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Jul 29, 2012
Sign me up. Let blood and suffering purge me clean! :black101:


Jul 29, 2012
Gonna have to bail. Internet's dying on me and I've been fighting just to get to this page. That'll teach me to procrastinate :(.

Jul 29, 2012
Ai. I don't see how this can possibly end well but I've got an idea I've been bouncing around a while so what the hell--I'm in.

Jul 29, 2012
Here goes nothing.

A Curious Tree (1334 Words)

Let me ask you this, friends: how many people do you think have died since, oh, Don Quixote was first put to paper?

Or another one: how many years do you think are left before the angels return?

Oh, or my favorite--you know why: do you imagine we'll ever see the stars?

These are the questions that filled my head all day--Mama used to say I needed something to fill it! But it was good to have something to think about. Questions that, if not exactly in need of an answer, might still have one that could be puzzled out. I don't need to tell you that farm work is boring, friends, and it was good to have something to think about besides straight furrows, bumper crops and keeping Maria happy--that'd be my donkey, ladies.

Distractions came and went, of course. Deaths, most obviously. Neither my Mama nor my Father are still with us. My little brother, he left one day for the city. Happy marriages a few miles up and down the road, and then of course I could tell you all about the unhappy ones too.

But you came to hear about my apple tree, didn't you?

No, of course not! But that's where it started: when my old apple tree, that I'd grown up with, climbed too many times to count, eaten from and played beneath, died. Struck by lightning, a bolt from the heavens! (Although I suppose I shouldn't complain, I know many who suffered worse in that same storm.)

Well, when the rubble was cleared I was obviously still in want of an apple tree. Now of course you say, quite rightly I might add, that I could have just replanted one of the fruit from the tree. That's what they're there for, no?

But my Father was a traveller in his youth. And when he settled down he brought many seeds, from many parts of the world, and usually once a season he would try to grow one of them in a little patch by our house. Many times they died, but when they didn't--I wish you could have seen them my friends! Ah, how strange and wonderful. So it was down to the cellar I went, to see if he had collected any special apple seeds. And it was just minutes later I returned, holding one between my fingers. "Look at it!" I said to myself. "It's as big as my fingertip! And see how healthy it is, it seems to radiate from within!"

This would be the moment to laugh, friends.

So yes, I planted the seed not far from where the old apple tree had fallen. And I forgot about it, for the most part. Made sure it was tended to, yes, but otherwise did not dwell on it--after all, I had so many more fascinating questions to ask myself.

So a season passed in relative peace, then another, and before I knew it spring had come again. And one night I noticed my big seed had sprouted into a little sapling. Except something was--odd, shall we say. At the very least.

The sapling itself was all black, almost charred like it, too had been struck by lightning, and indeed I had heard thunder the night before though no rain. Its surface felt cool to the touch, even under the noon sun, and was full of knots and cracks like a much older tree. And its fruit, if it could be called that--tiny things like pinheads, which were to be expected, I suppose. But at night! Flickering and pulsing--they glowed like old fireflies.

For weeks and months I let it be, a strange curiosity but not an alarming one. Eventually it became the three of us--Maria, the tree and I. For a quiet year we worked our little farm, and then one summer day I offered Maria one of its fruit. She looked at it cockeyed, simple eyes following the glow underneath its flesh like she would a wolf prowling just inside the forest.

But eventually she stretched her neck and turned up her lip and took a bite.

Then she brayed and spat out a broken tooth.

I tried one of them myself, and while I certainly wasn't going to lose a tooth to them, I can confirm for poor Maria that yes, those fruit were quiet inedible.

I hardly knew what to do. I confess, my friends, I am a sentimental creature and was quite fond of that little tree. And I was leery to cut it down regardless. After a few days of thought I finally decided n I would call my brother.

He had left in a huff for the city to become a man of science. Because of my little oddity it was not so hard to pull him back. After a week he returned, bringing with him all sorts of strange instruments and devices. After investigating my tree he came and told me that my tree was, apparently, "completely unknown to science."

It was while we were discussing this that I recalled the seedks origin in Father's cache. Though he tried to impress on us the importance of staying out of his things, usually at the end of a belt, he was not quite successful, and before long we found his journal.

That is where we come to the interesting part of our story, my friends.

His journal contained recounts of many fantastic journeys and voyages, but most pertinent to us we found a sketch and description of our mysterious seed, along with directions to its point of origin and latter scribblings wondering why he had ever went there and how he had ever returned.

Needless to say we set off immediately.

For days and nights we followed Father's trail through the forest and up into mountains where no roads have ever been built. We survived cold nights and wild creatures together. And it was nothing compared to what we found when we descended into the valley my father described.

From it sprouted a vast tree, huge enough to make mountains into pebbles. Each root was like a highway, each branch more marvelous than a skyscraper. And when we made camp beneath it and looked up into its shade, we saw the night sky, each fruit a star in its boughs.

I knew I had to climb it.

My brother was not so enthused.

I did not care.

Its roots led no small distance up the treeks height, so from there I had a decent start. surface was not unlike my little tree, with many small cracks and knots for handholds. Foot by foot, yard by yard, I climbed, up and up and up. Before long I lost sight of my brother's fire, then the ground itself, somewhere in the tree's shadows.

Instead I had the boughs themselves for company. I could look down any of them, as broad as a boulevard, and see stars hanging from them, swaying gently in the wind. Sometimes I'd look down and wonder if the world was spinning beneath me, all the continents and oceans, but instead all I saw were more stars.

