Featured Story
Recent Stories
Stories by Topic
News
Make the universe a better place! Support DSF with a donation:
small-go-arrowdonate
Take me to a...
Random story
top-rated stories only
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
small-go-arrowsearch
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
your email will be kept private

Breaking News
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Kindle Edition
Kindle Edition
DSF stories are available in monthly digests for Kindle!
DSF for Kindle
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
Submit your story
Check story status
Not just rockets & robots...
What is Science Fiction?
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.
close






art by Shannon N. Kelly

Angry Child

The Numbers Quartet is a collaboration between Aliette de Bodard, Nancy Fulda, Stephen Gaskell, & Benjamin Rosenbaum

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a Computer Engineer. In her spare time, she writes speculative fiction--she is the author of the Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, and her writing has been nominated for a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award and the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Visit aliettedebodard.com for more information.

Nancy Fulda is a Phobos Award winner, a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient, and a two-time Writers of the Future finalist. Her near-future space exploration story, "That Undiscovered Country," was jointly honored by Baen Books and the National Space Society. Nancy's writing has appeared in Asimov's, Apex Digest, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and many others. Her web site is nancyfulda.com.

Stephen Gaskell has published fiction in Interzone, Nature, and Clarkesworld, amongst other places. His SF novella, "Strata", a high-tech thriller set in the sun's chromosphere, co-written with Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of The Winds of Khalakovo, has just been released through Amazon and B & N. He is currently working on his first novel, a near-future SF tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. More of his work and thoughts can be found at stephengaskell.com.

Benjamin Rosenbaum lives near Basel, Switzerland with his wife Esther and his children, Aviva and Noah, who demand logic puzzles, classic rock, and childrens' suffrage . He's recently become Swiss, which means of course that he is on the board of a club (in his case, a little synagogue). The Swiss have a deep reverence for clubs; they consider them the backbones of democracy, and the constitutional "right to assemble" actually translates to "the right to form clubs". No lie. His website is benjaminrosenbaum.com.
Standard gravity: the standard acceleration due to free fall is the nominal acceleration of an object in a vacuum near the surface of the Earth. Approximate value of 9.81 ms-2--symbol g, derived from the law of universal gravitation stated in Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, first published in 1687 AD.

An angry child pushed her father out the window of a tall castle. Her father knew the push was coming, but he failed to take hold of the window-ledge.
Why, he asked himself as he fell, had he failed to take hold of the window-ledge? Exhaustion, stubbornness, perversity, guilt?
He was not a terrible father. He did not hit his children, or at least, not often, or at least, he did not push them out of windows.
He was a better father, admittedly, in the morning.
In the morning, fresh from the dewy weightless caverns of sleep, with nice light poured by the bucket through the diaphanous curtains of their apartments, he would meet tantrums with gentle firmness, and invent distracting finger-puppet games.
But in the evening, after a day of small bureaucratic labors, he would snap at the girl and her brother, he would drag them by their arms. He would nurse petty grievances against them.
These small bureaucratic labors related to the logistical details of the activities in which the authorities occupying the castle were involved. Some of these activities--especially since the commencement of hostilities--were unspeakable. He carried the knowledge of these unspeakable activities in his throat, unable to swallow it.
"If you aren't going to eat your soup properly," he would shout, "then you can't have any at all!"
This he would instantly regret. The soup plate would be in his hand already, the words in the air already, but he would be surprised by them. They seemed to have simply occurred, without anyone's explicit intention. A product of circumstances: just as, he knew, at that moment, a transport was departing, authorized by the standing rule pertaining to transport authorizations. The form pertaining to its departure bore his signature. This signature was not an authorization. He himself had no power to authorize. It was required merely that he attest the functioning of the standing rule.
Could he, he would wonder, simply slip the dish back onto the table? Would everyone then be willing to pretend that he had not spoken? That he had simply found the soup plate in his hand by accident?
But the girl, eyes wide with rage, would be already gathering breath to yell. She was extremely strong-willed; intimidating, in fact, despite being a child. He therefore could not return the dish to the table--not with the girl yelling. It would constitute a submission. An abdication. One must be resolute. An absence of authority is the last thing which we can afford. And so he would have to take the soup away and pour it out the window, and she would have to go to bed hungry, and he would have to stand in the corridor outside her room listening to her cry.
Perhaps there would have been alternatives. A stern offer of one more chance. Or an absurd, lighthearted remark, just in time to transmute his daughter's incipient yell into a quizzical snort of laughter. So that he could return the dish to the table, as if he had planned this gentle, humorous admonition all along.
In the morning he could think of such things. But not in the evening, with this itch in his throat.
Recently, he had catalogued his small bureaucratic labors along a moral axis. This was a personal activity; personal time was allotted to him during the course of the day. According to his calculations, based on their ultimate effects, 72% were benevolent or neutral, involving such matters as grants of land tenure, public works, reasonable redistributions of wealth, support for the arts, zoning, sanitation, and national security operations of a justifiable nature. The remaining 28% were morally pernicious: unwarranted preferment of certain individuals and groups, violations of the international conventions of war, and some activities which were in fact, as we have said, unspeakable.
It is true that the transport had required his signature, but it was not an authorization, only an attestation of the functioning of the standard rule.
He had begun to consider, in fact, whether a change of employment might be possible.
Now, however, he was falling from a window of a tall castle, and this option was foreclosed to him.
He missed his children, and also his wife, who by now would have returned from her own duties in the castle, and be attending to the aftermath of his having fallen out the window, consoling the children and putting them to bed.
He very much hoped his daughter would not feel too guilty. A small amount of guilt was perhaps appropriate, she did bear some responsibility, after all; but she was not to blame for his having failed to grab the window-ledge. That was entirely his own fault. He wished he could tell her this. There was a small wormy sensation of worry near his heart. It was critical that she not blame herself too much. He hoped that his wife would be able to communicate the proper perspective. He also hoped that she would put them to bed on time. Adequate sleep would be of great help in beginning their new, fatherless life. Sleep is of great importance in maintaining the proper perspective.
The sun had now set; stars could be seen against the gentle, dusky blue. As it happened, he was still holding the soup plate, which he now released, in order to uncramp his fingers. The soup, of course, had long since flown away.
The soup plate, however, did not fly away, but fell beside him, oscillating slightly. They proceeded together thus, man and dish, descending through the twilight, in companionable silence.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012


This story simply arrived during a freewriting jag, and cleaning it up hasn't much changed its fundamental shape: I can only speculate about sources. Donald Barthelme's Sixty Stories is a favorite book of mine since high school. Working as an IT consultant involves an oppressive moral calculus--sometimes one is making a hospital more efficient, which feels good, and other times one is, at the end of the day, helping cartels collude while staying barely within the letter of the law, which feels crappy, but not so crappy as to be worth the hassle of changing jobs. A Jew in Europe is always living in the shadow of the Holocaust. Parenting, particularly when you're the primary on-duty parent, is so often about managing exhaustion and guilt and deciding which battles to pick. I tend to encourage defiance in my children--more than I should, perhaps, but I do admire it, as a quality. And I am fascinated by falling. My stories are full of people falling off things, or jumping from great heights. I can think of three other cases off the top of my head. It's kind of a bad habit. I picture my readers saying, "So enough with the falling already." [Or as Doulgas Adams might suggest: "Oh no. Not again."]

- Benjamin Rosenbaum

RATE THIS STORY
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

4.7 Rocket Dragons Average

SHARE THIS STORY

JOIN MAILING LIST
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):
 
Copyright Info
Tell a Friend
Send Feedback
About Us