“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
Mary blew on her noise maker and watched the fireworks going off over the river on the other side of town. She’d been dragged to this party but it wasn’t terrible.
“Resolution time!” Mae grabbed Mary by the arm and pulled her close. “Nick?”
“Read more.” Nick was still watching fireworks.
“I’m gonna get in shape.” Mae determined. “Mary?”
“I’m gonna bring down the oligarchy and create my benevolent dictatorship.”
Nick snorted. Mae slapped Mary’s arm.
“You always say that! I want a real resolution.”
“She’s ambitious, can’t fault her for that.” Nick laughed.
Mae shook her head.
Mary tossed her purse on the couch and descended to the basement.
She fed a rock into the machine and collected the crude oil in a pan under the spout.
“Oil is the biggest cause of war in the last fifty years.” She emptied the pan into the ready barrel. “Bring down oil, bring down the oligarchy.”
She’d been working on this invention for years. It could make oil out of any carbon based matter. Heat and pressure at the right intervals, the atomic structure changes. She’d sold oil by the barrel but she hadn’t mass produced yet. It wasn’t ready.
Mary removed the pan and weighed the oil from the chicken bones she’d saved. It wasn’t too little for the amount of bone.
She poured the oil into the drum and put the pan back in place. She took the uncooked bones she’d removed from raw chicken and weighed them. There was a small difference in weight but not much. She fed the uncooked chicken bones through the machine and weighed the oil pan again.
Uncooked bones produced more, as expected.
She took the uncooked chicken flesh and put it in the machine.
Oil dripped from the spout, more than expected.
Mary stirred her frozen dinner.
She turned to face the man. She’d seen him around. Dr. Oswald, a nuclear engineer and adjunct professor. “Dr. Oswald?”
“Call me Robert. Could we talk?”
He sat down. “I’ve been noticing your work.” He said, “I was wondering if you’re looking for an assistantship?”
Mary was an adjunct so she got no money and no respect. Assistant would bring in a second check. “Who’s looking?”
Mary wanted to kick things. “We’re equally qualified.”
He looked skeptical. “You’ve misunderstood, this project-”
“I’m not looking, thanks.” She tossed her lunch and left.
“Wait!” He followed her into the hallway, “Would a partnership be better?” He asked.
She glared. His work was brilliant but this manners were lacking.
“I’m sorry, I’m terrible at this.” He pushed his glasses up. “Let me buy you dinner. Please.”
He looked away from her. “Saturday night, perhaps?”
“Was that- Are you asking me on a date?”
He tried to look disinterested, “That was my intention, yes.”
He was terrible at this. But his work was brilliant and she couldn’t call him unattractive.
“Okay.” She turned away from him, “Saturday night, then.”
He nodded and power walked away.
“That is the worst How We Met story I’ve ever heard.” Mae agonized over the menu.
“You’re already skipping gym days, get the wine.” Mary took the menu.
“That’s the attitude I’m trying not to have.”
Nick tapped his phone as he sat down. “Already failing, Mae?”
“Like you’re gonna keep it up.” May grumped, waving over the waitress.
“I’m doing good!” Nick lifted his phone to show his Goodreads, “Audiobook in the car.”
“Does that count?” Mae asked.
“Does Braille count?” Mary asked. “Of course audio counts.”
“Oswald’s asking you out doesn’t count.”
“So you work with Nuclear Energy?” Mary took a sip from her wine glass.
“Yes, I’ve been studying the dangerous effects of meltdowns and what causes them.” Robert looked at her over his menu, “We’ve already shipped out critical safety devices to several power plants across the country. The safety of the workers and civilians nearby is too important to leave to humans.”
“What’s your device do?”
“Monitors core temperature, water levels, and power supply. If there’s a problem, it turns off all monitoring equipment and automates everything.”
“What if it glitches?”
“It glitches ninety percent less often than humans.”
“I’m working on turning carbon based materials into crude oil.”
“Is this that wheat-based fuel?”
“No, it’s stuff like rocks, branches, bones, and whatnot.”
