by Terry L. Mirll
Frank Williamson is a man on the run. In possession of data stolen from the ultra-powerful Ouroboros Corporation, he must travel cross-country to meet his prospective buyer, Nutrisynth, which has offered him a fortune for successful delivery of the data. However, the stolen data is far more valuable than even he realizes.
Frank traverses a sere and barren landscape destroyed by mysterious Interdimensional Free Fall events, or IFFs. On his way, he must evade capture by the ruthless Dr. Richard Lohman, Security Director for Ouroboros. Frank’s prospects begin to improve after he picks up an odd hitchhiker, a four-thumbed, three-eyed, blue-skinned alien called Dippy.
The Director was at his desk, browsing through a dozen Ouroboros project summaries, when the grainy image of Stevens appeared before him. “Director, may I see you a moment?” it said.
“I’m very busy, Stevens.”
“I know, sir. But it’s about the chrysopoeia transmuter. You’ll want to see this for yourself. I’m certain.”
“Fine. Give me a moment.”
Rising eagerly, he shut down the summaries and notified his secretary that he would be out of the office for a moment. Hopefully, Stevens had the transmuter ready to produce. If the device worked as he expected, he would reallocate every available resource under his direction to begin full-scale gold production. If need be, Ouroboros could go out of the food business entirely. Let Nutrisynth feed the dumb bastards, he thought.
As he made his way to the lab, the Director tried to contact Lohman, but there was no response. It was a troubling sign, but at the moment he had more important things on his mind.
Passing the lab’s sealed entrance, he opened the secondary security seal and entered. To his surprise, the room was dark.
“Stevens! Where are you?” he said.
“Right here, sir,” Stevens’ voice rang out. “Pardon the lights. I’ll get them in just a second.”
As the security door sealed itself behind the Director, the room’s lights flickered and brightened.
When his eyes had adjusted to the brightness, the Old Man froze. Before him stood an orderly row of Grunts, bearing insignias Epsilon through Kappa.
On the edge of a nearby control panel, a small cube, its sides shifting in a seemingly endless variety of color combinations, projected Stevens’ holographic image.
“I’m very sorry for this, Director,” Stevens said. “Suffice it to say this is the only way to put the genie back into the bottle, as it were.”
“Eh?” the Old Man said. “Bottle? What are you on about, Stevens?”
“The machine, sir.”
“What? Doesn’t it work?”
“Yes, sir, it works. But I found an unforeseen consequence which leads me to conclude that this technology should never be used.”
“What do you mean? What unforeseen consequence?”
“At this juncture, it’s not important. But, knowing you as I do, you’ll never bring yourself to discard chrysopoeia altogether. You’ll tell yourself it’s worth the risk, or you’ll ignore any rationale I could give for abandoning this project.
“I’ve had to act on my own. I’ve purged all Shmeat files from every Ouroboros data system, everything from discovery phase to prototype construction, decades’ worth of research. At present, I’m on my way to San Francisco. I’ll find Mr. Flemel myself.”
“I regret that I had to sabotage Dr. Lohman’s investigation. Not knowing about the inherent danger in chrysopoeic transmutation, likely he would simply secure the files and sell them himself. In that sense, he was an even greater danger than Flemel. No, better I should recover the files and see that they are destroyed. There’s no other way.”
“No other way?” the Director shrieked. “Stevens, what the hell are you talking about? Make sense, damn it all!”
Stevens ignored him. “Of course, there’s one loose end: you, sir. I won’t ask for your forgiveness, though I find what I am about to do unforgiveable. Eventually, Centcom will catch me, I’m sure. But at least the secret stays with me. And if necessary, dies with me. Goodbye, sir.”
The holographic image switched off. Simultaneously, the Grunts raised their manipulators. Epsilon through Iota destroyed the lab, ripping down every piece of equipment and tearing into the walls and ceiling. A frenzied shower of bright sparks erupted, filling the room with smoke.
Kappa turned its attention to the Director. As it approached, it shifted its manipulators into razor-sharp pincers. A surge of terror seized the Old Man. “Power down!” he barked frantically. “Kappa, priority override! Power down!”
Outside the sealed security door, no one heard his screams.
Copyright © 2015 by Terry L. Mirll