But those were not all I saw, my friends. Falling stars that streaked through the dark, screaming like hellions. Floating clouds of strange gas, all colors of the rainbow. Will-o-wisps, wandering heedless, feeling over stars, plucking them up and sucking their cores out in moments.

Even still I climbed. Miles and miles it must have been. No light above and only starlight below. I think it was the third day I consigned myself to death there, fell on my knees and begged to go home.

Then I saw a light from above. Distant, like a torchlight down a well, but I saw it nonetheless. Somehow I climbed to my feet, and then up toward the open sky.

I don't know what I expected to see up there. I don't know what you expect either.

But I'm here now, aren't I?

Jul 29, 2012

SurreptitiousMuffin posted:

Another note for anyone thinking "MUFFIN SUCKS HE DIDN'T WRITE MAGICAL REALISM": the thing that got described and most people wrote is actually closer to urban fantasy. Buffy, Hellboy and Supernatural are not magical realism, duders. "but the townsfolk know" is a really lovely point of genre distinction. Wouldn't that make Shadowrun magical realism?

edit: apparently wikipedia says urban fantasy is "STRONG WOMEN HAVE SEX POTENTIALLY EXPERIENCE LOVE WHILE FIGHTING MONSTERS" (also it happens in a city but not a large town or other expanded urban area) while Hellboy etc is Contemporary Fantasy. Because, as metalheads can tell you, you can never have too many almost-indistinguishable subgenres.

(if they have sex it's paranormal romance holy poo poo the :spergin: train is about to go off the loving tracks)

Man you keep making me second-guess myself. When I saw your first post I ended up writing a whole new submission and now I'm wondering if I would have been better off just posting that one instead :saddowns:

Jul 29, 2012
In. Started work on the rough draft almost as soon as I saw the prompt and I'm kinda excited to see how this one shakes out.

Jul 29, 2012

The Saddest Rhino posted:


Well if you weren't The Saddest Rhino before...

So, does Baudolino's... effort mean that we all not-lose by default? Or does he get a special category all his own?

Jul 29, 2012

The Saddest Rhino posted:

No, produce or death awaits.

:shrug: You asked for it.

The Skies Watched Back, 989 Words

"Christ," Gabriel muttered. "Everything is so hosed."

"I know, dammit," He snapped. He turned to the choir and shouted: "Someone slip some sense into McNamara yet?"

The voices of the angels rose in reverent, resonating tones in time with the red on their Lord's face. "One word answers, you little cocksuckers," he growled. "A 'yes' or a loving 'no.'"

From somewhere in the back someone softly said "Yes."

"Good--great--job," He said, summoning him forth. "Rest of you fuckers, grab your swords and go. Every missile needs to be covered. Warsaw, NATO, Turkey, Cuba. Worse comes to worse? Face full of Armagedden'll be good for you."

"Lord," Gabriel asked, "How could this happen?"

He snorted. "Three guesses." He eyed the young angel that approached with gaze diverted. "There's a Soviet in DC by the name of Feklisov. He has some pull there and back home. Get him to use it." With a bow the angel vanished down through the heavens. The Lord watched him go to the city lights below.

Gabriel's fingers twitched for his trumpet. "Should I sound the call?"

Christ waved a hand. "Fine, yes, call him. Just--don't put it on video this time."

Shoulders slumped, Gabriel conjured up the black phone. The ringing sounded like the rattling of scoured bones. "Yessss?"

Gabriel shuddered. That voice was like scales over silk. In the background he could hear screams, the crackle of fire, and ungodly laughter. "Beezy. Your boss. Now."

The Lord snatched the phone from his hand. For a while He listened, color draining from his face. Finally He hurled it down, a new shooting star for the world. "Someone's gonna find that," Gabriel said.

"Good," Christ snapped. "Maybe if the little shitheads know where they're going they'll be a little less likely to blow themselves all to Kingdom loving Come!"

For a long time Gabriel did nothing. The earth turned beneath them, closer and closer to spinning past saving. At last he spoke. "So is he doing anything?"

"Besides warming up popcorn and pitch pits? No," He scowled. "Claims no responsibility. At all."

Gabriel fluttered over beside him. Watching the world beside his Lord, he wondered what he could possibly say. "You could have appealed to his greed," he finally said. "There would be twice as many down there by the end if the century. Imagine--"

"How many would fall into his hands then?" He shook his head and brushed the notion away. "No. Unthinkable."

Gabriel nodded, tried to keep the color from his face. "Then we might not have much choice. If we can't talk sense into them or the man downstairs then we might--"

"Need to go to the crazy grandpa in the attic, I know." He sighed and lifted off his feet, further into the heavens. "Come on, you rear end," He called. "I can't deal with Metatron today."

Whatever objections the Seraphim might have had were thrown away as soon as they saw the fury on their Lord's face. He and Gabriel passed by to God's throne without objection. They found the Almighty facing outward, directing the Virtues in the arrangement of stars and galaxies. Wings folded over his eyes and knee bent, Gabriel went aside to listen.

"Father," the Lord said, shifting into a more familiar tongue, "I beseech you, prevent the coming war between Your children."

The Almighty was slow to respond. "My sole begotten Son," He said with a voice somewhere between a lion's roar and a thunderclap, "what war do you speak of?"

