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From the author: Scientist Clive Crawley (mad! They called him mad, I tell you!) presents his inventions at conferences over the years, unaware that his son-in-law has been attending the conferences for his own secret reasons.
World Science Conference
“Biology, my friends! It’s the biological sciences that are the future. You may play with your hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles, yes! And while you do – while you have done so – I, alone in my lab, have created wonders that shall astound the world!”
Dr. Clive Crawley, the scientist on the stage, gesticulated wildly with every utterance. He limped frenziedly to one end of the platform, and then whirled about, flinging his untamed hair out in great arcs, and made for the opposite side. His white lab coat was stained, the sleeves frayed.
A man in the audience put his cupped hand alongside his mouth. His own lab coat was pristine white, his short hair neatly combed and parted and oiled. “Biology!” he shouted, laughing. “Ha! Physics, professor! Physics is king!”
Crawley stopped short in the middle of the stage and peered out of his Coke-bottle glasses until his gaze centered on the speaker.
“Oh, so it is you, Professor Jenvold! Yes, I know your work well! Playthings for babies! Babies, I tell you!”
The audience erupted in laughter and catcalls, but Crawley silenced them with an imperial gesture. “Enough!” he screamed. “Now I will astonish you with the products of my research – yes, my own research, from the long nights into forbidden explorations! I have delved into the secrets of the human cell, the protoplasm, the very stuff of life! Life! Life, you fools!”
Deep in the audience, among the white lab coats and bearded men, a solitary young lady sat quietly watching. The man sitting behind her surged to his feet in protest, throwing his arms up as he shouted, knocking her hat flying.
“Oh!” the young lady said.
“I believe this is yours, miss?”
She turned. “Why, yes. Thank – thank you.”
The man holding her hat out to her was younger than anyone else in the room save herself. He was dressed not in a lab coat but in a smart black suit. His hair was dark and combed back, his chin was firm and his eyes, gentle and insistent, bored into hers.
He held out her hat until she took it. “Quite a show that Crawley guy is putting on up there, isn’t it?” He took the seat next to her.
“Why – why, yes, I suppose it is.”
“Not that he isn’t entertaining. I think I saw him in some Boris Karloff movie!”
“I think it must, it must be the stoop,” she said.
“Yeah, the stoop. Or the hunchback. But allow me to introduce myself. I’m Tony. Tony Graysmark.”
The woman extended her hand and he took it. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Graysmark.”
He held her hand a bit longer than what was required. “Oh, I’m no doctor. Anyway, you can call me Tony,” he said. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Oh, yes, excuse me. I’m Molly.”
“Molly! Well, that’s a lovely name.”
She looked down. “Not really.”
He leaned closer. “How so?”
“My full name, you see. It’s Molly – Cule..”
“Molly Cule?” He looked mystified for a moment. “Oh, I get it! Molecule. Wow. I guess your dad is some scientist here, huh? That’s quite a name he saddled you with. But I’ll tell you what. I won’t hold it against you.”
“It’s – my full name – it’s actually Molly Cule... Crawley.”
Tony’s eyes swept from her to the man on the stage and back to her again. “He’s your father? But – I would have thought… I mean, you don’t have that German or Hungarian or whatever accent that he does.”
“Yes.” Molly looked at her father. “No one knows how he got that.”
“Maybe your mother—“
Toney chuckled uncertainly. “I guess I wouldn’t know how that would work. I’m actually not here as a scientist,” he said. “In fact, I’m here to observe, on behalf of the—“
“Behold!” Dr. Crawley shouted. He had wheeled out onto the stage an enormous metal cylinder, tapered at its far end, mounted on a tripod and studded with gauges and blinking lights. “My Anti-Senectitude Ray!” The members of the crowd variously jokingly applauded, laughed, or cried out.
“Completely safe! Completely!” the scientist continued, swiveling the gunlike contraption from side to side. “I have turned this device upon myself, and as you see – no ill effects!”
“I see it’s fixed your hunchback, Professor!” came a shout.
Molly covered her eyes.
