I challenged myself with this short piece. I wanted to create a story that was not just driven by dialogue, but that consisted of as much organic dialogue as possible with as little exposition as possible. This is what I got!
“Insert the ruby please, Doctor,” Dr. Absalom Crenshaw said.
“One moment… Ruby is in place,” Dr. Alan Riggs said.
“Connect the power source please, Petey,” Crenshaw said.
“Power source connected,” Peter said.
“Energize…,” Crenshaw said, throwing the switch.
“Readings, nominal. Beam is stable,” Riggs said.
“That’s it… there! Cut the power!” Crenshaw shouted excitedly.
“Ruby is intact!” Riggs said.
“You did it, Doctors!” Peter said.
“Yes… yes, I did,” Crenshaw said, under his breath.
“Missouri Jackson! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Crenshaw said. He leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet up on his desk.
“Oh, I think you know, Dr. Crenshaw. I’d like a progress report.”
“It’s… coming along.”
“You’re going to have to do better, Doctor,” Jackson said, reaching into his coat.
Crenshaw lifted his legs and fell forward as Jackson slowly pulled his hand from his coat. Jackson wiped his brow with a handkerchief and adjusted the patch over his left eye.
“You’re awfully jumpy, Dr. Crenshaw,” Jackson said, placing the kerchief back into his coat pocket.
“As I was saying…” Crenshaw started, uneasy. “It’s coming along. I’ve had some difficulty finding a stable medium. Rubies aren’t dense enough.”
“I don’t need excuses, Crenshaw; I need results. Maybe your colleague will be more…”
“No! No… This is my invention. I created it! I’ll get you your results, Mr. Jackson.”
The one-eyed man turned and walked out. Crenshaw sat staring through the empty doorway at the dark lab outside.
“He just quit?” Riggs asked, bewildered.
“Yep. He called late last night shouting something about not being valued and said he was taking a position overseas,” Crenshaw said.
“I can’t believe Pete would just quit like that… He didn’t say anything else?”
Crenshaw shrugged and gave a half shake of his head.
“Well… I’ll give him a call. Guess we better put in for a new assistant,” Riggs said.
“I’ll put the word out,” Crenshaw said.
“Huh, guess you just never know what people are thinking.”
“Y-you’re seeing Alice?” Crenshaw stuttered.
“Isn’t it wonderful!” Riggs said. “I finally worked up the nerve to ask her out, and she said, ‘yes’! Can you believe it?”
Crenshaw nodded shakily. His face was pale, eyes sunken.
“Say, Doc, you don’t look so well. In fact, you’re absolutely jaundiced. I was just about to go for a walk. Why don’t you join me? The sun will do you good.”
“Uhh… n-no, I’ve got some paperwork to finish,” Crenshaw said, clearing his throat.
“You sure?” Riggs asked. “Alright, well, don’t work too hard. You’ll start to slip.”
Crenshaw took a deep breath and put on a fake smile.
“I’m fine, really. I’ll catch up with you later. Close the door on your way out, would you?”
Riggs looked at Crenshaw, nodded once, and left.
As the door closed, Crenshaw’s smile turned into a grimace. He picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello, Mr. Jackson. It’s Crenshaw… Yes, I’ve had quite the breakthrough. Perhaps you’d like to join me for a demonstration… That would be perfect… Yes. See you then.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention, please,” the master of ceremonies called out over the drone of conversation. “If you would take your seats, the demonstration of Doctors Riggs and Crenshaw’s marvelous machine will commence shortly.”
Crenshaw’s eye twitched.
The machine rolled out, an array of wires, pipes, and cathodes. Crenshaw adjusted a dial, flipped a switch, and turned a crank. The machine changed direction, aiming its metallic needle at a table in the front row where one man sat alone. Crenshaw pressed a button, and the machine roared to life. A large deep red ruby glowed at the center of the mechanism.