"The greatest powers of men align to destroy the world," the Lord said. "They will scour and scar your finest works with nuclear fire--"

"My finest work?" The Almighty asked, somehow incredulous. "Have You not laid eyes on the wonders and worlds before You? Imagine what I may people them with, to know My glory--"


Gabriel bit his lip. Behind him the his Lord sunk to His knees.

"Please," Christ choked. "If You do not intervene three thousand million people, Our children, will be nothing but ashes. The world We made will sputter out and die. All that We loved will be lost forever. You only need to look away from these stars to see it."

For too long a time the Almighty was silent. All that could be heard was the burning of the stellar fire at His heart as He looked upon all His creation and, hopefully, realized where He had erred.

"Begone," He hissed. "And do not bother Me with these trifles again!"

Never before had Gabriel felt like he'd scraped the very bottom of heaven.

"Now what?"

The Lord shrugged. "Hope the Gnostics are right. I don't loving know. Sit back and watch the fireworks, I guess." He pointed at the shallow waters of a warm sea. "See the blockade there? There's a submarine trying to run it. Right now, one of the ships is dropping depth charges on the drat thing because they don't know it has a nuclear torpedo." He shook His head and sighed. "Well Dad, there goes everything." He cast a heavy-lidded glance in Gabriel's direction. "That trumpet ready?"



Down below, the world did not ignite.

Gabriel didn't say a word, afraid to break the moment.

"Incredible," the Lord muttered.

"My Lord?"

They wheeled to see the timid angel from the choir.

"I did as You commanded," he said. "Feklisov was able to set up talks between Kruschev and Kennedy. They should move the missiles tomorrow. If all goes well, Lord."

The Lord almost bounced over to him. "Excellent--incredible. But I have to ask--did you visit a man named Vasili Arkhipov?"

The angel shook his head. "No. Should I?"

A smile wider than Gabriel had ever seen crossed His face. "No, don't worry," He said. "But I would like you to see Kruschev and Kennedy themselves. Let's make these impulses productive, see how much Dad ignores them when they're visiting his loving stars themselves..."

Jul 29, 2012
First draft's done and under the limit. Think that means I'm in.

Jul 29, 2012
Does anybody else hate titling these? I can never think of good ones.

Starstuff -- 425 Words

Nothing but stars. Same as it ever was.

Garret's mum'd shown him decades ago. Couldn't say how many. Couldn't say much about his mum. Could look it up, of course. An instant away on the ethernet. Everything was. Date of her birth, not that he needed reminding. Or her death. Or their date of arrival, six centuries out.

Garret touched the observation deck's dome. A century since the starcraft'd fled earth. How many times'd it been replaced? Couldn't guess. Never learned what it was made from, if it'd last. Must've been, though. Everything needed replacing eventually.

People included. Parts of people included. Body did both those itself, luckily. Remade about every decade or so. Ready for reproduction in less than two. But everything took resources. On a starcraft between stars? Those were hard to come by.

Let's go, Garret thought. Was nice. But let's go. He left the stars for the starcraft's belly. Along the way people let him be. Might've been respect. Might've been because they had nothing to say. Words'd always been in short supply.

The starcraft's med center was, of course, by its noisy recycling plant. He felt like he was shouting at the poor young lady behind the desk about his appointment. She just nodded politely and led him to a room with soft lights and a single bench. He smiled, wished her a good time, and sat to wait for his doctor.

For some reason he hadn't given her his nye, so Garret looked through family photos, reminiscing. There was his mum, his wife, their firstborn son and baby daughter. Might've been the light-headedness, but the images became unrecognizable, unplacable--no memories or stories to pair them with. His granddaughter, smiling, almost a woman. He remembered nothing but her name.

His mouth creaked open and the air tasted wrong. Door was airtight. No doctor coming. Someone'd take his body to the recycling plant and that'd be that. So strange they didn't tell anyone. So little to it.

Garret pressed his thumb to his wrist, felt flesh, blood and bone beneath, wondered how much was his mother, his wife. That was all, after seven decades. Atoms and elements remade into the memories of a dying man. Or just his body. Nothing left behind.

Via ethernet, everything was an instant away. Might've sent the pictures to his granddaughter. Given her something. But Garret wavered and let go, head against the wall, tried to smile like her so someone'd see. It was too late. Nothing to do but wait for the next go 'round.

Jul 29, 2012

All told I don't know much about the Bible either! :downs: I just thought it's be a fun idea for a story. The ending was supposed to be an allusion to the start of the Space Race and the idealism of ~going to the stars~ that I thought would be a nice way to end the story besides "the world didn't explode! Yay!"

I'll watch for dialog attribution and sense-making next time. Thanks for the line edit, hope it wasn't too painful! :)

Jul 29, 2012

Fanky Malloons posted:

That said HaitianDivorce, I didn't hate your story. I thought it was a cool interpretation of the prompt, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

Sounds right. I'll get my footing on one of these prompts eventually. Until then I just hope the end results aren't too excrable.

Oh, and he says time because they're on a generation ship no one bothered to rig with a day/night cycle :pseudo:

Jul 29, 2012

Nubile Hillock posted:

gently caress it, three way brawl!

I'm in with

Holy poo poo.

Well. That's certainly something to look forward to reading, at least.

Jul 29, 2012
In. Let's give this a shot.

Jul 29, 2012

systran posted:

HaitianDivorce vs. Jeza
Martial Arts of some form must be a part of the plot.

Here goes nothing.

Roaches -- 1599 words

So. You want to know what happened on Liberi: The Descent, right? That's why I'm here?

