As the world comes to an end on the other side of the universe, this catalytic story unfolds…
“You made this?”
"Yes, sir, " she said with a nod.
“This…” Dr. Concannon struggled for the right words to describe the contraption, confiscated from Leslie by Legacy LLC. His eyes remained fixed on it, gawking with an air of amazement. “This… device, you made it?" he asked again.
She nodded again. "Yes, sir."
The scientist sat across from Leslie as if she was on trial. She wouldn't take off her neon blue transparent raincoat, not because she was nervous, not because what she wore underneath was inappropriate-- truthfully, her mind was elsewhere. Despite the importance weighing on this conversation she sat in, she couldn't wait to get to the newsstand to buy this afternoon edition of Gossipus Maximus, Star Gaze and her favorite gossip magazine, Cataclysma. Her mind continued to wander, straying further into her fascination.
The infamous Donna Prima was in the news again, she’d just come back from Budapest. She’d traveled so far for cosmetic surgery on her teeth- again. This time she wanted diamond-like veneers, something much more avant-garde than her last procedures. This was a controversial decision, but the scientists from Legacy LLC. were concerned with a different kind of controversy.
Leslie was anxious to read up on new gossip just as much as she enjoyed seeing the handsome man who worked the stand a few days out of the week. He claimed he drew cartoons, an awfully humbling hobby, but she wouldn’t know anything he did. He was nice, but she had no time for a man, especially not when there was so much juicy gossip and drama in her life.
The scientists in their uncomfortably bland uniforms sat across from her, their faces wore mixed expressions of bemusement, bewilderment, surprise, terror—just about any and every negative facial expression these crotchety old men could muster behind their wrinkled faces. It made her uneasy, all those eyes trained on her. They pried into her, made her stomach turn with anxiety. Her intense discomfort and desire to leave nearly convinced her to say anything these scientists wanted to hear, anything to get her out of here.
One of the doctors spoke up, clearing his throat before his voice broke the silence. “This device you have here, this.. ah… machine- it is of your own design?” That raspy voice was Concannon, or perhaps Richter. She’d admittedly forgotten their names already and the only thing on her mind was tabloids and the power outage that rocked her apartment complex only hours before and started this mess. The doctor’s voice was meeting her ears, yes, but didn’t seem to be registering with her. Leslie’s eyes had a wide, glassy look to them, a certain distance that implied a lack of attention.
Leslie seemed to have remained quiet for longer than the scientist cared for, so he prodded her again. “Is it?”
“What?” Finally, Leslie was yanked out of her daydreaming by the scraping sound of the unnamed scientist’s voice.
The scientist let out a frustrated sigh. “I asked, did you create this machine yourself, or did you find it? We have evidence this may be of your design.”
Something in the back of Leslie’s mind knew lying may be a better course of action, but impulse seemed to play its card first. “Oh, it’s mine.”
Continuing to neglect the amount of attention certainly necessary for this interaction, she was thinking of the man again, the one with the pretty eyes and supposedly well-illustrated cartoons. Whenever she came across him working the booth, he was always asking eagerly about her inventions. Nevertheless, she wanted to talk about what was in the magazines instead, casting aside his fascination with her technical intelligence. Her inventions weren’t important. Not to her. Donna Prima, though-- that’s who was important.
The scientists exchanged looks, but Leslie could not decipher what encrypted messages they sent one another through their pointed stares. She wanted to leave. These men surrounding her hardly felt real, this interaction was straying into the sensation of a bad fever dream. She felt as if she could blink and she’d wake back in her apartment, dizzy from sleep but ready to begin her day again. More importantly, ready to get her hands on the latest tabloids and feed her fixation.
The repetitive thought booming in her head, reminding her of what she truly wanted became too loud to ignore. “Can I leave now?” she asked. “The news should be coming on soon and if the power’s back I should like to find out about Donna Prima. I’m sure you have heard she went back under the knife—”
A woman’s voice broke the silence this time. She sat at a diagonal angle from Leslie, partially obscured from sight. It wasn’t until now that Leslie’s only partially attentive mind noticed this table wasn’t encircled by exclusively men. “Yes, yes. Soon. You will be home soon enough, miss.”
The pauses between the scientist’s words, the dark tone hidden in her voice, made Leslie wonder if the woman—the only other woman in the room with her—spoke even a word of truth. Leslie’s feet itched in her shoes, but she didn’t dare fidget. She knew how to handle these people. One must stay still, and remain calm, and say what they want to hear.
Still, calm, and most of all compliant.
Don’t scratch your feet in front of them, she thought. The humiliating habit was itching at her thoughts now that she’d been in one spot for so long. Now her brain battled between distractions, anxieties, compulsions-
Hearing her own name shook Leslie out of her reverie. Her mind had already drifted off again, this time to the controversies surrounding Elektra von Komplex fourth leaked sex tape, Venus Flannigan's third divorce, Lenny Malcolm’s second plane crash of which he was piloting himself after several nights of heavy drinking and one-night-hookups. In the plane was his illegitimate daughter, two chows and longtime assistant, Reynolds Peers. Leslie could hardly wait to find out the details of those gripping stories, most notably the last.
“Leslie,” this was Richter, she now remembered, “how, exactly, did you manage to create such a device? This technology is beyond even our—” He didn’t finish the statement before he was interrupted. The lead scientist, the man placed at the head of the table, stopped Richter with a glare from his beady eyes. With that, a blanket of tension descended upon the room. In the moment of silence, she heard phones ringing in the chambers beyond the confines of this conference room and wished desperately to be walked through the eaves of the scientists’ fascinatingly disheartening lair.
