The website io9.com posts a piece of concept art every Saturday challenging its viewers to write a piece of flash fiction based on that art. Stories must be less than eight hundred words. As of the time of this blog posting, there are thirty-six images online (they added another on September 8th.) There may be more and I failed to uncover them by searching for the wrong terms, but eh. I think thirty-six’s a plenty big pool to draw from. I’ve assigned each a number, with the newest being 36 and the oldest being 1. Today and Friday, I’m going to generate a random number within that range and write a piece of flash fiction on the prompt (generating a new number should I pick an already used image.) Exciting, no?
The second piece is entitled “Mudball,” inspired by an untitled painting by Stanley Von Medvey. I don’t own this image, I claim no rights to this image, and should Stanley Von Medvey stumble across this post and demand that the image be removed, I will gladly do so. Also, you should go check out Stanley’s blog at: http://bagtaggar.blogspot.com/.
Anyway, let’s begin!
Kathros looked at the face of the station owner with barely hidden contempt. He didn’t care if this throwback to a bygone era could see how angry he was. The only thing Kathros cared about was recharging his ship’s ion core and refueling the chem tanks and getting off of this godforsaken mud ball of a planet. Someplace civilized, like Nova Luna or Deimos Station or even Titan Prime. He didn’t even know the name of this place. The shop didn’t even have any mechanical assistants. When Kathros had asked about them, the man had simply said, “I like working here. What’s a honest, hardworking fellow like me going to do with robots anyhow?”
Kathros took a deep breath and tried to compose himself. “Look. Sir. What’s it going to take to get my vessel fueled and in the sky, hm?”
The man looked at Kathros for a long, silent eternity. Kathros shifted his weight from one foot to another and did his best to make eye contact. He felt like an insect on display. He felt like he was being examined.
The man looked over Kathro’s shoulder at the ship behind him. Kathros smirked. It was no mean feat for a privateer of his age to be flying a Valkyrie-class frigate. The ship was an older model, a classic. Only privateers with a sense of style flied them. Only privateers with a reputation for excellence, for getting the job done no matter, whether it was shipping or defense work or maybe even something a little hush-hush needed ships like that. And on top of that, the work that Kathros had had done to it was obvious. Enhanced sensors, durablative armor, overclocked engines. It was the kind of ships that turned heads in ports all over the system, that raised eyebrows, that started conversations. Kathros doubted if this man had ever seen anything quite like it before.
The man shrugged. “Can’t help you, buddy.”
Kathros was silent. His smirk became a frown became a snarl, his lips pulled back and his shiny white teeth exposed in a primal threat. “Why. Not.”
The man shrugged again. He smiled, his expression guileless. There was no malice there, no petty meanness, and their absence frustrated Kathros all the more. “Just can’t.”
“Is your grid down? Is your chem generator offline? I saw a car fueling up here when I touched down. A car! You’re telling me you have petrol, in this day and age, on a planet that had never had any organic life on it until a hundred years ago, and you can’t recharge my damn ship?”
“Of course not,” the man said, the neutral smile still firmly affixed to his face. “There’s never been petrol on this planet. Old Zeke was just changing out the fuel cells in his vehicle.”
Kathros stared at the man in silence. “What is your problem?” he finally said.
Kathros blinked. The man looked at him, smiling as inscrutably as ever, and Kathros could not be certain that he’d heard correctly. “Excuse me?” he said.
“I said,” the many replied calmly, “that you are. You, buddy, are my problem.”
Kathros opened his mouth to speak, but the man raised a hand to silence him. “No, don’t. I’m not done with you. Let me tell you something, buddy. You’re everything that’s wrong with my world. You come from God only knows where and stop here and it’s just a footnote to you. You think you’re special? You think you’re the greatest captain in the world because you ride around in souped-up Valkyrie? You and every other asshole in the system, buddy. You and every other rich kid who took the allowance Mommy and Daddy gave them and decided to go spend it on a spaceship. You look down on folks like me, on planets like mine. Well, you know what? We’re doing mighty okay without you. There’s plenty of spacers out there, and most of them don’t walk into our buildings like they’ve just stepped in a dead animal. So take your creds and get lost. I don’t need them. I do just fine without them.”
The man stepped outside to watch Kathros get back into his ship, engage the suborbitals, and fly off somewhere else in search of a more hospitable fueling station. He smiled to himself, glad to see the snot-nosed offworlder disappear. His words had been true: he didn’t the likes of Kathros, or his creds. Not when he could keep men like him talking long enough for the mechanical assistants to do their work and liberate the choicest components from their ships.
He grinned, chuckled to himself, and went back inside. Old Zeke would love this story. He’d heard it before, sure, but it was funny every time.