[Help me pick a name for this piece?]

[Didn’t name it when I wrote it for the last of my dys fem flash fic pieces. Suggestions welcome. I’m considering ‘Grit’. Wrote a longer version before trimming it down, and foolishly didn’t keep it.]

[TBC (Grit?)]

My father told me I was a fighter, just before he lost his own fight. ‘The most beautiful fighter he’d ever seen.’ He imbued in me not only his resilience, his spirit, but years of training. I clip my hair short to mimic his own style. Joining the Forces seemed natural. I sailed through the Academy despite the snickers of my male peers, and graduated with the highest distinctions… then I asked to fight. They said no but I pushed back, then the media got involved. General Barnett, head of the Eastern conflict, publicly condemned my request: “No girl will fight while I’m in charge.”

So I’ve gone off the grid. Disappeared. Dad was gone anyway, who else cares? Now I fight alongside my brothers, albeit from a distance and under a cloak of anonymity. The soldiers tell stories of the ‘Shadow Sniper’, a brilliant rogue marksman. Little do they suspect. I lead the Forces’ best men by 14 kills. The desert is unforgiving, but my ‘weak’ female body survives. My father’s spirit, his training, lives within me.

I bide my time. The kill count rises, and the story finally breaks in the media. I’m a household name, once more in the papers. Who is this ‘strong, mysterious figure’? Strong. Too right. My crosshair falls upon its final target. General Barnett collapses to the ground and I smile. A week later, I walk into camp, to turn myself in…to a hero.

 

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Glass Houses

[More dystopian feminist flash fiction. But it’s not really, is it? Nah, fair play to Alan, who told me it wasn’t. I still think it’s a neat little story though.
Confused? Click here.]

Glass Houses

We proved it. The claims stood up. Our trap had worked! My friend Mike and I had put two years into this. We got jobs at the same company, and matched each other stride for stride. We posted the same sales figures—if he had a bad month, I’d ease up in the next one, and vice versa. By the end of the two years, I’d even clinched 2% more sales than him. Our records were virtually identical. We made sure we both chatted with managers, attended the same number of work functions, even our ‘sick’ days matched.

And yet Mike was shortlisted for the new managerial role. What’s more, he was apparently ‘top of the list’. I was not on the list. Surely I should’ve been joint-top, at least second? We made sure to compare everything. Nothing separated us but a Y chromosome. Maybe ‘Felicity’ just isn’t a managerial name? They interviewed eight internal candidates, all from our level, and I was nowhere to be seen. So we took them to court. And we won. It was a landmark victory, and swathes of new legislation followed. I was a feminist icon.

The pay-out was good, and we both left the company with its reputation tattered. I got offered a strategic position well above my experience level. Mike doubled his pay moving across town to a rival firm. We kept an eye on our old employers. Things went downhill for them. Mike and I were walking past months later and saw employees leaving. They’d just announced serious losses and had cut dozens of lower-level jobs in their ‘slimming’ process. Admin staff, receptionists, cleaners…all women. I looked at their tear-streaked faces. What a great job I’d done.

Bottled Up [Drabble]

He walked to the window, pushed open a chink in the blinds.

Nothing.

He took a swig from the bottle. The cheap gin should’ve burned on the way down, but he barely felt it.

His nerves were shot, and he was just waiting for the rest of him to catch up.

They were coming.

He fingered the safety on the pistol strapped to his hip. He kept it on him at all times.

He walked to the window.

Nothing.

Swig.

He paced across the room that was fast becoming a cell.

He walked to the window.

They were here.

Finally.

[100 words]

Life Beater

[A dystopian feminist flash fiction story. Need more intro than that? OK. Thoughts?]

Life Beater

All her life Elizabeth dreamed of being a wife. What could be easier than being kept comfortably in a nice home, with your only responsibilities making a handsome man happy? After school she’d bake and sew. She polished and knitted. Her fellow schoolgirls didn’t see the appeal. They were headstrong, tomboys, playing baseball in the dirt and learning to code in the lab. She took no notice of them. They wouldn’t find a nice husband.

