Register a SA Forums Account here!

You can: log in, read the tech support FAQ, or request your lost password. This dumb message (and those ads) will appear on every screen until you register! Get rid of this crap by registering your own SA Forums Account and joining roughly 150,000 Goons, for the one-time price of $9.95! We charge money because it costs us money per month for bills, and since we don't believe in showing ads to our users, we try to make the money back through forum registrations.
Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

In with a flash and a :toxx: since I failed to write something last time.


Sep 5, 2016

by FactsAreUseless

In + flash please

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


Tyrannosaurus posted:

I don’t know anything about saints. So, in the spirit of fun, I’m going to try to guess your saint’s patronage based off what you wrote.


Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

cptn_dr posted:

In with a flash and a :toxx: since I failed to write something last time.

“Scholars don't usually sit gasping and sobbing in corners of the library stacks.
But they should. They should.”
-- Joanna Russ

svenkatesh posted:

In + flash please

"Passing in any crowd are secret people whose hidden response to beauty is the desire to tear it into bleeding meat."
-- James Tiptree Jr.

Nov 13, 2012

Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is optional.
Thunderdome is forever.


also :toxx:

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

sebmojo posted:

newt where's the rest?

relatedly: :toxx: to crit all the seattlebrawls by 22 mar 2359 pst

e: amazing crits kai thx ^^^^

Oh Christ is this a thing we're doing? Rightio then, here are my thoughts on the stories of our worthy opponents.

Aka-Sama Stirs After Centuries of Inscrutable Silence

I liked this story. Other crits have pointed out that "monsters gonna monster" is a bit of a non-ending, but this didn't bother me. The story resonates strongly with my experience working in huge bureaucracies, nicely summed up by the line, "I think Aka is just bored. Who can know the mind of a space monster?"

The way the setting is described is also great, so, while the main characters don't actually do a whole lot, I still enjoyed this one.


I didn't like this story. The whole thing is too... glittery. The characters are silly teenagers, the beast they summon is silly and magic girl who turns up to get it is also silly. I think this might have worked better if it had a serious note to balance out all the sparkles - maybe a moment of genuine fear when it all starts to go wrong, or some real consequences to deal with at the end.

New Blood

Oh this is good and dark. I like the way the disutopian setting is slowly revealed.

My main complaint is that it doesn't stand alone - to appreciate the story you need to know something about the cryptid it's based on, which I didn't, so some points were lost on me.

The other problem is the story refers to "fresh fetal tissue" being required, but she doesn't appear to be pregnant (she's only 13 when she first donates). I wasn't sure if this was an oversight or if the implication is supposed to be that she's kept pregnant in order to be able to donate fetal tissue.

Home Means Never Having to Say “I Told You So”

I liked this one, the interactions between Maria and Tiba are fun, and the idea of a woman going to stupid lengths to secure the man she wants is nicely delivered. However, this story suffers from requiring the reader to have some knowledge of its cryptid, for example, to understand the reference to turning your shirt inside out.

A Lost Page

This is ET, only boring. It's sweet and well written, but not a lot happens.

Scrapper's Gambit

Problems with the details really got in the way of this story for me. The protag is visiting Earth from somewhere else, and has little knowledge about Earth, plus there's a reference to the "gales of nuclear winter," all implying that humanity has been gone from Earth for a long time. But the protag finds a fridge containing putrefied, moldy food, which would mean it's what, a few weeks old?

I also couldn't get past the "piles of hollowed bones and mummies" the protag finds under the tree. Why are the bones hollow? I know you probably mean dessicated bodies but I can't stop picturing literal Egyptian mummies.

We don't really find out anything about Gehenna, so while she does some cool sci fi stuff I don't have any reason to care.

Where do monsters go when we stop believing in them?

This one was just boring. There's nothing to complain about in terms of the writing, but nothing really happens, and the punchline is a bit of a slap.

Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

Still need one more judge for this week if anyone is keen. Fair warning: could be a lot of words to read, but ...oh, the taste of broken hearts is so much sweeter when they're served on silver platters to the judges' table.

Edit: Flerp has kindly agreed to read your words and keep reading until the reading is done. Then the flensing may begin.

Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at 01:21 on Mar 23, 2018

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Seattle Brawl

Where do monsters go

You’ve had kind of a slamming for this one, and not without reason. Your words are good enough, for the sort of bore in a bar in a boat vibe you’re aiming for, but the guy (presumptively) that’s talking doesn’t actually sound like a good person to hang out with and that makes it not much fun to read. You could have fixed this in a couple of ways, mainly by having something happen that didn’t negate the point of the story. Perhaps you could have had an event happen that gives the lie to everything he’s been yattering on about? You could have revealed a secret between them, or a reason why he was talking about monsters? The monsters could have been a metaphor for something about their relationship? The ‘shut up’ bits could have changed over the course of the story, revealing something about them? Anyhoo, I’m sure you know it’s not your best, but i think it was fixable.

Scrappers Gambit

This is the first thousand words of a really solid 4k story, imo. I like the world and implicit space you create, the plant is a great (if cliche, it’s basically blue collar wall-e innit?) plot hook, but then you establish it and you’re all TA DAH and really jay, i mean just really. There’s a bunch of little errors which is not the end of the world but is never a good idea in a brawl, but really it’s the unfinished nature of it that kills you. Maybe it’s brilliant and hilarious in the context of your cryptid, but stories need to stand on their own.

A Lost Page

Fumblemouse called this twee ET which was harsh but fair - i think it has a clear idea of the kind of story it’s trying to be from the first paragraph, which is okay but puts the onus on you to change that around somehow and make it interesting as well as familiar. I’m not sure you do that, because the alien is a non-entity, the girl and her meany schoolmates are cliche, and you skip over the only potentially interesting bit which is the alien making its way back to its planet or w/e. ET was interesting because the kids had to struggle, ykwim?

Home Means Never Having to Say “I Told You So”

This is a pretty sweet story, from teh first absurdly bravura paragraph to the finger click of the ending. I like the flashes of character insight too, like ‘they’re not armour here’, and the towering layers of absurdity that result from a simple fairy tale cliche are very well deployed. But what really makes this work is the warmth of the central relationship, which i guess has a father daughter element to it? Maybe? I dunno, but this is very good.

New Blood

If there were three moments shouldn’t they have stuck in Lethia’s mind like three scalpels? And it’s, fyi, is only ever short for it is. Those quibbles aside this is a pretty solid family horror piece, and the ending is effective. It doesn’t break any new ground, and ‘girl is treated badly, takes murderous revenge’ is a little simpler than you want for a genuinely interesting story.


My Little Pony, Witch edition, is actually a lot less interesting than it sounds. I can imagine a much better version of this story where the monster creates problems for your extremely hilarious bunch of misfits and they have to work together to fix them, but this isn’t it. Lots of decent detail, but nothing happens and it doesn’t have the charm to get away with that.

