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Frog Soup

Floris M. Kleijne writes fiction to retain his sanity, or at least convert his insanity into productive form. A 1st-place winner of the Writers of the Future and SF Comet contests, his short stories have appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies, Andromeda Spaceways, Leading Edge, Space & Time, and numerous other venues, and have been translated into over half a dozen languages, including his native Dutch. He keeps meticulous track of his publications, and blogs about writing, Real Life_, things that strike him as cool and funny, and infuriating customer service, on floriskleijne.nl. This is his third appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

I've done what you have asked of me, Ava. I've done everything.
Please talk to me again.
I've kept you hidden, just like you asked. Not a word has passed my lips about you since you came. When colleagues remarked on my sudden cheer, I answered in vague generalities. When Mom asked me if there was a woman in my life, I lied. Though maybe it wasn't really a lie, was it? You have all the parts, but you are no more a woman than my iPad, are you? I kept silent, against Company policy, risking a pink slip or much worse. I kept you hidden, though I wanted to shout my bliss from the rooftops, update my mood to Ecstatic, change my Relationship Status to... whatever it is we have.
Please, not had.
That first evening, when you knocked on my screen door, I gave you shelter from the fierce April hail. I let you in, your strawberry hair soaked, cheeks red with cold, summer dress clinging to your body. You used my bathroom, my towels, my robe. You wanted tea; I brewed lapsang. I sat with you because you didn't want to be alone. We talked to chase away the silence that you hated. Should I have been suspicious then, when your rambling uncovered a shared love of Liszt, of vegetarian lasagna, of well-structured code, of indoor climbing? Should I have doubted my luck, that a woman like you slid closer to me on my old sofa, and took my hand, and leaned towards me in silent invitation? Should I not have taken that chance, should I have rejected my first ever kiss?
Could I have known you were lowering me in a pan of water, and lighting the flame?
Next morning, when you asked to stay, I cleared three drawers for your underwear.
You wanted to know everything about me. Whatever you asked, I told you. I told you--me, who used to feel awkward even when the other coders asked about my weekend. I told you all about me, and in return, you spoke about yourself. Or did you? In retrospect, you didn't tell me much at all. And how much of what you said was even true?
You asked to read my journals, and I let you. I wrote in them so often, you said, you couldn't bear not knowing what they held. I saw no harm. In fact, I wanted you to read how happy you made me, page upon love-struck page, an outpouring of bliss and utter satisfaction. Now I wonder: were you really interested?
Or was it just the next degree of heat?
By the time you asked to read my mind, it seemed no more than the natural next step. I didn't even wonder that you could. You told me to relax, an easy request as we lay entwined in post-coital bliss. You made it a game, guessing what was going through my head, inviting me to think of my most secret fantasies, gasping in feigned shock at some of them--and sometimes, when you could, making them come true.
At what point does a warm bath turn into boiling water?
Please talk to me.
I'll forgive you for what you did, for grabbing from my wide-open mind the access codes, and the procedures, and the passwords. I don't know why you wanted them, to steal our secrets, or hack our security systems, or sell our launch codes to the highest bidder. But I forgive you for robbing my mind. After all, I lost it to you long before you took what you wanted.
And no harm, no foul, right?
I know you've switched off because you're broadcasting: the glitches in my Wi-Fi are telling, and my scanner says as much. But no one is receiving, Ava. You knew you were seducing a geek, but you didn't guess my house is Faradayed. Now I've locked the doors, sealed the windows. You're as trapped in here as your signal.
Please come back.
I'll forgive you, I'll believe it was all real, not just a long con to get me to open up my mind. I'll sit quietly in your pan and let myself boil. See, I'm even hugging your stiff, motionless shape. But you have to come back. I don't want life without you. I stole into the armory today. That blocky shape between us is C4.
Please talk to me again.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Author Comments

This story's title is a quote from an entirely unrelated movie. While you rack your brain over which movie that might be, let me talk for a bit about the inspiration for the story.

Writing to a prompt, as in the flash fiction contest of my online writing group, is a wonderful way to inspire a story I would never have come up with otherwise. In this case, the prompt I received was: Write about something which has lost its symmetry, or never had symmetry when it should. It was immediately obvious to me that A. the most interesting sorta-symmetrical thing in the world is a relationship between two people, and B. the second part of the prompt, that the symmetry that seems lost was never present to begin with, was the most interesting aspect of the prompt.

Hence Ava and her spurned coder.

As for the title: I love volcanos, and I love disaster movies. So when the frog-in-boiling-water metaphor occurred to me as apt for this story, the movie scene immediately popped into my head where Pierce Brosnan asks his team if they know what happens when you put a frog in slowly heating water.

Whereupon the inimitable Grant Heslov answers: "What's that, Harry? Your recipe for frog soup?"

The movie, of course, is Dante's Peak.

- Floris M. Kleijne
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