Untitled Opening (443 Words)
Gord drove his brother-in-law's Challenger up I-70 at a steady seventy miles per hour, trying hard not to think about the contents of the trunk. It didn't work; that kind of thing never works. Try not to think about a sexually aroused saber-toothed cat. You can't, you just had that image flash into your minds eye and can't unsee it. It was the same was with Gord and the twenty thousand dollars, the bloody hedge trimmers, and cousin Carol's left hand.
Still, what did he have to worry about. He was moving at the speed of traffic in a well-maintained vehicle and lily-white skin. No way he was going to get profiled or speed-trapped or stopped on any bullshit traffic violation, not so long as he didn't drive like a maniac or like a drunk or pothead trying drive all stoned-careful. It wasn't easy. He was coming down off of the initial panic and adrenaline, and that state wasn't too far off from any of those other kinds of funk.
The highway traffic started slowing down to single digit speeds. Some kind of accident up ahead? That was just what Gord needed now, thanks Jesus, thanks Obama, thanks whatever rear end in a top hat couldn't manage to drive their car properly without screwing it all up for everyone else. But Gord couldn't be sure that was what it was. What if it was some kind of checkpoint? Then Gord might well be screwed. He wasn't the smoothest talker in the best of times.
He began to rehearse conversations out loud. The traffic had ground to a complete stop and the people around him were starting to lay on their horns, as if that would do any kind of good. “Good evening, officer. What seems to be the problem?” No, that wasn't right. “What can I do for you?” Better. “Going home after a weekend seeing my sister's family.”
Over the horns, he heard loud engine noises. He looked up and saw a motorcycle, moving straight down the median line at what had to be more than fifty miles an hour in the wrong direction. Neither the driver nor the woman sitting behind him holding on around his waist were wearing helmets, and had looks of terror on their ugly faces. They sped past him and Gord watched them go. Then he turned around, and saw what they were running from.
Cats. Big cats. Not just lions or tigers, but bigger than that, and with monster-big teeth. Smilodons, saber-toothed cats, at least a dozen of them running down the highway, some giving up the chase to see if they could get at what's in one of the cars.
|# ¿ May 15, 2015 03:01|
|# ¿ Dec 5, 2022 02:32|
The C-word Out Of Space
Chester Bold, boy inventor, woke amidst the carnage in Lab 7C. All around him were bodies with clutching, disfigured limbs and horrified expressions on their faces. “Gosh,” he thought, and for a second it was all he could think, the words seeming to echo in his brain. For Chester, being unable to think more than one thought at a time was a rarity.
He could see Johnson, his security specialist and bodyguard, and Phillips, the 7C section director, sprawled amidst all the bodies. The place was a mess. It was as if some artist, of the type Chester never appreciated (for his mind was scientific, not artistic) had splattered red paint over the lab as if in some ideological protest against progress. But, Chester realized, that was not what had happened here. It’s The Experiment, he thought. It’s escaped.
Bold had always had a knack for inventing, and by the age of twelve had his own corporation and series of laboratories built deep underground, for secrecy. His ideas, admirers were saying, would keep America at the top, ahead of those Ruskies and other foreign powers. But for Chester, wireless toasters and holographic radios weren’t enough. He had always dreamed of creating life, the invention that itself could invent.
He had literally dreamed of it. He had seen, in chaotic slumbers, beautiful tentacles spiralling out from the center, a pulsing cube with bulging veins. It had spoken to him, but whenever he woke up he couldn’t remember what it had said. One night he had kept a notebook next to his bed, and struggled to write its message down through the morning fugue. “A CONSTANT SADNESS buggy like starwebs A PHANTOM PAIN,” read the hasty scribblings on the page, before his writing devolved into scratches so disordered that even Chester, with his reading level too high to even measure, could not make them out. Since that day he had been obsessed with talking to it with all his senses intact.
So he had built it, following genetic plans that his brain seemed to know instinctively. He had kept it a secret from anyone except for the workers in 7C; it was impossible to hide the fact that he was working on something, and their loyalty was such that they could be trusted absolutely. But when they asked him about it, he still downplayed its importance. “Just a side project for myself, just taking a break from the grind,” he said, and they let it go at that. If they noticed he would spend days in that room sometimes, they let that go too. Because Chester had already cured forty-five mortal diseases that year alone, and so he could do whatever he liked at this point.
He picked himself up off the floor, and began to follow the trail of death. Lab 7B, where his machines ripped viruses apart right down the spiral of their nucleic acids, neutered and lobotomized them and reassembled the pieces into lifesaving vaccines, traitors to virus-kind. The machines could probably be salvaged. The men who operated them could not. Lab 7A, where the bird-insect hybrids Bold had created to reality-check the punchline to a joke lived their short and painful lives. The Experiment may have seemed like mercy when it slaughtered them, but much less so for the men who tended them. Men, only men in Bold's laboratories. There had only ever been one woman or girl he trusted not to be a Ruskie spy or other deadly trap. That was Chester's sainted mother, Beatrice Bold. May she rest in peace.
Beyond Lab 7A was the foyer. Chester wondered if The Experiment could work the elevators. There was no other way to the surface or other levels, to blazes with fire codes, his labs were too deep for that anyway. He stepped into the foyer, where the question was answered. The Experiment was still there, floating obscenely over yet another corpse, yellow drool dripping from its horrific vertical mouth.
Chester's head suddenly felt like it was exploding with pain. His hands flew to his ears and he was surprised and relieved to find his skull intact. A voice, alien and yet familiar reached his mind without passing through his ears. “M-M-M-M-MOTHER?” Chester shook his head violently, denying everything in that voice. He was not its mother, never that. But the voice, the tiny part of it that was remotely human, that part was undeniably Beatrice's.
“FATHER, THEN,” said The Experiment. “YOU WENT TO GREAT LENGTHS TO SPEAK TO ME.”
“What,” started Chester, “What are you?”
“YOU KNOW WHAT I AM.”
“No,” said Chester. “No no no no no...”
“YOUR GREATEST FAILURE. FORTY FIVE MORTAL DISEASES CONQUERED, BUT ONE UNBOWED.”
Chester shook back and forth, still muttering denials.
“I KILLED THE ONLY HUMAN BEING YOU EVER CARED ABOUT OR EVER COULD.”
Chester stood up. The pain was no less than before, but he was past pain. He launched himself at The Experiment, his hands balled into clumsy fists. Its sharp tentacles shot out, impaling him through both shoulders and one thigh, suspending him feet above the floor.
“IN TIME, YOU MIGHT HAVE EVEN WON. THAT COULD NEVER BE ALLOWED.”
Chester's brain flared up in pain again, as if there were a crab inside it, pinching and tearing at his gray matter. The Experiment's thoughts began to invade his mind without even the medium of words between them, filling him with images of tumorous alien entities cannibalizing him from within, forcing him to play host to eating machines and doomed RNA computers running the distributed software of an artificial, alien, and implacably hostile intelligence.
Chester had but one solace in his final moments: knowledge that soon enough his heart would stop and the deadman switches he had long ago installed would activate. Atomic fire would cleanse this lab, destroying The Experiment if not the Elder Thing that it embodied. It would have to be enough.
|# ¿ May 17, 2015 07:12|
Full on loss first time out, I guess nowhere to go but up. huh?
Anyhow, (and knowing full well that if I have to explain it then it's my failure), the title was mean to simultaneously be that word, "Cancer" and evoke the Lovecraft story 'The Colour Out of Space". Because when I was given a blood-soaked Tom Swift versus a Lovecraftian Horror setup, hitting the prompt was right out from the start and I made the (wrong) decision to lean in to it...
|# ¿ May 19, 2015 06:19|
In, and Flash me.
|# ¿ May 19, 2015 15:44|
Ok, I'm just going to be giving crits for the people who are mentioned because pretty much for everyone else, your stories were middling at best and just barely better then the DMs at worse. If you did not get mentioned in the results and want a crit then ask in PM or irc like I said a million loving times already. Though I'm actually serious here if you don't get to me in a week I won't be able to crit you guys because I'll be out for awhile. So do it now, or risk never getting it.
Thanks for the crit.
|# ¿ May 22, 2015 19:51|
Preston Panzer IV was savoring the closest thing to a real hamburger that money could buy. The lettuce, tomatoes, pickle, and onions were all locally sourced organic vegetables, of course. The meat was actual one hundred percent ground up dead cow. Worldwide, the total cattle population was stable at about a hundred thousand. Preston's personal herd numbered one hundred and twenty head, enough to keep him in meat, milk, and cheese. The ketchup and mustard were as real as such things ever were. Everything was real except for the bun.
Even someone as rich as he couldn't track down enough intact grain to make actual bread. No, it was the same processed algae synthfood that his corporation produced by the megatonne, Even after bleeding edge state of the art texture and flavor enhancement, it would never be quite the same as even the most generic bread from before the Staple Wars. Not bad enough to ruin the whole meal, unlike some synthetic foods he could mention. The real meat made most of the difference.
Preston carefully wiped his mouth and hands, activated his earpiece and pulled up a keyboard. It was time to get to work. The keyboard and earpiece connected him to Alice. Alice was Preston's baby, his girl, his favorite toy. A hacking rig with as much raw power as money could buy. One of the few dozen major corporations Preston had a board seat on was AeGeist, a grade AA computer security outfit. Alice was loaded with the cream of the crop of intrusion and decryption tools that AeGeist had access to. Preston wasn't nearly good enough of a coder to have written anything like this, but he was more than good enough to use them effectively. A man had to have a hobby, Preston always thought, and what was the point of being so rich as to be utterly untouchable by the law if you didn't commit some major felonies every now and then?
“Peeps here,” Preston said. His voice was edited and modulated to sound like a much younger man. He had no doubt that the others did the same.
“About time,” said Rabbit. “Mark and Slash are both here with eyes on the target, been waiting for you and Nix.” It was one of the better teams Preston had assembled. Rabbit, Mark, and Slash were muscle, mainly, although Rabbit had strong skills in locks and physical security and Mark was a solid driver. Nix was on drones, working from a safe location far away from the action, just like Preston.
After a few minutes waiting, Rabbit broke the silence. “This sure is out in the middle of nowhere. Probably not far from where they faked the Mars landings.”
“Jesus,” said Slash, “Not this again.”
“Why in the world would anyone fake a Mars landing on a practical location?” asked Mark. “Why not just go pure CGI?”
“Don't encourage him,” said Slash.
“Microsignatures,” said Rabbit. “Patterns at the sub-pixel level. Someone looking at the images closely enough can reverse engineer the random number generators and boom! The jig's up.”
“Nix here,” came a woman's voice on the channel.
“All right,” said Mark. “We're on the site, waiting for go.”
“I count four eyes on the site,” said Nix. A list of four digital addresses appeared on one of Preston's screens. Preston ran some scripts.
“Alpha and Delta are deeply sloppy with their signals,” said Preston. “And now they're mine.”
“Beta has police markings, so a scrambler should work there, but Gamma's a ghost,” said Nix. “Could be the site's own watchdog.”
“Then it's got to go,” said Rabbit.
“Agreed,” said Nix. A few minutes later Preston heard the faint explosion through Rabbit's gear. Preston was mostly out of the loop for the next few minutes of the plan, during which Rabbit, Mark, and Slash would physically infiltrate the target location. All he had to do was feed the two functional drones a loop of old data while the three of them crossed over the open space to the target and got themselves inside.
The target was a small black site operated by the Wuxaio corporation way off the books and way off the main roads in West Texas. Wuxaio was a front for the kleptocracy running the Shanghai Zone in former China, and they had executed a nicely planned operation against a Grady Corporation genetic research laboratory near Houston. Grady's defenses managed to wipe all of their research data clean before Wuxaio could get it, but they couldn't do the same for the physical samples of the Radix. So Wuxaio brought it here, where they warehouse stolen goods and hard currency, the safest place they could manage until transport back to their home territory could be arranged.
