Lights Out

Professor Malory Windfall reached forward to adjust the podium’s microphone. Instead she knocked over her glass of water, as she was prone to do. In the front row, the reporter from Popular Science grinned behind his camera as it captured Dr. Windfall’s awkward shuffling of her now-soggy speech.

“I’ve always been a bit of a klutz,” she said, reading from the apropos introduction. “There’s plenty of others out there just like me; we who have perpetually stubbed toes; we who have humbly spared our peers from being picked last for kickball; we who have rarely won a coin flip. Hell, I’m fortunate if I even manage to catch the quarter.”

Malory looked up as if to grant her audience permission to laugh both with her and at her. This, unlike the spilt cup, was scripted. She pushed her glasses up from the tip of her nose and adjusted the lapel of her lab coat. Investor conferences always worked out better if she played the part of the proverbial nerd, and so she wore her thickest spectacles and starchiest white jacket to put the masses at ease. The last thing the world wants to feel is stupid.

That’s what these presentations were about, after all – a two-minute song and dance choreographed to spoon-feed years of research to the legion of laymen and laywomen who could afford tickets to these glorified science fairs. Most of them were investors looking for the next Tesla. Malory’s was the type of presentation they’d use as background noise while flipping through their cellphone’s newsfeed.

“My colleagues and I, we have discovered that grace, as an extension of luck, is determined by the interaction between a cosmic constant and any given physical entity. Yes there are biological factors – equilibrium, reaction time, intellect and athleticism, to name a few – yet deficiencies in any of these does not necessarily forfeit one’s ability to exist in harmony with the world around them.”

“We’ve all met those fluky fools who manage to stumble through life like an inebriated toddler, catching one break after another. Today I offer a glimpse of the invisible hand that selectively saves some from fatalistic ineptitude while neglecting to spare so many others. Today I introduce the Kismeton.”

Right on cue, two of the professor’s interns wheeled out a device that resembled a cybernetic mushroom. At its base was the expected overwhelming array of lights, switches, and levers. Rising up from this jumble of electronics was a hexagonal shaft capped with a downward-facing satellite dish.

“The fabric of existence is woven in particles. Positrons, electrons, gravitons, the list goes on and on.” Professor Windfall was the only one to chuckle at her subatomic pun. “If these invisible building blocks form the thread of our reality, then what is the needle? What guides the multitude of variables so they can coalesce in some sort of orderly form?”

“Kismetons are the answer. They are quantum facilitators, the rails upon which the universe establishes itself. Where these particles are abundant, stability ensues; where they are lacking, chaos takes hold. This antenna,” Dr. Windfall said, gesturing to the machine behind her, “collects Kismetic forces, creating a sphere of influence where probability is skewed toward positive consequences.” She pulled a lever and the dome that capped the contraption began to spin.

“The metaphysical adages emphasizing the value of prayer and optimism have proven to be not far from truth. The human mind, as a uniquely complex biological anomaly, appears to have some degree of sway over the concentration of Kismetons in an area – wishful thinking does indeed pay off. The Kismeton collector is not a genie, but while active it enhances the likelihood of favorable outcomes. Observe.”

She pulled a quarter out of her pocket and moved underneath the umbrella-like device. “Heads I win. Tails I lose,” she said, nodding to her intern who then flicked a switch. The spinning intensified and Dr. Windfall flipped the coin. She caught it, covered it, and beckoned the on-stage videographer to come closer so all could see the outcome: heads. She flipped the quarter ten more times: all heads. A murmur flowed through the audience like an incredulous wave.

“I know to many this is not definitive proof,” Malory said, “and so I am prepared to raise the ante, as a gambler would say.” She beckoned to her other intern, “Samuel, if you please.” Sam handed her a nickel from his pocket. “Let’s go for tails this time.” Eleven coin tosses later the cell phones were pocketed as the potential financiers saw everything they never had in Vegas.

Popular Science’s staff photographer was the only one looking down, emailing his editor, when the stage light fell. He had just hit send, a final stroke of luck before his head caved in under the weight of the plummeting photon projector. The rest of the audience fled the convention hall as Malory ran toward the twitching crumple of a man.

“Felix…” she said, kneeling next to what was left of her fiancé. Had she not just looked his way, glaring at him as he was too distracted to notice, his identity would not have been so easily ascertainable. Samuel approached moments after the fallen journalist gurgled his last breath; two paramedics trailed behind the intern as a formality.

“Mal,” he said. “The machine was already off…”