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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



Secrets of the Universe


For Jacob, the one bright spot of the long, overheated school days in the stifling metal t-shacks was science class. He loved hearing about the extinction of the dinosaurs or how we're all just a mass of jittering molecules or how the sun grows leopard spots bigger than the whole Earth. Today, Mr. Fulci was talking about electricity, positive and negative charges and how that made a current. He had a big poster with a cross-section of a battery that explained it all, with little + and - symbols for the positive and negative parts.

Jacob had never thought about electricity before. For him, it was just something that came like magic out of the wall. It would be cool to see it flowing, like a glowing river through the wires.

Digging through the big drawer of his bedroom desk, Jacob found his Boy Scout flashlight. He took out the big D batteries inside and found the pocketknife his dad had given him for Christmas. Jacob sliced one of the batteries open, just like the cross-section in Mr. Fulci's poster.

He didn't find oppositely charged poles inside, or the little + and - symbols he'd hoped for. The batteries were filled with an oily, pinkish green liquid oozed onto his desk like spoiled syrup. Two fleshy little organs, shaped kind of like lungs, slipped out of the battery and flopped onto the desk. The organs pulsed and whirred like hummingbird wings, then turned black and died.

The next day during science class, Jacob hardly heard a word that was said. He felt like his ears were stuffed full of cotton. After that, he stopped doing extra credit reports and developed a 24-hour virus the day the class was supposed to go on the field trip to the local science museum. During Christmas break, Jacob traded his microscope to Lessley Halstead for some shoplifted AC/DC discs and a peek under her white training bra.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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