Submission for AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition 2013

 (Submission for AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition 2013) Short Story Division – $10

http://www.australianhorror.com/index.php?view=57

I have seen unspeakable things in my time on Earth. The only inhabitable planet within the galaxy. Now, it is a tomb. All surviving humans remaining await for their consciousness to slip away into the heavens.

The year 2054 brought with it numerous technological advancements. Cures for cancers were discovered, and made commercially available. Poverty had been solved, with foreign aid groups using newly developed seeds which even after germinating and producing crops, they could be replanted immediately after being harvested. Desalination technology had been improved to the point where water shortages were a distant memory.

All worthwhile and exceedingly useful technological developments. As many of the world’s problems had been solved, science was utilized further in satisfying as many consumer wants as possible. Apple, the creator of the Mac computer and the iPhone, moved away from handheld electronics and computers to personal robotics. It was an innovation, to have a robot perform menial tasks such as cleaning and cooking. Eventually, humans grew dependant on their robot servants. By 2060, all households had at least one robot.

Oh, how we were fools. Taken in by the marketing of ‘Never perform housework again! Have someone else do it for you, without the attitude and the need for breaks!”, consumers worldwide snapped up the iRobots, in its different colours and downloadable actions from the App Store. Little did we know, a rogue techno wiz with malevolent designs and a powerful artificial intelligence virus, was the head director of iRobot productions at Apple. And so, in 2062, the human race became a prisoner of their own technology.

After the virus was released, the iRobots went from servants to tyrannical masters. With reinforced plates and fittings, and access to an App Store filled with actions which were utilized for violence, the iRobots used their arm cannons, and subdued the human race. Billions of us were wiped out, within 6 months. Of course, we had our defense forces, but whoever had the sick desire to build the army of iRobots had thought of that, and so our weaponry was beyond useless. Mankind was almost exterminated, and the poor bastards that remained are kept in these labs, where we are experimented on for the purpose of cyborg technologies, the stuff of science fiction.

Only after being fitted with a mask that’s replaced my eyes with artificial vision, and a bone transplant which has rendered me a sack of skin over a platinum based skeletal structure, have I decided I’m damn well pissed off.

With my mask came the ability to analyze the wellbeing of myself, and from what I could tell from the scarlet-hued readings, I barely had 2 more months worth of life left in me. 60 odd days, to escape from this prison of steel and surgery rooms. A path, no doubt guarded by iRobots armed to the polymer teeth with the deadliest of weaponry, all for the sake of breathing fresh air and feeling the wind on my skin after 8 years of torture.

With nothing left to lose, having lost my family and friends in the initial extermination, the reward’s damn well worth the risk.

And so I waited. After a while, the iRobots head director grew arrogant after his reign of terror. Security measures such as the cameras and the incessant ‘clank-clank’ of patrolling iRobots became less frequent, until neither appeared to occur anymore.

One night, my dinner tray was pushed through my cell chute. On it, a minimum of nutrition was provided, with the only edible thing on it being a sealed cup of water and a mash of dried vegetable. After indulging in the water’s purity, and choking down the vegetable matter, I hid the polymer fork and knife in my rough-spun tunic, and watched the moon descend to the horizon from my cell’s window.

Once her white curves disappeared, I made my move. Shoving my arm through the food chute, I inched the knife towards the cell’s lock. Surprisingly, the cell’s lock was still ‘last-gen’, lacking any touch pads for a code. A little piece of home, if you will. I twisted the knife into the lock’s bowels, and hoped for the best.

CLICK!

The door opened. Freedom beckoned. I left my cell, and having memorized the routes taken by the patrolling iRobots from years ago, I made my way towards the hangar, where my escape to the outside world would be.

The hangar was poorly lit, with the overhead lights providing minimal aid to sight. Still, I saw the train they used to ferry us to this damned facility, 8 years ago. All it would take was a push of a lever, and the train would take itself to King’s Cross Station, to London, to the city. To home.

“ESCAPEE DETECTED. COMMENCING APPREHENSION OF HUMAN.”

Ah, damn.

Rows of the chrome-plated iRobots advanced towards me, arm cannons primed to release a plasma burst which would proceed to melt me down to nothing more than a cluster of ash atoms.

