Like Snowflakes – a science fiction short story

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Snow was falling as I stepped off the platform and into the retirement town. This was it for the rest of my life, contained in one spot by the company that made me. At least the place looked pretty.

A woman stood by an all terrain car in the parking lot. She pulled the scarf down from across her mouth, revealing my face but with a scar running down her left cheek. ZK-class clones were bred as specialists, scattered around the world in mountain rescue teams, and I’d only encountered two others in my career. Even knowing it was coming, the experience was uncanny.

“I’m ZK-334,” she said. “You can call me Nora. And you must be 418.”

I didn’t shake the hand she offered, instead fiddling with the strap of my bag. It was too weird seeing my own face on a stranger.

“Everyone finds it unsettling at first,” Nora said. “You’ll get used to it.”

As she drove me into town, Nora talked about the people and possibilities the settlement held. All I could do was stare through the windows of the shops and restaurants we passed, seeing hundreds of faces like my own. I pulled my jacket tight and settled my hand on my belly, trying to calm its quivering. There’s nothing wrong, I told myself. This is just what you expected. But I couldn’t help scrutinising those faces, wishing there was someone different from me.


Nora laughed when I opened the door, revealing my outfit of tartan trousers and a bright pink hoodie. My distress must have shown, because she stifled her grin and offered a sympathetic smile.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Everyone goes through something like this when they arrive. It’s part of adjusting.”

I should have invited her in, but my home was the only place where that face was confined to the mirror. Even dressed the way I was, I didn’t feel like my own person in the rest of the settlement: no clothes could make me unique when everyone else had my eyes. Still, I clung to those clothes like they were a safety line and I was hanging over a crevasse.

“You don’t dress like this,” I said, twisting my neon watch.

“When I first got here, I wore outrageous Hawaiian shirts for a month. It gave me something to do while I got settled.”

“It’s been a month. I don’t feel settled.”

“It was easier for me.” She ran a finger down her scar. “I’d had this for a decade, and no-one without it looks quite like me.”

I nodded. That scar was part of why I could stand to see her.

“You pick a name yet?” she asked.

I shook my head. I had always been ZK-418. I got the principle of picking a name to mark the end of my service period, but no name would have sounded like me.

“Why don’t you come out for coffee,” she said. “Meet some people. It gets easier once you find out more about them.”

“No.” Just the thought of being around them made me feel faint. “Thank you.”

I stepped back and shut the door.


I looked in the bathroom mirror. There it was, the same face I saw everywhere. The same face as everyone I knew. Maybe if I had spent my life surrounded by it, like the military clones did, then I could have lived in this place, but to suddenly be robbed of my individuality, to dissolve into an identical multitude, was like falling from a mountain side, feeling solid support fall away as I hurtled powerless through the void.

I couldn’t even stand to see myself any more. I slammed my fist into the mirror and it shattered, slivers of glass ringing out as they landed in the sink. My knuckles stung and blood dripped down my middle finger.

A blood spot on glass stared up at me like a single, unblinking eye. Hypnotised by its gaze, I finally saw the answer. Nora had found a way to make it all bearable, and so could I.

I picked up a shard the length of my hand and raised it to my face. A scar like Nora’s wouldn’t do: this had to make me unique. The thought of doing it made me feel cold as ice, but it had to be done.

The doorbell rang. I turned, too numb to think beyond automatic reactions, and went to answer.

Nora’s smile lasted all of a second before she saw the look on my face and the glass in my hand.

“Oh, honey!” She looked at me with such sympathy that I could have cried. “That’s not the answer.”

Gently, she took hold of my hand and pried the glass from between my fingers.

“This is why you need to meet people,” she said, laying her hands on my shoulders. “It’s not what’s on the outside that makes us unique. It’s the people inside, and once you meet them, you’ll see more than just your own face looking back. This,” she tapped her scar, “it was a lifeline while I settled in, but it’s not what’s kept me sane.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “Can’t go out. Can’t face them. I…”

“Then let me come in. I’ll tell you how my accident changed me, all the things I’ve done since that you haven’t. And if that’s okay, tomorrow I’ll bring Judy, the lady with all the piercings, so she can tell you how she went from mountaineer to DJ. How does that sound?”

It sounded terrifying. But so did the clink of shattered mirror falling into the sink, a reminder of the bloody alternative.
I stepped back from the doorway and let Nora in.


I have a Commando comic out this week, Face of a Thousand Heroes. Unusually for Commando, it’s a science fiction story instead of a historical one, a tale about cloned soldiers fighting in a future conflict. I wrote this story to show another side of that comic’s world. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find Commando on Comixology or in newsagents.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Sweetpeas – a #FlashFriday story

rosesToby Goodwin’s eyes watered at the thick scent of sweetpeas in bloom. From the safety of her doorstep Bridget Levsky glared disapprovingly up at him, wire-frame glasses glinting beneath her grey curls.

“Young man, Professor Levsky and I spent forty years perfecting our White Supremes. I’m not going to leave them to die because some oaf can’t steer straight.”