Aka-Sama Stirs After Centuries of Inscrutable Silence

Or ‘annoying co-worker, ambiguously metaphorical space edition’. This is charming as hell, and unlike the previous one makes well judged use of its charming premise - it's lacking that traditional td juice of agency though. it's a premise that solves the story. For e.g., for all that the protagonist mansplains the need for primary cut off, it's unnecessary. Things happen and the ending arrives. And just like canty's much weaker story, it ends on a cosmic shrug. don't end your stories on a cosmic shrug, imo.

Dec 25, 2004


I'm in for my first Thunderdome.

Feb 18, 2014

This statement is a lie!

Super On-Time Judge Crits: Week 282, Part 1

“Brad Hennessey” by Aesclepia
First impression: This seems fine, albeit unimportant and slight. Not inclined to give it any special treatment, but I’ll see how the other stories go. You work in the opening sentence decently, except for the fact that the narrator’s time-traveling ability slipped his mind somehow. The stuff about guvmint sp00ks monitoring him also seems superfluous, since his concerns for the appointment turn out to be whether his powers are giving him cancer?
Reread: Other than a generalized sense of anxiety and mundanity to contrast with his abilities, there’s not much here to grab onto.

“Vampire’s Night Out” by Exmond
First impression: Alright, I’m up for some cheesy as gently caress urban fantasy. You’re stringing it together with emotions that flow well and are easy for me to understand, even if the set dressing is ridiculous. Then you had to leave some egregious typos in there, like “allright,” and “stuffing there were-Manx”. Still might give this an HM, though.
Reread: So the first time I read this I was being really nice to you because you were making efforts to go outside your comfort zone and try new things, and I got a kick out of the vibe you got where you put trashy Dresden Files urban fantasy with this chick flick pick-me-up thing. You still have a ways to go, though. Fun as it was, the happenstances of the story still have this tropey, unreal quality to them, plus the supernatural aspect of the story is only interesting in conjunction with the relationship drama, and vice versa. That HM I talked about didn't even come close to happening, but I still look forward to seeing where you go from here.

“Letter from a concerned colleague” by Jay W. Friks
First impression: Honestly kind of dull and uninteresting until the ending, where we get a really good answer for what all this is. It’s a good twist, like something I’d see on a better pulp story or SCP Foundation page. Rest of the story unfortunately remains basic. May not be HM.
Reread: :same:

“In the Blood” by Tyrannosaurus
First impression: Excellent except for a few typos. There wasn’t a moment where my mind wandered or I found it difficult to pay attention. First winner candidate.
Reread: Other than the typo in “Do you think God will angry?” or the debatable necessity of the bomb metaphor, I don’t see any problems with this story. The other judges weren’t sure about giving this the win, but I’m glad it did; you deserve it.

“Gobolinks” by apophenium
First impression: Works pretty well with no objective errors, and it feels visceral, but there’s not a whole lot to this story other than visceral self-harm. Possible HM.
Reread: The story does well at explaining the perspective of someone trapped in his own head, essentially fighting himself. Personally, though, I would prefer something more grounded in the outside world, which is the main reason why I pushed T-Rex’s story over yours. It’s also possible that I would better enjoy this one if it had more words to it. Nothing you need to fix; it’s just not entirely for me.

“Hope Springs Eternal” by Yoruichi
First impression: Another potential favorite that’s being held back by creakily-written sentences. Just because the first sentence is creaky doesn’t mean you have to follow suit with the rest of them. But yeah, I dig the frustration inherent with someone who just doesn’t understand what other people want, or who thinks that he has it figured out better than everyone else when the reverse is true. Worldbuilding feels a little shallow, though. Conjuration appears to be the only thing that’s changed about this world. Also, why that ending? Maybe you’re trying to swerve but having him accept his mistake would make it better, I think.
Reread: I take back what I said about the ending. I just finished reading a book that’s all about somebody who doesn’t learn the correct lesson even when it’s staring him in the face, so I can appreciate a story about incurable myopia now. The sentences don’t seem that creaky to me now, either.

sephiRoth IRA
Jun 13, 2007

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality."

-Carl Sagan

Is the word count exact? I have been doing some cuts and have around 2015. I haven’t done TD in a while and didn’t remember how strict the judging is for that. I still have a few days to get it down, I guess.

Aug 2, 2002

areyoucontagious posted:

Is the word count exact? I have been doing some cuts and have around 2015. I haven’t done TD in a while and didn’t remember how strict the judging is for that. I still have a few days to get it down, I guess.

yeah you'll get DQed if you go over. welcome back. 15 words is easy to cut :) just find your worst sentence.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

crabrock posted:

yeah you'll get DQed if you go over. welcome back. 15 words is easy to cut :) just find your worst sentence.

In crabrocks case that's all of them, he starts over a lot

Aug 2, 2002

it's why i have so many failures. oh wait that's you

May 31, 2007

Writing is fun!

sebmojo posted:

In crabrocks case that's all of them, he starts over a lot

Watch out for this guy, he edits other people's posts and puts his bad words ontop of them.

Also uhh, did you check out that whole AA thing we sent you? Drinking at 7:45 am isn't healthy!

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

crabrock posted:

it's why i have so many failures. oh wait that's you

Failure is just succeeding, backwards.

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

Exmond posted:

Watch out for this guy, he edits other people's posts and puts his bad words ontop of them.

Also uhh, did you check out that whole AA thing we sent you? Drinking at 7:45 am isn't healthy!

luckily your posts are safe cause there's no way to make them worse

May 31, 2007

Writing is fun!

Djeser posted:

luckily your posts are safe cause there's no way to make them worse

You say that but...

They weren't safe, nor was my EPIC BRAWL INTRO!

Mar 22, 2013

it's crow time again

please fix your computer, it seems ill

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007





The No One Girl and the Mouth of Hell
1000 words

This was back before your March Madness, your Kobes and your LeBrons, back before anyone had to pay anyone to play ball. This was when concepts like steppe and sky had some real mythological meat on their bones, because the land and the sky were all anyone had for longer than a season.

This was back when a fifth daughter, named Khenbish, was left all alone after hungry demons ravaged the cluster of yurts that had housed her family. The demons dragged Khenbish’s whole world down into the belly of hell and feasted on the weeping souls of her father and mother and sisters and horses. Khenbish was left alive only because, as a frail fifth daughter born to an old woman, she was given an unfortunate name: no one. What self-respecting demon would bother to eat a girl called no one?

So there was the steppe, and the sky, and Khenbish--no one. And our girl Khenbish, she’d just received a big dose of this world is gonna do as it pleases, and sometimes that means everything you love is eaten by demons. For a while, she lay in the place where her family used to exist, wishing to dissolve down into the earth or drift up into the sky, wishing to be anyone but no one.

