The only sound breaking the cool tranquility of the lab was the humming whir of the hard drive. Alan Seford looked at the numbers flowing out of the bank of photomultiplier tubes and frowned. No magic particles were raining from the heavens on this early Friday evening and the data that was quickly and efficiently stored in the neat column of chips within the computer was plain and uninspiring. Alan turned from the monitor and leaned back in the recliner, looking at the clean white tile of the ceiling. Unabsorbed in the data of the automatic experiment, his mind turned to contemplating his hobby, the thought experiment.

His mental meandering was interrupted by the scrape and screech of the stiff door to the lab opening. He turned his head and saw his friend, Nate Jones, walk in. Nate was frowning. "Alan, I thought that I would find you here.

Alan smiled. "And how did you deduce that, Sherlock?"

"Simple, you're always here. But not tonight. You promised me."

Alan stood and shook Nate's hand firmly. "Remind me please, what exactly I promised you." He noticed the snappy attire of his friend and he had a sinking feeling that he knew what he had promised.

"You said that tonight you would allow me to break you free of the boredom of academia and we would go clubbing down on Church Street."

"I said that?"

"Yes, and I'm holding you firmly to your word. Grab your jacket and we'll run by your apartment so you can change into something a bit more . . ." He fingered the blue chambray workshirt that Alan invariably wore, ". . . enticing."

Alan frowned and turned from Nate. "I don't know. I've just started a new run on the PM tubes and I should really watch them. Something important might happen."

Nate grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to face him. "No, damn it. You're not getting out of it this time. This experiment is automatic and you don't have to be here to watch it. You told me so yourself. You are going to come with me, and you're going to drink, and you're going to dance, and you're going to meet some girl with shady morals, and you're going to have a good time. You stay in this lab almost every waking moment with its humming machines and flickering fluorescent lighting. Look how pale you are! Listen, you're coming like you promised and that's it."

"Nate, I'm just not comfortable in those places. They're crowded and noisy, and I never meet any women. I'd rather just go to Eric's and listen to some blues with a beer in my hand."

"No, that is the entirety of your social life. Whenever I do get you out, we always go to Eric's Downtown Blues. You sit there, listen to the music, and drink cappucino and beer. You don't talk to anybody and after three beers, you get morose and go home. No, absolutely not. The Club at Firestone is straight tonight and you're going. Now."

Alan looked into Nate's eyes and saw that it was hopeless. The young drama professor would not be swayed. After several moments of locking eyes, Alan turned and picked up his old, faded denim jacket. He went to the wall and turned off the lights. The inconstant light from the monitor gave the lab a ghostly illumination. He sighed. The cosmic ray experiment would collect particles without him and store the data, just as he had programmed it. He wished he could program his friend to be just as obedient. They turned and walked out the door. Alan smirked. At least he had his thought experiment. He could take that anywhere.

Orlando nightlife centered around the strip downtown on Orange Avenue and Church Street. Clubs and bars and garishly dressed people walked up and down the sidewalks, skulking by the vigilant gaze of the police, and bouncing indoors to search for inebriation, companionship, or just the mindlessness brought on by dancing to the heavy thrum of bass and drum. Orange Avenue was already crowded at 11:00 and Church St. had been barricaded for hours, giving it a street party atmosphere, a bit of Mardis Gras in Florida.

The Club at Firestone was a gay dance club built in an old, abandoned Firestone tire warehouse. It was one of the most popular nightspots in Orlando, especially when it was straight, which it happened to be on that Friday night. Parking was Hell, but Alan paid out the required $ 5.00 and maneuvered his Ford Ranger pickup into the narrow space that was provided. He climbed out gingerly from the driver's seat and straightened out his clothing. He wore pleated, black slacks, supple black leather boots, a blinding white, high-collared shirt, and a silk vest of the deepest red, a shade of congealing blood. A small silver cross hung from his neck on a thick black thread, startlingly apparent on the white of his shirt, which was buttoned to the top. The clothes hung well on his slender frame. He smoothed back his short, brown hair and adjusted his thin wire frame glasses.

