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Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


Enough lurking. Time to be writing. In.

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Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


750 words - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUlAytznxn4

Knight Sacrifice

The Dragon has lost its name. It keens and howls and whimpers, wreathed in fireless smoke and unfamiliar shadow. It bats its wings at the terrifying dark, teetering upon the precipice of madness, then moans again.

Its dirge travels on night winds over the blackened land. Skeletal scavengers look up, dragon-wary and ready to bolt at any unnatural light, but the sound washes past them and leaves them to their hunger.

Across the wastes it carries, until it reaches the Knight’s camp. Encased in chrome, the Knight glints like sharpened intelligence as he burns the many, costly names he has summoned. Each falling name disintegrates to fine ash, joining the growing pile. But when the first decibel of dragon sound reverberates inside his spiked helm he stops and stands and listens.

His steed is already by him, one knee bent, head bowed, trying not to see the emptiness behind the Knight’s visor. “My Lord,” the Stallion says, “the wyrm’s name was among them. We must ride.”

The Knight moves like water, sheathing his sword and slamming down his visor so the echoing cry within cuts off, broken into unfindable pieces. His horse’s wheels are slick with oil, ready to drive him to the fires of Heaven and back. The Knight leaps to the stallion’s broad, rectangular back, rips his banner from the earth, and spurs his steed. The pair career through the desiccated trees, rolling like thunder, shining like lightning.

But the road is not without its twists and turns. Beneath a signpost filled with fire-charred compass points of unknowable directions, they find a weeping child, huddled and half-hiding between two burned corpses. The knight yanks at the reins.

“My Lord,” says the Stallion, slowing quickly. “Time is of the essence…” But the Knight ignores him and drops to the ground. Spying the sword he carries the child sobs even harder.

“My Lord!” The Stallion drips impatience, but is dismissed with an impatient gesture. The Knight unsheathes his sword and lays it at the child’s feet. She becomes quiet, though her face is still wet. She reaches for the sword, emerging from the dead and revealing she is only half a child, the other half has burned away. She breathes, a deep and lasting breath that seems it has taken an eternity to arrive, and raises the impossibly heavy sword in thankful salute.

But the knight does not see. He has heard the scraping of bone against bone.

“Scavengers, My Lord,” says the Stallion, “and close.” The Knight mounts and drives. He does not see the child push the tip of the sword through her tiny, exposed heart nor see her slide down the blade into silence.

The scavengers are circling, the smell of crisped flesh an irresistible temptation. They are bone in the moonlight, broken and cracked, grinding as they creep, with no flesh of their own to dull their noise.

The weaponless knight pulls off a gauntlet and hurls it. The targeted creature simply shatters. The Knight tugs his steed’s reins left, driving a tight circle, and throws sabaton and greave, poleyn and tasset. The creatures fracture, one after the other. He throws plackart and fauld, gorget and pauldron. With every throw, the knight is diminished, the empty armour destroying its target but leaving nothing behind. The Stallion feels his burden lighten and cries out, but the final gauntlet is somehow thrown, its challenge won in a cloud of splintering bone.

The Stallion is alone, save for the Knight’s banner still strapped to his side. He watches splinters grind and scrape their way into shining armor pieces, like hermit crabs looking for a home. He watches chrome-plated scavengers move toward the fallen half-child’s body, watches them feed, until it is too much. Driverless, he rolls deeper into the desolate land

The Dragon has lost its name, but not its hearing. It hears the screech of brakes as the Stallion arrives. It writhes, its enormous scaled back arching until it can also see the wheeled steed, pennant still tied to him. Dragon eyes open wide in pain and incredulity.

“He was a True Knight,” says the Stallion. “I did not understand how much he gave.”

The Dragon screams with helpless rage at the Stallion, who does not flinch.

“He taught me well, though. Taught me there’s always something left to give, until the end.”

He bends a knee, head lowered, bowing to the wyrm. “My Lord,” he names the Dragon and the fires of Heaven ignite.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In. Please may I have a flash rule.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


1492 Words - Flash rule: message in a bottle

Bottled Immortality

I cannot know who has found this bottle but I beg of you - do not destroy its contents! I, Elwyn Alphonse, have cast it adrift upon the seas of the world and the seas of fate, under the instruction of Genius.

I also suppose I cannot know upon which shore you read this, but to keep my sanity I must assume you understand the language of Mother England. The possibility of some ignorant savage tasting the contents of this bottle and, finding it unpalatable, casting it aside to rot forgotten in the elements is too much to bear.

You may very well ask, then, why I have encased this letter in stoppered glass and thrown it to the dubious mercies of Poseidon. To answer that I invite you to peruse the companion envelope also within. It is the final poem of the Very Greatest of Great English Poets, Nathaniel Bottomsly, sealed with his very own seal to testify to its provenance.

