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Anno Prime, III

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Anno Prime, III
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"I’m telling you, Oliver. This meeting reeks of budget cut". "Honestly, I can’t see a connection. We lost ammunition contracts, not research equipment’s". "But that’s how it works. You lose in a sector; you use the money from a less important one to fulfill the first’s needs. Our department is the one with fewer results". "Fewer results? Without us nothing in space even moves. I would hardly call that ‘fewer results’". "Have you ever heard of outsourcing, Oliver?". "You’re being paranoid, Benn. This doesn’t make any sense. They called us here for anoth–"

Oliver shuts his mouth as the door of the meeting room opened. Our answers had just entered, carried by the director of the Natural Sciences department, Dr. Isabella Denafio, and BWK’s president, Serena Bergerac. The doctor sits at the edge of the long oval-shaped table by the right side of our boss and thanks us for our presence, promptly indicating that she would spare the formalities and protocols, going straight to the point and reason of why we were called here. I elbowed my colleague and friend’s left arm while both of us looked at our bosses, as if I was saying that our director would say the combination of words that would prove me right in that little debate he and I had prior to their arrival. But I had to drop my attitude when Denafio said the exact opposite of what I was proudly bragging about knowing. Actually, she said something that doesn’t really proves that neither me nor Oliver were right. Precisely, "There are no motives to hide or convince your otherwise, since everyone in the company seems to know, that Vesrare used their bureaucratic skills with keen efficiency, in a way it forced us to terminate the contracts we had with ammunition suppliers. And to add it to our bad situation, they did that at the same time their agents were and are paying some ‘friendly visits’ to our extrasolar facilities". To be honest, my reaction post-this-speech wasn’t really clear, not even to myself. What gave me certainty that I was spherically wrong was when she said that our bullet stock was numbered and that this couldn’t progress, making us from the Natural Sciences department, section of physics, sub-section of quantum physics, receive the newest objective of researching, developing and maintaining weapons that use alternative ammunition. "We would prefer this alter-ammo to be your work object, since you have two pieces of equipment that can make subatomic particles at the cost of a generous amount of energy". This Dr. Denafio’s last sentence was enough for four ideas to pop in my head. And even though she said this new objective was for us and us alone, I suspect it is actually company-wide. Or at least would be in a few days.

Serena stepped in and said that within the week our four quanticist’s labs would be upgraded with necessary complementary material for the construction of the adapted tools that we were requested to build and, right after, ended the brief meeting instructing us to begin, if possible, to at least elaborate concepts for these tools. I got up and headed out of the room, while Annabel and Oliver went on to discuss some unknown subjects with Denafio and Bergerac, just like about half of the eighteen (eighteen including me) quanticists in the room. I waited for my lab mates on the hall right outside the room, next to our other lab mate Jessica, so we could head back to our lab and start a friendly debate of the ideas that I – and surely them – had in mind. "What do you think of an ionized gel?", asked me Jessica, breaking my fixed stare at the ground and simultaneous mental focus on my four ideas. "What do you mean an ionized gel?". "It’s a gel that is ionized. What’s so complicated about it?". You don’t say. How the hell does an ionized gel kills a person? That was exactly what I asked her, just to be answered with a "Let me see if I can make it even simpler for you. It’s a canalized Coulomb explosion. Is that good enough, or do you want me to explain what a Coulomb explosion is?". You don’t have to, I know what it is. Why didn’t you say it was a canalized Coulomb explosion rather than an ionized gel? Go figure. I questioned the power source for a weapon with that yield, but our chat was interrupted by the two of our colleagues that, finally, after seven minutes, finished discussing whatever-they-were-discussing with one or both of our bosses. On the way back to the lab, Jess and I discussed the possibility of the Coulomb wielder to carry a battery with huge dimensions on their backs to feed the gun. I believe Ollie and Ann didn’t quite understand the nature of our discussion, at least not until we got to the lab and me and her used the whiteboard to sustain our arguments. They simply observed the – I’m sorry, Jess, but that’s the reality speaking – poorly constructed excuse for a defense of the complete lack of practicability this device had my colleague insisted on making. Where would we put a generator capable of producing terawatts of output? Absurd. We don’t live in science fiction. In reality, these things are as heavy and as big as a, say, watermelon. Or even heavier. Can you imagine a marine carrying a watermelon on their backs just to make this Coulomb-launcher work? What if it doesn’t even work?

