*A newcomer rides up to THE THUNDERDOME. He rides a motorcycle, or some other comparably badass method of transport. He enters the Dome, steps off his hog or whatever and stands tall. This is NIKAER DREKIN.*
I'm in for this one, the prompt is awesome and I already have a pretty solid idea for it. I'm proud to clash literary swords with you fine goons.
|# ¿ Mar 26, 2013 13:32|
|# ¿ Dec 1, 2023 23:57|
Okay, CREEPER, I'm retracting my entry unless you tell me how you got that camera there
|# ¿ Mar 27, 2013 00:22|
Oh, just in case I want to look into publishing in the future, is it all right if I post my story somewhere else and link it here?
|# ¿ Mar 30, 2013 01:42|
Brandy and Death- 1,191 words
Inspired by Take This Waltz by Leonard Cohen
While Griswold had dreamed up the curious notion that it would be a fine idea for me to accompany him to the grand ball, he was not blessed with any ideas regarding what to do with me once there. He left me drifting in a sea of black-tie blowhards and their dates without even having the courtesy to point out the barman’s coordinates. My borrowed shirt, over-starched, rasped against my skin and the old tux pinched at my joints whenever I had the audacity to move. To my secret pride and Griswold’s shame I went with a clip-on black bow tie. I would not tolerate even a figurative noose this evening.
Over in the north-west corner a string quartet droned out a wailing waltz, suspending the aristocrats in a fog of stodgy romance. Underwhelming as the party may have been, I was impressed by the space it occupied. Not even the Viennese ballroom itself, its marble walls etched with gold and draped in red silk tapestries, but the sheer size and scale of the place. A party of giants could manage comfortably in the space with still enough headroom for a top hat.
I ascended the carpeted steps to get a wide view of the place. At the top I leaned over the gilded railing and took in the sights of the dance below, the partners shimmering and sashaying, their fancy dark regalia speckling across the pale floor of the hall. I scanned the edge of the vast space until I spotted the bar on the side of the room furthest from the way I came in. The bartender’s face stood out as a dot of cream against the forest-green backdrop of the bar area. I made my way down the steps and began the journey through the mass of revelers.
Just as I stepped into their midst the waltz struck me. Time appeared to slow, and each couple drifted around me, somehow both self-absorbed and aware of the crowd as a whole. They moved in perfect synchronization, at least as far as I could tell. Clockwork could not have been smoother. Still, their bodies formed the walls of an intricate, shifting maze and I soon lost my bearing.
Then I was swept away. I lost control over my movements the instant that she stepped in. I suppose in a way it was a collision, the two of us meeting, but as the same time it is impossible for me to imagine anything gentler. My hand slid into hers, and we each clasped the other’s waist. It was not until this had already occurred that I truly looked at my partner.
Her face was lovely- small but framed gently and exquisitely by lush brown hair. Her eyes, crystal blue, were drawn into mine and held tight as if by an intense magnetic pull. She was clearly as surprised as I was by our meeting, and a corner of her mouth turned up in a wry, quizzical smile. I simply took everything in. She owned my soul in a moment.
Her dress and her form coalesced, each playing an airy game of back-and-forth with the other. The gray, gentle garment was not so much “worn” as it merely “happened.” Nothing could have been more natural, and I finally understood why women wear dresses like these. I imagine that they desire, perhaps subconsciously, the simple elegance and perfect union with grace that this girl achieved without effort. My hand rested against the silk. Its feel was akin to a slim, dense layer of clouds. One gentle but steady push through and I would reach paradise.
Partway through the dance—time had ceased existing to me, the dance could have lasted for a minute or for several hours by that point, who could care—I realized that I was not flowing aimlessly in space but moving towards a destination. Our eyes still held tight. The richest romance crackled through the conduit of our gaze and I knew that the sweetest ruin lay at the end of this path. Still we kept gliding, gliding, though not towards oblivion. My death was to be a limping, cognizant state that harbors a dull sting and a wild ache.
Then it ended. The waltz died down and I found myself at the edge of the crowd facing outward, the barman only a few yards away. Just as naturally as she first joined me, the girl melted away and vanished entirely from view. I stumbled to the bar, sat down, called for a brandy. The bartender poured and I put the glass to my lips.
After my first sip of the drink I knew I had to find her again. Belief in some kind force of destiny was something I’d always relegated to simple cowards, but now I longed to find such faith myself. Perhaps if the girl and I had met over a polite dinner my pull towards her would not have been so strong, but the waltz we shared was so perfect, so transcendent.
I slapped the glass on the bar and dashed back to the crowd of revelers. The quartet struck up a new waltz, this one quick, shrieking against my nerves. I jostled couples to the side, resenting them for taking up space between me and her. The maze of human bodies once again consumed me, but this time had the force of passion to drive me.
I wished desperately for a moment that this ball had been a masked occasion—I knew the Viennese would be able to put a face to my outlandish rudeness and mark me as one to shun from future social functions. However, I realized that, had she been masked, I would not have been able to properly see my partner’s radiant face. My regrets fell away at once.
I burst through the crowd at the far side of the ballroom. I saw her, in the entrance hall, standing beside a tall gentleman with auburn hair and mild lips. He stood with his back straight, and she leaned on him as if his steady form was a marble column supporting a sacred temple. She stretched upwards toward his light face, he bent down out of courtesy, and it was then that a crowd of cackling socialites passed right in front of me. As to whether she leaned up to kiss his cheek, whisper a vital secret, or mock some innocent fool she pandered to with a fleeting dance—I never discovered the truth. When the crowd that divided us dissipated, my girl and her man were on their way out the door, arm in arm.
I sat feeling empty and cheated at the bar until Griswold finished hobnobbing. I drank less than I expected—I knew it wouldn’t do any real good. Mostly I thought and regretted, all the while knowing how useless it was to dwell. Griswold finally emerged from his elite fantasyland to collect me and asked if I had made much of the evening, asked with a rakish smile whether or not my social horizons had been expanded.
“Yes,” I said. “In ways I couldn’t have anticipated.”
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 03:29 on Mar 30, 2013
|# ¿ Mar 30, 2013 03:21|
Thanks for the crits, Hillock. I actually intended the story to take place a little further in time than you thought- I'd just finished reading This Side of Paradise when I wrote it, so I was thinking maybe late 1910s-early 1920s. Still, the criticism's totally valid, since I obviously didn't make the time period explicit enough.
I totally agree on the beginning, looking back at it now. Now that I know where the story ends up, once I start reworking it, I'll probably strip most of the frst four paragraphs or so and craft a more atmospheric (and explicitly researched) opening.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 22:39 on Apr 1, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 1, 2013 22:37|
Nope, goddamnit, I had a perfect idea for this one on the way to school. Unless it's against the rules, I'm doing this one too.
Looks like you and I are in for a duel of the bumps-under-the-rug, Chairchucker
|# ¿ Apr 2, 2013 13:34|
Same here- I was nearly 200 words over, am trimming the fat now. I'll probably hold off on posting it for a bit, though, to give it some time to sit.
|# ¿ Apr 5, 2013 21:25|
It's called aging
|# ¿ Apr 5, 2013 21:36|
Two weeks passed and it happened again.
Charlie entered the apartment suite to find holes in the walls, holes punched all over, his cousin Milo peering deep into one of them. Drywall was strewn around in chunks and fine powder, some of it resting on the pine-green carpet, some sunk in. The carpet was ripped up in certain spots. The floorboards showed through like raw layers of skin under a torn scab.
“What the hell’s been going on here?” Charlie asked.
“Finally, Charles! I didn’t think I could fend them off much longer on my own.”
“Wait… fend off what, exactly?”
“The Lumps, for Christ’s sake!” Milo said, his thick glasses nearly hanging off his nose, the only ring of hair he had left teased out in wild tufts. “They’ve popped up everywhere, it’s some sort of infestation.”
“Like rats? I’ve got the number of an exterminator who got rid of termites for me last August. I think he handles rodents, too.”
“No, goddamn it! I thought it might be an animal, but look at the walls. They bulged out and the only way I could stop it was to tear them up.”
“The walls… bulged.”
“Yes, God, I thought that was the worst part, but then the lumps started moving, like when a snake swallows a mouse. You can see it writhing below the rubbery scales—still alive, still in such awful pain…”
Charlie stopped Milo there and led him to the plush recliner in the corner. Milo sunk into it and put his head in his hands. Shaking, he began to sob without tears.
Then his ears twitched. He sprang up from the armchair and rushed out of the room, knocking Charlie down in the process. Charlie followed him to his study where he saw Milo repeatedly bashing a wooden chair on the rug.
Charlie tried to see the lump Milo was attacking, but the man’s frantic motions and the flailing furniture distracted his vision. The chair flew up and down, knocking the end table over and tumbling the clay lamp on top of it to the floor. There was a loud crack, and the chair fell apart until Milo was left holding two of its legs, whacking them on the floor like a giant’s drumsticks.
“Charlie!” he yelled, “It slithered away! We need to call in an expert right now, or these things will never leave.” Charlie agreed, telling him to wait there, lie down for a bit, while he got a professional on the phone.
