1022 South Evergreen Circle consisted of a one acre wooded lot with a two story frame house bordered by a white picket fence accessed by a red brick sidewalk. It was a scene out of the movies. Simple, homey, deceiving...
Deceiving because what went on in the interior of the house at 1022 South Evergreen Circle was not simple, homey or in anyway normal. George David Beasley operated a portal into another world, or you might say into several other worlds out of his simple southern home in Crawfordville, Alabama, a city whose main economy was wood products and petroleum.
At the moment he was having a conversation with a small floating stone. The stone was a traveling craft consisting of millions of sentient beings. The craft communicated with George by manipulating radio frequencies in George's am-fm radio at fm frequency 107.2. George listened intently as he quietly munched a sausage biscuit from the local Hardees.
If George were more evolved the bit with the radio wouldn't be necessary because the stone craft would have been able to tap directly into his brain with its transmission. Unknown to George, in the communications center of the stone were over a 1000 linguists, all experts in English/North America/Alabama/southern interpreting every verbal and non-verbal nuance in George's speech. George simply perceived the stone as one entity.
The stone asked George all kinds of questions, some which he could answer and some too silly to respond to. All of this provided great entertainment to the passengers on the stone. For you see, the stone was a highly compressed intergalactic/inter-dimensional cruise vessel and the passengers were vacationers from over a thousand different planets spread through at least two hundred galaxies.
Through an advanced technology derived from hundreds of thousands of years of observation of black holes, the stone sailing vessel could compress itself and its passengers to micro particles capable of exploring molecules or much larger bodies such as planets depending upon the tour destination. This was astounding in itself, but not as astounding as the Intergalactic Species Standardized Unit Extension or ISSUE as it was commonly known.
ISSUE was a device which was bio-inserted directly into a species body. Smaller than a grain of salt - ISSUE could be injected or ingested. Once inside the organism, it "swam" to a location where it could attach itself safely without disrupting the organism's biological functions. Safely attached and secured, it activated and sent a signal to the brain of the host. Upon acknowledgement of ISSUE?s presence by the host's brain, a downloading process would begin complete with instructions for use.
ISSUE altered perceptions of the world being experienced by the host. On the host's home planet, for example, any type of perceived ugliness could be changed by the host simply issuing a mental command to ISSUE to change it. ISSUE could subtly or dramatically alter the perception of another entity's appearance. If there were a disfiguring mole on one's nose - ISSUE could erase it. Skin color, height, hair or lack of, number of appendages, etc, could all be dramatically modified by ISSUE. Physical modification was not the only aspect of ISSUE's capabilities. Odors, textures, light quality, humidity, and temperature perceptions could all be altered to a more pleasing state by the host. Then there were the emotional and attitudinal features.
ISSUE's default setting of "no conflict" made it impossible for the host to find fault or disagree with another entity. The settings, of course, could be changed to minimal, moderate, and extreme conflict depending upon the situation. Behavioral psychologists found this aspect of ISSUE extremely useful with disruptive children and violent criminals. In certain cases, the courts could order a host?s ISSUE options be limited by a simple program change. On the worlds where ISSUE was common, behavior modifying prescription drugs were a thing of the past.
George was fascinated by the concept of locking the settings on ISSUE. He could think of all kinds of possibilities.
Addressing the stone, he asked, "Who is authorized to change the settings of another entity's ISSUE program?"
The stone did a rollover and a modified loop-the-loop as it circled through George's living room and then hovered at eye level with George...
Through the FM frequency on George's radio, the stone replied, ?That is a special package which is obviously limited to only a few entity's per planet. The best way we can describe it is the function of a webmaster on one of your planet's Internet websites. Certain areas of the site can be blocked or opened depending upon the desires of the webmaster. An entity with authorization, in addition to his own ISSUE program, also has an ISSUE controller's package which can communicate directly with individual or multiple ISSUE units...
"Gotcha!" George replied, sending the stone's linguists scrambling for a quick interpretation.
George by education and experience was a physicist. Briefly he had been a faculty member of the Physics Department of the University of Alabama. He was fired when his "outside the box" thinking caused so much disruption that the disciplined thinkers of that department just could not find any order in George's disorderly view of the Universe. George quietly left averting a number of potential nervous breakdowns among the physics faculty. Luckily, due to the generous bequest of a nutty, but very wealthy, uncle who had made millions in oil and timber, George had a nice trust fund to fall back on.