I wonder how long this bottle has travelled. A year? Ten? Have centuries or millennia passed? It matters not, for I am sure you will recognise the name of Nathaniel Bottomsly immediately. It is beyond imagining that he is not yet established in the literary firmament beside Milton and Shakespeare as the finest creator of the poetic word humanity has yet produced. And this container holds, by his own admission, his Magnum Opus, in his own hand, unread by any other eyes in Christendom.

Now, I will not lie to you, dear but unknown Reader. Though his art was unparalleled, poetry was not Nathaniel’s first, nor only love. He eschewed the trappings of fame that wreathed Byron like opium smoke, preferring to live, as he always had, in a splendidly simple, wooden villa on the rugged Cornish coast. He rarely drank to excess, did not gamble or visit with women of ill-repute - all things that have been the ruin and downfall of lesser men. He had but one vice, yet one that he shared with luminaries such as Newton and Cagliostro. He obsessed with understanding the Arts Alchemical.

I spoke to him once on the subject. The night was cold, and we had both imbibed of a very strong brandy I happened to have brought with me. We nestled in armchairs amongst the other dust-coveri-disguised furniture in his library and it seemed that the drink had loosened his tongue more than was usual for him.

“Elwyn,” he said (and I hope my memory does him justice, for his pattern of speech was every bit as glorious as his writing). “Words are too ephemeral - they betray the air by dying in it, they betray the page by burning with it. The Alchemical seeks to transcend that, to live in the Eternal Fire, constantly being born anew so that even Death itself must relinquish its grasp.”

“Nathaniel,” I laughed. “You cannot tell me that Shakespeare is not made immortal by his plays, that Milton does not walk forever with the Saints for gifting us his vision of Paradise Lost and Found.”

“They died, though, did they not? An actor and a blind man, dead like every other actor and blind man before them and after. I write poetry not in pursuit of of immortality, but to shed myself of the last remnants of ephemerality. I must write and write again until the very particles of speech have deserted me, for only then I will know I am close to the True Alchemical Nature, and ready to embrace my Alchemical Engine.“

Though I pressed him, he would not say more of this mysterious Engine. But, by God, he lived up to his other statement for I know of no man more prolific. It was my honour to perform small errands and tasks for him when I could be spared from London, so I saw first-hand the vast quantities of poetry he created. I read epics of sweeping grandeur, intimate portraits of the mythological, personal musings on the beauty one might find in the most humble of beings or objects. I read and I wept, moved beyond recounting.

And yet he never sought literary fame. In truth, he would not publish a word and would spit if ever I broached the subject. The pages piled up high in his study, so I collated and bound them for protection, hope springing eternal that one day he would relent, and allow me to enrich the world with those beatific phrases. Once I happened to memorise a few simple fragments when i was called upon to transcribe them after Nathaniel sprained his wrist. My connections with the Great and the Good of the publishing world saw me able to relay them, as much as my faltering memory would allow, to many of the popular figures in the literary sphere, and one by one they all beat a path to his door. He treated them civilly, to be sure, but once they were gone he complained that they had considerably set back his enterprise of divesting himself of his words. Being so full of verbiage themselves, he felt infected by them and he begged me never again to share his work until he had become one with the Flame Eternal.

As a gentleman, I was forced to comply with his wishes, though it pained me to see so many obviously lesser talents lionised by the lettered, reaping the rewards that I knew should be Nathaniel’s.

I raised this issue with him this very day, in his library, over brandy. “Elwyn,” he replied, “There are more important matters afoot. I tell you - I feel that I am ready. The work is near complete. I am close.” With a dramatic flair I had never before seen him exhibit, he threw back a dust-covering I had assumed concealed a most uncomfortable sofa, but proved to be multi-leveled table, replete with jars and potions and tubes. “And this is my Alchemical Engine which will bind me to the Flame!”

In truth it looked infernally dangerous. I urged him to reconsider, but he bade me hold my tongue. “When I have ascended, you may do as you wish with my poetry. It is beneath contempt. All, except for this.” He handed me an envelope, the self-same sealed envelope that rests beside this letter. “My final work,” he said, “and, I feel, my Greatest. But if you have any feelings of friendship for this man-like shell that I will soon endeavour to leave - I beg of you, cast it unread into the sea.”

I spluttered in protest, but he continued. “I see now in allowing you to collect my meaningless meanderings I was still tied up in my own self-regard. Perhaps I was afraid of failure, perhaps your enthusiasm was a comfort, when the real work seemed too difficult to succeed. But now - I have left the particles of speech for dead. I am surrounded by the vellum tombs you have built for them and I must have no ties to this world of base material. I cannot think of a finer place to transcend to the Eternal Flame than surrounded by the shed skin of my language but I must do so alone. Please, again, I beg of you. Take this envelope and cast it into the sea. Think of it as a symbol of everything I am leaving behind if you must, but know the truth is more fantastically, wonderfully complex. Please, as a friend.”