Yes, I mean Liberi 7. It's a joke.

Alright then. I'll try to make sure we both enjoy this as little as possible.

Started at Hermes Station. Tuning up my bird with some aftermarket parts--

Yes, that's it.

No, civilian models are not available. I imagine your paymasters knew this.

No, I do not care to tell you how I got it. You said no fun. But. Like I said. Your paymasters contacted me. Needed a replacement pilot fast. I could always use the money so I was signing the contract down in the local office in an hour.

Yes, I left immediately. Hard to make a living in my line of work if everyone knows you're unreliable. I have to keep it a secret, y'see.

One week transit. Manual control, if you have to ask. I like the stars. They don't ask so many questions. And coming out of stasis messes with your reflexes, y'know? Dumb question.

Anyway. Arrived at Liberi 7. Met with the crew where they'd set up base on some moon no one had bothered to name, introduced myself. Pretty standard helium mining op, almost all automated--guess I'm lucky drones can't fly as well as us yet.

No, I figured it was pirates. But instead I get introduced to the Good Doctor. "An expert in xenological biology," I was told--

Hmm? Right after I landed they started giving me the tour, brought me to where they had combat training--exercise a little, keep muscles strong, y'know? ...Of course you don't.

Anyway, they had two guys at it, padding and sticks. Looked pretty even-matched. Then one guy gets in close, so the stick's no use, uppercuts the guy's chin and throws him to the ground in the space of a few seconds. Then he takes off his helmet, sticks out his hand and introduces himself as Doctor Teus.

Oh, I shook his hand and told him I was looking forward to working with him. Asked if he was the guy who communicated with that 'living' asteroid before they blew it up for monopole magnets.

Eventually the station supervisor dragged me away, told me the rest of the story: they weren't having issues with pirates raiding their shipments, they were having issue rounding up anything to ship. Something down in Liberi 7 was sabotaging--well, that makes it sound like they had finesse. Something was breaking their mining drones down there. In the atmosphere. Of a gas giant the size of Jupiter.

Sounded weird to me, but I'm just a pilot. I know stuff can develop down in there, but I'd never heard of it being anything smart. Just floating microbes. I figured they'd missed something, and honestly when I wasn't ferrying the Good Doctor down to sites where they lost drones I just tried to tune up any of their satellites they'd let me.

You want to hear about those trips? Alright. I remember figuring it wouldn't be an issue. Bird's rated for a thousand atmospheres. Get the Doctor into a pressure suit, jetpack, tether, taser. Take 'im down, head to where the drone was last heard from, see if we could find anything left.

First few times we didn't find anything. It was just me and him circling through wind and storms over some featureless expanse of sky. We figured the drones fell towards crush depth.

Most of the time we talked. Places we'd been. People we'd met. Women. He was having a fling with one of the satellite techs. Our "adventures," if you want to call them that. He told me about how he'd once tried to catch a specimen, a big lizard-thing, and it turned around and spat acid on him. Had to get a whole new hand. And I thought my implant scars were nasty.

Eventually, yes, we found a drone limping along. Big helium zeppelin barely holding it together. Reported it, then got as close as I could and let the Doctor loose. Meanwhile storms below were sending a bit of chop my way, had to pull back and keep at a safe distance.

Not two minutes later he's talking about his finds--ragged puncture marks, tracks, even a crude tool like a sharpened stick or stake. Then he goes makes a noise, sort of a gasp, and he's quiet for a long time. Couldn't raise him. Pulled around but I didn't see him fall and his tracker told me he was still there.

"Teus?" I ask again. "Doc? Say something, lemme know you're alright..."

There's a burst of static and he's laughing. "Come here," he says, and he shoots a flare up from near the back of the engines. "Take a look at this."

I manage to swing my bird around and go to find him, though I can't get too close--storm, you gotta remember. I manage to hold her steady and with a bit of a boost he makes it, but I can see out the cockpit he's got something in his arms. And then he strolls in and sits down and he has this overgrown hissing cockroach in his arms like it's a baby.

Well my first reaction was the same as any spacer's; try to space it. When I couldn't I just cursed.

He hushed me, told me to just report the find in while he doted on it. "Look at this," he whispered. "An intelligent, social, tool-using society developing in the atmosphere of a Jovian giant. I never imagined I'd see one." And in his arms the thing just kinda clicks its mandibles together and spreads its wings all content-like.

We got it up to the station no problem. Teus gets it into isolation, starts observing it. "You can't see it anymore," he said, "the light in here's wrong--but it's got these markings, probably show up under heavy ultraviolet, to distinguish itself from others, maybe tattoos. Oh, and listen to what it's saying--one sound, repeated, then another different one." He turned to the super and asked, "Do you think it'd calling names? Probably never had a solid floor beneath it--"

The super raised a hand. "So, these are... pack hunters?"

Teus nodded. "Yes. Parts of its body look underdeveloped, it might still be a juvenile--maybe downing a drone, or participating in doing so, is a coming-of-age ritual. And when this one failed, they--"

"So could we track it back to where it came from?" The super was biting his lip, very angry eyes. Any relation?

Teus nodded. "I imagine he wants to go back to his home as much as I want to see it."

Eight hours later we were doing just that. Teus threw open the airlock and our little friend flew away fast as he could. We'd planted a tracker on it and started to follow.

Mostly that meant I dropped the bird fast as I could.

There was a storm below us, and sensors detected things in it--more cockroaches. Teus almost pressed up against the window to get a better look at them.

