This short story was inspired by a writing prompt from Fiction Can Be Fun. Basically the prompt was to write something about the mysterious “Mondretti cylinder” pictured below.
The public relations director, Mrs. Clark, was away for the week giving the keynote at some big conference in Chicago when the “object” came into existence in laboratory #4. There would have to be an official announcement, though in a sense the object had already announced itself. The gravitational distortions had sent minor tremors up and down the East Coast. But with Mrs. Clark out of town until Monday, the problem of what to say to the media and how to say it (so as not to cause a panic) fell upon Mrs. Clark’s assistant, Nick.
To be 100% blunt, Nick Shue hated his job. He’d never wanted it in the first place. He was too into celebrity gossip and everything Hollywood for all this sciency stuff. His dream, upon graduating with his B.A. in communications, had been to move to California, maybe do P.R. work for a talent agency, or maybe even become a talent agent himself, but he would have settled for the New York scene if he’d got the chance. So when the rep from Omni-Science Laboratories offered Nick the job at their main facility in Arlington, it had been Nick’s intention to say no. He’d meant, with all his heart, to say no. But somehow over the course of a forty-minute phone conversation with a perky, young girl from human resources, a conversation in which Nick felt compelled to be very polite and very agreeable, he’d found himself accidentally agreeing to take the position. And once he’d said yes to the job, Nick didn’t feel as though he could back out of it without looking like a real fool—even more of a fool than friends, family, and the average perfect stranger already assumed him to be.
Working at Omni-Science felt like the reverse of high school. The nerds were the popular ones here, while people like Nick sat by themselves in the farthest corner of the company cafeteria. But after almost a year in Arlington, Nick had seen a lot and heard a lot, and he’d developed something of a pet theory about how science really worked: at least half of science was just very smart people quibbling over what stuff was called. The scientists Nick worked with insisted this wasn’t true. A few of them also informed Nick, without any apparent irony, that he should really call his “theory” a hypothesis, seeing as he hadn’t performed any studies to support his claim.
Anyway, with Mrs. Clark out of town, it was Nick who ended up standing there in lab #4 listening to two of the most brilliant women in the world arguing over—what else?—what their enigmatic creation should be called.
“Look at the rotation! Look at the gravitational flux!” Dr. Hoshiko was saying.
“I am looking,” said Dr. Bakshali, “but I do not see this the way you see it. Go back to your initial parameters.”
But Dr. Hoshiko was flipping forward to another chart on her computer. “No, no! There can’t be any doubt, see? This thing extends both forwards and backwards in time!”
“Yes, but not in such a way as to violate causality. A Mondretti cylinder must, by definition, be the cause of its own existence. And the experimental data does not support that conclusion.”
Nick took a deep breath. Patience, he told himself. Patience is a virtue. Except the media were clamoring for answers, and Mrs. Clark had left multiple messages on Nick’s voicemail about how she wanted him to handle this.
Nick glanced up at the… whatever it was in the test chamber, the enormous thing that hung suspended midair by its own gravity/anti-gravity effects. Nick had seen the photograph which was supposed to go out with the press release, but seeing the object in person was different. It just… it looked wrong somehow. It felt wrong, just being in its presence. Nick didn’t know how to put it into words. Here was a thing that defied all easy labels that might be applied to it. Was it a cylinder? No, not in the conventional sense. Not in the sense of a cylinder as a Platonic solid, according to Dr. Hoshiko, whatever that meant. But it was round, wasn’t it? Nick blinked, and though the object looked exactly the same, it was also somehow different. It wasn’t round at all, Nick realized. It had corners. And it was moving ever so slightly. Except no, it was perfectly motionless. It appeared to be a flat, black, emptiness yet also it seemed aglow with color, to be overflowing with bright color and light. And it made a sound: a low buzzing noise, or a soft whispering… and yet the lab was dead silent. Unnervingly silent, aside from the ongoing scientific debate, of course.
Nick wasn’t a religious man (who was these days?) but even if he couldn’t bring himself to believe in any sort of god, this thing was weird enough to convince Nick it must be the Devil’s work. Nick shook his head, pinched his nose. The thing hurt his eyes. It hurt his brain.
“Ladies,” Nick finally said, “I’m sorry, but I have to write something for the press release. Can I call this thing a Monstreddi cylinder or not?”
“And no, you cannot.”
“Yes, he most certainly can!”
And the women were at it again. Nick would have to look up this Mondro-whatever thing on the Internet. He could only hope there’d be more to find than just a stub on Wikipedia.