Boy In The Bubble

Cold metal against his naked back; cold air against his skin. Warm, I'm supposed to be warm. They said I'd be warm when brought me out of it. He tried to talk and choked on phlegm; he turned his head to the side and retched and spat, clearing his throat; he lay still for a moment, concentrating on normal breathing. The gravity was stronger than normal. It isn't supposed to feel like this.

"Take your time. Don't overdo it." An unfamiliar voice, a woman. "Can you open your eyes?"

He expected a bright light shining down on him, but instead he was greeted by a dim, warm red light. Instead of the ship's medical bay, he found himself in a strange compartment with rounded edges and a large window through which he saw only darkness. Instead of the Doctor…

She was pretty, young, wore no makeup, and her blond hair hung straight. He asked, "Who are you? I don't recognize you."

"We've never met."

"I know everyone aboard."

"You're not aboard the ship anymore."

He pushed himself up into a sitting position. "Where am I? Where's my uniform?"

She came closer, handed him a bundle of clothing. "This should fit. I don't know if it's yours or someone else's."

It was a maintenance jumper, with a patch on the breast pocket that said 'Haraldsson'. It felt odd, made from the wrong material, but it was only one size too big. "It'll do." He swung his legs around to hang over the edge of the table and fed his legs into the jumper. The woman watched him, unmoving, with a clinical detachment that reminded him of… what? He wasn't sure.

"You're not from the ship, then who are you? And where am I? Where is this?"

"It's probably best you take things slowly—"

"I'd appreciate an answer." He pushed himself off the table, onto his feet, and immediately felt dizzy. "I—" Her arms were around him; she was strong, stronger than normal, and her skin felt wrong. "What…"

"I'm artificial. They—" she nodded towards the dark window "—can't speak your language, their mouths are the wrong shape. They needed to be able to talk to you. But it's not time for that yet. You need to recover your strength."

"What happened?"

"Your navigation computer malfunctioned after launch. The colony ship missed turnover and continued past its target system at point eight seven five c. They intercepted it some time later." She moved him back so that he was leaning against the table. "All the stasis pods had failed in the interim except yours."

"How long ago? How long has it been?"

"Forty-three thousand, nine hundred and sixty-one years in transit, not accounting for time dilation effects. Another three while they studied you in stasis and built me to interact with you."

His head swam; he felt oncoming nausea.

"They're prepared to make you very comfortable here. There are plans to adjust the gravity so—"

"They should have just pulled the plug."

SF Drabble #404 "Comfort Food"

The waiter, a Yourian, waddled over to our table; through the translator disc, she asked, "What can I get for you today?"

The menu was printed in the Polixaci trade koinĂ©: symbols and wavy lines and color gradients. The pictures were no more helpful. I sputtered, "Uh… what's good?"

"We're known for our boiled shwill. And our fundlebrack. And the crottled greeps are fresh." She watched us try to look those dishes up in our travel guides, and sighed. "You're humans, right? We have meat loaf."

"What's the meat?"

"Something called a 'cattle'. I've never tried it."

"We'll take two."

Zombie Drabble #407 "Sister Mary Catherine Rose"

The young man leans his AR-15 against the side of the truck, and helps her step down from the passenger's seat: she is old, and slow-moving, and brittle-boned, and patient. "Where am I going?"

"Through there, Sister." He points, and then picks up his rifle. She pats him on the shoulder and makes her way, step by step, towards the grocery story entrance. Inside is a pile of corpses that until recently were zombies.

She will read them their last rites while the young women pack canned food into boxes; she has until the shooting starts to complete the task.

Event Zero

John knocks like only John knocks: as if there's a monster stalking him through the apartment building halls, and he's run up the stairs while it was in the elevator, and he's looking over his shoulder while knocking and dreading the ding of the elevator arriving. That's how John knocks. When he's stoned and half-asleep, he knocks the same.

