The Short Stories I Didn’t Intend to Write

I’m working on a short story. It’s the kind of thing that’s only very, very vaguely science-fiction, and it’s longer than most of the things I’ve done for the blog. It also has a very different tone.

It’s the kind of year when everything connects to everything else, whether you want it to, or not. Whether you expected it to, or not. I started out with a nice story about llamas eating ice cream, and I wound up with a story about immigrants. What I’m working on now started as a not-so-nice alternate future history… alternate future? Whatever you call it, when it’s a future talking about a history that is past in the future, but still future in the present? And that’s probably about the environment and pipelines.

Maybe if I wrote something unpleasant about politics, I’d wind up with something fanciful and delightful, involving talking frogs, and possibly a dancing unicorn. I don’t know.

Having just updated my progress report for the 52 week challenge, I realize that I am, in fact, only one short-story behind. (plus or minus some editing.) I feel much more behind than that. It is still very possible that I will manage to catch up.

So, I have short stories, and I’m beginning to think about looking for a home for them. I would like to pull in some writing credits–they’re always so shiny–and frankly, I’d like to get paid. So, I’m looking at things that look good on a resume (or query letter) and things that would let me into the professional associations of my dreams. (well, my ego. My dreams are much more interesting than that.)

I’ll post something, when I sell one. You don’t have to read that post; you’ll probably have heard me jumping up and down screaming, anyway. No matter where you live.

 

The Poisoner of Time

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It was nearly midnight before the first fatal drops splattered from the rattling still.

The old woman checked the door, but she was alone. Her husband was long since in bed, the cat was locked safely in the cellar, and the most lethal poison in the world was gathering in the bottom of one of her grandmother’s rose tea cups. And her other self? The harried young woman she’d been all those years ago? She wouldn’t be there. That was certain. The old woman no longer remembered exactly where she had been that week, but somewhere else. A business trip, probably. There had been so many of those, and always, the promise was later… always, later…

The old woman scoffed, and adjusted the fire under the still.

Later. When? After she got pregnant, she’d worked even harder. A baby to support. A new house. A newer, safer car. They’d both worked harder, and they told each other they’d relax later. In time, when things would be better, and they’d all be secure. The baby was born, they hired a sitter, and kept working.

The baby grew, and changed, and said his first words. The sitter took video.

By then, she’d regretted all those days and nights she spent working.

The sitter went home. The baby got sick. The husband packed him into a warm car on a cold, winter night, and disappeared too fast down a too icy road.

And then, Time. Tick by tick, second by second, she moved further and further away from them. The love of her life—she’d always taken him for granted—and their child—more and more Time between them.

She learned to fight her way backward through time, like running the wrong way up an escalator. She could get close – now and then, she could see them on the other side of the years and decades.

And then, she slipped back. The currents carried her away again and again.

She was still young, when the first strange optimism entered her mind: Time separated them. Time, and only Time. And if Time could be destroyed… if she could end Time… or even just wound Him, there would be nothing left to keep them apart. She could be with her family again.

She plotted—how to reach Time, how to brew poison strong enough to kill Time, itself, how to sneak into the palaces of eternity unnoticed.

And after she made her plans, she’d waited longer. No one would suspect a gray old woman of carrying poison in her tea. No one would suspect a single thing.

She walked deliberately, so slowly, that at times, she believed she would die before she ever reached Time. Step by step, carefully… if she splashed—if she spilled a single drop–the poison that was brewed to kill an immortal could overcome a thousand, a million aging mortals like her.

She teetered down to the end of the corridor, pushed open the last door, and stepped inside the dimly lit room.

And then, there was Time.

He lay, half-exhausted on a feather bed. Slender, almost delicate, though the lithe muscles in his legs and back suggested a runner’s strength.

He looked—she thought, just for a moment—like her own baby might have looked at twenty or twenty-five, if he had lived long enough to grow so tall and strong.

