I've been in jail several times, and I don't relish the thought of going back. I don't like jail, not at all. And especially now, since if they do throw me in the clink, it'll be for the rest of my life. When they found out what I was doing, they passed some damn stiff laws against my little gadget, and against anybody--me--using it. And I did keep on using it, even after it was outlawed.
Of course me and my little gadget saved the planet. They might take that into consideration. But this is the United Nations we're talking about. All those delegates from all those screwed up little nations, you never know what they'll do. Being put on trial by the General Assembly is a real crap shoot. At least they've provided me with a suit and tie, instead of that damn orange coverall, but I'm still under heavy guard.
Uh, oh! There's the signal for me to go in and face the music. When I come out, will I still be a free man? Will I end up on a pedestal, or on the pillory?
* * *
Douglas Fairmont was a bit of a dilettante, and a voracious and eclectic reader. All the rest of Professor Tate's grad students were totally focused on doing their assigned pieces of research so they could get their Ph.D.'s as quickly as possible. Douglas did his research, of course, but he sometimes let his mind wander. This time he looked at the wave form he was supposed to be generating, and something bothered him about it. It looked very similar to an example he had seen recently, but he couldn't place it. After about ten minutes of head scratching, he turned to one of the other grad students and asked, "Hey, Pete, have you ever seen a waveform like this?"
"No, that's not possible. This is something Tate dreamed up, it's brand new. Why in hell do you think we're doing research on it?"
"I dunno, it just reminds me of something I read recently, but I can't pin it down."
"Doug, you've got to stop all this fooling around with stuff that's not part of the project. You need to concentrate on Tate's research, that's the only way you're going to get your Doctorate. And stop hassling me, I need to concentrate." He turned away from Doug and went back to his work.
Doug tried to get back to work, but the wave form kept bothering him. Finally he remembered, it was a book about brain waves. What he was generating looked very much like brain wave patterns. He didn't have the book handy, but he was pretty sure he could match the patterns. He tweaked the device he was working on, checking the scope once in a while, until he was pretty sure he had it right. Then he connected the wave generator to the amplifier stage and pressed the button. Everything went black.
When he woke, he found he was lying on a bed in the hospital ER. Looking around he saw the rest of Tate's team, and members of teams in adjacent labs, on nearby beds. Most were asleep, or just waking, but a few were fully awake, and were being questioned by the doctors and nurses. From what he could hear, they were all denying any knowledge of what had happened. Doug saw that one of the nurses was heading his way, and decided it would be better not to mention that he had just pushed the button on the device on his workbench when the blackout hit. All of the sleepers were kept for a few more hours for observation, then released when the doctors could find nothing wrong with any of them.
As soon as he got out, Doug headed over to the library and got the brainwave book. A quick check confirmed what he had expected, the brainwave pattern he had used was a sleep rhythm. He had caused the problem, and he was very glad he hadn't said anything that would connect him to it. He figured that this could be very valuable, if only he could use it without knocking himself out.
For the next week, Doug surprised his fellow grad students with the intensity of his work. Pete told him, "I'm glad you're taking my advice to buckle down and really work. You may still have a chance at getting your doctorate."
"Yeah," he said, "I think I've found something here that's even better than what Tate gave us."
"Oh, well, Doug, I wouldn't do that. Stick to what Tate wants, get him his results. Forget about going further until you finish your degree and get out on your own. That's the safe way."
"The safe way? You're probably right, I'll do that." Doug figured it was better if Pete believed that. But he had no intention of playing safe. He knew he was onto something, and he fully intended to develop and use it.
It took him a week to come up with a way to keep himself from getting knocked out when he used the gadget. He went out into a nearby forest preserve and tried it, so he wouldn't be found if it failed. But it worked. Several sleeping squirrels fell from the trees but he felt no effect. For a final test, he put an entire shopping mall to sleep with no effect on himself, then got out before the cops showed up.
In the lab the next day, everyone was talking about the incident. "Did you guys see the paper?," asked Cynthia. "A whole shopping mall asleep, just like what happened here."
"Yeah," said Pete, "but they weren't so lucky. Three people tumbled over railings from the upper level and were killed. And one guy got his leg caught in the escalator, damn near bled to death and they're going to have to amputate."
"The cops are really anxious to find whoever caused it," said Ernie. "I wouldn't want to be that guy, they'll throw the book at him for sure."
