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The Last Minute · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Inertial Frame
It was dark and cold outside, dark and cold like Swiss winters are used to being. The streets were deserted, and no one saw the hooded figure who silently plodded along snow covered Kramgasse. Upon reaching number 49 the walker turned, climbed the three steps leading to the door of the unremarkable house which sat there, and knocked.

It took a minute for the tenant to walk down the inner stairs and open the door. He was young, with bright, lively eyes, dark hair and a trimmed moustache. He scrutinised the mysterious shape standing at the threshold, trying unsuccessfully to make out a face under the hood. “Hello?!” he finally said, with a distinctive German accent. “May I help you?”

“Mister… Einstein? Albert Einstein?” a sepulchral voice answered.

Einstein’s blood curdled. “Yes?! It’s me,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I, am Death. I’m here to carry you away with me. You have one minute to clean your stuff and say goodbye to your family. Unless you want me to coerce—”

“Pffft!” Einstein cut in. “How gross to go around frightening people like that. Buzz off and leave me alone, I have work to do.”

The other did not respond. Instead, its bony hand reached out to a nearby Christmas tree and touched it. Instantly, all the needles turned to brown and fell onto the ground.

Einstein took one step backwards and looked down. “So it’s really you… But why? I’m still young and healthy!”

“Even babies die, mister Einstein,” Death answered.

“You can’t… I mean, not now! I’m about to solve one of the biggest mysteries in the universe… It’s… It’s there, only a few folios away… I just need to put my ideas down. You can’t do that to me.”

“I’m afraid I have no choice, mister Einstein.”

“Look,” Einstein said. “Gimme a year. A single year. I’ll work as fast as I can. Next December, I’ll have all wrapped up and published. I promise I will go with you. You have my word.” He fell on his knees and joined his hands in prayer.

“One year? And you will follow me without protest?” Death replied.

“I swear it. Please, please!”

Death rubbed its chin under its cowl. “Deal!” it finally said. “I give you extra 365 days. No more. Have your theory ready by then, mister Einstein. Good luck!”

“Oh thanks, thanks, thanks! Be sure…” Einstein answered, but Death had already vanished.

It was dark and cold outside, as usual during Swiss winters. Einstein was huddling with his wife and son in the bedroom when three ominous knocks sounded at the door.

He grew pale. His wife broke out into tears.

“It is time,” he said, standing up. “Goodbye my darlings!” He kissed his wife, then the little Hans-Albert in his cradle, and walked out of the bedroom down the stairs. He opened the door and faced the tall and dark figure he had met a year before.

“So, mister Einstein?” the same eldritch voice said. “Did you put everything in order?”

“I did,” Einstein replied, stooping. “Matter, energy, speed, I’ve got everything in place.”

“Are you ready to come with me, then?”

Einstein sighed. “I am.”

But all of sudden Death burst into roaring laughter and jabbed Einstein in the ribs, so hard that the physicist almost tripped backwards.

“Ah, my old bugger!” Death bellowed, when it had regained some semblance of composure. “I don’t want you. You’re free to go. Better run upstairs and hush your wife, you bloody fool!”

Einstein’s eyes grew wide. “I… What? You… You don’t want me anymore?”

“And why would I?” Death replied. “You gave me exactly what I expected from you. That theory of yours, do you know how precious it is to me? Thank you, thank you so much!”

“How?… But… It’s just a handful of innocent equations. I don’t understand…” Einstein protested.

Death snickered. “Eventually you will. Eventually you will, my child. So goodbye for now!” It turned around and descended the steps to the street.

“Just a handful of innocent equations… What a laugh!” Einstein heard it say. The Grim Reaper rounded a pillar and blended into the shadows. Einstein looked around, but it was gone. There was nothing outside now, but pristine snow, darkness and silence.

Einstein closed the door and leaned heavily against it. He remained there for a long time, motionless, aghast. Then he shambled up the stairs to his bedroom, where his wife was still sobbing.
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#1 ·
· · >>Monokeras
Hehe, I think I see where this is going.

Or not.

