by dm armstrong

Mia couldn’t sleep on the plane. The call from DOD last week had been cryptic.

“You’ll be traveling soon, is that right?”

“Giving a lecture in Lisbon,” she’d said. “It’s been on the books for months.”

“If anyone asks, you’re adding a stop to your itinerary.”



“Japan isn’t exactly tacking on an unscheduled day trip to the MAAT. My schedule won’t allow for it.”

“Consider this a request from someone representing key appropriations committees from our office and the Department of Energy.”

Millions, was what Mia thought. Tens of millions of dollars. The voice on the line was using all that leverage for one little favor. Turning it into a command. This was nothing new. Money was a fulcrum. She’d heard it her whole life. “Oh, you went to a state school?” Like she’d just emerged from a sewer. “What is that accent? Hillbilly or redneck?” Passed off as playful kidding. “And what do your parents do again, Mia?” As if the higher she climbed the more they didn’t know every single detail: Appalachia. Poor as dirt. A drunk housewife for a mother. A failed newspaper man cum coal miner, missing three fingers from a cave-in, and dead from black lung, for a father. She’d scrabbled out of it, left it behind. The more powerful circles, the pettier the eyes. They talked breeding, refinement, right schools, good connections, Kennebunkport blue bloods with Saudi ties and Texas oil wells, but it was all fear. They saw the poor coming for them and they quaked.

A direct threat from the Department of Defense about cutting her lab funding wasn’t exactly the same, but she knew fear when she heard it. The man on the other end of the line was afraid, and he represented powerful people who were afraid.

“I’d need more details,” she said, “before I agree.”

“You misunderstand. You’ll report on what we need you to report on.”

“When will I know what that is?”

But the contact was severed. She found her itinerary and tickets in her inbox a moment later.

So, no. She hadn’t slept. Her thoughts wouldn’t stop colliding and spinning in her skull. She still had no idea why she was headed for Osaka, and the high-pitched drone of the jet’s nanogenerators whirred like gnats circling her ears.

As they entered Japanese airspace the sun climbed over the Kii Mountains, winking orange and hot. Disembarking, she was greeted by a blur of travelers trailing wheeled luggage.

She checked her watch. 7:34am. Japan Standard Time was Greenwich Mean plus nine. She did the math. She’d just taken a sixteen-hour, Finnair-fueled leap from Lisbon eight hours into the future. Did that put her ahead or behind? It was oddly neat. One morning in Portugal. The next in Osaka. How could it be that only last night she’d given her talk at Instituto de Plasmas e Fusão Nuclear to a large but unenthusiastic crowd of grad students? She’d been treated afterward by the faculty to a classically late Portuguese dinner before begging off for a few hours rest at the hotel. That felt like years ago, a different lifetime. Was she a different person?

People around her greeted one another through bluetooth translators clasped to the outside of their larynxes. Their voices rose out of their phone speakers in new tongues. Digitized in real life.

It took her an hour to navigate her way out of Kansai International. The sprawling Umeda Train Station was even more bewildering. S-Cort bots—wheeled tripods of sleek, white plastic four feet tall, each with an LED display the size of a small child’s head—skirted in and out of the crowd. They offered their services silently with writing in a dizzying mix of scrolling kanji, hiragana, katakana, Cyrillic, English, and Hangul. Occasionally someone stopped, paired their watch or phone, and off they went. The S-Cort politely and helpfully led the way.

Mia thought of engaging their services, but the spider-like design, the legs flexing in and out to weave through the crowd, reminded her of watching waterbugs skimming the surface of a pond when she was young. A bitter memory.

Dogsbody, Ohio. An ugly pockmark in the Appalachian foothills, a cluster of rusting trailers. Summers so hot and laden with flies she couldn’t hear herself think. How she’d fought to get out of there. Fought and fought and fought until finally no one asked her anymore where she came from with that curious look on their face, like she shouldn’t be talking with that hick accent, like she shouldn’t be the foremost expert in anything. Like she shouldn’t be in a lab at all. Too long in coming. Now she felt scarred, set off by reminders.

Ridiculous, but the S-Cort bots brought all that anger flooding back—from the time when her seven-year-old self stood helpless on the bank and watched the waterbugs dancing beyond her reach in slick lines across the surface as if mocking her with their freedom.

Instead, she found an overly eager businessman intent on practicing his stilted English. They made a funny pair for a few minutes, smiling politely as if that show of teeth could impart all the good will they both intended. He helped her board one of the Hankyu mag-lines (she wasn’t sure which) moving in the opposite direction of the crushing influx of morning commuters headed into Osaka’s beating heart.