“Impressive. Now I see why you refused my offer.” Robert reached for Mary’s hand. “But I suppose you know Electric is going to replace oil. Your invention might not succeed.”
“I’m fine with that.” Mary took her hand back, fidgeted. “It’s not about future success.”
“Always about the science with you girls.”
Mary hid her smirk behind her glass. He was sweet, the perfect gentleman, but he had no idea. Science had nothing to do with it.
Mary watched the milky liquid drip into the mason jar. Her best round of Gasoline and Diesel fuel so far.
With cost of materials and supplies, she was paying twice the going rate for gasoline. She was paying less for the diesel, but it would average out to at least one and a half times the cost.
That included the lower oil cost.
She took the mason jar of gasoline and poured it into the generator. She wasn’t expecting miracles, it was just the backup generator her dad gave her.
It ran for ten minutes. Not impressive.
She needed help.
Tom Morgan spent an hour inspecting Mary’s handiwork. He removed tube and checked pressure and swirled the petroleum around the jar in the sunlight.
“Looks alright to me.”
“It costs almost twice what it costs to get it from the pump.” Mary handed him a beer, “You know more about refineries than I do.”
“You’re doing it right.” Tom opened the petrol and took a sniff, “Seems decent quality.”
“I’m trying to bring gas prices down.” Mary took a drink.
“Well, you’re too small scale.” He put the jar back, “Mass production cuts the production costs.”
“How Massive a production?”
“So you called Tom?” Nick rested his cheek on his fist.
“That makes two exes you’ve called this weekend.” Mae said, smiling.
“He’s just better with oil refinery stuff.” Mary sipped her drink, “My date was good, guys. I’m not crawling back to my exes. And Mae called me.”
Mae laughed, “Point.”
“He asked me out again on Friday.” Mary looked down, “I said yes, but it might be the last one.”
Mae groaned. “This again? You’re always too busy!”
Mary took a breath. “You know I’m a bad girlfriend.”
“No. You’ll be great, but only for the right person.”
Mary couldn’t seem to get her heart to stop racing. Tom was doing the assay testing on the crude oil she’d drawn from the rocks and yard clippings but that wasn’t what she was anxious about.
She’d eaten lunch with Robert every day this week, she’d started to like him. She’d been down this road before. She’d hurt him slowly, then he’d hurt her all at once.
“I can hear you self destructing from here.” Tom turned off the distiller. “Quit fretting. Just tell him you’re not ready and keep it casual. Like you did with me.”
She breathed, “Just casual.”
Mary couldn’t help but flinch when Robert touched her hand. He looked at her in confusion.
“I guess we need to talk.” Mary sighed.
Robert took his hand away.
“I’m not good at relationships.” Mary said, almost exactly like she’d said to Tom back in high school. “I’d really be more comfortable if we weren’t too serious with this.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.” He said, tight lipped.
“I’d like something just Casual, if possible.”
Robert touched her hand again. “No Labels and no Commitments? But we I can still see you?”
“And no expectations put on time or feelings.”
Mary invited Robert inside when he kissed her on the doorstep. They enjoyed each other carnally and Mary rolled onto her back beside him.
This was no big deal, just sex. This was fine.
“So you said your lab was here?” He asked, rolling on his side to look at her.
She stared anxiously, “Yeah, it’s here.”
Was she ready for him to see that?
He’d seen her bedroom and her bathroom with the collection of mostly empty shampoo bottles, but her lab was special. She didn’t show just anyone her lab.
“Can I see it?”
“Okay. But please be gentle.”
Mary kept moving things. She shouldn’t have let Robert in here. It was too soon and now he’d think he’s always allowed in here.
Tom took the rack of vials away from her and put them back.
“Shut up and get back to refining the oil.”
“I don’t have to help you so don’t talk to me like that. And quit freaking out.”
Mary’s face burned. “I’m sorry.” She whispered.
“Deep Breaths.” He patted her shoulder, “Dating shouldn’t be this stressful. This isn’t healthy.”
“But he’s nice, I like him.”
“If it’s hurting you, you need to end it.”
“He doesn’t respect you?” Mary stirred her drink, “You’re a fucking doctor. You deserve all the respect.”
