Discovered Upon Drawing a Curtain

Author : J. R. Salling

A large ripe melon rests on an operating table. Members of the surgical team stand in the wings, preparing long serrated knives. Spotlights illuminate chunks of crushed ice that slip down the sides of the patient. My mouth becomes moist in sympathy. I take another step forward when the nurse’s hateful expression stops me. I have trespassed.

She points to the sign threatening unauthorized personnel. “Can’t you read?”

In answer to her question I retreat to the waiting area, sit down again, and pick up my book. When she fails to notice I rattle the pages. This releases a faint odor of formaldehyde, which makes me think of Kate.

Kate would have loved this book. It has such an interesting typography. Sometimes I piece letters together and make a word, but not often. There’s no need. The important thing, I tell myself, is to forget the other room.

The man sitting beside me suffers from an insatiable curiosity. I have already told him the title of the book. “Honestly,” he says, “when do you find the time?”

I shrug.

He fills the void himself. “I used to have plenty, then lost it all. Every last minute. There’s not a cure, you know.”

This information angers me. “I’m not sick,” I insist.

“Exactly,” he says and smiles, revealing black teeth. From the pocket of his sweatpants he retrieves a partially consumed strand of licorice and wrestles off another bite. The blackness oozes from his open lips as he chews.

One of the surgeons emerges and delivers hurried instructions to the nurse. There must be trouble, I decide. The nurse pops up and disappears into a long empty corridor. When the squeaking of her shoes becomes faint I make my move into the restricted area.

It appears that I am too late. The procedure has begun, the rib cage of the melon spread open to reveal its inner secrets. Wondering where the operating team has gone, I push on into the theatre.

For a brief moment I see Kate lying there in a contented if somewhat waxen pose. My head swims. I fight it off and inch closer, blocking the light, so that I can no longer tell who or what is being operated upon.

When my lips make contact, just brushing the exposed tissue, the melon reappears. Angry electronic noises rake my ears. I stagger backwards, my eyes shut.

The blindness is somehow comforting, but does not last.

“There’s no cure!” I hear the man from the waiting room scream. “There’s no cure.”

“I’m not sick!” I want to shout, but I know that it is a lie.

A curtain slides back and the nurse reappears. She picks up a bowl of moist, pink, fleshy chunks and creeps toward me, baring her teeth like a mad dog.

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The Danger of Hubris

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I am very, very sorry. What else can I say? If it means anything, at least I will die before you. I probably only have a few hours left…just enough time to tell you what happened, and to ask for your forgiveness.

I am (actually, was) a graduate student of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Cambridge. My Ph.D. thesis involved achieving absolute zero in the laboratory. Others scientists have gotten close. My colleges at the Helsinki University of Technology got down to 0.000000001 K. But my technique was a quantum leap beyond theirs. I could suspend all atomic motion. The electrons, protons, and neutrons would be instantly locked into place. No motion, no temperature. I had already prepared my Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

I was completely certain that my technique would work. What I wasn’t sure about was what would become of my my 1 gram target of osmium. My gut told me nothing would happen. I’d just have 1 gram of very cold metal. But, like any great scientist, I had to consider all possibilities. There was a slim chance that the electrons could collapse into the protons, giving me 1 gram of neutronium, i.e., a mini-neutron star. Since a neutron has more mass than one proton plus one electron, I’d have to supply additional energy. You know, the e=mc2 stuff. Then, when I ended my experiment, the neutronium (being unstable), would revert back to protons and electrons, and I’d have to dissipate the energy. Nothing I couldn’t handle. So, this morning, I performed the experiment.

At the critical moment in the experiment, something catastrophic happened. I had overlooked the obvious. I had not considered the effect my experiment would have on the elementary particles (quarks and leptons) and I had assumed neutrons were the ultimate termination point. When absolute zero was achieved, my osmium collapsed past neutronium into a singularity. With nothing to contain the singularity, gravity caused it to drop toward the center of the Earth. In the second it took to descended through the lab bench and the floor, sucking in everything in its path, it exposed me to a lethal dose of X-rays and gamma rays. In freefall, with nothing of consequence to slow it down, the singularity will reach the core in a few minutes. It will shoot past, stop somewhere near the upper end of the southern mantle, and return through the core again, continuing the cycle for hours. Eventually, it will settle down at the precise center of the Earth. Then, over the next few days, it will devour the core, the mantle, the crust, and the atmosphere. The Earth will shrink from its current 8,000 mile diameter to an infinitesimal speck. The astronauts in the space station may live to see it, but you won’t. The earthquakes, the tsunamis, the volcanoes, and the radiation will end your innocent lives long before the conclusion of this tragedy.

But, as I said, I am very, very sorry.

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Mobius Revisited

Author : LaTosha Hall

The three children stared at the table top.

“How’s it doin’ that?” the fair haired boy whispered, reaching two fingers out towards the dull metal object floating above the center of the cracked table. The only girl of the group, tall and gangly, squatted down, peering under the table.

“It’s got to be some sort of trick… you know, like magic tricks on TV,” she muttered, touching the wood of the table top from underneath. The darkhaired boy, runt of the litter, took a step back. Visibly nervous, he shoved his hands in his pockets.

