Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: Shards

Writing Sprint Flash Fiction: Shards

Sticking stringently to the deadline of Sunday, but then leave it until the following Thursday, so you can post it on the Monday afterwards, here is the latest effort from the writing sprint prompts provided by Mel Cusick-Jones.

The image below, the five words (all of which I managed to include) and the quote provided inspiration from what turned out to be some sci-fi fun.

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It’s the first sci-fi I’ve written since Scrambled Eggs Never Make Sense on Tuesday which was entered into a competition, faired well with feedback in forums and is one I intend to develop when I release the inevitable vanity short-story collection.

This week’s story pays homage, and a few cheeky digs, to a much-loved galactic adventure. But I feel there’s a story of its own waiting to be found…

As ever, feel free to join by writing on you blog or and linking to the comments, either here or over on Mel’s site.

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Shards

Ma says there never used to be dust on the plains.

The valley between opposing boulders would brim with life. With people. She says the only dust kicked up would be when the starships launched. That still happens some nights. Ma says they do it now to keep us from getting a full sleep. Everyone says they don’t pack anything to trade – we have nothing to offer.

And it appears they have nothing to bring. Trade must be a two-way street. Since they stripped these lands of the natural resource, our technology became outdated. The need to keep us happy ceased. It could be said it went up in dust but that’d mean it’s hanging on; the dust lingers for hours. Before bed, I can spend a long time with Ma’s flannel rubbing sediments away. Pa says they’ll need to invent a seventeenth hour in the day just to accommodate my cleaning regime.

I remind him our species’ native planet already has more than seventeen hours, that I’m only running on my natural time. The joke in the galaxy is we’re lazy here. Instead of sticking to our natural body clocks, we’d rather snooze all day and night. Truth is: it’s made us restless. Somethings become impossible to change.

Physiology. Greed. Poverty.

I think they’re all kinda wrapped up in the same thing.

When I was a kid, I remember saying to Pa I wanted to be a starship pilot. These dusty canyons must affect imagination because I distinctly remember explaining at length why I’d prefer to be a transfer ship pilot. The reasoning was sound. It’d be easier to transition into commercial work after the conscripted Navy service. I never told him this part: I fancied the idea of being a space pirate on the side. Transferring dangerous cargo, bounty hunters, people on adventures.

That was the limit of the fantasy. The bare reality was a steady income.

I stopped looking to the sky when the ships came less and less. The packed ravines, full of pop-up stalls, dwindled. Sat on the rocks today, I can hear two buzzhawks cawing and the wind gusting between pillars of stone. Periodically Old Ewan pushes his cart. No one knows why he does this. Pa once said he has an unhealthy obsession with me – I defended Old Ewan, explaining he’s just keeping himself busy – but I have to admit, the last few days he’s been going past several times an hour.

Back when I was a child – and Old Ewan was N’Ewan, because he’d just pitched up and the locals thought it was a clever play on his name – there’s no way I’d be able to hear buzzhawks. Carriages would zoom by, horses would be filling with fuel before spluttering into the distance, and starships would cut into the pale orange sky before heading off to better lands.

The sound of a starship as it launches in the atmosphere cannot be understated. No matter how many times you hear it, it makes you twitch. It’s like the sky has been fractured. Once you hear such a loud noise, your ears are always on alert, craving another big bang.

When the bangs became infrequent, I dreamed less of shifting cargo. It’s a shame to say, but even as a kid I was pragmatic. I saw what realistic options were left. Mining for gas hydrates with Da, the only thing that’d keep us ticking over in the dust bowl. And then there was my side interest: revving a resource The Confederacy stripped away.

The Hepla Tribe has guarded tall shards for centuries. The Hepla are native to this planet but resemble us. Their skin is said to be darker but I’ve seen their hands beneath the robes they wear, they’re not much darker than Ma’s after a summer in the open plains. Their shards turn blue when charged. Charged with what, no one knows. The Hepla don’t have a word for the energy or a way to store it. They believe it attaches itself to worthy people for them to use.

