Friday, December 9, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge

My entry in Chuck Wendig's latest flash fiction challenge: "An Affliction of Alliteration." Contestants had to write a story whose title uses alliteration.
Here's my story:


By Eric Avedissian

When things grew rough for the miners of Kingsbury Colony, when the bodies began stacking up like fucking dried cordwood in the sun, that’s when management flew into a tizzy. Too many men were lost in the bowels of this godforsaken world, buried under the rock, suffocated like dogs in an oil drum.

That’s when they brought in the scientists with their genetic splicing and cloning and diddling around with DNA.

The scientists created wombats four feet high and programmed their brains to tell time. Each wombat was given the ability through conditioning and biological programming to understand exactly when their shifts would start and end via special wristwatches strapped around their paws.

The blasted critters worked harder than any of the slackers they replaced.

The creatures stood on their hind legs and walked upright, wore dirt-covered overalls and mining helmets. They wielded pickaxes, drills and planted explosives better than most of their human counterparts.

What’s more, they made the Kingsbury Colony Mining Consortium a lot of money.

Their exploits were known throughout the Australian Confederation, from the twin planets Dingo and Walleroo to the crumbing remnants of Bixby’s Forge.

Russell Cobb, captain of class 7 ion-drive mining ship “Waltzing Matilda”, was less than thrilled.

“Bloody wombats,” Cobb muttered as he leaned against the railing overlooking the quarry. “How many of these fucking rodents you got?”

“About 200, I reckon,” said the mining overseer everybody called Snake. Snake wore goggles and covered his face with a cloth mask, protecting it from the planet’s dust storms. Kingsbury Colony was an arid, hellish world, with litter precipitation and immense sandy deserts. Snake, as his nickname suggested, felt at home here.

“The consortium likes this sort of thing?” Cobb asked.

“Consortium reassigned them offworld months ago,” Snake said, leaning back in his chair. “Thought it best to assign them less dangerous tasks. Some went to Dingo to harvest grain. Others went to the breeding pits of Bixby’s Forge to help repopulate the colony.”

“Yeah. Fair dinkum, I suppose.”

In the mine, a wombat paused, scratched its chin and extended its furry arm in front of its face. Eyeing the giant wristwatch, it saw the blinking LED display and recognized the digital numbers signified quitting time. The creature shuffled towards the lift, and pulled a lever mounted on a control panel. The hydraulic lift ascended, shimmying with a rusty groan, taking the wombat with it, up towards the mine’s surface.

Cobb drained another 12-ounce tinny of Foster’s pale lager, the brew cooling his parched throat. He cracked open another can and offered it to Snake, who declined.

“Never touch the stuff, mate. Ever since the wife birthed two ankle biters,” Snake said.

It never occurred to Cobb that Snake was a family man. He always thought Snake was an antisocial tosser with as much likability as a road accident.

Cobb turned his attention to the wombats, who marched out of the mine single-file, like a conga-line of marsupial zombies.

“I know it’s none of my bizzo, but is that normal?” Cobb asked.

“Shift’s over. Time to rest. We give ‘em six hour’s sleep and it’s back to the mines,” Snake said.
Cobb rolled his eyes.

Snake smirked behind his mask. As far as he was concerned, Cobb’s only function was hauling ore back to Bixby’s Forge.

A titanic crane scooped a dozen containers of ore, lifted them from the ground and loaded them onto the spaceship. Robots with bulbous heads and four arms each transported the containers via lift into the ship’s filthy, crowded hull. Cobb observed this from a metallic gangplank, counting the containers as the robots handled them.

Ever since the wombats took over, output increased tenfold.

The fucking furry bastards were ripper.

A straggling wombat, still staring blankly at his wristwatch, stumbled upon a few cans of Cobb’s lager.

With chaffed hands, the creature picked up the beer can and regarded it with a curious stare. It sniffed the opening, then poured some of the liquid in its mouth. its eager tongue lapped the rest of the beer with wild abandon until it emptied the can. It tossed the can, which landed on the ground with a loud metallic clatter before lunging for another one.

For the first time, one of the genetically engineered wombats was off his face. It was full. It has a gutful of piss. It was bloody rotten.

In short, it was drunk.

Another wombat approached and fumbled with a can. The second marsupial observed his compatriot tear open the tab and imbibe the strange, yeasty concoction within.

The scenario repeated itself until the wombats, every one of them, consumed at least one beer. Apparently, the alcohol tolerance of the bipedal wombat critters was embarrassingly low. Some laughed, while others chundered on each other.

When Snake saw the wombats dancing and shambling in alcohol-induced euphoria, he shouted towards the gangplank.
Cobb peered from his perch and witnessed the chaos below. He slid down the ladders and landed with thud near the mine entrance, where Snake stood, fists balled in rage.

“Look what your lager has done! They’re bloody pissed! Every one of them useless!”

“Oi! Enough earbashing! I get it!” Cobb said. “Let ‘em sober up. Be right as rain in a few.”

“That ain’t the point, mate! Alcohol destroys their programming. Unhinges whatever chemical program the scientists jiggered up in there. These things will be lucky to know how to shit,” Snake said.

Cobb reached into his holster and pulled out his Ellerson Mark V laser gun. Behind his goggles, Snake’s eyes widened.

“You can’t, man! The conglomerate…”

“They’ll make more of these abominations, mate,” Cobb said with a sneer. “We tell ‘em raiders hit the mine and you were the only survivor. Spend some time with the wife and kids. You deserve a holiday.”

Snake nodded meekly and backed away. He realized stranger things happened in this part of space.

“Good onya, mate!” Snake exclaimed, as Cobb fired.

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