And so I left, consoling myself with thoughts of finally revealing his oeuvre to the world. I turned for a final look. He had began to apply heat to some of his tubes and alembics by means of a small, oddly-shaped lantern. Their contents were beginning to bubble.

It will be obvious to you, most fortunate of Readers, that I fulfilled his instructions, but not, perhaps, quite as he intended. I have beside me the empty bottle of brandy, and in front of me both this hastily scribbled note and a truly remarkable cliff-side view of the Cornish sea. The envelope I have in my pocket, and the temptation to open it is undeniable... But I am a gentleman first and foremost, and so I have just now curled it into the mouth of the bottle, soon to be followed by this very note, all of which I will seal and throw into King Neptune’s arms.

It is a perfect moment, dear Reader. I wish you could be here to share it with me. The setting sun is a giant’s eye, watching the unfolding pageant of the day. The distant waves, the calling seabirds. The wind carries a pungent wood-smoke. Perhaps the fisherfolk are starting up bonfires for the day’s catch. But the wind is wrong for the beach. No matter. Today is a Victory for Art. I feel deep within my breast that today, at last, Immortality is to visit Nathaniel Bottomsly.

Your devoted scribe,

Elwyn Alphonse, Esq.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


Beast: Gargoyles
flash rule: Trying to attract new residents.
1094 words


Guardians

The two Gargoyles watched from high in the eaves of the ruined church as they had done for centuries, looking out over the overgrown path that led to its partially unhinged door. There was a sound, perhaps the wind, sighing.

As one they swooped from the crumbling balustrade onto the cobblestone street, facing a passing boy, settling like a landslide. George reached out with a gnarled paw and drew back his lips in a ghastly facsimile of a smile, all chipped and broken teeth. The small child screamed for his mummy and ran, leaking, back along the street outside the ruined church.

“Might need to change your approach, there, squire,” said Karl, folding his wings back with a grinding sound.

George gave Karl a stone cold stare.

Karl shrugged. “The little ones can’t fix ‘er up.”

“But they have parents, with jobs and money.”

Karl sniffed at the liquid trail the boy had left behind. “And worse plumbing than you by the smell of it.”

“Don’t be grotesque,” said George. “We have to try something. We’re bound here, to protect and ward. What choice do we...” He stopped, raising his elongated muzzle, catching the scent of something else, something darker.

“You’re wasting your time,” said the something else.

George and Karl bared their teeth in slow grimaces. Their wings spread and their claws unsheathed in battle readiness.

The shadow stretched across the street, though the sun had only just past noon, and the Gargoyle’s patient eyes could see it creeping toward them. Within the borders of this improbable pool a crescent of reflected light, like a Chesire cat’s smile, glinted and moved as the shadow spoke.

“Come now, boys. No need to fight. We can help each other.” The shadow stretched, almost to the church gate. “Needs some repairs? Some TLC? Not much money in the ruined church biz, I’d imagine.”

“What would you know about it?” asked George. Karl just hissed.

“Oh, I’ve ruined a few churches in my time,” said the Shadow. “But this one? It’s practically desecrated through neglect. A few rotten pews surrounded by crumbling walls. Mildewed hymnbooks that won’t stand another opening. Stained glass more stain than glass. Not exactly your mega-church experience, is it?

“Some people think it’s more authentic that way,” said Karl, glaring.

George hushed him. “So what do you ‘suggest’?” he asked.

“I know of a much better premises for the two of you. Stately. Fabulous stonework. In desperate need of services you gentlemen provide. No worries about money, either. The owners are friends of mine. Bankers.”

“And in return?”

A cloud passed over the sun and the world grew a degree colder, but the shadow shimmered as if in a haze of heat. “Nothing, not a thing. You two fine figures overlooking something of importance in the world, rather than wasting your time on this dilapidated mess, is all the reward I need.”

Karl saw George mull it over. “We can’t, guv” he whispered. “The rules. We’re sworn guardians…”

“He’s right, Karl, it’s pointless. There’s nothing left here.” George turned away from the shadow to face Karl directly. “You might want to stand watch over an empty building until the rest of you crumbles along with it, but I’d rather have some reason to live.”

George addressed the shadow again. “As ranking guardian, in exchange for new positions, I hereby formally and completely relinquish our custodianship.” Karl just stared, horrified.

“Yessss,” hissed the Shadow, swelling at the broken gate like a bulbous sore, then spurting down the overgrown path. Scarcely pausing at the hanging front doors, it spread down through the nave of the church. The smell of brimstone hung in the air as it washed over broken seats and aisles like a dark tide.

“Come on,” said George to Karl. “Before it gets to the altar.” He opened his great stone wings and flew heavily into the air. Karl followed a moment later, with great strokes of his wings. In seconds they were high above the church roof. George indicated where he wanted Karl to head.

“What in hell are you doing? That’s the weakest spot in the whole damned roof!”

