Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.



Sleep, Mr. Teasdale, Sleep

By J. Richard Jacobs

LIKE ALL BACKWATER, PRIVATE institutions of purported higher learning, MegaTech of Dimwater Bay owed much of its available funding to three basic components. First, it complied with federal and state regulations regarding curricula and teaching criteria. Second, they offered several off-the-wall degree courses that could be found nowhere else on the planet. Courses of study deliberately designed to entice those who had the money and wanted the credit, but didn’t want or couldn’t handle any brainwork attached. Third, the school hosted a robust, though not particularly successful athletic program for students with talent in certain sports but lacking the cranial power for rigorous study, for which those off-the-wall courses were specifically designed and moderate scholarships were awarded. One such student, Frank Teasdale, had failed one of those obscure, can’t fail courses and was about to pay the price by forfeiting his spot on MegaTech’s football team, losing the Corvette he wanted and those cheerleaders—man, those cheerleaders. But rules are rules and funding must be protected. Teasdale was painfully aware of what was at stake. Everything. He had to come up with a workable reason for failing the final.

It was late Tuesday when Teasdale stopped at the door of a small office at the end of a long hall in the Admin Building. From his hand dangled a yellow slip of paper. He shuffled his new tennis shoes of a well known and obscenely expensive brand briefly at the threshold, then stepped hangdog into the Dean’s office.

“You ... wanted to see me, Professor?”

“That depends. Are you Frank Teasdale and is that paper in your hand a failure notice from Professor Gorman’s class in Classical Castanet Design?”

“Um ... yes, sir. But I can explain, you know? I was in trainin’ for the big game with Swamp Hollow U all week and ...”

“And you blew the final. Blew it in grand style, from what I understand. I know all about that. For your information, you are not here to get a reaming from me and I do not want to suffer your excuses, either.”


“No. You are here because I have a proposition for you. A proposition that may do us both a world of good. It could quite easily set you in good standing by changing that nasty grade you got from Gorman to a four point oh. That grade ought to make up for a couple of others you aren’t carrying too well, either. Are you interested, Mr. Teasdale?”

“Oh, yeah, sure. You bet. Um ... I mean, yes, sir.”

“Fine. Meet me in the Commons tomorrow morning at ten—and do not be late.”

“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. Ten o’clock, sharp, sir.”

With that, Teasdale went into the hall, feeling lighter than he had in quite a while. He wadded up the yellow slip, made a basketball player’s hop and tossed it overhand into the trash. He headed for the door with the hint of a skip in his step. Opportunity had knocked and he wasn’t about to let it get away.

* * *

At ten in the morning on Wednesday, the Commons was deserted with the exception of a couple of tables at the far end near the cafeteria. A few workers sat there, waiting for their shift to begin. The Dean was seated at a table in the center of the area, his face lit brightly by the glow of his laptop. As Teasdale approached, the Dean, without looking up, motioned for him to sit.

“Good morning, Mr. Teasdale. You are right on time. Grab a cup. The carafe is still hot.”

“Good morning, sir. Yes, sir. I ain’t had my coffee for the day.”

“Fine. So, let us get right to it. I have little time today. What I am about to tell you is in the strictest confidence. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir. My lips are sealed.”

“Good. Mr. Teasdale, what do you know about dreams?”

“Um, not much. I have dreams, but I don’t know nothin’ about them. Most of the time they’re pretty good and, sometimes, they’re awful.”

“Have you ever thought that dreams might be real and not the psychological ramblings of an unconscious mind?”

“You tellin’ me that the chick I’ve been bangin’ in my ... ”

“Well, yes. Perhaps. But I mean more like the world you live in. The reality of everything around you.”

“You mean like in the movies? Huh-uh. No way. I saw a couple of those. Pure BS, man ... uh, sir.”

“Interesting. I have invented a machine to investigate that situation. The proposition I have for you is this: Would you be interested in being part of the first experiments involving the physics and reality of the dream-state?”

“Sure. Well, I mean, what do I have to do?”

“Sleep, Mr. Teasdale. Just sleep and report to me what you experience in your dream-state when you awaken.”

“Hey, I can sleep.”

