Tag Archives: sci-fi

Short Fiction Extravaganza!

If you’d like to read some free science fiction, a few of my stories have appeared online over the last month at some great e-zines. If you check them out, let me know what you thought!

“Mamihlapinatapei” at Crossed Genres

“On Navarino Island off the coast of Chile, Marta mops outside the tyrannosaurus habitat as the tourists press in to see the dinosaurs.”

This is a near-future / alternate history story about dinosaurs, janitors, and language extinction. The Yaghan people and language really exist, although in real life, there is only one true native speaker left, Cristina Calderon (a native speaker is a person who grew up speaking a language instead of learning it later in life). When she dies, Yaghan will become a dead language, like Latin.

You can hear Cristina say a few words in Yaghan in this video, which directly inspired this story. The rather paternalistic and condescending men who interview her were almost as much of an influence as Cristina on the themes of my story.

“Ten Wretched Things About Influenza Siderius” at Daily Science Fiction

“Influenza siderius begins as a general malaise. That is always the first symptom”.

I wrote this story when everyone in my online writing group simultaneously got sick across the different states and countries we live in. I won’t spoil it by saying more, but check out my author comments at the end for some more notes on its genesis.

“Makeisha In Time” at Crossed Genres

“A woman unafraid to die can do anything she wants. A woman who can endure starvation and pain and deprivation can be her own boss, set her own agenda. The one thing she cannot do is to make them remember she did it.”

I wrote this story specifically for Crossed Genres after their Twitter feed mentioned they’d only received 25% woman-authored stories in slush so far for their Time Travel issue, an unusual gap. I’d recently read Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-nominated essay on the historical erasure of women, “We Have Always Fought”. (hear the author read it in audio here!). I’d also just discovered the Medieval PoC Tumblr, which is dedicated to counteracting the myth of a historically whitewashed Europe by sharing artwork that proves otherwise.

The result was this story, the tale of a woman, a person of color, who battles the forces of historical erasure, selective memory, and time itself for the right to her legacy. If you enjoy it, I highly recommend you check out Hurley’s essay and Medieval PoC, where you can read about the real people Makeisha is based on.

Motley Microfiction: Happy Birthday

Today I congratulate you on another successful trip around the sun!

May your next trip be better

faster

wilder

so you have to dig your nails into the dirt as the orbit rolls on

all seven billion of us screaming

in harmony as the planets stream past…

one! two! eight!

…the trees torched by friction

the windowpanes shattered

the Rockies worn down to nubs

us huddled in our bomb shelters praying for mercy…

…and when you wake up on your birthday next year,

we’ll say

“My, how the year flew by

and anyway weren’t we just celebrating your birthday yesterday?”

——————————————————————————————–

Today is the birthday of my wonderful little sister, Kristin! I wrote this by way of celebration. Kristin, I hope your next trip around the sun is a wonderful one, and lasts longer than 24 hours, because otherwise we’re all going to need a landscaper to take care of all the damage from your wild, wild “year”!

Now go eat something shaped like a dinosaur. Now.

File:CakeGaga5Serbia.jpg

Medical Microfiction: Ecdysis

Dear John

By the time you read this, you will have found my body.

Don’t grieve. I’m not dead. I’ve just moved out.

It’s not anything you did. It was the right time.

I’m worried about you, though. You don’t have many friends apart from me. So someday I’ll visit. I’ll knock, you’ll invite me in for coffee, and after a long chat, I’ll explain everything and we’ll laugh.

But you won’t recognize me in my new skin. I could be old or young, male or female, Greek or Israeli or Japanese. Better offer coffee to anyone who knocks. Just in case.

———————————————————————————————————-

molting (moulting) dragonfly
Is she dead, or has she just moved out? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ecdysis is a word to describe the molting of an exoskeleton in certain species, particularly insects. Usually this shedding of the old skin happens at a time of developmental transition, when you’re moving from one stage to the next.

People don’t molt, of course. Not like insects do. So it’s interesting to think what this process might look like to us if someone we loved underwent ecdysis. My heart is with poor John, who has found a note and a body and must make up his own mind what to believe. Is his loved one dead, or merely transformed?

This story came from a personal place, after several late-night talks with my husband following the sudden death of one of his young students last week.

What might happen to us after we die? Is death a final end, or is it a sort of ecdysis, a shedding of one body as we move to a new stage of development? Like John, we have no way of knowing. We can only make a choice on how to live, given the possibilities. John can live in hope, and treat strangers with the utmost love, or he can live in despair, and ignore the door.

