Back in 2018, I did a monthly flash fiction draw. Three draws from a deck of cards to get a writing prompt of: genre, setting, and object. 1,000 words, and a flash fiction story in the
chosen genre, set in the chosen setting, including the chosen object.
Well, this year, Cait Gordon picked up the torch, and the first draws were science fiction, a castle, and a tea or coffee press. You can check out the draw over on her blog, as well as her story. She’ll do a round-up blog as well, which I’ll edit to add once it’s up!
My tale, “Proof of Concept,” is a lighthearted one, and I hope you enjoy. It also let me play around a bit with an idea or two I’m considering incorporating into another story, most specifically the nanotech stuff (and the EI companions people can have implanted via nanotech into their heads).
Proof of Concept
After seeing the bricks, Marino considered pretending he hadn’t. It was hard enough being in charge, something he’d previously only done when he’d taken night duty on long trips. There were two other people ahead of him in command if their captain were to fall.
Instead, Marino knelt down and ran a hand over the flat, white stone. It felt exactly how it looked: plain rock, but the measurements, especially the perfectly curved edges and the complete consistency of colour, made it clear this hadn’t been mined or chiseled.
This was made.
“What do you think, should I ask?” Marino said.
“I imagine he will tell you gleefully.” His EI responded aloud. They could communicate silently, but since the death of so many, Marino preferred voices.
He turned and walked back to their camp.
It sounded better than “crash site.”
During afternoon break, to wind down most of the crew went swimming in the nearby bay, or had a cutthroat game of tekeball, but so far as Marino had seen thus far, Luca Accola didn’t take part in either. So once everyone left what they generously called Mess, Marino fed his leftovers into the recycler and waited for Accola to notice he wasn’t alone.
It took five minutes.
“Sir,” Accola said, once he looked up from his pad. “Is… Is everything okay?” His face flushed. Marino fought hard to keep a smile in check. Accola knew he’d been caught, and his bluff was abysmal.
“Bricks,” Marino said.
“Flagstones. Foundation,” Accola said. He held up his pad, as though somehow two words would be enough.
“Care to elaborate?” It wasn’t a request.
Accola bit his lip. “I… I didn’t want to bother you, in case it wasn’t viable, but it is, and I had to do something, with projections so long term—I mean, you know that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know…”
“Accola.” Marino softened his voice. “You’re not telling me anything at all.”
“Is it nanotech?” Marino cut to the root of the problem. “Because you know we need all the nanotech for the ship.”
The ship. More words denying reality. They had a wreck. They needed a ship.
“Well,” Accola said. “That’s the thing. Not all the nanotech.” The slim man flinched, as though disagreeing hurt.
“They’re baseline models,” Accola said. “I only took a few, and I’ve already replaced those with the ones they built from local materials.”
“I thought we couldn’t make more?” Marino said. Their limited nanotech meant their dismal timeline.
“We can’t, not nanos capable of most of the things we need, not without systems we don’t have access to yet—I’ve prioritized those, of course—but if we’re going to be here for almost a year, I mean, that’s a long time and I thought—well, I hoped, but it turned out I was right, so—”
“Sorry.” Accola blew out a breath. “We can build here without messing up our schedule. My colony of nanotech out there will give us something better than this. I did proof of concept. For you. Only you saw the flagstones before I could talk to you, so I guess this ruins the surprise, but…” Accola went to the storage lockers along the back of the emergency shelter and opened one.
Marino stared at what he pulled out.
“Is that..?” Marino didn’t finish the sentence before Accola was nodding and speaking again.
“A press. I know you like tea.” He was blushing again, and Marino realized maybe he’d been misreading the man. Not that he wasn’t nervous, just why.
“You made that with your nanotech. None assigned to repairs.” He needed to be sure.
“Absolutely.” Accola nodded. “It’s only a step or two above basic print, really, once you program the colony. Scaling up is just a matter of time. Growing local, I can have this done in under a month, before the projected winter. Better than bunking up in escape pods and what’s left of the shuttles.”
Accola held up the pad again.
Marino crossed the mess, staring at the image. He could practically hear Accola’s heartbeat jackhammering beside him.
“Does it have to be this particular colour?”
“You can call me Roberto, Accola.”
“Oh. Okay, sir. I mean…Roberto.”
Marino woke, and reached out. He was alone in the bed. A glance told him he was alone in his quarters, too.
“Let me guess,” he said aloud. “The mess?”
His EI confirmed. “Luca Accola is in the mess hall.”
Marino tugged on pants and walked barefoot through the castle. They’d tried calling it anything else for weeks after Luca’s colonies grew it out of the ground, but nothing else stuck. Passing a narrow window, he saw the ship, nearly whole.
Luca didn’t notice him. His gaze fixed to his pad, he tapped away, talking to his EI, who answered in a low audio that always sounded to Marino like it was trying to calm Luca down.
Marino used their first—and in Marino’s opinion, best—tea press to brew up a pot. He brought a tray to where Luca sat and put his hand on the man’s shoulder.
Luca looked up at him, and smiled. Marino knew all Luca’s smiles. He’d enjoyed learning that Luca smiled at all, then discovered a whole lexicon of them.
“Good news, then,” Marino said. He poured them both a cup, and handed one to Luca, nodding at him to take a sip.
Luca swallowed some of the tea. Their latest crop was particularly good.
“I can shave another two weeks off rebuild.” Luca said. “It’s complicated, and I know these models got us this far, but I think—”
Marino lifted his mug and drank, waiting.
Luca bit his lip. “Maybe I should explain this in the morning?”
“Tell me now,” Marino said. “Then come back to bed.”
Luca grinned. “It’s actually more like two and a half weeks, but I rounded down…”