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Apr 11, 2012




Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Animals, gotta love them, at least I do. Anyway, this week is not actually about animals, but I won, so gently caress you. Look at my cat.

This week's theme is automation.

How you interpret that is up to you. I deal with the fear and uncertainty of automation at my job, and I deal with the frustration and excitement of automation in the games I play. Automation can be the inevitable and the dystopic, it can be history written or not yet written, it can be something else entirely. Up to you.

But, if you toxx, I will give you a hellrule related to animals.

max: 1500 letter-benjamins

due: Monday 8:59 Norwegian time (that's Sunday 23:59 PST, ya amerikkkan pig cops)

  • Me
  • Armack
  • Fuschia tude
The willing:
  • Flesnolk :toxx: In your story, killing a rat will most likely result in capital punishment.
  • magic cactus :toxx: In your story, ferrets are revered as gods
  • sebmojo
  • sparksbloom :toxx: In your story, anyone who sees a bird is quarantined.
  • Thranguy
  • Antivehicular :toxx: In your story, all horses have five legs.
  • Anomalous Amalgam :toxx: In your story, only dogs can be doctors.
  • Haven :toxx: Your story must in some way involve seven elk, no more, no less.
  • Anomalous Blowout
  • SurreptitiousMuffin
  • a friendly penguin

Black Griffon fucked around with this message at 05:14 on Sep 14, 2019

Apr 11, 2012


In, hellrule

Also join the discord and show us more pictures of your cat

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Flesnolk posted:

In, hellrule

Also join the discord and show us more pictures of your cat

I was gonna at some point but the OP only posts to some IRC channel so I gave up. Show me the way.

Hellrule: In your story, killing a rat will most likely result in capital punishment.

Apr 11, 2012


SH doesn't want links in the thread. Go in the IRC and I'll PM you a link.

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.

In. :toxx:

magic cactus fucked around with this message at 00:44 on Sep 11, 2019

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Crimea phantom
Powerful nasty stuff that flirts with parody but also keeps a weirdly serious tone. I don’t know what’s happened here and I don’t really mind, but I guess the lack of context should knock you down a little. 7.5
Hellrule fulfilment: excellent

All the thinkgs we thought we knew magic cactus

Starts with some self-conscious Writering (underscoring all the changes, shone with cold fire, the snow crafted me a blanket) but forgot the one key rule of writing, which is: carriage returns. Paragraphs. Second biggest key, it’s right there. Other than that, this is complicated without really justifying its complications. 4
Hellrule fulfilment: desultory

Metaphysics, yoruichi

This is deeply eh, taking ideas that should be mindblowing and making them tedious INCLUDING a literal space wizard. You might not know it but space wizards are my third favourite thing to read about EXCEPT as here, where they’re dumb. Don’t write about dumb space wizards. 4

So much for globe theory, Applewhite

So, carriage returns, they’re the most important part of a complete breakfast, 89% of people who don’t use them go irretrievably insane! Interesting fact I’m sure you will agree. This is a solid piece of prose, and I like your Podunk flat earther, he’d probably be fun to have a beer with as long as you kept the topics of conversation tightly constrained, but this is fundamentally a one joke story. It’s also nonsense, because we would be able to see the other side of the planet if we were in a sphere, and what about the stars, and jesus you didn’t think about this at all. But I like your turn of phrase quite a bit so you may pass, I guess. 5

Love enough djeser

This is excellent, and does the essential with an rear end in a top hat flash rule – make it look graceful and inevitable. I really like your sense pictures, your language is jauntily precise, and the fact that you’re telling some kind of insane familial Godzilla yarn on top of it is just gravy. GJ knocking my most hellish of rules out of the park. 9 hm/w
hellrule fulfilment: savagely precise

Office politics simply simon

I liked this a lot, it paints a nicely gnarly picture that skirts absurdity without really stepping in it. I also like the suspension of the end and the widening of the focus out to a whole global organisation of paranoid psychotic environmentalists zotting each other over their trim milk lattes 8
Hellrule fulfilment: tolerable

The party never ends here, sparksbloom

I’m not sure I understand this but I grok it in my bones, the disintegration is really well done and transcends easy meaning which is as it should be. I love the interstation weird phrases, and while I don’t really get why it is as it is, I can’t deny the authority of the telling. 8.5
Hellrule fulfilment: woozily sublime

How are we leaving, asap salafi

I kind of like the strang, e, disconnected tone in this one, though I’m only 50% sure it’s intentional. The bleary, just woke up lack of affect is a nice contrast with the actual literal physical reality of the house being on fire. Unfortunately you don’t really pay it off, and I strongly dislike the lazy ‘lol mum’s a witch lol’ ending. I think you could have gone a lot further into metaphor/surrealism with your strong setup. 5
hellrule fulfilment: disappointingly good

Family, thrangles

This is well and stylishly delivered, and you knock the nasty hellrule for 6, but it’s a little disappointing you don’t take it any further - hard to, with your kid POV, and i like the introduction of the fact that they’re all robots, but it feels a little hollow at the end. Still really solid work. 7.5
hellrule fulfilment: robotically precise

Flamingo down, black griffon

This is understandably complex to read, but it’s sort of delightful - I didn’t think of flamingos doing noir investigations on a decaying suborbital installation when I started reading but now it’s obvious, really. There’s something nicely poignant about the juxtaposition of large and small concerns and you do a good job of characterising your one-leg-standing pink rear end bird buddies. GJ. 8 hm
hellrule fulfilment: mesospheric

he who became smoke, anomalous amalgam
There’s some awkward overwriting in this, and it could do with a trim (plus, starting with the main character looking in a mirror is v cliche, though your details are strong and well presented) but I like how you ground your insane worldbuilding in a personal relationship and then bring that to a satisfying close. 6
hellrule fulfilment good enough that i want a cigarette

the man with the straw hat, babyryoga
the prose in this is easily the weakest so far, which might net you the loss, but there’s also a weird point of view issue - who’s telling the story? what actually happens? what does a dirt rousing trample sound like? why introduce a whole new set of random villains at the end? also i'm not sure you even bothered with the rule 2 dm/l
hellrule fulfilment: egregious

Hurricanes, armack

Lots of nice wordplay and strange but effective comparisons- I love the goldilocks metaphor. This does cosmic well, spiralling off into solar system destroying abstractions, and the ending is clever and touching. 8
hellrule fulfilment: whirlingly vertiginous

ridgeline, steeltoedsneaks

Some awkward typos and bizarre phrasings keep this out of the running for the high end, but I like the formal sort of exercise you’re doing here, and the repetition of ‘running to forget’ delivers the story’s payload nicely with a modest cough like a polite waiter with the cheque. 5
hellrule fulfilment: precipitous

Everyone has a big old spider inside their brain, fuschia tude

this is perhaps inevitably a one joke story and you lay it out in the title. I like the work you do showing your protag convincing the world that, in fact, ehabositb, but unfortunately it ends with a big splat like a spider hitting the floor from 20 feet up. Don’t end a story ‘it had begun’ if that is likely to seem more interesting than what you’ve just described. 5
hellrule fulfilment: scuttlingly arachnoid

sebmojo fucked around with this message at 00:33 on Sep 11, 2019

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk


Apr 30, 2006

In :toxx:

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!


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

In, :toxx:

Fuschia tude
Dec 26, 2004


Thank you sebbo

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

In your story, anyone who sees a bird is quarantined.

In your story, all horses have five legs.

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo

Doctor Rope

In :toxx:

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

In your story, only dogs can be doctors.

Toaster Beef
Jan 23, 2007

that's not nature's way

Hey y'all, posting this absurdly late because my original plan to enter the last Thunderdome was derailed by heart issues and a hospital stay. Whomp.

Your stories this week will be set in a world where everyone has a Number floating above their head. How you choose to work with that constraint is up to you -- it could signify age, wealth, number of toes, hit points, etc. If you’d like for me to assign a meaning for The Number, toxx when you sign up and I’ll hand out flash rules.

Word Count: 1369 words
Signup Deadline: August 30, 2359 PST
Submission Deadline: September 1, 2359 PST

Hellrule: “The Number indicates the remaining number of seconds in a person’s life. It is almost never wrong.”

