11 November 2011

#fridayflash: from

On Mars the daytime sky is pink — it’s the sunsets that are pale blue.

After over two years of not being on a planet at all, Audrey didn’t care what colour the sky was, so long as she had one over her. She paused for a moment as she stepped off the spaceliner and onto the walkway that led to the Martian welcome centre. It was strange to walk without feeling engine vibrations coming up through the floor. She tilted her head back and gaped at the huge glass dome. Fred Peters, her job contact here, had told her that eventually people stopped thinking of the domes as “being inside” and identified anywhere without an opaque wall as “outside”. Audrey shook herself and continued to the welcome centre. It was going to take a while to get used to this.

She scanned the crowd for someone looking like the photo of Fred Peters that was on the employee intranet, then noticed a teenaged girl holding a sign that said “Audrey” on it. The girl made eye contact with her and smiled.

“Are you Audrey Fremantle? I’m Sarah Peters, Fred’s daughter. My dad got called into work at the last minute, so I said that I would come and meet you.” Sarah put away the sign. “It doesn’t happen that often.”

"Nice to meet you, Sarah.” Audrey guessed the girl was about sixteen. “Thank you for stepping in.”

"No problem — I’ve never met someone who was actually from Earth before. You know the government will move your things to your residence, right?”

Audrey nodded. “Right.” She paused as Sarah’s words sank in. “Never? Both your parents were born here?”

Sarah nodded. “I’m third gen. All my grandparents were part of the construction crews that built the first domes, but they had all died before I was born. My older brothers can remember them a little. Want to have a tour of the colony, or do you want to go straight to your residence?”

"A tour would be great.”

Sarah led Audrey out of the welcome centre to a trio of glass tunnels. They stepped onto a movator, sort of like the ones at Earth airports, except this one had chairs. The two women sat down, and Sarah started pointing out things.

"I picked this tunnel because it gives you a good view of the dome layout, and it’s nice and long so we can talk about what you want to look at. The government area is over there — that’s where we live, and where your residence is too. I used to go to school there, but now I take the tunnel to the university area. The senior high schools are in the same location.”

Audrey compared the two dome clusters, but from this distance they looked identical. She supposed there would be better identifying landmarks once they were actually inside the domes.

"We’re going to go through the agricultural district now,” said Sarah. “This is my favourite place in the colony.” The movator slid past a field of tall plants. “Those are sunflowers. You can eat the kernels, and you can cook with their oil.”

"My mother used to grow sunflowers in her garden on Earth,” said Audrey.

Sarah looked surprised. “Really? I didn’t know they’d been exported to Earth.”

"They’re not, they were exported from...” Audrey started to say, but Sarah was pointing out a field of spelt, carefully explaining to Audrey what spelt was and proudly announcing it was a Martian staple.

Yeah, on Earth too, thought Audrey. She peered at the spelt. Maybe it was a Mars-specific strain invented to be grown under glass domes, but to Audrey it just looked like plain old spelt.

They trundled along more domes filled with fields of beans and strawberries. Each time, Sarah’s explanation indicated that she believed the plants were native to Mars, and that Audrey would never have seen them before.

“Ooh, the botanical gardens!” Sarah jumped off the movator. “Let’s walk around!”

Audrey followed Sarah into a walkway that led to a dome set out as a formal garden. There were plaques in front of each kind of plant stating what its common and scientific names were, but not mentioning that all of them, down to the last shrub, were transplants from Earth.

Sarah had stopped explaining what everything was when Audrey started reading the plaques out loud, but Audrey was still troubled by the misconception. After all, the reason why she was on this three-year research stint with the government was to ensure Earth-Martian links remained strong.

She decided to take her stand by a clump of rose bushes. “These are lovely,” she said. “I used to grow the exact same variety outside my townhouse on Earth. This kind’s from England originally, as I recall.”

Sarah smiled, but Audrey could see it was forced. “Those are Martian roses. Everyone in my family volunteers here. I planted that bush myself.”

"The plant is Martian, sure, but as a variety —”

"They’re Martian! It’s true, everything they say about Earthers is true! You’re all in total denial that Mars is Mars, you think this is all just Earth under a bunch of domes!”

Audrey tried to recall everything she had ever learned about staying calm. “The colony’s been here a long time,” she began. “Certainly long enough to have its own identity and culture.”

"I know,” said Sarah.

Audrey tried again. “On Earth, roses grow all over the world, but they’re from Asia, mostly.”

“These are from Mars.”

Audrey pointed to the emergency hatch at the end of the garden path. “If these are Martian roses, open that hatch and see how long they last without the dome’s seal protecting them.”

Sarah muttered something under her breath and stomped back towards the movator. Audrey caught only a few swear words and decided not to push it. She was here as a researcher, not a teacher.

The roses were lovely, though. She envied the Martians' ability to control the climate so precisely, thanks to the domes.

She heard Sarah shouting something, but couldn’t make out what it was.

Then she noticed the abrupt temperature drop, and how the wind started blowing.

04 November 2011

#fridayflash: prose sestina

I've been meaning to try this out for a while — an exercise in description and point of view. I've come across similar stuff and always thought it was fun, and of course as a device it's been used to create entire novels. No points for guessing what kind of establishment I was in when I wrote it.

Inside the café are chatting couples. There are elderly women browsing magazines. Most of the people in the big, overstuffed armchairs are frowning into laptop screens.

The baristas repeat their phrases of greeting, of order confirmation, of giving change. They stand behind cash registers with more computing power than the Manhattan Project. They operate espresso machines bristling with spigots and knobs. The steam hisses and the pucks of spent coffee get dropped into a little drawer attached under the counter. Tea bags are dunked into cups of freshly boiled water.

The walls of the sitting area are exposed brick. On the long wall there is a triptych showing the inside of a café. The tables are populated with chatting couples, with elderly men leafing through newspapers. Most of the people in the big, overstuffed armchairs are smiling into laptop screens.

The baristas pose cheerily behind brass cash registers that were antiques even at the time of the Manhattan Project. Some peek out behind espresso machines bristling with spigots and knobs. Steam floats above the machines, and above the fresh cups of tea being handed to grateful customers.

The walls of the sitting area are smooth and perfect. On the long wall there is a mural showing the inside of a café. The tables are occupied by chatting lovers holding hands over their cups of cappuccino. There are elderly grandparents sharing cocoa with small children. Most of the people in the big, overstuffed armchairs are reading books.

There is no cash register to be seen, but the two visible corners of a black iron box suggest that this is long before the Manhattan Project. The lone barista manipulates the brass apparatus of the espresso machine. A waiter wearing a long white apron stands at the counter, waiting for a demi-tasse to be filled.

The walls of the sitting area are exposed brick, where they are not covered with bright posters suggesting the work of Toulouse-Lautrec. Gas fanlights illuminate the scene. A larger poster hangs just behind the order area of the espresso bar. It shows the inside of a café.