“We are all aware of that, Mr. Teasdale. Your grades are testimony. What I propose is a series of four sessions. The first one will be this Friday at three. In that first run you will be asleep for about two hours. Subsequent sessions will increase in duration until, in the final one, you will be asleep for a full eight hours. I have arranged all of these to fit into your schedule. Are you still interested?”

“Sure. Yes, sir.”

“Good. What we are studying here is a little askew of classical psychophysics. Do you know what psychophysics is, Mr. Teasdale?”

“Um, no. Somethin’ to do with Einstein?”

“No, not quite. It is a science that studies the relationships between stimuli and the perceptions and sensations affected by them. What we are doing here is a little different in thteasdaleat the stimuli we are applying are produced by the subject himself in the dream-state. There will be no external stimuli applied from the laboratory side and that makes things quite difficult to quantify. Your reports on conditions experienced while asleep are critical to the success of these experiments. You must pay close attention to what happens and how it affects you in your dream-state. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

“Yeah ... uh, yes, sir.”

“Fine. Now, you will need some information about dreams and what they may represent before we begin so that the experiments will have validity. I have two thumb drives here. Study their contents carefully during the time you have remaining and meet me in Lab 1 of the Psychophysics Department at two-thirty on Friday. We need time for the set-up and to tune the equipment to your brainwave contours. And remember, not so much as a single word to anyone, or the whole thing is off. I will deny any knowledge of what you have said and you will no longer be on the team. You can forget about Swamp Hollow U.”

Forget about Swamp Hollow? There was no way he was going to allow that to happen. As much as he hated studying, he would study. He would study every minute until it was time for the experiment to begin. He would not lose this opportunity. He would get his Corvette back and wallow in cheerleaders.

* * *

At ten minutes to three, the lights in MegaTech’s School of Psychophysics flickered, died, then stuttered back to life at the instant Dr. Trevor Platt, Dean of Psychophysics, closed the switch and the first stage of the Dream Dimensional Sequencer whirred into life. Frank Teasdale, full of apprehension about the process and worried about falling off the bench to low grades, lay strapped to a stainless steel table in the center of what little floor space remained in the tiny laboratory. A halo was affixed to his head from which a jumble of varicolored wires cascaded to the floor and snaked their way across nondescript, textured beige tiles to various black boxes scattered around the perimeter of the room. He rolled his eyes in a vain attempt to watch the good doctor as he moved from one panel to another, making the final adjustments that would supposedly send him on a trip into the unknown, uncharted waters of the dream world. He wanted this. He didn’t want this. He was scared to death. He was resolute. His skin tingled.

“There, that should do it ... I think,” Platt said. “Are you ready for your trip, Mr. Teasdale?”

“I guess so ... yeah,” Teasdale said. His expression hinted of underlying worry. “Hey, Doc Platt, are you really sure this thing works? I mean, it ain’t gonna hurt me or nothin’, right?”

“Oh, my, no, Mr. Teasdale, of course not. Mm-m-m, that is, not to my knowledge, anyway. It should be as safe as a stroll around the quad. Maybe safer. You just concentrate on the one point nine you received on the final for the class with Professor Gorman and how your cooperation in this experiment is going to ensure you an undeserved four point oh. You do want to remain a member of the team, don’t you?”

Sure he did. The only reason he was in school in the first place was to get his foot in the door of the pros. All he needed to do was make a good showing against other, more well-endowed colleges in front of the eyes of any scouts who may be in the stands. Anyway, that’s how he thought it worked. Education was an unfortunate and not too desirable side effect of the whole process.

“You bet I do, Doc Platt.”

“Good. Now, Mr. Teasdale, begin counting backward from ten to one. Please, do it slowly.”

“Okay. Ten ... nine ... eight ... se-even ... si-i-ix ... fi ... fo-o-o- ... ”

Platt smiled down at the young hulk on the table and Teasdale could still see him, but it was like looking up from the bottom of a well. Platt was saying something that he had to strain to hear but couldn’t quite understand. Platt’s voice sounded so terribly far away. That didn’t do much for his confidence.

“Ah, Mr. Teasdale, that is much better. You know, you are so big, so strong—so incredibly stupid. You are the perfect subject for this experiment,” Platt said quietly, as if talking to himself. “All right, Mr. Teasdale,” Platt continued, raising the volume of his voice but maintaining a soothing tone. “You are sleeping now. You are comfortable in the dark and you are experiencing pleasant feelings. Are you able to hear me well, Mr. Teasdale?”

