Catch

Days were lost in the vibrant hum of machinery. Rings floated from paper, chained in a pleasant melody of different shapes and colors. Purples, blues, and reds churned into new concoctions. The feint sound of Vivaldi wafted from a set of speakers in the corner of the lab as equations burst forth in a crescendo of exuberance only to fall quickly in the sense of quiet reality. Suspense and anticipation rose with every test. Nothing was more beautiful than discovery, fatherhood of abstraction and eternal life.

‘Heather,’  the sense of enchantment faded slightly. ‘Is the shaker ready?”

Julian’s lab partner, an equally passionate and intelligent woman grabbed the test tube from the table without prompting. Both were enchanted composers.

“Let’s do this.”

Julian chuckled.

“Indeed.”

Heather smiled warmly. The work continued to enthrall even after months of perseverance. Research was a measured master.

The shaker rattled. Chemicals turned into potions before the alchemists eyes. Perhaps this concoction would be better, this tweak would be satisfactory. It would be another day before the two could even start to understand their new compound.

Testing day. The coffee tested same. The routine never changed. Julian pulled up to the loud speaker of his favorite fast food restaurant.

“I’ll have an egg sandwich.”

The soft texture and warmth were comforting. Park, grab the badge, walk into the stark interior of the university laboratory. It was just another day. Julian hated how confident he had become in the continuation of his research. He needed something to keep him on edge.

Heather was always early.  She became accustomed to waking up with the sun while growing up on a farm. A few students scattered throughout the lab prepared monitors and cages for the test subjects.

On a hunch, the rats were split into three groups. Aside from the control group and one afflicted with Huntington’s disease, a group of healthy rodents was also set to receive the new elixir. Hopefully, the diseased rodents would show signs of improvement in the coming days. . It would take at least a weak for the data to form a pattern.

Every Thursday, Julian sat at his laptop responding to emails and taking care of clerical work. He monotonously plodded on. It seemed that undergraduate students would do anything to get out of actual work.

The door to his office, slamming against the wall.

“Jesus!” Julian turned to see who had entered, half expecting to see a student.

“Heather?”

“You’re going to want to see this. It is working.”

“Ok?”

“It’s better than expected. They want to try it on humans!”

“Already?”

“The afflicted group is showing massive signs of improvement. There is a catch. It seems to improve cognitive awareness equally well.”

“Dammit. One of our grants is with the military.”

The DARPA grant was one of the main reasons their research continued.

The desert was an inhospitable place. High temperatures, hostile civilians, patrols in heavy, somewhat useless clothing. Joe kissed a a picture of his wife and brother with Huntington’s disease whom she took care of. They couldn’t afford in-home care or the new medicine that promised to help temporarily reverse cell degeneration. The actual concoction was supposed to be the cheapest on the market but his brother would likely be dead within a few years.

“Ready sergeant?” A scrawny private asked.

“Let’s go. Command gave us some pills that are supposed to help with.”

“Have you tried them?”

“Yes.” Joe lied but took his pill anyway. The rest of the marines followed suit.

Baijah was a backwards place. The buildings were easily comparable to the beaten down one room shacks found in the back woods and ghettos of Arkansas. Everyone was on edge. Poor, desperate, and indoctrinated. These were the perfect people to turn into hostiles. The soldiers eyed the walls and roofs suspiciously.

The barricade wasn’t surprising. A few burning buses, enough to stop the convoy of joint light tactical vehicles. Bullets pinged off the specialized plates. The company specialized grabbed the controls to the remote turret and started to suppress the enemy.

Room clearing. Joe barked orders. Something felt different. Even with the instinct instilled by basic and continual training, everyone was more alert.

The group entered the third building intact. The entryway was pitch black but something was amiss. Out of the corner of his eye, Joe spotted a small slot no larger than a can of Bud. He took aim as his soldiers walked into the room. The first shot from the AK-47 whizzed off of the side of a privates helmet and Joe fired a perfect salvo at the hole. The tip of the gun protruded loosely from the wall.

The private, who would normally be seriously wounded shot Joe a quick glance.

“Freaking pills.” He blurted out.

Julian’s new vehicle was somewhat of a spectacle at his new gig. Headquarters was set in an old industrial building not unlike a strip mall. Julian and Heather were a success story to the newly graduated PHDs. The university was happy to take a portion and let their work continue.

The chemist’s parked in his front row spot, grabbed his breakfast sandwich and walked into Paladine Enterprises where Heather stood talking to a potential employee.

“Julian, we have another order from the army.”

The candidate’s eyes narrowed with keen interest.

 

Almost

His hands trembled, his heart fluttered, her deep blue eyes, radiant warmth, and lustrous curly red hair that shimmered like the wavelets on a lake in the early morning son had him perplexed. He did not care for the chaos surrounding him, nor did he notice it. For now she was everything, the woman who haunted him when he closed his eyes, an object of fixation for some time after leaving her company. He had her, in all her glory.

