Friday, August 31, 2007


Flash Fiction by Viktor Kuprin

“This is the last call for evacuation. Everyone must leave. Go to the park for water, food, and medical care. If you cannot move, call out or make a noise, and we will help you.”

Spaceman Kuzmin tried not to look at the bloated red sun as he walked the deserted urban streets. No one had come even though he played the message three times at every city block just as he had been ordered. Only fools or the deranged would wait so long, he thought. The unstable sun the locals called Sosnovka would soon end this miserable world.

The motion detector pinged, and Kuzmin halted. Something in the shadows of an alley, but he couldn’t see anyone there. He keyed his helmet’s external speaker.
“Come out. I am CIS Space Force. I have water.”

Then he saw it. Scruffy and dusty, a big orange tom cat wobbled out of the alleyway and collapsed onto the hot pavement. It panted and gasped for breath as it looked up at Kuzmin, its tongue distended from its mouth.

Kuzmin gently picked up the cat and felt its sides heaving.

“Poor old koshka, did you get left behind? Here, a little of this.”

He drew a handful of water from his drink tube and slowly, carefully, dripped the cool liquid onto the cat’s lips and tongue. It began to lap and swallow.

Kuzmin unzipped his light suit. The air felt like an oven’s heat striking his chest. Slowly, he slipped the cat inside his cooled coverall, and there it rested without complaint or struggle. He could barely feel the old tom feebly rumbling, trying to purr.

And so, he continued on to complete his route, but no other strays, human or animal, were met.

As Kuzmin walked back to the evacuation center, he saw others who had been successful. The last inhabitants of Sosnovka Prime were a sorry lot. Two of his crewmates forcibly led a wild-eyed man who cursed them for their efforts. Others helped a grossly overweight woman whose clammy white skin indicated severe heat stroke. Dirty street children huddled, looking anxiously at the shuttles.

Kuzmin was refilling his drink tube when a hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around on his heels.

“You durak! Idiot! I told you that looting was forbidden!”

It was Second Lieutenant Burkhanov, the section commander. With a jerk, he pulled open the front of Kuzmin’s suit. A furry orange face with flattened ears and frightened eyes stared back at the officer.

“What the?! Kuzmin, get rid of this … infectsia! It can carry disease! Understand me?!”

Kuzmin shook his head. “No, sir. Sorry. I won’t leave it here to burn.”

Burkhanov eyes opened wide with rage. But then he paused. It wasn’t often that a Spaceman Recruit refused an order. And never Kuzmin, one of the better spacehands.

“Bah! Make ready for liftoff!” He stomped off towards the shuttle.

As the days passed, the orange tom took to starship life quite well. Kuzmin was in the mess hall, slipping a few sproti fish to the new mascot when a crewman yelled, “It’s started!” Everyone dropped their food and ran to the portholes.

The flashpoint had been reached: Immolation. Waves of fire swept over the planet below.

A man next to Kuzmin gasped and made the sign of the cross. It was Burkhanov, his sad face illuminated by the hellish flame storms.

Kuzmin watched nervously as the old koshka wandered between the officer’s ankles. He was amazed when Burkhanov picked it up, placed it against his shoulder and began to pet Sosnovka’s littlest refugee.

See Food

Flash Fiction by Viktor Kuprin

When the alien ship reached us, we were down to four hours of oxygen and nothing in our prospector ship’s food storage.

It was the Tsoor who rescued us, the ones who look like walking man-of-war jellyfish. Oh, they were nice and polite enough, and they even had a Tsooriski-to-Russki translator unit, thank God!

But they didn’t have any human food.

When I queried my hand-comp’s database, all it said about Tsoor nutrition was “Some terrestrial protein and carbohydrate compatibilities.” We didn’t have any choice. We were starving.

The Tsoor like to take their meals sitting in pools of their home world’s sea water. Anton and I sat soaking in the briny liquid when the biggest Tsoor brought the food, a metal pot filled with ball-shaped mollusks.

“God help us,” Anton muttered under his breath as our server crushed one of the gray shells with its tentacle-fingers, yanking out a still-quivering slab of pink-white meat.

“Shhh! Don’t offend it!” I warned.

After days without food, I didn’t care how badly it might taste. Or smell.
Big Tsoor picked up a shallow stone bowl filled with yellow powder and rolled the mollusk flesh in it. It offered the morsel to Anton.

“See. Food,” said the alien’s metallic translator voice.

Anton slowly accepted the dusted meat from Big Tsoor’s tentacle-fingers, pulled down his respirator mask, and leaned forward to sniff.

“Alan, I think it’s sulfur! They season with sulfur!”

Big Tsoor stood motionless, watching.

I urged Anton on. “Wipe some of the powder off and try it. Come on, it’s waiting for you to taste it.”

