Five minutes on this baking hot alien world, and I was already jumpy. “Look out!” I yelled at the site worker as the huge burbling cloud launched itself from the lake.
“It’s nothing”, Sophia said. “It happens all the time here.” She had the soothing tone of someone explaining fire to a scared child.
I was not reassured. The growling lump of dirt from the depths of the river had surged up in the merest of minutes. Its inner form crackled with barely contained energies while one of the site workers, a girl named Tali, wandered carelessly beneath its too-heavy to float form.
I physically stopped myself from yelling at her again, and said shakily. “What is it, then?”
Sophia was already walking away from the scene and I hurried to catch up with her as she spoke softly, “We think it’s leftover energy from the crashed spaceships. The Garrisons left a few broken AI’s wandering around and we think there’s one close by. It hasn’t done any damage with those balls of ash, though. Just roves them around for a while until it dissipates. It’s ruined some of the villager’s washing but that’s about it. We think it likes bright colours.”
“Oh.” I didn’t feel greatly reassured, “Aren’t you going to clear out the river bed?”
“The System’s Government has better things to spend money on. So tell me, Dr Brainyard, when are you going to track down this life source we’ve been warned about?”
“I…” I glanced over my shoulder. The revolving lump of ash was moving away from us, towards huts and the brightly coloured clothes that the villagers had set out to dry. I faced forward again, tripping slightly on a rock as I fell into step beside Sophia.
As she’d predicted, the cloud exploded over the bright colours, drenching them in ash. I felt bad for the villagers, no more than stick figures at this distance, coughing and spluttering in the dirt. Whatever that AI was up to, it had a petty nature. I knew how the villagers felt. One minute you’re perfectly happy that you’ve made great plans for the future and feel sure that everything is clean and someone comes and craps all over it.
Hence this mission and being stuck here on this planet while my little SNAFU at home gets straightened out. I’ve been sent out of sight, out of mind, to the ass-end of nowhere. Apparently I’m here to investigate the signs of life brought out by the recently crashed alien ship. I say sign because there’s definitely something living under this planet. Something big. But no one has the skills or technology here to do anything about it.
I walk along the stony path beside Sophia, and instead of wondering what I’ll find, I’m thinking what it would take to get her to share my tent.
As we approach the tunnel site, another great ball of ash hauls itself out of the water and wobbles in mid-air across to another cluster of huts and bright robes. If I were the villagers, I’d just give up. But humans aren’t usually that smart. Optimism is our race’s biggest flaw.
Well, that and curiosity. Sophia stops some metres from the edge of the tunnel, but I walk right up to it and take a great deep inhale. Interesting.
“What do you make of it?” She calls.
I think for a second. Best not to alarm them all just yet. Not yet. I reply, “Get some men to barricade this. We’re going to keep this under wraps.”
She runs off to the village before I respond. When she’s gone I hunker down onto my belly and sniff the air coming out of the tunnel. It’s a special kind of smell. One I’ve come across before.
Last time I sniffed something like this, everyone else died.
This is my entry in another flash fiction prompt challenge. I enjoy these as warmups for the brain, they provide a safe place to practice in. Who knows, there may even be a book or two lurking in these rapidly typed, quite carefully proofread words. Or, I’ll let your own imaginations work out what happens next. This time the prompt is from Quill Shiv’s wordpress site.
Quill Shiv’s entry is here
Just to clarify, the terms and conditions, and the original link to the prompt, are all below:
- The flash fiction prompts will go live each Sunday.
- They will be due each week on Thursday, beginning March 8, 2012.
- The prompts will vary week to week. Some will be photos, others a word, a phrase, a sentence (that you may incorporate or draw inspiration from,) a scenario, etc. We will shake it up!
- The pieces should fit within the definition of Flash Fiction: between 101 words and 1000. 1000 words is the UPPER limit. You do not at all have to strive for this limit.
- I will post my Flash Fiction piece under the heading Flash Fiction Faction.
- Leave a comment and link to your Flash piece in the comments section of my piece, not the prompt (though I will transfer as many of the erroneously posted ones as I catch.)
- Please, everyone, do your best to read and comment on everyone’s work. Leave your link wherever you go.
- Tweet! #FlashFictionFaction and others. Promote your work. You worked hard to create these pieces, they deserve to be read.
- And have a great time creating in whatever genre you choose.