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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2285134
An exoplanet surveyor finds a watch hidden inside of a rock 37 lightyears away from Earth
         Gabe estimated it had been perhaps two Earth-weeks since he discovered the mysterious watch, though it’s hard to tell exactly how much time had passed in Earth-days from so far away. As he figures, one rotation of exoplanet A-21593b took approximately 15.6 Earth hours and it had been approximately 20 exoplanet days since the discovery. But factoring in time dilation, the expansion of the universe, and the fact that everyone else seemed to work on different time scales than him made the appropriate math untenable to the humble surveyor. The watch itself couldn’t be relied upon either, since the battery had died the moment Gabe liberated it from the inside of the geode.

         That was what Gabe concluded after several hours of thought. He didn’t see the battery die, since it was, at that moment, inside of a rock. But the time on its face matched exactly what Gabe approximated Earth time to be at the moment he cracked said rock open. He had cursed himself as the realisation dawned on him that he was the reason the watch had stopped. He could have gathered much more information if he had been gentler.

         As he resumed his job testing mineral samples for precious Helium-3, Gabe felt a string between his heart and the watch grow taut. It pulled him towards where he had stored it in his personal chest. As he inspected the samples, his eyes drifted to the chest of their own will. Who would reveal the watch’s secrets if not him?

         Gabe felt the watch’s siren call for exoplanet-weeks. He brought it with him to bed, observing the reflections off its silver strap, the shining numerals that counted hours and minutes. Its face, plain as the rock it was found in, stared back at him in the dim light of the lab’s sleeping quarters. He felt it observing him as he observed it, mocking him that he could not spend more time considering its facade. If only there were more than 15.6 hours in a day!

         Gabe cut back on his regular duties so that he could study the odd instrument. No amount of idle consideration during his work had gotten him any closer to answering the core question of the matter: whose watch was this? Moreover, how did it end up inside of a rock, on top of a much larger rock, 37 light years away from any factory that might have produced it? Gabe answered the first question that day; with no one else on the planet to claim it, the watch belonged to him. The second continued taunting him.

         As darkness fell on Gabe’s habitation pod, he received a video call from his boss. Margaret was a venus flytrap. She wore a frilly pink sweater and matching earrings, which to those who did not know her would indicate that she was approachable.

         “Gabriel, dear, how are you doing? Keeping busy?” Margaret fingered her cheek, giving her the appearance of dimples.

         Gabe, suddenly aware that the watch was visible on camera, sidestepped between it and the camera. “Of course, Maggie,” Gabe smiled sheepishly. “Still searching for that Helium.”

         “Listen Gabriel, my love, I know you don’t want to hear this but we are getting a little worried about your operation over there. We haven’t seen any data from you in weeks. You don’t need any help do you?”

         ‘Help’, in this situation, meant Gabe wouldn’t be getting another assignment after this one. Surveying was and always had been a solitary task, she had told him once.

         “No, no, that won’t be necessary. I’m just working through a huge amount of samples right now. Just wanna make sure that I don’t miss anything!”

          “Of course, darling, we wouldn’t want that to happen again.” Margaret craned her neck as if to see past Gabe’s shoulder. “Don’t get distracted with any of your side projects, now. The first surveyor in your star system to find Helium gets a pizza.” She hung up before Gabe could respond.

         The computer screen turned from Margaret-pink to Windows 7-blue. Gabe felt his cheeks become hot. He admitted to himself that he had fallen behind on analysing his geode samples. Margaret wouldn’t understand why that was the case until he figured out the secrets of the watch.

         Gabe once again turned his attention to the watch, which had at some point fallen from the microscope stage and onto the table due to the shaking of Gabe’s limbs. Helium, pizza, what did any of it matter when a secret of the universe lay on the table in front of him? He wished Margaret would understand.

         He turned over his lab bench, revealing the drawing board underneath. At its centre, the word watch had been written in chalk and circled. Neurons radiated outwards from that core, ideas bundled in ganglia. Landed here? was crossed out with a note, inside a rock?

          Gabe eyed another node, which was populated with his more fringe ideas: Quantum tunnelling, parallel dimensions, and aliens. Gabe laughed at the last one. Everybody knew that aliens didn’t use Roman numerals.

          As he laughed, however, it got Gabe thinking. Perhaps not aliens, but someone could have put the watch there on purpose. But why?

          He grabbed the nearest piece of chalk, one that had been worn to a small nub. In large letters on a hitherto unused portion of the drawing board Gabe wrote what he knew was the answer. Margaret.

          It was a test. She always hated him - no one who genuinely enjoyed the presence of another would use so many terms of endearment in one short conversation. She put the watch there to distract Gabe so that he would need help to survey the planet for helium, and then she could fire him!

          What’s more, she knew he had troubles with time. That’s why he was assigned a planet with such an odd photoperiod. What cruelty that she had selected a broken watch as her instrument of torture. And what HR department would believe he found a watch inside a rock?

          In a sudden bout of frustration, Gabe slammed his fist on the board, causing a cloud of dust to briefly pollute the air before being whisked into the air filters. He was never one for conspiratorial thinking, but the weight of the evidence was too substantial to ignore. Margaret’s flytrap jaws were closing around him. Gabe had to find a way out, lest her vile machinations come to fruition.

         Gabe turned over the workbench and hauled a box of geodes onto it. If he could find the precious gas trapped in any of these minerals, he would be free. He could cash out his savings, move to Venus. He had to get as far away from Margaret as he possibly could - she would be sure to exact revenge. Maybe he would become a baker, like his mom always told him to do. Geology wasn’t turning out so great anyway.

         A week later, Gabe received another call from Margaret.

         “Gabriel, pet, how are you doing?” Margaret crooned. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your associates- goodness me, you look terrible.”

         “I’m on to you,” Gabe seethed. He peered through crusty, sleepless eyes at the pink monstrosity on the screen.

         For once, Margaret’s sickly-sweet demeanour broke. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re on about. Are you okay? Do you need help?”

         “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Gabe held up the watch, laughing. “You’d like that, saboteur! I found your watch. The watch you’ve been using to distract me from finding Helium, so you could fire me.” Gabe’s laughter escalated and became shrill.

         “Oh. Oh my, it appears there’s been a terrible misunderstanding.”

         “I’ll say! There isn’t even any Helium here! I checked all these rocks for it and there’s none. Corporate’s scans were wrong!”

         “Gabriel please, if you’ll just let me speak. We put the watch there as a reward! Please, return to the mothership with it and you can exchange it for a gift basket.”

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