And if he’s wrong? I guess he’ll hand out a lot of free coffee for no reason other than human kindness. But I can think of worse ways to spend my life.

I’ve shared this video before, but it is such a great illustration of ecdysis that I hope you won’t mind me resharing it: the incredible life cycle of cicadas! Set the video to HD and make it big for best results!

I hope your weekend is wonderful, and full of coffee shared with friends and strangers alike, my friends!

Friday Fictioneers: Aurora

Aurora

I was enjoying the sunshine when he found me.

“Hold up.”

I paused, one foot extended into the crosswalk. “Who said that?”

“Over here.” It was Shadowman, my nemesis. He was crouching in the azaleas. “What did you do?”

“Huh? I didn’t ‘do’ anything,” I said.

Shadowman raised an eyebrow. “You can drop the innocent facade, Serena. Or should I say… Aurora?”

I gasped. “Who told you? I was so careful.”

“Not important. Tell me how you caused this.” He swept a hand through the air.

“Can you be more specific?”

“The sunshine, Aurora! It’s the middle of the night!”

————————————————————————————————–

This story was written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’s weekly Friday Fictioneers flash fiction event. The challenge is to write a 100-word story using a photo prompt. As always, I welcome comments and constructive feedback and love browsing the other entries as well!

Copyright -Renee Heath

Medical Microfiction: Autonomic

AutoNoggin3000

Thank you for installing AutoNoggin3000. Your personalized brain optimization report is now loading.

Franklin clicked on the report’s Background Processes tab. Breathing.exe, digestion.exe… OldTaxReturns91.exe?! It took up 25% of his working memory. Franklin closed the program.

The clarity of his thought increased instantly. Curious, he reloaded OldTaxReturns91.exe. His processes dulled again as the ongoing sex tape in his head came back online.

Excited by this discovery, Franklin skimmed the report for other unnecessary processes. Like this one with a turntable icon: DemBeats.exe. That must turn off the earworms. He terminated it.

The coroner’s report called his death a heart attack.

———————————————————————————————————-

A Turntable!
Crank up DemBeats.exe!

The autonomic nervous system is the part of your nervous system responsible for the things your body does automatically. These are processes that happen regardless of whether you consciously think about them or not. Things like breathing, digestion, salivating, heart rate, and yes, sexual arousal.

Heart rate’s an interesting one. Heart muscle, also called cardiac muscle, is the only muscle in the body that produces its own electrical signals allowing it to contract. To put it anther way, your heart is a completely closed system. If given a continuous supply of nutrition and oxygen, your heart will go on beating without you. Past experiments have kept animal heart cells alive in the lab for years without bodies. More recently, there’s research in the works that allows you to drop a “dead” heart into a chemical cocktail that’ll start it right back up. That’s why in the medical world, life and death aren’t defined by heartbeat alone (it’s a combination of things, but that’s a topic for another day).

If the heart’s a closed system, then what does DemBeats.exe do? The autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate. It’s a natural pacemaker. So if you were to shut down that program, the heart itself decides how fast it beats, which means Franklin’s gonna have a heart attack.

The information technology sector was a signif...
Ever wanted to overclock your brain? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would happen if we could optimize our brains like we do our computers? I for one would love to turn off background processes at will that were distracting or inconvenient. And what if we could clean out and organize all those old files we’ve been collecting? You could forget bad memories and clear out room for new ones. You could rescue those old files you wish you’d taken better care of, like my terrible Italian language skills.

Hey, where did all these old episodes of Pokemon come from?

If you could optimize your brain, would you want to change anything, and if so, what?

Medical Microfiction: Remission

The Plague Cicadas

They came flying over the sea: horse-sized insects in battle armor. Eyes like red coals and hungry jaws. They chewed through our trees, our homes, our bodies. Anything the touched, they consumed, heedless of our misery.

But we drove them back in the end.

Victory! We have stacked and burned the bodies of the strange invaders. We have buried our dead and made songs for our heroes.

It’s time to put these dark days behind us. Tonight we celebrate victory.

Apart from the rest of us, one old warrior stands at the ocean’s edge, scanning the horizon with doubtful eyes.

———————————————————————————————————

Cicada
Cicada (Photo credit: plounsbury)

You’ve heard the word remission before, probably in association with cancer. Remission means the subsiding or diminishing of a disease. Full remission is distinct from a cure because while the disease is no longer detectable, there’s always a chance it could reoccur. This is true of many types of cancer, and of some types of bowel disease. Still, even with that distinction, in cases of chronic or incurable diseases remission is great news indeed.

