My original science fiction story. It was first published as a flash fiction contest entry submitted to for the contest running August-September 2004. Copyright remains soley with me.

The Olive Works

© Deron E. Meranda

“Wake up!” Tom said, oscillating quickly from side to side. “They're all gone—eaten again.”

Buckey came to life, the warmth of the new day's light loosening the frozen gears in his left shoulder. He turned and looked in the direction Tom was pointing.

“I don't see anything.”

“That's my point,” Tom said. “Nothing but a smooth metallic field, not a single engraver in sight. See, I told you, aliens are snatching them up during the night.”

Buckey began limbering up his remaining joints and levers before replying.

“Why do you care anyway?” he said. “If you've seen one engraver you've seen ninety-one thousand just like them. Who'll miss a few hundred?”

“What if we're next?”

“I doubt they're really gone,” said Buckey. “They're probably off flirting with the tower builders—doing anything but work.”

Tom whirled around then his tally cogs began to violently spin. But his six-bit accumulator filled before he could count them.

“Honestly, sometimes I think your head's on upside down,” Buckey said.

“I'm not the crazy one,” Tom said. “Just look at those builders, trying to construct towers to please the gods. Pure folly, there's no gods in the heavens. It's aliens! Am I the only one who can see that? They're plucking us up like we were dumb vegetables or something. Believe what you want, but I'm not going to wait on the gods to keep me from being eaten.”

“Maybe you're all crazy,” Buckey said. “I just want to get going. How can I help?”

“Move aside, coming though!” said a lone expediter, disappearing as quickly as it had come.

Tom continued, “We've got to tell them we're alive. That we are not just food and should be left alone. I'm going to need lots of sculptors.”

“Those simpletons? Too dainty and precise for me. Not much use for hauling.”

“I'll find them then, just go get us a bunch of rocks.”

Buckey resigned to Tom's insistence, but he didn't care much. He loved hauling. So he headed off to the great pile.

When he returned he saw that Tom was busily arranging a hoard of sculptors of varying shapes and specialties into neat rows and diagonals.

“Where do you want them?” Buckey asked.

Tom didn't pay attention, so Buckey tilted in place allowing the six boulders to slide off his wide back. Several sculptors scurried over to claim their material, gently pushing them and meticulously arranging them. Buckey left again to make another of many trips.

With each trip he saw additional shapes rising from the smooth surface. Some were long straight walls, while others formed gentle curves and arcs. Each sculptor worked on their assigned part apparently oblivious to the progress of the others. Tom was busy running back and forth insuring that the alignment was collinear and the shapes were placed in their designated order.

Later in the day Buckey watched as Tom argued about one of the structures.

“No, no, it's too round,” Tom shouted. “It's supposed to be a sharp corner.”

The sculptor either ignored Tom or just couldn't comprehend his vision, but it seemed quite pleased with its smooth curve despite contrary instructions.

“Buckey, I need your help. Seems the heat's caused this one to go mad. Think we can push these in place ourselves?”

Buckey fidgeted, realizing he'd been standing still way too long.

“But I've got about eight more loads left. And you know I'm not very good at that.”

“Doesn't matter, we have to do this if the aliens are going to make sense of it all. We'll just have to leave the remaining structures undone and hope it's enough. Here, lean against this as I try to push this edge in.”

Buckey gave it his best, but neither he or Tom were very skillful. They sat down together as the day neared its end.

“Do you think it will work?” Buckey asked, now worried about looking like a big ripe vegetable. “I'm not even sure what it is.”

“Yes. Unless the aliens are just too stupid, or too hungry.”

They sat a moment longer and then Buckey said, “It sure has been a long hot day, hasn't it?” As Tom turned to speak the sun set and everyone fell asleep.

* * *

Meanwhile, way up in the dim sky, almost half a billion nanometers away, a giant pair of irises peered down through stereoscopic eyepieces. Below that was a small glass dish with an even smaller flat metallic chip mounted inside.

“I think you've cooked them,” Fred said. “I told you twenty seconds was too much.”

“Can't be,” said George. “Let me see.”

George tugged on the sleeve of Fred's white labcoat until he stepped aside. Fred chuckled as George took his turn looking at the chip.

“See, they just can't take that much laser energy.”

“Well, it's better than last time,” George said. “Those little bots actually built the ion impingement needles this time. Straight and tall.”

Fred griped, “But just look at the circuit engravings. You'd think all that heat was making them run around socializing or something. Anything but laying those traces.”

“Okay, so maybe I need to make a few more tweeks. But, nanoprogramming's not exactly a science, you know. Not yet.”

Fred patted George on the back.

“You're right, I should give you more time. It's an evolutionary process. Tell you what, I'll scrape off all those engraving bots while you review your equations.”

Fred pulled up a stool in preparation for the tedious removal of the faulty nanobots, most laying in clumps at the bases of the needles. After a minute of closer examination he looked up.

“Oh, there's another small problem that I don't think marketing is going to like. You forgot the ‘Inc.’ at the end. It should read ‘WE ARE OLIVE, INC.’. Uh, and that ‘O’ is looking a little pointy too.”