“Second weakest,” said George. “I can break through the arch over the western side just here. C’mon - if the place goes we might as well take one last ratbag with us” He plummeted toward the roof, with Karl following closely alongside.

With a one-two punch of cracking stone and breaking wood, they plunged through the roof of the church and hung in the air. The shadow was racing toward the altar like a river of darkness. “Come to see the final moments, boys? Shame, really, to see it come to this after all those lonely centuries. Still I’m sure the bank will be much more your cup of tea.”

The weakened roof caved in with a roar. Tiles and beams fell every which way, covering the nave with broken fragments and dust.

The shadow ignored it, flowing above it, finding the topmost point, as shadows always do.

The sunlight streamed in through the hole where the roof used to be, illuminating the million specks of dust. Where it struck the shadow, the darkness was forced to retreat. It fled back, away from the altar like a swiftly rolling carpet.

“I thought we had a deal!” it protested as it diminished.

George and Karl landed on the eaves of the church where they had sat for so long. “Not really something we can bargain with.”

“Them’s the rules,” said Karl.

“Like sunlight on consecrated ground for you. Not quite desecrated enough, I guess.”

“Bastards!” the shadow screamed, as the last of it vanished in the cleansing sunlight.

George and Karl nodded to one another, then assumed their proper positions on the balustrade. Still as statues they watched the day pass. They saw inspectors come and check through the wreckage, leaving only after they had hammered in a sign on the grounds that read “Closed: Danger: Do Not enter”. There was a sound, perhaps the wind, sighing.

At twilight, the small boy came back with group of his friends. He pointed at the Gargoyles and his friends laughed and nudged at him. They climbed through a gap in the fence, saw the sign, and immediately began to swarm over the devastation. They marveled at fragments of coloured glass that they found. They pulled up broken pews and began to construct forts. They balanced on fallen blocks of stone like circus performers.

George and Karl sat silent watch above them, as they had for centuries.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In. 21st Century BC.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


prompt: 21 centuries BC
words:1668

Magistration

"Sorcery!" said the peasant, spitting a fat gob of phlegm onto the dusty earth.

"It’s really probably not sorcery, I assure you" said the magistrate, rolling his eyes. They always save the mad ones ‘till last, he thought. Same old, same old.

"He made the river burst its banks and drown my crops, while his stayed dry. Sorcery, I tell you!"

The magistrate sighed and fought against the urge to scratch himself. Dammit, this chair was uncomfortable. That was the problem with these upriver villages. They couldn’t build a chair to save themselves. Now downriver - in Eridu or Ur - there they knew how to make a chair you could listen to whiny idiots all day in, and never once have to surreptitiously extract a termite from between your buttocks.

This particular whiny idiot was making further arguments for the sorcerous powers of his neighbour. Curdled milk. A plague of wasps. Something about a cow and a chicken. The magistrate listened with half an ear, while letting his bored gaze roam around the villagers arrayed in a semi-circle around him, enjoying the show. He wondered what the various women might be like between the goatskins. Probably quite smelly, but there were a couple he supposed he could hold his nose for. One in particular, standing hand in hand with a strapping young man, looked particularly comely. The young man whispered something to her, and she smiled. The magistrate observed with pleasure how she, unlike many of her compatriots, had almost all of her teeth.

The angry peasant spat again, and waved his fist at the magistrate "We must burn him! It is only proper."

The magistrate looked away from the delightful flower of village womanhood. "What? Oh, yes. Your neighbour the sorcerer. Well, I think we might need a bit more evidence than your cow giving birth to a chicken."

"A two-headed chicken!"

"Two-headed? Really?" The magistrate failed to quite suppress a yawn. "And you’re quite sure your cow hadn’t been near any two-headed roosters at all?"

The assembled villagers laughed, and the magistrate bequeathed a smile. The peasant spat again, and muttered under his breath.

"So, the sorcerer, is he here at all? He hasn’t turned into an eagle and flown away now that you are so clearly on to his wicked game?" He beamed again at the villagers, but this time they only looked uncomfortably at each other.

"I am here" said the strapping young man a moment later, stepping into the circle beside his fellow peasant. The girl beside him, the magistrate noticed, seemed to be trying to hold him back, but he shook himself free of her. "I’m the Great Sorceror Alkinu."

"You’re confessing?" asked the magistrate, blinking.

"Yes," said Alkinu. "I fornicated with his cow, and curdled her milk, and visited him in the form of a thousand wasps."

"And why did you do that, pray tell?"

"To sting his lazy arse into fixing his wall so that when the river floods in spring he doesn’t lose our crops along with his!" All the villagers laughed at this, and the magistrate grinned along with them. He kept smiling even when the laughter had died away, but by then it was a sad smile directed at the toothsome young woman. He sighed. He was duty bound, as he always was. The law was the law.

