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Invisible Touch

Formerly an astronomer and more recently a research project manager in an aerospace company, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction for a living. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, End of an Aeon, Postscripts, Nature Futures and Interzone, among other noted magazines and anthologies. Many of his published stories can now be found in ebook editions available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. For news of his writing adventures, please visit vaughanstanger.com.
"I hear you're known as 'The Green Ghost,' Mister Franklin."
Word gets around in the entertainment industry. I earned the nickname because I'm the guy who ensures the real and the computer-generated blend seamlessly. Clad in green-screen cloth, I twitch the hem of Superman's cloak while he zooms across the CGI skyline, or bounce the actress's hair in a shampoo advert. No one sees me after the background is inserted, but everyone notices the effect.
I directed a carefully calibrated nod towards H. Gerrard Conway Junior, purveyor of eye-candy to the movie-going masses, and said, "That's correct, sir."
"So why are you here?"
"I want to diversify my portfolio."
My agent had mentioned "an exciting new role at Universal Media Corp, with a diverse range of future opportunities." That sounded a lot better than continuing as a peripatetic CGI fluffer.
"I'm sure you do, Mister Franklin." Conway's tone harbored misgivings.
I gave a tiny shrug. "To be frank, working on shampoo ads is a dead end. So I'm interested to hear what you're offering."
Conway leaned across the polished mahogany table, his left elbow skidding towards a steaming cup of Java. Without pausing to think, I nudged it out of harm's way.
Oh, crap. Talk about pushing my luck!
To my relief, Conway responded with a grin instead of the expected rebuke.
"Very good, Mister Franklin. You've passed our first test. Ready for more?"
"Yes, of course!"
Tested for what, though?
The gangly, mustachioed man who'd met me outside Conway's office sifted through a pile of body suits while glancing over his right shoulder.
"This one looks like your size."
"But definitely not my color." I shook my head in disbelief. "You do realize that beige won't work with a green screen, don't you?"
Wardrobe Guy gave me an amused look. "Where you're going, it'll work just fine."
"Which studio might that be?"
"You'll see. Now if you'll please get suited up."
When I emerged from the dressing room, Wardrobe Guy handed me a set of augmented reality glasses, likewise beige.
"Put these on," he said.
I tapped the switch on the frame. "Now that's really weird."
The world had duplicated itself. One Wardrobe Guy was standing in front of me, clutching his pad, the other moving off to my right, pad tucked under his arm and a spare pair of AR glasses dangling from his fingers. When the inevitable happened, I dived towards him and grabbed the glasses before they hit the floor. Those things are expensive.
Wardrobe Guy tapped his pad.
"Okay, you've entered Delta Plus-One."
"Where?"
"You've moved into a universe one bifurcation step from ours." He tapped his pad again. "What do you see now?"
"I see two... no, make that four, no eight... um, lots of you, all diverging."
"Feeling nauseous yet?"
"No; should I?"
"Most people do, Mister Franklin. But you're evidently not 'most people,' given that you've just aced our tests."
"Is there any point asking what I've been tested for?"
Wardrobe Guy offered a conspiratorial wink but maintained an equally conspiratorial silence while he escorted me back to Conway's office.
According to Conway, the mean-average color of the multiverse is beige, hence the body suit. The remainder of his explanation, about slippage-enabling coatings and inter-universe coms, flew right over my head.
Needless to say, I accepted his offer.
As with any new job, I started at the bottom. Working in near-neighbor universes, I nudged cups of coffee away from laptops and prevented wine glasses from spilling their contents onto expensive rugs. Mundane scenarios of this sort kept my hands occupied, but my understimulated mind began to wander. In particular, I pondered the economics of Conway's operation, which baffled me. No way would do-gooding translate into good box office.
Evidently I was missing something important.
"I hear you aspire to a bigger role, Mister Franklin."
"That's right, sir." I frowned at Conway. "What's saving laptops got to do with making movies, anyway?"
"We're not making movies any more, Mister Franklin. That type of entertainment will soon be extinct. The future is all about reality."
I gave an involuntary groan. "I hate that stuff."
Conway splayed his meaty fingers across the gleaming mahogany. "We're saving reality not producing it, Mister Franklin, although we do record everything and then sell the rights to whoever wants to exploit them. But if you want to step up onto the big stage, you'll have to pay closer attention than you have up to now."
"But paying attention is precisely what I've been doing!"
"Not well enough, Mister Franklin. But the good news is that you get to go again. This time I recommend you bear in mind that effects have causes--and not always mundane ones."
Unwilling to return to the delights of bouncing spray-coated hair, I vowed to do a better job of safeguarding fragile objects across the multiverse.
I was on the brink of resigning when I encountered an endangered wine glass that resisted my attempt to push it aside. As I looked up from the table, I glimpsed something that an effects specialist from the pre-CGI era might have described as man wearing a beige-colored monster suit.
Appearances can be deceptive though, as I discovered when it opened its mouth.
Those were awfully big teeth.
"Your use of 'extinct' was certainly apt," I said to Conway.
He acknowledged my epiphany with a grunt. "So, what's your proposal?"
Having survived my encounter with a highly intelligent reptile, I now understood the threat humanity faced.
"Give me a spaceship and I'll guarantee 'Dinosaurs Destroy Earth' never appears on your CV."
"I hope you like working in zero-gee, Mister Franklin."
"I've done wire work; it'll be a breeze."
In our universe, a city-sized comet landed a killer blow sixty-five million years ago. In another, it clobbered the Moon instead. The distant descendants of those luckier dinosaurs not only developed a bad attitude towards primates, but also the means to project it across the multiverse. That's where I come in. I sail around the Solar System, applying reflective paint to the cometary nuclei they've diverted from the Oort Cloud. Solar photons do the rest: nudging the comets back onto safer trajectories.
But Superman would fight back.
As Guardian of the Solar System, so must I.
"What now, Mister Franklin?"
"I need a multiverse-capable spaceship."
Conway muttered something unintelligible, doubtless about money, before saying, "You won't like the paint-job."
I shrugged. "It'll match my spacesuit."
I prefer green but you can't have everything.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 15th, 2015


The core idea for "Invisible Touch" popped up in my Twitter feed a little over a year ago. The picture is still there, buried deep in my favorites list. If you type "chroma key green screen bodysuits" (or similar) into your preferred search engine you should find it. After a while I started wondering about job security for someone working in such a niche. If the work dried up, would that skillset find another use? Comets were also in the news at the time. Deep inside my mental particle collider, "Invisible Touch" popped into existence.

- Vaughan Stanger

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