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Archive for the ‘PANEL 350’ Category

Welcome back to Panel 350, our experiment in flash fiction. Each story is 350 words (this one’s 347!)

Last time Jim was home, CharKay was a little morose. This time she was full-on mad.

She held a gray hair between her thumb and forefinger. “When we met, I was two years younger than you. Now, I don’t know.”

“You hit me with this right when I get in?” Jim asked, trying to calm the situation. “I’ve been in the vacuum all week.”

“It was a week for you,” she said. Jim was a long-haul trucker, working the run between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Thanks to relativity, a weeklong hitch to AC at .7 c was a week for him – but it was three months for her back on Earth.

 “I really need to know where this is going,” she said. “I might want kids someday.”

They’d been dating nearly three years (Earth time), and this was the first he’d heard of kids. He froze for a moment, searching his options.

“Look, I’m just … frustrated,” she said. “You’re out running through space, I’m stuck behind a counter …”

“Trust me, it’s no picnic out there,” he said. “You could go on the run with me …”

“Pretty sure the Circle K won’t let me go for three months.”

“Let me at least put my grip down,” he said. He put an arm around her. She shook him off, then leaned against him with her arms folded. She was listening.

“Look, it’s only temporary,” he continued. “I get paid for the full year, even though to me I’m only working five weeks. I’m socking away tons of money. I’m just going to do this for another year or so, then it’s back to dry land.”

“You’re sure?”

He kissed her. They made up.

He spent his next run thinking about losing her. On AC, he bought a big ruby (they’re plentiful there) and planned a whole romantic thing for when he got home.

But by the time he got home, she’d been thinking about it for three months, and she’d long since made up her mind. She’d left him a breakup note and blocked him on facebook.

 (This story was partially inspired by The Forever War, a book about a soldier who spends three years in the space army over the course of 1,200 years.)

Hi All,
Another installment of 350 Fridays is here, if a little late. 😉 
I thought about making something larger with this snippet, but I like it just the way it is.

People Disappear

Can’t miss the title, can you? It’s large, slanted. It says, look at me. I’m italicized, so this must be important. In a way, I guess it is, because it’s true.

            People disappear. Some, because they want to. They got things to hide; they’re fed up with life, their families, their friends, their job – hell, maybe they’re mad about what they chose to wear to work that morning. There are thousands of excuses why someone might want to disappear. They have their reasons, and damned if they don’t believe in them whole-heartedly. Good for them. They’re cowards. 

            Then, there are people who truly disappear. And not by choice. They’re here one day, laughing maybe, smiling, hanging out at the mall, jogging in the park – maybe they’ve run down to the grocery store for a gallon of milk – and then, they just don’t come back. There are thousands of reasons why someone wouldn’t want to disappear, and damned if they don’t believe in them whole-heartedly. 

            That doesn’t stop them from disappearing. As it didn’t stop Missy Reece from vanishing right off the face of the planet.

  • High school senior – applied to four colleges. Was accepted to three.
  • Has a boyfriend; kid’s clean, though he has a large nose.
  • Teachers all said she was a decent student, asked questions. Turned in her homework.
  • Was not a cheerleader. Good for her. She had sense. (that’s my opinion, anyway)

             I flipped my notebook closed. Sighed. My shoulders slumped, my feet hurt, and that twinge in my lower spine made me miss the lumbar support of my desk chair. The doc warned me not to slouch. I either needed better posture or a better job.

              The first option I could work on, the second… no. I had something important to do, and it didn’t involve italics. 

Welcome back to 350 Fridays, Panel’s experiment into flash fiction. Each story is 350 words or less. It’s a chance to stretch our writing muscles … without asking you to stretch your reading muscles too much.

On the Frontier

Back on Earth, a woman labored in a bed, with a nice sheet over her. Autocontractors did the work, which the neuroblockers took care of the pain. When the time was right, a nurse-practitioner came in and helped the child slide right out.

But here on the frontier, a woman had to push. She labored on her hands and knees, an ancient pose from the first days in the grasslands, letting the station’s artificial gravity pull the baby out naturally. She moaned the low cry of antiquity. It had been a long labor, but with a final push and a spurt of blood, managed to wrench the baby free.

The woman looked on anxiously as they cleaned the baby up. “Can I see him?” she asked.

The doula bit her lip. Attachment at this stage, before the tests came back, was dangerous. There was no denying the pleading in the woman’s eyes, so she laid the mewling bundle on the woman’s chest. Half-blind, the infant pushed feebly toward warmth, instinctively following the smell of sweat and milk.

The multi-test chimed softly. The ultrasound had indicated irregularities, but the DNA test confirmed it. They couldn’t keep the child.

The doula took a long breath, then moved to take the infant. “It’s better this way,” she told the woman. “It’s better to be quick.”

The woman stifled a cry, turned her head to the pillow. But she did not resist.

The doula took the infant, wrapped in a blanket, out into the corridor. Outside was the station commander — the only one qualified to make the decision. Another nurse held a syringe of sedative. A slight prick, and the infant fell into a deep slumber.