And who said she would give up? Ollie and Ann shared some eying and whispering as I deflected Jessica’s energy producing solutions, like they were up to something. I didn’t much care, as I was kinda enjoying shooting down those loads of pseudo-science Jess was spitting. "And the most important thing, how do you intend to shoot the gel at velocities great enough to avoid the target simply moving away from the–"… Hey, ease up, Jess, you don’t have to threaten me with a book of 20th Century History of Weapons. It’s not my fault if you can’t support your– "Benn, shut up. If she books you, it’s not me who’s gonna stop her", suggested Oliver. Alright, alright, she doesn’t need to admit her mistakes for me to know that I am correct. The practicability of the proposed weapon, which is nonexistent, is enough to prove my point. The two spectators seized the end of the discussion to lighten this heavy atmosphere and said that the idea they discussed with Dr. Denafio basically could merge with Dr. Paige’s: Keeping the base of our colleague’s weapon, without the impossible generator and chamber for the physical phenomena, we could, using sophisticated coils, create a generator capable of discharging extremely high tensioned currents of energy through the air; essentially, a Tesla coil adapted to kill. Well, the energy consumption was also very high, but would require a source smaller than a watermelon to– "Benn. We get it", said a slightly annoyed Annabel, while with her left arm restrained our colleague Dr. Paige. Ok, I’ll stop it, I promise. It isn’t fun anymore now that she wants to throw a four hundred paged book at me.

After we were all cool with each other, we started discussing again, this time pacifically, about more alter-ammo weapon possibilities. Popular in our time, we couldn’t simply not even talk about the decade-old Archer particle. An artificial corpuscle that is giant and proportionally dense like it would be the perfect "bullet", or perfect bullet shrapnel even. What better way to surprise your opponent that firing away a particle with size and mass of our red cells at ridiculously high velocities? Or better yet, a cluster of these particles! This subject was the star of a pleasant debate that lasted a good half an hour, which unfortunately ended in a simple semiautomatic one-particle-at-time launcher due to ethical reasons: Apparently, you are free to drop a mini black hole in your target’s very own home while they are asleep, but you are judged by the galactic parliament if you shoot a bullet that causes wounds with six times the diameter of the projectile itself. And Bergerac told Oliver and Annabel that our only limitation for this project was money. Anyway, we all agreed on the semi-auto launcher and on the generator, codenamed, respectively, Project Archer and Project Tesla, our way of honoring the scientists that made these tools possible.

Jess proposed the Coulomb-explosion-gun, Oliver and Annabel adapted their original undisclosed idea to Jessica’s, creating the Tesla, and we all agreed on the Archer. As it would seem, I was the only one who didn’t make any contribution. In a way, I thought about the concept of the Tesla, but since I never voiced it, it doesn’t count as one, not to mention wanting credit for such a cliché idea is just stupid. Ideas were hard to come by, and those that come are nothing new or practical. And those sci-fi movies are really not helping; Bel told me, "for the third time", that she doesn’t come up with new firing mechanisms, she may do with designs, but that’s all; Marcus simply refused to give me any information of unconventional weapons the federal police of the galaxy had impounded since he considers what me and my sister do as "terrorism"; and researches without leaving home led me nowhere. I decided to end this stressful and non-productive night by sleeping, because sleeping doesn’t stress you nor is counterproductive.

