Read-Only Beauty

Read-Only Beauty started as an assignment in a writing workshop on how to develop ideas for stories. I wrote a story opening inspired by three words chosen at random from a dictionary: read-only-memory, number cruncher, derelict.

The assignment was limited to 500 words, but I couldn’t bear to stop there! I turned in the required word count, but kept writing to finish a piece of flash fiction, included in its entirety below.

photo by MyheimuUzuri woke as from a nightmare, suddenly, horrifically, slamming down on the platform from on high, arching to sitting so fast it gave her whiplash. Her throat was too dry to loose the scream. She swallowed down bitter bile, blinking. It was too soon, too soon, and all wrong.

Someone whimpered. It was her. “Stop, stop it,” she whispered.

Her tongue felt stiff inside her mouth, and the light hurt her eyes, indirect, but gleaming from polished white panels. She swung her feet to the floor. Fine flakes of charred dust, like black sand, gritted between her bare soles and the white floor. She stared bewildered at the silvery gown draped over her bony knees, fluttering down to the brown skin of her slender ankles. She inhaled, painfully. What had burned to produce that acrid scent? And why? And where were . . . ?

There should be people around her, steadying her, here in the stasis room. Where were they?

She could remember the hood coming down, her sight dimming, the surgical unit approaching her head. But not here. It was in a hospice suite. And then nothing. What was she doing in this stasis chamber?

Abruptly, she stood. Ran out through the open doorway and along a curving hall. The black cinders scritched under her swift steps. Faint metallic taps sounded from her knees banging her gown, its fabric slightly stiff, slightly silken. The white panels of the walls blurred, but not with speed. Her memory didn’t hold them, couldn’t hold them.

Where am I? Where am I?

She stopped. Came to herself before an aquarium. Bright golden fishes swam behind the expanse of glass, so calm, so peaceful. The water filter hummed softly, bubbles murmuring as they ascended from its conch-shell housing. A vivid blue beta darted through the school of goldfish. Uzuri’s gaze fell to the white pebbles lining the tank’s bottom. A fine black ash speckled their pale smoothness.

Oh, god! Oh, god! That fine ash meant something dreadful. She knew it was so.

She ran again.

The grand foyer was still beautiful. Green, twining vines climbed the white support girders. The air smelled fresher. Mosaic murals showed scenes of far-off earth – the sun-drenched isle of Mykonos dreaming amidst ocean, its canopied market, its ruined temples. Uzuri waded in the foyer reflecting pool. The water was cool, chilling her calves. Flat coins pressed the balls of her feet. Coins and the grit of ashes. She fled, splashing down amidst the money, scrambling up, hair dripping and skin slick, her gown still strangely dry.

What had happened? Oh, what?

The Calaeno II was an outpost, so far from 16 Tauri that the blue-white primary burned as merely one star amidst many. Uzuri remembered arriving at the station, watching the revolving spokes within its wheel flash past the star field, wondering if she would see the spectral effects her hypothesis proposed for her observations of the Melotte 22 Open Cluster. She’d been excited, her first trip out from the mother planet, her first posting out of university. She remembered. She remembered that. But . . . what came after?

The hood came down. Her vision dimmed. The surgical unit approached. Oh, god!

She was standing in front of a wall monitor, gesturing with one hand: page down, page down, page down. The records flickered by.

Patient: Uzuri Beleza. Human female. Standard mods: joint enhancement, collagen longevity, memory capacity.

Flick.

Diagnosis: Memory circuit malfunction. Read-only, functional. Read-and-write, inoperative.

Flick.

A sprawling and obscure circuitry diagram.

Flick.

Treatment plan: Stasis, followed by surgical replacement when supply ship arrives with microcircuit #THC313.

Flick.

Treatment administered: Stasis initiated, 8*6*2787

Flick, flick.

File Accessed: 11*6*2791 user UBeleza
File Accessed: 11*7*2791 user UBeleza
File Accessed: 11*8*2791 user UBeleza
File Accessed: 11*9*2791 user UBeleza

She sank to her knees, cinders grinding between bone and floor tile, denting the skin, ashy gray with dryness and unattractive. She bent. Her tears fell, flushing her dry knees to rich brown with their wetness. Oh, god, oh, god! Please help me, please help.

The hood descended. Her eyes grew blind. The surgical unit approached.

She fled down corridors of unformed memory. What has happened? What’s wrong? Where am I?