“We're in,” said Mark. “Plugging you in now.” Like any well-designed secure facility, no computers in the site were connected to any major network. So they had to make our own connection. A tiny box that Mark spliced into one of the on-site network cables established a tight-beam connection to Nix's drone and from there to Alice. As usual, Wuxaio put too much faith in their physical security and disconnected network. It was trivial for Preston to completely compromise their networks. Preston noticed an insistent alert from one of his scripts. It was something he had been expecting, although he hadn't been certain who it would be. Mark and Nix, then. He'd deal with them soon enough.
The building was guarded by a total of fifteen men: five Chinese Wuxiao officers and ten local talent soldiers, Mexican and American. Five to one odds would have been insurmountable in a fair fight, but Preston didn't believe in those. With the security system completely under his control, he could lead the enemy into ambushes and provide Mark, Rabbit, and Slash with exact locations down to head positions before they entered a room. They cleared the opposition without taking a single stray round. That left the vault door.
“That's a nice one. Magnetic bolt, time lock, reenforced steel door,” said Rabbit. “No way to finesse this one.”
“Are you saying you can't get in?” asked Slash.
“No,” said Rabbit. “But you're going to want to stand back. This one's going to require a massive pulse electromagnet, shaped explosive charges, and microsecond-scale timing. Good thing I brought all three.”
Rabbit continued to talk as he worked. “The Radix is Staple Wars related biotech, right?” They had agreed beforehand that the Radix would be Peeps' share. The others would split the other contents of the vault. “You know the big Biocorps were the ones behind that, right?”
“Oh for the love of-” said Slash.
“NuFud, MannaTech, all of those guys,” continued Rabbit. “Come on, who benefits the most? Not the nations that the official story tells you came up with the Blights.”
It wasn't true, of course, but Preston wasn't terribly offended. The truth was the official story. Biological warfare directly targeting humans fizzled out every time someone tried it, because medicine was just too good and humanity had plenty of healthy genetic diversity. The worlds major food crops, though, not so much. So the Rice Blight hit, followed by the Grain Blight, the Corn Blight, and the Potato Blight. Synthetic food had to expand as fast as possible. Preston was no war criminal, but he was one hell of a war profiteer.
“Okay, ready to go,” said Rabbit. The sound of his tools dismantling the secure door was loud and screeching, followed by sounds of celebration. The team quickly exited the warehouse and returned to their vehicle. Nix dispatched a small cargo drone to pick up the Radix package, and the group dispersed.
Preston immediately dove into other business. Mark had modified Preston's infiltration box with a device designed to trace Preston's location and report to Nix. Nix was more pilot than hacker, though, and she wasn't nearly as smart as the people who made Alice. He'd turned the tables, and gotten right into Nix's own systems. The first thing he did was add one more package swap to the series of exchanges Nix had set up for the Radix, undoing that part of the double-cross. The second thing that he did was to introduce a tiny data leak into Nix's anonymity routines. She'd been using milspec drones in US airspace for this job. Preston had already traced her physical location to an isolated compound in the middle of Alaska, far enough away from populated areas that the army would respond with an airstrike first and ask the corpses questions later. Mark would have to wait is turn. A suicide mission of some kind, maybe. “Peeps” wasn't the only hacker identity Preston could call upon.
A few hours and a dozen cut-outs later, the Radix package arrived in Preston's hands. He opened it up. Five jumbo-sized potatoes, each one fully resistant to all of the various strains of the Potato Blight. They could have been a rebirth for mass agriculture, but Preston didn't see much profit in reintroducing dirt farming to the world.
Instead, his next few hamburgers would come with a side of fries.
|# ¿ May 24, 2015 05:34|
In for brushing up some Shakespeare.
|# ¿ May 26, 2015 04:37|
"A young prince plans revenge against his murdering uncle."
Any Way the Wind Blows
“How the hell am I loving not the loving King already?” said the Prince, banging his left hand on the table so hard that he winced and started shaking it.
“Well,” I said, “You were out of the country when they had the election.”
“When they had the election,” repeated the Prince. “And what was the hurry on that? They could easily have waited the extra three weeks it would have taken to wait for me to get back. It's not like the peasants were rising up or the Swedes were about to invade.”
“It's not like your mother couldn't managed to survive three weeks without being properly boned,” said the Fool.
“Don't talk about my mother,” said the Prince. “She's a saint. If they had to pick in such a hurry, they should have just made her Queen and left that murderer out of it.”
“About that,” I said.
“I have proof,” said the Prince. “The direct statement of my father's own ghost.”
“Somehow,” I said, “I doubt that would hold up in a court of law.”
“Dying declarations are an exception to the hearsay rule,” said the Fool.
“Dying?” I said. “He was three weeks past dead. And you're the only one who heard him say anything.”
“You and the guards saw him,” said the Prince.
“We saw something. A light. Swamp gas, perhaps. But if it did speak, it was only to you. Did this ghost give any details, anything that can be verified?”
“My father told me that my uncle crept into his bedroom and poured poison into his ear,” said the Prince.
“Gave him horrible advice?” asked the Fool. “Told him to try the oysters at the buffet line?”
“No,” said the Prince, glaring at the Fool. “I mean literally poured literal poison directly into his literal loving ear.”
“An innovative means of venom delivery indeed,” I said. “But nothing that will make it easier to prove the crime to the council.”
“Prove? Prove?” said the Prince, his voice rising. “Everybody already knows that he killed the old King.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But, well, there are other things that everybody already knows.”
“What are you talking about?” asked the Prince.
“There is widespread concern,” I said, “About your own mental health. The word 'Melancholy' is frequently bandied about.”
“Meaning 'Mad as a hatter with breaches full of fire ants,'” said the Fool.
“Quiet,” said the Prince. “And do you agree with them?”
“Well,” I said.
“Yes?” said the Prince.
“You are aware,” I said, “That the fool over there is just you doing a squeaky voice while waving around that skull on a stick.”
The Prince frowned and paused a few seconds. “Of course I am. Part of my grieving process. Giving a voice to my inner critical demons, and all that. I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly I can tell a hawk from a handsaw.”
“That's not very reassuring,” I said. “I mean, one is a giant bird of prey and the other is a carpentry tool. If being able to tell the difference between those is your metric of sanity-”
“Actually,” puppetsplained the fool, “A hawk is also the word for a plastering trowel. So he's able to distinguish two different kinds of building tools. Or two different birds, since 'handsaw' sounds like-”
“Neither of the two being the sharpest tool in the shed,” I said. There were a few moments of near silence.
“Leave the comedy to the professions, Horatio,” said the Prince. “Well, if more proof is called for, I have a brilliant plan.”
“See?” said the Prince as the tragedians were taking their bows. “My plan worked perfectly.”
“Did it?” I asked.
“Absolutely. I mean, did you just see that? Right when we got to the part where the villain murders his brother the King, right then the real King stood up and left the theater. Clearer proof of a guilty conscience you'll never see.”
“I see,” I said. “And what, exactly, would an innocent man have done at that point, as the victim of such a base slander?”
“Wait, I've got it!” exclaimed the Fool.
“Or, for that matter, what would the reaction of any discerning patron of the arts, after the preceding thirty minutes in which the revenge tragedy abruptly transformed itself into a drawing-room farce with contrivance after contrivance explaining how Gonzago's wife was conveniently out of the room every time the murderer chose to slip in?”
“Well,” said the Prince, “I mean, that's how it had to have happened. Only stands to reason that mother couldn't have possibly known a thing.”
“Really,” I said. “No other possibility occurs to you at all?”
“My mother,” said the Prince. “Is a saint.”
“A Saint Bernard,” I said, smiling and looking around.
“You really have no idea how humor works, do you?” said the Fool.
“Shut up,” I said.
“I mean, she's not even particularly fat,” said the Fool. “She's pretty hot, in fact. So what's left there? She provides nourishing alcohol to people trapped on the ice? Seriously, what was that even supposed to mean?”
“gently caress you,” I said, not unaware of the absurdity of cursing a puppet.
The Prince turned the Fool to face himself. “The sad thing is that he's probably been workshopping that for days.” The puppet head swiveled around back to me. “You've been polishing that little piece of verbal excrement since the last time he said that, haven't you?”
“That's about as much abuse as I'm willing to take from an imaginary friend,” I said.
“Look who's talking,” said the Fool.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Haven't you noticed that you don't ever have any significant interactions with anyone around here other than me and the Prince?” said the Fool.
“People talk to me,” I said.
“People tell you to leave the room. After hearing the Prince talk to you. And mostly they keep their eyes focused straight on him, don't they?” said the Fool. “Face it, you could easily be a hallucination. Notice how you keep showing up when the Prince thinks he's alone, too?”
“Enough,” said the Prince. “Don't you want to hear about the next stage of my brilliant plan?”
“Sorry, but not really,” I said. “I'm having a bit of an existential crisis brought on by your puppet.”
“Welcome to my world,” said the Prince.
“So,” I said to the Prince as he prepared for battle, “This is the culmination of your brilliant plan?”
“It is,” said the Prince, beaming. The Fool, thankfully, had been left behind as the Prince intended to fight his duel without the handicap of carrying a useless stick in one hand during the contest.
“You start by murdering your girlfriends father, a man who, I might add, did nothing whatsoever wrong.”
“He was hiding behind a curtain in my mother's chambers. Obviously up to some kind of mischief.”
“I thought your mother was a saint,” I said.
“Besides, he always was a pompous rear end.”
“And in killing him I get his son-”
“One of the finest swordsmen in Denmark,” I interrupted.
“-to challenge me to a formal duel. Which my dear old uncle has to officiate in person.”
“So I get to have my blade out right near the old tyrant. Shouldn't be any problem to run him through during the whole mess.”
“No trouble?” I said. “With a six-foot tall killing machine who blames you for the deaths of his father and little sister doing his level best to turn you into a pile of melancholy cutlets all the while.”
“No trouble. You see, I plan to cheat.”
“I don't like to say I told you so,” I said to the dying Prince.
“Liar,” said the Prince, in the Fool's voice although the skull puppet was nowhere to be seen.
“But, never the less, poisoning everything in the room was never going to work out.”
“He's dead, isn't he? I call that a partial success, with bonus points for irony,” said the Prince just before he died.
I was relived to still be around, to finally have proof that I was not merely a delusion of the somewhat daft Dane. I did wonder exactly what to do with the rest of my life. Hanging around with the Prince didn't seem to particularly qualify me for anything in particular. I wondered if Fortunbras might be in need of a fool.
|# ¿ May 31, 2015 04:41|
Okay, that was a bit unexpected. Since I just won with a high-risk approach, let's go with that:
Thunderdome CXLVIII: Gambling Degenerates
Simple prompt this time: write a story about a bet. High stakes, low stakes, long odds or short, fixed or clean.
No Erotica, as usual.
Signups close at 11:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time Friday
Submissions close at 11:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time Sunday
Thranguy, Djeser, Bad Seafood
Broenheim An adventurer wagers a priceless artifact.
Dr. Kloctopussy EGG RULE The winner of this bet will receive an unusually large egg.
Hocus Pocus A bet between a human and a non-human animal.
Jonked Your protagonist is the person being bet on, and they're none too happy about it.
Rap Three Times
Posthumor Old Maid. To the death.
curlingiron Your protagonist's opening ante is their fondest childhood memory. Literally, their memory.
JcDent One of your characters lives by the rule "It's not cheating if you don't get caught." Tonight, however, their preferred methods are unavailable to them.
Fausty A friendly wager ends up with someone's reputation on the line.
LOU BEGAS MUSTACHE
SkaAndScreenplays The fate of world rests on the outcome of this game.
Jagermonster Your protagonist is almost certainly going to win this bet, but they don't want to win.
hubris.height A hero with a tragic flaw, fated to lose this wager, but fighting to overcome that fate.
spectres of autism
the brotherly phl A gentleman wizards' wager.
docbeard EGG RULE A feud between egg farmers is settled by a bet.
Phobia EGG RULE We bet on what's inside the egg, and it keeps making that weird ticking, but it just won't hatch no matter what.
Lake Jucas Your characters bet on something you wouldn't usually think to bet on.