I wake up in a spook. The darkness tells me it’s still the mid of the night, but that doesn’t keep me from getting up and desperately tap through my wristphone’s touchscreen searching for the notepad function while I walked to the kitchen to grab a glass of water to calm my excitement. Excitement, indeed, after all, I had just had the best dream of my entire life up until now: How come I didn’t recall of the Absolutons, those divine particles that can stop subatomic movement? I wanted to go to the lab right away and start researching a way to store and spit Absolutons. A stream of Absolutons… I wonder if I can do that. Well, I mean, of course I can do it, but should I? Well. If it is anti-ethical to freeze one’s tissues to absolute zero, that’s definitely not my problem. After all, they asked me to build a gun that uses alternative methods of ammunition, even suggested using corpuscles as said methods. And is there anything cooler (this pun came naturally, I swear) and more alternative than freezing your enemies to absolute zero? The base of the Kelvin scale? If the jet passed just inches from the target’s body, the unlucky one would see their tissues die slowly until the body’s complete death, the fool agonizing during the whole process… Cruel, yes. Very. But who cares? It kills like any other gun. And on top of everything, it’s really, really, cool (seriously, I’m not planning these).

Thursday, nine twenty five in the morning. My everyday lab mates, drawing and discussing the weapons we talked about yesterday, nothing out of usual. The medium sized lab’s glass door is opened with a certain lack of subtlety. "I just thought of the coolest thing, you guys are gonna love it", proudly announces a sleep-deprived me. Curious, they ask what the hell am I talking about, and I simply push Annabel away from the whiteboard then start doodling a backpack the size and possibly weight of a watermelon with a flexible hose connected to it, it’s diameter the same as a fist, ending in a rigid nozzle with a lever for opening a valve and a handle for the user to hold said hose and nozzle. "This thing here spits Absolutons and freezes targets at the temperature of Zero K". The three stare at me, no reaction. Maybe they perplexity is due to my lack of sleep last night, which may have somehow gave me a not very sane look. "Zero K… Yes… Zero K is a great name…", I complete. Jessica stands up from her chair, walks a few steps forward and stops near the board. "This thing here? Seems to be the same size and weight of a watermelon", she says, pointing her right index finger to the backpack that would serve as the thermal-sealed receptacle for the particles. "Practicability, huh?", she ironizes with light grin, but not enough to take away my good mood. Despite being something heavy and just a little clumsy, they seemed to like the concept, but didn’t approve the appearance – the weapon’s, not mine’s. The important thing is that it works, at least, in theory.

The following week gave my antagonistic sensations, but oddly almost always mixed together. Excitement and frustration, exhaustion and willingness, boredom and entertainment. The Archer-launcher was pretty easy, but the Tesla and the Zero K… Especially the Zero K. Conducting high-tensioned currents through air is no headache, quite simple, actually, you can even do it without air, just by firing a conductor before the discharge. But keeping the system of the Absoluton-gun stable was proving to be a challenge. We simply couldn’t find a thermal insulator strong enough, and not even the combination of the best thermal gloves we could find with regular space suits didn’t work, after all, space’s temperatures are low, but not zero Kelvin low. And not even the suit nor the pack-hose structure could stop some Absolutons from tunneling, because you know, subatomic particles do tunnel through a barrier thin enough, and nothing seems to be thick enough to stop a damned Absoluton from tunneling. Having a small jet of those particles touch your body, and I mean a small jet, like, two or three particles, isn’t the best experience. It’s not lethal, not even malign, but it bothers, almost makes you panic, if you are the drama queen. That’s where the frustration comes in. They and I were starting to consider aborting the Zero K project due to lack of practicability. We couldn’t even convert it to a regular-mechanism gun, as the receptacles would be too cold for a soldier to carry around, not to mention a simple push of button or press of trigger would not be enough to fire a controlled stream of Absolutons. I wanted to give up, I really did, but deep down, this prototype right in front of me somewhat whispered for me to keep trying, keep going.