He leaned in gradually, caressing the back of her neck. An explosion rocked the air. Neither seemed to care. Her smile turned to acceptance, her demeanor to preparation, not of their impending doom but of something more primal and deep. He knew he had won her over. He did not know how a simple boy could win such an amazing woman. Perhaps it really was love. He leaned his slightly taller frame ever closer to her, slowly so as not to rouse suspicion. Could it be?

Her eyes did not close, she was an experienced lover. He nearly broke as the building around them swayed and buckled, the air filling with dust. The world was ending. The buildup was over. The slight smiles, the intense feeling of his head splitting in two. Her constant knowledge of everything he liked and held dear. She had built a palace in his mind. Not insurmountable but not without its challenges. Her seemingly teasing behavior had only led him to throw his rope towards that window, to pine so loudly he screamed silently for Juliet on her balcony. This was nothing now.

Just when the emotions reached fever pitch, when gratification was locked lip to lip, the dust spilled over. Everything went black. For centuries they stood as fragile statues, a reminder of something almost obtained, of humanity at its best. A triumph despite its ugliness.

The anthropologist smiled. She knew the feeling. Love was the same in the year 4000 as it was in the terrible eruption of 2173.

Buried

Just a mere hundred feet to go. The feeling of rejoice overcame the mountain climbers. For days they trekked to reach the summit. It was a task that not many people in the modern world understood.

Jake’s watch beeped and a hologram appeared. It was the GPS in his smartwatch. He set it to notify him every 1000 feet. The bright blue sky obscured the reading as the sun bounced brightly off the snow. He was no pioneer but it was the love of the mountain that kept him going. Only the other hikers could understand. Some still clung to the pioneer feeling, glazed over the hard truths by advertising. Those people did not get this far.

The mountain claims respect or it claims you. Jake looked up over the gleaming, cold black wall. His axe pinged off hard granite. He swung again, it cracked, he slipped. Hard rock fell off to the side below

‘Heads Up!’ By then the rock had passed. Jake sighed.

This was the laborious part. Jake’s modern shoes made it easier but his modern life was truly catching up to him. Every few feet seemed to take forever, breathes came faster, he could heel the harshly soft sting of his labor bathing his lungs in its ink.

Five feet, Jake paused, his adrenaline and excitement going.

Four feet, the pitch mellowed he didn’t need rope anymore.

A burst of energy. Three feet, two feet, one foot.

The burst forced Jake to stop. He couldn’t stop. His legs thrust forward as if on command from his desperate and growing need to reach the summit.

Jake collapsed with a smile remembering for a slight moment he still needed to get down.

 

A Tale of Three Cities

Part I: The Middle

For Barry, an average build twenty something with a pension for vulgarity, his fear was untenable. His days were a daze. The homeless man on the corner made him wonder about his backup plan. Everything was crushing him as he creaked to the light in his 1999 Saturn.

His parents had it easy. They spent his salary on a home. That could get peanuts today. Tomorrow, maybe literally. They didn’t have school loans. He was  in debt in a way that they thought he was underwater. For his parents, gas was under two dollars, cars cost nothing, thoughts of computers taking over were pure paranoia, and that was after compensating for inflation. The last generation was better off. They earned the same and paid less. Most didn’t even need an education to get a job. How could he pay it forward, the world was a wreck.

The scraggly haired homeless man held his sign reading “Family of three, lost job after broke leg, anything helps. God bless.”

Christ, Barry thought. I have no cash and he’s looking right at me. Is that sign even real? But I don’t pray. God doesn’t give a shit.

Barry’s mind turned frantically to the future and the internal nagging began again. Thr same nagging thoughts in a cruelly materialistic world.

“I earn more than my parents but I have loans, higher bills, and cannot afford what they could. All they do is call me ungrateful. I make the average household salary two years out of school and I can barely afford car payments. Only my grandparents seem to understand. They could live in the city though. I’m single because all woman want is a man with twice their own salary and that is based on perception. What is going on? I’ll get them, I build the programs that will replace them all.”

Barry laughed manically to himself. Life was quick, it was a daze. Yesterday he was 18 today he was 26.

‘Fuck,’ the light turned green. The homeless man now looking in his window frowning. Is it the comment or the knowledge that he wasn’t getting anything. How the ‘fuck’ is that a job.

Barry sighed, that was his second out load curse of the day. How would Darlene ever know how he felt with words like that. She is truly amazing even if she is ten years his senior. A red curly haired woman, her blue eyes could pierce the sole. She was smart, somewhat technical, and everything else he wanted in a woman. Her half smiles showed she knew what he thought but his advances were always spurned. She seemed so much taller than 5 feet 8 inches. Fate, always a —, Barry caught his own thoughts in rush hour. What does Darlene think of his speech? Clearly she must know he isn’t rubbish. On the other hand, he would give his left nut to go steady with her. Maybe, he thought, in a jar of formaldehyde.That way, if things ended, he would have something to give the next girl.