Nate emerged from the passenger side with a slam of the truck's door. He approached and looked at Alan, nodding. "I definitely approve. You may not go out much, but when you go, you go stylin'."

"Thank you." They walked to the front of the Club and joined the line that winded from the entrance. The heavy beat that emanated from behind the glass doors pounded the sidewalk, promising more to come. Power could be felt on the inside, and everyone in the line chattered excitedly. The line moved quickly and soon they were at the entrance. A burly guy with a short goatee checked their I.D.'s and then stamped their hands so that they could drink. They shelled out another $ 5.00 for the cover charge and walked into the Club.

While they still stood in the foyer, Nate turned to Alan and pulled him close. He looked directly into Alan's eyes strong enough to make Alan flinch. Nate strained to speak over the pounding techno dance music that poured from the main part of the Club, saying, "No physics."

Alan looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"When you meet a girl and you start talking, don't say anything about physics. It turns women off and it makes you look like a complete nerd."

"Hey! I have more to talk about than just about physics. I'm a well rounded conversationalist. I can hold my own."

"Good! Good, you do that." Nate patted him on the back and Alan could tell that he didn't believe him. They separated and walked into the main part of the club. The cavernous room was hung with maroon and purple drapes from every conceivable nook and cranny. Amid the bunched drapes were wall mounted candelabras with tiny, flickering electric bulbs. It gave the Club a very gothic feel, one of the reasons that it was so popular lately. In the upper reaches of the room, huge speakers, blinding lamps of every color, and scores of fanned lasers hung. These poured energy, light, and vibration onto the dancefloor with its teeming throng. The crowd ebbed and flowed, swaying and gesticulating at the behest of the warped, pounding beat. The people on the dancefloor were like a sea, tides pushing them around, and tossing them violently. The tide was not from some distant moon, though, but was from a greater power. The power of the Dance.

The motion humbled Alan and frightened him a little. It was so unlike the tranquility of the lab, the place where he was powerful. A feeling of panic welled up in him and he struggled to overcome it and not run screaming from the room. Searching for an inner peace, his mind stumbled across his thought experiment, a mystery that confounded him and defied explanation. It was a problem that had intrigued him from the first time that he had heard about it. Tossing the idea about always diverted his attention as he looked for answers, and it had the same effect now. His panic faded away and he grew calm as he mulled over his problem. His attention was focused so internally that he failed to notice that Nate had left his side until his friend returned and thrust a drink in front of his face. Alan looked warily at the yellow liquid supporting the ice in the glass and asked, "What is it?"

"Screwdriver. Drink up. You're going to need a little liquid courage." Alan took the drink and sipped the glass. It was too strong and the vodka burned down his throat. He looked at Nate who yelled, smiling, "Drink, boy!" Alan returned his smile and quickly swallowed the rest of the vodka and orange juice. He coughed and Nate shoved another glass in front of him. Alan took it without a word and tossed it back, faster than the first. Nate grinned like a devil who was about to make the sweetest deal of his life. "Why don't you go out and dance some and let the old elixer work its magic. I'm going to browse the store and see what's available." He arched his eyebrows. "I do not plan on going home alone tonight."

Alan nodded and moved into the crowd. The souls surrounding the dancefloor were like a beach before the sea. The waves eroded the beach's edge and pulled the writhing souls into the sea where the tide of the Dance took over. Alan perched on the edge of the precipice and waited until the tide returned.

It carried him deep into its midst.

Tony was such a bastard, thought Janet as she pushed through the crowd surrounding the bar. He had told her to meet him here at the Club at 10:00 and she had been a little late. She was worried that he would be sullen when she arrived, but she had not been prepared for what she did find. She wiped away a tear that was forming at the corner of her eye and squeezed into the crowd. The crowd convulsed at her intrusion, but its spasm deposited her in front of the bar. She waved the bartender down and demanded a Long Island Iced Tea. He complied and she shoved out money, unthinking. He handed back her change and she began sucking down the drink.

