“It is poorly preserved,” Dr. Angg said. “The slackness of the jaw, the orange tinge of the skin— you’d think even a hundred years ago the curators could have done better.”
I said nothing. Angg was the Imperium’s leading expert in xenobiology and off-world artifacts. We had found the alien head in among old displays in the museum’s archive. There were many relics of humanity’s early, freebooting days in interstellar space in the vaults. There were alien weapons, and strange religious artifacts, and more than a few trophies of the vicious wars of that era. Angg and I had already examined a collection of Te’measkini scalps, gathered by the members of the Fifth Punitive Expedition. It was gruesome stuff, and offensive to modern sensibilities. Inclusion of multitudinous species was now Imperial policy, and we had been charged with cleaning out the collection.
“How do you think it died?” I asked Angg.
“Probably a victim of the Rilhalan War,” Angg said. “The species looks correct. Huge beings, they were—doubtless the head was taken as a trophy, and the body left to rot.”
“A lot you know, buddy,” the head said, as it sprouted spidery legs and scuttled off.
More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story. On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.
Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel
I came around the corner and stopped. I stared. “It’s a bus.”
“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said. “I got it cheap.”
“It’s a bus.”
“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said. He threw an arm around my shoulder. “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”
I removed his arm. “You’re crazier than I thought.”
“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said. “We can do this. I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”
“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.
“You are so negative,” Steven said. “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”
“Inconspicuous? How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”
“They won’t be expecting it.”
I stopped. “Okay, you got me there. But will it be strong enough?”
“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said. “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed. “All right. I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”
“Great!” Steven said. “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”
My response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for November 8th 2015– a flash fiction inspired by this image–
Not quite yet
there’s yet some green
in the tips of the leaves
a little life still
it will sleep
as will I
does it regret
the cloudy days
when it saw no sun?
The rain that fell
on other forests?
of what might have been
and were not
and cannot be
It will sleep
as will I
long, dark and cold
when the sun rides high again
it will flourish
but will I?
but will I?
This is sooo belated, though (by ten days), that I am not going to add my link to the collection for April 6th– there’s just no point. There’s also the not inconsiderable fact that I completely blew away the 200-word limit. So, instead, I’ll simply acknowledge the inspiration and move on.
Having said that, this doodle is actually part of a concept I have had for a while for a sci-fi story. I think it would work as a novel, but I think it would really rock as a movie. But the story has to come first, and these are the first few hundred words of the concept I’ve actually laid down.
In a far future, humanity shelters from a poisoned Earth in a vast, enclosed habitat. After centuries, things are not going well, and an unlicensed scientist approaches one of the elite– literally, a “high-level”– with his concerns….
Copyright 2014 by Douglas Daniel
“They say it’s the last tree on Earth,” Carr said.
Anneke knew that was not so. Far above, in the up-levels, there were many bonsai’d trees, individual specimens in pots. She had seen those all her life. But a full-grown tree—she had had no idea such a thing existed. This had to be the only, the last, of its type.
She looked up. There was the explanation– this patch of open space, nearly dead center under the core Atrium, was one of the few places in Lower London with plenty of light. Far, far above, sunlight shone through distant skylights, but this place was so down-level, at what the ancients had called ‘street-level’, that the natural light seemed filtered; it was bright here only because artificial light leaked into the core Atrium shaft and supplemented the sunlight. Even as she watched, the sunlight dimmed, then brightened again. Doubtless a dust-cloud had howled over the Habitat just then, momentarily occluding the sun.
“Come closer,” Carr said.
Anneke, hesitating, followed him into the open space around the tree. Odd stone slabs stood upright all around the tree, although some leaned considerably out of the vertical, and one or two had fallen. They were worn and gray; as she came closer Anneke saw that all of them had writing carved into them, although in a mode so ancient that she had trouble understanding the words. Some of the stones were so worn that she could not make out the writing at all.
Tombstones. The realization came with a start—it meant she was standing in a graveyard, among, or over, the bones of ancients buried here. And that meant that the dilapidated stone building standing close at hand was a church. The sheer antiquity of what she was seeing caused her to shiver, all the more because the Hampstead Heath support pillar loomed gigantic over the open space, a few hundred meters beyond the church, and the walls of the Atrium rose dizzyingly overhead.
The two of them stopped beneath the tree. The ground was covered with pink-white petals, matching those still on the tree. As Anneke stood there, a petal fell from a stem somewhere overhead and, in falling, brushed her face. She started, but the petal was soft and the impact gentle.
Looking up, she had an impression of a complexity of brown branches, green leaves, and pink blossoms. She had the sudden sense of being in the presence of a mighty, but silent, being. How long had it grown here, forgotten, a lost remnant of a dead world?
But more petals were falling. “Is it dying?” she asked Carr.
He shook his head. He casually laid a hand on the tree’s trunk, as if they were old friends. “No—it’s spring, or it’s supposed to be. I suppose there’s just enough natural light for the tree to follow its normal cycle. It was normal for trees to blossom in the spring, and then shed their flowers as the season passed. If there were other trees to pollinate each other, then they would bear fruit.” He paused, looking up at the tree. “But this tree hasn’t borne anything for centuries.”