She pushed the thought out of her mind. The poison trembled in her cup: another second longer, and her own strength might vanish; she could collapse and spill the poison on herself. She inhaled, lifted the cup, as if she were about to drink, and then flung the liquid, cup and all, across the empty space between them.

The poison splashed across Time’s back, and seared the flesh it touched; the cup bounced on the mattress, and then rolled over the edge. It fell fast, but, just before it should have hit the marble floor, it stopped falling. It stopped falling. Everything stopped.

In the motionless silence that followed, the old woman laughed; her enemy was dead. There wasn’t a second of Time between herself and… Her family, her husband, her baby… They were all in that one, single Now. Now was all… the teacup was floating in air. Not falling. There was no Time for anything to fall. Not anymore. Time was dead.

She laughed again.

Running footsteps on the floor behind her. A man or a god swept her out of the way. Before she could say anything, he rolled the corpse onto its back, and pounded on Time’s chest with his fists. He pressed his mouth to Time’s lips. A kiss, perhaps, or maybe resuscitation. She knew the effort wouldn’t work; the new god was already kneeling in her poison.

“Mortal, you fool!” He compressed Time’s chest again, and again, nothing. Nothing, and the teacup didn’t fall an inch. “You fool. Don’t you know what you’re made of? What they’re all made of?”

“Flimsy things, I know.” She took a step backward. “And yet, here you are. Take him, Death.”

“Death?” The god’s voice was thinner than before, and a cold sparkle In his eyes was already fading. He sank onto the pillows, and let his eyelids close. “No, woman. I wasn’t Death. I was Memory.”


The elegant room faded into white tile and florescent lights, and then, it slipped away all together.

She’d been somewhere else.

She knew she—

Somewhere… hadn’t she just been somewhere else?

She tried to get up. Tried to find someone she didn’t see. She couldn’t remember who.

And then, a bland young woman in a too-cheerful set of hospital scrubs was there beside her, coaxing her back into the chair she’d just left.

“That cup never broke,” the old woman said, and smiled. She knew that much, at least. That was the important part of the thing. “You know that old rose tea cup? The antique one? It–

“Your cup is perfectly safe,” the bland woman said, and patted her hand.

 

 

Be sure you visit the other writers in the StoryTime Blog Hop for more stories!

New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
The Thief & The Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
Hello Again! by J. Q. Rose
Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary
Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
Last Stop by Erica Damon
Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush

The Christmas Invertebrate and Other Delusions

For my first 52 Week Challenge thing, I started writing a short story. By the time you read this, the short story will be finished, maybe edited and formatted, and I’ll be looking for a good home for it. If you know of anyone who’s looking to make a movie, give them my e-mail. Yup, I know it’s a long shot.

It’s a Christmas story, of all things.

Well, you know… Christmas on a spaceship. With aliens… or at least… Sorta… Christmas as celebrated by sentient invertebrates who learned about the holiday entirely through cheesy romance novels and the occasional television commercial.

No, I don’t know why.

Yes, I’ll seek professional help.

Editors are professionals, right?

I’m having fun with this one.

Getting Back to Work is Hard to Do

Why is it that good habits are so much easier to break than bad ones?

Let me lay it out for you.

My pattern is this:1.) Get into a good writing habit. 2.) Stop to revise. 3.) Really, really stop to revise. Farewell, new words. 4.)  Fail to make revision a measurable part of my routine. 5.) Try to figure out what happened to the good habit just broke into a million pieces.

Get into a good writing habit. I’m actually pretty good at that. When I’m working on those first-draft word counts, I’ll hit a thousand words or more a day. That’s a lot. In the course of a year, it can add up to more than a quarter of a million words.

Stop to revise.  Well… that seems pretty necessary. Especially for someone who’s been known to cram twenty-seven murder scenes or  five versions of the same proposal into one book.

Really, really stop to revise.  This is where things start going wrong. The word count drops off, and I don’t really land in the next project with any kind of wits about me.