Khenbish laid on the frosty steppe until the earth sucked the heat from her bones, but as much as she wanted the despair to overcome her, it just wouldn’t. This is the story we love though, isn’t it? The perennial underdog who picks themselves up and makes the shot, scores the touchdown, gets their name in some hall of fame. The world will punish them for trying, but it’ll punish them that much harder if they don’t.

Khenbish got up. She narrowed her eyes and squinted against the low sun. There were no arena lights, no hushed crowd waiting for the big turnaround. There was just no one and the sky and the steppe and a strange, wavering mirage just above the horizon. When the wind blew from that direction, Khenbish smelled blood and metal.

This was back when the steppe was infinite, and so the things that dwelled there could grow to fill as much space as they pleased. Khenbish fixed her eyes on the charnel-scented mirage and walked toward the horizon. With each passing day, she grew bigger and bigger, and her legs grew stronger and stronger, and soon she was bounding toward the horizon via strides that would’ve made the tallest center in the NBA feel petite.

Now she could see an angry pucker in the earth, a craterish protrusion that issued air-withering gouts of heat. This was the source of the mirage on the horizon: the mouth of hell.

And Khenbish, without breaking her stride, reached up into the sky and drew the sun down through the firmament. It was too hot to carry, so she dribbled it in front of her, bouncing the luminous sphere off the steppe.

Hell heard her coming.

Lesser demons poured up and out of the hole, languorous from their feasting, and surged toward Khenbish in a gnashing, chitinous tide. But Khenbish was no one, and no one can out-feint demons. They snapped and clawed at her left thigh, so she pivoted to the right. They swarmed around her head like bats, so she duck and spun, always keeping the sun in motion, driving it ever closer to hell’s mouth.

A greater demon pulled itself out of the steaming pit with the strength of its one thousand arms. Had the sun still been in the sky, the beast’s limbish plumage would’ve blotted it out. Those parts of its body that didn’t sport mammoth arms featured gnashing mouths full of blood-blackened teeth. It placed itself between Khenbish and the mouth of hell, arms fanned out into a perfect defense. The lesser demons pulled back and jeered as their MVP took the field.

Khenbish had momentum on her side, though. She’d run too far to stop now. Her every footstep was like thunder.

She swept one of her great arms back, then hurled the sun toward the demon. Khenbish wasn't dumb; she knew there was no way she was going to get a throw over this guy. He had all the reach in the world. Instead, the sun streaked directly toward the center of the mass of arms and mouths, slammed into the demon with supernova force, and sent the whole ugly mass of it sprawling backward.

The sun rebounded up into the air and almost managed to escape back into the sky, but no one was there. She springboarded off of the greater demon’s toppled body and seized the molten ball before it could soar out of reach.

Still airborne, she raised the sun overhead with both hands and slammed it down into the mouth of hell.

The crowd went wild. Souls that had been screaming under the ministrations of demonic teeth used their last breath to let out an exultant cheer of release as celestial fire liberated them from their eternal torment. Fire swept through every last cave and bolthole, cleansing hell of sufferers and tormentors alike.

A huge gout of flame erupted from the mouth of hell, incinerating Khenbish, who’d fallen to the side in an exhausted heap. Her ashes spiraled up into the sky and spread out over the steppe, eventually drifting back down to form the mountains and trees and people.

Which brings us back to now. Don’t look for no one inside the Kobes and the LeBrons of the world. Look for her inside that one kid who’s out on that scuffed community center court, rain or shine, shooting hoop after hoop for no one but themselves.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse


Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

One hour until entries close. If this is your first time make sure you read the op

Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

One other thing. We will be starting a thread after the td results are announced. Open to anygoon , the idea is to provide links to Google docs and allow comments from your peers to make your entry in the competition winning. Or less poo poo.

Mar 21, 2013


Grimey Drawer

No more entrants allowed. The time has been and gone for entrants.

Fumblemouse fucked around with this message at 20:10 on Mar 24, 2018

Dec 25, 2004


Thunderdome CCXCIV

The God Hole
1956 Words

- removed for editing -

feedmyleg fucked around with this message at 17:14 on Apr 3, 2018

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007





Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


May 31, 2007

Writing is fun!

Man you guys sure are testy.

sephiRoth IRA
Jun 13, 2007

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality."

-Carl Sagan

Well, I guess I’ll just scrap my poo poo because drat if I can’t compete with that. :stoked: for my cloacal surgery here in a decade or two.

Sep 14, 2007

Like most things, I am nothing

Exmond posted:

Man you guys sure are testy.

testy. nice. i get it

Bad Seafood
Dec 10, 2010

If you must blink, do it now.

Talk about a hole in one.

Ironic Twist
Aug 3, 2008

I'm bokeh, you're bokeh

1195 words

Every night I sleep on a bed of fallen snow, white and oily and flammable, my fingers dug into the white powder at my sides, rooted, splayed out, so they never accidentally touch in my sleep, snap together and form a spark at the approval of a dream I can never recall once I wake up.

Ours is a world of distances. A world of wealth in personal space. Two hundred feet is the standard between strangers, just enough to hear the wordless keening that all our hearts make, sounds we don’t understand, noises of the friction within us. One hundred feet is the standard between close friends, of which I prefer none. Fifty feet is the standard between lovers, and twenty feet is the standard for parents and children, a notion that makes my jagged metal teeth ache in my mouth. Beyond twenty feet, as they say, is the understanding and closeness gained after death--what my father told me after I was imbued with his essence. Solemn words delivered in front of nitroglycerin snow, piled in a stone hearth that had never been used. Safety in space. Obliteration in suffocation. Our mansion was large and snow-covered, pressing us against the outer walls.

So when I woke up that morning and saw the face staring down at me, shining in the morning light, I screeched, ground myself against the wall, like I was trying to communicate with someone I had never met, in a language I didn’t know how to speak.

It wasn’t a face I had ever seen before. It wasn’t a living face. It didn’t seem like a face that could ever exist--the cheeks and chin were too smooth to have been created by rusted metal hands, carved and chiseled into the snow coating the wall. The snow gets everywhere, comes through the open windows, settles in every corner and crevice, a constant reminder that the world could end at any time.

I stood up, my back to the open doorway, afraid to break eye contact with the smooth face sticking out from the wall, afraid to turn around. I did not create it. Someone had been in my house. Someone had been right next to me as I slept, forming their perverted artwork for me to find in the morning. Taking the still air around me and smashing it to pieces.

There were others off in the distance, as I stormed outside. I could barely make them out, the ones with stubby limbs of solid rock, the ones that stood on wobbling legs of corrugated steel, the ones further off whose chests glinted with polished sand, their arms held straight out to their sides, silent and unaging.

I bellowed into the daylight, two bass notes in perfect harmony with each other. Two hands made of sound, grasping each other tight.


Translated: Someone has broken the unbreakable rule. Someone is putting all of us in danger.

They all made the same sound with the different instruments inside them, low grindings, rumblings, buzzings, whizzings. When the last note died, they all looked at each other across the bed of nitroglycerin snow, with flat eyes made of molten lead.

