by Michelle Scott
From the moment Chad pressed the big, red button that set his latest machine into
motion, his audience was laughing. They cheered as the helium balloons rose to
lift levers which released marbles that triggered switches. Every cockeyed
operation was met with greater and greater applause. Yet while his Rube-Goldberg
fly-swatter seemed to be a hit, Chad knew the entire thing was doomed to failure
unless he managed to make the big finale work.
His heart pounding, he tracked the progression, ready to step in at the right
moment. Timing was everything. Then, a split second before a spring-loaded
boxing glove punched its target - an enormous plastic fly stuck on the wall - he
moved into place so that the glove struck him right between the eyes.
The impact brought no pain, but it knocked him backwards onto his butt.
Disoriented, he staggered to his feet. He reeled drunkenly about the stage as bright
bursts of light cartwheeled before his eyes, and blood gushed warmly down his
upper lip. Sounds receded; he could no longer hear his audience. But they were
applauding. He was certain of it.
As the curtain came down, Chad staggered offstage. Al, his manager, helped him
into a chair, then gently pressed on his head to get him to lean over the bucket.
Finally his hearing cleared, allowing him to appreciate the audience's frenzied
applause. "They really loved it," Al said. He handed Chad a clean towel.
Chad could only nod. The pain might be gone, but he was still in distress, his body
a bewildered animal desperate for relief. He felt weak. Dizzy. Sick.
"You're doing an encore?"
It wasn't really a question. In this business, you were only as good as your last
performance. But they both knew that the act was taking its toll on Chad's body.
Even with the latest generation of nanobots, his body didn't heal as quickly as it
Still, the show must go on. After a moment, Chad handed back the bloodied towel
and stood. Immediately the floor under his feet pitched upward and he staggered,
clinging to Al for support. His stomach lurched. Bots could repair damage and
block pain, but they could not compensate for blood loss as quickly as he needed
"Get a grip, already, and get out there," Al said. "They're waiting for you." His
tone was sharp, like the bracing sting of smelling salts. Chad struggled to obey.
He took the water bottle Al pushed into his hands, rinsed his mouth, and spit into
the bucket. He could do this. He must do this. Al helped him change from his
bloody lab coat into a spotless white one and gave him a new pair of thick-framed
glasses to replace the pair that had been broken by the punch. He wiped Chad's
face a final time to get rid of the blood, and motioned the makeup girl forward so
she could touch up Chad's eyes. Then Chad, pasting on a smile, went back
The encore involved a three-hundred pound weight and a rolling grand piano, a
broken collar bone and a dislocated elbow. But it was worth it; like the pain bots,
the audience's laughter would keep him going.