In the Blood – a flash science fiction story

science-fiction-1677542_1280Hiryangana held out the worn imaging crystal in the palm of his hand. Above it a hologram floated. Bacia, glowing with happiness, pregnant with the baby that they would have had.

Even after three years, it brought a tear to his eyes.

“Please,” he said, looking directly at the captain in his blue spacer’s jumpsuit. “This place killed our hopes and then killed my wife. I have to leave.”

“I understand.” The captain said.

Somewhere above them, in the docks at the top of the orbital elevator, a freighter was being unloaded. Its captain was the seventeenth pilot that Hiryangana had approached this month. They never looked comfortable standing amid the age-worn girders of the freight terminal. The slightest risk of being hit by the chemicals the war had left behind, of suffering the crippling diabetes that blighted the planet of Valembra, was too much for most people.

“Please.” Hiryangana sank to his knees. “If I’m ever to have a life, to have a family, to have a future, I have to leave this place.”

“Get up, man,” the captain said. He pointed along the dock. “See that woman over there? That’s Dr Polat, a scientist who hitched a ride with us. She was going to detach her living pod and bring it down to be her home, but maybe you can persuade her to trade instead.”

“Thank you!” Hiryangana almost hugged the captain.

He ran up to Dr Polat. She had angular features and wore plain, practical travelling clothes.

“The captain said you have a transport pod,” Hiryangana blurted out. “I have a house with an office in the city. Will you trade?”

“Who are you?” the scientist snapped.

“Hiryangana Nalule,” he said. “A pharmacist. Please, I want to leave.”

“But your planet needs you,” Dr Polat said. “It needs all the medical professionals it can get.”

“My planet kills. Why would I stay?”

“I’m going to make things better.”

“Good for you. You know what would help you with that? A home and an office.”

Dr Polat frowned.

“You are a small, selfish man,” she said at last. Hiryangana’s heart sank. “But I can hardly change that, and a pharmacist would be useful in setting up my equipment. If you help me to set it up in your home, then I will agree to the trade. The pod is yours once everything is set.”


It was a hard few days. An autumn wind blew in off the ruins of Kemowa township, bringing sickness to the city. At any other time, Hiryangana would have rested and hoped that this was not the sickness that ruined him forever. But the freighter would leave in three days time, once it was loaded. So he alternated doses of sugar and insulin, trying to keep his body going as it swung between faintness and fever.

Being new to the planet, Dr Polat needed only to eat carefully to keep her body in check. Hiryangana pitied her for what she would face later.

The equipment she had brought was amazing. Testing and manufacturing machines of this quality were never found on neglected outposts of abandoned trade lanes like Valembra. Centrifuges and chromatographs, hormone printers and chemical cleansers, all shiny, sophisticated and new.

“You really think that you can find a cure?” he asked, leaning against one of the last pieces of machinery.

“I have had success with similar poisonings,” Dr Polat said. “This will take time, but it is not beyond my skill.”

Hiryangana tried to smile, but even his face felt weak.

“I could achieve much more with a pharmacist to help me,” Dr Polat said. “And I do not think your planet can afford to lose skilled workers.”

“It will have to. The sickness is too much for me.”

Black spots danced across Hiryangana’s vision as he pushed the machine into place. He leaned over to plug it in, the world spun around him, and he keeled over.

He woke up on the floor, Dr Polat’s face hovering over him. Behind her, a clock blinked on the wall.

The freighter would be leaving in an hour.

Hiryangana tried to push himself upright, but his arms were too weak. Tears ran down his face.

“The sickness,” he whimpered. “I cannot make it in time.”

Dr Polat pressed a syringe into his arm.

“This is still at the test stage, but it will work,” she said. “A deal is a deal.”

Already, Hiryangana felt his strength returning. Forcing himself upright, he walked toward the door.

“Thank you!” he said. “Thank you so much!”

“Wait.” Dr Polat held out a worn imaging crystal. “This fell out of your pocket.”

The hologram leapt shining from the crystal. Bacia stood there, smiling and stroking her belly.

Her beauty was all the more striking next to the simple lines of the empty syringe.

“The baby was sick inside her,” Hiryangana said, tears flowing again. “There were complications, and then…”

He took the syringe from Dr Polat’s hand, feeling the lightness of something that made such a difference.

“Could this have saved them?” he asked.

“This version? No.” Dr Polat said. “But the next? Maybe. The one after that? Almost certainly.”