The doula watched as the took the child to the airlock, fed it through. The airlock cycled, pushing through the gel layer that protected the station, out into the vacuum. Lungs that had barely tasted air shut down instinctively. One convulsion, and it was done.

Back on Earth, the practice of exposure had died out thousands of years ago. It was considered barbaric — but back on Earth, they had special schools, genetic therapy — and even the air was free. They had no such luxuries on the frontier.

Water vapor drifted off the tiny corpse, then — a glimmer of light, like if you squeezed your eyes together tightly, then opened them quickly. The light grew stronger, then danced around the floating corpse.

All life comes from the sun, and when a spirit departs the body in a vacuum, it becomes super-charged. The tiny spirit would play on the edges of the station for a while — years, maybe — then depart to wherever it was going.

On the frontier, sometimes that’s the happiest ending you can get.

Panel 350 is our foray into flash fiction — a new story every week, each 350 words or less. This week’s Panel 350 is written by yours truly, and was my entry into the New Scientist Flash Fiction contest for 2010. Enjoy!

Be Not Proud

Javier Sharif opened his eyes, straining against the sterile light.

A bank of Vitality-monitors greeted him. The sparse room, decorated with all the flair of a surgical ward, had been his residence at the Meadowbrook Life Extension Hospice for the past two years.

Ever since his 137th birthday.

Ever since they had tracked him down at his campsite by the Caspian Sea.

“When my time is near, don’t come looking for me if I just disappear one day,” he had instructed his family. They, in turn, had dismissed this as another of his eccentricities. Why wouldn’t he want the best care offered by modern medicine?

But Mina understood. She was the only one of his children who ever did.

“Hi dad, I brought you something.”

Mina’s voice was a pleasant surprise. The smile upon his brittle lips welcomed her, even as his voice failed him in the task.

She was holding a large, heavy, leather-bound tome. “It’s a collection of all your favorites. I hired an artisan in Sumatra to make it just for you,” Mina beamed. He had always preferred the archaic elegance of the printed word over the barren glow of a Vid-Screen.

Summoning a Helper-Bot, Mina instructed it to hold the book for reading. “Enjoy,” she said, kissing him on the forehead before turning to leave. “I love you.”

He read the entirety of the book, his bio-silica lenses never tiring, having long replaced the real ones he had lost to cataract. And on the last page, as he read the closing lines of his favorite poem, he smiled again.

“…One short sleep past, we wake eternally…”

The Helper-Bots possessed only the most basic AI, lacking the redundant patient safety algorithms of Med-Bots. He instructed his to lay the book upon his chest before dismissing it.

As the weight of the tome bore down on him, he felt his lungs gasp for air. But there was no panic, no regret. Instead, he was overcome with a feeling of warmth, of bliss, of finality.

Javier Sharif shut his eyes, welcoming the peaceful darkness.

My fellow PANELista writers and I entered our 350-word stories into this year’s New Scientist flash fiction contest, and the winner and runner ups have now been posted, as selected by none other than Neil Gaiman. Unfortunately, it seems we all misinterpreted the theme for this year’s contest, so none of our short stories made the short list. Their entry pages said “Send us your very short stories about futures that never were.” But apparently what that really meant was “we asked for very short stories about worlds in which scientific theories we’ve long since dismissed turned out to be true after all,” as they noted on their site after the fact, when the winners were announced.

Oh well, it’s just like being in school again. You not only have to know the material you’re being tested on, you also have to read the test questions properly. Or maybe our stories just weren’t good enough, I suppose.

Anyway, the winning story “Atomic Dreams” and the two runners up, “Gaius Secundus ER” and “Starfall” can be read here. Interesting to note that this year’s winner and last year’s winner “Body Search” (as picked by science fiction writer Stephen Baxter) share something in common, in that they’re not told in the traditional way, but rather as a collection of headlines and search result topics, respectively.

Oh, and don’t forget that every Friday, we’re featuring our our flash fiction here on the blog. You can read the previous posts by selecting the PANEL 350 category on the right.

Panel 350 is our foray into flash fiction — a new story every week, each 350 words or less. This week’s Panel 350 comes courtesy of Unsinkable Sean McGurr, who asks the musical question: When Is The Future?

“Ow!”

The tetanus shot didn’t hurt as much as the piece of rusted metal that scraped Joe on the worksite, but it still smarted. He had been in a rush
to finish his inspection so he could get home to his wife. Now, he was
going to be even later.

“First shot?” asked the doctor.

“Yeah. I thought all these diseases had been wiped out.”

“Tetanus lives in soil, so we can’t totally be rid of it, unlike malaria, polio, or measles.” The doctor disposed of the syringe.

“You’re done here. Make an appointment with the nurse on your way out for your 150-year check-up. Set aside a couple of hours for your longevity treatment.”

Two hours. When are they going to speed that up?, Joe thought.

