by Bill Bowler
In a cluttered lab in the rear wing of the Institute of Psionic Applications, Franklin Stone and Nick Dixon peered through a plexi-glass screen into a small test chamber. Behind the glass, a white lab mouse scampered on the floor near a miniature tower with a red sphere on top. Frank flipped a switch and the sphere began to glow.
Frank’s hand trembled as he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. If this demo flopped, he was through. Dixon held the purse strings and funding was tight all around. All the departments were screaming.
Frank knew the wave generator would work. He knew what it could do. Hadn’t he spent the last fifteen years of his life on the math, on the neuro-biology, on the code, and on the hardware? The money they had spent so far was chicken feed. This was the real deal, his ticket out, but Dixon had to see it, too. Dixon had to recognize what it was, or he’d turn off the faucet. No sense throwing good money after bad. They’d shut him down and Frank would be out on the street hustling for a second rate gig, or worse.
Frank took a breath to calm himself. He had confidence in Dixon. Dixon knew what he was doing. He had to or they would have gotten rid of him a long time ago. He had a nose for where the money was. He wanted to put the Institute on the map and Frank was about to hand it to him on a silver platter. Frank glanced again at the mouse in the chamber and began punching the keyboard furiously with his index fingers.
Nick smoothed his tie, brushed a speck of lint from the sleeve of his dark suit, and scrolled through his emails. Without looking up, he asked, “You almost ready?”
“Ready as we’re going to be,” Frank croaked.
Dixon looked up. “You OK, Frank?”
Frank’s throat had gone dry. He forced a smile and pressed a button on the console. A small door inside the test chamber slid open.
The lab mouse stopped scampering and froze in place. The whiskers on its pointed nose began to twitch. Its beady eyes stared in horror as a large grey cat stepped through the opening into the chamber, sat down on its haunches, and licked its paw.
The mouse began racing madly in circles, but there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The cat stretched it claws and took a leisurely swat at the terrified mouse, batting it against the wall. The mouse lay motionless.
Nick holstered his smartphone and looked at Frank. “I’m not completely following—”
“Wait,” said Frank. “Now watch this.”
Frank tapped the keyboard and flipped another switch. Inside the chamber, the glowing red sphere atop the little tower began to pulsate.
The mouse stood up and shook its head. The hair on its back was bristling. It turned to face the cat, reared up on its hind legs, and with a piercing squeak, it pounced, digging its paws into the cat’s eye and chomping down on its nose.
The cat screeched in pain. It tried frantically to swat the mouse off its face, but the mouse clung tight. The cat arched its back, shook its head furiously, and finally managed to dislodge the mouse. With blood streaming from its eye and nose, the cat dashed through the hole in the chamber wall and disappeared.
Frank was beaming. He turned to Nick with a look of triumph. “Well! What do you think of that?”
Nick shook his head. His look was impassive but you could see the gears were turning. “I have to hand it to you, Frank. You’ve finally done it. Very impressive.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
“That small tower with the red light is the wave generator?”
Nick looked into the chamber at the mouse again. Now the little devil was gnawing like mad on one leg of the metal tower. It looked like he was going to chew through it. Nick turned to Frank. “Why did it affect the mouse and not the cat?”
“The cat brain offers more resistance and operates on a different wavelength. We could calibrate the wave generator to any species.”
Dixon pursed his lips. “Right. That’s good. Now, the question is, could you make this thing work on people?”
Frank smiled. Dixon was playing right into his hands. “That’s the idea, but we’d have to upgrade the equipment, bring in human subjects, rewrite the code. And more testing is required to control the effect.” Frank looked at Nick conspiratorially and shrugged. “With all the cutbacks and the funding drying up—”
Nick met his gaze. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. You’re doing great work, Frank. I want to see more. You can have whatever you need.”
