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       John Gone, p.11

           Michael Kayatta

  Chapter 9

  “Let me see her!” the hologram demanded. The projection’s voice came through crisp, clear, and agitated.

  “See who?” John asked.

  “Karen. I heard her.”

  “Me?” Ronika interjected.

  “Let me see her!” the hologram repeated.

  “You’re looking right at her,” John pointed out.

  “I’m looking right at ... no, you idiot! The eyes of my hologram can’t see anything! The watch face; that’s where the lens is. Turn it!”

  John pointed the watch at Ronika, who waved and smiled at its face.

  “Alright, you two,” the hologram said, “I want some answers.”

  “Oh, he wants some answers,” Ronika said.

  “Where’s Karen?” the man asked again.

  “We don’t know a Karen,” she answered combatively.

  “Where did you get the device?”

  “Whoa, hold on,” John said. “We’re not answering any more questions. It’s your turn.”

  The small blue hologram paused, let out a roar of frustration, and relented. “Fine! What?” he asked.

  “What’s your deal?” John asked. He brought his face in close to the projection and waved his hand in front of it, then through it. “Are you trapped inside the watch or something? I mean, what are you doing in there?”

  The hologram lifted his glasses up to his forehead and rubbed the corners of his eyes between his thumb and pointer finger. “Oh, God, if there is one, help me. You, the dumb one, let me talk to the female again.”

  “Answer him,” Ronika said, backing John’s question.

  “No, you ignoramus,” he answered. “I’m not in the watch. It’s just a hologram, projecting my image remotely.”

  “Then where are you remotely projecting from?” John asked.

  “Now that’s the question, isn’t it?” answered the light. “Well, the truth is that I don’t know exactly ... but I have my suspicions,” he added, mumbling.

  John thought for a moment. “So, where are you exactly?” he asked again, hoping for a better answer.

  For the first time, the man in the light seemed to calm. His voice became lower, more saturnine, and its natural deepness became apparent. “Tricked, trapped, stuck, imprisoned, occluded, and stationary. What did I just say? I don’t know.” The man sighed. “Listen, let me propose something. You tell me everything you know; I want your entire autobiography since you acquired this device. You do that and I’ll tell you some of what I know. I’ll do my best to answer your questions about the watch, but not about me. Fair?”

  “I--” John began.

  “Just say yes,” the hologram said, restraining his temper, “and make this easy for everyone.”

  “Yes,” Ronika quickly answered. Immediately after, she looked to John for approval. He nodded.

  “So, do you have a name? It might make a good place to start,” the man said.

  “John Popielarski.”

  “I’m Ronika. Like Veronica without the ‘ver.’”

  “Kala,” the hologram said. “Doctor. Dr. Kala.”

  “Wait, your name is Dr. Claw?” John asked. “The villain from Inspector Gadget?”

  “No, no,” Kala answered, shaking his head into his hand. “Ready? Say Ka.”

  “Ka,” John repeated.

  “Say La.”


  “Now put them together.”

  “Ka-la,” John said.

  “Okay, kindergarten is dismissed. Now, Mr. Popielarski, please proceed in giving me the facts. No fanciful elaborations, please; just tell me everything.” The hologram sat down, though no chair was visible in the projection.

  John proceeded to tell Kala the entire story, where he’d found the watch, where it had taken him, and about the two men who’d come for it. He neither embellished nor omitted any of the events. For over two hours the hologram listened silently, sometimes taking notes with an unseen pen and paper. He was so quiet during the story that twice, John had stopped and shaken his watch, curious if they’d lost connection.

  While he spoke, he watched Ronika listen to him quietly but intensely. Knowing Ronika, her mind was likely sifting through the details just as intently as Kala, hoping to solve at least some of it before this man in the hologram inevitably spoiled some of the answers for her.

  John ended his story with the day’s afternoon at Ronika’s idea to change the time. Kala broke his silence with laughter.

  “Simply change the time. Clever thinking,” he said. Ronika couldn’t hide a grin. “However,” he continued, “absurdly moronic in practice. That’s not how these things work, you know.” Ronika’s grin flipped upside-down.

  “How was I supposed to know how it worked?” she asked confrontationally.

  “Indeed,” Kala remarked, pacing back and forth across the watch’s face. “I’ve heard your tale, dissected its content, and drawn some conclusions. Would you like to hear them?”

  “Talk,” John answered.

  “My first conclusion is that you’re not lying, nor working with my enemies, and indeed, the enemies of all,” he proclaimed.

  “Enemies of all,” Ronika repeated. “Sounds epic.”

  “Does it?” Kala asked. “Sorry, I’ve been cooped up for awhile and may be blowing things out of proportion.”

  “So, who are these ‘enemies’?” John asked.

  “We’ll get there. Calm yourself,” Kala answered. “Okay, here it is. The watch is mine. I invented it. I built it.”

  “Really?” John asked, incredulous.

  “And here’s a real humdinger for you,” he said. “I did all of this in 1975.”