Crawley shouted, "It's congenital! Congenital, I tell you!” Then he recovered his poise and once again searched the throng through his glasses. “Ah, Doctor Helman, is it? My good friend Helman! You, too, shall see – you shall know! I shall bestow this gift upon you, in spite of your scoffing and your ridicule!” He swung the barrel of the Anti-Senectitude Ray gun towards Helman and depressed a switch. A high-pitched screeching noise issued from the machine. “I bestow it upon you – and you – all of you! Youth! Youth unending!” Crawley swayed and rocked as he cackled, swinging the gun from left to right, up and down, all over the spectators.
“That thing makes a quite a noise, doesn’t it?” Tony remarked to Molly. “But I don’t – hey, I just felt a kind of tingle just then. Did you?”
Molly said, “I felt – something…”
“I don’t think it was the ray gun, though,” Tony said. He gently placed a hand on Molly’s. She flinched, but allowed it to remain.
Dr. Crawley was not finished. “Fools! You jeer at me, who has given you extended life! Life! But wait – I have more – incontrovertible evidence… You will see, you will all see…!”
But a somber man in a dark suit had come on stage behind the angry scientist. “Thank you for that, ah, demonstration, Dr. Crawley,” he said. "Unfortunately, our time here is limited, and we have yet to hear from Professor Denavov on his groundbreaking work on the possible identification of certain elements in the sun’s corona. Dr. Denavov?”
“But wait! I have more – No, no!” Two large lab assistants had come onto the stage to assist in Dr. Crawley’s exit.
“I was thinking that, perhaps later, we could go out for a quiet dinner…” Tony said.
“Oh, yes,” Molly said. “I could use a quiet dinner.”
World Science Conference
“Excuse me, please.” Molly Cule Crawley-Graysmark bumped her way past the knees of several scientists and found her seat. She settled into it with a sigh.
“You’re late again,” Tony said.
Molly sighed. “I didn’t suppose you’d notice. I saw you talking to that – disco queen – in the lobby.”
“’Disco queen’? Molly, Debbie – I mean Dr. Carstairs -- is a highly-regarded particle physicist!”
“Yeah, sure. And were those particles that she was whispering in your ear about?”
Tony reddened. “That’s not fair,” he said. “Though I could say, it’s been quite a while since you whispered anything in my ear. Anything more romantic than ‘Don’t forget to take the garbage out,’ anyway.”
“Shhh,” Molly said. “Dad’s on stage.”
“… brains, yes, human brains, inserted, installed into each one of these robots, ladies and gentlemen! And no ordinary human brains, no! But those of geniuses! Each one! Psychotically disturbed, granted, and murderers, of course, but still!”
Dr. Crawley gestured wildly as eight brightly-polished mechanical men clomped stiffly onto the stage. Their eyes glowed redly, and antennae at the tops of their heads emitted sparks.
The crowed erupted in laughter. “I told you! I told you, see?” said someone sitting in front of Molly. “I told you this guy was hilarious. Every conference, he does something like this – pulls his mad scientist act.”
Molly crossed her legs and sharply kicked the back of the speaker’s chair.
“These killer cyberbots can think, yes think! Algebra, geometry, the calculus – there is no limit, unfettered as they are by decaying human bodies, by fatigue or emotion!”
The robots swayed uncertainly, looking at one another.
“Quite a chorus line you’ve got there, doctor!” Someone called.
“Chorus line!” Dr. Crawley sputtered. “Chorus -- How dare you! How dare--” he peered out into the audience. “Ah! Professor Jenvold, of course! Looking quite young, professor. Yet in twenty years you have not thanked, not acknowledged me, my Anti-Senectitude Ray and its effects! Helman – no gray hairs? And no gratitude!” Dr. Crawley contorted and jerked as if an electric jolt was running through him. “But you will, finally, pay! All of you! You – will – pay!”
“Did you talk to the nanny?” Tony whispered.
“You said you were going to talk to her!” Molly spat. “If you’re so sure she broke the damn lamp, then fire her. Ask one of your spy friends to run her dossier or plant a camera in her belt buckle. Don’t bring me into it.”
“Honey, we don’t discuss this in public, remember? Your father isn’t the only one that I—” He shook his head. “I just thought you might want to have a say in deciding who is raising your children,” he said. “My mistake.”
Molly glared at him. “Are you implying that, for one minute--”
“Shhh. Your dad.”
“Yes, pay indeed!” the angry scientist was saying. “For the brains in these cyberbots come not from ordinary geniuses, no – but from psychotic, insane, felonious geniuses! Unhampered by your morality, they can act as they are programmed!”
