"Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and
Arthur C. Clarke
RODNEY'S RAYGUN REVENGE
A Technological Tale
by David Henniker
This story was previously published in "ST Enthusiasts
Newsletter". Gracious permission courtesy of the Daves Mooney and
Henniker. Cheers, chaps!
It was over a month since Rodney had started his new job on
the outskirts of town. For years he'd worked as a Technical
Salesman, driving anything up to 200 miles a day as he
travelled from town to town. His employer was a manufacturer
of medical electronics equipment and Rodney had had a fairly
cushy number - as his company was virtually the only supplier
to the various Health Boards.
Over the years Rodney had made quite a few business friends
but it was unlikely he'd see them again. The job had
become increasingly difficult due to competition from the far
east. 'Why is everything made in Taiwan?' he had often
wondered. His boss put more and more pressure on him to sell
the equipment, but although Rodney was a Technical Salesman he
wasn't really very technical. Also he was too honest to be a
very good travelling salesman. When the firm announced it
wanted redundancy volunteers, Rodney decided he'd had enough and
put his name forward.
His new job was at an out-of-town garden centre, one of those
'mega' complexes where they have everything from a kiddies'
play area to a computerised Landscape Design Centre. It was
here that Rodney worked, mostly behind a counter, selling
expensive garden machinery such as lawnmowers that you sit on
and drive. He also operated the Apple Mac and Roland Plotter
to try and sell 'Complete Landscape Solutions' to the
He didn't miss the driving at all, really. Once in a while he
was allowed to demonstrate the 'ride-on' lawnmowers. His new
job paid less and no company car was provided. He didn't mind
as he was very contented here - and lucky to find employment in
his late thirties. He no longer had the hassle of searching
for a parking space near his flat in town. These days he got
the bus to work and now he'd had a week or two to get used to
public transport, it was OK, mostly. After an embarrassing
first morning when he offered the bus driver a ten pound note,
holding up other passengers (and the following traffic), he
bought himself a season ticket. He caught the same bus every
morning and after a while began to recognise quite a few of his
The bus he got on was always mobbed with hordes of
schoolkids. 'Precocious young brats' Rodney would think to
himself as they chatted loudly and squirmed about in their
seats. Thankfully they all got off two stops after the one
Rodney got on at. Rodney had reached that time in his life
where he felt threatened and insecure near young
people, particularly adolescents. He observed that all the
schoolkids had designer-label clothes, bags and trainers.
'Must cost their parents a fortune...' he mused. 'Probably all
made in Taiwan anyway...'
He never spoke to the other regulars on the bus, but he
observed them slyly. There was the businessman who always read
the Telegraph and opened the paper out wide, presumably to
discourage fellow passengers from sitting next to him. There
were some rather attractive female office workers of different
ages, but they never sat next to Rodney, even if the bus was
crowded. People mostly kept themselves to themselves, looking
glum and preoccupied. Occasionally he was disturbed by someone
with an 'impersonal stereo' as he called them.
This morning, as Rodney's bus approached the stop where
the schoolkids got off, Darren was waiting to board the bus.
Darren, like Rodney, had a job on the edge of town. He was 19
years old, wore a black leather jacket with a crudely painted
logo across the back, and had one of those aggressively short
haircuts which Rodney used to associate with old cloth-capped
men - the 'short back and sides' look as imposed by Rodney's
parents when he was young. Darren sported a personal stereo and
played it at a level which blotted out any risk of having to
communicate with his fellow human beings.
As Darren came upstairs on the bus Rodney heard the
dischordant 'TSSSH, TSSSH' noise and glared pointedly at the
perpetrator. Darren seemed oblivious to the accusing stare and
sat down two or three rows in front of Rodney. A few stops
further on, the bus became quite crowded but amazingly nobody
complained about the insistent 'TSSSH, TSSSH, TSSSSH!'
emanating from the earphones plugged into Darren's ears. The
business types stared blankly ahead into space and one or two
others halfheartedly rubbed at the condensation on the windows.
'How the hell can people put up with this?' Rodney asked
himself. He'd had rather a late night the previous night and
wasn't feeling very tolerant. He wished he was a more
physically threatening figure, or knew martial arts. He
lacked the confidence to tap Darren on the shoulder and say
something like 'I say, would you mind awfully turning down your
personal stereo...?', or perhaps just plain 'Shut the fuck up!'.