“HALT. DO NOT MOVE FROM YOUR POSITION.”

Well, I’ll be damned if I take orders from a bloody tin can.

With admirable tact, I gave the lot of the droids the middle finger, and dashed towards the train.

Plasma bursts erupted around me. The heat scorched my tunic. I continued, leaping into the train, slamming the reinforced door close, and kicked the ignition lever.

Safe. The train’s exterior was reinforced with a combination of platinum and polymer, designed to resist any form of assault, as well as dulling the sounds of the outside world.

Having fallen into the train, my back laid against the real wooden floor, and the iRobots weaponry firing on the train caused the carriage to rock gently as it progressed outside of the facility into the star-filled sky of outside. My eyes closed. I had escaped. A prisoner of technology rebelled, and could now reenter the world taken away from him. I slept, and dreams of my new future outside filled me with hope.

 

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‘Our fantasies can be more powerful than our reality.’

(My response to a prompt from a Whose Reality Year 12 English Exam prompt – Hope you enjoy!)

Four friends managed to escape the fallout of nuclear warfare on an international scale. Radioactivity levels have spiked across the country, and as fast as they were to retreat to their underground research lab turned makeshift bunker, some radiation has seeped through the walls. Soon, the bunker will be completely irradiated, and so the four hurry on to the experimental simulated reality pods, their only chance to survive if not in body but in mind….   

“…Only three?  

“There’s no time! Just get in! Soon, this lab will be irradiated to lethal levels, and I’m the only one who can operate them from the control panel.”  

“Do they even work though?! And, what about you?  

“I made these pods for a reason. All three of you are the most important people to me that are still living. The last thing I can do for each of you is ensure that you live on.”  

“But wha-”  

“Just GO! Leave it to me! And think happy thoughts, or it won’t work!”  

…  

INITIATING REALITY SEQUENCE – POD A. COMMENCING…  

Felix jerked awake, gasping for air. The electrodes attached to his head slipped off, clattering against the metal of the reality pod. After trying to fix them on, the circuits sparked, and fizzled out.   

ERROR IN REALITY SEQUENCE. PLEASE COMPLETE REPAIRS IN CIRCUIT BOARDS 2A and 4C…  

The pod’s lid lifted up. Felix unstrapped himself from his chair, and looked around. Jamie’s and Vanessa’s pods seemed intact, with the two already unconscious. Where was Mitchell?  

Above on the operating platform, Mitchell was frantic.   

“Mitchell!” Felix called. “What happened?  

“There’s not enough power! The bombs from before must have upset the lab’s electric power systems, so there’s only enough power for Vanessa’s and Jamie’s pods.”  

Felix grimaced. “So, does that mean…”  

Mitchell looked at Felix, nodding his head. “I’m afraid so. Looks like we’ll both be leaving this world together. Our last adventure, eh, Chief?”  

“Chief?” Felix mused, as he stepped over to Mitchell by the panel. “I guess when you’ve got moments left to live, you think of all the things you’ve done in your life, right? I mean, you’re thinking of the old days in college, when we did that viking club battle, right?”  

Mitchell laughed. “Yup.” He agreed. “Remember when we had to raid the soccer club, pretending it was a fort?”  

“How could I forget? When the chief of the other team snuck up from behind, you leapt to my side as my shield-brother. Even though I was Chief, I was the one who needed saving.”  

“You were worth saving, Chief. It’s the shield-brother’s job to keep you alive.”  

Anger formed Felix’s face into a frown. “But I’m the Chief! I was supposed to make sure all my men were safe from the start. Yet once again, I’m having to lose the people I care about just to save myself.” Felix gestured to the pods.   

Mitchell went quiet at that.   

…  

After several awkward moments of silence, Felix sighed, resting his back against the lab wall, sliding down to a sit. Mitchell came and sat down beside him.  

“The girls,” Felix questioned. “They’ll be alright?”  

Mitchell nodded. “Don’t you worry about them. Jamie and Ness will be alright. They’re probably having their own dreams right now, of a world not destroyed by nuclear radiation.”  

