The Short Stories
The short stories of Judah Lamey,
as well as the Stories of Quillville.
as well as the Stories of Quillville.
What is going on in the City of Quillville this week? Well it looks like something is afoot over at the Science Museum. Let's all look in on what a day in the life looks like for Blue.
If you are new to the City of Quillville, you can swing over and check out the introductory post HERE
Science Museum Opening Day
Becca was hardly surprised by the boys’ enthusiastic response when she asked if they wanted to go to the science museum’s grand opening in the morning. She smiled to herself as they raced wildly around the house, screeching with excitement about dinosaurs, volcanoes, meteorites, and the virtual rainforest they couldn’t wait to see. Perhaps, she thought, I should have told them tomorrow. I don’t think anyone’s going to sleep tonight…
The bustling City of Quillville was abuzz on the eve of the long-awaited unveiling of its crowning jewel. Several exciting years of planning, design, public comment, groundbreaking, and construction were followed by an invisible scuffle within for nearly 18 months. The inner workings of the museum were little more than speculative snippets fired off by the local rags. Rumours rippled through the cafes, ranging from the fantastical to downright disparaging, leaving the townsfolk salivating to see the truth themselves.
Becca and the boys were among the very few residents of Quillville with any insight into the wonders waiting behind the astonishing twisting glass façade. The museum’s director, Blue, was their reclusive neighbor and one of Becca’s cherished friends. While most of the town grew ever more suspicious and damning of how Blue was purportedly spending their tax dollars, Becca knew her friend was both prudent and pragmatic, perhaps a little eccentric and certainly socially awkward, but driven by an altruistic desire to create a monument to learning, exploration, discovery, and experience.
Saturday morning dawned bright and crisp, a few leaves along Main Street starting to turn and a hint of fall in the air. A long line was coalescing at the museum’s front entry and beginning to snake around the corner. Becca and the boys stepped off the Number 42 bus with a crush of other young families twittering excitedly about the spectacles they hoped awaited inside. She firmly held their tiny hands and walked to the end of the line against their protests that Blue would surely let them enter first.
“We can’t take advantage of our friendship with Blue, sweethearts, she’s going to have her hands full enough as it is today without generating any bad press by playing favorites,” she admonished her boys gently.
At the stroke of 9 o’clock, the giant gears looming above the entrance groaned into animation, pulling cables, swinging the front doors wide, and pumping life into the magical array of fountains hemming the museum. A cheer went up from the surging throng, accompanied by unusual but beautiful music that seemed to emanate from the building itself. Becca scanned the signage along the path as they moved slowly forward, reading that the gears, fountains, and music were integral parts of the infrastructure, powered by the sun and gravity. Impressive start…
Excitement crescendoed as they crept to the front of the line, where Becca saw her exhausted friend personally welcoming each visitor into the museum. She gave Blue a little hug and asked softly if she could grab a coffee for her, “looks like you could really use one.” Blue gratefully rattled her stainless steel mug, “yeah, I think I’m going to need a few more today. Just tell Chris it’s for me, he’ll put it on my tab. Knows my order too, no worries…” Blue turned to the next folks in line and continued with her warm greetings, but Becca spied something in her friend’s eyes that belied the strain she was feeling.
Becca’s concern for her friend blinded her momentarily to the extraordinary space she was stepping into, but with Blue’s mug in hand, she looked around and marveled at the wonder of it. Two grand open staircases spiralled around each other, a five-storey double-helix stretching away above them, each step painted and labelled in sequences of ATCG, the code of life. The boys’ squeals of delight and excitement joined the chorus of astonished children and their slightly more restrained carers as they darted about like excited gas molecules in a heated container. Where should they start first? Dinosaurs! No, from the bottom to the top! No, race you to the top and wind our way down!!