* * *
Motorists on Route 9W were the first to notice the large Eiffel Tower-like structure that had sprouted in the woods behind the one-story glass and concrete building on the southbound side of the highway. The tower looked to be about ten stories high and loomed taller than the treetops. The glowing red orb perched atop the tower resembled a gigantic Christmas tree ornament. At times, the orb gave off a steady glow. At other times, it pulsated.
Inside the building, in the rear wing lab, Frank and Nick watched through the glass as a bearded young man entered the test chamber and sat down at a table.
Frank was focused and confident. Things were finally falling into place. His psi-wave project had become the centerpiece of the Institute’s research activities. Thanks to Dixon, the money was rolling in. The lab facilities, manpower and resources were at Frank’s disposal. Dixon had seen to that. He was a little weak on the science, but he was a brilliant administrator and a genius at fund-raising. He knew which side of the bread was buttered and he understood you have to spend money to make money.
The bearded young man in the chamber sat waiting patiently.
Nick looked expectantly at his now highest-paid scientist.
“OK,” said Frank. “Keep in mind that psi receptivity varies from individual to individual. Most people have natural resistance. They deflect the waves and remain unaffected, even by high-energy pulses from the big tower. That’s why you and I feel nothing when the generator is activated.”
“I thought I felt something when you turned it on,” said Nick. “It gave me a rash or something.”
Frank looked sideways at Dixon. “I don’t think so, Nick.”
Nick scratched the back of his head. “I hope you’re right.”
Frank held up the palm of his hand. “Please, Nick. Certain subjects — not you — absorb the waves, which then amplify the subject’s own latent psionic abilities to the point that they can be measured. By studying these highly receptive subjects, we should be able to modify the wave-forms for general application.”
Nick looked through the glass at the bearded young man in the chamber. “Is this one of those highly receptive subjects?”
“Uh, not exactly,” admitted Frank. “We haven’t yet located a class-A receiver, but we’re looking. Subject 3 here,” Frank glanced down at a yellow pad scrawled with notes and figures, “under controlled conditions, has displayed a telekinetic force sufficient to lift a mass of .05 micrograms to a height of 0.1 millimeters.”
Nick made a sour face. “Those seem like rather small numbers.”
“They’re huge, Nick, huge. The vast majority of people are unable to move the object at all. Subject 1 failed even after prolonged exposure to the psi-wave generator.”
“Is that why Subject 1 is off the project?”
“Um, not exactly.” Frank sighed. “Subject 1 became incapacitated.”
“I must have missed that in your report.”
“It was in the footnotes. He developed severe migraines.”
“As a result of exposure to the wave generator?”
“Now don’t jump to conclusions. We don’t know for sure. The data can be read different ways. But let me finish. The next individual, Subject 2, was able to elevate the test mass two micrometers. Unfortunately, he started bleeding from the nose and ears and we had to halt the procedure.”
Nick looked alarmed. “The Institute will not accept liability!”
“They’re all volunteers. They’ve all signed waivers.”
“I want the paperwork on my desk.”
“It’s all taken care of. We have very strict protocols.”
“I hope so, for your sake,” said Nick. “Now what about this one here?” Nick indicated the young man seated in the chamber.
“Subject 3,” Frank referred to his notes again, “is mildly telepathic. Watch.”
Frank pushed a button. Outside the building, the red sphere atop the tower began to shine.
Frank pointed to a monitor. “You see? Those two gray dots on the display are you and me. We are psionically neutral and deflect the waves. This pink dot in the center is Subject 3. He has absorbed some small increment of the wave energy. The effect should be to amplify his innate abilities.”
Frank adjusted a knob and the red sphere outside began to pulsate. He flipped a switch and spoke into a microphone.
The young man in the chamber placed his hands palm-down on the tabletop, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Across the table, a tiny flake of silver lay at the bottom of a sealed beaker. For a few moments, nothing happened.
Nick began to get impatient. “Well?”
“I’m going to increase the frequency,” said Frank. He adjusted a knob on the console. The sphere on the big tower outside began to pulsate rapidly.