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Felix mused. “Despite all our technological advances in the 22nd century, we end up destroying the world as we know it, over some petty political dispute.”  

Mitchell laughed. “At least the Chief and his shield-brother will go down together.”  

WARNING. RADIATION LEAK FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES. PERSONNEL MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. LAB WILL BE COMPLETELY IRRADIATED IN 3 MINUTES.  

…  

“It’s been an honour, chief.”  

“You’ve been my best friend since high school, Mitchell. I hope we can see each other again….”  

…  

“What the?” Mitchell murmered. “Pod A’s offline? Felix? Ack, can’t focus on that now. The other pods MUST work!”  

…  

INITIATING REALITY SEQUENCE – POD B. COMMENCING…  

Jamie stirred. Vision blurred, she kneaded her eyes, rubbing them to restore her sight. Upon closer examination, the lab’s lights are dimmed, and a red light is flashing around the room. The pod’s lid is unattached, lying on the floor. Looking around, Felix’s and Vanessa’s pods appear intact. Where is Mitchell…  

“Ja…Jamie…”  

Mitchell!  

There! By the control panel. And blood…  

“Mitchell! What happened?!”  

“The power…it needed too much that it overloaded…and the panel exploded…Felix’s and Ness’s…should be okay…”  

“Damn it, Mitchell. I never trusted you and your damned technology.”  

“Then…why did you join us?”  

Jamie was staggered. Why was she in this lab, instead of an irradiated freak above ground?   

“I…I…” Jamie stuttered.  

Mitchell chuckled weakly. “I asked…you to come…because of what we had. Because of…Ryan…”  

Jamie looked away, tears forming in her eyes. “He would have made it, if you had been there to give me strength.”  

Mitchell grasped Jamie’s ankle. As she looked down, she saw tears in Mitchell’s eyes as well.  

“Not a day goes by…that I don’t think about the son…we almost had. That’s why…I wanted to give you…a chance…I’m sorry that I…couldn’t even give you that…”  

 At that, Jamie relented. With a sigh, she held Mitchell by the arms, carrying him to the lab wall and propped him up, wiping some of the blood with her cardigan.   

“…How much longer do we have left?”  

“No more…than 5 minutes…”  

With that, Jamie embraced Mitchell.   

“Wha – why?”  

“Because despite all that happened our past, you still came for me. Despite your faults, your heart was and still is in the right place.”  

They held each other in silence for several moments.   

WARNING. RADIATION LEAK FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES. PERSONNEL MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY.   

“I’m glad…that you’re here…with me in the end.”  

“Perhaps in whatever afterlife there is, we can be together once more, and try again to be a family…”  

…  

“No!” Mitchell shouted. “Pod B as well?! JAMIE!”  

…  

INITIATING REALITY SEQUENCE – POD C. COMMENCING…  

“Ugh…,” Vanessa groaned. “Even with all the guinea-pig work I did for him, this whole simulated reality thing is still uncomfortable as hell…huh?”  

She was still in the lab. The same metal flooring. The same pair of electrodes that were too damn tight upon her head. Yet, on her pod’s screen, ‘ERROR’ was all that could be seen.   

“Mitchell? Is there something wrong with Pod C?” 

Mitchell started at her voice, before looking away guiltily. “…No, your pod is fully operational.” 

A frown creased across Vanessa’s features as she strode to Mitchell besides the control panel.  

“Then why am I hear about to question you as to why the pod isn’t working?” 

Mitchell turned away, unwilling to respond.  

“ANSWER ME, LITTLE BROTHER!” 

“BECAUSE I’D BE ALL ALONE!” 

Vanessa staggered backwards, caught off balance by her brother’s unexpected reaction.  

Mitchell sighed, slumping his shoulders. “This experiment…we worked on it together, just like everything else in our lives. I don’t want to die alone. I don’t want to be without you….does that make me selfish, Sis?” 

Vanessa smiled, placing her hand on Mitchell’s shoulder. “Of course not, Mitchell. You’re right. We’ve been a team since we came into this world, even with the 121 seconds that make me older than you. In a way, I suppose it’s kinda funny yet sorta logical that we die together as well.” Vanessa laughed. “It also means more spare power for Felix and Jamie too.” 

