26 December 2008

"The Forty"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Merry Christmas," Andy said as he slid back into the passenger seat, holding out a paper cup.

"I'm Jewish," Jake said, taking a swig of coffee. "And this is awful."

"Sorry. Not a lot of Starbucks around here... hey, is that him?"

Jake looked out the windshield. "Yup. Let's go."

They exited the car into a gust of wind. Andy trotted to keep up with Jake as they crossed the street.

"Anthony Torza?" Jake called.

The man stopped walking. "Who wants to know?"

Jake held up his badge. Torza cursed.

"We need to see your artifact, Mr. Torza," Jake said.

"It ain't mine," Torza said. "I'm just holding it. For my cousin. He ain't a bad guy, he's just got a record--"

"We don't care, Mr. Torza," Jake said. "We just want to see the artifact."


Torza led them upstairs to his apartment. They watched him struggle with his keys, then finally take off his gloves to unlock the door. Once inside, Torza opened his closet and extracted a battered cardboard box.

"Be honest with you, I'll be glad to get rid of this thing," Torza said. "They give off some kind of radiation, right? I just hope it ain't made me sterile or nothing."

Andy opened the box. It was full of pencils.

"What the hell?" Andy said.

"It's lead," Torza said. "To stop the radiation?"

Andy wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. He settled for shaking his head, then scooped pencils out of the box until he revealed a metal shape, which he lifted with both hands.

Torza's artifact was identical to all the others: a regular icosahedron roughly the size and weight of a basketball. Nobody knew where the artifacts had come from. They had simply appeared one day, scattered across the globe. The agency had determined there should be forty artifacts--twenty matched pairs--based on their surface markings, and was tracking them all down. Andy rotated the artifact until he found the symbols.

"Seventeen," he translated, then stood up quickly and threw the artifact at Torza. "Think fast!"

Torza reflexively raised both hands to catch the artifact before it hit him in the chest. As soon as his skin touched the metal, the artifact began glowing with a soft blue light.

"We got a winner," Andy said, smiling.

"Thank you, Mr. Torza," Jake said. "We'll take that now. And at your convenience, we'd like to schedule an interview and routine medical exam."


The contents of the cardboard box rattled as Andy put it in the trunk.

"Lead," he said, getting into the car. "Clearly these things don't choose people based on intelligence. You ever wonder why they come in pairs? Or why the faces are twenty triangles?"

"Not interested," Jake said, starting the car. "Just four more 'owners' to track down, then we can get back to real work."

"Yeah." Andy scratched his chin. "But I'd still like to solve the puzzle. Close the case. You know?"

Jake shrugged. "If wishes were horses, kid. You'll learn to settle for a decent cup of coffee."



lahosken said...

So all those war-gamer geeks with their lead miniatures were trying to shield themselves from their dice? Or maybe that was just a happy side-effect.

LC said...

I know this sounds simplistic, but I really like how you've painted two different agents -- Andy, who is earnest, and wants to understand the 40, and Jake, who gives nary a shit and just wants to get the job done. And you did it subtly, without making caricatures out of them. A lot of potential for these characters.