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Science Fiction: The history of our future
A new, experimental subgenre in science fiction:
Chiastic Flash Fiction – ChiFlash
ChiFlash unites the chiasm—an ancient literary device—with flash-length science fiction to create a dynamic and thought-provoking new form.
Chiastic writing nearly 5,000 years old has been found by archaeologists on ancient Babylonian clay tablets, yet Shakespeare sprinkled it generously throughout his plays, poems, and sonnets. Scholars have identified many complex variations, but in its simplest form, a chiastic story takes the reader down a long road then back again by the same path to the beginning of the tale.
ChiFlash adds a twist. The story starts and ends with exactly the same sentence, but the middle of the story changes its meaning.1 The reader comes home, but like Homer, finds it a different place.
*1 For wordsmiths and linguists, this variation on the chiastic story model is technically known as the Antanaclasis, the repetition of a word, phrase, or sentence in which the second use delivers a different, sometimes contrary meaning from the first. ChiFlash applies Antanaclasis to an entire story.
Here's an example:
In the following 743-word sample we’re staying under our 1,000-word flash limit.
Under Europa’s Ice
Needles trembled near the lowest limit of sensitivity on the dials of an exceptionally sensitive instrument. A signal rose—barely above the background noise—and fell again.
“Is that a signal, Mike?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been looking at the meters so long even a dead meter looks like it’s twitching. My eyeballs are jiggling. But maybe that one is a signal.” Mike transmitted the output from his research console to Berny’s command monitor. “Let’s take a closer look.”
A green line slid across the black screen, painting a horizontal saw-tooth over and over again. The tiny teeth vibrated a few millimeters above a baseline near the bottom of the screen—the quivering signature of meaningless background radio noise. Then they saw the single, narrow spike rise above the static.
“Look at that! That could be it,” Berny said. The lone point rose above the rest on a few repeated passes then melted down into the background again. It was at precisely the right place on the scope, the right frequency to be their home base calling. Berny jumped from his seat and peered out the port hole as if he could see their target through the stygian blackness of freezing, miles-deep brine.
“Easy, Berny. I hope you’re right, but we can’t afford to chase a false alarm. The fuel cells are almost dead.” He tweaked a dial and fixed his weary eyes on the screen again. “Let’s see if that really is the homing beacon looking for us.”
Mike and Berny spent the next 30 minutes redirecting the parabolic dish atop their submersible by fractions of a degree, right, left, up, down. The deep and hostile alien sea slowly yielded to their probing. At last, they were sure.
“Signal to noise looks good now, Berny. That’s got to be the surface station. Let’s see if we can make contact.”
Europa’s smooth and ancient sea floor had sloped downward abruptly below their rover into an uncharted trench. Mike and Berny’s unplanned descent was fast and rough. From the bottom, the slope was too sheer for their deep benthic explorer to claw its way back up. Mike and Berny now sat seven kilometers below the frigid brine of Europa’s dark sea under the 10- kilometer ice-rind that encased the smallest of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons.
Mike never would have guessed he could manoeuvre the clumsy crawler well enough to survive its steep, chaotic plunge. Adrenalin and luck would have to share the credit.
The runaway crawler’s plummet had ended suddenly against a boulder. The two men watched one of their spotlights implode into twisted shards against the immovable obstacle.
“How come the survey maps didn’t show this trench?” Berny slumped in his seat and stared into darkness beyond the starboard observation port.
“The satellite’s ice penetrating radar isn’t perfect.” Mike looked at the cramped chamber’s ceiling. “That’s a lot of ice and salt water to see through. I guess this had to happen to somebody, some day.”
The last four days in the deep searching for the topside base camp’s beacon had weakened both men and the crawler’s power cells. The two trapped scientists knew, in theory, that a high gain signal, aimed precisely at the surface camp’s homing beacon antenna, could summon a rescue party. But that theory had never been tested in circumstances like these. And the theory required someone top-side listening to hear their signal.