And then… well, just exactly how do you measure revision goals? What do you do to make sure you do enough? And how do you keep track?  Pretty soon, I’m not writing new words, and I’m not revising, either. I don’t switch back and forth all that well.

And that’s it. Progress is slow–or maybe just not noticeable enough–and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Right now, I’m in the revision stage. I would like to finish my novel. Finish-finish. High-shine polish finished. Elegance and refinement finished.

I keep looking for that perfect balance.

Maybe the short stories I’ve promised to write are it. Something I can finish in an afternoon when I’m not revising.

Maybe short stories will be just enough to prime the pump.

We’ll see.

Suggestions and advice welcome.

Today Is My Day!!!

For the last couple of years, I’ve participated in the Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. It’s a literary countdown to Christmas, and every day, there’s a different short-story. I think it leans toward the Sci-Fi Fantasy end of the spectrum, but I’ve never really done the math.

Today is my day.

The door opened, and there I am. Me and my short story about a nose hair trimmer. If you subscribed to the newsletter at the beginning of the month, you also got my fabulous recipe for puppy poop cookies with flies. Yes, I know that’s disgusting. But it keeps the children busy, and it also has butterscotch and chocolate.

I got a real kick out of doing it, and it sounds like people are actually enjoying the story.

If you haven’t already, head over there and check out the calendar, and if nose hair trimmers aren’t to your taste, there are plenty of stories that don’t have them.

Let me know what you think.

Yes, I Actually Think I’m Funny…

I just sent in my story for the annual Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. I decided to go with “funny” this year, because I don’t have much “heartfelt” left in me, right now.

And I did manage to find an idea. And it was the kind of idea that I was chuckling over the entire time I walked home, so I have the sense that it has some mileage left in it. (Home is about three miles, so at least that much.)

So, I got home, and I started writing, and that’s when it stopped being funny.

Or maybe, I just stopped being in the mood for that brand of humor.

Either way, the doubts kicked in.

A thousand words of “funny.” Wow, that’s a lot. And I do have an off-beat kind of sense of humor. And, quite frankly, between a long day at work, and a long walk home, I was really just too grouchy to tell whether anything was funny or not.

I went to bed.

Thought about it.

Sent it in, anyway. (I did send a note with it, saying I’d send something else, if it’s not up to snuff.)

I’m still not as confident about the piece as I was, when I first came up with the idea.

Idea’s great. Or maybe not. Or possibly, I should be in insurance sales, and not a writer in the first place. At any rate, there we go. One holiday-themed, semi-funny, worst-gift-ever type story.

I’ll be checking my email with great trepidation in the morning.

Maybe I should have sent something with elves.

The Waves At Midnight

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The screams died down faster than you would think; the icy water took most of our sacrifices before the drowsy demons woke to notice the men struggling against the tide. Here and there, a marked warrior swam back toward the ship, but none reached it, and the priests did not have to scrape their clawing hands off the timbers.

When the demons did come, the sea boiled gently, and the few survivors were brave. The demons dragged them fast and deep. Afterward, the Death Lamp caught just a trace of blood on the waves.

It was a good sacrifice, and by every known portent, it seemed to be accepted. The priest declared the blood valid quickly, and the sailors weighed anchor almost before the words were out of his mouth.

We had turned back.

We should have made it to port before the bars stopped serving, and we would have celebrated with abandon. A good sacrifice, and another year of calm waves and sleeping demons.

The cabin boy laughed, and no one noticed.

The cabin boy laughed. A simpleton, admiring the trail of bubbles in the ship’s wake.

A simpleton, who fell overboard, reaching for the moon’s reflection on the water.

By the demons’ breath, the fool kept laughing, until the water around him boiled. The demons were on him in a second, but half satiated from the sacrifice, the monsters toyed with him.

On board, the priests and augurs scurried to dream up answers. The portents had been so clear… so positive. The demons had taken the sacrifice. The transaction was complete.

