The End of the Beginning

An essay by Professor D’arby Swanson, as provided by Sean Kavanagh
Art by America Jones

I stood in line at the patent office, my device, my little miracle, bundled up in its box in front of me. It didn’t look like much, but I had burned my way through three grants, a marriage, and several friendships to make it work. Progress has its cost.

The buzzer sounded. No 55 flashed up on the board. My ticket was no 57. Soon.

A man came and sat next to me. I didn’t like the look of him. His briefcase was large–a little TOO large–the sort of thing you’d hide espionage equipment in. Was he scanning my device? Was he scanning me? Trying to get my secrets before I could patent them? These people …

I moved to another bench seat on the other side of the Patent Office, alone once more. Away from the mind reading mechanism or whatever it was he had in that bag. I wasn’t stupid. No. My rivals would do anything. Anything.

Buzz. No 56. One more to go.

Then, the old lady came and sat opposite. She smiled. SMILED! Who smiles at strangers? I held my device closer to me and checked in my pocket for the paperwork to file my patent.  I’d been up all night filling it in. Reading it. Re-reading it. All correct, every last detail.

She smiled again.

Why, I asked myself, was an old lady in a patent office?  What had the old crone got that was worth patenting? In fact, now that I looked, she wasn’t carrying anything. Not even a bag for her paperwork. A psychic? That was it. They’d sent a psychic to read my mind. Maybe she was working with the man with the bag? I could imagine the scam: she read my thoughts and he recorded them on a machine in the bag. Or maybe she was his back-up, sent in as I’d moved out of range of his equipment.

I moved as far down the bench as I could.

The End of the Beginning

“Please sir, no, not again—”

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2016 collection.

Professor D’arby Swanson is a member of faculty at Oxbridge University, concerned with the study of very peculiar particles. He is currently on sabbatical from reality and engaged in more exotic personal projects of invention.

Sean Kavanagh works in commercials and TV, as well as being a prolific writer of his favourite form of fiction: the short story. He has published three anthologies on Kindle, as well as having stories published on 365 Tomorrows and in the 81Word fiction anthology. You can see more about him on his blog:

AJ is an illustrator and comic artist with a passion for neon colors and queer culture. Catch them being antisocial on social media @thehauntedboy.

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4 Responses to The End of the Beginning

  1. M. Kelly Peach says:

    Clever with a dash of paranoia. Quite tasty.

  2. Bruce Harris says:

    Eerie. Evocative. Fantastic!

  3. Soter Lucio says:

    Nice. Brought a smile to my face.

  4. Sean Kavanagh says:

    Thanks for the positive comments – and I loved the artwork by Amanda Jones.

    If you liked this story, I have a kindle collection available “The Human Incident”:

    thanks, Sean K

Comments are closed.