“What are we supposed to be looking at?” muttered Doctor Phelps impatiently.
It had taken some dragging to get him here.
“Remember Doctor Johnson was working on the invisibility thing?” Ralph asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Oh! But surely you don’t mean—”
“I’m not sure what I mean, because if he’s not actually invisible, in that goofy metallic sphere he built, and which formerly sat right in the geographic epicenter of this room,” Ralph laid it out. “Then I’d surely like to know just where in the hell he got off to.”
Phelps was the senior research fellow in this department. Ralph was the janitor.
“And yet, as you can see, the sphere is not visible,” explained Doctor Phelps. “His theories as to why surfaces reflect light, due to irregularities and imperfections in the crystalline latticework structures of their molecules, stands on the shoulders of giants, and goes right back to classic color theory. I admit, I could never really get the part about how you could see right though all of those multiple layers, how he expected to make things totally transparent, without distortion or diffraction. In that sense, it’s not a paint that he was working on…”
“Yeah, I know, you can get all that off of Wikipedia. Considering all the empty space in a molecule, I think it’s the weak nuclear forces, a kind of gravitational bending of light wavelengths,” Ralph said before the dummy bolted right back to the staff luncheon, where they were serving a rather nice bouillabaisse, and an indifferent little Merlot. “It has something to do with the corpuscular nature of light, like a sperm swimming. This is just my little theory, but I think most of the light actually does go right through, and only that light which hits stuff due to its wavelength, versus the size, shape and aspect ratios of the crystalline structure, actually gets reflected back to our eyes.”
“Oh,” said Phelps, then went silent for a moment while he attempted to digest this.
“Well, what’s the problem?” he asked again.
“The problem, is that he’s not here, Doctor,” Ralph told him, elucidating slowly and carefully. “The doors are quite small, as you may have observed.”
The doctor’s jaw dropped, and his eyebrows rose up real high and then froze in place.
“He what—?” gasped Phelps.
Ralph walked over to the other side of the lab, right through the middle, weaving past the four curved, bracket-like, heavily insulated supports the sphere rested upon, under dangling cables and hoses and wires, all of which were still live, simply throbbing with electricity, or super-cooled liquid nitrogen, or whatever, according to the readouts and displays.
“He’s not here,” he repeated, staring at Phelps from twenty metres way, across the open space, where originally, the machine that was to become the sphere of invisibility had once rested.
“That bit about an electron going from point A to point B, splitting into two, and how one of them must be going into an alternate universe…I think Doctor Johnson may have accidentally built some kind of time machine, or sent himself into another realm,” Ralph said with a rising sense of impatience. “He’s maybe popped over into the next dimension.”
No one ever listened to Ralph, and it was his lunch hour. As Doctor Johnson once told him, he didn’t get paid to think, ‘just sweep the floor, man.’ Johnson’s equations were seriously flawed right from the outset, and he never listened either.
“Well, what do you want me to do?” Ralph prompted the good Doctor Phelps, who was standing there, gasping like a landed carp. “Do you want me to shut the power down, or leave it running, or what?”
“How…How?” gasped Phelps. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I didn’t know! I was sweeping the floor, man. I looked up, and there he was…gone,” Ralph explained as best as he could.
Doctor Phelps was mortified. On the one hand, this institution had made a discovery of epoch-making proportions, and on the other hand, he had no clue as to how it actually worked, and that idiot Johnson hadn’t even left a simple scribbled note on the fridge door.
“Well. It’s up to you, Doctor,” Ralph said.
“But, but,” spluttered Phelps.
“Look. All chemistry, at its most basic and fundamental level, is the study of electrical phenomena, right?” Ralph asked Doctor Phelps.
“Right!” he seized on it like a drowning man.
“Color, or lack of it, is a chemical property, right?” he asked just to be sure, because he dropped out of school in grade ten.
“Yes,” he stammered. “Yes! Yes it is.”
Pointing up at all the thick cables draped over supports and dangling down over the center of the floor, Ralph went on.
“We’re presently burning about fifty-eight million giga-watts of electricity, and the Board of Governors will be asking questions,” he said.
“Turn it off!” he gasped, and Ralph smiled at that, because that would have been his suggestion as well, but it wasn’t his responsibility and he didn’t want to have to make the decision.
He stood clear and switched it off, and they were grateful to see the sphere slowly but surely begin to re-emanate from some other realm, with its dark, dark surface slowly lightening up, waves of something flickering over it. It sat there, right where it should be, ticking and snapping a little. It sucked the heat out of the very walls and floor of the room. With a quick nod to Doctor Phelps, Ralph pointed at the release handle on the front door of it, and Phelps stepped smartly forward with a funny look on his face. Ralph went back to the boiler room and had soup and Merlot a half-hour late. With all the screaming and shouting going on in there, it didn’t seem like poor old Ralphie was going to get much sweeping done in lab 24-B for a while.
He could have told them that was going to happen, but no one ever listened.
It wasn’t his job, really. Although they say, the greatest scientific discoveries in history were purely accidental.
This story originally appeared in Spanish, in the online magazine 'Axxon,' (Argentina.) Here's an article in Photonics.com where they talk about the cloaking problem and spheres of invisibility.
Oops! Almost forgot. Original photo: 'Rama.' Wiki Commons.