This week’s Flash Fiction Friday prompt is much simpler than previous prompts. In the style of any genre, the story must start with the sentence “We need to talk about Kevin” and be no more than 1,300 words long. Also different this week, we’ll be voting for which submission is the best.
I can honestly say I will be surprised if I win the contest. I wanted to do something unexpected with the interpretation of the starter sentence, and I think I have. While“The Transfer” is a good showing for only a couple hours of writing, I’ve already read some of the other entries and they are amazing. Make sure to check them out, too, and vote (even if you didn’t participate!).
I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did coming up with it!
“We need to talk about KEVIN.” Grabbing his arm, Robert made research coordinator Hanwen Huang stop his advancement down the corridor. “There’s something wrong with this project, and you know it.”
Still with his back to his research assistant, Hanwen grunted noncommittally and shook his arm free. Rubbing his bicep where Robert had grabbed him, he said, “We can talk later. I have to compose a response to the Mars transmission we just received.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! We need to tell them the study volunteers are-“
“Fine. The study volunteers are fine, Rob. They transported to the Mars base successfully and they returned successfully. All limbs were intact and accounted for. Their health is unaffected by the transfer and they remain coherent.”
“But what about-,” Robert started, only to be cut off again by Dr. Huang.
“The Kinetic Electron Vehicle Implanted Neurotransmitter project is a success.” Shooting a glare over his shoulder at his assistant, Hanwen whispered harshly, “Don’t you dare mess this up for me, Rob. I’ve worked a long time on this project.”
Robert watched him walk away until he turned at the end of the hallway and disappeared into his dormitory. Dr. Huang was right; the project was a success. Nine months travel time to Mars was inconvenient and problematic. What if an emergency happened to travelers on the shuttle? It was simply not possible to include every type of specialist, both mechanical and medical, on every single flight to and from the planet. Mars had only been made hospitable enough to support human life for a handful of decades. Technological and medical events continued to occur on the Mars base for which the experts stationed there lacked the knowledge and tools to deal with. Radio waves took anywhere from 18 to 30 minutes to send and receive to the planet from Earth, making collaboration with experts on Earth difficult. The wait for needed supplies was another nine months once the laborious conversation finally, if ever, generated a solution.
The KEVIN project was a chance to change that. By implanting a neurotransmitter in the base of subjects’ skulls, the brain would be forced to send signals to all extremities causing electrons to hyper-excite. Those electrons would provide the kinetic energy needed to fuel a transfer of the atomic make-up of the individual via radio waves. Thirty minutes later, give or take depending on the position of the two planets, a copy of the subject was created atom by atom at a holding cell set up with the raw materials needed while the original body remained in stasis on Earth. The project had so far successfully transferred two dozen volunteers to and from the Mars base.
The research team should have been celebrating a victory. And they were, except for one member.
“I know I’m ‘just’ a research assistant,” mumbled Rob as he placed his forefinger in the biometric scanner, “but I have eyes! You’d have to be blind not to see what’s happening to these people.” After several beeps, the door to the lab opened and Rob went to his work station. Switching on the two monitors, he watched the video feeds of subjects in their rooms under post-transfer observation.
All twenty four subjects were confined to their quarters. The first set of twelve traveled last week and the second set traveled just that morning. Robert’s attention was focused on the first twelve video feeds. So intent was he on the feeds, he didn’t realize he’d been leaning in closer until his nose bumped up against the monitor.
Pulling back, he grabbed a tissue to wipe off the smudge he left on the screen. As he was wiping, his eye caught a flash of movement in one of the rooms. Instantly he dropped the tissue, but all subjects remained seated on the edge of their beds, staring at the wall, the way they had been for the past seven days.
“I saw it. I know I did. It’s going to happen again, I just have to keep watching.” Rob rubbed his eyes and sighed. He adjusted the positioning of the camcorder he’s set up on a tripod on his desk. Leveling it so that both monitors full of video feeds could be seen through its lens, he hit the record button and went to pour himself his fifth cup of coffee for the afternoon.
He knew what he saw, even if the video feeds didn’t corroborate it. There was something wrong with the recordings or someone was altering them post-capture. If he saw it on the monitors in the live feeds, he could capture it on a camcorder not wired into the system. He had to.
“Damnit! We’re out of creamer.” Grumbling, Rob left the lab to restock the coffee supplies. The doors shut behind him as he walked out, cutting him off from the video feeds. Not that Rob was looking at them, his mind focused on obtaining the creamer needed to make the laboratory coffee palatable enough to drink.
If he had been looking at the feeds, he would have seen the first twelve subjects standing in the center of their rooms, staring at each other through the walls.
Photo credit: Onkel_Wart