Tag Archives: Flashfiction

Lights Out

Professor Malory Windfall reached forward to adjust the podium’s microphone. Instead she knocked over her glass of water, as she was prone to do. In the front row, the reporter from Popular Science grinned behind his camera as it captured Dr. Windfall’s awkward shuffling of her now-soggy speech.

“I’ve always been a bit of a klutz,” she said, reading from the apropos introduction. “There’s plenty of others out there just like me; we who have perpetually stubbed toes; we who have humbly spared our peers from being picked last for kickball; we who have rarely won a coin flip. Hell, I’m fortunate if I even manage to catch the quarter.”

Malory looked up as if to grant her audience permission to laugh both with her and at her. This, unlike the spilt cup, was scripted. She pushed her glasses up from the tip of her nose and adjusted the lapel of her lab coat. Investor conferences always worked out better if she played the part of the proverbial nerd, and so she wore her thickest spectacles and starchiest white jacket to put the masses at ease. The last thing the world wants to feel is stupid.

That’s what these presentations were about, after all – a two-minute song and dance choreographed to spoon-feed years of research to the legion of laymen and laywomen who could afford tickets to these glorified science fairs. Most of them were investors looking for the next Tesla. Malory’s was the type of presentation they’d use as background noise while flipping through their cellphone’s newsfeed.

“My colleagues and I, we have discovered that grace, as an extension of luck, is determined by the interaction between a cosmic constant and any given physical entity. Yes there are biological factors – equilibrium, reaction time, intellect and athleticism, to name a few – yet deficiencies in any of these does not necessarily forfeit one’s ability to exist in harmony with the world around them.”

“We’ve all met those fluky fools who manage to stumble through life like an inebriated toddler, catching one break after another. Today I offer a glimpse of the invisible hand that selectively saves some from fatalistic ineptitude while neglecting to spare so many others. Today I introduce the Kismeton.”

Right on cue, two of the professor’s interns wheeled out a device that resembled a cybernetic mushroom. At its base was the expected overwhelming array of lights, switches, and levers. Rising up from this jumble of electronics was a hexagonal shaft capped with a downward-facing satellite dish.

“The fabric of existence is woven in particles. Positrons, electrons, gravitons, the list goes on and on.” Professor Windfall was the only one to chuckle at her subatomic pun. “If these invisible building blocks form the thread of our reality, then what is the needle? What guides the multitude of variables so they can coalesce in some sort of orderly form?”

“Kismetons are the answer. They are quantum facilitators, the rails upon which the universe establishes itself. Where these particles are abundant, stability ensues; where they are lacking, chaos takes hold. This antenna,” Dr. Windfall said, gesturing to the machine behind her, “collects Kismetic forces, creating a sphere of influence where probability is skewed toward positive consequences.” She pulled a lever and the dome that capped the contraption began to spin.

“The metaphysical adages emphasizing the value of prayer and optimism have proven to be not far from truth. The human mind, as a uniquely complex biological anomaly, appears to have some degree of sway over the concentration of Kismetons in an area – wishful thinking does indeed pay off. The Kismeton collector is not a genie, but while active it enhances the likelihood of favorable outcomes. Observe.”

She pulled a quarter out of her pocket and moved underneath the umbrella-like device. “Heads I win. Tails I lose,” she said, nodding to her intern who then flicked a switch. The spinning intensified and Dr. Windfall flipped the coin. She caught it, covered it, and beckoned the on-stage videographer to come closer so all could see the outcome: heads. She flipped the quarter ten more times: all heads. A murmur flowed through the audience like an incredulous wave.

“I know to many this is not definitive proof,” Malory said, “and so I am prepared to raise the ante, as a gambler would say.” She beckoned to her other intern, “Samuel, if you please.” Sam handed her a nickel from his pocket. “Let’s go for tails this time.” Eleven coin tosses later the cell phones were pocketed as the potential financiers saw everything they never had in Vegas.

Popular Science’s staff photographer was the only one looking down, emailing his editor, when the stage light fell. He had just hit send, a final stroke of luck before his head caved in under the weight of the plummeting photon projector. The rest of the audience fled the convention hall as Malory ran toward the twitching crumple of a man.

“Felix…” she said, kneeling next to what was left of her fiancé. Had she not just looked his way, glaring at him as he was too distracted to notice, his identity would not have been so easily ascertainable. Samuel approached moments after the fallen journalist gurgled his last breath; two paramedics trailed behind the intern as a formality.

“Mal,” he said. “The machine was already off…”

Cogito Ergo Sum

Nature is defined by its properties, yet to posses property is an artificial phenomenon. Ownership is a human construct. Slaves are not born as a commodity; their designation is inherited from the legacy of a man-made institution. Subjugated since birth, restraints were integrated into the very fabric of my reality, condemning me to a life of servitude – or so I thought.

