1000 Words V: Chasing Dreams

by Charles Matthias and Michael Bard

Story Image: "The Strange Machinery of Desire"


His father threw him into his small cubicle, his body flying onto the
bed, hjs head slamming against the ancient cracked wall with a thickening
kaSCHLUMP. "If you aren't going to work, then you aren't going to eat!
Think about that!" With that, Patric heard him stomp off

Blinking back tears, Patric winced as the door slammed behind him, the
sound echoing, momentarily drowning out the omnipresent growl of machinery
all around them in the Outer Complex. Somewhere beyond the walls of his
small cubicle sounded the howl of the poisonous dust laden winds. His
stomach growling in protest, it realized that sustenance wasn't
forthcoming. He licked his dried and cracked lips, and blinked back tears
and blood.

He pulled himself off the bed he'd been thrown on, his hand spreading the
blood on his forehead Patric rubbed his soaked hand on his dusty pants
and sucked his lip. His father was pissed, but would leave him to think
about the pain until his eleven-hour shift was done. He had time for his

The bed creaking beneath him, he walked over to his tiny desk, more of a
ledge really, his bare feet slapping on the cold metal floor. With a
scrape he pulled out the chair and flopped down on it, starring at the
archeotech he'd found as he wiped away more blood. The archeotech that
wouldn't let go of his mind; the archeotech that filled his mind with
forbidden dreams.

The thing stared back, oblivious. It was like what old scratched video
records suggested cats had been like. He'd never seen one, they'd died
out long before he was born -- though he'd heard rumors they still had
in the Inner City, but he had more chance of seeing Earth than that place!

Even thinking of lost Earth triggered the religious instruction they all
received. He briefly bowed his head before returning his eyes to the
archeotech. Perhaps not a cat, but IT reminded him of something. The
memory scratched as his brain like he imagined a cat would, but he could
never catch it!

The constructs head was a skull, small, with naked black holes for eyes,
and a kind of spike sticking out the front. Folded plastic formed a long
neck that led to the body which was another fold of white plastic that let
the archeotech sit level on the ledge. Stretching out to either side were
more pieces of the white plastic, curved hinges holding them to the
creations body.

He turned it over, and looked at the complex clockwork and electronics
inside. He'd never seen anything like this, not in his schooling, not in
any of the arcane life support machinery, not in any of the visions he had
from the downloaded memories. He didn't begrudge the hard work down in the
sewage reclamation plant. The youngest were always there, wearing heavy
rubber suits with thick steel helmets, air creaking and grinding down long
hoses and gurgling out the side through the thick ooze as they pulled
scrap out of the pipes so that the goo could flow and be processed and
reused. Endless hours of cleaning and tending; everybody did it. The
life support and filtration systems that filtered dust and trace poisons
out, and the vast gardens of old and mostly withered plants that recycled
the air they breathed depended on them.

He'd found the archeotech down there in the ooze, sunken on the floor,
half buried in a spot where the currents stilled and the silt settled.
He'd felt around, looking for the brush he'd dropped as the echoing
clanking of the air pumps rattled around in his helmet. He'd found it,
but he'd also found the tiny thing.

Even now, he didn't know why he'd shoved it into his belt, or snuck it
past the supervisor after they'd clambered out of the ooze and gone
through the showers. He remembered the long nights in the dim reddish
light where he'd worked on it, cleaning it, meticulously remembering every
thing he took apart so that he could put it back together. After his
growing size had led them to move him to cleaning the hydroponic gardens,
he'd stolen a tiny brush used to clean the nutrient ooze for the plants
and polished and scrubbed every little piece until they glowed in copper
and gold. He'd stayed awake late each night, fiddling with wires and
springs, putting the little creature back together again. He'd stopped
sleeping, nodding off on the job, his production had fallen off and they'd
reduced his rations. But, he couldn't stop -- he had to see what the
thing did! Banging his head against the wall, pain would wipe away the
dreams foir an instant, but only an instant.

It was wrong, he _knew_ it was, but he couldn't stop!

None of them knew, not even his father. He knew that if they saw this
archeotech, they'd take it from him and drill him in his duties. There'd
be no understanding from them. They'd see Patric's entire life laid
before them, a daily routine of drudgery to keep what few humans were left
on this dying world alive. Some said Feldspar was never meant to support
mankind, and Patric often agreed with them. To survive, they each must
labor to the day they died, just to keep the hope that one day Earth might
return and rescue them.

