Sunday, October 2, 2011

Alien Presence

What I'm reading: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.

This is the second book of Ms. Butler's I've read. The first was Wild Seed. Wild Seed is in my top 5 of favorite books.

Kindred didn't resonate with me like Wild Seed did. However, it still effected me--and that's what we hope and expect from good writing.

It was first published in 1979. Thirty-two years later, it's still relevant, likely because the issues it addresses are universal and timeless. Additionally, it largely takes place in the antebellum South. The impact of that era of  U.S. history is still felt today.

We might classify Kindred as science fiction due to its time travel element, however, I don't think I'd call it a science fiction novel. It's a story about the person we are in our given surroundings. If those surroundings change, do we change as well? A question posed by the protagonist is, (in part, in regards to her white husband) just how easily could one give in to the idea of slavery? It's also about family; in the sense that no matter how far we distance ourselves from them, we are also connected in some sense.

It's an important novel. One that I'm glad I read.

~ * ~

Alien Presence

Alien Presence is the title to my second piece of flash fiction I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2011. Click here for my post on the contest. This is my second entry in the first round. There are three rounds. In each round, judges award you a place in your group and a corresponding point value. For instance, in the first round, I was awarded 12th place out of 24. This gave me 4 points. First place gets 25 points. The points from your first and second story are added together. If your total points are within the top 5 of your group, then you get to move on to the second round.

My assigned genre for this story was: Open. My location, a space station. The object? A glass eye. I found this more challenging than my first story, Orange or Pink, which had a genre of Drama, in a cell phone store, including a chicken.

Below is my new story. Comments and feedback are appreciated.

Alien Presence

            Major Connor Jenkins closed his eyes and rubbed his left temple. You’d think I’d be able to feel it under my skin.

            “Major, are you all right?” asked the shuttle pilot.

            “When do we arrive?”

            “We’re on approach now.”

            “Thanks,” Connor replied. “You know how it feels when you’ve got something in your eye but you can’t quite isolate it?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “That’s what I’ve got, except instead of having something in my eye the something is my eye.”

            “Come again, sir?”

            Connor shook his head. “Never mind.”

            Connor watched the air lock seal behind them, then descended the collapsible stairs of his shuttle. On the dock stood six people: two armed guards, two adorned in suits that probably cost as much as he made in six months of duty, a doctor of some sort judging by the white lab coat, and a fourth standing straight in a full dress uniform. Connor sighed and walked toward them, wishing for a breach in the air lock to suck him out into space, away from politicians and their insufferable prattle. I’d rather face down Chechtian rebels in the Kthetian quadrant than polish brass with bureaucrats.

            Connor forced the corners of his mouth upward.

            The man in uniform stepped forward. Connor gave a sharp salute.

            “Major Jenkins, I’m General Lopez. It’s an honor to have you. We couldn’t hope for a better launch of our new facility than by a true war hero.”

            “Thank you, General. I didn’t realize this space station is a military base.”

            “We function as a way station, med lab, and hospital between military bases,” Lopez said. “Currently, we staff about a hundred—military personnel and civilians. We expect to be up to three hundred in the coming months. We keep a small force on hand for security, but we do our best work in research. Dr. Perrine is our chief medical officer. Her people are working on a number of research projects and military prototypes.”

            “How big is it, sir?” Connor asked, looking about.

            “One hundred and twenty-nine thousand cubic feet.”

            Connor let out a long whistle. “Growing up my dad had a Buick. Felt about that size to me.”

            Dr. Perrine reached across Lopez and took Conner’s hand. “It’s a pleasure. I’ve been eager to meet you.”

            “How’s that doctor?”

            “If I’m not mistaken, you have a prototype of your own.” She gestured to his left eye.

            “My GLASS eye, of course. How did you know about that?”

            “I have a friend on the surgical team.”

            “I’m sorry,” said Lopez. “A glass eye?”

            “Global Lenticular Auditory Synaptic Stimuli,” Conner said. “Unlike a traditional glass eye, this is wired directly to my optic nerve. Perfect vision with audio and video recording capability.”

            “And you have no side effects?” she asked.

            “It weighs a few ounces more than a regular eye. I can feel the difference but they tell me I’ll get used to it.”

            “Major, let me introduce Senator Cosgrove and his assistant, Jack Carlton,” Lopez said, turning to his right. 

            Connor shook hands with both men. A small movement activated Connor’s left eye and drew his attention to the senator’s shoulder. A bug? Something akin to earth’s cockroaches. No, not earth, Chechtia. Could there be an infiltration?

            The roach seemed to be looking right at him, evaluating him. Does nobody else see it? Connor scanned the others. They looked oblivious to it. When he returned to the senator, the roach was gone.

            “You must be tired,” said Lopez. “Jack will show you to your room. Dinner will be at nineteen-hundred. If you need anything, let Jack know.”

            Connor switched his eye to ultraviolet then pulled his sidearm and fired two rounds into the senator’s head.

            Jack ran for cover behind the shuttle. General Lopez grabbed Dr. Perrine and pushed her to floor. The guards leveled their weapons at Connor and fired.

*   *   *

            Dr. Perrine stood over the autopsy table in med lab. Connor lay naked on the table with multiple gun shots to the chest and head.

            “Why does a decorated war hero assassinate a U.S. senator?” She pulled on latex gloves and turned on the recording equipment. “I don’t expect you to reply,” she said, leaning over and looking into Connor’s remaining GLASS eye, “but you will answer me.”

            Scalpel in hand, she made several cuts around the orbital cavity and gently lifted the eye from its socket. It rested in her palm, still attached to the optic nerve. She could see how, if alive, Connor could disengage the eye, but she was forced to disconnected the delicate wiring from the sides of the orb. Connecting the eye to her computer, she downloaded the contents.

            “Let’s see what you saw, Connor Jenkins.”

            The files were time stamped. One file showed today’s date, just an hour ago. She double clicked. A video opened on the monitor. It played back the scene from the receiving dock. She saw the interior of the shuttle, the stairs, and herself alongside the senator and General Lopez.

            The recording played out as she remembered it. When Connor shook hands with the senator, the recording zoomed in on a small bug near the senator’s collar. She didn’t remember seeing that. How would such a thing even get on board a space station? Then she saw it. Looking back at her through the flesh of the senator’s face was a Chechtian warrior.

            She replayed the video—twice, before touching her com device.

            “I need to speak to General Lopez, immediately.”

            “He can’t be disturbed,” replied the voice. “There’s been a shooting and he—”

            “I know,” Dr. Perrine replied. “That’s why I must speak to him—now!”

            “I can try to hail him but I don’t think—”

            The voice cut off, replaced by sounds of gun fire and the death cries of her crewmates. She screamed into her com in a futile attempt at what?

            Then everything went silent. 

            No more screams.

            No gun fire.

            Eventually, they would find her, too.


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