She found a seat in the lightly populated northbound car and stared blankly out the train’s window as they crossed a bridge of fractal-looking girders. A brassy morning glare turned the Yodo River into a ribbon of vibrating light. Driverless hydrofoils, some small as dogs, others large as blue whales, veered and careened over the water, delivering everything from furniture, retail goods, even okonomiyaki still piping hot off the griddle, to land-delivery vehicles, manned or autonomous on the opposite bank.

Again she thought of the waterbugs. She watched the drones hand off their goods and return, quick as they’d come, their infinite white wakes foaming in testament to their efficient interweaving, their perfect navigation. Not a crashed vessel or sunken tub to be seen.

Her phone dinged in her pocket. She placed her index finger across the length of the screen to let it scan the veins beneath her skin. One message.

Proceed to designated checkpoint. Your contact will meet you.

The train came to a quiet stop. She alighted at Juso Station, an unimpressive brick platform funneling out into a shotengai of haphazard shops and noodle kiosks.

In the corner near the ticket panels sat a beggar, a shoeless woman, her clothes so dirty and featureless that the markers of her gender and humanity seemed almost erased. She knelt on a tiny piece of cardboard, her arms on the ground, prostrate, her forehead touching the paving stones. A metal bowl lay between her hands. In it a few passersby had dropped a meager pile of dull hyaku-en coins.

Mia peeled off a 10,000-yen note from her stash from the exchange and dropped it in. It trembled there in the air cast off by the passing train. She worried it might flutter away. She wished the woman would reach up and grab it, but the woman kept her head to the floor. She didn’t move at all, in fact. Mia was about to ask if she were okay when a man approached.

He was Japanese and wore tight black jeans and a leather jacket. A lit cigarette trailed smoke. He looked like a cowboy or a noir detective or both.

“Dr. Mia Cruse? You are head researcher at Los Alamos?” His English was curbed by the native Japanese speaker’s resistance to certain consonants, but it was parsecs better than her paltry snippets of Japanese. He was confident, direct, and quite frankly, handsome: vulnerable dark eyes like Kento Yamazaki; rugged masculinity à la Toshiro Mifune in his heyday. She couldn’t decide if she was comforted or intimidated by him.

“No,” she said.


“I’m Mia Cruse, Deputy Group Leader of of Information Sciences: Combinatorics and Optimization.”

“And I am Takuya Matsui,” he said, introducing himself in the English way, patronymic last. “Detective with Osaka Prefecture Police. Contact for you. Please, if you come.”

They headed south toward a street flowing with cycles and pedestrians. Cars had lost nearly all their dominion in Japan since the Kyoto Carbon Act. A few electrics and still-legal, gas-fueled scooters wove in and out.

Emerging from beneath the roof of the shotengai she felt droplets of rain. Detective Matsui purchased a cheap umbrella from a woman hocking them from her stand. He handed it to her. The umbrella was pink and translucent so the leaden sky took on a rosy tint.

He walked beside her, ignoring the rain that fell on his own shoulders. “What do you know about Kagaku Gijutsu Shinko Kiko?”

“Almost nothing. That’s the Science and Technology Agency here, correct?”

He stopped in the middle of lighting another cigarette. “I am impressed. I was testing you a little.”

“I did what research I could. They didn’t give me much to go on, but I drew a few conclusions. I’m not arrogant but I know my worth. I know my presence here probably has to do with that agency. After all, you don’t send a mathematician with a background in nuclear physics on a simple goodwill mission. For one, we scientists don’t make the best ambassadors.”

“Maybe scientists should be the only ambassadors.”

“You might be one of the few non-scientists to feel that way. Scientists tend to put forth questions, not agendas. That doesn’t always serve the purpose of our governments.”

He seemed to like this. He smiled. “Yes, but it serves people who governments are meant to serve.” He motioned to the roving crowds.

“If I’d known I’d be in a philosophical discussion, I’d have had more caffeine. Can you tell me why I’m actually here—other than talking affairs of state, of course?”

“Of course. You are here so you can ask your questions. The ones you are good at asking.”

“About what?”

“Irregularities in the power grid.”

This made even less sense. “Seems more like a job for an electrician.”

He tapped his watch, hailing an autonomous taxi. A boldly aquamarine pod shaped like an almond pulled alongside them. Its outer skin flickered with two dozen LED screens, each advertising something different: a hair product, a skin-bleaching cream, an energy drink. Happy, fake people cavorted on every display, as happy and fake as other happy, fake people in brilliant advertisements all over the world.