In college, she studied English—why not?— and made friends with plenty of fine young men. They loved coming over to hers for freshly-baked cookies, or asking her advice on laundry disasters. She helped them all and politely waited for their advances. None came. Her old classmate, Rebecca, who now called herself Red—what kind of name is that for a woman?— worked on robotics and patented her first household helper. She named it Lizzie and told Elizabeth it was based on her. Elizabeth took no notice of her, silly girl.

She met Chase, and knew he was the one. He was tall, handsome, an economics professor. Perfect. Theirs was a whirlwind romance, he proposed impulsively and she couldn’t refuse. They made wedding plans and the talk turned to the future, after her graduation. ‘What will you do?’ he asked. ‘I’ll be your wife, of course,’ was her reply. Chase laughed. He showed her his own Lizzie robot, how it cooked and cleaned and mended his clothes. ‘What’s your back-up plan?’ he asked. Elizabeth said nothing.

[What’s that? They’re getting shorter? Yeah, my client did have a rough word count, which I massively exceeded with the first two, and trimming them down made me sad…]

Girl Power

[Another dystopian feminist flash fiction story. See Fallow Lands for slightly more detail. 2/5]

Girl Power

She could feel her dream slipping away as she lay on the stretcher, taking deep breaths like the paramedic had told her to. She could still hear the roar of the crowd as the ambulance pulled away from the stadium.

Today was meant to be, had been, momentous—the latest in the whirlwind of firsts that was her life. The story had begun 25 years ago, when geneticists discovered a microscopic kink at the end of the X chromosome. Straightened out, they theorised, it would enhance the physical prowess of the human race. Women stood to gain more, with the male Y chromosome apparently kink-free.

Of course her parents, progressive as ever, had been among the very first to sign up. She smiled at the thought of them, then winced as a fresh wave of pain ran through her. Nine months after treatment, and just five years after the initial discovery, they’d given birth to Valerie. They’d picked a Latin name meaning ‘strong and brave’. Prophetic.

It had been clear from early in her life that Valerie was different, though her exceptional drive and intellect came from her parents anyway. Despite her academic prowess, her parents, and her father in particular, had always encouraged her sporty side, being ever available to kick or throw in the back yard. Looking back, it was obvious he was testing the geneticists’ hypothesis.

They were right. Of all the sports she excelled at, soccer was the one that stuck. She was running rungs around her peers, male and female, by age seven, and she turned pro at fourteen. Her US national team debut followed later that year, with everyone in the know predicting a bright future for her.

They had no idea how bright. At just over six foot, and with a muscular, yet feminine frame, her speed and power made her simply too good for the women’s game. She dominated matches with ease, and had soon—too soon— won everything there was to win, so she asked to play with the men. They said no, predictably, and the world was split between ridiculing her and defending her.

And then the Italian Football Federation said yes.

When Sampdoria signed her, the world spoke again, the move written off on social media as a publicity stunt. The nation’s cameras nevertheless turned out in force for her first training session with the club’s under 18s. She took them to pieces.

The world’s press assembled for her first match with the reserves. She scored five goals.

Despite calls for her immediate promotion to the first team, she was sent on a short-term loan to a second division side.

“The world’s not quite ready for you, strong one, but score a few more and they will be,” her manager had told her.

And so to today, her professional debut in the men’s game. She’d won over her teammates in training and had her new manager’s faith—it was only the opposition that couldn’t believe her.

Her debut lasted eleven minutes. Her every touch was cheered and jeered in equal measure by the split opinions in the stands. The opposition fullback had stamped on her and called her a whore. She’d nutmegged him twice the next time she got the ball, and as she’d turned back to face him again, a grin on her face, he’d lunged in and snapped her tibia in two.

Fallow Lands

[Hi again! Been a while, sorry about that… it’s amazing how quickly three months can go by when you’re giving yourself lots of holidays! Anyway, I’m totally back, probably. Here’s a piece I wrote as part of a recent job, where a poet commissioned a bunch of dystopian feminist flash fiction stories that he’ll then turn into sonnets. Just a normal job, hey? Happily, he said I was fine to share them here too, so enjoy! This is the first of five]

Fallow Lands

As soon as her husband closed the door, she fetched the stepladder, moved the armchair, pulled the hatch down, and clambered into the loft again. He wouldn’t be home until 15:00—she had hours!

