Some time back I tried to submit a story for a flash fiction contest. It was judged by Neil Gaiman. The theme was something like, “The future of classic sci fi.” So I jotted out this little piece at the last minute, sort of an homage to my love of the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. What would Mars be like after several years of cultural exchange with our Earth? Little did I realize that the due time was British Summer Time, and not Eastern Standard Time. So, I missed the deadline by several hours. Here’s the story I wrote. I have an amusing anecdote after it.
Otan-Dur clambered up into the cockpit of the airship, chuckling at the naivety of the owners. Some folks still lived in the past, believing that theft had been permanently extinguished from Barsoom. And that attitude made Otan-Dur’s life so much easier.
Most people blamed the Jasoomians, or Earthlings as they called themselves. Barsoom had provided them with the technology to create airships kept aloft by the Eighth Ray, oxygen creation with the Ninth Ray, even interplanetary travel with the Tenth. Jasoom in turn provided them with the allure of criminal culture. Gangsters with Tommy guns defying the authorities. Thousands of years without theft, eliminated in a few months by a few ruthless entrepreneurs from Jasoom.
He had just finished hot-wiring the airship when he felt cold hard metal pressed against his back.
“Thank you for doing all the hard work for me,” a sultry woman’s voice said behind him. “How about you hop out real slow and leave the rest to me?”
Otan-Dur stepped down from the cockpit slowly. He didn’t want to give this woman any excuse to shoot him. As he descended, he brushed hard against the knob of the levitation tanks.
From the ground he saw a beautiful woman, dark haired and copper skinned, seated in the cockpit, radium pistol aimed at him. Like him, she was dressed in a jeweled leather harness and furs. She gave a wink and pushed the throttle forward. The silent propeller sprung into life and launched her forward.
Behind her trailed a miasma of light, a color not normally seen in nature. She probably wouldn’t run out of Eighth Ray within walking distance, but he took a grim satisfaction in tainting her victory.
He continued down the street, wondering if any new gangster films were playing at the cinema.
I did try shopping it around unsuccessfully. One place gave me extensive feedback on the piece from multiple reviewers, which was nice. But many didn’t realize that this was set in a world created by someone else. Which was extra surreal since they made a movie the same year. This was the best:
“I wasn’t sure why Jasoomians (Earthlings) were even brought up. Were the thieves Jasoom or Barsoom? It is said the Jasoomians were to blame, but wasn’t made clear as to who this man and woman are. The[n] we have the “Ray” idea. I love this concept that various “rays” provide things like power and oxygen — that has a nice magical-yet-scientific feel to it. But without more words to explain it, this felt like an intro chapter to a much longer work set in this new realm.”
It had not occurred to me before that anyone I submitted it to would be unaware of the source material. I didn’t want to risk someone thinking I created this, so I decided to just stop shopping it. I hope you enjoyed it.