She stood in the observation lounge. Gritty cinders rendered the plush matting uncomfortable, the chairs and divans, likewise. She reached out to touch the transparent wall before her, spread her fingers against the clear ceram-glass. The vast dark of night cloaked infinity, a well down which Calaeno II – and Uzuri – fell endlessly. The stars wheeled, a begemmed veil of blue and white and red sparks, unwinking save for the Crab pulsar, throbbing violet near the center of rotation. Beautiful. It was beautiful. But, oh! She needed more.

The hood came down. Her blindness commenced. The surgery began.

When had beauty proffered succor?

She was running, seeking someone, seeking help.

Another monitor confronted her gaze. With images out of nightmare. Was it this from which she’d woken?

Flick, flick.

There was fire without flames. Incandescent. A sea of plasma. How was it that the water never boiled, the leaves of the grape ivy did not char?

The fire glowed, then ebbed. And there were ashes, everywhere ashes, falling through the air, falling to lie on the water and sink, falling to coat the floors. “My people, oh, my people,” she whispered. They were ash, only ash, and would never live again.

The hood. The blindness. The approach.

How much time passed between that moment of read-only memory and the next? It was blank, and blank again.

She stood watching stars. The pulsar winked within night’s robe. A streak of silver rent its breast. And her eyes were dry, so dry. She was scared.

* * *

For more flash fiction, see:
Mother’s Gift
The Old Armory: Blood Falchion
The Old Armory: Hunting Wild

 

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Mother’s Gift

Henri-François Riesener - Mother and Her Daughter - WGA19477

With Mother’s Day approaching, this piece of flash fiction seems appropriate.

* * *

Mother: Kaitlin?

Mother: Kaitlin?

Daughter: I don’t want to talk about it. Genevieve!

Mother: Mm. I think it’s good to go over these things as you get older, sweetie.

Daughter: Look. I already know that the sperm comes from the man. And the egg from the woman. And together they make a baby. I get it.

Mother: I know you know the facts, honey.

Mother: Maybe now isn’t a good time. But, really, there’s never a good time, is there? We’re home. Dinner’s over. We’re private in your bedroom. Let’s talk!

Daughter: Oh, god! You never give up!

Mother: Language, Kaitlin.

Daughter: Genevieve.

Mother: I don’t mind, if you need to leave “Mom” behind for a while.

Daughter: Yeah, well. I hope you consider years a while.

Mother: Kaitlin, what’s wrong?

Mother: Oh, sweetie! I’m so sorry!

Daughter: Chloe says you aren’t my mom! Not really. That Elena Johnson’s my real mom. Except she isn’t! She doesn’t even know me!

Mother: Sh. Sh. It’s okay. I promise it’s okay.

Daughter: It isn’t okay! How is it okay? How can it possibly be okay?

Daughter: I’m not okay.

Mother: What did you tell Chloe?

Daughter: That you chose to have a baby. Not Elena. That you chose Elena. You and Daddy. That you chose, so you’re my mom.

Mother: But Chloe doesn’t see it that way?

Daughter: She says the egg was Elena’s egg. Not yours. So Elena’s my mom.

Daughter: But she isn’t! She isn’t! I won’t have her!

Mother: Sh. Sh. It’s okay. It’s okay.

Daughter: You keep saying that.

Mother: What do you think, Kaitlin? Is Chloe right?

Daughter: I hate her!

Mother: Oh, honey. Your best friend?

Daughter: Yeah, okay.

Mother: So?

Daughter: I know why she said that.

Mother: Really? Can you tell me? Or is it a secret?

Daughter: I don’t care if it’s a secret, blast her!

Daughter: You won’t tell anyone, will you?

Mother: No. I won’t.

Daughter: She just found out. That she’s a sperm bank baby. Or, as she says, that her dad’s not her dad.

Mother: Ouch.

Daughter: Yeah. Her mom and dad decided to keep it a secret. Some secret.

Mother: So, is Chloe right?

Daughter: No. No, she isn’t right. Mom.

Mother: I love you, sweetie.

Daughter: Mom?

Mother: Yes?

Daughter: I’m so glad you told me before I even knew what it meant. That I’ve always known. Thank you.

* * *

For more flash fiction, see:
Read-Only Beauty
The Old Armory: Blood Falchion
The Old Armory: Hunting Wild

* * *

I wrote “Mother’s Gift” for a writers’ workshop. The assignment possessed stringent guidelines!

• a parent and a child are talking about “the facts of life”
• my job: tell a story using their dialog
• no dialog tags, no “stage business,” and no setting allowed – only the words spoken
• the reader should learn the characters’ names through their dialog
• the reader must be able to discern who is the parent, who is the child, and the age (roughly) of the child
• no more than 2 pages

In the original assignment, the characters received merely the labels “A” and “B.” That seemed too austere for a blog post, so I adjusted accordingly.