Hiryangana slid the crystal into his pocket. The image of Bocia disappeared.

“You will need blood samples to test this against,” he said. “Let me call some friends, and then we can get to work.”

High above the city, a freighter undocked. On its side was an empty transport pod.

* * *


I know a lot of people who are struggling with how to cope with the current political climate. This story is a response to that. And also to reading about experiments with medical platypus venom, because the world is a crazy place.

If you enjoyed this then please consider signing up to my mailing list for a free e-book and regular stories straight to your inbox.  You might also enjoy my collection of science fiction short stories, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.

Skin in the Game – a science fiction flash story

Picture by shoobydooby via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by shoobydooby via Flickr Creative Commons

The dermatology conference always bored Helen senseless. She was so far ahead of her field she never learnt anything she couldn’t work out for herself. But the late night poker games, gambling unusual skin samples from their collections, those made it all worthwhile.

“Is that what I think it is?” she asked.

It was getting late, and there were only three of them left in the sweaty-smelling hotel room – her, an Australian named Dawkins and a guy from the Martian colonies named Gomolka. The stakes had risen. No-one was betting on misguided tatoos, old body mods or amusingly shaped moles any more.

“Cancer,” Dawkins said. “Malignant melanoma. One of the few anyone thought to preserve before they finished curing it.”

“It’s amazing.” Helen had never wanted anything so much in her life. It was like a piece of the past calling out to her, the deep ancestor of so much of her work. She reached out to touch the plastic slide holding the sample, but Dawkins batted her hand away.

“Uh-uh,” he said. “It’s still mine.”

He nodded to the dealer, who laid out the three public cards of the flop.

Battling to keep a straight face, Helen stared from the pair of cards in her hand to those on the table. Three, four and six of clubs there, and she had the king. It looked promising for a flush.

They added more skin samples to the pile of bets. The dealer set aside a burn card and flipped the turn. King of diamonds. Not a fifth club, but a match for Helen’s king. Not great, but not terrible.

These were the best moments – when the game sat on a knife edge.

She glanced at Dawkins. His little finger tended to twitch when he was bluffing, but there was no sign of that as he added to his stake with a green stained scalp sample. Gomolka set aside his cards with a sigh.

“Fold,” he said. “Time to sleep.”

He got up, leaving the two of them at the table.

“You still in?” Dawkins asked, pointing at the pile of bets in the centre of the table. “Or are these all mine?”

Helen hesitated. A pair wasn’t much to go on, but that cancer kept drawing her eye. She’d always wanted one for her collection, and they cost more than the office she worked in. When else would she get a chance like this?

Dawkins’ finger shifted.

“I’m in.” Helen reached into her sample case and found nothing there. “Can I offer an IOU?”

Dawkins laughed. “For this? No way. Not unless it’s a really big IOU.”

Her fingers closed around a plastic document, the only other thing precious enough that she’d kept it in the case. The deed for her new premises. Most of her wealth invested in an object as thin as skin.

She couldn’t give up on a game this good.

“This big enough?” Heart hammering, she tossed the deed on the pile.

“It’ll do,” Dawkins said.

The dealer revealed the river, the last card of the round. Helen’s heart pounded so hard that for a moment she thought Dawkins would see it beating in her chest.

Four of diamonds. That left her with two pairs, but what did it mean to Dawkins?

His finger didn’t move. A tiny hint of a smile caught the corner of his mouth.

There was only one thing for it. The other priceless piece of skin she had with her. A modification on her arm, and beneath it a hidden card she kept for emergencies. The king of hearts. She’d practised enough that she could switch it in with a little sleight of hand, and then she’d have a full house. With her business at stake, not to mention that priceless cancer, it had to be worth it.

She tensed a muscle and felt the loosened skin start to peel back.

Then a thought stopped her. The thrill of these games was the only thing that made the conferences worthwhile. If she sullied that, what was she left with? And what would she think of every time she looked at the cancer on her wall?

Unclenching, she let the fold of skin close.

“Let’s see what you’ve got,” she said, and laid her cards on the table.

* * *


Thanks to two of my readers for inspiring this story. Jo asked for a story in which cancer has largely been cured, which made a nice change from my often gloomy sci-fi. Marios suggested ‘Skin in the Game’ as a good title for a story. I hope you both enjoyed it.