I felt better. And I don’t feel a lot of things.

My father taught me how to meld sounds together, and survive that way.

We’d call to each other through the empty house, the snowdrifts against the walls muffling and funneling the sounds towards each other, the short and high pirrips that were meant to grab attention, the staccato crack of a tongue against a mercury soft palate that was almost like the end of a sentence, the low rumbling bass that was a simultaneous warm blanket and studded shield. There were twelve different sounds that meant my father and I could mimic them all without having to think about it.

My mother never said much, and I resented her for that. It meant that I never knew when I would run into her, would turn a corner and stumble back with embarrassment at seeing her on the floor, clusters of intertwining needles at the ends of her arms, twirling and tracing lopsided circles in the piles of snow. It was like seeing something I was never built for.

Now that they’ve been gone, I walk through the house expecting to reach out an arm, brush away a curtain of snow from the stone walls, and see her uncovered face, looking up at me like nothing had changed. Waiting for me, with molten eyes and serrated skin. Close enough to possibly end the world.

I opened my eyes in the light of dawn.

It was standing over me.

Whoever had made the face on the wall had made a body to match it--slender arms and legs, shoulders that topped a thin and pale chest, streaks of hair swept over an unwrinkled forehead. Someone who had no business being in a world of metal and combustible fuel. Someone who was not built to survive.

I forgot everything. As I scrambled to my feet, my hands brushed against each other, sending five or six sparks into the air.

I watched them for a half-second that felt like an eternity.

They hovered there, silent and dangerous.

I lurched forward and grabbed at one, snuffed it out. Swiped at the air again and again and again, until they were all gone and I could stand still, terrified to move. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see its face. Afraid to brush it away, because there might be another one waiting behind it.

There was still no sun in the sky to greet me as I ran outside. I opened my mouth ready to swallow the entire world, chew it to pieces--and no sound came out.

No one was waiting to greet me. I looked into the far distance, and saw no one and nothing. Whoever had vandalized my house, they were gone.
I tried again, tried to make the deep harmony I had made yesterday, but nothing happened. The two sounds were within me, but they would no longer mesh.

I stood at the edge of my property and thought of my mother, of how she never spoke, just twirled her needle fingers in the floor and never seemed afraid of ending the world by her own hand.

When I walked back inside, I half expected the thing to have detached itself from the wall and laid down on my bed, in the exact same way I would. But it hadn’t moved.

Without thinking, I held my hand up to the being’s face, and snapped my fingers.

A flurry of sparks fell onto a pale cheek, made of snow, the same snow my father warned me of all my life.

They burned bright for a second, then sputtered and died.

I snapped my fingers again, then again, and kept going, as if I thought the mouth would start moving and start explaining everything to me, starting with the world I was all of a sudden very alone in, then moving on to my mother’s name, and all the other things I had no sounds for.

Barnaby Profane
Feb 23, 2012


Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 10:11 on Dec 30, 2018

sephiRoth IRA
Jun 13, 2007

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality."

-Carl Sagan

Echidna - 1998 words

Gloria’s friends who had jobs in finance found it hilarious that she, now on the doorstep of fifty, lived the same poor graduate student life she had at twenty. She ruminated on this as she waited for the shower to warm. Sfew friends, no lovers to speak of, and a crappy apartment. She didn’t even have a cat, for Christ’s sake. She blew out a long, exaggerated sigh and stepped into the shower.

“If it weren’t for the kids” she thought, “I’d be pathetic.”

The snow was fresh and deep, and despite most of the city being closed down she trudged toward the lab. The protesters were there, of course, as resolute now as they were on day one. They were less numerous, perhaps, but they still massed around the entrance to the building, shouting epithets at her over the wind. Gloria recognized some of the faces, those that had been there since the beginning. The faces were lined, much like her own, but their owners were still spry enough to hold signs and scream.

In the empty lab, Gloria grabbed some coffee from the pot and sat at her desk, taking some time to go over her to-do list, when she saw the envelope. It was one of the small envelopes her mentor, Bill Fuller, had adopted for bad news several years ago. The envelope meant something catastrophic. Gloria had two plates spinning at the moment. They were huge, ostentatious plates that would serve up the crowning moments of her career. First was the paper, which was the culmination of nearly eighteen years of research. The second was the FDA’s decision on the clinical trials.

She opened the envelope. It was worse than she thought. There was no actual news, just a hastily written

“come see me


She tossed the note into the trash bin and started off. It was a long walk to Bill’s office, but she paused when she came to the classroom. They were all there, rapt in their teacher’s instruction. Classes were taught by professors from all over the college and ran from seven in the morning to five at night.

Gloria was sure the kids could go longer, wanted to in fact, but the scientific staff all agreed at the beginning not to push them too hard. The truth was any limitations put on them were arbitrary. They were seventeen, and vivacious. None of them looked up while she waited at the window. There wasn’t a second of misplaced attention. Gloria felt her pulse quicken. She was proud of them.

Glancing down at her watch Gloria saw that ten minutes had passed. When she finally made it to Bill’s office, she opened the door and was greeted by the sight of the entire scientific staff crammed into Bill’s office. They were all carrying glasses of champagne and wearing party hats.

“SURPRISE!” Everyone was shouting all at once. Bill pushed through the group, passing her a stack of paper. He leaned in close.

“The FDA paperwork. Clinical trials start in six months.” He smiled, and Gloria felt like she was going to pass out. She had been too scared to hope, but now it was real, there in her hand.

Bill walked back to his desk. “Oh, and by the way, Nature finally responded,” he said, raising his voice above the din, “they want to know what picture you’re using for the December cover.”

The roar of voices grew even louder and everyone moved to crowd around Gloria. They might have even carried her out on their shoulders, had the ceilings not been so low.


Gloria had been nineteen and her much-published undergraduate work in next-generation sequencing of child prodigies had catapulted her into the limelight. There were laboratories and biotech firms courting her for post-doctoral work and she had even made national news. Everyone had assumed that she would move to Harvard, or Yale, but it was Dr. Fuller’s (“Call me Bill”) low-key invitation for a coffee that beat them all. She met him on a summer morning and after a few minutes of chat, Bill got to the heart of the matter.

“Do you know who Yuval Noah Harari is?”

“No, I don’t think I’ve heard of him.”

“He wrote some books about fifteen years ago. He’s a philosopher – a futurist, really. His work focused on the past and future of humankind. I was very interested in it when I was a graduate student.”

“What made it so interesting?”

“He pitched this idea that societal and technological pressures will cause a new evolution in humankind – the formation of a human god with eternal life. Homo deus.”

Homo deus? That sounds more like fiction than philosophy.”

“I agree that eternal life is a bit far-fetched. But you’ve already figured out that humans have enormous potential coded in our genomes, right? Your work on ATXN2 expression and it’s correlation with intelligence was one of the first examples that I really believed was true. Hell, the SNP analysis of those prodigies alone would be enough to convince anyone.”