Soon as I got too close, though, they dropped down through the storm. Looked like a challenge to me.

So I flew the bird down through the storm's eye. Straight vertical drop. The Good Doctor barely got his harness on in time, I don't think I told him the plan. His face sure looked red, though I imagine that was just all the blood.

Down below--wow. Giant living clouds, kilometers wide. Forests of floating plants. Far below us, something like a whale bigger than most space stations. I wish I'd taken a picture of Teus' face.

His friend and the rest of his--swarm? Flock? Murder?--headed for one of the bigger clouds. We got closer and saw it's had all these structures on it, trees they must grow tools from and little wigwams and a big mound Teus thought might have been for burials. Then out of it all these roaches fly out of it, get real near us. Some stuck to the fuselage; you could see their gaping, drooling mouths and spiky teeth.

Teus ate it up though. "What do you think we look like to them? To a child everything a parent does seems magic, but they figure it out eventually. We must be like--"

One of the roaches lights up, screeches and plummets. You could hear gas pop and fizzle out of its lungs.

I think it was Treus', actually.

More followed though. I imagine those satellites your people wouldn't let me touch had orbital lasers mounted on them. Charming.

Teus looked at me, eyes narrowed and brow knit. "Do something," he hissed.

I felt the pit of my stomach drop like in freefall. Couldn't give him an answer so I just shrugged. Nothing for me to do but sit and watch.

So the Doctor came out of his harness, got in close, threw an elbow right to my temple. Was dazed and out long enough for him to get a jet pack and pressure helmet on me and boot me out the airlock.

Last thing I saw of my bird was it flying up towards those lasers. Hung onto one of those plants for dear loving life until you people bothered to send someone to check out my beacon.

He did what to it? poo poo. I thought it would have survived a collision like that.

So he's dead?

That's great. Do you intend to compensate me or are you just going to boot me out on my rear end?

Yeah. Thank you for your time too, rear end in a top hat.

Jul 29, 2012

Nubile Hillock posted:

edit2: The three worst contestants along with the three best contestants shall get a line by line!

Yeah, creepy glee aside is this two line-by-lines from each of you or is this something you're doing all by yourself?

E: oh, yeah, I'm in I guess.

E2: Off to a great start :downs:! Let's send this one in to Firestar Science Fiction.

HaitianDivorce fucked around with this message at 15:17 on May 2, 2013

Jul 29, 2012

Nubile Hillock posted:

No idea! I'm doing line by lines for sure, the other judges can do whatever the hell they want!

Cool. I'll... try to make sure I'm not on the bottom, I guess.

Jul 29, 2012
Personal stuff has come up and I'm not going to be able to make it this week. Sorry 'Domers.

Jul 29, 2012
Sign me up.

Jul 29, 2012
When I signed up for this I thought it would be, if not easy, at least fun. Nope. :(

Exile -- 1807 words

There was just one way out, a single tunnel that cut straight through the fortress. Across each baked brick a message had been carved, in many hands and tongues: many crying out for home scarcely put behind them, some begging for clemency from the soldiers that even now moved to block the way back, a few looking forward to the future that awaited past the great wall.

For his part Jack left only a few words scratched near the exit: "There is nothing left to save." He lingered a while longer to admire his work, his tiny contribution to this monument to exile. Behind him the camel snorted and spat and he sighed and took up its reigns again.

I could hardly ask a better companion, he thought, and tried to smile.

The sun was rising behind them and drew the shadows out, so for just a few moments they had some small comfort. Still there was no mistaking the long journey they had before them: tracts of flat white sand stretched on so far that he could walk until his legs were nothing but bone and never reach the far mountains, heat shimmered in the air and threatened to draw the moisture from his body as surely as the cold would freeze him an hour after sunset, and the wind kicked across the level plains baring with it sand to scour his flesh clean.

A single road cut from the tunnel into the distance, marked by a few cracked wooden posts set down by a few brave or unlucky laborers. With nowhere else to go and eager to be away from the wall Jack followed it, stepping out into the sun itself without paying the wall that had shaded him any mind--there were rituals and superstitions aplenty to divine if an exile would ever return home again, but he had no interest in them. There was no reason to ever go home; his path was set. Exile was all there was.

No matter what the songs the other side of the wall might have said the road did not go on forever. Instead it ended when the wall was out of sight. A signpost, toppled over and half-sunk in the sand, pointed three directions to three places he had never heard of. He tried to make a guess as to which direction he should take to which place and found no answer.

Behind him the wall that guarded the way back to civilization had receded to a thin line on the horizon; before him the mountains were no nearer than they had been that morning. The sun had burned all the shadows away and left him soaked with sweat; the camel's water tank wouldn't last particularly long in this heat. The thought occurred to him: return. Return and beg forgiveness, and you might even be able to sleep in your own bed tonight.

The thought rang hollow. With a shake of his head he took the camel's reigns and led it further into the setting sun.

When the night came it chased away all warmth; Jack's hopes of moving in relative comfort were dashed when his breath froze in front of him. By starlight he pitched his tent and drifted off to oily uncertain dreams.

Sunlight crept over his face and stirred him awake. His eyes opened, gummy and dry, and for a moment he only laid there, uncertain. The canvas and fur lining flexed in the wind, the beast outside stamped its foot. He did not know who he was, or where he was, or why he was there. All he had was the need to keep going, on and on and on. He sat up, remembered everything, but still the need was there, only in context: he was fleeing that place.

