ANTI-MAN by Dean R. Koontz

Inside the shed, I fumbled for a light switch, found one two feet from the door, off to the right. A dim bulb popped into life, revealing the fact that Harry did not keep his tool shed too neat. Everything was stacked haphazardly around the bulk of the generator and the mammoth bulge of the water storage tank that descended from the ceiling like a pus sack. Back against the far wall, there was a platform of wooden beams nailed crudely together, and the magnetic sled perched there—a very welcome sight.

I went back to it and checked it out. It was a relatively expensive model. It was just under seven feet long, three feet wide. The front was swept up in a snowshield curve, and the metal metamorphosed into a plexiglass window to cut down the battering ram of the wind. There were two seats, one behind the other, and a set of controls before the first. I examined the controls, saw that there was nothing fancy. Behind the second seat, the oblong box of the drive mechanism jutted like a barnacle off the sleek hide of this beast-machine. I went to it, thumbed the rotating catches, flipped them back, and lifted the lid. The battery was totally dead.

For a moment, I was ready to kick the damn sled and to curse Harry with every four- and five- and six-letter dirty word I had in my vocabulary. That would have wasted a rather large chunk of time, considering the extensiveness of my known oaths. Then I relented and allowed my brain to do the thinking instead of my gut. It took just seconds to realize that Harry must have some way to recharge that battery. After all, it would have been dead for him, too.

I went to the generator first and found exactly what I had expected. There was a large battery on the floor next to the generator, and a trickle feedline kept this spare constantly charged. I disconnected the jumper cables from this live battery and hefted it, staggered back to the sled and set it down. Taking out the old battery, I replaced it with this healthier one, then took it back to the generator for its session of reactivation. Now I was ready to move.

But now there was another problem. The sled weighed a hundred and twenty or thirty pounds. I could not see myself lifting it and carrying it through the twisting aisles between the junk, turning it sideways at the narrow places, swinging it around the sharp bend between the generator and the open door. The urge to kick and curse returned. Then I won the battle with my gut and my brain was once again in charge. If I couldn’t lift it and carry it out, neither could Harry, for he was smaller than I. Which meant there was some other way out of the shed. I examined the wall against which the sled rested, found the handle that slid a wide piece of it back. I flipped off the bolt lock, slid it back, and was looking out onto the snow. In fact, the sled was facing that way, ready to move.

I crawled into it, strapped the belt around my waist and made certain it was secure. When you are going anywhere on a magnetic sled and you are in a hurry, your life can easily depend on that strap of nylon cloth. As comfortable as possible, I switched on the ignition in the steering column. The sled hummed to life, purring quietly like a contented cat being stroked beneath the chin. Giving the controls another once-over, I put the sled in gear and pressed down ever so gently on the accelerator that tapped the battery. The sled moved forward, off the wooden platform and bumped onto the carpet of snow.

The magnetic sled is the only end product of what, at one time, promised to be a revolution in transportation. Dr. Kesey and his associates, working under Ford auspices, had cracked the wall blocking Man from the use of magnetic forces in transportation. The Kesey people developed a sled that could move across a body of water—or at least across their testing lake—on a magnetic cushion. It was very simple, as Kesey explained it, though, of course, he pared the details down to a layman’s level of understanding. The bottom of the sled was plated with a magnetized layer of iron. Suspended from the bottom of the sled by four steel arms (one at each corner of the rectangular craft) was an electrified wire mesh that produced another magnetic field exactly like the first. The pattern of the field waves were constructed so that the two fields pushed against each other. The weight of the sled and its driver was, in effect, nullified. The wire mesh was bottomed with a thin layer of non-magnetic aluminum, which skimmed across the water. A set of propellers, driven by an electric battery, spun at the rear, pushing the—in effect, again—weightless craft across the surface of the lake.

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