Aphelion Issue 226, Volume 22
March 2018
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
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by Jon Michael Galindo

Daniel Salad strolled down Hiking Trail Twelve with the casual leisure of someone who has a whole eighty-three minutes with absolutely nothing to do. The power surges had postponed his meeting, derailed his backup work schedule, and incapacitated his emergency backup chores schedule. In fact, Neo, his Personal Information Aide, had been completely unable to suggest an alternate activity.

Daniel never even knew the city park had a system of hiking trails. Neo claimed that Trail Twelve took just over sixty minutes to complete at a standard walk.

He breathed in deep and sighed. "Neo, don't trees smell wonderful?"

"They are vital to the balanced ecosystem." Quipped the plastic clipped to his belt.

Daniel could barely see blue sky above him. With such extraneous time, he found his mind wandering into unfamiliar territory. "Neo, what exactly caused the power surges? I mean, I know they're happening; but, why?"

Neo's one camera gave him an odd look. "A series of solar flares are disrupting services across the continent. The last are expected to end today. Why do you ask?"

Daniel shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. I suppose my mind has nothing to occupy it at the moment. It really is a rather odd feeling, thinking without direction."

Neo ran through some simulations for a moment. "Sir, I believe some distracting entertainment is in order."

He glanced down at the glowing plastic. "What did you have in mind?"

"A classic Word Adventure--Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I will download definitions where necessary."

Daniel watched leaves sway in the breeze, and began to wonder why they changed color in the fall. Perhaps he did need some entertainment. "And, you are sure that will provide sufficient distraction?"

Neo's camera blinked. "I am convinced. The tale will inspire questions of the moral rights of man's creations, of the dangers of over-reaching his imagination, and of the natures of justice and revenge. All answers to these questions, should they interest you, are readily available for download from the Morality Ministry."

Daniel shrugged and nodded. "Yes, well, if you're sure. Better get on with it then."

Behind his eyes, a pleasant floating sensation began, followed by a deluge of knowledge and a little blip.

Daniel considered what he had just learned, but, as his thoughts wandered through these knew memories, he found they ended suddenly. He recalled some bit about "considerable difficulty," but the thought was insubstantial and hard to pin down; merely considering it lead his mind to strange memories.

He waited. Nothing more appeared.

"Um, Neo? Was that the story?"

Neo did not respond. Worriedly, Daniel tapped the white plastic. "Neo?"

Neo spoke up again. "I apologize, Daniel. It seems a solar flare has interrupted the download. The chances of one occurring during such an interval--less than .08 seconds--were vanishingly small."

Daniel went back to watching the trees, recalling the winter ice and books of sorcery in Frankenstein's youth. "That's all right, Neo. Just resume the download whenever you're ready."

He waited a moment. Neo spoke in a rather soft tone. "I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid that's impossible. It seems the error has corrupted the memory terminal to which the Word Adventure would have attached. Don't worry, though. I've filed relevant bug reports with PIA International and Cortex Systems. I'm sure they'll be able to prevent this happening again."

Daniel took a moment to digest the information as nature's scenery scrolled by, now unheeded. "Hold on, I don't understand. Are you saying you can't give me the second half of the story?"

"That is correct, Daniel."

Daniel blinked and cleared his throat. "But--but, as in, not at all? Not even in a few more minutes?"

Neo paused a moment. "Could I perhaps suggest an alternate Word Adventure? The Lord of the Flies by--"

Daniel cut him off with an upheld hand. "No, no wait, Neo. There must be some mistake. Can't you just split the Word Adventure in two and give me the second half separately?"

"No, I'm sorry. Your memory of that Word Adventure has a completely corrupted terminal. The Cortex Downloader simply can't connect you to the file-stream again."

Daniel ran one hand through his hair and experienced a small measure of uncertain panic for the first time in his life. Neo continued. "Perhaps you could find a colleague to tell you how the Adventure ended? I attempted downloading reviews, but they must integrate with the original file and were equally impossible."

Daniel shook his head. "Tell me? You want someone to just tell me? Frankenstein was on the verge of communicating with the creature! We would have learned whether he had killed his brother; and what his motivation might be.

"How had he gained the power of speech, and what did he want of his creator? I must know!"

Neo said nothing for several steps. "I'm sorry, Daniel. There's nothing more I can do."

Daniel walked on in silence, eyes ignorant of the dirt path and weathered, gray fence. His mind reeled with unanswered questions.

* * *

"Thank you for your input, Daniel. As always you were invaluable."

Daniel fidgeted in front of Second Editor Hall's desk. "Sir, may I ask a small question?"

Hall's PIA whispered to him, and Hall nodded. "Certainly, Daniel. I have a six-minute time-buffer in my schedule."

Daniel cleared his throat again. "Have you ever downloaded an entertainment Word Adventure called Frankenstein?"

Hall seemed taken aback a moment. "Um, yes. I believe so."

Daniel shrugged. "You don't happen to remember how it ended, do you?"

Hall wrinkled his brow and sat back in his seat, incredulous. "I believe--" he paused, "I remember the scientist made a monster; they were on a boat; and it took off across the ice at the end. Why do you ask?"

Daniel stepped toward the door. "Oh, no reason. I won't take up any more of your time-buffer. Sorry to disturb."

He bowed out the door apologetically and turned down the sepia hallway.

* * *

"Say, Neo, I've realized you missed a definition. What is 'reading'? It's all through the Word Adventure."

Neo piped up a little louder than usual. "Reading is a restricted definition. Do you wish to proceed?"

Daniel nodded. "I suppose so."

"In ancient times, humans spent upwards of twelve years mastering the process of interpreting visual input as words."

Daniel gasped. "Twelve years?"

Neo continued. "Moreover, the process was painfully inefficient, and highly addictive. It was not uncommon for a person to waste significant hours of every day absorbing words through 'reading', even to the extent of missing sleep, scheduled meals, appointments, and opportunities for self-betterment. The act and method of 'reading' has been illegal for nearly three centuries."

Daniel shook his head in disbelief and sighed. "And here I had begun to think it might help me."

Neo's camera eyed him intently. "Please abandon such thoughts."

* * *

"Daniel, you have now lain awake in bed nearly sixteen minutes. May I remind you that your sleep schedule has no time-buffer available?"

Daniel rolled over to face the white plastic on his night stand. "Oh, I know Neo. It's just--I can't stop thinking about Frankenstein. Do you think..." He paused a moment. "Do you think Frankenstein made another one? Doesn't the monster need a companion?"

Neo said nothing for the space of a minute, running simulations and querying behavioral databases. "I'm sorry, Daniel, I can't process Word Adventure files myself; nor would I be able to connect their widely disparate concepts if I could, but, it is my duty to remind you that any perceived dissatisfaction with your life or attitude of distraction from your work must be reported immediately to the Contentedness Ministry for review. I can submit a brief report immediately, if you wish."

Daniel quickly rolled back over. "No, that won't be necessary, Neo. Good night."

Daniel lay in the dark and closed his eyes. Visions of the frightful humanoid and questions of its fate danced through his mind. Perhaps, perhaps just this night, he could miss a little sleep. He could sort through these thoughts, and create a valid ending. Yes. What could be the harm in that?

Daniel lay, still and silent, and began to think--to dream--to create.


2014 Jon Michael Galindo

Bio: Mr. Galindo is a previously unpublished science fiction author. He has been inventing worlds of science fiction and fantasy since before he could write, and, although he has been writing those worlds down since middle school, his true love still lies in inventing stories never before imagined. He currently resides in Peachtree City, Georgia.

E-mail: Jon Michael Galindo

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