They climbed in.

“I also don’t know why I’m talking to an Osaka detective. No offense.”

“Hai,” he said. “Our JST—that is Japan Science and Technology Agency in English—they are responsible for our Carbon Act, meant to stop climate change. It is the strongest act of any country.” He said this with some pride.

To show him she followed she mimicked his nod.

“This act is praised internationally, but here upsets many. Is . . .” He struggled for the first time for an English word. “Is repercussion.”

“What’s the repercussion, exactly?”

The taxi rocketed toward an apartment building. It seemed they’d smash headlong into a solid wall. She winced as the car slowed at the last second and its nose connected with a rail that ran vertically up the building. With a slight jostling and a small clunk, a lynch pin locked into place. The taxi rose swiftly, efficiently, forty, fifty, sixty stories, until they topped the roof. Then they were moving forward again, riding a single rail like a silver spider’s thread running across the tops of the high-rises.

“You are okay?” he asked, noticing her holding her breath.

“Not big on heights.”

There was nothing like this in the States. There should be, but there wasn’t. Rail-taxis made perfect sense. They used energy directly from the grid like old streetcars so there was less need for recharging stations or bulky batteries. They also took advantage of the more direct lines of travel opened up by verticality. Forget flying cars. That was science fiction. These were already a more energy-conscious use of the same idea.

As she looked out across the rails, which wove past and over one another like infinite filaments of ampullate gossamer, she was reminded of those perfect, interweaving wakes of the hydrofoils on the river. What looked like confusion and entanglement to the human eye might very well be one of humanity’s most elegant achievements: the capacity to fathom, mathematically, the futures of nearly infinite moving objects—and to divine the destiny of each.

They came to a city block decidedly less illuminated, less aglow with flickering LED boards and holograms. They plunged between two buildings packed tightly together. A pall so thick fell over them it was like storm clouds had smothered the sun.

“They don’t have electricity here,” she guessed.

 Takuya nodded. “Here are burakumin.”


“Lower level in society.”

She took his meaning. “They’re poor.”

“More like unclean.”

“A caste.”

He seemed relieved to have pinpointed the word. “Yes. Caste. You have this?”

“In the States?” She thought of her childhood again. Hers had been only one of a million ways to be poor in America. Rural and dirty. Yet somehow she’d found what she needed. She’d been drawn to machines, walked the creek beds in the woods and discovered the rusted refrigerators, washing machines, and gutted appliances that people had discarded into the holler. She’d dragged them back to the trailer, dissected them, learned the ways they drew power, their needs. Some time after that there’d been a scholarship, a few helping hands and guiding voices, a fellowship, a post-doc, a job at Los Alamos. She’d worked hard but knew also she’d been lucky. Few were so fortunate.

“We do have castes,” she said, “but not everyone admits it.”

“I must warn you. Where we are going, there is also a criminal element.”

He was giving her a chance to back out. At least now she knew why she was with a detective. Whatever she was investigating, it was criminal in nature.

“I still don’t know what my role here is.”

They alighted directly onto a platform halfway down the apartment building where a kind of balcony met with the line. She looked down onto the street about fifty stories below. In the gloam moved a squalid, gray darkness.

People, she realized.

They filled the street, formless masses colliding and seething, permeating, reinventing themselves with an almost nauseating unpredictability. She couldn’t help thinking of the waterbugs yet again. With unfathomable, chaotic movements the crowds poured from the shadows into deeper ones. They swelled and sought routes that defied meaning. They were anti-math. They were chaos.

“This way,” Takuya said.

He led her inside and down a lightless hallway. He touched what looked like a button on the collar of his leather jacket. It lit up like a personal lamp and shot out a green laser in a flickering scan, illuminating walls of poor construction. The wall panels were warped as if melting, though they were oddly clean. No trash, no graffiti.

He seemed to sense her thoughts. “Even the poor can take pride in their home.”

She got the sense he spoke from experience and immediately felt a kinship.

“Here,” he said. He pointed to a socket in the wall. “They told me to bring you here. I do not know what happens next.”

 “I didn’t either,” she said. “Not until now.” She knelt to the socket, examined it. “Does it bother you that we’re apparently being used by someone? Not being given all the facts?”

 “We do know some facts.”

 “Like what?”

“The people who command us. They are powerful.”

 “Finish what you were saying. Tell me what the repercussions of the Carbon Act were.”