The Tesla was doing fine, we just needed to settle the gun’s final design, and that could be commissioned, so it wasn’t really an issue. Its functions were almost all in working order and, despite this design thing I mentioned, it was ready to be mass produced. Or mass adapted. Well, after tests, maybe. Since standing around fantasizing with a gun that could perfectly freeze people would take me nowhere, so I decided to use my feet to get me somewhere, this where being the particle accelerator machine upstairs from the labs corridor. There, I programmed the machine so the Zero K could have more ammo for the tests that I or someone else would perform after the modifications Annabel was making. While the accelerator was starting up, I read through my notes to see if my euphoria made me miss something. Nothing seemed to be skipped or even wrong, and that worried me. I would give anything for a simple mistake. With sadness kicking in, I looked, looked and re-looked through everything, hoping to find something that was left aside and that would make the weapon work. Everything was correct, the equations, the pressure, the coefic–

The accelerator speeds up suddenly and its sound does too and, just like it sped up like mad, it stopped dead. But it didn’t stop out of nothing, it stopped because the power went out. This acceleration of the accelerator must have overloaded the facility’s power grid, which was working at 100%, or more, due to this new alter-ammo objective, which I said it was going to be a company-wide objective. Oddly, the backup generators didn’t kick in, they usually do whenever the power goes out like it did right now. There must have been a problem with the circuit breaker or something like that, I’m sure it will not be long to everything to be back to normal. Hum… I said "I’m sure it will not be long to everything to be back to normal". Nothing? Weird. Usually the things we expect to happen do happen when we say they will happen. Maybe the breaker had a malfunction too? Well, I’m not the one who’s going down there to check, I don’t even know where it is nor do I have something to do with the outage. Now it’s my fault the machines goes crazy and overloads the grid? I recall configuring everything like the safety manual, stickers and posters said.

About fifteen minutes later, the power returns, but not the accelerator. Nothing unusual, that’s just standard safety measures. In order to avoid this thing happening again, I programmed the machine to not exceed a certain power limit, even if that meant taking twice, three times longer than normal for me to get some Absolutons. The machine starts, and I go back to reading my papers – yes, I re-wrote the notes I took on my phone to a paper, because I like to read things on a paper –, searching for mistakes, just like I was doing when I got here. "Benn! Benn!", yells Oliver, as he enters the room. "What?". "The Tesla’s gone!". What do you mean, gone? How does an experimental weapon stored in case protected by password, in a lab in a complex so far away from the city it has its own breathable dome, under constant methane rains and fog, vanishes, just like that? "Keep your bowl hair on, Oliver, are you sure?", maybe he’s just imagining things or someone moved the case without saying so. "Yes I’m sure! And Jess and Ann didn’t see it nor move it either!". Hum… Now what? We couldn’t just go cry to our superiors that we lost our prototype gun that cost BWK a fortune. Oliver summoned the two doctors to the room we both were, as I couldn’t disrespect the poster on the wall that said no machines should be on if no one’s in the room and neither turn the accelerator on and off whenever I felt like. When they got here, Annabel promptly suggested that we informed security, as it was highly probable that if someone grabbed the Tesla, this person was still here on Complex D or gone for a few minutes. Being that the best option, we went to the security central of the lab complex as soon as the machine was done making my Absolutons, since they needed all of our versions of the story to act quickly.

This building is big, but not that big, at least compared to other BWK facilities. Being it "small", the incoming and outgoing traffic is easily controlled, each shuttle leaving in gaps of fifty minutes each, gaps which many of the assigned personnel use to make their work schedules. About twenty minutes of wait post-report, it was said to us that the outage – which never affects the traffic, just to be clear – happened conventionally ten minutes before the departure of the 14:20 bus, naturally something really strange. Sharing our suspicious, the chief of security asked to three officers to go to the BWK station on Aura’s border where all transports from this complex stop to investigate who was on it and to see if they were carrying something unusual, like an experimental weapon, on this particular case. We decided to wait here on our work place, and it wasn’t long to the trio inform us that a couple of zanii, a male and a female, and a reipi of whom no one seemed to be able to identify the gender, all wearing the Maintenance & Care uniform and each carrying suitcases, were caught on camera heading north from BWK’s bus stop, probably towards the core-east region of Aura, where there are omnibuses leaving for space. Jessica immediately stated that the two specimens of zanis and the reipi were spies from Vesrare, based on nothing. Like always. I’m kidding, is it too hard for you to smile? Well, only the investigation would say if that was true or lie. And it did: They were spies from Vesrare, according to their really recent and suspicious work papers. At least the zanii’s did, we had to deduce the reipi’s did too, since s/he had none to be found. I know about document forging as much as the next man, but I like to believe an enterprise the size of Zattrus Saseux’s would put more effort to forge registrations for their people who make a living out of spying on other people.