“My calculator is unhampered by morality, too!” someone said, and a wave of chuckles swept through the chamber.
“That’s it!” Dr. Crawley said. “Now, these cyberbots will attack and kill – yes, kill, with lasers! – every scientist in this room!”
He spun to face the metal men. “Now, my children! Kill! Kill! Kill the scientists!”
The robots emitted a hum that became a whine. Their eyes flashed faster and faster.
“What about the conference staff, Doctor?” Pablo Helman asked. “Are they exempt from your kill order? I’m only asking because if we ever want to hold our conference here again, they--”
Just then the whine ended, and the robots’ eyes remained a steady malevolent red.
“Todd’s getting old enough that he shouldn’t need a nanny anymore, anyway,” Tony said.
“Can we just talk about this later, please? Daddy’s on stage!”
On that stage, the robots silently swung about. As one, they now faced Dr. Crawley.
They raised their right arms.
“No! No, not me!” Dr. Crawley screamed. “Them! Them!” With surprising agility he darted to one side.
Eight lasers shot out of eight robot fingers, and they all converged on the spot recently occupied by Dr. Crawley, burning a small, neat hole in a curtain.
The crowd erupted in laughter.
“Fools!” Dr. Crawley shouted. He scurried to the other side of the stage. The robots turned to follow him. He leapt into the air just as eight lasers bored into the stage floor at his feet. He dashed behind the back curtain. The robots clanked off in various directions, apparently confused by this tactic.
“Anyway, I suppose your disco queen can watch over Todd, if I’m not home,” Molly spat.
“I understand now!” Dr. Crawley’s voice was muffled, but his screeching tone easily penetrated to the far corners of the auditorium. “They attacked me – their creator – because they have been programmed to attack only scientists! Yes!”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, it was an innocent conversation!” Tony said.
“But how to recognize who is a scientist? Ah! There is only one sure marker, one certain characteristic – the lab coat, yes!” One robot walked to the front of the stage, teetered for a moment on the edge, then fell clanging and clattering off the stage and onto the floor.
The watching scientists laughed their approval. “I hope that stuntman is getting a bonus!” shouted Dr. Helman.
“But I – only I – in this conference, only I am wearing the attire appropriate to a scientist! Everyone, all are in suits, or sweaters--” Dr. Crawley said. "I think I saw someone wearing a windbreaker!" Then a robot tore down the curtain, exposing Dr. Crawley’s huddled form. With a cry, he dashed off stage. The surviving robots clanked after him.
The audience applauded.
“If your conversation was so innocent, I guess you’ll want to continue it,” Molly said. “I’ll be back at the hotel.”
World Science Conference
“You remember Joe Cocker, the singer?” the man whispered to his neighbor. “Looked like a guy with some kind of severe neurological disorder, jerking back and forth. Anyway, that’s what this Crawley guy does, every year. He’s our unofficial comedy relief.”
“We could use some laughs.”
“He came on stage, unannounced, a couple of hours ago. Too bad you missed it. Oh -- here he comes again! Look, in a stained white lab coat and everything!”
Molly glared at the scoffer, but as the man was two rows down and three seats away, the inverse-square law so reduced its power that she doubted the man felt even a tingle. She directed her attention to the stage, where her father, as animated and angry as ever, wheeled out a phonebooth-sized metal box, blinking with multicolored lights and emitting irregular hisses of steam, and then faced the audience and threw out his arms.
“Time travel, gentlemen! And ladies! It is time travel that is the future!”
“Is that an oxymoron, doctor?” someone called out.
“Jenvold! I’ll show you – I’ll show all of you! I have perfected a machine – a machine, gentlemen, and ladies, that travels – through time itself!”
“Come on, Professor Crawley! We expect original material from you!” a woman called.
“Yeah!” said another audience member. “This is the same thing you served up two hours ago! Bang, the machine is there, and you stepped out and told everyone-- ”
“You are mad, I tell you! All completely mad!” said Crawley. “Two hours ago? Impossible – madness! I arrived at the conference just twenty minutes ago. Getting my machine through customs, and then the traffic – oh, gentlemen, the traffic -- don’t provoke me!”
