Mr Tesla looked to the space on the clock where the hands should have been. A thin black line slowly flexed there instead. It reached out horizontally between the three and the nine then, after a while, contracted to a point in the centre of the face.

      Hmmm, he thought patting one hand against his graying yet still well oiled hair. His gift had always generated such fantastic alterations in perception but, as the years wore on, such hallucinatory manifestations had become a rarity. Strange that an element of it should suddenly return now.

      He looked down to his other hand and the small bundle it still held nestled against his chest. A bright yellow eye flickered above a wrinkled knuckle, a hungry beak pecking at the cloth that enshrouded the pigeon. Tesla squeezed the light grey breast, picked up the syringe from the mantelpiece where he had placed it and pushed the tip into the bird’s reluctant mouth. The flood of warm gruel made it dribble and blink.

      “There you go.” He softly breathed.

      After it had fed he cradled the bird again, careful to avoid its damaged wing, then stood and limped back towards the aviary in the adjoining room. Together they passed the gloomy shelves stacked with cracker barrels, each individually labeled with its own number. The pigeon eyed them warily.

      “Finish one more and I will have one hundred and thirty eight,” the old man whispered to the bird, “One hundred and thirty eight, eh? A good number my little friend.”

      The old man’s knees complained with muffled cracks as he moved and it took a great effort to return the bird to its cage. Being the height of summer the sanctuary’s population was sparse but the few birds, unfortunate enough to meet with accidents this time of year, still gave out a chorus of coos that made him shiver with pleasure.

      So small and yet so noisy.

      Closing the mesh door he painfully retraced the path back to his desk, looking towards the suspect clock once more as he moved into the main room of the suite. It was an unadorned piece which he had converted to run on electricity after the pounding of its previous workings had continually distracted him. Now, thankfully, it was silent but had now obviously found a new way to vex him with its pulsating line where once hands had rotated. Hmmm, the thought again.

      He regained the seat at his desk with relief, breathed deeply for a moment, then fumbled with the lid of a nearby cracker barrel. The usual glass of warm milk had been set out for him by room service, and now he used it to soften the biscuit before slowly sucking its goodness.

      Biscuit vampire, he mused. I have become a vampire of biscuits. He gave a mirthless laugh and glanced up again. What on earth was wrong with that confounded clock? Dropping a second cracker back into the barrel, he hauled himself to his feet and, using the desk for support, worked his way back towards the mantle piece.

      The hearth itself was partially shadowed, and Tesla reconsidered that the phenomena might be merely a trick of the eyes. It was dark in the suite – his increasing photosensitivity had led to him commission electrical blinds throughout – but it wasn’t that dark. The sepia glow of a several smoked glass lamps fought well against the gloom and lit Tesla’s way, their collective wattage enough for him to easily observe the clock’s face. The hands still kept up their rhythmic pulse.

      If it was a vision, it had no similarity to the hallucinations of his childhood. No diamond edged flashes accompanied this impossibility. And yet, there before him the hands pulsed across the clock’s face. It made no sense, and even when he guided his thoughts into the analytical space where his gift resided, he still found no answer.

      He had always used reason to keep his visions in check, but this was so focused, so consistent, so… Real. Some kind of malfunction perhaps? Heat generated within the coil reacting to some alloy on the hands making them curl up. But then to expand again… He was just reaching up to unlatch the glass face when suddenly a booming voice filled the room.

      “Be warned. Keep away from the windows. We will be arriving shortly.”

      The steely voice stung his ears and he clasped his hands over them before turning, wide eyed, to see who had spoken. If this was an illusion generated by his mind, then truly it was the most vivid he had ever encountered.

      “I say again, please keep away from the windows.”

      There was a familiar click as one of the blind motors began to reel in its slats, a spray of sunshine suddenly exposing all the corners of the room. Tesla staggered, grabbed at the breast pocket of his jacket. Finally his feeble fingers extracted his dark glasses and donned them before the light could do any more harm to his eyes.

      A wincing knot of unease threatened to drown his reason but, once the initial pyrotechnics had faded, a stronger sense of interest returned his attention to the window. He stared, incredulous, as the blurred after image slowly mixed with the real and he became aware of a bulky oval shape hovering into view.

      Again, it was something that made no sense. His suite was eight stories up and yet here, moving gently closer to the pane, was this, this impossible object. He began to make out its surface and saw that it was constructed of a geometric mosaic of reflective triangles that played havoc with his sense of perspective. It was almost as if the object was there, and somehow simultaneously not.

      Tesla shook his head desperate to assimilate this current wonder before another occurred, but his efforts were futile. Within seconds the object had reached the window ledge and the glass before it neatly segmented, folded in upon itself and then vanished. Tesla remained transfixed.