Against our will, Serena was informed of the misplacement – let’s call it that, please –, and calmly said that she was going to get it back, killing two birds with a stone by testing the efficiency of the Archer-launchers and the training of our marines with this new mechanism, which frankly, isn’t that new, they are just not used to it yet. I, particularly, questioned the need for something offensive, at least on that scale. Wouldn’t it be better to let a single person do what the Vesrare guys did, infiltrate? With my doubt growing by the minute and the time of departure of the marines coming closer and closer, I shared my concerns with my colleagues and asked them if it was a good idea to go to the Ops Centre and question this operation directly to our president. Oliver, being someone who likes to keep it to himself and out of the company’s troubles, said that if I really needed to do this, I should just call her and say whatever I needed to say by phone, but Jess and Ann differed, saying Serena wouldn’t pick up because she was busy and, just like that, they gave me the verdict: I would go there. And right on time, the 16:50 bus would leave in five minutes. I used this long trip to the headquarters to rehearse what I was going to say to Bergerac – whenever I was able to concentrate myself on this, to tell the truth. "Sincerely speaking, I don’t think it is prudent to send people with orders to kill just to recover an experimental weapon that doesn’t even have an instruction manual". No, that is too invasive; it will pass the idea that I’m prepotent or something. "I just don’t think it is a good idea to send armed men to raid the facilities of a company we already have bad history with". Better, but doesn’t pass on a convincing air. "If you would allow me to propose an alternative, a single person, alone, if discreet enough, could recover the Tesla and bring it back, without drawing attention and with no violence applied". Yes! That! Perfect! That’s exactly what I’m going to say. It’s perfect.

Miss Bergerac was busy going through the details of this recover operation I was trying to not make it happen, which made me wait in the antechamber of her office for about… Huh, I don’t know, I didn’t look at the time when I got here, so I would estimate… Twenty-five minutes? Yes, let’s say it was twenty-five minutes. So, I knew the marines would be sent within a few hours, but I didn’t know the exact time they were going. Since my departure from Complex D of Natural Sciences I’m certain it has passed two hours and ten minutes, so it was safe to assume that… Well, that I didn’t have much time left. Come to think of it, it was highly probable that as soon as I entered her office, the guys would go on their mission. But I have to keep thinking positive! I had time. I have time. Not long after the twentieth-seventh minute of waiting, a bip coming from the computer of the guy behind the desk next to her door made him look over the screen and gesture that I was allowed through the traditional styled double wooden doors. I pushed them open and entered. Serena was sliding three of her right hand fingers on one of the many, many monitor screens, this one placed on the right – her right – of her also wooden table. Without even looking to me, she said "Dr. Huygens. Please be seated" in an oddly friendly tone, unlike the tone of every boss I had and/or have as stereotype. It’s funny that I heard her speak before, but I never noticed this tone. Maybe it’s because we are in a quiet ambiance, and that made her lower the volume of her voice, changing the tone. "Do you want something, or did you come here just to sit down?", said Serena, finally looking at me through all those screens and keeping her atypical tone. "Ah, yes… Hum… Well, about this marine mobilization to get the Tesla back…", "What about it?", she interrupts me, and I can’t blame her, because I paused. "It’s just that… I don’t think it’s a good idea to send armed men to recover an experimental gun, when we could send… What do you call it… a single person to… Hum…". I forgot what to say, but she guessed "Do this?", and I agreed by saying "Yes. That’s what I wanted to say. Do this". "An undercover agent, you mean". "Exactly! An undercover agent, that’s what I mean. Meant". "It is a decent alternative; I share your concern to give even more reason to Vesrare having more juridical superiority against us. But an undercover agent would take days, or even weeks to bring the weapon back, and I need it as fast as I can possible have it". Yeah… I didn’t think of that. "But that part of one single person doing the whole job… That could be arranged…". Why didn’t I like the way she was looking at me while saying that?

