…or “Ghost Decon”…
The heads of the press swung to follow him as Rutger walked through the door.
Cameras like glaring eyes and microphones like accusing fingers. Rutger could feel the hatred. Three deaths and more than a billion dollars, and it was only Tuesday morning.
The CTO of the ReVeil Corporation reached his podium. Clutched it. Bowed his head. “Let me first say that I’m sorry.”
Silence from the press.
Rutger pressed a button on his remote control. Behind him, the ring-shaped ReVeil logo vanished, replaced by a satellite image of streets and cul-de-sacs.
“The Aspenwood Ectogenic Power Plant,” he said. “At 5:25pm yesterday, October 21st 2019. Circled in red is the Manifestor, previously the home of serial killer Steven R. Shoenburg, who died there in 2008.”
The next slide showed the Manifestor from street level, still looking very similar to the two-story house it had once been. Then a cutaway, showing the new heat shunts and electromagnets.
“At Aspenwood, we pump waste heat into the home of a diseased, immoral individual, then anger the spiritual remains of said individual by means of a team of on-site staff trained to simulate the activities of a middle-class American family.”
Rutger breathed out, allowing the well-polished spiel to spool out of him like fine titanium chain.
“The spirit absorbs ambient heat and converts it into poltergeist activity…” He managed to choke off the end of sentence: “thus providing clean energy to homes and businesses in three states.”
Rutger met the eyes of a reporter. “The problem began with a trash fire in the house’s half-bath lavatory. CCTV footage indicates one of the on-site staff members was smoking in there.”
Against regulations, but the security team routinely overlooked it. Interviewed, they’d said they thought the poor woman deserved whatever stress-relief she could get.
“We have known since the Begay Process was invented that the spiritual remains of a deceased individual do not constitute a ‘person,’ any more than do the physical remains. However, spiritual remains do appear to pursue goals.”
Rutger took a drink of water.
“The door between the lavatory and the kitchen/dining room opened. Burning trash flew toward the other two on-site staff members, who were seated there for simulated dinner.”
Click. CCTV footage of a burning table cloth.
“Normally, this would provoke a strong fear response, which would lead to more poltergeist activity. Ectogenic potential would decrease, temperatures would equalize, and the system would self-correct.”
A slide of the staff calmly standing.
“However, the team-leader’s undisclosed usage of prescription anti-anxiety medication dulled his fear, and the other team members took their cues from him. We believe that they each went to find fire extinguishers or other means of dousing the flames. This would have been wise in a real house, but…”
A graph showed the room’s temperature suddenly plunge.
“The ghost – that is to say the spiritual remains – entered an unusually pronounced chill-phase. Technicians in our control room tried to increase heat in-flow to prevent temperatures in the room from dropping below spec, but the secondary heat shunt under the lavatory did not open. Ice crystals had formed inside it.
“Meanwhile, temperatures in the northwest corner dropped below 300 Kelvin, reducing the electrical resistance of the stators in the walls. The result was a strong attraction between the walls and the neodymium vests worn by the staff. The staff did attempt to free themselves, but now the haunting entered its poltergeist phase.”
Rutger clicked the projector to the next slide. “This is a photo of the Aspenwood Plant taken by a high-altitude drone at 6am this morning.”
The Manifestor had been converted into serrated silver and black wreckage: the worst ectogenic feedback loop ever in North America.
“Further human deaths were prevented by the immediate evacuation of the Aspenwood Plant. However, the loop continued to spin, generating more heat from friction, which was converted into ectogenic potential and re-deployed as more torque.
“This was likely deliberately engineered by the…” Rutger took a breath, “by the spiritual remains of the now-deceased on-site staff, working in collaboration with those of Mr. Shoenburg, combining their technical knowledge to his…that is to say its…”
Hell. What was the jargon word for “evil”?
“…value tension,” Rutger sighed.
“The loop continued to grow until 1am today, when our emergency cold lines absorbed enough energy to stop the growth of the loop.”
But not reverse it. The next slide was the latest drone footage, a video showing queasy rotation within the wreckage. Contraction, as of a monstrous, iron-gray iris.
“Resonances in the thermal fluctuations of the loop are consistent with the persistence of three distinct ghosts.” Rutger stared into the darkness over the press’s heads. Shoenburg, Mathew, and Stephanie? Shoenburg, Stephanie, and Kyle? Thank God at least one of the staff had managed to escape into oblivion.
Rutger blinked back into the cameras. “I’m a mechanical engineer by training. And my training, even after the discovery of the Begay Process, was all about entropy. I was taught that no matter what you do, there’s always waste.”
Despite everything, Rutger couldn’t help but smile. “Then came ghost power. It is…I have no other word for it. It’s a miracle. Perpetual motion. The ultimate free lunch.”
Except recently, Rutger had wondered whether entropy had found a way to increase after all. Moral pollution. The efflux of evil.
Well, so what? Don’t businesses harness greed? Don’t politicians use the bigotry and envy of their voters to support important programs? Anger in the army? Lust in marriage! Evil didn’t taint any of those institutions, why should ectogeneration be any different?
“I know that I have abused the trust placed in me,” said Rutger, “but now I have no choice but to ask for yet more.”
And there was the deeper problem. How to die and leave no spiritual remains?
Rutger had never told a living soul, but he believed that the key was to die with no regrets. He stretched his his hands toward eternity and pleaded.
“Give me another chance.”