by Catfish Russ
part 1 of 3
When the Medicaid Bill passed two years ago, insurance companies could decide to stop paying for medications if you ever decided not to take them against your doctor’s wishes. So Roscoe took a 200-mg dosage of Fluvoxamine twice a day to help keep him from taking things.
Of course Fluvoxamine made some people impotent; Roscoe, for example. So when Roscoe decided against being impotent, he stopped taking Fluvoxamine. The insurance company decided not to re-up his prescription. They said they’d pay for another OCD drug called Sertraline, but that made him sleepy. So Roscoe kept the Sertraline in a drawer (because he was a kleptomaniac) but he refused to swallow the pills. Long story short, the only OCD medication Roscoe could really take was also a medicine he could not afford, unless he stole it, and that was the problem.
* * *
Right there, Rosco thought. Right there.
Someone left a cell phone right in the corner of his booth. Roscoe pushed his cart to cover the seat on the booth. In one smooth motion, Roscoe picked up the phone, threw it in his apron and did a perfunctory wipe of the table surface. In a moment he would walk into the back and turn the phone off or unhook the battery.
A moment later the traveler sitting in the booth returned and looked around. “Pardon me,” she said to Roscoe. “Have you seen a mobile phone? I just had it here.”
“Naw lady. Sorry.” Oh, you mean the one that is in my pocket? Oh yeah, I’ve seen it. I’m going to make a few calls on it and sell it tomorrow in the Village.
She pulled a card out of her purse and handed it to him. “If you find it, please call this number.” He nodded. She took off and headed back to her gate.
Rosco Riley’s apartment on 56th street was a mess. Dishes piled up in the sink with the encrusted remains of Roy Rogers Taco Wraps, glasses with two inches of long-ago melted ice and coke, dirty bowls and plates on every open counter top. Three-month old newspapers, opened to the classifieds, sat on top of six-month old newspapers, opened to the classifieds. Blankets and pillows and the musty smell of chronic bachelorhood filled the tiny dark home of an obsessive-compulsive 39-year old.
Of course there was one other thing that filled Roscoe’s apartment. It was the tchotchkes. The small items that he could “lift and separate” from customers at the bar where he bussed tables at LaGuardia Airport. Screw them, he thought. All those rich look-down-your-nose-at-me yuppies with their cell phones were now calling friends from a landline because their cell phones were in his pocket. So cell phones of every sort could also be found among the detritus in Roscoe’s apartment.
Nokias, Sonys, Motorolas, each one used until the charge was gone, and uncharged because he could rarely find the charger with the phone. From time to time the cell phones were connected to the charger and plugged into an outlet under the table. But it was hard to wrap a charger cord delicately and walk out without being noticed.
PDA’s that had long ago lost their charge he put in a drawer in his bedroom. Lipstick, hand mirrors, pens, watches, glasses, anything small enough to be discreetly picked up when he cleaned a table, each had their own drawers, or corner of the floor. On occasion Roscoe supplemented his income with quick sale on 34th street west of Broadway. A cell phone went for about five bucks, a PDA could sometimes bring in fifty. Once he pilfered a rare Hohner chromatic harmonica and had the sense to take it to a pawnshop on 21st street where he hocked it for a hundred dollars.
Of course it had not always gone well. There was the time in Teaneck at an Applebees where he worked bussing tables. He picked up a women’s lightweight .38 caliber from a cop who had gone to the bathroom. He thought, of course, that a woman would be less of a problem to target than a man, and of course this women played into his stereotyped perceptions. She was smartly dressed and very good-looking, the kind of woman he could never have a date with. He didn’t anticipate how quickly she would re-emerge from the bathroom and he didn’t think she would have a taser.
Some 15,000 volts and six years later, he emerged from Marion Correctional facility. He had learned to act inside prison. He acted angry. He acted scared. He acted like he gave a damn. So it was no problem acting as if he were remorseful to the judge, and here he was, six years after that, bussing tables at an airport, just another anonymous schmuck in a sea of anonymous travelers. It was no problem acting as if he’d not seen the wallet he just picked up either. That’s the way he liked it, too. A good actor, and one who you don’t know. Anonymity was his weapon, his armor, his trade.
Roscoe told people his name was Marvin. Of course it wasn’t. It didn’t matter because the less his boss actually knew about him the better.
* * *
Monday morning the Airport Lounge opened up and the first customer was the strangest looking man Roscoe had ever seen. He was tall, very, very tall, and thin as rail. In fact, he seemed so thin that Roscoe went to bus a table, and chose to shuffle things around on it because it was next to the stranger.