Totally thought Einstein was going to prove time dilation and thus his "365 days" would be far, far longer than death was prepared for. Instead, it seems to be the opposite, that young Einstein doesn't quite grok the time/age implications of his theory yet.

Still, I'm stretching, and I probably know more about the general subject than the average reader (though I'm not an expert on relativity by any means.) Thus, this has more the "apperance" of being clever, than actually doing so, because I could be wrong and then it's just death telling an in-joke that none of us can get.
#2 ·
· · >>FloydienSlip >>Fenton >>Monokeras
I was thinking time dilation as well, but thematically I'd guess that the ending is alluding more to his involvement with the atom bomb than relativity. I think that involvement was more of a letter than equations, though.
#3 ·
· · >>Monokeras
The prose itself could use some work, but this was a good read. I was thinking about relativity, but maybe >>Ratlab is on to something with the atomic bomb theory. Nevertheless, good execution (pardon the pun) and fascinating idea.
#4 ·
· · >>Monokeras
Definitely a solid entry. I'm with >>Ratlab on this one, the implication is about the atomic bomb.

It was dark and cold outside

However, I feel like people tend to mock this sentence while it is a solid way to convey a timeframe and a tone to your story. So no, this is a good hook, and anyone who disagree will have to face me in a purple prose duel!

Thank you for your work.
#5 ·
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>Monokeras
I like this one! Except for:
a sepulchral voice
Sepulchral? Don't do that, please and thank you.
#6 ·
· · >>Monokeras
I feel like the dialogue doesn't quite read right on me for this one. This is not to say that you can't be a little loosey-goosey with things, but it definitely reads as super modern. I think angling to root the voices a bit more in their expected places would work better for the tone. Right now it reads a little more farcical than I think you intend.

I also think you rode out your ending a few sentences too long.

Beyond that, I kinda feel like not using Oppenheimer here was a missed opportunity, what with the whole "I am become Death, etc, etc" thing.
#7 ·
· · >>Oblomov >>Monokeras
Your Grim Reaper sounds a bit casual, I think.

Also, is he, like, a time traveler trying to ensure Einstein gets something done? I'm not sure I get it.

This was fairly engaging, but it doesn't really feel like it wraps up properly at the end. Still, it has an arc, which is great, and I was never lost as to what was going on (until the very end) so I appreciated that.

Nice work, although I'm pretty sure something's missing.

>>Oblomov What's wrong with sepulchral?
#8 ·

The dialogue in general seemed off to me, but I singled in on 'sepulchral' because it seems like slightly too byzantine of a word to use to describe dialogue. Dunno. Maybe I'm just dumb. I'm new to this whole reviewing business.
#9 ·
I mean, it is an odd word. And don't mean to say you shouldn't react a certain way, or be honest about your reaction; I think honest reactions are valuable feedback. I was more just curious what that reaction really was.
#10 ·
This is clearly about the E = mc² equation, which is the foundation that atomic bombs operate on.

I agree with Andrew, the dialogue does seem a bit off. Sort of a bit informal for both Einstein and Death. Einstein doesn’t seem so frightened (more like resigned) and Death is a bit too lively :P Otherwise, solidly written.

There’s a small mood whiplash at the end. While (see above) 7/8 of the story has this sort of informal nature to it, as if it were being dictated like a "so Einstein and the Grim Reaper walk into a bar" sort of story, the focus on the crying wife throws a much somber veil. At the same time, maybe it’s intentional, as Einstein suddenly realises the implications of his “innocent” theory.

Pretty solid though! Upper middle upper mid tier in the middle of the upper level. Thanks for writing.
#11 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
"Sepulchral" is a fantastic word.

As to the story, pretty much what everyone said. It's a cute idea, a little flimsy, but most mini entries are. The main letdown here is the execution. "Dark and cold" might be an okay hook, but repeating it twice, not so much. Dialogue, tone, and general prose all need work.

Getting into too many specifics is beyond the time I'm able to spend on a mini, but look up someone after the round and do a close read, and keep leveling up your prose skills. This piece heavily relies on intangibles of tone, word choice, dialogue shading, and precise manipulation of the reader's emotions to bring them along the line required for the idea to function. Composition is good, the idea fits in the mini format, there's a ton of potential here - it's just a polish-based piece that happens to be a little above the author's current level.

