As most of our readers probably know by now, our June 2015 issue featured the winning story of our first-ever Flash Fiction contest. The theme was ecology, and dozens of writers donned their science fiction hats and submitted some extraordinary, pithy stories. The winner of the contest was selected by New York Times Bestselling novelist Jeff VanderMeer, who recently won the Nebula Award for best novel for Anihilation, the third book in his Southern Reach trilogy.
VanderMeer picked Peter Sutton’s “It Falls” as the winner of our contest. But he found two other stories to be exceptionally well-written, and they came up as runners-up: Eva Carson’s “There Are Only A Few Of You Left”, and Peter Greiner’s “Six Large Holes”. We present them here in their entirety on our blog, and hope you enjoy them as much as VanderMeer and the rest of us at SciArt In America.
There Are Only A Few Of You Left
By Eva Carson
As you may know, the first instances occurred almost 200 years ago in early 2015. Two births in Edinburgh, Scotland. One in Bangalore, India. One in Incheon, South Korea. There is no mention in the news of the time.
It was not clear why or how the dense, webbed areas appeared on the frontal lobes of their brains. Children born with it – the specialists referred to it as a disease - were prone to seizures. Contagion, or violent and distressing outbursts of behaviour, could not be ruled out. The children seemed highly strung, nervous. Their seizure episodes did not respond to the standard neurological treatments of the time.
The four children were quarantined together in the UK.
It's to Professor Mahmood we owe the first breakthrough. When my ancestors were shivering and foaming, forgotten in the grey depths of maintained medical care, she invented, through hope, through perseverance, the first patterns of Complex Stimulation.
Electrodes, pasted to the soft skin of their skulls. At first, all that is recorded is that it halted the seizures and calmed the children. There is no mention in the records of how the children, all aged seven at that time, felt. What they experienced.
Records are unclear for years afterwards, lost in an electronic ether that even we cannot penetrate. But in any case it is clear to all historians of the Engagement that Ms Eilidh McKenzie performed the first recorded instance of our skill. Aged 16, given a primitive tablet computer to distract her while the Complex Stimulation still played across her brain, she began to move the items on the screen without using her hands.
When asked by a researcher what she was doing, how she could possibly be doing this, she shrugged and replied: I can feel them.
We have a grasp of the world.
Opposition to our kind – our kind of human being – has often stated that we then began to breed like rabbits. But nothing is ever as simple as that. There is a people's history, a million stories on how we came to be where we are today.
The discovery that reproduction between carriers created children with larger, more active areas on their brains – children more vulnerable to seizure, but only if denied Stimulation - must have been wondrous. And it is so obvious to us now that the more the parents' brains are stimulated, the more adept a baby is from birth. Back then it was all so new. I admit it could have been frightening.
We are human, but we are not like you. We breathe information like air. We are possible because of charge and current, software and interface. We cultivate energy – from the seas, from the winds – to save our children at birth.
There are only a few of you left. Solid and solitary, encased in your flesh. You, who are able to thrive born naked on a hillside, not a spark of voltage in sight. I hear that you still think us misshapen, although you must know in your hearts there is no turning back.
Six Large Holes
By Peter Greiner
I’m playing Archeology I realize wrongly, looking again at the Terrible Bird. It doesn’t seem to know. It doesn’t grasp, as I do, that being alive doesn’t count as motion. I note the red crest. I note the skunkish, zebroid stripes shooting down its neck like boomerangs. I note and I note and I note and I ornithologize. I note the uncrossable eons behind us, beyond which lie the Bird’s ancestor and mine: Utahraptor, shrew. At a very different flesh does my species now gnaw, I mis-muse. The Bird excavates the ant gallery, its knocks flashing across hemlock trunks like a young pulsar. Six large holes run up the big dead tree and the Bird’s work might be the totem of a giant segmented insect. The thought of booming populations is momentarily overwhelming but I recover, lowering my binoculars. I look without magnification at the Six Large Holes and imagine they depict some kind of prehistoric avian Mother universal to all species of bird, that similar Six Large Holes have been discovered across the planet, sometimes in the form of a figurine, sometimes on the wall of a cave; in Siberia, in Gaul, in the Socotran hinterland, at the bottom of the Ross Sea. I imagine the Six Large Holes distributed thusly establishing a sort of consilience, an anthropological grandeur according to which all birds are intrinsically significant. I think back to when I was a K-T Boundary shrew and wondered what I ate and came up with straw. What side of that intertidal catastrophe was I on? The side where I could fill the lizardless desolation with my cunning? I sweat. I estivate and the hot wet Earth carries the call of the Pileated Woodpecker, the Bird, Raven who teaches me to balance the kayak, Dinosauria, Mammalia, and me through the gullies and up the rockfalls and into the ravines and across the summits. I hear the moat of highway that surrounds this would-be wilderness and believe the Bird does, too. I remember drawbridges as I approach the creek, the little kayak washed up on shore like a dead fiberglass cicada. I smell the fern sod and remember television. I think of Iron Eye Cody in his bark canoe paddling about the Navy Yard or Hartford’s harbor, had it one, and Thoreau’s insouciant pageantry (analogous) on the Penobscot so slyly recalled in The Maine Woods – another commercial produced in Manhattan, more or less. I board the kayak with studied skill. I capsize immediately, I hit the current and the impact is deafening, I touch the mud I came from in revulsion, claw at the riverbank, choke on atmosphere, on noble gasses, on firmament. I take on the convex and curl of the Earth’s bitter g, my animal desperation alone cueing eternity to keep going. I invent fire, fulcrum, sleight, border, and every, every leg there is mine to walk on.