Mad Scientist Week: One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar

And now, continuing the celebration of Mad Scientist Week, here’s a short story for you. It takes place…

One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar
David D. Levine

The geek sat hunched over his drink, tapping a swizzle stick on the bar as he stared vaguely into the darkness above the empty dance floor. He’d been here when Candace had come on-shift, and at the moment he was her only customer. She busied herself cutting up limes, making ready for the rush to come.

Already her feet were killing her. So were her back, her knees, and her shoulders. Business school plus two jobs would do that to a girl. She put her shoulders back, hitched up her bra straps, and tried to maintain good posture.

It didn’t help much.

The geek rattled his glass at her. “Another screwdriver.”

That would be the third one, at least. She’d have to assess his degree of intoxication before she could serve him another. “Long day?” she said, making conversation, sizing him up.

The man wasn’t exactly a regular, but she knew him by sight. With his tweedy jacket hanging loose on his coat-hanger frame, Adam’s apple prominent on his pale skinny neck, and thick eyeglasses, he was the very picture of a geeky science nerd. But, unlike some of the other eccentric researchers and inventors who made their way down the hill to O’Shaughnessy’s from the university district, he tipped well.

The eyes that met hers were a little red, but steady. “The longest.”

“Sorry to hear that. Wanna talk about it?”

In response he reached into his coat pocket, pulled something out, and slapped it down on the bar. “That’s the end result of eight months’ work. And it’s worthless.”

The object on the bar was a glove. A right-hand glove, made of some thin shimmery black fabric.

“Pick it up.”

Candace kept her eyes on the man’s face as she picked up the glove. He’d plainly had a few, and he seemed a little melancholy, but his words weren’t slurred and he was sitting up pretty straight. But before she could decide for certain whether or not to serve him, the feeling of the glove in her hand caught her attention. The fabric slid along her fingers like silk, slick and smooth and somehow cool and warm at the same time. And it weighed less than nothing.

She rubbed the glove against her cheek. “This feels amazing!”

“‘This feels a-may-zing,'” he parroted in a derisive falsetto, then spat “but it doesn’t work!”

Tempting though it was to smack him with his own glove, she kept her anger in check. If had a nickel for every jerk she had to deal with at the bar, she wouldn’t need the bookstore job. “So what is it supposed to do?”

He looked to either side. Then he leaned in close and whispered one word: “Antigravity.”

She looked skeptically at the glove in her hand, then at the geek. “Riiight.”

“Put it on.”

She slipped the glove onto her hand.

It was the strangest feeling, almost as though her hand were floating in a warm tub. She waved it through the air, inspecting it as though she expected to find hidden wires lifting it up. “But… but it does work. My hand weighs half what it usually does.”

He shook his head vehemently. “That weight has just been redistributed to the rest of your body.” He held out a hand, demanding; reluctantly she stripped off the glove and returned it. “Make a shirt out of it,” he continued, “and your legs would weigh twice as much. And if you make a whole body suit of the stuff… it has no effect whatsoever.” He looked down into his empty glass. “Worthless.” He shoved the glass across the bar at her. “I need another drink.”

He might be an asshole, but he was sober enough. She poured him his screwdriver, her mind only half on the task. “But surely there’s something that can be done with it?” she said as she handed the glass over. “Making cars more efficient by transferring weight to the drive wheels, maybe?”

He let out a bitter little laugh. “Only works on living flesh. Leverages myoelectrical flux to torque the water and protein molecules into opposite cardinalities.” He took a big swig. “Believe me, little girl, I’ve thought of everything, and there’s nothing worthwhile that can be done with this technology.”

Candace stood there looking at the man. Here he sat with this fabulous invention, calling himself a failure and her a “little girl,” while she stood on the other side of the bar with her aching back and her sore feet and the tens of thousands of dollars of business school debt that weighed on her shoulders like…

“Sell it to me,” she blurted out.

He finished his drink. “Eh?”

She swallowed, then stammered “This… this invention’s worthless to you. How much would you charge me for the development rights?”

He smirked at her. “And what would a girl like you do with the rights to something like this?”

She forced her face into a simper. “Oh, I don’t know. Make something floaty out of it, I guess. It does feel fabulous.”

He looked at her, swirling the ice in his glass, for a long time. “Five dollars.”

She blinked. “I’m serious.”

“So am I.” He tipped back the glass, drained the last few drops into his mouth. “I like you. You think you can make something of it, be my guest.”

She grabbed her purse from under the bar, fished out a five, and slapped it down on the bar. “There. Cash on the barrelhead.”

“Done.” He extended his hand.

She shook it.

As he slipped the bill into his shirt pocket, she said “I’d like to make a proper contract out of this. Can you come by tomorrow, same time?”

#

She figured he wouldn’t come. But he did, and after he’d looked over the contract she’d worked out with her Business Law professor he signed it without complaint. “Best of luck,” he wrote beneath his signature.

That detail helped to win Candace’s case when he sued, five years later, for a cut of the millions of dollars in profits realized by the Miracle Uplift Bra.

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About David D. Levine

David D. Levine is the author of over fifty published science fiction and fantasy stories. His work has appeared in markets including Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, and Realms of Fantasy and has won or been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Campbell. His books in the BVC Ebook Store include novella Second Chance and award-winning short story collection Space Magic.
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3 Responses to Mad Scientist Week: One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar

  1. That was fun to read, but what I really like about it is that it demonstrates — as only fiction can do (funny fiction particularly) — that even wild-eyed scientists have trouble thinking outside of their experience.

  2. Boothby171 says:

    Do I sense a Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon coming on…?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callahan's_Crosstime_Saloon