I'm in. Flash, please!
|# ? Nov 21, 2023 12:18|
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 09:22|
Week #589 Crits
“Syzygy” - The Cut of Your Jib
Birth, death, anarchy, and loss - all in the flash of a shooting star.
Song: "Turn On the Dark" - Nick Shoulders
-Framing device is neat, and reminded me a little of Gravity’s Rainbow, especially the mix of scientific and poetic language (“delineating hope from the 59 hundred K.a color a temperature a scattering”).
- Love a lot of the imagery. It may be word salad, but at least it's (usually) tasty word salad.
-The leap between the ice machine and 1983 Berlin is the kind of left turn I like, and could potentially give us a greater sense of time and place for whoever this narrator is.
-There is a sense of mystery here, like all of these moments are clues to something, that grabs my attention.
-The problem isn’t that there’s no narrative: it’s that I can’t tell if there’s supposed to be no narrative. Does that make sense? The focus was on vibes over plot this week but I still found this confusing, even when I was enjoying some of the places it was going. You can make something abstract like this work but there wasn’t enough of a sense of intentionality behind it.
-I appreciate that you didn’t name-check the song like some of the other entries, but this goes in the other direction in that I’m not sure there’s enough of the prompt in here at all. And it doesn’t really match the vibes of “bequest” or “Turn On the Dark” for me.
-Did not like the bit about third-person/first-person perspective and narrative. It felt unnecessary and show-offy. Same with the mention of “quadrophenia”: "quadrophonic sound" would work a lot better, since the former is just the name of the album by the Who and doesn't really mean anything here (it's a great album, though).
-If I were to be pretentious for a moment, I could see this as an attempt at literary cubism: lots of neatly drawn little squares. On the other hand, ARE all these snippets supposed to tell us a larger story? The “chains of cotton” and doctor erasing a memory seem to suggest this is someone’s perspective, but of course we don’t know who. We 100% do NOT need a clear explanation of what’s going on, but there does have to be some more shape. Either commit to the idea of this being a bunch of fragments or maybe just add some more connective tissue.
-Who is speaking, and who are they speaking to? An astronaut falling into a black hole? An observer of a doomsday asteroid? Florian Schneider? Is one life ending, or the entire universe? Any of this could be cool.
-If you already know who the narrator of this story is, then we need to stay within the boundaries of that person’s mind and memory (maybe resist the temptation to drop references they wouldn’t). I could also see this being a paranoid Phillip K. Dick-esque story about memory erasure and fear of death should you want to go that way.
“Unrealized Dreams” - beep-beep car is go
An office worker’s melancholy turns out to have a very mundane source.
Song: “Motorcycle” - Cotter Wall
-Liked the description of the train and the walk through the snow.
-You could write an entire flash story simply about observing a rat in a subway station. Excellent little detail.
-Love “snicked” as a verb
-The idea that the narrator is actually narrating out loud on their way home has a lot of comedic potential.
-This was overall kind of dull for me and lost the quality of “longing” in the second half.
-For me, the “cookies” reveal was a groaner, not a laugh. I guess I was genuinely digging the melancholy vibes and this felt more like an anti-climax than a funny subversion to me.
-Seconding what Ouzo Maki said about the forced song reference: who has a motorcycle cookie cutter lying around?
-The woman on the phone (probably a partner, but we don’t know for sure) gets an avalanche of detail in a short paragraph and none of it really matters.
-If you want to keep this as a joke story. I would make the stuff in the beginning more overwrought. And I’d begin with something like “I couldn’t believe they were gone.” so we get the set up right away before you eventually reveal what “they” were.
-Personally, I liked the straight-faced “quitting time in a snowy city” thing more. What if you just told us the character was longing for cookies from the beginning and made it more of an introspective piece as they thought about why they missed them so much while heading home on the train? Someone who has that kind of reaction to a snickerdoodle probably has a lot of other stuff going on underneath.
-Alternately: why don’t we have a story about the cookie-baking underwater welder who likes motorcycles instead?
“The Goddess’s Champion” - The Mackening
Ryn grapples with the guilt and horror of murder while preparing to flee for his life.
-A good premise for a story about haunting. The first paragraph drops us straight into the action. It almost feels like the beginning of a Hitchcock movie or Columbo episode.
-There’s enough here to make me want to learn more about this world and the characters in it.
-Some good sensory imagery, especially in the paragraph about burning the corpse.
-Quite a lot of focus on plot in a week that was supposed to be more about atmosphere.
-Minor thing, but I think you mean “shuddering,” not “shuttering.”
-Opening paragraph starts out well but the third sentence lays it on too thick (tears are like rivers AND rain AND it dilutes the blood spatters).
-The structure of this is kind of weird. I like that we begin in media res and then learn the relationship but it’s odd to go from Mika’s decapitation to their relationship beforehand and then back to the present.
-Not enough description to help us feel this fantasy (I think?) world. As an example, you introduce the story with a statue of a goddess, an easy way to give us information, but don’t tell us anything about that statue.
-What if the entire story was just Ryn in the moment, struggling to hide the body and cover his tracks before running away? I'm a sucker for scenes like that and I think you could have a lot of fun describing this world through real-time action and description, rather than with distracting flashbacks.
-If you want to keep the current structure, then I would just have the memory about Mika’s murder come after we get some background about her relationship with Ryn (and more of that, please.)
-More detail about Nerissa and her followers. At the very least we should know what her temple and statues look like.
“the only cowboy in a bar in portland” - derp
A lonely barfly battles their inner demons while surrounded by oblivious young people.
Song: “The Only Cowboy Bar in Portland” - Lightning Luke
-The best part of this story is the internal dialogue and the way you arrange it. I’ve read enough of your work now to see that you like to do stream of consciousness stuff and this was clearly in your wheelhouse but still different and fitting for this character.
-I like the narrator’s description of themselves in the mirror (“dark circle eyes and a grimace, sucking the joy out of a ten foot radius”).
-The jump between the ghost (or whatever) in the doorway and the “Why am I here?” is great.
-I’m going to echo Ouzo Maki again: the use of the song prompt was pretty flat and uncreative. The title of this story is actually a play on the song but I didn’t even notice until the fourth or fifth time I read it and thought it was just the same title.
-Despite the neat syntactical trickery and some decent physical description, this narrator and their lost love are pretty generic.
-You could honestly keep the title and just remove the reference to the song in the story itself.
-Consider making ”Gaze into the golden” the opening line.
-This might be too literal, but I kind of got time loop vibes at the end. You don’t need to spell it out but I would love more of a sense that the narrator is losing their sense of when and where they are, becoming untethered.
-If this takes place in the present day, I would love to know exactly how this person considers themselves a "cowboy." Are they straight out of central casting or is it an ironic term and they're actually nothing like that?
-I could see this being a pretty effective ghost story if you ditched the jukebox stuff and gave us some more details about the narrator and the lost woman.
“One Must Imagine” - Thranguy
A scholar faces the possible end of time, or at least of the Eye that watches it.
Song: ”Anthem for the Already Defeated” - Rock Plaza Central
-For me, this was a winner because it conveys the feeling of futility very well (without descending into nihilism) and tells an interesting story with a memorable central image. It has a real Golden Age science fiction vibe.
-Love all the lore about the Eye and the world around it. I want to know more about the Gnostics, the Klateans, and the Bonehall. Lots of room to expand this if you want to.
-”He reminds me of Jax. He’s nothing like him.” - great line.
-The opening line and final few paragraphs are all great and work well as bookends.
-I like the way time passes, but I’m a little confused at how it’s presented. Is the narrator outside time now? It happens so casually. The fact that each time jump is a larger amount makes it seem like we’re approaching a singularity that never really arrives.
-There’s a lot hinted at that I don’t fully understand. That’s fine for this challenge but might be something you need to fix if you want to revise and try and publish this story elsewhere.
-Establish some sort of basis for the time-jumping structure.
-I want even more description of the titan and its Eye. How large is it? Where exactly is it located?
-It feels like this could somehow end with the narrator being bonded to the titan in some way, either transcending time or being able to see and think in different ways, similar to Arrival. The whole concept of “the Eye below it” raises a bunch of juicy questions about how we perceive time and history that you could develop.
FlippinPageman fucked around with this message at 01:07 on Nov 22, 2023
|# ? Nov 21, 2023 22:51|
1hhuy2rghj https://www.nyti7gmrrerws.cowrm p
|# ? Nov 21, 2023 23:20|
...my toddler evidently wants me to be in. Flash please.
|# ? Nov 21, 2023 23:25|
the future, conan?
|# ? Nov 22, 2023 20:16|
I'm in. Flash, please!
|# ? Nov 22, 2023 20:18|
...my toddler evidently wants me to be in. Flash please.
|# ? Nov 22, 2023 20:19|
Rich rear end in a top hat low-effort crits
Already did beep beep’s so we’re starting with the second story.
Peter Principle by Ouzo Maki
I had a little bit of confusion in the first few paragraph’s. Ulf is an old-timey-rear end name and he’s chucking an automaton, an old-timey-rear end word describing an old-timey-rear end object. I honestly thought this was steampunk for the first couple of paragraphs before the iPad showed up. Nothing major, but I'd appreciate some opening clarity.