      The object advanced towards the new opening, a section of its surface vibrating as the bonded triangles scampered back like miniature crabs. A rudimentary doorway now gaped before him, its edges stretching out to make a perfect seal with the window frame. Once more the sunlight was banished, but its departure caused no relief in Tesla. A new illumination of chemical blue bled into the room. The vague form of a body then emerged silhouetted against this new illumination. A head, shoulders and finally arms that reached out and pulled the entity down the low ledge and into the room.

      “Mr Tesla?” It asked in a rich male voice.

      Duka, his dear dead mother, had assured him that reason would always win through in the end, and yet here he was being addressed by someone who was definitely not of this world.

      A second figure emerged out of the blur of the first and seemed to lean in closer to its companion.

      “Is it him?” It asked.

      “I think we have the right room,” replied, the deeper, rougher voice “Perhaps we should check the door.”

      Tesla recoiled as a person, a woman it seemed, breezed past him. Stopping with the light now falling across her, Tesla thankfully grasped at his first impression of these strange intruders.

      She was tall, wore a sleeved bodice and an ankle-length skirt made of some thick material upon which a pattern undulated as if alive. As she opened the door and inspected its front, he saw a hint of strawberry blond curls attempting to escape her domed hat. The broad brim shadowed her eyes and cast her mouth in eerie relief. Tesla shuddered as her blue lips moved.

      “Room 207. We’re in the right place. This must be Mr Tesla.”

      The male figure spoke again, “Please allow me to introduce ourselves. My name is Dr Chet Studabaker and my companion there is Dr Sheena Earheart. We, to put it plainly, are travelers come back through time to honour our hero…”

      “… and rescue him from his timely demise.” Earheart happily concluded with a tiny nod of her hat.

      Tesla, knowing this now to be nothing more than a dream, looked longingly at his desk. All I have to do, he thought, is sit down, close my eyes and all of this will fade. And repeating this quietly to himself he began to hobble back to his chair.

      Instantly the male traveller stepped forward, said “Here, allow me,” and clamped two powerful arms around the old man’s waist. Tesla let out an indignant squawk and the arms withdrew leaving some form of metallic belt behind them.

      “We carefully researched the records for this period of your life. The belt you are now wearing in a conduit for the anti-gravity field of our craft. It should ease the burden on your knees somewhat without causing you to float. We calibrated it exactly to compensate your current mass.”

      Tesla pushed his fingers beneath the belt and, doing his best to prize it free, stumbled forward. To his amazement the chaotic step felt incredibly light, and yes, even youthful. He took another pace and was overwhelmed by the sudden ease in motion.

      “Remarkable.” He said addressing his navel.

      “Yes sir,” Earheart replied, “a remarkable product of your own paper ‘The Art of Producing Terrestrial Motion at a Distance’. Of course we unified it with your later work on electromagnetism and gyroscopics. They were part of the research you secreted in Chicago in 1940 I believe.”

      “You know of those papers?”

      “Yes. They were discovered by my great grandfather, Bishop J. Earheart around 1953. He was the chairman of the Tesla Electrics Corporation at the time. He also performed an extensive audit on the company records and, in doing so, uncovered an anomalous debit from a Chicago safety deposit firm.”

      “But… But…” Tesla briefly wondered why he was addressing these dream creatures, then resolutely pressed on, “But what of my clock?”

      Studabaker poked his broad brim up and away from his eyes in order to get a better look at the timepiece.

      “Merely a bit of transdimensional flimflam to draw you away from the window. Our apologies Mr Tesla.” Tesla’s quizzical look begged for a better explanation.

      “The effect you see is caused by a window in time. A window that only allows the hands to be visible in their quarter past nine and quarter to three settings. It’s nothing more than a cheap trick really.”

      “But the technology required…?”

      “Technology soon caught up with your vision sir,” Studabaker confirmed with a heartfelt nod.

      Tesla immediately became unsure of his conviction that this was just a dream, and began to nervously rub his brow.

      “I am finding this all… all a bit difficult.”

      “As Dr Studabaker already mentioned,” said Earheart in her dulcet tones, “all we hoped to achieve was to meet and assist the man who irrevocably changed, sorry, will irrevocably change, the face of America.”

      Tesla coughed, “A commendable level of rhetoric my dear, but this is simply too… Far too…”

      Studabaker looked to his companion. “Should we show him now? Do you think it will be too much if we press on?”

      Earheart wrinkled her nose and shrugged.

