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Nothing To Sneeze At

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently alternating between the UK and Madrid. Links to other things with his name at the end can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.
"And she's definitely here?" Felicity asked, looking around the room.
"Why do you think we're wearing the masks?" Mark said.
Felicity wasn't the scientific sister, far from it, but even she realized how absurd it was trying to actually see Gina. Not quite as absurd as attempting to turn yourself invisible and instead converting yourself into...
"She's a cloud of sentient, living matter," Mark said, his other position as Gina's assistant making him sound proud of his wife's achievement. But then Gina had, after all, achieved her aim--she was invisible.
There were bio-hazard signs on the door, their suits needed linked radio mics to talk to each another, and she'd seen other suits walking around outside with unmistakable military bearing.
"Is she, I don't know, contagious?"
The visor didn't show much of Mark's face, but Felicity heard the sneer in his voice. "We're working on ways to contain her, funnel her--communicate with her."
She wanted to ask how this was even possible, how someone could still exist as a cloud and still retain something of their personality. But if Mark had told her, she wouldn't have understood. Instead, another sudden thought occurred: that there was nothing sentient about whatever was in the air. That Gina, perhaps with Mark's unwitting connivance, had simply vaporized herself. That this wasn't the site of some incredible breakthrough but where an unhappy sister had simply tried to disappear.
"Is there any way of reversing the procedure?" she asked, her voice croaking as it squeezed past her earlier thoughts.
Mark at least had the decency not to answer that one. Thank god Mother wasn't around to hear this. Father would have been proud because, well, science--but Mother would have seen that her daughter had become a ghost, perhaps one that could do more than rap on the underside of tables and rattle curtains... but a ghost nonetheless.
Felicity pictured Mark hoovering her from the air, maybe getting one of those children's party magicians to make a balloon sculpture of a human so Gina could have something akin to a "body." Absurd.
"Do you have any more questions?" Impatient now. They were both required to sign the consent forms that would hand Gina over to whatever "procedure" awaited her new cloud-form. For all her risks in her experiments, Gina had retained this safeguard. A prudence that infuriated her husband.
"If I'm saying goodbye..." Felicity said, hoping for defiance but still hearing crackle in her voice. She unclipped the hood, lifted it, resisted the temptation to suck in a deep, surface-breaking breath.
"What the hell are you doing?" His voice came muffled as the speakers in her hood had disconnected when she'd pulled it back.
"I want to talk to my sister," she told him. There was a shimmer to the air. Perhaps. She might have been imagining it. She smiled at it nonetheless, hoping something in the sentience had sight--or at least could feel something of the warmth she was trying to project. "Is this what you want, Gina? Before I sign, I need to be sure."
"She can't answer you! Damnit, Felicity! Put the hood back on!"
"I need a sign." A sign to sign, she thought, liking the jingle.
They waited, Mark getting impatient, until he too had to acknowledge that any danger to them had passed.
"I don't think she's even here," Felicity said, and that was when he reached round, unclipped his hood, pulled it back.
"No, you're wro--"
She felt the air as it moved, or rather from what it vacated around her. Mark gulped, his eyes swelling, eyebrows high with shock, throat bulging like water filling a pair of parallel hoses.
He collapsed to his knees, hitting too hard for it to be from his own choice. It was an apt position though: kneeling, begging for forgiveness.
There was none coming.
Mother had been right about him.
Felicity pulled her hood back on--not because Gina might turn on her next, merely to keep her story consistent. She ran to the door, hammered on it.
"The idiot took his hood off! I think... I think he's dead!"
She wouldn't sign. She would find a way to take Gina home with her, find out what her sister wanted.
Besides, the world was full of Marks. And having Gina with her sure offered more protection than a can of mace.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 10th, 2018


I wrote a collection of superhero stories a few years ago and my plan was to write a few more tales, this time exploring the comic book tropes--in particular that of origin stories. One common storyline is the "scientist accidentally transformed by their own experiments." My thoughts turned to the real-life example of Marie Curie/Sklodowska and the irony that, rather than create a new hero, her experiments killed an existing one. "Nothing To Sneeze At" ended up telling a different story, but that was where my muse was pointing when I started out.

- jez patterson
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