The day fell away into the sound of his footfalls and the wind whistling around him. The sun scorched his fair skin red and the sand stung his eyes. Even worse his mind wandered, faces appearing out of the white dunes: a stern, bearded man, mouth turned into a snarl; a woman, face thin and narrow like a willow tree; a little girl with eyes deep and dark and very sad. That night as the wind picked up and blasted his meager tent, howling loud enough to wake the dead, he could almost hear their voices. Huddled under his blanket he muttered to himself in mock wonder: the stories on the other side were wrong again. Only the dead were supposed to cry out in sandstorms.

Days and nights afterward passed in equal measure and tedium as he travelled on to an uncertain destinatiom through the endless sands. Jerky and water dwindled away as surely as the days and miles piled up no matter how carefully he rationed them out. Their halfway point came and left without much notice; he swore to himself and pressed on. What he imagined he might find he did not know: though once, as a child, he had dreamed of a land past the horizon where the sun set and rose in opposite directions and all did as they pleased, stealing and mudering without end.

If such a land existed he made no progress towards it. The mountains pulled away as he walked towards them, the sun beating down upon his face as if in mockery. The clear stars at night did little to assuage his fear of death from starvation or dehydration. No friendly nomads appeared from over a hill; nothing moved or stirred all across the sands. He had been eager to travel away from that place, to see new lands, but now he would be happy to see anything alive, if anything could survive in this place.

One day he came upon a gradually sloping dune off to his south. The last of his water gone, the last of his strength failing, even his camel on its last legs, Jack looked at it and nearly cried. He had come so far, had wanted to go so much further, and he would die never even knowing what lay on its other side. He threw his head back, waited for the last drop of water to fall from his canteen and stood: he would see that, at least.

The hill was gentle and easy, but even so his legs burned and turned to stone. His camel's head drooped and at last it fell dead. Jack did not take a moment to mourn it: the desert, apparently so easily traversed, had made an even greater fool of him. After hours he at last stood at the dune's crest, and saw, further south, a cluster of lights to his south, near a green-blue river and the rolling white tide.

He stumbled into the city by the sea at night and dropped into a gutter. He awoke to find someone else with him; a traveler that had not been as strong or a citizen that had not been as fortunate: he was dead. Staggering away, barely better off, it did not take long for Jack to learn the city was a place without laws or customs, built by fellow exiles and travelers from squabbling and suffering in the only place in the desert that could sustain it. Nothing came for free but Jack had much to offer: when he recovered his hands were quick and his mind was quicker.

Days became weeks and weeks became months. Jack found employment with ships trawling the coasts and sailing the nameless sea, as a bouncer at clubs catering to all base instincts, in backrooms and backstreets meting out the city's version of justice for its owners. He was rewarded well-enough for his work and made sure to keep at least some of it for later days--a small virtue not left behind past the wall a world away, and perhaps the only one.

One day he came across a traveller, easily distinguished as having come from beyond the same wall. It had been many years since he had found the city but even so the traveller recognized him and spoke to him by name: not his given name but his family's.

For a moment Jack said nothing, for he had not thought of his family in years. He asked of them, and the traveller turned grave: his father was deathly ill. That night Jack took his fortune, purchased supplies and left go return across the desert.

Equipped and experienced as a traveller the journey was much easier, and toilless days rolled into one another. Before long he passed through the wall and found himself home: a place as green and verdant as he remembered it. If any of the folk on the other side recognized him, they did not betray it; instead they smiled at the weather beaten sunburnt traveller shaking the dust from his coat as though he were a close neighbor. Even his household guard, old enough to remember when he had left the place, let him pass without word.

From long and dangerous years of work Jack had expected the immediate rejection and barely hoped for anything more. But at his father's door his little sister, eyes already red from crying, embraced him without a word. Inside his mother's face softened and filled with tears of joy and she flung her arms around his neck. And his father, stubbornness still with him, took one of his hands in his own and folded it across his chest. Tears filled the old man's eyes and Jack's face burned red like it had in the desert years past.

"I am so sorry," he told his father, afraid to try and wrench his hand free. "If I upset you, I will go."

His father spoke, voice hushed and quiet. "Do not be, my only son. My prayers have been answered. At long last you return: the unruly boy that left us gone, made into a man, both beloved to myself and to our family. Always we have and always we will."

They spent the rest of the day speaking, not merely him and his father but also with his mother and sister too. As night fell his father slipped away, and by morning they buried him with the rest of their ancestors.

As the sun rose Jack looked on their familial grave, the resting place of all who had come before him. He would be buried there, one day; this he had known since he was a child. It had seemed a cold embrace, to accept one only after they had gone, but in the dawn he saw his family and understood: always his family loved him, from when he was born to long after he died, always and unconditionally.

Jul 29, 2012
Biblical sci-fi? Let's give this a shot.

Jul 29, 2012

God knows it ain't a masterpiece, but I feel better about it than the last one I submitted (not that that says much).

Blindsided--1133 words

On the dark side of Sobek Station he could see everything.

Katerina leaned back in her seat, away from him, but her cheeks were flushed and her heart beat quickly. Bee held her head in her hands, smile broad and sweet. And Liza, legs crossed, face hidden behind her drink, watched him with quiet interest.