      “Mr Hazelmere, will you please come into the room?” Studabaker’s commanding voice immediately produced a third person, who cautiously eased their way out from the vehicle now latched to Tesla’s window. Again the blue light held this new figure in shadowed relief, until they were almost upon the small group now gathering by the mantelpiece. Finally, the balance of light righted itself and Tesla made out the features of the man before him. Even in his current state of disbelief he was completely unprepared for the wave of revelation that threatened to engulf him.

      A dream, nothing more. A dream nothing more… The chant struck up inside his head to counter the fact that he was now face to face with a identical replica of himself.

      “Mr Tesla,” Earheart began her introduction, “please meet Mr Dean Hazlemere, one of the last of TEC’s old guard.”

      The other Tesla held out a delicate looking hand and said, “An honour to finally meet you sir, and may I say it’s been a privilege to wear your face for these past few months.”

      Tesla gawped in disbelief.

      “I can assure you” his double continued, “that while this isn’t the last revelation you will have to endure Mr Tesla, it’s by far the most difficult to comprehend. I am simply here to take your place for the few months left remaining, that is if you decide to take up my companions’ offer.”

      Tesla’s head fell into a series of erratic, disbelieving shakes.

      “But… But, why come to me here? Why now?”

      “Because we want you to come with us.” Tesla looked across to Studabaker, “The fact behind this intervention is that, unfortunately, you are destined to die in one year’s time – 1943. Come with us Mr Tesla and we can provide you with a new, prolonged and productive life in the future.”

      The three figures reflected a level of understanding between themselves, as though they had just provided the most logical solution to this insanity. There was a pause as they awaited Tesla’s reply. Then the pause extended into an awkward silence.

      “Here,” Hazlemere said, “perhaps this will clarify things.”

      His double stepped closer and unclipped a small device from behind his left ear. As he did so he appeared to shrink, vitality and confidence seeming to ebb from him. Reaching a careworn hand towards Tesla’s face he relocated the object there.

      Vitality flooded the old man’s system and his thoughts sped as old synapses fired new pathways in his ancient brain. Reconnection, revelation and ideas like diamonds. A new appreciation of the situation – previous doubts and fears dissipating. This was just another problem that required solving.

      “How can this be?” Tesla exclaimed.

      “Again a product of your own investigations into the energising effects of electricity on the electro-magnetic fields within the brain.” The old man said in a broken voice.

      “This is quite unique. But tell me Hazlemere, why give up such a gift as this? I cannot believe that this futuristic cult of personality can so effect a man of your years?”

      His double struggled with the words, “True Mr Tesla, but I really have nothing to lose in this venture and everything to gain. Even in our advanced age new mutations of old diseases can still baffle the best medical minds. A substantial cash donation will no doubt assist the family I leave behind.”

      “Ah, noble remuneration then? That I can comprehend. But I am still unsure as to the motives of these young temporal gadabouts, if that is indeed what they are.”

      “Will you come with us Mr Tesla?” Again the impatient Studabaker.

      “With a device such as yours, I hardly think there is any need to rush.” Tesla paused and shot Studabaker a stern glance, “But do please enlighten me as to why you have come back? If it is my technical prowess you are after, why not simply go forward to your own future and acquire someone or something from there?”

      “Because, your individual thinking was the sole foundation of our organisation and the goals it set itself. Anyway the future is closed to us from the point of the time jump’s inception. Only the past leaves traces in the ether.”

      “You have proven the existence of the ether?”

      “We still do not totally understand the dynamics of the medium, but some of its motions are know to us, yes.”

      Tesla mused on this new information for a moment.

      “Come with us Mr Tesla.” He looked up into Earheart’s eyes.

      “I do not know.” The old man shook his head, “This is so sudden, there is so much to think about. My birds. They require…”

      “Mr Hazelmere is well acquainted with birds.” Studabaker said, but there was a tension in his voice.

      Tesla looked to his double who smiled reassuringly.

      “There is no doubt that you have fired my interest and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I can hear my dear Duka saying only a fool passes up on an opportunity. So, yes, I am decided. I will come. I will come as soon as I have retrieved my Derby and then, if you’d be so kind, I would be extremely interested to see the workings of your remarkable craft.”

      “Then you’ll come with us?” Earheart asked, joyous expectation caught in her voice.

      “As soon as I retrieve my Derby, yes.”

      The possibility of madness echoed in Tesla’s mind as he walked towards his hat-stand, and he imagined himself shambling around the apartment muttering one sided conversations. But these technological wonders that allowed him ease of motion and sharpness of perception they were, in a word, incredible. As a scientist it was impossible to pass up such a chance of learning from these strange guests, even if they were nothing more than a delusion.

