The time was T minus 1 minute and counting. Chesterton sat at the console, watching the assistants scurrying about doing nothing. Assistants everywhere learn the importance of seeming to be busy. It's not a trait limited to science, but one shared in every enterprise where there are higher and lower levels. One can gauge the relative importance by the level of activity, the lower drone
s kept busy buzzing, the queen
s (or kings, as befitting the gender of the subject) more sedate in their appointed tasks. Chesterton wasn't moving at all, declaring himself top of this particular heap.
He'd moved quite enough getting to this day. He'd moved the University to sanction his initial research. He'd moved the federal government to fund at a much higher level than academia had been able. He'd moved himself adroitly into the directors chair, as well as fended away all pretenders to the throne. He'd earned his moment of inactivity.
This project had begun when as a physics student he had become acquainted with the theory that every physical object is affected by every energy that contacts it. For instance, if a building were the site of a conversation between 2 Mafiosi discussing the murder of a rival. The sound waves, by the act of passing through the material objects of the building would affect and change the materials, create an indelible record of that conversation for all time (or at least until the building was demolished). The challenge presented to researchers was to find a way to decipher those effects, become able to 'play back' what had transpired in the past.
Imagine having the scrap of paper on which Abraham Lincoln penned the Gettysburg Address. Not only would you possess the original manuscript but you could hear Lincoln deliver the historic speech, complete in every detail. Not only the speech, but every other word ever spoken in the presence of that scrap of paper.
The old saying "If I could have been a fly on the wall..." no longer applied. Flies decompose rather quickly and were not an ideal medium for recording events. A brick from the wall the fly sat upon would do quite well, though. Chesterton sometimes fantasized about the dismantling of the White House, brick, stone, and nail in search of all those lovely unrecorded events. His technology was a voyeur's dream.
The successful completion of his work would mean the beginning of a world where there are literally no secrets. In that new world to speak is to be heard, not just by the second party of a conversation, but by government, business, anyone with sufficient funds and desire to unravel the record.
One application already used in the very beginning of this area was to bounce a laser beam off a window where a conversation of interest was happening. The sound waves made the glass vibrate, which in turn made the return bounce of the laser beam vibrate correspondingly. All that need be done was translate those vibrations back into speech. The prisons were filling up with new inmates, all of which were wondering who ratted them out. The law enforcement officials had been careful to keep their new technology quiet. After all, if the perps told what and where they were going to commit a crime, it was not too hard to link the physical evidence to the crime, or catch the criminals in the very act of commission. Half of the game of hide and seek is knowing where to look.
The next step was to translate the energy pattern after the event, instead of while it was transpiring. This had initially been a tougher nut to crack, but that barrier too have fallen before diligent research and experimentation.
Chesterton had taken this theory to a level undreamed of by anyone else. He knew that physical objects, being affected by energy, must record that event. Sound was a simple example, followed by light and every other wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum. Each energy had its footprint, its particular effect on material objects, and each left its distinctive mark like an invisible fingerprint.
Chesterton's research had drawn the attention of DARPA and associated agencies when he advanced the idea that dead persons could also be deciphered. After all, the last energy to pass through them was life itself, wasn't it? Why shouldn't science be able to unravel the knowledge that had passed away with the person? Why not bring the full knowledge and understanding of a Nikola Tesla back from beyond the veil? Imagine the new accomplishments which would be forthcoming. Instead of that old nemesis Death slamming a final door on a person's achievements, turn the tables and shackle Death itself, free the essence of the individual to continue uninterrupted. Instead of life's end becoming the closing of a door and a loss of all knowledge accumulated, it would become simply the close of one chapter, the start of another. This was the crux of Chesterton's research, the culmination of all his ambitions.
Chesterton had been able to cut a deal with the agencies sponsoring his efforts. Any developments which followed his successful completion would yield him a modest 4% royalty from sale/ leasing of those technologies. He had chuckled to himself, thinking of the rivers of money and attendant luxuries which would be coming his way. If Tesla could reveal the secret of wireless transmission of energy as he was rumored to be working on, that alone would make him wealthier than Solomon.
The life force was an energy, and it was all recorded in the dessicated flesh and bone of the man. Every thought, every idea, every emotion, all his for the plundering.
Time is here, he thought. He focused his attention back to the work at hand. The scene was , he had to admit with a touch of irony, rather Frankensteinian. The corpus of Nikola Tesla was lying on a gurney, strapped down. The little alter ego in his head chuckled and said "It's not like old Nikola is gonna get up and do the Watusi now, is it?" Chesterton also noticed that Nikola wasn't looking too good, having spent decades underground. That's ok, there was bone enough left to have recorded everything. Bouncing the beam off Nikola's shiny skull should turn the trick nicely.
The beam itself, once returned from the object it bounced off of, would be amplified. This process made it possible to translate the infinitesimal effects into useful knowledge.
Chesterton stood, and looked at the assembled cast of characters. His own team of assistants, military brass enough to open a salad bar, nondescript agency types, all quiet and expectant. He looked to his chief assistant Morrissey, who nodded all was ready. Chesterton reached down and flipped the circuits closed, starting the final sequence of events. He could feel the effect of the beam as a hypersonic vibration which seemed to play a piano chord on the filings of his teeth.
Nothing was happening visibly, nothing at all. The registers which should have started to show input were blank, dead empty. He wondered what could have gone awry when there started to appear a faint greenish glow, amorphous, misty but immaterial starting to coalesce above the body on the gurney.
Standing there, looking at the other spectators, Chesterton found as the form in the center of the room became more concrete, the others became less so. He looked at his own hand and could see the bones through his transparent flesh. He felt no pain but instead experienced a sensation of dissipation, as if his atoms were drifting away from one another. The last thought before he crumpled to the deck of the facility was "Oh, I understand now, the last energy to pass through Tesla wasn't life at all. It was Death."
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.