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Apr 4, 2013
First time and wanting IN!


Apr 4, 2013
Ace of Fools
934 words

“I don’t know what’s wrong, Jessica, but you need to deal with it. You’ll lose your scholarship if you don’t bring these numbers up.”

“And nobody cares but you.”

Jess glared at the fox in the corner. He laughed, bobbing his whiskers.

“I know, Dr. Vance, I’ve just had a rough week,” she said.

“Rough?” the fox said. “Try negotiating with Tower ogres, Vancey, that’s rough, and not in the fun way!”

Her professor heard none of this. “You’ve had a rough semester. The one before that wasn’t smooth either.” He finger-combed his greying hair. “Maybe you should take some time off. If it’s personal issues, or… or a boy…”

The fox rolled over laughing, paws in the air. His tail was bushy and his coat bright as a blood orange. She didn’t know how many vixens he had on the line, but no number would surprise her. She tried not to blush. “Come on Dr. Vance, it’s a small liberal arts college, there are hardly any boys here.”

“You just,” he said, looking away from her, “look like you didn’t make it home, last night.”

“Seriously?” She looked down. Dirty jeans, faded black hoodie, converse shoes. “I need to do laundry, but-“

“You smell,” the fox said.

“Better a dirty human than a dirty mutt, Sixt” she muttered.

“Jess?” Dr. Vance looked a specific kind of concerned.

“Nothing, Professor.”

“Just get it together, alright? Your father wouldn’t appreciate me terminating your scholarship, but I won’t have a choice if your grades don’t change soon. Academic probation is no joke, especially for under-funded departments like ours.” He gestured to the picture on the wall of himself and her father at one of their digs in Greece for emphasis.

“I’ll do my best, I-”

“And you need to think about the bigger picture,” he said. “You won’t qualify to have your work-study reinstated if you’re on probation for longer than a semester, and I can’t fund you privately. Books, dorm rooms, fees, food, they all cost money, and-” Jess’s stomach rumbled on queue.

“I know, Morgan,” she said, calling him by his first name like she used to when she was a kid. “I just… have a lot on my plate right-”

There was a crash outside like a ton of bricks falling five stories.

Sixt jumped and Dr. Vance didn’t, so Jess figured it for a different kind of crash. The fox nodded at her, then jumped out a window. Jess fidgeted.

“I just need you to get your act together. Every time I defend you in front of the funding committee I’m sticking my neck out, and you’re not helping by performing at such a-“

“Right! So, I’ll go work on that paper right now, ok? You’ll have it before midnight!” She was halfway out of the office before she’d finished speaking. “Thanks!” she yelled back as the door closed.

She ran out of the library, rounded a brick wall to the left and saw all she needed: a dragon was lying on the ground next to a tree, which looked like it’d been hit by lightning. Sixt was sitting next to the dragon, nodding.

Jess came over. “The Nil may speak?” Sixt asked for her.

“Yes. The Ace of fifth Priest asks arbitration.” The dragon did not move its mouth – no vocal chords. Meetings with them always made Jess’s ears ring in the silence, and they were so formal, names and ranks and so forth.

“The Nil asks, what happened?” she asked.

The next hour answered some long-standing questions about flight restrictions established between the dragons of the fifth and the eagles of the seventh. Apparently the arcana – the open meeting for all ranks of the spirit world’s houses and races – had been issued for tonight, and as arbitrator the Nil had to be present.

“There goes my promise,” Jess said, watching the dragon take off. Some students had come over to comment on the fate of the tree, but none had stayed. Probably just old and in need of cutting down, right? Humans – the Nil, of the Fool – were remarkably self-regulating.

“What, to the Empress? Or Dr. Stuffy-Face?” Sixt asked.

“He was the last Nil’s best friend,” she said.

“Friend of a Fool, still a stuffy-face.” Sixt trotted off. Jess headed back to her dorm to do what she could until the moon rose and the arcana was called. Tonight would not leave much time for paper writing.


“Don’t bother me, I’m busy,” she told him. Sixt was lying on top of her bookcase. Books were open across her desk, and she tried to remember what she’d been looking for.

He licked a paw. “Tell me to go, then.”

She didn’t answer, just turned a few pages.

“I just don’t want to disappoint Dr. Vance, dragons or not,” she said as the door opened.

“Did you say something Jess?” her roommate asked, walking in and taking her earbuds out.

Jess rubbed her face. “Nope, just talking to myself. Got a paper due.”

“Bummer. Got your mail,” she said, tossing an envelope onto Jess’s desk.

“Thanks. It’s for Dr. Vance. I’m just trying to straighten everything out, you know?”

“Wasn’t that paper due last week?”

“Yeah, but… what was the topic again?”

Sixteen, a Fox of the Tower, fell off the bookcase laughing. “Poor Fool,” Sixt said. “Too bad you can’t eat paper!”

“Too bad I can’t eat you, either.”

“Who are you talking to?” her roommate asked.

“Just me mumbling. Wait-” She had opened the envelope.

From the Office of the Dean – We regret to inform you that, effective immediately…

Apr 4, 2013
So many firsts - first thunderdome entry accomplished, now for the first thunderdome crit!

kurona_bright posted:

First Thunderdome entry ever. Help. okay!

Final Thoughts?
869 Words

Chris’s mind was muddled only his mind? It sounds like a few other things might've been too as he walked out of the examination hall, sure that his GPA was doomed, his academic future in shambles isn't that the same thing?. He stopped as he reached the steps down to the sidewalk, turned around, and scanned the remnants of the crowd leaving the building. Penny caught his eye and grinned widely, waving to him. With a false smile, Chris managed a twitch of his fingertips and watched as she, along with two other classmates - he thought their names were Diana and Jacqueline, made her way up to his side.

“That was really a difficult test, wasn’t it?” Penny asked, still smiling. “Thought my brain would just die right there in the examination hall and float away, leaving my body behind.” haha, nice image, but I want more graphic description from her - what would happen to her body? can zombies take tests?

Chris groaned. “I think that’s exactly what happened to me, to be honest. I couldn’t answer all the questions, and -”

“Well, being late couldn’t have helped,” Diana chirped. “I mean, I thought that you of all people would show up on time.”

“Did you just forget to set the alarm?” Jacqueline asked. how many people are we talking to, here? too many new names, can't keep track
“Well, not really. Erm, I stayed up to like two in the morning studying and covering some stuffsame thing, so I just slept right through it.”


“I know,” Chris almost wailed. “I probably completely bombed it and my parents are going to kill me and they’re going to take away all my games how old is this guy? and…”

As he continued venting (in this rather theatrical fashion), Diana raised an eyebrow as (too many conjunctive adverbs in one sentence) she looked at Penny, who just laughed. They continued walking back, and as Diana and Jacqueline left for the dining hall, Chris asked Penny how she did. Upon hearing “Erm, I’m pretty sure I did pretty well, you know” (along with the giggles at the joke she thought she made), Chris turned on Penny and spat out literally or figuratively?:

“What? But you never get any of the questions right in discussion! I mean, it’s practically a running joke in the class! How can somebody who can’t even remember what Avogadro’s number is for possibly think that she did ‘pretty well’?”

Penny laughed again, and Chris’ face became even stormier, and (too many conjunctions, commas are fine)she finally said, “Silly! Didn’t you notice bad verb choice - "figure out" would be better why I always answered wrong adj/adv disagreement?” Upon seeing Chris’ confused expression "confusion" is fine, she said primly, “Think about it for a while, and we’ll meet up for dinner, okay?”

Chris nodded slowly, and asked, “Same time, right?”



Chris was still gloomy when Penny walked up to him, greeted him, and dragged him into Oceano, the local dining hall. Only when they had received and paid for their meals did she ask him about the question she asked earlier.

Sitting down into the wobbly chair, Chris answered slowly, “I think I might have an answer.”

She clapped her hands together, and said, “Tell me!”

“Well, you always - always - answer the question wrong, but you’re generally the first person to answer the question. I wasn’t joking about the ‘running joke’ thing - it’s almost a comedy routine in the class at this point. Johnson asks a question, you give an outlandish answer, the whole class laughs, and we continue on.” He looked up at her, and upon seeing her nod, continued. “You used to get the really basic answers wrong, but you never answered a question twice. So I guess you were just trying out poor phrasal verb choice, pick something else - 'attempting'trial and error? Learning from your mistakes?”

Penny shook her head. “Think again. Why did I always answer first?”

“...nobody else raised their hands?” Chris mumbled more to himself than anything, looking down at his plate - a slice of pizza along with an orange. “Uh, I think on the first day after we finally dealt with all the stupid admin stuff, nobody really wanted to answer any of Johnson’s questions even if they knew the answer.” Like me. “So you got sick of the silence and tried to throw something out there?”

“Not really. Why did everybody keep quiet? At the very least, why did you keep quiet?”

“Well, I was afraid…” of getting the question wrong. Oh. Chris looked up. “Wait, are you seriously telling me that you were just trying to get everybody else to participate?”

Penny giggled. “It worked, didn’t it? And everybody’s happier. Johnson doesn’t have to ask a question and wait thirty seconds for a response, and people can actually learn instead of falling asleep. And most people would know the correct answer afterwords, mostly because -”

“- because your answers were always really… eccentric.” Like calling HCl the divine nectar the Greek Gods drank, and that's why it neutralized "that nasty base" to form water. “Okay. I think I get it.”

They ate, and after they finished, Penny said, hesitantly, “You know, I think you’ll do fine on the final. The curve’s always there after all, even if it doesn’t work out as well as you’d have liked, you’ll pass. And there’s always next quarter.”

“I know. And well, uh…” Chris fidgeted. Penny raised an eyebrow. “Yes?” who's talking?

“Could we study together next quarter? I think it would help.”

Ooh, the lone wolf joins the pack.” Chris flushed, and Penny continued. “Yeah, sure! It’d be fun! Well, not really fun, but helpful and educational and stuff like that. C’mon, let’s get back to the common room. I want to show this amazing new show! It’s got magic and mirrors and lots and lots of smoke and…”

Overall: A good answer to the prompt, but nothing happened except Penny explaining how smart she was and Chris being a bit of a doofus. I was really hoping she was going to reveal that she had somehow gotten a fix on the exam or was sleeping with the professor or... something, anything! As Margaret Atwood says, "If you're writing a crime novel, move the body up!" The most exciting thing to happen in this story was the fact that Chris seemed to have a very odd relationship with his parents (who would take away a college student's "games"?).

