Postcards from Rio--@v4vapid 's Conspiracy Writing Contest #3

in psyop-contest •  last year

If not for the earthquakes, we’d never feel the ground shake at all.

Still, every time, I imagine that I can feel vibrations in the earth, rumbling up through my bones and exciting every particle in my body. It seems logical. This machine dwarfs its Swedish predecessor in both size and power. And, with a combination of keystrokes, I can send two protons hurtling in opposite directions around a hundred-kilometer track buried deep beneath the Mojave soil. I steady my trembling hands and enter the code to make it happen. The rest is up to them, the scientists. My job is done.

I touch the grounding rod mounted beside the door as I exit the control room. Make contact coming and going—it’s not superstition, but sometimes it feels like it. How do you know when you’re carrying a charge? You don’t. It’s just one more invisible thing we have to believe, like Higgs-Boson and gravity. Doubt it if you want, but the consequences could dwell with you forever.

“Enjoy your week off,” a coworker says as we gather our things to head out. “Send me a postcard from Rio.”

I give her a smirk but don’t answer. Hard to tell when Garcia is talking shit. It’s safe to assume that’s always the case with her. I have no trip to Rio planned. Hell, for that matter, no vacation scheduled, either.

Or maybe I do. It’s always little things, barely noticeable details that don’t have much effect on the overall scheme of things. Once it was the color of my car. Same mess inside, just a slightly bluer blue on the outside. But a change in work schedule—now, that’s disconcerting. Worse yet, travel plans to Brazil. As always, because I am in the control room, insulated from time wave distortion when the particles scatter, I’ll be the only human alive who’s aware of any changes.

When I reach it, I eye my car with suspicion. Same slightly bluer blue, same fast food bags and candy wrappers accumulating on the passenger floorboard. If one thing will always be constant, it’s my propensity to be a slob.

I blame it on solitude. With no one around to complain about my clutter, I’m less motivated to clean it up. Last year, unmarried and unfettered by personal entanglements, I made an attractive prospect for the American answer to CERN. Bigger, better, faster, stronger—an ultra-large collider in need of staff who didn’t care about holidays, family, or even the possibility that they could be absorbed by their work, quite literally, if conspiracy theories could be believed.

My route home takes me through miles of barren desert, down a highway so straight I could lash my steering wheel in place and call it autopilot. The road undulates, ground rising and falling under my tires like swells on a calm ocean. On moonless nights, darkness in the Mojave is complete. No streetlights, no lamps burning in cozy homes. Just headlights and the stars, which seem much closer here than anywhere else on earth.

The apartment complex where I live seems quiet tonight when I pull in. I park in my usual spot and glance up at light shining through the curtains in my second-floor bedroom. Shit. I left the overhead on? So, then—not only messy, but careless. Some scientist I’d make. Good thing I stuck with IT.

Halfway up the walkway to my door I stop. This is wrong. A wave of queasy hits me, rocks me back a step. Physical sensation—blood flowing backward in my veins—it’s almost painful. It hurts all the way to the marrow of my bones.

I don’t live here.

With fumbling fingers, I drag my keys from my pocket and take a hard look. Smart key for my car—check. Locker keys for work—check. Apartment key—nope. In its place hangs a shiny brass door key to the house I own in Kern County. With my wife.

I reel backward and bump into a light post beside the walkway. My wife. Hannah, mother of our two beautiful children. She was my high school sweetheart. I can’t imagine taking a breath without her.

Memories swirl into my mind, as thick as fog rolling down from Tehachapi. It threatens my equilibrium, to the point that I grab the light post to stay upright. How could I have forgotten the most important people in my life, even for a minute? But I didn’t forget them. Not at all. I don’t even know that person who drove here from the desert without a family. I remember his life, too, all the details—but he is not me, and I can’t connect with his thoughts now, any more than I can connect with the apartment that has a door my key doesn’t fit.

I shake my head to clear it and hurry back to my car. Same car, comfortable and familiar, same trash on the floorboard. I still remember stopping at McDonalds that morning for a vanilla latte. There’s the cup, right there in the console where I left it. But the route I’d taken to get there—how could I have memories of two completely different versions of the same event? With my smart key, I crank the car before I climb inside and peel out of the parking lot as soon as my ass hits the seat.

Hannah is feeding the cichlids when I burst through the door, standing with her back to me in front of the fish tank. Light from the hood’s fluorescent bulb shines upward through her blonde hair, making the wavy strands of it glow. She turns when she hears me. I don’t give her a chance to speak. I scoop her into a hug that chokes off any questions she might ask about my enthusiastic arrival.