"Well, then. A confession." He waved to the burly slaves that stood beside his makeshift chair of judgement. "Seize him!"

The young man, clearly taken by surprise, struggled a bit, but these burly slaves had cost the magistrate a pretty minah, and took an extreme amount of professional pride in making free men submit to their master’s will. "Wait," the young man said as they forced him to his knees. "I was joking. Surely you can see that I was joking"

The magistrate took the opportunity to stand up, hoping nobody noticed his hand reaching behind his robe to scratch himself. "The law is no joke, young man, and sorcery, of which you stand accused, is against it." He strode into the circle, waving his staff of office in the faces of the villagers, trying to put some energy into his sixtieth gods-bedamned performance of this script."The sorcerer, reviled of Anu, steals from the mouths of our children to feed his own belly, beggars our brothers to enrich himself, and steals our wives…" The magistrate shook his staff at the maiden with the fear and rage in her eyes, "... to weep in his own foul bed."

"But we are not savages, we people of Sumer," the magistrate continued, addressing the girl directly. She really was quite bewitching, he thought. "We do not cast our family into the fire pit on the say-so of a single peasant, no matter how lazy, ugly or unpleasant to stand next to he may be. Our beloved and most revered Father Ur-Nammu has given us simple laws, by which we may all know the price of our transgressions. And on the subject of sorcery, our beloved Father is most clear. 'If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo...ordeal by water."

The young girl gasped. The magistrate admired her passion as he waited a well-practiced dramatic beat, before spinning round and pointing his staff directly at the peasant who had made the allegation. "And yet - if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay 3 shekels."

The accusing peasant paled as all eyes turned to him. The magistrate, too, gave him a very pointed stare. He knew three shekels was three months earnings for most folk here. Normally, at this point, the accuser would have second thoughts, and mumble something about the possibility of it being a sorcerer from the neighbouring village, and everybody would laugh, clap him on the back and then beer would happen.

"Sorcery," said the peasant. "Burn him or drown him, I don't care." He spat at the young man kneeling on the ground.

"Ordeal by water it is," sighed the magistrate, shrugging in disappointment. "Bring him to the river."

The young man was stood up, one burly slave holding each arm. He stumbled occasionally as they made their way down through the fields to the edge of the river, first him and his guards, then the magistrate followed by the peasant (silent) and the girl (wailing), and finally the crowd of villagers, nudging and whispering amongst themselves.

They reached the water's edge - the fast-running river stretching wide before them, its far bank obscured by the shadows of twilight. The Magistrate stepped up onto a pier to which a number of small, decrepit boats were tied. He pointed at a nearby length of rope, and indicated to his slaves that they should bind the young man, tightly and securely, then carry him to the far end of the pier. Finally he addressed the crowd.

"What was the young man's name, again?"

"Alkinu," sobbed the young woman.

"Thank you, my dear. Please, be strong, for justice must be delivered." He raised his voice so the villagers could hear him in the back. "Ordeal by water, so it is ordained, so it shall happen. The ordeal is as simple as the crime is dire, blessed be the name of our Father Ur-Nammu. Alkinu shall be cast into the water, trussed like a pig, and if he should survive, then the gods will have found him innocent, and let no man argue with the judgement of the gods."

"But, my lord magistrate," cried the young woman. "Alkinu cannot swim." The accusing peasant smiled at this, which the magistrate couldn't help but notice.

"If I could do something, my dear, I would," said the magistrate, touching her shoulder gently. Her skin was warm and her face flushed. "But the law is clear. The allegations must be investigated with the full forensic force of the divine." He faced the slaves, who carried Alkinu by his feet and shoulders, and raised his staff. "Let the ordeal begin!"

The two slaves swung the lump of villager between them, once, twice and away. Alkinu was flung into the air. His robes, where they weren't caught up in ropes, fluttered in the evening breeze. His body described an arc, curving out over the water. Every eye in the village watched as he flew.

The young woman screamed. In that moment it was the only sound to be heard … and not a human one. There were words in it, but not human words. It was the voice of the eagle, and the talons of the eagle, rending and tearing at the air. There was whipping, and screeching, and then the beating of wings.

The ropes that bound Alkinu fell to the river, tangled up in empty clothes. Above the pier an eagle circled.

The magistrate, mouth open in wonder, turned to see if everyone else had just witnessed the same thing. Not a single person in the crowd wasn't standing slack-jawed, staring upward in amazement. Except the young woman. She, too, had disappeared, leaving an empty pile of robes behind. In the darkening skies another bird joined the first, wings spread above the river, flying together into the distant twilight.

It was quiet on the riverbank, except for the gentle lapping of river waves against the pier. The birds flew on, dwindling in size until, at last, they vanished from sight. The magistrate watched them go until the very last moment, feeling his heart come alive to previously unfathomable possibilities.

"I told you it was sorcery," said the peasant, breaking the spell of silence.

