Dear Reader -
The Shrieking Muse of the Sith began with a moaning last week and incrementally progressed through the stages long beyond what you or I would consider sufficient to ensure compliance. In short, she is a slave-driver, that Sith.
Aggie Sith requested politely enough at first, that we write a short story. Cast in the part of the Unwary Victim I volunteered to be part of a Challenge. In this Challenge we were asked to write a short story in any genre we chose by the next Monday. I asked her if she could choose the genre for me, and she selected “old style science fiction”.
I thought “Aha! Providence has indeed smiled upon me, for I have had such a story waltzing and lurching obscenely within my head for a decade or more!”
But I did not really understand the nature of a story that by necessity spans several genres and touches on old science fiction and to a limited extent horror and to a larger extent philosophy and the nature of man.
So, you see, this story is hardly short – oh it was a “story” for a short while and then it also falls short of being a full story. I also hope to have the rest of it to you shortly but a week sounds proper to my ears even if the wizened old man in the dingy office of my imagination is carrying on with a great show of emotion and some gibbering.
All this has proven to be my downfall when coupled with my still-healing-from-surgery-and-still-drugged status. I have been unable to finish it in the time allotted by the Muse but will continue to work on it. If Aggie of the Sith will please give it a proof I will make it sort of a living/evolving first installment. For various reasons I could not get a proof reading at the Lemur House. So be aware, IT NEEDS SOME WORK.
Thank you Kind and Benevolent Reader -
The Starkness of Being
The harsh moonlight shone through the wrought-iron gates in front of the house. The ancient mansion was mostly dark except for the glow of a few oil lamps on the ground floor and the gas lamps along the drive. The only sound was the diminishing sound of the carriage and the horse’s tack as the driver headed back into town.
I picked up my bags from the curb and slipped inside, following the cobblestone drive to the front doors. It was the only place large enough to be the Seymour House. Halfway up the drive I resolved to never pack more than two spare sets of clothing regardless of the length of stay.
Three knocks on the door brought an agitated middle-aged woman in a servant’s uniform. She ushered me inside and closed the door.
“You must be Mr. McNaughton,” she said without a trace of a smile. She did not pause for a reply and went on. “I am Isabelle. Dr. Anderson is waiting for you in his study. If you’ll leave your bags here I’ll have them taken up. When you wish to retire someone will show you the way to your room. Would you please follow me?”
“I am, ok, I will, and yes, thank you. You can call me Andrew, by the way.”
“I’d prefer not,” said Isabelle.
Okay. There’s a lively one, boys.
The house smelled unmistakably old, if a place so huge could be called simply a home. It wasn’t mold or dust that assaulted the senses, it was simply age. The place was absolutely enormous. High ceilings with gas fixtures intermingled with the newer electric fixtures here and there. All the paneling was done dark-stained cherry wood and contemporary craftsman style furniture. Some might say that the combination was a little peculiar in such a house but I rather liked the effect.
Our progress was marked by only the faintest of footfalls as we passed several long shadowy hallways leading to other parts of the building. The atmosphere was subtly surreal because the place seemed almost designed to swallow sound and light, as if dark held light at bay and not the other way around.
Presently we came to a brass-bound polished mahogany door and Isabelle said simply “Mr. Anderson is inside and asked that you be shown in immediately.”
“All right, thank you Isa…” but then she was gone, hurrying around a corner down the corridor.
The room beyond the bound door was the archetype of the perfect classical study. On one end was a coal-fed fireplace burning brightly. On the opposite end was a large desk covered with books and diagrams. Several benches in the room held various items of interest – an astrolabe, sextant, a large globe, planimeter, a galvanometer, some sort of interferometer (Michelson-Morley it appeared), telescopes, and more, some of it recognizable and some items that I could only guess at. Tucked in the center of the room and between a curio cabinet and a chest-high stack of books was a medium-build well-dressed man who I took to be my host, Dr. Anderson.
“Dr. McNaughton, so glad you could come,” said Dr. Anderson as he approached. He smiled warmly as we shook hands. “I trust your travel was uneventful?”
“It was a quite long train ride followed by a very bumpy carriage ride, but otherwise it was uneventful. I don’t suppose you have something to drink? Perhaps you have whiskey or gin, neat?”