 “There is political party in Japan. Nippon Ishin no Kai. In English they call them ‘Japan Innovation Party.’ This is very ironic name. They resist innovation. Carbon Act is necessary but these men take advantage of . . . apologies . . . onegaishimasu, what is American term?—aches that come with progress?”

 “Growing pains,” she said.

 “Hai. No fossil fuels means shortage until new energies arise completely.”

 “And people like these burakumin—the people who live here—I’m guessing they’re the hardest hit by a sudden curtailing of old resources.”

 “This Innovation Party uses unrest here to stir up resistance to expansion of renewable energies. They care about anger only. Anger as political power. Not the work that needs done. They tell the people to resist change but offer no alternative.”

 “We have a few like that where I’m from,” she said.

 “Burakumin become . . . like in chess?”


He nodded. “Already these Burakumin don’t trust outsiders. They learn to fend for themselves. Sometimes illegally. Steal electricity.”

She pulled what appeared to be an old-fashioned black fountain pen of Bakelite plastic from the pocket of her shirt. “So, you think someone is stealing from the grid? Running a few extension cords to places they aren’t supposed to go?”

 “No,” he said. “Much bigger. Something here has both our governments concerned. I am here because I know these people. You are here because you know this energy.”

She tapped the bottom of the pen on the floor three times and whispered, “Wakey, wakey.” The pen split in several directions at once, coming apart in what looked like a slow-motion shattering. Tiny side-panels hissed quietly out, becoming two arms and two little legs with articulated feet. Finally, the top of the cap rose on a slim, silver neck and tilted down to become a head.

 “Do your thing, Grieg,” she said to the anthropomorphic pen. Then to Takuya, who was eyeing the bot with suspicion, she added, “Grieg here represents a few years of my work. One of my specialties.”

Grieg lifted its tiny robot hands, no thicker than paper clips, to the socket and stepped forward, plugging himself in.

 “What does it do?”

 “Some people mistake my primary field, combinatorics, for simple analysis. They think it’s about dumbing data down for the masses.” She heard defensiveness creep into her voice. Her ex-fiancé, a physicist she’d met during a post-doc at Michigan State, once summed it up as condescendingly as anyone: “Oh, Mia,” he’d said, “sometimes I envy your job security. You take what us real scientists do and sum it up for the laymen on Capitol Hill. You’re basically a translator.” Not surprisingly their engagement withered soon after. To Mia’s somewhat schadenfreude-laced delight, his career had too. Last she checked he was teaching seventh-grade math at a public school in South Dakota.

Grieg blipped and beeped, his tiny processors clicking like a cicada’s wings.

 “What I really do is take unlike data sets and formulate them into a single picture.”

Grieg’s information transferred to her watch. She cast its projected image against the dark wall. Five columns of scrolling numbers flew down the screen in a greenish-blue blur.

 “What you’re seeing is five discrete sets representing a single, mathematical structure in n-dimensional Euclidean space.”

She glanced at Takuya to see if he was following.

Not only was he following, he was grinning.

 “What is it?” she asked.

 “You are a detective. Like me. Except you are a math detective.”

 “Oh, god, that sounds like a children’s program on PBS.” But she liked the sound of it. Maybe because he’d said it with reverence rather than derision.

 “How does it work?”

 “The first set is power output based on the wiring of the building in relation to the Hyogo-2 grid from which this block draws, or used to draw, power. Then there’s a comparison with normal usage, electronic signature, acceptable radiation, and a variable.”

 “What is your variable?”

 “Whatever my program deems most likely to be of use based on the other four in determining the source of a slight current still running through this wall. In this case it’s. . .” She faltered. “That can’t be right.”

 “What is it?” He leaned in.

 “Based on what we know about nominal outputs, the source is nuclear.”

 “This is not so strange. Much of Japan is nuclear.”

 “Yes, but if this is right, the source is only about seven floors down.”

On the forty-fourth floor, the dim gloam of lightless hallways gave way to a pupil-aching brilliance. Christmas lights illuminated the length of the hall. Several doors leaked buttery light, warm as the sounds and cooking smells that signalled apartments rich with life behind them.

“Doesn’t look energy-deprived here,” Mia said.

She consulted her phone’s readout and pointed at one particular door. Behind it a stereo was playing music that sounded to Mia like eighties pop.

“That one.”

Takuya knocked.  The music cut out. A middle-aged man in sweats answered.

Takuya spoke to him in Japanese cordially as Mia hung back. She couldn’t make out the particulars but got the gist. Takuya went from basic questions to more pressing ones. The other man’s face went from polite to resistant until he was shouting.

