Early detection of a hostile missile launch is an important job. I always thought so, anyway.
This is where I worked. My job was to see the end of the world coming an instant before it does. Just an instant might give us the opportunity to prevent it.
That was before. I still come here every day, though I don’t know why. That wasn’t how the world ended…
In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.
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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: An Important Job”
Title: My New Important Job
Nobody expected and planned for this end of civilization scenario. However, it looks like machines have indeed won.
I was an advanced model of Humachines. I have the body of a human, but my important components are synthetic. That is why I survived. The men at the base knew I was basically a machine, but my main computer could sense it didn’t stop them from paying attention to my womanly features.
During the last month, I have had an enormous amount of time to think about what happened, and what the future might be like. However, my computer keeps recalling the end of civilization.
It happened so fast there was nothing that could be done to stop it. We all thought the end might come from hostile missiles, a massive meteor hit, a global terrorist attack, or even an alien invasion. Who would have given any thought to how it ended?
Nobody is around to analyze what exactly happened, but the command center indicates there is only a minute level of oxygen. My preliminary analysis indicates that plants might have reversed their normal synthesis and given off carbon dioxide instead. In three days I was the only one moving about on our base. The towns, roads and buildings were silent and lined with bodies everywhere.
I can’t do anything about what happened, but I have found the research paperwork on Humachines. My job now is to detect a male version to deal with the end.
The pox. No one expected it. It rolled across the globe like a tidal wave of festering blisters, infecting nearly everything in its path. A few of us were immune. I don’t know why.
The end of the world – honestly, it’s not so bad. It’s very quiet. I like quiet. Sometimes, to break up the monotony, I come back here to the office. I switch on the VLA, and listen to what’s going on in outer space. Okay, no I don’t. I use the electricity generated by the solar panels here to cook my meals. I don’t cook over fire. I don’t want the mutants to see the smoke.
Yeah, the mutants are more a nuisance than anything else. They’re not very smart; they don’t move very fast. They’re in that stage where the pox is eating at their brain, but hasn’t exploded yet. Usually, they die in a day or two. But meanwhile, they can infect you. I’m not taking any chances. I’ve shot a few. Kinda easy targets. Even though I’m trying to conserve my ammo, sometimes it’s just necessary. They’re noisy, you know? All that moaning, groaning, gurgling and coughing…just unpleasant. Sure, they can’t help it. Sometimes I feel like I need to put them out of their misery. Sometimes I’m bored, and they make a funny thud when they hit the ground. And then, sometimes I’m just plain old hungry. I discovered nuking them in the microwave kills the pox.
“Hey, Bob, pass the ribs.”
My bicycle wheel kept squeaking. Instead of letting it drive me crazy I made up a song to go with the rhythm. In the desert I could sing as loud as I wanted but as I got closer to the giant dishes it seemed unsafe, so I stopped.
I always felt I needed to be quiet as I rode past these metal monsters. I would try to convince myself of their inanimate nature but, by the time I was half way, my heart would be racing. As I passed them I would check over my shoulder just in case they came to life to consume me.
My father had assured me many times that they had been built to protect us. After he died I had no reason to share his confidence. They had not protected us. They had let us down. Instead of hanging their heads in shame, they stood defiant and proud, potentially even evil. Despite my suspicions these eerie creatures had been esteemed by my Dad. I was compelled to ensure they stood on their supposed guard. Somehow I knew if they collapsed so would I.
Dad had tried to assure me it would not happen again. The well water was now safe and I was alive, unlike my Dad and little sister. I was thankful when I reached the safety of my uncle’s home. I knew, however, that I would make the journey again to visit the creatures my Dad had had so much hope in.
At first, the emails were polite. “Your bill is due, please pay now. If you have already paid, please ignore this message.” I usually ignored the message. I just assumed the government was paying their bill. Then the messages became sharper: “If you don’t pay your bill, your service will be terminated within ten days.”
Whatever, my job was watching for the end of the world, not paying friggin bills. Well, let’s face it. I probably spent more time watching college basketball on those screens than monitoring possible incoming missiles. Then the bills became downright cryptic. “Fine. Don’t pay your bill. You don’t want to know when the world is ending, that’s your problem. Let’s just see if maybe a few thousand nuclear missiles shoved up your ass lights your fire.”
It’s funny. I sit in the desert sand, day after day, reflecting on the end of the world. All this time I thought my job was so important. It turns out that paying the satellite bill is a more important job. Will the rockets ever come and blow up the world? Who cares? The world already ended for me. Every day I sit here, wondering if the bill ever got paid. Wondering if I’ll ever see ESPN again. Wondering…
I sweep stardust and cobwebs out the sky. Waking old man moon from his daylight slumber I brush sleep from his eyes and rescue the smile gone asunder.