She had negotiated the crowd when she first arrived and had gone to the corner that they always went to. Tony had not been there. She had expanded her search and finally found him at the opposite corner. His back was to her and she admired his ass. Tony was tall and muscular and sexy as Hell. She thought that their relationship had a lot of potential and had developed well over the last two months. Then he had turned slightly.

Teri was such a bitch. She was all over him. Their lips were locked together, their mouths open, eyes closed in rapture. How could they do this to her, Janet thought. Tony was her boyfriend and Teri was one of her best friends. She had screamed and Tony had turned, an explanation on his lipstick smeared lips. Teri had grinned. That was when she had turned and headed for the bar.

Well she would show him, the bastard. She would find the sorriest, geekiest guy in the Club, and she would be all over him. She would show Tony what he meant to her. That would piss him off to no end, seeing his girlfriend hanging off the arm of a total nerd. Janet drained the rest of her drink and headed out to the dance floor.

Alan danced to the heavy techno beat and let it pound his worries from him. Soon he became a mindless part of the sea, not even thinking about the mystery. But eventually it faded and his mind returned. He always did think too damn much, he thought. He looked at the dancing sea. There were couples and their were single guys. Little knots of women danced together, excluding the predatory men who floated near like sharks. There were only a few women dancing by themselves and they had a look of hostile concentration on their faces as they danced. Alan made no move to dance with any of them, shy and afraid. Once again he felt alienated. He hated this place. His mind turned to the thought experiment and he thought that there might be a key to it here. There was so much energy out here, flowing from the dancers and mixing in the air above the floor, mingling with the fog from the smoke machines. The atmosphere throbbed with the power and threatened to explode. There was enough energy here to power whole cities, if only it could be collected and channeled. If only he could tap into that limitless energy that lurked within the Dancers. Was that what caused it?

Janet danced through the crowd, looking for her prey. She neatly rebuffed the men that came to her. She did not want the barricudas. She wanted the wall flower, the one who did not belong. Then she saw him. He was dressed nice, with a red vest and a crisp shirt. A cross flopped about on his chest as he danced about. His moves were uncontrolled, unsure. He was not a dancer, that was for sure. He looked as if he was thinking, forcing his thoughts on something else since he was clearly not enjoying where he was. What made her choose him was his face. He was not ugly, but his hollow cheeks, pale face, tousled hair, glasses, and long nose were stereotypically nerdy. He was perfect.

Alan's attention was drawn from the problem when he saw her. She was dressed in a skintight, blue leather dress that came to just below the curve of her ass. Her full breasts thrust against the material of the low necked dress and bounced enticingly as she danced toward him. Her long legs were hidden in black hose and he could see the muscles clench and release as they moved her closer. He looked into her face. She was beautiful with her smooth white skin, button nose, clear blue eyes, and luxurious blonde hair. She smiled at him.

She danced into him and pressed close. Her body was firm and soft at the same time and her hands ran all over him, cupping his buttocks and smoothing the cloth over his chest. They began to dance more slowly, together. She turned away from him and pressed her backside into his groin, gyrating and grinding against him. Nervous, he grasped her hips and gyrated with her. He could feel himself growing erect, and he was sure that she could feel it as well. She turned suddenly to face him and Alan grew red with embarassment. She flashed him a sultry grin. With a glance she made sure that Tony was watching her. Janet leaned in close and kissed the corner of Alan's mouth. She then pressed her cheek to his and nuzzled his ear. "Buy me a drink," she said. Alan nodded uncomprehendingly and he let her lead him from the dancefloor.

"Wh- wh- what do you want to, uh, drink?" he stammered.

"Long Island Iced Tea, please."

They stopped at a table away from the dancefloor and Alan left her side, promising that he would be right back. He made it to one of the Club's bars in a rare moment when no one was there. He ordered her drink and a Screwdriver for himself. As the bartender mixed them, Nate appeared at his side and clapped him on the back. "Man, I've struck out twice already, but you've hit gold! She is gorgeous, Alan. How did you do it?"

"I don't know! Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. What do I say to her?"

"Tell her you're a doctor."

"But, I'm not!"

"Yes you are! You have a doctorate."

"It's not the same thing."