Apr 4, 2013

Thanks to Some Guy TT for the crit, and crabrock for the compliment!

Apr 4, 2013
Domini Cannes – The Dogs of God
1,197 words

“Bless it, Father, that’s too many today,” I said. I knew I was complaining, but there is a point past which even the ‘dogs of god’ cannot bow to the trace any longer.

“There’s a war on, John, haven’t you heard?” My mentor was a huge man, even with his graying hair he more resembled the might of Goliath than our bookish founder, St. Dominic. Father Augustus Judd and I were traveling south toward the border of East Prussia and Poland, on orders from the Holy See that Fr. Judd knew, but I didn’t. Along the way, we had performed baptisms, confessions, last rights, and far too many funerals. With most Prussians fighting the Germans or the Lithuanians, those left behind were either old, sick, female, or all three. This left few strong backs available for grave-digging when someone passed away. So whose hands were covered in blisters from shoveling all day for a week?

My name is Fr. John Martin, Dominican priest.

Father Judd tapped his spade on the pile of earth. “This should keep him at rest,” he said, looking up, “even if it rains tonight.”

I dropped my own spade gratefully. “Then we’re back to the village for supper and a bed, before the rain? Prussian funerals aren’t parties like Russian funerals, but still…”

Fr. Judd laughed. “No, boy, rain’s the best time for walking! It keeps you cool.”

It was autumn, and getting colder. I sighed and picked up my shovel, which felt heavier than before. “Where to tonight then?” I asked.

“Over the border. Dr. Bloch should be expecting us.”

“Tonight? But the soldiers just came through this morning!”

“It’s as good a time as any. The rain will help. Remember to cover the papers in oilcloth before we leave.”

The rain will be frigid, I thought, and no one cares about the Vatican passports. They can all see that we’re priests. All I did was heft my shovel and follow him back to town.

There were two loaves of bread, a pair of hand-beaded rosaries, and no good-byes when we left. It got dark as we walked, and I knew we were truly in God’s hands when Fr. Judd turned off the road into the woods. A few minutes later, it started raining.


The night passed slowly until we heard the dogs. Then we ran.

“Faster John!” Fr. Judd said through the rain.

“Where?” I tried to ask, panting. The dogs seemed to be both coming closer and fading away all at once.

“Ahead,” was the only answer I got. We kept running.

Three lights emerged from between the trees. A village or an army post, we had no way of knowing. I didn’t have the breath to ask Fr. Judd if it was safe. I heard the dogs coming closer.


I followed the giant shadow of my mentor to our left. A house, horses in a three-sided barn, three lights in a window. The door opened and closed and we were inside with half a dozen other bodies. Women, children, and a few boys my own age still growing into their beards were seated on the floor. Two were piled on top of each other, obviously dead. Two others sat in chairs. I thought I could hear the howls fading.

“Father Augustus Judd?” a man asked. He had a straight beard and a professor’s manners. There was a six pointed star sewn onto his sleeve.

“By God’s will,” Fr. Judd answered, still dignified even dripping wet. “Are you Dr. Josef Bloch?”

The man stood. “I am. This is my wife, Miriam,” he said, placing a hand on the shoulder of the woman sitting next to him. Her dark hair and headscarf gave it away before he could say it. “This is her family. They are Romani.”

“Gy-gypsy,” I stammered.

Fr. Judd processed this better than I. “Very good, Doctor. We are here on behalf of your sister, Mother Mary Bloch, and the Holy Vatican, to rescue you. John, the papers.”

I was lost.

“John, the passports,” he said.


“THEIR passports.”


I handed over the little bundle I’d tucked in my inside coat pocket. Vatican passports – now I understood.

Dr. Bloch smiled. “And how do you intend to do this? The border guards are not so stupid as to count two passports but seven people, and no one can outrun their dogs.” Dogs that sounded like they were right outside the window.

Fr. Judd looked around, thought for a minute, then said, "We have need of a pair of shovels and some bedsheets. Are the horses and wagon outside yours?”

“My family’s,” Miriam said. “What would you do with them?”

“Lady, I would have them save our lives. Doctor, the shovels? And take off your coat.”

“Right, here.” The doctor reached toward the fireplace for a heavy spade and a pickaxe.

Fr. Judd took them. “Wrap everyone in the sheets and put them in the wagon, if you would.”



Five minutes later Fr. Judd was at the reins of two cart horses with a doctor, a gypsy, two dead bodies and five living ones in the back, the last seven wrapped in sheets. I walked at the horses’ heads as we made our way into town. The sounds of dogs were all around us. They seemed to be everywhere, as numerous as their border guard handlers.

When we finally reached the gate in the fence that served as a border, Fr. Judd produced our papers and the Vatican passports. An officer wearing the SS on his sleeve looked into the wagon. “Who’re you carrying, priest?”

“Two of God’s children, and seven of his lost ones,” Fr. Judd answered. “Their family is of my order, and they wish to be brought to the Holy City.”

“And who are you?” the officer asked Dr. Bloch.

The doctor held up his hands. A rosary, one of the ones given to us in the last village, dangled from his wrist. “I heal the sick, officer, that is all. Sometimes I fail.” He lifted the sheet off the face of one of the bodies. I only hoped he knew which were breathing and which weren’t.

The officer took his time, looking over the bodies and burying tools. I still and hoped he didn’t hear my teeth chattering.

Finally he nodded. “Alright. Bury them before they start to stink. God speed, Father.”

“Thank you, officer.”

We walked into Poland.

“So, John!” Fr. Judd said. “How about that supper and a warm bed?”

I laughed. “No, Father! Hadn’t you heard? Rain’s good for walking!”

We found an inn and helped the Romani family unwrap themselves from their bedsheets.

“Dr. Bloch, would you and your wife join us for a drink? To remember your loved ones, and welcome you to your new freedom?”

“I’d be honored,” the Doctor said. It was either rain or tears, but his face was wet when we stepped inside.

“Now we can give them a true funeral, Jaemelle and Durkin,” Miriam said. “A celebration of their lives.”

“There you are, John. You’ll get your party after all,” Fr. Judd said, laughing. “You might as well be at one now! Two priests, a jew, and a gypsy walk into a bar…”

Apr 4, 2013

Apr 4, 2013
1,197 words

I stood in line at the bank for five minutes. When her window was free, I stepped up, stomach in knots.

“Welcome to Bank of America, how can I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to deposit a check.”

Our hands brushed as she gave me a pen to sign with. I noticed the small tattoo on her wrist as she scanned the check. And scanned it again.

And again.

I was enjoying watching her face, how that strand of blonde hair fell over her eyebrows and ended at the corner of her mouth, but I thought it might be rude not to say something.

“Excuse me Claire, but I think you’re over-paying me.” I giggled, tried to turn it into a cough. Was reading her name tag too much? I was already worried.

She wasn’t paying attention. Her grey eyes scanned the screen, and she said, “Look at that. I could’ve sworn I’d just deposited it. Good thing you noticed the error, our system is so weird sometimes.” She hit a key and gave me a customer-service smile.

“Well, that happens when you run a check four times,” I said, trying to sound light-hearted.

Her smile dropped. “I didn’t.” She sounded so sure. I wasn’t going to make her feel awkward just to validate my observation. I smiled, and she smiled back, polite as a locked door.

“Would you like a receipt?” she asked.

Here we go Jeff, you’ve worked too hard for this. I could almost hear Derrick in my head. “Sure, and maybe you could-” She wasn’t even looking at me.“- Actually no, thank you.”

“Have a nice day. Welcome to Bank of America, how can I help you?”

She hadn’t even waited for me to walk away. Outside, I found three fliers on my car for a Thai restaurant.


“So did you talk to her?” Derrick asked.

I didn’t look up from my coffee. “Yes.”

“You don’t even believe yourself, man,” he said.

“I deposited a check with her, alright? That counts as talking. She said things, I said things back, what do you want from me?”

“Do you know her name?”

“That doesn’t count, she wears a nametag, the mailman knows her name.”

“Did you ask for her number?”


“More coffee?” The waitress was a welcome interruption.

Derrick smiled his I-might-want-you smile. “Thank you, hun, I’ll take a warm up.”

He was disgusting sometimes. She still smiled at him and poured the coffee. She didn’t pour any for me.

“Jeff, you’ve got to stop doing this.” He had every right to say that. Derrick, of the unnecessarily tight shirt, practiced smiles, and casual macho attitude that for some reason made women drool over him like a candy apple. We met at work about a year ago. “You’ve come so far in the last six months, but you can’t stay passive. At some point, you got to –“

“Oh don’t say ‘be a man’, Derrick, you’re just being an rear end in a top hat now.”

“I’m just saying-”

“I have no desire whatsoever to hear what you’re just saying.” My anger surprised me, but if he wanted to see me assert myself, he would have to deal with it. “I don’t even really like her, alright? This was your idea, I messed it up - big effing surprise.” I threw a five down on the table. “I’m going to the gym,” I said, and headed for the door.

“More coffee?” I heard the waitress say.

“Thank you, hun, I’ll-” The door closed. It wouldn’t be long until he took her home, if he hadn’t already.

Jerk. Now I was going to think about everything I did wrong with Claire. For 11am on Saturday, the weekend I’d planned to actually ask a girl out was really going to hell.


“Hey Jeff, how goes?” Shannon asked. She’d been on the list of ‘possible girls to ask out’. I gave her my card and a “Just fine, thanks”, hit the locker room and then the weight floor. Derrick had gotten me to try lifting weights to help me with my ‘confidence problems’, and about six months in I’d actually started liking it. The bench press and squat rack were occupied, so I did some barbell rows and shoulder presses while I waited.

And waited. drat, were these guys never going to finish?

I walked up to the guy in the grey t-shirt and red shorts on the bench press. “Excuse me, do you have a lot of sets left?”

“Well I just got on, so I might be awhile,” he said.

I blinked and looked around for another guy in a grey shirt and red shorts. “So… how many sets do you normally do?”