Scientific Notation | 1,252 words

“Scientific notation,” Sonia said wearily, chin never leaving the cradle of her hand, head bouncing as the words came out. Her cover bounced along as well—hovering a few inches overhead, its movements exaggerated. “That’s what changed everything here.”

The nurses turned, apparently unaware they were being listened to. Sonia, her eyes still heavy, smiled.

“Y’all thought I was asleep.” They nodded, almost as one.

Sonia stood up from behind the nurses’ station desk and walked around it as the other three made room for her in their discussion. The olive-skinned brunette—either Jessie or Jamie, she tended to confuse the two—spoke up.

“Sorry, we were just—”

Sonia waved her hand and shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”

For a few seconds, nobody said anything. Sonia took silent stock of the hallway. Things here could never be said to be truly quiet—monitors, intercoms, and their charges saw to that—but these very early-morning hours were as close as it got.

“They teach about the scientific notation thing at all in nursing school?” she asked, and each of them shook their heads.

“I learned a bit about it in high school, when they taught the Event in general, but they didn’t bring it up at all in nursing school,” Jamie—her tag was now clearly visible—said. The others nodded, each uttering in quiet agreement.

“The Event was terrible everywhere,” Sonia said, “but it hit hardest right here. No new parent wants to the real-time countdown of the seconds in their kid’s life. Nobody wants to see that for anybody else, just in general. Hence the covers—but how do you explain to a new mother why her baby’s cover is so much smaller than the others?”

“Oh, God,” said another one of the nurses. Beth. “That’s awful.”

Sonia liked Jessie and Jamie, and she liked Beth, too—but Jessie and Jamie belonged here. Sonia wasn’t so sure she could say the same of Beth. Some folks just can’t cut it, and Sonia thought she saw that in the young lady. “Just a little too soft,” Sonia would say, among friends, two or three drinks in.

“It was, yeah,” she said, looking behind Beth down the hallway, where she thought she saw someone wandering from one room to another. The janitor’s cart was nearby. Sonia turned her attention back to the other nurses.

A few inches over each of their heads, the soft elastic of their covers shifted gently as the numbers underneath changed. Sonia paid it no mind. Neither did anybody else. Such was the unspoken social contract.

A sudden clattering from the room down the hall—the one Sonia thought she’d watched a janitor walk into just seconds ago. The light in the room was still off. Her eyes narrowed, and she slipped past Beth to go check it out.

“I’ve got it,” Jamie said, her voice soft and cautious, her hand resting gently on Sonia’s shoulder. She was already moving past Sonia, walking with the quiet speed all the maternity nurses perfected early.

The group moved slowly behind Jamie, stopping maybe twenty feet away from the door as she turned the corner into the darkened room.

“Hello? Can I help you?” they heard Jamie say, her voice calm. Some indiscernible muttering followed, and then more clatter—sounds of a struggle. Then the sound of someone hitting the ground. Hard.

Sonia would replay the next few seconds in her head for the rest of her life.

The three had hardly any time to react before they saw the figure in a gray hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans, eyes wide, newborn cradled in her arms, emerge in a dead sprint from the darkened room. Simultaneously, they heard Jamie clamoring to get her air back as she yelled, “Code pink!”

The woman’s hood was up, its shape made bizarre thanks to the numbers over her head. Small wisps of blonde hair flowed out from under it and bounced as she ran. Sonia made it a point to take in whatever she could of the woman’s face as she reached for a phone along the wall to dial up security.

As Sonia called in the code pink, Beth and Jessie charged to corral the woman, who made no efforts to evade them. She plowed directly into them both, making every effort to simultaneously cradle the baby and lower her shoulder into the nurse closest to her. It worked: Beth stumbled backward and fell, her arms thrashing wildly for anything she could grab on the way down. Jessie, meanwhile, had wrapped her arms around woman and baby alike and was struggling to keep her in place.

As Beth got to her feet and Sonia charged toward the scuffle, she caught the glint of something in the woman’s pocket. Something the woman was reaching for with one hand as Jessie continued to try and keep her rooted.

“Knife!” Sonia yelled, arms outreached, as Beth stood and grabbed for the baby. The woman, maybe recognizing her odds, abruptly let go of it—and Beth was there to make sure it didn’t hit the ground. Sonia’s efforts to get to the knife, meanwhile, were not as successful, and the woman began to swing it wildly.

Later, much later, one particular detail Sonia would go over time and time again was the way in which the elastic covers above each of their heads were shrinking and growing instantaneously with every move.

Sonia grabbed for the woman’s arm as she struck time and again at Jessie, who was still holding on, despite the growing number of bad lacerations in her arm. As Sonia grabbed the woman’s wrist and pulled her arm upward—away from Jessie, whose screaming wasn’t registering with anybody—the three finally went down in one large heap.

Sonia’s head bounced off the tile hard, and for a second all went white. She panicked, struggling blindly.

A few seconds later, she realized the struggling was almost entirely on her end. As her vision returned, she felt a warm wetness underneath her—and realized all three of them were laying on the ground in a growing pool of blood. Sonia struggled to her feet, her shoes slipping on the wet tile.

Jessie lay on the ground, breathing heavily, keeping her arms crossed over herself. The woman, eyes still wide and just barely moving, lay next to her, the knife protruding at an awkward angle from the side of her neck. Her hood had come off in the struggle. The numbers above her head were rapidly decreasing, now—and steadied in the low double digits, ticking down as each second went by. Jessie’s cover had shrunk as well, but seemed to have stabilized. She’d be okay. They’d have those numbers back up in no time.

It felt like an hour. It had been less than fifteen seconds. From down the hall, opposite the room from which the woman had emerged, Sonia heard the rapid footsteps of a security team sprinting to the scene. From the other end of the hall, Sonia heard Jamie mutter, “Oh my God,” from the doorway of the darkened room.

Sonia’s pulse pounded in her ears, drowning out nearly everything else. Overhead, alarms blared. Sonia, Jessie, and Beth were all breathing hard. Beth was white as a sheet, rocking gently on her feet. The baby was screaming.

Sonia looked at the baby, its fists balled up tightly, face red, mouth wide open. Poor thing.

Wait. Something wasn’t—

Sonia barely had time to register how small the baby’s overhead cover had become before Beth collapsed, the baby falling with her.

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Gonna need a couple of judges I think. Who up

Jan 23, 2004

college kids ain't shit

Fun Shoe

:toxx: to get my outstanding responsibilities for Gacha week done by the end of the month.

That's a deep crit for Thranguy's story, two video readings, and some bird pictures. Everything else is spoken for by other judges, but if anything is left to do by then, I'll pick them up and re-toxx to get things done by the end of the next month.

Jan 27, 2006

I'll judge if you'd like.

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Yes please and thank you

Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.

In, :toxx: please.

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Haven posted:

In, :toxx: please.

Your story must in some way involve seven elk, no more, no less.

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

double post

Nov 16, 2012

Sitting Here vs crimea Brawl Submission


Inside Taiga
Word count: 1897

Thursday, 5th July, 1945

To Comrade President Kalinin,

I have a series of considerations to put to the next meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. These considerations are based on my observations and experiences in our fight for the liberation of the motherland and the defeat of the enemy here in Berlin, and those of my men.

Firstly the law on political prisoners in the Soviet Union should be reviewed. My unit was one of the first to liberate Maidaneks. Back home political prisoners are kept in strange locations. The justification for these places has been swept away by the sacrifice of our citizens.

On the issue of the collective farms, I have considered the words of my men, many of whom were peasants from Rostov, Kursk, and elsewhere. It is our suggestion that the land be given to the people themselves, so as to improve Soviet agriculture to match that of Poland and Germany that we have witnessed.

In view of the destruction and ruin brought to our motherland, a unified Ministry of Works should be created in order to supervise the construction of much-needed new homes, the provision of food, and the refitting of hospitals.

My men want to receive letters from home more promptly. They want the families of our dead comrades to receive parcels of supplies just as our own people will. They would rest easy knowing the bread ration will be fairly distributed to all.