The magistrate hit him hard in the belly with his staff, doubling him over as the wind escaped him. "What are you talking about, you petty imbecile? He survived, didn't he? Gods-proven innocence. You owe me three shekels, payable Thirdsday." He forged his way through the crowd, pausing only to wink at the second best-looking woman in the village. "Now where is the beer?"

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In with the Vikings

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


51: Fiercer than fire among ill friends
for five days love will burn;
bun anon 'tis quenched, when the sixth day comes,
and all friendship soon is spoiled.
l;

words:687

First Contact By a Species that Speaks Almost Entirely In Metaphors

When the first day came, we stumbled into bed, punch drunk on the scent of each other. I created the universe around us and you sealed it shut against the world. Our holds were fast, our promises soul-deep and everlasting. From chaos we made ordering in a priority.

When the second day came it arrived with alarm clocks and telephones, tugging at us with everyday gravity. But we were creatures of light and air, and our gossamer wings carried us high above such ephemera. We swooped and spun and called to one another across the infinite skies - I heard you and you heard me and in all our lives we had never been heard so loudly and so clear. The light drifted into twilight, so we nestled in the tops of trees and fell asleep to the sounds of angels singing.

When the third day came - the wheedling world was knocking and scratching at the door, trying its best to topple us from our precious, precarious nest. We laughed and ate cold pizza and stood on one leg like the birds we had been until we fell, still laughing, to the ground. We named the country we'd fallen into a name of our own devising, and stared across its green pastures at distant towers. Ivory and brick, they were places of work that we could not ignore forever. We dared each other to be the first to depart, and one of us must have succumbed. Our hands let go. We were going to meet later, but something came up, and the universe I created and you made hermetically perfect began to crumble at some invisible point halfway between us.

When the fourth day came, I woke up at my place, and you woke up at yours. You left a million message on my phone, and I left half a million in reply. The earth flew around the sun, a miracle of physics on its four billionth tour of duty. I had chicken sandwiches for lunch. We met on sacred ground, but whether it was sacred to you or me I cannot recall. It was then that they crawled out of the woodwork, all the tiny, spiky things we hadn't noticed. Has your smile always been lopsided? I swear I brushed my teeth today. We looked into our crumbling universe, like a crystal ball, and saw planets and stars, orbiting each other from safe distances. We talked about whether we could live there. Would the atmosphere be sufficient? Might the cosmic radiation kill us or merely mutate our children into nightmares?

When the fifth day came we met for drinks on the beach above the placid ocean. We imagined swimming, how refreshing to tread water in the lukewarm sea. We smiled a lot, and said little, but somehow we resolved anew to pursue this strange thing that had befallen us. As we sat on the balcony, watching the rippling sunset, a leviathan burst upward from the dreaming sea. For a moment it was beautiful, gigantic and awe-inspiring. But it just floated there in the middle of the harbour, watching us with a slimy eye, covered in stinking seaweed and razor-shelled molluscs . We pledged to ignore its stench for as long as possible. I survived until the cocktails arrived, then gagged, and made my excuses, and left.

When the sixth day came, we had both grown too tired to lie. Silently we broke the last seals and tore the sagging universe in two. I stowed my half somewhere quiet and small, to look at on a future, but distant, rainy day. I found a way to go that I could call mine, and you found one too. We stapled on tears and smiles as we swore beneath our breath and spat wistfully at each other's backs. There was a darkness in you that I wish I'd seen earlier. An animal darkness, feral, and cruel. I named it with my own name.

And on the seventh day, we went to war. But nobody could say if it was good.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In. Please flash me like the oscillating glint of a Steely Dan III, Dr Benway.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


flash rule: Master of the Hunt is Captain Everhard, who was drummed out of the Queen’s 69th for palming a jockstrap in a game of strip poker. Motorcycles careening, jumping, overturning. Spitting, shrieking, making GBS threads baboons fighting hand to hand with the Huntsmen. Rider-less cycles scrabbling about in the dust like crippled insects, attacking baboon and Huntsman…
wordcount: 797

Turning Lock

The Supervisor's exoskeleton went haywire first. It backhanded the adjacent docker right in the face cage with an almighty clang. The other driver stared at her boss, too surprised to swear. Without her touching the control sticks, her own XO-Skel returned the favour by lifting an iron-and-cable-thewed leg and booting the Supervisor right in his metallic arse. One by one, the other machines began to fight each other, their human operators powerless. Mechanical graspers clamped down on mechanical limbs, pulling and bending, until they detached in a shower of sparks, uncovered human limbs wriggling like tiny worms. Unbalanced, the XO-Skels toppled over, still waving and kicking in spasmodic jerks.

On a balcony above the fray, Jackie stabbed at the red Override button that should have shut off her autonomy module. Down in the Docking Bay, the noise of metal against metal grew louder, punctuated by electrical explosions. Jackie raced to the central control desk, and initiated the dampeners. The lights went out, replaced by the dull red glow of the emergency bulbs, and an unnerving silence.