Eager to help her friend and placate her boys, Becca spied the virtual rainforest next to the cafe and reminded them how excited they were for this experience. “Nothing like it on Earth, well except for the actual rainforest…” Blue explained to them months ago. But this was even more thrilling, and perhaps more chilling, than delving into the Amazon because visitors control the fate of species and the entire ecosystem by feeding decisions into accelerated feedback systems. “You’ll see just how devastating the loss of a single organism is…” Blue warned them ominously. After helping Max and Leo don their VR gear and understand the rules of the game, Becca slipped out to take her place in yet another lengthy line.
She sighed and resigned herself to scrolling through her news feeds to assess the initial public reactions. Her friends were posting selfies and checking in to the museum across all social media platforms. The check-in numbers for the museum were already in the hundreds within the first hour. As she was about to check herself in to join the fun, a vicious headline popped up in her news alerts: Science Museum Scandal! Taxpayers Hard Earned Dollars Squandered on Frivolous Amusement Park Oh no, this is exactly what Blue was afraid of. Bad press before anyone’s even made it through a single exhibit. She nibbled her nail pensively wondering whether to read the libelous statements within or just avoid the click-bait altogether. The National Enquirer was notorious for these games, in spite of their insistence that they only report “the cold hard truth”, and she usually just ignored it, but this felt personal.
Thankfully her turn to place an order was up before she had a chance to give into the temptation. “Good morning! What can I get’cha?” the tall, svelte barista, with neatly trimmed facial hair and bright blue eyes rimmed by dark frames, beamed at her. A quick glance at his name tag confirmed this handsome man was indeed Chris. “Hi Chris, Blue’s in desperate need of refueling…” “No problemo!” he winked grabbing the mug from her hand, the accidental brush of his long beautiful fingers sending a jolt of electricity up her spine, “one triple shot almond cappuccino coming right up for our heroic boss!”
Feeling slightly dazed by her visceral reaction to a perfect stranger, Becca moved cautiously to the pick-up counter and smirked to herself about the notion of picking up something other than a coffee here.
“You’re friends with Blue?” a bubbly Midwestern voice behind her inquired. Becca turned to the friendly woman and tried to recall where she’d seen her before.
“Yes, quite good friends. You know her too?” Becca’s legal acumen snapped to the fore, cautioning her against revealing too much in case the mousy blond was a blood-sucking reporter.
“Oh, you must be Rebecca! She always talks about you and your boys…” her wide sparkling eyes scanned the room around them, “are they here too?”
“Yes…” Becca responded cautiously, increasingly uneasy about this exuberant woman who knew far too much about her, “what did you say your name was?”
“Oh, gosh! Sorry ‘bout that! I always assume anyone with kids and half a brain in their head knows me! I’m S.J.,” she stuck out her hand to shake Becca’s, “librarian extraordinaire, at your service!”
“Of course,” now beaming back, Becca shook S.J.’s hand enthusiastically, “I knew you looked familiar, but I just couldn’t place you! Yes, right, Blue talks about you too. Always mumbling something about how she’d love to have us both over for dinner if she could just find the time. That woman is the biggest work-a-holic I’ve ever met, but my goodness, isn’t this magnificent place a testament to that!”
“Oh, I know, it’s just incredible! She convinced me to promote Science Week at the library as a big lead up for the school kids and donated dozens of fantastic books to support the cause. Asked me to recommend all the titles they’re carrying in the gift shop too.”
“Your drinks ladies,” Chris’s mellow tenor brought them back to the reason they were here. “Enjoy your day and don’t be strangers!” he said with a wink that sent a collective shudder through Blue’s friends.
“Oh, my, gawd,” panted S.J, once they were out of the cafe. “It’s he simply divine? I know he’s a bit young, but I think our Blue deserves a bit of that, at least so we can live vicariously through her! Ha-ha!”
Becca could only laugh and nod in agreement as they moved through the foyer swarming with bodies. Her knee-jerk reaction was that Chris was exactly the shot in the arm Blue needed to help her relax a little after being wound so tightly the past few years and that she would personally enjoy hearing tales of their escapades. On deeper reflection, as they passed by a display case holding a replica of the world’s largest Beryl crystal and a tribute to the space program its Beryllium facilitated, she reasoned that wasn’t what Blue would want at all. Her friend was nothing if not cautious and guarded about intimacy. It had taken Becca ages to simply give her a hug without eliciting a sharp stiffening. No, she and S.J. would just have to keep their little fantasy world to themselves.
