With some touches of intrasolar social friction that reminded me of James S. A. Corey, a richly villainous narrative voice, and a moth skin suit, here’s a splendid story by @ka_bradley that turns @howliet’s gadgetry prompt into a playful – and sinister – character piece. Read it slowly – there’s some superb details along the way.
STORY NUMBER: 21
PROMPT PROVIDER: @howliet
The thing is, Inspector, is that the only crime you can really accuse me of is supplying demand. That’s all I did – saw a gap in the market, plugged a gap in the market.
See this desk? This is Jupiter applewood. Solid all the way through. I don’t go in for veneers. I’m an honest man, what you see is what you get. You met my secretary? Latest model, synced to my calendar, two hundred year guarantee. Not one of your hologram jobbies either. I like the human touch, if you know what I mean. You like my suit? Reinforced mothskin. Not the force-bred kind, either. Pure organic moonmoth.
I’m not telling you this because I’m trying to impress you. I’m not insecure. I don’t need approving. Everything you see here, I worked hard to get. This office. This suit. This security. You think I was born like this? You think I was born into money?
No, you didn’t. You know how I can tell?
It’s because you’re like me.
You were born on one of the colonies, weren’t you? You’ve got the skin of someone who grew up under artificial light. I can always tell. Like recognises like, Inspector. You must have worked your way to Earth the hard way, like me. It’s a dirty path through deep space but you’ve got to walk it.
You know, when I first got here, they were still calling us Major Toms? I used to get gobbed on, not just by young punks either, by the olds, respectable people. They’d tell me that they were demonstrating the finer points of Earth gravity. You ever get any of that?
You don’t have to answer.
Anyway, you’re here about crimes against the fabric of space-time. That’s a biggie. That’s a real doozy.
The inventor of the Minute Harvester was a Major Tom too. A real ‘roidie, tanked up on Earth-love and milky-eyed from staring out into the patch of black the coordinates told him was his real home. He was a farflung, it took him four years to travel here and just as long to work up the savings.
The weak ones go like that, you know, when they get here. They talk a walk in a park and get greensick, ill on chlorophyll. Dawns make ‘em prickle. You couldn’t have come up with something like the Minute Harvester if you weren’t already half insane. The maths was wild, some of it invisible, the equations would sink into the page.
He came to me because I’ve got a reputation for giving little guys like that the big chance. I listen. I listen to the ‘roidies, the asteroid bumfluff that crash down here like frozen turds from a spaceship toilet. You know why? I remember what it was like, being them. It’s us against them. They call this place the cradle of humanity, but it ain’t seeming so humane to me, some days.
Hey, you remember your first dawn? I had a nosebleed. I’m not kidding. All those colours! All that fucking birdsong! It was too much, too much. There’s too much here. This whole planet is a superabundance. It’s shit and riches. Makes me nauseous sometimes. That’s why I loved the idea of the Minute Harvester. Gather up wasted time, sell it on to the folks who need it! There’s too much here. You could call it the old socialist in me. My dad always used to say –
No, I didn’t understand the science. Do I look like a science guy?
Well, when the first complaints came in, they didn’t look like Minute Harvester problems. So I didn’t think it was my problem.
You know what I mean. They looked like terrorist attacks. Those big oily blisters where houses used to be, all the stuff floating around inside… Yeah, the bodies. I saw the news, Inspector, I saw it just like everyone else. They didn’t exactly spare the details.
No, I’m not familiar with the phrase ‘accelerated chrono-narrative’. I’ve got a degree in business admin. It’s honorary, by the way. I did all my learning the hard way. School of hard knocks.
Well, I wouldn’t want you to forget.
Obviously I’m sorry for all those people. We shouldn’t have released the prototype so early. But, when you think about it, maybe they shouldn’t have been so greedy. What did they need that extra time for? They weren’t shift workers, they weren’t juggling jobs and kids or whatever. They had time and money to spare. They just wanted to spend a little longer drinking their sundowners or screwing their mistresses. Or masters. What do you call a male mistress? A lover?
Hey, you want to hear a joke?
You don’t want to hear a joke?
That’s too bad, you’re going to hear a joke.
What do you call the thing between a mister and a mattress? That’s the mistress!
It’s a good joke, Inspector. It has to be. It’s the last one you’ll hear for a while.
I’m sorry to do this to you. I recognise a lot of myself in you. And I’m a ruthless sonofabitch. It’s how I got here. It’s how you got here. If it wasn’t gonna be me, then it’s gonna be you. You know?
So, what I’ve given you there is about twelve years. I’m not a cruel man. I could have given you a century. We’ve got the reserves. You won’t believe how much stuff is on this planet. Time, trees, animals. Trash, so much trash, and I don’t just mean waste products.
Don’t worry, you’re not going to go the way of the prototype users. This is our new model. Market-ready. You’ll be just fine. All your guts are staying inside you.
It’ll seal over you in a few moments. Do you have anything else you want to say before I see you in twelve years’ time?
You didn’t like my joke? Oh that’s too bad, Inspector, that’s too bad.
PROMPT: someone collects all the wasted time in the universe, sells it as a commodity