by Bob Johnston
Carver hung out over thousands of meters of nothingness and suddenly realized he didn’t want this assignment. Not for all the phlogiston in the three worlds was he prepared to be dangling by a rifle strap from the weakening hand of his squad leader. And then suddenly another hand appeared out of the rolling mist to haul him back onto the narrow ledge. And even as the voice of their point man announced that the target was within reach Carver felt the purpose fill him up again, just as the bowel loosening terror subsided.
The squad continued to move round the curved wall but a sudden burst of noise told them that the target was already being restrained. As Carver stepped onto the flat platform, he could make out figures struggling in the mist. He ran forward just as the squad leader turned holding a small glowing bottle.
“Get that physicist up here, Carver.”
“I think so.”
The prisoner suddenly jerked and threw his captor off. In a moment he had risen and grabbed back the bottle. With a smooth spin he threw the cap off and tipped the entire contents down his throat.
Everything stopped, everyone stopped, and every man and woman adopted pretty much the same facial expression, that of a rabbit caught in headlights while picking someone’s pocket.
The prisoner turned slowly and let the empty bottle fall into the ankle-deep mist.
Finally one of the squad spoke for everyone else.
The prisoner pulled off his head-dress, eyes wild and triumphant.
“The very essence of combustion, my friends, and in moments it’s going to be all yours. Brace yourselves people, this is going to be memorable”
His belly filled with a substance stolen from a government installation and extracted from the very fires of reality, the very spaces between atoms, the very spark points that brought the universe into being. He prepared to launch the fatal counter-strike they all knew only too well.
Only for a faint, and distinctly wet, belch to replace the expected flames of creation. And the life seemed to crumple out of him as he slowly collapsed to the ground. Two troopers grabbed him while the squad leader fished about in the mist for the dropped bottle. He found it, raised it to the poor light, and then cautiously sniffed at the rim.
Then he turned to Carver.
“It’s another wrongly labelled bottle! Carver, get onto base straight away and tell them we’ve found another of the missing samples.”
Carver stood dumbly for a moment until the penny dropped and his eyes went straight back to rabbit, headlights and pickpocket wide.
The squad leader just nodded and looked down at the restrained man, whose eyes were now a solid, opaque white. A gentle, unpleasant froth was oozing from his mouth.
“They’ve got an hour to get here. After that we’ll be wishing it was phlogiston he took.”
He sighed. “Holy Spirit. Damn. Why is there never a theologian when you need one?”
Bob Johnston lives in Scotland where he scribbles, reads theology, and marvels at the country’s beauty when it isn’t raining, which isn’t often. He likes a good story; ancient, old, or brand new and tries to create good stories of his own.
Despite science’s bold claims about logic and systematic thinking, most great ideas started out like most terrible ideas. In this story I describe a world where the long debunked phlogiston theory actually works, alongside other ideas, and where science and theology are parts of the same intellectual framework.