Molly looked over. Tony. She had to admit that he still looked great. But she turned her head away and answered the air.
“Tony. What, no Stephanie, or Debbie, or whatever her name was, this trip? She home doing her nails?”
“A demonstration, yes! A demonstration will convince you all! A trip I will undertake, back in time – back, I tell you, to my earlier humiliations, and after I set things right I will see you all crawl, crawl to my feet!”
“If you have to know, we’ve broken up,” said Tony. “It’s hard for her, since I still look so young, while she… Though why you’re interested is beyond me. You’ve had your share of bedmates since the divorce.”
“At least I waited until after we separated.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” said Tony. “I told you and told you, that was one little time, one tiny fling—”
“Quiet, please. Daddy’s on the stage.”
“This time machine is untested – untested, I tell you! No lab rats for me – I will use myself as my test subject, here and now! Before your very eyes!”
There were cheers and jeers, in equal numbers.
Dr, Crawley popped open the flimsy door of his machine and stepped inside.
With a whir and a flash of light and a poof, it disappeared.
Molly got up to leave.
“You’re not staying to see him come back?” Tony asked.
“No, I’m not,” Molly said. “I know what’s going to happen. I tried telling him. The stupid thing can only go back in time, and the stupid thing can’t go back more than one hundred and twenty minutes. I had them tow the thing backstage. Can you see that they pack it up right?
“Daddy’s been in the bar for almost two hours, now. I’m going to take him home.” She paused, looking at him. “Goodbye, Tony. It was kind of nice, after all this time, to see – well. Goodbye.”
World Science Conference
“Professor Helman! Good to see you again. Looking young and fit as ever! Are these seats free?”
“Yes, Dr. Jenvold. Please sit. I don’t think you’ve met Lucia, my great-granddaughter, just been taken on by the Stuttgart Institute for Higher Studies. This is her first IS Conference.”
“A pleasure. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the next presenter, Lucia. Dr. Crawley is something of an institution himself. We oldtimers – few and far between, now, and yet it is amazing how many of us have aged so gracefully, if I may say so – we’ve had the pleasure of viewing his antics for a great many years. He’s been quiet for over a decade, though.”
“Yes, Great-grandfather has told me many stories.”
Pablo Helman patted her hand. “And now you’ll have one to pass along to your great-grandchildren.”
“Oh, I think it’s asking for a bit much, to think I can stay spry and above ground as long as you, Great Grand.”
“Nonsense, my dear! They’re doing remarkable things these days with age retardants. You’ll--”
“Here he comes!” said Dr. Jenvold.
Dr. Crawley limped onto the stage, impatiently gesturing at two wheezing robots, who wheeled a large circular screen into position at the scientist’s side, then slunk back into the shadows.
The angry scientist faced his audience. “Thought management!” he bellowed. “The wave of the future!”
As the audience laughed and hooted Dr. Crawley’s face reddened. “Fools!” he finally shouted. “You will believe – I will force you to do my bidding! Prepare for mind control!”
At a gesture, Molly, standing near the doors, began switching off the lights. At the machine, Dr. Crawley threw down a lever.
The screen lit up with patches of color: red, green, blue, and yellow. The colors began to move in lazy circles, slowly at first, then faster. They stretched from the edge of the screen to its center, swirling, pulling the gaze inward.
At the same time, the air was filled with music – a strong beat, keening electric guitars, and bubbling synthetic sounds.
“My goodness – old-fashioned rock and roll!” Dr. Jenvold said.
The swirling colors pulsed and quivered in time to the music. Dr. Crawley spoke into the microphone.
“Your minds – let them drift, and sway. Relax your defenses, all of you! Nothing to fear. It’s music. Music, I tell you! Now look into the screen – yes, look deeply, and deeper still! Look, I say!”
Everyone looked. Despite themselves, they looked. The laughter died out, and the only sound was the unearthly music. The light from the screen washed waves of shifting color over blank faces.
“Yes, yes!” Crawley said. “Now, a test – a mere test! Stand up! Stand, I instruct you!”
Hundreds of people came silently to their feet.
“Yes, excellent! Excellent!” Dr. Crawley laughed. “Yes! Now – what next? Ah – money! I was going to ask for money -- your funds – sent to my bank account! I brought my account number. I had it right here, right here, I tell you--”
In the back of the room, a door opened. A figure stood silhouetted by the bright light in the hall.
