The Tip of the Iceberg

The Tip of the Iceberg – a science-fiction short story – by Tirzah Duncan

My ice caps are melting

From the inside

Licked by a fire, a flame of

sorrow and fury that cannot be

contained and

the ice caps are melting and

Tears drench their insides

But cannot quench the flame.

I am a hollowed out glacier

Volcanic at heart

And the ice outside glistens

And the silver mirror stands

But not forever

Not for long

I’m melting from the inside.

“I don’t think you understood the assignment.”

I blink. I don’t think I gave a busted dam about the assignment. Do I? It grows harder to tell.

“You were intended to write an essay,” he says in a biting, faux-patient voice, “on global warming. Your position on the matter, whether or not it is human in origin, whether or not anything can be done about it, and your evidence to support your position. I did not ask,”

He shakes the single paper. “I did not ask for teen angst poetry. This is not social science. This—this should go to your English teacher, or better yet, sit in your journal until your literary taste matures enough that you can see how foolish you sound. This doesn’t even rhyme.”

“Rime?” I blink. The heat is raging. A bead of sweat rolls down my neck. “I don’t think you understand my assignment,” I say woodenly, or rather, coldy. It won’t last. I do care about the assignment. I don’t even know how much I care.

“I don’t—I don’t understand your assignment? What is the matter with you, boy? I gave you your assignment.”

He did not give me my assignment. I blink the water from my eyes. It’s all melting away, now. It’s coming clear. The ice has served its purpose.

“What, you’re crying, now? You’re crying?” He slaps the paper down onto the desk. “Hardly a word from you in all the five years you’ve been at this school, hardly a twitch of your face, and now you turn in drivel and cry about it?”

He leans back, rubbing his own eyes. “I don’t even know what to make of you, kid. You were strange from the first, but at least you kept your head down and scored well. Lately, you’ve been going off your game. What is it? Do you need to talk to the therapist or something? Lord knows I’m not one. If you need to talk about,” he waves his hand at the paper, “this stuff, take it to him. I don’t know what you’re dumping it on me for.”

“I do not need to speak to the therapist. I understand my assignment.”

“Then why didn’t you do it?” he growls.

“Because the ice was not yet melted. Now it has. Now, the flood.”

“Of tears? Across my desk? Spare me.”

Of melted ice in fiery fury, across your planet.

“I will not spare you. That runs counter to my assignment.”

He looks up at me, confusion on his face, confusion I moments ago shared. Now the ice is all gone. Now the fire is mine. Now I know my assignment. Now I remember my rage.

“What are you talking about?” There is fear on his face now, as there should be on every human face.

No more words. The ice has finished crying out its half warning. Now my mind is once more my own, and the furnace of hate has not lost its heat, locked deep and long inside the coldest self-deception.

I reach out to take him by the neck. His eyes widen, but it is too late for him to cry out. Too late for him to heed the warning of my confusion. His air and blood stand at an impasse beneath my hand. The blazing fire rages its satisfaction in my belly as the neck buckles and crushes beneath my fingers, and the man dies quietly in my grasp.

I withdraw my hand, face flushed from earth’s extreme climate and the fiercely crackling satisfaction of revenge. Genocide for barely-failed genocide. The dam is well burst now, and humanity will not be able to take the heat of the legion of awoken Rime among them.

I open the door, searching for the classmates who ignored the icy alien in their midst.

There will be fire. There will be flood. It is not human in origin. Humanity cannot prevent it—not now. Not since they first gave quiet ice a reason to burn. The Rime are reasonable. Earth’s people have given us practical reason to destroy them with all the keening fury of the sorrow they inflicted.

There is the English teacher. My assignment is due. I establish my position on the matter.

I am evidence to support it.



  1. Very interesting. Feels like I’m reading a piece of a much larger story. Is the boy an anthropomorphic expression of the earth? A member of an alien race hiding among us, watching and judging? A machine?

    On the plus side, ships can now bypass the Panama canal in summer by steaming through the Arctic circle.

    1. I personally had a sleeper-agent alien in mind when I wrote it, one of many victims of earlier off-screen earthling brutalities… but I left it open-ended deliberately.

      I agree that it’s part of a larger story, but some tales are more powerfully told by inference than by being entirely captured in words.

      That, or some tales aren’t mine to tell the whole.

      Oh, say-hey for silver linings, eh? >_>

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