Chapter 9

Neil sat back watching the teams finishing off the giant cannon. He watched them wrangle the thick electrical cables and attach them. He found it satisfying to watch this come together.

Conrad wandered into the room. He walked up to Neil. Neil bristled at the idea of talking to him. He turned away dismissively. Conrad, either avoiding the cue from ignorance or indifference, walked around to Neil and started talking.

“Neil, this better work. I just went to bat for your vision with the board.”

“Oh, it’ll work, Conrad. And then we’re done.”

“There’s still a lot to go, it seems.”

“Nah, we’ll be testing on schedule. Today.”

“Around what time?”

“End of day. I wouldn’t bring the board to watch though, there’s going to be tons of calibrations.”

“The board might not be that patient. The size of the cannon has caused concerns.”

“Well, if you want something to show, you’d be better off leaving me do my job instead of pissing me off.”

“You watch your tone.”

“Listen, Conrad, I don’t have to watch anything. If the board is breathing down your neck this much, I’m sure they’ve lost confidence with you by now. Sure, I know that if I screw up, I’ll face a world of hurt, but so will you. I could care less about my tone. Now get out of my way if you want this to be done.”

Conrad got up and started walking.

“You’re an arrogant prick, Neil. You’re going to get what’s coming to you.”

“I was just thinking the same thing about you Conrad. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Neil looked back at the cannon. He had to admit that it was impressive. Nearly 50 feet long, with barrels big enough to crawl in. It looked like an impressive Gatling gun or a revolver, but it was giant. With that, an engineer crawled out of one of the barrels and gave a thumbs up.

Six barrels were mounted on a ring that spun around the central barrel. When the control panel fired up, those barrels would spin around the center barrel at a specific frequency and start to emit an ion field. Then the center barrel would fire a bolt and then the bolt would pass through the phase shifter and will hopefully blow something to pieces. That’s the plan, at least.

Tom walked over and put his hand on Neil’s shoulder, catching his attention.

“The engineers tell me it’s done. We’ll need to do our final touches, double check everything, but it should be good to go.”

Neil nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been watching. It’s kind of relaxing.

“I saw Conrad talking to you. Everything OK?”

“Oh, yeah. I guess you could call it a last minute pep-talk. Nothing major. He’s just stressed out.”

“Great. Any second thoughts?”

“What, about finishing a major weapon of mass destruction or engineering a man’s monumental fall?”

“Well, either.”

“I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the fact that this weapon may fall into the wrong hands. But if all works out, and it does screw Conrad over, this whole project will never see the light of day. So, let’s not screw up our part in this and then we’ll have nothing to regret.”

“So you’re sure we’re going forward with this?”

“Dead sure. Tom, I’m one hundred percent sure. We need to end this today.”

Tom seemed uneasy. His body language made it clear he wanted to back out at this point. Neil decided to shut it down. He turned to Tom.

“Listen, let’s just make this work then. win-win. I get to leave. And you get to finish the miniature version in the lab a month from now and come out better for it.”

Tom looked both shocked and relieved. He let out a deep breath of air and got color in his face again. Neil put on the best smile he could and thought to himself. “Yeah, and this way I can be the one to make it fail, and then Tom will actually be able to sell people on the shock of it all. Maybe it’ll all work out for him after all. Conrad falls. He saves the project and delivers a miniature in a month. This is win-win, alright.”

Tom walked toward the control panel of the cannon and started adjusting switches. Neil felt content to sit there and let Tom fiddle with the calibration stuff.

Grabbing his cane, Neil got up and headed towards the panel. “Hey,” he mentioned to Tom. “Don’t forget to wire up the other grid on the other side of the hall. It’s important that we control and absorb a beam of this nature.”

Tom nodded. “I came from there. It all looks good. All I’m worried about is the phase. If it’s wrong, that whole beam will come back towards the cannon.”

“Yeah, and I have no idea what it would do then. Let’s just make sure that we get it right.” Neil pointed to the gauge. “Here’s where the phase should be set.” Adjusting the knob a little bit, Neil felt that there was some play in the knob. Jiggling at the knob and flicking at the gauge, it jumped a bit before it gave him the readout he expected. “Hm. I don’t like this knob. It’s got a dead spot. It might good enough for now, but we might need to fix it.”

Tom nodded gravely. “We don’t have any other knobs. I’ve got one on order though.”

“Nah, it’ll do for now.”

“Should we fire it up?”

Neil nodded. “Let’s get everyone out of here, do a test run. We’ll spin up the outer barrels, make sure they spin true and don’t bounce or catch. Then we’ll fire each barrel on its own. Then we’ll test out all the electrical connections. Then, and only then, will we fire it up.”