“Sorry lad, but I’m a bit of a teetotaler, I’m afraid. My time in Africa left me with too great a love of gin and tonic. I should say that I’m not much of a smoker, either, and I’d appreciate it if you restricted it to your room if you indulge in the habit. I’ve never been a fan of it, myself. Tea will be arriving shortly if you’re interested.” He leaned forward to inspect some parchment on his desk, tapping it distractedly.
“Very well, in any event, I don’t smoke,” I said, “But I would like some tea, thank you.” King’s house, king’s rules, but still I could wish for a drink.
“I came as soon as I got your cable. You said you had a matter that needed help with? Without more information than that it was only your reputation that convinced me to come. That, and the fact that you refused to discuss the matter via letter or telegram. Your paper “Beyond Esoteric Extra-Dimensional Analyses” was excellent, if a bit unorthodox. As the great bard said, ‘Care will kill a cat,’ and as with any mystery, I was bound to come. So here I am. How may I help you?”
He stood up and turned to face me, suddenly he was quite animated. “Well! I had hoped that you would…”
My complaining feet and back won out over etiquette and I interrupted him. “I’m sorry, but may I sit? It has been an extremely long journey.”
A guilty look flashed over his face. “Oh I am terribly sorry, forgive my bad manners – yes, yes, please do sit. Take this one,” he said, pointing to a worn leather chair. ”It may not look like much, that chair, but it is the best of the lot and my personal favorite. Explaining everything properly may take a while, but it will be worth it.”
I nodded to him to show that I comfortable and urged him to continue.
“Let’s get started then. Where shall I begin?” He leaned against his desk and thought for a moment. “Well, as a start let me tell you what part of your curriculum vitae most interests me, and then when I give you more details it will become clear where you can help.”
I nodded, as if to say, as you wish.
Anderson went around his desk and began speaking. “I have followed your work with great interest. Your work in complex-manifold theory is exemplary. Your rather interesting incorporation of Ricci’s work into your presentation as a guest-speaker at the American Physics Society was a surprise and frankly a stroke of genius. It was your assertion that certain assumptions made the projection of the space more easily integrable that was the key to solving certain… issues… that my team and I have been wrestling with. You’ve a doctorate in physics and have only to defend your work in higher mathematics for a second degree. That is no small achievement.”
Without realizing it he had risen to his feet behind his desk and leaned towards me, looking very intent, and said “Have you ever considered a marriage between n-manifolds and spinor ‘transformations’, if you will allow me the turn of phrase, and how one might quickly travel vast distances?”
I thought about this for a while and seriously considered that this trip had been a pointless exercise. But he did not have the look of a man suffering from dementia nor was he obviously feverish with consumption. So I decided to reserve any quick judgment I might have and give him a chance to explain.
Anderson moved around me to a large table covered entirely with papers and books, and pulled out a large ledger. He extracted an incredibly complex diagram that was densely covered with notes and equations. “Come here, lad, and look at my sketches and proofs, which is as far as I can take them. I hope you can glean some insights, as Dr. Christophe and Herr Doktor Wagner are at wit’s end making sense of this much – they are the practical-type fellows, you follow?”
It appeared to be part formal proof and part instructions for a device, meticulously diagrammed and neatly laid out in exquisite detail, just one of many pages documenting his work.
Turning towards me Anderson said quietly, “The theory is quite complex, the construction is expensive and quite involved, and it is the work of many years, but it works. And with your help, I think we can make it revolutionary.”
Still not able to make sense of what he was trying to tell me I shrugged. “But what is it?”
He reached over and tapped what was written in neat writing along the edge. The Matter Projector.
“Show me,” I said.
And he did.
Through the night, with him as the teacher and myself as a class of one, he described to me the genesis of the project starting with an idea two decades before. He explained how he had traveled, much as I did during the last three days to New England and at the end wished that there were an easier way.
No, he reasoned, there must be a way to eat up the miles without having to work so bloody hard for it – a scientific discovery leading to the invention of seven-league boots.
I reminded him, “You do remember who used seven-league boots, don’t you?”
He stole an amused glance at me “No, my boy, I may at times be impish but I don’t rise to that level.”
For my part I was caught in the uncomfortable position of knowing that his work was pure bunk yet unable to refute his well-reasoned logic. I had seen nothing in his proofs to allow me an expedient escape. Maybe there was a simple logical fallacy and I was too tired to see it?