Theo nursed his own drink, looked off into a quiet corner to see it all again. The girls exchanged glances, but no matter: he had it. "As soon as the guards turned their backs I slipped past them. As soon as they went between bulkheads I sealed the doors on them. They never got to that false alarm, but I got where I wanted." Theo sipped his drink, brooded over it, and looked to each of them in turn. "You ever been up on one of those towers? It's beautiful. The solar panels stretch on and on, lonely and level, for hundreds of kilometers. They glitter in the light like fields of diamonds. And then..." He craned his neck up towards, hands spread in mock wonder. "The sun is right up above you, the windows so tinted and dark you can actually look at it, coils and spots of red and orange and yellow, plumes of fire burning in space."

He let them try to picture it. They'd been born here, always lived under Sumerno's auspices, probably didn't get a chance to see the sun more than three or four times a year. Around him the conversations in three languages he'd been tracking had quieted; borrowing one of the bar camera's feeds told him he was being listened to by almost everyone there without having to look.

"But," Theo said, clearing his throat, "I had a job to do. Do you know why I targeted that specific tower? Because almost all of its power goes somewhere else, while hospitals suffer blackouts, fabricators fall silent and airlocks hang open. Obviously, that had to change. So I set to work, and when I finished, do you know what I said?"

He snapped his fingers, and fast as a synapse the bar's lights turned on. "Let there be light."

Katerina giggled and Bee positively glowed. Liza only looked at him, one eyebrow cocked. He favored her with a half-smile before the lights faded back to normal. "From there I did my best to lock the system behind me and made my way out. Security never saw me, but they got their power back faster than they should have." He shook his head, rueful. "God only knows what another few minutes might have done."

"Don't worry about it," Bee said. "There's nothing you could have done."

Theo sighed and shrugged. "Maybe. I thought I had top-of-the-line equipment, but still they managed to reverse what I'd done. Makes me wonder..."

"How did you do all that?" Liza asked. "It must be some nice hardware to sneak past all Sumerno security."

Theo smiled sheepishly but Katerina and Bee nodded in agreement. He pretended to mull it over long enough to search Summerno's dossiers for mention of any of the three. "I'll tell you, but you can't tell anyone else," he finally said. One by one he whispered into their ears different lines of bullshit.

A hand clapped on his shoulder. "Dean. Good to see you." Theo flashed the girls a smile and stood to meet his friend.

Dean and he bumped fists while they found a quieter corner of the bar. Theo had never seen his vitals so excited. "Any chance you're in the market for better hardware?" Dean asked. "I've got a man who got his hands on a quantum dot chip, fresh out of Sumerno skunkworks. You're the first one I came to--interested?"

Theo winced. "No. Sorry."

"What, that's it?" Dean looked at him, unbelieving and accusing. "This is a big opportunity, and I need to get these off my hands, and you just tell me no? Do you not trust me?"

"No. It's just--how do you think I sneak past Sumerno security? I can't do it with a minicomp." He glanced around, then tapped at his eye. "I have implants. Good ones. Right in there, in my optic nerves."

Dean crossed his arms. "How good?"

"You spent the fourth night in a row with a woman calling herself Lily." He looked at Dean from around the security record floating in his vision. "You're running up quite a tab with her."

"Okay, okay," Dean said, trying to quiet him. "But you sure you don't--"

"The first thing I remember, before I even woke up after they were implanted, was seeing the surgeon remove my eyes, over and over." Theo shuddered. "I'm not doing it again. Thanks, though."

Dean nodded, his vitals settling down. "It's alright," he said. "I'll find someone who wants 'em." He nodded over his shoulder to the girls growing bored at the table. "Good luck, man. See you around."

"See you around," Theo said, and he returned to his seat. "Sorry about that, ladies," he said. For whatever reason Katerina and Bee excused themselves and left. Liza stayed, half-smiling at him while she drained her drink.

"So." She set the empty glass down. "Where are we going?"

"How about my place?"

They found a tram station, and with a little coaxing Theo had a passing one make an unscheduled stop. They found a car all to themselves and watched the Station silently pass by, not speaking. Faraway lights burned like little embers, letting faraway people see just enough to get by. It was far from perfect, bu it was a beautiful night this side of Sobek Station. It always was.

Theo and Liza threaded their way through the crowded streets while the Station intercomm blathered on about his handiwork. Sumerno security kept a watchful eye on checkpoints at every bulkhead, but they gave them no trouble. Before long he threw open the door to his modest apartment.

A black bag was thrown over his head. He jabbed his elbow where he suspected his attacker's face was and received a jolt to the back of his head in response. Behind him, where Liza had been, there was the sound of a scuffle and a burst of high gunfire. All Theo could see was spots in his eyes.

They pulled the bag off his head and there was Dean, wringing his hands, and a gaunt man with a pinched face in a gray Sumerno security uniform. He pulled a knife from his pocket as he approached, his smile vicious and his eyes cold. Theo screamed, high and wordless.

Outside, guards waved curious onlookers away. "Nothing to see here."

Jul 29, 2012
Sign me up.


Jul 29, 2012
This is dumb and bad but I had fun writing it so I'm not sorry. :colbert:

Patience, AZ--1173 Words

"I hate this town," Mickey McKane said to everyone, all up and down the wide black boulevard of Patience, Arizona's main street, which was no one. He skipped out of the shadow of the town hall, all decked up like Roman temple, and spun around to face the Mayor's statue, seated in a throne ten feet tall. "And I can't wait to see you gone."