Joe left the doctor’s Manhattan office and set his car’s navigation system
to his apartment in Chongqing. A set of wings unfolded from the body of
his car, and the four-hour journey started. He wondered how the advances in teleportation were coming. He dreaded the long journey home.

He took advantage of the ride home to surf the net. Even though his
implants had more computing power than the first excursion to Alpha
Centauri, he cursed how slow the data entered through his mind-link. The instantaneous info-dumps that the major data providers had been
promising for years still weren’t here yet. Plus, the newest search
engine accessed so much data, his filters had a hard time indexing the
relevant information.

If only I didn’t have to work 18 hours a week, I might have time to reprogram those filters.

When he finally made it home, his wife was making dinner. “Hi Zahara. How was your day?”

“Good.” Her four orange eyes sparkled. “Yours?”

I’m so lucky to have Zahara. I always thought I’d find a soul mate. I just never imagined she’d be from another planet.

As she wrapped her furry arms around him, she bumped his shoulder.

“Ow,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

He rubbed where he got the shot. “Just wondering when the future will get here.”

Welcome back to 350 Fridays, Panel’s experiment into flash fiction. Each story is 350 words or less. It’s a chance to stretch our writing muscles … without asking you to stretch your reading muscles too much.

I never found a job after college, so I spend all day playing first-person shooters. Then all night I do the real thing.

They gather on the street in front of the house, muttering to each other. Ours is one of the few houses that hasn’t been stripped, and Dad makes me keep the grass neat. There are four of them. At some unspoken signal, they come, loping unevenly across the lawn.

I trigger the claymores as the last two pass Mom’s garden, taking them to an overdue grave. Another one tries to sneak around the lawn, but he doesn’t reckon on night vision. The rifle cracks on my shoulder.

The leader makes it almost to the house when I put a slug in his chest. I put the shot high and left – the street value of artificial hearts is high – then another one carefully in his leg – ditto artificial hips.

The street camera shows all-clear, so I walk out to say hi, rifle in a low cradle. The pain blockers keep him from writhing, so he’s doing that weird half-crawl. The skin on his face is tight and unblemished, but it hangs oddly – medical science can’t get the hypodermis to stay on right.

“Where do you work?” I ask him.

“Please, I just need some money for the drug,” he pleads. ProLongil effectively stops aging, but it’s pricey, so they all turn to theft. Instead of paying for it, the government expanding the home defense rights. “I can feel my telomeres unraveling.”

“Where do you work?” These Baby Boomers left my generation $20 trillion in debt, and they’re still sitting in all of the good jobs.

“I’m a museum curator.”

He turns his head as I lower the gun. His hair’s thick and unnaturally black up front, but as he turns away I can see the strip at the nape of his neck where they took the hair transplants. I send another member of Me Generation to the Big Chill.

And now, finally, I may be able to put my Art History degree to use.

–Tony Goins

Next up (I believe) is Unsinkable Sean McGurr.

Hi, and welcome to 350 Fridays. Each week, on Friday, you’ll find a new story of 350 words or less.  Each one will be written by a different Panel member.  This is our experiment into ‘flash fiction’, a chance to test our prose capabilities.

We hope you enjoy reading them, as much as we did writing them.

So, without further ado, I present ‘Butterfly in a Jar.’         

Butterfly in a Jar – by KT

“I don’t understand. Why visit 2010, when we have millions of years to choose from?” Locklier grumbled. “And why bring a butterfly in a jar?”

            Dr. Lane ignored his assistant’s sourpuss mood. The man’s attitude exemplified the finest example of classical mechanics. It was constant.

            “Chaos theory! Behold!” Lane exclaimed, holding up his jar. The Viceroy inside fluttered frantically against the glass. “I posit, like Edward Lorenz, that this tiny specimen has the potential to rewrite decades of time.”

            Ignoring him, his assistant shifted to the sidewalk’s edge to avoid a horde of young skateboarders flying by. Lane scowled. Stabbed a finger down the street. “Exhibit A: the young lady at the flower shop.” He swung around to point in the opposite direction. “Exhibit B: that young man on a bicycle pedaling our way.”

            Locklier finally humored him. “The Butterfly Effect? But what is their significance?”

            Dr. Lane grinned. “With only a Viceroy, we will prevent their meeting. In doing so, they will never wed, never birth one child.”

            He took two steps to the right, licked his finger to test the wind’s direction, and then unscrewed the lid. The Viceroy fluttered from the jar. Following the breeze, it flew languidly down the sidewalk. As the bicyclist approached, Lane pulled Locklier aside. The young man pedaled past them. The Viceroy landed on a Carnation, right in front of the woman, who gasped and leaned close to examine it. The bicyclist flew past her.

            Locklier frowned. “My parents said they met at a flower shop. She almost backed into him…” His eyes widened. “How did you know? My God, what have you done?”

            Lane consulted his watch. “Nothing yet. Give it two seconds.”

            Locklier opened his mouth… and disappeared, as if never there. Dr. Lane capped his mason jar, tucked it under his arm. With a smile on his lips, he started down the street.

            Perhaps now he could find a worthy assistant….

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