Surely, what happened–what was happening–to the cabin boy was a misunderstanding. Perhaps, they thought, the sea-demons thought the simpleton was one final offering. He certainly thrashed enough.

Again, the ship sailed homeward. This time, there was no celebration, and the high Priest stood beside the Death Lamp, searching the water behind us for the demons, or their boiling breath.

Time stopped, or time sped faster, and the assembled priests and the silent crew barely breathed in the darkness. No one could see the ocean outside the light’s narrow beam, but we could all hear the waves whispering against our fragile ship. We could hear the splashes, and the ripples. We listened for what we could not see, and imagined what we already had seen.

Every man on board counted heartbeats. How long had it been? How far had we gone? How much further to land and the safety of home?

They counted.

And the wordless night held them. That was not a bubble. Just a splash. Not a bubble. No. Just the ship cutting through the waves. Just…

A slithering, leathery body, sliding, slithering along the hull.

A second, screeching, not loud, but indescribably shrill, and yet watery, like a razor blade being sharpened on an endless and grainy strop.

The Priest made his decision, and fast. “Throw them overboard.” He gestured to the cluster of sailors closest to the edge.

The captain raised his revolver… cocked it… aimed.

And the men did not move. Better a bullet than boiling in the waves.

But the Captain could not shoot; the demons demanded a healthy sacrifice. The sailors knew that.

“They’ll follow the ship. They’ll hound us all. And the blood won’t stop. Not without a clean sacrifice.” The Priest rallied and coaxed, but the men stood firm. “Don’t you have wives? Children? ”

“Cowards!” The Captain bellowed, but he didn’t move.

The demons would have taken any of us, or all of us, and maybe they would have been content, but no one moved. No one thought about moving.

The ocean all around the ship was boiling. No one could mistake the bubbles for anything else. And the demons’ scales raked across the ship’s sides. We only had one thought between us: how many? How many? There could be one, or thousands.

A moment of distraction. The Captain forgot the helm, and the ship split open on the forgotten rocks. The force threw men and priests off the deck and into the water; it threw me hard against the crags.

The demons had their sacrifice. I dropped my head, and uttered the true sigh of relief: It wasn’t me. Chance had me on solid ground.

I stayed there, until morning, relieved and exhausted, and ashamed to be alive.

And in the darkness, I heard a new sound. Quiet, next to the men’s screams, and even calm, against their thrashing, but getting closer I heard the splashing of demons at play. As gleeful as the dancing of water sprites, and as terrible as death. And something else, that could only be described as laughter.

The demons were laughing.

I trembled in terror and understanding. Whatever happened there, that night, the demons liked it.

With my compatriots dead, I watched the last of the demons frolic in the surf just off shore. Now, and then, their scales caught the beam from the light house above the rocks. And for a while, they seemed to move steadily along a course that would take them out to sea. Then, one of them turned back, rose up onto the land, and lumbered toward the lights of the village.

PARTICIPANTS:

You are Here–> Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight

Sherri Conway Ants

Elizabeth McCleary Over James Henry Wilcox Dead Body

Canis Lupus The Picture

Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale

Bill Bush Trapped

Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade

Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost

Viola Fury 911

Juneta Key All Hallows’ Eve

C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful

Erica Damon Penance’

J. Q. Rose Sorry

Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods

Barbara Lund Spooky Space

Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours

Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream

Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart

There were still a few pieces of Mrs. Willoughby on the slab, after the master finished his do-it-yourself project. All of the intestines. A bladder. No one wants the hassle of taking a monster to the toilet, after all. And there were other things. Odds and ends the monster wouldn’t need. A pair of emerald-green, sling-back pumps. Her right hand, still clutching a worthless can of pepper spray. The master had replaced that with spare parts from his Jeep. And Mrs. Willoughby’s heart.

The monster, you see, ran on propane and electricity, and a beating heart was just a relic.

Igor was supposed to clean up.

He was supposed to sweep the leftovers into the bin, and carry them down to the incinerator. He was supposed to hose down the lab, and empty the filters on the floor drains.