My latest e-book, a short historical story called ‘Honour Among Thieves’, is out now. A story of adventure and divided loyalties in medieval England, it’s available for free from Amazon or Smashwords. Please go grab a copy and enjoy some more of my fiction.

If you have an idea for a future flash story, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to fit it in. And if you’d like to read more like this then you can get a free e-book, as well as flash stories straight to your inbox every Friday, by signing up for my mailing list.

A Deadly Blight – a flash science fiction story

Picture by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade via Flickr creative commons
Picture by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade via Flickr creative commons

Orderlies carried the patient in on an old door. The hospital only had two gurneys, and there was no point asking for more from Beijing. With crops failing for the fourth year in a row, the people of Kenya needed food far more than a trolley.

Li Zhen hurried over as the man was eased onto a bed. Unusually for one of her patients he did not look malnourished. His leg was broken, the foot turned strangely outward, but that was not the most striking thing about him.

That was the pale, fuzzy layer covering the skin around his mouth.

“What is you name?” Zhen asked in her crudely accented Swahili.

“Barrie Ndungu,” the man replied through gritted teeth. “You will fix my leg?”

“Of course,” she replied, reaching out with a swab towards the pale growth. “And I will deal with this too.”


The hospital laboratory was poorly equipped and over-stretched, but the technicians were smart and dedicated. Barrie had been in the ward for only two days when the test results came back.

“Your face is infected with a redclaw fungus,” Zhen said. “Do you know what that is?”

Barrie nodded. “I used to be a soldier. They used redclaw against us during the last war. To see a man’s flesh dissolve…”

He shook his head.

“Then you understand the importance of treating it.” Zhen poured an anti-fungal powder into the basin of water on Barrie’s nightstand. “I have not seen this variant before. It has not attacked your flesh so far, but that could easily change.”

“No.” Barrie shook his head.

“Excuse me?” Zhen paused, a cloth in her hand.

“I chose this, Dr Li.” Barrie pointed at the white layer covering half his face. “And I know my rights. You cannot treat it without permission.”

Other patients were turning to look at them, gaunt eyes staring from faces reduced to skin and bone.

“Chose this?” Zhen frowned. “What do you mean?”

Barrie glanced at the plaster cast around his lower leg, and then back at her.

“Get me crutches and I will show you,” he said.

The other patients watched expectantly. Zhen was intensely aware of the delicacy of her position, how easily their trust in her could be shattered if she proved another arrogant foreigner, ignoring the wishes of people here.

“On one condition,” she replied at last. “If I remain unsatisfied, then you let me treat you.”

“Fine,” Barrie said.


Zhen had seldom been to the old Kisumu docks. The abandoned warehouse, with its rusted roof and broken windows, reminded her of why.

“Barrie!” People greeted him warmly as the two of them entered. There were at least fifty people here, some thin and hungry looking, many with the redclaw infection covering their mouths. Zhen had heard of disease tourists, people who took a thrill from surviving rare infections, but she had assumed that such perversity was reserved for westerners and the spoilt sons of party officials. Apparently the sickness had spread.

There was a raised platform at one end of the warehouse. The crowd gathered in front of it, looking up at a man in a shabby lab coat, a surgical mask covering the bottom of his face. On a table next to him was a row of petri dishes, and beside it a pile of withered corn husks, a symptom of the blighted harvest.

“Doctor Rono,” Barrie whispered. “He is a wise man.”

Zhen kept her vehement disagreement to herself. Show respect. Build trust. Her work was founded on that.

A young woman, her face free of the blight, stepped up onto the stage. Horror knotted Zhen’s guts as the mock-scientist opened one of his dishes and approached the volunteer. Respect be damned – she had to do something.

“Stop this!” Zhen pushed through the crowd and up onto the stage, pulling the girl back before Rono could touch her. “You could kill someone!”

She cringed as all eyes turned on her, some confused, others accusing. Every instinct screamed at her to bow her head, to apologise and accede to their desires. Trembling, she stood firm.

Footsteps echoed around the warehouse. Two men ascended the platform and grabbed hold of Zhen, fingers digging into her arms. They dragged her off to one side of the stage.

“Let go of me!” she shouted. “I am a doctor. This man will kill you!”

“No.” Rono untied his surgical mask, letting it hang down across his chest. The face beneath had once been fine but was now etched with thin scars. Redclaw fungus covered it. “I will save them.”