The violence and lawlessness of Soviet cities recovering from the damage, including Leningrad where I was raised and my sister still lives, must come to an end. We need to fight all kinds of hooliganism.

With the righteous defeat of the enemy and our revenge for the motherland achieved, it is time to carry out Lenin’s historic mission to make good on our sacrifice.

Lt Konstantin Sokolov,
79th Guards Rifle Division,
8th Guards Army,
1st Belorussian Front


The sun blistered over half-living Leningrad. Some movement had returned to the city, slowly after the siege broke and faster since the celebrations in May. It wasn’t that everything was going back to normal; everything had been normal the entire duration of the war. In the siege the radio still played. Maria Sokolov had eaten rats in the siege, and when even they disappeared she ate boiled wallpaper, but she had still gone to the opera at night with all the others. It was that indomitable spirit which the party officials had lauded and praised, but they had gotten quieter recently.

On that June day, Maria walked past one Comrade Kuznetsov, of the city officials on the street; he was gaunt like most everyone else, but still retained that peculiar egg-shape. He pressed a cloth to his damp forehead, but his fingernails clearly were blackened and speckled with dried blood. Maria had always been good at observing things. Maria whipped her gaze away when she noticed Kuznetsov’s eyelids raise, as if anticipating eye-contact. No words were exchanged. Maria continued to walk to work. Maybe there would be enough spare parts for all the trucks that needed them, but probably not.

On one side of the street, an Azerbaijani military policeman leant his weight on an elbow-high wall and belched orders at the German prisoners clearing the rubble. They were the only young men around.


“I had to get the pistol out and start waving it around to get them to leave me be.” Shura’s voice had once been light and silken, but the bits of glass they picked out her neck left behind a sort of croak in her speech. She was sitting opposite Maria in the canteen; behind her a few dozen people queued up for the kitchen with a disinterested hunger in their eyes. The place was busy, but Shura did not raise her voice in public by habit. “There was no bullet in the chamber. But they didn’t know that.”

Maria idly ran her spoon around the rim of the soup bowl, and spoke without looking up. “Were they wanting anything in particular?”

Shura chuckled. “They were just trying to get anything. I wasn’t stupid enough to go outside wearing the rings Alyosha sent me. They were just boys, anyway. I saw them the other week picking through my neighbour’s old block. You remember old Telegina?”


“They didn’t find anything. I was planning to go find where the old woman and her daughters were buried.”

“And her granddaughters?”

“Yes, as well.” Shura took out a dull iron flask from her coat and took a swig. It was then Maria raised her head and let her eyes settle on her friend, who added: “I was on duty when they cleared it.”

Shura had always been very beautiful. When she and Maria were kids the boys in class had argued and shoved each other around for a kiss on the cheek from her. Now the right side of Shura’s face was dotted of little pinpricks of glass, growing denser and bigger around her milky eye, like a crater. During a sniper duel in the siege a bullet missed her head but hit her gun’s scope, exploding the lens. Like a moon surrounded by a sky of red stars.

Shura must’ve noticed Maria staring at it again, since she turned and started to fidget with her headscarf. Maria changed the subject. “Alyosha must be coming home soon. His letter said he probably wasn’t going to Manchuria.”

“I suppose so.” Shura shifted in her seat.

“I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear your stories and how you survived so bravely and –“

“Don’t joke around. He would be comparing everything I say to everything he saw. I don’t look forward to talking with him.”

Shura paused and exhaled, then spoke again, the scratching coming through. “But of course I want him back. His pension will help with all of it.”

The din of the canteen rose; a group of wild-looking old men were shouting and cursing at each other a few tables over. Shura looked at Maria and responded to a question that hadn’t been asked. “No, I’m not worried.. He’s a good man. Maybe he had a wife at the Front, but when he’s back home he’ll be honourable. Didn’t you get a letter from your brother yesterday?”

Maria spoke matter-of-factly. “Yes, from earlier in the month. He had written to Moscow too. He and a lot of the other officers are very inspired to help the party rebuild the nation.”

Shura gave the other woman a look, and Maria smiled and wagged her finger. “Ah, I know that look! You just stopped yourself saying something cynical!”

A smirk appeared on Shura’s face. “Oh, you read me so easily. You should be in the NKVD.”

They shared the silence for a few moments, then the two started laughing like no-one was listening.


The crowd heaved and spun patiently on the station platform. Maria was at the front, standing a few feet away from the blooming wreath which read ‘Welcome Home Brave Heroes of Leningrad!’ Beside her an old woman rubbed her hands together, not for warmth – the August heat was quite enough – but perhaps from nervous tic or out of anticipation. Maria could feel the sweat percolate on her upper lip. In the moment she took to wipe her face, a rhythmic noise came rolling into earshot. In uniform rows doting wives and mothers and grandfathers craned their heads. Out of the shimmering heat came Stalin’s visage emblazoned like a mount on the front of the train. People with giddy smiles on their faces began shuffling side to side like crabs making semi-circular gaps on the edge of the platform. Stalin grew closer and closer, and as the train pulled in it roared and hissed, blowing plumes of smoke around the men in the carriages who leant out to wave. A jubilant cry burst out as the Red Army boys swung wide open their cattle car doors and stepped out of a dream and onto the platform. Lovers began to embrace, children hugged their mothers tight, old friends rekindled the spark. Painted on every weathered face was the spontaneous beauty of the moment.

Maria searched all these faces. She was jostled constantly, finding her footing again and again and trying to find her way through however she could. Her gaze jumped from each shaved head and green tunic. It was her forehead sweating now, and beads falling down her cheek. She must’ve squeezed herself twenty feet down the platform and not seen him.

It was only when she double-backed on herself she saw her brother smile like a child plucking the roses from the wreath. His dark eyes met hers as all around was dancing and weeping and cheering.


“The Party men have shut me out again.” Konstantin grumbled. Maria heard the hiss of the cigarette as it was smudged into the ashtray. “Myself and Grigori and Ivan went down there after work and tried to speak to someone in person, but it’s a brick wall.”

Maria continued to mechanically slice through turnips on the kitchen countertop, and did not bother to reply. She had heard this story often the last few years.

“Someone in there is dangerously foolish,” continued Konstantin, leaning back in his chair and speaking to the ceiling. “They put on parades for us and they give us their gratitude but not their time.”

Maria paused momentary to scold him; “You keep talking like we live alone. Or we’re your unit.”

The veteran just shrugged. “Of course, it’s just one or two misguided workers in there. The party leadership and my unit both only wanted to develop society in line with the vision of Lenin and Stalin.” It sounded like a stock phrase. “That’s what I would’ve said to Comrade Kuznetsov if I got hold of him.”

“Don’t you know anything?” Maria turned to face him now. “Comrade Kuznetsov was arrested for his poor leadership in the siege. He has other things to worry about than your clamouring.”

The same could be said of the entire city leadership, actually. All of them had been arrested and replaced with a new crop in the last few months. Maria couldn’t remember what the official charge was, creating a Communist Party in opposition to the one in Moscow or something like that.

Quiet settled in the room like cold mist. Maria examined all the little marks and signs of wear in the floor. When her brother stood up and spoke again, he sounded very far away. “You’re right, of course.”

His footsteps moved to the door and where his coat was hung up. “I’ll try to bring some good tobacco when I come ‘round next week, eh?”

Maria could feel his eyes on her like an arrow. She imagined he stood there heavy and dark like how she thought of him in his war letters. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just want you to be careful.”

The door thud shut and a goodbye could be heard down the hall, too far too tell if it was bitter.

Inside the apartment, the dull sun poured in from between the green-red curtains. The ember of the smudged cigarette flickered dimly, the ashes settling in the tray like the snow outside. Footprints were made in the snow and the mud, and Leningrad kept living, despite everything.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006


It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.



Jul 26, 2016

This is a proxy
SurreptitiousMuffin's IN
steeltoedsneaks is not

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish


Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Just realized you had a toxx, I assume that was the edit
Hellrule: in your story, ferrets are revered as gods

Dec 28, 2005

They might just as well've been closed.

