I am trying to identify a short story that I likely read in Asimov's Science Fiction or one of Dozois's Year's Best SF&F anthologies in the 1990's or early 2000's. I looked through a great many tables of contents without seeing anything I recognized. Of course, I've also tried Googling and even questioning our future AI overlords, but the search terms that I can come up with are too broad to be useful. Hoping someone either knows the story or has the knack of Googling rather better than I do.

The story focuses on a boy who lives with his mother. Some years ago, when the mother was a child, or perhaps a generation earlier, a miraculous event occurred. Colorful artifacts appeared in random places all over the globe, hidden like Easter eggs. If I recall correctly, they were balls and rods of a huge variety of colors. If a person were to find a ball (two balls?) and a rod of the same color and assemble them, that person instantly gained some ability. It might be something very minor (the ability to whistle perfectly or make an incredible loaf of bread) or something stupendous (bulletproof skin, super strength, the ability to fly, etc). The abilities were given different categories based on their perceived importance. You might have a true power if you were extremely lucky or wealthy enough to buy the right artifacts or you might just have a knack for something if you had perhaps gotten a power as a gift for your 16th birthday.

Most people of the mother's age, even the very poor, had some ability, because the artifacts used to be very common. Over time people used them up, and so the market had become much tighter by the time the story occurred, and there was a brisk trade in the artifacts. The boy and his mother were poor, and one day the boy decided to scavenge in the river for some reason and found an artifact. It was black, I believe, and people knew enough about the artifacts that even a young boy knew that this was a rare object. He took it to a dealer who tried to swindle him out of the thing. He then went home, showed his mom, and ultimately received an offer from a very rich collector of powers. He had absorbed every power except this one and was willing to pay handsomely. He also already owned the other part(s) of the black artifact.

Don't read this bit unless you want the end of the story spoiled.

The man offers the boy a million dollars in a one time offer for his artifact. The boy refuses, realizing that he'll never have the opportunity to have anything to do with such an unusual power again given his station in life. However, he changes his mind later that same day and sells to the man for substantially more. The boy goes home unhappy but wealthy and the rich collector goes home to assemble the unique artifact. When the boy wakes in the morning, the artifact's power is revealed - it restored the world's supply of artifacts; kids are running around finding them in their backyards and hidden in the crooks of tree branches.

1 Answer 1


Midnight Blue by Will McIntosh. Published in Asimov's September 2008. You must have read it in Asimov's as it has never been anthologised.

The boy is Jeff and the artifact he finds is the eponymous midnight blue. The dealer he speaks to tells him:

"What you have here is a midnight blue. I don't know what it does because nobody knows what it does, because until now there was only one known sphere in existence, to go along with one staff. You found the rarest sphere on Earth."

The collector who buys the artifact is Cornelius:

Cornelius smiled. “Now you're talking my language, Jeff.” He kept his voice low. In the kitchen, mom was sort of stacking dishes, but mostly just standing there with a dish towel. “Here's my offer, and keep in mind, it's non-negotiable: Seven hundred thousand dollars.”

The world disappeared for a moment. Everything broke into a million little grey dots and went black, like they did on a TV screen. Then they pulled back together and Jeff was still sitting in his living room, across from Mr. Cornelius. His hands were tingling, his fingertips curling involuntarily.

“A million,” Jeff said through numb lips.

The story ends:

“I've no idea,” Cornelius said. He took out the other two pieces of the charm. He fitted Jeff's sphere onto one end of the staff, then the other sphere onto the other end. “Why don't we find out.”

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and grasped the staff with both hands.

Nobody moved. Nobody even breathed. Outside, a couple of kids were shouting. A dog barked in the distance. Cornelius frowned, opened his eyes. “Strange. I don't feel what I usually feel.”

“It feels different?” Jeff said.

“I don't feel anything. I don't sense the new charm inside me.”

But then as you remembered it made more artifacts appear:

It was getting loud. People were shouting and screaming, like there was a fire or something, only they didn't sound scared exactly. Jeff heard a woman shout “On the roof!” A kid was shouting something Jeff couldn't understand—it sounded like Ricky.

Jeff went to the window and lifted the blind. There were twenty or thirty people outside in the fading light. Some were running, some were on their knees peering underneath cars in the parking lot. Jeff recognized Ricky's black-sneakered feet poking out of the hedges. Sherry Underwood was cradling something, running toward the door of her building. She shifted her load to the other hand to open the door, and Jeff caught a glimpse of what it was: two spheres. It was too dark to tell what colors they were.


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