Keeping with the idea of trying to improve my writing by expanding my horizons, my short story for this week (like last week) is an attempt at a genre I've never tried before. This time, I decided to try writing Science Fiction.
This week's short story was based upon a short story prompt from my writing group. This one involved a picture of a tree with a crow sitting on top of it. My story is called "Knight-Time on Mars". As a student of Arthurian Literature, I thought it would be interesting to put an Arthurian/Knight Type theme into a futuristic setting. After all, King Arthur is the "Once and Future King".
Hope you enjoy the story and I'd love to hear any feedback!
Knight-Time on Mars
by James J Meadows III
One lone pair of boots, leaving one lone pair of tracks across the endless expanse of snow, formed a straight line from the one lone light visible in the distant town to the one lone figure, wrapped in a thick woolen coat at the base of the one lone tree dotting the otherwise barren countryside. There he stood, giving an occasional shiver as he lingered beneath the dark sky. After several minutes, he gave a loud sigh.
“Only a complete idiot walks seven miles through thick snow in the middle of the night to visit a tree,” he said, shaking his head in obvious frustration. As he did so, his eyes fell upon the form of a large corvid resting lightly on one of the empty branches. “Well, at least I’m not the only one, eh? Heh, heh.”
He gave a chuckle. For a moment, he stood there, staring absently at the ground, digging the toe of his boots into the gravel at his feet.
“You know, they say the last great prophet, Nilrem, was buried here.”
Gawain spoke as much to himself as to the bird but, since the bird was there anyway, he could at least pretend he was speaking to someone as he struggled to air out his thoughts.
“They say his soul still lingers around the tree to this very day, providing guidance to lost pilgrims.” He paused for a moment then looked up at the bird. “Have you gotten any answers yet? Cause I sure haven’t.”
A cold breeze whipped across the landscape, sending chills through his skin. He wrapped his coat more tightly around himself to protect against it. He was used to the cold and dark, of course; everyone who lived here was. That didn’t necessarily mean he liked it, though.
“I’m Gawain, by the way,” he said, addressing the bird. “I don’t know if you have a name, so I guess I’ll call you ‘Silence’. After all, that is just about the only answer I’m likely to get to my questions anyway. Heh.”
He gave another quiet chuckle, followed by a long sigh. Adjusting his feet restlessly, he gazed upward into the star-filled night sky. Of course, night was kind of a relative term on Mars. The distant white dwarf star, known as the Sun, didn’t provide that much light during the day time either. He might as well use Jupiter for illumination, for all the good it did. Fortunately, his eyes were well adjusted to the darkness.
“Ever wonder what the heavens must have looked like back when we first settled here,” he asked. “Of course, I don’t know if any of the old stories, Art likes to tell, are true: about how the sun was once so big it took up the entire sky; or, how our ancient ancestors terraformed the planet to create a suitable home as they fled their own planet before the expanding sun; or, if it’s really true that the only reason we have enough warmth to survive here is because the third great age of man filled the atmosphere with various compounds, which create and retain the warmth generated on the surface. I don’t know any of it. I’m a warrior, not a scientist.”
“All I know is: if it is true that people left millions of years ago to explore the distant stars and find a new world for us, they clearly aren’t coming back, any more than are the great technologies that supposedly existed before the wars wiped them out.”
He fell silent for a long time, gazing out over the bleak countryside, back at the small light issuing from his distant hometown.
“War,” he muttered quietly. “I have to admit, I don’t like it much. Neither do I understand how a new war is supposed to fix the darkness created by the old ones, you know?”
Gawain glanced at the bird for a second. It stared at him curiously, moving its head at odd angles as the black eyes studied him. With a slow, almost ceremonious reverence, Gawain drew his sword from its scabbard, holding it up to sparkle in the starlight, as though showing it to the bird.
“How can a tool of such beauty, cause so much death and destruction?” He asked. “And how can a tool capable of so much death and destruction possibly bring peace and hope?”
Lowering the sword, he let its tip fall to the snowy ground, before releasing the weapon altogether, sending it crashing into the white powder at his feet. He gazed at it for a second before shifting his eyes to the distant village.
“Art disagrees with me,” he said. “He and Kay believe they are destined to unite the disparate factions of the world into a unified kingdom. They plan to herald in a new age of peace, unity and equality for all people. Art says he found a weapon capable of making him invincible, one that will allow him to unite all the people into a single unified country again. I just don’t know. It seems to me that violence can’t bring peace; it can only perpetuate more violence, don’t you think?”
The bird, which up to this point had not made a single sound, gave a loud shrill squawk. The noise startled Gawain so much that he ducked to the ground and snatched his sword faster that even his own brain could register the movement. The bird’s mouth hadn’t even closed yet before the weapon was once again glimmering within its owner’s hands.
“Heh,” he said, giving another chuckle. “You startled me.”
Gawain glanced down at the sword. He had always possessed fast reflexes and great strength. There were few warriors, if any, whether in the village or beyond, who were more gifted than he, when it came to the art of combat. Some suggested he was one of the families whose ancestors had been genetically altered during the second great age of man, which supposedly happened after the Sun had already swallowed their home world, but before its collapse into the white dwarf stage.
“I suppose I must sound like a complete idiot,” he said. “Here I am, the greatest warrior in the land, one without any other notable or impressive skills beyond my battle training, speaking about how terrible war is.”
He looked at the sword for a moment before returning it to its sheath.
“But you have to understand, I don’t fight because I enjoy it.” He looked back at the bird, with a pleading expression, as though needing to somehow justify his own actions. “I fight to protect my family. You have seen this world; it is full of strange mutated creatures, bacteria adapted to possess human brains, and murderous raiders who strike where they please without mercy. If I don’t take up arms to protect my mother, my brothers and my friends, who will?”
He turned away, staring back into the distant village.
“But does a war to unite all nations, really protect my people?” he asked. “Art says history shows that power, safety and security come from one nation uniting many diverse groups under a single banner of peace. He speaks of empires like the Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians, whoever the hell they are, supposedly bringing thousands of years of peace and prosperity to their people. If it’s true, he would know, considering he is the one who likes hanging out, exploring the ruins of that old library from the last age. If he didn’t, he never would have found that old capsule, hidden inside one of the cracking foundation stones, and the strange sword buried inside it. Excalibur, he calls it. I suppose the name has some significance.”
Gawain turned back toward the bird.
“So, what would you do?” he asked.
The bird gave a loud squawk and ruffled its feathers, shaking the tree branch on which it was camped. Gawain smiled.
“Squawk and rustle some branches, huh? Heh,” Gawain gave another chuckle. “Well, I guess I’m halfway there. I’ve spent more than enough time already standing here squawking. I guess it’s time to get on to shaking the tree. Maybe Art is right about his vision of a better world. Maybe he is wrong. But if it doesn’t work, I suppose I haven’t lost anything. If it does work, though, maybe I can finally ensure the welfare and safety of my family. Perhaps I can even bring some light into a world trapped in darkness for too long.”
Gawain looked at the stars one last time before turning toward the bird.
“Thanks for the talk,” he said. “See you ‘round.”
Without another look back, Gawain spun away, marching toward the dim light of the distant town, where his family awaited him. The bird watched him go for several minutes until his fading form had all but disappeared from view.
“Go forth, noble child,” the bird said softly. “Your destiny awaits you.”