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the Weapon

©99, 02 The Media Desk

              I'll never have another idea.
              I swear.
              I swear by everything I've been through.
              I'll never have another idea as long as I live.

              "You see gentlemen, all I have done is taken already existing technology and made some modifications and put it together in a new way." I said pointing at the schematic on the overhead.
              "And this is exactly what you demonstrated for us outside?"
              "The very same."
              The old man's wise looking eyes were narrow as he studied my diagram. "What did you leave out?" He gestured to one side of the picture.
              "That's the parts that are secret. I can't even tell you what it does because it's so secret. But I will say that they're nothing that can't be bought from any decent on-line electronics catalog. It's just the application that's new."
              A young good-looking woman smiled at me. "So we could figure it out by reverse engineering."
              I shrugged, "You might. But the fact is that nobody else has even thought of using these things that way, and one of them everybody will say is in backwards, but that's how it works."
              "So you're saying that it shouldn't work." The old man said.
              "And a bumble bee can't fly."
              "Point taken." The man answered.
              "You saw it work. This is it. It works. I got the patent on the application. The government said it works in the smaller application. This is the first time this has ever been applied on this scale."
              The room full of university engineers, PhD's and technicians looked at me strangely.

              I had started to build a portable battery powered microwave oven. I got a patent on the application of some various things in a new way to do what I wanted. Then I tinkered with it.
              Then I made the discovery that changed, and ruined, my life.
              My idea for the hand held microwave heater worked, but nobody wanted it. I couldn't sell it on late night TV shopping shows or on the internet.
              The reaction was always the same. "Hey that's great!" Then nothing.
              OK, I sold a few of them. My ex-mother in law bought two of them, some tech-junkies had to have them, but it never caught fire.
              Then something in my workshop did catch fire.
              I had fiddled with it's innards to make it a little more powerful. And overdid it.
              But I didn't stop there.
              I changed the antenna, I boosted the signal and narrowed the output parameters.
              It took a month of tinkering to get it to where it wouldn't cook itself or burn my hand. Then I had to change the power supply because the drain was enormous.
              I used transformers and amplifiers to solve part of that problem, but still three quarters of the unit was battery pack.
              The idea struck.
              I curse the evening I was sitting watching hockey trying not to think about my project.
              I blame the Philadelphia and Chicago teams for it. I hate the network that showed the game.
              But it was my idea.
              I had something like what I needed. I went down to the shop and spent the rest of the night tinkering.
              I was so sure it'd work I took the unit out into the alley and aimed at a trashcan several feet away.
              It worked. It took me ten minutes to put out the fire.
              Some of my parts weren't exactly right and I knew it. But it was close enough.
              I hit the web and ordered several of what I knew I needed.
              Two days later I was refining my design.
              And sending my life right into the toilet.
              If I had kept my prototype for burning garbage and making campfires, I'd been fine.

              The university types asked me to leave the room.
              They went into conclave.
              Then called me back in.
              "This is a most fascinating idea. But we do not engage in this type of research."
              I had wanted them to take it off my hands and figure out how it does what it does. But they treated me like a leper that was trying to sell blasphemous manuscripts to church elders during the Inquisition.

              "How much do you want for your work?"
              I had never seen this guy before.
              "Just the prototype?" I asked him.
              "No. All of it, your notes, test board, parts, everything."
              "I don't know. I mean, what's something like that worth."
              He stood there like a statue.
              "I'll have to think about it."
              He held out an envelope. And bid me a good day, I never saw him again.
              According to the letter inside. My work was not to leave the country under some National Security Agency rule or another. And since it was my idea, neither was I.
              The next morning I went to my front door to get my paper and three FBI guys were reading it for me.
              They talked to me about a friend I used to have that was from Lebanon, when had I last seen him, did I know he was now part of some militia or other.
              They finally believed me that I hadn't seen or heard from him in years.
              Then they checked my workshop for bugs, and looked over my blueprints and told me it might be a good idea to put them in a safety deposit box. But they didn't take anything or work me over with rubber hoses. They made sure my coffee pot was dry, then they left.
              After their search I decided I should put things in a little safer places than laying on my workbench. I hid my first prototype and notes, but I left the model I was working on on my bench.
              Then I thought about the G-men's idea and took copies of everything and my second prototype down to my safety deposit box.
              And when I got back. My house had been ransacked.
              I called the city police, and all sorts of cops showed up.
              The FBI guys were nervous when they noticed my working models were missing.
              "They're still safe. I hid one and took the other downtown. The model they took doesn't work." I dug out the first model and my notes.
              "How close is the one they stole to being a working model?"
              I shook my head. "Without these, it'll never work. And you have to put this one in backwards to make it work. Otherwise it'll melt in your hand."
              "And melt your hand." One of the FBI tech guys said.
              I nodded.