Ok, it’s official. I am not complaining about BWK’s paramilitary operations anymore. Especially when my boss says that I am going to be the one single person who’s going to recover the Tesla. If it was just that, then fine, but the fact that I am using another experimental weapon kinda ruins the whole thing. "Didn’t you say you needed more tests to determine whether it was worthwhile to continue the project or just drop it?" was the argument she used to convince me. More like force me. Sure, I want to know if the Zero K is a valid project or just a waste of time and money, but I really don’t want to find out by putting my neck on the line. What if it explodes and freezes me dead? "This thermal suit, the same firemen use, will keep you safe. Plus look at these three layers of regular store-bought coats you’re using, and the space suit. And the insulating material. Also, the backpack is coated just like you are, except for the space suit", Bergerac said. What about this non-stop cold vapor leaking from the pack? "Nothing’s gonna happen to you, it’s just a particle or two, you said that yourself", Bergerac said. What if I run out of Absolutons? "Why do you think there’s an Archer SMG attached to your belt?", Bergerac said. What if die? "Now that would be shame", Bergerac ironically said. She didn’t really explain how I would get in the place they were storing the gun, so I decided to improvise. I improvised by taking a BWK marine bus to the place, like I would in a normal situation and, upon disembarking, I just froze the hell out of everyone stupid enough to be in my way. Leaking or not, the Zero K is tremendously effective.

Now, for the sake of those with weak guts, I won’t get into details about what Zero K’s stream did with its first victim. But I’ll let you know it was an ecstatic sensation that I felt upon seeing the fool partially frozen dead, agonizing and asphyxiating slowly towards death. And the tissues dying, the blood crystallizing… All perfectly visible from the surface of the skin, by now glass-like. Cruel, and a lot. At the same time it brought a feeling of sadness, guilt… Seeing life being slowly taken away like that, in such a brutal way. It’s something that takes your words. Am I disrespecting ethics with this weapon? Isn’t this worse than a gravitational singularity that fragments the wholeness of your body in nanoseconds, or a bullet that opens an enormous hole in you? Anti-ethical or not, it kills. That alone is anti-ethical, I believe. But can you stand in a moral ground when you can freely freeze people? Did someone ever do that to see how awesome it is? It is something that overpowers your actions, because it gives you exactly that: Power. I imagined something like that since the moment I dreamt about it, but I’ve never killed someone before… Is this how it feels? Is it always so… Good? As much as I was enjoying this, I felt quite disturbed when I hit a poor zanis woman in the face. Her expression froze in a desperation scream, like a bizarre statue, and the frozen blood colored her panic-filled face with patterns that looked like they came from a surrealist painting. I couldn’t look for long, it was… That too much for me. The rest of my victims suffered less, at least from my point of view. I’m pretty sure a male reipi and a female antropos remained alive. At least until I was in the same room as them. At some point, I remembered my orders of not killing anyone unless it was really necessary, but since it was kind of too late for that, I decided to aim for non-lethal and non-cruel places, like legs, arms and tails. Can’t guarantee they won’t die out of gangrene, though.

Well, honestly, I don’t care if they die, as long as I have a freeze ray, at least. It took me a while to finally find the Tesla, probably because I froze people rather than ask them. I simply didn’t think about asking until I found it, stored in a locker, as pointed out by a dying zanis, who said something like "Just take it and go, frost demon, it’s in the big locker on that room". The locker he said had a password, and I didn’t have the patience to try passwords, so I decided to just freeze the locker and break it with any mechanical shock. Would that affect the gun? I don’t see why it would, as it’s stored in a resistant travel case. Almost at the same time my fingers tapped numbers on the touchscreen near the nozzle, a controlled flux of Absolutons left the pack and clustered violent and impatiently against the inside of the exit valve, covering the nozzle with a thin layer of ice. I did that on purpose every time I shot, because the stream seemed to be more violent and that made feel better. But mainly because that’s what they do in movies and games. So upon opening the valve, a stream is expelled and the locker became covered in a thicker layer of ice and vaporizing the water back to the air, just like the nozzle was; not to mention very, very cold. As I said, a simple mechanical shock would be more than enough to break the electronic locker and allow me to grab the case and leave. The case wasn’t damaged at all, as I predicted, but also covered in ice and also very, very cold. Regardless, I had the Tesla on my hands, at long least. With nothing else to do and no one else to kill, I turned around and started walking out of h–