Teasdale made the plunge from consciousness to that other world Platt described in a smooth transition. No rotating tunnel. No kaleidoscope of flashing colors. No noise. No sense of falling forever. It was not at all like in the movies. It was as if one moment he lay on that table in the lab; the next he was in another world.

“Oh yeah, Doc Platt. I can’t hear you real good, you know, but I can hear you. It’s nice in here ... and it’s real quiet,” Teasdale said, his voice low and faltering.

And it was ... pleasant, quiet, and dark. An occasional flash of color would fill his space and a pattern of colors of varied brightness and hues would drift by from time to time, but, on the whole, it was quiet and dark. Not a black darkness, either. It was more like being surrounded in brown velvet. A dark brown velvet that was soft, comfortable, and ... warm. Sort of like cuddling a squishy teddy bear. He resisted sucking his thumb.

Platt was calling him again, but his voice was muffled and far away, as if he were in another universe—another time. Panic lay just beneath Teasdale’s skin. He could feel it there like some crawling, squirming thing just waiting for an opportunity to break out and consume him—maybe worse. He concentrated on hearing Platt and not his pounding heart or his inner voice that was screaming at him, “Get out. Get out now, while you still can.”

“Mr. Teasdale? Can you hear me, Mr. Teasdale?” It was Platt’s voice, all right. But it was smaller than before, soft as the brown fuzz around him, and it was coming from somewhere and ... everywhere, and ... nowhere, all at the same time. He could no longer see the lab, or Platt. Nothing but dark brown.

Fear won out. It engulfed him and he couldn’t answer. His throat froze. It was a fear of what else might be there in the dark with him. Whatever might be waiting for him to lower his guard so it could pounce. It was a fear of what else might hear him if he answered Platt and it could use the sound of his voice to locate him. But if he didn’t answer he would screw up the experiment and that would mean no passing grade and no more scholarship—no more football. He could see the new Corvette he was planning to buy when he got his contract from the pros—and the cheerleaders, those beautiful cheerleaders, all vanishing in a wisp of soft, brown velvet smoke.

“Yeah, Doc, I can hear you, but not very good now,” he managed to croak out. “Not very good at all,” he continued cautiously. “You’re gonna have to talk a little louder, okay?”

Teasdale felt a sudden urge to hold his hands out in front of him. They appeared much farther away than normal, as if his arms had grown. He counted his fingers. He did it carefully to be certain he would get it right. There were still ten and that, he guessed, was a good sign. What about his toes, were they all there? He counted and found there were ten of them, too.

That was pretty dumb ... why did I do that? Then he remembered he was in a dream-state and people do weird things in their dreams. He felt better. Not good, but better.

“Mr. Teasdale, I am going to activate the second stage of the sequence in sixty seconds. Remember what I told you, and be prepared. Do you understand?”

“Sure, Doc Platt. I think so ... and I still have ten of each, you know?”

He struggled to recall all that Platt had said in those thumb drives about being ready for the second stage start-up.

Oh, yeah, make sure the eyes of my dream self are closed and wait for the sound of a bell, then open them real slow. Yeah, I’m ready.

Platt said he was going to the second stage in one minute but, for Teasdale, it was as if no time at all had passed before he heard the bell ... far away and faint as a butterfly’s wing pounding on an early morning mist.

He opened his eyes and there was ... nothing—no dream-scape. There was nothing to see but dark brown fuzz. Everything was the same. Was something wrong? Did the machine screw up? The panic roaming around in him was about to surface and Platt was his only way out. There was nothing he could do on his own to get back to that table and the security of the lab.

“Hey, Doc, did you start the second whatchamacallit? If you did, I don’t see a ... ”

Something moved against the darkness of the background. It was like a shadow inside a shadow ... darker on dark.

“Wait ... I ... I think I see something in here,” Teasdale said in a whisper. “Doc Platt? Are you there? Dr. Platt?”

Silence, dark brown fluff, and a shadow ... a shadow moving. Moving toward him.

Oh, man. Things are turnin’ weird.

“Hello? Dr. Platt? Are you there, Dr. Platt?” he said a little louder.

