Pictures At An Exhibition

Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Biswarup Ganguly
Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Biswarup Ganguly


Last year I entered the annual Queer SciFi flash fiction event. The rules were (cough) simple:  Write a complete story—either sci fi, fantasy, or paranormal. Make sure it has LGBT characters and/or an LGBT vibe. And do it all with just 300 words.

All the entries were collected together into an anthology Discovery: QSF’s Second Annual Flash Fiction Contest Contributors were asked not to publish their entries anywhere else for a year, and I’ve only recently realised that the year is up. My entry was Pictures At An Exhibition, where the chance discovery of alien art leads to a moment of connection.

This little snippet influenced the second story in a coming anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction, featuring shuttle pilot Li Liang. More of that later when I have a book cover to show off! In the meantime, here’s:

Pictures At An Exhibition

The city is deserted, half-ruined towers biting up into a sky the colour of a bruised peach. Kit and Will land their scoutships in a plaza, quiet but for the sigh of the wind scything through. The wind smells salty.

Kit shivers. Planets scoured clean of sentient life are a windfall, once explored and cleared for human settlement. Kit likes the finder’s fee, but he doesn’t like exploring dead cities.

“No war damage,” Will says. And when Kit points out pestilence isn’t much better, he adds, “No remains, either. Maybe they just left.” He nods towards a tower. “Let’s go.”

Kit follows. Gives him a good view of Will’s rear. He does like exploring that.

The building is desolate. Empty. And the next. But in the third—a museum? a gallery?—they find something of the planet’s inhabitants.

The walls are hung with images of people, painted onto translucent metal sheets. The people come in two colours, copper or gold. They have heads, arms and legs, but they don’t look human—too many arms and legs. Most paintings are of pairs, one of each colour, sometimes with little ones clustered around.

Domestic scenes. Familiar scenes. Human-ish scenes.

“Male and female, maybe?” Kit says. There’s no other way to tell. No obvious physical differences. No differentiating clothing.

Will shrugs. “They look like family groups. So, yeah. Probably.”

Not human. But they must have been like humans in the ways that matter. Living and loving had been important enough to preserve in paint.

The next painting has two copper people, holding appendages. Not hands. Appendages. They don’t have hands.

Two copper people, together.

Well, now.

Kit slips his hand into Will’s and grins. Yeah. These people hadn’t been human, but they sure were like him and Will in the ways that matter.


metallic spaceship200


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