Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Flash fiction

I responded to this post on io9 with this story:

               It was called the Pimple, and Henry Ford hated it.  He hated it as much as he hated his name, tainted as it was with the stink of history – an irony if ever there was one, since his namesake had once referred to history as “bunk.”  Like his namesake, and the industrial society he had created, whoever created the Pimple died off long ago.

            Within the sphere of engineered atmosphere, winged creatures breathed the oxygen, shat in the flat oceans, and procreated on updrafts high in the troposphere, swooping around the vast columns of frozen DNA in a paroxysmal dance.

            Henry dug his boot spike into the ice and hoisted himself up the rope to the midsection of the column.  One of the winged things flew close to him and shrieked.  Henry cursed and almost slipped.  He kept his eye firmly glued to the outcropping about twenty crons up, where something new glinted in the green light diffused into the Pimple by the sun and the illuminated planet below.  

            A strand came loose and tumbled to the heavy surface of the water, breaking Henry’s boot loose of its mooring.  A thick splash extruded upward and subsided into ripples.  Henry gripped the rope, praying that the electrobiner would hold fast against the unstable surface of the ice.

The columns were made up of supercooled conglomerations of DNA, ejecta from a long-dead experiment the parameters of which Henry and his fellow genetic anthropologists were just now starting to understand.  The connection of the ice to the bigger question of why the ancient scientists had modified a half Dyson sphere into a self-sufficient ecodome that covered a quarter of the planet - that was the question nobody yet could answer.

Henry hated the Pimple because he knew that the technology required to create such an engineering feat would never again be achieved.  He wanted to go back in time, be there when the Pimple was being developed, watch the scientists at work.  Sure, they had the video archives, remnants from the global computer network that had gone dark after the Flare had fried the world’s electricity - but it had taken them years to reverse engineer the technology necessary to watch the videos, and it had taken the linguists another decade to translate the old languages.  

Henry jabbed his boot spike into the DNA ice again and scrabbled for purchase.  He’d lost some ground, but he gritted his teeth and soon found himself at eye level with the new thing.  The giant DNA icicles were not dead - Henry and his team often found shards of new life clinging to them, created by the DNA - new genetic combinations, brought to life by some unknown process.  Most of them died after only a few moments, and Henry’s team would find only the husks, but sometimes, they’d come across something alive, something new, and they’d have a chance to study it as the DNA took root and began to grow.  

Henry studied the new thing.   A cold eye looked at him from its surface - clearly alive, with a sharp glint that could be the spark of intelligence.  Plumes of steam emanated from a slit along the creature’s left side.  It looked like breathing.

Henry changed his grip so that he could get a closer look.  The slit along its left side had what looked like lips, and as Henry looked, he thought he saw teeth.  

A low rattle started to emanate from the creature’s midsection.  It raised itself up on six spiny legs and lunged for Henry’s face.  Henry shouted and released his grip on the icicle.  He shielded his face as he fell to the end of the rope with a jerk.  The electrobiner held tight.

At that moment, the new thing jumped from its perch on the icicle and dove toward Henry.  Henry swung around to avoid the creature.  With one hand, he scrambled for the laser cutter on his belt.  The thing flew around him on thin wings made of pure ice, the gash on its side open and showing a pincushion of teeth.  Henry aimed the cutter at the creature and pressed the ignition, sending a precision bolt of plasma at the creature.  The laser burned a hole in one of the creature’s wings, and it began to spiral toward the ground, a grotesque motion that imitated the structure of the DNA icicles from which it had been born.  

After using the rope to lower himself down to the ground, Henry walked to the creature’s side.  He bent over to examine it.  It was clear the team needed to know that the new things were becoming sentient.