… 

WARNING. RADIATION LEAK FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES. PERSONNEL MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. LAB WILL BE COMPLETELY IRRADIATED IN 3 MINUTES.  

“Thanks, Sis.” 

“Don’t worry about it, Mitch. In a way, I was kind of hoping that something would happen that would keep us together, even if for another 3 minutes or so. And in whatever afterlife that exists, I’ll still look out for my kid brother!” 

… 

“Sis…” Mitchell cried. “No…not you too…” 

Mitchell slumped forward onto the control panel, with three bright red ERROR lights blinking up at him.  

What could have gone wrong? The equipment had been checked, and made ready for use a day ago. What could it have been? 

Mitchell started. Of course! The instructions are at fault! ‘Think happy thoughts, or it won’t work!’, that’s what went wrong! 

Mitchell chuckled to himself. Of course, it would be too much to ask three people faced with imminent death to think of a more ideal place to be to live within.  

 

WARNING. RADIATION LEAK FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES. PERSONNEL MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. LAB WILL BE COMPLETELY IRRADIATED IN 3 MINUTES.  

Mitchell walked past each pod, staring at the faces of a best friend, a once happy marriage partner, and a twin sister.  

 WARNING. RADIATION LEAK FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES. PERSONNEL MUST EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. LAB WILL BE COMPLETELY IRRADIATED IN 1 MINUTE.  

Mitchell stared up at the lab’s ceiling.  

“I wonder, what they all were thinking, in the end?” 

  

  

 

Ransom

(For those doing Year 12 Mainstream English this year and in years to come, this is an example of an essay for Ransom, the text response component of your Year 12 assessment)

Topic – What is Malouf saying about love through Ransom?

 

Points:

To establish, there are a number of different types of love, as shown by Malouf in Ransom. He demonstrates love in four main forms:

 

* Father to son (Achilles and Neoptolemus, Priam and Hector, Somax and his two elder sons)

* Humans to humans (Priam, Achilles and Somax being able to understand one another)

* Spousal (Priam and Hecuba)

* Brothers (Soul mates even, between Achilles and Patroclus)

 

Through these forms, what Malouf is saying about love is that:

* A person’s love for another can be blinding (Achilles and Patroclus, cannot imagine life without him), and so it is important to keep things in perspective, or the world of a person will be lost with the death of the loved one.

* Love can bind humans together through shared sentiment, no matter the personal circumstances of those involved (Priam and Somax’s love for their sons allows them to bond)

* Love is more than acknowledgement of offspring. It is remembering significant events and particulars about one’s son or daughter. (Hecuba remembers each child individually, Priam cannot)

 

Through his novel Ransom, it can be said that Malouf has much insight to provide as to different types of love, as well as what it constitutes and the actions in can cause. Malouf does this by exploring the love felt by characters Priam, Somax, Hecuba and Achilles. Through Priam and Hecuba, Malouf investigates what constitutes love for one’s child, in terms of the importance as a parent to be able to differentiate between one’s children and remember each of their unique characteristics. Through Priam and Somax, Malouf demonstrates that through shared sentiment, love can be a powerful binding agent in forging bonds between fellow fathers, despite any differences in background or experiences. Also, Malouf suggests that love can be blinding and the extent to which someone is loved must be kept in perspective, as can be seen through Achilles and Patroclus, where Malouf suggests that such love can result in the loss of one’s own soul. 

 

Malouf suggests that a person does not truly love their child if they are unable to even think of them as a particular person. Through Ransom, Malouf implies there is great importance in being able to recognise one’s child through personal experience. This is because by remembering one’s child as an individual, one is able to show the depth of their love for their child, and are thus able to properly call themselves their parent. Hecuba shows what it means to be a loving parent in comparison to Priam, who saw his children as little more than a ‘formal and symbolic…purchase on the future’, implying that Priam’s sons were tools for ensured continuance of his bloodline. This differs to the degree of fearsome love shown by Hecuba,  whom has been able to recall the way that each of the sons she bore ‘kicked their little heels’ under her heart, as well as being able to remember ‘the first cry they gave’ at their birth, whereas Priam is only able to recall the birth of his sons as a ‘series of small squalling bundles.’ Because of this, Malouf shows that being a parent is more than just being the mother or father of a child. Malouf shows that to be parent is to recognise each child as ‘particular’, as only then can one say what ‘it was to lose a son.’