The statue looked down upon him, a sneer on her marbled face and a lightning bolt raised in one hand. "Janet Leery, Mayor of Mayors," the tablet in her hands read, held tight against one breast of her ceremonial gown while the other was bare, in the style of ancient Rome or Sumeria or Qarth or something. Somehow she'd managed to talk that past the smoldering Lutherans and the outraged Catholics, but she wouldn't be able to talk past this.

Mickey thrust the sheaf of papers into the big open cloudless sky. Soon his sky would be filled. With buildings. Because he'd be somewhere else. When Mickey published this story, he could say goodbye to the Patience Monitor! He'd be working at the New York Post! Maybe even the Washington Times!

With copious bribes of chewing gum and unmarked two dollar bills he'd managed to secure from the mayor's aide a copy of the Mesa Flats Mass Transit Project. Leery's pet project, rammed through the noodle-spined town council in a single session despite its ridiculous price, no one knew quite what it was. Rumors swirled, from an airport to a train yard all the way up to a marina on the shore of the Niobraran Sea National Park, despite the fact that the Niobraran Sea had been a desert since the end of the dinosaurs.

Whatever it was, Mickey had been certain the Mayor was bullshitting the taxpayers--and even himself!--and was going to drag it to light. Fanning himself, he found a table at a nearby coffee shop, sat beneath an awning and began to read. Slowly his smile dimmed, like a dying star, until it finally collapsed into a black hole of a frown.

"I hate this town," he mutterered to himself. He licked his thumb, stuck it in the air and felt nothing. "A wind train? What the hell is a wind train?" He flipped through the plans and stared at the diagram, sails like old galleons towering above little train cars while stick figures scrambled in the rigging. In the margins someone had doodled in another, falling from the very top, and added "90 ft--probably not always fatal!!" as a point in the plan's favor.

Mickey stared, dumbstruck. A gust of wind sent the pages flapping, and when they settled they were on a proposed schedule. "It's almost done," he moaned. "They finish laying track today--" He sat up. "And the Mayor inspects today."

He had a plan together by the time he hit Patience city limits. The trailer park grew like a fungal growth from a rotting log and smelled about as lovely, but, much like certain fungi, it contained things vital to Western civilization. Things like Wess Oakey.

Patience lore held that Wess Oakey had arrived out of the largest sandstorm the town had ever seen, with a rifle slung over his back, a month's beard on his face, and an unidentifiable accent on his tongue, asking where he could re-enlist for the New Gasden Republic. Common sense held that he was just Orkney West returned from trying to flee his embarrassingly awful name, his Scottish accent slipping and his brain addled after his long solo sojourn. Either way he had re-settled into Orkney's old trailer and returned to Orkney's old profession--that is, slinging meth, and then sinking his profits into whatever weaponry and explosives he could make or buy.

"Wess!" Mickey pounded on the trailer door. "Wess! I've got a--"

The door opened and a monster of plastic and canvas poked its head out, Wess' face barely visible beneath. Thick white smoke billowed out behind him. "What?"

Mickey waved away the smoke and wiped tears from his eyes. "I need a favor."

"Don't breathe the smoke or you'll drop dead," Wess said, slamming the door.

"Wess!" Mickey called. "I want to take down the Mayor! With explosions!"

Wess was back out the door in real clothes in an instant, a rifle over his shoulder and a brick in his hands. "What's that?" Mickey asked, poking it through the wax paper.

Mickey nodded, pretending to be sage, and backed away. "I see."

They discussed the plan as they went and had it hammered out by the time they hit what was left of Mesa Flats. Wess slunk off to plant his half of the explosive while Mickey went to find the Mayor.

She stood with her back to him, Mayor's tricorner and cape hiding her form and instantly marking her while she walked the deck of her private car. Gordonson smacked his lips and chewed his gum and pointed to Mickey. She turned with a whirl and her eyes narrowed when she saw him. "McKane," she said.

"Leery," he hissed. "I found out about your plan!" He pointed to the sail-train. "Make this, watch it fail and then pocket the shortfall!"

Leery laughed, airy and contemptuous, and she kicked down the hold door. "But did you know about the gold?! The gold we pulled from Mesa Flats?"

It was piled in glittering ingots from floor to ceiling. "No, I didn't," Mickey admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. He jabbed a finger at her and kicked a rope loose, rising with it to the foremast. "But I'm still putting you under citizen's arrest!" Behind him the sails fluttered in the wind and the car jerked into motion.

The Mayor scoffed. "Gordonson, set course for Vegas," she ordered, and drew her Mayor's sword. "I'll see to this citizen." She climbed, sword in her teeth, and stood nimbly on the balls of her feet. "I've wanted to do this since grade school!" She crowed, jabbing at him while the ground lurched by, dozens of feet below.

Mickey found a rope and ascended. "What, since you tried to give me cooties?"

Leery's mouth twisted into a snarl and she slashed some of the rigging, blowing a sail before them. Far below Mickey saw a figure run from the tracks, and then they exploded, and the car was derailed. For a moment he thought it would slow to a stop, and then the wind turned and he felt the car lurch and tip and fall.

He woke up with dust in his eyes. He could hear the Mayor shouting for Gordonson to deploy the life-pushcart and saw Wess coming for him while the sail-car burned. He pulled him to his feet and dusted him off.

The Mayor was receding into the distance, bound for Vegas. "That was dumb," Wess said.

Mickey shrugged. "At least we have the gold."

Wess bit a chunk and winced. "It's pyrite. Fool's gold."

Mickey's shoulders sagged. "I won't even say it."

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