Because of what I do, stars brightly twinkle in lovers’ eyes. Sailors navigate unmuddled. Fields yield more abundantly when Moon shakes my stardust all around. From cobwebs pixies weave garments most wondrous for fern and brook, their winter wear. An important job is mine.
A recorder of the day, Aliquis by name, came to interview me. He wasn’t the first.
“Old woman,” he said meaning no offence, “You often are tossed up in a basket. How high do you fly?”
Sweetly I smiled, “Nineteen maybe twenty times higher than the moon,” my reply.
“You carry a broom,” he said.
“Observant lad,” thought I, but, “Yes, I do,” said I.
“Why so high?” his inquiry.
“To clean the sky. You must excuse me, my dear sir. I’ll be late. I’ll talk more when this night is through. I’ve an important job to do.”
Here is the poem he wrote for his Morning Star Herald, June 1804:
“There was an old woman tossed up in a basket
Nineteen times as high as the moon.
And where she was going I couldn’t but ask it
For in her hand she carried a broom.”
“’Old woman! old woman!! old woman!!!’ quoth I.
‘Oh whither Oh whither Oh whither, so high.’
’To sweep the cobwebs off the sky.’
‘And I’ll be with you again by and bye.’”
NOT WITH A BANG BUT WITH A WHIMPER
At first, predicting total destruction, they said a massive meteor storm was heading towards Earth. The first wave of panic. Next they said the meteors were too symmetrical, all the same size and travelling at an equal distance apart; hinting at an alien intelligence, even an armada; the sense of panic diminished somewhat.
International disagreements forgotten, Earth’s weapons systems were directed toward the possible threat, all were united against a common foe.
In spite of constant, repeated attempts to communicate, when the speed of the advancing UFOs did not diminish the worst was feared. The second wave of panic. When the incoming objects, meteors or UFOs, disintegrated on impact with the atmosphere there was an almost audible, worldwide sigh of relief.
The rain of minute chemicals, down through the atmosphere, blown this way and that by global winds was almost imperceivable. It was nearly a month before anyone understood what was happening.
There were no live births; still births worldwide were just the beginning. When we realised that the human sexual drive had totally disappeared we were told it might just be a kind of mass PTSD; that was before they realised the entire human race was completely sterile. The third wave of panic.
The hand of God, some say: the final blessing to a thankless, unworthy creation. Some say an alien invasion: a bloodless extermination. One thing’s for sure, the human race is not ending with a bang, as many prophesised, but with a whimper.
It was all about the bacon.
You don’t believe me? Pull yourself away from that addicting TV show you schedule your life around. For one moment stop filling your head with the invisible waves that tell you to put bacon on your ice cream.
If you are laughing you are doomed. The inability of any race to preempt danger is crucial to its survival. Did the dinosaurs sit back and watch the fireworks before they realized the party was getting out of hand? Apparently not.
Yes, I agree that bacon is delicious. Those crunchy sticks of salty perfection are so versatile. Crumbled or not, they add that je ne sais quoi. When did we realize that the consumption of bacon was a sneak attack aimed at our most primal need? And why would no one try the turkey bacon I offered?
The seductive powers of bacon were well reseached by the aliens. They watched us cure it, fry it, and add it in all sorts of creative ways to our cuisine. Tampering with the source was easy. And the slow spread of Mad Bacon Disease sealed our fate.
Those of us who survived are wedded to a vegan mantra, as is our progeny. We will do our best to rebuild this poisoned world. The challenges will be many. With fortitude and culinary creativity we will cultivate a garden and a world no longer dominated by the evils of bacon.
You have been warned.
After the first signal pinged from the strange planet, we had no choice but to act. We could not allow such a threat to exist in a peaceful universe. A race of beings, electronically powered but greatly enhanced by artificial substances, setting their sights on the domination of their entire solar system? Creatures with the technology for deadly weapons, but without the will or intelligence to control them? No. It could not stand.
So my team, following the signal backward, was sent to do recon. We learned their language, their habits, their weaknesses. Soon, we discovered their biggest weakness, and developed a plan to break their collective will. We started in the jungles, a surgical strike against the plants from which they derived the artificial stimulation that they’d come to worship as a god. Taking out the stockpiles proved more difficult, but our trained robots, cloaked in symbols the inhabitants found familiar and soothing, detected the scent and destroyed not just the stores but also the manufacturing facilities. The makers of the delivery systems were easily bribed into offering other substances: a simple switch.
The sickness that followed was a necessary evil, but we couldn’t have predicted how quickly the beings would turn on each other without regular doses of the stimulants. Within weeks, it was over. Those who survived were too weak to be dangerous.