“Here you are, my dear,” Becca slipped quietly next to Blue, who was looking even more haggard than before. “Don’t drink that rocket fuel all at once.” Blue blanched at her and Becca quickly corrected her mistake explaining it was just a figure of speech. While Blue took a few desperate sips, Becca and S.J. filled in as unofficial greeters to let their friend catch her breath. “Why don’t you go take a breather for a minute, it looks like you really need it. S.J. and I are more than capable of welcoming people to your temple of science.”
Blue took another deep swig and shook her head frantically, “no, it’s OK. You guys are amazing, but it’s not right, you don’t work here. I don’t need anything else generating bad press. Sorry, not you, I know you’d be great, better than me, but I’m already catching flack and don’t want to break under fire.”
“OK, if you insist. But we’re here for you, alright? It looks like the line’s starting to thin a bit at the back, so maybe you’ll catch a break in a few. We’ll circle back after I go check on the boys. You’re a superstar, you know that?” She wanted to give Blue a big supportive hug, but could tell by the way she shrunk away from the compliment that now was not the time. Even though they were nearly the same age, something about Blue always brought out her fiercest mothering instincts.
“So…” S.J. began with uncharacteristic, from what Becca had recently gleaned, caution, “do you mind if I tag along with you today? My kids are too old to want to be seen within 50 yards of me, thank goodness this place is big enough for the three of us! But it would be nice to enjoy it with someone…”
Becca concurred and they made their way back towards the virtual rainforest, stopping to marvel at the robots greeting visitors and giving detailed and interactive orations about the Tarbosaurus skeleton beneath which they were stationed. The juxtaposition of a 70 million year old apex predator with the engaging futuristic docents was highly effective, and just so Blue. “Look at those kids,” S.J. nudged her, “could they be any more rapt? They’re hanging on every word. Usually kids come to these places and just run around crazily because it’s all so exciting, but she’s found a way to really make them stop and learn. She’s an absolute genius, I tell you.”
The boys were ready to move on shortly after the mothers arrived, looking downcast and uncomfortable. “What’s the matter darlings?” Becca asked as she encircled her sons in a warm embrace, “wasn’t that fun?” They nodded then dithered, explaining as best they could the things they were struggling to understand, their little hearts clearly very heavy.
“Leo stepped on some bugs and I caught a bird,” Max started. “It was really fun, but then the forest started changing. It got quieter because there weren’t as many birds around, and then some of the trees started dying and other things too. It was really sad.”
Becca tried to comfort the boys, but she knew that was the point of the exhibit. Blue wanted people to have a deep emotional reaction to seemingly innocuous actions. She wanted to show that the innocent things they did to their environment had insidious and sometimes catastrophic effects. It was, like the robot docents, highly effective, but Becca couldn’t help wondering if maybe it needed to be tempered for younger audiences. She could hear her friend’s inevitably logical and emotionally detached counter arguments already echoing through her mind and decided to let it rest before the discussion even started.
The foursome was so deeply engaged exploring the water world leading down into the basement filled with weird and wonderful marine creatures before taking the “Rocket”, as Leo described it, up to the top floor space exhibit, that they completely lost track of time. Only their rumbling stomachs notified them to stop for lunch. S.J. checked in with her kids over the phone and was assured they were, “just fine without you, mom!” She looked down at Becca’s boys and couldn’t help but sigh wistfully. She caught her new friend’s eye and said, “enjoy it while it lasts…” Becca squeezed her hand and gave her a gracious smile.
Unsurprisingly, the museum cafe was absolutely packed. The day had turned blessedly warm and the outdoor area boasted ample picnic benches and a delightful children’s playground. As they waited in line to collect their veggie wraps and fried tempeh sticks, Becca noticed a separate section of the cafe under a sign proclaiming: Experts’ Lounge. “Wha’dya think that’s about?” she asked, nudging S.J. and indicating with her head.