He looked a little annoyed. “About five, why? You in a hurry?”

“No, it’s fine, I just thought I saw you do a bunch already.”

“Well, I didn’t.” He leaned back and set his hands under the bar.

Done talking to the crazy, I thought.

I finished a few other lifts and headed out. “Hey Jeff, how goes?” Shannon asked as I left.

“Haha, Shannon, you’re funny. Have a good day.”

“How goes?” she said again.

“Shannon? Not funny anymore!” I walked back from the door over to the check-in desk. She hadn’t looked up from her binder the entire time. “Are you ok?” I shook her shoulder gently.

She blinked a few times. “Jeff? Hey! This inventory’s just being a real pain, I must not’ve noticed you, how goes?”

“Please stop saying that.”


“You’ve just said it about a dozen times. Did you hit your head?”

Her smile became a frown. “No, but you just walked in, that’s how I say hi to people.”

I looked at the clock. No, I’d definitely been there for more than an hour. Back on the weight floor, a guy in a grey t-shirt and red shorts was doing bench presses.

“I’ve got to go,” I said to Shannon.

“Hey Jeff, how goes?”

I ran out the door.


“Derrick, there’s something really weird going on, call me back.”

I’d tried his cell twice, and checked my call history to make sure that it’d only been twice and not an unconscious hundred more. While I sat at a red light, I saw a car pull through the Starbucks window three times. At my door, there were five plates of cookies, all with the same note from my neighbor.

My phone rang as I reached for my keys. I fumbled with the touchscreen and still missed the call.

Derrick left a message. “Hey man, I know you’re scared, but you can totally do this. Just ask for her number the same way you ask for a receipt. Coffee after for the play-by-play? Later bro, good luck!”

The bank. Claire’d deposited the check four times. I was frantic. I didn’t even really like her, I’d just picked her as “safe” for a first try. I turned around and ran back to my car.


I stood in line at the bank for five minutes. When her window was free, I stepped up, stomach in knots.

“Welcome to Bank of America, how can I help you?”

“Hi, I’d like to deposit a check.”

Apr 4, 2013
Thunderdome will never again be this IN.

Apr 4, 2013
Pura Vida
998 words

“Come on, it’s your last night,” she said. She bent closer to the mirror, putting on excessive mascara. “You know you’re leaving, he knows you’re leaving, we all know you’re leaving. Just enjoy it. Pura vida!”

It was my last night in a tiny little surfing town in Costa Rica, and every one kept telling me how happy I should be. All I was was miserable.

“Ethan’s putting on this show for you,” Josie said, trying again. She was still applying her makeup. We’d been roommates at the hostel for almost three months, and I loved her, but sometimes the accidents of her were frustrating as hell.

“He’s not putting it on for me, he moved it to Friday for me. He’d still’ve had the show anyway. I don’t know why I got involved with him,” I said. “We both knew it wouldn’t last.”

“Why does it have to last? Why can’t you just enjoy it until it’s done? That was the whole point of this for you, wasn’t it? Drop the military attitude, waste some time, surf, dance, eat coconuts, lie on a beach like a hippie. It wasn’t supposed to last.”

I pulled my red pants on and made a face that she couldn’t see with her nose inches from the mirror. My fire-proofed headscarf and my poi were already in their bag by the door.

“See you there?” Josie called as I headed out.



Every Thursday night there was a fire show in this town too small for a stop light. It was in the street in front of the only bar, and all the fire dancers came out to play and pass the hat. Ethan was already there with his sister and one of his other students when I arrived, a tall shirtless Italian who could’ve easily passed as one of my fellow soldiers. Ethan came up to me, half drunk at 7pm, and wrapped an arm around my waist. I let him. He smelled like ash and salt and weed and I couldn’t get enough of him.

“Chi-ca!” he said, nuzzling my neck. “You preparando for some playtime?” He pressed his mouth up next to me ear, and I could feel his lips roll over that rich Spanish accent as they tickled my skin.

His sister handed me a beer before her brother’d even let go of me. “There’s always a last time, no?” she said, smiling.

I cracked the beer. Ethan grabbed it and took a long swallow before handing it back. “But it will be a good time, yes?” he slurred.

“Yeah,” I said, finally getting a drink myself. “One more good time.”

“Then back to the military, right?” the shirtless Italian asked me.

“I have to report back to-”

“Nobody!” Ethan butted in. He pressed his body up next to mine. “Tonight, she report to nobody but me.”

“Sure,” I said. “Your body.”

It took him a second to get the pun. “Pura vida,” he said, wicked and smiling.

“Pura vida,” I answered, and took another drink.


Attach a Kevlar wick to the end of a chain, dip the wick in white gas and light it on fire, then spin that wick around in a series of circles around the body of a performer. This art is called “fire poi”, after the orbital chains of the same name with which it is performed. When it is being danced, the verb used is “to play” poi.

Ethan’s other students were the first to step into the circle of wide-eyed, sunburned backpackers and bored locals. First the Italian, who wasn’t half bad; then two girls from California who knew about three moves between them; and an older German man who was more about speed than skill.

Ethan draped an arm across my shoulders. “A beautiful start, no?”

“They need work,” I said.

“Everybody need work. No problem. There is always a first time.”

It was the same thing he’d said to me before my first fire show.

Ethan’s sister stepped out next. She was more of a dancer than a player – I envied the grace with which she maneuvered her body around the fire. I could’ve watched her for hours.

After she took her bow, Ethan kissed me hard on the cheek before dipping his poi into the can of white gas. The crowd knew him, and cheered.

“Tonight!” he said, lifting his hands, “Tonight we say good-bye. Tonight, we give our love to Karen. Tonight we say pura vida, before she go home and back to work!” The crowd cheered, and I smiled. It was almost sweet. “Hard work!” Ethan continued, “blowing up all the bad terrorists!”


The crowd laughed, and he started playing. He was a master, there was no denying it. Even when I hated him I couldn’t stop watching.

“He’s good even when he’s an rear end, isn’t he?” the shirtless Italian said.

“Yeah,” I answered, turning to look at him. He smiled back. “You busy tonight?” I asked.

“I’m not planning to sleep with my teacher’s girlfriend, if that’s what you mean.”

Ethan was finishing up. It would be my turn soon. “It wasn’t,” I lied.

“Go play,” he said, ending the awkward for both of us. “You’re up.”

I hadn’t even watched Ethan finish. I passed him as he tried to kiss me, letting him bounce off my shoulder and my cheek.

When you spin poi, they roar like fires in a wind. I don’t know how well I did that night – I didn’t care. I played until the fires died, then came back to myself standing in a circle of cheering people I’d never met before.

I looked over to see Ethan kissing Josie.


The next morning, I woke up and packed my backpack quickly. I didn’t want to wake the Italian, who lay sprawled out naked on my bed.

He mumbled something just as I was walking out the door.

“Pura vida,” I answered.

“Pura vida,” I heard him say.

Apr 4, 2013

I brought road kill.

Apr 4, 2013
Only One Place to Go
1,392 words

“There’s something different about you, here” I said.

“That happens when you go someplace different,” she answered.

My sister Mina had been missing for four years. I’d been to four continents looking for her. The only place I ever found her was in my dreams.


When you hear gunfire, the last thing you should do is run.

I dropped to the ground and rolled under the wheels of a parked truck. “Echo to command, shots fired.”

“Roger. Can you confirm target?”

“I don’t think it’s us.” The firing was sporadic, large bursts on and off that sounded like they came from everywhere. Instinct made me look, but it was difficult to find muzzle flashes in the mid-afternoon sun.

“Echo three, report!” my earpiece crackled. “Miriam, what’s going on up there?”

“Sorry John, I don’t think we’re under fire.” I ripped my headscarf off and tossed it just out from under the truck to see if the shooters took the bait, but nothing happened. I rolled out and stood up. “Echo three to team, all clear.”

The gunfire continued, but the other two members of Echo team came around the corner and we continued forward. “What do you think it is?” John asked.

“Could be a wedding,” I said. “Could be an execution.”

“I just don’t want it to be ours,” Alice answered. “Especially not on your last tour, Miriam.”

“Insha’Allah,” I said.

“If only everyone spoke Arabic here,” John sighed.

We moved forward.


“Urdu, Pashto, Berber, Turkish, Kurdish, Uzbek. Half a dozen Semitic languages. Two dozen Persian languages. There’s no single linguistic base here, that’s why the cultures make no sense.”

“You’re thinking about this wrong, Miri. You can’t figure out language, it figures out you.” Mina was always frustrating when the dreams let her speak. I loved to hear her voice, but could never understand what she said.

“You need to study the poetry, not the law,” she continued.

“You were the poet, Mina,” I said. There was suddenly an AR-15 in my hand, logical the way dreams are. “I was never that good with words.”

“Then why are you a negotiator?” she asked.

“Because I’m good with other things.”


We’d made it out of Herat, a city in Afghanistan that spoke a mixture of Persian Farsi and Pashto, and met up with a small convoy that would take us north into Turkmenistan near the border with Iran. When you told someone you were a hostage negotiator they usually pictured highly skilled operatives with satellites and helicopters. We got two jeeps and five other soldiers, who shared their food and stories on the road north.

“Do you know anything about these people?” one of them asked me. Jim. Or Jack.

“The report says they’re journalists,” I told him as I double-checked my dossiers.

“Why are journalists always off somewhere getting themselves in trouble?” he joked, smiling.

“Because someone’s got to keep an eye on us,” I said.

“Not Allah?” he joked the way rednecks joke when they don’t know when to stop.

“He’s not very good with editorials,” I said without looking up.

He gave up. Mina had been a journalist.


“Where are you, Mina?” I asked.

She didn’t speak. She was drawing something. I couldn’t quite see what it was.

In the beginning my questioning had been fierce. Now they were more form than force. Asking the questions was comforting, as was never getting an answer.

“What are you drawing?” I asked.

The dream answered, even though nothing about the scene changed. A white elephant stood at the boarder of a city and refused to cross.

“Al-Fil,” I said. “The elephant.” I knew the story from the verses our uncle recited from the Qu’ran.

Have you not seen what your Lord did with the companions of the elephant?
Did He not make their plot to go astray?