Roscoe started staring at the stranger who was seated, looking into a newspaper as if he had never seen a newspaper before. Tall Guy was wearing thick glasses, the kind you could burn ant-hills with. His glasses were so distorted Roscoe couldn’t quite make out the shape and color of Tall Guy’s pinkish eyes. His fingers were too thin, impossibly thin, and long, and his hand moved so slowly. He pinched his forefinger and thumb together over a page with the concentration of a surgeon and he focused his pink eyes on the edge of the page of the Financial Times. He found the page edge and slowly opened the section, and looked with amazement at the new page of news now revealed.
WATCH YOUR BELONGINGS. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ITEMS LEFT BEHIND. — Management
The sign hung right over the seat that tall Guy was occupying. You bet we can’t be responsible, Roscoe thought. Some nut case is lifting everyone’s cell phones and God knows what and is taking them home to his shitty little apartment, Roscoe finished his interior warning. And appropriately so, Tall Guy stood up at that very moment, and lumbered into then Men’s room, and even his gait seemed weird.
Roscoe shuffled napkins around Tall Guy’s glass of water, and looked around to see if he had left anything. There was just a stack of books and non-descript black roller bag. The books looked arcane, something about math. A couple of newspapers and magazines, Wired and PC magazine. Tall Guy hadn’t really bought a drink or anything so there was little to do at the table but clean up and wait for Tall Guy to return.
Rubbing his palm over the table with a napkin was a way of hiding the things he normally picked up. He felt something, palmed it, and stuck it into his apron. ‘Funny’, he thought, ‘I wonder what it is. I didn’t see anything on the table’.
Inside the bathroom, the Being disappeared. The quantum location device he had left on the table had been observed and the wave function collapsed. He could not find his way back out of the bathroom, because he was entangled with the device, which now had a specific quantum number and location somewhere else, in a Physics lab on another world in a laboratory across the universe.
The device was invented to be invisible in order to reduce the chance that an observer would see it, collapse the wave function, and therefore put the quantum state of the Being into a state that, in this case, turned out to be where he had begun his journey, far far away.
* * *
Car Tarsus Ra The Proconsul slithered into the antechamber and addressed the eight figures, each in their own environments. Two of the members were holographic projections, of high enough resolution to be effectively in the same room. Car Tarsus was also known as Car of Eight Turns, the oldest proconsul ever. He had developed the ability, as had every member of his family, to shape his gelid body for a periods of time. It would be germane to his address.
“Proconsuls. Thank you for coming on such short notice. A member of the Tarsus Clan has been sent to a newly discovered planetoid by a Quantum Entanglement Jump Device. The dominant species of the planet are chordates with a soft tissues that cover a complex endoskeleton. They are carbonate life forms inhabiting a planet revolving around a Medium Sun and are at Mid-Development.
“The scientist assumed the general shape of the bipeds and wore generic outer vestments that we have seen on Quantum Jump Signal Intelligence missions. A few technical modifications, and the traveler would appear as a local for a short period. We even refracted the Quantum Jump Device so it would settle outside the natural senses of the local beings. This way, a local won’t accidentally observe or touch it.”
The Proconsul extended a pseudopod, a sign that a difficult statement was coming. Silence filled the chamber. He delivered: “During his exploration, he misplaced the device and it was picked up by a member of the population.”
A sound of shock and dismay reverberated through the chamber. The Krig Proconsul, essentially a 19-foot insect, tapped its forelegs on the ground. He was mad, and rightly so. A scientific experiment gone awry had caused a disaster for his own population. The former Proconsul had placed a Quantum Signaling Device on the Krig home world; it accidentally triggered an attack by a semi-sentient race that took the signal content itself as a threat. The Krigs had never been recompensed for this insult and never reconciled to the million or so Krigs that were killed before the invaders simply disappeared into a fold in space.
“What now? What now?” The Krig Proconsul protested.
“I understand, friend,” Car answered. “The important thing now is to recover the device. When the being touched it, the wave function collapsed, and our traveler was returned to our space-time immediately. Which means a being on this planet has a key to our lab, as it were.”
“What are the chances that the locals will discover its technical value?” Asked the Silicoid Proconsul, essentially an AI representative to the Coalition.
“Not a high probability. But high enough to make us uncomfortable. All the elements of the jump device exist on this planet in its technical areas. Low probability that the working mechanism will be accessed by the locals before the driver shuts itself down.”
“When does that happen?”
“Half a Sun.”
More protests. More tapping from the Krig. “One hundred million turns. No problem there. We will all be dust by then. Except for the Silicoid. By then the locals will have created their own Quantum Device.”