"She doesn't know that. Alan she's probably wasted and doesn't give a damn what you do, but the doctor bit might put her over the edge. You could score tonight!"

Alan nodded and then smiled nervously. He took the drinks from the bartender and threw down a few bills. Alan negotiated the crowd and made it back to her. She accepted her drink and then pressed her body into his side. This was too much. He smiled broadly. She sipped her drink and then said above the din of the music, "I'm Janet Dakota."

"Hi! I'm Alan Seford. I'm, uh, a doctor."

"Really, a doctor?" she asked in her sultriest voice.

"Well, sort of. I'm a physicist. I work at the University of Central Florida."

"What do you do there?" Tony was at the fringe of the crowd, watching them. She smiled.

"I do particle physics research. But we don't have an accelerator, so we have to use cosmic rays coming from the sun. That's what my dissertation was about."

"Wow. Do you like that sort of thing?"

"Well, no, not really. I have a private project that I'm working on to occupy my time. A sort of a thought experiment."

"Oooh, a private project?" Janet squeezed the cheek of his butt. Tony was livid.

"Uh yeah. Have you ever heard of Spontaneous Human Combustion?"

"No, I guess not."

"Well, sometimes people just burst into flames for no apparent reason. It usually burns them up completely, but doesn't hurt their surroundings. I'm trying to figure out why that happens."

"Gee, it sounds like really important research."

Actually it sounded really weird, but she was anxious to get the guy excited. Tony looked like he was about to approach, and she wanted to lay it on thick.

Alan couldn't believe he was telling her this. The mystery was a private thing, but he had gone blank with her all over him like she was, and he was just babbling, nervous and desperate. "Well, its kind of fringe stuff really, but it's interesting. You wouldn't believe how much power is hidden in the human body, in the cells and atoms."

"Is there a lot of power in you?" She cupped his groin with her hand. Tony started to try to struggle through the crowd. The sea pushed him back and his efforts went unnoticed.

"You know, I think that people tap into a little of that power when they dance and when they have, uh, sex. I think that they just burn up when they lose control. If I could tap into that power and control it, then it would be the most important discovery of the twentieth century. Bigger than the Bomb."

Tony broke from the crowd and approached. She thought that Alan was a little strange, but he was a nice guy and she didn't want to see him get beat up. Janet leaned close. "Alan, wait here. I have to use the little girl's room." She left his side and Alan self conciously rearranged the seat of his pants. Janet met up with her boyfriend near the bathrooms. "Hey, Tony? How's Teri?"

"Who the Hell is that geek? Are you trying to ruin me? Everybody knows that you're my girlfriend."

"Tough shit."

Tony closed his eyes and then reopened them and gazed at her. His hazel eyes locked with her blue ones. "Baby, I'm sorry. I made a mistake. Teri threw herself all over me and I screwed up. It'll never happen again, I promise. But, I need you. You have to take me back."

Janet stared at him. She figured that she had punished him enough, and she could still hold this against him later. He was so cute, and he was hers again, body and soul. Janet moved into him and kissed him, deep and full. "Let me say goodbye to that guy and then we can go back to your place." Tony smiled.

Janet pushed through the beach surrounding the dancefloor and got back to Alan. He smiled when she came up. Janet leaned close and shouted over the music, "Alan, it's been really nice to meet you, but I have to go with my boyfriend now. Thanks for the dance, and good luck with your project."

Before he could reply, she fell back into the surging crowd. "Yeah, thanks," he said to the empty air. Janet walked back to Tony and kissed him. Then she decided to make him wait a bit longer before he got his hands on her. She broke through the crowd in front of the dance floor and swam through into the sea. The tide from the Dance pulled at her soul and she gave it up, dancing wildly, free.

Alan pressed into the crowd that formed the beach and watched her. The gothic setting of the Club no longer seemed stylish. Now it just depressed him. Her fluid dancing filled him with a longing. He looked at the members of the sea and saw them all moving with the tide of the Dance, tapping into the power that he sought. He just wanted to understand, to know the power which sometimes became too much and ignited human flesh. He wanted the answer to the mystery. Now his thought experiment angered him. Everything angered him. Just beyond the edge of his vision flowed the power that the dancers and the lovers knew so intimately. He would never know it. He would never control it.

