Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2012: Short Fiction Finalist

A tale of Arkships, Immortals, and homicidal AIs, this story was the winning entry in the 2011 Spec Fic NZ / Wily Writers competition.

While the Wily Writers is no longer active, you can find Crucible as a free audio download at mixcloud.

Here’s a sample:

“And what are we now?”

I glance through the projections of atmospheric pressure and wind patterns far below our hull. “What we always were: Refugees. Pioneers. Dreamers. And it seems that we’re having this conversation again.”

“But how can we value what we create if we have no memory of loss?”

Kayla’s slipping back into one of her moods; they have been more frequent over the past few months. It troubles me.  Sometimes I think she forgets how far we’ve come.

“They can put you down on the surface if you like, to work on the land instead of miles above it. You can experience the weather, maybe walk under the forests we’ve created.”

It’s a bluff, of course. We who have tasted immortality could as much bear the weight of entropy as the sapling can bear the crushing snow of winter. The cryo tanks preserve us through the wastes of empty space and negate our aging process when we retire to them. They won’t keep us alive forever, but when the star you once called home is barely a glimmer in the ship’s most powerful deepstellar scopes, and when our lives are no longer measured in days and years but by the births and deaths of entire planets, time ceases to mean a great deal.

“You’d never let me join them. I’d be old when I came back. You wouldn’t love an old crone.” Her voice is teasing, but she is regarding me intently. It has become her habit of late.

I grin, and resist the urge to shrug. It would infuriate her. There is too much work at hand to head down that path. It happens thus: we argue, we make up, we forget our work for a time while we celebrate our eternal youth and the pleasure of skin and tongue for as long as we desire. There can be no complications; centuries spent frozen in cryostasis have made certain of that, they assure us.

But on the semi-arid ball of dust and lightning below which we have dubbed Kalahar the season is turning, and the coming changes will be swift and brutal. Without us to control the weather and breathe fecundity into the wastes, the colonists will never rise above the sands, never raise cities, never praise with wonder the Crucible, the great ship that circled this sterile world and brought life where once there had been naught but dust and ash. And Kalahar is but one of many worlds to carry on the legacy of our dead planet, light years behind us.”

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