“We have to find it. We can address all the misdeeds perpetrated by our imperfect and fragile Coalition. In the meantime, we know that if the being ever puts the device down for a militurn, then it will recall the traveler. He is in stasis, awaiting that probability. I know we have seen difficulties before and we will see ourselves through these.” Car slithered back into his antechamber. The others left as well.
* * *
In the ride from LaGuardia back to Manhattan, Roscoe remembered the pilfered object and reached down in his bag to fish it out of the apron pocket. Weird, but Tall Guy never emerged from the bathroom. Security picked up his bag from the table and took it somewhere. But that was that. After a moment, Roscoe could feel the object. It was a curved dome with a flat bottom and he couldn’t make out the material. Maybe a hard plastic. It was fairly heavy.
He pulled it out, and looked at it. Or tried to. He could feel it, and touch it, and even see the inside of his thumb conform to the object he was holding. Essentially, this thing was absolutely invisible.
He could feel a protrusion on the side of the bottom. He wanted to push it and tried a little but it wouldn’t budge. Roscoe heart raced. What the hell is this? He could hardly believe it. Back into his right front jean pocket.
He bought a little flashlight and batteries on the way to the bus stop. Roscoe cupped it in his pocket when he got on the bus and showed the driver his monthly pass with his other hand. He was afraid he was going to lose this thing. On the bus, he held it firmly in his palm, and shined the flashlight on “it.” The light in his palm looked like it was shining through frosted glass, a little diffused, but it was the light from the flashlight anyway. The closer his looked and shined the light from every angle, the easier it was to see that the thing was not completely invisible. Around the edges, occasionally he could see where light changed and define the curve of the dome. This thing just refracted light around itself, sort of like the Predator thing had in the Arnold flick.
He walked up the Subway Station stairs at 47th and Broadway and walked nine blocks North and one block West to the dank apartment building. He looked up at it, past two gum-popping hookers parked on the steps. “I’ve been in worse places,” he muttered under his breath. He had indeed been in worse places.
Upstairs he found the drawer that carried things he pilfered but couldn’t identify. One was a military signal amplifier that would pull some dough at an Army-Navy surplus store. Another was an antique porcelain ink bottle. He picked up a soft cloth that once belonged to a brand new pair of binoculars, and felt for the object. He picked it up, and dropped it.
He could hear his own breathing. His heart pumped. The light bulb over this table had not been replaced. He knelt down and slowly rubbed his hand against the carpet in a sweeping moment. Five excruciating minutes later he found it, and wrapped in the glass cloth. He placed it next to the signal amp and pushed the drawer closed.
He poured a glass of scotch, sat down, leaned over and fell asleep.
Four hours later, the object’s second stage timer turned on. If Roscoe didn’t make contact with the object in the next 13 hours and 47 seconds, the wave function of a particle (actually a fermion inside the device) would become quantumly re-entangled with its particle pair inside the Being. The temperature inside the device would then drop to 5 degrees above absolute zero, bringing the angular momentum of the fermion to an exact state of zero. This in turn would take the location of the Being and place it in a statistical quantum probability of being in the lab and being in Roscoe’s apartment simultaneously. A processor on the device would then forcibly collapse the Schrödinger wave and the Being would appear near the object. Unfortunately, to keep from violating the law of conservation of energy, Roscoe would disappear and reappear in the lab on Tarsus.
Around 2:30 a.m., on Tarsus, a strike team was being formed to locate and find the Quantum Jump Device. Scientists were preparing to entangle more particles with the fermion inside the Being that travelled to Earth. These particles would in turn be entangled with the quantum statistical location of the strike team. When the temperature dropped and the angular momentum of the fermion was dropped to zero, they could then be sent back to the location of the Quantum Jump Device, which was inside Roscoe’s apartment.
They would not be needed.
Roscoe had just awakened after a hard sleep. He got up, and walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Out came a Red Stripe beer, and a box of trail mix. On went the TV, and Roscoe sat and surfed the satellite signal, which was also pilfered.
He got up and headed to the bathroom, and unzipped his trousers just as the Quantum Jump device reset itself. Seconds later the Being disappeared from stasis and reappeared on the floor of the apartment on 56th Street, next to the table with the device.
Roscoe disappeared form standing in front of the toilet and appeared in a white laboratory across the universe.
Having begun his spray, he could not stop it. The gelatinous Tarsusians watched in amazement as Roscoe emptied his bladder in front of them on the floor, and then keeled over.
The Being was sent originally to explore early 21st-century cultural communication and recording systems. He returned with a treasure trove of computers, PDA’s and cell phones. He also brought back money, Hummel-wear and pornography. The Being would go on to become legend, even though most all of what he discovered came from one human being’s dank apartment on 56th street.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Catfish Russ