  “Impossible,” Ronika protested. “He’s lying. This sort of technology doesn’t even exist in this form today, let alone in the caveman days.”

  “Caveman days?” Kala laughed. “I like that. But I’m afraid, my little miss, that it did indeed exist then as it does today. It’s simply not its time in what they call 'The Cycle' for you to have seen it yet. You’ll be seeing it emerge in, oh, let’s say about four more years. Not teleporting exactly, but holograms, etcetera. It will be the next ‘big thing.’ What’s popular nowadays? Touch screens? Basic robotics? The early foundations of artificial intelligence, and ... ” He paused and rubbed his chin theatrically. “Egad, perhaps even glasses-free 3-D televisions?”

  “Everyone knows that,” Ronika said, crossing her arms and wholly unimpressed.

  “Not everyone,” Kala answered. “One might say that I’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty-eight years.” He waited for a response, but received none. “I’ve been caught underground, in a room, a lab, since 1972.”

  Ronika appeared to do an equation in her head, and soon nodded her approval of the doctor’s number.

  “And how did that happen?” John asked, much more willing to believe odd occurrences now than he’d been three days ago. “What are you eating down there? Where are you, uh, relieving yourself?”

  “No, that’s more than enough about me,” Kala said. “All you need to know about my predicament is that it is as I have described it to be. The deal was about the watch, and according to my count, you may want to find out a bit about it before, let’s say, sixteen minutes from now? That’s when class breaks for recess, after all.”

  John looked down at his watch. It was 2:58 P.M.

  “Okay, let’s talk about that technology thing from before. What did you mean, 'The Cycle?'” Ronika asked.

  “The Cycle is a continuing process designed to develop and introduce technology to consumers in a timeline conducive to maximizing profit,” Kala explained matter-of-factly.

  John opened his mouth to speak.

  “And before you ask any questions, Mr. Popielarski, I’ll explain it just a bit better. There is at least one company, possibly many, dedicated to recruiting the most intelligent people on Earth to their cause. And what is that cause, you may ask? It’s exactly what it always is: money.

  “After Albert Einstein’s unpredicted popularity in the twenties and thirties, certain people realized that some humans walking around were much smarter than others. Not just a small bit smarter, mind you, but worlds and perhaps universes smarter. Certain people throughout history have always held this mental distinction, but it wasn’t until the early fifties, the true dawn of modern Capitalism, that anyone discovered how to take advantage of men like Einstein, though he himself was, of course, dead at this point.

  “It was then that someone thought up the cycle. It’s ingenious in and of itself, really. First you hire, or otherwise cajole, a great mind to develop some bold new advancement. Next, you suppress it and build companies, portfolios, markets, and sometimes even militaries that can sit peacefully in wait until the world is positioned just right. Then, wham!” he yelled loudly. “You release it at just right moment and make a fortune.”

  “But, I don’t understand,” John said. “Why not just sell something when you make it? Why develop all this technology and hold it back?”

  “Because,” Kala said slowly, “first, they like to set you up, and your children up, for the big buy. They call it ‘priming the market.’ Think about it. What if touch screens had come out twenty years ago? They would have become the standard immediately. A phone with a touch screen would’ve been interesting and profitable, sure, but not at the peak of the technology’s potential.

  “Instead, the company chose to make handheld technology develop slowly and specifically push the trends to perfectly accommodate the technology they’d hidden. Text messages, email? See what I’m getting at? Touch screen technology in 1980 would have made approximately two billion dollars over ten years. If released in 2005, I saw it projected to make twice that amount in half the time. Perhaps it’s even leading to the next fad on the company’s tech list.

  “They call the process ‘Wait-Gain.’ Cute name, isn’t it? These things are planned out years in advance. Some tech sits on the shelves for a year or two, others sit for half a century. It all depends on the economy and the trends. That’s what The Cycle is,” Kala finished. “And you probably thought planned obsolescence was a bitch.”

  Ronika collapsed to the floor and landed cross-legged on the carpet. “You just completely--”

  “Bogarted your brain?” Kala mocked in his best teenage-sounding voice.

  “So, someone’s planning on selling a teleporting wristwatch that sticks to your arm and kills people?” John asked.

  Kala laughed heartily. “Not quite. The watch is something different. It’s a development important enough to be sold to a militia or government. I don’t know for sure; I’m just hypothesizing here. As to who first discovered quantum displacement--teleportation as you’ve been calling it--or why, I don’t know either. That information was classified during my time at the company. I was simply brought on board to figure out how to power the process. My hypothesis and eventual working conclusion was to use the body’s natural energy.”

  “The body doesn’t have the sort of power to create something like ... like ... some sort of forced quantum event!” Ronika argued.

  “Something you’ll learn--actually, scratch that--something you’ll probably never learn is that different types of energy operate at different efficiencies. The variable for their efficiency isn’t standard or linear, either. They fluctuate depending on for what you’re using the specific type, especially when we’re talking about acting on a quantum level. The world isn’t just watts and calories, you know.”