      Placing his hat upon his head he turned to look back into the room. Again Earheart and Studabaker were silhouetted against the glaring interior of their craft, whereas Hazlemere had moved his frail body behind Tesla’s desk. Is this really how I look to others he marveled as the old doppelganger nodded and waved farewell.

      Enough time for pondering once we’re under way, he thought. Or would there be time if this craft did what it was supposed to do? Squinting against the luminous blue, Tesla approached the helping hand of Studabaker and cautiously climbed onto the sill and into the craft.

      “You won’t regret this decision sir.” Earheart said as she nimbly followed him inside.

      “Madam, I have just stepped from the security of the Saint Regis hotel and into a craft that appears to have no obvious form of propulsion to keep it aloft. I have always had a desire to fly, but my only wish at this moment is that I may live to regret this. Now, is there any way in which this light might be softened?”

      “But of course.” And with that she strode off between the craft’s rather fetching furniture. In fact there appeared to be very little difference to the furnishings here than to those in the apartment they had just left. An opulent chaise; dining table – replete with green velvet cloth; three walnut and leather recliners oddly facing one bare wall… A decidedly different scheme of things than Tesla had anticipated. But where were all the workings of such a vehicle?

      Studabaker bustled past, dropped himself onto one of the recliners and began to fiddle with a device strapped to his wrist. He looked up and, as the lights dimmed, Tesla was finally able to examine the man’s features; older than he had first suspected but still beaming a youthful grin over his square jaw. He excitedly indicated the recliner next to him and Tesla lowered himself into the comfortably padded leather.

      “We will soon be leaving.” Earheart said returning from an adjoining room and sitting on the other side of Tesla. “Until we distance ourselves from the Earth’s gravitational well it’s best to use the straps.”

      Tesla peered down and began to retrieve a complex series of webbing restraints finely finished in an intricate brass locking mechanism. Earheart leaned across and expertly began to fasten them over his chest.
On the other side of him, Studabaker finally completed his operations with a purposeful stab at his wrist and immediately a detailed image of New York’s skyline unfolded onto the blank wall opposite them.

      “There’ll be a slight judder once we disconnect with the building, and then some pressure as we accelerate.” He gave Tesla a conspiratorial wink.

      The seal with the hotel window was broken and sunlight once again streamed in. Cupping his hands around the sides of his glasses Tesla let out a groan of discomfort and strained against his restraints to turn his head away.

      “Quick,” shouted Studabaker, “Reseal the hull Miss Earheart.” There was a flurry of activity to Tesla’s left and a welcome return to dimness within the craft.

      “My apologies Mr Tesla. We’re aware of your aversion to sunlight via the archives. A momentary oversight, it won’t happen again.”

      “Huh.” Grunted Tesla as he gently massaged his temples.

      “Can I ask you a question sir?” Earheart said and Tesla blinked at the young lady who was in the process of removing her hat.

      “Yes. What is it?” He asked.

      “Well there was some conflict in the records regarding your reaction towards light. In one instance they seemed to indicate that, by 1895, you were actively working on a mechanism to permanently illuminate the stratosphere, whereas a 1913 record tells of your increasing aversion to natural light.”

      “Exactly my dear. ‘Natural Light’. Uncontrollable, transient, chaotic, completely at odds with the uniform purity and control of electrical illumination.”

      “We too have attempted…”

      “I think that there are some things Mr Tesla might like to see for himself” Studabaker interrupted, and with that all three became silent, two watching with studied interest as the city diminished before them, the third gawping in wonderment. The image on the screen continued to unfold with a general shrinking of New York state, followed by North then South America, and finally the world gradually reduced to the size of the screen.

      “My word. So what is our current altitude?” Asked Tesla.

      “We are in a geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface, a required safe distance before we engage the time jump. But we have some moments before the computer completes its calculations. Perhaps you would like a tour of Pathfinder?”

      “Pathfinder?”

      “Our name for this vehicle.”

      “Yes,” laughed Tesla, “I would very much like to see the workings of this machine.” He eagerly began to pluck at the brass catches of his restraints.

*****

      “I understand the basic principles – but why is everything so small?” Tesla prodded a finger towards the exposed circuitry.

      “Miniaturisation was the obvious technological progression after the end of the war and…”

      “Who won the conflict?” Tesla cut Earheart short.

      “Um…the Allies were eventually victorious sir.”

      “Hmmm, I see.” The old man went back to examining the electronics. “What is that mysterious black box then?”

      “A small but highly efficient transformer.”

      “Coil system?”

      “Yes.”

      “Utilising AC power? Operating by spark or conduction?”