He picked up one of the corn husks from the table and raised it to his lips. The fungus rippled, spreading out to coat the end of the husk, which began to dissolve into Rono’s mouth. He stood like that, swallowing every few seconds, until the whole husk was gone. Then he raised his mask again and rubbed his belly.

Realisation rising like the sun in her mind, Zhen looked again at the crowd. None of those infected with the fungus looked malnourished or even thin. At one side of the warehouse lay heaps of withered maize, a failed and abandoned harvest.

As the men let go of her, she stepped back into the crowd, ready to watch.

* * *


Today I went to the news for inspiration for my story. Unfortunately, it’s in the nature of news that much of it is bleak, and I’ve written more than enough downbeat stories lately. So my challenge to myself with this story was to take bleak subject matter – in this case fungal infections and failing crops – and turn it into something optimistic. Let me know if you think it works.

If you enjoyed this story then please share it. And if you’d like more short stories straight to your inbox every Friday, as well as a free copy of my book Riding the Mainspring, you can get all that by signing up for my mailing list.

The Price of Living – a #FlashFriday story

Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons

Desi slammed the door shut behind them and slid a bolt across. Whatever was inside this old surgery, whatever it had been before the war, it couldn’t be more dangerous than what was out there in the ruins of Barcelona. Peering through a filthy window, he saw nothing moving in the street, but that didn’t mean they were safe. Some of the robots could fly. He’d heard some could tunnel.

By the time he turned around Carina and Javier had already disappeared from the waiting room, leaving a trail of blood. Desi dashed after them, gun still in hand, and found them in a treatment room. Blood was dribbling from Javier’s wounds down the sides of a couch.

“Look.” Carina turned around, the grey controller for a wall mounted device in her hands. “Proper medical equipment. We can save Javi.”

“Put that down,” Desi demanded.

“He needs this.” Carina peered at the machine, trying to work out how to switch it on.

“Stop it.” Desi grabbed the controller from her hands and flung it into the corner of the room. “It’s a machine. We can’t trust it. It could be on their side.”

With a groan Javier tried to sit up, then slumped back, the charred mess of his chest rising and falling with ragged, irregular gasps of breath.

“He needs this!” Carina snatched up the controller. “He’s going to die!”

“If you switch that machine on we might all die.” Desi pointed angrily at the device. “Have you forgotten what happened to Laia and Miguel? They thought we could use that old computer, and now they’re dead.”

“Mother of God, you’re killing him Desi!” Carina grabbed Javier’s pale hand. “Look at him!”

“You’re killing him,” Desi snarled. “The more time we waste here, the less time we’ve got to find bandages or something else we can use.”

“Bandages won’t do.” Carina starting flipping switches. “He needs more than you or I know how to do.”

The memory of Laia’s burned body filled Desi’s mind. The smell had been the worst of all. She’d smelled so beautiful in life, but the stench of blackened corpse had made him vomit. All because that computer had told the robots where they were.

He had to stop this.

All it took was a squeeze of the trigger. Carina froze as the roar of the gun filled the room, the bullet burying itself in the wall.

“Step away from the machine.” Desi trembled with fear at the thought that he might hit her. He had to be strong.

Her face stiff, eyes burning with anger, Carina turned to face him.

“Hands up,” he said.

She obeyed.

From the couch, Desi gave a groan. His left leg twitched and blood misted his breath.

“You wouldn’t,” Carina said.

“I don’t want to die.” Desi was firmer now, his heart beat slowing to something like normal. “Not at the hands of some mindless, compassionless machine.”

“Compassionless?” Carina nodded toward Javier, his breathing becoming ever more shallow. “Do you have compassion, Desi? Or has it been written over with the programming of fear?”

Desi’s finger tightened on the trigger, anger driving him. How dare she suggest he was no better than a robot? He just wanted to live.

Javier coughed – a terrible, wet sound, the desperate noise of someone else struggling to live.

All the anger left Desi, replaced with a different determination. He lowered the gun.

“How does it work?” he asked.

* * *

This story came out of a game of Watch the World Die that Laura and I played a while back, in which we played out a robotic and environmentally driven catastrophe. If you like world building, story telling games or just thinking about apocalypses then I recommend trying out Watch the World Die. It’s quick, simple and entertaining in a dark way.

And if you’re looking for more science fiction then my collection of short stories Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on the Kindle today – please check it out if you enjoy scifi.