Monday, September 28, 2009

113. Ununtrium


What We Talk About When We Talk About Ununtrium

Ununtrium has not been discovered yet. Sam thinks he may have left it in the office. Caroline, however, doubts it's that simple. Things are never that simple with Sam. It wouldn't surprise her if he'd buried it in the yard. Or stuffed it into a cigarette pack, wrapped it in duct tape, hidden it in the wainscoting, and then forgotten all about it, the way he did with the theater tickets for The Lion King that he was supposed to keep safe. For all she knows, it could be on Saturn right now. Along with the dry cleaning she asked him to pick up a week ago.

But at this point of the conversation, the rest of us sneak out the back door, and with any luck we'll never know what Sam said then.

Maggie is of the opinion that ununtrium is most likely to be found in some remote, unexplored corner of the Earth, and has volunteered to go look for it if we'll cover her expenses. Some of us suspect her motives, however (she's an avid wilderness trekker), so we've shelved her offer for further study. Patrick, meanwhile, thinks the government is covering it up and most likely has vast stockpiles of the stuff, probably warehoused at Area 51. Kim, however, suspects it's right under our noses, like Poe's purloined letter. "Have you looked in the safe-deposit box?" she asks. It's a good suggestion, and if we had one, we would.

Sitting around the picnic table in the back yard of the World Ununtrium Corporate Headquarters in beautiful Bethesda (after considerable debate, we decided to put off our bid to have the town renamed Ununtrium until we've got some startup capital), Maryland, there's no denying we are all feeling a little glum. "Suppose we never find it?" Maggie says.

"Don't say that!" Patrick cries. Too late. The question's been asked. It hangs in the air above us like a sinister dirigible of doom.

It is vital that we find ununtrium because we've got a great business plan and it all hinges on our having product. We've got some angels who are anxious to invest, but they insist on there being something to sell. "Why won't you let us see it?" they ask forlornly, like would-be lovers who find themselves stalled at second base by a firm hand on the jeans zipper. "Just a little peek, that's all. We won't go any further, we promise."

I think that Kim spoke for us all that day when she said, "Yeah, right!"

But right now, sitting in the dark, it's hard not to focus on our potential failure. Patrick swats at a mosquito. I drum my fingers. Finally, Kim clears her throat. "Maybe Maggie is right," she begins. "Maybe we should—"

At which exact instant, Sam reappears in the back door. "Hey, guys. The pizza's arrived."

Heartened by this news, we all troop back indoors. Caroline's looking calm again, she's patched things up with Sam, and it turns out that Maggie brought wine. As we tear into the pizza, Patrick casually says, "All those socks that disappear in the wash—exactly where do they go?" The question galvanizes us all. It's thinking outside of the box! It might not be useful, exactly, but there's no denying that it's visionary. A babble of voices arises, revising and enlarging upon his idea.

We're a team again, on track and headed straight for the future. We're on the ground floor of something big, and we know it. Nothing can stop us now.

Ununtrium has not been discovered yet, but that hasn't prevented us from patenting it. If you think your researches may have created some, get in touch with us immediately. You may well owe us royalties.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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