Thin Line (short fiction)

Empire City

The corpse of the cyborg gigantobear lay wrapped in the dozen tentacles of the equally terrible, equally dead tyranosquid. Technicians had worked for an hour to separate the two monsters of science gone wrong before calling it quits. Now they struggled to load the two abominations into a transport for proper disposal.

Justine Chang took a survey of the ruined lab where the battle had taken place. She made note of the damage, and of the potential danger the two monsters had posed to the city. Empire had a hell of a lot of weird science running loose, and it was her job to assess potential threats to the greater good. It wasn’t easy. The Learned Council had a generous policy toward accidents of high science. Mistakes were going to be made. Things were going to blow up. Genetically modified titans were going to grapple to the death now and then. There was a thin line between reckless scientific enthusiasm and genuine malicious genius.

She questioned the chief scientists involved. Dr. Vorlok was a short, squat man with a heavy beard and a monocle. Monocles always put Justine on edge. Dr. Khaos (with a K, he reminded her multiple times) was tall and lean with a limp and a vaguely European accent that she couldn’t place. This put her on edge too.

“Let’s go over it one more time, gentlemen,” she said. “Why were you building these monsters again?”

“The greater good,” said Vorlok.

“For scientific advancement,” added Khaos.

“Mmhmm.” She checked those boxes on her report. “And how did the bear—”

“Gigantobear,” corrected Vorlok.

“Sorry. Gigantobear. How did it escape again?”

“Containment protocols failed. You sabotaged it, didn’t you, Khaos? Admit it!”

Khaos snorted. “You are just fortunate that my tyranosquid was here. If your beast had gotten loose among the innocent citizens of this city . . . ”

“What are you talking about? My magnificent gigantobear kept your horrible mistake from harming anyone, and it was a good thing I had the foresight to create it.”

“It was a better thing that I was smart enough to employ my genius to counter your inevitable sloppiness.”

“So let me get this straight,” Justine said. “You built your gigantobear to keep the city safe from his tyranosquid, and you built the tyranosquid to keep the city safe from his gigantobear.”

They nodded, glaring at each other.

“And the greater good,” added Vorlok.

“Scientific advancement,” mumbled Khaos.

She thanked them for their time. She chalked this up to another scientific rivalry gone wrong. Such incidents were all too common in Empire. She made a note to recommend immediate separation of Vorlok and Khaos. It usually nipped the problem in the bud. She’d keep an eye on them in the meantime.

On her way out of the labs, she spotted a hunched woman in a labcoat cackling beside a thirty foot robot.

“It’s a trash collection automaton,” said the wild eyed engineer.

“And why does it have chainsaw arms?” asked Justine.

“Scientific advancement?” said the engineer, not sounding entirely convinced herself.

Shaking her head, Justine started filling out a fresh report.

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  1. Posted July 23, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Of all the short stories you’ve been writing, this one probably has the best introductory sentence.

  2. thebibliomancer
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    You’ve been getting some mileage out of the Empire City setting recently. I can’t complain – it is a great setting where a wide diversity of things are possible. Are you particularly inspired by it?

  3. Rod B
    Posted September 20, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh science, your the bestworst.

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