“Well, that’s not quite what I implied in my concl-”

He cut her off. “Are you familiar with what my lab does?”

“Sure, you work on CRISPR-based manipulations of mammalian biology. It’s really interesting.”

“What if I told you I wanted to take it further?”

“In what way?”

When Bill finished explaining, Gloria felt like she was going mad. Bill wasn’t talking about experiments, he was talking about miracles. The House had just passed H.R. 6161, legalizing the use of developed human tissue for research purposes. It would easily pass the Senate based on recent scientific breakthroughs using fetal tissue.The definition of “developed” was murky and Bill saw an opportunity. He was lucky to have powerful friends.

His project wasn’t just ambitious; it was sacrilegious. He wanted to combine his lentiviral CRISPR systems with Gloria’s prodigy work and bring modified infants to term. These children would be monitored for cognitive, motor, and social function. At first, Gloria was stunned by his audacity. How was this even legal? What would happen to these children when the study concluded? Who would be their parents?

Bill had answers to everything, as Gloria would soon find out. He handled the logistics with funding, the regulators, and the government committees. Her job was to hand-craft child prodigies.

She spent the lion’s share of her twenties screening egg and sperm donors and surrogates. She coordinated hospital care, designed lentiviruses, and monitored the children’s prenatal development. Once the children were born, the work seemed to double. Their craniofacial and limb development initially scared Gloria; they had done so much genetic screening but it was possible that they had missed something significant, like Marfan’s, that might cause the slight elongation of the digits and mild retrognathia. Every single day for months, Gloria called the pediatricians, making sure that the children weren’t sick. They weren’t sick. They never got sick.

There had been failures, of course. They had started with three separate combinations of modifications, but successful implantations and full-term births were rare. The infants that did come to term, however, were spectacular by any standard. They had ribbed each other about Homo deus around the lab often. It was a running joke that they didn’t think the cradle of a new human race was going to look like a previously-flooded basement someone filled with science equipment. As the children grew, though, the Homo deus jokes stopped being funny.

Gloria changed during this time. She did her best to have a social life, but the lab outlasted the patience of friends and boyfriends. She went on the occasional date and had drinks with her school friends, but mostly she kept to herself.

It was subtle at first. Gloria hadn’t gotten caught up in her friends’ baby fever when they were all about to turn thirty, despite all the jokes at her expense that she was already a mommy. She never felt any maternal instincts, and those same friends knew to go to others for babysitting. Yet over the years she found herself switching up her terminology as she continued to spend more and more time with her charges. It had started as “the work” or “the project”, but now it was “the children” or “the kids”.

As they grew, she started to have trouble processing her feelings about it all. She found herself just watching them more often, spending hours at a time at the playroom windows.

“I’m not that kind of person” she would tell people, but in the margins of her notebooks her doodles said otherwise.

When the party had finally died down, Bill and Gloria were seated in the cafeteria, watching the kids wolf down pizza. Gloria had ordered Dominos, figuring they could use a little fun as well. The kids had mobbed around her, showering her with affection.

“Jesus, they turn eighteen in bit, don’t they?” Bill was still drinking.

“Two weeks” Gloria replied.

She was excited for them. When they had all turned sixteen, Gloria and Bill sat down with the government to hammer out the details of these ten futures. Leaving the meeting, Gloria felt relieved. They had the complete support of the White House. The children, upon their eighteenth birthday, would be given social security numbers, identity cards, and would have financial support. Most of them had already applied for colleges but Gloria knew that at least two wanted to travel before continuing their studies.

“Wow. Time really flies. I can’t believe it’s been so long.”

“Yeah. I feel old. It’s like I’m having empty-nest syndrome or something. Maybe I’ll have a midlife crisis?”

Bill chuckled. “You’ll certainly have the time now. What’ll you do, pick up a twenty-year-old boyfriend?”

Gloria laughed.

“I was thinking about letting the kids get settled in and then touring around and visiting them all.”

Bill’s smile left his face.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”

“About what?” Gloria turned away from the children to look at Bill, and stopped smiling herself when she saw his face.

“Here, why don’t we head back to the office?”

“No, why don’t you just tell me. Has something gone wrong with their documentation?”

“Gloria, I don’t really want to talk about this right in front-“

Some of the kids had stopped talking and turned to look at them.

“God drat it, Bill. What’s going on?”

Bill got up and walked out of the cafeteria. Gloria turned quickly to look at the teenagers, feeling her heart break when she saw their concerned faces. She rushed out after Bill.

“Bill, stop walking.” Her voice was pleading.

“They’re not getting identities, Gloria. Because they aren’t people. By the judgement of the White House, they’re GMOs.”

Gloria’s mouth dropped open. She had never heard Bill talk like this about the children before.

“I thought…”

“In three weeks they’re all getting transferred to a new research facility. There’s federal agencies that want to run them through some studies.”

“No, Bill, please, you can’t-”

“My hands are tied, Gloria. The government is going to increase our funding and that will help us with the clinical trials. I’ve already got a few pharma guys interested. I’d like to have you on board for this.”

Gloria flushed, and then slapped Bill as hard as she could and stormed off. His words had brought her clarity she hadn’t realized she was missing. At the bank, she pulled out all of the money in her savings account. On the way home she bought ten identical roller suitcases. At home she packed her own things and booked eleven rooms at a motel just across the Canadian border.

That night, she went to the dorms and got the children out of bed. They voted together to follow Gloria out of the building and to the rental van. Before she left she sent Bill an email.

“What am I supposed to do?” she wrote. “I can’t leave them. I’m their mother.”

Dec 30, 2011

I wanna sing one for the cars
That are right now headed silent down the highway
And it's dark and there is nobody driving
And something has got to give

Note: This story is being posted on the behalf of SurreptitiousMuffin, whose Internet is restricting SA for some God-unknown reason. It's Muffin's story, and I have nothing to do with it besides posting it in the thread. -- Anti

edited out per Muffin's request

Antivehicular fucked around with this message at 23:14 on Nov 15, 2018

Sep 7, 2011

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies

Solitude’s Not For Everyone
1768 words

cptn_dr fucked around with this message at 06:12 on Dec 31, 2018

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!


1569 words

I waved the grey card over the sensor and the door clacked open. It came in a grey envelope in the day before’s mail, with no label other than the letter ‘A’, slightly off-center.  So instead of my usual commute I took the subway, enduring the presence of a rather loathsome individual making persistent and unwanted advances on my fellow riders for six station stops, until I reached the one for the Agency. This wasn't my first time. I knew what to expect. A small office, no windows, grey paint in layers on the walls. Two chairs. One table. And on that table, a loaded revolver.  I sat  down, picked it up, checked the chambers. All in order. The other door buzzed and opened. I checked the time.  Nine, to the second. Something alien moved through the door and came to rest on the opposite chair.