“Yes, Mr. Teasdale, I am here.” Platt’s reply was indistinct and distant—too distant. A metallic taste hung on his tongue.

The darker shape in the darkness was coming closer and beginning to take on form. It was no longer merely a shadow’s shadow but something of substance moving toward him faster and faster.

“Hang ... hang on, Doc. Something’s in here with ... with me and it’s ... coming my way.” Teasdale’s dream self trembled. “Oh man, it’s ... it’s getting ... closer. You ready to yank me out of here, Doc? Dr. Platt?”

The thing in the darkness inched ever closer until it resolved into the figure of a man. He appeared to be in his mid-fifties, short—maybe five feet six, or so. Thick reading glasses were clinging to the tip of a bulbous, rosy nose—a pink knob that was riding atop a heavy, gray moustache, the moustache being the only hair on his head. That is, except for thick, scraggly eyebrows that curled out of control this way and that over deep set eyes of a vibrant blue—so blue they were almost purple. Weird. Teasdale had never seen purple eyes.

“Who are you and what are you doing in here?” the man demanded. “Answer me,” he shouted.

Teasdale was caught between an urge to laugh and a desire to scream. The man was dressed in a light blue, short-sleeve dress shirt, its buttons severely stressed by being required to hold the shirt closed over a sizeable paunch. His shirt pocket was stuffed with pens, pencils, rules, pliers and whatnot. The seams at the top had split and one corner dangled in a sloppy triangle held in place by the clips of a couple of pens.

A bright orange necktie with dark green stripes fell from a badly ironed collar, collided with his paunch, then ended about two inches below where his belt buckle should be, if it could have been seen.

“Answer me, boy,” the man pressed.

“I’m ... I’m Frank Teasdale. I’m a student at MegaTech.”

In those thumb drives there was a pointed admonition telling him he had to maintain control of any situation that presented itself or his dream sequence would get out of whack. Platt stressed the control issue, but he didn’t say anything about what would happen should he lose it. He also didn’t say much about how to maintain it. Teasdale was certain that whatever might happen, it probably wasn’t going to be good.

“All right, that tells me who and ostensibly what you are, but it doesn’t say a thing about how you wriggled in here ... or why. Speak up, young man.”

“Look, old man, this is a real important experiment and you don’t belong in here.”

Teasdale said it with the confidence of one who knows dream creatures are of one’s own making and are completely within the control of the dreamer. Platt told him in the most general of terms how to keep things from getting out of hand and this seemed like a good time to practice his control before he was confronted with something more difficult than a dumpy little man with bad taste. “Now, disappear,” he commanded.

The little man was still there, staring—no—glaring at him. The man folded his hands behind his back, spread his legs and narrowed his overly large eyes. To Teasdale, he looked ... comical.

“My name, you impudent pipsqueak, is Dr. Clarence T. Rumple and this is my experiment ... my dream sequence. You, young man, are the interloper.” With that, he raised a hand and swung it around, which Teasdale took to mean the old man was indicating the whole sequence and not just a part of it.

“Now, you slow-witted sloth, how did you get into my private sequence?”

It landed on Teasdale with a disconcerting suddenness that he had seen this apparition, the one standing defiantly in front of him, before. A picture of this dream creation was hanging on the wall of the main laboratory where it stared out over the room, its eyes seeming to follow him wherever he moved. The man in the picture, Dr. Rumple, had been Dean of the Psychophysics Department before Platt ... before he, Rumple, mysteriously disappeared about a year ago. Teasdale was convinced that picture was what he used to construct the character standing menacingly in front of him.

“Oh yeah, now I remember. Sure. Sorry, I didn’t recognize you right off ... but I’ve only seen your picture, you know.”

“That’s better, but you still haven’t told me how you crawled into my sequence. Who put you up to this? This isn’t one of those stupid frat house stunts, is it?”

“No, sir, I swear. I’m part of a real experiment and you’re one of the characters I stuck in it. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“I’ll tell you what I understand, you slightly less than tepid twit. You are interfering with a serious investigation into the dimensional character—the reality of the dream-state condition—that’s what I understand. So, if you don’t mind, I would appreciate it if you would slither out the same way you came in. I have work to do.”