Leslie took this moment to break through the stagnant air with her own words. “It started with garbage picking. I found some microwaves in the apartment dumpsters. They’re always useful to have around, plenty of parts to repurpose, so I took them.”
The scientist who spoke next seemed frustrated, gesturing with his hands all the while. “But what you have described is not merely a microwave, you can’t lead us to believe you only used those parts.”
“No. Not a microwave. Two microwaves. An Amana Radarange and a Kenmore. Both very old. I believe the Radarange is a ’76 and the Kenmore an ’81. I took them apart, I fiddled. I meddled. And here we are.”
“Yes. Here we are,” Concannon said as he looked at her down the bridge of his bulbous nose, though his bifocals that made the beads of his eyes look like those of a gerbil.
Somehow, this simple tabloid-obsessed file clerk managed to create a teleportation transmission between both machines. She sent her underwear, socks, hat, gloves, even magazines from one machine to the other, using simple microwave technology. She paired this activity with watching gossip TV to create this machine. Technologically, it shouldn’t have been possible. “Would you mind telling us how we have gotten here?” Concannon continued his last statement.
On Leslie’s end, recounting everything that had happened that day seemed like such a chore. As she began speaking, her restless anxiety grew, and with it the urge to fidget. "I just... created their relationship. I dismantled them. I studied what they were like inside. I found what they had in common."
Leslie explained that she worked sixteen years on it, the age of a young adult. In these years, while others her age frolicked in romance and addiction, she corrected the numerous errors within the E.P.R. essay as a side project to something much greater. Her primary project was matching the ninetieth percentage resonance of an inanimate object’s atomic vibration to that of the resonance of another object of a similar nature to perfect the quantum entanglement transmission through her treasured findings, Amana and Kenmore.
During her final test run of the mechanism, there was a power outage not solely in her buildings but her entire block. Leslie went into blind panic, unsure how the machine would react to an abrupt interruption. Much had come to pass, the power hummed back to life by late evening, beginning with her television reminding her that Donna Prima would be making her first public appearance after her disastrous tooth-replacement surgery. Leslie found herself quickly distracted and consumed by her own vices, foaming at the mouth to see the carnage.
Silly Donna. She was already so pretty. Why did she have to get another set of new teeth? Wasn’t her second teeth replacement good enough?
Leslie thought so but didn't demand truthful answers from a woman who did things that, ultimately, didn’t matter. What did matter, Leslie told the panel of scientists, was that her power blew right before a live stream that revealed the terrible destruction of the Turkish surgeons whom Donna had outsourced for her “mending.”
Leslie hated that word, “mending,” as if anything had been broken in the first place. But that was the word the media used, so that was how she described the procedure to the scientists sitting across from her.
“I have been sending inanimate objects twenty feet across from one device to the other for two years,” Leslie said, back on track. “I wrote down the formulaic approach I took to make a quantum transition from 'electronically excited' to 'vibrationally excited’, reversed this formula to the Square unit to arrive at the mean to derive the original nucleus so to recreate it elsewhere without simply replicating it. The result of the equation stretches out to thirty-three No16 Composition notebooks I amassed throughout the years. Once I figured it out,” Leslie hesitated, tripping over her thoughts for reasons that so far, escaped her. Taking a deep breath, she went on: “Once I figured it out I started using the notebooks as firewood…did you know Donna Prima had a forest fire started in the middle of the Amazon because she wanted a more realistic photo shoot? She was getting in touch with her inner artist self—”
“Yes Leslie,” they cut in, “but the microwaves. Let us not lose track of our tale. Do get to the part with the gerbil.”
“Yes, the gerbil,” Leslie said. She shrunk in her chair and her eyes jumped to the glowing red letters hanging above the door behind the scientists. E-X-I-T, they taunted.
“My device worked perfectly on inanimate objects. Laundry became easy. All I had to do was put my dirty brassieres in the Amana, set it for a minute and a half, and before the bell dinged they would be in the Kenmore, right next to my washing machine. I didn’t have to carry anything anymore,” she explained, feigning innocence. Back at her apartment, the cops found all sorts of items. Hundreds of pairs of socks. Hundreds of underwear. Hundreds of bras. The place looked like a metropolis of neatly folded clothes. She kept everything. Stacks of magazines, some dating back forty-three years and probably worth a bit of change. Her walls were filled with neatly cut out pictures and posters of celebrities that included interviews, controversial headlines, and pictorials.
“I decided that I needed to go a step further. I could use this discovery to meet Donna Prima. I figured if I could get it to work on—biological entities…then maybe…”
The scientists stared with rapt horror at the woman’s ratty, nappy hair as she stammered through her story, fidgeting and crushing her feet together beneath the table and letting her gaze jump from one corner of the room to another, settling on anything besides the three cloaked scientists staring back at her as she explained why a gerbil would be her first subject. “They’re so furry. So cute. I just love them.”
She offered no other explanation besides that, but rather plunged into an incoherent account of Donna Prima’s teeth replacement and the news and the sex tapes that had been discovered in her lover’s den and she forgot to hit the stop button when she put the gerbil in the Amana Radarange and—SPERLUCK— it blew up.
“Of course, I called the police. Crime goes wild when the power is down, so I called the police and I told them: ‘I just burnt out my fuses or blew something. The gerbil didn’t make it back. At least I don’t think it did.’ They came right away.”