The white elephant would not cross into Mecca to destroy the Kaaba as its master had instructed. This occurred in the year of the Prophet’s birth. Our uncle would finish the story and tell us that even those with the greatest strength bow to Allah’s will.

“Stories, Mina,” I said. “Poetry and stories.”

I hadn’t been a believer since she’d left, but I hadn’t the heart to tell her that it was her fault.


“Only one way?” I repeated. When negotiating with someone, the best way to make them feel secure is by repeating the last three words of their sentence. This tells them that you’re listening and want them to go on.

The hostage-takers had radioed us in a tiny, tiny village in Turkmenistan called Miana, where most of the people spoke either Turkmeni, Kurmanji Kurdish, or Semitic Mehri. They negotiated with me through a translator, who spoke Arabic.

My dossiers had been wrong, the hostages were one journalist and two archeologists, who had all come from the Altyn Depe dig a few miles away. The hostage-takers said they had five people, but I’d only been told three were missing.

“Yes, only one way for them to return the people.” The translator sounded almost bored. “You come, you give the money, you take the people and leave. No stuff.”

Drugs. Photographs. Weapons. ‘Stuff’ could be anything.

“No stuff, Insha’allah,” I agreed. “Where can we take them from you?”

There was a pause and radio static. “Tonight, the northern wall,” there was a wall around the dig-site, “bring the money.”

“Bring the money. We will.”



The sun went down as John and I waited for our hostages to show up. One jeep was with us, the other parked on the south side of the dig, hiding the rest of our group.

I’d been expecting the sound of an engine, but in silence a group of four men came over a small hill to the north of us and approached. Only one of them was armed. There were two men and a woman with them, clearly foreign, one of the men limping badly.

“Money!” the shout came across the scrubland.

“Money!” I shouted back.

One of the men walked toward us with the woman. He shoved her at me, I handed him a duffle bag. He looked inside at the few bundles of American twenties. “No stuff,” he said, looking at me. He walked back, kicked both the foreigners to their knees, then walked away with his companions.

When they’d gone a good distance, John and I went calmly to the two men and helped them to the waiting jeep, then drove around the edge of the dig to the south side. “Not bad for your last negotiation,” he said.

“Not bad,” I answered.


“What did they mean, stuff?” I asked.

“They didn’t like us taking the artifacts,” one of the archaeologists said. “Said that the places things were were the place they belonged.” His leg was broken in three places, but after a few swallows of one soldier’s hip flask – bourbon, I’d thought when I smelled it – he’d become cogent enough to talk.

We stayed the night in Altyn Depe, to give him a chance to rest.


“Come home,” I said to her.

“Home was never there,” she said.

I didn’t know where ‘there’ was.

“You ran away, Mina,” I said.

“No, you ran away,” she replied. “You ran to the other side of the world and the only thing you found was that it was another side.”

She was still drawing her elephant.


It was three day’s drive back into Afghanistan. We’d wanted to start early, but had had to go into Miana to find some opium for the archaeologist, who was slipping in and out of consciousness. We found a family to trade with, but they insisted we stay for a meal. I found no way to politely refuse.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” I said in Pashto. “We are tired and you show us a great courtesy.”

“A great courtesy?” he said.

“Yes, our friend is hurt and you have helped us greatly.” I hoped he understood me this time.

“Helped you greatly?” he repeated.

My skin went cold.

“Yes,” I said. I turned. “John, we need to leave,” I said in English.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

We walked back to Altyn Depe as calmly as possible. We found the exploded remains of the two jeeps inside the walls of the digsite, bodies and vehicles in pieces.

John pulled out his sat-phone and called for help, but I knew it wasn't going to come. We were in the walls now.

Apr 4, 2013
To make up for last week's embarrassment, I must fly IN!

Apr 4, 2013
Fall Away
(1164 words)

Every time I woke up I swore it was real.

When my eyes opened, I lay in bed and felt the weight of gravity pressing down on my bones. The air was still because he’d closed the window. My muscles prickled all over and threatened to fall back asleep without the rest of me. My ribs ached.

When I told him about it in the morning, he would say that I’d been dreaming again, that I was stupid for believing. I told him that I knew this was true, and agreed with him, and pressed my hand up against my side where my ribs still ached.


“That’s what he said?” she asked.

“Mostly,” I said.

“Just because of your dreams?”

“I just told him about this one. It’s starting to happen more often, and they feel so real when I wake up.”

She slumped back into her chair. Her dark eyes and artful makeup judged me in a way they wanted me to know was for my own good. “What do you want to do?”

I couldn’t answer. Most times I didn’t need to. Rachel would keep talking just to fill the space.

“He was like this even before you started dating, remember? You haven’t fixed him, you haven’t fixed yourself, it hasn’t worked. At some point you need to abandon ship, Amber. Maybe these dreams are telling you to get rid of him. You know, like everyone else in your life for the last year.”

“I didn’t want to fix him,” I said, “just wanted us to be broken together.”

“You’re not broken! It’s not working, and you’re suffering for it,” she said. She swallowed the rest of her eight-dollar coffee and stood up. “You’re moving in with me next week until we can kick him out. No, don’t argue, it’s happening.” She picked up her fair-trade, hand-made handbag.

“I’ll help you get through this.” She walked through the coffee-shop door and out into the city streets as if she’d just won a boxing match.

I sat for another few minutes, thinking about when I’d met AJ and how we’d gotten together. Two jaded hearts had made such sense, then. It still made sense to me now, after his diagnosis, medication, therapy. When Rachel talked about it I just felt like an idiot.

The sun was setting. I bought an extra cup of coffee to avoid going home and went for a walk in Central Park, watching the light bounce off the west-facing panes of glass in bright checkers. I tried to feel the way I felt when I did it in the dreams: push through the ribs, press against the ground, push it away and fly through the air above it.


When I got home to our fourth floor walk-up AJ didn’t say hello. I made dinner for myself, set out a plate for him, said “I love you,” and “good night”.

“gently caress you.”

I went to bed. He wasn’t always like this.


“What do you want to do tonight, sweet heart?” he asked.

I rolled over at one in the morning to AJ naked, lying next to me. He smiled and tucked his long artist’s hair back behind one ear.

“Sorry I didn’t say goodnight earlier,” he said. “I wasn’t in a good place.”

“It’s ok,” I said, like I always did.

“Do you have a little energy left from your long day teaching freshman what the difference is between Ionic and Corinthian columns to get a little frisky tonight? I could stand to cut loose for a bit.” I could feel him pressing toward me through the blankets.

I rubbed my eyes. He was good to talk to when he was stable. “I almost flew again, today,” I said, wanting to try again. “I could feel it, right when the sun was going down.”

“What?” he said. “Your dreams again?”

“Dreams don’t feel this real. I just need to push a little harder, that’s all. Like if I pressed harder against the earth, I could just push it away. Just push it away and fly above it.”

He rolled off the bed and stood up with a childish huff. “Maybe these dreams are just your mind telling you that you’re a skinny broke chic working at a nonsense job and your subconscious wants to run away.”

I’d been fat when we’d met. I hadn’t had a job when we’d met.

He walked back into the living room and I rolled over and went back to sleep. Again, I dreamed of flying.


When I woke up, I could taste ozone and my lower ribs ached. AJ wasn’t on the bed beside me or in the living room. I made breakfast, showered, and went to the university to teach the two classes I had that day. I told people that I’d hurt myself moving furniture when they asked why I moved tenderly. They all secretly wanted to know if AJ had finally hit me – he never would. On good days, he was too kind. On bad days, he was too smart.

I spent most of my classes talking about the temple of Hera on Samos, the first of the Ionics. Three hundred students and the room might as well have been empty.

After class I went to my department head’s office. I was up for tenure review next semester. We were old friends, he’d been one of my professors when I’d started my undergraduate.

“I wouldn’t worry, there’s just a lot still up in the air,” he said.

I laughed. “I’ve been dreaming of that. Flying dreams.”

He laughed in kind. “Maybe they’re telling you that you should start looking for another place to go!”

The pain in my ribs sharpened.

He continued to laugh, but the message was clear. The whole way home I tried to think about job hunting, but instead I found myself trying to push against the ground through my still-aching ribs.


“You’re useless and I hate you,” he said.

I sat there and rubbed his shoulder like I always did. He was crying.

“I hate you! You’re-!”

“Did you take your medication?” I asked him.

“gently caress you, and gently caress your medication! You’re the crazy one, all those stupid flying dreams. You just want to run away from me, I know it! You’re pointless job and your evil friends are fine, but it’s ME you want to run away from!” he grabbed my arm and shoved me off the couch, then ran out the door. He hadn’t taken his keys or put on shoes.

The sun was setting. I waited in the apartment for the sunlight to fall from the sky. When it did, I stood in the dark, and walked toward the window.

I felt the empty space calling me. Push harder, I thought. Step out the window, push hard, and the earth will fall away.

I packed a bag, left my keys, remembered my shoes. The first step was the hardest. Push. Push harder.

And the earth fell away.

Apr 4, 2013
To IN and beyond!

Apr 4, 2013
Actuality: Encounter Protocol
1,109 words

“Phobos Command to Actuality, report,” my com announced.

I sent back all systems functional, the date and current data. Ooh, carbon isotopes! My robotic forearm collected a sample. Liquid ammonia! More samples.

“Act, what is that?” My sensors were directed twenty-three degrees forward, left of center. Dense material, unique coloration, and complex shape-structure all piqued my programing.

“Explore,” my com ordered. I did.

Rolling forward, I stretched out my density sensor. Bump. Hard, but not rock. No mohs hardness to report. I bumped it again. Some rebound came back along my arm. I bumped it one more time. Cameras recorded a small, round impression left by my sensor on the thing’s surface.

All my data was streaming. “Kenneday Command to Actuality, heat signature,” my com said in a different voice.

My thermo scans reported purple and blue splotches. Normal average of minus 290F. Boring. The thing in front of me was light blue, minus 273F. New! This data was streaming back to all my commands too.

“Mars to Phobos, any record of expected surface anomaly?”

“Phobos to Mars, no, absolutely not. Call Kennedy and see what the bone-dense bastards there have to say about this.”

“Mars to Kennedy, any thoughts?”

