by An Owomoyela
Petra was already in a bad mood, not that that said much. Her good moods had become increasingly apocryphal over recent years. But today there was a lightning storm outside her Faraday cage of an office, and she could feel it like a second psyche, inhuman and insentient and laid over her thoughts.
And today, when she walked into her office, there was a familiar man sitting on the chair before her desk. Amad.
She stopped, a step in from the doorway. Amad turned, looking back at her over his shoulder. He had a small device in one hand, and while Petra could sense the stream of information flowing from it, the mental interference from the lightning storm drowned it out.
“I’ve jammed your communication lines,” Amad said.
Petra gave him a withering look and headed toward her desk. “You think that’ll keep me from contacting security?”
“For a couple minutes, yes,” Amad said. “We need to talk, Sulai Tabov.”
“No,” Petra said. “You need to be arrested.”
She settled into her desk chair, bringing her interface up with a sweep of her hand. He had jammed her communications lines, the bastard. Clever bastard—she had a very nice system, full of redundancies and adaptive compensators—but he’d always been clever. Probably always been a bastard, too, though she’d looked past that, once.
“It’s about Nash,” Amad said.
“He needs to be arrested, too.”
Amad made a frustrated noise. “Look,” he said. “Knowing there’s no love lost between the two of you, and knowing that I would rather hang myself by my thumbs from the lightning towers than come ask you for help, I expect you to know what it means that I’m here and I’m asking. This is about Nash’s life.”
A cold anger sparked into being at the bottom of Petra’s stomach, ringing against the lightning she could feel outside. There was no sound of thunder in here, no electrical interference except the noise inside her head, but her fingers twitched, as though urging her to become a conduit. A lightning tower herself. She could string Amad up by his thumbs right here on her own.
“I have,” she said, “on multiple occasions, attempted to help Nash fix his life. On the last occasion, he sold Su secrets to violent revolutionaries and got my wife kidnapped. I’m not interested in trying again.” READ MORE
by Sean McMullen
I knew I would die the night before the conference started. Conferences are where people network, gossip, discuss ideas, draw diagrams on the backs of beer coasters, and exchange gigabytes of data on USB sticks. Conferences are security nightmares, but conferences of scientists push the idea of nightmares to new extremes.
The hotel’s restaurant was empty as I entered, so I had the undivided attention of the staff when I ordered dinner. While I waited for the meal, I read through my paper on my iPad. It was forty minutes long, written in clear, accessible English, and guaranteed to plunge the world into terror.
* * *
“Hi there, mind if I join you?”
I looked up at the woman.
Sophisticated, tastefully dressed, thirties, I thought. Professional, successful, travels a lot, and married.
“Please, sit down,” I said, trying to sound affable yet not eager. “You are, of course, a journalist?”
Her composure remains flawless. Worst fears confirmed.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“You are outgoing, you dress well but not to intimidate, a large astronomy conference starts here tomorrow, and I look like a scruffy scientist who would love to be interviewed by a beautiful woman.”
Her smile remained, but she hesitated.
I’m being a little confrontational, but it no longer matters.
“Leone Barker,” she finally said, holding out her hand.
I must ask about her first, put her on the back foot.
“Vladimir Kubarov,” I said, shaking her hand over the table. “You can also put professor and doctor in front of that if you like. So, why are you in Boston?”
She focused on me all the more tightly.
“Just a contract to sort out. And you? You have a Russian name but your English is great, so I’d say you’re an astronomer who does a lot of international conferences.”
Northeast coast American accent, but sort out? Either she spends a lot of time in Britain, or she is a British actress.
“Yes, that is so.”
“And you’re a professor? I bet you’re important.”
Trying to get me talking about myself. Her persona is limited, like the booster stage of a rocket. It will be discarded later tonight.
“Yes and no,” I replied. “I am here to give a paper on junk.”
“Junk? In astronomy? I thought astronomy was all about satellites and telescopes that cost billions.”
“Not always, but should you not be recording this if you want to interview me?”
She laughed, then reached over and squeezed my hand.
“Sorry, I should have said earlier. I’m not a journalist. I just don’t like having dinner by myself. Best to hook up with someone who looks nice before some creep tries to move in on me because I’m alone.”
“Ah, very sensible. I am flattered.” READ MORE