Jackie clambered down the Bay ladder. All around her giant XO-Skels and their sundered appendages lay in disarray. The Supervisor was clambering out of his harness of his horizontally compromised machine. Eventually he stood beside his fallen machine, surveying the carnage. His gaze reached Jackie, control pad in her hand and guilt across her face, and a screaming fit was thrown.

---

It was after midnight before Jackie finished re-attaching severed pieces of XO-Skel. She was grateful he hadn't been busted on the spot, but SkelTechs in this region, even amateurs, were rare. As she finished up the unit tests to make sure normal operation had been restored, she heard footsteps behind her.

"How's it going?"

She sighed, letting her shoulders sag a little. "All patched up. Testing's nearly finished."

"I kinda meant you, not these metal bastards."

Jackie turned away from the test readout but failed to look Linda in the eye. "I hosed it up this time," she said, staring at her feet. "Royally. The deployment protocols, somehow the pipeline isn't what I thought. The autonomy module got into production, and I hadn't figured it all out anyway, so…" She waved at the XO-Skels, standing like soldiers in an iron platoon.

"What did the Supervisor say? Gotta admit, I enjoyed booting his arse."

"He said I'm a 'goddamned useless bitch' and next time it's a one-to-one limb removal exchange, them and me." She slid to the ground by the control desk, and looked up at Linda. "I thought I was helping. After what happened with Jones and Simmons, I thought, if we could just automate them…. But i don't know enough to get them to behave intelligently." She hid her head in her hands.

Linda slid down beside her, resting on her heels. "Don't know how you do it. Fixing these pieces of crap for the hundredth time so some drunk docker can crash them into a wall. Can't you, I dunno, transfer out. Don't they have academies or something? So you can learn to do it properly?"

Jackie looked up. "I've asked the supe. He just laughed. Not enough local SkelTechs."

Linda patted her shoulder. "Let's get him to reconsider," she said, with a thoughtful look. "You can still do pre-programmed stuff, right?"

---

Jackie watched as Linda and the other dockers clambered into their gear, tying harnesses and flexing their augmented physiques as they ran through their preliminary tests. A hastily implemented green button glowed on her control pad.

She waited until the XO-Skels were lined up in two equal lines, ready to depart to the shipyard for pickup. Then she pushed "Go". A camera drone leapt into the air then slowly circled the machines.

All the XO-Skels turned 90 degrees, facing one another. Some grabbed their opposites by the mechanical waist, some by the shoulders, and then they linked their free graspers.

Somewhere a speaker blared out The Blue Danube. As one, the XO-Skels began to waltz. Jackie heard the Supervisor scream her name. She remotely guided the drone to shoot Linda waltzing him around the bay for a while before she approached, bobbing and weaving around the dancing giants as the drone followed.

"Yes, Sir?" she yelled.

"What the everliving gently caress have you done?"

"This? This is my video application for the engineers' academy."

"You're on report," shouted the Supervisor, his face red and upside-down as Linda dipped him.

"Thank you, sir. Now, about my application. I've got some great footage, lots of close-ups. Just needs your signature."

Jackie ducked as Linda's XO-Skel whirled the supervisor around. She caught a snatch of Linda talking about fixing servo-droids before enlisting.

"No close-ups," said the Supervisor when he next span past, looking decidedly green.

"No, sir," said Jackie, saluting.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


wordcount:997

"Father, why do people stop fighting in the middle of wars to celebrate?"

Many moons ago the god of frozen fish walked the earth. Every man was a brother in those times, and every wise man knew that when winter came, Jeohavhai walked among the peoples of the world, seeking tribute for the fish beneath the ice which were his to command. The wise men directed their followers to place food and drink on carven stones to sustain him during his earthly travels. Those that did would be blessed with fish during the harshest of winters.

One year Jeohavhai began his rounds, but found the sacred places empty of offerings. He trekked across the lands of men, and saw tribe against tribe, brother against brother, killing each other with no thought given to the fish under the ice, or to the food and drink of Jeohavhai's tribute. He looked for the wise men that knew his name, and saw their eyes clouded with rage, blood-lust and hate.

"This is unacceptable!" said Jeohavhai. He stepped onto the twilight road, making his way to the hall of the gods, his heart filled with anger and dismay.

The hall of the gods was neither on top of the highest peak, nor beneath the caverns of the earth, but somehow both and neither. Jeohavhai strode into the mighty hall, waving his Fish-Slice of Office, preparing to launch into a withering complaint. But as he entered he realised that no-one would pay him the least bit of attention. All the gods were already here, shouting and screaming.

The sun god and the moon god had their hands around each other's throats. The god of love and the god of hate were circling one another, their matching three-pronged tridents at the ready. The father god and the mother god were yelling and hitting from their adjacent thrones. Everywhere god fought with god.

