28 August 2009


By Curtis C. Chen

"I still don't see how this is going to work," Mike said.

"You and your pessimism," Carol said. "Bertie! Don't touch that!"

She reached down and pulled a battery pack away from the baby, then resumed wrapping coils of wire around the large emitter assembly. Albert began scanning the floor of the garage for something else to play with.

"'Bertie?'" Mike said. "Is that what you're calling him now?"

"Is there anything I do that you don't object to?" Carol asked.

"I'm not objecting," Mike said. "I'm just trying to understand your genius."

Carol smiled, leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you too, honey."

"Albert!" Mike jumped off his stool and lifted the baby before he could tip over a trash bin full of scrap metal. The baby struggled to get away. "We need to give him a toy or something."

"Here," Carol said, switching on a pair of coin-sized field emitter prototypes. Two shimmering disks appeared, glowing blue and humming softly, like a pair of flat, translucent gems set atop matching titanium rings. "He'll like these. They're shiny."

"Gee, can you find something more dangerous for him to play with?" Mike said.

"They're perfectly safe." Carol handed the emitters to the baby. Albert made a happy noise and immediately began banging the two force fields together. They bounced off each other, repelling like magnets, and warbled faintly. "See?"

Albert was completely engrossed. He pressed the flat surfaces of the two fields together, trying and failing to close the final few millimeters between them.

Mike gave Carol a flat look of resignation. "Just so you know, I plan to testify against you."

"I love you too, dear."

A sharp sound from the baby caused them both to look down. Albert had both emitters facing out, away from his body, and the fields overlapped like a Venn diagram. He held them aloft with one hand, requesting parental intervention to repair his toy.

Mike squinted at the tiny blue disks. "They're stuck together. The fields are touching!"

"That's impossible," Carol said.

"See for yourself." Mike yanked the emitters out of Albert's hand. The baby immediately started bawling.

"Jesus, Mike!"

Mike scooped up Albert with one arm and held out the emitters to Carol with the other. "Sorry," he said, rocking the baby gently. The bawling continued.

Carol stared at the emitters and the impossibly but undeniably conjoined force fields, a tiny miracle shining at her against all their expectations. She looked up at her husband and her baby—her biological child.

"I'll take him," Carol said, reaching her arms out to Albert. "You put it under the scope."

Mike gaped at her. "You sure?"

Carol stepped off her chair, walked around Mike, and lifted Albert off his shoulder and onto hers.

"I can see from here," Carol said. "You're better with those controls."

Mike shifted over to the other side of the workbench and switched on the microscope display. Albert clutched and chewed Carol's shirt collar, drooling down her back. She smiled at the familiar discomfort.


Audio: "Armor"

I do have friends named Mike and Carol, but this week's character names are not instances of tuckerization. Those particular appellations just happened to sound right. You may, if you like, imagine that their surname is "Lockhorn."

Music: background stems from "You Ruined Everything" by Jonathan Coulton, licensed under Creative Commons.


One Man's Trash

An earlier draft of this week's story featured more detailed descriptions of the setting, which I modeled after our friend Acorn's garage. He really does have open bins of scrap metal--and worse--lying around all the time. Plus that coffin we made for FoBiK, but that's another story...