#FridayFlash: Pot of Gold (revised)

#FridayFlash: Pot of Gold

by Tony Noland

Captain Charlton took a careful sip at the straw before he stuck the mug of coffee to the side of his console. Floating out there in the silence, a quarter of a million miles away from the Barack Hussein Obama, was the alien device some politician had dubbed the "pot of gold". The telemetry said it was charging up; whatever it was supposed to do, it would happen soon. Hence the mug. Nothing helped calm down a nervous bridge crew like seeing the old man drink a cup of coffee. His crew was the best, but waiting was hard on young people.

He'd been a cadet when the original signpost artifacts were discovered floating out at the Sun-Earth LaGrange points. That was the biggest event in the history of mankind, up until today. Inert, with no internal mechanisms, they were just hollow dodecahedral blocks of diamond-coated titanium. The thousands of glyphs etched into the twelve faces contained references to universal physical constants, mathematical relationships and astronomical data from the solar system.

More than a million years ago, someone parked them in a stable orbit that would be a natural stopping point for any technological culture that happened to develop on Earth. They were clearly a calling card, but it had taken years to interpret the pictoglyphs. Once the scientists realized that the glyphs indicated something wonderful awaited among the Trojan asteroids at the hindward Sun-Jupiter LaGrange point, that was that. Sending a mission to go get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow became Earth's top priority.

And so, finally, here we are, the Captain thought. Waiting. The signposts had given specific instructions on how to activate it, the radio frequencies and codes to use. Now, an hour after he'd sent the signal, it was clearly waking up, sparks of blue-white light flashing across the surface of the massive reddish-bronze sphere. It wasn't at all clear what would happen; the pictoglyphs had been incomprehensible on that point. Whatever it was, it was drawing a lot of power from somewhere. The readings on screens all over the bridge were starting to blink red.

Charlton detached his mug from the velcro and sipped at his coffee, making a point to slurp audibly. At that moment, his central control panel started to flash. He replaced his mug so it wouldn't float away.


"I see it, Lieutenant."

The pot of gold device blazed bright blue and then a long line of sparkling plasma shot from it, zipping outward until it was more than two miles long. The line vibrated like a trace on some enormous EKG, then split along its length and opened up. Where there had been a line there was now a circle, a huge glowing disc.

And through the disc flew a fleet of spaceships. Ugly, bulbous things, spiked with gun turrets and missile launch tubes. Through the radio static, a blast of noise came from the ships, flooding the entire radio spectrum. The whining howl repeated three times before the translators kicked in.

"- claim this system for the Chiorran Empire! Your civilization now belongs to his Highness Emperor Urchtrekkk-ahn! You will live as slaves of the Empire or die as enemies of the Empire! We claim this system for the Chiorran Empire! Your civilization now belongs -"

"Turn that off, Lieutenant."

"Yes sir! We're being scanned, sir! Orders, sir?"

"Stand by."

Captain Charlton's finger rested next to the red button on his console. He waited.

The Chiorran slaver fleet emerged and immediately turned to form ranks. As they did so, the engines of first one ship, then another, then all, flared brightly as they began to tumble and twist out of control. Two of the larger ships, caught in the grip of forces far more powerful than even their titanic drive units could overcome, crashed into each other and were torn to pieces. One by one, every ship that came through stalled, tumbled and fell into crushing destruction.

The translators couldn't keep up with the rapidly shifting shrieks and howls being transmitted.

After 30 minutes, it was over. There was nothing left of the fleet of would-be slavers and conquerors. Every ship had disappeared into the crushing depths below.



"It would appear they expected us to activate the device out among the asteroids instead of hauling it back here into a low orbit above Jupiter first."

"Sir, yes sir!"

"Send the missiles back through that gate or portal or whatever it is. Alternate conventional one hundred megaton warheads with thirty megaton fast neutron warheads, at one minute intervals. Follow up every tenth salvo with reconnaissance drones. Tell the marines to deploy immediately. Use a fast drop to get down there and get through. I want a beachhead secured on the other side."

"Yes sir!"

Charlton sipped his coffee.

"Oh, and somebody tell the diplomatic attache to stand down. We won't be needing him for a few days. At least."

Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. If you think I'm just being polite here, you should know that this story is a revision of one I posted earlier. I was able to improve this version because of the comments and constructive criticism I got on that #FridayFlash. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. I enjoyed version one of Pot of Gold, but I think the changes have had a positive effect: The pacing is more relaxed in this revision, the detail clearer. I liked the Heath Robinson detailing in version one of the velcro (wonderfully out of place on a high tech spaceship bridge), which gave the piece humour and made me warm to the captain - that's vanished in this piece. In rephrasing the telemetry line you've clarified it's meaning and removed the part which I found funny (I read it as the captain not knowing what telemetry was - which made me identify with him as I don't either). But I think the piece benefits from the clarifications - it feels more complete, more accomplished. It reads well and I think it's very good!

  2. Oops, yes sorry Tony. I missed that the Velcro was still there in para 5! Glad about this-it definitely belongs!

  3. Calm under fire while jacked up on caffeine - that's a neat trick.

    You've also received some serious critique, something I don't see often in the fridayflash circle. That's pretty cool. Keep up the good work.

  4. Well yeah, I liked the first one too. :)

    On this one it's less cluttered, and I noticed more details. But I'm not one that had a problem before.

  5. Maybe I've just lived with it a bit too long, and walked it through the makeover once too many times.

    I can certainly feel a lot of improvement. I think I cured a lot of the info-dump in the first few paragraphs. The background is still there, but interleaved with more stuff about the captain, views from inside his head, etc. That helps.

    However, I think it's lost a bit of spark in the revision. Or is that just my imagination, because the two are side by side as original and more tightly re-tuned?

    I dunno... maybe I'm trying to force this in a certain direction, and it's losing something in the transition.

  6. I haven't read the original (i'll go back & read it after i comment), so this is a fresh read. My impression is that i like the premise very much but i felt it was a bit lacking in something ... emotion or excitement. It just seemed a bit flat to me. The explanation at the beginning is necessary but seems a bit long and by reworking it in an active voice it would have more impact. I found myself getting stuck on some details - like how could he drink coffee in zero gravity? how would it stay in his cup (although i like the velcro!). I got confused as to how the chiorran's ships were destroyed. And i was a bit confused by the ending - did the captain know all along what the outcome would be? he seems quite nonchalant. Those are my first impressions - i definitely like the concept, i think it's a great story, it's just in the details that i got a big bogged down. I hope this helps :-)

  7. This version is definitely more streamlined--easier to understand. I did enjoy the first version, but this one is better. It was a very entertaining read. Great story!

  8. PJ & Eric: thanks for the comments & critique! The story is improved, but I think still needs work. The main idea in this story is that the aliens tried to dupe the Earthlings, and the Earthlings turned the tables. To convey that requires a bit of backstory about what the scam was supposed to have been, and how it was avoided.

    In the past, I've been terrible about having massive narrative-killing infodumps plopped in the middle of my stories. I'm trying to avoid that here, but am still a bit short of the mark.

    Phil's Christmas Present was one where I gave the backstory with a fairly light touch, so it was a bit of a proud moment for me.

    Still more honing to do with those skills.

  9. I love the Captain, his knowing his crew so well, the coffee cup is a homey touch. Because the Captain was calm, I stayed calm throughout. I'm glad we got one over on the aliens. Cool idea, nice story.

  10. I agree, this version is cleaner, more precise. I liked the coffee cup detail.

  11. Took me a while to get here, but worth it. Very fun--wouldn't call it space opera, though. Thanks for the share :)


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