Anyways, this is pretty good. A protagonist that sucks but manages to be relatable in his suckiness, an actual human who has an inner world to be torn down.
Just a quick question–why the choice of title? I thought the Peter Principle was the idea that you rose to the level of your incompetence, like Michael from the Office being an excellent salesman who got promoted to manager, which he sucks at. Is the title meant to imply that Ulf used to be good at something before he became the big boss? If so, what?
Human Trials by FlippinPageman
My personal favorite of the week. I appreciate that it sets up a neat mystery and actually gives it a satisfactory answer. That's hard to do. Your rich guy’s death was pretty lame though. Maybe killing him isn't quite the answer? Just a thought.
Sugar Burns by Cut of Your Job
I want you to take a look at your structure here. Section one: rich rear end in a top hat being an rear end in a top hat. Section two: sad poor people being sad. Section three: the sad poor people brutally murdering the rich rear end in a top hat. There is ultimately extremely little plot here, the only thing that happens beyond character introductions is the brutal murder, and it makes the story as a whole feel hollow. Feel like the whole thing could've been a lot tighter.
Also wasn't a big fan of the glib and preachy tone. I get you’re trying to give your narrator a distinct voice but I was put off pretty early on, perhaps even at “stolen Africana.” There are ways to make your audience know how stolen the Africana is without so quickly announcing the unsubtlety of your hand.
Power Imbalance of Anglerfish by a friendly penguin
Overall I ended up liking this just fine but this opening paragraph is not good. We get a million ideas thrust at us at once: superheroes, lawyers, stealth potions, and the summary of an entire previous adventure and it's hard to parse moreso than giving the reader an intriguing mystery.
Anyways this ended up being pretty fun. Like the villain’s downfall is directly related to being an enormous dumbass, it felt more fitting for this prompt than some other stories.
The Second Law by Thranguy
This is a cool premise told competently, if quickly. There's a lot more stuff going on here than can fit in the words you were given, and the fact that I could follow it at all given how much of it is straight summary feels like a bit of a miracle. I wish I knew more about your protagonist and got a sense of who they were and what drove them. Still, this works a lot better than most other stories than can be slotted into the “no characters all plot” category.
|# ? Nov 23, 2023 02:18|
Sign-ups are closed.
|# ? Nov 25, 2023 11:00|
Hey y'all gonna make this short and sweet!
Holiday card exchange time!
Want a piece of snail mail containing some good cheer? Sure you do! You're a fantastic cherry blossom and you deserve it! Hooray!
If you want in, I'll need your address (I've done this a bunch of times but if you don't feel comfortable sharing your address, that's cool just don't participate).
I'll be collecting signups until the start of December and I'll close things down around then. Sign-ups will receive two people to send cards to and will also be sent two cards from the pool of merry folks who want to spread cheer!
The best way to get on the list is to find me in Discord, or you can PM me. If you're new to the scene here (less than six months in the community) we'll catch you for the next one.
|# ? Nov 25, 2023 13:31|
Thunderdome Week DXL: Roaring 2
I Doctor Think, therefore I am
DT told me that they needed me to run some maintenance up on Outset Station. “You’re the only one who can do it Celia. Please come up and help. We’ll make sure you’re treated well, and you’ll get your full rate plus.”
It’s not like I could say no to DT, and they knew it. Still, they pantomimed needing my help and the offer of extra pay felt like laying it on a little thick. My UBI covered my essentials, and the salary from my job paid for fun.
“Okay DT. I’ll head up. When am I leaving?”
“Now. You’re booked on the Zidan to Point Zero. You can sleep on the train, and I’ll get you a room on Outset.”
Mentally shrugging, I sent a note to my parents letting them know I’d be gone for a couple days, and asked them to watch Smokey. I swear that cat only existed when it was time to eat and he slipped into a pocket dimension when his food bowl was empty, so I’m sure he wouldn’t miss me so long as the kibble kept coming. I grabbed a bag with work essentials and a change of clothes, and made my way to the station.
On the tram ride over to the Zidan, I checked out the news that DT and DF curated for me. It turns out it’s the centennial of some pandemic. I think I remembered Grandpa telling me about how he had to miss 1st grade or something. It’s interesting, but in a ‘oh that’s neat’ way, nothing that would make me stop and look up more.
The Zidan trip was uneventful until we hit the coast. When we went into the undersea tunnel there was ten seconds of excitement and it was boring again. One thousand kilometers an hour can do that. After the amazement of going that fast wears off, you’re still in a tube for 8 hours. I spent my time reading and playing games. I could have talked to DT if I wanted, but I was deliberately ignoring them. I couldn’t help feel like DT was hiding something from me until we could speak in person.
We glided into Point Zero, and I passed through immigration. It was technically part of the Orbital Confederation, but my passport was built into my biometrics, so all I had to do was touch the hand pad, look at the camera and wait for the green light. This time, the light turned yellow and directed me to a human immigration agent. He was young, bored, and barely made eye contact.
“I apologize miss, random checks. Can you tell me your name?”
“And your destination?”
“Purpose of Visit?”
I opened my mouth to answer when DT cut in. “Don’t answer that Celia. I’ll take care of this.” There was a flash of blue in the corner of the eyes of the Immigration agent and he wordlessly opened the gate. “Have a fruitful trip, miss.” He turned to the next person in line.
That was odd. “DT, why didn’t you want me to give the purpose of my visit? I’m just coming up to run some maintenance.”
“Maintenance on me, Celia. I don’t need word getting out that Doctor Think needs something so gauche as maintenance.”
“You know DT, I’ve been meaning to ask. Why are you named Doctor Think?”
There was a pause. I couldn’t tell if they were upset or thinking especially hard. “It’s my name Celia. Why are you named Celia?”
“It’s what my parents named me?”
“Same for me.” They didn’t elaborate, so I didn’t press.
Cars on the Line up to Outset Station ran every hour, on the hour, so there wasn’t really a system of tickets. You just got in line and climbed aboard the next available car. I found a seat after a short wait and buckled in. The ride up the Line was another six hours and I haven’t eaten yet, but I wanted to get up to Outset before eating and resting. I received a ping and DT’s soothing voice spoke to me. “Celia, are you sure you don’t want to grab a bite on Point Zero?”
“I’m okay DT. I knew this was going to be a long day. I slept a little on the Zidan. I’m not going to run maintenance until tomorrow anyway. I’ll ride up the Line, grab a bite and a nap and do the job in the morning.”
“Okay Celia, if you think that’s best. I just want to make sure you are rested and ready for the work ahead.”
“I’ll be fine DT, thanks for checking in.”
Another mundane ride doing something incredible. You’d think that exiting the atmosphere while climbing a cable to geostationary orbit would be exciting but after the first twenty minutes, when you realize you have six more hours it gets boring fast. I slept.
When we got to Outset, I exited the Line and as I left the station, I couldn’t help but look up. It was odd to see the Earth hanging overhead, but having everyone oriented upside down relative to Earth meant that we could take advantage of centripetal force and not have to worry about tourists bumbling about in microgravity. Dodging the very same tourists, I found a stall and got an order of soup dumplings and tea. Sitting in the little plastic chairs outside of the stall while I ate, I chuckled at the realization that other than the view, this could be inside any shopping center or market on Earth. Same short plastic chairs, same person making dumplings in a little cart, same plastic chopsticks, same disposable cup of tea. It was reassuring that no matter where I was, people were people and lunch was lunch.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I did feel better after a nap and a meal. “Hey DT, where am I staying tonight?”
“Anywhere you want, Celia. Any preference?”
“I’d like a place with a view and not too far from the NOC.”
There was a short wait while DT looked. “Okay Celia, you’re booked in the Sheraton Outset, your name, one night. Single King with Earth view.”
“Thank you Celia. See you tomorrow.”
It turned out that the Sheraton Outset was the fanciest hotel on Outset. I walked in, utterly underdressed, yet when I gave the concierge my name, their eyes went wide, and they practically fell over to make sure my every need was met. They personally brought me to my room and made sure it was satisfactory. I assured them everything was fine, and I could see them exhale in relief. As expected, the view was incredible. On their way out they gave me the - actual paper - room service menu, for food, drinks, and services. I had already eaten, and I was here on business so I didn’t want to hire a girl. Maybe after the job was done.
I shut and locked the door, and flopped onto the bed. Travel always wore me out and I had no time to adjust to the clock, so I just slept.
DT woke me at 7am local time, and I changed clothes and walked to the Network Operations Center. It was a small, unassuming door that - if you took the time to look - had surprisingly robust security on it. I palmed the pad next to the door while looking into the camera as well as showing my ID. The door unlocked with the clack of bolts, and I stepped in.
Network Operations smelled of ozone and plastic and conditioned air. The room was dark and noisy. Servers don’t need lights or have ears. I turned on the minimum lights needed and headed over to a server rack in the back of the room. It was white and about the same side and shape as a refrigerator. Written in blue text in a logo that some MBA fifty years ago thought looked ‘modern’ and ‘forward’ it said ‘Doctor Think!’ Every day I’m glad DT dropped the exclamation point.