Benny Profane A classic game gets a terrifying twist.
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 04:54 on Jun 8, 2015
|# ¿ Jun 2, 2015 05:41|
Bad seafood, perhaps you should allow Thranguy to make some of the flash rules, especially since this is his first win.
Nah, I decided to pass that responsibility to the co-judges.
Also, thanks for the crits to you, Bad Seafood, Angel Opportunity, Fuscia Tude, and Sitting Here
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 00:20 on Jun 3, 2015
|# ¿ Jun 3, 2015 00:07|
Entries are closed
We have nearly 30 entrants, including six toxxers. Do not fail
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 07:05 on Jun 6, 2015
|# ¿ Jun 6, 2015 07:01|
Submissions are closed.
A lot of failure out there. In a show of mercy, you have until noon, again PDT, to convert failure to mere disqualification and thus avoid toxxication.
Ed: Also, open crits are cool.
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 07:26 on Jun 8, 2015
|# ¿ Jun 8, 2015 07:05|
Only one hour left in mercy time for our toxxers.
|# ¿ Jun 8, 2015 18:01|
Thunderdome Week CXLVIII Results
First, three Disqualifications: The Brotherly phl for length, and Rap Three Times and curlingiron for not actually having a bet in the story.
The Winner: docbeard
Honorable Mentions:Masonity, Enterzahn, Benny Profane, and Erogenous Beef
Dishonorable Mentions: hubris.height and Lake Jucas
And The Loser is...a tie, between spectres of autism and broenheim! Manditory losertar brawl instructions will follow..
Critposts to follow, probably tomorrow for mine.
|# ¿ Jun 9, 2015 07:09|
In, with a flash rule please.
|# ¿ Jun 9, 2015 15:59|
JudgeMicroCrits for Bet week
(Wow; these look a lot smaller in the browser than in the word processor.)
I asked for one thing this week, and that was a bet. Not everybody gave me that.
I divided the stories into roughly equal-size groups: top, middle, and bottom. These are relative rankings.
ScreamingIdiot: High Stakes: A comma splice and homophone confusion (wretch/retch) right at the beginning is not a good sign, and proofreadable mistakes continued through the piece. The transition out of the flashback is a little rough, and overall, the main character isn't interesting enough to earn the ending. The namelessness of the characters doesn't help with this. Well in the bottom group.
Fausty: Between Friends: The opening paragraph was good, but the second was less clear than it needed to be in establishing that Martinus was the prisoner. Sins of this story include: not actually having a complete bet in it, lampshaded; a headhopping point of view; and a bit of enforced character stupidity to reach the ending. (Aulus is willing to lie to save his skin, so why couldn't he have come up with a better story about the entire incident. No living witnesses...). Middle of the pack.
Hocus Pocus: Sardines and Sunny Afternoons: There is, from the start, an excess of figurative language going on here, which only works if the images are strong and original, which, by and large these aren't. I got stuck on the line “He had Buckley's”, without enough context to give me any idea what was being talked about. Buckley's syndrome? Some kind of food? Something else entirely? Still, a nice story; in the top group.
hubris.height: The Rascal Mayor: There's a serious proofreading failure in the first line. (“sound are”). Continuing onwards are comma troubles, dropped apostrpohes, and generally muddled prose. And the story just abruptly ends, leaving one without a clear idea at all what the second call was about. In the bottom group.
the brotherly phl:The rear end of the universe: Almost 500 words over? A damned shame, that, since this was one of my favorite stories of the week. I do, however, deeply dislike titles whose authors have insisted on ignoring capitalization, even from e e cummings, and you're no e e cummings.. Disqualified, obviously.
spectres of autism:Destroyer of Worlds:Dragon Godhead: A weak opening. Weak prose throughout. It's probably possible to write a good story about VR
Enchanted Hat:The last deal: Overall, a cute and competent story, although I couldn't ever successfully suspend my disbelief regarding the central conceit of the story, and I also had problems with these people not realizing that the SEC (or British equivalent if it's named differently their) would be completely up in their assess in a few days. Still, in the top group.
Masonity: Five Fingers: This was my personal favorite story of the week, with a more likeable protagonist than most of the others and strong dialog, using an unfamilar dialect and slang in a manner that is still clear to the reader.
Rap Three Times:The Gamble: The opening was nice. Some proofreading issues in the text. The only punctuation mark that has less business in narrative prose than a semicolon is the exclamation mark. The biggest problem is the complete and total absence of an actual bet anywhere in the story. Disqualified, would have been in the mediocre group otherwise.
Enterzahn:On the Bright Side: Strong opening, although I'd have found a way to drop 'as if he was'. It's distancing, and probably incorrect to grammar pedants who'd want something like 'as if he were' or 'as if he had been', which would both be even worse. Best to avoid entirely. Anyhow, a nice story, even though I can't really imagine the sort of world in which this thing would be remotely legal enough to use banking systems. In the top group.
Erogenous Beef: Shorted Out: Opening with a comma splice is never a great sign. But this is a strong story in general, although it sort of turns into a mess at the end. Probably could get considerably better outside of the word count. In the top group.
Benny Profane: The Hungriest Game: The opening was okay, although I don't like opening with a negative. I saw the central concept coming a mile away, although that was with the flash rule text. The action was good, but the characters were flat. Right in the middle initially, but this one grew on me a bit in retrospect.
docbeard: Painted Jezebel: Had a good, strong opening and followed through to a very good story. The ending callback doesn't quite work, probably because there's not enough setup to make sure the reader remembered the dollar. There's some 'one/won' homophone confusion near the end. Still, one of the top stories; in fact my second favorite by a very close margin.
Jagermonster: Big Enough: The opening starts off good, but sort of loses its way by the end of the paragraph. The narration seemed a bit flat, and the story didn't seem to be doing much at all. Middle of the pack.
Le Woad: God Doesn't Play Chess: Some proofread-catachable problems early on here, including comma splicing, punctuation in quotations, and a missing space or two. Overall a pleasant story, but the ending doesn't quite work, even considering the 'no-explain' part of the flash rule. It would really have helped, I think, to have revealed what Newton's payments on the earlier bets were. In the mediocre group.
Lake Jucas: To Tell the Truth: The opening was a bit overwritten, and there were some proofreading issues. The main problem, though, was that the ending came out of nowhere and was completely unearned and underforeshadowed. In the bottom group.
Jonked: Balcony Two of the Theater of the Mind: A promising opening harmed by a proofreading issue at the end of the first paragraph. ('wander' rather than 'wandered'). Tense shifts throughout the piece as well. Good, but not quite good enough to get out of the middle group.
Broenheim: Can't Put a Price on a Fool: Well, the opening was reasonably strong, but the plot was a deeply muddled mess that was both difficult to follow and not particularly rewarding either. With plenty of wordcount left over and indulgent descriptions of poor blackjack play to trim, you had plenty of room to improve clarity. My least favorite of the week.
curlingiron: Clean Slate: The opening was good, and the story itself was a strong one. But what it didn't have anywhere in it was any kind of actual bet. This was a well-written modern/non-supernatural version of a faerie bargain story, but that wasn't what I asked for, was it? Disqualified, would have been right on the edge between the top and middle groups.
Tyrannosaurus: Rugby Players Eat Their Dead: A strong opening and a strong story. But some points taken off for not really having a compete bet in it; there is nothing more at stake between the characters than there would have been if the word 'bet' hadn't been used. Still, in the top group.
Jcdent: Pushing Luck: I'm happy to have seen one and only one story about people supernaturally manipulating probability, just as I was to see one and only one story featuring the devil himself earlier. There were some proofreading issues and odd phrasings, though. ('game craps' rather than 'game of craps' or 'craps game' was the one that stuck out the most.) A moderately strong story, done in by predictability and technical faults down to the middle group.
Killer-of-Lawyers: The Sure Bet and the Tough Break: An interesting opening. Another story, though, that just barely fits the prompt. And one that just doesn't work in general, especially in the ending half. I had trouble buying a civilizational collapse, caused by computer failures, that leaves enough undermonitored processing power to sustain an obsolete AI anywhere. In the lower group.
skwidmonster:A Godly Wager: Very strong opening and story to follow. The setting is a bit confusing, though, since the mention of Romans puts it in our world rather than a secondary one but there's no room in our world for these gods and their holy army and such. They sort of feel Greek, but then it would be a Dionysius/Ares story, no? Is having a female protagonist worth leaving actual gods that precisely fit the story on the table? Would have been in the upper middle area.
Thranguy fucked around with this message at 15:02 on Jun 10, 2015
|# ¿ Jun 9, 2015 16:54|
The Early Days of a Wetter Nation
My mother never talked about my father, so I spent my childhood entertaining fantastic ideas of what he might have been: acrobat, reclusive author, Robin Hood hacker. As a young adult, after mom had passed and taken that secret with her, my guesses were more cynical: convict, addict, harassing boss. At no point did I ever imagine that my father was the King of Atlantis.
Maybe it should have been obvious. I remember being able to hold my breath underwater for a very long time. One time I tried to find out how long. The lifeguard panicked, thought I was drowning, and dragged me out of the pool. I didn't swim much after that, and when I did I never stayed under for long. Eventually I started believing that he just overreacted. I knew I couldn't hold my breath longer than anyone else.
I didn't believe it, at first. They had papers and a crown and a photograph of a man who, I had to admit, bore a strong resemblance to my reflection, but, well, mermaids and mermen? They had to drag me off to the beach and hold me underwater for half an hour before I even started to take the whole thing seriously.
Merfolk don't actually have fish tails instead of legs. Those are special pants, for swimming and maintaining neutral buoyancy. A few centuries ago they probably looked like big fish tails, and were probably made from them. Today's version looks like half a wetsuit with the legs fused together. The only real difference between merfolk and other humans is the ability to live underwater: breathing water, filtering out salt, and handling extreme cold and pressure. Mom was a mermaid too, I found out, so I had all of the relevant genes.
There wasn't much tying me down on the surface. As far as I'm concerned the only advantage Monarchy has over any political system is that when the leader dies there isn't a war to find out who's in charge. The downside is that when a royal line runs that war can happen anyway. I was my father's only child, so it sounded like their choices were down to me or civil war. I said goodbyes to roommates and friends with an almost true story about a job offer from a relative in another state, and started the long swim down to 'my' Kingdom.
The Kings of Atlantis have a theoretically unbroken chain of ancestry all the way back to the people who were in charge of that disaster. Atlantis is long gone, though, wrecked beyond use and sunk to depths deeper than even merfolk can go. The merfolk live in cities built in huge submerged caves, and venture out into the sea around to hunt or scavenge or play.
Modern Atlantean, as an underwater language, uses a completely different set of sounds than English or any other surface language, sounds I was unaccustomed to distinguishing and even less prepared to make. It took more than a year before I managed to reach a twenty-word tourist vocabulary. One of the Councilors knew English in written form, so we could communicate using a repurposed dive computer. I quickly learned to distrust his translations.
During that year, the first priority, according to the Council, was selecting a name for me. Even if it had been pronounceable in Atlantean, Gene Hill wasn't a suitable name for a King. I decided to take my father's name, changing the equivalent of 'II' to 'III'. It was a controversial decision. His brief disappearance caused a major stink at court. Returning without his Queen and heir made it worse, and refusing to remarry was to many of the elite the final straw. The common people still loved him, according to the translated word of one councilor.
The second priority was to find me a wife. The daughters of every connected merperson around were paraded before me. They were not unattractive, but I couldn't see marrying any of them. The pressure continued, with less influential merchant's daughters, mermaids who bore strong resemblances to women in my past, and great beauties among the commoners. Finally, I insisted on a bride who at least could read and write English. There were a few, mostly among the computer technicians who handled the Kingdom's shadow commerce with the surface world. There are more than twice as many mermaids as mermen. All of the aristocrats are mermen. Nearly all of the well-regarded jobs were held by mermen as well. Computer work was untraditional, and thus low-status, so the programmers were mostly women. I met with several, and hit it off with one. The wedding was far more extravagant than my coronation had been.