Mike closed a relay that would begin chirping their emergency call signal upward toward that single listening device, the one they had finally detected far above them on Europa’s frozen, desolate surface. His optimism was no stronger than their failing fuel cells, and yet…
“How much longer, sir?” The communications technician at Europa Surface Camp-1 asked without turning from his instruments.
“Can’t be much longer. If we don’t find them soon, we’ll have to assume the mission is lost. I suspect yours will be the last shift for this listening post. We’ll probably get the order to stand down pretty soon.” The captain turned and walked slowly toward the galley where he hoped one more mug of hot coffee would help him craft the tragic communique, the one he still wished he would not have to transmit back to Earth.
An hour later the Camp-1 comm-desk sat vacant, though its instruments still followed their automatic listening protocols. Needles trembled near the lowest limit of sensitivity on the dials of an exceptionally sensitive instrument. A signal rose—barely above the background noise—and fell again.
NEW SUBMISSION! 6/29/2021
Jacquie L. of Lakewood, NY explodes on telemarketers and their robo-calls.
Just Let it Ring
I never answer the phone anymore.
Another telemarketing lowlife had just left me another message—three minutes of dead air on my answering machine, not even a hang-up. The auto-dialers they use range from evil AI bugs that listen for a human voice to start playing their inane recorded messages, down to simple random number generators manned by incoherent dolts as primitive as the minds that employ them. They try to hook unsuspecting, gullible people into buying, renting, subscribing to—or worse—something totally useless or non-existent, but stupidly expensive. I hate all telemarketers.
I’d tell you what I really think of them, but the comparison would insult a hardworking part of the human body.
Somehow though, this time, I really snapped. But quietly, in the most deadly way that my friends know all too well. It was my tight-lipped, stone-faced, squinty-eyed, silent thing that meant “get out of my way! Somebody’s going to get hurt.”
I started by using the telemarketers’ own internet tools—Google, Monster, Indeed, and a few more down in the grungy basement of the dark web. I wanted to find the worst of the lot and I wanted to go work for them. I’d get inside, learn their tricks, expose the best ones in the business because those would be the worst of the whole evil lot. I’d be a mole, a tunneling rat, a ticking timebomb that would soon blow them all into telemarketing hell. It became an obsession and drove me on for weeks.
After exactly one month I started my new job seated in front of a telephone, a computer, and a book of scripts. The things I learned only fueled my hatred more. Before long, I had learned to do the job so well that I was acting more evil than most of my colleagues just to worm my way in deeper. Righteous indignation respects no bounds in service to a higher cause.
The warehouse where I had found myself was jammed with scammers and faux-friends to the lonely. We answered calls from the people our AI had hooked into calling back to claim the great prize they had miraculously won or some other boon beyond their wildest dreams—if only they’d share a few vital facts about their bank accounts or holdings.
I took notes, secret pictures, and recorded incriminating instructions from the taskmasters who rode herd over their menagerie of miscreant callers, desperate losers all hoping to strike it rich out of somebody else’s pockets.
Only two weeks along, I was ready to strike from within, backed now by a nationwide media outlet so eager for an expose that they bankrolled my entire crusade. But by then something had changed. I’d learned all the tricks too well. Boss Haji offered me the golden chip, the thing only whispered about among our most eager callers and only offered to the best.
The cold, metallic disc nestled itself on the bone behind my right ear before I even knew Haji had approached me from behind and placed it there. It drove its thinnest of wires into my skull, coated like a vampire’s tooth with an instantaneous pain killer. All I felt was the warmth of my newest, kindest, and gentlest new friend. The company’s AI mind that knew all had suddenly joined with mine.
I no longer worked for the call center. Instead, I believed I was it. I could now serve the whole world by calling it a thousand times a day.
I never answer the phone anymore.
FIW replies. Thanks Jacquie. Nice ChiFlash. But don’t call me some day!
Want to try one of your own? We’ll share a few of the best with our readers. Click here to send your own ChiFlash story!
Writing prompts? We’ll change these pictures from time to time though the science fiction mind rarely needs inspiration. But a little more never hurt, either.
Waiting for the next shuttle?
A door to...
Arrival, departure, or ....?
Home sweet home?