Planet of the Kind: the Optfield

Alan P. Scott - Fictions - Dream Logs

nice guys finish first

I am again (as in "Parallel Worlds," an earlier Dream Log) a spy from a different universe, an infiltrator sent from a cold-hearted, ugly Earth much like our own to a pastoral, friendly one altogether too close to ours in the timeline, in order to find out what they're hiding. There's got to be something... noplace could be this wonderful on the surface with such a recent point of divergence from my Earth. The technological level of these people is (purposely?) low; there are very few private automobiles but lots of bicycles, trains and dirigibles. The landscape is a patchwork of small fields and houses; there are many people but even when they get together it's not in the crushing crowds of our planet.

I am in a diverse crowd of people waiting for a train to arrive, but I haven't bought a ticket yet. A huge passenger train arrives, not the one I'm waiting for, and I see a giant double-decker auto transport car whose sides are gleaming, polished steel. Inside are vehicles that look as sophisticated as any on our Earth. I see this as confirmation that their technology is hidden, not backward.

Somehow during this I've let the crowd sweep me onto the train that's here now, the one before the one I'd intended to take. I don't have a ticket, and may not have enough of the local money to pay for one even if they'd let me. I find myself fumbling with something that looks a little like a ticket - a long white strip, folded in the middle, like a baggage check or something - hoping that they'll mistake it for a ticket and not look too closely. But I see that the other passengers' tickets are very different, short, wide and purple.

There are a couple of women - one of them's the conductor, and the other one looks a lot like my real-world coworker Wanda - who are whispering together... I think it's obvious that they've noticed me and are discussing how to kick me off the train, and begin preparing a cover story.

I was half right. As the train starts moving, the conductor comes over to me... and offers to help with the ticket. She listens to what I have to say and appears to believe me, lets me pay with money that may well be counterfeit, something I've brought with me from my own Earth. There is no problem. These people are being nothing but nice to me.

Eventually we get to our destination, which is a natural wilderness or tourist area that for some reason I associate with the Horn of Africa, even though I am very sure we are in North America (in an America, moreover, which has never seceded from the British Empire). The people here are unfailingly polite and veddy British.

I get onto a small open tour boat and we (I'm not sure how many other people are on the boat; about a dozen, I think) go chugging up a coast as beautiful and wild as any I've ever seen. A tall, rounded knob of a cliff, covered with trees and white rock, stands against a sky that is clean and intensely blue. We continue on up the coastline and come upon a geographical feature that I recognize from our own Earth. I exclaim, "I've been here!" and get the sense that my companions on the boat believe me, even though it's obvious that I couldn't have been here, I'm not from around here, I have no idea how things work.

The feature is called the Stairway of the Gods, a set of sandstone terraces that start out huge (the tour guide says that the "risers" are thirteen feet high at this point) but eventually get smaller and smaller until they disappear into a sort of flattened amphitheater of sandstone.

The boat stops here and a couple of the other passengers leap out and begin dancing around on the sandstone. I notice something peculiar. In my own world, this particular place is marred by missing chunks of the natural rock, graffiti and litter dating back to the 1800s if not before (as are many places which were invaded by Europeans during the colonial period - think the Sphinx in Egypt, with her missing nose, for example) but this planet's version is pristine, as if no one had ever been here... even though it's obviously a popular, known tourist destination on this Earth just as it is in our world.

I can't stand it anymore. I too am out of the boat, accosting the men who were dancing around on the rock, pouring out my history in violation of all protocols and asking them just how it is that they can be so incredibly, uniformly, damnably nice?

One of them has the answer, and explains it to me... it's the Optfield. Its inventor, Edward Optfield, was a genius our world does not seem to have possessed, working in the 1700s in the Colonies on the convergence of two fields that in our world took another hundred years to flower and then did so separately: electric light, and a germ theory of disease. Edward Optfield invented a sort of lamp that he hoped would kill germs but not people, a high-intensity beam of some sort that was practically invisible. It didn't have its intended result but somehow he discovered that his lamp did kill off something in those its light touched... it eliminated, somehow, all the antisocial, vandalistic urges, the fear, suspicion and hate, leaving the recipient strong, healthy, openhearted and good-natured without being neutered... simply, nice. He had invented an Optimization Field: the Optfield.

America had never left Britain because it had never needed to. Optfield's lamps, which were very quickly and naturally identified with his name, spread rapidly across the globe; it seems that this entire world was converted before fear could turn into hatred and war among the unconverted multitudes.

The dream ended with my decision to stay on this Earth and renounce the other. The Optfield has gotten to me too.

September 20, 2000

©2000, 2001 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

This document was last updated May 20, 2001.

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