Authors: Drew Avera
The Tesla Gate
A Sci-Fi Short Story
By Drew Avera
All Rights Reserved by Drew Avera 2016
"It's been eighteen years, Nikola," she said, pursing her lips as she watched me work through a line of empty beakers and vials. "Can't you at least pretend you're excited to test our invention?"
I scoffed lightly while scribbling more notes on a torn piece of paper. "My invention, Alokin," I reminded her. A negligible comment considering the small detail that we shared the same brainwaves.
"I'm just as much a part of you as the image you see in your reflection," she retorted, "perhaps more, given our secret."
Her words burned, molding me into a man less devoted to studies and more convinced that what I had to offer truly would change the world. Alokin was the one who insisted my talents were wasted with Edison. My true calling was to be perched atop the world and looking down on my own creation, like a god. She was right, though, it had been eighteen years.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, partially for my excluding her from my work, but mostly for being too distracted to perform simple calculus proficiently enough to not make a mistake on the last scrap of clean paper I could find in my lab. I held back a curse as I thought of how many mistakes could be erased if I didn't insist on writing exclusively in ink.
A smile stretched across her face and the elation in her eyes was distracting me. "Apology accepted, at least the part you meant for me."
She knew me too well.
A knock at the door distracted both of us for a moment. We looked into one another's eyes, both riddled with the frustration of work interrupted. Few things wrought such utter agitation as distractions, especially when I was on the cusp of the greatest discovery in the history of mankind. "I wasn't expecting a guest. Were you?" A smirk and shake of the head preceded her walk towards the door as she phased through my work station and passed through me like a spirit. I was used to it, even the jolt of shock which accompanied it. "Wait for me," I said softly, not wanting the visitor to know I was talking to myself.
The heavy wooden door opened with a pull, made difficult because the frame was slightly warped.
"Nikola," my visitor said as he pushed his way past me. His hair was a mess atop his head and he looked as if he hadn't slept for days. "I've been sending you letters, haven't you seen them?"
I watched as Samuel shuffled through my correspondence, lackadaisically tossing the uninteresting slosh back onto the table. There was a time when I would have been nervous around him, given the stature of the man more commonly known to the world as Mark Twain; for me he was more than a celebrity, he was a savior. It was his words in story form which kept me going when I fell ill so long ago. I owed a lot to him, even if I never spoke about it. "I'm sorry, I've been really-"
"Busy?" He interjected. He waved three letters in front of me; none of the envelopes were opened. "I swear if it wasn't for the fact I cared about you so much I think life would be more comfortable if I forgot you existed." It wasn't the first time he had said those words to me, but this time I could hear the hurt in his voice.
"What's wrong?" I asked, frustrated at my lack of social etiquette.
He stood stoically, hands in the pockets of his white linen suit as he fidgeted with something he didn't want to reveal just yet. His mustache dropped over his lips, matching the tirade of unkempt hair, but freaks like us never bothered with hiding our quirks. I eyed Alokin as the thought of being the same kind of freak crossed our collective mind.
"After all this time I was hoping you had figured it out by now," he said. "Ever since Susy passed away I have been dreading the end of this life and passing into the hereafter. A parent should never have to endure the death of a child. If you could put that brilliant brain of yours into high gear, then perhaps I could skip the rigmarole of enduring such hardships and be able to relive my past immune from the depression I see myself slipping into." There were no words to describe his emotional state, but the quiver of his lips and the moist, redness of his eyes revealed everything I needed to know about the fragile person standing before me. The future was looking bleak for the older man and the past was the only place where he truly knew happiness.
I hesitated to say anything, but it was my duty as his friend and collaborator to speak up. "Sam, we have no way of knowing if what you are asking is possible. I've laid the foundation for this kind of work throughout my entire adult life, yet I still don't feel any closer to the endgame than the day you approached me about your dear Susy.” My words stung; I could see it written on his face, my prose of disappointment washing over him.
His lifted hand interrupted any further words I might have added. "I don't want to hear it, Nik," he said. "I don't mean to be rude, but my time is better served elsewhere, honoring my beloved. I know you are doing all you can, and the problems of an old, lonely man are only interfering with progress."
I felt ashamed at the fact I was agreeing with his statement, he was indeed holding everything up, but I dared not speak it. This experiment was his idea and it was driving both of us to our graves, he more rapidly than I.
"If you need anything..."
"Yeah," he said, waving the unopened letters before placing them back on the table. "I know." His bushy eyebrows revealed more about the sardonically charged statement than anything else.
I stood still as Sam walked past me, leaving me to my work, but as he left it felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. I moved over to the table and opened the most recent letter he had written to me. Within the first few lines the reason for his visit became clear. Another of his loved ones had passed, this time it was Olivia, his wife.
"Eight months and not a single semi-successful attempt!" I tossed my pen and paper across the room, the fluttering of pages passing harmlessly through the figment of my imagination. I could hardly call her a friend now, if truly, I ever really could. The truth was she was grating on my last nerve with her incessant questions and suggestions. I was a man who preferred working alone. Despite what outsiders saw in the room when they looked at me, I was far from alone.
"Yet," she suggested with a smile, but it was a condescending one and I knew it. I shared the same brain patterns.
"Is it really necessary for you to kick me when I'm down?" I asked. "One would assume it was a form of sadism."
I reached down to pick up my scattered scribbling. The last year's worth of notes provided no inspiration for solving my power issues. Maybe if I still worked for Edison and had the resources at his disposal then I could gain new ground, but I would never go crawling back to that egotistical quack.
"I'm sorry, but I'm just trying to help." Her eyes betrayed her well-intending words. This was our life now, locked in a stalemate of mutual compliance and passive-aggressive rumination.