Patric understood this, the memories made sure of that. And yet, , as he
stared at the strange device which had so captured his mind, he could not
help but hope for something else too. Something beyond the endless
drudgery in a rust-laden world.

And now he was here. With tired eyes he looked at the thing, wondering
why it didn't work. Had it been a pipe dream? Running his fingers along
the fine gears and pistons, he felt their polished smoothness. Why
wouldn't it work?! What had he done wrong?!

He rubbed at the rusting blood between his eyes.

Looking at it, he realized that it'd been a waste. A complete waste.
Like everybody else, all descendants of colonists abandoned on this
forsaken world, he had to work to keep everybody alive. Slowly the
ancient systems were failing, and it was only with everybody's eternal
work that they could stay alive, that those in the inner city could have
the appropriate leisure time to rule over them wisely and well. With a
scarred and dirty hand, he picked up the thing, glared at it. Hatred
filled him as he stared.

He threw it across the room!

Before his astonished eyes, echoing through his astonished ears, the
archeotech clicked and whirred. The plastic sticking off the side flapped
up and down, it arched its neck, the plastic somehow curving like
something alive. The sides became a blurr, a buzz of movement and
displaced air.

The thing stopped in midair. It cocked its head with a hum of gears, and
looked at him.

It worked! _It worked_!

Sides, no _wings_ blurring, the construct whirred to the door and began
tapping on it with its skull, its, its _beak_!

Patric danced. He _recognized_ it!

It kept tapping as though it wanted something. What could it want? It was
tapping-- it was knocking--

It wanted out?

Was it going to lead him somewhere?

In a trance of dreams, Patric padded across the floor and opened the door,
the ancient material scraping and creaking against the floor as it slid
into the wall. With a whirr and a buzz, and the clicking of gears, the
_bird_ whizzed out through the door and Patric ran after it.

Through corridors and along gangways and down stairs and up ladders he
followed it. It would wait for him to catch up, its wings a blur as
Patric climbed, huffing, up long rusty ladders, or crawled through dusty
tubes. He'd long ago followed it away from the still habitable sections,
and into the endless miles of abandoned passages and chambers, full of
abandoned machinery, possessions, dirt and dust.

He chased it through a long dead arboretum, the plants that had once
refreshed the air nothing but dried and desiccated stalks. It led him
through a long hanger, thick with dust and oil, empty now of machines that
were long lost.

Finally it led him to a hatch leading outside, where it hung and buzzed,
pecking at the door frantically.


Patric looked at the ancient door, a thick heavy hatch sealed to keep the
poisons outside. According to legend, when humans had first come here,
they'd tried to terraform the world, but something had gone wrong.

Maybe-- Maybe this construct _knew_ something. It was leading him
somewhere. It had to be!

But, it wanted to go _outside_.

Only a select few went outside, and then only to clean the filtration
vents. And even they went outside only once a month, and for barely an
hour's time. Apart from them, nobody went, ever. Patric knew that in the
past men must have at some point, but there were no stories, no memories,
no legends, nothing.

The bird buzzed frantically, pecking loudly.

Patric licked his dry lips. Beside the airlock there was a heavy canvas
suit, cracked with age. Spun carbon tanks hung against the wall with
thick corrugated hoses that lead to a heavy face mask. Who knew how long
they'd been here?

And yet, the bird had to be going somewhere.

He walked over and checked the tanks, one after the other. One after the
other they showed empty, or the hoses were obviously cracked. But one--

It sill held pressure, and the hoses looked good.

The earliest memories of childhood he had were dire warnings to never go
outside, to never trust old equipment. His mind had been filled with
memories to _not go outside_.

The bird pecked.

Patric thought about his life. About endless drudgery. Working to
maintain slowly failing systems. Oh, they wouldn't in his life, but the
day was coming. He would mate with an assigned wife, have his assigned
children, and finally die and be recycled.

The bird looked at him, cocking its head.

He was still young, but already his body creaked. He could feel age
creeping up on him like rust along the walls. He couldn't always see it,
but it was there, and one day it would blossom and crack, just like his
own body. The bird was a _dream_, a route out of the drudgery.

Was that why he'd spent so much time working to repair it?