Doug stayed out of the discussion. He was already thinking about trying some of the other brainwave patterns in the book. Like the one that made the mind very susceptible to suggestion.
* * *
A month later Professor Tate astounded everyone by breezing into the lab and announcing that he was holding a special committee meeting. "I feel that Mr. Fairmont is ready for his orals, and ready to do his dissertation. Mr. Fairmont, next Tuesday afternoon, if you please?"
"Of course, Professor. I'm sure I'm ready for the orals, and I already have some work done on my thesis. Should I bring that along with me?"
"Oh, yes, definitely. The committee will be most delighted to see what you have." He turned and left, leaving the rest of the grad students muttering to themselves.
The muttering got much worse the next Wednesday, when it was announced that not only had Doug passed the orals, but that the committee had decided to accept what he had already written as his complete thesis and grant him his doctorate. And there was almost a mutiny when the school administration held a special graduation ceremony just for Doug, instead of making him wait until the end of the semester.
"How the hell did that happen?" asked Pete, looking over at where Doug was packing up. "There's not a one of us that's not better qualified than him."
"Beats me," said Ernie. "But I for one will be glad to see him go, he was always stirring up trouble."
"Yeah," said Cynthia, "good riddance!"
Doug gave no indication that he heard the conversation, and just kept packing his equipment.
* * *
Doug lived the high life for the next two years. A rent-free luxury apartment, catered gourmet meals, and girls, lots of girls. Everything seemed so easy that he failed to notice one problem, that the effects wore off faster, and more completely, on some people than on others. The irate car dealer from whom he had gotten his Rolls, in a deal no sane person would have agreed to, filed a complaint, and the police came knocking on Doug's door.
"Douglas Fairmont?" asked one officer. When Doug nodded in agreement, the officer continued, "We have a warrant for your arrest here. Please come along with us."
If he had had his device with him he could have gotten free, but he had taken to keeping it in a very safe place when not using it. He had no choice but to go along, and he was put in jail to await a hearing. He was revolted at the conditions in the jail, and disgusted by most of his fellow prisoners. Constant nausea at his surroundings made it almost impossible to eat, and by the time his hearing came up ten days later, he had lost fifteen pounds.
Doug drew a hard-nosed judge who classified him as a con man and set bail at half a million dollars. Suddenly Doug realized that he had no money--he had always gotten what he wanted without the bother of paying for it--and no way to post bond. The courts were clogged up and Doug spent the next six months in jail. The cell they put him in while waiting for his trial was marginally better than the holding tank for drunks and petty crooks where he had been at first, but he still did not enjoy it in the least.
When his trial finally came up, he lucked out. The case was based heavily on circumstantial evidence, and on arguments of "he said" vs. "he said." A confused jury let Doug off. Once out, he quickly retrieved his device and moved to another city where he set himself up in luxury again, being careful this time to keep a supply of money ready for emergencies. He also built a smaller version of his device that he could keep on his person when the full powered device was locked away securely. For a while things went smoothly and Doug went back to living the life of Riley.
* * *
The effects of the device on Professor Tate and the members of the committee had worn off, but they were too embarrassed by the way they had awarded the doctorate to Doug to do anything about it. But Pete and the other grad students were still pissed at what Doug had gotten away with, and put forth an effort to figure out what had happened.
"Professor Tate," said Pete, "we are pretty sure that Doug Fairmont distorted your project into some sort of mind controller."
"Mind controller? Well, that would explain a lot. Can we duplicate what he did?"
"No, Sir, I don't think so. Doug had some other information, we don't know what, we can't duplicate his work without it. But we ought to do something."
"Yes, I agree," said the Professor. He had some good connections in the government, and pretty soon the FBI was looking for Douglas Fairmont.
They got him, but they soon realized they had no grounds to hold him and had to let him go. New and extremely strict laws against "mind control" were passed with incredible speed, considering the pace at which government usually moves, but by then Doug had gone disappeared again. He found having to stay hidden, and to move frequently, less pleasant than the life style he had formerly led, but it was still far preferable to jail. And it did have one advantage, every move brought him a fresh supply of girls.
* * *
Doug was lying in bed, naked, watching TV, with Cynthia, also naked. Not the same Cynthia that had been one of Professor Tate's grad students, of course. But Doug always picked up with girls with that name when he could, as sort of vicarious revenge for the way that particular Cynthia had treated him.