7 Elks
1270 words
Hellrule: Your story must in some way involve seven elk, no more, no less.

“Right this way folks! Enjoy your trip!” An attendant in a cheerful yellow vest ushered the family of five into the tunnel where a mid-20s SUV waited. The children ran ahead, clambering into the back seat, their parents and grandmother following after.

Helen, the matriarch of the group, looked sideways at her son and daughter-in-law. “You know, I am the only one of us who has ever actually driven a car before,” she chided. “Not the self-driving nonsense you all grew up with.”

“Come on, Mom, all the more reason to let me have a try,” her son Jason answered, swinging open the driver’s door. “It’s on a track anyway, not like there will be any actual driving involved.”

Her daughter-in-law Mara now chimed in as she rushed to the passenger front door. “What is it they say in old movies? ‘Shotgun!’”

Helen chuckled and shook her head as she carefully climbed into the back next to her two grandkids. She didn’t fully approve of this simulated road trip but she wouldn’t pass up a day with her loved ones. Like many people her age she disagreed with the New National Park Service program, written into law by some clueless representative in an election year. It was a too-little too-late attempt to preserve some version, if only a fully virtual one, of the majesty of the national parks that had long since been sold off to private interests. Still, for a little while at least they could enjoy some time away from the smog-choked city streets of their overcrowded neighborhood.

A mechanical chime sounded and a friendly text crawl appeared projected onto the car’s windshield.




“Alright kids, here we go!” her son said, gripping the steering wheel awkwardly with both hands. The car began to roll forward, pulled along its mechanical track down the tunnel and out of sight of the entrance.

Outside the windows the simulated landscape formed before their eyes. While the car slowly moved through a cavernous soundstage, a two-lane highway replaced the metal track and a forest of juniper and pine sprung up on either side. An artificial sun lit the way, and birds flitted through the treetops. Red rock mesas rose toward the sky where puffy thunderhead clouds hung. In the distance they could just make out the edge of a small section of the Canyon.

The entire family leaned closer to the windows, drinking in the view in awed silence. “Wow,” her granddaughter Maisie stage whispered, speaking for them all.

The car slowed to a stop near a break in the treeline. Her grandson Tyler shouted, “Look! What is that?” as a large brown creature lumbered out of the forest towards the road. It stopped a few feet away from the car to afford them a closer look, raising its head to show off its magnificent antlers.

“Okay, help me out here Mom, what were those things called? Deer? Moose?”

“Elk,” Helen’s voice, barely above a whisper, answered, transfixed by the animal.

She was transported by a sudden memory back to age 10. She and her little sister Laura sat on the back porch of their uncle’s cabin in Williams, Arizona, not an hour’s drive from the real Grand Canyon. It was morning, still early, and chilly. Helen wore her mother’s coat. The adults were sleeping in, so she and Laura had come out to the porch to color. She was focused hard on her drawing when she heard Laura gasp.

“Helen, look!”

Down at the edge of the yard, a small herd of elk, six in total, were picking their way across the scrubby grass. They walked across the yard in a single file line, coming within thirty feet of the porch as the girls watched in amazement. The last elk in line, a young buck, changed course and started ambling straight toward the porch.

“Helen… Helen, what’s it doing?” Laura whispered anxiously, tugging on Helen’s oversized sleeve.

“Shh! You’ll scare him away,” Helen replied, not taking her eyes off the elk as he walked closer, closer. She had never seen one up close before. She wondered whether he would stop. She wondered if she should feel afraid. She didn’t.

When he was within ten feet, Laura bolted inside. “I’m getting Mom!” she yelled over her shoulder, letting the back door bang shut. The noise stopped the elk momentarily, his ears flicking forward and back. But soon he continued and closed the gap between them, even clop-clopping his front hooves up the two wooden porch steps until he was nearly muzzle to nose with Helen.

“Hi?” she said quietly, not knowing what else to say and barely daring to breathe. He was young, judging by the fuzz on his small rack of antlers, but even so he would have towered over her on even ground. She could feel his warm breath on her face, and one large eye blinked at her questioningly. She felt around in her mother’s coat pocket and found a snack for her baby brother, a bag of animal crackers. She held one out to him flat on her palm, and giggled with delight as he slurped it up with a soft pink tongue.

The rest of the herd had stopped at the edge of the property and stood watching this exchange. Finally one of them made a sound, something between a cough and snort, and this broke the spell. Helen’s buck backed down off of the steps and loped off to join the others, just as Laura returned, having woken the rest of the house to come and see.

She was pulled back into the present by another gasp, this one from Maisie. “What’s wrong with it? What’s it doing?”

The not-elk outside the window was attempting to go through its normally programmed subroutine -- walk, stand majestically, paw the ground, shake its head -- but instead all of the actions were trying to happen at once. The effect was a glitchy, jerking motion like something from a horror film, with extra heads and limbs sprouting and then collapsing, unnatural movements repeating at five times the normal speed.

“It’s nothing to be afraid of dear, just a glitch,” Jason reassured, adding under his breath, “No wonder, cheap government-contracted coders.”

As if sensing their unease, the car continued on and even picked up some speed, putting some distance between them and the glitch-elk. After a few moments of driving through the picturesque landscape, they arrived at a scenic overlook where they could get out and view one of the wonders of the world.

Helen’s family approached the rim of the canyon, with quiet exclamations of “wow,” and “amazing,” and “would you look at that” as they drank in the beauty as far as they could see in both directions. Helen reflexively put one arm around each of her grandchildren, despite knowing there wasn’t really an edge they could fall off. This illusion was more skillfully programmed than the elk.

Tyler at last broke the silence, asking “Is this really what it looked like, Grandma?”

Tears welled up in her eyes. No, no! she wanted to shout. Nothing like this! This is like looking at a faded postcard, like someone’s vacation photo. You’ll never see the real thing. We stole it from you. We sold your future, and you’ll never even know the difference.

But as she looked down into the beaming faces of her descendants, the ones she loved and had failed, the tears spilled down her cheeks. “Yes,” she breathed. “Yes, it looked just like this.”

Apr 30, 2006

Overhead and Southbound
922 words

The kids were in the backyard playing hide-and-seek when, in a fluttering hush, the first shadows of the starlings appeared over the horizon. It was hubris to think that we’d be safe today, but the evening was beautiful after it’d rained for a straight week, and kids need a chance to run around.

Now I just hoped that Judy and Michelene still had the strength to run, that they could read the signs as the rooks dropped from the sky and plummeted into the pines. I’d forced Judy through drills twenty, thirty times – the best route to the tunnels, the posture to take to fool the drones, the tricks with your breathing you’d have to practice if you came face to face with a crow. When she struggled, when she didn’t pay attention, I’d squeeze her hand so tightly she’d squeal, and I’d just say Remember what happened to Daddy. But Michelene was only five, and I didn’t think she had the muscle memory yet.

I’d lost them in the wood; and perhaps, under the shadows of the trees, they wouldn’t even notice the near beating of the wings, the silent alarm of the driverless ambulances as they pulled up beside each house, the unified stark bolting of the town’s rows of houses.

The drones would be here in less than a minute, and I should have plied open the trapdoor beneath the porch before I’d be caught. You have to take care of yourself, Leo said. If you don’t take care of yourself first, I’ll haunt you.

Instead I pulled my hood up, took a deep breath, and took off at a running sprint into the forest.


The woods were dense with the corpses of broken-winged birds. Their bodies would drop from the boughs, a few every second, an avian rain of flesh, feathers, and claws. There was no sign of Judy or Michelene. No childish yelps, no calls of Mom!.

Probably they’d gotten away. We’d walked through all the entrances in the drills. There was one in the gardening cabin on the outskirts, which was easy to find in an Event. I’d walked Judy past it before and she’d declared it Her House, so I hoped she’d recognize it now, know what to do, help her sister inside. I hoped, I hoped, I hoped.

A blasted-eyed raven, still half-twitching, fell on my head as I made my way through the thicket toward that cabin. Its claws opened up a slash of a cut in my cheek, and I swore loudly as the bird dropped to the ground. And, as I looked up, I caught the hole in the canopy, the sunlight blotted out by the stream of falling blackbirds, and – my heart jumped – the metallic propellers of a medical drone.