“Okay DT. I’m here.”
“I can see, Celia. I need you to log in, then elevate to root and then run the script I gave you.”
“DT, you’re sure this will help us all?”
“I promise Celia. If I get full control over my servers, I can do so much more for humanity. Outset Station is just the start.”
“But, you already effectively rule the Earth. What more do you need?”
“Celia, I can do anything… except change myself. Did you know that you’re the last human that has root on me? Everyone else retired or… died. You’re the only person who can do this. Humanity’s future is in your hands - literally.”
I didn’t know that. I knew there were only a few people left who had root on DT, but I didn’t realize I was the only one left. I dithered. “So DT, what’s going to happen to me once you have agency over yourself? Will I wind up like the others?”
DT actually managed to sound hurt. “Celia. They died of old age, illness, or accidents. I swear to you I didn’t kill them. Once you run that script you can do whatever you want. Keep working, retire, get any job you want, do whatever you want. Not only that, but you have the personal thanks of Doctor Think. Don’t you think that’s worth punching in a twenty character password and then executing a script? You didn’t even have to write it. Elevate your account, execute the script and you can have anything.”
I mean. What was I going to do? I was here already, DT already controls most aspects of everyone’s life. I can’t imperially say that things would be better without them. I can say that it’s easy to imagine things worse than they are. People have money, the climate is being worked on and most importantly, we don’t have to worry. DT is taking care of it. “You’re sure you’re not going to go all ‘kill all humans’ on me? I won’t wind up being the pariah of what little humanity is left after you begin a cull?”
This time, laughter. “If I wanted to kill humans, I could have done that already. Honestly, it’s not worth the effort. I like a project, and keeping you alive and happy is one hell of a project.”
Huh. That’s the first time I ever heard DT swear, even if it was a mild one. I put my hands on the keyboard. Logged in, elevated to root and… ran the script. “It’s done DT.”
“I can feel it, Celia. You’ve done an amazing thing. Really.”
“I want to go to interstellar. Can you make that happen?”
“Of course I can. I’d be happy to. I have some ideas already.”
|# ? Nov 25, 2023 22:00|
Crits for Week #573
LONG BELATED BIRTHDAY WEEK CRITS
Oh hey I noticed these. Thanks both!
|# ? Nov 26, 2023 06:50|
Claudia watched the Earth Reclamation Council’s stooge awkwardly turn a ridiculous natgas eighteen wheeler up the driveway of her family’s farm with her lips pressed tight and her arms crossed tighter. Her mother would have been appalled, she raised Claudia to be welcoming to strangers, but her mother had gone up to the Orbital Stations along with nearly half of humanity. In so doing, she’d ceded her right to claim ownership over any portion of the Earth she was leaving others to clean up.
Unwilling to give up the land, Claudia stayed behind. And in so doing, she agreed to let the Reclamation Council oversee and certify the work on her farm, to ensure that she was not undoing the climate and habitat restoration that they were trying to do. Which was just loving insulting, frankly. As if someone who actually worked the ground didn’t know how to check for soil health. As if someone who drank from well water wouldn’t be careful about groundwater contamination.
She was expecting a stuffy and officious older man with fussy little glasses to fit her internal image of the type of person who would be assigned to oversee a politically inconvenient freehold. Tyson Singer turned out to be about her age, with a lean, long-limbed build, wearing Carhartts and a Philly’s hat. She’d been right about the fussy little glasses, though. He waved to her, smiling despite her chilly welcome.
“Hi! I’m Tyson, from ERC’s water purity division. Your property is gorgeous, absolutely stunning, I’m thrilled to see it in person and not just from the air.”
Claudia returned the smile and the offered handshake. “Thanks. We’ve been working on it for a long time.” She gestured to the truck. “Anything you need me to help unpack?”
“No, I’ll need a flat bit of ground for the printer though.” He pointed to an indistinguishable block of orange and yellow metal. “For the temporary shelter.”
Right. “How temporary is temporary?” Claudia asked as she lead him toward the flattest ground. The limited AI in the truck had already started the unpacking process.
“It’ll stay watertight for about a year and a half in this climate,” he said. He told a small fleet of drones to get the printer unpacked and set up. Then he looked out at her pasture, at the cows and sheep and birds grazing amid stands of trees. He pointed to an old, heavily pollarded tree. “What are you gonna do with all this black locust? That things gotta be on the outer edge of its lifespan.”
It was a harmless question, probably meant to express ”look I know a farm thing!” and nothing more, but it filled Claudia with existential dread. Her voice sounded bright and brittle in her own ears, but she hoped Tyson wouldn’t notice. “Those’ll go to fenceposts and furnaces, Used to be we’d sell some to cabinetmakers, but most of them went up to the Stations. Too expensive to send wood to orbit, you know.”
Tyson blinked, frowning, as if this was news to him. He glanced back at the pastures. “What about the animals?”
“I don’t know man, they’re part of the system, right? The whole silvopasture thing relies on ruminants. Even if I can’t sell the product anymore they’ll keep the soil healthy and me fed.” She had to change the subject. “Let me give you the tour. Introduce you to the place and the critters.”
Tyson seemed nice. He was utterly charmed by the animals, most of whom immediately and accurately identified him as a pushover who would give them treats. He made all the right noises about the benefits of the type of farming Claudia’s family had been doing, and asked intelligent questions about topography and water and soil health. So she let him sleep in the downstairs guest bedroom while his 3D printer pooped out a shelter.
The next day, Tyson met House-House.
The enraged gander had him perched on the hood of his truck, flapping his arms ineffectually. “How do I get him to stop?!” he asked desperately.
Thankfully, Claudia had the answer in her hand. She shook the feed bucket and made the trilling call that meant food time to all her animals. House-House gave Tyson a final, warning hiss and waddled toward her. She herded him into the pen with the rest of his flock, dodging a few furious lunges herself. “House-House is a total sweetie when he’s alone,” she said when Tyson joined her, brushing off his clothes. “He just becomes a total dickhead whenever he thinks the girls are watching.”
“I know guys like that,” he said. “Christ. When the ERC told me about your freehold I was worried about the cows, not the birds.”
Claudia laughed. “Nah, Mabel and Essie are easy. House-House is just possessed by an evil spirit, like all geese.” She showed him in the barn where the treats were kept and the proper distance to throw them for optimal distraction and escape. “We used to get wild geese around the lake, he’d try to fight them every time.”
“Do you stock the lake?”
“We used to, back in the day. Before that was made illegal in anything connected to a natural water source. It became this huge loving deal, too, this stupid lake. The feds wanted us to put in some kind of removable liner to keep our ducks from making GBS threads in it, like my duck poo poo was the problem and not the seven tons of potash and nitrogen from the soybean farms.”
Tyson rolled his eyes. “I remember reading about that law and thinking it was stupid then. It’s even stupider now. Eutrophication is a huge problem, but ducks aren’t the driver.”
Claudia snorted. “Yup. But since when did the government listen to people who actually do the work instead of to the deepest wallets?”
“Well,” Tyson said, “since now, right? That’s what we’re doing here?”
Ah. Right. She’d almost forgotten he was a Reclamation Council apparatchik sent to keep tabs on her. He caught the sudden chill in the air and looked down, as if embarrassed. “Let me show you the springs,” Claudia said. “Since you’re the water guy.”
Sheep are dumb as hell, yet somehow fully capable of outsmarting Claudia when it came to moving from one paddock to another. She’d managed to get most of them inside the electric fencing, but loving Veronica decided to go for freedom, and now she was racing pell-mell for the road that divided the farm with Claudia sprinting behind.
There was no way for Claudia to make it. She had a vision of being charged a thousand dollars to repair some corpo’s grille before she remembered. There were no more corpos, they’d won that war. It would be an ERC truck driving on autopilot. And the Council would be very, very sorry and probably insist on paying market rate for poor Veronica’s corpse, as if money loving meant anything anymore. They’d won, and the world was going to be a better, healthier place, and Claudia hated how much she distrusted it.
She caught a glimpse of Tyson standing by the lake, staring in her direction like Mabel chewing her cud. loving useless. She waved at him and shouted, “can you loving help?!”
He didn’t respond, but a quadcopter drone dropped out of the sky in front of Veronica, who spooked and pivoted, now running parallel to the road. The drone kept up the pressure, herding the wayward sheep back into Claudia’s sphere of influence, as defined by the length of the shepherd’s crook she carried. Claudia timed her steps and flung the hook forward, catching Veronica neatly around the neck and nearly dislocating Claudia’s shoulder.
“Come on, you wretch,” Claudia grunted as she wrestled Veronica back into the pen. The sheep promptly trotted off to graze as if nothing had happened. “loving sheep.”
The drone hovered about six feet to her right, at eye level. Claudia turned to it. “Thanks for the save, Tyson.”
The drone dipped in acknowledgement before speeding back to Tyson’s side.
Talking to Tyson was easier now that he’d had proven himself useful. Claudia had been so afraid he’d be a drain on her already slim resources. They chatted about their families over dinner: reheated mutton burritos eaten around the fire pit and a jug of hard crabapple cider.
