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Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In with The Emperor's New Clothes.

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Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Black Projects - Word Count: 1548

“Ah! General! You’ve arrived!” Dr. Hoffman approached his guests with open arms, his Germanic-accented voice echoing across the cavernous aircraft hanger as he called out to them. “I was beginning to worry!”

“Sorry about the delay Doctor.” General Barksdale’s gruff, impatient tone didn’t make his apology seem all that convincing. “We’d gone to your laboratory first, but they told us you were on the other side of the base.” The humorless four-star general was obviously not very keen on having to play hide and seek with scientists in his employ.

None of this fazed Dr. Hoffman, who acted the gracious host, beckoning them further inside the darkened, empty chamber. “Please General, it’s no problem at all! I’m thrilled you were able to make the time to come out here in the first place! After all, it’s such an honor to have-“

“Doctor, let’s ditch the pleasantries, shall we?” Barksdale removed his peaked cap, handing it off to a young lieutenant as he ran a hand over his closely cropped silver hair. “The oversight committee has three other facilities on the chopping block for budget cuts- with yours at the top of the list”

Hoffman shrugged lackadaisically. “A regrettable misunderstanding by our elected officials. However, I can’t hold it against them. After all, they’re not privy to some of our more sensitive projects.”

“From what I’ve been reading in these reports, Doctor, you haven’t had many projects going on here to begin with.” Right on cue, yet another man in uniform handed the General an open file folder. “According to the statistics I have, your productivity is at an all time low. You haven’t seen a project through to completion in years.”

“General, please! That apparent dip in productivity can be explained!” Hoffman was gearing up for his big pitch, appearing more like a salesman in a labcoat than an actual scientist. “It’s simply a matter of quality over quantity! As chief of research, I haven’t had the resources to delegate to other, more frivolous pursuits. Not with the highly sensitive, highly advanced project we have underway now…”

Barksdale resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I don’t have a lot of time doctor. If you have a last ditch plan to save your lab, get on with it, pronto.”

Hoffman chortled with glee, taking a few steps back to address all of his ‘guests,’ smoothing over his lab coat and clearing his throat before launching into his meticulously practiced speech.

“General, gentlemen, you are all very much knowledgeable on the topic of deterrence: the concept of dissuading your enemy from any attempt at attacking you. While this can be accomplished in many ways, fear is the most common method. Terrifying your enemy into holding fire for fear of what might happen next.”

The professor paused for dramatic effect, adjusting his glasses. “And what weapon is more terrifying, more fear instilling, than one that the enemy can’t even see? Not simply invisible to their radar, like one of our stealth bombers. But invisible to their naked eye!”

A combination of skeptical and incredulous expression swept over the assembled military men, the General in particular letting out an impatient sigh. “Invisible? Really?”

“I know it’s hard to believe General, but that’s not even the most amazing part!” Hoffman was gearing up for the hook of his speech now. “This vehicle isn’t simply invisible to everyone. After all, an invisible weapon can be a dangerous hazard to friendly troops on the battlefield. And it doesn’t exactly make for an exciting recruiting video now does it?”

Barksdale was tempted to make a comment about Hoffman’s patronizing examples, but he stowed it away for now. “You’re telling me that, not only have you made this thing invisible, but ‘selectively’ invisible? How is that even possible?”

“A multitude of factors my dear General!” As Hoffman spoke, he was already pulling a small remote control from within his lab coat. “By monitoring body language, voice patterns- even brain waves! This machine is packed with enough sensors to scan any target it encounters on the battlefield, checking the results against our databases, and determining if the subject in question is an enemy of the United States. It then adjusts its optical camouflage accordingly, rendering itself invisible to the target, revealing itself only to friends and allies!”

Sighing again, Barksdale was growing rapidly impatient with Hoffman’s theatrics. “I don’t suppose you have a working prototype of this ‘stealth machine’, professor?”

“On the contrary General, that is why I had you meet me here in the test hanger, rather than my lab! I wanted you, and your staff, to be the first ones outside of my team to feast their eyes on the future of warfare!” Hoffman aimed his remote at the center of the hanger, where all of the overhead lights had been conspicuously turned off, leaving a pitch black void in the middle of the room.

