March 16, 2012
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 -
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?
That was fantastic. I, too, was hoping for a twist at the end and boy, did you deliver!
I would love to see this developed out into a longer story, or even just a story or series set in that alternate world.
Posted by: Marc Nocerino | March 16, 2012 at 12:55 PM
As usual I love your writing. The only thing I didn't care for is a politically hot topic right now and that is GMO seeds and foods. That far into the past and they would have felt that the energy was wrong for the seeds and known them to be unhealthy.
Nice twist at the end. You have great story telling abilities. I hope you grow your writing into a book; I would certainly read it. :D
Posted by: Morgan Dragonwillow (@MDragonwillow) | March 16, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Various plants and animals have been genetically modified already for bigger yield, disease resistance, toxins for pest resistance, changes for better germination or for drought resistance. But up to now this was via natural selection, which by including humans in the mix ensures that our survival is part of the adaptation. The current genetic modifications done by science (linked to politics and the economy) speeds up this process - so any checks for potential harmful side effects has to be done by the same science. And while I do see some good studies being done to manage this, I am aware that there are often the same links to politics and to the economics of big business - and corresponding pressures. Not sure what we can do - don't think we can stop all GM but we can lobby our politicians and the shareholders and boards of big corporations to try to direct the course.
In the meantime, not sure how the natives would feel that the genetics of the seeds were wrong, as opposed to the genetics of other plants. Maybe just out of tune with the rest of the world somehow. Maybe this is a conflict to develop further. At any rate, if my story shows that after several thousand years of man living with GM corn, there are no side effects, I've proven it's fine in the reality I've invented.
Hmmm - or may there area side effects they've learned to live with. Maybe it's accelerated the evolution of all the races in North America. Maybe it's connected them with the spirit world. Maybe there's some terrible mutation. Lots of possibilities for Little Bear and his family.
Posted by: Ravens | March 16, 2012 at 01:46 PM
If the Europeans came and found the inhabitants of the American continent strong - not for take over - which America are you talking about when you say would American culture etc . . . would America have entered the war - are we talking the original inhabitants -or European trading partners, would the trading partners have been allowed to settle - many of the reasons for joining the world wars and for relationships with Europe have come about because of shared History of the bulk of the population with Europe from the first settlers onwards - I'm not sure they would have been allowed in - not in any great numbers. no there would not be any reason for intervention.
Posted by: alberta ross | March 16, 2012 at 05:42 PM
A couple of issues here...
Columbus discovered an island, which may not have been as powerful as a scientifically advanced Iroquois Nation that had been living on "better food" (however, keep in mind that subsistence farming wasn't THAT big of an issue, lack of refrigeration and safe storage often was).
It's been found that humanity actually went through a period of lessening health and population where it switched from hunter-gatherer style living to farming and staying in one place (and keep in mind that the majority of GMO seeds are also designed to endure pesticides which wouldn't exist in the past, and therefor a lot of the special qualities would be meaningless).
The other issue is war. A big reason the Europeans had the upperhand in their settlement and violation of the North American (and Central and South American) natives was they'd been fighting overcrowding and been dealing with war far longer. And they'd made an industry of war of smelting metal and shaping bullets and arrowheads... I mean, look at the actual creation of certain weapons... The first crossbow was made in China around 300BCE. There were equivalents of flamethrowers being used in ancient Greece....
Even with the huge mound cities you hear about in the area of Ohio and Illinois, just changing some corn seeds isn't likely to have stopped the overtaking of the American natives. It would have been more likely to have caused a bloodier warn, and less infighting.... 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.
Posted by: Eden Mabee | March 16, 2012 at 09:06 PM