Takuya finally stepped back, barked a short command, then pointed to Mia.

The man hung his head, glanced at her sidewise, and finally bowed. He stepped aside, opening the door for her.

“He says you can enter,” Takuya said.


“I’ll be with you.”

She stepped into the small apartment. It was a clean place floored with tatami. She remembered only at the last second to remove her shoes. She passed a wash room and a bathroom, entering a central space crowded with a table and a kitchenette. A futon had been jammed into one corner. A bedroom split off to the right.

The man shuffled past, offered them two seats at the table and poured them tea. He’d just brewed it, possibly for company that would not now come. Certainly whatever neighbors who might have been about to join him had heard the shouting and stayed in their well-lit apartments.

The man took a seat on the futon. His head hung low on his shoulders

“Can you find?” Takuya asked, sipping the man’s tea. “Source of the energy?”

She didn’t need Grieg for this one. She heard a hum. A low-grade cross between an oscillating fan and a dishwasher. The frequency was out of place against the other appliances. She stepped into the bedroom and traced the sound along one wall. Tucked behind the bed she found a heap of clothing.

“Could you ask him to move those?”

Takuya did. The man put up little fight, though his disappointment was palpable. He gingerly plucked the crumpled shirts and khakis and socks off the pile, revealing a metal orb about the size of a soccer ball. It was faceted and notched where its panels fitted together. It looked like an old computer rolled into a spherical shape by a trash compactor. It was connected to wires that had been pulled through a ragged hole in the wall.

“What is it?” Takuya asked.

“I don’t know.”

The man began speaking very quickly.

“He says it’s not a bomb,” Takuya offered.

“You know who says, ‘It’s not a bomb’? A guy hiding a bomb.”

“Do you think—”

She called forth Grieg again and relayed a command over her phone. The pen-bot circled the object like a man inspecting a fallen meteor. It finally latched on to a port in the back.

Mia’s phone lit up, a dizzying cascade of data roaring over the screen. In it she saw lines like she’d been seeing all day, like augurs in the weft of the world, contrails of energy in the numbers. What to most would look like a mess of entangled tributaries, to Mia converged in a single, beauteous answer.

She scarcely believed what it was, even as the words tumbled from her mouth: “It’s a fusion reactor.”

The man didn’t resist when they cut the wires from the orb. Even when the lights went dead and the music from the hall fell silent. Mia heard no one come out of the other apartments. All were dark now. No movement.

The man pawed once at Takuya’s arm and mumbled something.

“What did he say?” Mia asked.

“He asked if I was going to bring it back.”

Takuya responded, and by the man’s expressionless face Mia couldn’t gather what the answer had been. Then Takuya plucked out a gym bag from a corner of the room, shoved the orb in, and hustled down the hall. Mia frantically slid her shoes onto her feet and ran after.

“Should we be carrying that? Shouldn’t we call someone?”

“It is fine,” Takuya said, speeding up.

 “Maybe you didn’t understand.”

 He passed the elevators, moving into the stairwell. He apparently meant to descend forty-three floors on foot. She was practically shouting after him as they spiralled down.

“That’s not only nuclear, it’s fusion with a U. It’s unbelievable. The world has yet to create a fusion reactor that produces more energy than it requires to operate. Plus the ones that exist are all huge.”

“Not this one.”

 “You don’t get it. This isn’t just a little bit smaller. I mean, the normal size of the smallest tokamak—”

“Toka maki?” he said, confused. “Like sushi roll?”

“No. A tokamak reactor. It’s a donut-shaped magnetic plasma—you know what, nevermind. If that is a reactor, it’s only one one-thousandth the normal size. It’s actually portable. It’s like . . . like a harnessed piece of the sun. And that guy had it in his apartment under some dirty laundry. Maybe the most important—”

But Takuya wasn’t listening. He was moving again, speaking into his watch and carrying the bag over his shoulder like a man off to the gym. Outside he strode down a walking alley into the mad mob of bodies. People moved and swayed like particles in a wave, but a wave without cohesion. Each particle had its own destination, its own speed and intent. Each was capable of severing its route at any moment. She might have described it as insectile if that weren’t an insult to insects.

She shoved, bumped, apologized, slicing through the thickening crowd and calling out to Takuya as he plunged ahead. She was losing sight of him.

 “We’re taking it somewhere, right? Is this a joke?” But it wasn’t. She knew. Takuya disappeared ahead of her.