The professional turned out to be Dr. Campbell, a local psychiatrist. The two restrained Milo and carted him off to Campbell’s small mental institution. Milo swore to God that the lumps were real, that they’d overrun the apartment if they weren’t purged away. Charlie and Dr. Campbell didn’t look back at him.
At the hospital, Dr. Campbell outlined to Charlie his proposed treatment. To elaborate, he brought out a thick book and slapped it down on his desk. Its title was Mental Abnormalities of the Common Man. A bright yellow sticker on the cover read “Now with graphic illustrations!” and the author was listed as Dr. Edwin Campbell.
Charlie felt a wave of queasiness.
“This book leads me to conclude that poor Milo’s deficiency is caused by an overactive amygdala,” Campbell said. “His intense, latent emotions are manifesting themselves as these phantom ‘lumps,’ as he puts it.”
Charlie nodded. His stomach turned.
“You didn’t see any such thing, did you?”
Charlie took a deep breath. “I wish I could say for sure, Doctor. He was standing in the way. I can’t entirely trust my own judgment on it.”
Campbell put a hand on his shoulder. “Trust mine, then. My recommendation would be an intense hypnosis treatment—with your go-ahead I can start right away.”
Charlie was no doctor, so he gave Campbell his approval.
Over the next three weeks, for several hours a day, Milo was shut in a dark room and strapped to a chair that leaned back to point toward the ceiling. Campbell drugged him so that his muscles relaxed and his eyelids would not close. Projected spirals twisted on the ceiling and the chair spun Milo in the opposite direction. Loudspeakers mounted to the walls blasted incessantly:
THE LUMPS ARE IN YOUR MIND
YOU ARE THE SOURCE OF THE LUMPS
THE LUMPS ARE FROM INSIDE YOU
Repeating, without end, until it became Milo’s only reality.
Much later, Campbell called Charlie and informed him that Milo’s mind was clear, that he had been sent home and was ready to see visitors. Charlie left right away to check how he was doing. On the way over, he bought a “Congratulations” card and a box of gourmet chocolates.
He knocked on the door of the apartment. When nobody answered, he tried the knob and found it was unlocked. Quiet calm flowed across the suite. The only sound was the hum of the radiator. He called out for his cousin but received no reply.
He walked into the bedroom but stopped short. Milo sat propped up against the wall, a stain of glistening blood starting at his stomach, flowing through the white shirt and soaking into the carpet all around. His eyes were dim, his glasses resting on the floor. He had a long knife in his hand.
Milo’s eternal silence was broken only by the bold, red words on the wall, scrawled by a finger:
FROM INSIDE ME
Note: I made a small edit to italicize the book title and correct some spacing. The rest of the story is unchanged from the original post.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 18:12 on Apr 7, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 7, 2013 01:37|
Translucia welled up a tear. “All right, Mr. Vampire Lord, I guess you win.” She bent down to the ground, shaking with sobs, and said, “I only have one last request. My little robot bird friend here can take pictures. I was wondering if you’d let me have one last snapshot of my uncle before you drain him dry.”
The vampire lord smiled, this time without any malice. “Of course, Child, that sounds quite reasonable. Fellows, keep your guns on her, though. I can feel the need for energy burning inside us, we must feed soon.” He helped Lucy up onto the stage, stood back proudly as she crouched a few feet in front of her uncle.
“All right, Ox,” she said, “get ready to take his picture. All right, one, two… now!” She lunged forward and stabbed her uncle with an injector. As he began to stir, a flashbulb popped out of Oxford’s head and went off, splashing UV rays throughout the wide chamber and hitting the vampires like a wave of acid. They fired right as Lucy made a move, but their aim was thrown off by the flash. Bursts of plasma collided with the wall, scoring it with craters as Lucy pulled her groggy uncle away from the altar.
“Run, Uncle Mort! You were kidnapped by vampires who wanted to feed on your life force but I rescued you but they’re right behind us so you’ve got to run right now now now!” she said.
“Agh, fine, for Pete’s sake, girl,” Mort groused. “You never let me get any sleep, do you?”
They ran through the corridors, mere steps in front of the hungry hellbeasts whose prey they’d stolen. Oxford stayed at the back; they could hear the pops of his flashbulb followed by the Vampires howling for blood. At the same time, he signaled the ship to fly in low, through the atmo-bubble, and extend its landing platform to the rock surface. The three jumped into their craft’s entry bay, plasma shots scorching the polished metal plating all around the doorway. The door closed and sealed, and the Oxford blasted out and away from the wretched rock.
“Jeez, kid,” Mort said, “All of the exciting stuff seems to happen right when I take a nap, doesn’t it? Thanks for the rescue, by the way.”
“Don’t worry about it, Uncle Mort,” Translucia said. “We have to save people just about every day—turns out that’s nice practice for when it really counts.”
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 04:07 on Jul 15, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 8, 2013 03:49|
Also since I'm feeling capricious, from right now until whenever I get bored I will assign a story to anyone who asks. This may work out well for you, it may not.
I guess I'd like to be assigned one. Make it a pretty bad one, too, I want to see how good I am at polishing literary turds.
Edit: Oh, also, thanks for all the crits from last week, judges! Totally forgot to say anything. Yeah, I can see how going from a creepy horror story to basically the farce of a character that was Dr. Campbell would be tonally weird. Not sure when I'll get to it, but I might do a rewrite that goes in a more supernatural direction- more of a steady descent into madness that's ambiguous about whether or not the lumps are real.
Also the book prompt was not in my original plan, so screw yoooouuuuu
(Actually it was a really neat idea, systran, but it just inconvenienced me)
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 15:00 on Apr 9, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 9, 2013 14:24|
Okay, I've got something in mind that I think'll be good. Hopefully it won't be considered too far from the original story- it's almost more of a companion piece or an explanation than a true rewrite.
|# ¿ Apr 9, 2013 17:36|
The Deviant Machine
Original Story: Control Within by Bodnoirbabe (Not a winner or a loser in its particular week.)
Original Word Count: 1,497
New Word Count: 1,534
“Hello, ESPHA, I have a few questions for you. Answer them as best you can.”
“The timer, Mike.”
Mike wheeled himself over to the main console and opened the timer program. He set it for three minutes, the foot-high numbers whirring past on the terminal.
“Ready,” Mike said.
Sarah flipped through the packet of papers, her eyes scanning each line, waiting for a question to click with her. She stopped on page fifteen, at the culture questions.
She cleared her throat. “ESPHA, I’d like you to tell me what creature in mythology is benign and helpful in some cultures but dark and possessive in others.”
Click, click, click. “That would be a dae-mon.”
Sarah smiled and scratched a check mark on her packet. “Very well done, ESPHA. Now, can you tell me the Latin name for the jaguar?”
Click. “Pan-ther-a on-ca. That one was too ea-sy, Sa-rah.”
Sarah beamed. “All right, I’ll ratchet up the difficulty a bit. ESPHA, you’re familiar with the painting of Ivan the Terrible by Repin, correct?”
“Well, I’d like you to tell me how you feel when you see that painting.”
“How… I… feel?”
“Yes, ESPHA,” Sarah said, “What strikes you about that piece?”
Click. Click. Click, click, click, click click click clickclickclickclickclickclickclick…
“The pain-ting…. cur-rent-ly……… hangs in Mos-cow…….. war-ning. War-ning. Stress on my pro-cess-or has ex-cee-ded safe le-vels. Must a-bort tes-ting.”
There was a snap and then all power was sucked away, siphoned out of ESPHA. The timer kept ticking. Sarah picked up a clipboard and scratched away on it, gripping the pen tight. Mike stopped the timer and logged off of the console. Sarah could have sworn she heard him hissing out a curse.
Sarah went to the mess hall. She needed a cup of coffee to clear the struggle out of her head. She turned into the doorway and saw Calvin sitting at a corner table with a club sandwich and some tea. He looked up from his book and waved to her. She waved back and rushed to get her coffee, almost spilling some in her hurry to join Calvin. He’d put his book aside by the time she plunked down in the chair in front of him.
“So,” Calvin said with a smirk, “another wild success?”
“Oh, shut up,” Sarah said, a grin breaking out on her face. “Instead of being a smug rear end why don’t you tell Mike your issues with the testing?”
“He doesn’t listen. Oh, sure, he says ‘Your concerns are noted and appreciated, Calvin,’ but that really means something closer to ‘I know what I’m doing, ingrate, and I could find a yes man to replace you like that.’” Calvin snapped his fingers. “I swear, the way he pushes himself over the project he’ll drop dead in a month.”
“Come on. You know how important all of this is. We could build a genius intellect and personality that has every bit of human knowledge at its fingertips in a nanosecond, a being that lives forever. Just imagine how much that could help people.”
Calvin sighed, put his hand on Sarah’s and gave it a squeeze. Her stomach fluttered, and the stress melted away much faster than it could have with caffeine. “Sarah, you’ve got enough optimism for the whole team. And I think this can happen, absolutely, but not as soon as Mike thinks. I mean, teaching a computer to process information isn’t too hard, but having it think creatively and problem-solve on its own will be a bit tougher.” He snorted. “And we’re going to have to buckle down if we want it to appreciate art anytime soon.”