Tom looked around. “Or, we’ll do this.”

Tom flipped on all the switches. The whole thing whirred to life. The cannon started to hum. The outer barrels started to spin around the center barrel.

Tom looked at Neil. “Well, that part works.”

“This is reckless,” pouted Neil “and imprecise. This had better not bite us in the ass. We can’t stop it now.” Neil had to admit that this kind of risk was exhilarating. The outer barrels, now glowing blue with ion energy caught Neil’s attention. This was actually quite a thrill.

The inner barrel began to glow purple. The light was almost too intense to bear, but Neil could not force himself to look away. Suddenly a beam emerged from the end of the cannon. Just faster than his eyes could track, the blueish-purple beam shot across the room, finally safely caught and absorbed by the mesh on the other side of the hall.

Tom let out a whoop. “We did it!”

Neil nodded and checked as many gauges and screens as he could. Tom glanced over his shoulder impatiently. Neil pushed back on him.

“Tom, I need some room. Give me a sec.”

“Yeah, but, how did we do?”

“Just, calm down.”

Neil continued to scan. He looked at Tom. Tom was practically holding his breath. Neil broke his silence.

“Well, how about that, Tom. It worked.”

“What does the computer say?”

“Good news, actually. Close to our simulations and our formulas. If the other grid wasn’t there, we’d have a pretty significant hole in the wall and the field next to us would be pretty razed.”

“Yeah, we can’t have that. Any adjustments?”

Neil looked at the numbers. Some of the numbers were confusing. Scratching his head and furrowing his brow he had to speak up. Looking up from the computer he turns to Tom.

“We have a computer problem.”

“Like what? What kind of computer problem?”

“Well, Tom, if I had to hazard a guess, either a sensor or a connection. We have way too much energy by the other grid. The energy output - It’s roughly ten times what we’re drawing from the generator. That just can’t be right.”

“Maybe we’re reading simulated data by accident?”

“Not sure, but we need to figure it out.”

Fetching a black box and a cane, Neil started walking towards the end of the hall. Thinking about Tom’s reckless, he called back to him. “Hey, make sure you hit the kill switch. I don’t want to be vaporized today.”

“Yeah, done,” Tom called back. “You want some help?”

“Nah, I need to stretch out my leg. Just gonna throw a new sensor over by the other phase grid.”

Neil ambled over to the grid. He hadn’t been doing any of the exercises he was supposed to. Each step hurt. He resolved himself to exercise more after all this was done.

He double-checked the wiring on the sensor. Everything seemed fine, so he changed it out, for good measure. He started back.

“Tom, start the preparations to fire it again. Everything should be charged up by the time I waddle back there.”

Tom nodded and flashed a thumbs-up to Neil. The outer ring started spinning again.

Neil sat at his computer and watched the firing sequence again. Another perfect shot. Same data.

“Well, this is strange. Same results. We’re creating energy. Look at this - we get around 10 times as much energy being output to the other grid.”

Tom looks at the computer.

“Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. At all. You have a theory, I presume?”

“Usually I do, but this is completely impossible. I’m stumped”

“So what? Did we just invent free energy?”

Neil bristled at the question. Free energy was not a real thing. Almost always a scam. He glared at Tom.

“Free energy? Please. It takes a significant amount of energy to start it up and it has moving parts. I don’t understand how we’re getting more energy than what we put in, and it’s a pretty awesome breakthrough, but this isn’t a perpetual energy machine.”

“Yeah, but we get more than what we put in, that’s pretty cool.”

“Agreed. We’ve turned physics on its ear.” Neil stopped for a second and considered how this would fall into his plan. He knew there were members of the board that had interests in utility companies, but he wasn’t sure if accidentally creating free energy would wind up ruining Conrad or elevating him. After all, if Neil owned an energy company and could make all his generators ten times more efficient, it would improve his profit margin. This was something that could make the world a better place, but not if it was patented by AET. He didn’t like the odds. He would stick to the plan. “Tom,” he asked “let’s keep this under our hats for now. Hold off on ‘finding’ this until you refine the miniature version. I’m worried that this discovery might turn into an excuse to keep me on for the long term. Can you live with that?”

Tom let the words weigh on him. Neil sat there, breathless. Ultimately Tom nodded. “Yeah, I can live with that.”

Neil smiled. “It’s settled then. We’ll keep this discovery a secret and a month or two from now, you’ll be the father of the modern generator.”

Tom beamed. Neil knew he was laying it pretty thick, but his plan was to appeal to Tom’s ego so he didn’t over-think things. Neil was excited about the discovery, nonetheless. He wished he’d have more time with the cannon to learn its secrets. This was a significant discovery. He pushed that out of his head and went back to the plan.

