He was the man with the answer. They wanted him dead. She planned to keep him alive. New Fiction from Victor Storiguard.
It was unfortunate, she thought. He seemed like a nice man, even cute in his way. He had a ready smile, was quick to help if needed (the way that he always helped old Mrs. Isaak get her groceries into her apartment), but never offensively intrusive. When she’d gotten into conversations with him, he was funny and bright, very witty, and, clearly intelligent and learned.
It was a pity she had to do what she had to do.
Well, it was her job. They told her that he was selling technology to The Other Side. She wasn’t clear on the exact nature of the contraband. But, whatever it was, it was dangerous. And to handle the problem they’d gotten her the condo next to his in the big building in Seattle. She’d very carefully spent the last few weeks making his acquaintance. It would be necessary to make it seem that she was really interested in him.
Though, there was the thing. In other circumstances, she really would be. He had that sense of naivety, even innocence, which she found on some level attractive in men.
But…well…one does what one must in the name of the greater good. And so, that night, at around seven when she knew he was in and alone, she opened her backpack and carefully placed within it the Smith & Wesson M&P 22 Compact and the Sparrow suppressor. The neighbors would think they were watching Gunsmoke reruns. If they heard at all.
Then she gathered the bottle of scotch and the two glasses, and she slipped across the way to his door.
He answered the knock and was stunned to see her standing in front of him.
“Hello,” said his beautiful neighbor, “sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if I could borrow a cup of sugar.”
He stared at her. “Pardon?”
“Okay,” she laughed at his stunned expression. “Not sugar. A cup of scotch perhaps.”
He caught sight of the bottle in her hand. “But, you have, that is…”
“Ah, right. How forgetful of me. I seem to have that already. Maybe just ice. Yes, we could use some ice.”
“I…well…that is…certainly.” His expression moved from bewilderment to Oh-My-God-How-Did-I-Get-So-Lucky?
Again, she laughed, and slipped around him. “Don’t worry,” she said, as she brushed past his arm, “I’ll be gentle.”
He stood as if frozen for just a second longer, then, still in wide-eyed wonder, he remembered to close and lock the door.
It was afterwards. They were cuddling in the bed. He was staring at her adoringly. “I just can’t believe this. It is amazing. You are amazing.”
Oh, dear, she thought, sadly. But she smiled. “And you’re amazing too,” she said. The incredible thing was that she really meant it. She’d enjoyed herself with him, which wasn’t something she could always say.
She rolled over on her side to face him. “So, what do you do, anyway? I mean, professionally?” Best to make conversation until he slept. Then, while he was no longer awake, it would be easy enough.
“Hmm? Me? Nothing interesting. I’m a physicist.”
“That sounds pretty interesting to me. You study everything from stars to quarks.”
He smiled at her. “Well, yes. Though my particular speciality is something else.”
“Ah…I’m a muon maker.” He laughed.
She looked at him. “You’re going to have to explain that.”
“Okay, but, er, I don’t want to…what’s the word? …Mansplain.”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know.”
He nodded. “Fine. But let me refresh the drinks, first.” He got up and filled their glasses. Then he returned to bed and took his place beside her. “Right, taking muons from the top.”
A muon, he explained, was a kind of elementary, sub-atomic particle, “sort of like an electron, but much weirder.” They were difficult to catch and harder to produce. “Most of the ones that show up here on earth happen when a cosmic ray hits a particle way up in the atmosphere. That produces a pion which decays into a muon. Which finally makes it all the way to the ground. Where it lasts just a short time before it ceases to exist.”
“Fascinating,” she said, pretending to care. “And what does one use muons for?”
He nodded. “There are some applications. They can be used like X-rays, for instance. But the really cool application would be in energy production.”
She didn’t know why, but all of a sudden she was genuinely interested. “Pardon me?”
“Well, here’s the cool thing. Remember I said that muons are like electrons but weirder? They are also much bigger. If you bombard a chunk of hydrogen with muons, then it is possible that some of the electrons in the hydrogen atoms will be replaced by muons. When that happens, the hydrogen atoms go squish…they sort of collapse. And if they do that, they may fuse. Like in a hydrogen bomb, but on a way smaller level. Which means the hydrogen turns into a little helium, plus a whole bunch of energy.”
She felt a wrenching cold in her stomach. “Energy…”
“Uh-huh. A lot of energy. It’s called Muon-catalyzed fusion. People have talked about doing it for ages. Almost a hundred years. But it has always been too expensive to produce the muons.”
“Only,” she said, still feeling the awful chill, “you’ve figured out how to produce muons by the ton.”
“Well, I don’t want to brag. But, yes, I’m making progress. Turns out if you use laser confinement and a bit of boron…”
She sat up slowly in bed. “Cheap, inexpensive, energy…for all the world.” She looked over at him. “You do realize what this means?”
“I guess. People won’t have to pay so much for electricity. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
Oh, my sweet country mouse, she thought. The boy beside her was about to disrupt the world. Empires would fall. Industries would cease to be viable. Fossil fuel companies, already threatened by renewables…wind and solar…would cease to exist.
Which meant that powerful men and women would want this man dead. Now. And they’d be willing to tell Homeland Security agents that it was a matter of national importance, when all it really was was greed and power.
She faked a smile. “This is all really interesting, but I’m beginning to fade. Would you mind if we settled down for a bit?”
“Of course! Me, too.”
They snuggled down together and he switched the lights off. She waited in the dark until she heard his breathing deepen. When she was certain he was asleep, she gently extracted herself from his embrace, went into the front room, dressed silently, and took the .22 and the silencer from within it. Then, she took her phone and texted to the number, “Package ready for pickup.”
She went back into his bedroom and looked at him for a moment in the semi-darkness. She listened, once more, to his breathing. She aimed the pistol at his forehead, directly between the eyes. She felt the temptation to follow orders. She overcame it.
Right, she thought.
She turned, left the apartment, and waited by the elevator. She watched it rise. It came to her floor. The door opened.
The two men inside were armed. They had their weapons drawn. She knew their orders were to kill her as well, to make certain there would be no witnesses.
But they never got the chance. The little .22 coughed twice. They fell back into the elevator, one with a killing wound in the left eye, the other with a similar wound in the right.
She took the elevator, and the bodies, to the building’s basement. She dragged the two men into her storage facility and left them wrapped in an ancient green tarp that had been in the place since the last tenant. A few cardboard boxes concluded their concealment. It would be days, maybe weeks before anyone discovered them. Few people came down here, and so not even the smell would be detected.
The elevator returned her to her floor. She took cleaning supplies from her own apartment and mopped up the blood where the two men had fallen. It wasn’t a perfect job and there would be stains, but no one would realize they weren’t just grease or dirt unless they were using forensic techniques. After that, it was a quick shower for herself, and she slipped back into his apartment, into his bed, and into his arms.
Yes. It would take them a long time to figure out what had happened. And when they finally did, it would be too late. She would have convinced him to move someplace else, someplace where he was hidden, and where she could protect him.
And even if she couldn’t protect him forever, his papers would have already been published, and the information already be out into the world.
After which, nothing, absolutely nothing, would save the Great and the Powerful from their fate.
Thinking thus she smiled to herself, held him tight, and joined him in comfortable slumber.
Victor Storiguard is a writer based in New England. His preferred genre is science fiction, particularly SF dealing with the posthuman future. However, he tells us, he has recently become fascinated by “the all too probable conflict between American’s plutocrats and the rest of us.”