Friday 8 July 2011

Caldera Rats

Welcome to the Xeroversary! From Sun 3rd July to Sat 9th July we celebrated 1 year of the Xeroverse with guest flash fiction posted every day. Join the festivities, enjoy the fiction, say hi. =)

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Caldera Rats

by Aidan Fritz

Separated from the clan, Hekili found the mind-silence brought memories of before the melding and left him on edge, hyper-alert to the scuffing noise picked up by his primary-senses. He synced with Lua'lolo's second brain, but it wasn't like the others of the clan, rather, a distant echo. He sifted through the disparate data, each morsel with its own taste, an inflection of thousands of minds and Hekili couldn't understand how they were so different from each other. Yet the differences -- the challenges -- drew him to Kilauea Iki Caldera where Lua'lolo had crashed his space boat. Lua'lolo's second brain had a vast pool of memories that you needed to learn how to search through, that differed from the shared pool that had been passed from parent to child at the melding.

The ship's brain held a wealth of knowledge on mathematics and programming and Hekili discovered a paper by Dijkstra on structured programming, many of the terms not making sense, but there was a puzzle and it caught his attention. The clan knew of the game chess, but they'd lost the puzzle of the eight queens. It was a simple problem. Place eight queens on a chessboard such that none of the queens can take any of the other queens in one move. There were twelve solutions but he'd lock the knowledge away in secure storage, so the clan could enjoy the puzzle.

A noise clicked behind Hekili, the sound deafening when he only had his primary senses and none of the other clanmates sensory perceptions to flood his system. A rat stared down at Hekili from a wrecked girder, red eyes shining inside the dim light of the spaceship. He couldn't understand how the rat had gotten there; he should've heard static from the rat's transmissions. One rat was not a problem, but the herd would consume him. Where one rat haunted, others would curse soon enough.

The rat's eyes followed him as he tore through the crushed entranceway, tearing his malo, or loincloth, in his hurry to escape the ship. The transmissions of the herd came from the western side of Kilauea Iki Caldera. Hekili fled east and attempted to sync with the clan, but the caldera walls blocked his transmissions. Primary senses picked up the clicking of nails over the cracked caldera.

Running the switchbacks, he cut the corners short. Glancing down the cliff wall, he saw rats clambering in a writhing mass straight up the cliff walls, not needing the switchbacks. Hekili dislodged a boulder and it rolled down the cliff, smashing a path through the rats.

It bought him enough time to get to the top of the cliff, but not enough time to get to camp. He synced with the clan. His senses transmitting, a brief burst of data leaving him woozy and he shutoff the direct transmission as soon as he heard the chatter of his clanmates. Running through the forest, kicking a rat that nipped at his heels, he followed the descent down Kilauea's shoulder.

It started with one or two rats leaping ahead of the pack to land on his fleeing body and Hekili swatting the beast away from him, but eventually, they overwhelmed him, knocking him to the ground. Their bites penetrating his skin.

Through secondary senses, he perceived his clanmates riding their horses at a gallop towards the summit where they knew Hekili had fallen. His squirt of information acknowledged. He rolled across the ground trying to dislodge rats from his body. Knowing that the clan would arrive soon, but also knowing the rats consumed flesh quickly.

His classmates yelped as they crested a rise in the path and he saw a squirt of their view of him lying face down in the dirt, shaking ferns surrounding him where the rats disturbed the vegetation.

The horses trampled rats with their hooves and his clanmates hammered the beasts with long-handled sticks. A man jumped from the back of a horse and lifted him onto the saddle, Hekili lying limp, the man jumping behind him as they turned to flee home.

Thank you, squirted Hekili.

You are part of the one, responded the clan in chorus.

I found a new puzzle, said Hekili.

We know. The clan chuckled.


Aidan Fritz is a director, architect, keeper living in the San Francisco bay area. Interested in: writing, people, hammer dulcimers, and all things swedish. You can find his writing at: Aidan Writes.

Xero says: Aidan was one of the first writers I came across in the #fridayflash community who really hit the spot for me on every level; creating interesting and wildly creative worlds week after week. =)


  1. fascinating story! I think this is a world I would want to know more about.

  2. Thank's Sonia, I know this is one world I want to play with some more.

  3. I definitely want to know more about the world and its beginning. I'm fascinated by the idea of sharing information the way they do, and the fact that they help each other out because of a we-are-all-part-of-something-bigger feeling attracts me a whole lot.

  4. @Magaly, I remember watching Return to Witch Mountain when I was young and one of the things that (perhaps falsely) I remember is their ability to speak telepathically. I wrote this hoping to capture that fascination.

  5. Oh yes, much like the comments above, I'd really like an entire novel of this world you created. I see it very clearly in my mind, which is quite an accomplishment for so short a piece. Well done, Aidan Fritz:)

  6. I like how it's a hive mind, but the separate units seem to have a mind of their own.

    And glad he got away from the rats. Nasty little buggers if you ask me :P.

  7. This is a really interesting introduction to something that I suspect is much larger!

    I wonder how they'd fare with sudoku?

  8. Feels somewhat reminiscent of Banks' Walking On Glass.

    I love that you use the words "squirt" to describe the transferal/sharing of information and knowledge :)

  9. @Anne, thank-you I find creating worlds a lot of fun and this is one I hope to visit again.

    @Craig, Hekili joined the hive late in life, I think he functions better outside than the others. Never liked rats myself.

    @Icy, you've now got me pondering how much of a challenge it would be to solve Sudoku in parallel.

    @Daisy, Intriguing, I haven't read any of Iain Banks, but have come across this earlier, I'll have to check this out.

  10. Clicked over from the Friday Flash report and absolutely loved this story. I'm finding sci fi such an incredibly rewarding seam of ideas to dive into and this certainly had my imagination running. Brilliant concept.
    Adam B @revhappiness