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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Fox in the Hen Coop

I must apologize for the lack of a new post here last week. I was sick. So sick, that even posting to say I was sick seemed beyond me. I’m on the mend now, but still not well enough to write the post I had in mind. Maybe next week! In the meantime, here’s a story opening, one of the bunch I listed under the popcorn kittens post. 😀

Stars by Brandon Davis

Mary cursed. Then cursed because she cursed. Cursing was symptomatic of the whole problem. She shouldn’t be able to do it, but Farmer Braun had replaced two corroded cybernetic chips in her temporal lobe last week with cheap black market knock-offs. New shades of meaning, along with new vocabulary, were the result.

She decided against a third round of blue – this was too serious for venting – and engaged the spooler again, heard its anti-grav whirr uselessly, followed by an ominous ka-chunk. Damn! That spooler needed to go out. The repulsion fence had to be deployed. The chickens must emerge to scratch.

Mary was only one of a thousand mobile avian robotic eyries – model MRY97 – in this meadow, the dirty system of Eridani78. But even one gap in the orbital shield would be too much. The Eridani primary generated plutonium and uranium nano particles in quantities immense enough to read as geysers of debris from far-off ancient Earth. A leak through Mary’s field . . . would poison an entire continent on the planet spinning lazily below. Her chickens must scratch.

She engaged the photoreceptor inside the housing that formed her body. The chickens – TCHQN49’s – clamped onto their roosting bars, indicators all go: internal checks performed, cleansing cycle complete, repair cycle complete. Mary permitted herself some sarcasm on that repair. No thanks to Braun. Why couldn’t the astro-shepherd keep the supply bays in Mary’s dorsal spokes stocked?

She threaded her photoreceptor through to the spooler’s hutch. And cursed again, unnoticing of herself this time. Black carbon soot mottled the spooler’s ceramic carapace, concentrated around the ejection module. Mary unfurled her molecular probe to analyze the vacuum. Yep. Bitter scent of burnt copper. Sweet taste of almonds. Damn, damn, damn! She’d noticed the older repulsor beads growing ragged and scratched. One of them – she launched her internal palp – was fouling the ejector mechanism. The carbon scorching felt gritty under her palp, the jammed bead, sharp where its hull was delaminating.

Damn! This was the rat that ate the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built. Except her rats, the TCHQN’s, wouldn’t eat. And her cheeses – the plutonium nanos – were deadly.

* * *

For more science fiction samples, see:
Dragon’s Tooth
Dream Trap

For a fantasy sample, see:
Fate’s Door

 

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Dream Trap

Fourth in my series of story openings. Inspired by a nightmare. Beware!

Hot! by Martin Cathrae

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

She shivered even though she wasn’t cold, feeling a frisson of horror move though her.

The street lights glowed dimly, obscured by a faint mist in the growing dusk. She looked right, looked left. No traffic, even here at a corner. Just the same patched asphalt lined by low anonymous brick buildings and deserted.

She shivered again and stepped from the curb. Why didn’t her footsteps sound as they should, hurried slaps of shoe leather on paving? The world seemed strangely muted.

She reached the opposite curb, stepped up on the buckled surface of a sidewalk in poor repair. Should she turn? Try another route? These soulless streets chilled her.

A drift of muffled laughter snatched her attention. There! Up ahead.

She broke into a run, leaving the humped sidewalk for the more level roadway. A warmer glow of light flickered in an abandoned lot. Firelight? Here?

And where was here? She didn’t know. Only that it was unfriendly, empty, and nowhere known to her. I’m lost.

Five men huddled around the rusted steel barrel, ragged coats unbuttoned, mugs of – coffee? yes, coffee – wrapped in their knobby hands. She couldn’t smell the rich aroma of the brew. Wished she could taste it, real and hot. How did she know it wasn’t liquor? It should be liquor. These were homeless men, warming themselves around trash burning in a barrel.

She approached them, tripping over a half-buried fragment of tire tread, feeling the scritch of brittle grass against her ankles. Why did her body feel so lethargic? Why was she cool, as though blown by the breeze of a ceiling fan, but not cold? It was winter.

She tried to speak, “Please. Please help me,” but nothing came out. The men didn’t see her. They gestured to one another, laughing again at a joke, their pinched faces illuminated by humor and snapping flames.

Please. See me. Let me in.

She was running again, unnoticed by the men, running from their unconscious rebuff.

* * *

For more science fiction samples, see:
Dragon’s Tooth
Fox in the Hen Coop

For a fantasy sample, see:
Witch’s Sweet

 

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Dragon’s Tooth

This is the second post in a series of story openings. I’m hoping to get my readers’ views on what they’d like to see me write next!

photo of night sky

Her hand hurt. And her wrist. In fact, her whole right arm and shoulder hurt, stretched out to the side like that and angled up. Pulled by some steady and unyielding force. She struggled to raise her gluey eyelids, but couldn’t quite manage it. She was floating, towed by her arm.

The hush of air moving in close confines sounded in her ears. The slight funk of unbathed human made her wrinkle her nose. She swallowed, wishing for water to wash away the sour taste in her mouth.

Where am I?

She tugged against the pull on her arm. It was so uncomfortable, her hand turned like that with its back leading, and something rigid guiding her fingers into an awkward array, digging into the flesh.

What is this?

This time her eyes made it open.

Oh!

The begemmed scarf of a thousand stars spread across the dark of deep space, gleaming in soft reflections on the ceram-glass of her faceplate.

“This is why I . . .”

Why I what? She couldn’t remember.

She looked back past her trailing hand. Darker there, fewer stars. No shuttle. No station. No . . . planet.

Over that shoulder and to her back? Endless space.

Somehow she didn’t want to look ahead. Didn’t want to see what drew her on so inexorably. She struggled again against her trapped arm.

And looked.

Oh, gods! What was that?

A whirl of faintly sparkling dust? A current of shadows? The maw of a star dragon? She hardly knew, but it was power. And danger. And death.

She began to fight in earnest, throwing herself against the alien brace that wrapped her gloved right hand, working to slip her fingers and palm out of the metal’s embrace.

* * *

For more science fiction samples, see:
Fox in the Hen Coop
Last Tide

For a fantasy sample, see:
Legend of the Beggar’s Son

 

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