THE MERLIN SOLUTION
Science Fiction Short Story
by Jim Lantern
© Copyright 2015 by Jim Lantern, Timeglass Science Fiction
Saturday 1 May 2010 – May Day (Holiday)
Waxahachie, (a short distance south of Dallas) in Texas
Looking at a program guide, Andrew Bell stood near the south edge of a grassy field of the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. It was one of the largest and longest “medieval faires” in the US, which was during most of April and May each year. John Hawthorn, his best friend and a coworker at Bell Labs in Wichita, Kansas, stood next to him, looking around. Their wives and children were at a different location of the festival grounds pursuing other interests, while the two men pursued their own interests.
“Look at that guy.” John whispered to Andrew.
“What guy?” Andrew asked, but did not look up from the program guide.
“Look.” John said as he nudged Andrew. “There.” He managed to avoid pointing.
Andrew looked at John’s face and then looked in the direction John was looking.
“Merlin.” Andrew said, spotting and recognizing the man dressed in that character. “Well that decides it. Let’s go see the magic show.”
“Look how he is dressed.” John said.
“Black robe.” Andrew observed. “So?” he asked, “What else would Merlin wear?”
“Black absorbs light and heat.” John reminded him. “It is one hundred and eleven degrees Fahrenheit in the shade here now today, with almost no wind.”
“Yes, I know.” Andrew replied. “I wasn’t planning to go to hell for this year’s family vacation, but here we are.”
“Look.” John said again, and then explained. “Merlin isn’t sweating.”
“Yes . . . he isn’t.” Andrew finally noticed. “How in hell can anyone wear black, a heavy black robe, in direct sunlight, in this kind of severe heat, with only a slight breeze at most?”
“Very few humans can do that.” John said. “Those born where the heat is normally that severe. People trained to work in that kind of heat.”
“Maybe he’s not human.” Andrew joked. “Come on . . . let’s go over to the performance stage and watch his act.”
They followed Merlin over to a simple wood stage that was built on the grassy field that previously belonged to a farmer. The stage was about twenty feet across the front, about ten feet deep, about six inches thick, and about two feet raised above the ground. Anything on the stage could be viewed from all sides. It was also possible to look under the stage, where there was nothing but brown dirt instead of grass.
“Maybe for this we should go get the children and – ” John started to suggest.
“No.” Andrew cut him off. “We’re on vacation. Remember?”
“Right.” John agreed.
There were a number of wood benches on the south side of the stage. Two sections, separated by a brown dirt footpath between them . . . from an opening in a line of narrow and tall trees about fifty feet to the south . . . over to the brown dirt ground next to the stage. About a dozen people had already arrived and found places to sit. Andrew and John sat on the left side of the front right bench. There were a number of items for the act already on the stage, apparently delivered there by a couple of festival workers. As Merlin stepped up onto the stage, he was greeted by an attractive young woman who was waiting for him. She had on a colorful costume, exposing her legs, arms, and stomach . . . like a female genie . . . which looked much more comfortable for the extreme heat than did Merlin’s thick black robe.
The act finally began.
One of the first amazing things Merlin did, which he did right in front of John’s face, was to make a bird disappear. Merlin put the bird in a small cage . . . a cube about nine inches on each side. He held the cage between his hands . . . holding the cage only about three feet from John’s face. Merlin had stepped off of the stage to stand that close to John. Suddenly, Merlin pushed his hands against the cage . . . and together . . . the cage and bird in it having vanished between his hands!
John was amazed. “How did you do that?”
Merlin smiled without answering, and returned to the stage.
As Merlin and the young lady prepared for the next . . . illusion . . . John said to Andrew, “It’s different seeing it in person like this, compared to seeing it on TV.”
“Like watching David Copperfield perform in a large auditorium theater.” Andrew replied.
“Yes.” John said, “I know it is a trick, an illusion . . . easy to just . . . accept it as such . . . watching such things on TV. But . . . in person . . . this close . . . not even in a theater but out in a farmer’s field on such a simple wood stage.”
Merlin looked sideways over and down at Andrew and John. Then he said to them, “Perhaps one of you would like to come up here to inspect the stage and this basket,” he pointed, “for what I will do next.”
“Me.” Andrew answered as he stood up. “I’ve got this.” he said to John.
Andrew first inspected the stage. No visible trap doors. Then he inspected a simple basket, apparently made from bamboo. It was about two and a half to three feet in diameter, and about four feet tall. It had a separate lid. Nothing special about it, so far as he could see. Then he nodded to Merlin.
As Andrew returned to sit on the bench next to John, the young lady on the stage, working with Merlin, climbed into the basket, and sank down in it as Merlin put the lid on it. About ten to twenty seconds.
Merlin ran six very real and sharp swords through the side of the round basket from different directions. About twelve to eighteen seconds.
Then the basket was tipped over by Merlin. The lid came off. The audience could easily see the blades of the swords inside the basket. The girl was gone.
Two seconds later . . . she shouted, “I’m here, I’m okay!” The audience turned and looked down the dirt footpath toward the opening in the trees to the south. She came walking down the footpath and returned to the stage!
In her hands . . . the bird from the small cage that Merlin caused to vanish between his hands earlier in front of John!
