World Without Boats

by

Michael J. Martineck




"I can catch the 5:10 superball and be home before the 5:41 rain," Jonathan said down the conference table to the team leader. "But only if I leave right now."

"I think weíre done," the team leader said. "Anyone else?"

"Yeah," an unidentified man blurted. Jonathan knew the man had not been at the table two seconds ago. The man looked directly into Jonathanís eyes and shouted, "Wake up!"

"Thanks." Jonathan peeked into his satchel, what his wife called his Ďexecutive lunch boxí, as there was zero need to carry work around. It was mostly for snacks -- which he was out of -- and light switches -- of which he had but three.

He clasped the leather satchel and darted for the door. Jonathan was 39, with a decent shape that was improving all the time. He race-walked down the hall, hips chugging like pistons. He looked over his shoulder.

The unidentified man followed him. "Youíre awake!" the man yelled.

Jonathan ran. It was 5:01, he knew, in his head. He didnít have time to waste on unidentified men. He wanted to get home to his wife and little girl and be eating diner when the rain came.

He slammed into the glass front door, plowing it open. He turned right. After a few feet he turned again and pressed himself against the building from which he had just burst. He worked his hand into his satchel and crept back towards the door, his back to the brick.

The unidentified man emerged, stopped and looked up and down the sidewalk. Jonathan jumped behind him and slapped a light switch onto the manís back. It stuck there near his right shoulder, the white plastic rocker pointed up and on. The man tried to twist his neck to see what Jonathan had done.

Jonathan flicked the switch off. The man disappeared before he could look astonished.

Jonathan strolled down the street towards the corner. The sky was a robinís egg blue and the clouds looked like marshmallow fluff. The temperature was, he knew in his head, 72 degrees. He smiled to the boy walking his penguin and waved at Mr. Shenk, the barber, standing outside his shop.

The corner was more crowded than normal by a count of one. The balloon-bot was there, as usual, handing out a rainbow of balloons. The giraffe was there, also as usual. Jonathan stopped. He looked in his satchel. No more treats. He shook his head and fixed his eyes on the person at the corner who was not usual.

She was tall and pretty in a breezy pink suit. Her blond hair rolled over her shoulders like a golden waterfall. She took a clear, red balloon from the bot and patted the machineís soft, spotted head. She looked up at Jonathan and grinned.

Jonathan smiled back to be polite, then looked down the street to see if the next superball was coming.

"10-9-8-7," the pretty woman said. "6-5-4-3-"

"Oh," Jonathan said. "Thatís not how itís done."

"Then tell me how itís done," she said.

He smirked. "That would be telling." He slapped a light switch on her upper arm, turned it off and she vanished.

The giraffe stood patiently, waiting for Jonathan to open his satchel. Jonathan raised his empty, up-turned palms. The giraffe bent for a better look. Jonathan shrugged his shoulders, which the animal seemed to understand. It slowly raised its head and started seeking out some other source of snacks.

The superball was a 35-foot high, glistening, gooey, aquamarine-colored sphere. It rolled slowly down Main Street, stopping at the corner. 5:09 to the second. A Jonathan-sized part formed in the rubbery skin. He stepped in, took a seat and the superball rolled onwards.

The inside was the spherical equivalent of a Ferris wheel. It rolled upwards, but at a much slower pace than the outside. Jonathan hoped he might get to the top before they got to the river. Crossing the river was the most fun if you were at the top of the ball.

The superball increased its speed as it approached the ramp. Jonathan grinned and held the gushy, see-through armrests of his seat. Close to twenty other passengers also clenched and held their breaths. Jonathanís row reached the top of the superball as it sped up the ramp and off. It rolled through the air towards the river, but not high enough to cross. It fell and smacked the docks and -- this was Jonathanís favorite part -- bounced high up and over the water.

A few minutes later the superball rolled to a stop at his corner. He got out and began his half-block walk home. He waved to Mr. Candish cutting his lawn with an ancient looking reel-mower. He waved to the Novecki kid, playing tag with a tiger. He waved to the man standing on his front lawn, who did not wave back.

"Jonathan," the man said. "My name is Dr. Keller. I want to show you something." His palm became a soothing swirl of soft yellows and whites and greens.

"Nope." Jonathan said. "Not interested."

"Watch the colors." Dr. Kellerís voice sounded like cream pouring into cream.

