by Mike Wilson
Patrick spent hours every evening hunched over his cluttered work area, convinced he could make his invention work. Most of the parts were easy to come by: commercial-grade lithium power pack, precision beveled glass mirrors, pulse timer. But the real magic of the device was theoretical. The multitude of tiny beams had to match each other in a precise ballet of twisting, so that when they impacted a solid piece of matter, they would shred it, layer by layer.
The shredding would be accomplished by creating a twist in the fabric of space-time, right at the impact point, and then projecting it forward. By going through a pile of integrated circuit chips, and getting just the right gate timing, Patrick got the beams matched, pulsing at just the right frequencies. His first model took up most of a student desk, but it easily vaporized his test target, and marred the basement cement wall behind, before he got it shut off.
That day, he looked over his apparatus -- feeling a thrill of pride, mixed with frustration. His device would have to be activated in short bursts, depending on the power output. He allowed himself a short cheer, and a pumping of his fist. Then, he sat down and sighed. Back to the drawing board.
This was in the early summer of 2020. He wanted to take a smaller model out of his basement and in the field, so bad he could taste it. (Being a single man in his late 20's, he had the freedom, and the time when he could take it from work.)
If only I had more money to buy better crystal for the mirrors, he thought to himself, I could boost the efficiency by an order of magnitude. If I can sell a few I'll have all the money I need. But I have to get them built first.
So he continued his work and social life, and the invention sat in the basement of his modest bungalow. At least he had the sense to cover up his creation with some old rags.
Then Swanson, the landlord, made a surprise visit.
Swanson intercepted him as he was opening the door upon returning from work. "Patrick, what is all of that electrical stuff in the basement?"
Patrick froze. The old bastard has been snooping, he thought. But he can't possibly understand what he saw -- can he?
"It looks like a fire hazard. What are you working on down there?"
"Well, just a new portable...um...entertainment device," said Patrick
"Entertainment device? Was that what marked the wall of the basement? Don't forget, any damages to this house will come out of your deposit. You are liable, Patrick."
"I know, Mr. Swanson. I promise, I'll have it cleaned up. Don't worry, there is nothing here that will burn down the house."
"Better not be. You are a good tenant otherwise, Patrick. You should consider going back to school; you are a bright young man."
"I know, Mr. Swanson. Just not enough money right now."
They chatted a bit more, then Swanson finally left. Patrick sighed with relief. The next day, he took a couple of antiques he had inherited from his mother, and sold them to a pawnshop. Then he went shopping online for crystals.
A month later, he had a clumsy-looking cylindrical gadget, almost a meter in length, barely resembling the sleek rifle he had envisioned. But it was portable. He took it out to Gramercy Park, located three blocks from his bungalow. He glanced around the area, and did not see anyone. Then he fished out the empty beer cans he had brought along. He lined them up on a tree stump, and then stepped back about 20 yards. He flipped the on switch, and took aim. Then, he pressed a trigger button about halfway down the device. A hundred tiny, powerful lasers twisted around each other, and emitted pulsing beams. Some were mild, others very powerful. They combined just so, all terminating several yards away from the opening. A solid field of electromagnetic force came together, and for a fraction of an inch beyond the surface, space-time was twisted inside out. The surface of this energetic plate of force moved out slowly towards the beer can, and when it hit, the can flashed, and disappeared.
Anyone walking in the location of Gramercy Park at a time from a century before to a century hence might have felt a warm spray of atoms, a gentle wind from another time. That was all that remained of the beer can, its structure shredded into the constituent atoms. Atoms moved across space-time continuum easier than beer cans. Patrick pressed the button again, shutting off the beam. Then, he repeated the experiment, and watched happily as the other beer can also flashed out of existence. A shrub several yards beyond was waving back and forth. It was barely singed.
Patrick let out an involuntary yell. He then recovered his wits, and looked around.
A guy was standing there, staring at him from the other end of the park.
Damn. Time to hide this thing. I need to get a patent before I give it away.