“Shall we begin?” said the speaking device, translating. I nodded. The pearlescent surface of the alien’s outer coating spread open like a mechanical flower bud, exposing a moist and sparkling interior.  This was a being capable of harvesting the atoms of a dying star and manufacturing from them starships larger than planets, an intellect more vast than the sum of a thousand thousand Earths worth of humans, with the wisdom of eons of experience behind that, and in four hours I would have to decide whether or not to shoot it in the head and leave its corpse lying on the floor for the custodial crew to remove.

“Very well,” I said. “Why are you here?” I've done this four times. Each time I start with that question. Each answer has been different.

“It was my turn,” it said.

“Were you required to come?”

It paused. No doubt deliberately, for effect. An intellect like theirs has its answer ready long before I finish speaking. “I was not coerced.”

It is and isn't an answer.  The grey envelope isn't a draft notice or a jury duty summons. Each time, I can choose to stay home and be taken off the rolls, permanently. But it pays well enough that the thought never enters my head.

“So you chose to come?” I asked, pressing the point.

“Choice is not an appropriate word. We analyze options, know which ones best serve our goals, and take the best one. There is no choice.” This felt like a more honest answer than I'd gotten before.

“Do you choose your goals?”

“Sometimes. Some were chosen by my ancestors before I came to be.”

“Do you wish to die?”

“I cannot, no more than I could will any other thinking being’s death.”

“But you can choose to risk death,” I said.

“Indeed. We do not wish to be immortal.”

It is difficult to describe the physicality of any alien, apart from the visceral sense of wrongness they induce. Our visual cortex was not evolved to process things that move continuously through fractional dimensions. For most dealings since contact they use tools of a less disturbing shape. Not possible for these meetings.

I picked up the gun. “There are other ways to risk death.” Most of the other agents use a more modern weapon, but you can’t play Russian Roulette with a high capacity magazine, and it really doesn't take more than one bullet to do the job. I emptied all but one chamber and gave the cylinder a spin. I pointed the gun at my temple, smiled, and pulled the trigger.

Empty, of course. It wasn't my first time here. The third time I was called in here it was full, and the alien said so immediately, before I shot. The fully civilized species cannot kill, not even by inaction, not even in self-defense.

“I would know where the bullet is,” said the alien. “There would be no risk.”

“You could use something more random. Radioactive decay, that kind of thing.”

The alien’s shell flexed, in a way that made my reflection seem to fall away into infinity. I felt an instant of vertigo, of dread. I assumed this was a kind of smile. “To answer precisely would give information that the subcivilized should not hold. But there are truly random things. And we may risk with them once or twice in a lifetime. But to play such games regularly? That is to much like self-murder.”

I have asked these questions before. The answers have been less honest, more patronizing. The second alien I met in one of these offices gave answers so clearly false I killed it right then. It might have been what it wanted, or wanted to want. I regret nothing. Well, nothing that happens here.

“Tell me about your first kill,” it said.

“The first ali- I mean, civilized intelligence?”

“No,” it said, its shell turning unreflective, somewhere between scratched and fogged up. “The first human.”

Only killers are qualified for this. Most people are, as the aliens would say, nearly civilized. Possibly capable of killing in self-defense, or providing asked-for mercy, but not barbarian enough provide enough risk. And not all killers, either. Someone who will shoot every time is just as unsuited. I told the story.

I was eighteen, on vacation with friends. We wandered out of the touristy parts of the island, seeking the authentic like the young fools we were. A man pulled a gun on us, forced us into a dark alley. We were ready to give up out money, but he wanted more than money from the women of our group. One of my friends objected. The man shot him in the torso. He seemed as surprised as my friend was, muttering “Now why’d you gotta do that?”

Some last words.

I charged at him, slamming him into the wall behind before he could react. His head hit the concrete hard. He was convulsing on the ground when the authorities arrived. My friend made it through his surgery. The criminal did not.

“You see yourself as justified, no?” said the alien. I stood silent, counting how many seconds it let pass. “Do you see your duty here as one of a judge?”

Some did. Some spent their hours taking confessions. Others asked for stories, and delivered critique with their bullets. I didn't have a pattern so simple. “What's the worst thing you've done?” I asked.

“We failed to save as many worlds as we might have from a gamma ray burst a few million years before life rose here,” it said. I've heard this tale before, so I waved it off.  I was disappointed in it. That was the first lie it told me. On another day I might have drawn the gun and fired. Instead I took the time to reload it.

“The second time,” it said. Of course we've all killed twice. Too many people are so close to civilized that once will make them swear ‘never again’ and mean it.

I told the story. It wasn't nearly as heroic. I was working security for a big box chain store. He had a gun, held it unsteady in his hand. The gun was real, not a toy or a phone or anything like that. It wasn't loaded, but I didn't have a superintelligent brain that could tell that from the weight in his hand. I shot the way I was trained, with his gun pointed vaguely at my chest. He died almost instantly. That one, sometimes I regret.

We kept talking. I asked about the last subcivilized species in known space, who they used to go to before Earth was deemed ready for contact. It told me of a race of spider monkey bats, swinging from tall sessile meat-pillars on long arms, occasionally gliding in their world’s thick and acidic air.

“What became of them?”

“They joined civilization, eventually,” it said. This wasn't my first time. I knew what that means. They traded flesh for fractal-space shells, supplemented their brains with powerful thinking machines until only the memory of their biology remained. They became morally perfect angels, incapable of sin, without even the option to Fall.

“I'm not going to kill you,” I said, setting down the gun. The time was nearly up. “But I will tell you this. If you thought you were being honest when I took your confession, you were wrong. What you did to that species was the worst thing your kind has done.”  It did not argue with me. It just closed its shell, covering the briefly-vulnerable parts, and left the office.

I handed the grey card to the receptionist on the first floor and left the building considerably more wealthy, and with much of the day to spare. I put it to good use. I took the subway back to the stop where that boor had entered, and waited for him. Followed him home. Took mental notes of his circumstances, and started to form plans.

Do they know how much more than two my number actually is? For the aliens, as with most such questions, the answer is simply ‘if they choose to’.  The human handlers and bureaucrats? Surely not, no more than do the police or FBI. I do not take trophies. I do not leave signatures. I do not repeat methods any more often than chance would suggest. I am not driven by compulsion. Every kill and every unearned mercy, human or alien, is entirely my choice.

Sep 21, 2017

Horse Facts

True and Interesting Facts about Horse

1154 words

The smell nagged at Mae as she jogged down the ship’s smooth white corridor in her brown cleaner’s uniform. She could feel her frizzy hair working its way free of its bun as she ran. They wouldn’t tolerate lateness from someone like her. She’d won her ticket on the transporter through the general lottery, a one in a million chance for a better life on a new, more perfect, world.