              Now I was taken, workbench and all, to a military base someplace in the South with too many mosquitoes and snakes.
              There were two advantages. I had unlimited access to everything I could ever want. And I had several very bright young people to assist me and discuss the still completely baffling theory on just how my invention did work.
              I worked on a huge model of my device, now a weapon, that was mounted on a small ATV.
              I worked on a smaller version that was hand sized, but wired to a belt carried battery pack.
              I sat with some of the best minds I had ever encountered and discussed the finer points of theory and application for hours. Boring the guard in the room to the point when we were done, he was fast asleep.
              As a technician and scientist, and now inventor, I was in heaven.
              But as a single man approaching middle age and still desiring something of a social life. It was sheer Hell.
              If I wanted to go out for a beer, two guards and an escorting technician went with me. Just in case I might say something that might compromise the security of our project.
              They did take me out to a couple of ball games. We sat high in a box so far from the field I had a better view of the blimp.
              There was no pressure from the generals and bureaucrats that came by now and again to see my work. We'd aim one of the newer working models at a tree stump or trash can and fire. The weapon would hum a little and the light that let you know not to put your thumb in front of it would come on. Then without ceremony or preamble the target would steam and smoke then burst into flame in a satisfactorily dramatic fashion. The higher up would go away impressed, and I'd get a good dinner out of the bargain.

              But I wasn't allowed to pursue my other work.
              I was only allowed to fiddle with the base TV's when they quit. Or when the staff's microwave died they called me as long as I didn't "fix it so it'd blow up the captain's lunch".
              My one goal in life here was to perfect the weapon in its several configurations.
              One day when discussing progress with the Army colonel in charge of research and development I asked him what would happen to me once we had a working reliable weapon.
              "Then you get to develop a defense to it." He said with a straight face.
              I sighed.
              "What's the matter?"
              "I'm homesick."
              "What's to be homesick for? You had no friends back there. You lived in a dumpy little townhouse. You worked for slave wages, and your car's transmission was about to fall out on the road."
              He was right, "But still, I miss Teepha at work, and stopping for breakfast at Sydney's and stuff."
              "Teepha." He thought about it for a second. "I think I met her. Middle aged African American woman with a light complexion, wears her skirts just a little too short?"
              I nodded.
              "Get over it, she'd married."
              "I know. But she was fun to work with."
              "What do you think of Robyn?" He asked me.
              "She's all right. She's certainly competent."
              He nodded. "Several of your people have said the same about you."
              "But I'm a prisoner on this base."
              "So am I." He answered.
              "But you volunteered to be here."
              "After all these years in I almost can't leave. I won't get enough pension to live on, with my skill levels I'd have a hard time getting a good job, and since I didn't specialize enough, advancement is unlikely."
              I looked at him. Painted that color, maybe I was in better shape than he was. "So let's escape together and make for Florida and starve to death on the beach."
              He seemed to think about it. "Nah, you'd look terrible in a thong."
              "So would you."
              We laughed together.
              I felt better. But I still had the same problem.

              We tested the big unit.
              The first time something went wrong. It and the ATV it was on sat and burned for some time before they got it put out.
              But the second unit built at the same time performed as advertised the next day.
              The target flamed. The test at twenty-five meters was a success. The test at fifty was a qualified success. At one hundred, it got hot, but it didn't burn.
              We did an autopsy on the first unit.
              Some wondered about sabotage. But what I found was nothing so dramatic, we had forgotten to remove the plastic packing from the vents on the transformer. It had simply overheated when brought to full power.
              A week later I told the observing general that greater distances were simply a matter of power and focus. He nodded like a general should nod and got in his car.