He also, apparently, sometimes yells, "Let me the fuck in!" At least he did this time.

I opened the door and John brushed past me and pushed the door out of my hand and closed. He locked all three locks and then leaned in to listen at the door.

"John, what the—"

"Shh!"

After a moment, he seemed to relax somewhat. Somewhat for John, everything being relative. He flopped onto the couch and started rooting through his bag. "Do you remember Rigoni's Second Theorem?"

"John, I didn't go to MIT with you, remember? I went to art school. What are you doing in New York?"

"Ugh. Okay. So, Rigoni." John squared his shoulders and took a breath and started the lecture. "He says you can exist in more than one place at a time, so long as those places are adjacent in the fourth dimension. So—"

"Sounds reasonable."

"Don't mock this." He stared at me, shook his finger. He seemed almost schoolmasterish, if that's a word. "It might be important later. I need you to do something for me. If I can find it."

"It's not drugs, is it?" I asked, half-hoping it was drugs. John hooked me up with a brick of hash once that had lasted all summer. "Is it drugs?"

"It's not." He pulled a small box from his bag. It was taped shut, and he held it like it was a ticking bomb. "It's the prototype."

"Of what?"

"Rigoni, Freddy, Rigoni. The prototype makes any two points adjacent, fourth-dimensionally speaking. You just tell it what two points. Right now it's set for my lab in California and Mom's place over in Park Slope."

"So you used this thing to come here from California?"

"No, no, I'm still in California, I'm just also here." He got up, listened at the door. "But they're coming, so I have to get rid of it."

"What do you mean, who's coming?"

"They're not coming here, they're coming to the lab. Freddy, if they get their hands on this, it'll be bad. They won't know how to handle it. Do you still work with metal? Do you have the smelter?"

"Sure. At the studio."

"Take it, drop it in. Do it now, today."

"What happens to you?"

"I don't know. Either there'll be one of me, in California, or two of me, one there and one here, or I'll get ripped apart, quantum-wise. Or the universe will. It'll be one of those." He sighed. "Probably the first one. Or the second."

"…Okay, I guess."

"And Freddy…" He put his hands on my shoulders, "Don't open the box. Really don't open the box."

Orthodoxy

The blindfold came off, but he instantly squeezed his eyes shut: there was a bright light in front of him, shining directly at his face.

"Better to keep them open, let them adjust," said a terrifyingly friendly voice.

He opened them into a squint. The edges of his vision resolved into shapes, the shapes resolved into people. One of them, a man standing against the wall, checked his watch. "Let's get on with it."

"Right." The first voice belonged to a balding man sitting across the table; he was a touch heavy, but otherwise thoroughly nondescript. "Mr. Ordry, do you know why you're here?"

"Not really, no."

"I think you do. The computer thinks you do too. Heart rate, blush response, eye movement. it's all right here." He pointed to a datapad on the table in front of him. "There are more sensors taped to your skin right now than I have in my car. And it's a nice car, Mr. Ordry."

"Congratulations."

"I think he's got a smart mouth," the watch-checker opined.

"Mr. Ordry, let me ask you again. Do you know why you're here?"

"I honestly can't think of a good reason."

"Listen, pal." The standing man had stepped forward, grabbed the lamp and pushed it closer, angled it to maximize its dazzling effect. "You'd best be advised to cooperate. This interview can get very uncomfortable, very quick. Am I making myself clear?"

"I think so."

"Good." He stepped back, leaving the lamp in place.

"Now then." The seated man smiled. "Why don't you tell me why you think you're here."

"I refused to take the CSFT during my review. Then they made me take it or I'd be fired. I guess I didn't do so well."

"You didn't. You didn't do at all well, Mr. Ordry." The seated man shook his head. "The Comprehensive Spiritual Fitness Test is an important tool for weeding out problematic employees. And citizens, for that matter, Mr. Ordry."

"Whatever."

"You're a dangerous man, Mr. Ordry."