#FridayFlash: Ayers Rock, By God

Ayers Rock, By God

by Tony Noland

The skiff bumped against the dock, like the firm kiss of an overly fond aunt. The deck master was already hauling in the sails, his motors humming and the fabric slapping as the wind was set free of the boat, taking its strong salt tang off across the landscape, up into the rising western hills and to the wasteland beyond.

Bala shaded out the harsh sun with a hand over his eyes. Glare from the white cliffs ahead told him everything he needed to know. There was life here, once. Twisted, stunted life, but life nonetheless. The gleaming sterility on the horizon was something he didn't need to go touch and taste in order to write his report, but that was irrelevant. All of this was irrelevant. Three and a half billion years in the making, and it was all irrelevant.

"You Bala?"

The thick accent only served to underline the contempt in the voice. Bala turned to face down at the dock. "Yes," he said, "I'm Dr. Bala. Are you Mr. Frederick?"

"Shit by God, no, I'm not Fred. Are you blind? I come to get you, that's all. Mr. Fred is waiting. Get moving, now, he's a busy man."

The man stood amid the sailors making fast the boat, some of whom growled and cursed at him to get out of the way as they worked the lines and did whatever else it was that sailors did when a ship went from being a free creature to being a captive, a night moth pinned to the board of a grimy, salty cargo port. Bala considered sticking to his original intent of waiting until the men had finished before trying to depart, but it was clear that the man would be more disruptive the longer he stood amid the sailors.

And all of the blame will be put on me, Bala thought, because I am who I am, and I am who I work for.

He climbed down the rope ladder and walked among the sailors. Politely, he gave instructions to the cargo manager as to which hotel to send his baggage. The man grunted in return, but Bala knew his effects would be handled properly. These men understood who their masters were.

Bala looked for Mr. Frederick's representative, saw him striding down the causeway toward the inland parking lot. Without trying to catch up, Bala walked in the same direction, the sweat spreading under his arms and across his chest. It was hot here, he thought, hotter even than back home. There was a joke the locals used to tell about the temperature being more bearable because it was a dry heat.

They didn't tell that joke anymore. He assumed that it was something else they held against him, the loss of a reason to laugh. So few people laughed these days.

He arrived at a battered old Range Rover, converted to run on either hydrogen or polyazide gas. There had once been a label on the big tank bolted on the back of the truck, but it was illegible. He wondered where the driver filled up his vehicle that such things were tolerated.

"Took you bloody long enough."

"It's a warm day," Bala said. "Are we going out to the works to see Mr. Frederick?"

"Nope, we're going straight to Ayers Rock."

"Don't you mean Uluru?"

"No, you little shit, I mean Ayers Rock."

They didn't say another word to each other for the next three hours. When they stopped for fuel, the man took care of it without speaking. Bala bought a package of crisps, a large bag of dried, pepper-and-garlic flavored rabbit meat and three apples. He also bought a case of water, six jugs of four liters each. When he brought them to the truck, the driver rolled his eyes and made noises of disgust, but said nothing.

They drove on in silence, Bala ate his food and drank his water in silence, they both urinated by the side of the deserted road in silence and when they arrived at the monitoring station, the man pointed at the biggest building, then walked away in silence.

Uluru gleamed and glared, like an iceberg trapped in a frozen sea, like the sarcophagus of a dead god propped up as a tourist attraction. The ground crunched under Bala's boots as he walked, encrustations of salt shattering and blowing on the ever-present wind. He'd been here before and knew to close his eyes to slits, but the air still stung. He opened the door without knocking.

"Dr. Bala! How wonderful to see you, man! You're looking good, like a second bride!" The station manager's booming voice shouted across the room in madras bashai, the colloquy that the bosses back home affected to show their common-man roots and to exclude outsiders from their conversation. The bosses did it, so every minor company functionary across the world used it, too.

Bala despised it and everything it implied, but what could he do? What could anyone do?

After the preliminaries - offers of restroom facilities, water, tea, food - they went into a small conference room. The oversized window faced Uluru, framing it and the whitened landscape all around in the highest quality plexiglas.

The manager faced the window and said, "Magnificent, isn't it? All of the company's finest accomplishments, hell, our nation's greatest triumph, all rolled into one beautiful picture. It's quite a rock, that's for sure."

India conquering Australia in only two years was a triumph of economic and military might. Using hydrogen bombs to dig the Great Inner Sea was an engineering accomplishment without parallel. Fine-tuning the evaporative cooling of the sea water to mitigate the severity of the monsoons back home was the most successful geosculpting effort man had ever mounted to counter the effects of runaway global warming. A thousand million of his countrymen lived and prospered because of what had been done here.

But this, Bala thought, this? Beautiful? Even if the salt from the evaporated seawater made this land a pristine, gleaming, crystalline white, even if it helped to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away, even if fewer than a million people had been displaced and fewer than a thousand species had been poisoned to extinction, this was still an abomination.

It was an abomination.

"Yes," Bala said, looking at Uluru. "It's beautiful."

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  1. A strong little tale here, Tony, nice work. I take it Bala may be a representative of the original bushmen of central Australia? I can almost taste the irony of his final response.

