“The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”
― George Carlin
An old picture I took out my car window while waiting in a drive thru ATM.
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#95) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Aaron Goodpaster stared at the paperwork on his desk – the power bill for the company headquarters building. It was astronomical. Something was wrong. Someone down in the Innovation Laboratory had used enough power to light up a medium sized city. That someone had to be Sammy VonSmults.
Goodpaster’s phone buzzed. It was his assistant.
“Mister VonSmults is here to see you,” the voice said.
“Good, I was thinking about him right now. Please, buzz him in.”
The door immediately burst open and Sammy VonSmults tumbled into Goodpaster’s office.
“Dammit Sam! Look at this!” Goodpaster shook the power bill in the air.
“Hey! That’s no way to greet an old friend. Especially one that has invented and built something that will make us all rich beyond our wildest dreams.”
“I’ve heard that before. Besides, my dreams are pretty wild.”
“But you’ve never even dreamed anything like this before… I know you haven’t.”
Sammy moved around Goodpaster’s desk. He was waving something in the air. It looked like a simple picture frame, about a foot and a half square. He held it up in front of Goodpaster so he could get a good look at it. It was a simple metal frame, made of some copper-gold colored material. As VonSmults moved it around, the colors shifted in a sort of rainbow effect… blue, green, purple, the iridescence seemed to race around the frame.
“Look, look through the frame,” VonSmults said.
“I don’t see anything… I mean I see right through it, there’s nothing there.”
“Exactly, there’s nothing there. Here, now, hold it in front of your face and keep looking through.”
Goodpaster held the frame, it was strangely heavy and it seemed to throb internally in some strange way. VonSmults suddenly thrust his hand through the frame and grabbed Goodpaster’s nose.
“Hey! Cut that out!”
“Okay,” VonSmults pulled his hand back, “Now watch this. Don’t let go”
He ran his finger along the top and then the bottom of the frame, flicking a hidden tiny latch each time. Half of the frame came away and VonSmults backed up with the second half of the frame in front of his face. Goodpaster suddenly felt dizzy. As he looked through his frame he saw VonSmults’ face right in front of him, even though the rest of him was quickly backing clear across the room. Suddenly, VonSmults again thrust his hand through the frame and it emerged from the other half frame clear across the room and again tweaked Goodpaster’s nose.
“Shit!” Screamed Goodpaster, throwing the frame away. VonSmults quickly pulled his hand out before the frame clattered to the floor.
“Hey, be careful. That could have hurt. Whatever happens once my hand goes through the frame happens to me.”
“What the crap is that!”
“I have developed a way to take a standing quantum meson wave, confine it to a simple plane suspended between the two frames, and then clone it. The two halves of the frame become the same place in space and time. What goes in one side, comes out the other, even when the two are separated. Light, sound, even physical objects. In one, out the other. Same both ways.”
“You have got to be kidding.”
“Obviously not. It isn’t perfected yet. The two halves must be within a few hundred yards of each other or the field fails. It regenerates once they come back within range, though. That’s as big of a frame as I can do so far. I think I can go bigger and with more range, but the power requirements to create and stabilize the planar wave are astronomical.”
“Now, That I know.” Goodpaster waved the power bill again.
“Jesus! Aaron, you’re worried about a power bill? This is the most important invention in the history of science. That is chump change. Think of the implications for communications, for travel, for espionage.”
Goodpaster had calmed down enough to start to understand what VonSmults was talking about. He thought quickly and deeply while watching VonSmults pick up both halves of the frame and snap them together.
“Now, I think I’m beginning to understand. First, who have you told about this?”
“The only one that knows about it is my research assistant, Sheri Gompers. And that skinny runt won’t know what to do about it.”
“What have you done with the process itself?”
VonSmults tapped his head. “In here. Only in here. I know you too well, Aaron. I’ve known you way too long. I promise you, I will not write anything down until we have everything all settled. I don’t want you walking away with this like you have everything else. This secret.is mine and I’m not going to let you get your grubby paws on any of it without a guarantee of my fair share.”
Goodpaster let himself smile a bit. “I promise, I don’t want to cheat you out of anything that is properly yours. First, I want to remind you that you are an employee of Yoyodyne, your work is property of Yoyodyne, and I am Yoyodyne.”
