A fascinating discovery in Peru is the spark for this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wenger.
“See this article,” he asked. “Your job is to write a ~1000 short story of any genre including and explaining this weird little web-tower.”
I know exactly what they are. I remember one of the greatest scifi gurus writing about the race that made them. I think it was a very short story by Arthur C Clarke. Or maybe Poul Anderson. In that story they drowned in a puddle, or were they eaten by a dog? I can’t remember (do tell if you can).
Here is my version.
The Next Generation
“What news from the North?”
“Chelatl’s commune has established two new leaves, my lady.” The Olgawet named Mutakh bowed, caressing his queen’s leg in subservient greeting.
“And still no news of the other pods?”
“No, my lady.”
“Set their tale into the saga. I see no point in waiting longer.”
Mutakh bowed, dismissed. He swung up to the second gallery and gave Bard his mission. The Queen of the Olgawet spake, and thus was it done.
Bard listened, checking the verified facts with Mutakh. He kept the saga, adding to it, so each generation understood and remembered their history.
They fled their planet as the sun neared its critical point. Forty thousand cohorts were lost in the first six generations. Only five thousand pods shared news of hopeful trajectories. Only three cohorts of one hundred pods each had confirmed potential host planets. Their own cohort had been fortunate, so the saga said. It had made contact with the native species. A slow and lumbering contact, but after they increased the frequency of the incoming transmission, and slowed their own by a factor of one thousand, there was communication. The saga resonated with the conversation with Man on Earth. The saga told all. It had to, since Man was so slow. It seemed the same alien spoke just once to each generation, yet expected a coherent reply to his own question. The cohort had used their time wisely, learning the alien language. Communications had improved as the cohort neared the green and blue planet. On the last day, the cohort leader had been in contact four times, then handed over to his son.
The pods dispersed with the guidance of Man. Man said the blue areas were sea, and safe for splashdown. The cohort fanned out, to give itself the best chance of a safe landing in a clement zone.
Alarm, alarm, spake the saga.
Blue areas were deadly. Man did not know we do not float.
For Mutakh’s pod, chance had tossed them aside, landing softly on a vast continent, covered with rocks and leaves. Their fate was not to be drowned in a rainstorm, nor eaten by some monstrous being the size of a mountain. The next generation worked through the darkness so that their children could signal other pods during the next daylight. Only four signals were returned in their lifetime.
Mutakh’s generation, the fifteenth since, had built their towers, protected themselves from the indigenous animals in their thousands, and dedicated themselves to founding their new empire.
The pod in the North had warned of slow moving inanimate objects on smooth plains where there was neither food nor water. The vibrations of the objects’ approach gave plenty of time for avoidance. Their last signal had described systematic tornados hunting down all the local animals; they appeared hours after darkness. Each generation sought a new way to outwit them. Now Mutakh believed they had failed. He hoped his son would prove his pessimism unfounded.
Of Man, the one who spake with their ancestors, they had found no trace. They no longer had the technology to slow down or speed up transmissions. Real time was all they had. Maybe Man lived in the sea.
Save that Chelatl, intrepid warrior, had found a type of leaf previously unlisted. It was a smooth surface, woven like silk, a deep shade of blue, that floated on silver stalks. His father had warned him of it the previous light, given him his life’s work.
“Discover its secrets, my son. I swear it was unknown to my father, yet he knew this land well.”
Mutakh pondered Chelatl’s story as he left the Bard. A strange leaf, occurring full-grown in one generation, where there had been no previous trace? Chelatl had set up a camp and transmitter on the underside, just in case of a deluge. He had also reported “a mountain that moved, that blocked out the light even though day was yet half over.” Mutakh thought it sounded too much like the warning from the North. He shared his knowledge with the Collective; all evidence, however anecdotal, was needed.
“Mutakh! We have a report from Galifr. He too reports a mountain that moves. A glass eye came close, but did not burn him. It was monstrous indeed. The size of three camps set side by side, Galifr said.”
“Where is Galifr’s camp?” Mutakh asked his reporter.
“Here!” The model of the known continent stretched across the floor at the entrance to the transmitter. “And another moving mountain has been reported here, and here!”
The reporter, Farakh, pointed at the other sightings, where he had already placed markers. They made a slightly winding line across the continent.
“This could be one mountain. Look at its path.”
“What do we do?”
Mutakh thought for one moment. Even the large animals they had seen did not move in direct lines like this, except for those high in the trees. It was not a straight line, but it followed the best route across the country.
“Inform the next generation. And work through the darkness to renew our capability at changing communication frequency. We must discover this lost art, but I fear it will not be in my lifetime.”
Darkness fell swiftly in the Peruvian forest. In his tent on an island, a scientist examined the strange structures and wondered about the mosquito-like noise that had started emanating from it. He’d been there three days and this was the first time he’d heard it. He got out his iphone and recorded it, just in case. He’d get one of his buddies to play about with it in the lab.
When he goes back next month will the thirtieth generation from Mutakh be able to talk to him?
(c) J M Pett 2013 with thanks and best wishes to Troy S Anderson