Louie and Nick
by Jill Hand
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
He looked happy, savoring the fact that he’d beat out Edison General Electric, backed by you-know-who and J.P. Morgan. Tesla had been a frequent guest in Morgan’s home. The financier had bankrolled his scheme to build a worldwide system of wireless telecommunication that could convey news, music, stock market reports, personal messages and even pictures, giving him one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to erect a giant transmission tower and power plant on Long Island Sound. That was a drop in the bucket to how much money would really be needed if the plan were to succeed. One million dollars would have been closer to the mark. Still, Tesla took what he could get.
The beginning of the end came in December 1901, when Marconi transmitted the Morse code signal for the letter S two thousand miles across the Atlantic, from Cornwall to Newfoundland. Tesla pleaded that Marconi had underhandedly used seventeen of his, Tesla’s, patents to send that transmission, but Morgan didn’t want to hear about it. He was starting to doubt the inventor’s claims, some of which sounded far-fetched.
Send pictures through the air? Create a thinking machine? That was the realm of science fiction. Then the stock market tanked, and Morgan and Tesla parted ways. Maybe he could have found a way to stay in the millionaire’s good graces by talking up the tremendous profits that could be made if his crazy-sounding ideas worked. Who knows?
Tesla failed to grasp the simple concept that money makes the world go around, or maybe he did and he just couldn’t bear it. Being a genius isn’t always the same as being smart.
“Faint-hearted and foolish,” Tesla muttered, his eyes far away. “It would have worked.”
“What would have worked?”
He blinked, looking surprised to see me there. “I don’t remember.”
He rose slowly to his feet, a tall, skinny old guy clad in an out-at-the-elbows cardigan and a pair of suit pants that were shiny at the seat. He held onto the back of the chair for support. “I’m tired. I’m going to lie down for a little while.”
I followed him into the bedroom, where he painfully removed his shoes and stretched out on the bed. I fluttered up and nestled next to him.
Eyes closed, he gently stroked my feathers. “So soft! So beautiful.”
“Thanks. Nobody ever called me beautiful before.”
“But you are,” he insisted. He opened his eyes and gazed intently into mine. “I think, Louie, that you are an angel.”
“Come off it.”
“No, I truly believe that you are an angel sent from Heaven.”
His hand felt cold and his skin had taken on a grey tinge. Was this it? I thought it was.
“Listen, Nick, I’ve got something to tell you.”
And so I told him. How I was sent not from Heaven but from the future, where he was a great hero. People said he invented the twentieth century, and they weren’t exaggerating. He’d created wonders and had a remarkable vision that was still being heralded three hundred years in the future. He was one of the all-time greats, like Archimedes and Galileo and Newton and Da Vinci and George Washington Carver and Steve Jobs and Emily Rusk, the woman who gets most of the credit for inventing time travel.
“They love you, Nick. The people of the future love you.”
“Ah!” Were those tears? Yes, they were; tears of happiness.
“They wanted to do something for you so they designed me to go back and say thank you. From everyone. Thank you very much.”
“They did that for me? My goodness!”
“Maybe you would have preferred a yacht?”
“You’re a funny bird, Louie. Tell them I said you’re welcome.” He closed his eyes, a contented smile on his face.
I hopped off the bed and walked into the other room. He wouldn’t be getting a send-off like Edison (forty thousand mourners trooped past his casket and President Hoover urged Americans to turn their lights off for one minute on the day of his burial) but that was okay. I’d delivered the message. I’d told him that he hadn’t been forgotten, that his work was appreciated by generations who had yet to be born. I think that’s what any of you hope for: to know your work mattered.
* * *
As for me, my work here was almost done. I fluttered up onto the desk and scanned all the documents that were there, drawings and notes that would be downloaded from my ocular implant — painlessly — I wouldn’t be harmed in the process.
Lots of humans download stuff from their ocular implants in the future all the time and think nothing of it, no more than people living in 1943 thought about what was involved when they turned a dial or flipped a switch and the lights came on.
Did you know the FBI came in after a chambermaid discovered his body? They took away his papers, the ones I’d scanned, under orders from the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, even though he was an American citizen. This was wartime after all, and Tesla had been born in Serbia. They probably thought it was better to be safe than sorry, although Nick was the last guy who’d ever succumb to the blandishments of enemy agents.
They didn’t take away the papers that I shredded with my beak and scattered out the window, creating a little ticker tape parade for my friend. It was better that nobody ever knew what was on them. People can’t resist tinkering with dangerous things, and this could have been a hell of a lot more dangerous than the A-bomb.
I’ll give you a two-word hint: death ray. If that doesn’t make you shiver, it should. To Tesla, it was probably just an idle notion that he was fooling with, but take my word for it, it was better not to let the feebies and their opposite numbers in the War Department get their mitts on it. There’d be a gap in the video, but that was okay. Sometimes gaps happened spontaneously, or I could tell them I’d switched it off in order to have a little privacy, so I could pitch some woo with a lady pigeon.
My work done, I took a last look around the room. Then I spread my wings and took off for the rendezvous point where I’d be transported back to the future. It felt good to fly. It always does.
Copyright © 2016 by Jill Hand