Janet twisted, glided and shook. Power flowed from her, more than any of the others. She had tapped into it and used it to humble and control two men. She let her power expand and mix with the tide of the Dance, strengthening it. Alan felt it and it made him weep.

When his depression and grief and anger seemed as if it would smother him, he saw it. He saw the fountain, the source, the tap for the power within himself, and within everyone within the Club. It was a shining star, brighter than the sun, inside their souls, where only desire could reach. He had studied it so analytically over the years and he understood it more than anyone ever had before. Science had taught him that with understanding came control.

Alan smiled and wiped away his tears. He saw that he had collapsed onto the floor. The people on the edge of the sea were looking at him, concerned. He rose and looked at Janet, lost in the music and the dance. He blew a kiss to her and turned away.

Nate crashed into him with a brunette hanging from his arm. "Hey buddy, what's wrong?"

Alan wiped away a final tear and his broad smile filled his face. "I'm fine. Can we go to Eric's now?"

"Sure thing. What happened to the blonde?"

"I don't want to talk about it. Let's just go." Nate nodded and put his arm over his friend's shoulder. He introduced his companion to Alan as Teri.

Janet turned around wildly. She was positive that she had felt someone kiss her cheek, but there was no one nearby. She shrugged and then, smiling at Tony, she began to dance again. The tide pulled at her and she danced faster and faster. Her whirling paused as she saw Alan, another guy, and Teri walk out the door. No matter. She danced and danced, lost in the music. She felt something inside her, a sensation that this was the closest to God that she would ever get. There was a Power here, inside her, just like that guy had been talking about. It was better than sex, it was better than anything. It was the Dance.

The blue leather covering her taut stomach melted away. She stopped dancing and she heard several screams, as if from a distance, even though they came from the people right around her. An awful stench filled the air which was illuminated by a ghostly blue light. Then the pain hit her.

Janet collapsed to the ground as she was consumed. Flames like from an acetylene torch sprang from the gaping hole in her stomach, a hole which grew every moment as she crumpled into ash. The fire spread along her flesh as if she was a fuse. The flooring beneath her melted and people nearby were scorched, but the flames were confined to her body. Tony rushed up to her quickly disappearing form. He came too close and the flame lashed out in anger and burned the flesh from his face. He fell to the ground, screaming in agony. Janet's own screams had already been cut short.

The fire began to fade as it flashed from her fingers and toes. As her hair and nails curled into ash, the arcing flames died out completely. Where Janet had been was only a heated pile of fine embers, another piece in an old mystery.

The cool rifts of Chicago blues washed over the trio. Fragrant smells wafted from the open kitchen as Eric cooked up his gourmet fare. Paintings of famous blues and jazz artists covered the walls and were designed to pull one's eyes to the tiny stage. Bluenight, a halfway decent local blues band switched from the Chicago rythyms and tried some Stevie Ray Vaughn on for size. It fit well.

Alan sipped a cup of butterscotch cappucino on the patio, enjoying the balmy Florida night. He grinned at his companions, who were hunting for matches. Nate turned to him. "Alan, do have a light?"

"Sure." Teri leaned forward to have her narrow cigarette lit. Alan cupped his hands beneath her chin. A thin tongue of flame leapt out of his palms and licked the end of her cigarette, setting it afire. Nate looked wide eyed at him, but Alan only shrugged and grinned. He brushed his hands clean from the bit of carbon there and took another sip from his warm cup. Bluenight crooned out "Tin Pan Alley" to the accompaniment of the fire trucks and ambulances down the street. The sirens wailed and Alan smiled.

Copyright 1997 by Thomas Allen Mays

About the Author: "I am an Ensign in the U. S. Navy posted to the USS STETHEM. I am from Texas and have B.S. in Physics from UTA. I am currently stationed in Newport, RI but I will soon be moving to San Diego. I am 25 years old. I am also a student pilot and an amateur fencer."

You can E-mail Tom Mays by clicking here.

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