It’s the last round of the Flash Fiction Challenge, and it’s down to Natania Barron vs. Minerva Zimmerman.
We did something a little different this time: I took one idea and split it into its component parts. Minerva will be writing about “All that glitters…” while Natania writes the flipside, the “…is not gold.”
It’s really fun to see what they came up with, and both stories are fantastic.
Rules: vote for your favorite author, who will be crowned champion on Friday. After that, we’ll be collecting all of the flash fiction into an ebook, and all sales from that will go to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.
May the best story win!
All That Glitters…
Audio: All That Glitters
Today my father died. Today my brother became King. I am a princess no more.
My tears have been shed, and now I take my place as Queen Above. I have dreamed of this day, of sitting at my brother’s right hand and ruling Atlantis together. But now my brother’s eyes are sad.
“You must leave,” he says, touching my cheek.
“But why, Brother?” I cling to his outstretched arm with tentacle legs.
He pulls me close, curls his tail around me, and points up toward the ghostly glittering surface that shimmers like jellyfish dances. “Everything the sun touches must be yours to command tribute.”
“I don’t understand,” I sob.
“Overlanders sail their ships and dip their nets to take treasures from the depths. They squat at the shore’s edge and collect wealth within reach.”
“It has always been so.”
“And we have always taken payment by force. I can trust no one else to do this. The very kingdom of the Sea depends on your duty. The power I wield pales in comparison.”
“Together,” I whisper. “We can rule together. As we’ve always dreamed.”
He smooths back my jet-black tresses and kisses my forehead. “We shall rule together. I as King of the Depths, and you as Queen Above, to keep all safe beneath the waves and the ocean’s wealth intact.”
“And we shall. Side by side.” I wrap a tentacle over his hand on the trident.
He shakes his head. “I wish it could be so… but the powers of Above lay elsewhere. Forgive me, Sweet Sula.” He waves the trident and banishes me from Atlantis’ walls.
Everything flashes white. I awake standing waist-deep on the shore wearing human legs beneath a tendril skirt. My skin feels hot beneath the sun. All around I hear the babble of human voices, smell a fetid mockery of the sea’s sweetness.
I stand unnoticed, watching in horror as boat after boat arrives, with their catches of silver treasure looking dull in the sunlight. Never again will these fish glimmer in the depths of the kingdom. Their value leeches under the sun’s cruel light.
I walk out of the ocean and up the beach. Nets lay in heaps along the dock, stinking of death. I watch as great carts of fish roll inland, each piled with more than a killer whale could eat in a day. Seawater leaks from my eyes as I walk past baskets of shellfish and smell the bodies of my kin cooking over human fires.
Finally I understand — there can be no wealth for my people if the humans are allowed to take and take.
I raise my hand and the ocean comes up with it, rising higher and higher, glittering like jewels in the sunlight. People scream. They try to run.
The wave crashes down, smashing boats and piers, sucking people and payment out beyond the surf.
There must be balance between Above and Below. What goes above must be repaid below. My brother gives, and I take away.
…Is Not Gold
According to legend, of the seventeen litters of silver foxes conceived and born on Mars with the RSB (Russian Satellite Biolab), only one remained after a year. N-342, N-345, and N-346, were the only pups to reach adulthood, and N-345 the sole survivor after three Martian years. The story was lauded internationally. Aand when the entire program was defunded due to the Collapse, N-345 came to me.
I am a Scrapper. Walking mounds of space junk is my job, picking out what’s salvageable, profitable. At least, it’s my job since Ray accidentally impaled himself on some equipment after the first Russian delivery came.
We use heavy machinery to pull out the bits and pieces that we can either sell to the US government (really, they almost never buy anything other than information, but boy do they love having the chance to run their tests and scans and make sure everything’s copacetic).
I get Junk-East. It’s roughly ten square miles and the smallest section of the entire Scrap. I thought they gave it to me because I’m a girl, and they were being nice. But that’s not the case. Really it’s because it’s full of tons of small things. Hard to reach spots. Most of the time Bet and her mechanical arm are really useless, and it’s up to me to slip down into the darkness and scan by hand. Old-school. But it’s okay. I find more hobby-related things that way. Plants. Animals. No one cares about biology anymore, since there’s so little left.
N-345—Truty—bit my ankle. I thought she had to be a rat, so I turned to blast her brains out. But I stopped when I saw her face. Narrow. Intelligent. She wasn’t biting my ankle to hurt me. She was preventing me from falling. I had been so busy scanning for uranium—and getting such a strong signal—that I’d wandered to the very edge of the Junk-East barrier. I’d have careened down a chute full of rusty metal and the detritus of the space civilizations that came before me. Sliced to ribbons in such a way that not even Dr. Stephens could put me back together again. Killed like Ray.
The average career of a Scrapper is around three years. For obvious reasons. I don’t give much of a crap about radiation. I’m not going to be around long enough to worry about it. But no one wants to be grated to death by rusty teeth and wires.
Once I was safe, Truty skittered away. I tried to scan for her signal, but I didn’t get the signature in time. My scanner’s capable of a lot of sophisticated shit, but finding the match for a Martian-grown silver fox isn’t something I can program on the fly. I gave up for a while and went home.
My lab is built into the wall between Junk-East and Junk-Accident (it used to be called West, then Occident, then… well, you get it. J-A is a shithole, and even though Cal does a great job ruling it with his fat iron fists, it’s the most precarious part of the Scrap). I sleep with as many lights on as possible, mostly hooked up to the crappy ass generators I’ve build over the last few months, to keep away the cockroaches. Before the Collapse, cockroaches used to be little things. Small enough to fit in your hand. But now they compete with the rats for food, and they’re almost impossible to trap and shoot. So lights work.
Truty found me, though. And my lights. And my scanning equipment. I woke up with her on my chest, eyes glittering. She was healthy, fat from all the rats. But her heart rate was elevated. Her breathing irregular.
But she carried something. Deep in the blackness of her irises.
She gave it to me, that night. Truty keened into the darkness, toward where the moon used to be. And I could see what she was missing, feel it deep in my bones. A change that no scanner could detect. Stars upon stars, planets upon planets. The song of deep space. The song of longing. Knowledge. Nothingness. Nothing scientific to read into it. It was pure and raw and lonely. It was a sound I had waited my whole life to hear.
Truty’s song shook the Scrap, but it didn’t destroy it. But I like to think it was the pebble that started the avalanche.