Flash fiction: Chimps, eggs & lightspeed
This story was the result of a stupid hypothetical question I asked on twitter, about how many chimps turning hand cranks it would take to generate sufficient energy to accelerate an egg to the edge of lightspeed. It's very silly, but I guess you could call it hard SF. Enjoy.
Brother Sidney rushes into the kitchen with wide-open eyes. “There’s been an explosion, down at the mill!” he blurts. “It’s the scramblers!”
We’re just tucking into our soy - a cup & a half each each. Grandpa says there used to be less rationing. There used to be less chimps, too. (We’ve all seen the posters: “chips for the chimps”, “save it for the apes”. But c’mon - after a bad harvest, we all know who goes hungry.)
“What’s going on?” lisps mum. She used to handle chimps, before the accident. Now she lathes cranks - you don’t need both hands for that.
“Best see for yourself” says Sidney, and we head outside.
Sirens howl, and other families are spilling out of doors all along the terrace. Down the valley, past the crank manufactories, the birthing clinics and the soy mills, the squat immensity of BritCrankStatWS2 is on fire.
Grandpa curses when he sees the damage.
“By the Quick Egg” he says, and spits. “This is going to set the kinesis quota back by weeks.”
“Bloody scramblers” curses Sidney, kicking a faded can of crank grease across the street. “Why would anyone want to slow the Egg?”
Mother says nothing. It was scrambler sabotage that caused the accident; that lost her an eye and a nose and four fingers to the chimps. As we’re watching, there’s another explosion: this time it’s in the chimp cemetery on the hill, east of the microwave transmitter array.
“Why would they bomb graves?” asks Sidney. But then we look to the sky, and realise it’s not the scramblers doing the bombing. It’s... them.
We’re used to seeing lights up there. Sometimes on a clear winter day we’ll even see the thing itself - the grey hoops of the eggcelerator. Grandpa says people live up there - the controllers, the ovo-knowers, the custodians of the Quick Egg. They’ve been there for ages and ages. We send them energy, and each Beaster, they send the cure for that year’s crop blight. That’s all the contact we ever had - until tonight.
Tonight, the hoops are blazing in the dark, dropping torrents of sparks.
“They’re shelling us” says Grandpa, voice catching in his throat.
Down the valley, another shell hits. Screaming starts, and we know that the chimps are loose. They aren’t what chimps used to be. Six feet high and 120kg, misshapen to turn a crank each day for 50 years. Born in vats, with speed in their blood. We don’t stand a chance.
But we don’t run. Because there’s words in the sky now. We are transfixed.
‘CONGRATULATIONS’ they say. ‘THE EXPERIMENT HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL’.
A shell strikes the terrace. A chimp rushes shrieking from an alley. Sidney draws a knife and lunges, but a gnarled arm sends him flying. I don’t care. My mouth gapes as letters paint themselves across the whole of the sky. Behind them, the eggcelerator grows in brightness.
‘IT TAKES 512 YEARS’ they announce, ‘TO GENERATE ENOUGH ENERGY TO ACCELERATE AN EGG TO .99 OF LIGHTSPEED USING CHIMPS AND HAND CRANKS’.
‘IT’S ALL OVA’ say the letters in the sky, before being replaced by a marvellous, cataclysmic dawn.