It was obvious this control thing wasn’t going too well. Teasdale hadn’t been able to simply dispose of his creation on command and his character didn’t have the personality he thought he would have given it. It was acting too ... too independent ... like it had a mind of its own. Something was radically wrong and Teasdale wanted out before things got any worse.

“Doc. Hey, Doc, can you hear me? There’s something real screwy in here.”

“What’s the matter with you?” the apparition said. “There’s no need to shout. Of course I can hear you and, as far as I can tell, you’re the only screwy thing in here.”

“Not you, Dr. Rumple. I’m calling Dr. Platt, the guy who’s running the machine.”

“Who? Platt, did you say? Platt’s running what machine? The only machine I’ve ever seen him run was his mouth.”

“His, um, Psycho-physical Dream Sequencer is what he called it, I think. I’m his subject in a series of experiments and you’re one of my character creations that’s gone real wrong.”

“His Sequencer? Let me tell you something, you throwback to a simpler evolutionary period, Platt couldn’t sequence himself to the bathroom and back with any degree of success. It is my Sequencer and it is supposed to be running on automatic in my basement.”

Platt hadn’t answered him and Teasdale had failed in his attempt to gain control of the situation. He decided it would be a good idea to play along with his creation run amok to see where that might lead.

“Dr. Platt is Dean of Psychophysics. You ... you disappeared about a year ago.”

“Dean, did you say? That babbling, bumbling buffoon is Dean of P-P? Hmm, a year, you said? One year conscious, or one year dream?”

“One real year, sir.”

“No, no, no, you mush-for-brains clod. Both sides are real. Real isn’t limited to one side or the other. What do you think I am investigating here? The reality of dreams, you slavish slug. I’ll wager that walking cerebral vacuum hasn’t explained that to you, has he?”

“Um ... no. No, he didn’t. Not like that, anyway. That’s sounds real weird, Doc.”

“Weird? Weird? Let’s pursue this a bit further. Do you think someone of your lofty mental acumen could pull such a notion from the aether? Better, is that the sort of thinking normally taking place in that thick-boned orb of yours?”

“I ... I guess not. No.”

“You guess not? Absolutely not. So, if I disappeared one conscious year ago and, through your own admission, you couldn’t manage this sort of concept by yourself ... and Platt never discussed it with you ... how could I possibly be your creation? Furthermore, why do you suppose we are in here together, hmm?”

“I don’t know, Doc. I just thought ... ”

“Thought? You haven’t learned what thought is, let alone how to put it into practice. Now, listen to me, young man, and listen well, because what I am about to tell you is of paramount importance to both of us.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Uh-huh ... that’s much better.”

Rumple assumed a lotus position in front of Teasdale and his eyes narrowed.

“Well, sit down, boy. That’s not too complicated for you, is it?”

“Uh, no, sir.” Teasdale settled down on the velvet and noticed it was more like floating than sitting.

“Assuming that what you have told me is true, and you have told me nothing to make me believe you are bright enough to have concocted such an elaborate idea, you will be in grave danger if Platt should hear you. Try—pay attention, boy—try to concentrate on not passing anything to the other side. Can you do that?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Don’t think so—do so. Now, you said I disappeared about a year ago?”

“That’s right. A little more than a year. It was just before I started school.”

Rumple consulted a device on his wrist and frowned.

“Hmm, this is serious ... but it explains a great deal.”

“What’s that, Doc?”

“I miscalculated the time differentials or, perhaps, the shift has affected my electronic and mechanical equipment on this side. According to my monitor, I have been in here ten hours. That is, ten hours of conscious time, yet you say it has been a bit more than a year. That is amazing. It also says that immitigable imbecile actually did something creative on his own. Shocking.”

Tapping a few buttons on the device brought a twisted grin to Rumple’s face.

“Mm-hmm, it was then that I told Platt a little something about my theory on the conscious-dream parallel dimensions. Not much, but apparently enough to spark that mole-minded maggot into some independent thinking. It was undoubtedly his first experience with it. He is a cognitive virgin, you know.”

“Cognitive ... virgin?”

“Meaning that a thought has never penetrated his skull, young man. That addle-brained weasel probably followed me home and waited for me to begin this experiment. Then, when he was satisfied I was on this side, he turned off the equipment and took it. Lucky for me he wasn’t aware of the internal back-up power supply or I wouldn’t be here, either. I would have been ... erased. Ha! How exciting. I wonder what he did with my body?”

