Friday, March 16, 2012

Traveling to Stockholm

I will be in Sweden and Germany for the next two weeks. Due to traveling this weekend, there will not be a #FridayFlash posted because I won't have the opportunity to respond or read other flashes this week. There may be a post next Friday depending on how the traveling goes.

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Flower Apocalypse's Seeds

Seeds rained from the sky, arriving like a storm front, plopping into pregnant earth, and ricocheting from the mage-enforced bricks of Desmond and Marsh's hideout. The two sprawled on the earth facing the door, while death rained down.

Beyond Marsh's bulk, a slender seed, the size of a thumbnail, squeezed beneath the door. Yellow streaks over the black hull caught Desmond's eye. It jerked. It sought blood.

Marsh dropped his pudgy hand and caught the seed in his palm. His hand buzzed. A burst of smoke escaped his hand as the smell of burnt skin filled the room. Sweat beaded Marsh's brow as he repeated words of power and the buzz ended. His hand opening to expose the seed's shattered dust. Outside, the pitter patter splash of seeds seeking earth and blood died into silence.

"Now?" Desmond asked.

"Wait." Another shower of seeds passed over them in response to Marsh's words. "Now." He opened the hideout's door.

Shoots of green grew from the earth, scattershot from the apocalypse. Ignoring the snake-like shoots slithering towards the sky, ignoring the unfolding leaves and tendrils snaking out at the scent of blood, ignoring the memories of those who had died, Desmond sheared the stalk at its base. The leaves became dry and brittle and shattered by the time it crashed to the floor of the earth.

The two moved in tandem, covering the fields around the house, eliminating every stalk. Desmond's muscles burned, but he ignored the pain. He must not allow the seeds to flower.

Too late.

Marsh yelled. Blood spurting from his gut. A wisp of smoke rose from the muzzle of a flower. Marsh waved his hands menacingly to keep the vine's attention.

Desmond crawled forward. He kept his face against the furrowed ground, hoping the musky earth would hide his blood scent. His legs cramped, but he knew if he rose to his feet the flower would turn on him. Would fire. He continued through the pain.

When he neared five feet away, the vine shuddered, leaves and flower twisting in a slow arc. It sought blood that even pressed against the earth could no longer be disguised. The flower clicked as seeds moved into the chamber. He pushed off with his feet leaping for the base of the vine.

A shot fired into the ground behind him. The flower ricocheting and momentarily pointing into the sky.

Desmond's shears caught the vine, pressed it forward but the fibrous bark caught the teeth of his shears and turned the blades until they slipped from his hands. The flower tracked downwards, aiming at Desmond.

He grabbed the back of the vine, the flower struggling against him, tendrils poking into his skin. He bit down on flower's stem and milk poured into his mouth. He coughed the milk up, and hacked at the vine with his shears. The vine died, fibrous shards scattered around Desmond.

He looked for other vines, but nothing towered over the furrows of the field. Marsh had already fallen. He moved to the man's side, his instructor at the mage school, before the flowers had come. Glass eyes stared from Marsh's face, the life already gone. He moved his fingers through Marsh's hair to give the man dignity in death.

Darkness glinted from the vine that had shot Marsh. Desmond rolled for his shears. He stared into a glass woman, moonlight reflecting off of her edges. She munched on the flower head of the vine.

Keeping the shears between them, the points glinting, Desmond approached the glass woman. Her eyes caught the moonlight in a pool that watched as Desmond neared. She crouched as if ready to run. Desmond lowered the shears.

"Who are you?"

She grabbed his shears and threw them with an impossible strength. They flew through the air and disappeared over the other side of the hideout.

"Why did you do that?"

She didn't answer. Desmond's mother had told fireside tales of the glass fae, but they were tales. Supposedly, the creatures had disappeared at the end of the first age. He suspected her lack of answer meant that the distance that separated their species had confused their tongues. Wary, he backed away from her, moving towards the hideout.

The glass woman pointed at the flower. "Need." Her face was gaunt, sharp panes of glass as if the bones underneath protruded. "Hunger."

Desmond shook his head. These creatures must be planting these things. "No." He pointed at Marsh. "The flowers kill us."

She nodded as if with understanding. Her hands harvested the remainder of the flower before she turned. Without a glance back, she loped over the hills, her feet leaving small indentations in the earth.

Seeds stopped raining after that day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kibera Slum

Login denied.

Juma slammed his hands against the keyboard. He couldn't access the throwaway twitter account he'd just created two minutes ago. Any account he used to post about the Kibera slum, became disabled. After creating the fourth account, he was convinced something was deleting his messages.