Making a vow never to venture into the world of Work again, George set up a home laboratory to pursue his theories. For laughs and giggles - and appearances - George taught a non-credit remedial English course at Nathaniel Bedford Forrest College. Since no one at NBFC gave a flip about remedial English - except for the tuition dollars it brought in - George had free rein. Remedial English became one of the most popular courses at the school.
Unknown to faculty and administration, George, through his class, was developing a cadre of guerrilla physicists who did practical experiments with String Theory and spoke knowingly of parallel universes and wormholes. In another place and time, George's disciples might have been called witches and warlocks. The brightest and best of George's remedial English students became his lab assistants.
It was one of George's lab assistants who discovered the portal. He literally fell into it! George had been taking a break, drinking coffee and watching the Simpsons in his living room. He didn't hear the commotion from the laboratory behind his house. When he returned he was astounded to see a foot encased in a shoe - with a bit of exposed ankle - hovering in the air. Looking around for his lab assistant and not seeing him, George quickly deduced who the foot belonged to. Quickly George grabbed the foot and pulled. Slowly the lab assistant emerged from the portal.
Trained by George to accept the abnormal as the norm, the lab assistant reported that he had landed on some kind of street in a world that didn't look like earth. He was being approached by what he determined to be some type of police creature when George pulled him back through the portal.
From that time forward, George would get occasional visitors through the portal. Usually they didn't stay long - looked around and were gone. Crawfordville seemed to do that to people.
After a few cautious trips through the portal, George and his assistants determined their portal led into a city that was a nexus for several portals. The police creatures turned out to be bio-mechanical robots monitoring the portals for any suspicious activities prohibited by Galactic and Inter-Dimensional legal protocol.
Crawfordville, Alabama unknown to its residents had become a port to the rest of the Universe. George had sent four assistants on scouting missions to the other portals. It was on one of the missions that the traveling "stone" was encountered.
"Okay, how do I get some of those ISSUE units and a controller package?" George asked.
"We thought you'd never ask. ISSUE units are distributed free - you have to sign for the controller package."
"Sign - sign what?" At that moment the stone glowed and a bright green ray of light streamed out of it towards George's floor. Green mist swirled spectacularly and when it cleared - standing in front of George was a woman.
The woman - very beautiful - was attired in a Las Vegas showgirl costume complete with a peacock feather headdress which touched George's ceiling. A few of George?s assistants came in and gawked, George shooed them away.
The woman handed George a tablet and stylus. Written on the tablet was a standard Galactic/Inter-Dimensional boilerplate contract with language that stipulated that George David Beasley would not abuse his ISSUE controller privileges upon penalty of having his portal rights denied. George signed the tablet and was starting to ask the showgirl to go to lunch with him when she suddenly disappeared. In her place were two boxes, each labeled in English.
The first box was labeled ISSUE units-human, quantity 500. The second, very small container was labeled ISSUE control assembly-human, quantity 1 ea. Before George could ask the stone any questions it zipped away through the portal which George had framed and decorated with colorful beaded strings. He had no way to summon it back and probably would not get another visit for about six weeks. The inter-galactic/inter-dimensional tour business must be hot he thought... Nevertheless, George was not going to wait six weeks to start having fun with ISSUE. He was a physicist after all, he would figure it out.
Later that afternoon...
"Crawfordville Chamber of Commerce, 'We're here to keep pine in your future," how may I direct your call?" The receptionist answered.
"Let me speak to Bubba," George said. He heard a couple of clicks and then a voice.
"Bubba Lamarck Foshee, here. How can I help you?"
"Bubba is 'Bubba' a given name or a nickname? George always wanted to ask Bubba that question and he guessed now was as good a time as any.
Bubba Foshee had been the director of the local chamber for as long as George could remember. Managing various Crawfordville events took most of Bubba's time. There was the annual Wild Hog Appreciation Day, The Crawfordville Muscadine Grape Festival, and the biggest - Big Creek County Paper Day - sponsored by the local paper mill. Last year's Paper Festival had been one of Bubba's major accomplishments.