“Kennedy to Actuality,” My name! They always said my name before they told me what to do. “Act, full view.”

I rolled around the thing. My cameras took its measurements: 4.5 meters long, 3.8 meters wide, 3.2 meters tall.

“About the size of a school bus,” my com said. No name, no command. I stopped after I finished my complete circuit of the new thing.

Side-mounted scanners picked up unique topography. Patterns! I tracked back along a series of shallow holes in the semi-rigid ice of the surface, following it thirty-two degrees right and aft, away from the last new thing.

“What is that?” my com said. No name, no command. I kept rolling forward. The holes were ten centimeters across and four to six deep, circular, and smooth. They were spaced three centimeters apart horizontally, with 2.7 meters between the two sets. Scanners picked up something unique: amino acid chains! Sample. I began to process and compile the data that would be sent back later.

“Tracks?” my com said again. Still no name.

“Act, do those tracks lead to the object?” My software did not understand the query.

“Phobos to Act, directional coordinates of the impressions.” I measured the trajectory of the pattern of impressions and reported.

“Mars to Phobos, are you seeing this? They’re like caterpillar tracks leading right back to that… thing.”

“Phobos to Mars, yes, we have the same picture, and you red-rock-necks need to learn to talk to the rover better. It has the intelligence of a five-year old, not an intuitive adult. Didn’t you read the manual?”

“Your mom gave me manual last night.”

“Kennedy to Act, return to position as of 20:07:13 Earth EST.” My matrix calculated that I needed to be back next to the object I was studying before. More information? I queried my command as I executed the order. I was not programmed to look at old things. New things!

“Phobos to Act, sample extraction on lateral surface.” The gripping hand on my forearm was retracted and replaced with a small circular saw used for shaving rocks and ice. I pressed a sample jar against the surface of the new thing and spun my saw against it.


My audio recorders spit static until I adjusted. The thing rose 1.4 meters in the air and extended cylindrical legs out from beneath itself. I reported the new dimensions quickly, and put a lid on the shaved pieces of material that had fallen into the sample jar.

“Act, move back!” my com said. I rolled back, panning my forward cameras.

The thing moved! New! I recorded everything: the sound its feet made on the ice sheet, the way the dust in the atmosphere moved around it, the changing thermo readings (now 239F!). It had turned its short end toward me, where a series of eight holes had opened on its side. Another pattern! Three down, five across.

Three of those holes on the top row flashed a bright light. “Kennedy to Act, Encounter protocol one!” Protocols! I flashed back a light at the thing. It flashed two lights. I flashed two lights. It flashed four lights. I flashed four lights. It flashed eight lights.

“Act, flash sixteen times.” I did, my front floodlight usually used only during Titan-night flashing steadily sixteen times.

The thing did not flash again. A thin arm protruded from one of the holes on the right, and came toward me.

“What’s it doing?” my com said.

It bumped into me. Then it bumped me again. Then again. The third time rocked me back on my tires, but did not break any of me.

“Density scan,” my com said. I had not heard my name. “It’s doing a physical density scan of the rover.”

“Am I the only person freaked out that we’ve found life on Titan?”

“I don’t think we did, but…”

“Phobos to Act, results on last material sample.”

My scanners had been analyzing the data and collecting it, waiting to send the report until all the information had been fully compiled. At the command, I sent what I had gathered so far from the shaved material I’d collected from the thing.

“Material is…”

“Kennedy to Phobos, we don’t have it yet, report.”

“Material itself is inorganic. A… a kind of polymer, not rubber but similar. It seems to have a constant energy output, which is what makes it flexible like that even in such low temperatures.”

“What do you mean, ‘material itself’?”

“There are traces of amino acids, Kennedy.”

“poo poo.”


“Phobos to Act, send data from last ten sample collections.”

I did. The thing was walking around me slowly, and I tracked it with my cameras, reporting the second tendril that had protruded from the holes in its front.

“More trace amino acid chains in the tracks.”

The second tendril, which was capped by a sharp point, came toward me. The first tendril pressed against my metal exterior.


“Organic material, at the very least.”

“So what is this thing? It’s not actually alive, it’s not an alien.”

The second tendril scraped my exterior. Metal shavings fell onto the lower tendril, and were absorbed into it.

“Not an alien, but maybe…”

“An alien rover?”

“Do the aliens look like that, then? Big, grey, dumpy caterpillars with eight orifices on their faces, flashing lights and tentacles?”

“Mars, do you look like Actuality? Who knows what they look like.”

“What should we do?”

The thing had reached a tendril over and touched the ground. My sensors indicated something of high-density.

Diamond-structured carbon! Sample. The thing moved back behind me, and reached a tendril down to touch my tire tracks. Pattern recognition? I sent the data back.

Apr 4, 2013

Phobia posted:

You got it! Got one more opening for last week!

Which I would greatly appreciate, if it's still available. Many thanks!

Kalyco fucked around with this message at 18:52 on May 27, 2014

Apr 4, 2013
Hit me with that line!

edit: because I can't use the internet during working hours, image!

Kalyco fucked around with this message at 18:53 on May 27, 2014

Apr 4, 2013

Previous story:

“Shift’s over,” said Theresa, with her cute smile and tattered coat. “You know, the Cyclopean look suits you. Fancy coming for a drink?”

I laughed deliberately and touched the eyepatch the med-tech made me wear until I could get on the table for some more cybernetics. I’d come here with plenty already, but I’d just added to the collection during my tour here. The spill last week had taken the eye, the top of my left ear, and all the hair on that side of my head. The rest was in a scorched blonde tail at the back of my neck, but I’d had three folks already try to get me to just shave it all off. I touched that too.

“It’s still there,” Theresa said as the shift bell sounded and the artificial lights dimmed to the natural meteoric twilight. “Until you chop it off, anyway.”

“And lose my girlish good looks?” I sneered and double-checked my pressure levels. “How would I even manage? I’m thinking of going for that suede-finish psuedo-dermis when I get my tour-bonus. They call it ‘RealBuck Skin’. Get all kinds of attention then.”

“Aw, are you trying to make me jealous?” she teased, sauntering up and grabbing me through the crotch of my coveralls.

“Don’t you have to buy me that drink first?” I asked.

“I can do that. Rack in fifteen?”

“Twenty. Got to give me time to put my dancing shoes on.”

She laughed at that. Her smile was white against all the soot on her face, the blued steel of her jointed neck plate, the mottled gray of her welding coat, her dark, short hair, her own cybernetic eye. “Don’t go getting melted down to slag by another rhen spill on the way,” she said, standing on tiptoes to kiss me, then sashaying off. I watched her walk away.

Levels secure? My collar comm buzzed. I turned back to my panel.

“Secure, sir. We’ll have quarterly volume by tomorrow.”

Then your first tour’s finished, isn’t it Jack?

“Yessir. First and last.”

Do you and Theresa plan on going home?

“If it’s still there, sir.”

No idea how we’ll keep the place running without you.

“Ran without me before, sir. I’m sure there’s some other Jack out there just as good.”


“Hey rhen-face, how goes?” Everybody knew Jones at the Rack, and Jones knew everybody.

“Just fine, Jones. I’ll add that one to the list – right next to ‘steel-pirate’, ‘one-eyed-jack’ and ‘cyclopean’,” I said, sitting down at the bar.

“Plenty of guys around here with one eye, but cychlorine? Never heard of that.”

Theresa clanked down on a stool next to mine. “Cy-clo-pee-an,” she said. “You know, like the one-eyed monster from the story about Odysseus.”

“Well, did he drink?” Jones asked, almost dejected.

“Even if he didn’t we do!” I said, slapping the bar. Jones grinned, and in a micro he was off and our glasses were full. The supplementary heavy-metals in them fed our nano-units and sparkled in the dim bar lighting.

“Think you can forgive me for losing an eye?” I asked her, leaning in and licking the steel of her neck. She leaned back, revealing still mostly-flesh legs. My heart would’ve beat faster if it were still my heart.

“Maybe,” she said. “If you get one to match mine.” We both laughed. Out the bar’s only window, one of the rockets, made from the very rhenium we mined and refined here, shot across the stars.

“We’ll be on one of those tomorrow,” she said. “Assuming you don’t melt down to slag first.”

I waved at Jones for another drink and braced for the inevitable beating.

“How’d you manage to be that careless, Jack? You know how hot that poo poo burns. You weren’t even supposed to be anywhere near the pipes, your station’s three stories up. There’s only so much that can be replaced.” Her accusation was softened by the hand she’d rested on my one leg that was still flesh.

“Odd reading on the heat ratios,” I said. “Every sub-ops guy has these scars, Theresa, it’s fine. I get back home, I’ll have all new tech done, no more of this all-steel bullshit.”

“But I like metal,” she said, leaning in.

“Well then.”

We didn’t make it to a second drink, but then I guess we didn’t need to.


Report: Pressures unstable in sectors three, five and six. Jack, report.

I rolled over and unplugged my ports, stood up and grabbed my coveralls. Theresa was still asleep, so I struggled into them as quietly as possible. That was difficult with two steel feet, but I managed. I left my bunk before answering, “Op, any unusual qualities to the ore? Extra platinum or columbite?”

No recorded abnormalities.

I jogged through the sealed complex to my station. As reported, the levels were all over the place. Raw rhenium was a stubborn thing to begin with, such a high melting point and all, but this was crazy. Liquid metal in tank three at only 4,500F? That was a thousand degrees from where it needed to be.

“Op, I need the team on-shift to meet me at tank three in five minutes, we need to see what’s going on.” I grabbed one of the hot-suits from the rack near Theresa’s station.

On their way, my collar comm reported. I tugged the suit on and lept down the stairs, letting the kinetics in my legs absorb the shock. The other guys on the team were already at the door to tank three when I arrived, most of them more metal than I was.

“Ascertaining temperature differential,” I said. They nodded.

We walked in to the fire.


“Are we still leaving tomorrow?” Theresa asked.

I rolled over on the table and looked at her. “More than ever,” I said.

“Still thinking of that RealBuck Skin?”


“Good.” She looked up through the window above the med-tech bay, out at the stars. “Flying back on a ship made of the very stuff we’re mining and refining…”

“Hey, if it gets us home, I’ll be happy with it,” I said.