Suddenly, a brilliant beam of red light shot from the needle, striking the table. The table and everything on it started to glow red hot and then… POP! The machine shut off and a cloud of playing cards rained down where the table had been.
The man sat stunned as the cards fluttered to the ground. He reached down, picking one up. The 3-of-Diamonds, and there was a picture of a plate on it. Another, 5-of-Spades with a silver fork. A table, 9-of-Clubs. Riggs stepped down and picked up one of the cards.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest revolution in storage and transport technology!” Riggs announced. He tossed the card back on the pile. “Sir, if you will replace the cards.”
The man dropped the cards on the floor. Crenshaw started the machine once again and…POP! The table and all its dressings stood before the man once more. The audience erupted in applause.
Crenshaw smiled as Alice climbed on stage. His eye twitched as she passed him by, throwing her arms around Riggs.
“It’s stupendous!” Alice said. “It’s the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen!”
“I have one more surprise, my darling,” Riggs said. He pulled an ornate brooch from his coat pocket. “Would you do me the honor of being Missus Alan Riggs?” Alice gasped with her hands to her mouth.
“Yes, yes! Of course I will! Yes!” Alice said excitedly. She turned. “Oh Absalom, isn’t it…”
Crenshaw was gone.
“One moment, honey. I just have to get my wallet from my room and we can head out,” Riggs said, leaving Alice in the hotel hallway.
Riggs passed by the light switch and grabbed his wallet from the desktop when something glimmered in the dark mirror. Riggs turned quickly to find Crenshaw sitting in the shadows.
“Crenshaw! What are you…”
“Quiet! I’ve heard quite enough out of you,” Crenshaw shrieked. “You take credit for my hard work. My invention! Then you take my Alice! What next, Riggs?!”
“Crenshaw… I don’t know what to say. I had no idea…”
“Oh, please! Well… It will all be over for you soon enough,” Crenshaw said, stepping into the moonlight. A metallic blaster shown in his hand. The needle barrel held a single cathode containing a fine sapphire.
“I worked out that little problem, you know. About how to stabilize the Sapphire Wave. You know what that means, don’t you?” Crenshaw said. Riggs swallowed hard.
“You can compress… biological material. Living…”
Crenshaw pulled two cards from his pocket. The 10-of-Diamonds, Peter O’Connor. The Jack-of-Spades, Missouri Jackson.
“Egads! Change them back, man!” Riggs said.
“Sorry, I couldn’t if I wanted to. I do miss Petey though. He was a good assistant. Too bad he had to take that job overseas,” Crenshaw said. “There is one other drawback. You see, to stabilize the Sapphire Wave, the subject must have a sapphire in its immediate vicinity.”
Riggs looked down at his class ring. He hadn’t been able to remove it in years. He tugged at it fruitlessly, cursing September.
“You can’t do this, Crenshaw! You just can’t! Where’s your humanity?!”
“Humanity?! You stole it! Every time I had to stand by while you got all the credit for my work! And then… then you take away my…!” The door creaked.
“Alan? I thought I heard shouting. Is everything… Absalom!” Alice gasped and ran over to Riggs, grabbing hold of him.
“No, Alice, stay back!” Riggs said, but she refused.
“Absalom, please, put that thing away!” Alice pleaded.
“A-Alice…” Crenshaw faltered. “No. You’ll see. You’ll understand once he’s gone. Then we… we can…”
Crenshaw held the blaster at arm’s length and fired a blue beam at Riggs. The two figures began to glow brightly, then…POP! A class ring, a brooch, and two playing cards dropped to the floor. The King-of-Spades and the Queen-of-Hearts.
Crenshaw fell to his knees, stunned. He lifted the brooch, hands shaking. A painted gold peacock with tiny sapphires set in the eyes of the feathers.
Crenshaw stood, clutching the brooch so tightly that it dug into his hand. He turned the blaster on himself and fired.
The device crashed to the floor, smashing into oblivion. The sapphire brooch fell and clattered among the wreckage. And a single card drifted down, sticking upright in a copper spring.