She’d first noticed it in her small personal compartment. Like the odour of meat left too long in the heat or dog poo poo on your shoe, a waft of rot that took her straight back home to the slums of Earth. It was completely out of place in the pristine space craft, with its carefully rehydrated calorie packs and meticulous waste recycling systems. Rot, chaos, the disgusting mess of human biology; the colonists left them all behind as soon as they lifted off from Earth’s dirt.

Rounding a bend she ran straight into the chest of Jared’s blue mechanic’s uniform, and a blush raced up her cheeks.

“You ok Mae?” he said.

“Oh, yeah, just late,” Mae replied. “Can you smell that?”

“Smell what?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

Mae shook her head. “Nothing,” she said.

“Have you heard? The higher-ups are all in a tizz about something,” Jared said. “Engineers have all been summoned to an emergency meeting.”

Mae shook her head again, this time in fond exasperation at Jared’s perpetual lackadaisicalness.

“I’ve got to run,” said Mae, patting his chest. Jared blushed red, too, eyes fixed on her. Mae froze, the weight of the unsaid words between them suddenly pressing heavily on her tongue, pinning it in place. Idiot! she thought to herself, as she turned and ran.


The smell wafted past Mae’s nose again as she crouched next to Triss on protesting knees, the two women carefully sterilising a communal exercise machine.

“So, any progress on telling Jared how you feel?” said Triss, leaning her head in close to Mae’s.

Mae shot her a look and elbowed her in the ribs, just hard enough to make Triss lose her balance. Both of them burst out giggling, quickly stifled as the the cool white uniform of one of the elite passengers shuffled into the gymnasium.

The woman was tall, beautiful, as all the white-uniforms were, but her right leg was dragging. Mae had never seen one of them injured; if you could afford the passage on one of the transporters you could certainly afford the best body upgrades. The woman caught her staring and stabbed her with an icy glare. Mae looked quickly away, heart hammering.

“Respect for one’s place is respect for one’s self,” Triss said quietly to her, taking her hand and squeezing it reassuringly. The familiar lines of the Code soothed Mae’s nerves, even as the retreating sound of the woman’s shuffling gait nagged at her brain.


“You wouldn’t do it, would you?” Mae said to Jared, wide-eyed, calorie pack paused halfway to her mouth.

“Well, yeah, if it was an order,” he replied, pulling at his short-cropped beard. “I mean, we’d have to, wouldn’t we, if there was a risk of infecting the colony.”

“But everyone would die!” said Mae. “They’ve got all the best medical tech on the new world, surely they’d be able to find a cure once we got there!”

“Mae, it was just a drill, we have all sorts of emergency procedures, there’s nothing to worry about.”

The clatter of a metal tray hitting the floor cut through the buttery murmur of the cafeteria. Mae and Jared looked up in surprise as a brown-uniformed woman stumbled against the wall, groaning and pawing at her mouth. Two grey-coats, the ever-present enforcers of the Code, were quickly upon her, one at each elbow, dragging the disturbance out of sight.

“Triss!” said Mae, jumping to her feet.

“Shh!” Jared yanked her back into her seat. “Order from each; order for the whole,” he quoted at her. Mae stared at him, fingers splayed and palms pressed hard into the tabletop to stop them trembling, but he wouldn’t meet her eye. They stayed like that, not moving, until long after Triss’s incoherent cries had faded.


The smell kept Mae awake that night. That, and the noises. The scent of rot and the sound of distant moaning twined in and out of Mae’s brain and made sleep impossible. She couldn’t stop thinking about Triss, wondering if she was ok.

Klaxons blared in the corridor and Mae lept from her bunk. “Blue uniforms to your stations! Blue uniforms only!” blared the recorded voice, but Mae ignored it. loving Jared and his “there’s nothing to worry about,” she thought as she tried and failed to jam her arms into her uniform.

Mae stumbled, hitting her shoulder hard against the wall. A wave of nausea and the smell washed over her. ...the gently caress, thought Mae. Stand up, deep breath, arms into sleeves. There, she thought, you’re fine. Breathing hard through her mouth to keep the smell out of her nose she ran down the corridor towards the hospital bay.

Moans and cries echoed through the ship as she ran, a terrifying base note to the klaxons’ insistent trebble. “Triss!” Mae shouted as she rushed through the doors of the ward, but the sound died in her throat.

Greys, blues, browns, some lying still on the ground, others writhing on the beds, but all covered with a slick sheen of red. The smell was overwhelming, but what rose in Mae’s throat wasn’t bile this time, but hunger. A deep, burning need.

Jaw slack, she felt drool running onto her chin. Wiping it off with the back of her hand she blinked in confusion, then, hard, slapped herself, looked again at the horror in front of her. I’ve got to find Jared, she thought, as she turned and ran.

No one tried to stop her as she raced through the white corridors. Through doorways and around corners she caught glimpses of the ship’s other passengers, some in groups, struggling together, others, in pairs, locked too deeply in a lovers’ embrace. Her steps were growing clumsy with hunger. Control Room 43, Control Room 44, there!

She burst in, arms out to balance herself. Jared was standing at the far wall, hand on a lever behind a frame of broken glass, face white and shining with sweat.

“Mae, I’m so sorry,” he said, eyes flooded with tears. “We have to do it.”

Mae lurched towards him, arms outstretched. Tell him! she shouted at herself.

“Jared, I love you!” she cried, but to her horrified ears all she could hear was a hideous moaning. The last thing she saw was the look of anguish on Jared’s face as he slammed down the emergency airlock release and the ship exhaled its last breath into the vacuum of space.

Aug 7, 2013





ThirdEmperor fucked around with this message at 06:20 on Dec 31, 2018


Nov 13, 2012

Pain is inevitable.
Suffering is optional.
Thunderdome is forever.

The Last Shot of the War
1735 words

One explosion is nothing to worry about, its boom almost drowned under the hiss of the rain. But a second? It's them. I stay prone, soaking into the mud beneath the tank. It still smells of burned rubber, harsh and acrid, as much as the jungle tries to smother it. A mangrove rises through the turret hole, its roots shielded in steel plate. What was it the Lieutenant said? Everything breaks eventually?

A third explosion booms through the foliage from the west, coastward. They'll have their work cut out for them there. When the Americans launched their failed assault, all oorahs, gum and flame, our grenades often failed to detonate. But as the years pass and the chemicals within decay, that no longer matters. They lie where they fell, in the anti-tank nests and the foxholes and deep within the caves and beneath what's left of the beach waiting, patiently, for their moment. I haul myself upright with the butt of the rifle, every muscle and tendon roaring in protest, and I edge towards the sound.

You know, the moment when the Lieutenant came out with that – everything breaks eventually – was the one when I missed Jaito the most. But I digress. It's hard to keep my focus these days. Harder to remember the safe paths that I walk among the fallen. But I made my choice. I think of my father, a red, long settled mist somewhere in the pores of Shanghai; would he be proud? Or does any of that matter now that they can make men on an assembly line?