By the time Rodney got to his stop, he was seething with rage
but feeling helpless. His journey to work had been ruined by
this cretin. 'Noise pollution is the worst form of
pollution...' he muttered to himself as he got off the bus at
Q & B's Mega Garden World. 'You can shut your eyes or look
away, but you can't shut your ears!' He said out loud as he
crossed the footbridge over the bypass. By the time he'd had
his second cup of coffee he felt better. In the mail there was
a letter of acceptance from Major Ponsonby-Smythe with regard
to the computerised landscape design tendered by Rodney.
Rodney stood to receive 1% commission on the sale - which meant
£300 bonus on his next salary cheque.
Rodney smiled peacefully as he lunched in the staff canteen.
The muzak which played softly in the background actually
soothed him as he ate. He had no dessert but had a cup of tea,
declining the alleged coffee and Diet Pepsi. The muzak changed
to Herb Alpert And His Tijuana Brass. Rodney hated the tinny
trumpet noise, made worse by the fact that the sound was
distorted. It was at times like this he wished he hadn't given
up smoking. He couldn't half do with a fag. He gulped his tea,
burning his tongue in the process, and left.
The afternoon at work was very quiet and Rodney had plenty of
time to daydream. He was fascinated by technical things but
didn't have more than a passing interest in how they worked.
What they could achieve was much more interesting. He liked to
impress the customers with the Apple Mac and Roland Plotter.
For a while he'd bought electronics magazines and tried to build
one or two gadgets. After the incident with the soldering iron
and the Persian carpet he lost interest. He began to wonder if
it would be possible to design a 'personal stereo zapper'.
In the evening, after his meal, he dragged a cardboard box out
from the back of a cupboard and looked through the old
electronics magazines he'd never been able to bring himself to
throw out. He paused briefly at an article in Elektor which
gave constructional details of an anti-parking ticket
device. This involved fitting magnetic sensors to the hinges
of the windscreen wipers. The idea was that when a traffic
warden lifted a wiper blade to attach a parking ticket, the
sensor would detect this and trigger a circuit to switch on the
wipers at maximum speed in an attempt to frustrate the forces of
Law And Order.
Rodney then found a copy of Alternative Electronics, a
USA publication which had been banned for giving circuit
designs for stun guns. These gave a severe electric shock to
the victim, powerful enough to paralyse the poor unfortunate
for minutes. He flipped over a page and found an article about
Kirlian photography whereby, it was claimed, it was possible
to photograph the 'aura' or electrostatic field round a
person. He turned a few more pages over and found an article
entitled 'Focussed Electro-Magnetic Pulse - CIA Secret
Experiments (part two)'. He read on with interest. There had
been various magazine articles about 'EMP' a few years ago,
Rodney remembered vaguely. According to this it was possible
to induce sound (undetectably) in a loudspeaker from a
distance of up to five yards, without any wiring whatsoever, if
you had the right equipment. 'Hmmm..' he pondered, 'maybe I
could zap personal stereos with this!'
Unfortunately Rodney didn't have part one of the two-part
article. He was rather sceptical of the reference to the power
source for the gadget. Dilithium crystals were, as far as
Rodney knew, mere fiction. 'Trekkies', or Star Trek freaks
might think differently. Part two of the article did however
give details of a suggested circuit. A 200 watt car stereo
booster amplifier was 'utilized' (sic) for the driver for
the output device. The left and right channels were connected
in a bridge configuration to double the strength of the
focussed magnetic pulse sent out. Rodney didn't really
understand all this but continued reading anyway. He poured
himself another glass of Southern Comfort and settled back in
his easy chair.
The 200 Watt amplifier was greedy on electricity and a car
battery was obviously not portable. The amp was no problem, he
had one spare, now that he no longer drove a car. He found it
in a cupboard and noticed it was made in Taiwan. The
magazine article referred quite seriously to dilithium
crystals but further information was in part one - and
unavailable. Rodney put down the magazine and looked on a
bookshelf for scientific reference books. He sat down, poured
himself another Southern Comfort (it was his day off tomorrow,
after all) and thumbed over pages looking for mention of
dilithium crystals. His search was in vain; all he found was
plain old lithium. 'Lithium - a silvery white metal. Lightest
of all metals.' was all it said.
He decided it was a waste of time pursuing this idea and
instead browsed at a copy of Computer Shopper he'd bought that
morning. Amongst the ads for peripherals and accessories he
kept noticing ads for lithium batteries. Then he remembered
that his broken digital watch had a 7 year lithium battery.
Actually, the watch still worked but the black rubber strap
had split apart soon after he'd bought it. Rodney poured
another drink and recalled that his old Amstrad computer had a
lithium battery in it, too. He robbed the computer of its
battery and sat down again, turning the battery over in one
hand, as he sipped his drink with the other.