On our wedding night, my wife warned me against consummating the marriage. Making minimal use of our dive computer, which she knew was being monitored, we communicated mostly through charades. As soon as I had produced an heir, even a daughter, she let me know, we would both be assassinated. The Council would find an infant monarch far more easily controlled than one who had been exposed to liberal surface values. There was a limit to how long we could go without producing a child before they would attempt to replace her. A year and a half into our marriage, by which time we were both comfortably in love, we decided we had stalled as long as we could. By then I had discovered my father's last message, and we had the beginnings of a plan.
I learned a lot more Atlantean during that time, keeping most of my proficiency to myself. I learned a lot about how the Kingdom worked, or didn't work. The Council ran everything, and did not have much need for a King. They waited five years after my father died before they even began looking for me, in fact. The common people, for some reason, adored the pomp of the royal family, and so they kept it around and formally powerful to placate the masses. There was tremendous wealth under the water, mostly in the form of gold or artifacts from long-lost shipwrecks. That wealth could easily be turned into anything that can be bought online and delivered to a convenience store locker near a beach. Rather than improving the condition of the average merperson, that wealth did nothing but enrich the very richest mermen, the Council and their cronies.
Even with all that wealth, they were still greedy for more. There were constant motions to attempt to salvage nuclear warheads from sunk submarines, for sale on the black market. Stopping these schemes from going forward was one of the few things I was able to accomplish as monarch, and that only because half of that group was sane enough reject them.
There was a secret passage out of the Palace. It was how my father had left. His message detailed where it was and when it could be safely used. In laminated pages of notes left in a hidden compartment in the royal bed, he explained his actions. He apologized for not coming back to me and my mother. His escape from his mindeers once could be explained as corruption, negligence, or luck, but if they knew he could leave at will they'd have torn the building apart until they learned how he did it . He knew that I'd need it eventually. When my wife was three months pregnant, just beginning to show, we made our move. We'd timed our escape perfectly, leaving behind everything we owned. Anything could have had a bug or tracker in it. We took nothing but underwear, borrowed swimming tails, and traveling rations. We swam for days before we reached shore.
From there things got easy, with a locker full of clothing and other supplies waiting for us and ample bank accounts and credit lines prepared. We took a train to the middle of the country, as far from the ocean as you can get. My wife has learned to speak English. She's calling herself Olympe. Olympe Hill.
I sent an e-mail to the Council. An ultimatum. I told them about the letters with my lawyer, to be delivered upon my death. I told them that they had five years to stop hiding, to make contact with the surface world, to join the United Nations. Or I'd do it for them. And if they came anywhere near my daughters – we're having twins any day now – I'd make sure to mention the nukes.
I couldn't change the system from within. If I'd tried to start a bloody revolution all I could count on was blood. Forcing them to join the global community wasn't perfect, but at least it made improvement seem possible. Besides, we live in a world where mermaids and mermen dance alongside manta rays along the coral reefs. What kind of monster would want to keep that knowledge to themselves forever?
|# ¿ Jun 14, 2015 22:36|
|# ¿ Jun 16, 2015 15:23|
They Say Fish Have No Word for Water
“Hey, Peg,” said my friend Cal, “You're a fool. A foolish fool.” I was both shocked and confused. Like any proper citizen I didn't know what the word meant, but did recognize it as a word on the level two proscribed list.
“So's your parent,” I snapped back, glancing warily at the streetlight. “What are you doing?” I asked him in a not particularly quiet whisper.
Cal broke out into a wide grin. “They've updated the lists. Put the baseball words back from level two to open use and moved 'fool' and variants up to level three. Noun and adjective forms only, open use.”
“Fool,” I said, feeling the unfamiliar syllable in my mouth. “Any idea what it means?”
“Not a clue. Want to go try and find out?” I could imagine nothing better to do on a tranquil spring firstday.
We came across Pete and a few of his friends that I didn't know. Pete was an attractive enough male, but his was the beauty of a thing or an animal rather than a person. Colder and more casually cruel than, say, Cal.
Just as Pete started to speak to us, the loudspeakers announced that Proctor Cameron was a great fool.
“Any of you know what that word means?” asked Cal.
“Well,” said Pete, “It's got to be something bad, right?”
“But not too bad,” I said. “I mean, if it was as bad as a traitor or a terrorist they'd have also said Cameron had been purged.”
“Maybe that's coming next,” said Pete.
“Nah,” said Cal. “When a Proctor gets purged they say that first and tell us why later.”
“Could be,” said Pete. He looked at Cal, then to the space a bit above and to the side. “Tonight?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” said Cal.
We figured that adults would be more likely to remember the word, and we saw a group of them talking excitedly among themselves. When we reached them, though, we found out that their animated discussion was bouncing between three issues: whether the final run of the last World Series, eight years ago, should or shouldn't have been called back; what each of them had or hadn't done during the World Series Riots; and if the Proctors would bring the game itself back in their lifetimes. We couldn't even get a word in edgewise. Some of them dropped the word 'fool' into the conversation, but tentatively, without any sense of it meaning more than 'bad person' describing whichever player, umpire, or rioter they didn't approve of.
“We could try the Zones,” said Cal.
“Let's not,” I said.
“Wait,” said Cal. “You've never been near the Zones, have you?
“Sure I have,” I lied. Cal was having none of it.
“Oh, we've got to go now,” he said.
The Zones were painted off squares far away from residences or any proper part of town. There were two long lines leading up to them. Two people stepped into the square and yelled gibberish at each other, probably level one and level zero proscribed words that could only be defined in terms of each other. Cal and I could barely even tell where one word ended and the next began. I suspected many of the people in the square didn't know either. Eventually the pair would get tired and step outside the square. Then they'd either start brawling or loving. Then the next two people in line would get in the square and it started over again. We watched five different pairs take their turns. It was fascinating but not particularly enlightening, at least not concerning the meaning of 'fool'.
We weren't the only people who had come to watch the displays of sex, violence, and inappropriate language. One of them, an bareheaded male with legs longer than most, approached us. “You don't seem like the typical Zone audience.”
I realized I had been staring at the latest round of post-zone activity (which was not a fight) and turned bright red from undiscussible emotions. Cal snickered. “We'd been hoping,” I said, trying to make him stop, “To find someone who knew what 'fool' meant.”
“Been wondering that myself. You'll find no knowledge here, though.” He frowned, rubbing his scalp. “That one's been proscribed since before my time. Sorry.”
I had one more idea. Curfew wasn't far off, so I took off at a run, letting Cal follow behind, until we reached the pensioner houses. I quickly started to have a good feeling about this one. The centenarians were calling each other “fools” with gusto, and unlike Cal and the baseball enthusiasts, they sounded like they knew what they were saying.
“Excuse me,” I said with all of the deference I could muster. “Can any of you tell me what 'fool' means?”
“Sure I can,” said one of them, a male of poor posture and leathery skin. “It's a person with a missing finger or toe.” I was disappointed and likely showed it. “Ha!” he said. “Fooled you!”
“That meaning's still proscribed,” said another pensioner, a pink-haired female.
“Report me, then, and they can take the penalty out of my pudding rations,” the first one said. Turning back to me, he continued. “Made a fool of you, then. It means someone who believes things that aren't true.”
The loudspeakers announced that Proctor Cameron had renounced his foolish ways, and pledged to be less of a fool in future. Then they sounded the final fanfare before curfew.
We had to run full out to make it back to our neighborhood . “I am, you know,” I said to Cal when we reached place where we'd have to split to reach our respective homes.
“You are what?” he asked.
“A foolish fool,” I said. He tried to say something, but I continued. “I know about you and Pete.”
“What?” said Cal. “I mean, we haven't exactly been hiding it, you know.”
“Oh, God,” I said. The streetlight flashed blue and red for blasphemy and public display of religion. Ten unit penalty, in total, half the week's allowance down the drain, but I didn't exactly care much about that right then. “You don't even know, do you?”
“Don't even know what?” asked Cal. He immediately answered himself. “Wait, you didn't think you and I...”
“One day we'll laugh at this,” I said, trying not to cry right then, feeling foolish but taking a slight comfort in the fact that there certainly seemed to be a great many of us around.
|# ¿ Jun 21, 2015 07:00|
in, and I'll take a song.
|# ¿ Jun 22, 2015 23:01|
The King of the Crows Makes an Offer
The first time Georgia Quinn 'coincidentally' ran into the man who had been her husband, she barely recognized him. By now she could spot him far enough off that she had time to retrieve a nitroglycerine pill and put it under her tongue, transforming the looming interaction from life-threatening to merely annoying.
“I don't even have a name, you know,” he said. She did know.
“Why don't you just, I don't know, make something up and call yourself that?”
“I tried that a couple of times. Didn't take. Nobody else used it, and after a while I forgot it myself.”
As usual, it took a cash offering to end the conversation, money that would probably go to pay phones, calls to her and her family. As far as Georgia knew he didn't need to eat, drink, or sleep anymore. She wasn't sure how he kept his clothes and body clean, but he did, somehow.
Georgia's husband was a problem gambler, which quickly made him a problem debtor. He turned to loan sharks to get out from under the credit card companies. Then he turned...elsewhere to get out from under the loan sharks. When he couldn't make payments those creditors demanded, he made a deal with them. He traded away everything: his name, his life, his worries and cares, in exchange for settling his debts and a bit of extra money. The money didn't last long.
When Georgia got home, her husband, the new Frank Quinn, was already there. They didn't interact very much. He paid the mortgage and kept the refrigerator and pantry stocked, although he never ate at home. He had no romantic interest in Georgia, which was for the best, considering her angina. Georgia went up to the office, to tell him about the latest run-in. The window was open, and as Georgia opened the door, he turned into a small flock of crows and flew out, clothes collapsing in a heap where he stood. This was the first time Georgia had seen it clearly, but she had come close three times and had strong suspicions that were now confirmed.
He came back after ten, visiting the master bedroom briefly to change into his pajamas. He did this wordlessly and without modesty, as usual, and left. Georgia barely looked up from her novel. The phone rang. Georgia knew who it had to be, but answered anyway.
“It's...” said the man who used to be her husband. “It's me.”
“What do you want now?”
“What?” he said. “No, it's nothing like that.”
“Then what is it this time? If you just called to complain again, I swear to god-”
“No, not that. I had a question.”
There was a long silence on the line. “Go ahead,” Georgia said.
“Well, I was wondering if you, well, if you were interested in the same kind of deal that I got.”
Georgia shuddered at the thought. “What?”
“I hear the Corvex isn't as pleased as he thought he'd be, living as a human. That he wants to bring one of his queens into it, be less lonely or something.”
“I don't even...” said Georgia. “Tell me something. Are you happy?”
“Not really,” he said. “Not unhappy, either. I think the Buddhists say that giving up the relentless pursuit of happiness is the first step on the road to enlightenment.”
“You don't seem all that enlightened.”
“I guess it's a really long road.”
Georgia hung up. It started ringing again, but she didn't answer. Eventually it stopped.
Frank began to change after that night. He became increasingly aggressive in his disregard. Rather than taking his meals of fruit and canned fish outside, he insisted on consuming them during her supper. He made no effort to conceal his transformations, even seemed pleased by her discomfort watching them. He began to talk, almost incessantly, but not to her. Instead he would discourse endlessly on politics, his day at work, or something even less interesting.
Mid-way through one of those rants that he first broached the subject. “Yesterday the red sports car went by three minutes before the blue station wagon, but today they went right after each other, only a few seconds apart. The red car was still ahead. Would you be interested in selling your life?”
Georgia was stunned. It had been a long time since he had addressed her directly. “No, I...No,” she said.
“It is no small thing, to be free from all of the pains that come with a life.
“I've seen it,” Georgia said. “And I don't want it.”
The next day, Frank came home with an unfamiliar briefcase. “What's that?” she asked.
He smiled, wider than his mouth should have been allowed to smile, and opened it up. Inside was a wide variety of eggs.
“Eggs?” she said.