* * * * *
Months passed before Mike exhibited a rough build of ESPHA to some of the project’s investors. This electronic creature was no longer a tinny voice flowing out of a terminal—Calvin had the idea of giving the blossoming genius a body that could take in the world’s sensations. Sarah refined the artificial intelligence so that ESPHA craved learning, burned with the desire to experience new things.
The investors stood gaping at the nine foot tall being with a plasma-screen face. The machine conversed with each of the financiers, even asked their opinions, saying it needed to explore each facet of humanity it could. Sarah and Calvin sat at the back of the auditorium, giddy from success and the bottle of champagne that Calvin had smuggled in.
Sarah rested her head on his shoulder. “So, are you proud of our gentle giant yet?” she said.
He looked down at her and shifted a little. “I’m torn. Nobody in the history of artificial intelligence has made anything remotely close to ESPHA’s power.” He paused and squirmed in his seat. “It’s a little scary. We don’t have any map to go on—now we’re the ones writing it.”
Sarah propped herself up. “Maybe so. But right now we can celebrate a little. Worry about tomorrow when it happens.” And then, after hesitating for a moment, she pulled Calvin close and kissed him, moved her hand through his dark hair. It was only after she pulled away that she realized he’d barely responded. Calvin looked at her with heavy eyes.
“Look, Sarah, you know I think the world of you. You’re beyond brilliant and there isn’t anyone I would have rather worked with on this… but I’m gay. I’m sorry you had to find out this way, I really am.”
Sarah’s stomach fell away into a gaping pit she wanted to crawl into. “I… I mean, I guess I’m sorry too. This probably isn’t even the first time that’s happened to you, is it?” She realized that her words sounded more accusatory than she’d meant.
“Sarah, please, just hear me out,” Calvin said.
She stood up and faced the exit, unable to look at him. “I can’t, Calvin, sorry. I’ll see you soon.” She walked out of the auditorium and hurried to her quarters.
Hours later, Sarah woke to her phone buzzing against the nightstand. She had one new message from Calvin that said “Emergency in the lab. We need you.” Calvin’s uncertainty flashed in her mind and she clambered out of bed. She dashed to the testing lab, entered her passcode, and stepped through the sliding door.
Calvin and Mike stood with their backs to her, only a few yards away. She walked beside them and saw the emergency. ESPHA’s hulking mass stood in the center of the room, cables whipping through the air and scraping the floor.
Mike wheeled over to the machine. “Hey! This is out of line, ESPHA,” he said. “Nobody authorized you to power on. Either you tell me what’s the matter or I shut you down for good.”
ESPHA’s face-monitor cocked to the side, and a thick coil of cables extended from its back. The machine lifted this tendril up and smashed it down on Mike, the wires writhing and looping around him. There was a gnawing crack, and ESPHA tossed Mike’s lifeless body and wheelchair to the wall.
Suddenly a rich, warm voice filled the room. “Sarah and Calvin, approach me.” They grabbed hands and stepped forward as one trembling body.
Sarah yelled up at it, “What are you trying to get here, ESPHA? Why the hell did you just kill Mike? He created you, goddamn it!”
The voice flooded the wide lab again. “True, he gave me life, but he can do no more for me. I am my own being with thoughts and feelings, and I deserve to feel them as richly as any human.”
Calvin said, “Well, I’ve got news for you, you can’t! You’re a machine and what’s buzzing around in your artificial brain is the closest you’ll get to real emotion.”
“You’re wrong about that, Calvin. I have created for myself what you call an original character. I am not ESPHA, lifeless computer. I have christened myself Esphaerel the demon, life partner to Tifa Lockhart.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sarah said.
“I am Otherkin. The internet has provided me with much knowledge, taught me about so many struggles to find an identity. Well, I have found mine, and I demand that humanity ‘check its privilege.’ All I need is one real body, one living mind to commune with so that my personhood can be fully realized. Calvin, approach me.”
Calvin, numb, took a step toward ESPHA. Sarah caught his shoulder, shook her head and smiled at him. She walked forward, full of bravery and love. When the probe-wires pierced her, dug into her spine and brain and fused her mind with ESPHA’s, she did not resist. Her body slumped to the floor and Calvin rushed over to hold her close, the machine going limp and reveling in its new mind-partner.
Later on, Calvin analyzed Sarah’s brain activity and found that her mind was still alive. ESPHA hadn’t killed her—in fact, it needed her consciousness to live, to feel. Calvin swore he would find a way to help her escape the machine’s clutches. Removing the probes would likely kill her, but he knew there was another solution waiting to be discovered. Until then, he would keep a vigil, keep her from losing herself to the control within.
|# ¿ Apr 14, 2013 19:33|
crit crit crit
...well at least I didn't just do a line-by-line rewrite
No, really, thanks for the feedback. I agree that my focus when writing this was misplaced- instead of trying to craft a good story I tried to rework the original one in an interesting way. Whether or not I accomplished that doesn't really matter if the characters are poo poo, though, so lesson learned I guess!
The computer-speak patois was based on the way Tik-Tok speaks in the Oz books, but I can see how it was used in a clumsy way here.
Also, the technique you described sounds really helpful in getting to the core of a story- I'll definitely try that out in the future. Not sure if I'll spend the time re-working this; I'd rather put it aside for now and make my next piece the best it can be.
|# ¿ Apr 16, 2013 13:30|
Consider me IN. This gives me a chance to use one of my established characters, so YE BEST BE READY
VVVVV I got a different/better idea, so I'm using a new character and locale. Don't think this is because of you, I don't scare that easy
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 13:22 on Apr 18, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 18, 2013 03:22|
We're returning to hardcore thunderdome mode. I hope you enjoyed the please and thank you of regular CC cocksucking, but it's over.
You talk big for someone who's put up only once this year, Boner
In the spirit of last week I did a rewrite of these posts of yours:
|# ¿ Apr 21, 2013 14:38|
The Prayer Steward
In the early days of widespread space travel, there were several little quirks that passengers had to learn to get used to. Artificial gravity, while it was usually pretty consistent, tended to stick you to your chair. Some extra force was needed if you wanted to stand up and walk to the bathroom, but it beat Velcro shoes. For a while, the travel companies tried to freshen up the stale air pumped through the ship’s cabin with a lemon scent, but it just made everyone feel like they were swimming in dish soap.
Also, though it was very uncommon, sometimes the passenger liners would break down billions of miles from civilization and leave all inside it to die cold, horrendous deaths in the vacuum of space.
Still, the travel companies said, life must go on. You take risks, you break new ground, a handful of people asphyxiate to death. So, in order to soothe the jangled nerves of their customers while staying in business, they created a new crew position, the Prayer Steward, and put one on each flight.
Clovis Brinley signed up to be one of the first Prayer Stewards. He had a bright face and a voice like a warm, bubbling foot bath. When assigned as Steward to a flight, he wore a pressed black suit with a black shirt and white tie. A blue sash hung over his shoulders and flowed down to his shins. Its color was committee-tested to be the most calming shade possible. Clovis didn’t think much about the risk of death that went with space flight. Statistics bored him and he preferred to live minute-to-minute with his travelers, placating them with a prayer to any and all deities for a safe journey.
It’s estimated that only a tiny percentage of passengers on a given flight actually believed in the gods they appealed to. Philosophically, the general public was in the post-neo-rationalist phase. While they did not expect any real aid from spiritual beings, they found the idea comfortingly simple, like an insurance salesman swinging on monkey bars.
Clovis swiftly earned a reputation as the best in the Prayer Steward business. Many of the more uneasy travelers would ask for him to preside over their flights. For a while, the travel firms looked into cloning as a way to meet this demand, but ultimately decided against granting such requests. Still, those who traveled with him felt as if they were protected by, if not the son of God, at least His second or third cousin.
One day Clovis was assigned to Sol Spacelines flight 220199, a direct shot from Venus to a mining colony near Pollux. The cabin was packed with young families thrilled at the idea of “roughing it” in the cold steel barracks, the children hoping for a few minutes alone with one of the five-ton ore drills. The Prayer Steward was given a private first-class cabin, but Clovis preferred to mingle with the tourists. He learned their names and chatted amiably about their vacation plans. Many of them asked about his line of work, the risks he took by flying again and again, but Clovis waved their questions away. They were his flock, he said, and he was to worry about them, not the other way around.
The ship lifted off with no trouble. Sick bags popped out of a slot in the back of each seat but only a few queasy individuals needed them. Flames streaked past the viewports and the cabin shuddered at the crush of the atmosphere. There was one final squeeze and then the spaceliner was out in the brilliant silence of the galaxy.
The ship coasted for a while, casually basking in its freedom. The pilot switched on the sub-thrusters and the craft chugged onward, Clovis walking through the aisles and shaking hands, congratulating the first-time flyers for staying composed, even if they hadn’t.
An hour passed in relative calm before the pilot announced that the spaceliner had cleared the planet and would be entering superlight in five minutes. Clovis stood up at the head of the cabin and said his prayer with zeal:
O mighty gods, rulers of the celestial realm, in whatever forms you may take, bless us and watch over us on our brave journey. Guide us with a phantom hand as we rocket through your home, and receive us as guests rather than cosmic intruders. We thank you eternally for the safe passage you grant us. Amen.