In spite of the growing body of proofs of various aspects of Anderson’s work I wanted to; needed to, dismiss his work as the ravings of a lunatic. I began to internalize a ragged lattice of irrational rationalizations to achieve just such a result.
Anderson was trying to explain how one could transition from theory into the real-world embodiment of same and suddenly his voice trailed off in mid-sentence. He dropped his hands in his lap and said “Would you like to see it?”
I gaped at him incredulously. “See what? Oh, no, Good Lord in heaven above, don’t try to tell me that you’ve actually managed to build something that really is capable of this.
“I have and I will show you. Please, you have already come all this way,” he pleaded. “I promise you, if, after you have seen it, you still think my device is a monument to self-deception, I will gladly pay you for your troubles with no ill will and then never bother you again. You surely have nothing to lose besides a few more hours of your time and everything to gain.”
I was exhausted beyond what I had ever experienced before but I agreed to see what he had done. His reasoning was sound – there was no harm in looking at an old man’s folly.
He gathered the stack of papers under one arm and moments later I was following him down a long hall then down a staircase to what I assumed to be a corridor to a basement laboratory. We continued on down the gentle slope of the hallway and shortly arrived at a copper-clad door. “Faraday cage construction about the lab entire. It seemed prudent although I doubt it would have even the slightest effect on something projected outward from within.
Anderson fumbled through his pockets and produced an ornately wrought key. As he turned the key I thought I heard over the sound of the tumblers a wavering humming noise unlike anything I had ever heard before.
Inside was a lab with little or nothing to distinguish it from any other laboratory, but I was rendered speechless by the huge device in the center of the room. The construct was the terminus of a complex spiderweb of conductors, coils, oscillation circuits, and spark gaps. The hair on my arms was standing up and the humming I had heard before was much louder, made all the more surreal by the powerful smell of ozone.
“Quite a sight to behold isn’t it?” said Anderson with a satisfied tone.
Two young men, in their late 20’s by my guess, were moving around the machine and once Anderson got their attention they paused in their adjustments and note-taking and ventured over to speak with us.
Anderson introduced us in turn. “Fritz, Frederic, I would like you to meet Dr. Andrew McNaughton. Andrew, meet Dr. Fritz Müller and Dr. Frederic Amici. Gentlemen, if I may make a prediction, I believe Dr. McNaughton is here to provide some theoretical insights and a fresh perspective.” He smiled at me and said, “Andrew, would I be correct?
Frederic stepped forward to shake my hand. “It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Fritz merely nodded coolly and made no pretense of observing social niceties.
“I don’t know with complete certainty what my decision will be until you prove your claims to my satisfaction. If I were the type to judge a book by its cover, I would say that the odds of my involvement have grown in your favor.” As I said this I realized that my desire to discount his body of work had turned into a hope for belief. It goes to show you that you can never predict the future, not even in when it is a matter of the heart and the time scale is in terms of minutes.
Anderson said something that I was only peripherally aware of as I continued to stare at his device with great interest. “What?” I asked him absent-mindedly.
“I said, I would request that until you are more familiar with my creation, you touch nothing. I cannot stress enough, Andrew, that there are forces at work in this area that will shuffle you off this mortal coil in less time than it takes to blink an eye. Those forces will extinguish you more easily than I can blow out a candle. Can you do that, Andrew?” he said with one raised eyebrow.
This had the effect of dousing my dreamy fascination with a bucket of cold water. I blinked and looked at him, nodding. “Yes, I can do that. Is this to be merely a visual tour or an actual demonstration?”
“Fritz, Frederic? What do you say? Are the circuits tuned enough to provide Andrew with a demonstration of what we can do?”
Fritz shrugged disinterestedly, implying that Frederic’s estimation would be the better assessment of the two. “Yes, we just got the inputs synchronized. It’s not perfect, obviously, as you know – you did hear the drone when you came in, didn’t you?”
Anderson thought for a bit. “Yes, the input frequencies are slightly off but it should be fine. Even if it doesn’t project, rodents are cheap.”
What is this about rodents?
Sensing my unease he waved me over to stand next to him. “Please, if you would, stand next to me here; this is the best vantage point.”
