While the judges are choosing their favourite entries, here’s a sample flash fiction story from AJ Deane.
We’ve managed to sneak ahead of them and can afford a rest, but we don’t have long before we’ll have to move again. Why am I even bothering to record this on my collarpad? I’ll probably be dead before it’s found.
Mrrlup’s been really supportive. I know he’s been quietly patching me up when I’m asleep, so that I think I’m stronger than I am. Purring me back to health. I don’t know what I’d do if he wasn’t here. But there’s only so far we can get before they catch up with us.
Maybe he’s slowing me down and I’d be better off without him?
Klaw’s sake, that’s unfair. Poor Mrrlup. I think.
He’s sleeping right now. Dreaming, if his twitching tail is anything to go by. We’ve only got 15 clicks to the next Portal. Which is a shame, as this planet’s kind of nice; temperate, one-gee, edible flora and fauna – the works.
But those things just don’t stop. The Rats. They’re eating everything, following us cross-world through our own Portals, chasing us back home to where it all started. They’ll strip this world in no time. They’re sure as hell not rats, of course, whatever they are. They just remind us of rats, with their nests and their numbers. Klaw, the numbers.
We’re kind of lazy, my people, but sometimes that causes us to innovate a brilliant – and above all easy – solution. Hence the Portals. And the Rats. “Let’s manufacture some things to ‘pave the way’ for us,” we said two centuries ago; some bio-engineered lifeforms to ‘get the job done’ and build the Portals in preparation for our expansion. All very pro-active, productive, and piss-filled. Because while the Portals make travel between planets almost immediate, someone had to make planetfall and build the damn things first, didn’t they? Had to land on some inhospitable Klaw-forsaken rock and do the hard work for us.
When Homeworld Portal lit up a month ago, announcing someone’s arrival, we’d almost forgotten that travel was the gate’s purpose. And through it stepped a Rat far more capable and well-spoken than the ones we’d sent out. He said that their work proceeded ahead of schedule and they were ready for us to take our rightful place in the galaxy. So we went.
And met wave after wave of them coming the other way.
Because during those accelerated generations’ travel outwards among the stars, and away from us, the Rats grew in intelligence and awareness. They grew dissatisfied with dangerous work for so little reward. They grew angry.
Turns out, our ‘rightful place’ was oblivion – and the Rats’ work was bringing it to pass.
I guess what I’m saying is this is a record for another race to find, and learn from our mistakes.
Time to wake Mrrlup and get pussyfooting.
©AJ Deane 2023