Suddenly the program was interrupted by a screen that said, "Urgent News Bulletin." A harried looking announcer came on and said, "The Earth has just been invaded by aliens from outer space. Ships have landed in the Midwest and taken over an area stretching from Chicago to St. Louis. Please stand by for further details." The announcer was then replaced by a screen that said, "Earth Invaded."
Doug grabbed the remote, but found the same thing on every channel. There was no regular programming, just the announcement, so he switched off the TV and turned toward Cynthia.
A while later he turned the TV back on and found the same announcer. "It appears that the aliens have something that allows them to control the population in their area. A few people who were on the fringes of alien-held territory have wandered out, and report that they can't remember anything from the time they saw the aliens until they got out of the area." He shuffled the papers on his desk, then continued, "Army troops sent in seem to lose contact with their command centers as soon as they encounter the invaders. Other troops further back, observing with telescopes, say those affected just drop their weapons and gear and walk off deeper into occupied territory. Scientists are speculating that the aliens are using some sort of mind controller."
"Son of a bitch!" said Doug.
* * *
Doug was scared. He didn't know how good the aliens' mind controller was. He didn't know if the defensive field he had developed to protect himself from the backwash of his own controller would stop it. But he knew he had to go in. Even though he had been living the life of a rebel and an outlaw, he knew he was the only one with any chance at all of stopping the aliens, and he owed it to his country and his planet to try.
The roads near the rather indefinite border of the alien-held area were deserted. He had had to knock out an army command post set up to stop people from entering the area via the interstate, but now he was rolling along smoothly. The few people he saw seemed to be behaving normally, but that might just be that the aliens had no specific need for them at the moment.
He drove deeper and deeper into occupied territory. Finally he decided that he needed to get closer to the aliens, and took an exit marked "Highland." He pulled over and parked, and got out of the car carrying his full-powered brainwave device. Several of the aliens were walking down the street toward him, so he took aim and pushed the button, and watched them collapse to the ground, unconscious.
Another alien, this one in what was obviously some sort of uniform, saw this too, and swung up a weapon to point at Doug. A warning light that he had installed on his defensive circuits glowed, showing that he was under attack, but he felt no effects. He quickly took aim at the uniformed alien and watched as he too crumpled to the ground. "Good!" he muttered to himself, "looks like I've got the edge on them." He climbed back into his car and headed back out of the occupied area.
* * *
The FBI agent who had taken the phone call burst into the office yelling, "Chief! Chief! We have a call from someone claiming to be Douglas Fairmont, he says he knows how to handle the aliens!"
"I don't know, the voice sounds like some newsclips of him, but how can we be sure?"
"We can't take chances. Switch the call in here, and get a trace going on it."
The agent turned and rushed out. Moments later the phone rang and the Chief picked it up. "Indianapolis Bureau Office, Chief Henderson speaking."
The voice on the phone said, "This is Douglas Fairmont. I've just been in the occupied area, and I know what they're doing. They have device like mine, only mine is far more effective. Do you want to make a deal?"
"What kind of a deal?"
"A deal where I give you--the FBI, the Army, whoever wants it--my device to use against the aliens. In return you drop all charges against me."
"I'd like to do that, Mr. Fairmont, but I'm not sure I have the authority ..." He dragged the conversation out, asking questions, providing non-committal answers, to allow time for the call to be traced. He paused as the other agent looked in the door, holding his thumb up to indicate the trace on the call was successful. "I will give you my word to do what I can, but I may have to go to the Secretary of Homeland Security, or even the White House. Right now you're pretty high on the most wanted list."
"OK, go ahead, go as high as you have to. I'll call back in twenty four hours ..." The voice broke off, and there was the sound of a struggle at the other end.
Another voice came over the phone. "Agent Brewer, Chief. We have him, got him secured so he can't use his gadget. We'll bring him right in."
"Good work," said the Chief. He hung up the phone and settled down to wait.
When Doug was brought in, he was handcuffed, and he had already been strip-searched and put into an orange prison coverall. One wrist was heavily taped. "We didn't want to take any chances," said Brewer. "He was reaching for something on his belt. The Doc says we damn near busted his wrist when we grabbed his arm to stop him."
"Well, Mr. Fairmont, what do you have to say for yourself?" asked the Chief.
"You didn't have to do this," said Doug. "I chose to come in and help the government fight the invaders. I know what they are using, it's like what I have, but mine is better. I want to give the government the plans for my device."