"I would watch, if I had more time." Jonathan pulled a light switch from his satchel and lunged at the doctor. "The fixed-gaze stuff makes no difference to me."

Dr. Keller stepped to the side and backed away. "Watch the colors."

"Do I strike you as a the type of guy who will watch a glorified pocket watch?" Jonathan thrust the switch at him again. The doctor threw his arms up and bent out of the way. "It took me a year to build all this and set up my life support systems. You think Iím going to give it up like that?" He snapped his fingers.

"Your eyes are getting heavy." The doctor maintained his placid tone.

"Now youíre really reaching." Jonathan whipped the light switch at the doctor like a Ninjaís star. Dr. Keller twisted and it whizzed by. The doctor grinned and folded his arms in front of him.

"Listen to my voice, Jonathan."

Jonathan folded his arms, popped his eyebrows up and down, glanced over the doctorís left shoulder and glanced back. He grinned.

Dr. Keller scowled and turned. An astronaut in a white and silver space suit was less than a foot away. The doctor could see his own gaping, wide-eyed surprise in the curved visor of the astronautís helmet.

"Could you come with me please," the astronaut said as he reached out and took Dr. Kellerís hand.

And they were both gone.

"What an idiot," Jonathan said as he turned back to the front door.

"Daddyís home," his little girl shouted. She ran out to meet him. Jonathan scooped her up and swung her in the sky. He dropped her in for a tight, two-armed hug and winked at his wife, who stood in the doorway.

"Come on, you two." His wife motioned them inside. "Itís time for the rain."

####

Dr. Keller stood over a fully reclined aquachair. Jonathan floated on it, unmoving. A black band of thick, taut material covered his eyes and ears. Tubes and cables ran into and out of and around him. Bubbles rose inside the transparent cushions of the chair, sparkling despite the roomís dim, bluish light.

"Thatís all, doctor." Peter, Jonathanís nurse, got up from his stool. "Jonathanís program has fully migrated back to its secure area, wherever the hell that is."

"Yeah." Dr. Keller continued to stare at Jonathan.

"You can try again tomorrow."

"Iím afraid not." Dr. Keller let his own black headband drop to the floor. "NASA has just asked me to stop."

"NASA?" Peter got up and stretched. "The space guys?"

"Jonathan made a deal with them. Heís giving them all the data he generates in this state?"

"Data he moves?"

"Generates." Dr. Keller crossed the room. "All his vital statistics. He willingly put himself in a hypno-enhanced virtual environment, leaving his body to these machines. They might like to try it with an astronaut someday, so theyíre very interested in how long all this crap is going sustain his body. Jonathan handed them a human guinea pig: him."

Peter and Dr. Keller left the room and walked down the glossy hallway.

"NASA couldnít tell me to stop outright," Dr. Keller continued, "but they made it pretty clear my life was going to take a turn for the worse if I brought Jonathan out of his trance. Not that I was having much luck."

"Whatíd you try today?" Peter asked.

"Variations on a rapid induction, Braid induction, a fixed-gaze technique Iíd worked up."
"You were trying to re-hypnotize him?"

"Tried everything else. Re-induce him my way, then bring him out completely. It was worth a shot."

The two men pushed out through the glass doors and walked out to the street. The sky was cornflower blue, the clouds like puffs of unpicked cotton. The temperature was, they both knew, 72 degrees.

"So whatís it like in there?" Peter asked. "In Jonathanís world?"

"Donít know." Dr. Keller replied. "I donít get the same visuals or subliminals, so I have no idea what heís feeding himself. I certainly have no idea what his fantasy world might consist of."

They stopped at the corner. Peter fished in his pocket for a couple of dried cherries, looking to see if the giraffe was around. Dr. Keller tilted his head and peered down the street to see if the next superball was coming. A glistening turquoise sphere was only a block away.

"I wouldnít want to guess, either," Peter said. "Probably no boats, I bet. His wife and kid died in a boating accident."

"Probably no boats," Dr. Keller echoed as the 5:20 superball rolled up to the corner.

THE END



© 2007 by Michael J. Martineck

Bio: Mr. Martineck has written for DC Comics (but Marvel fans shouldn't hold it against him). His children's novel, The Misspellers, was published in 2002. Two of his stories appeared in Aphelion in years past: Father Shadow (September, 1999), and Hibernation (February, 2003).

E-mail: Michael J. Martineck

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