“Gentlemen! I give you, the XM-1837!”

With a tap of a button, the lights all turned on at once.

To reveal, that like the rest of the hanger, the now illuminated section was completely empty.

“Now I know it’s perfectly visible to you and I, but that’s because it all perceives us as friendly,” Hoffman explained in a casual manner, replacing the remote in his pocket. “If it were to detect us as threats to the American way of life, why, it’d be no more visible to our eyes than a dust mite.”

The officers all kept their faces impassive, but it was with that line he spoke that the doctor noticed a cacophony of emotions play out in their eyes; realizations of both confusion and horror. A few stole glances at one another, wondering if they were- or weren’t –seeing what they were. Even the General’s default icy expression seemed to be hiding a sudden and profound look of anxiousness.

Hoffman was positively giddy. But he still had to seal the deal. “So, what do you think General?”

“Well.” Barksdale seemed to have deflated a great deal since when he came in the door. “I think, that it uh…” The other officers looked to their leader, hanging off his every word. It was obvious none of them wanted to say anything about what was (supposedly) in front of them before the General spoke. The onus was on him to decide what the ‘truth’ would be for the rest of them.

“…that it’s some drat fine work there doctor! I obviously underestimated you- a mistake on my part!” The formerly gruff face had a toothy grin on it now. “But, you can’t blame me! Not when I had no idea you were working on something as amazing as this- which I see, right here, in front of me, of course! Boy, I’d hate to be considered a threat to freedom and democracy by that thing, I’ll tell ya!”

The flag officer punctuated his praise with a nervous laugh, looking back to his entourage for support. “Luckily, us true blue Americans patriots can see it just fine. Right men?”

The other officers launched into their best sycophantic agreements, a chorus of support for their superior’s views as they all sang the praises of the amazing machine- which they all agreed, was completely visible in the middle of the room.

“Yes Doctor, I think I can report back to the subcommittee that your lab should be top of the list for continued funding. We can’t have something like this-“ the General proclaimed, gesturing proudly towards the empty center of the hanger “-losing our support. I can see it now: every terrorist from here to Hyderabad will be cowering in their caves! The Chinese will spend billions trying to make their own, and the Russians will devote half their spy network to trying to get information on it!”

Everyone shared a hearty, forced, laugh at the idea, with much talk of glory and victory by way of the magnificent new weapon. Handshakes and goodbye pleasantries were exchanged, and the General and his followers were on their way, heading out to break the bad news to the other facilities that all of their funding would now be going to project XM-1837 once Barksdale made his recommendation to the appropriations subcommittee.

After the last of the military group had left the hanger, Hoffman’s assistant emerged from the shadows, where he had watched the entire spectacle from start to finish. The look on his face was one of both relief and astonishment, as he shook his head in disbelief.

“I can’t believe that actually worked. I mean, they have to figure out its all fake sooner or later, right?”

Hoffman simply shrugged, looking perfectly content with way things had played out. “Probably. But who knows when that will be? And by then, will they want the entire world to know that they spent millions, maybe billions, on an imaginary weapon?” He scoffed. “I think not.”

The assistant shook his head again, sighing heavily. “Man, I gotta get out of government work. Maybe get in the private sector where they have half a brain.”

Hoffman allowed himself a chuckle at his assistant’s comment, and at a funny thought of his own: there had been a shred of truth in his presentation.

Fear definitely was a potent weapon.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Thanks for the detailed line crit Sitting Here. My first attempt at participating in this thread truly crashed and burned, and I really want to do better this week. I'll make sure to keep all your feedback in mind as I work on my next entry. Thanks again!

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Coming of Age
993 words

“You’ll hand over what I asked for, you little poo poo! You know better than to skimp on your ‘protection.’”

Yusuf tried to struggle, but it was in vain. Hamza had him pinned to the wall by the straps of his work overalls. With hulking arms and a barrel shaped body, he fit the part of the factory bully perfectly. And Yusuf was by far his favorite target, especially on payday.

