“It’s a paingate,” said Leland. “Haven’t you ever read Tarboski?”

“How about just telling me what it is,” said Cliff, “instead of trying to make me feel stupid.”

Leland sighed. “Tarboski’s a science fiction author, a pretty good one, even though people don’t read him as often as they used to. One of his best books is about how weird alien artifacts start showing up in some podunk town and screwing things up, and one of them is a paingate. It’s shown up in some other stuff that people have written too.”

“Okay, but why is it called a paingate?” Cliff said. “It looks like a coffee cup for clumsy people.”

“Well, according to the book, any liquid that you put in that middle part there–coffee or otherwise–is immediately crystalized into a valuable gemstone,” said Leland. “Diamonds, rubies, alien gemstones of incomparable power that emit lethal radiation, that sort of thing. But there’s a catch.”

“A worse catch than lethal radiation?” Cliff tapped at the plexiglass box containing the three-handled ceramic ‘cup.’

“Yeah. If you touch it with bare skin, you die. Really, really painfully.”

Cliff backed away violently. “You could have said that to begin with!” he cried.

“Relax. It’s obviously a replica that some super-geek bought at Nerdicon.”

“Where’s the ‘gate’ part come in?” Cliff said, with a sideways glance at the case and its contents. “I get the ‘pain’ bit now.”

“That’s the best part of the book. Well I think it’s the best, anyway.” Leland grinned. “If you die from touching it, another you–identical to the dead one in every respect aside from having no memory of the last day or so–appears randomly nearby after 19 minutes and 17 seconds.”

“You mean they could…see their own dead bodies?” Cliff said.

“Could and did. It’s a pretty intense book.”

“I guess so.”

“You want to open the case and see how accurate the reproduction is?” said Leland eagerly.

“Not in a million years.”

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