“Oh, I think that’s Blue’s response to all the ‘obscenely incorrect scientific information circulating through popular media’”, S.J. giggled at her dead-pan impression of their friend’s professorial manner of speech. “It’s a place for writers and other creative types to meet casually with scientists and engineers to flesh out details in their work. Journalists can also pop in to get the scoop on the latest discoveries and break-throughs.”
Just like Blue, Becca mused to herself as they searched for a place they could bask in the autumnal sun whilst keeping an eye on the kids, always looking for the intersections of the minds and every possible opportunity to educate the masses.
Inside, Science World was packed to the gills. At 10:47, they’d started turning away patrons with the consolation of free tickets for the following day as the building was at capacity. Blue knew the Fire Chief, DB, would have no qualms with crushing her dreams if they were so much as one body beyond the limit. It was agonizing to watch parents trying to soothe their disappointed children as they walked back down the pathway, shooting withering looks at her over their shoulders. She knew they read her face as impassive and unfeeling, but her heart was breaking.
She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking. Her watch showed it was 11:36. How did two and a half hours go by so quickly? Further analysis of her internal state registered the following: low blood sugar (4.38 hours since last meal), excessive caffeine intake (twice normal), coupled with sleep deprivation (≤4.5 hours per night for the past six nights, and only a few fitful hours last night), and general anxiety (so much riding on today…) resulting in sub-optimal mental and physical performance. I should eat something. Blue radioed to the volunteer channel requesting someone relieve her for lunch.
“Wow!” Carly exclaimed breathlessly as she rushed up to Blue’s post. “Have you really been here since 9? I mean, no bathroom breaks or anything?! You’re a machine!”
Blue held up her coffee mug, “my friends brought me rocket fuel, so I was able to maintain my post. I felt it my duty as director to personally welcome all patrons to our grand opening. As we are currently at capacity, you will have to continue with the unfortunate task of turning away any new visitors until someone leaves. Please provide complimentary tickets for tomorrow as a sign of our sincere regret for their inconvenience.”
Carly watched Blue with a mix of astonishment and tempered admiration as she walked away. She really is as dedicated and weird as everyone says. I wonder who those “friends” of hers are…
Blue could scarcely register the delighted faces and excited conversations swirling around her as she moved determinedly through the ground floor exhibition spaces, down the water way to the calming undersea environment. I’ll just watch the jellyfish for a few minutes to ground myself. She was walking past the Mantis Shrimp enclosure when a loud crack snapped her focus back to the present. At first, she reasoned that the sound was just the punch of her little friend saying hello in his aggressive manner, but the sound was wrong. That sound shouldn’t carry like that… she whirled around anxiously to see the long slender finger of a crack shooting across the inner glass wall of Monty’s aquarium. Oh shit. That’s going to fail… Blue reached for her radio as everything faded to black.
“IF THERE IS A MEDICAL DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE, PLEASE REPORT TO THE INFORMATION DESK.”
The call over the intercom was loud enough to catch the attention of everyone enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. Becca and S.J. looked at each other and immediately shared a very bad feeling. S.J. dialed her kids who launched into frantic descriptions of a fainting woman and “imploding” water tank. It was difficult to calm them enough to elicit a coherent description of where, exactly, they were and the status of the unfortunate woman. Pulling together the fragments of excited ramblings, they were able to deduce the incident occurred in the basement and that the “victim” was a museum employee. Becca’s heart lurched. Blue wasn’t looking good when they’d left her hours ago. They forgot to check back in before lunch. What were the chances she hadn’t eaten anything and was running on caffeine, stress, and vapours? Very, very high.
“We need to check on Blue, I’ll get the boys,” Becca said as she swept their things into her bag and rushed towards the playground.
S.J. was up in an instant, “my thoughts exactly, I’m going straight down. I’ll catch you down there.”