“Hey Tom, let’s get everything optimized and call Conrad down for a test.” Neil started moving the knobs. “You know what, Tom. This knob really sucks. I know I said it could wait, but could we re-wire it to this switch?” Neil pointed at the board. There was two knobs – the one with the dead zone, labelled ‘PHASE’ and one right next to it labelled ‘AMPLITUDE’. “I mean, once we get the amplitude sorted, it’s not the kind of thing we’ll be adjusting much and it doesn’t put the test at risk. If the phase is wrong, everything is toast. What do you think?”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, makes sense. I’ll do that right now. Hit the breaker, for safety, please?” He pulled a flashlight out of his pocket, put it in his teeth and headed under the panel.

Neil reached over and flipped the main power off. He grabbed a sticky note and wrote ‘PHASE’ on it with a permanent marker, then, he stuck it over the label. “Good enough for now,” He mused to himself.

“Hey Tom, don’t bother moving the knobs around. I just stuck a sticky note on the label. You can get it all sorted properly once the replacement arrives. Just swap the wires. The finicky knob should work well enough for amplitude.”

“Sounds good.” Replied Tom from under the panel. “Should only take a few more seconds then.”

Conrad walked in as Tom finished his sentence. “Ah, last minute adjustments?” He asked.

Neil looked over to see Conrad and Chuck walking up. He put on a fake smile. “Something like that,” he said. “If you want to stick around we’ll fire it again. It’s pretty awesome.”

Tom emerged from under the panel, giving a thumbs up. “Oh, hey Conrad. Hey Chuck.” Said Tom. “Your ears must be burning. We were just going to call you to watch a test.”

Conrad hardly acknowledged Tom. He looked square at Neil. “Well, today’s the day. I hope you’re ready to impress me.”

“We’re ready Conrad. Do you have something for us to vaporize for you?” Asked Neil.

“How about a mannequin?” asked Conrad, “Whatever it is - I really don’t care. Just make sure that it’s vaporized. If it works, I have something a little more suitable to impress the investors.”

Neil nodded. “A mannequin should do fine. Tom, can you take care of that?”

Tom headed towards the nearest golf cart and took off. Neil turned to Conrad.

“Listen, Conrad. Now that this whole project is almost done, I’m done pretending. Here’s how things will pan out. You’ve threatened me and everyone I love. My father is gravely ill, I’m not so concerned about him. Tom is important to me. So I’ve shredded my notes and deleted my simulations. You can’t kill both of us and there’s no way you’ll reverse engineer this cannon. Really, when it comes down to it, you need to keep Tom alive and employed.”

Conrad nodded. “I’m not an idiot. I figured you’d do something like this. I assure you that Tom will be safe as long as this works.”

Neil felt satisfied with Conrad’s response, but he wanted more. “It has to be on paper. Before the test. Tom back as head of the division, Chuck out of the picture. My retirement with full benefits. All of these things confirmed and rock-solid.”

“So, you want to leave, you want Tom to succeed you and you want Chuck to be out of a job?”

“He doesn’t need to be out of a job. He just needs to stay far away from Tom.”

“I can probably arrange that, but you’ll need to stay on for one more week to fully transition everything to Tom.”

With that, the hum of the golf cart signaled to Neil that Tom was almost back. He looked down the hall where Tom was positioning the mannequin. As soon as Tom finished, Neil reached over to kicks on the initialization sequence to charge up the cannon.

Tom jogged back over to the control panel. He motioned to Conrad. “Would you like to do the honors, sir?”

“I wouldn’t know what to do, Tom, but I appreciate the gesture. You go ahead.”

The cannon flickered to life, the beam fired down the hall. The mannequin was no longer there. The weapon was a success. Conrad was grinning ear to ear. He leaned in towards Neil whispering. “You’ll get everything you want. I’m genuinely impressed.”

Neil nodded. He whispered back. “I have one more request – but it’s in your best interest. Don’t let Tom be part of the presentation. Introduce him as the lead designer, but let him be the silent partner. Honestly, you’re going to have to work with him on building that skill. He has no business in front of a crowd and it’s going to make you look like an idiot. Keep him on the sidelines with you and the board, I’ll handle everything.”

Conrad nodded. “Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate the show of good faith.”

Neil smiled. For once his smile was sincere. Tom was one of the best public speakers he had ever met, but he needed to ensure that he was alone at the control panel so he could screw up the demo.

Conrad turned to Tom. “Tom,” he spoke “I’m impressed with how you were able to pull this all off. I’m going to introduce you to the board today as the division head. You’ll sit with us during the demo today.”