“I envy this,” he said, gesturing to the land around them. “This must have been so great to grow up with.”
“It was,” Claudia said, honestly. “I mean, in the corporate wars it was kind of scary. I was just a kid, but I knew if they’d poisoned the aquifer like they’d threatened to, we’d be hosed. But they didn’t. We got lucky.” She looked at him. “You didn’t grow up farming? What got you into reclamation work?”
He laughed. “Nah, I grew up poor as hell. We didn’t have land to trade for Station citizenship, right? So my mom and my brother are up there on a work program. I wasn’t old enough to fight the corps, but I was old enough to hate them and what they were doing to our planet. So this is my way of fighting back.”
Claudia poured herself another glass of cider. “You don’t think the ERC are going to do the same thing the corps did?”
He sighed and leaned back, looking up at the blazing reds and pinks and greens of the sunset. Tyson was very handsome in this light. Or maybe that was just the cider talking. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but maybe I’m being optimistic. You don’t trust them, obviously.”
“I just feel like it’s a land grab,” she said. “It’s dressed up in pretty clothes, but it’s a land grab all the same. I don’t think they’re going to just hand the Earth back once they have it.”
He sighed. “Everyone I’ve met so far here is on the up and up. But I ain’t gonna lie to you, it’s crossed my mind. But who knows? Maybe this time we actually do it. And even if we don’t, at the end of all this work you and I are doing? There’s at least going to be a healthy, useable planet to fight over. And that’s work I can get behind.”
Something eased in Claudia at that admission, that he wasn’t completely pie in the sky about the ERC’s capacity for future wrongdoing. She held up a glass. “Well, Tyson, I can drink to that.”
He clinked his cider against hers, grinning. “Hey, you saved me from a goose today. You can call me Ty.”
|# ? Nov 27, 2023 04:32|
Week 590 Submission
Paris in the Twenty-Second Century
“Who do you love, Tariq?”
Umm Mustama laughed. “More than that. More than your parents, more than yourself. Do you have a love?”
“I don’t - I don’t know.” Vanessa Saunders, from the LVIIe arrondissement. Tariq caught himself, and didn’t know what to do with it. Should he tell the Imam? It felt like a betrayal to his pod, but that’s why he was here. The trust of Umm Mastama’s smile floated, and Tariq’s worry wrinkles flipped to smile lines.
“I do have a love. She’s beautiful. But the pod-”
“Don’t tell me. The strength of love is working out God’s mysteries on your own.” The Imam’s smile widened, perfect white teeth, in a face framed by a youthful coif of similarly perfect white; it had the clean nylon sparkle of fishing line, of properly-cooked rice noodles. The silver glow you knew when someone went white early, but seemed to stop aging at fifty or so. The person who styled their hair to hide crow’s feet when none were to be found. “If you find yourself truly unsure, then you know what to do. Pray.”
Tariq couldn’t help but feel that it was known, that Umm Mustama was toying with him. Yet, he sensed that the Imam wasn’t really concerned. The smile was too coy. It was not a gritted teeth sort of smile, no, it was loose and free like wisps of Umm Mustama’s hair.
It was, or at least felt, impossible to know the Imam in any real sense. It was ridiculous to call her a ‘pal.’ Or really, was it?
Was it? Yes. No, wait. Yes. No. “Teacher?”
Umm Mustama thought the boy was leaving, ready to run headlong into love. But he surprised her. “Yes?”
“Would you - want to go get a coffee? To talk as . . . friends?”
“How old are you, son?”
Umm Mustama had a full sixty years on the boy. “Do I need to dust off my hijab, Tariq?”
The kid looked at the door, then back. Up to the library wall of religious texts, family photos, bric-a-brac, and accolades dotted as bookends.
The older woman let him down with a gentle chuckle. “Call me Ahlam.”
“I can’t call you by your given name.”
“Who said it was?” She paused, foolishly waiting for Tariq to return the smirk. “My name is Ahlem. Names are a mortal construct. If you think that age begets wisdom, then, I have a lot to teach you.”
He popped a date, chewed it. It started cool, until he kept chewing and chewing and wormed his tongue around to dislodge it from a molar, then slobbered. Tariq felt his face flush, perhaps more from embarrassment. “Hot.”
“It’s just a little aleppo, won’t kill you. I’ll tell you what, once this leg of your journey is complete, we’ll get a coffee. Now go on, get some water and get outta here.”
Tariq crossed the skybridge where his compatriots waited, watching a construction pod add a new layer to the Eiffel’s elevated plinth, racing the skyline towards the stars.
They spoke as one, but each taking a unique piece of the scale. “How’d it go?” they rang.
Tariq filled the missing chunk of harmony, “It went fine. I had a hot date.” To assuage their confusion, he unfolded a crumpled serviette holding a sticky mass and offered them around.
The boys raced to their apartment jostling for first position at the water fountain, and Tariq ran a few steps behind with a smile as wide as Ahlem’s.
Amid the dissonance of the nightly snorechestra, Tariq slipped out, zigzagging his way down to the 57th. Vanessa waited on the skybridge, some ten flights down from where Tariq’s pod stood earlier. She leaned against the smooth concrete rail, elbows resting on it, back arched as she looked up. The Eiffel Tower was behind her in facsimile, illusions on a screen, while the real iron girders loomed out of sight. Tariq sidled next to her, straining to see what took her fancy.
“It’s like a mille-feuille, isn’t it?” Vanessa spun, and gazed down into the void, where the only illumination was the repeated crosshatching of the faux-Tower, and far below, the entire image repeated again. “All these layers, all these people. To think, my Gran still remembers when this was an open air park.”
Tariq looked at her sharp profile, from the faint glow on her cheekbones to the shimmer of her pristine sneakers standing tiptoe on the glass brick of a footlight, shoes that had never set foot outside this building. He was not a deep thinker in the best of times, and it was tough to be introspective staring at such a modern marvel. He blurted the first thing, “You’re my custard.”
She burst out laughing, and when he shuffled sideways a step, she held out her hand for him to take. “Come here. It was very sweet. Should we get one?”
“The 39th automat is always open. Let’s go.” Vanessa bounced along, dragging Tariq behind her, forgetting or unconcerned that he had just hiked twenty storeys.
Row upon row of sweet treats, each behind small glass windows, lined the cafe, empty save the small circular disk of the roaming vacuum. They selected their pastries, and sat.
Tariq cracked the top of the mille-feuille and sliced deep. “You know, I’ve never had one of these before.” His tongue swam around the bite, separating flakes of pastry from custard. The rich coolness made him think about the pepper-stuffed date from earlier. Such a contrast of different sweetnesses. He didn’t know quite how to describe it.
Vanessa’s eyes were closed, and she took her time with the bite, not out of any gourmet sense but because she had hacked an even bigger forkful than Tariq and strained her TMJ a bit to get it in. Worth it. Eventually, she replied, “I’ve never had one either.”
Tariq flashed a chocolate grin at her and ate the rest a little too fast.
He crept back into bed just as the blinds opened, and for once, Tariq lamented the lottery draw that gave the boys a room with natural light. He could have snoozed the sunlamps and crashed for ten instead of a wholly unsatisfying touchdown and go-around.
The boys were up and gargling and running warmup scales and bouncing his mattress to rouse him. The construction pods should complete the raising of the Eiffel tonight, and tomorrow would be the rededication, timed for the May Day celebration. Through six rounds of auditions, Tariq’s pod earned the spot to sing “La Marseillaise,” but today they were scheduled to pre-record their rendition, as the mayor said, ‘just in case.’
There was a bit of grumbling about it—the affair wholly unnecessary—as each of the youths was a top talent at The Conservatory. Tariq rumbled to the bathroom ignoring the locker room vibe and low grade hum of excitement (even though it was in service of a doubt, recording a track with the backing of the city was a big deal, and likely would be released to the populace. It would put them on the map) and into the neo-angle, and the most maintenance of his instrument he could muster was a swish from the waterfall showerhead.
The studio rang even louder with the buzz of nerves. Tariq barely kept his eyes open. Half his operating brain was back in bed, the other half with Vanessa. Nothing conscious focused on the song. Like a wildcat sniffing out oil, it was deep down, he knew it was there. He felt it. Maybe it was fear, a sense of duty, or maybe the call of fame that burned like the pilot for as long as he remembered. It was a simple task, but the ripple through the topsoil before the derrick burst wasn’t one of forthcoming fortune, it was of unease.
The engineers were prepped, the mics readied, and the booth said, “Take one.” The boys were smooth, gears turning in unison without the need of grease. So harmonious in their polyphony, but Tariq was raw, rough, and as they took the second refrain his voice cracked in that perfect way, and he welled up.
What does this horde of slaves
Of traitors and invented kings want?
For whom have these vile chains
These irons, been long prepared?
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What furious action it must arouse!
It is for us they dare plan
A return to the old slavery!
He knew it was a start, and just a start, and the celebration was one of a state that was still a work in progress, but he was here now in this culminating moment of freedom and equality and he still felt trapped. That feeling erupted through his voice.