But the whole process had been horrific.

Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. She wanted to be a second grade teacher. And when Igor finally did get her back to the lab, it turned out the master didn’t want a second grade teacher. He wanted a Woman. Not a woman. A Woman. Not a woman. The master repeated himself with curse-words and fury, and in the end, Igor pretended to understand.

Then, there was the dissection.

Igor threw up four times before the master threatened to dissect him.

By the time they got to the electro-ressurrection, Igor was a little dizzy. He could barely stand up, and he would have gone home, if he had any sick-time left. He didn’t have any sick time left, though, so he pushed himself forward. Willed himself to keep going. He was careful. Slow and careful, and if he took his time–
The master threw the switch.
Mrs. Willoughby’s body convulsed. All at once, her muscles contracted, and then… The master cut the electricity. Mrs. Willoughby’s fist shot out, and hit Igor in the face.

And the Master threw the switch again.

And again.

And again.

Igor was black and blue before the thing that had been Mrs. Willoughby sat up and started to recite the times table.

By the time the monster got to thrice eight, the master cut out its vocal cords, and there was silence. Then, the monster began calisthenics. And the monster wasn’t content to do calisthenics alone. Oh, no. It grabbed Igor by the ear, and made him touch his toes.

The master just laughed and watched, and by the time calisthenics were over, Igor was black and blue, and out of breath, and exhausted. None of the other monsters had been that much trouble.

Then, the master took his new monster and left to do whatever peasant-chasing, village-burning things mad scientists and monsters did together.

Igor did intend to clean up. He intended to put things away, and tidy up the lab, but he dozed off.

Mrs. Willoughby’s heart was the first thing he saw, when he opened his eyes. She had a beautiful heart. It was perfect. Big, and warm. And it was his favorite shade of red. It quivered a little, as if it had been crying, and didn’t want him to  know.

He still knew. He could feel the heart sobbing in his brain. And he knew why, too: Mrs Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster, and her heart didn’t want to go in the bin.

The mess was still there, too, but the master could clean it up, himself.

And while he was at it, the master could get his own Women. He didn’t like the way Igor did it, anyway.

Igor put the heart in his knapsack and hefted it over one shoulder.

He was leaving. Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. Her heart didn’t want to go in the bin. And he didn’t want to be a laboratory goon.

On the climb down the mountain, Mrs. Willoughby’s heart chirped encouragement. Sometimes, the sound was lost in the waking songs of birds. And sometimes, he got distracted by flowers, or the rising sun. But by the time he made it back to the village, he knew what to do.

He was going to teach second grade.

Dragon Smoke and Wind

The morning the Dragons came, the cat was in a questionable mood at best. That was understandable. When he was a kitten, and Mr. and Mrs. Dragon were still very young, Mr. Dragon pulled his tail. And Mrs. Dragon set him on fire. Simultaneously.

After all, he’d just fallen in the pig sty, and didn’t their own mother burn them clean, when they got dirty? In retrospect, even the cat could admit it was an honest mistake.

When his fur finally grew back, it had an iridescent sheen, like dragon smoke and wind. His tail—where a young Mr. Dragon had grasped it—was unchanged. Garden variety gray tabby.

Of course, the cat came out to greet the Dragons; that much was common courtesy. He and Mr. Dragon bowed to each other, and he even deigned to let Mrs. Dragon scratch his ears. He shook hands with each of the hatchlings, and commented on how big they were getting.

It was a compliment: none of them was any bigger than a baby goat. The hatchlings remembered their manners, and thanked him.

After that, the cat disappeared. He stalked off into the hydrangeas in the corner of the garden, and stayed there.

Mr. and Mrs. Dragon made themselves at home, and chatted with the hag on the veranda. The three of them—kept half an eye on the hatchlings—and drank cold tea and lemonade for more than an hour.