      “AC is still predominant in some of the major systems and conduction and spark are both used in relation to differing power or digital transmission requirements…”

      “Your dress… The patterns?” Tesla indicated the still shifting gown.

      “A textile liquid crystal hybrid. An evolution in fact of your Retifier or Vacuum Diode.”

      “What of the time jump of this craft? Can you explain the principles behind it?”

      And so the questions poured out of the old man, one after the other, with both Earheart and Studabaker doing their best to provide answers that would satisfy their guest. Under their tutoring Tesla quickly developed a greater understanding of the vehicle in which they currently hung in space.

      “So, you are saying that the fundamental Newtonian laws have been superseded by these… these “post atomic” notions of Einstein in which the universe appears to have become an egocentric “observation” by the individual! Bah, I knew nothing good would come of that fellow.”

      “But these concepts, and the ideas they have stimulated, allow us to stand here now.” A bemused edge was creeping into Studabaker’s voice.

      “It is not just the physics I’m having trouble grasping sir, it is the absence of any tangible workings in this minitaturised monstrosity.”

      “Perhaps, before we trigger the jump…” Earheart directed a pleading glance at her companion while resting a hand lightly on Tesla’s arm, “… I might show our guest something utterly ‘tangible’.”

      Leading the way, she walked into an adjoining alcove and began unclipping a panel from the wall. Behind it a glowing pink cone was revealed contained in what appeared to be a semi-transparent field of blue light.

      A single arc line of plasma beamed out of the cone’s apex, twitching gently around the top of its confines like a living thing.

      “One of my rotating brush sensors!” Tesla exclaimed with a grin of recognition.

      “In basic principle, yes. It’s part of our guidance system, seeking out minute rifts in the continuum down which we then ‘transmit’ ourselves.”

      Tesla looked up. “I should like to see that happen Miss Earheart.”

      “So you shall Mr Tesla, so you shall.”

*****

      The sensation was like receiving a million paper cuts all over the body coupled with a perceptual distortion in which everything within the cabin suddenly seemed to taper off into infinity.

      “What on Earth is happening?” Cried Tesla through the eerie silence that stood opposed to all the activity around him.

      “Don’t worry Mr Tesla,” Earheart whispered, “The transmission itself is practically instan…”

      Blank, frigid air. A gasped breath before drowning. His mind being rolled and stretched like old Plastercine.

      “… taneous.” And there they were, apparently, in the future. “It will just take a moment to relocate the position of the Earth in this time frame,” said Studabaker, tapping away again at his wrist. “There we go. We’ll be back over New York in approximately 30 minutes. Unfortunately we’ve got some spatial catching up to do. Can I get you something to drink?”

      The old man croaked a faint, “Yes please.”

      Studabaker disappeared, then reappeared with a glass of something, and Tesla surprised himself as he deftly took the recepitical from the young man. No shakes, no spills just a welcome draft of something cold and sweet that he had never tasted before.

      They all sat quietly for a while as the ship sped to its new location, then Tesla focused their thoughts by asking, “So, tell me more of your time and the years I have now missed?”

      He said no more as the others talked and filled some of the vast spaces in his knowledge. He discovered that, after his death, the war had ended with ‘two of the largest detonations ever witnessed by man’ which had then launched the world into what they called the ‘nuclear age’ – apparently that man Einstein was behind all this. The resultant power struggle that divided the world over these new super weapons was sided by America and Russia, and a chilly diplomacy settled over this ‘cold war’ of attrition – a situation which proved to be detrimental to the world as a whole but highly profitable to TEC.

      “The economic boom of the early 1960s, plus a fair share of government paranoia, suddenly caused a lot of surplus cash to be invested in military research. After the discovery of your Chicago papers, TEC was able to secure funds for numerous revolutionary projects.” Studabaker looked into Tesla’s eyes with an excited glint before pressing on.

      Apparently, the space-race came next, a technological leap forward for both the USA and Russia as the ‘superpowers’ looked to new frontiers to conquer and argue over. By the time America had finally placed a man on the Moon, TEC had finalised a prototype of its ionic beam weapon which it then presented to the military. Through this Tesla’s idea of global peace through strength finally became a reality as the ‘Shield Across America’ project was born. Geo-stationary satellites, not men, became the priority of launches by the North American Space Agency, creating a network of defence that could knock out any enemy missile in the air. Once successfully tested it was demonstrated to the planet as a whole in the hope of scaring the Russians into submission. What it actually did was fuel antagonism and to further isolate the USA from the rest of the world. There followed an unprecedented amount of sabre rattling, then all hell broke loose.