“Hamza, please. That’s all I can spare!” All of sixteen, it had fallen on scrawny young Yusuf to help his mother support his four siblings since his father died. He’d already been working at the factory for almost a year- which Hamza had been making a living hell.

“One last chance…” Hamza growled, readying one of his meaty fists.

Yusuf could see the small crowd of workers that’d gathered around the room to watch the show. One man in particular, near the back, was staring straight into him with a pair of fiery, reddish-brown eyes, silently judging him.

Slumping in defeat, Yusuf reached into his pocket for a handful of bills from his meager earnings.

-

It was dark already by the time Yusuf began his shameful trek home. All the while he was internally berating himself for not resisting more. It was getting harder and harder to explain his diminishing pay to his mother.

Yusuf was so wrapped up in his self-deprecating thoughts that he was taken completely off guard when a figure swiftly and silently emerged from the shadowy concealment of an alley. It took a few seconds, but Yusuf recognized the man by his intense brown eyes. He was the worker who had been staring at him throughout his encounter with Hamza earlier.

“You seem to have become an easy target,” he spoke in a calm, purposeful tone, taking a step towards Yusuf. “If you let yourself become prey so easily, it will only attract more scavengers.”

“Look, I don’t have much left after what Hamza took, ok?” Yusuf began to beg, wearily. “Please…”

“Beasts and bullies don’t bother with reason or care for pity. They act on greedy impulse, and respond only to force.” The man shoved Yusuf, sending the lanky boy stumbling backwards. “You can’t talk them down. Your only choice is to resist. “ He readied his arms for another push.

Yusuf’s chest burned with rage. He’d had all he could take. He threw as hard a punch as he could.

However, his attacker was ready for it. A split second later, Yusuf was on the ground, clutching his belly in pain and gasping for air.

-

It was a surprise to Yusuf when he opened his watering eyes to see a hand extended towards him. He’d expected to come to, alone, with nothing of value left on him. The mystery man helped the boy to his feet, dusting him off.

“Good. You’re not that far gone. You have fight left in you yet.”

“Who are you?” Yusuf managed to wheeze.

“You may call me Rashad. I already know who you are. I’ve known since Hamza first chose you as his ‘pet project’.”

“What?” Yusuf squinted in confusion as he straightened up. “Why do you care?”

Rashad shrugged. “You remind me of myself at your age I suppose. But mainly, I can tell you’ve reached that certain point in your life, and I hate to see a promising young man take the wrong path.”

Yusuf’s expression of utter confusion prompted Rashad to explain further.

“You’re still straddling the boundary between boyhood and manhood. This is when you must decide what type of man you’re going to be. Are you going to let yourself become prey for every petty bully life has to offer?”

Yusuf’s only response was an exasperated sigh. Unabated, Rashad continued with his lecture.

“You’re free to give in to them, of course. But they’ll always be back, time and time again, until you’re nothing more than their slave. And that will be your life from thereon.”

“But Hamza will destroy me if I fight back!” Yusuf finally protested. “I’ll lose for sure!”

Rashad leaned in close, his eyes once again taking on that piercing quality. “To fail at something, you first have to attempt something. You haven’t tried resisting at all, have you? Yes, you’ll lose battles. But no person has ever improved upon their life without experiencing some measure of pain, physical, or otherwise.”

Rashad turned to leave. “I know you have a family. I know you don’t want to disappoint them. You have to ask yourself: what would be worse for them in the long run? Today, Hamza is only taking some of your wages. Where does it end? Think about that.”

With a few quick steps, Rashad departed as suddenly as he arrived, disappearing back into the murky darkness of the alley he’d emerged from, leaving Yusuf with something new to consider on his walk home.

-

“Payday! My favorite day of the month!” Hamza was waiting outside the bursar’s office as usual, flashing his menacing grin of yellow stained teeth. “Have my ‘bonus’ ready, poo poo stain?”

Yusuf clutched his pay close to his chest, his mind scrambling for a plan. He tried to plot an escape route around Hamza’s bulk, but to no avail.

But what he did see was a familiar pair of burning eyes, gazing at him expectantly from the far side of the hallway, before disappearing around a corner like a phantom.

Today was the day.

Yusuf’s face set with new determination. “Yeah Hamza, I have it right here.”