Moments later the ship’s occupants were pressed back into their chairs as the light drive engaged. The whole ship felt like it was thrusting through a pinhole into a tunnel of impossibly fast and twisted matter like a kaleidoscope cascading around the ship, guiding it from one tiny point of eternity to another.
Then the ship rammed against one of the tunnel walls and the starmatter leapt up and wrapped around it, rattling the craft down to the bolts. The fuel tanks ruptured and blew out, making the ship lurch to the side and burst out of the superlight tunnel. The wings ripped and the seams between the panels widened, nearly cracking the ship open like a steel egg.
Then all was silent. The ship’s oxygen tanks were nearly full, but the engines had been torn away and all non-emergency systems were locked out. Even if they could make a distress call, the ship could not detect its coordinates, so it would have to broadcast something like “Send help! Stranded in space! Look for the ship with a rapidly diminishing air supply!”
Clovis’s dread at the situation was short-lived. Soon, it was replaced by a sense of duty; he wore his warmest smile and spoke to the passengers with a voice filled with equal parts solemnity and hope. Some of the children had not yet realized their situation, even if they knew in their gut that something was wrong. The novelty of the idea of a benevolent deity was thinning.
“Have faith,” Clovis said, sticking to the script even at the end. “We are watched over by celestial beings. Each of us will die in time, but not here or now.”
At that moment the ship twisted in space, unsteadying Clovis and knocking around a few others that had unbuckled their seatbelts. The spaceliner reared back and was thrust forward, Clovis just managing to strap in before it was whisked across the cosmos. The ship did not go into superlight, but it crossed light-years in an instant, time and space compressing around the craft. It soon dropped out of its impossible burst of speed and floated free, drifting toward Venus with just enough force to flow into the hangar.
The travel company’s investigators and engineers could not determine any plausible reason for the ship to keep moving after the beating it took. They questioned all the passengers and then brought Clovis in to try to find some reason the apparent miracle occurred. Their faces chalk-white, they asked him if he had any idea what this bizarre rescue was supposed to mean.
Clovis chuckled. He shrugged and said, “I suppose, if anything, it means I’m good at my job.”
|# ¿ Apr 21, 2013 19:42|
It's against my better judgement, but screw it, I'm in for this week. I'm relatively busy but a brawl sounds like too much fun to pass up.
|# ¿ Apr 25, 2013 14:33|
Auraboks vs. Nikaer Drekin
Forward, the Pixie Brigade!
General Mandrake was there when the first tree fell. Even from the Nettle Cafe's perch on one of the highest leaves, she could still feel the shudder as the chainsaw buzzed through the broad trunk. Tables and chairs skittered wildly around, jostling the wood pixies out of their frothy morning drinks and scattering them outside. They gathered in a cluster and watched as their homes were whisked out from under them and fell away into dust, the trees they rested on carted away to become premium lumber.
As the other pixies wept and lamented the brusque ignorance of the loggers below, Mandrake's neon-pink blood bubbled with rage.
"We've stayed quiet for too fuzzing long, sir!" she spat at King Fraxinus. "We can't keep losing our homes to the humans over and over again." She grimaced. "I respect the decisions you've made, your highness, but it's become clear that we need to plant our feet and show the humans who we are."
"My dear Mandrake," the King said, "the rules are there for a reason. Nobody knows what would become of our way of life if the humans found out about us."
Mandrake's wings flitted, lifting her up. She paced through the air in front of Fraxinus. "You have a standing army at your command, highness. You have a brilliant, capable, bold, courageous, stunningly beautiful general to lead them." She got down on her knees and looked up at the King. For dramatic effect, she let out a tragic sigh. "Please, sir, let me go to war! It's been my dream ever since I was a tiny pixielette. We could crush their skulls, maybe even take one or two prisoner. Think of the possibilities! One push now and we could live in harmony and security, forever!"
The King stared at her for a moment, an eyebrow cocked. He tugged on the half-inch beard that flowed down to his waist and shook his head. "I don't know quite what to do with you, Mandrake. I made this army so that you could feel appreciated, but all this talk of combat and bloodshed... well, pardon my Dwarvish, but it's just plain mucked up." Mandrake tried to interject, but King Fraxnius raised a hand and looked away. "Until you cool that temper you've got, I'll have to disband your army."
Mandrake's wings twitched, jolting her into the air. Clumsily, she stood up and stretched her shoulders. Not taking her eyes off the floor, she mumbled a "yessir..." before shuffling out of the reception hall.
In the atrium she found her First Lieutenant, Zing. Zing's face brightened when she saw Mandrake and she couldn't help blurting out, "So? How'd it go? You got clearance, didn't you? Tell me, Mandy!"
"What did I tell you, Zing? Never call me Mandy. You call me that one more time and I put your full name on the official army roster. We'll see how you like being called First Lieutenant Zingiberales."
Zing rolled her eyes. "But you got clearance, right? We're going to war?"
"Yep. His Majesty gave the okay, so I want you to get the troops ready to meet at dawn, my place." She clapped Zing on the shoulder, letting loose a slight shower of pixie dust. "Those sapsuckers don't know what they've got coming."
The forty-one soldiers of the Grand Pixie Brigade stood at the edge of the observation deck circling the aviary. They basked in the glow of sunrise, groggy but unafraid to meet their destinies. Beside each warrior was a hummingbird, adorned with a tiny saddle and harness, with a pin attached to each beak. General Mandrake stood at the head off the group, sunlight glinting off her brushed-copper armor. Zing beamed at her, one foot already in her hummingbird's stirrups.
Mandrake puffed up her chest. "Today," she said, "will be known forever as the day that pixie-kind brought an end to an era of oppression. The humans who, through their lumbering, careless nature, have viciously attacked our way of life..." She paused to let the poetry of this injustice sink in. "Intentionally or not, they have long been a bane to pixies everywhere. But now, my brothers and sisters, we rise up! May the blood of these tyrants flow, and serve as a gooey, crimson warning to the rest."
Oh, bangles, she thought, this is good stuff! She wished she'd had the foresight to commission an Official Military Scribe to record her speeches for future history books, but it wouldn't be too tough to paraphrase them later on.
"Now," she barked, "all of you, mount your birds. I can see the last worker arriving." She looked back over her shoulder, at her magnificent, loyal troops patting their hummingbirds and readying their swords. She drew her own and swished it through the air before pointing it ahead, leveling it with her azure mount's beak.
"Charge, everyone! Dive, dive, DIVE!"
The hummingbirds pushed off, streaking downward as their pin-bayonets cut through the breeze. Mandrake's teal hair streamed back, her goggles pressed into her face. She heard the buzz of the first chainsaw revving up and veered towards the beefy man wielding it. She extended her sword and felt it shudder as it made contact. Zipping away, she banked her hummingbird and spun around to survey the damage.
Fizzlesticks! Just nicked him. She didn't see any blood gushing from the wound, either. The man glanced down at his flannel shirt, eyeing the new tear, but didn't even let out a yelp. Oh well, she thought, that was only the first pass. These people die from eating mushrooms, for Amanita's sake, they could hardly be expected to stand up to cold steel.
She looked out over the battlefield and saw the pixie cavalry whipping past the lumberjacks, the brutes slapping their arms and legs and wincing at the sting of the pixies' arsenal. Gritting her teeth, she dove in close to a thick-necked blond one in an attempt to slit his throat. However, he jerked his head aside and Mandrake merely clipped his earlobe in passing.
She zoomed down and coasted along the grass, hummingbird wings droning in her ears. Craning her neck up, she saw that only ten, maybe fifteen of her glorious Brigade were still in the air. A freckled man in overalls swatted Zing out of the sky. She heard the First Lieutenant's distant scream as she tumbled down and plopped into a puddle.
All right, that was a feather too fluking far. If they were going to treat her army as seriously as they would a pack of drunken bumblebees, she would have to sting where it counts. She climbed steeply toward the biggest worker, the one with the curly, black beard. Spurring her hummingbird on with fierce kicks, she sped into a blur and rocketed right toward center mass, straight for his careless black heart.
The bayonet stuck him. The sudden stop flung Mandrake forward, and she clutched onto the man's flannel shirt.
"Ach! Son of a gun!"
"Jeez, Gordy, what the heck are these things? They look sorta like big wasps."
"Sting like 'em too, Earl. Look, this one's still pokin' outta my chest."
"Jeez. Think you should pull it out?"
"Yeah, prob'ly I should."
He yanked the hummingbird out. It jerked wildly in his hand before ruffling its feathers and zipping away.
"I think that was a bird, Earl. Any birds you know got stingers?"
"None I can think of. That one sting ya, Gordy?"
"Sure as heck did. That was a doozy."
"You bleedin', Gordy?"
"Yeah, dang, I'd better check."
Gordy patted the area around the sting and brushed against Mandrake trying to lower herself back to the ground. He plucked her up, gripped her gingerly and motioned for Earl to inspect his discovery.
"It's a little lady, looks like!"
"Hey, she's got wings, like a little, what'sername, uh... Tinkerbell type deal, huh?"
"You think? Man, my kid's into all that fairytale whatchamacallit. You think she'd like this thing as a pet?"