Rodney was rather drunk by now and not thinking very clearly.
He was convinced there was a way of turning lithium into
dilithium crystals, but he had no idea how. He wandered
unsteadily into the kitchen and wondered what would happen if
he put the lithium battery into the electric coffee grinder. He
dismissed such a notion as dangerous (he wasn't stupid, after
all) and instead put it in the microwave cooker. Not wearing his
glasses, he misread the digital display and set the timer to 11
minutes, rather than the minute he'd intended. He pressed
the 'cook' button and the microwave thumped into life. The
battery pirhouetted slowly as the turntable revolved and the
fluorescent display counted down.
Rodney suddenly realised that he'd been dying on a pee for ages
and stormed off to the bathroom. 'Aah, the relief!' He was
zipping his fly when suddenly a very loud bang rattled the
bathroom door. 'HOLY SHIT!' he exclaimed when he saw the
shattered remains of the kitchen. The microwave had been
completely blown apart and shards of ragged metal hung over the
worktop. Bits of metal and plastic had embedded themselves in
the walls and broken dishes lay scattered on the floor. He
decided he'd clear up the mess in the morning and switched off
the light. Then he noticed an unfamiliar green glow coming
from the centre of the former microwave cooker. What's more,
the green glow was pulsing slowly, getting bright and dim,
bright and dim.
It was the remains of the lithium battery. The rush of
adrenalin had sobered Rodney up somewhat and he had the presence
of mind to use a pair of tongs to pick it up with. He put
it on a saucer and carried it (somewhat shakily) through to
the living room. He filled up his glass, dimmed the lights
and sat staring at the eerie green glow, pulsing
rhythmically. After about an hour, when the bottle of Southern
Comfort was empty, he finally went to bed. Tomorrow he would go
and visit his old chum Jack, the technical whizzkid.
Jack was a self-employed electronics engineer Rodney had known
for years. His workshop was a shed attached to his house, a
sort of home extension.
'What's all this nonsense about dilithium crystals?' said
Jack as Rodney sat down on top of an enormous TV set.
'Here, take a look at this then!' replied Rodney as he handed
him an old tobacco tin.
Jack pulled off the lid and looked inside. Sure enough, the
eerie green glow continued to pulse and throb. Jack went to pour
out two mugs of tea and Rodney's gaze wandered round the
interior of the workshop. There were TV's, video recorders
and audio components everywhere. Rodney was puzzled by a home-
made looking gadget with multi-coloured LED's. Jack came back
and put the hot mugs of tea on the Pacman arcade machine which
served as a table.
'What's that?' asked Rodney, pointing at the home-made gadget.
'That's a dry joint simulator.' answered Jack.
'What's it for?' queried Rodney.
'It's for testing dry joint testers.' said Jack.
'Oh..., I see' said Rodney.
Jack studied the dilithium crystal closely, not touching
it. He noticed that the crystal was slightly different
shades of green at opposite ends. He reached over for his
new Fluke digital multimeter, switched it to voltage and
carefully applied its probes to either end of the crystal.
'Hmmm, thirteen point eight volts exactly...' he muttered.
'That's the same as you get from a car battery. I wonder how
much current this baby can deliver...' He dug around and
found an old car headlamp and wired it up to the crystal
which he'd fitted in a battery holder. The headlamp shone
brightly. Impressed by this, Jack got an old starter motor which
still had its heavy cables attached. The motor turned briskly.
'Good God!' gasped Jack, 'These things take hundreds of amps!'
Rodney handed Jack the tattered copy of Alternative Electronics
and said 'Could you make one of these ...?', pointing to the
article. 'I want to be able to zap those impersonal stereos on
Jack said he'd give it a try and Rodney left. A week
later he returned to see if Jack had made any progress.
'It works.' Jack confirmed. 'I used the enamelled wire from
this old degaussing coil, and these S-correction capacitors to
tune it to the right frequency. See that loudspeaker over
there; no wires connected. Now listen... I'll just turn the
power up slightly.'
Jack clicked the trigger switch and the speaker emitted a
short sharp high-pitched pulse of sound. 'That's a sine wave
at about ten kilohertz' Jack informed Rodney. Jack fitted the
device into the body of an old Weller soldering gun and
presented it to Rodney. 'Just pull the trigger to activate it,
keep this knob turned well to the left. You won't need much
power just to make someone think their personal stereo is
knackered.' advised Jack.
'Didn't you need the booster amp then?' asked Rodney.