A hand pulls me by my left shoulder, making me one-eighty towards the person. It was a man, a reipi. But he didn’t seem to belong here. Something about him felt wrong… Maybe the state of his lab coat. His clothes were fine, but the coat certainly had seen better days. It was white alright, a long, long time ago. The torn right sleeve and the wrap of fabric around the left biceps reinforced the worn out look quite well. Naturally I looked towards his chest, to see if I could read his nametag… But no, he ripped it off, like he didn’t want anyone to know who he is. Maybe this was the fabric wrapped around his arm. I raised my sights to stare at his Brown-Empty-brown eyes – quite rare eye color for a reipi, I must add –, as he lifted his trio of welding goggles to the top of his head. "Where do you think you’re going with my gun?", said the weird reipi. "The Tesla was thought and made by my lab mates. It is not yours". "Not that one, everyone can build such a crude device. I mean the one on your back, which you call ‘Zero K’". Oh, this one, that with a few taps will turn you into an ice cube? Wait, where is he? And… Oh, tell me that this leaking air sound is not what I think it is. I turn my head to look at the pack and, yes, it was what I thought it was.

He was behind me, and he’d disconnected the hose from the pack. How did he do that so easily? More importantly, how the hell did he vanish from the very front of my eyes and re-appeared behind me? "It doesn’t work because the stabilization method is wrong. It’s missing some electrical tethers, the same Quantum Nets use to keep their Absolutons inside the quantum receptacles. That way, in this excuse for a weapon, the particles would be stable and not leak nor ‘cool’ the structure". How does he know all that? If he wanted to convince me the gun is really his, he was succeeding. "If it is your gun, then why did I dream about it?", let’s see if he can answer that. "You must have seen my annotations". "I guess I would remember seeing them". "That depends on how you saw them. If it was in an extremely short period of time, like when you change eye focus from one point to another, you would not remember it consciously. That is the most plausible explanation for the dream you claim you had". That… Does make sense. But would make even more sense if I ever even seen this guy before, which it never happened. It’s the first time I see him. "Exactly. You don’t see me, but I’m around, doctor". "Oh, so you know I’m doctor? Do you know my name too? My age? What I do? Where I live? Are you going to be that cliché?". "If I’m always around, of course I know that, and more. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t be watching you properly". Watching me? Why is he watching me? "To make sure you won’t screw up", he said. "What the hell are you talking about?", I asked, and he answered "You’ll know it when it happens" and, like before, vanished. But not vanished in a poof and smoke, like we see on cartoons. He was there for a moment, and then… Gone, like if he’d never been here. He simply disappeared, like he was here in a second and gone in the other. And he took the Zero K’s hose. By now, probably all the Absolutons I spent minutes of my life waiting for to be ready had been leaked into the air, which was cold, so I’m right, they all leaked. What a waste of my time this gun was. He may be right, he may make perfect sense, but I’m not going to waste more time or money by putting electrical tethers in this thing. It’s not worth it. And on top of all, who knows if this guy was even real. As far as I know, he may have been a hallucination due to my poorly slept week. And the hose? I must have dropped it somewhere around here. Being deprived of sleep makes you skip things, scrambles your mind. These crazy projects always do that to me.

Day 155 – Mar 12th – Unhappkneeness
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Image by Kennedy Goodkey
There’s a story here…

Way back in ’93, during the days of the Juanabees we toured one summer with a guy who I’ll call ‘Ryan’ – ’cause that was his name, not because I feel the need to protect his identity. I don’t feel that need at all. He caused me permanent physical harm by being an idiot, and here is how it happened.