      A foreign policy of isolation rather than co-operation was adopted by America, and the subsequent global exclusivity, coupled with widespread military redundancy, caused all manner of confrontations. But, true to its original concept and showing a bullish faith in its new defences, America began to dismantle and reallocate its nuclear stockpile. Russia had obviously done its best to acquire the secrets of this new technology, but American national security withheld the onslaught of espionage leaving the world in a tense kind of limbo.

      Tesla smiled at some of the things they said, how they tried to hide their pride at America’s achievements over the years. And yet he was also freely enjoying their infectious enthusiasm. He was, after all, the embodiment of the American dream; an immigrant who had carved out his own slice of success and notoriety. He returned his attention to the conversation and found himself in the 1980s with an ex-film star president driving yet more funds into TEC and their new anti-gravity research.

      By the time their explanations had reached 1985 and the geo-political collapse of communist Russia, Tesla had begun to tire. He was pleased that his concepts of anti-gravity had initiated such advances, but there was only so much history one could hear before it transcended into the realms of fiction. What he once had been a part of now became transient, ethereal and completely disconnected from his experiences. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, the fears of unreality stalked the edges of his rationalisation. He still found it difficult to conceive that here he was some 92 years after his ‘death’ approaching a small blue planet upon which he had once lived.

      “Tell me. How did Mr Twain fair in this bizarre version of history?”

      His question threw them away from their ramblings about retro-viruses and they both paused to look at him.

      “Mr Mark Twain. Is his literature still taught in your schools?”

      Studabaker raised his eyebrows, “Yes… Er, yes I think it is.”

      “Ah,” Tesla nodded sagely, “that is most reassuring,” and then he noticed the absence of background noise within the cabin. “We appear to have stopped”.

      Shaken from their explanations the two travelers looked to their wrist controls.

      “We’re in orbit around Earth,” Earheart laughed and began to happily organise pre-landing checks.

      “Now Mr Tesla,” said Studabaker leaning over the old man and unbuckling him, “we’ll show you the future.”

      The view screen tinted as they neared the Earth’s dark side and for some moments Tesla was presented with his very own solar eclipse. Of course with a craft like this, he thought, such views would be an everyday experience. The stars gained some of their intensity as the globe loomed before them, strange and dark.

      “Where are all the lights?” Tesla asked. This was supposed to be the brave new world he had once dared dream about, and here he was looking at a decidedly dark Earth.

      “Cloud cover most probably, or another power crisis in central Europe perhaps.” Studabaker looked unsteadily to his companion.

      “There’s some,” Earheart pointed at the screen, “down there.”

      As their altitude dropped, Tesla was now able to distinguish dull pin-points spread across the world, but nothing of the city illuminations he had expected. And then, there on the newly acquired horizon a tremendous orange and white blaze.

      “North America Mr Tesla. You wanted to see light…” Studabaker trailed off. Even he was struck by the sheer power this glow represented. It was only then – in that split second of seeing both the travelers’ faces shine with pride – that Tesla realised the personal risk that they had undertaken to visit him.

      Gradually the glow neared, intensified and then developed into a practically perfect geographical outline of the northern continent.

      “Is the darkness to the north and south a result of your isolation policies?” Tesla inquired, but if either of the travelers heard him they gave no recognition. His eyes were drawn back to the screen and he watched as the craft descended towards the east coast, and one of the brightest areas. New York. As Tesla studied the image he noticed that some of the largest sources of illumination appeared to be moving below them.

      “What in God’s name are those?” He demanded.

      Earheart smiled back at him.

      “Our light ships Mr Tesla,” she shouted. “Your dream of banishing the darkness has finally been achieved!”

      Tesla gawped as they drew rapidly closer to one of these mechanical wonders, its vast bulk dwarfing the smaller craft. Ornate metal crawled its way over the top of the ship, while below huge glass chambers (containing what looked like excited gas particles) shone, iridescent. A host of miniature figures could now be seen scrambling across the back of this hulk, tending its every need as it sailed majestically above the approaching towers. But what most impressed Tesla was Studabaker’s shifting of the view to encompass the city as a whole. There, above the buildings hung hundreds of these machines, a city-wide network of illumination turning night into day.

      “The energy for all this… How is it conveyed?” Tesla asked the still smiling Earheart.

      “The same principles of ionic telegraphy that ensured the success of the ‘Shield Across America’.”

      “You mean that you are transmitting power to these vehicles wirelessly?”

      “Precisely that Mr Tesla.”

      Studabaker then guided the craft further down into the artificial rays and skimmed across the city’s tallest structures. Like a host of titanic sentinels their reflected fronts burned white, and as they neared Tesla received yet another shock of scale.

      Lower still they dropped until the sky around them was filled with craft similar to their own.