In the chamber, Subject 3 clenched his fists and grunted with effort. Almost imperceptibly, the silver flake began to tremble and floated slowly up off the glass bottom of the beaker.
Frank looked at his computer screen. “You see that! Two centimeters elevation! I’m going to give him more juice.”
Frank turned another knob and increased the amplitude. The tower outside began to shudder. The young man in the chamber grunted again. His face turned purple and the veins bulged on his neck.
“Three centimeters!” cried Frank. “Outstanding!” He scribbled the figures on his yellow pad.
Subject Three’s eyes suddenly rolled back. He groaned and lurched forward, slamming his bearded face on the table. Blood trickled from both ears.
Across the river on the West Side of Manhattan, a young woman riding down the Hudson River bike path felt a tickling sensation in the back of her head. The hair at the base of her skull stood up on end. She scratched her neck, thinking it might be a bug caught in her hair, but the tickle spread quickly through her body, and turned into a wave of nausea and dread. The ground swirled in front of her. The world around her broke into kaleidoscopic fragments of color, sound and texture. The bike swerved off the path, the front wheel hit a rock, and she flew over the handlebars.
Several people ran up to help her and watched uncertainly as she struggled to her feet, looking dazed. She shook her head and waved them off. “I’m all right. Thanks.”
She picked up her bike, steadied herself, and pushed it slowly towards the park exit.
* * *
Frank stood in Dixon’s plush corner office in the front wing of the Institute. Dixon leaned back in his leather chair.
“Sit down, Frank. You look like hell.”
Frank was ready to cry. He lowered himself into a chair across the desk from Dixon. “Well, that’s it for Subject 3. He’s through. The doctors say he’ll recover, but we’re back to square one.”
“Frank, don’t get discouraged. We’ll hire more subjects. The results so far are quite promising. We’re completely funded for three years.”
Frank shook his head. “We’re getting nowhere, Nick. We’re stuck, spinning our wheels. The test subjects are inferior, all of them! They’re pathetic!”
“That’s negative thinking, Frank. I don’t like to hear negative thinking.”
“It’s a fact. These subjects are all... duds. Blanks. Psionic nobodies and wannabes. We need receivers, individuals who resonate psionically, high-capacity subjects who reach saturation and become transmitters themselves. Receivers hold the key to modifying the generator settings for application to the general population.”
“Then we’ve got to find receivers, Frank. Get one on board. I don’t care what it takes.”
“They don’t grow on trees.”
“Keep looking, Frank. I don’t have to tell you how much is at stake.”
“I guess you’re right.” Frank smiled weakly.
“Of course I am. Now don’t get discouraged.”
Frank stood up and grinned sheepishly. “Thanks, Nick.”
“Don’t mention it. Now let’s get back to work. And Frank, one thing. I’ve given this careful thought. We want the program to focus on fear and aggression.”
“What? I’ve been thinking more along the lines of subliminal sales, mass marketing, that sort of thing. Isn’t that where the money is?”
“I’m afraid not, Frank. The major funding sources are in the defense sector. The demonstration with the cat and mouse was very impressive, Frank. When I described it to my contacts, they immediately saw the possibilities. That’s where the money is coming from now, and it is substantial.”
“All right, all right. Let me think about it.”
“I knew you’d be with us, Frank. Keep up the good work.”
Frank left Dixon’s office and walked slowly down the corridor towards the rear wing. He was beginning to think Dixon might be a little screwy. But Frank knew, as surely as he knew his own name, that he was on the verge of a major breakthrough, a discovery of historical proportions, one that would put him in the history books and fill his bank account with more money than he could ever hope to spend in one lifetime. He knew his theories were sound. He knew what the generator could do, what power it could unleash. His work and sacrifice were about to pay off. All he needed was one damn class-A receiver. Just one. Was that so much to ask?
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bill Bowler