The festival had been built around a Grecian theme. The entire town showed up for the festival decked out in togas. Small stalls selling everything from art and sculpture to barbecued alligator tails were festooned with colorful tapestry and positioned among huge Greek columns made entirely of toilet paper rolls compliments of the Big Creek Paper Company. Bubba Lamarck Foshee had choreographed the entire event. He would remember the festival as one of his crowning achievements. The local paper, The Crawfordville Courant, headlined the event with a centerpiece photograph showing Bubba in his toga standing in front of the toilet paper columns. The caption read: Bubba the Greek...
"Yes, Bubba is my given name. This is George Beasley isn't it? Only you would ask me that question. Yes, George, my daddy was a Bubba; my grandaddy was a Bubba and his daddy before him. When they got to me they decided to make it formal. Bubba's on my birth certificate. What can I help you with, George?" Bubba asked.
"I need to plan a banquet for the Chamber members and I thought you could help me with it." George said.
"A banquet - what kind of banquet?" Bubba asked. This was highly unusual for George he thought.
"It's a memorial banquet for my late uncle, David Henry Beasley. You know the one that left me and the town all that money."
"Everybody remembers Mr. David, George. Why have you waited ten years to do this? As I remember, you didn't even have a funeral for him. Somebody told me that his ashes are in a cardboard box on your window sill." Bubba had known George since childhood and had no qualms about being direct with him.
"Guilt Bubba, just plain guilt... It's been bothering me for years and I've just recently decided to do something about it. Anyway, everyone in the Chamber is invited and I'll pick up the tab, of course. And...Bubba, I'm calling you on this because you're the only one I know who can pull it off the way Uncle David would like it." Flattery was Bubba's biggest weakness and George shamelessly exploited it.
Bubba agreed to put the memorial together and was honored to be a major part the event. David Henry Beasley had been revered by all. Maybe George Beasley wasn't so odd after all. Bubba wondered if tiny wooden oil well place holders would be appropriate on the banquet tables. He'd get to work on the planning right away.
Three weeks later
The David Henry Beasley Memorial Dinner was a big success Everyone in the Crawfordville Chamber of Commerce came to the community banquet and meeting facility to watch George David Beasley spend his uncle's money. George had volunteered his laboratory assistants to Bubba to serve as waiters. Each assistant had a supply of ISSUE grains. As they worked their way through the tables, the assistants would drop a solitary grain into the guests' wine glasses by the use of a special dispenser George had designed that fit into each assistant's sleeve. The grains were totally invisible.
Sitting at the head table, George watched each guest as they drank their wine and chatted with each other. In the cases where no wine was being consumed by a guest, George signaled his assistants to drop the grain in the guest's water glass. George had no illusions that he would be able to infect everyone at the banquet with the alien, super-nano, ISSUE technology, but like a good physicist, he had calculated his probability to 99.9 %.
George was ready. For the past few weeks with the aid of his assistants, George had fine tuned his skills with the ISSUE controller package. The results were remarkable. For the first time since his association with them, his assistants weren't bickering or bruising each others egos. He didn't worry as much when he sent them on scouting forays from "Portal City" as they now referred to the nexus. He was constantly linked with them wherever they were - and best still - he had total control...
Before activating the ISSUE units and going to work, George relaxed a bit to enjoy the festivities. Crawfordville's mayor, Roscoe Johnson - the man with the perpetual smile - was getting up to make a presentation. George with his trained powers of observation noticed something about Roscoe that was peculiar. George was surprised he hadn't noticed this before, but of course, George hardly ever attended events of this kind in Crawfordville. Roscoe Johnson was a kleptomaniac - or at least he appeared to be.
As Roscoe spoke, George noticed that the mayor had the disconcerting habit of reaching around the podium, the table, wherever he was standing, and go through the motions of picking objects up, putting them down, and moving his hand to his jacket pocket like he was stuffing it. He wasn't of course, but George decided to have a little fun anyway. George activated the mayor's internal ISSUE unit and mentally issued some commands. The mayor gave a brief shudder and continued speaking.
In Roscoe's mind, suddenly every piece of silverware looked like it was made of 24 karat gold. It was amazing, he thought, no one else seemed to notice this. Slyly, as he spoke, he would reach for a knife, fork, soup spoon, dessert spoon, or butter knife and drop it into his pocket. Soon his pockets were bulging. As he spoke, he began to clank. The crowd thinking it was some kind of joke began to laugh. By now the mayor was clanking furiously wondering what was so funny. George turned to his next victim.