“He doesn’t even call me Doctor.” Mae James took a long sip of her vodka cranberry. “He just calls me James. I’m not even sure if it’s cause I’m black or a woman.”
“It’s probably a combination of both. Compound hate.”
Mary laughed, “Sexist Asshole and Racist Asshole fused to become Dr. Jacobson!”
“His White Power is Maximum.”
“Does he hate bisexuals too?” Mary asked.
“I’m dating a guy, so I’m magically straight.” Mae rolled her eyes. “Speaking of, Tom told me.”
“So have you told him?” Mae asked.
“He’s not the problem. I am.” Mary sipped, “And I’m werewolfing so I might have been just PMSing.”
Mae shook her head, “Your moon sickness is bad, but you’ve never gotten upset over nothing.”
“Well, I’m upset about hurting him. So maybe I can fix it.”
Mae touched her hand. “You haven’t dated since we broke up. Every time you try, you get like this and cancel on them.”
Mary nodded. “I keep hurting people.”
“You need to stop panicking. Either stay and stop worrying or break it off.”
“I’m trying to stop.”
“So you’re using the Gasoline to power the generator?” Nick watched Mary work from the table.
“That’s the plan.” Mary poured the Gasoline in the generator and ran it. The string of lights came on.
“Why not just pay the power company their blood money?” Nick asked, resting his face on his hand.
“I’m trying to make it so people don’t have to pay.”
“So no more power company?”
“No more Oligarchy.” Mary poured a drink and sat down with the timer to watch the lights burn out.
“Oligarchy isn’t just power, right?”
“It’s a piece. One piece at a time.”
Mary turned on the compressor and listened to the sound of fresh meat grinding down. She hadn’t figured out yet why the fresh meat made more crude oil than the same weight in bones. The package of pork ribs quickly compressed and dribbled into the pan.
Fish had made about the same amount as chicken, but Beef, Lamb, and Pork had made the most so far. It was a surprising finding but she wasn’t doing the research. Someone else could figure out why, she was focused on what she’d be doing with it.
She measured the volume. “Everything’s finally coming together.”
The bunny hopped around in its cage, wiggling its little nose. It was a shame Mary was about to kill it.
She pulled the bunny out of its cage and sighed. There was only one way to know for sure if a whole animal would compress. She grabbed the bunny by the head and whipped the body with force. She heard a short squeal but the body fell limp and lifeless very quickly.
She put the whole body inside the machine and turned it on. The initial grinding was wet and she watched the pan anxiously.
The pan overflowed with crude.
Robert poured the wine and turned on the romantic comedy he’d picked from the redbox. Mary would have preferred a good Science Fiction movie, but her anxiety had been too bad lately. She had to be careful.
She sipped the wine slowly and leaned on Robert’s side.
Robert poured a second glass of wine from the bottle in the ice bucket. He looked at her and smiled.
She leaned up and kissed him gently.
He took her glass and put both on the coffee table. He touched her cheek and kissed her deeply.
She never saw the end of the movie.
Mary got up and found her way half-asleep to the bathroom. She turned on the lights and wiped her makeup off in the mirror.
“I’m a mess.” She sighed, smelling the stink of sex all over her.
She slid open the shower curtain and reached in to turn on the shower. A quick rinse wouldn’t hurt.
The shower didn’t come on. She turned it off and pushed in the knob.
The side of the shower slid open to reveal Robert’s personal laboratory.
She stepped over the tub and surveyed the charts on the desk.
“He’s going to stage a nuclear meltdown.”
Mae James draped her coat over the couch. “Okay, talk.”
Mary told her everything, including her own project.
“Well, what you’re doing isn’t illegal.” Mae said, “Not even the intention is illegal. Actually, it’s kind of noble. But his project-”
“So I call the cops?”
“Wait till I go home first.” Mae said, “I’m Black. Don’t wanna get shot at for being here.”
Mary popped her knuckles, one at a time. She didn’t want the cops here.
She also didn’t want to call the cops on Robert. If he knew he was found out, would he just set off the meltdowns?
“There has to be another way.” Mary wrote down what she knew of Richard’s program on the whiteboard on her work table.