Of course, The Confederacy believe it was best to vacuum contain the energy it offset and distribute it as they saw fit. The Hepla said the shards becoming blue was a sign the gods felt there was an imbalance, so they were releasing good into existence. From what I’ve heard, The Confederacy has turned those vacuum-packed silos into planet-destroying missiles. I hope no one has told the Hepla.

There’s a natural crossover in tech here. To keep gas hydrates usable, they need to be stored fast or the energy is lost. If I could find out how the shards charge, I can bag the special energy before The Confederacy pitch up again.

I think whatever power comes from those shards could make plants. Imagine a world full of crops and livestock. The only animals we keep here are to act as guard. We have a trisk. I’d sooner pepper what I leave in the toilet bowl than try one. They are ugly scrawny things with ears like flappy saddles and eyes that bulge as if they’re being squeezed. The protection they provide is an insane howl. When a trisk cries, no man alive can continue walking in its direction. We sleep with ear protection in case a trisk lets off its warning cry.

I call our trisk Liza. She’s the only female I chat to other than Ma. Girls my age are sparse in these parts. Most families moved further afield when the starships reduced their visits. There’s Jacqui, who lives a thirty-minute walk away. Until Da allows me to use the horse again (I broke it fiddling with its sequence chargers), there’s no chance of seeing her. Sometimes her voice is more annoying than Liza’s howl, but she smells nice and looks better. On reflection, a lot of what she says is true, but it’s the way she says it. Someone needs to tell The Confederacy their leader is trapped in the body of a nineteen-year-old girl who grows edible fungi in the Ouste region.

I’m also pretty certain she fancies me.

That’s another reason to fix my right arm. For days it’s been itching. I’ve checked Liza for fleas and signs of broken skin, she’s all clear. The forearm in particular is becoming red raw. Beneath the setting sun, the flakes of skin almost glow as I rub them away. Cosmic dandruff.

My nail gets stuck on the middle of the arm. Something like glass is protruding from it. I dig it out, like it’s a splinter of metal. My arm aches as if it’s been stabbed. An involuntary scream escapes as I touch the tiny pinprick opening it has left.

Liza whines and runs to my side.

‘What’s the matter?’ Ma shouts from the kitchen.

I’m temporarily blind with pain.

‘Check on him, Clark,’ Ma says to my father below.

‘You okay, Mik?’

He appears at the head of the ladder that takes you up from our kitchen to the top of the boulder.

‘My arm,’ I say through gritted teeth.

He walks over, shooing Liza away. She whines, this time out of annoyance.

Pa grips my arm, squeezing the pinprick as if taunting blood to come out. My blood is as scared of Pa as I am, it understandably stays inside the comforting walls of my arm.

‘Nothing but a scratch,’ he says. ‘You’re becoming quite the soft lad. Having no peers is weakening you.’

‘I can always beat you in a joust.’

‘Only because you cheat with your taser settings,’ he replies and smacks my arm.

I nearly faint with the fresh pain.

He cups my falling head and says, ‘Perhaps you’re just tired.’

Pa carries me to my quarters. I appreciate the effort required getting me down the ladder. He is a big man. He strolls around like some ancient bear from the tales of before. To him, I’m no bigger than Liza is to me.

He closes the door, leaving Liza to watch over me.

‘Come here, girl,’ I say.

She refuses with a scared whine.

‘What? It’s just me,’ I say.

She taps a front paw two times then does a smooth forward motion with it, like she’s sliding a letter across an imaginary table.

I dip my head below my bed. Liza covers her eyes.

Tiny blue prickles are sprouting from the floor. They hum more with colour the closer I get to them. It replaces the pain in my arm with warmth. There’s a sensation in my belly that’s warmer still. I’m overcome with contentedness.

The door to my quarters slides open.

Old Ewan stands there, his robe open, and even in my glow the idea he does have inappropriate intentions enters my mind.

Liza looks at him, she’s disinterested.

‘Mika, it’s time,’ Old Ewan says.

‘For what?’ I should feel more nervous but the glow removes all fear.

‘We need to leave Ouste before The Confederacy realise what you’ve done.’

‘I’ve done nothing.’

‘You have,’ he says. ‘And you’re worth more than all the shards in Hepla Qantaricia.’