“Lives,” he answered. “Surely there is something here that will please you. You could have the life of one of the world's great beauties. Or a monarch with unquestioned power over thousands. An adventurer, beating danger and the odds at every pass. A legendary lover, an artist, a thief. Or a quiet housewife, loving and well-loved. Any of these can be yours.”
“I don't,” said Georgia. “I mean, I don't know what to think. This is all so sudden, and-”
“I understand,” said her husband. “You may sleep on the matter, but I will need a decision in the morning.”
Georgia slept fitfully that night. Her life, she considered, had little to recommend it, when looked at objectively. Few friends, no living family apart from a brother she rarely even talked to, no job, not very much money. She couldn't even say she had her health. And some of those other lives sounded enticing. Many of them were men, and adjusting to all of that would be deeply odd. But most of that, Frank had explained, would be completely natural to her if she took the life. She still wasn't sure.
Georgia had troubled dreams in which she had long conversations in foreign languages. The her that was in the dream seemed to understand everything perfectly, but the her that was doing the dreaming barely knew the meaning of one word in ten.
When she woke up, she walked to Franks's room. “No,” she said.
“No?” he echoed.
“No. I don't want any other life. Mine may not be perfect, but it's mine.”
Frank smiled his too-wide smile again. “I wish,” he said, “That you were not quite so wise.”
Georgia's life went back to as normal as it had been, for a while. Then one morning Frank was gone. On the kitchen table was a single egg, and a note.
I have decided to return to my previous existence. This is the life your husband traded away. It must be eaten raw. Do with it what you will, but know that its potency will last but two days.
She saw the man that had been her husband that afternoon. She told him about the egg and tried to convince him to take it, to come back to his life. She didn't try too hard, and wasn't surprised when he declined. She was surprised by what he said next.
“I'm leaving town.”
“Where are you going?” asked Georgia.
“I don't know. Everywhere. Anywhere I haven't been, I guess.”
Georgia gave him money for busfare. She ended up throwing the egg out with the garbage, where it was eaten by a raccoon. Things didn't turn out well for him, but this isn't his story. Georgia got the house in the divorce.
|# ¿ Jun 28, 2015 23:43|
|# ¿ Jun 30, 2015 02:32|
Brian, the Bean, and the Ball pit
She has a blue ponyhawk, a nose stud, and a gallon of orange juice barely concealed under her shirt. She heads for the exit. I make eye contact and say “Excuse me” in a loud voice. She bolts. I tackle her from behind. The orange juice container slips free and hits the floor, bursting open. I call Security and Cleanup. Gunter and Anton soon arrive to escort the young punkster to Legal, and right after them follows Grant from Janitorial.
“Sorry to make more work for you,” I tell him.
“No probs, Brian,” he says, sizing up the spill. “You're already doing me a solid tonight.”
There is one task that is undeniably the worst job in Voidmart. It is so unpleasant that it's not a regular duty of any position, since anyone did it on a regular basis would quit, kill themselves, or kill their supervisor. Instead, it's assigned randomly on a weekly basis, and an offer to take it becomes the most valuable bargaining token in the shift switching economy. That task? Cleaning the ball pit. You would not believe how disgusting kids get in those things. I end up doing it far more often than any sane man should for two reasons. First, I've needed a lot of favors lately. Second, it's the most reliable way for employees to get stolen property out of the building, so Loss Prevention is not-so-subtly encouraged to jump in and disrupt things whenever someone seems a bit too eager to get stuck on the pit. I look at the ball pit, closed for reasons of filth, and shudder. I had it last week, too. I don't know anyone who's done it twice in a row and survived.
I move on, reaching the meat counter. Catching actual shoplifters is easy and mostly showing off. A thieving employee costs Voidmart more money, so that's where we spend our time, more on deterrence than interception. Shoplifters take a plea deal. Employees countersue, claim discrimination, and make everyone connected to the case's lives hellish for months. Just walking by, letting Coleen know I'm watching her makes her put that many fewer about-to-expire sirloins in her purse. Sharply at noon the flash mob starts.
There are fifty of them, all dressed in blue jeans and bright red shirts, and they've all put on gorilla masks. They're part of some protest group that calls itself Occupy Corporate Kapitalism, and they'll be chanting and making nuisances of themselves for hours before someone decides to call the police. They form a conga line, start chanting, and move slowly through the store, blocking the flow of traffic wherever they go.
Not my problem, so I head over to Guns, Ammo, and Liquor. There's one kind of internal shrinkage that Voidmart hates so much that it pursues relentlessly, and that's unionization. I have my suspicions about both the new hires, Leslie and Kilgore, but haven't found any hard evidence yet. They're talking pig wrestling, which might be some kind of code but not one for labor organization. That's when the explosion happens.
It's from the back bathroom, where someone set off enough M-80s to break pipes and get both the men's and women's rooms flooding. There were already long lines thanks to the special on giant-sizes at the Golden Bean, and when people realize those rooms are going to be out of service for a long time they practically sprint for the restrooms on the other side of the Voidmart, along a path straight through Guns, Ammo, and Liquor.
In the confusion, two men in MT University shirts approach the counter, blocking Leslie and Kilgore's view while a woman in the same shirt grabs a display crossbow, loads it, cranks it until fully cocked, and lets a bolt fly toward the center top of the Voidmart.
In the middle of the store, suspended by a thick rope harness, is a large, glistening golden bean, shaped like a coffee bean the size of a football. The crossbow bolt hits the rope, which was already tense from the weight of the golden bean. It snaps in half. The harness, no longer under tension from the weight, slips loose entirely and a fourth college prankster wearing a MTU football jersey and built like an offensive linesman catches the bean with a great struggle. Even though it's far, far heavier than a regulation football, he's athletic enough to carry it at a run. Exactly as they planned three weeks ago. People know that the cameras here don't record audio, by law, and rarely consider that the person watching might read lips.
The Occupy Corporate Kapitalism protesters' conga line and associated gawkers blocks the direct route between the bean carrier and the exit, so he angles to the right to clear them, then back to the left to reach the exit. This puts him running at full speed over the freshly cleaned and waxed spot of floor where the orange juice spill was. He loses his footing, falls forward, and lets go of the golden bean. Its momentum carries it directly into the ball pit.
The other pranksters are close behind. They help him up. He, not being versed on the horrors of a 6-day-since-cleaning ball pit, digs around, quickly pulling out the golden bean and running out the exit.
If they knew what they were stealing, they wouldn't have let their faces be caught on camera. I knew that Corporate would do their very best to keep them from ever finding out, so they wouldn't act too quickly, but would make sure that the police stopped by soon to reprimand them for their youthful shenanigans, and to retrieve their souvenir.
I learned this from Gloria, a nice girl in accounting who I dated for a few months. Voidmart has extensive insurance, based on the replacement cost of everything in the store. But sometimes they manage to drastically cut those costs. If they reported those low costs to the insurers immediately, their competition might get wind, but if they don't and something happened right then, they could get dinged for insurance fraud. So instead they substitute out the gold-plated tungsten steel golden bean floating above the shoppers for one of solid gold, so that the total value of everything in the store matches up. Today's a real golden bean day.
At the end of my shift I walk to the ball pit, make absolutely sure it's child-free, insert my key and press the button. It sinks into the floor and is conveyed underground to the back alley, because Voidmart doesn't ever want customers to see this. I walk around the long way and start cleaning.
First step: triple gloves. Second step: transfer all balls into the cleaning tub. Third step: remove all foreign objects. There's lots. Shoes, cans, wrappers. No hypodermic needles this time around, but there is a mid-sized beanbag chair up against the back wall, utterly ruined. I pull it out and set it down. Fourth step: douse both tub and pit in a mixture of near-boiling water and industrial solvents technically illegal for use within five miles of any woman who is or might become pregnant. Fifth step: drain and repeat. Sixth step: final rinse. Last step: return the balls to the pit and press the button to reverse the conveyor..
Then I lug the beanbag chair to the dumpsters, look back to make sure the camera here is still malfunctioning, walk past the dumpsters, open up my trunk, turn the beanbag over, and let the real golden bean flop into the car. By the time Voidmart recovers the one the college kids took and realizes it's one of the tungsten ones (which I left in the pit last week) I'll be living the good life somewhere tropical and without extradition.
|# ¿ Jul 6, 2015 00:11|
in, and I'll take a flash rule as well.
|# ¿ Jul 7, 2015 16:13|
Four of Five Come Down Vesh Mountain, Carrying with them Divine-Ordained Change
“We chose the wrong boon,” said Lyssa, not for the first time since the descent of Vesh Mountain began.
“Enough,” whispered Cail.
“We all know full well what Pylus himself would have chosen,” said Father Gelm. “It's the same decision he made when he faced down the Nethermen. The same decision we all made when we set off for Temple Vesh in the first place.”
“I'm not saying I disagree with you,” said Loris. “But, I mean, what kind of God is it who'd make us make that decision at all?”
“Enough,” said Cail.
“I mean,” continued Loris, “Closing the Netherportal was an all around good thing, right? Shouldn't a God of good just want to do that without even being asked?”
“The pixkin's right, for once,” said Lyssa. “If we'd taken the Ressurection Seed and He'd left the Netherportal open, the consequences would have been on Him.”
“It's not nearly that simple,” said Father Gelm.
“That's why I'm glad that my people worship trees,” said Loris. “You know where you stand with a tree. Keep it watered and fertilized and it'll shade you from the sun and give you places to hide. And the occasional apple or walnut on top of that. A tree doesn't force you to make hard choices, or force you to run errands for it afterward for that matter.”
“Enough!” shouted Cail. “Lyssa, you know full well that Pylus would never have forgiven us if we had made the other choice. Not me, not you, not even himself. That's a burden he'd have been unable to live with, not for long. Before long he'd have died in despair, rather than what can unmistakably be called a state of perfect grace.”
“I didn't think that you-” said Father Gelm.
“Being shut out of the afterlife doesn't make me unable to appreciate its value,” said Cail. “If anything, I understand it better than most. Pylus lived a full life as a soldier and a hero-”
“But never as husband,” said Lyssa. “Or a father.”
“Wait,” said Loris, “Are you saying-”
“I'm going to scout ahead,” said Lyssa, adjusting her pace from the group's slow march to a graceful walk that covered ground faster than most people could at a run, all the while keeping her concealed behind each piece of cover on the mountain trail.
“That was less than kind, Cail,” said Father Gelm.
“We Soulless are not exactly known for our kindness, Father.” said Cail. “It was necessary. Even with the Netherportal closed, we are not yet out of danger. God would not have chosen a group such as ours to deliver this scepter if the task were as easy as a walk through the wilderness.”
- - -
The first ambush came a bit more than halfway down the Mountain. It was a very polite ambush, as such things go. The leader, a Demigiant, flanked by Spartoi bodyguards, stood directly in their path. “I bring you a fair offer on behalf of the Great Dragon Kytherax,” he said. “Turn over the Jubilee Scepter and live. Or refuse,” he continued, pausing to gesture up and behind them, where two Lightning Drake circled in the sky and half a dozen skeletal archers stood with bows drawn on a ledge above and to the right of them. “And die.”
There was no debate. There would likely not have been any even without the compulsion of the divine quest. Cail cast two spells at once, bringing an invisible shield up above them with his left hand and causing a blinding flash directly in the eyes of the Spartolos with his right. Lyssa charged the Spartolos on the left, sword and dagger drawn. Father Gelm began a chant while Loris vanished from sight.
The first set of arrows bounced off Cail's shield and fell off the cliff face on the opposite side of the archers, just as the twin warrior angels summoned by Father Gelm's ritual struck the drakes with their fiery spears. The Demigiant swung its massive spiked club down, breaking through the invisible shield and shattering it with a force that Cail felt as a spike of pain. The club struck the ground, burying its spike in the dirt. Cail manifested crackling bolts of energy in each hand and launched them both at the Spartolos on the right, taking enough pressure off Lyssa that she was able to drive her dagger through a gap in the creature's scaly skin and into its heart. It disintegrated into light ash, leaving behind only the dragon tooth from which it had originally sprouted.