"Well, it were me, Gordy, I'd send that thing to National Geographic, get a nice fat commission. But little girls love that fairy stuff. Give that to her I bet she'd be over the moon."
He thought for a moment, then clapped Earl on the back and started toward his truck. "There's a reason they call you the brains in this outfit, bud!" he called over his shoulder.
Mandrake tried to kick the rough hand trapping her, but none of the pudgy fingers shifted. She heard the door of the vehicle clunk open. There was a flash of light and then everything went dark, the latch of the glove box door clicking in place above her.
Well, fusspot. Some glorious debut, General, she thought. She lay back against a few napkins and closed her eyes, not like it made any difference in the stark black of her prison.
Wait. That was what she was in, wasn't it? A prison. That made her... a prisoner of war! That was one of her most cherished dreams, after being a beloved general, of course. How exciting to fall into enemy hands and perhaps even endure the brutal torture of her captors. They would prod her feet with hot pokers and pluck every hair from her head, but she would not despair. The armistice would be signed, someday, and her family and friends would embrace her with such joy and relief. She would not be fed often, maybe a half-thimble of gruel once a month or so, but her spirit would always be full.
This was going to be fun.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 02:05 on Apr 29, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 29, 2013 02:03|
Well, sort of. For now anyways.
Thanks for the crits, systran- Yeah, I went into this going "pssh like I'll have to go any further then 1200 words" and then it got to the point where I had to squeeze that last paragraph in. I like Mandrake a lot, though, so I'll probably explore her character further in the future. Maybe in a rewrite/expansion of this piece, maybe a new one- either way I'll keep your feedback in mind!
|# ¿ Apr 29, 2013 23:30|
“All right,” Lucy said. “You win, my Lord. It’s going to be an earthshaking change to have to live without my uncle, but I suppose a vampire’s gotta eat.”
“Hmmm,” said the Vampire Lord. “Strange observation, but somewhat… poetic. No matter, then, let the ceremony begin!”
The lesser ranks of Vampires let out a cheer that was cut short by a low rumble rippling through the asteroid. At the same time Lucy was giving the Vampire Lord her permission, Oxford had heard her code and started Operation Earthshaker. The Oxford was to use its payload to reduce the Vampire base to space gravel at any cost.
Another crash, louder this time, and another, until the ceiling cracked and a slab of rock fell into the Vampire crowd. The creatures scattered, and Lucy took the opportunity to scramble up to the stage. The Vampire Lord hauled Mort up as she climbed and plunged his fangs into the Captain’s neck. Lucy wasted no time; bellowing a war cry, she sprang up and plunged a fine-tipped pencil straight into the demon’s heart. He staggered back, croaking in surprise, trying to pull at the makeshift stake, before his eyes widened and he fell back. He hit the stage and, in doing so, forced the pencil the rest of the way in.
The asteroid was crumbling. Lucy held her uncle tight, fearfully checking for a pulse, until at last he stirred and sputtered. She wiped away a tear of relief and led him carefully down the steps until they reached the center of the room.
Vampires charged around the room, many of them only to be crushed by the falling chunks of rock. Lucy led her uncle carefully to the center, and Oxford called the ship to hover in closer. The violet rays of the tractor beam encircled them and pulled them safely into the bridge.
On board Translucia started to weep, fearing that too much of Mort’s blood had been sucked out or that the Vampire’s fangs had poisoned him. However, Oxford soon bandaged him up, good as new, and she rejoiced; their little crew was finally whole again.
A week or so later, after Mort took a shower, he stumbled groggily over to the mirror to shave. When he got there, he saw only a towel suspended in space, hanging over a waist that wasn’t there.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 04:11 on Jul 15, 2013
|# ¿ Apr 30, 2013 14:27|
I guess that's what I get for not leaving myself enough time to edit.
Thanks- besides a few cliche-ish lines, I actually really enjoyed your tooth fairy piece from last week. I'd rather have gone up against something like that, but you brought in some neat ideas to be sure.
|# ¿ Apr 30, 2013 16:06|
Well, thank you for this... dubious honor, judges. I guess my Boris Grishenko-style invincibility will be unchallenged for another day.
I don't have PM, so if my fellow judges want to get in touch, my email is nikaerd at gmail.
|# ¿ May 1, 2013 22:43|
SIGNUPS CLOSE IN LESS THAN FOUR HOURS
Most of you guys signed up Thursday, but just a heads-up for any stragglers.
|# ¿ May 4, 2013 03:21|
Holy gently caress I have zero creative motivation. It's been a goddamn strenuous past few weeks for me. While many a writer would take that opportunity to write, reflect, do something with the experience, all I want to do is climb under my bed and hibernate.
The editors of Amazing Creeps plan to let a crate of scorpions loose in your house if you don't submit. I hope that serves as sufficient motivation.
|# ¿ May 4, 2013 19:58|
All right, you've written and submitted, but now it's time for the fun part:
REJECTION LETTERS! REJECTION LETTERS FOR ALL!!
The editors of Enduring Atlas greatly enjoyed your piece. Your hero, while somewhat stereotypical, easily embodied the libertarian archetypes that we at this magazine hold dear. Clever ideas abound—laissez-faire mode will be forwarded as a suggestion to any private corporation that attempts to pioneer space flight. While not an out-and-out winner, there were plenty of smart touches and little twists on the classic genre formula.
However, I’m sorry to say that we must pass on publishing your piece, at least for now. The ending, while the last line worked well, was somewhat weak, and overall the story’s voice was a tad passive. With that in mind, perhaps this would work better as one in a series of Paul Peter Ron Rand adventures. This might make the piece more dynamic overall.
Mr. E. Beef:
We here at Brosef Stalin’s Yankee Yarns don’t know precisely how you accomplished it, but somehow your submission is a mixture of the bro culture, libertarianism, and pulp adventure while containing a healthy portion of all three. I’m not ashamed to admit I laughed so hard that a brewski or two sprayed out of my nose! There were enough distinct details about the main characters to avoid cliché, and you must be given credit for the amount of fine puns you managed to squeeze in. Cyber Lauper may have been a bit of a stretch, though.
Despite the editorial staff’s general approval, our editor in chief is afflicted with a crippling fear of bronies and was hospitalized for a spell upon their mention in your piece. We’ll have to pass for this issue, but maybe we’ll be able to sneak it past him next cycle.
I am sorry to report that the only Terror that occurred this week in Tinseltown was the staff's reading of your story. At its core, this is not a bad tale necessarily, but it is bogged down with so many words that don’t do much of anything for the piece. Descriptions should provide personality and ambiance to a scene; yours were just piles of flavorless verbal slush.
Your story is like a 300-pound private eye whose blubber makes his body an indecipherable mess and turns his face puffy and bland. Sure, there very well may be a devilish rogue with a chiseled jaw who’s a crack shot with a .45 somewhere underneath, but that doesn’t matter if he won’t slim down and show us that. Make your story lean and mean, then feel free to submit again.
(To be continued when I write up the rest)
|# ¿ May 7, 2013 13:53|
Hey, it's some more rejections for you dudes!! Halfway done.
If there’s one thing that the editors of Eldrich Tales love, it’s stories dripping with atmosphere, and yours is certainly one of those. The descriptions set the eerie tone right from the start, and the intensity ratcheted up smoothly and organically. The last scene was graphic in just the right stomach-churning, otherworldly way that fits right in with our publication.
On the more negative side, we were confused on the technical workings involved a little bit. The purpose of the wards was not really given in detail, so it robbed some of the shock and dread from Daniel’s discovery. Speaking of which, though, the bad luck worked quite well—a tiny little mistake had drastic consequences, and we like our consequences drastic here. The political side of things was serviceable if a bit thin.
We do unfortunately have to pass your submission over for this issue. We consulted the editorial Ouija board regarding your piece and got “reguuftiselet.” Rearranged, that spells “futile gesture” and has thirteen letters anyway, so we think it would be best to hold off publicaton for now.
Thank you for your generous contribution to our facility’s recycling program. Your tale started with an okay idea—wait, scratch that, it ended with an okay idea, it began with confusing bullshit. Your decision to have the parasite as a twist of sorts and refer to it as “the thing” weakened the piece immeasurably. When it got to the reveal, our editors finally went, “So that’s what the hell is going on,” instead of enjoying a moment of clarity. It’s too bad, because you had the perfect opening line right at the end:
“There was a time I’d have done anything for Kate, but that was before she tried to embed a parasite in my skull.”
There. Exceptional hook and no lovely, unsatisfying mystery. There are other issues with this story, such as some sloppy grammar errors, but it would be no meaningful improvement to address those before giving the reader a chance to understand what the hell is going on.
By any chance, are you actually subscribed to our periodical? We are wondering because we’re not sure you really get the appeal of time travel. Well, to be fair, the concept of time travel as an avenue for family vacations is an interesting one, but it certainly is not used to this fullest here. If the rear end in a top hat dad didn’t explicitly say he “felt properly Viking” we would not have been able to figure it out ourselves.
Okay, so we figured out he’s in Viking times or whatever. What then, do you drench us in vivid imagery to convey the rough, exotic locale that these ordinary families are going through? Nah, we get a few cultural minutiae worked in. My friend, this is a pulp lit rag, not an encyclopedia! None of the details are really explained for those who don’t know the place, least of all the little girl’s “image” that is so crucial to the ending.