She gingerly opened the box and lifted out the first book: ‘The Magic of Motherhood’. It was her favourite—everyone in it looked so real, not at all like the models you saw on the adverts, smooth skin stretched to bursting. These were real women, normal women. Women like her.

Paul would be furious if he knew what she was thinking, fantasizing about. There was no way they could afford a pregnancy. Even after the population had stabilised and HealthCo slashed the prices, pregnancies remained the pastime of the elite. Oh, to feel that incredible feeling of another life growing inside her! She pulled the book close to her chest, gently stroked its cover, whispered words of comfort to it, and to herself.

“Paul,” she breathed to the dead air of the attic, to the ghostly workbenches covered in sheets, “why can’t I have a child?” She knew exactly how he’d react. Sensible, pragmatic Paul.

Come now, you don’t want to be a part of the problem, honey! Pregnancies are just a celeb fad, a moneymaking scheme. Look at the trouble overpopulation caused,” he’d say with a tired smile.

He’d tap the terminal around her wrist, gently reminding her how lucky she was to be a registered citizen, not one of the ‘wanderers’, unregistered, on the streets, and free game for the militia that ‘kept the peace’. The same terminal, through two microscopic pins on its underside, kept her dosed up with enough hormones to make pregnancy impossible.

She noticed she was crying and stood up quickly, ashamed. The movement caused a sheet to slip from the nearest workbench—Paul had been quite the handyman when they first married. The jaws of a vice glinted at her.

Several minutes of exertion later, her mangled terminal fell from her wrist. With lecherous wanderers on every corner, she could be pregnant within the hour! She hurried down the stepladder to find something revealing to wear, ‘The Magic of Motherhood’ left discarded on the floor.

 

[What do you think? Exploring feminist issues in a dystopian setting, amiright?]

Hindsight

[Written on a flight to Glasgow last weekend and heavily (almost too much so?) inspired by recent Hollywood hit Passengers (would recommend, but not ahead of Arrival), and dedicated to my new friend Aisling who I finally met properly. Enjoy!]

It was the distress signal that alerted them to the ship, but no one answered any of their attempts to contact it.

A dark mass floating through dark space, engines burned out and cold.

They checked the ship code – nothing initially, then the Archivist chimed in that it was a New Dawn class – RIS Foresight – destined for a colony planet in a neighbouring solar system.

They pulled alongside. The Foresight’s docking bay was an antiquated design so they sent a pod rather than connecting the ships’ bays directly. Lieutenants Burgess and McNeill went with two squaddies, Shaw and Lindsay, though they expected a lifeless vessel to greet them.

Far from it. From the first glimpse of tendrils wound around the bay doors, the Foresight teemed with life. Trees and vines twisted through the corridors, giving the air a rich, lush feel – once their monitors had told them it was safe to breathe, of course.

In the main atrium, mosses covered the walls and birdsong filled the air.

Burgess laughed, Shaw wept.

They comm’d in to report, barely able to keep their voices level.

“There’s life everywhere!” McNeill reported in a giddy voice.

Command asked for visuals and Lindsay beamed some back from his suitcam. There were cheers aboard the ship. They moved through the atrium, following signs for cabins.

They quickly wished they hadn’t.

After forcing open the door to A01, it was clear the exuberant life hadn’t reached this far. Passenger Jaq Hughes lay in his pod, preservation mechanics long since failed, his skin pale and lifeless.

Burgess turned to McNeill, aware her colleague had lost his brother on a colonial mission last year. His face was stoic but Burgess could see his hands trembling.

They found the control room and Lindsay managed to reboot the system with a power pack. Cortana informed them that 700 passengers, 40 crew and 80 assorted animals had been on board. Analytics suggested a solar flare had knocked out the whole array of starboard engines, leaving the Foresight unable to continue or safely attempt an autopilot landing.

As for why the crew hadn’t been revived for a manual landing, there was no indication.

Burgess made sure to lead them out via the atrium once more, but even the sound of birdsong could not lift the faces of her team.