-way wrist television after the external microphone warned her about stepping on the line as she had stepped away from the spacecraft.  Lucille looked at her wrist and switched off the set. She wondered what Brad had seen of her while her set was on, but there was no remedy for that now.  Without missing a beat, Brad wrote, “Goodnight!” in lightning.  Lucille, not to be outdone, flicked a switch, and into the microphone she said, “Goodnight, Brad, you bastard.”


          As Lucille fell into the routine of her eight-hour watches, she realized that Brad always did his breakthrough work during the intervals when she was observing him.  He always let her know that he knew she was there watching him.  She never recorded evidence of their secret knowledge, but she began thinking about the conflict of interest that had developed.  As a security maven, she was supposed to be an unknown quantity for her target.  Not only had she ridden with Brad from Earth in what may be the most intimate form of travel in the universe, but she was now daily communing with the man on her screens.  Could this genius be taking advantage of her and the system in some way? Was he laughing at what was no laughing matter? Did he disrespect her for having allowed him to know that she had been assigned to watch him? What did it all mean?


           Lucille began to study Brad as more than just a scientist.  The more she focused on his demeanor and habits, the more familiar he became to her.  He became less of a specimen under a microscope and more of a human companion, like a brother. 


          When Lucille started to miss not seeing Brad while she was off watch, she began to wonder whether she was getting too close emotionally, by far, to her target.  She shook her head, steeled her resolve and took cold showers before and after she went on watch.  She now always checked that her two-way wrist television was switched off.  She had dreams that troubled her about herself.  In one recurrent dream, Brad came to her dressed in a magician’s costume with a big pointed hat covered with tiny golden stars.  He carried a stick whose tip sprouted lightning, and he caused a spark to fly from her head to his stick.  She always awakened in a cold sweat after that happened.


           Lucille, who had always been fascinated with electricity, began viewing materials and watching live lectures from Earth about the subject.  She saw experiments that were being conducted live at universities.  She interactively communicated by two-way television with the professors.  She could not conduct experiments on her own, but she could watch experiments as they were being set up.  She could hear what the professors said about their work.  Lucille became knowledgeable about what Brad was doing through her experience with other experts, but none of the other experts could do the magic that Brad was capable of.  This was especially true when Brad brought a special, fully-clothed female manikin into his lab and put it where his globe and stick had formerly been situated in the center of the room.  The manikin was uncannily similar to her physic, hair color and even her makeup.  She had an ominous feeling about what was about to happen.


           Brad used his special stick to raise flashes from the manikin just has he had raised lightning from the globe.  The manikin raised its arm and then its leg.  It turned its head and winked its eyes.  The manikin began to dance to the direction of the electric magician.  It danced around the room as the lightning flashed again and again to the beat of Brad’s wand.  Then the manikin assumed its original position in the center of the room and became inert when Brad’s wand fell away.  Brad seemed totally exhausted from his exertions, but the manikin was unfazed.  Lucille had a flash of identification with the manikin, and her eyes filled with tears.  She lighted a cigarette and drummed her fingernails on the desk.  She tried repeatedly to dry her eyes, but they filled with tears each time she wiped them.


          Brad’s experiments continued, but he never returned to the manikin, which stood inert at the center of his lab while he performed all varieties of experiments with his rays and gates and splitters and boosters and transformers.  Lucille was interested his other experiments, but nothing so engaged her interest as what Brad had done with the manikin.  The life-size factotum of herself was like a version of herself transported into the lab.  Psychologically, Lucille understood, she was no longer just confined to the role of a watcher from her eyrie room.  She was a participant in the experiments and a partner of the genius Brad clearly was.  She wanted to discuss what she felt with Brad right away, but protocol made that impossible.  She decided she would just have to wait to ask Brad what the manikin meant and how it fit into his experiments.


           Brad removed the manikin the next day after Lucille had decided to delay confronting him.  Now he placed a small wooden cube in the center of his lab.  He electrified the cube and raised it up from the table where it sat.  He caused the cube to float around the room and radiate electricity as if it were a cloud suffused with heat lightning.  He made the cube disappear.  The next day when she came on watch, Lucille found on her desk a cube like the one she had seen Brad play with in the lab.  She did not touch the cube, but when Brad brought another cube and placed it on his lab table, she had a premonition of what was going to happen, and it did.


          When Brad electrified the cube on his lab table, the counterpart cube on her desk exhibited exactly the same behaviors as the one in the lab.  It flashed lightning, rose and floated in the air all about the room.  Then as the cube in the lab returned to its table, the cube in her monitoring space came to rest on her desk.  Lucille was amazed.  It was as if in looking at Brad with his cube she were now looking at a reflection of her with her cube.  She knew of no science that explained this phenomenon.  The new identification of her with Brad, though implicit, somehow warmed her and made her feel satisfied.