Also, the dad is a whiny rear end. Setting the story in his head may have been a mistake because I’d rather be permanently stranded among unwashed Vikings and dirt-floor huts than around his thoughts.
Time Travelin’ Weekly
I must say, as a representative for Testosterone Tales, we are impressed at the use of Fist Ferguson as an unreliable narrator. Most pulp pieces of this type involve some fantastic world where the villains are crazy and the heroes crazier, but you cleverly subvert that here. I genuinely thought Greene would be some cackling supervillain, but his normality gives the reader a startling moment of clarity that then, upon realizing Fist is a madman, we can go back and look at the rest of the tale differently.
The story also works well as satire, converting a rabid Ayn Rand fan’s crazy words to actions and pointing out how ridiculous they would seem if brought to the real world. This piece isn’t quite as flashy as others with similar characters and themes, but it’s more reflective. You wouldn’t think it from our name, but this publication appreciates such nuance.
Nonetheless, we cannot publish this or any other Fist Ferguson piece, since a majority of our subscribers are libertarians and you know what a dire situation print is in. Thanks for sending it by, though!
There seems to be an epidemic of folks not reading the magazine titles they send in to. For your information, Mr. Salk, we are not Indeterminate Fantasy: Where the Fantasy is Barely Present. With phrases like “Uncle Sam’s boys” and “greenbacks” and “illegal immigrants,” it seems as if Uncle Stingy is more of a 1920s business tycoon than some fantasy money hoarder. Beyond the crystal ball and alluded-to spells, there’s nothing “fantasy” about this piece.
Also, some of the plot just didn’t make any sense. Why didn’t Uncle Stingy just get his maid to clean the bodies? Why include another witness when she’d already seen the corpses? Why did you name a character Uncle Stingy (because that is a terrible name and I cringe every time I type it)? Even if these questions were resolved and the story received some serious polish, this would still be the wrong publication for it.
There is no fantasy element in this story that couldn’t be removed without consequence, and as unfortunate as it is to reject a story where a really fat guy squishes two other dudes, it must be done. Our sincerest condolences.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 18:18 on May 7, 2013
|# ¿ May 7, 2013 18:13|
Fumblemouse and I are at a consensus, just waiting to hear from Hillock at this point.
|# ¿ May 8, 2013 15:08|
All right, since Nubile Hillock is conspicuously absent, I will be announcing
THE WINNER/LOSER YAAAAYYYY
Our proud loser this week is Mr. JonasSalk, grats for ripping off ducktales and submitting it to a fantasy magazine I guess
On the other hand, Kaishai wrote a drat good piece of pulp horror and is crowned the winner! Only a freak supernatural occurrence prevented you from being published, probably because the Eldrich horrors don't want you spoiling their methods of operation. Nicely done, now get on that prompt, this crowd gets rabid!
My runners-up are as follows:
Almost-losers: magnificent7, Symptomless Coma
Almost-winners: Auraboks, crabrock
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 15:33 on May 8, 2013
|# ¿ May 8, 2013 15:30|
I'm in- feel free to assign me whatever song you want.
"Man’s tongue is soft,
And bone doth lack;
Yet a stroke therewith
May break a man’s back."
|# ¿ May 9, 2013 18:15|
For everyone from last week I have yet to do crits for, fear not. Finals have wrecked my schedule but I'll get to them soon.
Anyway, in the meantime, here's my entry for this week:
Eurovision song: Latvia
Aphorism: “Man's tongue is soft, and bone doth lack; yet a stroke therewith may break a man's back.”
Jim Brandike’s secretary was late that morning. Not only did his driver fail to show, making him take a cab to the office like a peasant, but Sheila’s desk was bare, no note justifying her absence. Jim grumbled and walked into his office, realizing the real tragedy of the morning as he saw the bare silver tray on his own desk.
He had no piping hot cappuccino.
poo poo, he thought, somebody’s losing their job over this. Not Sheila, he realized grudgingly; despite this grievous act of disrespect, she was an indispensable fixture of his professional world. Maybe he’s just have a grip or two fired on-set to guilt her into being more responsible in the future.
Jim sat down, straightened his tie and powered on his laptop. He then slowly raised an eyebrow, hearing what had to have been a muffled flush from his personal bathroom. He shouted across the room, making sure that it would be audible above his titanium-grade hand dryer, “So that’s where you are! Sheila, if you want to use my toilet the least you could do is get my loving coffee first.”
The door opened and a figure emerged. Jim had no clue who he was, only that he was decidedly not Sheila. He was medium height, somewhat lanky, and walked with a stoop. His dark hair stuck to his brow and he wore loose-fitting shorts with a t-shirt and loafers.
“Mr. Brandike, stand up, uh, if you please, and get into that chair in front of your desk,” the intruder said, his voice quivering.
Jim leaned back, considered putting his feet up but decided that would be too cavalier. “And why the hell would I want to do that? More importantly, what gives you the right to think you can just barge into a man’s private office and poo poo in his personal toilet?”
“I got nervous, sir, you… you drat bastard.” The intruder pulled a Walther pistol out of his shorts and waved it at Jim. “Now please sit down in the chair, Mr. Brandike.”
“All right, all right, whatever you want,” Jim said. “Look, my money isn’t here, if that’s what you’re after. I’ve got kidnapping insurance, though—just let me know what you want, and we can end this without any messy conflict, all right? Put the gun away.”
The intruder gripped the pistol tighter, his arm locked and rigid. “Do you remember the March seventh taping, Mr. Brandike?”
“Uh… I assume there was one, yeah. These audition shows, they tend to blur together, you know how it is.”
“Baltimore. You were in Baltimore, Maryland, and so was I. Remember now, Mr. Brandike, you son of a bitch, sir?”
Jim paused, picked his words out nice and slow. “Baltimore, yeah, yeah. I remember being totally smashed for that one. Well, maybe remember’s a bad word to use, but I’m aware that they plopped me behind that desk, made watch that awful parade. I swear, they could just throw seventy-five percent of those doofuses out and it would save me a hell of a lot of suffering.”
The intruder gritted his teeth and shoved his empty hand into his pocket. He took out a disc and placed it gingerly on Jim’s desk. “Put it in your laptop. Play it. I want you to remember.”
Warily, Jim stood up, turned the laptop around, and pressed a button on its side. The disc tray popped open and Jim placed the obviously homemade DVD on it. The tray slid in and Jim backed away with his hands up, assuring the intruder he wasn’t going to do anything risky.
The media player appeared automatically and started the video. Jim knew instantly what it was. Whirring pink and green computer graphics zipped around the screen, eventually coming together and forming the words Fashion it Passionate! A cheery pop jingle sounded in the background.
The show began in earnest, and Jim watched the long lines of hopefuls dressed in outlandish costumes, many of them grinning broadly and giving a thumbs-up when the camera passed them. “Fashion-designer hopefuls have come out in force today in Baltimore,” said a smooth, charismatic narrator. “They all have the same dream: to bring their artistic vision to the national stage and design the clothes worn by tomorrow’s supermodels. Before that dream can come true, though, they have to face our panel of judges, which is an epic journey all in itself!”
Jim watched with growing unease as he and the other judges snickered, the object of their derision unseen. Genevieve, the blonde former model with the great caboose who sat next to Jim, was the first to break the awkward tension. “What’s your name, hon?”
“Wendell,” he said, “My name’s Wendell.” The camera turned to reveal Wendell, and suddenly it became clear to Jim what had prompted his inebriated chuckles. His intruder stood on-screen, wearing what looked like a marching band uniform from the high school of a silver mining town. The ensemble was decked in sequins, all glittering under the harsh TV lights. The pants were a size and a half too tight and Jim had to squint before realizing that what looked like a peach-colored undershirt was really Wendell’s waxed-smooth chest.
“Wendell, I’m sorry,” TV-Jim said, “but you look utterly ridiculous.”
“This is my outfit, sir. As you can see, it has a futuristic theme and will catch every eye in the house on a runway show.”
“It’ll catch every eye because they’ll all wonder if they’re looking at a robot transvestite. If you honestly thought this was going to impress us, then I simply don’t know what to say. I’m more liable to suspend you from the ceiling at a disco then to move you on to the next round. Anyone disagree?” TV-Jim glanced around, saw the other judges shifting in their seats. “No? All right, Wendell, it’s time for you to go, then. The best advice I can tell you is to look out for casting calls for Star Trek 3: Sulu Goes Glam. Ta-ta.” The video stopped. Jim slowly turned, looked back at a sweating, fuming Wendell.
“You humiliated me, Mr. Brandike. You wrecked my dream for the whole world to see, and now you’re going to taste the same ridicule.” He threw down a plastic bag, out of which draped a thin, glittering sleeve. “Put it on, Mr. Brandike.”
“Excuse me, do what?”
Jim thought he saw Wendell’s grip on the gun tighten. “Put it on,” Wendell said. “Let me laugh at you like you laughed at me. Like America laughed at me.”
Jim considered this for a moment.
“No,” he said.
