Sunday, January 16, 2005

the literary contest

Last week I entered a literary contest at The nation, the world itself, was asked to write a story based on this picture. Confident of my success, I drew up a grand scheme, meditated on plot, character, theme and setting, and then threw something together within hours of deadline. I included several types of conflict (man vs. environment; man vs. cat; alien vs. alien) and introduced a star-crossed love into the mix. The prize? Four Robin mugs and a picture of a kid with a hat.

I did not win.

But you do! Here is my non-award-winning submission.

Before you dive in, make sure to follow this link to study the picture and read the winning story. Which story is superior I leave to you, but remember: mine has aliens.

The Humanologist's Resolve: A Far-Future Extravaganza About a Man, his
Cat and Some Other Creatures

Day 1
Subject ("Ned Shanahan" "Pfc. Shanahan" "Ned") disoriented from
partial mind-wipe and long cryosleep. Emerged from isolation quarters
to inspect new environment (Model 12, "Single dwelling, Rectangular
Subdivision Era, Furnished"). Expressions corresponded with the
following emotional states currently in our database: 'Groggy';
'Confused'; 'Freaked'.

Superintendent RthRg-III was ready to pull the plug on the whole thing
until Subject calmed down and noticed the coloured-light-and-sound box
in the main room. We obligingly supplied power to box. Subject yelled
[First verbal instance, folks! A breakthrough already!], jumped back,
then sat and watched. Expressions corresponded to following:
'Curious,' 'Grokking,' 'Bored'. [Note: Is plasma screen and High-Def
congruent with Subject's technological frame? Too late now.] At
prescribed time we dimmed the environmental ambients and Subject
retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 2
At prescribed time we raised environmental ambients. Subject emerged
from isolation quarters, exited house and explored environs (Model 2A,
"barracks"). [A Note on Environs: There was much debate on the proper
setting for our subject - not to mention the debate on whether to
conduct this experiment in the first place! - but eventually the
barracks setting won out. Besides the relative ease of reconstruction,
our records indicate that the particular outfit worn by Subject places
him in a military setting. Also, the date of Subject's collection
indicates that he existed in the early stages of the 300 year-long
state of warfare that occupied Earth's final days.] Subject interacted
with our various models, appeared slightly confused but not hostile,
eventually retreated to dwelling to watch the
coloured-light-and-sound-box [Does anyone know what those things were
called? Database query unsuccesful] and drinking the dilute alcohol in
aluminum cans that we understand to be the core constituent of his
nutritional needs. At prescribed time we dimmed the environmental
ambients and Subject retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 3
Last-minute meeting called before the raising of environmental
ambients. Anticipation running high - today was the big day.
Superintendent RthRg-III made a brief appearance. Still not convinced
of experiment's value, reminded us all that we were working at his
pleasure, etcetera. What can you do with a Vlort like that who only
thinks with his third brain?

Introduction of Subject 2 ("Knuckles") into Shanahan's environment.
Glarrhk-X wanted to hurry things up and place Knuckles into Shanahan's
isolation quarters immediately, but we have no idea what cultural
strictures we may be violating by such a move. Our information on
human relations, based on the few CLAS box transmissions that our
ancestors thought to record, is sketchy at best. Authentic period
cooking implements & "Knuckles" food bowl included and placed by CLAS
box, where Shanahan will definitely notice them.

Interaction #1: At prescribed time we raised the environmental
ambients. Shanahan emerged from isolation quarters and took some time
to actually notice the addition of Knuckles, even though he spent a
great deal of time staring at the CLAS box and drinking dilute
alcohol. Noticed prospective mate when he returned to the kitchen,
presumably for more cans of alcohol, whereupon he tripped over
Knuckles and damaged the skin on his forehead. Expressions
corresponded to following in database: 'Fury,' 'WTF?'. Shockingly,
Shanahan scooped Knuckles up with one hand and threw her out the door.
Is this part of a courtship ritual? Knuckles appeared unfazed by
treatment, ate some blades of grass. Shanahan returned to his seat
with a sextet of dilute alcohol and watched the CLAS box until we
dimmed the environmental ambients. Shanahan eventually retreated to
isolation quarters with cans.

Day 4
Disaster. Glarrhk-X attempted to return Knuckles to the dwelling under
isolation period. Subject unexpectedly awoke in Glarrhk-X's
hindpincers, communicated displeasure by yowling, leaping on
Glarrhk-X's headcase. Shanahan unexpectedly emerged from isolation
quarters before raising of ambients. Intriguing in retrospect, but at
the time my spleen was kicked into overdrive, I tell you! Glarrhk-X
scuttled out, breaking several items in his haste to exit. Once
RthRg-III hears of this we'll be shut down. Forget RthRg, Glarrhk-X
points out - now that Knuckles has seen him, surely the experiment has
come to an end.

Later. Surprising development. Shanahan is under the impression that
Knuckles is the cause of the broken items. Knuckles refuses to
indicate otherwise. Hiding under chair and hissing instead. Is the
experiment still on? Have wiped the visual log and sworn Glarrhk to

Day 5
Knuckles is still keeping her sighting of Glarrhk to herself.
Presumably she has her reasons. At this point the experiment may be
fatally compromised, but we will continue nonetheless.

Shanahan has attempted to interact with Knuckles by getting her out
from under the chair. After an attempt made with his hand, which
resulted in scratches and yells, he resorted to the long handle on the
end of a broom. No success. The skin on Shanahan's ears and cheeks
started growing red and beads of moisture began to drip from the ridge
above his eyes - an atavistic defensive measure? Glarrhk panicked and
supplied power to the CLAS box. Shanahan yelled again, fell backward.
Knuckles made a dash for the couch. Stayed there until Shanahan
retreated to isolation quarters.