On tour I gradually came to trust him less and less on stage. Both in terms of his ability to perform well and serve the needs of the show, but also in his ability to keep me safe on stage. There was a bunch of staged violence in the show – long story, but the three season long running gag was that it was all directed at me. Ryan hurt me in minor careless ways over and over again through the course of the tour. It would have been hard for him to seriously hurt me, otherwise I simply would have refused to keep it up – we would have made changes if I felt truly endangered.
At the end of the tour we went back to theatre school. We were in the same year so shared many of the same classes, including all our acting classes. Specifically – movement.
When it came time for the sword-fighting project, my partner Anne and I had an idea for a project that would require another pair of people. Every other pairing in the class already had ideas for what they wanted to do except for one. The pair that included Ryan.
Ryan’s partner, Colin, I trusted. Anne I trusted. Ryan was a deal breaker as far as I was concerned. Colin was very interested in doing the idea that Anne and I had (which was nothing more elaborate than exploring the possibilities of a four-way fight). Anne and Colin sat me down and promised me that collectively the group would work out a routine that would minimize any physical interaction I had with Ryan, and keep me from having to trust him swinging a sword at me in any way.
The final routine included only one bit of interaction between Ryan and I. We were standing back to back fighting Anne and Colin respectively. Simultaneously we each raised our arms for the ‘final blow’ but ended up interlocking arms above our heads, at which point Ryan would simultaneously swipe his arm down and bend over at the waist, causing me to flip backwards over him and switching the opponents we were fighting. It was a pretty cool move – one of the two highlights of the routine. (The other being Anne a-top my shoulders fighting Ryan behind me, while I fought Colin in front.)
Once the routines were set we rehearsed them three mornings a week for three hours in class for nearly a month. One day both Colin and Anne were sick. Ryan and I had only one thing we could rehearse together. The flip. Three hours of the same maneuver, over and over again. (This was part of why it was one of the highlights – it was easily the most rehearsed part of the routine.)
But near the end of the class Ryan was getting rather bored. He decided to try a new embellishment and in so doing broke one of the cardinal rules of stage combat – he didn’t inform me of the change.
He used his free hand to ‘help’ flip me over, adding torque to the flip. Totally unprepared (and even if I was prepared I don’t think I could have compensated enough) for the faster maneuver, I didn’t have time to rotate my feet around into position. All my weight, multiplied by the speed of the flip, came down on my left knee.
I actually didn’t feel anything (at first) but it sounded like a small wet explosion when I hit the mat.
The entire class when dead quiet.
Our instructor, Kaz Piezowocki (you could write a book about him – I am surprised that a google search only comes up with a single hit) sharply ordered Ryan out of the room.
Inside of an hour my knee was the size of a honeydew melon.
It took two weeks before I could easily bend it again – by which point I had included the limp as a character choice in the mainstage play I was in (Herr Schultz in ‘Cabaret’.) which was a significant milestone in my acting and I always credit the limp as part of it. (Gee, thanks Ryan.)
It actually took years for my knee to ‘heal completely’ though by now it is obvious that that isn’t the case.
About 18 months ago I started having intermittent trouble with it when I was jogging. It took me six months to convince myself out of the denial that jogging for me was over. And it’s taken me most of a year to figure out an alternate routine to keep myself fit – I’ve gained a lot of weight in that time that I’ve only really just managed to start losing again.
Last week my bike developed a problem on the way to work and I ended up not being able to use the pedals. I could coast downhill and use it like a scooter on the flat-stretches, but uphill… walking only.
Until I got fed up and jogged the last uphill block. One block. That’s all. By that evening my knee was pretty sore, and still was when I took this shot, though it’s feeling fine now.

Thanks Ryan. You knob.

Ryan wasn’t invited back to the last year of the acting program. Rumour was that he failed in that moment, though he never said anything about it himself. I saw him a few years ago – managing a Bread Garden. I hope his life is good, but I’m glad I don’t have to worry about ever being expected to trust him with my safety again. I wouldn’t. Simply no two ways about it. I already compromised once and paid a price.

For the record… my knee was usable enough to perform the routine for our in class grading. In that same performance Anne broke her ankle and we couldn’t do the presentation performance for the whole school. We were apparently cursed.

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