“It’s real,” she muttered to herself, feeling it sink in. This impossible thing. Someone had made it out of nothing, out of spare parts, the way she once made things out of appliances, but with a mind and innovation so vastly far beyond her own, beyond anyone she knew who existed, that they had created a portable revolution. Wherever it went, the world would change.

She stopped. Her knees went watery. The current of bodies burbled and swam past her. She was a girl again swarmed by flies and trying to make sense of the world, of waterbugs. How did they not crash into one another? How was so much life carried out in directionless observance of individual need? No math she knew brought it all into order.

She began to hyperventilate. Exhaustion and confusion gripped her.

Then the beggar from the train station was there before her. Agelessly old, her eyes hidden like dark gems in the folds of her face. She gripped Mia’s forearm and helped her stand upright, holding her firmly and directing her to an alcove against a stall where the flow of people skipped past them.

The woman whispered something, something unintelligible, too fast for Mia’s untrained ears to translate. Maybe it wasn’t Japanese at all. It sounded like, “You’re move.” Then she was gone.

And Takuya was standing before her, looking reluctant. “I was going to leave you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

He shook his head. “You are valuable. It took many favors and well placed pieces of information to be sure it would be you.”

“You knew,” she wheezed, getting the picture. Her heart still crashed against her ribs from the panic attack. “But you needed me to confirm what it was. To be sure it wasn’t a trick.”


“Hate to tell you, you blew a few favors. There are at least a hundred people that could have done what I just did. Send up the right flares, you’d get any one of them.”

“That is not why we used favors. That is not your value.”

“Then what is?”

“Your understanding.” He jostled the bag. “Of what this means, not what it is.”

“This is too big.” She felt herself fading again. Her hands trembled. “It needs an entire government, funding, labs—”

He shook the bag. “Is that where this came from? A government? A state lab?”

She was about to launch into another explanation, to play translator to a layman like her ex had said she would. But she stopped herself. “No.”

“What will you do?” Takuya’s eyes looked hopeful.

“Scientists ask questions,” she said, straightening.

“You ask why I come back. You are valuable, but many are valuable. I come back because you ask questions.”

“Who are you? Really?”

His grin reappeared. “A good question. I’m a detective, like you. Following a mystery. Also, I am a person like you.”


“Once. Among other things. Interested in paths that do not rely on backward-facing visions of plutocrats.”

“What do you want from me now?”

“Now you’re really asking good questions.” He hesitated. “To help us.”

“We will make more of these.” He touched the humming power source in its simple duffel in the midst of all these people. “We do not know who makes them, but whoever it is distributes them without reason or profit.”

We, she thought.

Literal power to the masses, she thought. Despite every reservation, every fear, she found hope in that. Hope like she’d not held in a very long time. Not since she was a girl with a belief that her mind might lead her out of the darkness like a lamp held out in a scary wood.

Takuya continued, “There are many who will try to take this from us. To profit. Some might bury it. We must not let them.”

“You need to find the woman responsible.”


“Call it a hunch.”

“Time is too late for arguing with fools. We must be drastic. Most of all, if we are going to save the world, we must be generous.”

“You asked for me specifically because you thought I might hear you out. Have an open mind.”

“Questions, not agendas.” He smiled his very attractive smile. “To make your own decision.”

“About what I do or don’t report. I could tell them it was nothing. A blip. A hoax.”

A scientific question with no discernible answer. Too many would welcome a report like that, believing it meant they could beat their fossil-fuel drum a little longer.

“This is the way,” he said, and held out a hand.

 She took it.

She found herself then moving for the first time in harmony with the pathways of the people around her. Bright, clear lines of motion converged as clearly as predetermined paths. It was mathematical. It was life. She just hadn’t seen it until now.

“One thing before I commit,” she said. They moved from under the shadows into the sun. The rain had cleared off.

“Yes?” he said.

 “When we’re done, we give that poor guy his ball back.”

 Takuya laughed, a sound as bright and high as a blue-green sphere spinning against the dark.

About the Author

dm armstrong is the author of the story collections Going Anywhere and Reiterations, and a novella, Missives from the Green Campaign. Their work appears in Kenyon Review, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Narrative, and North American Review, among other fine places, and has won the Mississippi Review Prize, Yemassee’s William Richey Short Fiction Prize, and the Slippery Elm Fiction Prize, among others. They grew up in rural Appalachia and worked as a social worker with underprivileged youth before earning a PhD as a Black Mountain Institute Fiction Fellow at UNLV. They are an alum of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and currently Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.More at

Fiction, Volume 1 Issue 2

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