“Your body was never found.”

“I see you have honed stupidity to a fine edge, young man. If I disappeared it is a foregone conclusion that my body was not found. Let me see ... that was a Friday and I had given my housekeeper the weekend off. That means Platt had the entire weekend to execute his nefarious little scheme. It also means he couldn’t have put me through the school’s furnace or in the reactor because the school’s closed tighter than a freezing Yeti’s—never mind. All that suggests I ... rather that my body is hidden somewhere in my basement.”

“Maybe he cut you up and stuffed the pieces in the garbage disposal—like in the movies, you know?”

“That would be possible for someone with a spine, but backbone was something left out of Platt’s genetic code. Platt wouldn’t have the stomach for anything like that. No, he would have hidden it in the basement. Whatever the case, my physical self in that dimension is no longer viable. Since I have no body to which I can return, that leaves but one alternative. It’s purely hypothetical, mind you, but possible.”

“What’s that, Doc?”

“Well, we have established that you are not a particularly bright bulb in the circuit, but the fact that you are here intimates a degree of valor on your part. Am I correct in that wild assumption?”

“Uh, valor?”

“Bravery, then.”

“Oh. Yeah, Doc. I can stand up to it—whatever it is, long as it don’t hurt too much.”

“Good. How would you like to try something that might get us both out of here?”

“Both of us?”

“That’s what I said, you lout.”

“Okay, Doc, let’s do it.”

“I warn you, now, if it doesn’t work, one or the other of us could wind up trapped in here. We could also both be trapped and you would end up a mindless vegetable on the other side, although that wouldn’t be much of a change for you, would it? Or ... or you could disappear as I did.”

“Wait a minute. If you’re already dead out there, how ... how can we both get out of here?”

“There you go with that one-way street mentality again. The educational system is truly in a sad state. On this side, in this dimension, I am as real as you are.” Rumple reached out and slapped Teasdale. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah, Doc. It felt real, that’s for sure.”

“Do you know what REM is?”

“No. All I know is what Doc Platt told me.”

“Mmm-hm, and I am sure that was not much. He does not know much about much of anything. All right. Let me see, how can I explain this to a brick? REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. It is the outward indicator that a person has reached the dream-state. It coincides with increased brain wave activity, which is what led to my theory. The essence of a person travels between the two dimensions and energy is required to do that, hence the increased mental and physical activity when in the dream-state. In ordinary sleep we flip back and forth across the boundaries of these two dimensions because the brain cannot sustain a high enough energy level to maintain the separation. Are you following me?”

“Sort of. Yeah, I think so.”

“Fine. My machine does what the brain is unable to do. It keeps the separation constant until the machine is deactivated. What you are in here remains viable. If the two of us are physically connected on this side when he calls you back, presupposing he still intends to call you back, I can piggyback myself through the energy phase—that’s what we are here—into your physical self on the other side. Hypothetically speaking, of course. It also means, if it works, that the world is in for a dramatic paradigm shift.”

“Paradigm shift?”

“Just that all previous thinking about dreams will undergo a significant change. I will be famous.”

“You said your idea was, um, hypocritical. I don’t know if I like that hypocritically speaking part.”

“That’s hypothetical, you doddering dunce.”

“Yeah. Whatever. I still don’t like it none.”

“Fine. Think, boy. You will be a changed man if we both make it back.”

“Does that mean I’ll know what you know?”

“You will be transformed from dim dud to crackling cogitator in the wink of an eye, my boy.”

* * *

Platt was beginning to be concerned. There had been no response from Teasdale for two and a half hours and the security people would be around to close the school for the weekend at six o’clock. Concern went to full blown worry. This experiment was not approved by the board and merely thinking of using a student, even one as worthless as Teasdale, constituted a major crime. He set the Sequencer to RECAPTURE and sat back to wait for any signs of life in his subject.

After a few moments, Teasdale’s huge body twitched a few times, then one eye opened, followed a few seconds later by the other. Platt hurriedly backed off the retainer screws holding the halo in place and carefully removed it, while Teasdale stretched, groaned, then sat slowly upright on the cold steel table.

