Monday, March 21, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 5 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

The tires on the gravel outside caught Bob’s attention.
The game.  I missed his game.
He flipped a switch, and then headed into the house.
James was at the refrigerator.
“Hi.  How did the game go?”
His son came up with an apple, and bit into it with a crunch.  “Pretty good.”  He chewed.
“Sorry I missed it.  Work stuff got to me and I missed the time.”
“’Sokay.  Coach told me my goal-line stand saved the game.  I believe him.  21-20.”
“Oh, you’re just trying to make me feel bad.”
James grinned at him.  “No, really, Dad.  It’s okay.”
But he then proceeded to tell him the whole game, play by play.  Bob listened.  He missed the games.  When he wasn’t out of town, he was deeply caught up with his new project.
A little later, Diana arrived.  “How did your game go?”  she asked.
“Pretty good.”  And James was off, re-telling the game from the beginning.
Bob got a coke and slipped back out to his workshop.
He paused at the door, his hand on the light switch.
I can still see it.  The glow of the trapped ball lightning was fading, but the size hadn’t varied.  It really was Bellerman space, otherwise his stabilizer would never have worked.
He flipped on the light switch, and the faint glow was lost in the glare of the fluorescent tubes hung by hooks and chains to the wooden rafters of the work shed.
Before James had arrived, he had been tracing the power supply circuitry node by node with his multimeter.  The ball wasn’t exactly stable.  There was a flutter in the boundary of the sphere.
It was three AM when he solved it.  Replacing a weak capacitor in the circuit, while it was still running, was exacting work.  One glitch and the sphere would be gone, until the next thunderstorm rumbled through.
Resting against the wall was the melted and charred framework of copper that had channeled the power of the lightning strike.  He winced at the sight.  I don’t want to have to build another one.
How lucky had he been to create a Bellerman sphere on the first try?  He looked back at the table.
Voltage fluctuation had originally caused a disturbance on the surface, like a heat haze that refracted the light just a bit.  With his custom-made, battery backed up power supply now rock stable, the ball of folded space was no longer visible. 
Now what can I do with it?
Dawn came, and the caffeine began to wear off.  He tapped the keys on his computer, listing a summary of the results.  The details remained in his notebook.  He was too tired to list them all.
“Item 15: I can control the size and amazingly the location of the sphere.  I don’t understand it.  Not at all.  When I wake up, I’m going back over the math.  How can I have a gadget that controls the actions of a sphere two meters away?”
He shook his head, dialed the sphere down to marble size and went to bed.
“Mom?  Do you have an employee discount at your store?”
She looked up from her breakfast cereal.  “A little one, why?”
James shrugged.  “Oh, I was just thinking about getting some new clothes.”
Her eyebrows lifted, “Got a girlfriend?”
“No.”  He frowned.  “It’s just that all my clothes are old and grubby.”
She thought a minute.  “Well, Christmas is six weeks away.  Wait until then.”
“Maybe I can get a job?”
“I’ve got a job for you.  We need to cut out all the wild grapevines growing in the trees near the pond.”
“Do I get money for this?”
Diana shook her head.  “We don’t have any.  Times are tight since your father lost his job.  The consulting pays erratically, and not very much.
“How are your grades coming?”
James shifted in his chair.  “Uh.  So-so.  Why?”
“Coach Echart mentioned something.  He’s worried you might lose your eligibility.  Adding a job to your schedule might mean that you have to give up football.”
“I can’t give up football!”  He knew his grades were getting bad.  The other classes were so boring.
“Then concentrate on your homework.  I know you’re smart enough.  You just need to take the time to study.
“Your father is working very hard lately, and we’ll make it past this, but we all have to be patient and watch what we spend.”
1:47 AM—Bob sighed.  My sleep schedule is wrecked.  How many days have I been at this?  
He moved the mouse and clicked open the log and began typing.
“Major breakthrough.  Following the math has paid off.”
So many of the elements of the equations were paired, with a right-hand and left-hand symmetry.  It’d been a basic element of the original paper.
“Today, I managed to shift the sphere to dual control elements.  Tolerances were very tight and I think that without computer control of the circuitry, any further refinement will be impossible to control.”