"Don’t trouble yourself," I said, dismissing the conflict altogether. I had more important things to burn energy on than arguing with, essentially, myself. My mind drifted to my college years and when I first experienced her voice. I was overworked and undercompensated, not to mention the fact my father showed little-to-no interest in my academic success. It wasn't long before her voice was as dominate as my own and I cracked under the pressure of it all. I quit school before completing my studies and joined the military. That did little to set things right.
"Why are your memories of me always so dark?" Alokin's voice was more melancholy than anything else.
"Why do you exist merely to make me feel so divided?" I retorted.
She closed her eyes and stood to leave. Every time she was emotional it was harder to see her as she seemingly blinked in and out of existence. If she could touch matter, then I suspected she might slam the door as she found her way into the bedroom. Instead, she sulked quietly, leaving me in peace.
Finally alone, I returned my thoughts to my work, but those thoughts quickly drifted to the last letter I received from Sam. His heart and mind were as fractured as they had ever been. My heart went out to him, and my work was more for him than anyone else. My own familial losses were pale compared to his, but that was just my opinion. I chose not to talk about my own, but Sam often wore his heart on his sleeve.
I tossed my notes to the hardwood floor and grabbed a fresh pad of paper. It was through a stream of consciousness I committed my thoughts to paper.
"It is with the knowledge of how much you love to teach others that I can only make one suggestion to stave off the torrents of pain you are enduring. You feel lost and alone, but remember the joy you experienced when your own daughters were children. Perhaps, if inclined to make a positive change in the lives of those less fortunate, you too can find happiness in the distractions of good deeds. You have my word I will continue on the path you've directed, but in the meantime, let your mind wander elsewhere. If all goes according to plan, then the past will return to you old friend.
I folded the letter and placed it snugly into my last envelope, placing it back on the table for my next outing.
"That was beautiful," Alokin said, walking in from the bedroom. Her smile had returned and my stress and anger had faded. I smiled as she appeared to sit across from me, but we both knew she wasn't really there. Even still, it felt good not to be alone.
A blue swarm of light twisted in a funnel-shaped cloud before my eyes. The edge of the light seemed to want to pull me in. I resisted even though I felt a nudging desire to see what would happen if I gave into the torrent. Then it was gone. In the blink of an eye I watched my invention die, teetering out in another explosion of blown fuses and charred cables. I would cry if it weren't so shamefully hilarious. Maybe it was just funny because accepting my failures at face value wasn't something I was comfortable doing.
"You know there's a way to bypass those pesky fuses," Alokin said, she appeared to be leaning against the wall across from me, her face slightly soiled from the smoke wafting towards her. She knew as well as I that bypassing anything would turn the lab into a smoldering pile of rubble. Maybe that was what she wanted.
"You know there's medication I could take which would keep you caged in the recesses of my mind, don't you?" I retorted. Everything was experimental, but it was an interesting idea, medicating myself into being alone. After all, the whiskey did little to make my mind shut up when I wasn't working.
"You would never," she snapped. It was fun to get under her skin, or whatever it was that laced her together in my mind.
I smiled, revealing nothing. "I wonder if I can create a power supply to transmit the voltages I need to sustain the device without the use of wires.”
I asked no one in particular, but I knew she would answer.
"I thought you abandoned the coil patents when you thought I wasn't looking?"
I couldn't help but laugh. When was she not looking? "I admit the idea was rather large and costly, but I never fully abandoned it. I simply shelved it until a good opportunity presented itself."
I could hear her stifle her laughter with a gentle hand. "And now is that time? Are you certain?"
I looked up at the behemoth I had created. Towers of steel loomed into a t-shaped tower. It was something I could work with. "I'm far from certain, Alokin, but you know I never give up."
She appeared behind me, this time her face perfectly pristine. "You get that from me," she said.
I couldn't hold back my smile. There was a lot of me that she took credit for, why should this have been any different? "That's funny; I don't recall your mentorship when I was growing up."
A pout presented itself before her eyes gave away her playful act. "I assure you, sir, I was always there." The word "always" rang with a lingering hiss.
I returned my attention to the device, no longer procrastinating with myself. No amount of banter could finish this god-forsaken project, and I had to see it through. I could almost taste how close I was to the final act, with charred ozone in the air around me coupled with the whiskey on my breath. I pulled the tin-can-sized fuse from the junction box and popped a replacement into the circuit. My muscles strained to snap it into place, but the heavy duty springs had proven themselves time and again against propelling blown circuitry towards my face like a bullet. Smart men learned from the mistakes of others; I rested easy at night considering myself to be one in such a league.
"You're acting a bit hastily, don't you think? You haven't even isolated where the current is drawing. Do I need to clothe myself in coveralls to do this myself?" Alokin asked. Her snooty retort stung my ears. She hated being ignored, like most people, I imagined, but there was work to be done, and with God as my witness, I was going to finish this project, or die trying.
Dead? My dear friend, Samuel, was dead? I dropped the newspaper to the dusty, hardwood floor and fell back into the straight-back chair. Alokin appeared next to me, her makeup running down the side of her face from the tears I couldn't force myself to shed. When it came to expressing emotion, she did the lion's share of the work. I just sat there seething.
"I should have finished already, yet here I sit, a failure at the last promise I made to my one, true friend.” I spat the words indignantly at her. Her lips pinched together to keep from retaliating at me. If anyone knew me, it was Alokin. I wasn't really angry with her, but myself. She simply made the easiest target in my complex world of mixed realities. "I'm sorry," I whispered, hating the sound of my own voice.