His editor had refused the story, had said no one cared about the slums whether they were empty, dirty, or aliens for that matter. It didn't matter. Juma no longer lived in the slums, but his mom did, and he wasn't unusual in that regard. But, even his editor's reach didn't extend to Nairobi's Internet café with HTTPS connection encryption. Only the Communications Commission had sufficient computational capacity to intercept his attempts to break this story. He wasn't paranoid, his friend Panya had bragged about their capabilities after her interview with them.

Juma's neck itched. The story was big. Maybe he'd keep his job after dropping it on his editor's desk instead of the stories he'd been tasked to complete: some throwaway text to accompany a photo shoot on Nairobi's parks, a character piece on a hero -- at least in his editor's eyes -- who fed pigeons, and another story on high gas prices. He headed towards the Communications Commission.

"No visitors," said a security guard in the commission's foyer.

"I'm expected."

The guard crossed his arms.

If the Communications Commission hadn't been well-known for secrecy, the guard's actions would've confirmed Juma's hunch. He didn't need confirmation. He needed dirt. Thankfully, Panya had a public facebook profile, and he found her phone number. The guard watched as Juma flicked through screens on his smart phone.

"Panya, it's Juma." He hoped she'd remember him. "I've got that report you wanted."

"I can take it to Director Panya."

Bingo. Juma knew the guard would eavesdrop. Juma raised both hands, palms open to show he had nothing on him. "Report is human courier only."

"Doesn't matter. No visitors."

"My, my Juma. Been a long time. What have you gotten yourself into this time? Nevermind, doubt you can answer in front of security. I'll be down." The connection ended.

He hoped to distract the guard by making coffee from a kiosk, but the man followed him like a fat dove who suspected Juma had a slice of bread.

If it wasn't for the way Panya's face lit when she saw him, Juma would've never recognized her. She cleaned up well. Behind her, trailed a lackey with a briefcase clutched in his hands.

"We need somewhere private," said Juma.

"No visitors."

Juma rolled his eyes. "Well, if the commission's security policy encourages public discussions, I suppose that will do." Juma had hoped to irk the guard, but got no reaction.

"I know a bar down the street." Panya held up a hand to preempt Juma's protest. "We can vouch for its privacy."

After delivering a round of Kilimanjaro Lagers, the barman lowered a white noise shield over their booth.

"I wanted a private talk. Not a committee," said Juma.

"Usian's my assistant. He knows everything anyway."

Juma trusted Panya by herself, but a colleague might force her hand. "I'd rather we were alone."

"You're wasting my time. It's been a long time since college. I don't owe you anything."

Usian opened a laptop and began typing.

Juma took a breath that whistled through his teeth as he exhaled slowly. He had no other leads. "You know how I joined the paper." Panya nodded. He told her how someone had eavesdropped on his connections.

"So. Why would the commission care about your tweets?"

"Something is wrong. Kibera slum is empty."

"So? Who cares?"

"Mother lives there." Juma couldn't afford two rents on a journalist's salary, and his mother had refused his invitation to stay on his couch. She claimed outside Kibera became too impersonal.

"Sorry to hear about that."

"Isn't it time you explained what the government has done with the slum inhabitants. The Commission is involved in a cover-up. Aren't they?"

"Crazy idea."

"Look at this." Usian spoke for the first time. He spun his laptop around and it showed an aerial photograph of a patchwork of corrugated steel, rust striping the panels brown. "Live satellite feed of Kibera."

Viewed from overhead the inhabitants weren't more than dark hair and swinging arms. They moved in groups converging on a train with women's eyes painted on the top of each car as if the train stared into his soul. Cold eyes.

"Something is strange. Everyone's converging on the train."

Usian slammed the lap top shut.

"Novelty," said Panya. "I'm sorry about your mother, but you see, there is no conspiracy. Usian, we've wasted enough time."

Juma finished his lager, and then nursed Panya's half empty. They hadn't revealed anything. Yet, he wasn't imagining things. He had a nose for real stories. After finishing the beers, he stared at a photo on the bar's wall. If he squinted, they looked like the eyes on the traincars' roofs. People shouldn't have streamed towards that train. He left a tip.

The slums weren't far from downtown. Empty, his voice rang as he called out. No one answered.

A banshee howled. Juma didn't believe in ghosts, so he headed towards the sound. He found the train. A line of cars squealed as the wheels moved along the tracks. A car's doors were open, incandescents illuminating clean white surfaces. A man stood at the door's threshold. He was more metal than man. Juma might not believe in ghosts, but the military used androids.

"You're not from the slums. Your specimen is not desired."


"Upload. Singularity. You will be missed."

"You have my mother. She is missed."

"So sorry. Time to go."

A pack of Aibo robotic dogs leapt from the train car. They converged on Juma, knocking him to the ground as the train squealed, accelerating to leave the park. Thankful the dogs had no teeth, Juma nodded to himself, they might run, but he'd find a way to expose this story.