Just an off-topic entry for a moment! Stepping away from the agriculture and ecological writing to put up my entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge round 1. The competition involves writing flash fiction stories (under 1000 words) that fit your assigned combination of genre/location/object. In Round 1 I was assigned to group 22: fairy tale; asteroid; and diamond. So here is my story The Maiden With A Drill. (My own opinion on the story: it ticks the boxes and is competent, but not the most enthralling fairy tale I’ve ever told and I tell the kids quite a few.)
The Maiden With A Drill (972 words)
Once upon a time there was an asteroid miner named Ruby. She lived on one of the minor asteroids in the Outer Belt with her parents and her two older sisters, Emerald and Amethyst. Mostly they mined cheap ore for small dollars, but they went out every day hoping they’d find diamond.
Now, Emerald was beautiful, with glinting green eyes and long golden hair, and she could speak three languages most beautifully. And Amethyst had long brown hair and shining violet eyes, and could sing and dance better than the vidcast popstars. But Ruby was just Ruby. She could wield a good drill and assay a fair sample, but her sisters always said “Oh, Ruby! A prince would never want to marry someone with dirty hands!”.
One day Ruby was underneath a robot carrier, fixing a broken tread, when a vice president from a big mining corp came by on a field day tour. When he saw Emerald, he exclaimed “Who is that beautiful maiden?” Ruby scooted out from under and said “That’s my older sister Emerald. She wants to marry a prince.” He said “Well, perhaps she would accept a vice-president with a princely salary.” And she did, and they left together.
A few months later, Ruby was servicing and replacing drill bits when a music producer from the biggest vidcast channel came by on a tour flight. When he heard Amethyst singing, he exclaimed “Who has that beautiful voice?” Ruby said “That’s my older sister Amethyst. She wants to marry a prince.” He said “Just one prince? She could be wooed by all of them! Perhaps she will accept a vidcast contract with me.” And she did, and they left together.
One day Ruby was out drilling samples when she saw three little men walking along without space-suits. It was very strange. She could even hear them through her visor. “Overtime again”, grumbled one. “Do we ever get any thanks?” complained another.
They were so caught up in their complaints that they didn’t see or hear Ruby. She followed the three little men into a tunnel which led deep into the asteroid to a huge cave. There she hid to watch. In the middle of the cave was a golden throne topped with the largest diamond she’d ever seen. On the throne sat a man so handsome that Ruby knew he could only be the King of the Underhill. The three little men began to report to him, but he interrupted. Sniffing the air, he said “I smell engine oil. I smell nylon. I smell… a HUMAN!”. The Underhill folk searched the cave. They found Ruby straight away and dragged her off to the dungeon to await her fate.
That night the King came to her and said “I will ask you one question each night for three nights. In the morning you must answer. If you give the wrong answer you will die. If you answer all three correctly you can go home, and I will give you the Great Diamond from my throne. The first question is: What is the first sound in every language?”. He slammed the door closed.
Ruby thought and thought, but had no idea of the answer. So when nobody was near, she rang her sister Emerald on her suit-com. Emerald was very pleased to hear from her. She said “That’s easy. It’s the sound for ‘mother’”. Then Ruby got out her drill and spent the rest of the night drilling a hole in the cell wall. The next day when the king arrived she said “The first sound in every language is the sound for ‘mother’”. The king was very cross, but had to let her live.
That evening, he asked her “Which snake vanishes everything it touches?” Ruby thought and thought, but had no idea of the answer. So when nobody was near, she rang her sister Amethyst on her suit-com. Amethyst was very pleased to hear from her. Her three production assistants said “We can find that out for you!” So Ruby drilled until they called back. The next day when the king arrived, she said “It’s the snake that eats its own tail. The number zero.” The king was very cross, but had to let her live.
That evening, he asked her “If you know so much, tell me this. What is my middle name?” Then he slammed the door closed. Ruby’s heart sank. It was an impossible question! She’d have to escape. Her drill finally broke through the wall – but she’d not be able to make the hole big enough before morning. She sat down to cry. To her surprise, she could hear the little men through the hole. They were laughing. “That silly girl. She’ll be killed for sure! There’s no way she could ever know his middle name is Unrede!”
The next morning when the king arrived, she said “Your middle name is Unrede!” Then she pushed past him and ran as fast as she could to the throne room. She grabbed the diamond and kept running out the tunnel. Behind her she could hear the angry king following, smashing walls and ceilings as he came. She burst out of the tunnel into bright light. Behind her, with one last curse, the tunnel caved in, sealing the entrance to Underhill forever.
Ruby went home, where her parents were very glad to see her. She put the diamond in their broken ore-scope. From that day on they could find the most precious ores at any depth with ease, and they lived well. Ruby built up a nice, steady, sensible fortune, got her hands dirty when she wanted, and didn’t get married until she thought it was worth it.