A lady in the audience remarked to a female friend, “I know how that trick is done. Twins. The girl coming down the path is the twin of the other girl who was put in the basket.”
Hearing that, Andrew said to John, “Not a chance. Not twins. There must be another explanation.”
“We should ask him.” John replied, “After the performance, before he leaves.”
“Magicians never tell, never reveal their secrets.” Andrew reminded John.
“Maybe he’s not a magician . . . not an illusionist . . . so that rule does not apply to him.” John speculated. “I’ll ask him.”
“And maybe he’s not human.” Andrew repeated his earlier remark, regarding the observation that Merlin was not sweating in the 111F degrees heat while wearing a heavy and thick black robe in direct sunlight.
“What is it with that robe he wears?” John asked.
“Maybe it has something to do with the means for what he can do.” Andrew answered.
…About thirty minutes later…
The performance finished, Merlin started to walk away from the area of the stage. Andrew and John intercepted him. For a few seconds they stood face-to-face in silence.
“At a loss for words, gentlemen?” Merlin asked. He sounded younger than he looked . . . an old man . . . very old man, with long white hair, and a wrinkled face.
“Welcome to Earth.” John said to Merlin.
“So . . . you can’t guess how I did it . . . but you can guess what I am.” Merlin replied.
“He’s joking, of course.” Andrew said to Merlin.
“No. He’s not.” Merlin replied, as he looked into John’s eyes. “And he is partly right, in a way. Who are you?” he asked Andrew.
“I’m Andrew Bell, a Bell Labs scientist, from Wichita, Kansas. No relation to Alexander Graham Bell.” Andrew introduced himself.
“I’m John Hawthorn, also a scientist at Bell Labs.” John introduced himself to Merlin, and then added, “We’re here on vacation with our families. The women and children are . . . elsewhere right now.”
“Your recent experiments have not been successful.” Merlin said.
“Which experiments?” Andrew asked in a more serious tone of voice.
“Teleportation.” Merlin answered.
“How could you possibly know about those experiments?” Andrew asked, sounding very concerned.
“Rumors.” Merlin answered. “I too am a scientist, of a kind.”
“You use science in your performance.” John said. “It’s not just an illusion.”
“It’s not magic.” Merlin replied. “Perhaps I should help you find the solution you’ve been looking for.” Merlin glanced up toward the sun, then directly overhead. “Lunchtime. Buy me a turkey leg, and a cold beer. We’ll talk.”
“Aliens and alcohol.” John remarked.
“My metabolism is different than normal humans.” Merlin explained, “For me, alcohol is a stimulant, not a depressant, although it does mellow me out a bit. Increases speed of thought and physical reflexes. I’ve made a lot of money on the side while shooting pool in bars and pretending to be drunk. And that is a trick.”
“How old are you?” Andrew asked, “Where do you come from? What are you?”
“Not exactly what you might expect.” Merlin began his slightly evasive answer. “You’ll not encounter many real aliens here on this planet. Distance and time being the obvious major problem. For those who can, there’s a warning on most galactic maps, about planet Earth, to avoid it, comparable to an ancient mariner warning on old maps here. There be monsters! Most of the people out there consider Earth humans to be monsters. I’m not one of them.”
“So what are you?” Andrew asked.
“The physical human body is like a car. The driver is the spiritual soul made from twenty-one grams of supermatter.” Merlin went on to explain, as they all walked along together. “The best way to describe it, is that my soul was transported by a beam of light to this planet from a distant planet of another star, and then born into human life. My soul carried with it a kind of genetic code, which slightly modified the human body I was born into. Also, I brought some knowledge with me, the only thing I could carry with me by that means of transportation. It’s known as soul travel.”
…At a table in the food court area…
“The problem,” John reported, “is organic matter burns up during the teleportation process, and inorganic matter re-materializes around its center of mass in the shape of a sphere with heaviest element at the core, instead of returning to original form.”
“Sending items over a cable line from one chamber into another nearby chamber.” Andrew added.
“I can help you with that problem.” Merlin said.
“I had no doubt you could.” John replied. “I wasn’t sure if you would.”
“I’m not an expert on teleportation science, but I can duplicate it. I can make it work, after modifying the equipment at Bell Labs. However, preferring to avoid certain government people here, I suggest we move the experiments to a location in Canada. I have a relative there, who owns a business manufacturing doors, frames, hardware and related products. I know how we can turn doorways into teleportation devices.” Merlin informed them.
“Why are you wasting your knowledge and talent on . . . what you are doing here . . . instead of pursuing the benefits of . . . well . . . you could make trillions of dollars bringing teleportation to the transportation business.” Andrew wanted to know.
“I’ve not believed this world is ready for such a major change.” Merlin answered. “Consider the dramatic impact in individual lives, already existing transportation businesses, and other businesses. Nor more airplanes. No more cars. Thousands of businesses would bite the dust. Millions of people would lose their jobs.”
“Yes. That’s the negative side of it.” John replied. “Even so, there is a positive side . . . significant benefits.”
“I agree. Perhaps the time has arrived. We shall soon see.” Merlin said.
“How long until we can have a couple of operational teleportation doorways?” Andrew asked.
“I estimate a couple of years.” Merlin answered. “We should be ready to spring it on the world in the spring of 2014.”
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