His laughter became audible to the commuters surrounding him. Barry just gave them crazy eyes.

Time to deploy the math that will defeat the world and make others rich. How I love to make decisions for others. Perhaps Darlene would be her radiant self. Even if she seemed distant at first, she was quite a joy to get to know.

Part 2: The Low

Jill cleared her eyes. She stared at the cracked sealing and then at the rat trap in her apartment. Four years ago, this apartment was at average rent. Today, her food service position could hardly make ends meet.

She had a community college degree. Most people in her community thought that would allow her to get into the middle class. Her parents had nothing and came to this country with only the shirts on their backs. She bought into the exuberance. Perhaps too much. Maybe she shouldn’t have shrugged off the positions she had though were beneath her. After all, that man, Barry, was building systems. She was building sandwiches. It was depression at first thought. He could only have been as smart as she was, STEM background aside. Something seemed wrong. He was bald at 26.

Jill immediately went to her resume. Many had told her it was strong but getting a decent job seemed like winning the lottery? She had applied for secretary, purchase order fulfillment professional, sales person, and more without a single call back. The only reason she had her current position was because a friend from the army knew she needed help and had some service industry experience.

3.4, associates degree, work experience, honorable discharge, and a woman from a clearly man’s world. She should have been a good candidate. Life! Today must be the lucky day!

Jill looked in the mirror at her black shirt and name tag. She felt like she was still in the army, just one that cared even less. They cared but they weren’t spending 12 million dollars for training and a few thousand dollars each year on her. Instead, she was cleaning their stores and making them money for the same wages. She could hardly pay the rent. The army had cheap food, a free cot, and a roof. Her roof was about to fail. A note on the fridge, filled only with ketchup, reminded her that rent was going up again. The refrigerator hummed loudly and menacingly.

Everything went as usual, the bus ride, the small courtesies. Nothing ever changed, just the level of effort to get it. Jill shut it all out with a smile and wished she had headphones, let alone a phone. Those bills were beyond her. At least landlines were cheap. Breakfast, on the other hand, was not. She might sneak something in at work. Jill felt the need to go to college but thought about how crushing the debt would be.

“Hello Jill.”

Thoughts of processed meat breakfasts and college degrees slipped from her mind. Her life had become so routine she didn’t even need to think.

“Darlene!” Jill smiled. “The usual.”

Jill knew Darelene could seem distant sometimes but getting to know her was actually a joy. Sadly, it was one of the things that kept her going.

“Yes,” Darlene smiled and her voice brightened slightly. Jill smiled.

“How was your run?”

Part 3: The High

Tim looked around his suburban home. He was told that his salary could get him into the upper middle or even upper class but his profits seemed to get nowhere. His children were yelling at each other yet again, belaying the bright rooms in his home. The white walls were cast yellow but the most heated part of the house was coming from the children. The stress was getting to him. He was overweight, had lost a great degree of his hair, and didn’t seem to care that his house was one of the few left in the country that espoused some pre-recession roles.

As the bellows of the crashing waves slammed off the walls and echoed back into his ears, his phone rang. You cannot hit children today, right?

“Calm down. I’m answering the phone.” The waves continued. When I was there age that would have worked.

“Hello.”

“Tim, how are things.”

“Great!”

“We have an issue. We are bleeding money and need to get rid of someone. What about Barry. Its been a year and his systems are only coming along sluggishly. I don’t care if universities are working on many of the same things or an entire company does something with less specialization. I just don’t see the performance. After all, the outcome seems simple enough.”

“It’s a little early! We may have a better option.” Tim knew one of his much more highly paid employees exhibited less skill. He knew everything she was doing. Perhaps he had underestimated the work Barry had to do. After all, wasn’t DARPA funding something similar.

Tim really didn’t like having to yell.

“What were you thinking?”

“We may be overpaying someone else. We thought she was skilled but she is hardly helping Darlene. Let me get to work. The company is only two years old and we have some contracts coming.”

Dammit, Tim thought to himself. Things have been tight since the recession. He really didn’t want to think about this. Darelene is smart. She has her finger on the pulse of both of them. I can wait until I get to the office

Tim’s wife, an attractive blond professor, was just finishing  making cereal and fruit for everyone.It was in the latest magazine. This one seemed reasonable though. She had written the article.

Tim grabbed the closest thing to an unhealthy meal off of the counter, grabbed his fruit, kissed his wife, and went out the garage door. She liked him for him, right? He frowned at the weight of the world.