"So you say, Mr. Fairmont, so you say. But my job requires that I keep tabs on you, whether or not you're telling the truth. Brewer, take him down and lock him up while we figure things out."
Once more Doug found himself in prison. It was a much nicer lockup than the average jail, but he didn't like it any better this time than he had before.
The next day he was brought out to a meeting with Chief Henderson, several others from DHS, and a Mr. Conklin who was introduced as a representative of the President. Conklin, who seemed to be in charge, spoke first. "Mr. Fairmont, I understand that you are willing to give your invention to the government, to allow us to fight off the alien invaders?"
"Yes, I am, but I was really hoping to have the charges against me dropped in exchange."
"Um, it seems there's a little problem there. The President would have been willing to grant a pardon, but it's no longer his decision. More alien ships have landed--St. Petersburg, Beijing, Sydney--and the UN is now in charge. The Secretary General has told us that if you give us your invention, and if we succeed in ousting the invaders, the General Assembly will consider your case. Unfortunately the actions of the General Assembly are somewhat unpredictable."
"Oh, Hell," said Doug, "I guess I don't have any choice at this point. The plans are in safe deposit box 1077, in the College Avenue branch of the Consolidated Bank in Athens, Georgia. Take them and use them. Just do what you can for me."
"Thank you, Mr. Fairmont." Conklin rose from his seat and left in a hurry. Doug was quickly escorted back to his cell. They had been kind enough to provide him with a TV, and over the next months he watched as troops equipped with his device went in and defeated the aliens.
* * *
My guards have placed me right in front of the Secretary General, then backed off, just a little. One thing I don't much like, there's a couple of soldiers standing there with one of my gadgets, looking like they were ready to use it.
"Mr. Fairmont," the Secretary General addresses me, "Before we do anything else, there is a matter of security to be taken care of. All the plans for building your device are locked in a top-security vault, and all those who worked with them have had their memories erased with the device. You are now the only man on the planet who knows how to build it, and we can't have that."
Before I can react, the guards move in and hold me, and the soldier focuses the device on me. I feel dizzy for a moment. I try to think of the plans, but they're gone. I no longer remember how my own device was built.
The Secretary General continues, "Now that we can be sure that your device is truly secret, and cannot be used except by a concerted effort of the UN, we are able to reward you in a fitting manner. Although you did violate some laws, you stepped up in the crisis, and saved the world from the aliens."
That didn't sound so bad, but I'm still nervous. I really wish this long-winded turkey would get to the point. What will happen to me?
"The General Assembly, Mr. Fairmont, has voted for the creation of a new award, the UN Medal of Honor. It carries with it the pardon of any past crimes, and a generous pension. We hereby declare you the first recipient of this Medal." As the Secretary General finishes, all the delegates rise to their feet in a standing ovation, followed by everyone else in the hall.
I hadn't realized how tense I was, but now I find myself shaking in relief. Eventually the cheering stops. The Secretary General comes down from the podium. He pins the Medal on me, and hands me a credit card--I figure that must be for my pension. He shakes my hand, and then it's over. My escort, no longer my guards, lead me out of the room.
They take me to a car and drive me to what is apparently my new home, a lovely mansion in the suburbs. But all along the route, I notice that there are posters with my picture. Everywhere. I had lucked out, instead of throwing me in jail they were putting me on a pedestal as the world's greatest hero. So why was I beginning to feel nervous?
By the time three months have gone by, I know the answer. I have to spend the rest of my days living up to being a hero. Gloria Steinem once said, "A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space." I'm back in jail, in jail for the rest of my life. My cell is the pedestal they have put me on, or maybe it's the entire Earth. And everyone on Earth is my jailer. They're polite, respectful, helpful, but it seems like they're always there, keeping tabs on me. I still don't like it, but there is nothing I can do about it.
James Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published four fantasy novels, The Ghost of Grover's Ridge, Magic Is Faster Than Light, Teen Angel, and Cop with a Wand, and has two more, Magic to the Rescue and This Wand for Hire, due out soon.
He has had short stories published as e-books, in anthologies such as "Desolate Places", "Strange Mysteries 1,2,&3", "Book of Exodi," "Christmas in Outer Space," and "Free Range Fairy Tales," and in various e-zines and print magazines.
He is currently working on a new novel, Magic versus the Empire. He is a member of IWOFA and the Dark Fiction Guild. His website is http://teenangel.netfirms.com.
Published by permission of the author.