  2. You have some beautiful descriptions here Tony, and the voice down-pat. Nice work.

  3. Very clever. It's almost like futuristic alt-history, in a way. I truly think your strengths lie in your science fiction.

  4. snigger!! as always - strong imagery and great tale with depth.

  5. As an Antipodean, this is remarkably bleak, but very evocative. Striking in its effect.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  6. Ballsy, Tony. Exceptionally ballsy.

  7. You've got some cool ass, subtle sci-fi magic going on with this one Tony. I wonder if you were deliberately riffing on the paranoia percolating in the Australian psyche regards on culturual/economic/military invasion from either India or China?

  8. "The skiff bumped against the dock, like the firm kiss of an overly fond aunt."

    This is my favorite simile that I've read in a long time.

    Do hydrogen bombs leave no radioactive fallout? It strikes me I heard that as a kid, so using them for geosculpting is a brilliant idea.

  9. Thanks for reading and for your comments, everyone. Thanks especially to my friends from Oz, and I hope you enjoy all the new beachfront property.

    @Icy & Jason: Sci-fi has always been a love of mine, and it will creep into a lot of writing that would otherwise be straight lit-fic. It's clever that way.

    @Chris: Ballsy? In what way? I've killed off the entire human race before, so one continent isn't too bad, is it?

    @John: Modern H-bombs can be tuned to yield as much or as little fallout as you want. It's all in how you formulate the cladding around the initial fission reaction. In my photoshoppery, I forgot to indicate that the shattered rock from the excavation was used to divert part of the antarctic current through the new channel (which should more properly be called a straight than a sea, but nevermind). The flow scoured and widened the channel, and moved exceptionally cold water cooled the Pacific Ocean. This will be fine to offset global warming for a while, but once the overall temperature of Antarctica rises because of the diversion, the rest of the world will be plunged into a thermal inversion. Glaciers will advance, and the world will freeze solid, covered from pole to pole in ice two miles thick.

    Pity, really.

  10. Wow. I stand in awe of your diverse abilities Tony. Truly well done.

  11. Very good, Tony. Something futuristic from you this week. I like the science, the descriptions, and the ending.

  12. Good story! Loved the science of it. Don't know if it's possible or not, but you made it believable, so all is good.

  13. Is this an exerpt from your nanowrimo? Even if it's not, wow. Some great description and set up here. This story feels bigger then what's being told. Nice.

  14. Wow! Great story, Tony, but bleak, very bleak. I wonder, did the driver roll his eyes at the sight of Bala's water because he knows it's recycled and Bala doesn't?

  15. Wonderfully written details in this piece, Tony. You captured the reader and let them see this newly constructed world as you see it. Thanks for sharing.

  16. You are a step ahead with this story. Geopolitics meets "geosculpting" as a match made in hell. Good story.

  17. Love the scientific elements of this. Great, great future history. Love it!

  18. Very intriguing tale, Tony ... and it's begging for a longer treatment. But very well done!

  19. Interesting premise you have here. You have a nice frame to exhibit this premise as well.

  20. You set the stage very well. The characters mannerisms were very believable. I'm interested to know more of Bala's story.

  21. Indians are unlucky to invade Australia as they then would have no one decent to play against in cricket.

    see also:

    "Australian authorities regard the Southern Ocean as lying immediately south of Australia."

    It goes all the way round and is second biggest ocean after the Pacific, we argue, and of which the "Indian Ocean" is just a small embayment. Disagreements about this nomenclature may have given rises to excuses for war and invasion though...

    also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inland_sea

    "In Australia the promise of an expected inland sea was one of the prime motives of inland exploration of Australia during the 1820s and 1830s. The main champions of the theory were Charles Sturt and John Oxley, but it had a number of other supporters. Notable sceptics included Edward John Eyre."

    (I gladly would have beta'd the odd two word point of information for context.)

  22. Thanks for all your comments, everyone. I'm especially grateful to the antipodeans (to use Adam's word) who read this.

    @ meika: You raise a couple of interesting points. The nomenclature of geographical features is certainly a point of contention, and reflects political power as much as cultural values. Witness the Uluru/Ayres Rock issue within the story.

    I checked the geography before writing this. Lake Eyre and surrounding salt flats are below sea level, so if someone were to dig the appropriate channel to let the ocean in, you would have an inland sea. What would that mean for Australia's climate, especially that of the interior? Would the source of water vapor mean lots of rainfall in the desert? Unless you have a flow-through to renew the water, evaporation would increase the salinity of the area until you were right back to precipitated salt flats.

    Fascinating to think about, though.

    Oh, and as a side note, I just write and post these FridayFlashes all by my lonesome. Nobody beta reads them before they go up.

  23. These areas were seas much like your photoshoppery, several times, and is how the limestone in the Nullarbor was laid down.

    mega engineering has been proposed several times, most studies do in fact suggest that evaporation is so great that it would just increase the salt, of which is there in vast quantities already. The area below sea level looks big but is not big enough, deep enough.

    I remember, from the early 80s late 70s, a proposal to build a 2km high artificial mountain range across Australia north-south, to capture rainfall and meliorate the climate, with a navigation sea moat on one side.

    Best advice to remake Australia:

    Gamers version:
    (Tasmania survives quite well)

    see also:



  24. How do you possibly manage to write great stories and do the nano thing?


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