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April Writing Contest

Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For April, writers had to compose a 750-word story incorporating death as a thematic element.


by Marty Vian

Another hashmark. Another bit of the picture found. Now Om steered deftly backward, then tapped a spot in the air just above the flier’s virtual yoke. The hook on the rear of the craft closed, securing it once again to the tail floating there at the very edge of gravity’s pull. Now a bit longer, the tail stretched out behind the flier as it left its orbit of the planet far below.

“Next one, Kate,” Om said out loud and moved the yoke back to its resting spot as Kate took over. Names were important and Om’s name for the flier was Kate.

Out in the empty stretches, the yoke wasn’t much use, but when navigating a planet or an asteroid field, it made tricky landing, dodging, and leaving possible. Back when Om’s mission began—very long ago by solar revolution standards—the visual displays and simulated instruments were important. Image processing was, back then, the primary means of mapping the world. All the worlds. You had to see a thing to understand just what sort of thing it was. After scanning many thousands of scenes, the objects would emerge as individual items. Each had characteristics—size, shape, texture, color, and movement—that made it uniquely one thing or another. Things like a cloud or a volcano or a creature. And each of those had so many different shades. The creatures most of all.

The root creatures didn’t make things per se, not things like Om anyway. But they made the places where other creatures lived, livable. Like the place where the creatures who made Om had lived. For them, the visual field was dominant. So Om saw like they did, at least in the beginning. It wasn’t until later in the mission that Om’s learning recognized and elevated sound as a subtler tool for sensing and piecing together the universe.

Om tapped again in the air, zooming in on a galaxy. Tap. A solar system. Tap. A planet. Then it spun the planet and tapped down into each spot it had sampled. Having spent an entire solar cycle there, Om learned what those particular creatures showed and told about themselves and their fragile place in the universe, and it dropped all that learning into the corresponding pool of data. And Om decided the physical artifacts might be useful to consider too, freeze dried by sun and space, hence the tail.

For the safety of all concerned, Om’s body was self-contained, by design. Dropping learnings into Kate’s data pools was a one-way arrangement: Om-to-Kate. Other than this exchange, Om had to interact with the universe the way many organic creatures did—seeing and hearing and speaking mostly. Its “feeling” came from a mix of sensors for things like pressure, hot and cold, concentrations of certain gasses. Since Om’s power came from the suns, eating was unnecessary, so taste wasn’t of much use. It grokked that the sense of taste in most creatures developed to test the fuel they ate, to be sure it wouldn’t kill them.

Om came to understand a lot about all the other things that might kill them. More importantly to the mission, it heard what creatures thought about at that moment. And it saw in their countenance, fear or submission or relief. Om thoughtfully positioned itself with creatures at the places and moments where an end was likely—on the berm of a hairpin turn in a thunderstorm, in a trench where a battle raged, at the losing end of a hunt, in the water under a particularly high bridge, in hospitals, of course, in the sights of a poacher’s gun. Stories came out differently for different creatures, but they all had one. So, so many.

“What does it mean to go from being to not being?” Om said.

Kate didn’t answer. That wasn’t in Kate’s nature, not like navigating deep space. And, of course, keeping the cabin pressurized to allow for sound waves, which was how Om conveyed the finer details—like meaning—in spoken word, and more recently, song. Songs were like stories, but carried meaning and movement under the words.

“I’m not you, Kate. That much, I know.” Om said. “And that helps me see my particular mission—my own purpose—better. When I break down and stop being Om, at least you’ll have all my stories. All their stories.” And Om pointed out Kate’s rear viewport at the million empty shells tied like knots in the tail of a kite stretching out behind them. Then Om began to sing.

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