'Just the output chips' said Jack. 'You don't want to carry a
big box around, do you? The crystal is in the handle. There's
no need for heatsinks as the power cuts off after a hundred
Rodney was very impressed and grateful and promised to
buy a secondhand microwave from Jack as soon as he got the
bonus he was expecting. He caught the bus home but there
were no passengers with personal stereos.
Back in his flat he had a closer look at his new gadget. It
felt and looked rather like a ray gun. It was satisfyingly
heavy and Rodney felt strangely powerful holding it. He kept
the power turned low and clicked the trigger. A short
piercing blast of noise came from the transistor radio at the
other side of the room. He increased the power and tried it
again. The speaker made the same noise but louder. He tried it
on the TV set and somehow managed to make a purple blob in
the corner of the screen. It was later that day that
he found that his databank calculator's LCD display had
turned black all over. He thought he'd save the lithium
batteries and when he turned it over he saw a tiny label saying
'Made in Taiwan'. The next time he tried to withdraw cash he
would find that he had also erased the magnetic strip on his
When Rodney got ready for work next day he put the gun in his
coat pocket. He left for work at the usual time but had to run
for the bus as it was early, probably because it was a school
holiday. He went upstairs and chose a seat near the back of
the bus on the left. As the bus approached the next bus
stop, Rodney could see Darren getting on, wearing his personal
stereo. 'TSSHH - TSSHH - TSSSHHH!' it went as Darren sat down
several rows in front of Rodney.
Rodney looked around at the other passengers and found that they
were all apparently preoccupied. Confident that nobody would
know what he was up to, he pulled the zapper out of his
pocket, aimed it it the back of Darren's head and squeezed the
trigger. Sure enough, Rodney plainly heard a short pulse of high
frequency sound. Simultaneously, Darren gasped and yanked the
earphones out of his ears. Rodney slid the zapper back into his
coat pocket and tried not to smirk as he stared down at his
Darren was puzzled. He unplugged the earphone jack and plugged
it in again. He whacked the personal stereo violently then
shook it. He re-inserted the earphones in his ears but with
the volume turned much lower. He blamed 'feedback' for the
painful blast of noise; he'd heard feedback before with rock
Rodney was satisfied. He had punished the reprobate who had
invaded his privacy and was no longer disturbed by the noise of
'thrash metal' or whatever that so-called music was.
Several days passed and Rodney's journeys to and from work
remained undisturbed. Meanwhile Darren was looking for a new
personal stereo. His old one still worked but he'd been
talking to his mate Drew who had a much fancier personal
stereo. This one had light-action touch buttons, a radio with
a tuning memory and a very impressive LCD display. Darren
looked through his mother's new Argos catalogue and saw the
one he wanted. It had all the features of Drew's one but also
had 'Mega Bass' and even a remote control built into the
earphone cord. It was made in Taiwan.
The following Monday Rodney observed Darren boarding the
bus. 'TSSZZ! - TSSZZ! - TSSZZ!' went the earphones as Darren sat
down only two rows in front of Rodney. Darren admired the LCD
display. When the machine was switched on, a flickery scrolling
message appeared saying 'Conglations on owning this Minimedia™
Pelsonar Sterio'. He played with the sliders on the tiny remote
control and watched the bargraph display. Rodney noticed one of
his fellow commuters grimace in discomfort at the invasive noise.
'Right, here goes' thought Rodney. He slipped the zapper out
of his coat pocket and rested its business end on the back of
the seat in front of him. Failing to notice that the power
control knob had somehow got turned right up to maximum, he
aimed at Darren and squeezed the trigger. A particularly loud
pulse of high frequency noise, followed instantly by a loud
'POP!' reverberated round the upper deck of the bus. Darren
wrenched the earphones from his ears and smoke was plainly
visible, curling out of his earringed ears. He was in
considerable pain and was furious to find that the LCD
display on his pride and joy had turned totally black.
Furthermore, the earphones had melted as their speech-coils had
He whipped around in his seat and noticed that one of the
passengers was smiling and looking across at Rodney. Darren
turned further round in his seat and saw a rather frightened-
looking Rodney gazing unconvincingly out of the window. Darren
stared at Rodney for a moment then turned round again, facing
the front of the bus. Rodney's heart stopped pounding after a
while and he prayed that Darren didn't suspect him. When
the bus approached Q & B's Mega Garden World, Rodney didn't
notice Darren getting off the bus behind him.
He was half way across the footbridge over the bypass when he
felt a hand on his shoulder. He was turned violently around to
find himself face to face with Darren. Rodney looked in
vain for help from other pedestrians. There was no-one else
on the footbridge, and not likely to be until the next bus came.
