Friday, June 20, 2014

Flash Fiction by Mark Amidon


Coated
 
It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
 
Perhaps she was inspired by the beautiful vista she could see from her ski chalet, the beautiful white snow coating the landscape, the crystalline beauty, the way everything looked like an iced cake, not an iced mountain range.  And when it occurred to Dr. Ingridsen that sugar was a simple hydrocarbon, C6H12O6, which was easily photosynthesized from carbon dioxide and water, she believed that she'd hit upon the cure for global warming.

When she returned to work, she got her team working on an airborne plankton, one which could take both carbon dioxide and water vapor from the air and excrete sugar.  Was it really as simple as it sounded?  Why hadn't the biosphere done it already?  The answer to that was that plants normally consumed the sugars they produced, but a few tweaks to the DNA put more emphasis on producing and excreting, with only a minor amount needing to be consumed.  The extra energy was sapped from the air's ambient temperature, as well as from sunlight.

Their first test was their last test, due to a broken seal in what was supposed to be an hermetic chamber.  At first, they were excited to see that CO2 and humidity levels in the chamber had dropped, and that a beautiful white precipitate was left on the floor.
 
But when they awoke the next morning, everything glittered.  Leaves of grass caught and turned the dawn's sunlight, refracting tiny rainbows, and making the whole area seem magical.  Everything, in every direction, was coated with an inviting frost.  Trees sparkled, their leaves iridesced, and children rapidly discovered that licking the bark was sweet.

Ants and bees and all manner of insects had also discovered this, and were swarming to get as much as possible back to their queens.  Many small birds delighted in this.
 
Roads proved to be a bit slick, but this was not discovered until after people had figured out that neither a simple pass of the windshield wipers nor a spritz of wiper fluid were sufficient to clear their views.  Worse, after an initial scrubbing, the non-vertical windows all became obstructed again when the vehicles weren't moving.

An early afternoon drizzle made the ground, the lawns, and the roads quite sticky.  Spray from passing tires soiled clothes and spattered spectacles.  Some noticed that their shoes would have to be gently pried from the sidewalk with each step after walking through any shallow puddle.  Some noticed the green haze in the puddles and the air above them.  Some noticed that the air was cleared by the rain, but that a green fog returned with the passing of the clouds.

Meteorologists began to notice as a front of frosting well above freezing was wending eastward from the town that held Dr. Ingridsen's laboratory.  Humidity levels were dropping, even as the sprinkling of sugar was falling.  Storms forecast for the afternoon proved to be nothing but showers, and showers forecast for the peripheries never happened.  Instead, the strangest form of snow, which wasn't snow, started to accumulate.
 
Some took advantage of this.  Annoyed that she had to bring her laundry from the clothesline and then wash it again, Mrs. Leigh suddenly stopped, snapped her fingers, then baked a pie and set it on the backyard picnic table to cool.  As she expected, the crust was delightfully glazed.
 
Of course, there were some grumblers.  Folks who were out for a hike noticed that the insects were abundant, and that they had to wash down their backpacks and hair.  The water from the ponds and streams was no good for this, as it was all sweet to the taste and didn't clean well at all.  They also saw that pine needles were sticking together in clumps.

As the day started winding down, Dr. Ingridsen had no choice but to report her team's accidental release of their noble experiment.  She initially spoke with her laboratory's administrator, and together they informed their funding board.  After a brief flirtation with the idea of covering up their involvement, everyone agreed that things were getting even further out of control, and that some form of disaster agency needed to be told.  More meteorologists were brought in, and many reported that the drop in humidity that accompanied the flurry of sugar also led to a thinning of the airborne plankton, and so the whole thing should reach a new equilibrium soon.  Everyone exhaled great relief.

Then the fires started.
 
 
 
 
Mark Amidon has too many things going on in his professional and family life to be sitting down and writing like this.  He has a wife, two teenage daughters, two cats, and a retired dog, not to mention an entire internet to correct.

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