“If you don’t let me go, I’m going to pour this bottle of water conditioner over your head.” She taps my shoulder with it in warning, forcing her breathless words past the strength of my grip.

I loosen my arms but still hold her in front of me, smiling down at the face I could map with my eyes closed. “The kids already at your mom’s?”

She nods.

Damn. I could really use a hug from them, too, right now. But they’re safe, staying with Hannah’s parents until we get back from Brazil. It’s a trip we’ve planned for more than a year, a second honeymoon. Alone time. Days blocked off our calendars to remember why we are a family.

Send me a postcard from Rio.

Damn. I hadn’t even known what Garcia meant when she said that. There has been no earthquake this time. No airbus flying through a fold in the continuum to land five thousand miles from its destination. But my entire universe has reversed polarity. True North is standing in front of me, and she didn’t even exist just three hours ago.

If the collider did this, it could undo it as well.

The thought hits like a punch, a fist to the gut. I let Hannah go and take a step back.

This happened with a keystroke. My fingers tapping it out, coding my own future. Who knows what else has changed. This is no minor aberration. This is—

Oh, God. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t go back to that place and pretend everything is as it should be. What have we all been thinking? Why hasn’t anyone theorized that one more blow to time and space could shatter everything? I can’t be the only person who’s considered the possibility. Hell, I’m not even a scientist. Just an IT guy. Surely the notion has occurred to someone besides me?

The console. Shielded. Impervious to time waves and electromagnetic disruptions, designed to protect the equipment at all costs. They don’t put a scientist in there to enter commands that operate the largest and most powerful particle smasher in the world. They put an IT guy with no family and no life. Why? Because I’m not the only person who has realized what happens every time we fire two protons around that hundred-kilometer tunnel. But more importantly, because I’m disposable.

I stare at Hannah, the other half of my soul. I don’t take my eyes off her even when I hear tires on our concrete driveway. Car doors slam and I don’t move, other than try to swallow past the knot in my throat.

What have I done to you, Hannah?

They know. Those bastards—they’ve known all along. Something fucked up, and now they have to fix it. They’ll never give me a chance to tell anyone what I have finally understood. It’ll be a week before anyone checks to see if our airline tickets were used, or if we ever made it to Brazil.

“Hannah.” I try to stop her as she heads toward the door. “Don’t.”

But the doorbell has already started ringing.

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Wow, this is a truly heart pumping piece.... my palms are sweating reading this.
Amazing, top-notch storytelling @rhondak. I'm so impressed by this wonderfully human entry :)


Thank you! (and I just found a typo in the story...EEEK! I fixed it. LOL) Coming from you, someone I genuinely like and respect, that compliment carries weight. I will take it to heart. :-)


I wasn't sure what to expect, I mean I expected a strong piece but this really blew me away with the depth of quality... so happy you and others are making such amazing contributions to this contest.
...I'm gonna step away from the monitor for a while... I still have many more to read, but I want to savor this story for a while :)


"Savor." That's a strong word. It makes me grin from ear to ear. :-)

In all my years of writing and editing, I've never been surrounded by as much pure talent as I have been since joining Steemit and starting the writers' group here. It's had an effect on me. "As iron sharpens iron, so sharpens one man against another." I think that's actually a religious quote, but there's truth in it. These folks have sharpened me up big time. Just being in proximity to the gifts some of these folks bring to the table has made me a better writer.

This is fantastic. We read it in the editing queue at The Writers' Block and there was nothing, no suggestion of a thing that needed changing. It is truly excellent. Love the surprises towards the end.

Great job @rhondak


You are too kind, @gmuxx Thank you!


How did I not see this in the spreadsheets????

I'm just the caboose on the Writer's Block train of those that read this in the queue with nothing to crit. Outstanding piece Rhonda. Fantastic moment of revelation for your character and the tension just built from there. I enjoyed this very much.


Thank you! :-)


Dear @aksounder:
You ever so much more than a mere caboose.
(Or a cattle car, for that matter.)
You're one of the pistons pumping the engine -
(Do train engines have pistons...?)
(Now, to get that song "Little Red Caboose, chug chug chug" unstuck from my head)


The pistons of a steam locomotive are forced back and forth by high-pressured steam
Piston | Locomotive Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia


Little Red Caboose (With Train Sound Effects) - Rocking Horse Records https://youtu. be/kuqtzn4_Afk via @YouTube


Hahaha aww shucks, thanks Rhino. I merely meant I was the last one to come leave a comment here after reading this in the queue in the wee hours last night.
I'll gladly be a piston pushing our steem engine along!