Patrick tried tucking his energy rifle discreetly under his arm, and walked swiftly out of the park. He darted glances back at the opposite edge of the park. The man was, of course, watching him. And he seemed to be holding something in his arms.
Don't tell me he is working on something, too? Wouldn't that be ironic.
Rob watched the guy walking out of the park. Guilty as hell, he thought to himself. He is testing something, sure as can be. Better not be anything like my idea. A whole world out there, and two of us are working on something in this tiny frigging town in the Midwest. Unbelievable. He waited until the twitchy little guy with the suspicious bundle under his arm was out of sight.
Everyone knew Rob was kind of, well, off. He kept to himself, and always had some kind of bizarre project going. He held two part-time jobs, and a math degree that many said was wasted. But Rob just kept plugging along with his jobs, and the occasional freelance mathematics project on the side. His customers at the parts shop where he worked were usually amazed that someone so eccentric could also be so precise in his work.
When Rob began sending out his article about a new underlying theory of cosmology, most of the editors just rolled their eyes. A few sent back notes.
"Come on, Robert Meyers -- why waste your energies re-inventing the universe? A number of good universities might yet hire you to be an instructor."
"Dear Mr. Meyers. Your article is fascinating, but unfortunately is beyond the scope of Scientific American. Have you sent this to Science or the British journals?"
"Mr. Meyers: Thank you for your fascinating article. Unfortunately, it is not quite what we are looking for."
And so it went. His idea and mathematic expression of the concept called "urgency" underlying all life processes was just, well, too much for most people.
The few who did grasp what he was getting at just had difficulty believing in him. It sounded good -- it worked mathematically; it was just so darned preposterous.
So Rob did the only thing he could think of to prove his theory. Using his limited funds, and most of his credit, he built a device based on his principle of urgency.
So here he was, in Gramercy Park, ready to go. He set a empty ketchup bottle out on the same tree stump that had been used by the previous person. He noticed it was singed. Nevertheless, he stepped back a short distance, and then aimed his ungainly device. It was in an elongated diamond shape, with a round plate extending out from the business end. He aimed it at the stump, and flipped a master switch, activating four fields. They intersected, and he brought it up and directed it. The sculpture disappeared -- along with the top half of the tree stump. Air rushed in to occupy the space, and there was a thunderclap noise. Rob jumped, causing the beam to jitter up in the air. He quickly recovered, and shut off the device. He looked towards the way the device had fired, and saw a few missing tree branches.
"Success! Finally," said Rob. Then he got his unit secured and turned to go. A couple of people were standing at the edge of the park. As Rob approached, he saw they were quite a bit older.
Rob nodded and said "Hello."
"You kids ought to be more careful," said one.
"Burning up our environment like that," added the other.
Rob looked at them, shaken a bit. Then he nodded, and said, "I'm just leaving." And then he did so, sneaking looks back at the two oldsters. There was something odd about them, but he couldn't figure it out, and he was not going to stick around to ask.
Patrick heard his ringtone, and cursed. I finally get some time to work on the rifle, and I keep getting interrupted, he thought. He picked up the phone and glanced at it. Out of area call. He set it back down and resumed work. The circuitry and mirror crystals would have to be completely re-worked to shrink them, and that was beyond his capability. He might simply have to take the prototype he had and sell it and the idea to someone -- or borrow a mountain of money to start his own manufacturing company to make the damn things.
The phone rang again, and out of sheer frustration he answered it, yelling "What do you want?"
"Is this Patrick Stone?"
"Yes it is, and I don't want any."
"I'm not selling you anything, dunce. Just want to talk."
"Wha..? Who the hell is this?" Patrick held the phone back and looked: "Out Of Area" said the display. It figured.
"I am the guy who was watching you make beer cans disappear in the park last month."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Patrick. He felt a bit like the ground was shifting underneath him, but he was not going to let on anything to this caller.
"It took me a long time to find you. But a loner stands out, you know. A friend of a friend said it might be you. Someone working alone, late at night, secretive."
"What do you want?" said Patrick; then he immediately regretted it.
"What do I want? What do you want? See, I built something too, and it is kind of like yours. Only better, of course."