My team, nicknamed Starbuck, returned home, mission accomplished.
I didn’t like being left behind, but someone had to keep the problem from brewing again.
The dishes were supposed to alert us to anything from the air, like when the ships came. The arrogance! Our own stupidity! The audacity to think that our primitive technology would be enough. They didn’t even try to hide themselves, we just couldn’t see them. At least not till they were here. No warning, just here.
The plot of alien invasion B movies weren’t this bad. This was real life. At first the major cities, their embassies spread to smaller satellite cities and towns from there. Free exchange of cultural and technological information grew.
I know what you’re thinking, what about the dissenters. The resistance never let the rest of us forget their feelings. But like our early warning systems, we never saw the threat till it was too late.
Do you remember that old story, what was it, War of the Worlds? Ya, that’s it. We didn’t give Orson Wells enough credit I think. The common cold, right. An incurable virus, we lived with it every day of our lives.
*hack* *cough* Sorry about that, I can edit it out later.
They called it space measles. I know, right… Cute name to lighten up what happened.
We were too busy looking for off-planet threats to notice potential for disaster on our own doorstep. Science had a Band-Aid solution to every problem. When honeybees reached extinction, artificial pollination became the norm. Real honey became a distant memory, replaced by a product called Beezy – an artificially flavored high-fructose substance that the FDA pushed to market without fully testing it. They called Beezy ‘The Elixir of Life’. It was said to prolong life by making us disease-resistant. We bought it and, like the fools we were, consumed it in copious amounts.
Beezy surpassed the FDA’s expectations. Oh, if only it had been deadly!
Sure, it sounded great, but try telling that to little Jimmy Wilson, who was struck by a car and decapitated. Damaged beyond repair but unable to die, Jimmy was doomed to an agonizing existence as a stitched-up, oozing mess that should have been laid to rest with dignity.
As the years passed, more who should have died continued to roam the earth. Their moans of agony became unbearable at times, which was why I made the daily trek to my former workplace. I found solace in the silence, yet at the same time I gazed to the heavens, praying for contact from another world.
“Please help us!” I whispered to the vast blue void; a mantra I repeated each day.
Was there anyone who could help us? Either heal this mistake we had made or send us into blissful oblivion?
Soot billowed up with every step Jim took. He tightened the rag covering his face and trudged on. Nothing could keep the noxious partials from seeping into every crevasse of his clothes. Before he was even halfway to his destination his skin felt gritty and uncomfortable.
Satellite dishes studded the barren landscape. Most of the huge white structures sported mounds of debris. They were meant to detect incoming enemy missiles so the projectiles could be destroyed before obliterating humanity. Disaster came anyway, but not from an attack.
He closed his eyes, remembering the day the world ended. Explosions roared across the planet, jettisoning debris from the bowels of the earth into the sky like an unkempt pimple. Earth’s skin contorted with waves. Yellowstone vanished in seconds, along with most of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
It was only by some strange twist of fate that the satellite dishes survived. Even his survival was a quirk. A colleague called in sick last minute, putting Jim at the monitoring station when the super volcano erupted. Designed to withstand a nuclear holocaust, the underground bunker was well protected and stocked. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the country.
Jim climbed up into one of the dishes and pulled a shovel from his pack. There was no one left to fire missiles, but it was still his job to maintain these machines. With each shovelful he removed debris, letting bits of his sanity drift in the breeze with the dust.
“These Are The Voyages…”
By Michael Seese
The control room buzzed.
“Code red!” bellowed Dr. Smith. “Everyone, get to your stations!” Though in most situations the words “code red” connote an impending catastrophe, at SETI they meant something entirely different.
After decades of sweeping the cosmos for even a hint of a cohesive signal suggesting an extra-planetary communication, the scientists at UC Berkeley had reason to believe this was “it.”
“It sounds like… it sounds like music.”
“Can you filter out the background noise, Will?” Smith asked.
“Give me a sec,” he said, furiously tapping the keys. “There.”
In an instant, the static evaporated, filling the room with the pure, clean timbre of a what sounded remarkably like a French horn. Eight familiar notes echoed off the sterile cinder block walls.
“These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s five-year mission…”
“What the hell?” Will muttered.
“Some kind of feedback loop,” Smith spat out as he snapped off the monitor. “Probably due to the recent increase in sunspot activity.”
Had he waited just a few more seconds, they all would have seen it: video of a bipedal lizard wearing a perfectly replicated “Captain Kirk” uniform (including the hairpiece), reciting the words known around the world, and on at least one other exoplanet. And Dr. Zachary Smith would have be able to lay claim to arguably the two important discoveries in the history of mankind.
1. Intelligent extraterrestrial life does exist, and
2. They have a sense of humor.
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