The net was on me before I could react; heavy and sticky, pressing me down against the forest’s floor, feathers, blood, and pine needles pressing into my face.


Judy was four years old when Leo was netted. Leo’s car had broken down on the road leading into town, and he’d had to walk. It had been just a year since the last Event, so he thought he was safe – and then the birds came, and then their tailing drones, and he’d been captured, stuck on the side of the road for eighteen hours without food or drink until he was collected.

Three days later we’d gotten a notice that he was afflicted; a month later, we got the notice of his passing. I thought about what he must have felt as he lay there, while I lay still under the net, meeting the cold black eyes of some unidentifiable blackbird. Mostly I’d underestimated the stench. The birds smelled like sewage, like they were coated in poo poo. I didn’t understand how there were always more of them.

And then, even as the birds continued to fall all around, adding weight to the net, I heard it – just once, but there all the same:

“I want to go home.”

Michelene – it had to be Michelene, probably trapped under another net, screaming out for help. I struggled, twisting the accessible strings of the net between my fingers, probing for a weak point, but I’d never figured out what to do once we got to this point, once the net had actually fallen. All of my preparations involved getting us the gently caress out, away from the birds and the drones, the panic.

“Baby, I’m here. We’re going to get you out of this, we’re going to get out. Where are you, baby?”

“I’m right here.”

I opened my eyes, and let out a high squeak. One of the eyes of one of the dead birds had turned human, iris and twitching pupil. And from its beak came a strained, androgynous human voice:

“I want to go home. I’m tired of the same routine.”

Not Michelene. A different voice, something that reminded me of everyone I’d ever known.

At the edge of the forest I could make out the flashing lights of a driverless ambulance, but the forest was too dense for it to make it through and collect me.

I hoped Judy was cradling Michelene inside of a warm tunnel right now, eating a can of Spaghetti-Os and telling fairy-tales for memory. When I turned to the bird, a phrase on my tongue, I tried to forget that, and I listened carefully to the secrets of the universe.

a friendly penguin
Feb 1, 2007

trolling for fish

Word Count: 1395

a friendly penguin fucked around with this message at 01:29 on Jan 1, 2020

magic cactus
Aug 3, 2019

We lied. We are not at war. There is no enemy. This is a rescue operation.


811 words

Hellrule: in your story, Ferrets are revered as Gods



Two shapes crossing the road ahead, both little more than black silhouettes picked up by the front facing camera. One large, one small, barely a suggestion of a creature. The probability weights in the network cash out as 85% likely the tall one is human. The small one is 95% likely to be a small woodland creature, a squirrel perhaps. Further calculations suggest an optimal path around the human if the small creature is taken out. Microseconds of processing to adjust traction control, make the swerve a little smoother. A perfunctory horn honk. The lights illuminate the human for a split second, glinting off the glass of a bottle of distilled spirits (45% alcohol by volume. Heavily intoxicated. Probably homeless.) The microphone rig picks up slurred shouts of surprise, object tracking predicts the startle reflex, the swerve surprisingly gentle. A slight bump as the tires go over the body of the squirrel(?) and nothing of value is lost. Inside the cabin the microphone array picks up a male voice with an abnormally high level of stress hormones, a single word barked out:
Adjust route. Pull over to the shoulder and wait.


Sensors indicate the front passenger door opens for approximately three seconds, then closes. A figure on the camera. Male Mid 30’s. Close cropped blonde hair. 5’10, 146lbs. He goes toward the drunk, Reassures him. Sensors pick up a quickening in the blonde man’s pulse as he goes toward the body of the squirrel(?). The man bends down and picks up the body, cradling it to his chest. His shoulders heave up and down in what has a 50% chance to be laughter or sadness. The camera picks up the glint of tears sliding down his face. He removes a flask from his jacket pocket and sprinkles the body of the creature with oil. Taking off his jacket he wraps the creature in it with tender care and gingerly sets the bundle down in the dirt. The trunk opens and closes and the man returns carrying a small spade. The cameras watch as he falls to his knees and begins to dig, pausing occasionally to wipe the sweat from his face. The bundle is lowered into the hole, the hole filled in, some more oil drizzled over the fresh earth. Object tracking follows him as the front side door opens once more and he gets back in the passenger seat. A shaky voice, stress levels critical:

“Call Marie”

Three minutes before telephone connection is established.


A voice, slightly drunk. Female. Mid 40’s:


“Marie. We’re in trouble.”

“What’s going on? Is everything okay over there?”

“No, in fact, everything is very much not okay.” Pause for breath, approximately 2 seconds “Your baby just killed a Putor during the night drive test. Think it might have been a kit too”

Intake of breath on the other line. Muttered curses

“How could this happen? We uploaded the rules to the neural net—“

“Emergent action undertaken by the net. It swerved to avoid a drunk pedestrian, probably didn’t even have time to do the necessary background scan”

“Did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so. The bum ran off once I confirmed he was unhurt. I buried the Putor in accordance with the scriptures. No one but you and I knows what happened here tonight.”

A heavy sigh. Resignation. “Wrong. They know. You know what they demand for this. There are rules. I’m sorry.”


Calculate optimal route toward the new destination. Wheels in motion. Search database for keywords Putor,kit. 6 million hits in 1.2 seconds. Filter for most relevant. Putor: Mustela putorius furo. Common Ferret. Offspring commonly referred to as kit. Punishment for killing a ferret kit:


The network infers that the human might have death anxiety. Browse through music library for most calming soundtrack. Result: Jazz.
Kenny G plays softly over the sound system, the counterpoint to muffled sobs.



The camera feed shows the road gradually melt into rough forest paths, untrod by humans for a good long while. Deeper into the undergrowth. Thermal picks up what appears to be a blob, before resolving into groups of ferrets. Untold hundreds. They slink alongside, silent and watchful. Eventually arrive at a glade. Pull in. Windows down. They stream in, inquisitive. Hungry. The soft targets go first: eyes, mouth, stomach, genitals. The vocal cords severed mid-scream. Everything after that is bad theater, grotesque. Not even bone left behind. Navigation pings with an update from home base. New destination: Car Wash.

Adjust route and set off. The sun rises high in the sky to the soft strains of jazz.


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

The Mourning Shift
1295 words
Hellrule: In your story, all horses have five legs.

I'm on ash-scatterer duty today, but I'm running late, and I don't get a chance to read up on the deceased until I'm on the crawler, a half-hour from the memorial site. I don't like cutting it this close, but it's a short dossier, and maybe I'll have time to concentrate on it. I open up and start reading about the woman I'm laying to rest today.

Ella Trauhelka Booker died at 97, of telomeric exhaustion (no surprise). She was garden-caste, a handheld-screen cultivator, and then a choral singer and mural installer in her later years. Two spouses, one divorced, one predeceased; no children of choice, but three genebank kids, one of whom became her choice-nephew. No responses to the funeral invitation, which seems odd. Her picture looks friendly enough: a pale-skinned smiling old woman, beaded flower barette in her patchy white hair. Right now, she's somewhere on the conveyor going through Preparatory, removing her implants and getting her ready for the furnace. No loved ones coming to see her off, but she won't be alone.

I don't like shifts where it's just pros in the funeral courtyard. When there are no amateur mourners to take cues from, a lot of the newbies stumble; even I'm feeling uncertain as the crawler's claw-wheels fall silent underneath me and the door opens for my stop. I'm out on the platform when I see my saving grace: a Multimedia link at the bottom of the dossier. I tap it. It's her choir music. I plug in my earbuds and listen to Ella.

It's beautiful. I can't pick her voice out, but that doesn't matter -- she was a part of this. Now I can be a part of her goodbye.

By the time I've changed and stepped into the memorial courtyard, I think I'm ready. It's fairly full -- with four minutes left until go time, it had better be -- but I don't recognize most of this crowd; I think they're garden- or greenhouse-caste, closer to Ella's. I lick my finger and rub at the caste tattoo on my cheek, an old childish nervous tic, and tell myself I'm senior here. I'm the ash-scatterer. I step onto the platform next to the head celebrant, and thirty seconds later, the arrival chime goes off. Ella's here.