  “Okay, stop. I’m running out of time and have no idea what you two are talking about,” John protested. “So, the watch is using body energy, or something. That’s why I feel tired when I teleport?”

  “Duh,” Ronika said quietly.

  “There’s a strong connection that needs to be maintained at all times for it to work. That’s what’s adhering the device to your arm. There’s a special tool that’s used to remove it. If you don’t have it and try to force yourself between the connection ... well, you saw first-hand what can happen,” Kala explained.

  “Then where can I get the tool?” John asked.

  “From me,” the hologram answered. “But you have to come and get it.”

  “Okay, how do I get there?”

  “An entrance would imply an exit, and if there was one of those, I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here, underground, speaking with a two-legged high school science textbook and the inquisitive son of whom I assume to be a working-class Pole.”

  “A what?” John asked.

  “Your last name,” Ronika explained.

  “It’s easy from this point forward, kiddies,” Kala said. “From the tale of your travels, though it’s admittedly not perfectly conclusive, it sounds as though someone has set the watch to a calibration cycle. During this time, the watch is set to test the limits of the bio-energy of its user. Teleporting somewhere specific must be accomplished precisely. Because of this, the device needs to know exactly how much power will be required from its user.

  “Different ages, genders, and brains will produce slightly different results. Normally, someone like myself would be directing your jumps and guiding you back once the cycle completed, or at least that’s how it was designed. I’m not sure what’s happening now. If you appeared in a boat then I must assume your jumps are unmonitored. I can’t predict how this turns out,” Kala said.

  “You said it was easy from this point?” John reminded him.

  “Yes, it is,” Kala answered. “I’m going to tell you the emergency code to point the watch back at my lab. You’re going to put it in. Then, I’ll take the watch off your arm.”

  “Where would I put in a code?” John asked.

  “You were right in thinking you can set the time on the watch. The code is nothing more than an hour, minute, and second. All travel is dictated to the watch thusly. That knob you pulled out has two settings. You’ve pulled it out to the first click; that activated this interface. There’s one more, though. Pulling it further will allow you to change the hands.”

  “So my plan would have worked,” Ronika interjected.

  “Not exactly,” Kala said. “Changing the time is irrelevant. You would just be changing your destination and point of operation. Since your current point of operation is set to a warehouse close to your home, I wouldn’t be haphazardly playing with the hands unless you want it to accidentally become a Chinese submarine. Additionally, the farther you jump, the more energy it takes from your body. The body can regenerate this energy, but not immediately. Use too much in one go, and--”

  “And?” John exclaimed, looking down at the time. Four minutes remained.

  “What happens when a battery is drained?” Kala asked. “It dies. This is what will happen to you if you accidentally go too far.”

  “But that doesn’t matter, right?” John asked. “You’re going to give me the setting to your lab so you can take it off.”

  “That’s exactly right!” the hologram exclaimed. “Write this down. Six o’clock, four minutes, twelve seconds. Set the hands counterclockwise, biggest to smallest. Set it there, and next time you teleport, we’ll meet face-to-face. I’ll remove the watch from your wrist, and we can both go on with our lives.”

  “That’s not exactly true, is it?” Ronika interjected. “If you’re stuck down there, then what happens to John when you take the watch from him? You get the device, and you know how to use it--which is scary on its own--and John will have no way out. He’ll be trapped in some lab underground, just like you claim to be now.”

  “Yeah, wait a second!” John said, realizing the truth of Ronika’s conclusion.

  “I’m not going to lie,” Kala said. “That’s precisely what will happen. I don’t want to trick you into imprisonment, kid. I’m not an evil man. The situation is simply thus: each time you jump, the watch is set to take you farther. There will come a point, and soon, when the watch takes you so far around the Earth that you actually end up closer to your point of
operation than farther. When that happens, the expenditure of energy will be so great that no user could survive it. You’re going to die if that happens, Mr. Popielarski.”

  “But you said this was programmed in; you said it was a test cycle,” John argued hurriedly. He wished Dr. Kala would speak faster.

  “Yes I did. But I also said that it’s meant to be controlled. This isn’t some commercial technology with a manual and a 1-800 number. It’s tricky and dangerous. You have no one to stop you. Six out-jumps and the test cycle goes too far. By my count you have four left before that happens. And I can’t even guarantee that the second or third jump from now won’t kill you on the spot.

  “As I said, you weren’t vetted for this. No one knows your capabilities, and no one is monitoring you for safety. This is the real thing, kid. You do it my way, and yes, you get stuck here. But you get to live, and who knows, maybe I can find a way to come back here and save you after I take care of my other affairs. No lies, no manipulation, just the logical--”

  The hologram lost shape and fizzled. John began to feel the watch’s drain on his body. Ronika jumped from the floor, grabbed Mouse and thrust it back into John’s bag. Carefully avoiding John’s spastic arm, she wrapped his bag’s strap around his shoulders. A moment later, he was on the floor. Ronika hugged him quickly and bounded back onto her couch. It was the last thing John saw before falling unconscious.

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