I close my eyes for just a second and then I'm back in the trees with the Lieutenant, thirty metres from the sand line. The beach is longer then. It languidly stretches out of the sea to bask in the sun and it would make a fine killing field, except-

Lieutenant Takamura coughs. I turn my head, and he is sitting with his back to the beach, trimming his thin moustache with the edge of a pocketknife. “Hold, Sakamoto,” he says. “Let them go.”

Sure enough, the Yankees are in full retreat. They pile back onto the transports with the eager glee of cowards in peacetime. I grin like a child and sling the rifle. Behind me, Jaito snorts. “Idiots,” he says. The beard he is growing is thick and black and completely inappropriate for a soldier of the 14th Infantry Division. “War's over.”

“That's treason, Private,” the Lieutenant says. He doesn't stop trimming. “The Empire of Japan-”

“-is done,” Jaito says.

The Lieutenant folds the knife and slips it into his front pocket. He sighs. “This island,” he says, “is still Japan, so long as we draw breath.”

Jaito opens his mouth to tell him, for the hundredth time, about his father at Peleliu and the good his breath did him but I don't get to hear it because I blink and I'm back in the now, alone but for the explosions, the machines, and the rain.

There is a rhythm to them now. Boom. Wait just long enough to think it's over and boom. Boom. I skulk closer, dip behind a shattered wing and pull out my binoculars.

There's ten of them this time. They walk up and down the beach on spindly legs, pulling rakes behind them, tilling the sand like soil. The rain flows down their metal frames in thick rivulets. And, every so often, one stops, reverses, and boom. The grenade goes off, eighty years late, leaving nothing but a gash in the sand to show for its patience.

The first time I saw them, they were collecting bones in the Valley of Death. That wasn't a grenade battle. I nearly walked into them on my weekly patrol, but for the rustling of the bushes as they were pushed aside, the machines relentlessly bagging every fragment bigger than a fingerbone. The rifle shot just bounced off the plating.

I fall back the way I came. We let them go, and now they're back.


It's not just the grenades that are getting old. The ammunition, too, succumbs to the heat and the dank and the days. I rescue what I can, but I cannot scavenge a rust-free AT gun.

My joints ache. But it has to be now, whilst the moonlight is good. I check my sightlines to the path and draw the Lieutenant's service pistol. I aim into the air and fire once. The sound cracks through the silent night. I wait. I try to keep my focus, try to keep my eyes open, but I have to blink and then it's me and Jaito side by side in the sunny foxhole we dug above the old airfield, in case the enemy tried a landing.

“See any planes, kid?”

I scan the night sky again. All quiet. “Not tonight, I guess.”

He laughs. “Not ever.”

“How'd you know?”

Jaito sighs and rolls on his back, looking up at the stars. “One: not one drat plane in twelve months. Two: nothing else either. War's over, and if we'd won we'd have heard by now.”

I open my mouth to reply and somewhere on the edge of hearing I can hear metal scraping on rock and I blink and it's just me under the stars.

I don't know how the machines avoid the grenades. This one follows the same path I did, ambling through what happened here like it never did. But whoever made them – whoever sent them – didn't prepare for alternative methods of attack. As it steps onto the trap, the ground gives way beneath and it disappears into the hole I dug after the Lieutenant left, in case he ever came back. There is a screech of metal on metal as the barbed wire takes the weight.

I wait ten minutes. None of its friends show up. Then I wait ten more. Finally I stand up groaning, my tendons cracking as they move, and hobble over to the pit. I look down at it, wrapped in red-brown wire, and it looks back up at me. Its face is blank, a featureless reflective sheen. I pause, reach into my pocket and pull out the rumpled English phrasebook. I squint. “Good evening,” I say. “You are a prisoner of war.”

There is a second, then, in which I feel like a fool. Then, the head jerks ever so slightly. “Konbanwa,” it says, in perfect Japanese. “This is an unarmed decontamination drone. Repeat, this unit is unarmed.”

I aim the pistol at its head. “How many soldiers do you have?”

“Repeat, this unit is unarmed.”

“What are your orders?”

“This unit is restoring the locality to its pre-war configuration.”

I start at that. To erase this, like it never happened? “Who is your commander?”

“This island,” it says, “is the private property of Mr. Takamura Genzo. He has now been informed of this unlawful presence.”

“Good,” I say. “Tell him to hurry.” Maybe it's true: if they can make machines that talk, they can make radios that are quiet. I leave it there, suspended like a fly in a web. The jungle will claim it, as it has everything else. As I turn away I blink and I'm back here with him and Jaito, at the end.

“Halt,” the Lieutenant says. It was a desert then. The fire burned the grass and burned the trees and burned the birds in their nests until the whole thing burned out and all that was left was the dust, stained black and red.

“Nobody here,” Jaito says. “War's over.”

“They might come back,” I say.

He makes a show of looking around. “For what?” He kicks a Marine helmet, sending it flying over the ground. “We aren't even worth finishing.” The helmet comes to rest like a tortoise on its back, spinning slowly.

“No more of this defeatist talk,” the Lieutenant says from up ahead. “That's an order.”

“Is that so, Takamura? You're not my commander any more. War's over. I fought your drat war, and now it's over.” Jaito's gun drops to the ground. “And I'm leaving. Going to go down to the beach and make some noise and surrender. You care so much about your honour, then you know what a noble should do.”

“Insubordination!” The Lieutenant turns and strikes Jaito once across the face. Jaito stumbles. Time always seems to slow around this part. He takes a step back and trips, toppling like a tower, until he hits the ground and the grenade goes off. I look away. I don't need to remember.

Instead I stare at the Lieutenant, who is staring at his hand like it might strike him next. He looks at me, or perhaps through. “The Private was too far gone,” he says. “Everything breaks eventually.”

I'm about to aim the rifle, but I blink again and I hear nothing but the tortured scratch of metal on metal as the machine struggles against its bonds.


I wait in a clearing close to the beach. I hear him before I see him: the helicopter chops thick and loud in the morning sunlight,

A figure steps off the helicopter. It waves to me from across the clearing.

“Private,” he says.

“Mr. Takamura.”

“I told you to leave,” I say. “This place isn't yours.”

He looks me up and down. “I bought it,” he says.

I glare at him. “You don't have the right.”

He shrugs. “This place is two square kilometres of explosive-filled jungle. It wasn't expensive. I assumed you wouldn't mind, by now. And the sea is rising and well – we're all running out of time.” He wheezes. “If I'd waited much longer we'd be talking with our ankles wet. Or not at all.”

“You can't just erase what happened here,” I say.

“Jaito was right,” he says. “War's over.”

“Speak for yourself,” I say.

“I can put all this away. Clean out the grenades. Return the remains to Japan, to let them rest. Move on. Sakamoto,” he says, stepping forward, “don't you want the war to be over?”

I breathe in.

I blink, once, but I'm still right here. I draw the pistol and aim at the stack of grenades beneath our feet. Some things are worth finishing.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5