The Automatic Marlboro is a science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your host intoxicated by the giddy glory of spring, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the final installment.
Connected stories: Simon of Space, Life & Taxes, Tim, Destroyer of Worlds
And now, the conclusion:
THE AUTOMATIC MARLBORO - SECTION III
Blindfolded, we descend. I stumble on the decline but am righted by very strong hands.
"Pulse, where are you?"
"I'm right here, man."
"Me too," says Air.
My breath hitches: Pulse and I have not been caught up in some random sweep...if Air is here, it can only be about the project. Where the Zorannic Centre at the University of Nirgal has been militarized by paperwork, we are apparently having it done unto us the old-fashioned way: by force. I wonder if we are being disappeared. Does that happen to real people? I mean, I accept that it could happen to me -- but could it really happen to natives like Pulse and Air?
When people are disappeared in real life, is it done with firearms? Or do they have some sort of special injection?
My bowels groan.
I gasp as the blindfold is whisked off my head. I blink and squint, my vision runny. I think I have a concussion. I wonder if I'm dreaming because it seems to me as though we're back in the lab.
A figure bears down on me: camouflage fatigues, riot armour, breathing mask, hard eyes. "Dr. Marlboro Kleenex Siemens, Director of the University Zorannic Maintenance Centre at Huo Hsing?"
I manage to nod.
"Sir," says the military man as he reaches up and removes his face; "my name is Jeremiah. Strain five."
The lieutenant at his side follows suit. "Finnimbrun, twenty-first strain."
"Socrates, strain eighteen."
"Flatten, sir, of the seventh strain."
"Curie Twentieth, sir."
The entire platoon is composed of Zorannic robots in disguise. Their eyes are holograms swimming in goggles, peeled away and put aside with the breathing masks and helmets. Curie removes the blindfolds from Air and Pulse who gape to confirm what they've heard. "Holy mung, I thought the campus was actually overrun with soldiers!" cries Pulse.
"It is," says Jeremiah gravely.
"They seek you, but we have polluted their intelligence," adds Flatten. "The delay will not be long, however. Time drains without regard."
"The Antilogue tells us riddles of your invention," says Curie. "What is the truth of it?"
Pulse swallows and nods. "It's a self-contained robot re-propagation apparatus, Ms. Curie." He turns and gestures toward the darkened space between the towers of boxes where the apparatus is nestled, the work lamps dim and our benches shoved aside. The borders of the thing bristle with outstretched fingers. "I call it the Automatic Marlboro," he proclaims...
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