'You done that!' shouted Darren as he thrust the damaged stereo
under Rodney's nose, 'Didn't ya!'
'I beg your pardon...' responded Rodney.
'You fucked my Walkman, you yuppy bastard' rasped Darren.
'No I didn't' replied Rodney.
'You fucking-well did!' shouted Darren, simultaneously
smashing Rodney in the face with the Walkman and kneeing him in
the groin. Rodney fell down amongst the broken glass and litter
on the footbridge, doubled up in pain. Then he blacked out.
He was only very vaguely aware that he was being bodily lifted
into the air. He thought it was a bad dream. When he felt
weightless he knew it was a bad dream; he'd had the same dream
before - falling off a cliff or a building and he knew he'd wake
up, just before he hit the ground. Only he never did hit the
Darren had heaved Rodney's semi-conscious body over the
bridge parapet, seemingly intent on murder. By sheer chance one
of Q & B's pickup trucks was passing under the bridge and Rodney
landed on it, cushioned to some extent by the bags of peat on
board. The driver turned into the garden centre unaware of
what had happened. Darren ran back along the bridge and
Later that morning the pickup driver found Rodney's body
lying comatose on the peat bags in his truck. The ambulance
driver confirmed he was still alive (just) and raced off to
the hospital, blue lights flashing and sirens wailing.
Rodney was wheeled into Intensive Care and put on a life
support machine. He was in a deep coma. Consultants and
nurses came and went but Rodney was unaware of all this.
Days passed and finally he began to approach consciousness.
The electroencephalograph indicated increased brain activity,
and the heart monitor showed a faster pulse. He felt awful
as he awoke and very cautiously opened his eyes a little.
'God, what a weird dream...' he thought. He thought he must
have dreamt about dilithium crystals and the exploding
microwave. He sat up a little and rubbed his eyes. He focussed
blearily on the life support machine, which he recognised as the
type he once sold. Loss of memory had made him forget that he
no longer sold medical equipment. He was startled to find
that this particular machine was connected to his body by
wires and plastic tubes. Had he woken up yet? He wasn't
sure... He had experienced this feeling once before, dreams
within dreams, when he'd been ill with gastric flu. He
flopped back onto his pillow and fell asleep again.
His activity had been enough to trigger an alarm, however. A
nurse came into his room, made a brief phone call and a
consultant arrived. The nurse gave him an injection and he
woke up to see friendly concerned faces.
'How are you, Rodney?' asked the nurse.
'What happened?' asked Rodney.
'You had an accident' said the consultant.
'My microwave blew up' confirmed Rodney.
'Your microwave blew up?' said the nurse and consultant in
'I was making dilithium crystals' explained Rodney. 'I sell
these for a living' he added, pointing to the life support
The nurse and consultant withdrew to the corner of the room
and conferred before returning to Rodney's bedside.
'Actually, old chap' said the consultant, 'you were found in
the back of one of Q & B's pickup trucks. That's who you work
for. The police think you were thrown from the footbridge over
Rodney remembered none of this.
'OK, you'd better go back to sleep now' said the nurse and
gave Rodney another injection.
'Better keep him hooked up to the hardware' advised the
consultant to the nurse. 'He's not a well man.'
Rodney was alone when he woke up again. He felt confused
but physically stronger. He sat up on the edge of his bed,
taking care not to disturb the tubes and cables attaching him to
the machine. Rodney had an amazing memory for numbers and
recognised the model number of the life support machine. He
pulled one end of the trolley supporting it and had a peek round
the back of the machine. He was slightly surprised to find
that he had sold this actual machine. He actually remembered
the serial number - but still couldn't remember much else,
He pressed a buzzer and the nurse returned with the consultant.
'We found this in your coat pocket' said the consultant.
'What is it? It looks like a soldering gun that's been
Rodney remembered. 'It's a personal stereo zapper' he replied.
'Really?' said the consultant. 'How does it work?'
'You just point it and pull the trigger' Rodney answered.
'Like this?' said the consultant, not really believing Rodney
and pointing it at the life support machine.
'No - Don't!' said Rodney, but it was too late. He saw sparks
coming from the life support machine, followed by a cloud of
smoke and that was all he saw. He passed out into a deep coma
and dreamt more dreams within dreams. Eventually he awoke again
to see a shiny new life support machine. He didn't recognise
this one; it was a type he'd never seen before. In one corner
he saw a label. It said 'Made in Taiwan ROC'.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.