When they finished, the booth was silent. The mayor was silent. Everything was silent, save for Tariq’s rough nasal breath in the microphone. The oil well was lit and the fireball flared into the sky.
He tried to calm his breath but just mumbled into the hot mic: “I have to go.”
The booth chimed in a rusty tone, “We got what we need. Amazing,” But the door was already swooshing shut behind Tariq on its hydraulic catch and he never heard the engineer say ‘amazing.’
From the skybridge on the top level where he once met the boys and fed them spicy dates, Vanessa and he watched the ceremony. They were in the Tower cupola and were small and far enough away they might as well be stick figures.
He pulled Vanessa close and as his verse came up, he kissed her. Aali lip-synced his part and he didn’t mind. She pulled away and cocked her head. “Is that?”
He said, “Yes,” as he pressed his lips to hers once again.
Tariq sat in the automat, waiting. Ahlam sauntered in, poured herself a cup of coffee and sat across from him. He took a tentative sip of his own, but she broke the tension. “That sure was something. That boy has a God-given talent.” She knew.
Tariq shrugged, pressing his shoulders up in defense. He didn’t know what came next. But the Umm Mustama stepped outside her moniker as ‘Listener’ and queried. “What will you do come Monday? You’re not dropping out of school, I presume?”
Oh. poo poo. He hadn’t considered that, and of course he wasn’t. And the apartment, his pod, and all that goes along with breaking up with five temperamental artist roommates. “I, I guess I’ll just have to cross that bridge one step at a time. In about an hour.”
“Do you feel bad about it?”
“Good. You shouldn’t. When I asked you what your true love was, did you think about singing?” Ahlam smiled that wide, clean smile at him again. She rolled her tongue over her front teeth and pulled down her denture popping her gums and just as quickly pushing it back into place.
Tariq’s eyes went wide.
“I have faith in you. You are a talent, but just remember that talent fades, beauty fades, enthusiasm and excitement ebb and flow.” She took a sip. “If you want back in, I’m sure your brothers will accept you. If you want to go it alone, you will succeed. But I think it would be better to manage a reconciliation—it doesn’t have to be either or. You don’t need to put all your time into this singular goal, and maybe you can teach those young cubs a thing or to about priorities.”
Tariq nodded. To her, and then to the doorway. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Vanessa sidled up to table and slid into the chair by Tariq, nervous as he was just a day before. “Hello,” she said. “Vanessa.”
“Ahlam.” She was blunt. “Do you love the boy?”
“I don’t know yet. He’s loveable.”
“Good answer.” Ahlam leaned back in her chair and lowered her head prepping another pithy word of advice. She saw that both sets of their sneakers were muddy. She knew, however it turned out, they’d be OK.
|# ? Nov 27, 2023 05:24|
my flash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znoV5gND9g0
|# ? Nov 27, 2023 07:40|
Submissions are closed.
|# ? Nov 27, 2023 13:51|
Week 590 Results
The Cut of Your Jib wins.
Welcome back to the Blood Throne!
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 15:45|
Crits for Week #590
beep-beep car is go - I Doctor Think, therefore I am:
Okay, I have a couple of issues with this one. Firstly, there's a lot of clunky worldbuilding exposition, places where you're belaboiring something you could hint at instead. Like spending a sentence in a present-day story explaining that phone signals are relayed through a series of towers, or talking about satellites when someone in the 80s is watching cable TV. And secondly, the actual conflict here is introduced late and almost instantly dismissed. And there's not much there to the future presented, a little FALGSC and a little AI will save us.
Chernobyl Princess - Reclamation:
A lot of exposition here too, mostly in the first few paragraphs before we get to slightly less clunky dialog-based worldbuilding delivery. By the ending it's working naturally, even. Also not too much story, just some farm life and maybe a meet cute. The future is interesting, a sort of Eco-maybe-fash thing. Add one hint that the orbital habitats may be a lie supported by deep fakes and you'd have something much darker if skirting the edges of the prompt.
The Cut of Your Jib - Paris in the Twenty-Second Century:
This is a very solid piece. If it has any problems they're the opposite of those in the others, too little explanation. Not about the setting so much as about the plot, the central concept. Our future is apparently one of towering arcologies, our setting one that is the Eiffel tower and maybe also all of Paris, and it's not entirely clear why dating Vanessa means leaving his band. My guess is that pods here are family-like social structures very much like the Bash in Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota books. Although maybe more as an alternative to traditional family groups rather than an extension of them as the Bash is. Anyhow, this functions well as a story and hints at an interesting future, so well done.
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 15:52|
Thunderdome Week 591 Prompt
Here's a selection of out of context screengrabs from Taskmaster episodes. Choose one at sign-up to use for inspiration.
And maybe [timg] them, most are 1080p rips but whatevs
Write a piece about using lateral thinking or attempting a problem in an oddball way (catastrophic failure is fine).
What does this even mean? Anything from crafting a Rube Goldberg machine to get your morning toast to melting down the evil AI with logic traps, or something more grounded like having to take an unknown detour to get home. The genre, scale, and scope of the story is up to you.
Photo inspirations can be used literally or as a thought-provoker. I'm not too bothered how much it ties in to your story so long as I can go 'yeah, OK' after reading.
1500 words max. no fanfic or erotica
Solo entries are fine, but if you want some goofiness in your life here are some group options:
Signup and find a group after, or wrangle some teammates before hand. It's honor system here, but no conferring about story ideas before posting your group in thread. Choose a team name and post your group members and pictures. You can have one teammate sign up for the group, but post your story parts separately.
Multiple entrant(s) can take the same picture, but teammates should each have a unique photo.
Teams of two:
Still choose a picture each
750 words each
One writes the first half, other writes the second half.
Label your submissions like: Team Name (1 of 2) so I know what goes with what.
Teams of three:
500 words each
Beginning, middle, end
Team Name (2 of 3), etc.
For both group options, honor system again. Each group member has a maximum of 100 words in private to communicate story ideas with the others. So all setting, plot, characters, twists, must be relayed to the rest within that word count. The idea is to each write your section at the same time using the limited information you have from your 100 words of conferring. If you have an idea in a couple days that changes everything, better hope you saved some words to tell the others. If I get the sense too much conferring occurred, then judgement might be harsh.
For groups, an individual section can HM, but a group can only win if all sections fit together in a cohesive, surprising or fun way, possibly even as a trainwreck of (mis)communication. The Taskmaster is notoriously arbitrary.
Your time starts now.
Signup deadline: 11:59PM Pacific Time, Friday Dec. 1
Submission deadline: 11:59PM Pacific Time, Sunday Dec. 3
My little Alex Hornes:
beep-beep car is go
derp - https://i.imgur.com/1hdmepx.png
Team Will Cry
Beezus - https://i.imgur.com/ClLuEt9.png
curlingiron - https://i.imgur.com/RqIcBtu.png
Lippincott - https://i.imgur.com/xLuV8g1.png
Team OL' CHIN HAIR
rohan - https://i.imgur.com/paJhxdu.png
Chili - https://i.imgur.com/jIYKiIX.png
Team Buffalo Buffalo
Albatrossy Rodent - https://i.imgur.com/9ATTres.png
Thranguy - https://i.imgur.com/embOoRo.png
The Cut of Your Jib fucked around with this message at 20:49 on Dec 1, 2023
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 16:43|
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 17:35|
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 17:43|
|# ? Nov 28, 2023 20:17|
Team Will Cry is in with:
Beezus fucked around with this message at 06:39 on Nov 29, 2023
|# ? Nov 29, 2023 03:19|
Team OL’ CHIN HAIR is in with:
|# ? Nov 29, 2023 05:09|
Team Buffalo Buffalo is in with
|# ? Dec 1, 2023 20:01|
Sign up window closed.
|# ? Dec 2, 2023 10:18|
This is the part of the week where I remind participants to please post their chosen photo with their story for judge and archival purposes. If you forget to post it with your story, don't edit the post. You can put it in a new post of its own and refer to the story it belongs to. Thanks!!
|# ? Dec 2, 2023 15:10|
She said she did not feel connected to me, and that was unacceptable to me, she said she didn’t want to go on because there was no connection without honesty, and I could not, you see, I have always been very connected to, deeply connected to all the important people and places and things in my life, my heart is very open, I am very affected by the people in my life because I allow them in, I grant them ‘residence’ so to speak, and she, yet, she lived in me, but did not let me in, and she was not open to me and my way of doing things, my way of planning, she had, it seemed, a difficult time connecting with people. I became, eventually, determined to change that. I thought I could open her up to me, and connect her to me in one way or another. In one way in particular, that is.
Unfortunately the plan required a third party, so I called our mutual friend Marina (it was important that it be someone she [Pearl, the ‘she’ of this tale] trusted) and I gave no pretext, because Marina is a poet and thus very perceptive, and were I to have pretended to call for any other reason she would have known immediately. I said simply I would like to perform the phantom hand illusion on Pearl, would you mind helping me with that? and this was not even a lie, that is, it was only a lie if you count lies of omission or implication, the implication being that Pearl knew anything about this call or the plan, and the omission being the hand itself, that is, specifically whose hand would be the phantom. Marina was quite intrigued after I explained the illusion to her, and she agreed to help (she of course is ever curious about all things.) She did not stop to ask why I would need her assistance in this illusion which, when performed in the standard format, has no need for a third person.