      Somehow, in this congested space, everyone was able to navigate without mishap, but still Tesla felt uneasy at the crowding and he nervously ran a finger around the inside of his collar. Perhaps it was the uniform quality of light that allowed such a complex matrix of motion? He was unsure, but remained amazed that there was no perceptible decrease in illumination even as they descended into the chasms between buildings. It was here, down near ground level and surrounded by walls of glass, that Tesla eventually found a few landmarks he knew and loved.

      “Look.” Earheart pointed towards the view screen and there, nestled among the new structures, sat the Saint Regis hotel.

      “Ah,” said Tesla, “We have come full circle eh? And in such a short space of…”

      “More a spiral through a small amount of space and a vast amount of time.” Studabaker corrected.

      “Is it the same inside?” The old man asked.

      “Yes. Recently renovated in celebration of your residence. If you look to the plaza opposite you’ll see another monument to your work.”

      They were finally approaching the ground, and opposite the hotel Tesla could see a large statue in an unfamiliar space. The image zoomed in, and he was shocked to see that the figure was in fact a depiction of himself.

      “Would you like a closer inspection Mr Tesla?” Earheart stood close beside him.

      The old man nodded a slow yes.

      Leaving the craft behind them they walked across the busy plaza and, as they did so, Tesla noticed the absence of camera pointing tourists this close to Times Square. He was about to comment on this observation, when he realised that his arrival was starting to cause a commotion. Resplendent in his anachronistic clothes and dark glasses, Tesla definitely wasn’t the height of local fashion. All around him the populace of this futuristic New York went about their business in their outlandish costumes where the patterns were never still.

      And to think I helped such garments come into fashion. He shook with a silent laugh that could easily have been mistaken as a cough and approached the statue.

      There in front of him his enlarged form sat reclining in a wicker chair, legs crossed, eyes set towards some unfocused goal, a book open upon its metallic lap. The dark bronze glinted as if wet, while the artificial light flattened its contours making it seem strangely less solid. All at once Tesla felt recognized, oddly validated. Not only by those around him but by history itself. Ever the showman, he found himself battling with surges of immense pride underpinned by spikes of theatrical tomfoolery. The feeling that this was all some kind of comic dream had still not entirely dissipated. But there was something stronger that had bothered him ever since they had swooped low over Manhattan.

      “Is Bryant’s square still in existence?” He turned to Earheart.

      “Why, yes. Just a few blocks to the north of here. Why do you ask?”

      “That was where I used to feed and rescue my friends. There behind the public library.”

      “Your friends?”

      “Yes, my feathered companions… The pigeons.” Again Earheart shot a panicked glance at Studabaker which Tesla missed as he bent to peer at the plaque bolted to the statue’s imposing plinth.

      “I must say you manage to keep this statue exceedingly clean.”

      It was Studabaker’s turn to look startled as Tesla examined the work more closely.

      “Perhaps an army of miniature machines dedicated to cleaning?” He waved an arm expansively over the giant legs in front of him, “Or perhaps a mild electric current results in this absence of guano? How fitting.”

      The old man walked towards the statue and rubbed a hand against one of the massive chair legs. There was a pause. “No?” He glanced over his shoulder to the travelers and saw their worried expressions perched among the gathering crowd. “Come come, the explanation has to be something wonderfully complex.”

      “Mr Tesla…” Studabaker started then trailed off.

      “You see we didn’t realise th-that…” Earheart stuttered to a halt.

      “What is it? Your faces are both quite riddled with concern.” Tesla smiled reassuringly and moved towards them.

      “You see, the introduction of perpetual daylight to our cities didn’t take into account the internal clocks of your… friends.” Studabaker hesitantly began to explain.

      “What are you saying man?”

      “That their biological cycles and circadian rhythms became confused. Birds are particularly effected by light from the bluer end of the spectrum. Seasonal bulk feeding, sleep patterns even their breeding, which we thought would be hardy enough to see them through any kind of environmental adaptation… Well. You see, we had a couple of harsh winters and they were completely unprepared. The entire population was lost.

      “Nonsense. They are prolific and… and almost entirely dependant upon humanity for their survival. There is no way a few harsh winters could kill them all!”

      “Not globally, no. But here in North America Columba livia f. domestica and a host of other species no longer exist.”

      Tesla stood dumbfounded. How could this be? How could his simple desire to unlock the secrets of the electromagnetic universe result in such a thing?

