The lab mice were restless. Their subtle agitation at being plucked from their cages, one by one, suggested psychic abilities. This realization was inducing in Dr. Russell Cramer a similar stress. He was already half believing such traits existed, although his research had nothing to do with it. Each mouse invariably looked up at him with the same tiny pink eyes and seemed to be pleading. True, they were clones, because responses had to be predictable. But how would they know that the injections he gave each of them--batch 9B being only the latest--resulted inevitably in a slow, lingering death? Surely, they didn't realize that they were being sacrificed to find the right cellular stabilizer for survival against being deep frozen?
He'd been watching too much television, that had to be it. He paid too much attention to psychics on those shows about the end of the world. If a minor nova was really in the offing, and the psychics were really unconnected to each other--yet making the same predictions--why would some of them be touting books?
They should be storing foodstuffs in caves, not doing the talk show circuit. If most of humanity was going to die this year, as they suggested, they should be exploring mine shafts for living space, not following stand-up routines to banter away the boredom of bleary-eyed couch potatoes. Or maybe they were secretly exploring during the day. . ?
Russell swallowed nervously, staring down into the tiny pink eyes which stared with terror up at him. Then he slid the needle in, and slowly pushed the plunger. . .
"Russ, how's it going? Got time for a few sets at the court this afternoon?"
"Brian, oh. . . hi. No, I think I've got a breakthrough, here. This mouse, it--"
"Yeah I've named it Nova, and--"
"You've named it?"
"It's the first to survive the injections. Next step is to freeze and thaw. . . see if it wakes up."
"Geez, what a job you got here. . . no wonder women love ya."
"Cute. Listen, I'd better get back to work. We'll talk tennis later."
"Yeah, you need another whipping, gimme a call. By the way, why 'Nova?'"
"The name fit, somehow."
"Whatever you say. . . oh yeah, how'd that date with Jessica go?"
"She cancelled. Told me I wasn't attractive enough."
"Geeeeez, well, maybe you shouldn't fall for those Barbie types. You're no Ken, after all! Wake up and smell the coffee, little buddy."
"Thanks for the advice."
"That's what friends are for."
"Hey, Russ--how's tricks? Pull your mouse out of the hat yet?"
"No, Brian. Experiment runs a week before the thaw cycle begins. Next time a month."
"Then a year? What is it, a time machine you've built here?"
"In a manner of speaking, if I'm lucky."
"Hey, since you didn't call, I called someone else and played some sets. Can you guess who?"
"You're smart! Always said so. So did Jessica. But smart doesn't win games, or dames."
"You beat her?"
"Not yet, heh heh. Let's say we played the final set off the court. Love thirty. That's her age, by the way. Did she tell you?"
"No, she didn't."
"You were never good at ground strokes. You like to lob. Lemme rush the net, smash'em back."
"You're doing it again."
"Geeeeeez, you need to get out of this place. Get some sun, Russ."
"Thanks for the advice."
"Just taking your advice, Brian, about getting out of the sun."
"No, I said to get some sun, buddy. You're pale. You need to let me whip you a few sets. It's been ages."
"Tell me that again in a hundred twenty years."
"Huh? Where you going, anyway?"
"Benson, Arizona. There's a new cave system there that's not open to the public yet. Rivals Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico."
"Whatda, you nuts?"
"Maybe so. How's Jessica. . . you still scoring?"
"I dumped her for Sally, buddy. A brunette this time. Maybe a redhead next, who knows. I'm not like you, with your fixation on tall slender blondes you can't have. Life's too short."
"You can say that again. That's why I'm outta here."
"Huh? What about your experiment? What about that mouse. . . what's its name?"
"Nova? He's coming with me."
Time has run out. Sunspot activity and solar flare production are now at the highest levels ever recorded. Scientists are talking about it being just a strong cycle, and the stand-up routines are making hay of psychic hotline staff, but I hope to be one of the last ones standing. If the chamber's cooling generator and time clock survive six hundred feet below the surface, that would be in a hundred twenty years, give or take a couple. Nova seems to approve, twitching his whiskers over the settings dial. It won't matter if we don't return the truck we rented, either. I think he knows this too. It's in the way he looks up at me with those tiny pink eyes.
Getting sleepy now. Might go under before Nova does. But I'm in position, and so is Nova in his little suit marked with his name. Everything is set. Got six hundred feet of rock between me and the surface. Constant cool down here. . . easier on the system. The last thing I'm looking at is Nova staring at me with those scared eyes. Does he know what's coming? He couldn't, could he?
When consciousness returned, he focused on the faces above him. There were two faces--a man and a woman. They stared at him in amazement . . . as if they'd just discovered the treasure of King Tut. When he was able to hear their words, he listened in fascination.
". . . mousy twerp. . . but you really think it's possible?"
"I think so. This is a miracle . . . may well save us. We need that genetic material which was excised after the no--"
"Look, he's about to speak!"
They leaned in close to hear his whisper. Their smiles were beautiful.
"What . . . year. . ?" he asked them.
Their smiles widened. "Late," the girl said. "Very late. . . but not too late, genetically speaking, yet."
She was beautiful. Long blond hair, perfect teeth. The man too was handsome. Short dark hair, rugged chiseled features. His brown eyes seemed to stare in envy.
"Did you know you had a mouse in there with you?"
"Yes. . . Nova. . . where is he?"
In unison: "He's dead."
"But not you," the man added, grinning and staring as if at a lab animal. "One of the few to survive before all the defects were engineered out. But we forgot about one of the defects. A simple germ. No immunity for us, until we found you."
"Can I be the first?" the woman asked, hesitantly.
"First . . . for what?"
"For you to inseminate."
She turned her head when the others entered the room, three men and four women: they all looked alike, every one of them. All with perfect smiles--the women especially, with their voluptuous, sexy bodies and long blond hair. Each pair was identical, and the only description which came to his mind, over and over again, was Barbie and Ken, Barbie and Ken, Barbie and Ken. . .
"Is your name Nova too?" the first one asked him.
Published by permission of the author.