And the moment he finished his sentence, Yusuf’s foot connected solidly with Hamza’s groin.

-

When it was all said and done, Yusuf limped back home a bruised, bloodied mess. But, he was still standing– just barely –with a few more bills in his pocket than he was left with last month. And Hamza would be spending all evening icing some very personal areas.

It was a start.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Thanks for the crits Muffin and Rhino!

Also, in.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

The Long Nightfall
499 words

“How many times do I have to tell you, Ajax? This is my turf. Welp.

I lift my head up from the half eaten carcass in front of me, triceratops blood already crusting over on my snout in the cold. Every day since the sky fell, it gets colder and darker. I know we can’t be too far off from the end.

Yet, this fucker can’t let me enjoy what may be one of my last meals in peace.

It’s the predators, like us ‘rexes, who are having the hardest time dealing with our impending doom. Being on top of the food chain, the world’s always been our private playground. Now playtime is over and everyone’s in denial.

I take a stride over the corpse. He bears his teeth. I just sigh.

“Come off it Milo. It’s over. Territory? Mates? None of it matters anymore. We’re all dead in a few months- probably just weeks. Cut me some slack.”

Milo lets out a roar, playing the role of “King of the Dinosaurs” just like his daddy taught him. Like if he keeps doing it well enough, it’ll save him somehow. He charges right at me, full force.

It’s a stupid move, but Milo’s always been impulsive. There’s more than enough time for me to sidestep him. I swipe backwards with my tail, knocking his legs out from under him and sending him flat on his rear end. Within a few seconds, it’s all over.

I plant a three toed foot on his chest, firmly pinning him to the dusty ground. The blood from my prey that hasn’t dried yet drips down onto his face, as he looks up at me indignantly.

“Heh. Think you’re the big ‘rex now, eh?” He huffs. “Then see if you can finish me off!”

He tries to goad me, like it’s going to be some final, epic struggle. But he doesn’t try to get back up, doesn’t even squirm. He acts the warrior king ready to fight to the death, but I can see through it. It’s his eyes that give him away, that pleading look. It takes a few seconds, but I figure it out.

He wants me to kill him. Assisted suicide I suppose.

I can’t help but smirk and shake my head.

“No.”

The façade starts to crack now. “D-dammit, you cowardly little runt. Be a man and finish the job!”

I lift my foot off of him. He doesn’t leap up to attack. He just lies there, defeated, begging for the quick, bloody end that I’m denying him. I turn to go back to my meal, ignoring his demands for a glorious death that quickly turn to sobbing.

Milo’s always been a spoiled brat. That doesn’t change even once he’s broken.

He just doesn’t get that none of us- myself included -are going to get a dignified end as everything green withers and dies around us.

But at least until I buy it, I’m not wasting time on fools like him.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Thanks much for the crits, judges. Always appreciated.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

In.

Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Living
1,196 words

Gabriel moved quickly and quietly. It was his knack. The tray of tea and pastries didn't so much as make a single ‘clink’ as he carried it swiftly into the General’s study. It was a trait developed out of the justifiable fear of the wrath of one’s ‘social betters.’

The tray was set down on the coffee table without so much as a whisper. The General and his guests didn't even pay him a glance. That was good- the less attention he got the better. The moment his delivery was made, he made a beeline for the door to escape, keeping his expression neutral at all times.

Once the door had closed behind him, he let out a sigh of relief. Every time he had to make a trip into the General’s quarters was a tense experience, even after all these years. He’d heard horror stories of what had happened to less careful servants in the past. From the moment he started his time in the palace, the fear of ending up like them governed just about everything he did.

That in itself wasn't that unusual in his country, under the current regime. But Gabriel had become a master of the art. The perfect servant in many ways, he was able to be invisible in plain sight in any situation. Small, quiet and unassuming, he went about his work silently and efficiently, effectively making himself as insignificant as a speck of dust.

It’d been like this since he’d been old enough to understand. He was just a boy when the General had first come to power, and those years had been filled with bloodshed and turbulence as he worked to cement his grip on power. Gabriel’s neighborhood had been reduced to rubble due to too many of his friends, family and neighbors deciding not to recoil in fear but rise up in anger. They’d all paid the price. They were all in unmarked graves now.