 

In addition, through Ransom, Malouf demonstrates that despite differences in background, love can forge bonds not just between parents and children, but between parents as well, as a result of similar experiences. This is because we are all human, a trait that cannot be changed no matter how one has lived their life, and so love that is held between a parent and their child can be understood and related to by other parents as well, providing the opportunity for the creation of new relationships between parents as a result of similar experiences. Malouf demonstrates this through characters Priam and Somax, during their journey to Achilles’ camp. Through this journey, Malouf shows love felt for sons by two fathers, both of whom have lost their sons, and it is the sense of ‘fellow-feeling’ that allows these two men to bond and recognise that ‘all of us’ are ‘tied’ together in our hearts. It is clear that in their life roles, Somax lives a commoner lifestyle as a ‘cart-driver’, whereas Priam is swathed in ‘dazzling eminence’ from his royal ‘entrappings’ as the King of Troy, highlighting a clear difference in how each man has lived their lives. However, this serves as an ineffectual barrier in the two of them being able to understand each other as an ‘ordinary man’ and ‘one poor mortal to another’, as despite their background, both are fathers that have been ‘blessed with sons,’ and the ‘prattling’ conversations they share are able to

create ‘interest’ and ‘curiosity’ between them, so that in the end, Priam and Somax journey together not as a King and his ‘Idaeus’, but as ‘men, children of the gods’ that are tied together through the ‘soft affections’ held towards their children. 

 

Furthermore, Malouf provides further insight into love, in the respect of how it can lead to a man’s downfall. Malouf does this by looking into how a man’s affection and devotion to another can lead to a loss of perspective and purpose as a result of their loved one’s death. Malouf shows this through characters Achilles and Patroclus. Here, it is made clear that Achilles and Patroclus share an exceptionally strong bond, with the two of them being deemed as ‘soul mates’ and displaying profound ‘brotherly affection.’ However, it is through the affinity that they share that resulted in Achilles’s temporary downfall from one of the Greek’s most powerful warriors to a man who saw his ‘soul change color’, resulting in his own men viewing him as ‘an opposing stranger’ and ‘that he is mad.’ This is because of Achilles’ intense love for Patroclus, with him believing that ‘he could conceive nothing in the life he must live that Patroclus would not share in and approve,’ for Patroclus was his ‘companion since childhood,’ and ever since he became his adoptive brother, Achilles’ life had ‘reassembled itself’ around Patroclus. This clearly shows an intense level of love and affection from Achilles to Patroclus. It is this love that Malouf shows how a man’s love being fixated ‘around a new centre’ from their love for another will leave you ‘drowned in oblivion’, should that person be removed forcibly from your life. This is understandable, as to lose someone you have been ‘mated’ would no doubt result in severe emotional turmoil, and so your life would be ‘irrevocably changed’ by the loss of someone you love. Malouf shows this in Ransom, as seen in how Achilles’ ‘runner spirit deserted him’ as a result of losing his ‘soul mate, emphasizing the importance of retaining a certain degree of detachment in order to avoid such a drastic change to one’s personality and soul.

 

Malouf is able to provide much insight regarding love in terms of its forms, what it means to love, how it can forge new and unexpected bonds, and how it can bring about a man’s downfall, all through his novel Ransom. Malouf does this through characters Priam, Somax, Achilles and Hecuba, by investigating the love felt by all of these characters for sons and soul mates. Through these characters, Malouf investigates what it means to be a parent through identifying what constitutes as love towards one’s child, through characters Priam and Hecuba, In addition, Malouf shows that love can overcome differences in background by way of shared experiences of fellow men in regards to the loss of loved sons, through Priam and Somax. Furthermore, Malouf comments on the importance of ensuring love held for another will not break you as a person should the loved one be lost, as seen through Achilles and Patroclus. Therefore, Malouf offers a variety of perceptions through Ransom, in types of love as well as its impact on us as human beings.