@problemsdog’s prompt could have been used to churn out a bog-standard “oh woes the folly of man” story, but @mikeisbrill’s tongue is lodged so firmly in their cheek that the two have merged into a single fleshy mass. This one’s a giggle from start to finish and rife with a good bit of wordplay.
STORY NUMBER: 46
PROMPT PROVIDER: @problemsdog
“Look at it,” said Jacobson. “Just fucking look at it.”
The object on the tray wasn’t much to look at, sure. It wasn’t anything to look at, in fact. What Maria and her group had brought back from space was more notable by what it wasn’t than what it was. What it was, wasn’t anything.
“It’s a genuine scientific discovery,” said Maria. “No human has ever set eyes on this stuff before.”
“And what,” said Jacobson, sucking hard on his electronic cigarette and running a greasy hand through his greasier hair, “What, when you say ‘this stuff’, what exactly do you mean by that?”
Maria gulped. “It’s nothing, sir.”
“It’s not just nothing, though. It’s Nothing. Pure, absolute, ancient, one hundred per cent nothing.”
Jacobson threw his e-cigarette into the bin, where it joined several others. He didn’t know they were rechargeable. It was costing him a lot of money.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars of government money, and nothing,” he spat. “It’s a goddamn joke. You genuinely expect me to turn around at the press conference and tell them we haven’t got anything, and not get canned? We’re done. We’re all done.”
“It’s not that we don’t have anything,” said Maria, trying to will herself taller. “We have nothing. This is what there was before the Big Bang, before there was something. This is one of the last bits of nothing left, because almost everywhere else has something in it. This pre-dates everything, boss. Everything.”
“It’s old, huh? Hey, that could be something,” said Jacobson, taking another e-cigarette out of the vending machine he’d recently had installed. “If we have the oldest thing in the universe, that’s something, right? The papers would go for that. How old is it? Do we, like, carbon date it?”
Maria grimaced involuntarily. “We, uh, can’t do that, boss, no. There’s no carbon to date. There’s no anything. It’s nothing. It doesn’t have an age, because age is a quality, and it possesses no qualities other than an absence of qualities, which is in itself a quality, which means no it doesn’t. It’s a massless non-gaseous non-liquid non-solid comprised of absolutely nothing. It’s almost a vacuum but it’s slightly less interesting than that.”
Jacobson put a biro in his mouth and tried to inhale it. “How big is it? Is there that? Is there one fucking thing you can give me?”
“It isn’t approximately 480 by 220 by 290 millimetres, boss. As in, if it was anything, that would be its volume, but as nothing it has none, doesn’t even measure zero and isn’t a thing.”
Jacobson held his hands up to work out the dimensions he was being told. “So, like a sports bag kind of size?”
“Yes and no, boss. As it isn’t anything––”
“Okay, yep, got it. Christ.” Jacobson looked at the framed picture on his desk, of he and his ex-wife in happier times. “Is there anything, any thing at all, that it teaches us?”
“Well, this is what existed before the universe formed,” said Maria. “This is – or rather isn’t – what things were – or rather weren’t – when there weren’t any. In a way, this isn’t where it all began.”
“So it teaches us what?”
“Well, we knew there was nothing before there was anything, so it sort of confirms that at the same time as not doing so at all.”
“Right,” said Jacobson. He was in a lot of trouble. “So our conclusion, as highly-decorated members of the most ambitious space programme in history, is ‘Aha, just as we thought, nothing’?”
Jacobson picked up the tray and peered at its non-contents before lowering it to the floor. He stood in front of it and undid his belt.
“Tomorrow I’m presenting this at a press conference to justify the spending of an absurd, obscene amount of money,” he said. “This is going to take a lot of thought, and I’m tired, and stressed, and overworked, and underpaid, and my cholesterol is through the roof and I can’t stop smoking and I need a shit. I need a goddamn shit.”
Maria tried to avoid eye contact. He was making her feel very uncomfortable.
Jacobson lowered his trousers and squatted over the tray. “I’ll come up with something, but right now I’ve got nothing to go on.”
PROMPT: Alien artifact found. Indescribable object totally lacking qualities. Situation not handled well.