           Brad decided to bring the manikin back into the lab.  This time the dummy wore clothes that exactly resembled her own clothes down to the iron marks on the skirt, and every detail of her makeup had been replicated too.   Her eyes had the same irises, and a small birthmark on her left cheek was clearly apparent on the manikin’s left cheek.  Today when Brad brought out his wand, Lucille felt as if he were standing right beside her in the monitoring room.  When he waved it over the manikin and drew the fire, she felt cold lightning shoot out from her too.  As Brad waved his wand, both the manikin and Lucille rose and moved in synchronicity and then danced like two identical houris.  Lucile danced with frenzied abandon, and when Brad’s wand dropped, she was no longer in her monitoring room at all.  She was in Brad’s lab and the manikin was gone.  Brad bowed and smiled.  He offered Lucille his hand and twirled her around so she could see this was no dream.


           Brad gently kissed Lucille’s hand and touched her lips when she was about to speak.  He then arranged her so that in every way she stood and gestured as she had when she had first been translated to the lab a few moments ago.  He signaled that she should remain just so, and he began his magical orchestration once again.  Lucille felt the lightning, and her dancing began in the same fashion as it had when she was in the monitoring room.  Then suddenly as she whirled as in a finale, she was back where she belonged, and she saw on the monitors that the manikin was back where it belonged in Brad’s lab.  She saw Brad take a slight bow before he departed for the night.


           Lucille was shaken to her very core.  She broke out in a cold sweat and touched herself all over to assure that she was real.  How could she and the manikin have been translated? Then in a flash she saw the potential of what had happened to her.  She wondered how this same technology could transport humans across large distances so that they remained intact and functional.  She was too excited to consider deeply what might have happened to her psyche.  Brad’s teleportation experiments had ended with the exchange of Lucille and the manikin.  The scientist continued working with his extensions of electrical charges, reducing them and expanding them at smaller and then greater distances.   He wrote some equations on his blackboard with chalk and nodded his head as if certain that the figures proved his point.


           Then Brad established two-way wrist communications with a colleague at a space university on Earth, and the two men set up identical tables with identical balls, one blue and the other one red.  They both used wands and coordinated their actions via wrist television.  Lucille watched the entire proceeding on monitors that showed what was happening in Brad’s lab and, by wrist television, what was happening in his colleague’s lab.  The red and blue balls were exchanged and then exchanged back again.  The men then played a kind of game of handball with the two balls, each scientist using his wand to guide his ball towards the other.  Two men were playing the same game on Earth and on the moon as if they were on opposite sides of the lab itself.  When they had finished, the two discussed cooperative publication with Brad’s name listed as primary investigator, and their exchange was over.


            Lucille was so flabbergasted by all she had seen, she wanted to burst out and tell someone about it, but who would believe what she said? Some would claim that she had slept on the job or that she had hallucinated the whole proceeding.  Lucille consoled herself that Brad’s co-publication of his experiment would be sufficient to make his ideas known.  She wondered, though, whether he or she would be satisfied with a mere exchange of balls when she had personally witnessed an exchange of a woman and a manikin.  Again, as if Brad could somehow read the woman’s mind, in the next experiment he employed the manikin in his lab and in another colleague’s lab an identical manikin in every detail except that the other was a blonde and not a brunette like Lucille.  The scientists exchanged manikins in the same way Brad and his other colleague on Earth had exchanged the two balls.  So manikins could be exchanged just like the balls could.


           Lucille wondered what would come next, and suddenly she was right in the middle of the experiment chain because she found herself in Brad’s lab, exchanged with the manikin resembling herself.  Then suddenly she was in the other scientist’s lab and heard his booming voice yell, “Eureka!”  She shook her head and opened her mouth to speak while the scientist looked on in wild-eyed wonder, and then he fled from the room shrieking and shouting about black magic and witches and succubas. 


           Lucille walked around the lab and discovered that the door that the escaped scientist had left open led to a corridor with markings very like those she followed to reach her monitoring station on the moon.  She followed the red path to a compound very much like her own moon compound down to the smallest details.  When she pushed open the door, Lucille was not surprised to discover a command center identical to the one she knew on the moon, with the same pills laid out with quinine water to wash them down, and on the wall monitors before her was a manikin of a scientist performing experiments just like those that Brad Fillet had performed on the moon.  The manikin on the monitors was an exact replica of Brad.  “What is this place?” Lucille asked herself out loud, but no one spoke. 


            To answer her own question, Lucille consulted the watch log book and saw at the top of the open page that she, Lucille Grady, was listed as the duty watch stander.  Turning the watch log book to its cover, she saw the words, “Mars Watch Log.”  When she looked up at the monitors, the scientist manikin that looked like Brad eyed the camera above him on the wall and winked, mouthing, “What took you so long?  I’ve been waiting for you. Look under the watch log.”  He mimed the action.


            Under the watch log Lucille found a single page with a hand-written note:  “When you get off watch, do you want to play blue-red handball? The Saturn lab tech wants a rematch.”

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