That's a very good thing, though. It's fantastic that you're challenging yourself and on the path to improvement. Much better to aim a little too high than too low. This is... *checks* Yep, this is actually first place on my slate so far, despite its shortcomings, because so many of the fundamentals are in place. Thanks for writing, keep it up!
#12 ·
· · >>Monokeras
A point for teaching me a new word with "Sepulchral", but I feel like your grasp on the rest of the language wasn't quite as strong. Death in particular felt... wrong for me, which is a deeply subjective thing (especially in this age of Terry Pratchett having something of a monopoly on Dᴇᴀᴛʜ's portrayal. He lacked the gravitas or presence I would expect of such a distinct figure. Lines such as
You have one minute to clean your stuff

feel far too informal for him, specifically the use of 'stuff'. You are consistent in that portrayal, at least, which counts for something. I'm afraid I don't quite understand the meaning behind Death's parting comments, either, so I may be lacking the full picture here. Overall, it's not bad, but it feels in need of some punching up.
#13 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
Dialogue's a little rough in this one, but the idea is interesting and (to me) original. I feel like this this story is actually too long, though – you could have gotten all this into a tighter package.

I'm not sure Einstein was totally ignorant of where his research was leading, but that's a separate point and has no bearing on my score.
#14 ·
· · >>Monokeras
This is one of those stories that sits squarely between being dramatic and comedic. The surprising thing to me is that it actually does it pretty well. Death essentially "punks" Einstein (humorous), because his equations will lead to a certain event that will cost plenty of lives for Death to claim (dramatic). It's a tenuous line to cross, but the story does it pretty well.

That being said, I think Death was a little too casual of a fellow. An eldritch being like him might be goofy, but I think he'd be goofy to some extent during his first meeting with Einstein (where he's absolutely serious) instead of holding back for his final prank. I also think you're overestimating Einstein's influence in making the atomic bomb (no offense, but there were plenty of German scientists that had just as big a hand in that as him).

A good balance between comedy and drama that just needs a little bit of adjusting.
#15 · 3
>>Cold in Gardez

Hail to the winners. Well done chaps for a much deserved medal!

Inertial Frame

Thanks to y’all for your commentaries and appreciation!

Last round, Cold scolded me for writing a story featuring Death but without real takeaway or payoff. I tried to do better this time, while keeping the same character for Death.

The idea was simple. Death sees in Einstein’s special relativity, from which the famous formula E=mc² is derived, a formidable potential, namely the future development of atomic bombs. But Einstein is scatterbrained and unless coerced, there’s a big chance he never completes his work. So Death decides to pay him a visit and put him under pressure. At no time is Death interested in taking Einstein’s life, it just wants to bully him because it’s the only way to be certain the theory will be out in due time.

Cold says that Einstein was not ignorant about the consequences of his equations, but I doubt it. When special relativity – whose primary goal was to explain speed of light invariance – was formulated (1915), quantum mechanics was still in its cradle: little, if any, was known about radioactivity and neutrons, let alone neutrinos. I suppose Einstein was smart enough to envision that the equations could be applied to atomic nuclei, but bombs? Fermi’s first atomic reactor wasn’t built until 1942.

I wanted in subtext to bring up the recurring problem of science and responsibility: is Einstein (indirectly) responsible for the atomic bomb? Can scientists in general be liable of any “bad” consequences of their discoveries? That’s a point still open to debate.

But, as usual, I botched part of the work. The hook was awful and the prose not up to snuff. My bad. I’m perfectly able to do better, I just messed up for no reason except carelessness: I should’ve been more careful in picking my words. Two years ago, I was writing stilted prose; I seem to have fallen into the opposite excess, so time to strike the right balance. If this story hasn’t fared better, it’s really because I pushed hard for it not to. That’s the lesson to be learnt here: pay more attention to what you write. Or: don’t be causal as fuck :P

Thanks again and see you next round!