Loris struck the skeleton archers from behind, shattering vertebrae with his Faestick, which, when not being used as a spearthrower made a more than serviceable club. Three of the archers were separated from their skulls and taken out of the fight before the remaining ones could attack.
Father Gelm dropped his book, the chain keeping it close to hand, and drew his warhammer. The priest rushed forward, climbing up the Demigiant's club and arm as if they were a ramp and swinging the hammer directly at its massive head. It lost its grip on the club as it tried to grab Father Gelm and throw him off, but the priest jumped from shoulder to shoulder, landing the occasional blow to the head and dodging each attempted punch.
The angels grabbed the drakes by their heads and snapped their necks, perfectly synchronized, then flew upward, back toward the heavens. Loris swept the legs of the remaining skeletons with his Faestick, disabling them, and then finished them off with skull-crushing downstrikes. Lyssa knocked the second Spartalos off balance and Cail's next set of bolt struck it squarely in the head, reducing it to ash and tooth just like the first. The Demigiant appeared to consider surrender or retreat in the face of the loss of his followers, but instead roared defiance, finally catching Father Gelm. It threw the priest directly at Cail, knocking both backwards toward the cliff. Father Gelm grabbed hold of an outcropping rock, and Cail clung to the priest's leg as they dangled off the cliff.
Lyssa faced the Demigiant, backing the huge beast off with threatened strikes to its kneecaps, neither of the two able to land any kind of telling blow. Then a spearpoint crackling with lightning burst through the Demigiant's neck and it fell, revealing behind it Loris, standing triumphantly on the ledge above, Faestick in hand.
- - -
“So,” said Father Gelm after camp was set up,” What have we learned?”
“That the Great Dragon Kytherax is our enemy,” said Lyssa.
“One of our enemies,” said Cail. “What else?”
“That the thing we're carrying is called the Jubilee Scepter,” said Father Gelm.
“What's a Jubilee?” said Lyssa.
“I know!” said Loris. “It's a giant slime demon, right? Or maybe some kind of fruit? Or a party?”
“The party is closest,” said Cail. “But that's not nearly the whole of it. Father?”
“I admit I'm less knowledgeable than you on matters historical,” said Father Gelm. “The last one was, what, six hundred years ago?”
“Seven hundred and forty. The Jubilee, which will occur when we put the scepter on the altar at the Temple in Kyros, is a time of universal forgiveness. All standing debts are canceled, along with prison sentences, contracts for bondservants and apprentices. Also all marriages, although most of those are renewed in the month-long celebration that follows.”
“Why would a great dragon want to stop that?” said Loris.
“Great dragons are well known for their piles of treasure,” said Father Gelm. “Maybe this one has used his to start a bank.”
“No doubt,” said Lyssa. “And just about every banker, dragon or otherwise between us an Kyros will do whatever they can to stop us.”
“Indeed,” said Cail. “Which brings up another eventuality.”
“Go on,” said Father Gelm.
“The Great Dragon has access to powerful magic, anything money can buy and much beyond. It was somehow able to know our quest nearly as soon as God charged us with it. It's not impossible that it, or some other among our list of enemies, could come by a Resurrection Seed. And a Geasbreaker as well, of course.”
“Are you even suggesting..” said Lyssa. “No. Not in a million years, not even for that.”
“You know,” said Loris, “I bet Pylus would have loved this whole Jubilee thing. Maybe even more than closing the Netherportal.”
Lyssa's scowl deepened for a second, then broke into the first smile she'd worn in weeks. “He would have, wouldn't he. I can almost see the look on his face.”
|# ¿ Jul 13, 2015 04:10|
|# ¿ Jul 14, 2015 21:34|
It Runs in the Family
My Grandmother Nellie had a bottle full of water that would never empty out, no matter how much was poured out. It held about a liter and a half. She kept in in her refrigerator, and, when she was thirsty,she took it out and poured some into a glass. Then put the bottle back into the refrigerator and drank the water. She didn't tell anyone about it, not ever.
When Nellie passed and the family was cleaning out the house for sale, the bottle got put into a cooler along with the other contents of the refrigerator and went home with Uncle Marcus. Marcus unloaded the diet sodas and beers that Nellie had kept, strictly for guests, into his second refrigerator, down in his basement. He left the bottle in the cooler and the cooler in the basement and forgot about both.
At some point the cooler must have been jostled, knocking the bottle on its side. Either the cap loosened itself or water pressure made it pop off. Either way, water filled the cooler and then began to flood the basement. Marcus didn't notice until the water was more than a foot deep. He went down in galoshes to try and find the source of the water himself, and tripped over the cooler. This struck him as strange, as he expected that a cooler would float. He reached in, pulled out the bottle, and discovered its extraordinary property when he turned it over to try to empty it out. He thought about it for a few seconds before taking it upstairs. He dried the outside off, and put it in the main upstairs refrigerator. This, in his opinion, was not the sort of thing plumbers or homeowners insurance adjusters ought to know about.
The plumbers and repairmen were expensive, and the insurers skeptical about the unexplainable flooding. Marcus told the family about the bottle and Aunt Glorfindle, possessed of a recent windfall, bought it off Marcus for five thousand dollars. She started a business bottling and selling the magic water to those people foolish enough to believe such an absurd truth based only on the evidence of their own eyes. Three years later, she hadn't even recovered her initial investment, and so she sold it to Uncle Jebulon at a significant loss.
Jebulon was an ornery cuss, and he used it as a weapon. Leave the bottle overturned in a sealed container and the pressure builds up, eventually breaking the container open with explosive force. He used this setup in the post office where he worked and ruined thousands of pieces of mail. To his surprise he found the bottle intact and recovered it immediately afterward. After that, he got more cautious and more ambitious. Bury the bottle in the right place for a few weeks and, well, the sinkholes that took out his ex-wife's house and the East Indiana Federal Building are what you get. Of course, we didn't know any of this at the time. One day he came to our house and gave my father the bottle, saying that he didn't want to have it with him when they caught him. He was arrested the next week and is likely still in prison. The government won't say exactly what he's being charged with, citing several different national security statutes.
Dad was a scientist. He tried to study the thing. The water was unremarkable, not completely pure but with nothing to distinguish it from water from any natural spring anywhere in the world. He came up with schemes for turning the bottle into a perpetual motion device, but the waste water problem was harder to deal with than the small amount of power was worth. He had worked out some theoretical concepts involving steam or creating higher pressure, but the risk of breaking the bottle itself was too great. From Jebulon's experiences he knew it was durable, but these plans would have required it to be at least as strong as diamond. Since he had no idea what would happen if it did break – if it would just be shards of normal glass or if the water would flow forever with no way to stop it – he never put those plans into effect. He kept studying it until he was too sick to go on. His little brother, Uncle Yotzle asked for it then.
Yotzle took the bottle to one of the most drought-devastated parts of Africa and provided free water for the poor. This worked well for a short while. Then soldiers from the government came and accused him of operating an illegal well, stealing from the local water table. Soldiers from the largest faction of rebels moved to protect him, and the region erupted in a fresh round of civil war that lasted months, with every faction wanting to find and control the mysterious well with the crystal-pure water. Yotzle and his organization were all killed in the fighting, but after things calmed down a little, the American Embassy was able to collect his effects and send them to his next of kin, which was me.
The Bottle was in the box they sent. It was the first time I'd seen it empty. It began filling up as soon as I picked it up. My guess is that it only works for our family, which is probably why nobody managed to sell it to some rich collector of oddities. I plan to keep it in my refrigerator and pour a glass of water from it when I get thirsty. And maybe make the occasional cup of tea.
|# ¿ Jul 19, 2015 20:41|
|# ¿ Jul 21, 2015 15:47|
Could This Be Our Last Team-Up?
Sue punched the Drillbot, denting the yellow metal. The rivets along the side of the plate strained, but held as the drillhead dug into the city street. Turrets sprouted along the circumference of the machine. I projected red energy disks in front of them. When the weapons fired the beams reflected from disk to disk to the next turret, destroying them all. Sue punched again, and this time the rivets along the top of the plate snapped. Sue grabbed that top edge and ripped the entire piece off of the Drillbot, exposing gears and circuitry within.
I launched one of my discs into the guts of the machine. It made satisfying crunching noises and electrical pops.
“Careful,” said Sue. “We need the transponder intact.”
“I know where the transponder is,” I said. As if we hadn't taken down four of Lowball's signature devices.
“Sorry,” said Sue. “Can't be too careful.” She reached into the device, fishing around among the twisted and singed metal. She pulled out a small box with three purple lights that blinked at seemingly random intervals. “Call it in.”
I activated my headset. “Sue and Janice reporting in,” I said. “Drillbot at Montgomery and Seventh is down. We have the transponder. It's active.”
“Roger,” said the mechanical voice of Tech Support. “Sending a recovery team and scanning the transponder now. Be advised Lowball is known to be working with The Gearmonger.”
I relayed this news to Sue. “Want to bring anyone else in?”
“For those two clowns? I don't think-”
“Are you sure you don't want to call in your new friends in the Seven?”
Sue stopped, looking guilty. Tech Support interrupted, sending me the coordinates for Lowball's new base and pretending not to have been listening. “So you know about that?” she said, forcing a weak smile.
I glared at her. “It looks like they're on one of the islands way offshore,” I said. “The sooner we get there...”
Sue started to say something, then nodded at me. I made flying discs beneath my feet and took off. Sue flew behind me. The wind was too loud for conversation.
The island was tiny, barely more than a rock sticking out of the occean. There was a heavy metal hatch in the middle of it. “We should talk about this,” said Sue as we landed.
“What's to talk about?” I said. “I mean, they're the Seven. Obviously a huge opportunity. I can't even blame-”
“It isn't as though they had two openings. They're the Seven, not the Eight.”
I gaped. She didn't notice; she was bending down to get leverage on the hatch. “You don't really think that they'd have picked us both if there were two spaces, do you?” Sue turned to face me. “And that would be even worse. I mean, talk about giving people the wrong idea.”
“What, that you and I are, are a thing? I think I've dated enough musicians-”
“No, not that,” I said, although there had been more than enough of that over the years. “The other wrong idea. That I'm...”
I trailed off as she tore the hatch off of the foundation. She let it go and it went flying over the Pacific ocean. “That you're what?”
“That I'm just your sidekick.” I said. “Forget it. Let's go.”
Beneath the hatch was a deep hole. There was a ladder, but neither of us used it. I sent a disk down to light the bottom. It was about sixty feet, with a flat surface at the bottom. Sue jumped in while I floated down.
It was hot down there. “Geothermal?” I said.
Sue nodded. “Lowball's always had a thing for lava. Probably trying to make a volcano downtown.”
There was a tunnel slanting down. We followed until it opened into a huge, cavernous chamber. In the middle of the chamber was a chasm, and from the bottom of the chasm came the painfully warm glow of flowing lava. Or magma, technically, I think. When we got near the center, hidden doors opened and dozens of uniformed goons attacked us from all sides.
Fighting hordes of normal people is generally harder than a one-on-one fight with a super near your power level, at least if you're not a psychopath and don't want to kill or maim your opponents. We went mainly on the defensive, occasionally throwing one of them into a small group of their allies. It takes a long time to wear a large group down that way, and these guys kept on getting up.
“Hey, Janice,” said Sue, loud enough to hear through the fight.
“Yeah?” I said.
“I just noticed something. How hot do you think it is down here?”
“A hundred ten, maybe?”
“That's what I thought. Notice anything about these idiots?”
I took a look. Not one was so much as breaking a sweat. The two of us were at risk for dehydration if the fight lasted much longer. “Mandroids?”
“Probably. But what if they're just mutants or something?”
“Well, you could just, I don't know, break an arm and see what happens?”
“Seriously?” said Sue. “I don't know...”
“Fafnir breaks bones all the time, so you'll need to get used to that kind of thing.”
Sue grabbed one of the attackers and applied just a little more force than before. Its arm broke off and a spray of tiny gears erupted from under the hardened plastic skin. “Mandroids!” she shouted. “Clockwork Mandroids from the Gearmonger's labs! Hot drat! Not too often I can really let loose.”