The hatchlings were bored. The green hatchling and the brown hatchling sat in the grass and made long chains of daisies, and answered the hag’s questions, when she thought of asking any, which wasn’t often. She wasn’t interested in children.

The red hatchling roamed the garden. He wandered past the roses, and the violets, and the little pond with the big goldfish. Then, he went to look for the cat. The cat moved fast—from the hydrangeas to the lilies, to the big evergreen at the end of the lot.

The red hatchling followed; boredom and mischief, and just a hint of excitement. He caught up, and tunneled under the spreading green branches.

Mr. Dragon looked away. The hag raised an eyebrow, and Mrs. Dragon forgot what she was saying, and turned to watch.

And then, they saw the cat emerge from under the burning fir tree. His back was still smoking, but he was only half-bald this time. From the waist down, his iridescent fur was unscathed.

Cats do not stoop to laughter, but the cat did smirk at Mr. Dragon. “Your kid’s smarter than you are,” he said. “Only took him two minutes to figure it out.”

The red hatchling crawled out from under the tree, and collapsed on the grass. He was out of breath, and the fact that he was panting for air did nothing to hide the shock on his face.

“You didn’t tell me he was enchanted.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dragon glanced at each other. “Of course, we didn’t,” Mr. Dragon said.

“If we told you, you wouldn’t have learned anything,” Mrs. Dragon said. “But, yes. Mr. Whiskers is enchanted. People, themselves, feel whatever pain they inflict on him.”

The cat licked his bare paw, and did not stoop to laugh.

“It hurts,” the red hatchling said. He trembled, with pain and humiliation. Without the enchantment, he would never have felt fire burn. As a dragon, he couldn’t.

The hag shrugged, as if the pain was nothing, but the brown hatchling looked worried. Mrs. Dragon took a jar out of her purse, and rubbed the salve on her son’s back.

“It doesn’t matter whether the cat’s enchanted, or not. It’s a cheap lesson,” Mr. Dragon said. He produced a gold coin from his bag, and gave it to the hag. Mrs. Dragon thanked her and the cat for everything they’d done. “In a few years, you’ll be as big as a house, and if you don’t learn to think and treat others as they want to be treated, they’ll come after you with spears.”

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Be sure to visit my friends to read more stories:

Katharina Gerlach Lobster One
S.R. Olson Malakai’s Gift
Wendy Smyer Yu Into The Light
Emily Plesner Time Stops When I’m With You
Barbara Lund Separate Space
Shana Blueming A Melting Heart
Juneta Key Don’t Drink The Water
Angela Wooldridge Midwinter
Lee Lowery All Aboard
Elizabeth McCleary OverWhelmed
Viola Fury The Day The Cat Got Out
Karen Lynn Dragon Smoke and Wind

W is for Williams

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Short Speculative Fiction Stories

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Double dipping again, this time with the Storytime Blog Hop, and a great bunch of Speculative Fiction Writers from Holly Lisle’s Writing Classes.

Williams

“What about the ethical implications?” The old journalist glanced at her notebook, shifted her weight, and smothered an impulse to look at the boy, instead of the crippled man. Looking at Williams was difficult. Always had been. Tubes, wires, atrophy. The impossible angle of his permanently crooked neck, and now this. “To put it delicately, the ethical implications are…”

“What ethical implications?” The scientist’s words were jarring in the young boy’s voice. “There are no ethical implications. It’s not a person. It never has been.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Then, what is he?”

“Legally? It’s a very large mass of cells. The neural connectors were implanted before you could differentiate organs, not just before the law recognizes personhood. I assure you, there’s no gray area, whatsoever.” The boy shrugged, and wiped a thick strand of spittle from Williams’ chin. “Why go back and rehash questions that were settled two hundred years ago?”

She wasn’t prepared. She wasn’t even dressed.

The biggest story of your career, his secretary said. Come as you are, and meet him in fifteen minutes.

Her eyes strayed again—the boy was so young, just eleven or twelve, and solemn.

