03 October 2008

After the Apocalypse

"Ghosts of Earth" was my third story published on 365 tomorrows, in early December of 2006. I sent the link to my high school English teacher, who asked if it was counter-programming for the holiday season; in fact, I'd written it around Halloween that year, and it had taken a month for the editorial process to run its course.

That editorial delay is one of the reasons I wanted to start this 512 Words project. I dream of someday being able to get published as quickly as Scalzi, but until then, this is a way to force myself to produce on a schedule and allow myself to experiment with ideas in short form. I'm already contemplating longer works based on some of the stuff you see here.

In fact, I fleshed out "Ghosts of Earth" for my Clarion 2008 application--not entirely successfully, since it didn't get me into the workshop--and also started "Waiting for the Dot," another story in the same universe. Both of those are longer than 512 words, so you won't be seeing them here.


"Ghosts of Earth"

By Curtis C. Chen

The first crystal fell on Los Angeles in the middle of rush hour, killing thirty-two people. Caltrans spent an hour trying to move the enormous mass before it drilled itself into the ground and disappeared.

Two hours later, another crystal splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. The Navy sent a submarine to track it, but they couldn't go deep enough. Three hours after that, another one hit the Pacific. Then a fourth crystal struck the ocean south of Japan, flooding the coast.

Someone noticed that all four impacts had occurred on the same line of latitude, proceeding west. Governments evacuated cities while the bombardment continued, every three hours, like clockwork: China, Iraq, Algeria, the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina. Then the tenth crystal impacted off the coast of Mexico. They were moving south.

NASA triangulated the origin of the crystals to a point outside the Moon's orbit. Observatories all over the planet turned their lenses that way, but saw nothing. The ship was too small to be visible at that range.

We had no vessels that could travel that far. All we could do was evacuate the cities in the line of fire and attempt to study the crystals, which we were unable to halt or slow as they burrowed deep underground.

Five days later, the last crystal fell into the Pacific, west of central Peru. There were now one hundred and eight alien objects embedded deep in the Earth, arranged in a precise grid circling the equatorial region of our planet. The invaders had parked their ship in space and let Earth itself rotate each target into position for them.

Eight different research teams had crawled down the crystal tunnels. Two teams were broadcasting live video when the crystals started burning. Again, we could only watch, helpless.

The world burned for nearly a year. Most of the plant and animal life died within the first day. The crystals weren't just raising the temperature and fouling the air–-they were also causing chemical changes, using our planet as raw material to terraform itself.

The aliens waited a full decade before landing, to let their new vegetation and prey animals grow. The few humans who had managed to survive, in Antarctica and other frozen places, were slowly suffocated by the toxic atmosphere. We mourned them, but only briefly. We still have work to do.

The crystal fire had killed our bodies, but freed our minds–-some say souls, or spirits. We don't entirely understand it, but we know that we're still here. We can see everything. And we can do things.

We watched the aliens land, and sent scouts to verify that they couldn't sense us. Creating six billion angry ghosts had not been part of their invasion plan.

They use electronics, just as we did, and we've found that our incorporeal forms can directly affect electrical systems. A million scientists, no longer restrained by language barriers, are devising a plan to sabotage whatever the aliens do next.

We're betting that they won't want to live on a haunted planet.


01 October 2008

Audio: Test Post

First paragraph of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, read by Curtis C. Chen. [Download mp3]


Happy Birthday to Me!

And here's a present for you, reader: Not only will I publish a story here every Friday, I'll also post an audio version of myself reading that story. D and I really enjoyed listening to audio books during our road trip this past summer, and I didn't take a full year of voice acting lessons for nothing.

These audio segments should be available as a podcast on iTunes. As a test, this very post includes a clip of me reading the first paragraph of a classic science fiction novel which you may recognize.

UPDATE: Okay, let's try this again. Flash audio player below, podcast-friendly enclosure link in a separate post to follow...

Let me know if you have any problems downloading the audio. And yes, I will get a better microphone. Soon.