Tom’s jaw dropped. Neil wondered if he should feel slightly guilty about this. Most of his demands were posturing. The more he thought about this, there was a good chance that the board would just close the entire division after the failed test. All he was hoping to accomplish was to set up a narrative that would distract Conrad. He was hoping that Conrad would see this give and take as valid negotiation and it would blind him to the fact that he was becoming increasingly vulnerable in this. Tom was a necessary pawn in this. Collateral damage. Neil knew this should bother him. It didn’t.

Conrad started to talk. “So, can someone explain to me how this works without blowing a hole in the side of our building?”

Neil nodded. He took point on this to continue to bolster that show of good faith. “Well, Conrad, that’s a bonus, we’ve figured out how to create a shield for the cannon. In case it falls into the wrong hands, that is. We’re using that technology to shield the wall.”

“I see. It’s very important that we keep that under wraps. It’s next to impossible to sell a weapon with a failsafe.”

“I won’t mention it to the board.”

“Great. And, do you think that this cannon can vaporize a tank? I have a decommissioned tank I can have delivered before the demo.”

Neil nodded. “It can vaporize anything.”

Conrad seemed satisfied. “Great. Let’s get things in place. Tom, come with me, we have some paperwork to sign.”

Neil smiled. “I’ll stay behind and do all the calibrations,” he offered.

Conrad walked over to Chuck, leaning in and whispering. Finally, he announced aloud. “Chuck’s going to stay here and help you out with things while I steal Tom away for paperwork. I assume I can have the board here by around 5:00p. Will that work?”

Neil nodded.

“Great!” said Conrad as he took off on the golf cart. I’ll have Tom back to you soon.

Neil bristled at the thought of being observed by Chuck. This might put a crimp in his plans. Ah well, Chuck wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Neil flicked one of the gauges on the control panel.

“Damn,” he said aloud. “There’s a loose connection in the barrel. Can you pass me a wrench so I can take care of that before the demo?”

Chuck looked around. Pointing to himself, shrugging, he asked “Me?”

“Yes, I need an 8mm wrench. Just have to go tighten a connector.”

“Do you want me to take care of it? Isn’t it kind of hard for you to crawl around in there?”

“No, thanks Chuck. It’s pretty complicated in there, I don’t think you’d know what to tighten. I got it.”

“Alright. Here’s the wrench.” Chuck tossed the wrench to Neil.

Neil started to crawl down the barrel. This was harder than he thought. Each step felt like his leg was on fire. As he made it to the end of the barrel he considered his options. Ultimately he came up with a satisfying plan. He would disconnect the phase inverter inside the barrel. The test would consist of a harmless beam of light passing through the tank, leaving it unharmed. Then it would hit the other converter and blow a hole in the wall, possibly down the field. People would probably get injured. The media scrutiny would end everything. As he started to get the wrench on the bolt, he heard a familiar hum. Chuck had started the cannon!

“Chuck, what’s going on out there?”

“Um, workplace accident, Neil. Happens all the time.”


“Well, you crawled in there, despite my protests. I didn’t think it seemed safe. Then the cannon just went off on its own. It was horrible.”

“That’s not funny Chuck. Turn it off.”

Neil had an idea of how long he would have in there. He rushed to unhook the phase inverter. If he could get it unhooked, the beam would have no effect on him. He frantically tried to undo the bolts. “Damn it,” He thought to himself, “the bolts are 10mm.” Frantically, Neil tried to crawl backwards out of the tube. He knew he wouldn’t make it at this pace. He shouted back to Chuck. “Seriously, turn it off. We can talk this through.”

“I can’t do that, Neil. I’m just taking care of loose ends now. Hey, what does amplitude mean?”

Neil’s heart sank. If Chuck screwed with the knobs, there was no telling what would happen.

“Chuck, do not mess with the knobs. You have no idea what you’re doing. Just turn this off. If you adjust any of those components you’re putting your own life at risk.”

“I’m just messing with you, Neil. I know what amplitude means. That’s how powerful the cannon is. I want to turn that up and fry you to the max.”

Neil wondered if the sticky note was still there. The phase would make the entire thing unpredictable. All bets would be off. On the plus side, he might actually live through this. Neil saw the end of the barrel begin to glow purple. Taking a deep breath, he watched the beam envelop him. He heard the beam fire out of the cannon. He felt some relief having heard that noise, knowing it meant he still had ears. It meant he was not vaporized. He just had to wait this out. He’d probably be OK.

Suddenly his feet started to hurt. The beam must have bounced back. Head to toe, Neil felt the agony of being cooked alive. He was not going to live through this after all.

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

No notes 'round these parts, partner.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

Updated semi-infrequently

I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

Richard Belzile and, 2015-2018.

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