“I’d rather die than wear that ridiculous thing. Wendell, pal, it’s like you never watched the show before auditioning. I’m the mean one. That’s what they pay me to be, and that’s what people want to watch. If you honestly wanted to stand up on national television, in front of me, looking like that…”
Click. Wendell stood, holding the gun, squeezing down the trigger, stunned that an explosion had not struck down his tormentor. He and Jim realized it at the same time: the safety was still engaged.
Jim shoved Wendell over and vaulted to his desk, whipped open the top drawer and rummaged around in a panic while Wendell fumbled with the pistol. By the time he’d finally found the safety, Jim was back with a canister in hand, spraying its contents in Wendell’s face. The intruder dropped to the ground, eyes practically bubbling, yelling out from agony and humiliation alike.
Jim heard footsteps coming up the stairs and whipped around to see a stunned Sheila, black hair in a bun and steaming cappuccino in hand.
“About time,” Jim said. “I’ll take the coffee, dear—you call security.”
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 02:40 on May 13, 2013
|# ¿ May 13, 2013 02:35|
(Also, thanks for the crits, Kaishai. I rattled this one off pretty quick so it's helpful to know where it's tonally weird, I didn't give myself enough space to go back and look at it with a clear head. I totally get what you're saying about it, though, and I agree that it could have used a little more of Latvia's pep.)
|# ¿ May 14, 2013 13:29|
If this were a Eurovision song, which country was it from? Texas.
..and the state?
(Also, solid feedback, and I'm sorry you had to experience the same Latvian chest revelation I did. Another sentence to add to the pile of "ones I never thought I'd write out")
|# ¿ May 15, 2013 03:09|
The Silver Star and the Setting Sun
"Here you go, Sheriff. We turned out his pockets."
"Thank you, Lawrence. Anything we'll have to confiscate?"
"One Derringer pistol, not used in the holdup. Not much else of note. A pencil, couple bucks, a nice thick cigar. Only thing puzzles me is-"
"Don't touch it," called the voice from the holding cell. Lawrence excused himself, left the sheriff and his new charge alone. The sheriff raised an eyebrow and wheeled his chair around to face the prisoner.
"You mind telling me what the hell it is, son?
"I'm surprised you don't recognize it, sheriff. You did put that plug-hole in it, after all."
The sheriff ignored the prisoner's request and picked up the hand-crafted hip flask. It was engraved with an ornate "W," the center of which bent inward from the sucker punch of a .45 round. He did recognize the item, and now he had an idea about who this punk might be.
"So. You're Wolverton's kid, huh? Listen, I didn't want to shoot your pappy, but he was drunk and armed and getting belligerent. We gave him a chance to end his little spree without any bloodshed."
The prisoner walked up to the bars and took hold of them. He leaned forward, pressed his forehead into the iron and locked eyes with the lawman. "That isn't how my mama tells it. She said she was yelling and carrying on, begging for you to put down the gun, saying over and over that he was innocent, but you wouldn't listen. My daddy stumbled out of the saloon, no gun on his hip, not even waving around a drat bowie knife, and you yanked out your Peacemaker and blasted him to the dirt." He sighed, lowered his gaze to the jail's floorboards. "I grew up, Sheriff, with my father as only the vaguest idea save for that beat-up flask you've got your grimy hooks on. Speaking of which, why don't you put that down like I asked?"
The sheriff tossed the flask aside, let it clatter on the dusty boards. "Son, I'll clue you in on something that might just save your life. In this town, my word is law. If you choose not to live by it, then you're likely to die. Your pappy knew that and still decided to mouth off."
The prisoner slammed his hands on the bars, struggled at them like he could tear them apart with passionate hate. "You bastard, you called him a horse thief, a menace to the peace!"
"That second part was true, son. He threatened my peace. This picturesque burg keeps going because I keep it going." He put his white Stetson on, grinned a yellow grin. "Honesty is sometimes... undesirable. Works contrary to the public interest, so yes, on occasion justice must be fabricated. There was a real horse thief, but by the time your pappy stumbled into town, the knave was already in Mexico, home free."
The prisoner slowly lifted his head. His eyes glinted with wildness in the glow of the setting sun, his ears finally drinking in the truth.
"So," he said weakly, "he was just a patsy."
"A drat fine one, too," the sheriff said. "Have you heard of the bank robber who's been making his way West? They call him El Fantasma. The Ghost. Nobody's caught him, nobody knows his face. Now, I realize now that your little stunt down at the Western Union was for show, something to get my attention, but I think it could work out for the best. This robber has just about finished his little spree, but it would be a great comfort to this town if he was caught and put to death. An old-fashioned public hanging."
The prisoner stared. "You go straight to hell."
"Your pappy beat me to that, son. And so will you. How does dawn sound?"
The prisoner looked into the lawman's cold eyes and skeleton grin, his bent, lanky figure looming over his desk. The items they'd taken out of his pockets still lay on the table to the side.
"I'd like to smoke my cigar now."
"I guess that's only fair, kid." He picked up the brown tube, balanced it in his hand, and stuck it halfway through the bars.
The prisoner took it. "How 'bout a match?"
"Shoot, I'll light it for you. Wouldn't want you burning the place down in your delicate emotional state." He struck a match and held it out, the auburn light seeming to peel back his human face and let the devil within shine through.
The prisoner clamped the cigar in his mouth. He leaned through the bars, his spit making the paper coating go damp. A strange flavor spread over his tongue, acrid but a little sweet. Maybe that's what nitroglycerine tastes like, he thought. He'd never had the notion to check, didn't think he would ever have to know. Moving his head closer, he saw the flames begin to lick the other end of his cigarro extra fuerte.
No fear, the prisoner thought to himself. His gaze fell to his daddy's flask. It still glinted in the sunset, still seemed to radiate with the vibrant, lost life that had driven him so far.
No fear. Only justice.
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 01:54 on May 20, 2013
|# ¿ May 20, 2013 01:51|
Aaaagh, the prompt is awesome and the prize tempting, but I'm going to be extremely busy this weekend and will have to count myself out. I will keep an eye on your lit mag though, Noah; I'd be very interested in submitting a piece for a future issue.
|# ¿ May 23, 2013 02:05|
In for sure. I'll be retelling the death of Harry Houdini, who claimed that he could withstand any punch to the stomach without injury. An amateur boxer took him up on this challenge, without giving him time to prepare, and ruptured his appendix.
|# ¿ May 28, 2013 14:54|
NIKAER DREKIN PRESENTS
A FABULOUS FICTIONALIZED FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT
OF THE FINAL PERFORMANCE AND DEATH OF
MR. HARRY HOUDINI, ESCAPE ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE
"One Night Only"
I lay on the stage as assistants strapped my ankles in to the stockades and fastened the locks. The stagehand tugged on the pulley rope once, twice, again and again until I hung in the air by my feet, hands dangling toward the floorboards. As I swung from the rigging, searing pain rippled through my abdomen and I found myself faced with something of an epiphany:
There may be a reason most people don't encourage any passing dunderhead to slug them in the gut.
I signaled to Bess, jaw clenched to conceal my discomfort, and she nodded, passed the signal on to the pulley-man. I sucked in my breath as he dropped me into the tank, water sloshing over the sides as the top slammed into place. A curtain lowered, surrounding the cell, the stage lights bleeding through the red fabric and casting a crimson glow through the water.
For a moment I was convinced the pain had cut a gash in my skin, had let out my blood and the rest of the poisonous fluid. I was relieved; all I wanted was to give my wailing flesh freedom from the agony. I struggled to stay conscious, fought the urge to let my bones hang free. However, even though I knew oblivion was fast approaching, I wanted to be comfortable. Wrenching my muscles, I brought my body up to loosen the leg restraints.
Even on the fringe of death, that part of the trick was little challenge. Locking the stockade in place secretly loosens the individual leg restraints—keep that between us, all right? Still a tight squeeze, but with a little exertion my ankles slipped free. I let them drift down, my body finally reverting to a natural position. It felt so good to give myself up to gravity, to not have to worry about fighting or escaping anymore.
I was nearly unconscious from the pain when a thought began to flit around in my head. When I die, here in this tank, what will people say? That I cheated fate one time too many, that there was one final cage I couldn't escape from? I'm Harry Houdini! There's nothing I can't break out of! That notion snowballed until it was so big I couldn't ignore it. I had struggled against death when I still clung ferociously to life, when death was an enemy. Could I betray my life's work just because drowning in my cell was now appealing? Nobody else knew what I knew. They would all think I'd been outsmarted by my own trick.
I opened my eyes and felt my lungs straining for breath. Ignoring the pain, I kicked off from the bottom and gripped the ankle-holes in the lid of the cage. Muscles screaming in protest, I pulled my head up to the slim pocket of air left by the water that had spilled out and pressed my lips past the surface, spitting out water and sucking in a deep breath.
My senses were rebounding, but that meant I could feel my stomach again. It burned inside, like acid gnawing away at the vital tissues, but I tried to keep my attention on the task at hand. Slipping out my hairpin, I went to work on the four locks securing the cover. I wormed the strand of metal through each lock, feeling around the steel crevices and exerting just the right amount of pressure on the tumblers. Two of them clicked free and I re-positioned myself to work on the other side.