His mind drifted off into the design of the computer system he would need.
The work shed could get crowded.
It’s already crowded.
The shed had been designed as a portable storage building, not a place to live and work.  Its wiring was extension cords.  Its walls and ceiling were un-insulated sheet metal and wooden framing.  Luckily, Central Texas was not very cold, or the little space heater he’d added to the mix wouldn’t be enough.
Me, the desk, the heater, the computers, and now this.
The one-foot diameter sphere was visible now, because it was in two places at once.
Forcing the symmetrical elements of the Bellerman space into two different locations did just that.  It had twinned right before his eyes.
It is really just one sphere.  There is only one inside.  It’s just that it has two outsides.
Light entering one of them came out both.  Looking through them gave a double-image.
He took a pencil from his pocket and tossed it through the left sphere.  It exited out of the right one.
He dropped a quarter through it, and it came out the same side.  A penny did the same, but a second penny teleported.
It’s random.
The door opened with a creak.  A dingy white fur ball of a dog stuck his nose in, sampling the warm air.
“Come on in, Willis.  Want to make some history?”
Carefully, Bob dialed up the size of the spheres.  Size is an attribute of the Bellerman space.  They will always match.  He shook his head.  Don’t think that way.  It’s just one sphere.  One sphere.  Remember that.
He adjusted the positions of the spheres one at a time, lowering them to almost ground level.  
“Here boy.”  Willis suffered being picked up and when he dropped him into the nearest sphere, he sniffed tolerantly at his owner’s antics.
Bob looked at the two dogs, calmly waiting for whatever came next, and apparently not too disturbed to see two humans waving at him.
“Come on Willis, come to me.”  The dog stepped forward and put his nose and head through the sphere, and then his eyes glazed, and he whimpered.  From the other sphere there was a splatter and bright red blood spurted across the floor.
Panicked, Bob grabbed at the dog’s head and pulled him out.  Willis collapsed on the floor.  His chest heaved for a couple of times before it stopped.
He’s dead.
Blood was still pooling on the floor.  He could smell it.
Bob picked up the warm, limp dog, aching to think of anything that he could do.  There was nothing.
Teleportation worked, but it was random all the way down to the molecular level.  Skin, muscle and bone were all connected.  Once Willis poked the tip of his nose out one sphere, the chemical bonds of his body kept all of his body connected.  But blood found an easier path out.  Powered by a pumping heart, most of his blood was gone in seconds out the other sphere.  The dog couldn’t survive.
Diana asked over breakfast.  “Bob, have you seen Willis?  He didn’t come when I called this morning.”
He sighed.  “I’d meant to tell you this later, but he’s dead.”
“What?” asked James, who’d just come into the kitchen to grab a bite on the way out the door.  “What happened to him?”
“All I could tell is that he lost a lot of blood.  I’ll bury him this morning.”
Diana said, “I hope he wasn’t shot.”  They had lost five dogs in the years they had lived in the country.  Every one was a loss, but the ones that hurt the most were the dogs that got into trouble chasing livestock and took a bullet.  County law was clear and protected the farmer, but something like that put a permanent wall up between neighbors.
“No.  I didn’t see anything like that.  Life in the country is dangerous, especially for little dogs.”  Bob hated to lie, even if the words were true enough.
But he’d spent the night cleaning up the blood, and agonizing over what he had done.  Teleportation had to remain a secret, even to his grave if necessary.
It was just too dangerous.
Willis had given him an immediate reality check.
He’d created a weapon that could effortlessly scythe down whole armies, whole nations.  If he lived out his life with only Willis’ blood on his hands, he could count himself very lucky.
“I should never have let him out last night,” said Diana.
“No, dear.  He visited me in the work shed last night.  If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”
James checked the clock.  “I would like to stay.  Could you write me a late note for school?”
Bob nodded, and went to get the shovel.  Up in the northeast corner of the property were the graves of the dogs that came home to die.  Willis was small.  He wouldn’t have to dig it very deep.
But as he grasped the handle of the shovel, his eyes started to water.  Digging graves was the hardest task of all.

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