It was a slow day and the geek who walked into my office wasn't making it any more exciting. Curly hair, beard, glasses, two pens in his shirt pocket, no fashion sense whatsoever. "You're a writer," I told him.
"W-what?" he stuttered. "How did you know?"
"Never mind." I gestured toward the chair, poured him a shot. "What's the story?"
"That's the problem. There is no story!"
I leaned forward, took back the drink. "Okay, you're flagged."
"No, seriously. See, I was hired to write a weekly series of short-short stories for this online zine, one for every element in the periodic table, in order of atomic number."
"Takes all kinds," I said tolerantly.
"Yeah, I guess so. Only I've gotten up to number 108, hassium, and I'm drawing a blank. I've got no story ideas whatsoever. Zip. Zilch. Nada." He looked like was going to cry. "And I was so close to finishing this thing! You've got to help me out."
"So you want me to research this thing for you?"
He shook his head. "Been there, done that. Hassium was first synthesized by Peter Armbruster, Gottfried Münzenberg, et al. at the Gessellschaft für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstatdt, Germany in 1984. Two isotopes were produced. One had a half-life of 0.080 milliseconds and the other 1.8 milliseconds. You can't make a story out of that."
"You tried the Web?"
"I got bubkes," he said bitterly.
"I'll do the tough-guy talk around here, if you don't mind."
"How about puns?"
"Hassium is named after the German state of Hesse. Nothing there. It sounds a little like 'hassle,' but not enough to make something of it. Everything else is even more of a stretch."
"Why don't you do a little rant about how you can't find out anything interesting about it, then? About how boring it is?"
"I tried that with vanadium." He shuddered at the memory. "Never again!"
"Well, then, I don't see what I can do for you, Mr.—?"
But suddenly the dweeb straightened in his chair. A spark of hope burned in his eye. "Wait a minute! I could just write down a transcript of this conversation!"
"You could what?"
"I could let the search for a story be the story! It's the perfect solution." He leapt to his feet and pumped my hand. "I don't know how to thank you. You can send me your bill."
Then he slammed out of the office, to write his story presumably, and I was left alone with his abandoned drink. I picked it up. No sense in letting it go to waste. I took a long, slow sip, thinking about the writer, his problem, and the solution he'd come up with.
Personally, I thought it was exactly the sort of pointless exercise in pretentious self-referential recursion that put the French existentialists out of business decades ago.
But what do I know? I'm just a dick on a case.
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.