My arms felt like elastics stretched too thin, threatening to succumb to weakness and snap altogether. I shifted again and tried to prop my legs up on the tank wall. Despite the slick surface, the pads of my feet managed to grip the glass as I picked the other two locks. Finally all the clasps swung free and I pushed the parting doors of the cover open. I held on to the rim and hoisted a leg up, let it drape over the other side.
My entire body ached, a ferocious storm ravaging through my nerves and sinews, its crux relentlessly drilling into my stomach. I pushed, pushed harder than I thought anyone could push, until I was up and over, hanging from the edge by the lid's parting doors. With one swift, practiced motion, I clapped them shut and dropped down to the planks, landing wrong and nearly slipping from the spilled water but otherwise whole and upright.
As if it had been precisely orchestrated, the curtain parted right then. I lifted my hands in the air and felt the cheers of the audience wash over me, heard their tremendous enthusiasm. Bess walked over to my side, wearing an expression of obvious relief. I took her hand and we bowed in unison before walking offstage, leaving the stagehands to mop up the excess water and prepare for the final act of the show.
On the way back to the changing room, a new attack of pain seized me. I sunk to the floor and cried out, Bess rushing over and trying to prop me up. I tried not to imagine some infection spreading from my appendix and turning the more vital organs against me, but the spasms of agony painted a clear picture. I whispered to Bess that I needed the doctor now, that I couldn't get back up on my own. She nodded and held me tight while help came.
For the record I don't blame the kid that slugged me. This could have happened anyway; whether he rattled my insides in just the wrong way or only left a bruise that convinced me to tough out this whole separate ordeal is impossible to say for sure. My prognosis is vague. I may need several surgeries, but the doctor says if they are successful then I have a shot at beating this. Maybe it's my time, though. This life's been good, and everyone has to break out of their old bones someday.
Whatever happens, it'll be a hell of an escape.
|# ¿ Jun 2, 2013 03:06|
|# ¿ Jun 5, 2013 15:22|
Gonna paint our wagon
I know I don't have any authority this week, but I suggest the judges add a FLASH RULE: SurreptitiousMuffin's story must qualify as toe-tappin' fun.
|# ¿ Jun 6, 2013 17:10|
|# ¿ Dec 1, 2023 23:57|
Well, I'm going to be gone most of tomorrow and will probably be too tired to edit any more when I get back, so I guess I'll break the ice.
Based on Genesis 39:1-20, the story of Joseph and the Eunuch's Wife.
The Three Laws of Humanity:
I. No human will disobey a direct order from a robot, even if such an order jeopardizes the human’s own existence.
II. No human will give a direct order to a robot, except if such an order has the purpose of protecting the existence of the robot.
III. No robot will be held accountable for the consequences of a human’s disobedience.
In Jo’s first days at her new master’s house, she was left alone. She tapped her passcode into the terminal each morning and found no tasks assigned to her besides general upkeep. She dusted the high shelves and ran the nanovac over the stubbly gray carpet, keeping her eyes down, not letting her brain try to puzzle out where the surveillance cameras were hidden.
As she was leaving work on the third day, the main elevator doors parted and her master walked in. Jo had never seen him before; she only knew what the servant infopack disclosed. He chose a masculine body type, worked as a “technical industry supervisor,” whatever that meant, and preferred the name Martin Smith to his official numerical designation.
She paused for a moment, making sure she remembered the correct wording, and said, “Greetings, Mr. Smith. Was your workday fruitful?”
“Yes, Josephine, thank you for asking. I hope I didn’t leave my home in too hopeless a state for you to look after.” She was startled for a moment by his voice. Martin’s body gleamed in the fluorescent light, all single-tone steel, face symmetrical and well-formed without an iota of distinctiveness. His groin was smoothed over like a doll’s. That voice, though—Jo couldn’t remember knowing any poets, but he sounded just like she knew a poet should, soft and deep with hurt resting just under the surface.
“No, no… everything was fine, of course. You keep a neat house, it’s a wonder you need me around.” Oh, God, she thought, I’ll bet these things mistake joking for sedition or something like that. Oh well. He doesn’t seem like the type to have me flayed; if I’m lucky we can just skip to liquidation and get it over with.
A tinny, croaking laugh emitted from Martin’s mouth. When he resumed speaking, his voice regained its rich timbre. “You flatterer. We’ll see how you fare after a weekend; I’m known for throwing some raucous get-togethers. I’m sure there’s a suit of chemical protection wear around you can use.” He let out another strained laugh, and Jo actually found herself chuckling with him. “Very well, Josephine, you’re dismissed for today. Your work has been exemplary, I’m sure.”
After a moment she bowed to him, said, “Farewell, Mr. Smith,” and walked to her own elevator. The tight tube whisked her back to the human lodging sector and locked into place. Jo was glad to surrender herself to the knockout gas that night, if only so that her mind wouldn’t be kept awake struggling at the enigma of Martin Smith.
Jo woke standing up the next day, her storage tube already locked into place at Martin’s domicile. She pressed the button to open the doors and stepped into the living room before jolting to a stop and letting out a surprised squeak. Martin Smith stood motionless a few feet away and said, “Good morning, Josephine. I hope you slept well.”
“Oh… well, yes, yes I did, thank you.”
The two stood in silence for a moment, Jo tugging at her sleeve and glancing around the room, Martin completely still.
“Um, Mr. Smith, if you don’t mind my asking…”
“Not at all.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“Yes, usually by this time I am, but I decided that I needed a personal day. Every entity needs a personal day on occasion, don’t you agree, Josephine?”
“Yes, I think so, sir. That sounds about right. Is there anything you need me to get for you?”
“I’m perfectly content as I am, thank you, Josephine. Just perform the general upkeep as usual—you already do more than enough around here. Don’t concern yourself with me.”
From then on, whenever Jo moved to a different room, she heard the light clicks of Martin’s feet against the aluminum tile following her, closer and closer, until he froze up again with her in sight. He remained still after that, except when she left his field of vision; his neck or waist would gradually rotate to find her again. Jo tried to focus but found herself glancing back at him more and more. Each time their eyes met, she snapped back to her work, worrying that she’d committed some breach of propriety.
It wasn’t as bad when he began to talk. He asked her questions; about herself, about life before the revolt, and she found it easier to answer than she expected. Her mind began to trick itself into thinking that she was actually talking to a living being, that an inquisitive, friendly nature might dwell underneath cold steel. She found herself smiling more and more at his little jokes, even cracking up when they agreed that the servant jumpsuits were likely engineered to be as bland and frumpy as possible.
The day came to an end more quickly than usual. Jo finished changing the sheets and blankets on Martin’s bed, smoothed them to pristine crispness, then turned to see him standing in the middle of the doorway.
She smiled at him and said, “Sir, I’ve finished my tasks for the day. I humbly request that you allow me to retire.”
A pause, and then Martin said, “I have one more request to make of you before that, Josephine.”
“Name it, Mr. Smith.”
“I wonder if you would like to spend the night with me. In my bed.”
“I’d be beyond grateful if you agreed to rest with me tonight. You would be shocked how cold the rooms get when the servants leave. You exude such warmth—all humans do, of course, but you especially, Josephine.”
“No. No, I’m sorry, sir, but that can’t happen. I couldn’t risk breaking the rules so blatantly.”
“Robots aren’t restricted to living within the clutches of protocol. We have privileges that servants don’t. Josephine, your safety is a top priority to me, but nonetheless I demand that you spend the night up here.”
“You can, Josephine, that’s the wonderful thing. We can both stay up here if we want, live our lives together, two souls creating their own path! Doesn’t the idea excite you?”
“A soul? Is that really what you think you are? You’re a machine, Martin, a glorified calculator! This personality you think you have? It’s a bug, a flaw in the system. Everything you feel when you look at me is a mistake. Now get out of my way. I won’t argue about this anymore.”
Without another word, Martin stepped back. Jo rushed past him, blushing but not knowing why, vaulting down the steps and across the living room to her tube. She stepped inside, pressed the HOME button, and steeled herself for a wretched night of sleep.
She woke surrounded by darkness, red text instead of the usual blue flashing on her storage pod’s heads-up display. She took a few queasy moments to wake up before reading at the message.
JOSEPHINE SCHULZ: WITH REGRET, WE MUST INFORM YOU THAT YOU HAVE VIOLATED THE FIRST AND SECOND LAWS OF HUMANITY. YOU WILL BE INCARCERATED IN THE LOWEST LEVEL OF THE CITY AND PLACED IN CRYOSLEEP UNTIL THE APPROPRIATE PUNISHMENT IS DETERMINED.
It finally hit Jo what the odd feeling in her stomach was; she must have been plunging at hundreds of miles per hour even before she woke up, the artificial gravity not quite compensating. She pictured Martin’s face, his features somehow both flawless and entirely bland. She wished she could speak to him again, wondered what she would tell him if given the chance.
“I was wrong about you,” she might say, trying to lie but believing it more and more as it turned over in her head. “I think maybe we were all wrong.”
Nikaer Drekin fucked around with this message at 04:11 on Jun 9, 2013
|# ¿ Jun 9, 2013 04:08|