This is a short story (<1000 words) for a competition organised by Michele Sagan and Robert D. McAdams. I’ve gone with sci-fi, which seems to be my flavour of the week. This is my first attempt at injecting some humour into a story. I wouldn’t call it a knee-slapper but hopefully it at least entertains.
“Dave this had better be good, I had dinner plans” Mike said entering the lab. “What’s so important it can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“Sorry dude but trust me you’ll want to see this” said Dave “I was playing with the emitters based on your latest formulas.”
Dave danced around the test rig making several small adjustments before picking up the chess piece. The black knight was a long-running joke having miraculously survived countless experiments. The only constant in their complex calculations.
He threw the knight in the air and caught it before placing it carefully in the centre of the rig and flipped a switch. A high-pitched whine, barely audible, started to reverberate around the lab. As the sound built, slowly the chess piece magically floated into the air where it hung in defiance to the natural order.
Dave looked over at Mike expectantly.
“And?” Mike said flatly.
Dave flipped another switch. There was a sound like bubble-gum popping and the chess piece disappeared.
Mike took a double-take and scanned the rig.
“Where is it?” he said continuing his search on the lab floor.
Dave pointed back to where the chess piece had been floating. Mike leaned in until he saw it. Just under where the knight had been was a black disk. The diameter of a tin can, it was impossibly thin and completely invisible unless viewed from above or below.
Mike peered up from the edge of the table into the ink-black disk completely perplexed “Is that debris? A hole? What the hell am I looking at here Dave?”
Dave switched the power off. With another pop, the black disk was gone along with the black knight.
They didn’t sleep that night or much of the next week. When finally, they succumbed to exhaustion the lab was a tangled mess of wires, components, frantically scribbled notes and broken pencils.
After another frustrating day buried in theory, they’d had enough. It was time to sacrifice some pawns. They waited until evening before ransacking the offices. Back in the lab they jury-rigged their spoils into the dissected lab computer.
Six web cameras trained on the test-rig recorded every angle as they offered up the first of the white pawns. Power on, pop. They carefully lowered a camera into the disk after the pawn. Eagerly they watched as it revealed the secrets of a new world, a world of total darkness.
Another pillage of the offices yielded a half dozen spotlights all now trained on the disk and the second pawn. Pop. With spot-lights trained from every angle, the camera revealed a rich tapestry of inky impenetrable blackness. Another pawn lost.
Flashlight duct-taped to the webcam and another white pawn. Pop! Finally, they could see the true nature of the void beyond, the flashlight illuminated everything within. Which was still the total sum of nothing.
Attempts to increase the size of the disk proved elusive, seemingly a question of harmonics rather than power. Attempts at tinkering with the variables and the disk would rapidly become unstable. They had established it wasn’t a portal between fixed points for items left stationary in one disk appeared to have wandered off in the next. Where the chess pieces went was anyone’s guess.
So, the duo did what all good scientist do in such trying times. They sat down sharpened their pencils and proceeded to poke the disk a little bit more.
Mike shook Dave’s hand as they held their medals up to the flashing cameras. The celebrity duo were a guaranteed shoo-in for the prestigious physics prize. Had it only been three years since they had gone public? The accolades had not stopped coming.
Research labs around the world rushed to replicate their work but none could solve the harmonic enigma that uniquely created the stable disks. The most powerful lasers failed to illuminate. Rockets, micro-drones travelled forever in that inky ocean. Elon Musk’s Boring team, experts in creating holes, turned their hand to plumbing them, all with little success.
Soon the world lost interest in news about nothing. Military and big-business struggled to deliver the promised revolution, but the technology had one useful application. It was a god-send for a polluted planet, a timely answer for the endless stream of waste.
Nuclear became “safe” again. The disks would swallow any overly energetic rods preventing a meltdown and when spent, long-term storage was no longer an issue. A power-hungry world re-embraced fission. Within two decades 90% of the global grid was powered from new, “safe” reactors. Much to the frustration of those investors that had backed renewables.
Another decade and the ‘Darkdisk” ™ technology had become integral to household appliances. “Tackling household waste at source” was the advertising tagline.
Dave & Mike, now long dead, had faded into legend. Happy go lucky saviours of a beautiful and grateful world.
“You had better have a good reason for interrupting the Captains Dinner, Chief” he said stepping onto the bridge. “My dessert is getting warm.”
“Sorry Sir, but you’ll want to see this” the Chief pointed to the beautiful turquoise planet projected onto the high-resolution bridge display.
“What am I looking at?” it took the Captain a moment “Are we off course or has Pandora V developed a ring system?”
“Well, it’s definitely Pandora V’ the Chief zoomed the display.
“Why is it shimmering?” the Captain said stepping closer to the display. “What the“ his voice trailed off before exclaiming “Is that a bloody distortion field?”
“It’s about 7 million distortion fields” said the Chief.
The Captain stared in stunned silence, slowly shaking his head as the distortion fields bubbled, grew and popped spewing their toxic tin can sized garbage into orbit.
“I want a full scan. Find the point of origin. Let engineering know we’ll need to create a sizable gravity well and start charging the distortion generators. We’ll be returning this mess to its owners” the Captain barked as he slumped into the command chair. “So much for my dessert.”
Image courtesy of Marc Sendra Martorell