Prompt: the story of a boy and his cyborg shark that has robot legs, missile launcher fins, and devastating eye lasers.
It was life’s second chance at the process and possibly its last. Evolution the first time around was wholly organic, a thing of generations and mutations. The second time there was a brain on hand that could actually think things through.
That brain, underdeveloped though it was, belonged to Hash Brown. His real name was Harry but there was nobody left to call him that, so he stuck with the last nickname his mother gave before her death. Hash was a good name, earthy. It spoke of his imminent return to dry land. If he used his resources smartly enough he could plant a Hash Brown flag on one of the two remaining continents.
Hash had always been close to alone. The number of people he was allowed to have in his life was always directly related to how many oxygen scrubbers remained intact in their submerged shelters. When there were ten left there was another family. Hash was just an infant then, but his parents never liked to talk about it. In the silence following the question their hands tightened around nothing as if gripping knives.
There was a small fire and they were down to five scrubbers. Another rusted out of existence when he was six. There wouldn’t be enough oxygen left for three people. His father chose to go, and he chose a pill. Hash remembered crying, watching his body drift out of the airlock and up to the rays on the ocean’s surface, like an angel fished out.
Eventually four became three became two. His mother had to go as well, but she didn’t take a pill. She left in a suit, hoping to make the walk back to the beach. When Hash was old enough, deep enough in the scientific texts and their plastic sheets, he realized she likely died to the radiation. There were more plastic sheets telling him of history and each page turned was a new disaster to bruise his young mind.
Bombs. Climate shifts. Advancing sciences but no advancing morals to go along with them. The end result was the remnants of a species trapped underwater, using the ocean as a shield against the worst of the radiation. Hash was alone. He was the only one left to write history, and he needed someone to write about.
His mother let him keep a pet in one of the farming tanks: a zebra shark named Homefry. A perfect companion to Hash Brown, especially with his tan hide.
“I’m sorry Homefry,” he said one night, palm pressed against the shark’s glass. Its little eyes stared back. Its gills pumped. “We can’t be friends anymore. You have to be so many other things to keep me safe. You need to be an explorer. You need to be a conqueror. You need to take the land back so I can go up there and write a book about you. A book with real dry paper that can even cut you if you’re not careful.”
Hash was sixteen when it was time for Homefry’s first voyage. The shelters had plenty of experimental equipment given their nature as humanity’s last attempt to survive. The boy taught himself everything the computers had to offer on genetic engineering, cyborg implants, behavior programming, and regular old programming.
First he had to cut into the side of his pet’s head, shark blood was so watery, and put the implant in so they could communicate across vast distances. The shark never did swim quite right after that, always leaning to one side like the bit of plastic was an anchor of an earring. Hash tried to tell him that didn’t matter. Homefry wouldn’t be swimming anymore. He would evolve, and quickly. He didn’t need generations or pressures because he had Hash and all his metal toys.
The big change was the addition of iguana-like mechanical legs, attached to all the nerves in the fins that Hash had to slice off with a laser. Combined with a water-filled breathing unit bolted to his gills, Homefry could now make the trip to the surface. He could look for changes, places free of radiation, or spots where the plants were growing again.
Hash watched from the lab, seeing through the cameras implanted next to Homefry’s eyes. He watched in awe as the shark crawled out of the green waters and dragged across the sand. He knew it was the first real moment in the second evolution of life on Earth. He would take that continent back and he just needed Homefry to work a little harder.
As it turned out the land wasn’t entirely abandoned. Infertile monsters, granted longevity by strange mutations, still roamed in small numbers: hairless bears with their eye lids melted over their cheeks, giant pythons with bulging tumors whose bodies couldn’t figure out when to stop getting longer, and ostriches with wicked claws and up to seven heads.
They all sought prey and Homefry was the only one out of his element. The first thing he fought, surprising them both greatly, was an armored scorpion the size of a lemonade stand. It pinched one of his artificial legs right off, forcing the terrified shark to limp back to the sea. Hash stroked the shark’s skin when he had it in the shallow modification tank. He cooed to it and tried to tell it everything was fine because they were making history.
The boy put a fresh leg on. He added small shrapnel launchers to the sides of the dorsal fin in order to discourage these stunted predators that couldn’t participate in their evolution. He modified the camera lenses into weak lasers that could sear flesh. He sent Homefry out again.
Twice more the shark endured an attack and limped back. Twice more the boy made improvements. The last mission was a resounding success though. It returned readings of something on the surface: a building or spire giving off electromagnetic energy and radio frequencies. It was either a stronghold of mankind or something new and just as smart. It was time to leave, to stop losing things to the entropy of their bubble, and start hoarding them again.
Hash built his first thing in a long while that wasn’t tied into Homefry’s circulatory system. It was a safety pod made of green glass. It was perfectly spherical and supported on a ring of spherical black wheels. He loaded it with enough oxygen and radiation shielding to get him several miles across the land.
For once he was allowed to join his pet, curled up safely in the armored shell. Homefry dragged his owner, his craftsman of evolution, into the open air. The boy put his hands on the glass, realizing a moment later that it was different. He was on the inside of the tank now. He was at his pet’s mercy. Homefry made no attempt to dump his charge in the wasteland. The shark never even looked back. It simply pulled him further.
They came upon the glowing spire of the mysterious civilization. Hash cheered. They’d done it. They were the future, the new branch of life. The spire opened upon when they came close and a bright green light emerged. It unhooked the cords keeping Homefry attached to the safety pod. Hash’s smile wilted. The shark was ushered into the spire and the door closed.
Hash never learned about what the various sciences implied. He learned only the cold sterile facts as presented between sheets of plastic. He didn’t understand the spirit of evolution. Everything that participated took a risk. His was insufficient. Homefry was the bold new form, the step forward. Hash was just a human.
The boy looked out at the wasteland, hand on green glass. It couldn’t pass through, like when Homefry’s snout hit the air for the first time. He was stranded and alone with no pills. Participation in the new evolution had its winners and its thousand losers, just like the old.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by LemonGodzilla during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!