“What happened in there, Mr. Teasdale?” Platt was certain something had gone awry but had no idea what it could have been. “You ... you stopped responding only a couple of minutes into the second stage. You said you saw something moving. What was it? What was moving, Mr. Teasdale?”


“You saw water moving?”

“No. Thirsty. Give me some water.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Teasdale.”

While Platt scurried to the water fountain, white paper cone in hand, Teasdale let himself down from the table cautiously. Taking one uncertain step after another, like a child learning to walk, he made his way to the small couch against a bank of black boxes lined up on the far wall and sat down.

“Here you are, Mr. Teasdale. Now, can you tell me about it? What it was you saw? Your grade is dependent on the amount of detail I get from you, you know.”

Teasdale tilted the cone and took a large gulp. Water dribbled down his chin.

“Yes, but not yet. First, I want to thank you for the gift.”

“Gift? What gift is that? What are you talking about? What happened to you in there, Mr. Teasdale?” Platt was beginning to feel confused and uncertain. What damage might have been done to Teasdale’s already feeble mind? There was something ... odd going on. And, if there had been any damage done, he was in deep, inescapable trouble. He began considering what he could do with the body while he fumbled for a large hammer on the counter.

“My, you are loaded with questions and they’re all coming at one time. But before I answer any of them ... have you ever thought about what it would be like to be immortal, Platt?”

“No, not really. The idea never crossed my mind. What does that have to do with what transpired in your dream-state?”

“Why, everything, Platt. I believe, after the first five or six centuries, it would become boring and one would begin seeking ways to put an end to it, but there wouldn’t be any and that would lead to extreme frustration. You would have the same physical perspective on the world all the time. There would be no way to enhance the view of things around you ... no way to change the way in which you experienced your life, unless technology really took off and changed the world radically. Even then, that might stretch out your interest to a thousand years or so, but it wouldn’t satisfy you forever, would it?”

“Well, I suppose not. A thousand years is a long time. Look, this is all very interesting, Mr. Teasdale, but what happened in the other dimension? Tell me, man.” Platt was having a tough time relating the new Teasdale with the old.

“Now, imagine something just short of genuine immortality. Imagine being able to change bodies, sex even. You would be able to alter your perspective at any time you choose. One decade you are a football hero, the next you are a cheerleader. Maybe a fighter pilot, although I imagine that could be a little dangerous—maybe you should save that one for your final blaze of glory on checking out of the human hotel. Anything you have ever wanted to be, you could be, and without all the trouble of learning how—that would already have been done for you. Doesn’t that sound more exciting ... more interesting ... more fulfilling, Platt?”

“Yes, I suppose it does, Mr. Teasdale, but when are you going to tell me what happened in your dream-state?”

“In a minute, Platt. In a minute. Right now I want you to know all you have done for me. All that I mentioned has been handed to me ... and by you, of all people. Unbelievable.”

Teasdale chuckled and glanced at the ceiling.

“Think of it, man. I’ll be able to experience motherhood, idolization, wealth, power—all of it, and still be me. And, on top of it all, it doesn’t carry the curse of not being able to die. It does mean I’ll have to deal with each of the used carcasses when I make the switch, but I’ll think of something. I always manage to think of something. It is immortality with an escape clause built in. That is an incredible gift, Platt. Thank you.”

“Are you certain you didn’t blow a fuse in there, Mr. Teasdale? Are you feeling all right?”

“Never felt better, you pusillanimous putz.”

The one who looked like Teasdale, but sounded like someone else from his past, stood and smiled broadly at Platt, then wrapped two large, powerful football player’s hands around Platt’s throat. Platt was having trouble breathing and the lack of blood to his brain set his world spinning wildly out of control. The hammer fell to the floor. His tongue was beginning to swell.

“Ah, that’s better, Platt. You are looking much better by the minute. You are even getting a little color—bluish, but color,” the one who looked like Teasdale said.

He looked like Teasdale, but the words coming from his mouth sounded like ...

“R-rumple? Is ... that ... you, Rumpl-l-le ...?” infinity

J. Richard Jacobs is a country boy turned scientist turned author. He writes hard and soft science fiction, science fact, science fantasy and other things. He has written several novels, novellas and tons of short stories appearing nearly everywhere.