Today I’m happy to report that my wonderful friend, who has been battling acute leukemia since November, got news a few days ago that the leukemia’s completely undetectable in her body for the first time since the battle began. Full remission! And the timing couldn’t be better. Today she’s entering the hospital to begin prepping for her bone marrow transplant next week. There is no better time to do a transplant than when the disease has been so thoroughly beaten into the ground.

The cool thing about bone marrow transplants? When successful, they can actually cure leukemia. Not just put it into full remission; cure it. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about the bone marrow registry and highly encourage you to consider joining it, or the branch in the country you live in.

I think cicadas make for a good metaphor for remission. Cicadas have a unique life cycle. They spend years and years living underground and only emerge to mate, lay eggs, and die. Then their grubs go underground for up to 17 years before they emerge again. As with any incurable disease, they’re likely to reappear after being completely gone for years and years.

This year marked the return of one cicada brood up and down the East Coast of the United States. They’re remarkable insects, cicadas. Check out this gorgeous video for a real treat. Make it big, and set it to HD for best enjoyment:

Beautiful. Have you ever witnessed a brood of cicadas emerge? I wanted to drive around and look for one this year, but just barely missed the window!

Medical Microfiction: Orbit

In Orbit

Marie hadn’t intended to cause a war between the planets. She’d just gotten something in her eye while cycling.

The more she rubbed at it, the further it worked its way into her eye socket. She rushed home, stuck her face under the faucet and pried open her eyelid. The water stung the microscopic scratches on her cornea, but eventually the particle dislodged.

Thanks to her blurred vision, Marie completely overlooked the sand-sized spacecraft swirling down the sink, and with it, the ambassadors of peace.

A few days later, the aliens declared war.

Remember, kids: when cycling, wear eye protection.

—————————————————————————————————————

Orbit has a double meaning. We usually use it in its astronomical sense, to mean the course of one object traveling around another. The moon orbits the Earth. In anatomy, orbit refers to the eye socket in the skull.

English: This picture, adapted from Gray's Ana...
The bones that make up the orbit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The skull’s a very strange and unique component of the human body. For one, it’s not just one bone. It’s difficult to say just how many bones are in the skull because it depends on what you mean by “bone” and how you count them.

Why the trouble with counting? You see, your skull doesn’t finish developing until after birth. Infants have four “soft spots” on their noggins called fontanels which are places where the skull bones haven’t fused together yet. The fontanels serve two purposes: to allow for easier delivery, and to allow space for the brain to finish development after birth. When these fontanels finally fuse, they’re joined together with sutural bones that can vary in number from person to person.

My anatomy textbook goes with a fairly traditional count of 22 bones forming the skull. Of these, 7 bones help make up the orbit.

I had fun writing today’s story because it captures orbit in both its meanings. A microscopic fleet of alien ships is in orbit over the Earth, attempting to make peaceful contact. One of their ships is in the orbit of Marie’s eyeball. All this orbiting adds up to be one huge headache for everyone.

For those of you in the United States, happy July 4th! I hope you enjoy the holiday with good food and good company, and hopefully better weather than we’re having in Georgia today. For those of you outside the US, hang in there. Friday’s coming soon.

And whatever you do, remember: wear eye protection. Peaceful intergalactic relations might depend on it.

Medical Microfiction: Analemma

Suicide Note

Liz knew her science fair project would be great. Her teacher told her how if you take a picture of the sun at the same location and time every day, and then put them together, you could see how its position made a figure-eight pattern over the year.

So every morning, Liz faithfully trudged out to the lake and took a picture of the sun until she had a year’s worth. Then she layered the pictures atop each other.

The sun formed a pattern alright. It wasn’t a figure-eight, though. Liz made out a message: Going Nova. Goodbye, Cruel Worl–.

————————————————————————————————————-

I’ve cheated a bit today. Analemma isn’t a medical term. It’s an astronomy term that refers to the figure-eight shape created when you track the sun’s highest point in the sky throughout the year. The sun’s not really complicit in this process at all; it’s the earth’s elliptical orbit that creates this effect.

Fictional Photomontage (actual positions of th...
The figure-eight pattern forming the analemma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first saw a photomontage capturing the analemma, I immediately thought of skywriting. Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone trying to document this effect discovered that someone was trying to send a message? Although it’s not scientifically accurate, I decided to write about the sun’s very slow efforts to warn the Earth about its own impending death. Maybe the sun’s lost the will to live after eons of being ignored by the planets in its solar system. Nonetheless, we’d best get a move on before the sun finishes its suicide note, or risk going up with everything else in the nova.

