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660 words by Stanley Lieber

When you lay your shell down on the street, you have to expect that someone is going to come along and pick it up. Frankie considered this self-evident fact to be ample justification for his scooping up the small piece of equipment into his hands and dropping it into his pocket. So far as he could tell, no one had noticed him retrieving the device. Out on the street, such random finds were rare.

Now, if only he could figure out what it was supposed to be.

Thomas Bright recognized the shell's function. He observed his friend and contrived to take the object away from him. By force, if necessary. Presently, he asserted himself.

The fight unspooled quickly, with Thomas shrugging off an abrasion and Frankie doubled over on the pavement, nursing a balled fist that had lately impacted broken glass. The headlock Frankie had attempted to secure on Thomas had proven ineffective. Now, Thomas surveyed the vicinity with a wide, mischievous grin.

"What?" asked Frankie.

Frankie was incredulous at Thomas' mirth. That glistening spread of teeth set Frankie's legs to feeling remarkably naked beneath the hem of his cargo shorts. With all of his extra equipment, Thomas was more resourceful than Frankie had supposed.

"How many of my cigarettes would you say you go through in a week?" asked Thomas. He lit up and puffed imaginary smoke in Frankie's face.


Blocks of light exchanged positions in front of Thomas' eyes. A nearly inaudible report issued from his lips as he considered how to attach the shell to his home feed and dump its contents into his temporary storage. Without noticing, Thomas transformed the errant verbalizations into a frivolous melody, fully whistling out loud by the time he had established connectivity to the mesh. His friend Chris was nonplussed in the face of this musical performance, and noted that Thomas tended to drift off-pitch, which was only slightly masked by reverberations from the tiled bathroom walls.

"Thomas, what is the point of hooking up this device when it cannot interoperate with our other equipment?"

"Chris, I am appalled at your lack of faith in my ability to negotiate novel obstacles," Thomas complained, as he set down one tool on the counter and replaced it in his hand with another. "Please observe as I perform the necessary operations to bring this device's communications protocols into parity with our extant systems and software."

"But Thomas, this piece of equipment does not conform to open standards, and thus carrying out your plans would be at cross-purposes to our heretofore unified endeavor; the great work of populating our testbeds with only the legally unencumbered variety of the latest technological advancements."

As this dialogue progressed, Thomas worked the casing off of the shell and proceeded to probe its internal mysteries with a series of small hand tools. After a brief interlude of utter silence, he let out a whoop and spun around to present the results of his efforts.

Approximately four inches above the top of the device, a holographic image of himself was caused to appear, aping his every word and movement at an almost imperceptible delay. This unprecedented display forced Chris to steady himself on the counter. Though dizzy, he steeled himself behind a veneer of detached calculation and nevertheless continued to offer his input.

"Just because you can modify it doesn't make it free -- that is, er, redistributable," Chris tried to quip, but it came out only tentatively, as his dizziness seemed to be interfering with his verbal faculty. "You can't even sell the thing now."

"Oh Chris, but I don't plan on selling this device," Thomas said. "Hand me the smallest forceps."

Chris could no longer tell if he was dizzy or merely confused.

"Then why are we wasting time examining it?" he asked.

Thomas looked up at him.

"Because I said so," he said. "I'm going to start fining you for asking stupid questions."


To be continued...




1OCT1993 | INDEX