A Disappearing Act

Apparently when Roger was still here, Dempsey would regularly, or irregularly, show up at Roger's unannounced. She had begun doing the same thing with us, and Sally and I were never sure when we'd hear the roar of Dempsey's bike approaching and shortly afterward Andrew would find her at the door.

The odd thing was that none of her unexpected visits was ever at an inconvenient time. She never interrupted anything important, and quite frankly we found her surprise visits most enjoyable.

The Barrets had not returned to California the afternoon following their visit with us, because they had decided it would be too dangerous, so were staying with us until we could work out exactly how to make them, in Ned's terms, 'disappear.'

It was a few days after their visit that Dempsey made one of her surprise visits. I have no idea how the conversation started, but Dempsey suddenly took it over, apparently fascinated with Bill's communication idea. They talked shop for a while, then asked if they could be excused.

We had made several computers available for Bill to continue his work and that's where Bill and Dempsey headed.

I have no idea how the name for Bill's invention evolved, but soon we were all referring to it as AWTS which they, Bill and Dempsey explained was the acronym for 'Asynchronous Wave Transmission System."

Dempsey worked with Bill in refining the AWTS to make it possible to reproduce both cheaply and reliably.

We already knew that mechanics was Dempsey's field, at least one of them, and it turned out the improvements Dempsey suggested were mechanical ones, at least that is how it was explained to me.

I can only relay what was explained to me, because I do not understand any more than that. I have some background in electronics and information theory, but the technology Bill and Dempsey discussed so glibly was frankly beyond me most of the time. Even if I thoroughly understood it, however, I would not be at liberty to provide that much information.

Bill had already incorporated graphene in the design of AWTS which was controlled electronically, I was told, but could not manage to make it totally stable. It was Dempsey who showed him how the 'graphene optical modulator' could be stabilized.

"The control will be perfectly stable if controlled magnetically, not electrically," she explained, "because static charges are inherently unstable. There is a way to do it using static charges, but you do not have the technology for that yet," Dempsey explained.

Dempsey became a regular visitor over the next few weeks while she worked with Bill on the AWTS. While that work was very important, and would become even more important to us in the near future, to Sally and me, Dempsey's more important and immediate contribution, was in solving the problem of making the Barret's disappear.

"Technically it will be a violation of my non-interference policy, I suppose, but morally I cannot allow those bastards [her word, and it surprised us too], those ignorant parasites called the government, to get their filthy hands on those truly magnificent human beings. They would destroy that family for their vile intentions."

"There will be no way for anyone on this planet to know what I've done, anyway, and certainly no way for them to know how I've done it."

"What are you going to do, Dempsey," Sally asked, because neither of us had any idea what she was talking about.

"Of course you don't know," Dempsey replied, "though I've provided you with a demonstration of one variety of it. I called it, "perceptual-deception-defense," if you recall. I'm going to provide the Dempsey's with a version of that defense.

"They will not have to go anywhere, they will not have to go into, 'hiding,' or get a new identity. They can go anywhere they like and will be in no danger of ever being discovered by any of those government thugs who will be looking for them.

"The defense will simply make it impossible for anyone intending them harm to recognize them, even if they were directly pointed out by someone. There will no doubt be some very odd results of the defense, but the defense is perfect, even if there will be some awkwardness."

When we finally were able to reach Ned with the news that Dempsey had provided the solution to the Barrets' protection, we could not explain it, or least did not want to explain it over the phone. Ned was very eager to stop in the next time he came east to get the details of course, but was relieved that Dempsey was providing the protection, because he had complete confidence in her.

The Barret's were not so convinced. They had not seen the little demonstration Dempsey had put on for us, and could not understand how her so-called, "perceptual-deception-defense," could possibly work. It was not long before they would have their own demonstration.

They were also concerned about the little operation Dempsey was required to perform on them all. "It's not really an electronic device," Dempsey tried to explain, "it is biological, and actually becomes 'alive' once it is next to the brains stem. It is microscopic in size, and there is no incision of any kind. I do not want to alarm you but the only way I can describe it to you is, well, the device is shot into you.

"It will detect certain brain waves in others that always accompany what is called, 'threat consciousness,' that is, the consciousness of anyone intending action by anyone that is a threat to you, even if the one having the thought does not consider it a threat. It simply distorts the perceptual information provided by the nervous system of the person posing the threat making their recognition of you impossible. It is not known what they will actually see or hear when looking at you, or listening to you, but they will not be able to recognize or identify you."

The defense will not affect anyone except someone who is a threat. What I'm supplying you is a very limited version of the defense. If someone threatens you directly, they may not recognize you, but they will still see you and could do you harm. It would not protect you, for example, from being robbed by a stranger. It will only protect you from those looking for you with the intention of harming you.

In the end, the Barrets accepted the implants. The hardest part of their decision was about the children. Only after Dempsey had assured them there were no side affects and no danger of any kind to any of them did they finally agree.

It was good they agreed when they did. It was the very next day that Dempsey, who was working with Bill, came rushing into the Kitchen where Sarah, Sally, and I were just about to have coffee and said we were about to have visitors.

I never did learn how she knew, but the bell rang almost immediately after her announcement. Bill had arrived from what was now called 'the lab' when we heard a slight commotion coming from the front hallway. We could hear Andrews voice, alarmed and louder than usual, "I will announce you, Sirs." Then, "Who do you think you are, you ..." followed by two men appearing at the Kitchen door.