If she could figure out a way to disable just the function to stop the water pumps. Everything else about Richard’s product was great. It was just that one piece.
He really was so much like herself. They both had great products with nefarious intentions.
She reconsidered calling the cops. If they looked too closely at her machine, they’d put her away for life. Mae and Nick and Tom could be arrested too. She had to stop Richard herself.
The doorbell echoed through the house. Mary went to the door and peeked through the hole.
It was Robert.
She’d been avoiding his calls all day, she couldn’t just pretend nothing happened. But he was at her doorstep, she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t home; her lights were on.
She opened the door a crack and looked out at him. “I’m sick.” She lied.
He looked her over, “Is that why you left without saying anything? Is that why you haven’t answered your phone all day?”
“My phone didn’t ring.” She lied again.
“Listen, we need to talk.”
She let him in.
Mary handed him a glass of whiskey and sat down across from him. She didn’t know what to say, but she needed to say something.
He couldn’t know she’d found his lab, and she needed time to figure out how to disable the meltdown. But staying with someone specifically to sabotage them would definitely be a moral low point in her life.
She didn’t cringe when he touched her hand. She still felt the little bit of affection for him. She sipped her whiskey and sighed.
“I’m sorry I left.” She said.
“Was staying the night too much?”
“Yeah.” She lied.
Robert finished his drink and smiled. “Okay, no more staying the night.”
Not good. She needed to access his lab again. “Maybe when I’m ready?”
He nodded. “How about we go work on your oil thing?”
Her heart pounded. “No, let’s just cuddle.”
“You’re never more at ease than in your lab.” He headed towards the hallway, “I adore watching you work.”
“It’s a terrible mess!” She pleaded. Notes on his meltdown were everywhere.
He opened the door and went inside.
She found him looking over the notes, tapping the table.
“So you do know.” He sighed and pulled his gun.
Mary turned her ring on her finger. “I’m not gonna turn you in.”
Robert looked at the notes, “But you plan to stop me.”
“Of course I do! You could kill us all.”
“I thought you would understand me.” He said, stepping closer, “But you will understand why I can’t let you live.”
She’d dreaded this. Mary took off the ring and pressed the gem through the band. She threw it between his feet and covered her head.
The ring exploded at his feet, knocking Robert on his back. The gun slid away.
Mary picked up the gun, aimed, and fired.
Mae paced back and forth in the living room, panicking. “You can’t just ask me to come over here and show me a body, Mary! The cops are gonna think I’m in on this.”
“It was clearly self defense.” Mary protested.
“I’m Black! There’s no Stand Your Ground for Blacks!”
“So go home and I’ll call the cops.” Mary said, looking with dread at the laboratory door.
“He’s been dead too long.” Mae looked resigned, “They won’t think it’s self defense if you didn’t call immediately.”
Mary let out a shuddering breath. “Will you help me hide the body?”
“Well, it didn’t soak through to the concrete.” Mae said, lifting the rubber mat.
“It’s there to keep the oil from staining the driveway, so blood shouldn’t soak through.”
Mary dragged the body over towards the machine. “It’ll take a rabbit, but not much bigger.”
“We’re gonna have to take him apart?” Mae looked nauseous.
Mary grabbed the stone cutter she’d been using for cutting rocks. “Wrap him up in the tarp. We’ll get rid of anything with blood on it.”
Mae ran to Mary’s closet and changed into some of Mary’s old clothes.
Mary cut into the plastic wrapped cadaver.
Mary took apart the machine. Even her dead fling and his disassembled motorcycle hadn’t produced enough oil to make up for the refining cost.
She’d never bring down the Oligarchy this way.
Mae explored the scrap pile. “I saw the news.”
“Yeah. He left his lab open and they found everything.” Mary smiled, “They asked me where he was. Of course, I haven’t seen him lately.”
“So they don’t suspect you?”
“They think he’s fled. They’ve uninstalled his programs.”
Mae picked up a piece of the machine. “Disposing of evidence?”
“Nah. Just wasn’t working.” Mary sighed, “Maybe next year’s my year.”