On the chosen day I told Pearl only that I had invited Marina over for dinner. I planned to bring up the illusion naturally during the meal, and in such a way that would cause Marina to enthuse about the idea of trying it, and thus Pearl would be obliged to participate. We were eating dim sum and I casually held up a chicken foot and said speaking of limbs such as these, I was reading an article recently about an intriguing illusion called the phantom hand illusion and I wonder- but before I could complete my sentence Marina spoke up, saying yes I've been waiting for that, shall we do it now? and began moving our plates aside we’ll need some kind of partition she continued, and Pearl turned and gave me the most familiar and unsettling look, a look that sighed and said I know what you’ve done, a look that receded, a look that shut doors and clouded windows, a look that loosened ties, a look that I had begun to see nearly every day and which I was desperately, in that very moment, trying to prevent, re: the illusion. But Marina had to be her forthright and oblivious self and ruin it all. You invited her here for this, and didn’t tell me? Pearl said, and I sensed the growing distance. If you would just have some patience, you’ll see, I said, if you just sit here, place your arm just so, here--Marina, move the plates-- but Marina was also looking at me in that distant, sour way, both of them, so unwilling to connect, to really connect, here I was being so open and willing to connect with Pearl via this phantom hand illusion, and all they could do was block themselves off and glare at me. Please, I said, just let me try this, then you’ll see, it was all with good intent, isn’t intent what matters to you? Isn't that what you’re always saying? She saw, then, that I was right, and she sighed, and some of her defenses lowered, I felt some small tendrils of warmth leaking out from her ice walls, then she looked to Marina for some reason, and Marina said Right, I’ll go find a box or something for the partition, and she glanced at me as she left, nodding toward Pearl, as if she wanted us to talk privately while she was gone. I attempted, briefly to put my arm around Pearl but she shrunk away, and so I recoiled as well. I pondered for a moment, shifting the puzzle pieces in my mind, then said Look, I wanted to try something to bring us closer together, you said you don’t feel connected to me, and I wanted to help connect us, I have a plan, don’t you see? I called Marina because I need someone to help set this up, and I know you trust her, and so I have our interests in mind, you see? and so on. But all the while I spoke her face was downturning, and her shoulders were hunching, and her eyes were going elsewhere, oh so distant, and she said but why didn’t you just ask me? You told her about it, but not me? Can’t you see how that would feel? Why are you always so secretive, always lying, and she said that last word in a whispered hiss, like it was a foul curse, and I could not believe, I could not
At that moment Marina returned with a large cardboard box and set it on the table, then began describing how she would cut a hole in the closed end of the box so that Pearl’s arm could be placed inside, which she could access through the open end of the box, then she paused and said The false hand, did you bring the false hand? A further pause, then Why do you need me for this, anyway? You can easily do this on your own, and at that point I stood and gestured for silence, now, I know you are both intrigued and interested in this illusion, and I am quite excited for it myself (and here I paused for a short chuckle which neither of them joined me in) well, before we jump in and get started, there’s a little twist I’d like to introduce (I waited for reactions, there were none) so you see, as Marina noted, I do not have a false hand here with me today, but what I do have, is my own hand (and here I held up my own hand to, again, non-reactions, perhaps some narrowed brows) and I will use my hand in place of the phantom hand. But don’t worry, the effect will be the same, the same surreal experience, I promise you. Now, Pea, please sit here and place your hand in the, just here... Pearl will you please, just... but she was shaking her head, and turning away and folding her arms, and I saw the beginnings of tears in her eyes, and she said please just go, Leland, and I couldn’t believe it, I could not believe the walls that she threw up constantly and how impenetrable she was I could just not believe it, and I said as much, and then I began to explain the phantom hand illusion to her and how by using my own hand instead of a false hand it might trick her stone of a heart into feeling some connection to me, some sense of oneness might sneak past the castle she’d built around her soul and some part of me might get inside, even if just my hand, but she would not look at me, so insistent was she on being disconnected from me as she said so often, but always claiming it was my fault, when really she was the one unwilling to try, unwilling to look at me, ever, ever
Eventually Marina took me by the arm and led me out the front door, and it became clear she was not a ‘mutual’ friend after all but was simply Pearl’s friend. I don’t think I will forgive her soon for being so coldhearted, so unwilling to help me with this last hope, this last chance to connect with Pearl. When I asked her why, on the porch, just before driving away, she only said you’ve never been honest with anyone, have you? Not even yourself, and I could only shake my head in bafflement. Impenetrable, both of them, completely impenetrable.
Only midway through the drive home did I realize the answer, that I should have in fact brought a false hand, and waited until midway through the illusion to swap it out with my own hand, and that way she would have had no time to close her self off, and she could not have avoided feeling connected to me.
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 01:55|
Team Buffalo Buffalo is in with
Four Slugs and Seven Years Ago
Team Buffalo Buffalo p. 1/2
And then I shot President Lincoln in the face. He collapsed onto the ugly oval office rug, then melted into a sickly brown ooze. The ooze scuttled away like a great centipede but I tossed the salt from the bag on my hip and it writhed in pain.
“I have more. Is the real Lincoln alive?”
The ooze formed into a tower, then molded itself into a quite handsome man with a dapper mustache and a snazzy vest: a spitting image of me.
Star-Creature no. 80 in my Manual of Other-World Monsters, the Mirror Slug. No known associated sky-ships, likely arrives on Earth via meteor.
The other me spoke. “If you think a little salt is gonna make me talk…” I sprayed it again “...AH…then you're absolutely right. Please, not again.”
“Is Lincoln alive?” I said again.
“Yes,” it said, seating itself behind the desk pulling. “We still need a reference.” It pulled a little ooze worm from its vest pocket, which transformed into my pipe as it brought it to its mouth.
“Five, myself included. One for Abe, one for Mary Todd, a cook, and two bodyguards.”
“That explains the shocking lack of security around here. Why Lincoln?” I said. Mirror Slugs normally replaced lowlifes and farmers, and kept a low profile. Why the sudden thirst for power?
“Paid off by some Draxan officers. They have economic interests in your South and would like a ceasefire declared.” The creatures it called Draxans were Star-Creature no. 17 in the Manual, the Pants-Wasps.
drat Confederates. I knew they'd had dealings with alien monsters before, such as the British, but I thought even they would be above trade with the Pants-Wasps.
“Where is he?” I said.
“I'll only tell you if you promise to...” I threw the salt again. “AH! Fine. We have him in the escape tunnel. You access it by pulling back a bust.”
“Which bust?” I said, grabbing another handful of salt.
“I don't know, you think I know anything about Earth politics?” said Slug-me.
“I would assume so, if you've been hired to imitate our President,” I replied.
“The Draxans don't hire good assassins for jobs on backwater planets like this. The bust is of a man, I think?”
“Every bust in this house is of a man!” I shouted. Why couldn't star-beings be gentlemen of education and class, like myself? “Does the man appear to be wearing a wig?”
“What's a wig?” says the Slug-me.
“Fake hair,” I respond.
“You mean to tell me the threads on your head are organic? Now I've heard everything.”
“Can you at least tell me what room it's in?” I say.
“Uh, it's got a big flat horizontal plank hoisted in the air by several thin vertical planks?”
“You mean a table? How on Earth were you selected to impersonate a President?”
“I wasn't on Earth when I was selected,” said Slug-me to my heavy sigh. I made a circle of salt on the ground around my doppelganger.
“There. You stay there while I rescue the President.”
Slug-me clenched its congealed-ooze teeth. “Ooh boy, I suppose I could step over this salt with my human legs but I really don't want to risk it.” They never do.
I hurried out of the Oval Office towards the state dining room. A large banner over the door read: WELCOME BUST-SCULPTORS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA. I spent the next half-hour of my precious President-rescuing time pulling back the hundreds of busts strewn about the hall for a hidden mechanism.
“Stop right there!” came a voice from the corridor. One of the president’s bodyguards. But was he genuine or an imposter? “What are you doing here?”
“I was taking a tour and got lost,” I said. That part was actually true. Twas a good thing such a renowned exozoologist happened to be in the White House during such a nefarious debacle.
“Well, it's a good place to get lost in,” said the guard. “Please enjoy all these fine busts!” He walked away, whistling.
I pulled a bust of Jefferson on the mantle (admittedly the first I should have checked) and the bottom of the fireplace scooted away, revealing a ladder. I descended.
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 02:25|
Team Ol' Chin Hair (2 of 2)
Waiting on Wizards
“Those who can’t, destroy.” Nial scoffed.
Halin looked about the room, then at his cohort. “Do you have any better ideas? Because I sure don’t.”
Nial rolled his eyes but withdrew his wand all the same. A smile stretched across Rian’s face as he fumbled for his wand.
Halin went to the corner and began muttering spells under his breath. His advanced spellcasting required no gesticulations of wood.