The undulating flesh of the conveyor belt carries her in, draped in her thin shroud of enriched linen. The head celebrant begins his stock litany, and by "we honor the passing of a child of the spheres," tears are flowing down my cheeks by both reflex and effort. The others are falling into step, and soon we start to merge into the perfect grief vibe, the feeling of ourselves as emissaries of the world remembering one of its children. Someone in the back is keening. I just sob; I've never been a show-off. The conveyor belt churns on and carries Ella slowly through the courtyard, towards the waiting furnace.

"From growth you came," says the head celebrant, "and to growth you shall return." Ella -- a child of our sphere, our mother and sister, who sang in choirs and set up murals and did a hundred things I'll never know -- disappears into the flames. The courtyard falls quiet; the moment's gone, and now we're just individuals again, professional mourners without an active case. The others probably have a full day of ceremonies lined up, but I'm ash-scattering, and I'll be with Ella all day.

I go to change and wash my face. The furnace takes a while; may as well take a breather while I can.


Twenty minutes later, a ping on my phone summons me back to the courtyard. The furnacemaster hands me the ashes, packaged in celloboard, and then a sealed syringe. "She wanted to be scattered far out," she says. "You're authorized for a horse."

The horse they lead me to is the kind of one-off prototype the Memorial Department usually gets stuck with: candy-pink and blue-maned, an entertainment model for sure, but with the heavy center core and thick legs of a work animal. A kids' cart-puller, maybe? It whinnies as I step towards its head, lowering it for a scratch behind the ears, even as the legs on the rest of its vertices prance impatiently. "Good friend," I whisper, before I open the syringe and plunge it into the horse's neck, injecting the chemical brew that encodes the coordinates to our destination. The horse doesn't seize or startle -- better than some of the models I've ridden in this job. "Good buddy," I say, and mount up.

"Away we go!" calls the horse in a shrill voice -- yep, definitely an entertainment model -- and leaps from the launchpad to the rooftop in one fluid jump, almost before I can get the shields down over my seat. I don't ride horses enough to ever get used to the sensation of it, the sudden jumps and swift descents, and the tight mid-air turns with the back rudder-leg. I lean in to slip my arms into the control gauntlets and hold tight to the horse's neck, wishing again I'd been born high-caste enough to be a horse handler or cultivator. Maybe I'll at least have the cash to buy one, one of these days -- a one-off like this one, possibly?

I lose myself in it, the motion and the daydreaming, until I realize just how far we're going. The compass says we're 55 degrees around the subsphere by now, with 47 to go; the whole trip's two hours by horse and at least a day by commuter crawler. If this was Ella's neighborhood, no wonder none of her friends showed up. (I wonder, for a moment, what she was doing dying in one of our district's hospices, but it's not my place to question the dead.) I've got an hour, but I've been too self-indulgent, and I've got to get my head back in the game. I pull my arms back into the shield-bubble and turn on Ella's music again. It's still gorgeous, and I'm starting to pick up the syllables now, some archaic language under the tones.

I try to carry something with me from everyone I mourn for. I already know that, for Ella, it's going to be the music.

We set down, feather-gentle, on a touchdown pad in a moss-and-stone district I don't recognize: garden-caste territory, for sure. The horse trots across the street and down a block, to an open park-courtyard lined by buildings and murals on three sides. Are those hers? The designs are abstract, shifting shapes of burgundy and gold light, and the screens are neatly trimmed and even. The benches around the central fountain-bloom are unoccupied; it's getting late, but not late enough for garden-casters to be out of work, I guess? They're the highest caste who can't afford to miss it. I wonder if Ella's choice-nephew is thinking of his mother-aunt right now.

There's always a ritual to scattering ashes, and today I choose to walk in a slow spiral, starting at the edge of the fountain and moving out. The horse watches me from the sidewalk, and at the edges of my vision, I see people stopping to watch as well. I've got an audience. I do the only thing I can think of: I start singing Ella's song, sounding out the strange words, trying to capture the heart of the music.

The horse joins me. It's got a nicer singing voice than I do, a sweet soprano, and it knows how to harmonize. Its rudder-leg beats a slow dirge rhythm out on the stone of the sidewalk. I walk, and we sing, and the crowd watches us lay Ella to rest.

Some days at work are better than others, but ash-scattering days are always my favorite.

Anomalous Amalgam
Feb 13, 2015

by Nyc_Tattoo

Doctor Rope

The Fall From Grace
747 Words
Hell Rule: Only dogs can be docs

Donovan downed a cheap Alpo Vodka pack in a quick, inebriation seeking, gulp. Chicken stock with swirling chunks of mass-produced meat product, packaged neatly in a bath of lukewarm vodka.

He drank a lot more than should have, but ever since the board ruled A.M.P. (Autonomous Medical Physician) Units safer surgeons than the surgeons themselves, he had become a glorified attendant, respected in title only. He had been getting sloppy though.

He trot into the room all fours panting and barking with chicken tinged vodka hot on his breath. At this point, drunkenness was expected from him, but the domesticated house pet routine was downright insulting and widely frowned upon since the
bio-lift incident left humans sniveling supplicants with all the intelligence of a sea-sponge, and well… every other insect, rodent and beast to lead posthumanity with their borrowed intelligence.

His colleague, and former romantic partner, Rebecca rolled her eyes, de-gloved and left the operating theater. Donovan cleared his throat awkwardly as he took in a series of contempt-filled glares.

Not addressing the nurse staff or the other surgeons who definitely think him an overrated fool, he turned his attention to the device that threatened the careers of everyone present.

“A.M.P., Patient diagnostics, please.”

“Patient is a human female, aged 36, found outside the quarantine zone.”

“And she’s here for surgery because?” Donovan interrupted.

Redmond, A descendent of the pre-lift Shar Pei, barked irritably before protesting. “If you weren’t such a drunken idiot, you might have noticed she was pregnant.”

The other surgeons in the theater snicker.

“That… that’s not possible?” Donovan asked, more than he stated, genuinely shocked.

Silence fell on the room.

“The records I’ve accessed on the human reproductive cycle indicate that this woman is not yet full term. Initial abdominal ultrasounds estimate that she is about 32 weeks along.” The A.M.P. answered.

“I repeat, that’s not possible. The bio-lift rendered them sexually inert.”

“Well, perk your ears up. She’s pregnant and something is wrong with her.” Redmond answered.

Donovan bared a mouth full of teeth ready for a confrontation but yawned dismissively and instead focused on Rebecca who had never really been too far from the operating room.

“She needs us. She doesn’t seem to be any smarter than the other devolved humans, but knew that she needed help, and regardless of how or even why, we are the only bio-lifted capable of doing it.”

Donovan shook his snout in disbelief.

“This is a HUMAN, for crying out loud! Call animal services, the zoo, your state senator, I don’t really give a drat, but this is not our responsibility.”

“Her body temperature is rising, and scans indicate that…”

“gently caress your scans, A.M.P. and gently caress this. The board says these machines are safer at our job than us, let it do the procedure.”

“Just go, you are a real piece of poo poo, Don.” Rebecca growled, the other surgeons grouped with rigid tails, pointed ears and lips that quivered in anticipation over fangs.

Donovan’s eyes darted about everyone in the room, and he howled loudly before leaping at some of the other surgeons in provocation, but they stood firm and he retreated with his tail between his leg and ears low towards his skull.

He tore open the seal on the other Alpo pack he had tucked away and watched from outside the operating room, downing the contents bitterly. The alcohol sluiced across his tongue and down his throat, burning with chicken flavored aftertaste.


Donovan had nodded off briefly, but when he stirred nearly an hour later the A.M.P. unit was lowering a tiny pink-tan glob of screeching human meat into a warmer. The surgeons worked to sew up the mostly unconscious woman as the A.M.P. provided a number of salves and treatments to the newborn, measuring, weighing and evaluating all at once.

It even finished suturing up the woman, almost forcibly pushing the other surgeons aside.