By the time I got here, you were no longer a caboose (last one to comment)
If that excuses my confusement

Whoa... reading it almost gave me the shakes as the tension built after the overwhelming confusion. I had to force a blink at the end. Amazing work @Rhondak. Love it.

Wow! Fantastic! What a great build​ in momentum and an earth shattering ending. This is top-top-notch, @rhondak!


Thank you! Coming from you, as gifted as you are yourself, that comment is one I take to heart. :-)


I'm flattered, but you blow me away!

A great read @rhondak
Twisty-turny, I like 😉


Thank you!

Wheee, that's good stuff. Nice slice of drama and buildup, and a good conspiracy! Great read on a Friday morning :)

I knew this wouldn't end well



I'm weeping with you! :O

This post has caught the eye of @MuxxyBot and has been nominated by the curation team.
If chosen it will feature in a curation post by @MuxxyBot.
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Accept! Accept! Thank you. :-)

This is the most impeccably crafted story I'd read in years, @rhondak. It's just brilliant. All of it. Each word.


Statements like that are always nice to hear. However, statements like that coming from a writer like you take on a whole new level of meaning. THANK YOU. That means more than you know to me.

I just read this again. Yup. Still great! I loved this line: “down a highway so straight I could lash my steering wheel in place and call it autopilot. “

The voice is perfect. Sheer brilliance as always!


Thank you!!!

I came so close to cutting that paragraph due to word count. But something told me not to. ;-)

AMAZING! It flows so smoothly, it's so engaging. I'm in love with this story. Timeline jumping has always been in my top three science-fiction tropes, and you handled it in a great way; a subtle way.


Thank you!!! Hey, I'll be posting later today about a contest I hope you'll consider entering. Please keep an eye out for it!

Congratulations on your win @rhondak this is a genuinely fantastic slice of conspiracy fiction, I savored every word and the tension was palpable. Thank you for sharing!!


Thank you soooo much! :-)


I imagine that I can feel vibrations in the earth,
rumbling up through my bones and exciting every
particle in my body. It seems logical.

Yes! Yes, it does (to me). This is my kind of writing!

Okay, I'm coming to this story late as well but wow. Say again: WOW.

I grew up in Southern California, had friends at JPL and Caltech, and currently use email and a VPN developed at CERN and MIT.

Did I mention I'm a science geek?

This is one of the best short stories I've read in quite a while, and I read a lot. Pretty much constantly. So count me seriously into the Writers Block, as from here, I will be getting much more involved.

Thank you for this. Excellent piece.


Well, you just made my day! Thank you so much for this. :-) I very much look forward to having you participate. We're getting ready to start a beta read of a finished novel if you're interested. Would love to have you on board with that.


I'd love to participate - count me in! ;-)


I'll tag you in Discord. :-)


Cool - thanks!


Finally got my mic issue resolved in Discord, on my phone at least! Yay!!!
Now I just need to get it working on my laptop.

good luck..
i hope you can be a winner Writing Contest @rhondak .


I did win! Thank you for the well-wishes!

This is, as is always the case with your writings, amazing. I bet you could pin me to my seat with a shopping list. Hugs


The comments are so literary it is interesting to read them as well! Another great story, captivated me and had me experience numerous emotions/reactions and left me wanting more.

Congratulations! This story has been curated by The SFT. :-) A small SBD reward has been transferred to your wallet.

It has been added to the Science Fiction Reading Room at the SFT Library.

Finally got to reread this and aside from an excellent story, I enjoyed your use of the em dash. It's something I'll need to look into, and congratulations on first place :)


Thank you! :-)

Yeah, I love the em dash. A little too much sometimes. LOL

Congratulations. This post is featured in this week's Muxxybot Fiction Curation post.

I'm late to the party, but I do want to join in with the very much deserved complimenting on your story. Absolutely brilliant indeed.
10/10 would buy a copy of the novel that spawns from this.


Thank you, @indy8phish. :-) I don't currently have a novel planned that's based on this, but I have two in print, one with an agent, and one in progress. So it's not out of the question that I could get back to this and expand on it. ;-)

Rio is the beautiful paradise, hopefull i can take picture from here

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I love it! Why are y'all such good writers, I feel out of place!! :P


You know how we came to be good writers? Through the editing process. :-) so if you jump into the sci-fi contest, you’ll be right there with us .


I'd love to, but I'm just no good at sci-fi :,C