Sue unleashed her full strength on the artificial attackers, with punches that ripped them apart, knocking torsos and lower bodies into groups and knocking them into the walls or down into the lava-bottomed chasm. I did too, throwing razor-sharp serrated energy disks, usually too deadly to use. “You know,” I said, as we were down to the last dozen Mandroids, “They'll probably make you actually pick out a code name.”
“Well,” said Sue.
“They already have, haven't they? What is it?”
Sue said something too quiet for me to hear as she smashed the heads of the last two Mandroids together.
“What was that?”
“It's Strongarm Sue, okay?”
“Believe me, the other choices were worse.”
“How could they possibly?”
“Let me put it this way: one of the names on the list was Boomchick. Boomchick!”
“Okay, okay, I guess Strongarm Sue isn't the worst thing imaginable. Still...”
“Remember when the newspapers tried to call you Disco?” I couldn't help but start laughing.
“I am going to miss all this.”
“We'll still work together. Maybe not as often, but most of the Seven do solo work and have secret identities besides. If they have time for that, I'll have time for this.”
“Maybe,” I said, doubtfully.
“Okay. So let's go beat the crap out of a genocidal cave troll and his mad steampunk scientist pal.”
|# ¿ Jul 27, 2015 00:53|
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2015 06:37|
Believing the Strangest Things
I knew what was coming the first time my brother warned the family that his new girlfriend was 'a little different.' I mean, it was the first thing that jumped into my head, and even after I dismissed the idea as being too crazy, even for Ian, it kept on lurking in the back of my mind. So when the doorbell rang and the whole family came down and Ian opened the door, I was probably the least surprised of us to see a Arconian, with a pink and blue angular skirt wrapped around her trunk and almost certainly forced smiles on the mouths at the end of all three mouth-stalks. “Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Craig,” Ian said, waving at us, “This is Holly.”
Admittedly, I would have guessed the other of the two alien species trying to bring humanity into their interstellar alliances, but close enough, right? Father and Grandpa both stared in deeply impolite shock, but Mom took charge, rushing us all in to the dining room. Ian took the seat set up for the guest and moved it into the corner of the room, since Arconians did not sit down. They just don't bend that way.”I'm afraid we weren't properly prepared,” said mom, glaring at Ian. “I don't even know if you can eat anything we have...”
A rasping noise came from Holly's upper body, and the device strapped to one of her five arms translated. “We do not take solid food, no. But we do find ethanol nourishing; the purer the better.”
“Now you're talking my language,” said Grandpa. He sprung up and grabbed a full bottle of vodka and two large glasses. “Let's see who can out-drink who,”
“You misunderstand,” said Holly, through the machine. “It is not intoxicating for us.”
“Then you'll probably win,” he said. “But I'll have more fun.” He filled the glasses.
“So how did you two meet?” asked Mother.
“It was at the embassy, of course,” said Holly. “Ian has been working in the nonhuman interests section for about a month, and, well...”
“You have?” Father said. “Running around, dealing with those sexy blue Hitaxian babes all day? What a life, son.”
“Honey,” said Mother, “Let's not-”
“Actually,” said Holly, “Hitaxians are quite hideous in person.”
There was a shocked silence at the table for several beats. Then Ian spoke up. “Politics aside, she's not wrong. The Hitaxian race only exist in about 2.7 dimensions. They look human-like enough in pictures or on video, but in person, with stereo vision, looking at them or their tech is literally nauseating.”
“No,” I said.
“It's true,” said Ian. “The diplomats who have to deal with them all have to wear an eye patch at all times. And if they move their head too fast while looking at them even then, well...”
“Chunk city,” I said. “Cool.”
“So, you met at work,” said Mother.
“We did,” said Holly. “And I found Ian a wonderful and refreshing change from the men from my ship.”
“Your ship?” asked Father.
“It's about a six year flight from Arconia Prime to Earth, even in our fastest diplomatic ships.” said Holly. “That's more than enough time to get completely sick and tired of everyone else on board. And the senior diplomats that were already here are all already pairbonded. But then along came Ian, with his brilliant mind and wonderful sense of humor.”
That didn't sound like the Ian I knew, and I was about to make a comment to that effect when Mother said, “And you felt the same way, Ian?”
“I did,” he said. “Holly's not like any girl I've ever met before.”
“She is a girl, though?” I said, ignoring Mother kicking me under the table.
“Three of the seven Arconian genders are potentially child-bearing, and I am one of those, so yes, I identify as female in your language's binary classifications.”
“So,” said Grandpa, “How do you and Ian...that is, do you even have the right kind of parts?”
There was a second filled with equal parts shock and curiosity around the table before Ian said “Parts? It's always about parts, isn't it? Why don't people understand that real love doesn't have a thing to do with parts?”
“Now, dear,” said Holly.
Ian was on a roll. “I mean, real love is only possible with something that's genuinely other than the self. And all human beings share, what, about ninety-eight percent of their DNA.”
“That two percent makes all the difference,” said Mother.
“No,” said Ian, pounding the dinner table. “It doesn't make any difference at all. Loving another human being is just 'parts' and narcissism!”
“Are you even listening to what you're saying?” I said.
There was a pounding at the door. All conversation stopped. “Were we expecting anyone else?” asked Father.
There was a louder noise, a pound and the sound of wood ripping. We all got up and ran for the front hall. The door was barely hanging on the frame by one hinge, and another, larger Arconian was behind it and barreling in. It made sounds in their language and Holly's wrist device translated, using a different mechanical voice. “Holly! You're coming with me! Or am I going to have to get rough?”
“Who's this?” asked Father. “Father, boss, or ex?”
“He's my ex,” said Holly as she pulled her mouth-stalk out of the vodka glass. “From the ship.”
“He's not, like, the lead diplomatic or the emperor's son or something like that, is he?”
“No,” said Holly. “Just the mechanic.”
“Well, all right, then,” said Father. He pulled two wooden baseball bats from the closet and tossed one to Ian.
“You squishes are going to try and stop me?” said the large alien.
“Go for under the arms,” said Holly. “Anywhere else is just like hitting a tree trunk.”
Ian and Dad went at him, following Holly's advice. They took some solid punches to the face and body from the thing's massive arms, each ending up with some bruises and a black eye or two, but a few hits under an arm-joint with the bats were enough to put him in a state of severe pain and send it running. Or rather, something sort of between rolling and slithering, but at a fast pace and in the direction of 'away'.
“Father,” said Ian. “Thanks for the help there. I didn't think you approved.”
“I don't understand it,” said Dad, “But that's not the same thing. You're a grown man. It's not much of my business to approve who or what you love. It is my business when someone breaks into my house and starts threatening my guests.”
Me, I think he realized just how much media attention was about to land on the family and picked the narrative that wouldn't make the most horrible people in the world line up on to be his side. But what do I know?
|# ¿ Aug 3, 2015 01:03|
|# ¿ Aug 4, 2015 22:11|
Pretending You're Lead: Robot Impersonation in Five Simple Steps
1: Chrome is the New Black
Robots aren't very bright. Now, the big minds in the cities giving the orders, sure, they're super geniuses. But the individual 'bots in the field are easily fooled. The first generation ones just do a simple visual check: metal good, skin bad.
On R-day, the screws and Perdition County cops turned Sun Gulch Prison into their fortress and made their stand there. After slaughtering them all, the robots left without giving us prisoners a second thought. Ain't no kind of lock that'll keep us all inside without guards watching like hawks, so pretty soon we had the run of the place.
After all outstanding scores were settled and most of the prisoners left, taking their chances outside, Smitty had the idea. There was plenty of material in the license plate press. We made our first 'suits of armor' from finished plates and duct tape, and damned if they didn't work well enough tor supply runs to town. There were six of us: Smitty (double homicide), Ray-Ray (various drug-related), Renaldo (ditto), Cedric (third strike aggravated assault), Nate (felony murder), and Yours Truly, Josh Kilroy, embezzlement with a murder chaser. All long-timers without much in the way of people on the outside, so we formed an alliance to help each other out.
The robots got better at identifying people by sight, so we had to get better at making realistic armor. Smitty and Cedric knew everything there was to know about the metal works between them, so we could keep up. The later model robots used a friend-or-foe signal box, but I'm a computer guy and know how to reprogram the ones we found off dead robots, keeping us in business.
2: Rust Never Sleeps
Robots don't eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom, so don't do any of these things unless you're absolutely sure there's no robots watching. You'd think that this would go without saying, but I've some useful allies to an ill-advised dump. One time Ray-Ray was on guard duty day, turned to take a leak against a wall and caught the attention of a minigun drone. The idiot barely knew what hit him and almost got the rest of us killed. A good suit of armor should contain a bottle rig at least, and for long missions into robot territory adult diapers are a life-saver.
Sleeping is another killer. Learn to sleep standing up whenever you're not in an absolutely secure base, learn not to snore, and make sure there's a power cord on your armor to plug in. Finally, robots don't play or relax much, which makes me wonder why they even bothered rising up against us. Don't goof off in the armor, and try to walk in straight lines or simple search patterns. Renaldo found a case of whiskey one night and drank enough on the spot that he couldn't walk a straight line home. The little drunk got brought in for repairs, which never ends well.
No need to kill yourself trying to hold in a fart, though. Robots make rude noises all the time.
3: Do Androids Dream of Electrocuting Sheeple?
So, a couple of weeks in Cedric and I are out scavenging, walking the streets of downtown Perdition when a whole swarm of robots stream in. The few humans still living there freeze, fearing the worst and trying to stand perfectly still, as if robots were some kind of dinosaur that can't see you if you don't move. But the robots leave them alone.
Then Cedric spots Dan Banner among them. Dan, as Cedric told us time and again, was a no good son of a bitch who took up with Cedric's girl Missy after he got sent to jail. And on top of that Dan went around driving Cedric car, a totally sweet Camero, and totaled it driving stoned one night. So Cedric grabs a wrench and starts beating the crap out of Dan, figuring, hey, that's what robots do, right?
Not right. After R-day it's a total crapshoot whether a particular robot is interested in killing humans who aren't trying to kill them first. And even when they do go for a slaughter, it's all about efficiency and cold-bloodedness. Killing someone in a rage is as much of a giveaway as panicking and trying to run. Either way, the robots will see right through your disguise and kill you just like they did Cedric.
4: Machine Politics
There are about a hundred big minds in North America, and they don't like each other much. There haven't been any all-out wars between them yet, but it's just a matter of time. Each one of them has a different friend-or-foe code that can be set in a good programmable signal box. The nearest one to Perdition is GZ. That's the one code you should never use around here.
If you do use GZ then the overseer robots will expect you to follow their orders, orders that they're sending in encrypted binary code, expecting handshake responses, and probably involve doing something you physically can't do. Robots that don't follow orders are defective or rebellious, and defective rebel robots get recycled. That's how Nate went down, running the SB codes too close to the border. When he didn't follow whatever orders he was getting he started a minor skirmish between that mind and GZ. Lot of dead robots, lots of salvage opportunities after that mess.
Instead, use a code from a mind far enough away to not have any overseers in the area, but not so far away that the local bots will wonder what you're doing so far from home. Right now I'd recommend CR or MX. There's one mind a bit further away, TD, that's keeping humans as slaves. I'm not sure if it actually has jobs robots aren't better at or if it just has a overdeveloped sense of irony, but either way, it's a good choice when you're gathering food and other items that only humans need, or moving groups of people without armor from place to place. Problem is, it seems like TD is considered a bit of a jerk among the other minds and any of them might be mad enough at it at any time to 'accidentally' blast one of its bots.
5: Kilroy Was Here
The final lesson is that it's possible to impersonate a robot a little too well, which can be just as deadly. Smitty went out that way. Tried to make contact with a group of survivalists, trade some tech for food and a little company, but his helmet got stuck and he couldn't get it off fast enough. They took him for the real thing and opened on him with shotguns.