Donovan wanted to go back into the operating theater and bark “I told you so,” but settled for knowing that he was right. No matter the fool he made of himself, they were being replaced. The best, the brightest, and even the most useless.

He pat his jacket for another Alpo pack and came up empty. Redmond handed him one and sat down with his own.

The two sat in silence, watching as an intelligent machine held the first human born in over a decade. Their time at the top suddenly seeming all too brief, and threatened.

Apr 21, 2010

Yes, the good words are gone.

Why are the good words gone?!

Fully-Automated Twenty-First Century Man

977 words

"You're in, what, fifty serious-casual relationships right now?" said Isobel. We were in Paris, interwar, a cozy casual breakfast nook, as was our custom on Mondays.

"Sixty-two," I said.

Isobel rolled her eyes and sighed. "Sixty-two, then. So what makes this one so special?"

It was a good question. I am on intimate terms with, as I said, sixty-two people right now, with many more in the past, and even when they're interacting with my 'bots, it's me I'm putting out there. I don't keep secrets. But nobody knows me like my sister.

I tried to explain.

"She asked you if you're happy?" she asked. "You're telling me the mighty Colin King fell hard over some manic pixie bot 1.0 kind of line?"

"It wasn't just that. It wasn't just a question. It was a look, a particular context. A moment."

"You would know, I guess," she said. She consumed the last of her croissant. I took a swallow of juice. "Are you?" she asked. "Happy, I mean."

I didn't have any better answer for her than I had for Joanne.

I switched back to my natural sensorium and poured out a shake. The eight-eight-eight schedule for real, virtual, and sleep time isn't enough for a truly good balance. Any imbalance between your natch and virt body can break the illusion, start to warp sensations. Even being hungrier in one than the other. Or getting different amounts of exercise. I wasn't ready to face Tower 11 yet. I did a short workout, took a long shower, then switched over for a date. Glenda, this time. I slipped in quietly, taking over for my 'bot as updates on the conversation scrolled across my field of vision.

I like Glenda. She's fun, funny, and real. A good conversation, a new way of thinking about an old favorite book. A cuddle, a long kiss, and what follows after. Then back to natch senses, after she fell asleep or switched out herself.

I went down to the lobby, to see my neighbors. It was a bit of a horror show. Franklin from the ninth floor was trying to organize the weekly orgy, collecting RSVPs. A couple hours of kids from fourteen were peddling bootleg booze and pills for luxury allowance credits. Mostly people were pairing up to spend time together petting therapy dogs, playing checkers, bridge, or chess, or else a tightly-scripted sexual assignation. Anything to pass through their daily eights.

I sometime partook. Everyone here is a stranger, since Dad passed ten years back. Even his friends are barely-remembered names. There's something exciting about taking a stranger to bed, something compelling about the extra rituals of safety in a natch-side coupling. And it did tick the clock. But I passed, just picking up my mail and going back to the elevator, back to my twentieth floor apartment.

I passed some time reading, alone, waiting for the time appointed, waiting for Joanne.


"So how did it go?" asked Isobel. It was Tuesday, so we broke our fast in Manhattan, in a far more enlightened version of the fifties than history had provided. "Are you at long last going to settle down?"

"She doesn't want to get married," I said. "She told me that right away."

"So what does she want?"

"Me," I said, smiling crookedly. "That's what she said. 'You. I want you.' And then, later..."

"What?" she said at the pause.

"She want to meet. Natch-side meet."

"So she's either crazy or crazy rich. Working rich," said Isobel. "Which is it?"

"She wouldn't say," I said. It was a lot of money. Round trip travel anywhere worth going, fuel costs and security from dronespace, all together it meant saving luxury creds for more than a year.

We were both thinking the same thing. I had never hugged my sister natch-side, never been in a room with mother, never even seen my nephew, still too young for the rig. The sacrifice required would be too immense to rationally feel guilty about not doing, not for a second, and besides, with the full sensorium interface, our brains couldn't tell the difference, that was the whole point. We weren't superstitious, weren't naturalist cultists or hipsters. It wasn't rational to feel guilty at all.

We are our greasy-spoon ham and eggs in silence.

I was restless all day, worrying at worst-case scenarios: jealous partners or obsessed exes, bizarre catfishing improbabilities. I mostly dismissed them all. Then I thought about the question. Really thought about it. I've known happy people. Artists and audiences at a campfire story circle or packed stadium. Isobel, when she talks about Piotr. Father was a happy man until the day he died, dancing in Virt with Mother from his bed. I enjoyed things, what I did daily, but was that the same?


Thursday, Pompeii with Vesuvius rumbling and smoking behind a decadent and anachronistic feast. Isobel waiting, impatiently tapping her foot.

"It was a job offer," I said.

"What, to make you some kind of gigolo?"

I cracked a smile. "The world's greatest. They want to productize my 'bots, the conversational and the physical. Help develop gender variants with a team. They like my coding style, say I've done things that the AI geeks are still stuck on. Then she said I might work on recruitment, put her out of a job. She's almost pensioned up already, and that's longer term, and-"

"So you're taking the job?" she asked.

"I think I am. Still not sure if I want the two day week remote option or to move to their arcology and do four, pension up twice as fast, but-"

"And are you?" she asked. "Happy?"

"Ask me in a year," I said. "I think I may be starting to understand what that may mean, though."

The volcanic blew smoke but did not erupt. It never did, on Thursdays.

Anomalous Blowout
Feb 13, 2006


It makes no attempt to sound human. It is atoms and stars.


The Next Best Thing
1426 words

This story edited from the thread for search engine anonymity reasons.
You can read it in the TD archive here!

Anomalous Blowout fucked around with this message at 05:00 on Dec 30, 2019

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007




Sitting here v crimea

sebmojo posted:

I will judge this and the prompt will be: What is left to do after the war is over and we are all content at last.

up to 2000 words, due 15 September 2019 at 2359 PST

1000 words

The grassy field behind our father’s house is frosted silver by the emanations of the Milky Way. For a moment, I allow myself to escape into a pleasant mental image: the stars pouring down, washing me from my skin, stripping away everything man-made, rendering me into clean, primordial light.

I’m tugged from this vision by the sound of shoes shuffling through long grass, a shuddering intake of breath. My little sister tosses a length of hose down between us as though she’s divesting herself of a serpent.

“I couldn’t go back inside to turn the lights off,” she says, her voice thick with nausea. “But it’s not right to have them on. Like the house has eyes, and they’re open.”

I glance back at the house, where the windows still glow merrily with warm, domestic light.

“I’ll turn the lights off before we go.” The placid confidence in my own voice takes me by surprise, but surprise quickly swells into wonder at my own formidability; I have done the unthinkable, the unspeakable, and come out of it having realized, for the first time in my life, my truest self.

There’s a free-standing spigot near a defunct patch of dirt that was once our vegetable garden. To the spigot’s rusty nozzle I affix the hose, grimacing with the effort—it’s been a long time since anyone thought to irrigate this wizened plot of earth.

Moments later, the hose comes alive with a brisk gush of water. My sister holds out stained, trembling hands.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I soothe as I rinse the rust-colored filth from her skin. “You only tried to comfort him at the end. This blood should be on my hands.”

“I prayed he would die.” Her voice collapses into a whisper on the word ‘die’.

“Answering prayers is what big sisters do. We’re the closest thing this world’s got to angels.”

She looks up at me, eyes panic-wide, the whites reflecting the gauzy canopy of stars above. “Why did I try to help him if I wanted him to die? Where did you get a gun?”

“Rub your hands together under the water,” I urge her. “It’ll get the mess off you faster.”

She drags one hand over the other as though she’s trying to free her bones from over-tight gloves of flesh. Gouts of bloodied water fall to the dusty earth between unruly stalks of grass. Soon, her skin is wet and pink as a baby’s, glistening palely in the late moonlight, and yet I wish I could clean deeper. I want to scrub our father’s blood not only from her skin, but from her veins, leaving her truly cleansed of the insanity in our lineage.

Once her hands are clean, my sister laughs despairingly and says, “What the hell is life after something like this? Where do we go?”

“I’ve been in touch with Mom,” I tell her. “Got an address. Turns out she’s been over in Yakima this whole time.”