One of the few to survive, Gabriel had been there when the General came to survey his handiwork. He took some sort of pity on the bloodied and battered boy, telling one of his flunkies to find the child some sort of position in his household. Gabriel had been too petrified to consider resisting. He’d learned the price of resistance that day. He’d learned that the only way he could survive was quiet submission and doing nothing to make yourself a target of those who had the power to end you in an instant.

Gabriel reflected on that as he made his way back to the palace kitchen. It wasn't that he liked this- far from it, in fact. But what other choice did he have? Escaping through the tightly sealed borders wasn't an option, and he didn't have the stomach to take his own life. His choices were death, imprisonment, or living like a bug working it’s hardest not to attract the heel of a giant.

No sooner had he gotten back to the kitchen, the head steward had a new task for him. A meeting had just finished and there were plates that needed collecting. At least that was an easy job- Gabriel wouldn't have to slink his way around any of the General’s entourage, who would be gone by the time he arrived. He retraced his steps back up to the top floor. He knew where the conference room was- only a corridor away from the General’s quarters.

He was almost there when he heard the commotion coming from just down the hall, near the entrance to the General’s study. There was shouting and screaming, the thumping of rapid footsteps, the telltale crash of something fragile being knocked to the floor. He immediately turned and made his way towards the sounds of chaos, if only because he knew they’d probably order him to clean up the mess anyway.

Turning the corner, Gabriel saw half a dozen of the General’s uniformed bodyguards holding down one man with considerable effort. The man’s face was that of a frenzied animal as he desperately tried to break free. The General was but a few steps away, his chubby face red with indignant fury as he sputtered some pompous condemnation. On the floor between the two was a small pistol.

The scene needed little explaining to Gabriel. It wasn't the first time something like this had been attempted- far from it.

But this time was different.

“Thief! Murderer!” The attempted assailant bellowed as the guards tried to keep him subdued. “How many innocents have you killed?! How many lives have you stolen?!”

It was the latter half of the assassin’s accusation that stuck in Gabriel’s brain. Stolen lives. What might have been. What could his life been like if someone had done this years ago?

The General, ignoring the warnings of his bodyguards, strode forward, backhanding the assailant as he continued to pontificate on his own glory. Gabriel watched him impassively, taking in the entire scene. It took a few seconds for him to realize that no one was paying attention to him, as usual. His ability to be invisible in plain sight had once again been successful. No one noticed him at all.

Or the gun that had been dropped.

There was a loaded gun at his feet, and the man who had murdered his friends and family, had destroyed whatever chance he had at a normal life, was standing right there.

It was surreal, like a dream. He moved slowly but deliberately, bending over and scooping up the weapon. He’d never held one before, but he’d seen the guards use them often enough. He lifted his arm, pointing it straight at the General’s back.

A few seconds later, the General collapsed in a bloody heap.

Gabriel blinked. Had he just blacked out? He didn't even remember pulling the trigger. The gun was smoking in his hand. It had all happened so fast, even the bodyguards didn't know what was going on. They were still trying to hold down the original assailant, who was the first to figure things out, staring at him in awe.

Gabriel dropped the gun where he stood, and took off running. He ran like he hadn't done since he was a boy, faster than he even thought he was capable of.

And as he ran, he started to laugh.

He was a dead man. The palace was the most well defended building in the country, and he had just killed its leader. There was no way he could escape. At the most, he’d last a few minutes- if he was lucky.

But none of that seemed to bother him as he sprinted down the cavernous corridors of the palace. He just kept laughing as he ran; laughing so hard tears were running down his face. It was the most euphoric feeling he’d ever had in his life. It didn't matter he’d be dead soon.

Because for the first time in years, he didn't have to act like he didn't exist. He didn't have to turn himself into a robot just to avoid being a target. He could actually live, instead of just surviving.

And living felt good.

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Savagely_Random
Jan 28, 2015

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Thanks for the may-or-may-not-be-considered-a-crit LBM. I need to work on my fluff addiction. It's hard to shake.

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