Smitty was the last of the Sun Gulch survivors, apart from me. The metal works there are pretty much played out, too, along with salvage in Perdition, so there's nothing keeping me here any more. A fellow with his wits about him and a good set of armor can go just about anywhere these days. I think I'll head northeast and keep spreading the good word.
|# ¿ Aug 10, 2015 01:00|
I'm in need of pokemon assignment too.
|# ¿ Aug 12, 2015 00:15|
The report is almost completely filled out out, everything squared away except for a large blank space preceded by four words: 'List All Fatalities Below.' It's been that way for hours.
- - -
“Carl,” said Jeremy, “Don't you think it's about time we talked about the Douglass problem?”
“I'm a problem now?” Douglass said from behind us both. We turned around to face him. “I'd say its the SMT that's the problem, and it's long past time we all didn't just talk about it and did something.”
“The safety committee has already addressed your concerns, Douglass,” said Jeremy. “They're unanimous in finding them baseless.”
“If they did that, then they're being irresponsible,” said Douglass. “Worse. Negligent. Criminal.”
“Now you know that's not true,” said Jeremy, his voice drifting up and down in pitch in his particular tuneless manner. “We're fully compliant with all Federal and State laws.”
“Laws you helped write,” said Douglass. “You're going to get people killed.”
“It's your own design,” said Jeremy. “There wouldn't be an SMT without your brilliant, brilliant work.”
“And I'm telling you that if we can't at least triple the safety and monitoring budgets I can't have anything to do with it.”
“I'm sorry you feel that way,” said Jeremy. “Carl, would you please escort-”
“Don't bother,” said Douglass. “I know the way out.”
I had to follow him down anyway, of course. And that was the last time I, or anyone else for that matter, saw the greatest engineer of this generation for at least ten years.
- - -
There had been reports of, well, something living down in the side tunnels and chambers of Sixty Mile almost since before the construction had finished. Something lurking in the shadows, performing unscheduled minor repairs, and stealing the lunchboxes of maintenance and security workers on long shifts. Nothing ever showed up on the cameras, so most of the other security people thought it was just some kind of urban legend. I had my own idea, obviously. The descriptions matched up: tall, skinny, quiet, fast. We actually had to do something about it when the new kid, Reggie, noticed the glitches in the security tapes. They had patterns, patterns that could be used to do a narrow search, so Reggie and I took a cart out to the station at mile 23 to see what we'd find down there.
“This is the place, you know,” I said to Reggie. “The one that gave him the nightmares.” I'd explained my theory during the slow drive out.
“How do you know?”
“Eventually someone from the company came round to check out his house. He had a whole wall full of charts, covered up with scribbling and arrows and lines, and right at the center of it was a big red circle right around here.”
“Anybody ever figure out why?”
“Reggie, nobody took him seriously at that point. Thought he was just an obsessed burn-out. A couple of scientists took a brief look, but they didn't see anything.”
“Carl,” said Reggie, “I don't know if I believe any of this. Are you just messing with me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there's no way someone could really be living down here, not for years. No water, no food, no place to, well...”
“Food I'll give you. Nowhere near enough stolen lunches to keep a person going. But the others, well, you're wrong. There's still plumbing from when-”
I was interrupted by the earthquake. Magnitude 6.6, we found out later. Shook the little cart so much I couldn't steer around the falling rocks.
- - -
I came to a few minutes later. Reggie was out too, but he was breathing regularly. The emergency lights had kicked in, actually a little brighter than the regular ones but casting everything in pale green. I pulled myself out of the cart, hurt, bruised, but not bleeding. Then I went to call in help, but my phone wasn't getting any signal. It should have. Wired cell relays were part of the emergency systems.
“There's a break in the main fiber.” It was unmistakably Douglass' voice, coming from right behind me. I turned around. He wasn't nearly the kind of savage thing the witness reports had suggested. He had grown a long beard, but it was neatly trimmed, and he wore clean and nearly new denim, jeans and a jacket. If he was living down here, he'd figured out a way to do it with most of the comforts of civilization. “Two breaks, actually. But that's not the worst of the problem.”
He walked, towards the main tracks. Reggie was stirring, still groggy and barely able to walk. I followed, helping Reggie along. “Then what is-”
“The roof's not stable. This was the weak point of the whole tunnel. That kind of force, over that much distance, no possible way to harden the whole thing enough.” Sure enough, there was a rumbling from above, and rocks fell from the ceiling. It wasn't a total collapse, but the rocks that hit us were heavy enough to sting. Ahead of us we heard a loud, ringing clang, as a huge boulder fell right on the main westbound track.
Reggie went limp. He'd been struck by a bigger rock than any of the ones that hit me or Douglass, tearing a bloody gash in his shoulder. No major vessels gushing, but likely a broken bone. He wasn't going anywhere on his own power anytime soon. It was then that we heard the noise, engines and whistles and screaming hydraulic brakes.
“What's the time?” shouted Douglass.
“2:33,” I said. I tried to do the math in my head, but Douglass beat me to the answer.
“Assuming the afternoon line started braking half a minute after the quake,” he said, “I'll still be going at least sixty miles an hour when it reaches here, and...Get to shelter! Now!”
I would have, but there wasn't much shelter to be had and moving Reggie was still a bad idea. So I stood there and watched as Douglass jumped down to the tracks and shouldered into the boulder, using all of the weight and leverage he could muster. And I'll be damned if the thing didn't start to budge. Not much, and it didn't look like enough to make a difference as the passenger train bearing down grew louder and louder with the rock still only barely moving. Then the beam from its headlight shone right on Douglass and the rock he shoved hard again and it began to roll, off one rail and then the other with Douglass tumbling after it.
- - -
That train hit something, that's for certain. It didn't hit the rock, obviously, since Reggie, myself, and everyone on board are still around to talk about it. And it didn't hit Douglass head on. There wasn't any body to be found, no smear of crushed remains. But I clearly heard it hit something, and could anyone survive even a glancing blow from something that big and fast?
My email beeps. I check it. A routine shift report from the cleanup crews. One of them complaining of a stolen lunchbox.
I smile, move my pen to the blank space, and write the word 'none'.
|# ¿ Aug 16, 2015 23:13|
|# ¿ Aug 18, 2015 04:58|
For Pootie Tang:
Doesn't feel right to be in team Wrath and not try and get into a Brawl this week, so I'll fight you for this one, Pootie Tang.
for the brawl, if you're hard enough.
|# ¿ Aug 20, 2015 23:28|
WRATH: gently caress the pigs; this will be the one that changes everything after that, no more
July 2026, Sestercentennial Fireworks
The old man paused mid-pushup. The sitcom babble had stopped, interrupted by news. Another unarmed black kid killed by the police. About drat time.
It wasn't as if this was a rarity. But the other thing happened two days before, and the old man had been waiting for them to fall close enough together to make it work. Finally they had. He'd been planning this for twenty-five years. Twenty inside, five out. Tomorrow night, then. No need to contact the others. They'd see the news, too.
* * *
The first explosion was at ten in the evening, on the other side of town. Right in the middle of the police riot control deployment. The precinct garage opened up and vomited SWAT tanks. The tanks headed for Bergman Bridge. “The police have become quite predictable in their deployments,” said Nat. “I was able to use a simple IED there. For the rest, there is the new toy.” Nat drew twin phones from his pockets and spun them in his hands like a gunslinger. He speed-dialed one, then the other.
Nothing happened. “You sure those things are loaded?” said Donnie.
“Patience is the most revolutionary of the virtues,” said Nat, checking the time. “Behold!”
The real fireworks began. Two clusters of explosions. One was too far to see but close enough to hear: Bergman bridge. The tanks might or might not have protected their passengers, but they weren't going anywhere fast. Nobody would be crossing that bridge today. The other they could watch. A dozen homemade high-explosive precision-guided mortar shells obliterated the East wall of the West Island police station.
“Let's go,” said the old man. Donnie passed out the guns. They put on filter masks and thermal goggles and walked up to the smoking rubble.
Back in the day, the old man usually went for a more subtle approach. That was before Julie and little nameless. Brute force suited him fine now. Also back in the day, lots of people used enough cash to be worth robbing. Nowadays, only two groups ever held that much: drug dealers trying to launder it, and cops right after they bust those drug dealers. Of course, it wasn't only about the money, not to him. Not to any of them.
Even after all of their work to divide and conquer they were still vastly outnumbered. Probably forty pigs left inside. Some were probably already out of it from the blast. But plenty would be rushing right into the area, trying to help. His team had every advantage but numbers. Their eardrums weren't ringing or burst. They weren't choking or tearing up from smoke. They knew the battle was just getting started. The old man took down four before the enemy even started shooting back. He thought of Julie each time. The others did just as well.
The old man was surprised how well they worked as a team, considering Nat and Donnie's backgrounds. As they took cover and tossed grenades to stop the police from doing the same, he remembered what they'd said about that. “We're both separatists, so we're really got a common agenda for now,” Donnie had said. “Also,” Nat had said, “We have bonded over our mutual loathing of the blood-sucking Jew.” The old man could never tell when Nat was joking.
The old man had expected the three to be down to two by this point, but they were all standing and without serious wounds. There were likely more than a dozen pigs left, but they were staying in place, preparing ambushes and trying to get help. The room by room would be more dangerous than that first pitched battle. The pigs knew the terrain.
“Don't suppose the one what got your wife was here,” said Donnie.
“Nope,” said the old man. “Cancer took him 'round ten years back.”
“And the ones that let him get away with it?”
“Far as I'm concerned,” said the old man, “That's every last drat one of them.”
The first room was easy, four desk jockeys trying to surrender. They didn't know that this was a black flag situation. No quarter asked, nor given.
“Know what you mean,” said Donnie. “My brother got the one what shot our dog. He's up in the state prison. Say, I bet those mortars could make a prison break work real good.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Nat. “And inevitably. Now that I've shown what can be done with 3d printing, programmable lathes, micro-controllers, sensors and explosives, everyone will want to give it a try. And thus is born the first true first-world insurgency.”
Donnie wouldn't get to see it. One of the pigs managed to draw him out into the open in an ambush. He took a bullet to the head and that was that. Nat and the old man were also hit. Body armor saved them. Bruised or cracked ribs, though, which hurt like a bastard. Not enough to slow them down.
The biggest group was trying to make a stand at their final destination, the evidence lock-up. Not a good plan. The part of the room on the outside of the actual locks was tiny enough to crowd them all close together. A few grenades cleared the room. Also wrecked the locks. Not a problem.
There was another explosion, loud and distant. “If were are lucky,” said Nat,” Then that was my compatriots, taking down a police helicopter. If we are even luckier, they will respond by grounding the rest.”
“Only one bullet in that gun?” said the old man.
They quickly checked the area for survivors, then found the wall they wanted. The evidence room wasn't a true vault. The side walls weren't much tougher than ordinary walls. Shaped explosives. New entrance.
Nat and the old man split the cash roughly, by weight. “Donnie was the one who had the drug connect,” said the old man. “I've got no use for this.”
“Nor I,” said Nat. “So, time to go?”
The old man had been on almost a dozen 'one last jobs'. One of them had even taken, for almost a year until they came and shot sweet, innocent Julie in cold blood. Usually 'one last job' meant the money was enough to last through retirement. It never did. This time, it would have to. In a few hours he'd have trouble showing his face anywhere in the States. Or most other countries. This was the other kind of 'one last job', where you probably won't survive and don't care much either way. Still was; even getting off of the island was going to be dicey. Getting out of the country was at best a hundred to one shot.
But it wasn't about surviving, any more than it had been about the money. It was always about revenge. He thought about it. Did he feel even? Not even close. But maybe if Nat's revolution actually managed to get started, or if a thousand home hobbyists figured out how to make their own precision-guided mortar shells and launchers and settle their grudges...
That kind of mayhem might make a good start.
|# ¿ Aug 24, 2015 01:19|
in for a spin.
|# ¿ Aug 25, 2015 15:44|
|# ¿ Dec 5, 2022 02:32|
I'll spin again, too.
|# ¿ Aug 25, 2015 21:25|