“We make it,” she said. “Facility 16, best high-temp metals in the galaxy. You’re not scared are you?”

“Me? Never.”

She curled up on the table with me. I watched another rhenium-alloy rocket shoot across the stars. Home. That was the strange part. I tried to remember it.


“Now this shouldn’t hurt, just like all your other `netic installs: a little bit of a sting, then the integration begins.” The tech positioned a new cybernetic eye above my head. Theresa was on the table next to me, having her regular diagnostics run.

I closed my flesh eye. “Sure doc, just get me some new feet so I can walk on to that rocket.”

“You were lucky to only lose your replaceable parts that time,” he said.

“That’s why they make us this way, isn’t it? Replaceable parts for irreplaceable workers.”

There was a pause before he responded. “Precisely.”

The eye started integrating. I waited.


Welcome to Rhenium Facility Seventeen, my new collar comm buzzed.

I was so excited. My first tour on the mining belts, and at the rhenium mines of all places.

“drat, you sure look ready for the job of floor operator. What’s your name?” the cute woman sitting next to me asked. She had short hair and a cybernetic eye just like mine.

“Jack,” I said.

“Been on the belt long, Jack?” she asked.

“No ma’am, just came out.”

“First tour, then?”

“First and last,” I answered.

“Me too. My name’s Theresa.” She canted her head a bit to the side. “You know, I can’t say this for many, but the cyclopean look suits you.”

“Thank you ma’am, lost it in an accident.”

“You’ll have to tell me about that sometime.”

“Not much to tell ma’am. I don’t remember it.”

Kalyco fucked around with this message at 04:48 on Jun 2, 2014

Apr 4, 2013
In for five dollars free!

Apr 4, 2013
Yellow Arrows
1,498 words


There is a place under my house that goes somewhere nobody knows but me.

You have to go down into the basement, over the wet cardboard on the floor, then through the hole in the wall behind where my mom keeps the cans of food and the boxes of old brown bottles. You have to suck in your tummy to get through the hole, but after that there are tunnels of brick older than our house that go out in all different directions. I bring my flashlight and some sidewalk chalk to mark the walls so I don’t get lost. When Mom falls asleep on the floor or in the bathroom I put my rubber boots on and come down to go exploring.

And yesterday, I met a boy there.

Mom had come home and sent me to my room. I waited a little while, came back down and saw her asleep on the floor in the kitchen. I grabbed my flashlight, my chalk and my rainboots, went down to the basement and crawled through the hole. I walked for awhile, until I didn’t see any of my arrows anymore.

Then I saw a light, coming through a hole in the wall of one of the tunnels. I peeked through and called “Who are you?” and shined my flashlight. There was the boy. He looked a little older than me, and different. Maybe his mom was Chinese and his daddy black, but he didn’t look like anybody from my neighborhood, or any of the kids at my school.

“You from the suburbs?” I asked.

He just stared at me. His flashlight was bright enough to make me squint.

“Where are we?” he asked, looking around.

“Under my house,” I said. “Well, I think we are. I’ve never gone out this far.” I took my piece of chalk and put a yellow arrow on the wall, pointing back toward the hole I’d come through.

“Your house? Your home is here?” He made a funny face. “It stinks.”

“It’s under my house, silly,” I said, “and it doesn’t smell that bad.”

“So is this Darmeesha? Or the Garden Districts?” he asked.

“What are you talkin’ about? Are those suburbs?”

He turned his flashlight down and suddenly I could see him. He was wearing really strange clothes, like a bathrobe and heavy boots. “Why are you dressed funny?” I asked him.

“Why are you dressed funny?” he said back.

I looked at him, hard. “You look like a kid from a movie, one with horses and dragons and pretty people in it.”

“You look… strange.”

We stared at each other for a little while. My belly felt weird, the way it did when I forgot my homework or heard Mom drop a bottle in the kitchen. It made me want to come down here and hide, but I was already here.

He turned around quick, weird looking boots sloshing in the brown water. “Well I’m going back up,” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“Out the Trade Gate tunnel where I came in,” he said.

“Is that by Gateway Park?” I asked, following him. He was taller than me, so I had to jog a bit to keep up. I didn’t think I’d gone that far, but Gateway park was like ten minutes on the bus from my house. “Is there a way to get down here from there?”

“That’s how I got in. There aren’t any parks there now,” he said. “My teacher will be waiting for me.”

“Teacher? It’s night! There’s no school now.”

“I live with him. He told me to be back in an hour. I probably shouldn’ta gone down this far,” he said. Then he looked over and smiled at me. “I wonder what he’ll think of you.”

I didn’t know what he wanted to think of me, but I followed him anyway.

We made a bunch of turns and climbed more ladders than I thought there would be between us and the street. I marked the way with my chalk, just in case I came out in a neighborhood I didn’t know and had to come home this way. When we finally came to a hole in the bottom of the street, the boy yelled down at me, “Careful of your eyes!”, then moved the cover off the top.

The light above was as bright as the sun. I could hear music.

“Come on!” I heard him yell. I climbed up the rest of the ladder with my eyes closed, still holding my chalk and flashlight.

“Where are we?” I said, slowly opening my eyes and blinking in the bright light.

“Trader’s Gate,” he said, helping me stand up.

The street was paved rusty red, and there were people everywhere running around in bright clothes like bathrobes. Horses were pulling carts full of stuff. I’d never seen a horse in real life before.

“It’s day time,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Come on,” the boy said. “I want you to meet my teacher.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me forward.

“Wait,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Teacher usually calls me Underfoot, but my Mother called me Khalen,” he said.

“I’m Niki. Nikisha,” I added.

He nodded at me, like my name meant something. “Good. Come on Niki, we’re probably already late.”

That was yesterday.


“So do you want to go back?”

“I… I don’t know.” I swung my feet back and forth over the edge of the bed. I had met Khalin’s teacher, a tall, dark man with dreadlocks down his shoulders and two fingers missing on his left hand

“Well, how about we take it slower,” he said, sitting on the floor in front of me. “What do you want to do right now?”

I thought for a minute. “Eat breakfast,” I said.

“What kind of breakfast?” he asked.

I didn’t even have to think. “Waffles!”

He smiled at me. “Waffles it is.” He reached out, and I took his hand. We walked out of his small, bright house and into the colorful streets. A few minutes later we were sitting on small stools, eating waffles covered in fluffy powdered sugar from little paper sleeves.

“Why did you ask me? If I want to go back, I mean,” I said, biting into my waffle.

“Because I’ve asked that question before,” he said.


“Hi guys!”

Khalen came running up behind Teacher, who handed him a waffle. Khalen sat down and puffed through powdered sugar. “Mm, breakfast,” he said, getting the white stuff all over his face.

“To this one,” Teacher said.

“What about me?” Khalen said, looking up.

“I was telling Niki that she’s not the first one I asked to stay here,” Teacher said. “You were.”

“What?” I was very confused.

“I saw your arrows,” Teacher said. “One night, on the back wall of a house. You carry that chalk everywhere, don’t you?” He pointed to my hand, where I still held my stick of yellow sidewalk chalk.

“It’s in case I get lost,” I said.

“It was the same with me,” Khalen said. “See?”

He pulled something out of his pocket. It glowed like his flashlight, but now I saw that it wasn’t a flashlight: it was a crystal, like the kind you see people hang in cars and windows to make rainbows. “I used to play with it, back before I came here, and Teacher saw the light. That’s how he found me.”

“Sometimes, Niki, there’s… overlay.” Teacher took my used waffle paper and put it on top of his. I could see the print on both papers, the one through the other. “Things come through. Sometimes even people. Usually, it’s just the people who need to. Where did you say you were from?”

“Chicago,” I said.

“I’m from South Central Los Angeles,” Khalen said. “Or I was.”

“What about your Mom and Dad?” I said.

Khalen shrugged. “My dad died, I think. I never knew him. My mom died too, when I was really little. This was hers,” he said, rolling the crystal around in his hand. “Then I was in a shelter for a while, and one night, Teacher found me. I just walked with him through a door and all a’sudden I was here.”

“Where’s here?” I asked.

“Home,” Khalen answered.

“So do you want to go back? We can show you the way, if you want,” Teacher said.

“Where did I come out?” I asked.

Khalen finished his waffle. “Not far from here,” he said. “I can take you there right now.”

“Yes, please,” I said.

Teacher didn’t try to stop us. We ran the whole way.

When we got there, the metal cover on the street was exactly the same. “I can lift it for you, if you want,” Khalen said.

“No,” I said, looking down. There was a yellow arrow, marked on the top of the plate, pointing back the way we’d come. “I’ll just follow my arrows home.”

Apr 4, 2013
Stout of heart and IN.

Apr 4, 2013
In, despite the insanity of forum down-ness.

Looking to makeup the disappointment that started two weeks ago.
I think I only need to do this after two missed thunderdomes (protocol?), but I'm gonna do it now and just save everybody the time.

Apr 4, 2013
(Redeeming myself from my :toxx:)

Study in Achromatopsia
(897 words)

The boys were born together, less than five seconds between the first gulping in air and the second screaming with new breath. As they grew, their parents tied red and green threads on their sons’ wrists to tell them apart. Arnold and Zachary were family names, but when the boys were old enough to understand this they started to call each other “Arny” and “Ary”, and the names stuck.

At five, Arny asked Ary about the strings. “Mine’s red,” Ary said.

“Red?” Arny asked.

“Yeah. Yours is green,” he said, pointing.

The next day, Arny asked his parents if he could have his brother’s thread. They smiled patiently and changed the colors.

The twins drew pictures together. At school, when Ary finished with one crayon, Arny picked it up. At home, Ary drew green trees, brown dogs, blue skies - Arny drew red houses, red flowers, and red birds.

A year later, the doctors said the word “achromatopsia” while their boys’ teeth chattered in a white hospital room. Arny looked at a bunch of pictures made of spots, and the doctors asked him to find the numbers inside them. Arny couldn’t do it. He fidgeted on the squeaky vinyl exam table they made him sit on.

School changed, after that. They put Arny in a different class, and they didn’t ask him to count blue circles or color pictures of dinosaurs.

“Where’s my brother?” he asked his teacher.