              Months passed.
              Some of the government science crowd spent several weeks on base trying to convince me that microwaves cannot be made to do what I had them doing.
              I got mad, put a small model together out of spare parts on my bench in the hanger workshop, melted the clock on the wall, and told them it didn't work.
              They poured over the workbench, one of them managed to burn his arm pretty good on the emitter array. Then they concluded that maybe I had discovered an entirely new type of microwave.
              I shrugged, all I knew was that it worked.

              Years passed.
              I was told the only reason the base remained open was to work on my projects. Which added a good deal of pressure to make progress on a tank mounted heavy weapon.
              I was still a prisoner, but it was the most guilded cage ever built.
              I had a nice house on base. With my own workshop where I built my radios and fixed one of my associates' bar blender about every other week, and I had a car I drove around the base, and even was allowed a weekend pass to town without escort on occassion.
              They brought in several people to discuss my microwaves, which I had them name for the colonel. We had a symposium, and I received an award for my work, and there was a fancy dinner. But it was all on base.
              My life was simply the base and my work.
              The plans I had made to go out west and backpack through some canyons were canceled.
              I lost all touch with the couple of friends I did have back home.
              My mail to my family wasn't censored, but the colonel made it clear it was being read before it ever left the base.
              As soon as I became friendly with one of the female civilian clerks in the small commissary, she was given a room on base and found her office phone tapped.
              At first she resented it, then she realized the money she was saving on rent and commuting to work.
              We never got real serious, but it was a pleasant distraction for awhile.
              But like the FBI man said that day they drank all my coffee, "Buddy, your life will change dramatically in the next week or so. Probably for good."

              "So you think this'll work?" The colonel looked at me as we readied the test on the defensive system.
              "For a vehicle or a building or something, yeah. For a man in the field. I don't think there is a defense." I said.
              We positioned the weapon and turned it up.
              The target steamed and smoked, but it didn't burn.
              The defensive shield was toast, but it had worked.
              "Keep working." He said with a smile and a pat on my assistant's back.

              We worked and got something portable, that worked more than it failed.
              "So now what?" The colonel asked me.
              "I'm thinking about retiring on what I've been paid while I've been here and collecting seashells for the rest of my life."
              "They'll never let you out of the country, and you'll probably be under surveillance forever too."
              I shrugged. "There's not a whole lot more to do here."
              He nodded. "I'm getting close to retirement myself."
              "We'll go together and buy a duplex and watch each other."
              He laughed, then got serious for a minute, "That's not a bad idea."
              "I'll even make them and you a promise."
              "What's that?"
              "I'm not going to have any more ideas."

              The day finally came.
              We sent everything to the Pentagon.
              From the hand held units that looked almost exactly like something on a TV space opera except ours had a wire running to the belt-carried power supplies. But it gave you dozens of full power shots before it died. To the huge ugly monstrosity mounted on a six-wheeled armored personnel carrier that could torch a house, and any bushes or clotheslines that were in the way, from two hundred meters. They got reams of notes, piles of computer disks, a pickup truck full of spare parts, and hours of video of me and my assistants explaining how all this stuff actually works.
              At the final debriefing the security people reminded us that we shouldn't buy plane tickets to Hong Kong any time soon.
              And I swore I'd never have another idea that had anything to do with electricity ever again in my life.
              I had lost twelve years. I felt like I had been in prison.
              Robyn decided it was easier if she just moved in with me. Since we had worked so closely on so much of the project, when she went to pick up her suitcase to move out of her apartment on base, two Military Intelligence types ended up fighting over it.
              We got the duplex on the Gulf Coast. The colonel and his new wife live there, I have the downstairs of ours, Robyn lives upstairs. Across the street is a random transient assortment of CIA guys, FBI agents, Military Police, and a guy that sells Kosher ice cream for the Israeli intelligence agency.
              I did break my vow of not having any more ideas, but nobody got too excited about an improved seashell-polishing machine.

End weapon

Original Manuscript Copyright 2000, Levite
HTML presentation Copyright 2002, Levite, The Media Desk

All rights reserved, including rights to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. Original manuscript in possession of author as of the date of this rewrite and edit. All persons and events are fictitious. This is not intended nor is it to be taken as a terroristic threat against any persons or facilities. The device does not, as far as the Desk knows at the time of this writing, actually exist.
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