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Chosen Words

This week's Flash Fiction challenge was titled "I've Chosen the Words". We were given a list of 20 words, and told to pick any 10 of them to include in a story.  I stuck the 20 in a randomizer first, and came up with these:

 - gate, justice, seed, sparrow, university, dinosaur, insult, finger, tornado, paradise

I shuffled them in my head and came up with an intriguing idea - right now it's a very short story, but I want to develop it more. So - the story - 

What If

The gate sat smack dab in the middle of the farmer's corn field  - an annoying but manageable location. This was the tenth gate the alien artifact had created, so by now there was a process to follow. The advance team had rushed in with Jeeps and bulldozers, clearing a wide and muddy path through the field. They'd set up the portable containment station, and left Dan to babysit until the team arrived later in the day from the Science department in Toronto. It seemed like an insult to ask him, a double Phd at 22, to do this, but there was little justice in university politics. The gate was locked down anyways, until they could send a robot through on recon, so his being there was just a formality. Each gate was linked to somewhere and somewhen - preliminary readings for this one said the "where" was same location, and the "when" was about 1000 AD. No danger of any dinosaurs bashing at it. Dan stared at the gauges, bored, scratching idly at his blond beard. He'd grown it in a futile attempt to look more mature. He ran his finger over the access panel - what the heck, he thought, one peek won't hurt. He keyed in the code, and the immense force field - swirling like a tornado - shimmered then faded. He poked his head through. Bright blue sky, long grass waving in the wind, a mixed forest in the distance, birds chirping, a mixed bouquet of spring flower scents, several small animals grazing by the forest edge. Sort of like the area on his side of the fence, but without all the noise and pollution. The colors and sounds and smells all seemed enhanced, like in a paradise, but maybe that was just an effect of the gate field on his head.

Suddenly a sparrow swooped over his shoulder and on through the gate. He took a step after it in reflex - arm up, mouth open in shock - then just as suddenly the bird flew right back into the present. He pulled back in haste and rekeyed the gate field - he'd almost passed through with no protective clothing. Contamination of the past was a danger they were all aware of, but luckily the gate monitoring was off so his mistake would go unheeded.

If the monitoring had been on, or he had been honest later, the team would have found - and retrieved - the clump of mud his boot had left in the past. And retrieved the several seeds in the mud, especially the kernels of corn. Modern corn, enhanced for growth and yield, resistant to disease and pests and drought. Seeds left in a field 1000 years ago, on the edges of the developing Huron Nation. Seeds with the potential to provide a miracle food for the country's first peoples, replacing perhaps a dependence on the meager maize crops, on the necessity of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, on the evolution of a culture and lifestyle vulnerable to the might of Europe.

He wiped the sweat from his bare face with relief - no harm done after all, everything OK, the gauges looked normal. He hadn't turned into a purple monster or erased the world. He heard voices outside - they were back. He stepped through the door, flipped his dark braids over his shoulder, and waved with relief.

"Ho, Little Bear," called the leader. "Hope you didn't fall asleep on us. The ride took longer than we thought."

The leader slid down off his horse. "We brought all the equipment we needed from the elders. It was decided this will be a Bear Nation find - it's finally our turn to manage one and learn. We can't be always trading for technology with Europe, we need to encourage our own scientists. And of course we brought grav sleds - we can't forget in our haste that we also must show respect for Mother Earth.

He pointed the remote and lowered the laden sleds to the ground by the station. "So - anything exciting happen while we were away?"

Little Bear shook his head. "No, my brothers, just a quiet and boring wait." 

_______________________________________________________________________________

I'm intrigued by this idea, the introduction of a super-crop into a subsistence culture in the past. Not sure exactly when and where this would have the biggest impact in North America, and how the inhabitants would have developed. I surmise that Columbus might have arrived not to find scattered bands roaming the countryside, willing to casually trade some land for beads. Instead, he might have found an already strong nation - perhaps a union of tribes - with close roots to the land and a focus on agriculture, with rich natural resources yet a conservationist view of their relations with nature, perhaps with a strong mystical connection to the spirit world that would help them fight against the ships and gunpowder of Europe. Rather than an easy addition to the empires of Europe, North America might have been more of a trading partner.

Would America have developed into the same manufacturing giant, with all the environmental impacts of that? Would a slave trade still have developed? Would the North American culture have influenced that of Europe? Of China? If Hitler still rushed through Europe, would North America have come to his aid? Or invaded Iraq? Would we have put a man on the moon? Would we care if we didn't? 

 

 

 

Comments

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Auroranibley

The writing is good, but I feel like it's too big an idea for such a short story. If you're hooked enough to keep developing it, I would spool out what you have here, let it take a little longer to develop (not too long, of course, but the exposition can wait a wee while).

I think you already know that, though. Good work!

Cheap air Jordan

Perhaps the US would still be a colony or just fighting for its independence now because of the extra resources needed to subdue the native populations.

Ravens

Wow - lots of good comments here, thanks. First - I stand corrected - Columbus visited only the Caribbean area on his visits, first contact of natives further north was maybe John Cabot. On my list of things to check. As is subsistence farming, and the reasons behind any declines in health and/or population. While I do realize pesticide/herbicide resistance is redundant in the absence of those chemicals, resistant to pests could be helpful - via BT toxin engineered into the genes. This is th same toxin used since the 1920's to control pests.
There is also the question of whether this single change of food would be a sufficient "tipping point" to re-direct the path of development. And where and when to best apply it. It wouldn't be enough to just strengthen native populations to drag out their battle with Europeans a century or so - we've seen how the Spanish dealt with the advanced civilizations they came across in South America - just meant was a richer people to enslave and plunder. North America would need to be strong enough to force the only option - trade. And controlled settlement I think, although this would have been a clash of two very different ways of life. As mentioned, maybe BT toxin pushes an evolutionary change in the native population that enlists the spirit world in their fight - this is a fiction, after all.
Not sure if there would still be a US/Canada division - what would be the need? Also, whether a more balanced native/European mix in North America would want to help in The War as much is debatable. Maybe the change in dynamics around Europe-America interaction would cause corresponding changes in European politics - maybe The War would be sooner. Or later. Don't think I want to ever take things this far.
But I do want to take this concept a bit further - flash fiction limit was 1000 words. Could be longer, as a short story. Or a novel. Or a series.
In the meantime - reading needed. Starting with Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Any other recommendations welcome.

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