Day 6
Knuckles is now perched on top of the door between the nutrition and
excretion chambers. Will not come down. How did she get up there?
Shanahan tried poking at her with broom handle. No success.

Day 7
Shanahan threw empty can at Knuckles and went out. Knuckles jumped
down onto counter and stared at a spot on the wall, then pounced on
something that we could not identify. Glarrhk opined that Knuckles may
in fact be suffering from cognitive impairment. I am tempted to agree.

Shanahan returned several hours later with food, dilute alcohol.
Knuckles leapt back up to the top of the door and stayed there.

This is not going well.

Day 8
A breakthrough! Knuckles followed Shanahan into isolation quarters
after we dimmed the environmental ambients. Shanahan lay back and
closed his eyes, then began to produce a deep rhythmic vibration that
appeared to attract Knuckles' interest. She started to produce a
similar rhythmic vibration, lower in volume but unmistakeably kindred
in tone. She jumped up onto his chest and began to knead Shanahan's
chest with her foreclaws, which we took to be an encouraging sign.

Unfortunately, Before she could turn around and position her
ovopositor tail over Shanahan's mouth, he sat up and dislodged
Knuckles from his chest. Glarrhk let out a frustrated squelch at this
development, but I feel some sympathy for Shanahan - if, as our
leading humanologists suppose, the female lays her egg in the male's
throat and birth is marked by the embryo ripping through his stomach,
then I suppose I would resist mating as well.

Given Shanahan's reluctance, I fear we may have to resort to more
drastic measures soon.

Day 9
We dimmed the ambients, immobilized Shanahan with several loops of
Klaat vine and waited until he began making the rhythmic vibration.
Once again, Knuckles leapt up on his chest, responded with her own
vibration, and began kneading his chest. Shanahan attempted to sit up,
began yelling once he realized that movement was impossible. Knuckles
continued to produce rhythmic vibrations and knead his chest. Failed
to deposit eggs despite Shanahan's wide-open mouth.

Day 10
Shanahan will not leave isolation quarters. Glarrhk worries that our
attempts to force mating have traumatized him. Knuckles apparently

Days 11-15
It appears that Shanahan and Knuckles have fallen into a pattern.
Shanahan has moved the CLAS box into his isolation quarters, emerging
only to procure food and dilute alcohol. The hair on his face, which
he formerly kept shorn by means of sharpened metal, has grown
considerably, and his body has begun to smell of oils and pheromones.
He more or less ignores Knuckles until she gets too close, whereupon
he will hiss or attempt to kick her. Perhaps this confusing behaviour
is simply a courtship ritual more elaborate than we had anticipated.

Hair all over the furniture.

Day 16
Really unproductive meeting with RthRg-III. Demanded to know why
mating had not taken place. We reviewed logs with him, delivered
progress report with a plethora of promises. RthRg-III seemed
mollified but left making veiled threats about my job. Stupid Vlort.

Day 17-22
I am starting to get discouraged. Shanahan has ceased to change out of
his bathrobe. Abdominal protuberance caused some initial excitement
but scan showed it be a combination of subdermal fat and slightly
distended colon.

Knuckles left excrement in Shanahan's isolation quarters. I cannot put
a favourable spin on this.

Day 23
You know what they say: never trust a Vlort. RthRg-III scuttled in
with a termination nodule in his forepincers, looking unbearably smug.
The nodule was a bud from the Overmind, which meant that nothing could
gainsay RthRg-III's authority. Our experiment was over, he announced;
Subjects 1 and 2 (Shanahan and Knuckles! I wanted to scream. Shanahan
and Knuckles!) were to be put back in stasis and returned immediately
to their planet of origin. When I explained that the Subjects'
original planet had been rendered uninhabitable nearly five hundred
years ago, I thought RthRg-III was going tear my headcase off. How did
this happen? he screamed. I explained that the Subjects had been
mislaid in a Filing Body approximately eight hundred years ago, that I
had happened across them in an unrelated search for Sk'Zogh Crystals
and found the two of them in a cryocube together. I emphasized that
this was an unheard-of opportunity to revive a long-dead and
all-but-unknown species. Finds like this, I said, represent a chance
to advance the study of humanology by a thousand years.

Vlort that he is and a froog counter to boot, RthRg-III dismissed my
protests and ordered the experiment terminated. The barracks were to
be dismantled, the space turned over to developers and the Subjects
returned to statis.

I have been ordered to separate the memory of the experiment from my
forebrain and deliver it to the Overmind. I am disappointed that I
will not be allowed to remember these humans or the plans that
Glarrhk-X and I once entertained. We have agreed, as a kind of
gesture, to hide this document away beneath our mutual hive, along
with an image of the two of them that we found in Shanahan's breast
pocket. Sooner or later we will find them, and then perhaps the
experiment can start again.


Anonymous said...

Schmutzie said...

The idea of possibly winning the Robin (Batman's diminutive sidekick) mugs circa 1964 thrilled me, but I have to say that your story more than makes up for it, Mr. Schmutzie.

Friday said...

Your story is obviously better, but maybe too long for their purposes.

Anonymous said...

thanks Schmutzie. At first I thought the prize was 4 mugs from Robin's Doughnuts. Then I wondered why there were so many submissions.

Mr. Saucy