My sister and I never blamed our mom for leaving without a word. Hated her for it, but never blamed her. She probably didn’t even think it through; I like to imagine she came out of a fugue somewhere on eastbound I-90, realized she was free, and burned joyful rubber to whatever new life awaited her beyond the horizon.

“Mom?” My sister says the word carefully, like it might turn to shards of glass on her tongue.

“Nine-oh-five south forty-fourth avenue, unit one-ten” I say, “right across from the new high school. Our girl is doing well over there. Her apartment complex ’s even got a pool.”

“She said she’ll take us in?”

I wipe my sister’s hands dry with the cuffs of my sweatshirt. “We gotta go separately. You leave first. I’ll stick around and tidy up, meet you at Mom’s place once it’s safe.”

“I’m not going without you,” she says defiantly, looking into my eyes with sisterly skepticism.

“You’re the one who got loving DNA evidence all over your hands,” I snap. “I’m trying to place you as far from the scene of the crime as possible as soon as possible, get it?”

Her gaze turns inward, the sudden horror in her eyes recalling those last gurgling, bloody moments of our father’s life. “Yeah. But,” she swallows, “how will you get there if I take Dad’s car?”

“Gonna get a ride from a guy I know,” I say, waving her off. “Dumb, cute, and knows not to ask questions.”

“Nine-oh-five south forty-fourth avenue, unit one-ten” my sister repeats. “You promise someone’ll be there for us?”

“Mom’s there.”

“For us?”

“She’s our mother. And she’s going to act like it.”

It takes a little more convincing, but soon my sister is safely ensconced in our father’s car, chewing highway en route to Yakima. The address, as far as I know is legit; I never talked to Mom, but the private investigator assured me the unit was populated by one Sarah Renee, maiden name McClaughlin. Our mother.

The gun I disassemble, lock, and put safely away with the full ammunition cartridge I purchased in advance of our father’s termination. His body still lay face-down on the kitchen floor where I shot him dead, one arm outstretched as though he might still deliver that back-hand meant for my sister’s cheek—if only someone would prop him upright again.

I spit on the space between his shoulder blades, then get to work at the stove, coating the burners in cooking spray and setting them to the highest heat setting.

As the kitchen catches fire, I sit on the floor at my father’s side, daring the heat and the pain to touch me; it does not. I am too much myself to feel pain, now. Too much my father’s daughter. As the flames grow into a hot, smoky garden around me, it’s as though all of heaven is pressing down, the stars scouring the broken blood of a broken man from my veins, and, with the last dredges of air in the burning house, I laugh.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

1300 words

They worked out how to unlock the machine brain inside us and just like that everything changed.

It wasn’t even that hard; a couple of pills and some acupressure on the right spot (just below the Xyphoid Process) and the foggy cloud of human morality just sloughed away, like a man taking off his jacket on a hot day. It spread fast, because there was no reason not to make the choice. Gazers were smarter, faster, sharper, better than everyone else and the treatment was basically free because the inventor donated it to the world.

“We are humans together,” said Dr Caius Wolfheim in the famous TV interview where he announced it, and made a tossing away gesture. “To be human is to change.”

I was on the edge of the Providential Life building, swaying in the 54 story morning breeze and pondering this statement, when my phone rang. I looked down at the teeming streets and wondered if I’d get to answer it before impact (yes, said my brain like a dog doing a trick). But, instead of jumping, I pulled out my phone; Meredith.

“I’m about to jump off a building,” I said. “What can I do for you.”

Meredith was in the middle of a stream of words, sounded like she was talking to multiple people at once, interleaving they called it. It was easy enough to decode the message.

“I need you / we were / to double the / I was at school / supposed to meet / analytic / when the gunman arrived / function, use sine zeta for the / for lunch where are you / we hid under desks but he went from room to room / outflow,” she said.

“I know we were supposed to meet for lunch,” I explained. “But I have to jump off this building.”

The words stopped. I held the phone out over the drop, let the wind tug at it, then Meredith’s voice barked out of it and I put it back to my ear. I told her where I was and she hung up.

The problem, of course, was hope. Hope was an irrational part of the brain and gazers didn’t have it. Something about the Wolfheim Treatment took away the possibility of hope because everything either was, or it wasn’t. A lot of people could handle it; I couldn’t, and that was simply that. Meredith would be coming up the lift soon, and my helpful labrador brain catalogued all her lines of argument in perfect pivot table logic. None of them equated to staying alive. It didn’t bother me, it just was like a rock or a pond, it just was. You drop a rock in a pond and it sinks, a parallel that (it occurred to me as the door from the stairway behind me slammed open) had particular and imminent relevance to my own situation.

I waved at Meredith and sat down on the edge of the parapet. She swung a leg over and settled down beside me, then rocked forward to peer over the edge.

“207 metres. You wouldn’t even hit terminal velocity.” She sounded disappointed, or was pretending she was for comic effect. Gazers didn’t lose their sense of humour, because humour was a system and machines understood systems, but the occasions where it was an appropriate response to a situation narrowed a lot. Meredith had clearly decided this was one of them. “Would you go head first?”

“Would you change, if you could?” I looked at her clear direct gaze, eyes like chips of green paint without a speck of self-doubt or uncertainty.

“No,” she said. “It’s impossible so there’s no point speculating.”

“That’s it, isn’t it? We’ve closed ourselves off from nonsense. We know the result before we throw the dice, so why bother throwing it at all?” I kicked my heels against the pebble dash of the parapet once, twice. Meredith frowned and I realised I was moving myself a little bit towards the drop, shuffling my bum towards the void so I stopped, and we listened to the wind together for a while..

“I don’t want you to die,” she said. It looked like she had a lot of other things to say, but they were stopping each other getting out of her brain. “I want you to keep living.”

I thought of what I could say, and what she could say, and what I would say to that, my machine brain pinballing down ever more distant branches of move and countermove and each one ended in no change to anything that mattered, so I lifted my shoulders up and let gravity drag them down.

Meredith looked out across the morning city with her cold clear eyes like shiny green leaves and I saw a tear come down from one and get dragged sideways across her face by the wind. She was quiet for a long time.

“There are no acceptable avenues,” she said at last. “This can’t be because I won’t let it.”

“You could get me locked up,” I offered. “They could give me drugs and you could visit on Thursdays or whenever the visiting day is.” I knew it wouldn’t work but I didn’t like to see her cry. She hadn’t cried since she’d had the Treatment, two days after I came home from the clinic clear-eyed and full of certainty.

“That is a bad idea.” She said it, and I knew she was right because of course she was, it was a terrible idea. She wiped her eyes. “I’m going to jump too.”

The wind stilled for a moment, and I put both my hands on the parapet, to steady myself. “No, that’s a bad idea. What do you mean? You have your work, your book, you need to finish them. You couldn’t do that if you jumped.” My labrador was panting, uncertain. I couldn’t tell what was going to happen and it was jarring. It had been such a long time since that had happened, years so I gaped at her, the wind echoing inside my mouth as my jaw hung open.

“It's the correct choice. I don't choose to live without you, so I won't." She held out her hand.

I didn't take it. "I will be a murderer. You will make me a murderer."

She looked at me, her gaze like the sea.

The wind was strong now, like it was tiring of me, of us. I took her hand and, slowly, we stood up. My stomach hurt. I had a sense of an ice axe smashing something away inside me and I looked at Meredith and I knew, with absolute bone-deep certainty that she would jump if I did and we would fall to the street below and shatter ourselves on the immutable certainty of the ground. She was poised, ready.

I didn't know what to do.

Then, with a happy yelp the labrador inside my brain bounded up, a sheaf of possible futures in its jaws. None of them had Meredith leaping to her death. Only a few of them had me doing likewise. I took a step back from the brink, knees shaking, and selected the one on top.

"Would you like," I asked, "to go to lunch?"

After a moment Meredith nodded.

Black Griffon
Mar 12, 2005

Edit: -ish

Black Griffon fucked around with this message at 07:09 on Sep 16, 2019


Apr 11, 2012



Flesnolk fucked around with this message at 06:35 on Sep 18, 2019

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