“Go ahead and look at it.” Williams’ face and mouth were as immobile as ever. The boy moved forward to be inspected. “I’m proud of my invention. A lot prettier than this old carcass, isn’t it?”

Her silence wasn’t tact. She was still staring at the boy, still looking for some hint of autonomy. He was clean, of course. Neatly groomed. Dressed in slacks and a vest. And he was flesh and blood. “He looks like a little boy,” she said. When she stood up, the boy wasn’t taller than her shoulder, and his hair was cropped close to his skull. “There are no scars.”

“Of course not.” The scientist’s amusement rippled through the boy’s voice. “There was no surgery. The brain and skull developed around the device.”

“So, he does have a brain.”

“In some form.” A sage nod from the boy. “Obviously, the autonomic nervous system is the same. I control its motor function with magnified brain waves, and the device transmits back a very rudimentary version of sensory input. It’s an assistive device, like my wheelchair.”

She didn’t understand the details that made such a thing possible. Maybe she wasn’t capable of understanding. She wasn’t a scientist, herself, and maybe that was why Williams chose her. “What do you call him?” she asked.

“A Bioautomaton. That’s what we wrote on the patent.”

She decided to focus on the human element. “He doesn’t have a name?”

“Not officially. My lab assistants call it William, when they think I’m not listening. Some of them like to talk to it. Tell it secrets.” The smile that twisted the boy’s mouth was Professor Williams’ smile. She recognized the cynicism from years earlier, when the man’s mouth still moved. “One of them insists on reading it stories, when she puts it to bed.”

She caught a thread of understanding, and pulled. “And you can hear those stories?”

“If I’m within range. Otherwise, she’s wasting her time.”

“Let’s get back on track, then.” She took a final glance at the Bioautomaton, to be sure it was truly indistinguishable from any other twelve-year-old child, and sat down. “Tell me about your invention. What all does it do?”

“It speaks for me, of course. You’ve been seeing that. I use it to perform self-care tasks, as well as professional, administrative work. Anything a personal attendant would usually do for me, and just about anything else I can think of. I can do those things for myself, now. With the automaton, my typing speed is back up to sixty, seventy words a minute, and I’m more productive than ever.”

She made notes. That much was automatic. She used it to buy herself time to think. “And the mother? How does she feel about that?”

The Bioautomaton shrugged. “The surrogate relinquished any interest she might have had in the product in exchange for a generous fee.” Professor Williams’ words, again. She couldn’t identify any expression or movement that belonged to the boy alone. The boy’s lips twitched. “She’s—“ A short in the connection, maybe. And then, again, more fluidly, “She’s well taken care of.”

“People are going to call it human experimentation. They’re going to call it immoral. They’ll want to know what made a mother sell her son for experiments.” She sat back, and watched; the man in the wheelchair did nothing; the boy’s back stiffened, and his right arm jerked, as if Williams had forgotten the exact signal to send, after years without his own muscles. “I’m going to have to tell them something. Because that’s the story.”

“The story is technology.” The boy’s voice rose with shrill rage, and the full force of a man’s will. Oh, yes. She remembered Williams’ temper. “It’s about what Bioautomatons can do for society. For science. For the paralyzed and crippled. It’s the kind of miracle transplants were, centuries ago.”

“You call that science?” She couldn’t look at the boy; she couldn’t look at the man. She grabbed her bag, and got up. “It’s slavery.”

“Go, then! I’ll find another reporter. It’s not hard. Finding you only took a phone call.”

“Don’t think I didn’t get my story.” She turned her back on both of them, and raced for the door. She had a deadline. She had the story of a lifetime. Mind control. Zombies. The readers would be rioting in the streets before Williams next reporter got the call.

She looked back—she wanted one last glimpse from the pinnacle of her career—and froze.

Williams—even though he hadn’t spoken a word in two decades—was red in the face, as if he had been shouting with his own voice, his own lungs.

And the boy… the Bioautomaton… smiled.

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