“Mrs Levsky, I work for the council.” Toby flashed his ID for the third time, then pointed at the tanker crashed across the road, police officers busily taping it off. The driver’s body lay beside it, blood and a few green tendrils creeping out from beneath the white sheet. “That man’s chest exploded minutes after the crash. Whatever was in the tanker, it’s not safe for you to stay here.”

“It’s Dr Levsky to you.” She pointed at the tracks the lorry had left on her lawn. “What’s the council going to do about this mess, that’s what I’d like to know. Now get off my garden or I’ll set the dog on you.”

A bedraggled mongrel yipped half-heartedly from the floor.

“That goes for you too, Thomas Bell!” Dr Levsky shouted as a small boy shot through the flowerbeds on a BMX. As he stopped to stick out his tongue the wind changed. His face went white, eyes widening as he gagged on the greenery shooting from his throat. Police rushed to his aid, but Toby could only stare in horror.


There was something reassuring about the thick rubber seals of the biohazard suit. It kept out the pollen as well as whatever had been in the tanker, helping Toby to breath more easily.

Dr Levsky’s skin looked different looked paler through the condensation inside the mask.

“Have you died your hair?” he asked.

“It’s no good buttering me up.” She declared patted her brown locks. “I wasn’t going yesterday, and I’m not going today.”

“Everyone else has.” It hadn’t been hard to convince them – half the neighbourhood had seen little Tommy reduced to red lumps and squirming roots. Even Toby, who had never met the boy, felt sick at the thought.

“I’m not everyone else,” the old lady declared.

“Neither is Albert Brooks anymore.” Toby pointed to the empty house two doors down.

“Serves him right,” Mrs Levsky said. “Letting his nasty dog dig up people’s gardens. You don’t do that, do you Ruffles?”

Joints clicking, she bent to scratch the mongrel’s head, and Toby saw past her into the hallway. At the far end a door stood ajar, revealing rows of seedlings in tall test-tubes, spiralling glass pipes feeding dark liquid to their roots.  The seedlings were moving, stems turning towards Toby as if caught by a gentle breeze.

An uneasy feeling tickled at his mind.

“What did you think of Mr Hardbottom from next door?” he asked.

“Interfering old so-and-so.” Dr Levsky frowned. “Kept threatening to cut back my Restormels.”

“Janet Stevens?”

“Nosey cow.”

“The postman?”

Dr Levsky listed the failings of one casualty after another. As he listened, Toby’s uneasy feeling grew.


Toby felt a little ridiculous as he scrambled down the fence and into the shadow strewn back garden. Not as ridiculous as he’d felt in the police station, trying to explain to the desk sergeant why they should investigate the little old lady with the lovely flowers, and not the contents of the tanker crash. The police had treated his theory with contempt, but he still believed there was something wrong. Someone had to investigate.

His nose tingled feverishly as he brushed past the sweetpeas, pale petals glowing in the moonlight. He wished he still had the biohazard suit, but the fire brigade wouldn’t let him keep it overnight.

Carefully opening the back door, he tip-toed into a hallway that smelt of old boots and compost. At the far end Bridget Levsky stood alone in her kitchen, muttering to rows of seedlings. Her hair was ginger now, fingers and nose more pointed.

“You’ll keep the nasty men away, won’t you precious?” She caressed a plant and its fronds stroked her wrinkled hand.  Tendrils like those that had burst from poor Tommy Bell turned towards Toby.

Heart pounding he backed away through a thick curtain.  His nose twitched again, and he turned to see row upon row of lush, green leaves swaying in the glare of industrial lights.  In their midst stood two more Bridget Levskys, a bottle blonde and a fading brunette. Between them half-a-dozen more near-identical old ladies lay in a pool of thick yellow liquid, each a little sturdier, a fraction less wrinkled than the last.

The blonde pursed her lips and whistled. At the sound, a cluster of fragile purple flowers turned towards Toby, spraying pollen into his face. His allergies went into overdrive as something squirmed in his nostrils. He gave an almighty sneeze and fine green fragments rocketed from his nose, sailing across the room and hitting the women. Those fragments erupted in to a web of roots and crawlers, sprawling across their bodies and into the bubbling vat. Green veins throbbed as the plants guzzled the thick goo, burying the two Bridget Levskys in a mound of trailers as they expanded at an ever-increasing rate beneath the glow of the industrial bulbs.

Toby stumbled through the door and out into the road, the mongrel dog yapping at his heels. Greenery burst from every orifice of the house, smashing windows and doors, stretching out in search of sunlight. With one last, desperate thrust towards the pale moon, the vines over-reached and collapsed amidst a cloud of softly scented petals, all perfectly lovely and perfectly dead.

A wrinkled hand pushed out of the greenery, and then flopped and hung still.

It seemed Toby wouldn’t need to evacuate Dr Levsky after all.


* * *

Having discussed plants as villains a few posts back, it seemed like a good time for this story. It was also an experiment in editing, digging out a piece I abandoned years ago to see if I could turn it into something worth reading. Was it worth the effort? You judge.

As always, you can read more of my fiction for free on my Flash Friday page, or by signing up to my mailing list and receiving a free copy of my ebook Riding the Mainspring.