It’s a lonely universe for sentient stars.

Are you interested in astronomy? I’m slowly becoming addicted, thanks to the superb Bad Astronomy blog, written by astronomer Phil Plait (who I also admire for his pro-vaccine activism). Check out his blog for some really stunning pictures and reams of well-written information on astronomy for amateurs and the experienced alike.

Medical Microfiction: Necrophagous

The Humans Bite Back

Life sucked for the survivors of the zombie apocalypse. First they ran out of fresh vegetables, then the non-perishables dwindled. When they got down to Ramen noodles and Twinkies, they turned to cannibalism, because nobody wants to eat that crap.

In retrospect, someone inevitably had to try it. But when the first survivor fried up a zombie steak, everyone was astounded by how darn good it tasted. We’re talking bacon-wrapped shrimp levels of tastiness!

That solved the zombie problem but introduced a new one: once you’ve eaten something that delicious, how do you ever go back to bland old bacon?

———————————————————————————————————

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips disp...
Bacon: the King of Foods, at least until you try zombie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Necrophagous is a word that means feeding on corpses or dead matter. Generally in nature, this refers to scavengers such as vultures or hyenas. They’re nature’s recyclers, helpfully cleaning up dead creatures that would otherwise just spread disease.

This story’s about another kind of recycling. Jason calls this concept “reverse zombies:” the humans eat the zombies. It’s fun that the humans have become a different kind of manic, flesh-eating beast by the end of the story. I like this idea, although thinking about the mechanics of it all is giving me a headache. In a zombie situation, I’d personally be wary of trying zombie meat not just because of the cannibalism aspect, but because of fear of getting the virus myself.

Depending on how the zombie virus behaved, it’s theoretically possible that it might pass through your digestive tract harmlessly. Zombie bites suggest transmission through infected saliva; perhaps the rest of that sucker is fine dining! I know there are some diseases that operate this way, but I’m drawing a blank this morning. Can you think of an example of something harmless to the digestive tract that would be harmful if exposed to the bloodstream? (Edit: EvolGeneius says the substance we’re looking for is venom! Check the comments for the fantastic explanation). I think the HIV virus might fit the bill, but don’t quote me on that.

In case of a zombie apocalypse, what’s your plan for keeping the food supply up? Are you willing to dip into the dreaded Twinkies and Ramen?

Medical Microfiction: Brachymelia

Pseudosaurus

They’d spent generations cultivating human media to ensure their welcome. When they invaded, the humans would greet them as familiar friends and worship their new tyrants.

First, they introduced the hack novelist who wrote about cloning. Then the Hollywood blockbuster based on his book. That cartoon about the adorable brachiosaurus had been a stroke of genius.

But today’s headline ruined everything: EXPERTS SAY DINOSAURS HAD FEATHERS.

Aboard the mothership, the alien commander fumed. Undone by feathers!

“Orders, sir?” asked his subordinate.

The commander gestured with stumpy arms. “Bring me superglue and a feather pillow. I’ll need help reaching my back.”

————————————————————————————————————-

T-Rex
T-Rex (Photo credit: mcdlttx)

Brachymelia means having unusually short arms. Y’know, like a T-rex! Brachymelia explains why the alien commander’s gonna need a little help feathering his back in order to carry out his plot of cultural and actual invasion.

I like to think that even if actual Earth dinosaurs had feathers, somewhere out in the universe there’s got to be another species that resembles the scaly dinosaurs that Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg promised us. Unfortunately, it’s always possible that said aliens have bad intentions, and that our dinosaur-loving media is all just a ploy to lower our defenses against our dinosaur overlords.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister.

Humans can have brachymelia too. In particular, it’s associated with achondroplastic dwarfism (also called achondroplasia), a form of dwarfism where a person’s head and torso grow to normal adult proportions, but the person’s limbs are shorter than average. The talented actor Peter Dinklage, who plays the badass Tyrion on Game of Thrones, exhibits achondroplastic dwarfism.

So how does the limb-shortness come about? Achondroplasia literally means “without cartilage development.” Bones (particularly the long bones of the arms and legs) usually grow in length during puberty via a process where cartilage is added to the growth zone of a bone. The cartilage is gradually converted into new bone, resulting in the arms and legs lengthening. People with achondroplasia have a genetic mutation that inhibits this process.

Now on to a more important question. Who would win in a fight between a T-rex and Tyrion Lannister?