“You see, that’s why I keep the process up here and not on paper. You’d dump me faster than last week’s garbage. We are in this together. There will be enough to go around.”
“You’re going to have to let me think about this,” Goodpaster said. “And in the meantime…” he gestured at the frame in VonSmults’ hands.
“We split this,” he said and unfastened the two halves. “You keep one half and I’ll keep one. And I don’t want you to know where.” He slipped each half into a padded Manila envelope and handed one over.
As soon as VonSmults had left Goodpaster walked to the wall and swung a Klee print away and spun the dial of the safe behind. He slid the envelope in and turned back to his desk to sit and think. He tore two yellow legal pages from a pad and wrote on the top of one, “Legitimate Uses,” and on the other, “Criminal Uses.” He started making the lists.
The “Legitimate” page was only half full and he had started the third page of the other when the light on his phone started to blink. It was VonSmults. He hit the voice button. A startled voice screamed out, “Aaron!” when there was a loud crashing boom and the phone went dead. He jumped up from his desk but before rushing out, he stared at the wall safe and decided he had better take the frame with him. He picked up a sturdy leather briefcase and slid the envelope inside.
The building was in a turmoil. As he neared the Innovation Lab he could hear the screams and see the shocked ashen faces on the other workers. He looked in to see Sammy VonSmults spread across the floor, a giant hole blown in his midsection. There was blood everywhere. He quickly looked around for the other half of the frame but could find nothing. He figured that if the killer had the frame, he would be coming for his half next and Goodpaster didn’t want to be around when he was found out. It was easy to move through the confusion and get to the front door of the building.
The summer heat on the sidewalk hit him like a blast furnace. The sidewalk was crowded and down the street some local street kids had opened a fire hydrant and a giant gush of water shot out and formed a river along the gutter, sloshing up around the tires of the parked cars. Kids were jumping, screaming, and splashing, trying to fight the heat. Goodpaster began to move along the sidewalk as quickly as he could. He knew he had to get away, someplace random, someplace away from the other half of the frame before the killer caught up with him. Then he could settle down and plan his next move properly.
Suddenly, his briefcase exploded. Something, blew outward, shattering a hole in the side of the case and spraying metal against the side of the building, shattering the thick reflective glass. Goodpaster realized that it must have been a shotgun blast fired through the frame. He thought of VonSmults and realized the same person must have blasted him at point-blank range while he was trying to make his call. The remains of the briefcase opened up on its shattered hinges and the tattered envelope fell, discharging the metal frame onto the sidewalk. Goodpaster bent over, thankful that it had fallen face down. The killer with the other half of the frame would be looking at a bare concrete sidewalk. He thought quickly, fighting back panic and looking around. Where was the shooter? He could be anywhere. Suddenly, Goodpaster had an idea.
As quickly as he could, he snatched up the frame, holding it by the edges. He leaped sideways toward the fire hydrant, shouldering a kid out of the way, and thrust the frame down and into the powerful stream of water. The torrent suddenly disappeared – swallowed up completely by the frame.
At the same instant, a car ten yards or so down the street exploded. The windshield flew outward, followed by a foaming torrent of water. A nasty looking double barreled sawed off shotgun was borne on this fountain, flying out and clattering onto the sidewalk. The door then burst open and a wave of water surged out, carrying a drenched and pitiful looking skinny woman in a lab coat.
“Sheri!” yelled Goodpaster. “You killed him!”
“You bastard,” was all she could muster. Goodpaster knew she was angry, but she sounded more soggy than threatening. With surprising pluck she raised herself up and began running down the sidewalk, away from Goodpaster. He noticed she was running with the metal frame held in both hands in front of her. He looked into his half and saw that she was holding it pointing towards herself. A mistake.
He braced himself and thrust a fist through his frame, connecting with Sheri’s stomach a half block down the sidewalk. She collapsed to the sidewalk and it was surprisingly easy for Goodpaster to get a firm grip on her narrow throat and clamp down. He had never killed anyone before and imagined that it would be tough to strangle somebody – but it was actually pretty easy. Especially someone that had killed his only friend and true rival. Especially someone that had tried to blast him with a shotgun through a standing quantum meson wave.
It was surprisingly easy to strangle someone with your bare hands when they are almost a half-block away from where you are standing.