“Sorry ma’am, but we’ve had to secure this area and I’m afraid I can’t let anyone access this exhibit at this time.” S.J. was trying fruitlessly to convince the frazzled looking security guard that she really needed to go downstairs when Becca arrived with the boys.
“Is it Blue needing medical treatment?” Becca asked, wasting no time mincing words.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” the security officer rubbed the back of his neck and looked away sheepishly, “but I’m not at liberty to share any information about the situation with the public.”
“That’s OK,” she offered reassuringly, your body language told me everything I need to know. “I’m Blue’s lawyer and her ‘in case of emergency’ person, you’ll need to let me through.”
The officer looked startled, then shook his head. “Well, um… OK, you can go, but not the other three, we can’t have all these extra people down there.”
Becca turned frantically to S.J. who waved her on and said she’d watch after the boys just as her own kids rushed up to hug her. “We’ll be fine, you just go take care of Blue!”
Rushing down the water way, Becca was torn between the wail of Max behind her pleading for Blue to be OK, and the near hysterical cry of Blue from below yelling, “I’m fine, don’t touch me!” She pushed through the cluster of staff, security, and the doctor who responded to the call to get to her friend’s side.
“Everyone take a step back, now,” she ordered in her most intimidating don’t-mess-with-mama-bear voice. “Anyone who doesn’t absolutely have to be here, leave. Which means most of you.” The huddle quickly moved away and then dwindled to the deputy director, a different security guard, and the doctor. “It’s OK, Blue,” Becca cooed softly, “almost everyone is gone now. You’re safe…”
“No. I mean, thank you, but we’re not. The tank, ohmygod the tank, we have to get Manty out of there before the second wall goes…” Blue was rocking back and forth violently, grabbing her hair and muttering nonsense. Becca had seen Blue in some dark moods before, but nothing like this. It’s was, honestly, rather frightening and she could tell by the looks on the other faces she wasn’t alone in her fear.
She reached into her bag and pulled out an oatmeal raisin cookie, “here, I’m guessing you haven’t eaten. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you something before we had lunch, I guess we got so caught up in this amazing place you’ve created we clean forgot. I’m really sorry.”
Blue took the offering gingerly, shaking her head and whimpering about the tank as she took a few nibbles. “Water,” she rasped hoarsely. The message was interpreted as a request for a drink and relayed up the ramp before someone came running with a cup of water. Blue stared at it blankly for a few moments before taking a sip and another bite of food. “The Mantis Shrimp’s inner tank is gone. If he punches the second glass, it’s over.”
Everyone finally understood what she was ranting about that whole time. They looked in horror at the massive tank next to them, filled with 2,000 gallons of water, an arsenal of shattered glass, and one mean looking, beady-eyed shrimp. “That was bulletproof glass!” Darren, the deputy director, exclaimed. “How the hell did he break that?!”
“He couldn’t have. It’s a physical impossibility. It had to be sabotage,” Blue intoned in a shaky monotone.
“What do we do now?!” Darren wailed, making clear to everyone present why he was deputy director.
“Get him the hell out of there. Drain the tank. And call the police.” With that final command, Blue curled up in the fetal position and was out again.
About the Author:
Blue is a thinker of too many thoughts and a doer of too many things. She is a scientist by training, a science educator by vocation, and a writer quite by accident after stumbling into her autism diagnosis on the brink of 40. She is a mother of two vivacious girls, a grumpy cat, and a backyard full of chickens, bees, echidnas, and the occasional kangaroo. She sometimes forgets whether she’s supposed to be writing in American or Australian English, but she’s almost always writing about mental health, autism, or creating the books she wishes she had when she was younger.
Her stories of trauma, healing, and recentering are on her blog: HERE
Connect on Twitter: @AspienBlue
Or find her articles on The Aspergian
Here you will find a growing collection of my Short Stories. From pieces I wrote for competitions, to some of my world building stories. Some of the longer ones, will be broken down and released as Chapters.