Anton used his thumb to clear most of the Tsoor seasoning off a side of the slab. He shut his eyes, bit, chewed, and gulped.

“It’s like a big prawn, but it reeks of rotten eggs,” he said between gasps.

Big Tsoor cracked another shell and another. We silently wolfed down the gritty shellfish.

When the pot was half empty, Big Tsoor held out its tentacled-hand towards us.

“Culinary exchange,” announced the translator.

Quickly I thumbed my hand-comp: “Tsoor guests at a formal dinner are expected to offer their hosts a token gift of food or drink in exchange for the meal.”

“It’s part of their hospitality custom. I’ll be right back.” Dripping wet, I ran out of the mess hall, across the airlock that connected our ships, and rushed to our all-but-empty galley.

Yes! On a rack was a half-filled bulb of Anne Bonny Cocktail Sauce. I squirted it into a bowl, hurried back to the alien dining hall, and sat back down in the warm brine.

I pointed to the shellfish and pantomimed rolling the meat in the red sauce. Our host understood, and it shoved a sauce-covered mollusk into its mouth sack.

Big Tsoor turned red, then purple. I could see its plum-shaped eye throbbing. Its tentacle-fingers clenched into tight coils.

The alien bolted straight up. Anton screamed. I tried to jump out of the pool.

Through the chaos, I could just make out the translator.

“Very tasty.”

Meeting Vanya

Flash Fiction by Viktor Kuprin

October 30, 1961 - Five aircraft rose into the arctic sky from the Olyena airbase, headed northeast over the Barents Sea, towards the frozen wastes of Novaya Zemlya Island. The largest plane, a roaring turboprop Bear bomber, carried Vanya. The most beautiful, a silvery Tupolev-16 loaded with cameras and recording devices, followed the Bear. Americans called the Tu-16 “Badger”. Its Russian aircrew knew it simply as “Tupol.”

Inside the Tupol’s teardrop-shaped observation domes, Instrument Operators Pakulin and Kuchevsky tended their equipment and counted the minutes.

“Did you notice Pilot-Commander Strukov?” said Pakulin.

Kuchevsky nodded. “He wasn’t quite his giddy self, was he? An improvement, if you ask me. I think he’s looking forward to meeting Vanya.”

Pakulin stared out towards the blue sky and ice-strewn sea beyond the dome’s plexiglass. “Who isn’t?”

Strukov’s voice came over the intercom. “Attention. Approaching Zone C. Make all instruments ready,” he ordered.

“Da, Comrade Commander,” both men replied. The well-practiced sequence of toggling switches and closing circuits began. Pakulin could feel his heavy SMENA cine-camera hum as its film came up to speed. Kuchevsky prepared to trigger the banks of stop-motion cameras.

The Badger tracked north over the sea, while the Bear carried Vanya inland across the Sukhoi Nos, the “Dry Nose” Peninsula. Inside other aircraft, within bunkers and fortifications, behind walls of stone and rock, thousands waited for Vanya.

“Mark! Everyone, goggles on!” Strukov shouted. Miles away, Vanya fell free from the Bear bomber. The huge plane turned back toward the sea in a dash to safety. From Vanya’s flanks emerged a 54,000-square-foot parachute, to slow the descent enough so that the Bear would not be sacrificed.

Strukov counted down: “Pyat. Chetíreh. Tree. Dva. Odeen. NOL!”

Thirteen-thousand feet above the icy, stony plain, the largest thermonuclear device in the history of the world exploded. Four-thousand times more powerful than Hiroshima, the triple-layer fission-fusion-fusion reaction created a fireball over four miles in diameter. The flash of white light was visible 1600 miles away.

For Pakulin and Kuchevsky, for all aboard the Badger, it was the light from hell that would not stop. The entire horizon was a blinding wall of white heat.

The shock wave threw Pakulin forward, his oxygen mask smashing against the plexiglass dome. Spitting blood, vision blurred, he heard Kuchevsky screaming and felt the man’s hands slapping.

“Fire! I’m burning! Help me!”

The acintic glare of electricity arced from the floor. Pukulin instinctively kicked at the loose cables, his boots pushing them apart. He yanked a fire-extinguisher off the cabin wall, aiming its white spray at the wires and Kuchevsky’s still-smoking pant legs.

Kuchevsky sobbed, pointing toward the mushroom cloud risen seven times higher than Mount Everest.

“Look! They’ve killed the world!”

And yet, despite the nuclear scars inflicted by Vanya, remembered afterwards as the “Tsar Bomba,” life on Earth carried on.

But as the world healed, the bomb’s powerful X-ray pulse raced across the depths of space. Forty-six years later, in the star system called 26 Draconis, someone took notice.