Despite strong encouragement by SMISC management to maintain “a collegial and open-door atmosphere,” Dr. Ivo Strang kept his office door closed. It helped him think. It kept his colleagues out, which he preferred. And it kept the goose in.
Braxton, a magnificent female Branta canadensis, nestled in a cardboard box atop the bookshelf. The junior research scientist had named her after singer Toni Braxton under the mistaken impression that the R&B legend was also Canadian. By the time he learned the truth it was too late. Braxton, the goose, wouldn’t respond to anything else.
Strang leaned back in his chair and counted ceiling-tile holes while pondering Braxton’s stubborn lack of volatility. He was close. He had clear evidence of fusion. He just needed to accelerate the reaction to —
The door slammed open.
Howard Phillips, his supervisor, leaned in, hand on the doorknob, feet still in the hall, as if not exactly wanting to interrupt but interrupting all the same.
“Where are we on the bio-nuke project? The client has expressed profound dismay at the lack of progress.” He furrowed his forehead as if he could somehow wrestle Strang into compliance with his eyebrows.
In truth, Strang no longer felt comfortable with the idea of blowing up Braxton, who he’d become fond of. “Maybe goose is not best — ”
“The client wants goose,” Phillips said. “The client expressly requested Canada goose for this program for its…” He paused to find the passage in his notes. “…for its ‘sophisticated internal navigation system, 4,800-kilometer range and 9,000 meter operational ceiling.’ So, no, ‘goose’ is not problem.”
“What is problem?”
“Failure to discharge, Dr. Strang. Failure to detonate. The client had reasonable expectations of some fireworks. Some heat and light. A shock wave. Perhaps a modest mushroom cloud. All your Branta delivered was a pile of goose shit.” He shuffled pages. “Where’s the ‘enzyme-catalyzed low-energy nuclear reaction?’ Where’s the ‘zoetic containment vessel?’ I’m quoting from your own project proposal here, Doctor. Where’s the evidence of anything remotely resembling fusion?”
Strang opened his desk drawer and produced a fist-size ovoid which gleamed richly even under the weak overhead light of the office fluorescents.
Phillips, not noticing, or perhaps ignoring the object in Strang’s hand, stood and spread the manila folder on the desk, stabbing at each bullet point as he quoted: “Zero excess energy…zero neutron emission or gamma rays…zero discernible neutron flux or radioactive byproducts… All the makings of another redacted cold-fusion cluster-redacted.”
“Science take time.”
“The client doesn’t want science. They want technology. They want a weapon system that performs as advertised.”
Strang set the object on his desk with a dull, metallic thunk.
“Transmutation. Evidence of — ”
“Is this an egg?
Strang opened his hands — you tell me.
Phillips hefted the egg and, surprised by the weight, nearly dropped it. He scraped a fingernail across it in a vain attempt to expose the gilding. The mystery beyond him, he settled for hammering it on the desk to reinforce his point.
“What you fail to appreciate, coming from a theoretical background, is that Santa Marina Industrial Science does not” — smash — “engage” — smash — “in basic” — smash — “research.”
The rough treatment of her egg captured Braxton’s attention. She flapped her wings and peered out of the box.
Strang laid a finger across his lips, a silent plea to Braxton — not now.
“Are you shushing me, Strang?”
“Is no good, smashing egg.”
Phillips’s eyes widened. “Is the weapon in this room?” He turned, slowly, golden egg still in his hand, before Strang could respond.
Braxton launched herself at the egg-violator, planting her webbed feet on his chest, beating him about the head and neck with her powerful wings, and going after his eyes with her beak. Phillips took the nearest available exit, through the open window. Fortunately the office was on the ground floor.
Strang closed the window behind Phillips, then spent several minutes calming the bird down, reassuring her that her egg was safe, and returning her to her box-nest.
From his desk drawer he retrieved a resignation letter he’d written weeks earlier. He signed and dated it, leaving it neatly centered on his blotter where Phillips, or whoever, would be sure to find it.
“Come, Braxton. Next adventure awaits. Ad astra.”
Tony Pisculli’s short fiction has previously appeared in The Arcanist, Daily Science Fiction and Grievous Angel. He is the Artistic Director of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival and a Master Instructor with Dueling Arts International. He has a fledgling blog about writing. And swords.