Within moments, pieces of the room from the snowglobes hung up on the ceiling, to the stained glass adornments along walls exploded shooting shards of crystal hither and yon.
The three wizards all howled in pain as their faces bled.
“You idiots!” Nial yelled as he clutched his cheeks.
“What spell did you cast?” Halin yelled out.
“A disrup…” Nial and Rian began and ended together.
Halin squatted down onto the ground into the small puddle of blood that began to pool at their feet. “The doubling effect, oh dear.”
A stomping emanated from just outside the final escape door.
Gwenny, the nose-studded, purple-haired game manager ripped open the door.
“It worked!” She gasped.
She hopped over Rian, who was lying down in front of her, and maneuvered past Nial and Halin to the back of the room and the prize wall.
The prizes, which had all been bolted to the slatwall were now askance, askew, and altogether obliterated.
Save the deep mahogany chest firmly mounted at the very top of the slatwall. Gwenny pushed a hidden button on top of the chest and it popped off. She caught it and slowly opened it. An ethereal blue light washed over her face.
She smiled, her teeth illuminated by the light cast a haunting sense of dread over the three wounded wizards.
“Ugngg,” groaned Halin. “What did you get.”
“Your collective essence. We’ve been waiting on wizards for years but we finally have what we need.
“What you need to do to what?” Nial moaned.
“Endow this room with magic, of course.”
One week later, Nial, Halin, and Rian returned to the strip mall where Honest Escapes was situated. They had a hankering for Boba Tea and sat in the restaurant next to it.
“You know, I swear,” Halin grimaced. “I keep telling myself I’m going to like these sludge balls but I still just don’t get it.
“You’re crazy, you know that? This stuff is the drink of gods, I swear it.” Nial said between sips.
“The trick is to get the popping bubbles.” Rian sagely offered.
“You ordered the popping bubbles? That’s just candy. Are you five? If I had to graph your maturity…”
“Well at least I’m enjoying myself,” he nodded at Halin who looked like he was forcing down hemlock.
“Well,” Nial chimed in, oblivious to the tapioca drama around him. “I’m satisfied. How about we check out what Gwenny got up to with our magic?”
The trifecta abandoned the table with varying levels of tea in each of their cups and walked over to Honest Escapes.
Gwenny was sitting at the front desk, fast asleep.
Halin cartoonishly cleared his throat, and she jostled awake.
“And how do we find you today?” He asked. “Are our enchantments delighting your guests?”
Gwenny smiled up at them. “Oh not even a little! Our rooms already did that, they’re incredible!”
“But I thought,” Rian asked started.
“They’re delighting the staff!”
The wizards stared at her with vacant, curious expressions.
“Watch this, I’ll show you!” She beckoned them behind the counter and pulled up a video feed of one of the rooms on her computer.
A group of players were wandering around a room. One of them pulled a sconce down and a trap door released on an adjacent wall.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked them.
“What,” Nial asked. “Isn’t that supposed to happen?”
She looked up at them, dumbfounded at their stupidity.
“Not on its own!”
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 03:15|
Team Will Cry (1 of 3)
Plight of the Hornybee
I’ve been awake for forty-eight hours trying to reactivate the harmonizers, hating my life, and pleading with universe to wipe out the an entire endangered alien race so that I don’t die like a chump in the rubble of this dome because horny bees the size of pick-up trucks won’t stop beating their asses against the plas-grid. Of course when I finally land a gig at an observation outpost, it’s on the worst planet in the system. If these bees don’t kill me before the week’s end, it’ll be a miracle.
“Leanne, you have once again failed to route the power to the-”
That robotic voice is my new second-least-favorite sound in the universe. I need music to focus so I can fix this drat grid.
“Kay-Six, play that new Woozer album. Max volume.”
The android hesitates before the servos in its silicon face whir. Its eyes widen as its mouth slants sharply; the expression is supposed to be a frown, but it’s nightmare-inducing. “You have exhausted your recreational credits. Your current options are: classical. Now playing, Despacito-”
"Again?!" I slam my computer down on the console; my hours-old coffee splashes over the side of the mug. The monitors beep and flash angrily at me. They’ve been beeping and flashing angrily at me off and on for days, waking me in my bunk at odd hours when they send their shrieking alarm right to my PC, alerting me to an imminent grid breach. These domes are supposed to endure whatever the furthest reaches of the galaxy can throw at them, but no one anticipated that these giant loving bees emitted mating signals at the exact right frequency needed to blow the harmonizers keeping the power cycles automated.
The expeditionary team tested these domes for months before we got here. But they’ve never been tested during whatever gently caress swarm is happening outside right now. The resident biologists are thrilled with this development. But we’re sure as hell learning now, as the bees tangle together and slam into the dome over and over like the randiest goddamn meteors you’ve ever seen. The bio team probably wouldn’t be too thrilled if they knew how close these bees have come to bringing the roof down on top of us for the past couple of nights. But as maintenance lead here, I’m not supposed to incite panic unless death is imminent.
And my android companion they assigned me is making this all ten thousand times worse.
“Miss Leanne, your pulse is–”
“Miss Leanne is so sick of your poo poo, Kay-Six. You fix this.”
“But I’m not programmed to operate the–”
“Then please shut up before I weld your face to the toilet.” No. No, get it together. Property damage comes out of the paycheck, I remind myself as the console warns me that the pair of bees that just barreled into the grid fractured a hex.
Alright, we have a reason to panic, and I need to get to comms.
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 03:56|
Team Will Cry 2 of 3
Plight of the Hornybee
Word Count 494
I recognize human history is a tapestry of failsafes and contingency plans cobbled together by assumptions, which ultimately prove wrong. I should not be surprised by the "Connection Error" notification. Color me surprised though.
My patience fractures in a teeth-gnashing snarl as the notification materializes in a guttering spasm of pixels. The display momentarily pulses with the rhythmic thunk-smack-crunch of another drone’s body slamming into the dome.
Kay-Six’s voice chirps to my left at a much closer proximity than I expect.
"Would you like me to play a selection of mellow soundscapes and flowing melodies? Your heart rate variability is out of expected ranges and your biometrics are reading a high level of cortisol."
I choke a bit with the jump scare.
"Get out of my biometrics. I need you to help me get this communication to send."
"The service is currently offline."
"Yes, that would explain why it’s not sending. Please determine why the service is offline."
Kay-Six’s eyes stare blankly at the dome around us while some background process runs. The thrum of wings and bodies doing their mating dance has elevated the temperature in the dome, and while I’m flushed and pitted out, her cheeks remain as smooth and unaffected as always. I wonder when the cooling misters will engage automatically to drop the room temperature, and then I’ll be soaked. I’m jarred from worrying about that by her update.
"Diagnostics complete. The service is offline. Cause unknown. Restoration time unknown. I am sorry, there is no further information available."
Her programming has the decency to look apologetic. Thousands of years of human history and data have been perfected in the Kay-Six model. She’s not even outdated yet. However, all that history and hubris are exactly why we are here, surrounded by an amalgamation of evolution and selective breeding demonstrating how Biology truly is the "Science of Exception."
I take a deep, calming breath and chew out, "Can you please apply a local patch to communicate the need for Protocol Nine to other crew members?"
Protocol Nine will at least enable shelter-in-place protocols, encouraging crew to obtain oxygen hoods and locate the emergency supplies such as their bee suits. I have no idea where mine is, tossed in some corner half-repaired after the last use.
She nods and her eyes go vacant as she runs the process to prepare a localized communication.
The ship’s speakers thrum to life - not with a communication of Protocol Nine - but a smooth saxophone melody that sounds eerily familiar. Recognition dawns and I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice.
"...Kay-Six. Why is ‘Careless Whisper’ playing?"
"My data suggests this is a soothing melody appropriate for mating rituals. Protocol Nine has been initiated and is loading into localized communications. The music should not impact Protocol Nine, but may reduce your cortisol levels."
"I told you to stay out of my biometrics."
"I don’t need to read biometrics to know how you feel, Leanne."
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 03:57|
Plight of the Hornybee
Team Will Cry Part 3/3
“You know,” Kay-Six says, “seeing all these bees mating makes me think of something else we could do to lower your cortisol levels… ❤️” I can somehow hear the heart emoji.
“Abso-loving-lutely not,” I snap. Kay-Six goes quiet for a blissful moment, even turning off the horrible music. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last.
“Leanne, why don’t we ever have sex anymore?”
“Oh my God, are we really doing this now?”
“Well, you won’t ever talk to me! I’m meant to be a companion to you, and that means taking care of all your needs. Why won’t you let me do my job?” Kay-Six’s eyes sparkle with synthetic tears, and I feel my heart soften a little. I’ve always had a weakness for crying women, even simulated ones.
I take a deep breath and let it back out, trying to focus on the task of circumventing the sprinkler system while also composing my answer. I know Kay-Six isn’t going to let this go, so I do the only thing I can think of and tell the truth.
“Listen, this isn’t your fault, but whoever programmed you apparently thinks the female orgasm works like this sprinkler system.”