Molly, nearby at the light switches, said, “Must we, Tony?”
“Yes. Sorry.” Tony came to her and began switching the lights back on. “This could get out of hand.”
“No, stop!” the doctor cried. “One minute, I ask it of you!” Tony and Molly paused, and the doctor returned to his spellbound audience.
“Money – I was going to ask it of you! But no – better! I have but one command, one!
"I demand that you listen!
“And while you are listening -- no laughing!”
Dr. Crawley paused. He looked up, spreading his arms.
“I have seen – oh, so much! My work – all in your hands!” He pointed into the audience. “You – you! Young lady! Answer me – do you have a robot?”
Lucia Helan answered, readily if woodenly. “Of course, doctor. Who doesn’t have a robot these days? I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I can’t even find the keys to my time machine without it.”
“Tell me, young lady – the robots, the cyberbots, do they all have the brains of psychopaths?”
“Yes, yes! I have come to see, to notice. I don’t get out much – I don’t go on vacations, or watch TV -- since they cancelled The Addams Family. The Addams Family, I tell you! But even I have come to see, my robots, my time machine! My ideas, my inventions, funneled to the public through middlemen, sold by corporations!
“Funneled, I say! By – my own son-in-law!”
Tony and Molly approached the stage. Dr. Crawley stretched his hands out towards the audience. “For years – years! He has watched, he has taken notes, he has downloaded by PowerPoints! My inventions – shorn of their lasers, their doomsday circuits – brought to the world!”
Molly, Tony close behind her, reached her father just in time to steady him as he grabbed his hair with both hands and threatened to fall backwards. “Oh, Daddy!” she said.
“Sir, it was just--” Tony began.
“Enough!” The doctor shook himself free of Molly’s embrace. “I now know – I understand! Fools, all of you! You could not follow, you could not grasp the principles, you could not stomach the consequences, and so you laughed! My inventions had to be broken down, spoonfed to you mental children! Thus is progress made! And seeing this – I -- Yes, I -- laugh! My turn!”
Dr. Crawley yanked the lever up on his machine; the music died, the colors swirled to a stop and went dead.
“I accept this!” He raised his arms dramatically. He chuckled, but only a little maniacally. “And now I tell you – I am retiring! Retiring, I say! I’m done! Farewell, fools! Farewell, I say!”
There were a few nervous chuckles.
Tony held out a hand and helped Dr. Crawley shuffle to the door. “Oh, Tony, thank you, boy, The doctor said quietly. “You know, I must tell you, I’m so glad you and Molly, that you are back together.”
“We just went through a rough patch, daddy,” Molly said.
“Are you ready to go now?” Tony asked.
Dr. Crawley stared at Tony. “Ha! Certainly!” He said. He stopped walking. “But go where?” he said. “My work is done, my colleagues are keeping a respectful silence, but the animal rights people are still picketing my lab, and my monsters – no more feedings! All loose in the wide world!”
Tony laid a comforting arm across the old man’s hump. “We have a place for you,” he said. “All those years, while everyone laughed at you, we in the CIA kept watch. We worked on your theories, made further developments in your technologies, and when we judged the time was right, or when the economy needed a boost, we released a little here and a little there, through respected channels. Robots, Google, time machines, pop-top cans. And now, finally, the world has been allowed to catch up with you, doctor.”
“And yet they laughed, they have laughed, and they are laughing yet! Perhaps they will continue to laugh!”
“Great men are misunderstood, and memories are short, doctor. Let the fools laugh. We owe you a great debt, and we have a retirement home where you can stay with others who share your – enthusiasms. We have a lab there, professor, where you can amuse yourself with the elcctromagnetic spectrum for as long as you’d like. And we have human brains, and even a Van de Graaff generator.”
The doctor roused, looked up. “That sounds – like heaven. Yes--” His eyes regained their maniacal gleam. “Yes! Heaven, I tell you!”
“Come, daddy. They need to bring out the next speaker.”
“Yes, let’s go.”
As they lead the old man off the stage, the audience came to his feet and applauded.
“Well, we lost another one,” said Dr. Jenvold. “I’m going to miss the old kook.”
This story originally appeared in Asimov's.