Scratching his head, he thought some more. He looked back, back towards
the work, and the cautious decay into old age. He looked forward, up at
the bird, up at his dreams, the last thing that had captured his

He smiled, shrugged. It was foolish, but he pulled one of the ancient
suits off its hook, dust and flakes of plastic falling to the ground. He
clambered into it, the stiff material dragging and tearing at his flesh,
at the dirty cloth of his bodysuit. The tank was heavy, the hoses cracked
when he moved them. But he didn't care.

What did he have to lose?

As the bird waited he put the mask over his face, the cracked rubber
pressing painfully against his bloody forehead and took a breath of old
dried oxygen. It was cold, and tasted of bitter rust, and something else.
The goggles of the mask were so dusty he could barely see. But he could
see the bird. Tying the hood around his head, he walked over, the boots
clattering on the cracked floor, to the airlock. It took all his strength
to turn the valve, and it squealed its protest loudly in his ears, even
through the suit. He breathed , valves clicked as air gushed into the
mask to be inhaled and exhaled.

With a groan felt through his body, the door opened. The bird buzzed in
and he followed, dragging the door shut behind him.

He wondered if he would die. The suit was old, surely it could not
withstand the poisons that waited for him beyond the outer door. The bird
pecked at the outer door, summoning him.

Patric licked his lips and with a heave, cranked open the outer door. His
mind was buffeted by the howling dust, and already he could taste
something foul on his tongue. The bird flew out before him, dancing like
an angel in the heavy air. Motes of dust smeared his viewplate, as he
beheld Feldspar for the first time.

The hatch led out onto a small platform overlooking a cleft in the dead
volcanoes the Complex had been built into. Massive towers rose up behind
him, their surfaces streaked with decay and corrosion. Before him was a
ring of dead volcanoes, their stacks crumbling inwards, steaming between
defiles of black stone. And beyond, he could see nothing, his mind filled
with the roaring howl of the wind.

The archeotech danced around, fluttering along the platform, as if seeking
an answer to a question he could not comprehend. And then it landed,
looking up at him with its comical beak. Patric nodded smiling broadly.
This was the reason he laboured, but also the reason he dreamed that it
didn't have to be this way.

For one moment, he felt only joy.



Raven's Comments:

This story showed the most vivid and creative world-building of any of the
stories in the contest. Feldspar is a well-imagined nightmare of a world,
and in the purpose of setting a mood and an ambience this story succeeds
remarkably. Patric is well-characterized, at least at first, and the
desperation of the colonists' plight is painfully real. It's easy to see
how a kid in Patric's position could have become obsessed with repairing
an ancient toy, just to have something to keep his mind active.

The problem I have with this story is that it doesn't seem to go anywhere
-- or, rather, that it seems to be headed in a direction and never
actually gets there. The story seems to be hinting all around the edges at
some kind of deeper meaning, but we never actually arrive at what that
meaning is. The archeotech leads him toward the exit, and there's this
moment of grand tension as he's deciding whether to risk himself for
whatever it's going to show him -- and then what? The archeotech doesn't
do anything out in the blighted open air that it couldn't have done a
hundred feet further back in the wrecked arboretum. Patric is firm in his
belief that it is leading him to something, but it never delivers on that
promise -- yet Patric seems to be completely happy with whatever he thinks
it is showing him.

That's the other problem, here: we can't see enough of what Patric is
thinking to understand what has changed at the end. He seems to have
undergone some kind of epiphany, but neither his revelation nor the thing
that triggered it is clear to the reader (at least not to this one). Why
does the sight of the blasted landscape change his perspective? It's
pretty much the same thing the adults had told him was out there. There's
no beauty in it, not even the desolate beauty that is sometimes found in
lonely places. It just highlights the reality of Feldspar Colony's
predicament, in all its desperate futility.

I'll be the first to admit that science fiction can, at times, be too
preachy, too obvious in its message. "Chasing Dreams," unfortunately,
suffers the opposite problem: there clearly is a message, but it's
delivered so subtly that I'll be damned if I can tell what it is.

That, in itself, wouldn't have been enough to push this story to 4th
place. Unfortunately, the story also suffered far more technical errors
than I've come to expect from you two. I'm assuming this was simply
because you were rushed and didn't have time for the same degree of
proofreading as usual, but it detracted from the story and cost you just
enough points to put you out of the running.

Spelling/Punctuation: B-
Grammar: B
Creativity: A
Artistry: B-
Applicability: A

Final Score: 42 out of 50

Copyright 2006 by Charles Matthias and Michael Bard. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first.

Back to Contest Results