"Are you Mark Stern?" the taller one asked Bill?

"I'm Mark Stern," I said. "And who are you, and what do you want?"

"The taller of the two suited thugs flashed a wallet with some kind of badge. "Home Land Security, and we're looking for Bill Barret and Sarah Barret."

"Why are you looking for them and why here?" I asked.

"They're wanted for suspicion of terrorist acts. We know they came here and have been staying here, and have not left."

Sarah, Sally, and I had all remained seated at the table. Bill and Dempsey were standing. Dempsey had backed to the counter and was standing in a very casual manner with her back and one elbow against the counter.

"Why don't you jerks go bother someone else. There are no Barrets here. Can't you see?" Dempsey challenged them.

"You keep your mouth shut, Bitch," the smaller of the two thugs said. We'll decide whether they are here or not."

"What did you say, Pipsqueak?" Dempsey taunted.

The enraged Pipsqueak rushed over to Dempsey obviously intending to strike her. I stood, but before I could move, Pipsqueak was moaning on the floor.

"Rafe, Rafe," he was gasping to the other thug. 'I think I'm having a heart attack. Need help... please help. I'm dying."

Dempsey laughed. "Pick up your friend and get out of here, unless you want a heart attack too," she said to the bigger thug.

The bigger thug was bent over the one moaning on the floor. "Someone call 911," he shouted.

"No one's calling 911," Dempsey said. "But you're getting out of here."

"The big thug let out a little yelp as though he had been stabbed."

"Get out," Dempsey yelled. "The next one will be worse, see?" There was another yelp from the thug. "And the next." "Yelp!" "And the next." "Yelp! Stop, please stop."

"I will if you start this second. Get out."

The Big Thug scrambled to his feet as quickly as he could, obviously in pain. Half dragging the smaller thug, he left the kitchen, went down the hall and out the front door, which Andrew was holding for him. "Good day, Sirs," Andrew said.

"I told you they would not recognize you," Dempsey said to Bill and Sarah, who was now standing beside him."

"What did you do?" Bill asked her, wide-eyed.

"You saw." She said. "I never moved from this spot. They did it all to themselves, actually. I didn't cause them their pain, their own nervous system did that. I only provided a way for it to do it."

"Perhaps they don't know what we look like." Sarah suggested.

"Oh, they know what you look like, alright. They've studied your pictures, but when they actually saw you, they couldn't recognize you."

"Will they be back? What should we do now?" Sally asked in a general way. They'll be looking for you too, now, won't they Dempsey?"

"They've been looking for me for a long time, but I'm in no danger. Those two will not even remember me, or much else that happened here. I suspect they'll lose their jobs. They won't be much good as thugs anymore, and they certainly weren't good for anything else.

"What about Frank and Ned, Mark?" Dempsey asked me. It was her way of saying, "you ought to contact Frank and Ned a soon as possible and let them know what's going on," but she would never give any of us orders. So I said it:

"I'll contact Ned and Frank and see if they can get here ASAP. Don't want to discuss any of this over the phone. I wish AWTS were operational."

"It is," Bill grinned. "We'll begin distributing the modules next week."

"He's a genius," Dempsey said, and I don't mean only in earth terms. I'm actually thinking about taking the Barrets with me when I leave."

"Oh, Dempsey, please don't talk about leaving. But, could you really do that? Could you really take the Barrets, or any earth humans, with you?"

"Certainly. I mean it's physically possible. A cinch, in fact. But it's not morally possible, probably. It would only be possible if no one could mount a rational objection to it and there was no possibility of the earth humans being a threat to anyone."

"Could you take all of us?" I blurted out.

"Roger actually thought of that," Dempsey said, "but he knew it was impossible. Not physically impossible, but practically. Most of you, I'm sorry to say, are too old. Because of the kind of people you are, you could adapt to life in the universe, but it would be very difficult, perhaps more difficult than remaining here and dealing with the irrational oppression on this planet."

To escape the world, I thought. I was very much taken by taken by the idea.

"Sal, what if we could really leave the world?" I asked when we were alone. "What if we could just decide to go and be part of the civilized universe, where everyone is like you and me, like Frank, and Margo, and all the others? Would you go?"

"In a heartbeat, Mark. That's the feeling I have." Then she thought for a minute. "I'm glad we can't, though, Mark. How could I not want to be truly free, to know there is no threat from a single other human being, but I'm afraid the desire would overwhelm my best reason. I'm not sure I would like to have to make that choice, Mark."

I knew exactly what she meant. Why would I want to leave earth? It is true, I shared almost nothing with those who had turned most of the planet into a bureaucratic hell, unfit for the truly human, but it was not their world. They did not really belong in it. The world was for humans, the truly human who had not surrendered their independence, their individuality, their dignity, or their virtue. The world belonged to us and was ours to enjoy. The others, the great mass of ignorant and superstitious parasites whose very life depended on those they despised were nothing, really. They were petty annoyances, like mosquitoes or bad weather, facts one learns to deal with, but inconsequential nothings, nonessentials worthy of no emotion beyond contempt.

The world belonged only to those who deserved it, those who had earned all that it and life made possible. It was ours, and we would take it back.

—Mark Halpern