Anneke shifted on her feet, uncomfortable. “Why are you showing me this?”
“I wanted to give you a taste,” Carr said, “of what humanity has lost. We’ve been trapped in the Habitat for so long, we’ve forgotten what the Earth was like before the Catastrophe. Imagine trees like this, thousands of them, standing in forests, groups of trees that covered the land and were so vast you could get lost in them, all under an atmosphere you could actually breathe. And that was only one sort of life-form on the Earth in the old days.”
“I know the history of the Catastrophe, and the ancient times,” Anneke said, irritated.
“I know you’ve read the histories,” Carr said. “Reading history can only carry you so far. Come, touch it.”
Anneke realized she was reluctant, and then she was angry with herself. She stepped closer and laid her hand on the tree trunk. The…bark, she supposed, was rough under her fingers, but cool and benign.
“We are meant to live among other life-forms like this,” Carr said. He stood over her, but there was no threat. His expression was solemn. “Humanity can’t continue to be trapped in the Habitat. We are dying, lady, slowly dying, because we have been cut off too long from what is natural. I think you know that.”
“Yes,” Anneke whispered. “But what’s to be done? The Earth is poisoned, and it’s been poisoned for two thousand years.”
“We must find a way,” Carr said, “to purify the world. And I think those who built the Habitat meant for there to be a way to do that. If so, surely the Administrator’s own daughter would be in a position to find out what that was.”
Anneke looked at him, comprehending. “So that is why you contacted me.”
“Yes,” Carr said. “My friends and I are desperate, lady. You may be our last hope. Please.”
Anneke hesitated. What Carr was asking her to do was to go against her father, the bureaucracy, the entire security apparatus of the Habitat, and two thousand years of tradition. But we are dying. There was no escaping that fact.
“I will try,” she said.
Since putting Princess of Fire on hiatus, I have doodled away on several other projects, this among them. I may spend a few more weeks off, and then take a whack at PoF version 2.0. It’s not the way I usually handle my drafts, but Fire has already proven to be an unusual project.
200 word flash-fiction challenge based on a photo.
Note: this piece is related to my first photo flash-fiction, as well as a couple of the abandoned fragments I’ve previously posted. This character keeps coming back to me, demanding his page-time.
It’s my fault.
I should have been there. The battle was won, but the bastards who killed you didn’t know that. I assumed you were safe. It’s my fault.
Your father looks at me as if I wielded the sword that cut you down. I have nothing to say to him, because there are no words strong enough to dissolve this hurt.
The priest– how many times now has he gone around your cairn, bathing it with incense? I’ve lost count. I need him to finish.
I’ll build an altar here. Your family will do their rites, and then I will do mine. A sacrifice and prayer to the Unchanging, that’s what needs to be done. So He will find you in the shadow-lands and take you home. You and the child who never got to be named.
I can’t bring a proper offering. I should burn bullocks and rams, feast your family, make a song about you and the little girl. Instead all I have are two doves. A poor man’s guilt offering.
They say I need to live on. That there’s work to be done. I don’t know how. I don’t know why.
Pretty sure this doesn’t work, but I thought I’d give it a shot, anyway.
“The bridges are down,” Sebae whispered, horrified.
I looked. The fog dispersed into a low-lying layer ahead of us. Over it I saw the Salt Island bridge– except it was no longer a bridge. On the eastward side of the River the upper deck had collapsed into the lower. Metal filaments and broken chunks of plasticrete alone remained of the towers that had supported it.
To the west, the bridge was simply gone. Water rushed about pilings and ruined pieces of bridge deck protruding from the water. Far beyond, I saw only a wrecked tracery of metal that had been the Tulland bridge.
“All gone,” Sebae said, still whispering, as if he could not believe it. “The settlements….”
He didn’t have to finish the thought. I leaned for a moment on my paddle. Five thousand years— that’s how long the bridges had stood– built by the Ancients to endure. And the Firebringer had destroyed them in a night, with less thought than a child might have for a toy they did not want.
“What do we do now?” Sebae said, sounding lost.
I breathed deep, put my paddle in the water again. “Row,” I said. “The messages won’t wait.”
“I’ll take that,” I said, pointing.
“That old wringer?” my older sister said. “Thing doesn’t even work.”
“Piece of junk,” my younger sister said. “Doesn’t even have the tub anymore.”
“I want it,” I said.
My older sister shrugged. She and my younger sister resumed their debate over Grandmother’s china.
I took the wringer outside and laid it in the back seat of my car. I didn’t care if it left rust stains on the upholstery. I could hear my brothers arguing in the garage over how to divvy up Grandmother’s lawn tools.
On all but the coldest days Grandmother’s laundry room had been warm. It had clear windows on three sides, like a greenhouse. Sunlight was all the light she needed for her chores.
Grandmother stubbornly clung to her old hand-wrung tub washer long after everyone else had acquired automatic models. Old fossil, was what my father called her.
She did laundry twice a week. We would talk while the old machine whined and thrashed the clothes back and forth. Talking was the best part. I helped her wring the clothes out, especially when her hands became gnarled and hurt her so much.