So, Chuck went to a writers’ conference, and in one workshop the theme they picked was:

“We’re all human, even when we’re not.”

So, he’s made it our theme for the week, 1000 words.  Exactly 🙂

This one’s for Noelle who commented last week saying she wanted to see the pilgrim’s shrine…

Homing instinct

Coming through the dust cloud between Procyon and Altair my diversionary drive went bust. I thought we’d bought it, but a quick check of the map showed a rock in just the right position for us to slingshot and miss the little yellow sun. It was a fifty-fifty chance. No, it was an eighty-twenty chance, with only twenty in our favour.

Heck. Hold tight.

Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow.

Pod and my yelling stopped together. We were more or less intact. The rock’s atmosphere had hidden a load of ocean. I lay in my netting and waited for something else to happen.

Judging from the patterns of dark and light through pod’s porthole, this planet had a fast rotation. I counted four sunset/sunrise rotations before I got hungry, and by then I’d done a full survey of the onboard systems. I wasn’t going anywhere soon. Pod was happy with the salinity of the ocean and wouldn’t dissolve for a good few years. I asked if it could reproduce its spare parts, and it said no. Some, it added, but not all. It would let me know. Given how slow pods reproduced anyway, I decided I’d better find somewhere safer than open ocean. I cautiously opened the top hatch, decided pod hadn’t lied about the nitrogen content, and put up an eye for a look-see.

A few rotations later, we were definitely nearer a rock sticking out of the ocean, with a whole string of them beyond, possibly joined together to make a landmass. I wanted to find somewhere quiet to let pod do its thing. We floated along on the ocean current, hoping to get washed ashore. I found some nice nitrogen-rich vegetation floating along with us. Very tasty. Pod said there was oxygen and hydrogen in the ocean so I could cook up some nice nitrohydrates to keep us both healthy.

I watched the stars overhead and mapped them out according to my charts. We were on the Altair side of the planet’s night season. Made me homesick, not being able to see Procyon, but none of the stars looked right anyway. It amused me to make up new names for the constellations I spied out.

StaffaWe’d probably been planeted for ten of my days when we struck dirt. The beach was shingle and bare rock in nice hexagonal pillar formations. Aesthetically pleasing. Pod would have told me how that formed but it was busy. Gets a bit temperamental when it’s reproducing.  I reckoned shelter would be good for it, since we’d had two sudden storms that had rocked us about a bit. I climbed out of my netting and proceeded to roll pod into a handy cave. It complained a bit, but I said it was for its own good and it quietened down to a sub-aural yammer.

We weren’t alone. I’d met some of the denizens of the ocean who called themselves dolfns. They’d made polite conversation, although we didn’t manage to crack each other’s codes. We’d sent images of nitrohydrate molecules to them, and they’d sent us something that might have been hydrated carbon, but whoever hydrated carbon? That would be nuts, so we assumed we’d misinterpreted them. We understood their general intentions, though, and were pleased to help enhance them, especially when they brought us some nice tasty flesh that they called fish.

Now we started getting visits from land aliens.

Some had two feet and wings, and sharp, pointed mouths. Their conversation consisted of food and our occupation of their favourite cave. Tough. I was prepared to fight them for it, but they shuffled along, found some ledges they were happy with, and set about rearing clones in a strange way.

Some funny four-limbed ones turned up in a half-pod, which they pulled up onto a beach further along, and walked on two legs up the grass slope to the top of the rock. They came and went without being aware of us. I could sense urgency about getting food, and interactions between them. Family seemed important. One of them showed himself the leader, but it was on sufferance, I reckoned.

One day, one of them came into the cave from the back, down a slit in the rocks. He saw pod, then me. I sat impassively; it’s our training for meeting aliens. He made inarticulate sounds running through a limited range of frequencies, so I settled my voice box into an appropriate chord and chatted to him. He fell over backwards, his speaking apparatus open in a soundless O. I tried mind-melding with him, and I think he got the message, but he certainly wasn’t articulate in return. The dolfns were far more communicative.

After that we started to get regular visits. Most of the aliens were polite, kept their distance, had good intentions, and some I even helped a little, since I could see they were in need of emotional support. A couple had need of physical support, so pod and I investigated their ill-formed bodies very gently, and set alignments in progress. I knew they’d improve more in time. Some came and stood before me, chanting. Occasionally they would spray me with water, so I always put my water protection on.

The one I remember best came just before we left. It had two main concerns which it pictured clearly in its mind. Obviously better disciplined than most. I gave what support I could to the absent ancestor, enhanced the delightful sounds it made using wind, fingers and an artefact of pipes, and it went away happy and determined, as did its companion, who just seemed delighted to have seen me.

I wondered what would happen to them, but pod had completed its cycle and we were ready to leave. I rolled it out onto the beach, waited for the water to rise and bear us off, and set us on a path for exit velocity on the third orbit.

We’ll be home in time for pod’s birthday. There’s no place like home!

(c) J M Pett 2014

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Friday Flash Fiction – Homing Instinct
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9 thoughts on “Friday Flash Fiction – Homing Instinct

  • 9 May, 2014 at 12:15 am
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    Thank you for the picture! Wonderful, as is the story. It made my little gray cells work, which is always a sign of a story that intrigues me. Very clever and leaves much to the imagination. It would make a great radio broadcast.

  • 9 May, 2014 at 4:53 am
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    Another great story! What island is the photo? It’s one cool piece of volcanic stuff!

    • 9 May, 2014 at 10:48 am
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      It’s Staffa, home to Fingal’s Cave, which is just round the right-hand corner. Off the coast of Mull, where the Princelings of the North come from!

      The British Isles have stupendous geology in them – these basalt columns are repeated on the coast of Northern Ireland – at Giant’s Causeway – the legend is that they formed a bridge through to Staffa and the cave. In fact they are one of a number of volcanic ‘rays’ spreading out from an extinct volcano, long gone, in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Another is the Whin Sill, which you can trace southeast through Scotland and Northern England – didnt develop the columns, though.

      Hmm. must add this to my list for next year’s challenge 🙂

      • 9 May, 2014 at 3:19 pm
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        Cool! I knew about the Giants Causeway, of course, but didn’t realize about the other places. And that lovely calm blue sea made me think we were off the coast of Africa or something 😀

  • 9 May, 2014 at 8:52 am
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    Great story Jemima, love the idea of a living space ship, sorry, pod.

    • 9 May, 2014 at 10:52 am
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      Thanks, JR! It’s not original, I’m afraid, although I can’t remember whether the others could reproduce parts, though. Anne McCaffrey’s Ship who Sang (and a number of others in her related books) and another who I cant remember right now… I tried to make sure they weren’t copied when I wrote it 🙂

      I was pleased with the idea of nitrogen-based life forms… always liked that idea (e.g. silicon based one in Star Trek – Trouble in the Dark I think it was called)

      • 9 May, 2014 at 3:20 pm
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        McCaffrey ‘s ships were more cyborg. I love tent yours seems to be wholly organic!

        • 10 May, 2014 at 10:20 am
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          I took them to be more organic than cyborg, but I suspect I’m quite loose in my terminology. I never used to analyse books at all!

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