“Told you we wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said, his voice cracking into splintered tones.

A distant hum became faintly louder as the three stared at it. The fair haired boy’s fingers lightly brushed the edge of the metal, and it bobbed slightly. The hum began to sound like audible chanting, voices from far away. The children couldn’t quite make out what it said, but the dark haired boy had had enough. He bolted through the empty rotting rooms, out into the cool evening air where only the wind was heard. About 30 feet from the broken door of the abandoned house, he turned, expecting his friends behind him. Only the gaping windows followed him. He sat down in the dirt path, waiting.

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Next of Kin

Author : Ashley Bonkajo

The old woman had not been seen for quite a while. Nor was it unusual for a person to not be seen for months at a time. Robot or (for the very wealthy) android assistants handled the details of day to day life.

The old woman had not answered the door when a server had tried to present her with a summons to appear over the unpaid rent. Some few legal issues were conducted solely face to face.

The owner of the building sent for the police to look into the matter of the unanswered summons. An assistant was dispatched with a master key to let the police, and subsequently, the paramedics into the apartment.

They found that she had died in her sleep some weeks ago.

A smaller assistant robot was standing near the gurney crying. It was one of the earlier models with a flat screen display for facial expression. Blue animated tears spattered from down-turned crescent eyes. A larger crescent for the mouth also denoting sadness. If it had been a later model, it would have been wailing as well.

“Sergeant, I can’t find a listing for next of kin.”

“That’s alright.”

Looking at the small assistant which was still running the animation of tears.

“I think they already know.”

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Renegotiations

Author : Benjamin Fischer

Basajaun sighed and rubbed the sweat from under his eyes. A shadow had fallen across reflected rays of his private sun.

“What is it you want?” he asked, blinking and groggy.

The shade resolved itself into the slim image of a woman standing over him.

“Mr. Miquel, I am Yasamin Judd,” she said. Mocha skin, some sort of South Asian. Medium of height, medium build, dressed in a generic gray skintight softsuit that could have belonged to one of a thousand extraterran concerns.

“They always send a pretty one,” Basajaun muttered.

“The spa staff granted me entrance,” Yasamin said.

Basajaun grunted and made no attempt to cover himself. Lying flat and naked on a cedar deck chair, he rubbed his belly.

“You are from Palamos?” he asked her.

“Yes, I represent the Pioneer Union of Palamos.”

Basajaun fumbled around at his side.

“Pioneer Union. Hmph,” he said, bringing a bulb of oil up to his prominent stomach and farting out a glob onto his belly button.

“We wish to renegotiate-” Yasamin continued.

“Renegotiate,” Basajaun said, an ugly look on his face like he’d just caught a whiff of something foul.

“Yes,” said Yasamin.

“Have you read the contract?” Basajaun asked the woman. He began to rub the oil in slow circles around his paunch.

“Yes-”

“Then there is nothing to renegotiate,” Basajaun said. “The contract explains all.”

Yasamin made to open her mouth again, but he waved her off.

“No renegotiation,” he said. “If you had found nothing on that rock, would you come running to me? No. You would have taken my wages and been happy for them. But now that there is copper and platinum at Palamos and you grow greedy.”

“We are not looking for a higher percentage,” Yasamin replied with patience.

“Bullshit,” Basajaun barked. “I have hired gypsies and tinkers and jews before–you always want more.”

“Sir, the Union remains ever grateful for your employment,” Yasamin said.

“Then be silent,” he replied.

“We are,” said Yasamin. “These negotiations exist purely between us. The Union does not wish to give the appearance of labor difficulties at Palamos.”

Basajaun rotated a pair of beady eyes onto the woman.

“So that’s your threat?” he said.

Yasamin shifted on her feet.

“What to you want?” Basajaun asked.

“Rights to the asteroid,” Yasamin said.

“Minus the heavy metals?” he replied.

“Mineral rights will be maintained per the existing contract,” she answered.

Basajaun shut his eyes and sighed.

“I don’t understand–that rock is worth shit without the platinum,” he murmured. “And that’s all you want.”

“We want a place to call home,” Yasamin replied.

Basajaun shook his head.

“The membership of the Pioneer Union consists mostly of refugees,” started Yasamin.

“I know, I know,” said Basajaun. “Those without hope will work in the worst places for the worst pay. I know this–it is why I hired you.”

He paused.

“Finish the extraction a month before the scheduled time and the rock is yours,” he said.

“Thank you, sir-”

“Go away. I have to tan my ass,” Basajaun said.

Yasamin nodded politely and backed out of the sun booth. Basajaun could see that she was trying not to smile too broadly.

When she was gone, Basajaun looked up at the heavy mirror high above him. There the sun blazed away, its glare beading up the sweat on his cheeks and his chest. Almost hidden in its rays was a tiny sliver of blue and white where the ruins of a flooded Costa Brava fishing village lay blistering under a similar heat.

The deck chair creaked like the worn planks of an old trawler.

Basajaun sighed and rolled over.

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