We stood in a rectangle painted on the floor and I watched closely as Frederic nodded to Fritz to engage the system. Slowly a third tone started up. Frederic selected a squirming rat from a cage by the back wall and walked over to a thick ring situated about a foot above the worktable. The ring had massive cables connected radially.
Was the entire ring shimmering like a mirage?
“All right Andrew, please watch closely. Let us see what becomes of Br’er Rat.”
I could feel Fritz’s eyes on me as he made adjustments on a panel of switches and altered the settings on a liquid rheostat. For no reason that made any sense at all Fritz had taken an immediate and strong dislike to me. However, I had no interest in wasting my time even acknowledging it. He would have to be satisfied with a one-way personality conflict.
I focused again on Frederic, the ring, and the rat, which was now beginning to struggle violently. Frederic nodded to Fritz, who made some additional adjustments to a control in front of him and he muttered “Sehr gut”. The hum grew louder and Frederic held the rat over the ring and let go of its tail.
The rat squealed as it fell through the ring.
Several things did and didn’t happen immediately. First there was a pop and a whooshing sound. Astonishingly, there was the complete absence of a rat on the table beneath the ring. Lastly, there was continuing squeak from the rat and a soft plop.
Nothing unexpected, except the sound of the nervous rodent landing on something came from across the laboratory.
Anderson nodded at me and pointed with his chin to the best path through the maze of cables for me to use to look for the rat. Numbly, I walked back to Frederic a few moments later and handed him the now-docile but quivering rat. “Can we try that again?”
“I should tell you now Andrew that you shouldn’t expect the rat to end up in the same location but he will travel.”
That is interesting.
We repeated the experiment twice more with similar results.
Happening slowly enough that I did not at first notice it, what was initially a slow undulation, the beat frequency of the input signals was increasing as the inputs drifted even further away from each other. It was quite pronounced now.
Anderson called out over the hum, “Andrew, the next thing to observe is what can happen when things are not optimal, such as the relative frequency shift between the modulated inputs. Let us give thanks in advance for the sacrifice Br’er Rat’s is about to make in the pursuit of our knowledge.”
That is ominous.
Frederic held the rat over the ring again and let it go. There was a squeak, a pop, and a sound like the contents of a cup of coffee hitting the ground. It came from over by the east wall…
I stepped around a bench and saw a violently splattered puddle of gore on the floor. The air tasted of copper and excrement.
About the size of puddle a rat might make if it was liquid.
I gritted my teeth, waiting for a swell of nausea to pass, and quickly pinched the skin between my fingers, hard. The acid lapping the back of my throat subsided.
The machine was powered down at nod from Anderson and he came to stand behind me, “And that sad example, Andrew, perfectly demonstrates why we could use your help. Without it we cannot hope to reliably control the focus of the projection, we cannot scale the projector in size, and it most certainly cannot safely transport a person. I hate the idea of killing even a rat for this demonstration but it was necessary to show you.”
“What happened is exactly what I have claimed up to this point, that we can project objects through space through a ‘back door’ of sorts.” Anderson pointed his finger at the mess, “Also, what you saw is what happens when we don’t get the frequencies in several places just right. My theory is that objects projected under the wrong circumstances are sheared apart along several dimensions at once by unbalanced forces in the manifold. Obviously, that’s one of the things we’d earnestly like have your thoughts on, hmmm? What do you think, lad? Do we have some things to discuss?”
As it turned out, we had a great deal to discuss.
The events of that morning added to the long night and days of travel suddenly left me exhausted and dizzy with fatigue. I asked my host if I could rest for a while and then dive into the problem refreshed.
I was a complete and total convert.
Isabelle appeared at the door of the laboratory to take me to my room and although I was groggy the last thing I saw as I left the lab and turned the corner was Fritz staring at me intently.
To be continued…
Regular posting comment…
I actually liked some of Wahberg’s stuff. Now… meh, not so much. Talk about an arrogant schmuck. In one utterance he showed that the thinks a great deal of himself, he things very little of others, and talks about things he has not idea about.
Mark Wahlberg may frequently play an action hero on the big screen, but if he was on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, he says he would have been a real-life hero.
“If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did,” Wahlberg declared in the February issue of Men’s Journal. “There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.'”
Pretty damn disrespectful of the families who lost family members on that flight.
Isn’t crystal meth just grand? The article doesn’t mention meth per se, but come on, look at ‘em.