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[Fiction] Symmetry - The Competent Man


Doctor Nova Madigan

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In an orphanage in the fabled Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, Kevin "Symmetry" Rong sat cross-legged on the colorful patchwork carpet, with a large hardbound edition of The Tale of Genji across his lap. Around him sat eight children, their attention focused on him alone. He continued reading aloud:

"The months passed and the young prince returned to the palace. He had grown into a lad of such beauty that he hardly seemed meant for this world -- and indeed one almost feared that he might only briefly be a part of it."

"Kevin!" called a young woman's voice from the adjacent nursery. "Can you come here a moment?"

Kevin paused and carefully retrieved the satin bookmark from where it lay across his knee. Replacing it, he closed the book and tucked it under his arm.

"We'll pick up right here, this time tomorrow, okay?" he smiled to his charges. "Then we will learn which of his sons the Emperor chooses to succeed him."

The children all agreed with enthusiasm that this was an excellent plan, and vowed to return the next day for story time. Kevin walked into the nursery, the book still tucked under his arm.

"What's up, Angie?" he asked, casually.

Angela leaned over a changing table, where she was diapering an infant. "Can you help me in here a minute? I swear these kids are psychic. One poo-poos, and they all poo-poo."

Kevin laughed and turned to the nearest bascinet. The little boy nestled within squirmed in outrage, his tiny fists balled up. Kevin gently plucked him from the bascinet and set to changing the soiled diaper.

He'd just finished that task when he heard his name shouted again, this time from the orphanage's kitchen.

"Looks like I'm in demand today," he laughed to Angie. "Can you hold down the fort here?"

Angie smiled but didn't look up from her task, lest she stick a child or herself with safety pin. "Go ahead," she said. "And thanks."

Kevin had to walk through the day room to reach the kitchen. He saw Jordan and Armand sitting across from each other there, a game of Axis and Allies between them. He paused to analyze the situation.

"It's America's turn," Jordan explained. "On the English turn, they landed here in Eastern Europe." He pointed to the lone infantry and tank unit stacked in the space on the board. "I need to land the American force on this turn."

Kevin looked at the plastic ships and troops, and formulated a plan. "Okay, use the battleship and two transports to land two infantry and a tank from England, and use the two fighters for air cover. Bring the two bombers from the Eastern U.S. and after the invasion, land them in Eastern Europe."

"Dude," Jordan countered, "bombers defend on a one. They'll be dead meat on the German turn."

"Way ahead of you," Kevin smiled. "On the Russian turn, use the stacked infantry in the Karelia to wipe out the German armor in the Ukraine. The game will be all but over, really."

Armand looked sourly at Kevin and Jordan. "We'll let the dice decide that," he said. "Come on, let's just do it."

Kevin smiled and let them finish their game, and continued to the kitchen. There he was surprised to find a dead hog sprawled across the stainless steel prep counter.

"Whoa," he said, pausing in the open doorway. "That's something you don't see every day."

"That's not something you're supposed to see ever," replied Gary, the orphanage's dietician. We'd made a bulk order of pork, like we do every three months, but our usual butcher had closed up shop. These new schmendricks totally misunderstood what we wanted."

"I see," Kevin said. "Can we send it back?"

Gary crossly tapped the carbon-copy receipts in his hand. "Nope, we're stuck with the fool thing. But we do have three months to find a different butcher, at least. We have room for the pig in the freezer, but we'd planned on getting packaged meat, not a whole hog."

"Okay," Kevin said, looking around the kitchen for some knives and an apron. "Get some butcher's paper and plastic wrap, and I'll reduce this fellow to pork chops and hams. It won't take too long."

In fact, it didn't take long at all for Kevin to butcher the hog, and soon enough the orphanage's walk-in freezer was bursting at the seams with delicious pork.

To be continued. . .

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"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

— Robert Heinlein

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