“Hot Seat” – I Got Shorted by Amazon.com!

If you’ve hunted around the web, you may have discovered that not all of my short stories are available only here at Klurgsheld. I’ve also posted a few of them at some of the many short story sites, so that the scent of a good read would bring people back here for more. Well, as of this morning, there’s also a short story I wrote, called “Hot Seat“, that you can only find amongst the treasures in Amazon Shorts.

Because my first novel, “The Shoals of Time“, has been listed at Amazon since it became a POD edition in early 2001, I had the opportunity to submit a much longer short story than the ones you’ll find here to the folks at Amazon Shorts, and now you can show your support for me and the Bank Shot Blogger by getting a copy to read.

“Hot Seat” takes you to the covert lab where a small team of researchers conducts some off-the-books experiments in a field that would ultimately lead to the secret technology used by the peacekeeping agency in “The Shoals of Time” and in several stories right here at Klurgsheld to eliminate the need for warfare. Here’s how it opens…

Audrey Fine pulled her gaze back from the grime-filtered lights of the city’s warehouse district beyond the wire-veined window, and nervously checked her watch. One twenty-eight AM. Another two minutes. “I hope Rhiannon’s alright.” She bit her lip and frowned at a tuft of orange fur drifting across the oddly shaped plastic shell that served as the test rig’s ‘hot seat’.

The rough hand resting gently on her bare shoulder gave a momentary squeeze. “You said she’s a smart cat. I’m sure she’ll figure it out.” It was Peter Avard, the other grad student who’d agreed to help Professor Elon Fuentes thumb his nose at the defense companies that kept waving huge checks at the university administrator. Besides being a chipfab whiz, Peter was a bit of a daredevil inventor, with scars to prove it.

“I hope you’re right.” She glanced over her shoulder at him, a twinge of concern itching at her mind. She almost felt like scratching it.

Fuentes, looking suitably tenured, glanced up from the control board Peter had cobbled together for him. He may have had a brilliant mind for exotic topologies, but he was like a raccoon in surgi-scrubs when it came to making something useful from them. Peter had used the man’s theories to fabricate a mash-up of custom digital and analog components that turned a surplus Air Force antenna grid into a technological work of art.

Audrey chuckled nervously. “Did I ever tell you how she finally convinced me she was more than just some dumb ole calico?” Her gaze unfocused briefly, as the feeling of a creature that smart trapped in a cat’s body swept across her mind. She could almost feel the fur on her back, the weight of a ghostly tail twitching behind her.

“Doesn’t matter if you did,” Peter said amiably as he eased into an ancient metal-frame rolling chair. “Tell me again.”

“I’d gotten a new kitten to keep her company, and the little fuzzball kept trying to lay claim to my bedroom. So anyway, I came home one night after class, and Rhiannon was sitting there looking up at me when I walked in. She did that follow-me move I’ve told you about, the one where she takes a few steps, then pauses to glance back over her shoulder. She’s a clean-freak, so I figured maybe she wanted to show me some mess the fuzzball had made. But instead, she led me to the bathroom. Once I joined her in there, she turned and led me into the bedroom, where I found the little scamp in Rhiannon’s spot on the bed. It took me a while, but I finally realized that she was upset the little turd was in her space. The thing was, her cat box isn’t in the bathroom. She knew what I used it for, though.”

“You are a communications geek. Ever wonder why she chose you at the kennel?”

Audrey was about to answer when the Professor spoke. “Stations. Get ready to grab her if she bolts.”

“Grab her? You were never owned by a cat, were you?”

Rhiannon wasn’t their first test subject. Fact was, they’d just about used up all the rats they could lay their hands on without raising suspicion, and still had no clue what Fuentes’ invention really did. Aside from temporarily disappearing the test rats, that is. They’d all come back panicked, but lacking the ability to tell what had happened to them, all they could do was jibber.

That lack had instigated their next step – equipping a rat with some electronics to record the trip. Peter fitted their final rat with a battery powered chipcam, and enough flash memory for three minutes of audio and video. Ulysses made it back in one piece, but the flash was toast. Since recording the trip was a non-starter, they reluctantly agreed that some living creature able to tell them something on its return would have to go next.

The argument that ensued dredged up all sorts of irrelevant stuff. Their dueling tirades climaxed in a tense standoff between Audrey and Peter over whether Washoe really understood language, or if the chimp had simply learned to imitate sign language from its handlers. Audrey’s contention that her pet cat was not only smart enough to understand the experience, but could communicate it as well, had left Peter speechless. Rather than arguing the point any further, he simply challenged her to prove her point, to let them send her cat wherever the rats had gone. She’d accepted, and in a few seconds, Rhiannon would be reappearing on the test stand.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my stories here, please click over to Amazon Shorts and plunk down your 49 cents to download your own copy of “Hot Seat“.

— poz


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