13 April 2014

An Eternity Measured



My entry for the Sci-Fi London 2014 48-hour storytelling competition. Late Friday evening, I was messaged with the following prompts to build the story around: 

"Title: AN ETERNITY MEASURED
Line: As far as I'm concerned you're 31 with a mental age of... Probably 12.
Theme: What if people could reproduce asexually?"

This is the result. It was a challenge, but immensely fun to work on.

Her eyes scanned the topmost shelf of the bookcase, empty save for three black books, each with a Roman numeral on its spine. The rest of the room was far less reserved and enigmatic. The walls were practically covered with black-framed photos of their gracious host shaking hands with various past presidents and other select world leaders. A few more were on some of the other shelves, propped up against photo albums and scrapbooks. The other shelves contained all various manner of mementos, most of them toys. Some she found quaint, even endearing, such as a rusty metal pickup truck, the kind her own grandfather likely would have had passed down to him. Others, though, struck her a bit less flattering, such as a diorama of a semi-nude slave girl chained to a pillar, the base bearing an undeniably barbarian-sounding name in gold foil. The circle of Mardis Gras beads around it didn't help. It was even starting to turn her stomach a bit. She wondered if those little black books up top were full of numbers arranged according to cute little pet names instead of real ones. She took a sip of her wine and tried to tell herself she was only projecting. 
It was late in the evening and the party had quieted down, apart from the occasional fit of raucous laughter from her boyfriend, having made it his mission to match each of her sips with a full glass. She took another sip and pinched the bridge of her nose as she heard footsteps from the stairwell, expecting it to be him. Another laugh from downstairs told her it wasn't. 
"Impressed?" it was their host, a man who'd cheated death three times thanks to modern science. She said nothing. Her boyfriend was convinced meeting this man would lead to some high-tier networking, thanks to all those famous and powerful people he'd met in his multiple lifetimes. She tried to inform him gently that simply knowing someone wasn't the same as having someone's ear or a direct line up a chain of command, but it was no use. "I'd ask if you'd like to see my etchings, but I don't think your guy would approve. He says that's how you met. Surprised he knows that routine, young as he is." It was the last straw. She hated that story. It wasn't true. He only told it to get a rise out of her, and now it was being used as an icebreaker to get in good with someone whose only claim to fame was being one of a dozen successful cloning experiments. 
"As far as I'm concerned, you're 31 with a mental age of... Probably 12." She shot him a dirty look. She didn't care anymore; she wanted to leave. If it meant offending the host, so be it. 
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but passive-aggressive quantifications of my emotional maturity make head feel no good, then all better." Considering she was expecting him to go for the obvious and make some snooty remark about how, once upon a time, having a childhood was a mark of distinction and class, that he went the mocking manchild route was something of a relief. She tried to hold back a smile, but gave in, a small chuckle coming with it. Looking down into her wine glass, she waved her free hand around, trying to think of where to start and how to phrase an apology. He cut her off, "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at entertaining. I'm more used to being a guest. Even then, I'm lucky if one joke or story clicks." 
She motioned to the diorama and beads with her glass, "If you want to try for two, I'm sure the story behind this is hilarious." He looked a little embarrassed, giving an "aw, shucks" sort of smile. 
"They're only technically mine. Old Mister Zero knew the guy who drew those comics when he was about half my age." he said, reaching up and taking down the first book, holding it as a preacher holds up a bible, putting his other hand to his heart and donning a comical Irish accent, "I was a different person back then, poppet." He replaced it and took down the second, this time only pinching its corner between his thumb and forefinger, waving it side-to-side, "You don't want to know what this guy was into." he put it back and took the third one down, flipping through a few pages. "This one's a work in progress." She could see they were simple notebooks, informal journals, and realized the reason for the shelf space. 
"Old Mister Zero? Not number one?" she nodded to the shelf. 
"He was ninety when he submitted his original material. Died about a year later. No memoirs."
"No family?" She asked, knowing the answer, and the awkward reason for it. 
He turned toward the pictures on the wall, turning the notebook over in his hands, "Clones are perfect copies, flaws and all. You need good genes to pass on. Luckily, he was the kind of guy insurance companies loved; no pre-existing conditions. No heart problems, no cancer, no diabetes... extraordinary by being ordinary. Almost a perfect specimen." He saw her blush a little, but gave a comforting smile before going on, "One hundred total candidates passed. Only half were successful, and only about a dozen of us have carried on. Number four will put me in the top three after I'm gone."
"What happened to them, the ones who didn't carry on?" She asked. 
"They decided to solve the birth rate problem the old-fashioned way, settling down and having families."
"I'm sorry," she said, feeling she'd put him on the spot. 
"I'm not. It's win-win, really. They get normal lives, and guys like me get their appearance gigs." He looked around at all the photos, sighing, "Of course, talk shows and garden parties can't pay bills forever. My stand up career clearly isn't going to take off, though I think my Irish accent's getting better." 
"So, what are you going to do to fill the book, besides your Father Ted impression?" 
He thought for a moment, "I've heard etching has become kind of a lost art." 
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