"Listen, mister. I don't know who you are or what you want, but I am going to hang up and report you to Verizon."
"Hah. Verizon is not even my provider. Patrick, I just want to meet up. You know, talk about our inventions. Mine made half of that tree stump disappear, you know. The same one you used. Tell you what. Go look at the stump; you remember roughly how high it was off the ground, don't you? You should keep better records of your experiments if not. Go check that, and then call me back. We can talk more then. Later."
Patrick heard a small click, and then the call was ended. But at least he had the kook's number. But then he realized This guy's not a kook at all. He must be the same one I spotted watching me run the first field test. After musing on the other guy, and the two older men, Patrick grabbed a jacket and headed out for a walk in the park.
The city park was several blocks away, but Patrick covered it in a short time. He approached the tree stump. And indeed, it looked shorter than he remembered. He ran his hands across the surface, and wondered at how smooth it looked -- and fresh. Too smooth for a saw. It was almost like the thing had been surgically cut by something.
"Damn. He has something," he muttered. Then turned to head back home and think things over. No sooner did he reach the edge of the small field, when Rob appeared and waved.
"Patrick? That must be you."
Patrick looked at him, then said, "Yeah. Obvious, isn't it." He stopped.
The two inventors looked at each other. There was a tentativeness, as if momentous things were possible here and now. But each was thinking in their minds of all the work lost, now that this other person had infringed on his territory. Neither could bring themselves to desire a partner at this particular juncture in time.
"Listen, I don't know how you got hold of my idea, but I had it first," said Patrick.
"Your idea? I have been working on the urgency field displacement device for two years. And I've been sending out papers on the underlying theory for three more years before that. I have the papers and dates to prove it. No, bud, I think you are stepping on my toes here, not the other way around."
"I've been working on a beam weapon for two years myself! I have receipts for the products, and blueprints. I was just getting ready to patent it. I will not let some Johnny-come-lately thief steal it."
"Weapon? You made a weapon? The flashes -- oh yes. You sent those cans somewhere else. That is what my displacer does," said Rob. He stared evenly at Patrick. They stood, about ten feet apart. Each was trembling with emotion, each unsure of what was coming next.
"But your displacer sends larger masses? Mine only hits something, twists space-time behind it. It is like a virtual shredder. That is all I'm going to say," finished Patrick, glaring now.
"Well, shredder-boy. Applause, applause. It appears this little town has two smart people in it after all. Tell you what. Since we each seem to have different aims, and a slightly different apparatus, how about if we agree to keep out of each other's way?" Rob gave Patrick a look.
Patrick was momentarily paralyzed, but shook himself.
"Yeah, our ideas are different it seems. I don't have any fancy theories, I just found a configuration that works. But I want fair remuneration for my efforts. Even you can see that?"
Rob smirked. "Yeah, even I like money. All right then. We should talk more when we get ready to patent. But I think you are safe. Talk later then?" Rob raised his hand in a wave.
Patrick matched the wave. He was not in the mood to shake this guy's hand, period.
The two said "goodbye" nearly simultaneously, and headed off in different directions.
Patrick got back to his place, then unleashed a string of swearwords. He had been bested, or so it seemed. Hell, this guy could come by and make me disappear if he wanted to! He tried to compose and occupy himself, without much success.
Rob was undergoing a similar thought process. That guy built a weapon! He seemed like a bad-ass, and probably would not hesitate to come by and vaporize me while I sleep or something! He paced his apartment and tried to come up with some kind of plan.
Neither inventor slept well that night.
It was the waning days of October. The colorful leaves were disappearing from the trees, and a cold, wet wind was kicking up visions of the winter ahead. Patrick and Rob went about their jobs and lives for a week, each trying to put aside visions of his rival's nefarious potential.
The following Saturday, Rob drove to a location miles distant, to test his device by a remote stretch of riverbank. He made doubly sure there was no one around, before deploying and testing his device successfully again. He made a large dead tree vanish, with a clap of thunder. Satisfied, he headed back home, to look over the device, and make some notes. The device was warm, and it drained the battery pack after each use. There were still refinements to make.