‘What about Ma and Pa?’

‘They’ve left already.’

Charming. One night where I skip chores and the household ups and leaves. Liza has stepped to Old Ewan’s right ankle, a sign she’s waiting to be led. Even the trisk is willing to leave me. Remarkably, I’m taking this all rather well. Too well. The warm glow inside makes it feel okay. Nothing to worry about.

Before I make a final decision, I need to perform a little investigation and have a few more minutes with my arm near these blue prickles.

‘We need to go now,’ Old Ewan says. ‘Don’t worry, those blue thorns will follow.’

With that, their light disappears and I find myself getting out of bed.

I’ve never felt so good.

Old Ewan looks focused, nothing like the persona that pushed a cart around the ravine. Maybe I was never meant to be a space pirate, but I think I’ve just teamed up with one.

Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday

Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday

From the tagline: Live Die Repeat, and a sneak at the synopsis or a trailer, we know that Tom Cruise’s latest offering is a Groundhog Day with guns. We also see that, just like Oblivion before it, it is set in the world of science fiction. Tom Cruise is the last genuine Hollywood star, in the sense, he believes his name alone can bring box office success, rather than relying on a famous or established franchise. Yet, recent figures show is star, at least in North America, could be fading. Edge of Tomorrow attempts to repeat his former glories.

It is hard to distinguish Cruise’s modern set of films in traditional terms. The movie makers would argue that the global markets play a larger role than yesteryear. That not breaking even at home doesn’t matter when foreign totals smash the production budget. And it seems that outside of North America the Tom Cruise product is still very strong. What makes receipts over personal popularity incomparable across markets is the way different cultures absorb trends. Whether some parts of the world still adore Tom the same, or if they’re more likely to listen to positive reviews from critics, is hard to ascertain.

What we can determine is that Edge of Tomorrow promised an intriguing idea. Why it failed to garner more attention in America is a puzzle to me. Perhaps some were concerned after the lukewarm response to Oblivion (a film I quite liked). Once buckled into the film, after twenty minutes have passed, it’s clear the intriguing idea is being delivered into a top quality film.

It could have been so easy to fall into action film clichés, played it safe or worse still, played it lazy, but Edge of Tomorrow never does this. It feels authentic, like it’s aware and confident of the feel and direction it wishes to take. It harks back to action films from the 80s that set genre defining tones. Sure, it nods its head to things that have passed before; however, it only does this because sometimes those ingredients are required.

Also, make no mistake: it is packed with action scenes. Unlike most modern action flicks these aren’t there as filler. Like Aliens, a benchmark for all shoot-em-up films, the action belongs. It is never there for the sake of it until we get to the next scene with dialogue. Indeed, this story requires the repetition of action scenes, it’s what drives Cruise’s character, Major William Cage, along. The characters do develop, too. And unlike regular modern films in this genre, we are offered subtleties over spoon-fed emotions and progression. Discreet lines pass between Cruise and Emily Blunt’s female lead that never get the spelled-out, typical Hollywood, resolution. We just know it was there.

Blunt Cruise

Certain design aspects pay homage to what has gone before. The combat suit springs to mind. That particular piece of kit also could remind a person of video games, Halo isn’t a million miles away. It’s fitting that a video game gets a mention; they operate on characters “re-spawning” to rejoin the action, not unlike this movie. Also, the author admitted to using video games as an inspiration as he completed the story.

Don’t allow this comparison to fool you or degrade the vision of the movie, it’s not a simple run-through of a film. Okay, it’s not complex either; it just has that correct feel. It is solid storytelling combined with valid action, as opposed to over the top CGI and words that mean nothing.

While it is easy to criticise Tom Cruise for chasing a legacy as the leading superstar over deep, challenging roles (Born on the Fourth of July was way back in 1989, there were only a few roles with depth in the 90s, nothing since), if he seeks out this sort of popular film his talent isn’t totally wasted.

Could the ending be better? Perhaps? But one feels this film is all about the journey, not the destination. And thankfully for Tom, he’s waking up in a tomorrow where he still can command top billing whilst distancing himself from the slips of recent yesterdays.

Cruise Top Gun