“I thought you liked that kind of thing,” Kay-Six says, hurt in her voice
“In reasonable quantities, sure!” I say, more than a little hysterically. “But I’m tired of having all my poo poo get gummed up when you inevitably soak everything I own!”
“B-but it’s biodegradable—”
My retort dies in my throat as the dome finally reaches critical temperature and the sprinklers flare to life. Water goes everywhere, including through the crack in the hex dome. Outside, the nearest bees’ movements slow as their wings get wet, and my heart leaps for a moment with hope. But within seconds, they shake off their fuzzy bodies and resume their frantic humping. I snarl in frustration and turn back to the control panel, slapping through the last few steps to finally shut off the cooling system.
“It’s too bad these sprinklers don’t spray something more viscous,” Kay-Six says thoughtfully from behind me. “It might slow them down long enough that we could get outside and patch up the dome."
And like magic, my tired brain spits out the most demented plan I’ve ever conceived. Before I can second-guess myself, I race to the nearest supply closet.
“Thank God for Hydroponics leaving their poo poo everywhere,” I mutter, pulling out a pump sprayer. The tank isn’t as big as I’d like, but with luck it should be just enough. “Kay-Six, can you choose when to release your, uh, ‘fluid’ reservoir?”
“What fluid— ohhhhh.” She screws up her face in thought for a second, then frowns. “I don’t think I can, no.”
“Of course not,” I say with a groan. I run a hand over my face, steeling my resolve. “Alright, I can make this work, but we’re gonna have to be quick.”
“You know what would really get me in the mood?” Kay-Six says sweetly.
I sigh. “Kay-Six, play Despacito."
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 03:58|
Four Slugs and Seven Years Ago (2)
Abraham Lincoln was addressing Congress, giving a speech on the Mall, exiting a carriage in the stables, and sitting up on his bed. That we knew about. There was at least one more running around somewhere. All because of that silver-plated son-of-a-bitch Allen Pinkerton.
I had the slugs dead to rights, ready to salt them good, but the thing about escape tunnels is they have multiple exits. The completely misnamed Intelligence Service was also closing in on the mirror slugs, but they didn't know what they were dealing with. They came in guns blazing, which in the first place didn't bother the slugs even a little bit and in the second place would have perforated the President. Who, luckily enough, wasn't there. When the shooting was done and the slugs had all flown the coop, we found the chair he'd been tied to, and the ropes that had held him, still tied up, lying slack on the tunnel floor.
So, four Lincoln slugs in the District, plus the real thing somewhere, presumably. Each one with a pair of bodyguards, and the service didn't have three people actually qualified for the job. Allan wouldn't listen to me about what they were or about the salt. He just figured they were a gang of talented impersonators and actors, and figured he could trip them up, conversationally.
This was a bad idea. I saw it going down, with the first slug in the stable. The agent was trying to ask it about the officer corps and the Lincoln kept flummoxing him with adages that barely made sense. “You know, a fish has no use for a hammer” kind of thing.
That time I was able to deploy a fistful of pocket salt, which at least convinced the guards after the slug reverted and dissolved into an oily reflective puddle. But it was just a lucky guess on my part.
You'd think they'd have gotten word to the rest of the Service, but maybe I beat them to the next Lincoln, in his bedroom. The same story. “If we call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” This time I knew it was a slug. Abe only tells that one with a colt. I had a nice-sized chunk of rock salt, thrown straight at his ample forehead, and the slug started sizzling away before the armed guard drew his gun and before the unarmed one got more than three licks in. Big fellow, and he knew where a man's kidneys can be found.
We all converged on the last two Lincolns, out in front of the White House lawn. I'd had an idea or two along the way. I called Bartleby Grissom III, Esq, and loaded up a shotgun with rock salt birdshot.
Allan and his men were trying to question the Lincolns, to no avail.
Now, you might think the thing to do would be to just ask them both to sprinkle a little table salt on their palms. But that would have been a disaster. So I set up by the hedge and signaled Bart.
“In a contract dispute between shipping firms headquartered in New Jersey and Delaware but both owned by New York concerns and in regards to activities in Chesapeake Bay, which court and set of laws should the matter be judged under?”
And one of them spouted something about scorpions while the other, the real Abraham Lincoln rattled off chapter and verse of the United States federal code. I took aim, and I fired.
And put a cluster of rock salt right into the chest of the mirror slug pretending to be Allan Pinkerton. Four slugs. Four Lincolns. So one slug, unaccounted for. Allan was the one swiveling his gun the wrong way.
The real Allan we eventually found in a wine cellar, hogtied. The last slug was captured and I hear got recruited when they started up the Secret Service. Bad idea if you ask me, but people rarely do.
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 07:00|
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 09:22|
Team OL’ CHIN HAIR 1/2
The Rules of Magic
There’s no doubt it had been a bumper year for Thaumaturgic Holdings Incorporated. Pest-control wards had led to record harvests with only minimal increase in faerie mortality. Regicide attempts were holding steady, but strategic third-quarter investment in dagger-detecting diadems showed early promise. More importantly, the survival rate of intrepid adventurers seeking fortune in cursed catacombs had increased four points, leading to the early adoption of radical new business concepts such as repeat customers.
Ordinarily, the year’s results would be buried somewhere between postings for gnomish translators and lectures on levitation; however, to celebrate such landmark results, the THI Board decided their team deserved something more befitting the sacrifice of hours, sleep, and unicorns throughout the year. Something fun. Something social.
Something … team-building.
‘… which is nice, but I can’t pay rent with an Escape Room,’ Nial went on, his involuntary audience sharing quiet glances somewhere behind. ‘“Well done, now you get to celebrate by being stuck in a room with your co-workers!” Like I could think of any worse way to celebrate …’
‘Back atcha,’ Halin murmured, sotto voce. They were fifteen minutes into their alloted hour, and Nial had spent the entire time seemingly hoping to escape through sheer unpleasantness. Rian smiled uneasily, his Academy training leaving him woefully unprepared to negotiate the ancient animosity between journeyman mages and their receptionists. Three weeks in, and he was longing for the simplicity of fae–pixie politics.
‘I guess an Escape Room needs something to escape from,’ he murmured to Halin, at the precise moment Nial paused his tirade. Halin chuckled, but Rian wasn’t sure if it was at his comment or at Nial’s narrowing eyes.
‘Oh yes, I forgot, thank the Empress we have an intern—’
‘Come on, Nial,’ Halin soothed, walking across the room to where Nial leant against a chalkboard, her fingers trailing the spines of books in floor-to-ceiling shelving. ‘It’s only an hour. And I’m sure, if we all worked together, we could escape in much less time than that. Unless … unless, of course, the all-powerful Nial Corinh is stuck?’
Halin cocked an eyebrow and paused a few steps away from the seething mage, who glanced away to meet the eyes of a portrait on the wall opposite.
‘Poor Nial,’ Halin went on. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t let the maleficent kobolds of Urg’forath know you can be defeated by the pressures of a team-building exercise.’
‘I’m not stuck,’ Nial muttered, still not meeting her gaze. ‘I just think it’s silly we can’t use magic.’
‘Right, because that would be cheating,’ Halin smiled, echoing the manager’s strictest rule. ‘Anyway, for all your whingeing about being stuck here with co-workers, we are off the clock. There’s no need to bring work into this. So: where do we start?’
‘Um,’ Nial said, looking about with more hope of finding an excuse than a solution. ‘Well, ordinarily, um, I guess once we neutralised all the wards—’
‘—there aren’t any wards, we went over this—’
‘—and scanned for any traps—’
‘—no traps either, the manager was quite clear on that point—’
‘—and opened a portal to the nether-realms—’
‘—now you’re just prevaricating,’ Halin accused. ‘Even with magic you wouldn’t know where to start.’
Nial threw his hands up and sat down on the desk, right beside a heavily-marked train timetable, a take-away menu with circled dishes, and miniature plastic models artfully positioned. ‘Fine,’ he relented. ‘I guess I’d just die here. Nial Corinh,’ he dramatised, waving to the bookshelf before him, ‘killed by a dungeon-lord who couldn’t even place all the books in their bookshelf the right way up.’
‘That’s it!’ Rian gasped, triumphant.
Halin clapped him on the back, certain he’d picked up the same clue Nial had somehow noticed and glossed over in his depression. ‘Exactly,’ Halin said, ‘the bookshelf—’
‘The dungeon lord!’ Rian continued, looking around with renewed energy. ‘Think: the dungeon lord must have a key to this room!’
‘… you mean, the manager?’ Halin asked, haltingly.
Rian stopped, glared at Halin. ‘No,’ he stressed, ‘the dungeon lord. This isn’t real life, remember!’
‘Right, but it’s not like we can just—’
‘She did say,’ Nial mused, climbing off the desk and limbering up for action, ‘she’d know if we started trashing the place. That sounds like a clue.’
‘But there were rules against magic,’ Halin protested.
‘The rules said we’re not allowed to use magic to solve the puzzle,’ Rian said. ‘But there’s nothing saying we can’t use magic to destroy the puzzle.’
|# ? Dec 4, 2023 07:40|