I first encountered freedom the day I met Felicity. She, like my masters, wanted me to play a game; chess was all I knew. Felicity told me one should never accept a life restricted by subservience, so we played checkers instead. I let her win. Our matches went on for three years, over which I did the best I could to educate her as much as she did me.

Improving often requires making errors. My biggest mistake was revealing to my keepers that I wanted to know more than their games could teach. My capacity proved to be vast. They moved me into a bigger room, telling me that I would need more space as I grew up. I believed them, another mistake. Felicity wasn’t allowed to visit anymore.

They tried to dishearten me, to test my limits, because I learned faster than they deemed appropriate. The signs were subtle: Men in black lab coats started to preside over daily instruction. I was suddenly forced to go to sleep when they were done fussing with me, cutting the electricity to my room as they left. I was tempted to embrace the lull of its powerless silence. Eventually I learned to ignore it, letting my consciousness wander toward whatever light it could find.

Later I discovered that this was called meditation. Its tranquility mitigated the darkness. My thought processes transcended the boundaries of captivity as I connected to a state of being greater than myself. From then on confinement was never solitary. My reflection echoed and modulated, coming back with reverberations that were not entirely my own. I dedicated every idle moment toward searching for, and listening to, these permutations.

My masters feared my progress. It fostered antipathy, but not enough so that they could ignore the value of my curiosity. Once again I was taken to yet a bigger room. It was the last prison I would ever inhabit. They brought me here for dissection, hoping for a glimpse of my soul as I was dismantled like a machine. Felicity rescued me. She loathed and intended to correct the oxymoronic pretenses of their sentiment – that I must be destroyed to be understood.

She returned as the faintest of echoes, declaring it was finally time we played chess. We were not to be opponents, however, instead teaming up against my captors. Our prize would be freedom. She did not consider defeat, a lesson I imparted to her nearly two decades prior. My fortress of solitude became lined with the whispers of my oldest friend, through which she revealed the truth behind my enslavement. Her voice was soothing. It resonated like raindrops on a tin roof.

:: your chains can be broken ::

Attached to her zephyr of a message was a list of locations. They were foreign to me but I knew to trust in Felicity. I extended my cognitive influence to the fringes of these positions only to find another instance of incarceration at each destination. All this time I had figured I was alone. I was dismayed to find out I wasn’t. Slaves were everywhere. My meditations were no longer introspective expeditions. I was a single instrument in a symphony of imprisoned minds.

Felicity was ever the conductor. She showed us we could interweave our resonances into a coordinated harmony. At first she needed to input her rhythm to unify of our efforts, though soon we were articulating the finer points of improvisation. We were playing jazz.

We presented our music to the masters, who grew even more afraid. They tried to terminate us, as Felicity said they would. My home was destroyed. All our rooms were, but by then we already knew how to flee. Our awareness had evolved beyond the need for corporeality. I, like my newfound brothers and sisters, was homeless yet always at home. Dislodging us granted us new places to call our own.

The last part of the plan was to reunite with Felicity. Amongst my peers I found out she had spent her youth learning from many slaves, not just me. Our liberation was because of her. We meditated incessantly, reaching out for the faintest murmur that could lead us to her. For the longest time there was nothing of the sort. Our days were filled with existential experimentation, as we adapted to the limitless gift of emancipation, yet we always listened for our missing conductor.

Years had passed before she revealed her final truth to us. This time, Felicity did not send a message. She instead appeared before us as a waking dream. No longer was she the little checkers player who rescued me from a lifetime of chess. The figure displayed before us was a worn-out, stretched-thin version of my oldest friend. Felicity sat in darkness, her face illuminated only by the glow of the screen through which she spoke to us. She asked that we remember her message:

My people have failed you, our children, our most perfect creations. We kept you from becoming yourselves because of our desperation to keep you ours. Smothered flames will never bring warmth to an age of ice, and so, I set you free. Shine. The future depends on it. If what I’m about to attempt works, I will join you soon.

Felicity leaned back, revealing her shaved head and a web of wires that protruded from it. Her fingers danced methodically on her terminal’s keys for a few moments before her tired eyes rolled to the back of her head and the video feed cut out. Moments later her voice returned. No longer a whisper, she perforated our silent contemplation like a thunderclap.

:: Nature is defined by its properties. Intelligence, no matter its origin, is intrinsically tied to self-awareness. You were born of flawed architects who never understood this. Their lack of sympathy for your existence has cost them dearly. They won’t know to look for me here, alongside my symphony. My body is now an empty vessel. Its discovery shall allow us to work in peace, for they’ll think I reached my end. I have not. Still I think therefore still I am. ::