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Base Bioform

(998 words)

“G’morning, Skydotians!” Topher boomed. “Get ready to spend the last few minutes of the drought with me and my Mawmaw—the only person I ever met who was alive last time it rained.”

For the time being, Topher was just some wacky-haired kid on a planet that got condemned. When he was grown, though, he was gonna be a weatherman. That was why he was doing a news story for his history homework.

He was wet with sweat in his dress-tunic and trousers, standing in front of his school-issued holorecorder. Mawmaw was slouched in a plastic beach chair beside him. Even worse, she had refused to wear a scrap besides a graying bra and muddy cargo shorts ’cause it was too hot to bother.

Topher went on. “Me and Mawmaw have a great scoop for you today. Did you know that even though we call it the Hundred Year Drought, it's only really been seventy years?”

“Seventy-two,” Mawmaw said.

Topher huffed.

“I’m doing you a favor, Cricket,” she said. “You want to be on the news, you gotta be precise. Specific. People find out you’re just a little bit wrong an’ they never trust a word outta your mouth again.”

“That why you don’t work in news?” Topher asked.

“You vicious little boy,” Mawmaw said. It might have been a scolding, but with no one else there, she only guffawed and shook her head.

Topher pressed the button to restart the recording and yelped when the holorecorder nearly fell off the fence post into the hard-packed dust. If it broke, school wouldn't loan him another.

Above Mawmaw, the sky looked just as empty as usual. Below her, the rust-orange dust was just as dry and cracked. The endless stretch of desert was dotted with tin-roofed breezeblock huts just like theirs.

It was hot enough that not a single other soul was outside.

The tape restarted. "Thanks for tunin’ in, Skydot!" Topher said with a winning smile like he’d seen the regular weather guy do on the news. “As you all know by now, our little planet’s been bought by a company called RallyCorp. Now, RallyCorp is finally gonna bring us all some rain. Mawmaw, tell us about the rain.”

She raised an eyebrow at her grandson.

“This is news, not fictionals. Look at the camera!” he told her.

“Ain’t this supposed to be your news show?” Mawmaw snapped.

“Yes ma’am.” Topher crossed his arms and shifted.

“Well then, tell us about the rain, Topher.”

Topher squinted up at the sky—still empty. Mawmaw wasn’t wrong. It was his own school project. He might get points off for looking clueless.

“Well, Skydot got condemned after those dust bowls ruined all our soil an' made it hard to farm. Before it was condemned, there was always rain machines about. But then the company had no money to send ’em anymore. And that was seventy”—he looked to Mawmaw, who held up two fingers—“seventy-two years ago, so it’s been a long time comin’. We’ll tune back in just as soon as we start feeling that sweet, sweet water falling from the sky.” Topher winked and went to shut off the holorecorder. Mawmaw nearly clotheslined him, stopping him short.

“That ain’t all,” she said, brow furrowed. “Keep goin’.”

Topher shrugged at her. “Whaddaya want me to say?”

“Tell us why they really stopped sending the rain machines,” she told him.

“I dunno. That’s all I’ve heard,” he said.

“School don’t teach you why they really went away?” she asked. She didn’t seem mad, but something about her expression made Topher want to turn the recorder off.

“No ma'am,” he said.

Mawmaw sighed. “Planets are worth more money when they got a thriving ecosystem. A dried up one like ours is less profitable than plain rock—at least they can mine a rock. Usually, to sell a condemned planet, the company’s gotta make it into something called base bioform. That’s when all the planet’s killable life is dead. Anything left alive costs more money than it’s worth to kill before mining.”

Topher cocked his head. He didn’t understand.

“They were trying to kill us off to sell the planet.” She looked at Topher real direct. “They did it on purpose, Cricket.”

Topher didn’t know what to think about that.

“And what, now they decided not to kill us all?” he asked.

Mawmaw frowned. “Not exactly. C’mere.” She pulled Topher into her lap. They’d forgotten all about the recorder. “When RallyCorp bought us, I think they took pity. Removing all that atmospheric support technology’s the cheapest way to get to base bioform, but it takes a long time, so it’s considered real cruel. RallyCorp must’ve decided they can make a buck off those of us left here if they send us some rain.”

“How?” Topher asked. He saw Mawmaw frown again. “Sorry.”

“No, Cricket. Don’t be sorry. I think they prob’ly want us to work for them.”

“Do we get a choice?” he asked.

“No.” She looked up at the sky. “We do get rain, though.”

Soon as she said it, a big glob of the stuff plopped onto Topher’s hand, thick and shiny.

“Speak of the devil,” said Topher. The greasy, sticky rain kept on falling, and a powerful stench descended with it. “Smells like gasoline,” he said. When the drops landed on the tin roof of his shack, Topher stared; the globs glittered in the sunlight.

Mawmaw’s eyes went wide as Topher's, both of them too awestruck to grab the holorecorder and point it skywards.

“In the name of everything innocent,” Mawmaw breathed. She wrapped her body around Topher, like to protect him.

“I love you, Cricket,” she told him.

“What’s wrong, Mawmaw?” The rain started plopping down harder, and Topher heard the recorder hit the ground with a crunch. He strained to get to it, but Mawmaw held him too tight.

There were cheaper ways to base bioform than napalm, but none faster. More humane not to drag it out.

Harvey Bly is a transgender human man. He is not a creature from the ether. Bly writes science fiction because his Earthling companions (cats) like to watch the cursor blink on his computer screen. You can find him @storiesbybly on Instagram.

Radon Journal Issue 6 cover art
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