Patrick knew that Rob lived in an apartment complex close to the park where they had done the original test. He visualized some mischief he could do, but put it out of his mind for the time being. Then he, got in his beat-up Oldsmobile, and drove to a remote location to further test his rifle. He had tightened up some connections, and re-soldered contacts, so his rifle was a bit more solid, easily carried around without fear of a connection being jostled loose. He took it to a county park, and promptly encountered some leaf-gawkers. He had to wait, and then walk in the woods some, his invention covered in a jacket.
"What you got there, dude?" It was one of the gawkers, encountering Patrick on a trail leading to a local river.
"Nothing, man." Patrick walked past the guy.
"Is that a rifle? Duck-hunting season is not on yet."
Patrick ignored him, and trudged on. He heard a "OK, be a dick then," behind him, and ignored it.
A short time later, he made a couple of rocks by the river disappear in a flash. And then he wrapped his prize up and headed back to the car. Thankfully, he was not accosted any more. But he was being watched. The two scruffy guys saw the flash.
"Why is he shooting at rocks?"
"I don't know. He's a jerk, forget about him." They wandered off to find their girlfriends, and crack open another beer.
Patrick made it to the parking lot, got in his car, and sat, pondering. He rubbed the patch of brown stubble under his chin, and scratched his hair. Dare he do a little demo for Rob, just to put a bit of fear in him? It was a nice fantasy. But the thought of Rob's device deterred him. No sense getting oneself killed. That was assuming Rob carried it around all the time, which he couldn't very well do. Patrick set the thoughts aside for the time being, and then drove back home.
Rob fantasized about intimidating Patrick. But first he wanted to get a patent application finished. He had a lot of work to do...
Another week passed in their medium-sized Midwestern town of Springdale. Friday night arrived. Patrick was in an expansive mood. He had a good day at work, and felt like celebrating. So he had a few beers at a downtown bar. Then he returned home, and had another, while looking over his invention. It was so sleek, and so well done. He was sure it was much further developed than Rob's P.O.S. It did not take him long to cover it with a jacket, and head out for a little fun. It only took him a few minutes to walk over to Rob's apartment building by the park, and scout out a target. There was an ashtray near the door, on top of a square cement pillar. That would do just fine. He began to take out the rifle, and just then a car pulled up to the entrance.
Darn it. He waited, and finally the car disgorged a person, and then left. It seemed like the coast was clear. He quickly got the rifle out, and turned on. He fired a few bursts, literally vaporizing the top of the pedestal. Then he covered up the rifle, and hurried off, giggling as he went. When he was almost down the end of that block, he heard someone faintly yelling, "I'll get you!" but discounted it as his imagination. When he got to his place, he was laughing. But he sobered up enough to decide to hide the rifle, and turn down the lights. What if the cops found his rifle? Not good, not cool. But he laughed himself to sleep that night, nevertheless.
The next day, Saturday, Patrick slept in, but finally got up and pulled himself together. He ate a light meal, and then headed out for a bit of shopping. He walked out of his house, and down the street a bit, before noticing. He turned back around, and then he saw it. The Cotoneaster he had planted that spring. It was gone. There was a bare hole there. He walked back over to it, and examined the hole. And indeed, it was smooth, not at all like it had been yanked out. Almost as if...
"Why that sonovabitch!" he exclaimed. It _had_ to be him.
Patrick was so mad he almost forgot where he was going. But he finally regained enough composure to resume his trip to the store. He thought to himself, I'm going to enjoy getting even with him!
Rob eventually got over his amusement at getting revenge, and was even then tidying his place up. You never know when a guest would arrive, even an unwanted one. When he heard the odd sounds, and then looked out of his window at the smoking remains of the ashtray pedestal, he knew what happened.
That guy just never learns!
And so it went. Patrick left for work one morning, to find the corner of his porch fence gone.
Rob walked out of his place and found that a large elm tree had several suspicious gouges taken out, spelling something resembling an F, a U, and a P.
