Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red Dunes (Friday Flash Fiction #17)

My second entry into the Friday Flash Fiction world. I actually did have an idea of how to use "But Vladimir Putin will always permit breakdancing." without it being a non sequitur, but decided to go with this one instead. It weighs in at over 1000 words, but I couldn't find any more fat to trim. Enjoy!

Red Dunes

"I am not supposed to remember any of this."

"Just relax for a moment, Mr. Talek. We just need to recalibrate the machine."

Ro Talek stood and walked over to the window. The New York skyline was gorgeous this time of day - skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. He blinked a couple times as a taxi cab whizzed past the 38th floor window. One of the things he'd have to get used to again.


"Hurry up. We're going to be late," she said as she turned and started to run.

"Talia, wait." Ro tried to keep up, but he couldn't weave his way though the crowd as easily as she did. Every few steps he bumped someone into a wall and had to stop and apologize.

"Aren't you excited? Just think, decades from now we'll be remembered the earliest settlers on Mars," Talia said. She was practically beaming. It was her idea in the first place, and Ro took serious convincing before he agreed to leave his job and move to a brand new planet.

"Of course I'm excited, babe," Ro said. "But it's not like they're going to start until everyone is there."

"I just can't wait to actually get out there. To feel the dust blowing against my face. I want to just grab handfuls of the soil and rub it all over myself."

"You know that that's not possible. You're going to be inside an environmentally controlled space suit."

Talia lovingly grabbed Ro's arm. "I know that. It's going to take time to set up the biodome and start the terraforming projects. But I still feel like we're following in the footsteps of our ancestors who settled the American West."

Ro smiled and kissed her on the forehead. "The auditorium's just ahead."

The auditorium was a large, circular room at the other end of the corridor from the shuttle. The settlers filed into the room and stood four or five deep in front of the far wall. After the doors behind them closed, the wall in front of them slowly started to peel back. Beyond the clear Plexiglas was the first look any of them had gotten at their new home. The rolling red hills reminded Ro the sand dunes he saw as a child. The sun rose in the distance illuminating the small village that they were to build into the capital of the Earth settlement. Ro noticed the childlike twinkle in Talia's eye and smiled. It was a sight they would never forget as long as they lived.


"We're ready for you now, Mr. Talek," the attendant said. "I don't think we've ever erased five years of memories before. It makes sense there would be a glitch or two. I hope you don't hold it against us."

Ro nodded, "It's fine. I've waited this long, what's a few more minutes."

He sat down in the chair and the attendant tightened the straps around his wrists. Electrodes where then attached to his forehead and a large silver colander was lowered.

The attendant said, "At the beginning, you may feel a little tingling. That's perfectly normal. This will all be over in a few minutes."


Ro put the last of his shirts in the bin and fastened the latch. The bedroom was still full of his belongings, but he was only allowed one bag.

"Are you sure about this, Ro?"

Ro looked at Ezri. He'd been Ro's closest friend since they both landed on Mars nearly four and a half years ago. "Yeah, I'm sure," said Ro.

"What about her stuff?" Ezri asked.

"I'm leaving it," Ro said. "Donate it to the clothes bank or something. She would've liked that."

"Yeah, Talia would've - "

"Don't you dare say her name," Ro said, as he grabbed Ezri's shoulders. "You have no right to say her name."

"I'm sorry," Ezri said. "I know this has been tough on you. What you must be going through..."

"You have no idea what I'm going though. But you should know that you're pretty much the last person I want to see right now."

Ezri said, "How many times do I have to apologize? I'm sorry, Ro. I screwed up. I know it was my job to check the blast shields that day. I had no idea the meteor shower was going to be that heavy."

"If you had just done your damn job, she would still be alive."

Ezri looked down at his feet. "I know. And I feel like shit about it. Are you sure you don't want to take her body back to Earth with you?"

Ro shook his head. "I already got an allowance from the governor to bury her here. Talia would be honored to know she'll be in the history books. Probably would've wished it wasn't as the first person to be buried on Mars."

"Listen, I'll let you finish packing. If you can ever forgive me, keep in touch, OK."

The door shut automatically as Ezri walked out.


Back on Earth, Ro did everything he could to forget what happened to Talia. He threw himself into his new job, but that didn't help. Every night the broadcasts was full of Mars news and he had to turn them off. After months of agony, Ro saw an advertisement for something that he was sure would take away the pain and emptiness: the Forget-O-Tron by OmniTech.

As the machine spun to life, Ro saw his memories flow backwards. Talia's funeral. The conversation in their home with Ezri. The day the meteor shower took Talia away from him. That summer their terraforming machine failed and the colony almost starved. Ro was glad to see them go.

The memories started to come faster. The first Martian Thanksgiving. The first child born on another world. The first time he met Talia. Her smile.

Shit. What have I done? Ro wanted to stop the machine. He had made a terrible mistake. But he couldn't move. Couldn't speak. He saw their first kiss. The first time they made love. All his memories of her blended together into a white hot light.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Talek?" the attendant said.

Ro blinked and rubbed the spot where the attendant had removed an electrode. "I feel like I want to scream, but I don't know why."

"That's a common reaction. It'll fade in time."

Ro nodded but had the uneasy feeling the emptiness wouldn't go away.


Cormac Brown said...

Nice...and you can go over a 1,000 words, because there are no set rules with flash fiction. It should be short, but that doesn't mean that stories shouldn't be told properly or that conventions, challenged.

Doc said...

Kick ass! I wasn't sure where you were headed at first but Wow, what an ending. Great tale!


David Barber said...

Great story Welles, and not too long at all. There was just a couple of words left out in places: "I feel like (I) want to scream, but I don't know why." for example BUT this certainly didn't detract from the writing in general. Top job!

Regards, David.

WellesFan said...

Thanks for the compliments. I haven't written any sci-fi in years, but that starter just screamed "memory erasing" to me.

I know there wasn't any posted word count on the site (and the stories don't have to be "flash")..so it's probably just my slavish attention to rules/guidelines.

David - fixed. That's one of the sentences I rewrote a bunch of times so it figures I'd mess it up.

Lewis said...

Sci-fi does not work unless imbued with humanity. Your story worked.

Shades of "Total Recall". Have you seen the film/read the book? Do you think you might have erased the conscious memory only to find it re-emerge from the recesses as you wrote? Hang on, I have an idea for another story ... !

Regards, Lewis

MRMacrum said...

Actually the Martian connection and pace of the story reminded me of Ray Bradbury. Just a straight up solid Sci Fi yarn. And definitely not too long. Seemed just right as a matter of fact.

StephenD said...

Awesome story.

I agree with Lewis: you really made Ro feel real. And the point about sci-fi needing to be imbued with humanity is one I (clumsily) tried to make a couple weeks ago on my blog.

Randal Graves said...

I second everyone else, the length was fine (hell, all of my stuff seems to run around 10 words) and a great tale, to boot. Can't wait to read next week's effort.

Alan Griffiths said...

Just finished this one WellesFan, nice job again! I echo all the other comments - really well done sir.