Saturday, January 29, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Thirteen

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for the rest. Links to earlier installments are now on the sidebar.

Part Twelve: Chris/Josh insists on going to see Professor John Grayson. He and Rachel both think he's probably at the lab rather than the funeral home. Indeed he is. Josh and his friends find Officer Hennigan unconscious outside the lab. Leaving his friends behind, Josh goes through the door to confront Grayson.

Part Thirteen: Experiment

Cindy Farrell was in Rachel’s old chair. She was tied to it with a thick orange extension cord. RCA cables bound her wrists to the arms of the wooden chair. Three large electrodes were taped to her forehead, already surrounded with red burn marks. Her eyes were open, and she looked frightened. Her head jerked slightly as she saw me come in, but she said nothing.

John Grayson was standing precisely where I had stood the day before, during the final, fatal experiment. In one hand he held a small control box, its leads running toward Officer Farrell’s head. With his other hand, Grayson was playing with flashing blobs of light, dabbing at them as if they were finger paint, making them flare out of sequence with the strobes from which they came. He was facing Farrell, not me, and he was laughing.

“Let her go, Professor,” I said.

He looked at me, angrily but without surprise. “Ah, there you are, Stein.” His tone was half snarl, half mock welcome. “Returning to the scene of the crime?”

“There was no crime,” I said. I nodded in Farrell’s directions. “Not until now, that is.”

“Oh, no? What about the murder of my wife?”

“You must know by now that it was mostly epilepsy that killed her, not me. That’s why I’m here, to make sure you know that I didn’t murder her.”

“Oh, no?” he said again. “I saw what you did, Stein. I have it all on videotape.”

He flipped a switch, and a video tape recorder whirred. Images appeared on a large tv atop a metal stand. There I was with Rachel, reenacting the last moments of her life in miniature through the miracle of the new technology. I hadn’t even known that the experiments were taped.

“You were playing with light, like this,” Grayson said by way of narration. He illustrated his point by matching my recorded movements, creating nearly identical lighting effects. “My wife went into convulsions, but you kept on doing it.”

According to the tape I had indeed kept going—for all of two seconds before I noticed Rachel's alarming jerks and twitches, and scrambled for the off switch.

Grayson stopped the tape. “Your light show killed my wife.”

“I really don’t think so,” I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t react faster, but I really think it was the strobes that did it.”

I agree, Rachel told me.

“Let’s just test that theory,” Grayson said. “This young lady has sat under the strobe lights for at least ten minutes, with no obvious ill effects. Let’s just see what your light manipulation does to her.” He resumed playing with the lights, but he kept one finger on the button that would fry Farrell if she tried to get away.

“Are you crazy?” I said. It occurred to me that Grayson shouldn’t be capable of doing what he was now doing, not unless he’d already conducted the same experiments on himself as he had on me. “Never mind; I see that you are. Let her go, Dr. John, while you still have solid hands with which to untie her.”

“In the middle of my experiment? I think not,” Grayson said.

“The experiment is over,” I told him. “Officer Farrell won’t die as Dr. Rachel did, because she doesn’t have Rachel’s condition. You don’t, do you?” I asked Farrell as an afterthought.

Farrell shook her head.

Sounds were coming from the other side of the door. I guessed that Farrell’s partner was finally awake.

“If you keep on like this, Dr. John—assuming they don’t arrest you first—you’ll be like me, unable to exist materially in this world,” I said. I thought it best not to mention other worlds. “Is that what you want?”

“End up like you?” Grayson asked scornfully. “That won’t happen. I’m not like you. You’re just the guinea pig. I’m the scientist, and I’ve already moved on from what I learned from using you. My abilities are far more advanced than yours. See?” Like Gary Mitchell in the second Star Trek pilot, he shot a bolt of coherent light from his fingertips, aiming it over Farrell’s head. Wisely, she kept her head down, but she gave a little yelp of fear.

“Your madness is far more advanced than mine, too,” I said. “I could do something like that, but I wouldn’t. That’s the difference between us.” It occurred to me that I should be able to use the light to free Farrell somehow, to burn though the cables or something. But after my antics with the phone lines, I didn’t think I had the power—or finesse—to do it.

“Jealous, Stein?” Grayson said. “Because I don’t believe you could do it. Poor guinea pig, you’re looking mighty sickly. Perhaps it’s time to euthanize you.”

He aimed a bolt at me. I could have ducked, but I took a chance and didn’t. The energy hit me square in what should have been my chest. Somehow, I felt it. It felt good.

“Thanks, Grayson,” I said. “You’ve just given Popeye his spinach.” I looked down, and saw that I had feet again. I still wasn’t solid, though. How was I going to help Cindy Farrell?

Perhaps I wouldn’t have to. Outside the door, Harry and Jerry were pounding and shouting. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard Tim Hennigan’s voice, too.

First things first, though. I could at least make it harder for Grayson to shock Farrell. Remembering the way I’d once turned Jerry’s radio on from across the room, I concentrated on interrupting the power supply to Grayson’s equipment—in effect, turning it off. The light that Grayson had been manipulating disappeared instantly. The hum of the equipment took a little longer to fade, perhaps a second. At the end of that second, I heard the sound of gunfire. A second after that, Hennigan. Jerry and Onclemac burst into the room.

Well, I've managed to avoid ending this thing for another week. Next time (again): possibly the end of the serial, or almost the end, or the week I get stuck and it all comes to nothing. John suggests the following gambit if I get stuck:

Meanwhile, fifty miles away, a small duck sat on the back of a hippopotamus.

Yeah, that'll work.

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six
Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven Part Twelve

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