Ford Ferrell, the assistant District Attorney, and private legal practitioner - who practiced sexual harassment so he could better understand it -was accompanied to the banquet by his newest secretary. His wife couldn't be there because she was recuperating from injuries suffered from a scuffle when she and Ferrell were having a friendly disagreement.
Ford's secretary was a ravishing beauty. Ford could hardly keep his hands off her. The naive girl, seeking to please her boss, whispered sly comments to Ford, her lips brushing his neck. Ford could hardly wait until the dumb banquet was over. He had plans for his secretary. At that thought, George activated Ferrell's ISSUE unit.
Laughing at the mayor, Ford momentarily forgot about his secretary. Catching a strong whiff of her perfume he turned to look at her. What he saw turned him cold and froze him on the spot. His beautiful secretary had been replaced by a creature that vaguely resembled a human, but had the head of a wild boar, complete with tusks. It was slobbering and baring its tusks as its head suddenly moved towards Ford's neck. Ford screamed and scrambled across the table knocking over Mrs. Wallace Hunter, the head of the local social services agency. He was still screaming as he headed out the door.
Darwin James III who since the death of David Henry Beasley had occupied the enviable niche of richest man in town looked on in amazement. Darwin who loved a joke as well as the next person wondered what was going on. Something was going on that wasn't on the script because he noticed that Bubba Lamarck Foshee was going nuts. Bubba's toupee was slipping from his head due to overactive perspiration. Darwin still couldn't get the joke; he turned back to his roast beef and mashed potatoes. Zing! Darwin's ISSUE unit was suddenly activated. Darwin's overfilled plate was full of huge white grub worms! Not paying attention, Darwin speared one with his fork. Noticing the change in his cuisine and finally alert, Darwin observed that everyone's plate was full of grub worms. Like the bull that he was, Darwin lifted the table and sent everyone's plates, glasses, and silverware crashing to the floor.
Confusion was reigning at the David Henry Foshee's Memorial Dinner. The guests were getting nervous. Something unexplainable was going on. Some got up to leave. George decided that this would be a good time to rein everyone in. He activated everyone's ISSUE units and mentally commanded the unit to go to the default mode of "No Conflict." Like magic the room quieted down. One last experiment before going home, he thought. He issued commands.
Everyone politely rose to their feet and queued up to go out the entranceway of the banquet facility. With his mind, like a pied piper, George issued commands and assembled the group on the main street in front of the building. Suddenly the group of Chamber members began dancing in unison and singing the song, Stars fell on Alabama. Under the streetlamps it looked like a Broadway play. As everyone sang, George gathered his assistants and headed home...
High above the singing and dancing crowd of Chamber members, a small stone floated around the smoke stack of a saw mill which was located across the street. Inside the captain's lounge, two creatures of differing species tipped their glasses to each other.
"Well, Zorg, it looks like you've done it again. Another planet has been infected and will soon be under Galactic/Inter-Dimensional control."
"Yes Bleeb, that is so, however I've got one more thing to do to tidy things up..."
George David Foshee and his assistants walked towards his home. All were laughing and congratulating themselves on a fine evening and a successful experiment.
Zing! George suddenly shuddered...
Ten minutes later...
Ralph and Faye Kedeski maneuvered their Winnebago motor home up U.S. 31 towards Crawfordville. After a month at Destin Beach in Florida, Ralph and Faye were ready to get back to their grandkids in Appleton, Wisconsin. The slowdown in traffic was irritating. Nearing the intersection with U.S. 29, both gawked with amazement at what looked like the entire town in the street - dancing and singing in unison.
Bubba Lamarck Foshee was leading the group in The Village People's popular song YMCA. He'd pulled his shirt off and used his tie as a bandana. The police chief, Barney Fifesson had stripped down to his skivvies and a shoulder holster. The chamber members began dancing towards Ralph and Faye's motor home. Fearful, Ralph gunned the engine and roughly ran the RV across a set of railroad tracks. As he made his turn north towards Wisconsin he careened and nearly drove through the window of The Bank of Crawfordville as he fled from the scene.
"What wrong Ralph? Why are you driving so recklessly? You're going to kill us! Faye had dropped her knitting in the floor.
"Trust me honey. We've got to get out of here! I don't know what that scene back there is all about, but - THOSE PEOPLE DEFINITELY HAVE ISSUES!
Dedicated to the memory of Science Fiction author, Clifford D. Simak 1904-1988
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