“In the other class. Don’t worry about him, you’ll see him after school,” she said.

Eventually things got easier. He learned to follow patterns in the black and white world instead of color, like that the red light at the top meant stop and the colorless light at the bottom meant go. He liked it when his mom packed tomatoes or peppers or strawberries in his lunch. Arny and Ary were still inseparable outside school, but during the day Arny was in a class with only a few other boys and girls. It stayed this way for years.

High school gave the boys separate classes, except for art. “Why would they do that, huh?” Ary said while they were walking home. “It’s like they’re trying to be jerks.”

“Hey, at least we have it together,” Arny said. “Just let me borrow your crayons.” They laughed. “Who’s the teacher?”

“Ms. McClairon. Bet she’s some gray-haired old lady with charcoal on her face.”

In class the next day, Arny sat with Ary, hoping that the crayon trick would work for at least a little while. Then the brightest, most beautiful thing Arny had ever seen in his entire life walked into the room.

Ms. McClairon’s hair was bright, bright red. Red like the heartbeat in Arny’s ears and the fire in his chest, sweet like strawberries and hot like peppers. Every beautiful thing he’d ever seen in the world flickered through his memory, pulsing with that red.

The first few days of class were hard. Arny didn’t understand some things Ms. McClairon talked about, “hues” and “compliments” and “tones”, but things like line and shape theory came to him quickly. When she looked over his shoulder and said his black and white sketches were “beautifully true to life”, he could feel the warm blush on his cheeks - red, hot and alive.

When class finished, his obsession didn’t. Everything in the black and white world was fodder for his hungry eyes, and they were insatiable. When he told his professors in college that he “specialized in black and white”, they nodded like they understood. He would go back to his dorm room with charcoal and graphite smudges on his face and clothes. He called his brother on the weekends – Ary had gone to an engineering school.

Arny had college romances, flickering shadows that never stayed long. He would sit and sketch, waiting for a red-headed woman to walk by, and drink up the color of her like hot honey. When his professors saw these single-color drawings, they had no criticism, only suggestions that he find other colors to explore. He ignored them.

His final semester was difficult, requiring a portfolio of his “most accomplished pieces”. Arny found no greater fulfillment than in his sketches of red-headed women, so he locked his doors and turned off his phone as he pursued the perfection of his vision.

Finished, he triumphantly invited his brother and family. He greeted guests at the door, anticipating his twin’s arrival.

Then in the crowd, she appeared: the woman on the wall, the woman in every drawing he’d ever done, his red-headed muse. He felt his heartbeat in his ears the way he had that first day in art class.

“Arny? Great to see you, man!” Ary was there, hugging him, smiling. Arny smiled back, trying to recover. “I’d like you to meet Erin. You remember Ms. McClairon, our art teacher in high school? Well she’s Erin’s mom, and we met freshman year. How cool is that?”

Arny didn’t know what to say, as he looked around at the showroom walls, perfect portraits of Erin in every single frame. Ary walked in, like nothing was wrong.

“How could you draw me?” Erin asked, awe-struck. “I’ve never even met you before…”

Then Arny saw her red shoe laces, her red watch, and her red nailpolish, and he knew. The blush came hot and fast, the color of her hair.

Apr 4, 2013
Every shady alley way of IN.

Apr 4, 2013
Hoping it's not too late to claim Adrian Stepwater. Came back from a long weekend with no internet and had to catch up quickly.

Apr 4, 2013
Scorched Earth
1,000 words

“Hey Lily, more vodka!” one of the truckers called.

Prima ballerina Elizabeth Lucas – “Lily Capone” at work – brought them a bottle. “You gentlemen paying for the round, the table or both?” she asked.

“How about a round on the table?” one of them jeered.

Cool as the black swan, Lily pulled a lighter from her pocket, flicked it open and lay it on the green of the pool table, which started to scorch. She said through the curl of smoke, “You can drink this bottle or burn in it – boss wouldn’t mind the insurance money if the place goes up, so really, it’s your choice. Felt or fire, fellas?”

They paid. She pocketed the table fee and finished her shift. As she walked out of Sidewalk’s End, she could hear the truckers insisting to Mr. Williams that they’d already paid for their pool.

They’ll get over it, she thought, thumbing through her pocket of twenties and wondering how she had gone from stealing the show to stealing from truckers.

It was twelve blocks and up seven flights of stairs to her father’s apartment. After her younger brother had died on the police force and her mother from cancer a few years after, her father had become a bit of a shut-in, pushing Elizabeth further and further away. She hadn’t minded. Her career in dance had paid poorly but taken her to hundreds of cities on six continents. When she’d returned to Los Granos d’Oro to care for him, she found it both the same and different: cities were cities, and the stink never changed.

She could hear her father coughing as her keys clattered at the locks. “Daddy, are you ok?” she called, rushing back to the living room.

“Where’ve you been, Liz?” he coughed.

“On shift, Dad, that’s all. I need to work.” She offered him a glass of water.

“Darn well better. Put your rent into my account on Monday, you’re two days late. I got a right to my money.”

“Yes Daddy,” she said. “Did you take your medicine?”

“That snake oil? You know those prices are all the government’s fault, they’ve let this city fall into shambles, not respectin’ a man’s right to his health and his house and his money. Tax system’s blown, public works’s a den of villainy, and the courts’re…!”

He stopped for another coughing fit. Elizabeth went to the kitchen and fixed him a plate of pills and a bigger glass of water. She brought them back and handed him each tablet one-by-one, and he chased them all with a swallow of water.

The sun went down slowly, red reflecting in sharp angles off the peeling wallpaper. “Liz, I’m expecting Mr. Stepwater,” her father said after a long silence. “If he calls, let him in.”

Elizabeth didn’t know what else she would’ve done with their hulk of a neighbor. He’d been her brother’s captain while he was on the police force, but she’d never cared for him. Her boss, Mr. Williams, said he’d gone crazy not long after her brother was killed.

The sunset was just starting to fade when there was a knock on the door.

“Good evening, Miss Beth,” the man in a red jacket said. He had his hat in one hand and a black briefcase in the other. “Is your father well?”

“Well enough, Mr. Stepwater,” she said, stepping back. “He’s expecting you.” He laid his hat on the counter as he walked past, but otherwise paid her no mind.

She followed him into the living room. "You've found it," her father said. Then, when he noticed her, “Liz, give us some privacy. Men got a right to talk."

She walked back into the kitchen without a word. Five months and she felt no closer to her father than she had ten thousand miles away, lighting up the stage in Tangiers, Singapore and Berlin. The men talked in low voices for about half an hour. She went and stood by the open door a while later and lit a cigarette.

She didn’t hear them walk up behind her. “Liz, put that drat thing out, you’ll kill me! I got a right to my health!” he yelled at her, then bent over to cough.

“You shouldn’t swear at your daughter,” Mr. Stepwater said, patting him on the back.

Her father went suddenly quiet. He clutched at his throat, lips blue. Elizabeth froze. Mr. Stepwater seemed confused. “Mr. Lucas? Sir, are you…? Mr. Lucas!” He set down the briefcase and grabbed the old man, pulling his fists into the diaphragm in a textbook Heimlich maneuver. Elizabeth watched.

Her father never made another sound.

Fifteen minutes later, Elizabeth still watched as Mr. Stepwater laid her father down on their kitchen floor. She asked, “Why didn’t you call an ambulance?” and was surprised to find herself sobbing.

“Bunch of clowns,” Mr. Stepwater said, standing. “Man has a right to his dignity. He was a good man, your father.”

Elizabeth looked at him. “You’re such poo poo,” she said. “You and this whole goddamn town.”

“Miss Beth, you shouldn’t- ”

She grabbed his briefcase and his hat and calmly stepped out the front door and threw them into seven stories of air. He rushed past her, not even finishing his reprimand for her swearing.

“rear end in a top hat.” She lit another cigarette and left her door open. A few minutes later, her boss, Mr. Williams, knocked on it.

“Miss Lily, you haven’t seen a Mr. Adrian Stepwater, have you? Lives in this building I believe, might’ve been carrying a black briefcase?” He said nothing about her father’s body lying at his feet.

“Downstairs, Mr. Williams,” she said without looking up from her laptop. Plane tickets to Paris, message to her old dance company. “I quit, by the way.”

He had already run off. She grabbed a bag packed from her closet of a bedroom, upended a bottle of vodka over the kitchen counter, and threw her cigarette butt back over her shoulder as she walked out.

Apr 4, 2013
In for the battle!

Apr 4, 2013
The Thunder Behind the Lightning

Caleb had been at war with the Thunderer since before he could remember. Even his parents had been born after the day the Silents had first taken the skies.

“Rand, update me. Where are they?” he yelled into the desert air. His throat mic picked up the sound, but it was eerie when he couldn’t hear his own voice on the wind whipping past his ears.

“Your five o’clock, but it don’t look like they’ve seen you. Keep headin’ down-drift to the bottom’n hope they don’t see the trail, or don’t care to worry about it.”

“Roger, see you for supper,” Caleb answered.

“Yeah, wouldn’t wanta miss Sheila’s cooking.”

Caleb continued his screaming descent down from the dunes. They were mostly grey, hot sand, and with nothing but gravity powering him and no wind to speak of, Caleb did pray that enough of a breeze kicked up to hide his trail.

“You know…” he said, almost to himself, “we used to fight the Thunderer.”

“We still do,” Rand answered. “We just changed the meaning of the word.”

Caleb had nothing to say. He cut a sharp bank to the right, trying to control his speed. Then his board caught on something buried in the sand and sent him flying.

“Agh! Son of a-”

“Caleb! You alright? They haven’t broken their hover, they’re still-”

“It’s all right, Rand,” he said, brushing himself off and getting back on his board. "Just hit some rebar in the sand is all."

“Godsgone, man, don’t scare me like that.”

Caleb resumed his controlled fall down the dunes to the forested valley below. Such were the risks of sandboarding over the dust of fallen cities: you just might trip on the bones.


“Dinner!” came the call right as Caleb dumped his board by the door to the common mess. Behind him, clouds had started rolling in. They were too slow to be suspicious, so hungry eyes turned instead toward food.