Patrick found the hose in the backyard was gone -- all but the part attached to the house. A clean, smooth cut.
Rob's car was missing most of the rear bumper the following weekend.
After several weeks of this, Rob finally managed to locate Patrick's email address. Patrick opened up his Gmail a day later, and found this message:
"All right, then. We have both proven we can hit each other where it hurts. But when is enough enough? What say we call a truce?"
Patrick sent back, "When you buy me a new hose, and replace the bushes, I'll think about it."
He found this reply a day later:
"Replace my car bumper, and repair the damage to the Apartment building, the trees, and various lightpoles and cars in the area."
He typed back, "All right -- I get it. I'll stop when you do."
Patrick checked his Gmail for several days after that, but saw no reply. What is that idiot up to? he wondered. On this particular day, he decided to walk by Rob's place -- just to see if he was out. He stopped himself mid-stride, went back in and retrieved his rifle. Then he locked the front door, and went back out. He walked down one block and over two, and came up to Rob's building complex, and the park beyond. When he was close to the buildings, he glanced over and saw Rob walking towards him, with something under his arm. Instinctively, he dropped the cover off of his rifle.
Rob and Patrick thus faced each other in the narrow drive between two buildings.
"Well? What?" said Patrick.
"What do you mean, what? Why are you out here? Do you want to shoot it out or something?" said Rob.
"I just wanted to see what you are up to."
"Well, I suppose I am just going out for a walk on a nice Saturday." Rob flashed him a sarcastic grin.
The two stood a moment, assessing the situation. There was a surreal air about it. Patrick almost felt like they were being goaded or pulled by some outside force. He felt a strong, almost overpowering urge to raise the rifle and end Rob's miserable life, witnesses or no.
For his part, Rob felt a similar urge to raise his device and make this troublemaking fool go away forever. But he was just as bullheaded as Patrick -- he did not like being manipulated. Manipulated?
Rob and Patrick both turned almost simultaneously. The two odd-looking gentlemen that they had seen the other day -- the ones observing them on the day of their first test -- were standing almost equidistant from them, off to one side. They looked from one to the other.
The first gentleman said to the second,
"This is not good. They have seen us."
Patrick motioned to Rob, who in turn changed the aim of his device.
The second gentleman said, "It is time to go now."
The two men vanished. Patrick and Rob stared at the spot where they were standing, against the building. It seemed to shimmer a bit, and then appeared normal. They slowly walked over to the spot. Then, they looked at each other.
Rob, ever the theoretician, broke the silence.
"I think these two were manipulating us, I don't know how. Maybe we should bury the hatchet here."
He lowered his displacer, and proffered his hand.
Patrick did the same, and shook. He said,
"I think we have found what may be our real enemy. I agree."
Rob nodded. The two then fell into step, walking down the alley between the buildings. They were silent for a time.
Then Patrick grinned, and said, "Want to see my setup first? I have beer."
Rob barked out a short laugh, and said, "Sure. Why the hell not."
Three months later, the invaders made an attempt upon the planet Earth, but were repelled. The new energy-displacement weapons invented by Rob Meyers and Patrick Fitzgerald played a large role in repelling the strange armies. It was never discovered exactly where the invading armies came from. The displacer weapons sent most of them elsewhere, and the laser-shredders cut up the rest. But Earth was made safe, and two men in their twenties became fabulously wealthy.
© 2012 Mike Wilson
Bio: Mike Wilson has been writing poetry and short fiction since 2003. He has been published in various journals online (including multiple appearances in Aphelion, most recently Escape to New Jersey, May 2012) and in print. His latest story is due to appear in the 2013 spring edition of Tales of the Talisman. He also has two self-published anthologies, Mirror Worlds and Future Property. Both are available on Amazon. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. For more by and about Mike, visit Radical Readings, Mike Wilson's Twitter Page, Describer One helium page, or The Galactic Library discussion group. A collection of Mike's essays, poems, and stories From My Backyard to the Edge of the Galaxy is available from Lulu.com in paperback form (also available as a download).
E-mail: Mike Wilson
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