      “But…” He felt his anger build as this solitary word elicited pure guilt from both Studabaker and Earheart. It was as if the molten syllable had alloyed his heart, encasing it and stifling any further protestation. He looked back up at the massive and impervious version of himself and wished he could be more statuesque. The he looked beyond his stone head, willing just one small shadow against this shifting sky. One spec pulsating inwards then outwards just like the hands on his clock. Straining his ears he prayed for the sound of wings, but the only flutter came from the murmurings of those now gathered around him. He hung his head then whispered, “I would like to go home please.”

      Their protests fell across him, but he remained impervious to their pleas: it was impossible to recalibrate the time jump so quickly – there was so much he still hadn’t seen – so many preparations had been made for his arrival. All shattered against his resolution. He turned away and walked back towards the craft carrying the statue’s image inside him like a defence.

      Once inside he angrily buckled himself onto a couch, brushing away Earheart’s helpful hands. He wasn’t a man of stature in history’s unblinking eye, he thought bitterly to himself, he was an irritant. A fly pressed against its iris, drowning in the bitter tears caused by the aberration he had caused. He scowled up at the young woman and then resolutely folded his arms across his chest.

      Earheart looked down at the frail and stubborn old man as he lay there, then said to Studabaker, “I think I’ll stay in the city and smooth things with the media.”

      As soon as she had gone Studabaker let out a tirade of abuse.

      “Do you know how long we… I’ve worked on this project?” He paused shaking with rage, “Too long to see it all end like this. Destroyed because some cantankerous old man happens to have a pathological love for pigeons! Pigeons, of all creatures. I mean the records state that one of your favourite dishes is squib. How can you justify such hypocrisy?”

      “I’ll take no part in genocide.” Tesla simply stated.

      “Genocide? We’re talking about pigeons here. Sky rats. Flying vermin.” Studabaker stopped, badly attempting to compose himself. “Look, there are conservation groups working throughout America. I’m sure…”

      “My answer is still no Mr Studabaker. Now please take me home.”

      Studabaker just stood there staring. Nothing was said during this silent battle of intent, but Tesla knew that there would be further imploring, pleading and anger. His mind was made up though. He had seen all he had wanted of this future he had helped to create.

*****

      The craft slid its invisible way between the nighttime towers that would one day be dwarfed, and found the Saint Regis Hotel. After a moment’s pause at the side of the building, it gently displaced one window and smoothly docked with room 207.

      As the pair of them entered, Tesla was swamped by a pervading surge of deja-vu. It was as if he were now the interloper witnessing a frail and confused version of himself come stumbling across the room. The noise of the window being removed had obviously woken Hazlemere and now he stood like a rabbit caught in the eerie light of the ship.

      “What is it?” He asked groggily, “What’s wrong?”

      Tesla, saying nothing, walked across the room to his double, unclipped the belt and quickly handed it over to his double. Gravity immediately grabbed his old frame in a fist and held him tight. Shaking with age, Tesla reached a hand up to the acuity device that was still perched on his temple and paused. A return to encroaching dementia, he thought with a growing sense of dread, but at least his mind was clear enough to know that he would be steadfast, no matter what. He plucked the small machine away, looked into the eyes of the incredible reflection standing before him and whispered, “Thank you, but no.”

      Hazlemere shot a confused look between Tesla and Studabaker. “I don’t understand…” He began, shuffling towards the beckoning hand of the other traveler. “But this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. What of my family? We had a deal Studabaker.”

      Tesla sat heavily behind his desk, adopted the best posture he could muster and watched impassively as the two figures argued their way back to the blue opening.

      Before stepping into the craft Studabaker halted and turned.

      “Mr Tesla. I implore you…” But Tesla’s stern look cut him short. He gave a resigned sigh and walked back into the craft.

      It was as though a film were being played backwards the way the blue glow faded, the way the window appeared out of nothing and reformed within its pane, the way the shutters began to trundle downwards. Tesla reached a hand to the nearby control and ran them back up again. He waited a while, then hauled himself away from the desk and struggled over to the sill. Dawn was approaching and already a thousand windows scintillated with the light he helped to create. All that power now considered to be nothing more than a convenience, a means of banishing the dark forever. He glanced briefly at his menagerie – quiet now, his charges huddled, roosting – then looked back to the window once more. The lights glowed and sparkled becoming tiny stars through his tears. What an electrical epiphany, the simple joy of light that might one day cause so much death.

      The sun began to brighten the horizon and still Tesla watched, his eyes alive with the moving vista of shadows, his heart racing at the occasional erratic pulse of wings flitting between the buildings. He waited, and waited and, when the sun became too bright for him, he shut the blinds and sat and waited at his desk. At 9:30am he picked up the telephone’s receiver and, in a shaky voice, asked the operator to place a call to Chicago.

— THE END —

(Copyright © 2008 by J. E. Bryant. All Rights Reserved.)