“Perfect timing, dunebug,” Rand said, ducking to walk in behind him and almost turning sideways to get through the door.

The rest of Can City filed in pretty quickly. Sheila’s cooking was legendary, and no one wanted to be left with Dust-dried rinds and protein packets. Caleb dug in to a meat stew like it was his last meal, Rand at his elbow doing the same.

He’d just started licking his bowl when there was a thunderclap close enough to shake the rafters and make the metal sheeting on the building groan.

“Silents!” someone yelled.

Everyone dove off their dinner benches at once.

“I didn’t lead them here!” Caleb yelled to no one in particular. “They didn’t follow me!”

“Course not,” Rand said, running out with him. They had posts near each other, Rand at the reflecting dish and Caleb at light volley. The sky had darkened too much to use real UV, so Caleb cranked his hand generator to get Rand the light he needed to fire back at the darkness.

There was a screech close by, then a scream. “Sheila!” Caleb yelled, looking around.

“Caleb, don’t stop!” Rand yelled. Caleb bent back to his task. All around him he heard the shouts, followed by the occasional thump of a body being dropped back on top of a roof. A minute later he heard someone start the hoses, and the rush of water shooting from them.

There was another thunder clap, and suddenly the common mess was flat as the side of a sand dune. Caleb’s ears rang, but he kept cranking.

Until he felt the claws sink into his shoulders and he was lifted off the ground.

“No!” he shouted, twisting and bucking in the thing’s grip. He kicked his legs forward and back to try to throw it off balance, keep it close to the ground before it-


Did that.

He felt the familiar inclination to feint, but he fought it. “Slimebat, I am not your dinner!” He kept swinging.

There was a pressure on his mind. In it was hunger and silence and darkness and some larger, superior force, the thunder behind the lightning. Caleb ran from it inside his brain, repeating the mantra he’d been taught “Iiit’s a small world aaafter all…”

There was a furious animal hiss in his right ear, then a volley of warm, wet gore as the creature coughed and spat his blood out. The pain in his shoulders dropped greatly.

“Take that back to your Momma, you piece of- ah!”

Caleb realized he was dropping too.

There was a loud thud, a smaller thunk, and a metallic clang, followed by an “Ow…”

A few hours later, Sheila was serving him and the other injured extra stew as one of the med-techs sealed the new wound in his neck. “Shouldn’t scar as bad as the last one, Caleb, this one didn’t shake you around as hard.”

“More of a cow, less of a cat,” Rand said, slapping him on the shoulder.

“Well I hope he takes every drop of me back to his buddies and they all choke on it,” Caleb said, sore and sullen. The tech gave him some extra antibiotics and moved on.

“What’s on yer mind, dune bug?” Rand asked, arms crossed.

“Just that this is such a pointless cycle,” Caleb said. “They come, they feed, we get bit, the unlucky ones die, the really lucky ones get sucked half dry and land on a tarp on their way down. My parents said we used to fight the Silents, like we might actually face the Thunderer someday and do something about it. We haven’t even actually seen the Thunderer yet!”

Rand smiled and scratched the many bite scars on his neck. “And hopefully we’ll never have to,” he said.

“Just feels like we're content with being made cowards,” Caleb said.

“Maybe,” Rand said. “Or maybe it's made us smart. You don’t fight a champion boxer in a boxing ring – you get him drunk, call him out behind the bar, then break his hands.”

“So the Thunderer isn’t really a creature, it’s just the thing controlling the Silents?”

“Might be. Might be we’ll have to break the head after we break the hands, but meantime, I’m happy with firing the bastards from the skies and lettin’em suck my poisoned blood.”

Caleb sighed and rubbed his shoulder, "Just praying to god it's enough, right?"

"God's gone, kid," Rand said. "But that don't mean we're not plannin' on giving the devil one hell of a fight."

Apr 4, 2013
Oh this looks awesome. IN!

Apr 4, 2013
Tessellation Wendigo
1,197 words
(Betrayal, Folk Stories, Cyberpunk, Set before 1990, Revenge)

It was like they knew.

The fences were electrified – they’d learned from our last break-in that barbed wire didn’t bother us much. The powerlines were strung up high, out of range of hooks and arrows; the poles were too thick for us to cut or burn down. The forest around the compound had been cleared, so they’d be able to see us from every approach.

“Is it really worth it, Lyst?” Mikz asked me.

“You know it is,” I said. “Wendigo’s in there, somewhere. And so is Axle.”


“Are you plugged in?” I asked Panth, our one controller, when we got back to base.

She didn’t look at me when she answered, “Yes.” Her eyes were glazed over as her brain moved through the Tessel, filtering information at the speed of thought.


“No. I am careful,” she said. “They will not know that I have access to their neuro-dream, but the web of connections is all I may know. If I begin searching the individual users, I may touch someone sensitive enough to know that I do not belong.”

I sat down cross-legged in front of her, the bustle of the camp outside the hexayurt making the silence within even thicker. I breathed, “Can you find him?”


I tugged on the safety pins lining the hem of my jungle vest while I waited for her to explain.

Her grey eyes blinked and refocused as she broke the connection. “I dare not look for any mind alone. The Tesselation would be too disturbed.” She replaced the tessel-blocker on the skin behind her left ear, just like mine – that one little chip, the only thing that protected us from the dreamweb that waved silently through the air. “There is a controller there, however, a very, very well-connected one. He has created a feedback loop amongst the users, both those physically located here and those distant. It is incredibly complex, yet the neuro-stream continues to flow in, as if this controller were somehow feeding off those he dreams with.”

“If we disable him, could we free Axle?”

“Yes. You could, in fact, free almost anyone. This dream is vast.”

I stood up. No time to lose, then.


My half-black, half-white hair had been his idea.

“Like life and death,” he’d said. He’d always been into symbolism like that. He even gave me my new name, “Catalyst”, the thing that starts everything else. His name had been Alexander, but Axle suited him better. The turning of things – that was what he was.

I remembered his excitement when we were growing up in the fifties and sixties, the age of globalization, the age of the new enlightenment, the creation first of the inter-web of data, and then the Tessellation of Minds. Axle had been so excited to be a part of that project, connecting one mind directly to another, rebuilding the architecture of human knowledge from the ground up.

“We’ll be the new Galileo, the new Columbus, Catie!” he’d said, using my old name. “The moon is just the beginning. We’ll leave the solar system at the speed of thought!”

As my machete hacked through the woods that had taken over while humanity went to sleep, I remembered the aftermath. Russia, the African Dreaming, the Sleeping Cities, rumors about places protected from the Tessellation deep underground or deep in the desert, jungle or mountains. They were always saying that if you could get far enough away from the signal, you could be free.

They were wrong. The only way was to kill the signal.


It was about as hard as we’d expected.

“Charges!” Miks roared. I saw his leather trench coat vanish as he dove forward, right before I got knocked on my rear end by the shockwave.

Those still on the fence got thrown off, and most of us on the inside were lucky enough to not have been standing on any fugue mines. We lost Luis: he lay on the ground, gaping at the sky. The rest of us picked ourselves up and kept running forward.

“Door!” I shouted, pointing with my machete. We rushed it.

It wasn’t locked. Alarm bells went off in my head louder than a Dead concert.

“Stop, this can’t be right, there’s no way they’d leave the door unlocked,” I said.

“Unless they’re too deep in the Tessel. Dreamers forget things in the world, Lyst, let’s take luck where we can get it, huh?” Mikz said, jogging forward and around a corner. The others followed him.

I hung back.

“Where would you be, Wendigo?” I said. “Monsters like to hide in the dark.”

“And scare little girls.”

The voice echoed eerily off the white walls and floors. “This girl has a big stick,” I retorted.

“And big words. All just ghosts. What threat are we to you, Catalyst of the Waking?”

I tried to discern a direction of origin, and decided on the right hallway, opposite where the others had run. I walked slowly, machete held out front. “Are you the Wendigo?” I asked.

“Names are of no use… Catalyst.” I felt more confident in my choice of direction, and walked further down the empty hall, turning the corner carefully. Another white hallway, empty. I walked faster.

“The Wendigo eats human flesh. You eat human minds, and you ate my brother. Give him back to me, or I will turn your dream into a nightmare.” I started running.

“The function of the Wendigo is cautionary,” a man’s voice said. A man’s thought, a man’s memory, buried somewhere in the psyche of a dreamer and pulled out through his connection to the neuro-dream. “It was a cultural reinforcement of the taboo against cannibalism. Individuals starving to death were said to be better off starving than turning to cannibalism, else they be changed into Wendigo, half-demon creatures frequently depicted with a human body gaunt to the point of starvation with a dog’s skull for a head.”

“You’ll be wishing for cannibalism when I’m done with you!” I yelled. Turn after turn nothing, an endless maze of abandoned halls. Suddenly there was a door, and I ran for it.

I’d kill that controller if it was the last thing I did. For Axle. For every dream of his they stole.


“How’s she doing, Doctor?”

“There are no major changes to report, Alexander. Her levels are stable, nutrient intake is regular, all cognitive patterns are healthy. You’ve nothing to worry about.”

“She’s just been connected for so long.”

“There should be no long term damage. Really, she’s in very good health.”

Alexander rested his hand on top of his sleeping sister’s head. “Will she ever wake?”

“To be honest, she need never. Sustained neurological function as strong as hers, but with such a low level of consumed resources, she’ll live a hundred lives inside her mind before we finish ours, and she’ll be much less of a tax on the planet.” He turned to go, then turned back. “I hope you’re not regretting volunteering her for the Tessellation project…?”

“Not at all, Doctor Wendigo,” Alexander said. “I just miss her.”

The Doctor smiled. “She doesn’t even know you’re gone, Son.”

Apr 4, 2013

Djeser posted:

... Also also, if you used the Folk tales square in your bingo and want a crit, I will give one to you, just ask.

Djeser, I used it, and I would love a crit, but it was a rather small part of my story. Take a look and see if you care, thanks either way.

Also, IN.


Apr 4, 2013
In the same boat as Djeser, out for the week.

Will do 3 crits for other chronic-midpilers as penance. If you are like me, you've been mid-pile a while and are wondering what's up. If you've got a piece that you really want to work on but that was neither HM/Win or DisHM/Loser, I'll crit you.

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