My writing teachers spoke highly of my work. And it pleases me that I managed to layer two supporting stories in with the main narrative. Three stories in one!

I hope you enjoyed it. 😀

 

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The Thricely Odd Troll

Alcea was the Exemplar elected from the canton of Ennecy, and she was a troll. But she was an odd troll. She did not contract her disease reaching greedily for power – the conventional route of an incantatrice. Nor did she sicken in heroic sacrifice to save an endangered child or a dying lover – the well-worn trope for many a ballad. No, nothing so dramatic or poetic as that. Alcea became a troll, because her radices were more weakly anchored than those of most folk. During an ordinary lesson under the auspices of her antiphonic mentor, the energetic strands securing her root radix snapped.

Her teacher was horrified, but there was no mending what was broken. The only question was: with just one radix drifting and the remaining twenty still firm, would she actually contract troll-disease?

She did; the straying root radix, massive in its slow momentum, inexorably dragged first the belly radix off course, and then the plexial radix, until all were awry. Many experts made pilgrimage to Ennecy to study her case, so unusual was it. But the more unusual thing about Alcea, really odd from a historical point of view, was that she was not the only troll in the Chamber of Exemplars. In fact, nearly every Exemplar was a troll.

The minutes recorded from the Chamber sessions paint a very strange picture of that governing body. Yelled taunts and defiance, obscene gesticulation, actual gibbering, and impassioned ranting were commonplace. In a particularly heated debate, one Exemplar went so far as to strangle his opponent. The minutes depose that the mortuary binders were summoned to take charge of the corpse!

Today, in these times of capital punishment for any use of incantatio, we can hardly imagine how such a situation could be permitted, but in truth the Exemplars of the Scaffold Era went wrong in their interpretation of their own early history. The plague that afflicted the Emperadrina Ravessa’s people was conflated with troll-disease. The understanding that Godon’s dawn and dusk postures cured antiphoners of plague was held as evidence that such contortions, performed regularly, might also hold troll-disease at bay. (Of course, they did nothing of the sort.)

Since all Exemplars then were antiphoners, temptation was great. One pioneer used the taboo incantatio to purify an unclean well in one of her constituent villages. Another built a bridge to replace a perilous ford. Others resorted to beguiling incantatio on the populace merely to secure election. Once the rot set in, it set in thoroughly. By Alcea’s time, mere antiphoners were rare; troll-mages were the rule; and helpful law-making from the Chamber of Exemplars, scarce. Godon’s postures did not retard troll-disease as was claimed, nor prevent it as was initially announced.

Now, it might be thought that Alcea was in good company – one troll among many – but her correspondence (all preserved by an industrious niece, the renowned Letitia of the Opal Sceptre) shows that this was not so. Alcea spoke against Tiberio’s Heresy, as she called it, at every chance offered, both in the Chamber itself and outside of it. Unlike the rest of her cohort, she practiced no incantatio, her disease progressed slowly, and she retained her sanity. She did not blame her colleagues for their poor choices, attributing their unwisdom to ignorance and calling for a return to Godon’s orthodoxy.

“Let us, doizennes and damesses, begin again the practice taught by our founder in all its purity. Godon propagated the dawn and dusk sequences, not because they banished plague, but because they induced harmony in the soul.”

Over years, Alcea’s advice grew popular. No doubt her own participation in the disease of trollism, if not in its prologue of power, forestalled conclusion that she stood in judgment over the troll mob. Antiphoners and non-antiphoners alike came to regard her as a wise old grandmother and took heed of her words. Fewer practitioners chose to cross over the line between safe energea and dangerous incantatio, and fewer constituents chose to elect trolls to the Chamber. Before Alcea breathed her last, Tiberio’s Heresy was abandoned, and the Chamber filled entirely by Exemplars of Godon’s Orthodoxy.

Alcea’s political reign has an odd codicil. Dying at last of troll-disease, the old woman left this earth literally, as well as figuratively. She lay upon a bier in the open air, desiring to witness the setting of the sun one last time. As the flaming daystar touched the horizon, fierce winged horses flew out from the streaming light, took Alcea upon their backs, and bore her away into the sky.

The orthodox example of the governing Chamber of Exemplars spread throughout the land, and Giralliya became a realm largely free of trolls among her citizenry. The Chamber itself accepted fewer and fewer antiphoners until it became wholly the province of legislators without any energea or magic whatsoever at their behest.

* * *

More stories of old Giralliya:
Legend of the Beggar’s Son
Ravessa’s Ride
The Old Armory: Blood Falchion

 

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