There was a tugging at the sleeve of Jeohavhai's robe. He looked down to see the god of rabbits, chewing a cud thoughtfully while watching the proceedings with wry amusement. "Typical," said the god of rabbits. "Father god misplaces his favourite ring and next thing everyone has joined in."

"All this over a ring?" said Jeohavhai. "The mortal realm is going mad. Not even a single tribute this year! It's the fish I feel sorriest for."

"Shame the sea god doesn't feel the same way," said the rabbit god, pointing in the direction of an old deity, wreathed in seaweed and pointing the business end of a swordfish at the weather god. "You know - you're right, they've never been this bad before. Could be an opportunity for someone."

"What do you mean?" asked Jeohavhai.

"Well, all this chaotic brother against brother, god against god stuff. It's a bit new, isn't it. Gets in the way. Might need a god to step up and sort it out - keep it under of control."

Jeohavhai eyed the rabbit skeptically. "This isn't like that whole 'refrigerator' thing is it? I looked like a complete dork."

"That was an idea before its time," conceded the rabbit god. "This, on the other hand, needs to be done sharpish."

"Then why don't you do it?"

"You are kidding, right? Rabbit godding is 24/7, eating, running around, having sex. Where would I find the time? But you? Eminently qualified. Sensible. Mostly clear schedule. You could even take a holiday for your fish rounds."

"But how?"

The rabbit sighed. "It's basic godcraft. You see it, you name it, you're it."

"Right," said Jeohavhai. "I knew that." He raised his fish slice and took a good look at the mayhem around him. "I see you, name you and become you: ..." he said, then paused, stumped for a name. He turned, looking for the rabbit god and was surprised to see him hopping at speed toward a small, rodent-sized hole in the wall of the hall, a ring flashing around his hind leg. "Wha?" said Jeohavhai in surprise.

The god of Wha was born.

Jeohavhai felt a rush of power flow through him, an energy fueled by lust and greed and hunger and envy. He felt strong enough to destroy families, races, even worlds. He looked at the fighting deities around him, and saw that it was good. He let his energy flow through them, let their choking hands become tearing, ripping claws, let their resentment become an explosive rage, let their tridents become weapons of genocide. Their ever-growing hate fed him, and he grew it in turn, a nigh-endless feedback loop of annihilation.

But not quite endless. Jeohavhai felt the surge within him slow, then diminish. His eyes began to clear, and he found himself seated on the Father throne, broken bodies of fallen gods lay lifeless around him. A few writhed for a moment, and were still. There was a wet, ripping, and Jeohavhai turned to see the sea god and the weather god falling in four parts, sundered by swordfish and lightning bolts respectively.

The rabbit god poked his head out of his hole. "Nice work," he said. "Always thought you had it in you."

"What have I done?" gibbered Jeohavhai .

"Invented monotheism?" suggested the rabbit god, with a cheeky bow. "Present company excepted, of course. But don't worry about me. I'll stick to the eating, running screwing thing, should be a lot easier now everyone is fighting each other instead of hunting us. Be seeing you." With a flick of his fluffy white tail, the rabbit god was gone.

Alone in the vast hall of gods, the embodiment of conflict in sole charge of a multiverse and possessed of nigh-unlimited power, Jeohavhai felt awfully small and awfully unsure. Still, he thought with a forced grin, there's always the holidays.

And that, my child, is why at this magical time of the year we stop fighting with one another, turn our thoughts to food and drink, and join together to kill those long-eared fuckers.

Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


In with "start a blog"

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Baleful Osmium Sea
Oct 31, 2016


Resolution: Start a blog
wordcount: 1247


Google Earth

A sudden, judgemental silence in the bar made Joel look up from the paper and toward the entrance where he saw Simon waving at him.

"Joel!" Simon said as he approached. "How are you going?"

Joel put down the page he'd been failing to complete the crossword on. A few drops of rain hit the window beside him. "Ah, good, mate " he called. "Been a while. How are you?"

"Actually, I'm feeling a tad underdressed."

Joel looked Simon up and down. "Could be because you're in your knickers."

Simon raised a foot with one hand and pointed at it with the other. "And my slippers. I'm not a total barbarian."

"Oh," said Joel. "Good?"

There was an awkward silence, Simon lowered his foot and toyed unconsciously with his belly fat. Joel looked at the second of the two large 2-for-1 jugs of beer. The first, now empty jug was still on the table, its delicious innards now inside Joel. He sighed. "Beer, mate?"

"Sure, thanks a mil," said Simon, sitting down in the booth. "Getting served might be a bit hit-or-miss at the moment."

Joel poured some of the beer from his full jug into the empty one and pushed it towards Simon. "There you go, wrap your giggle gear around that."

Simon drank thirstily, a few dribbles of amber fluid escaping the rim, cascading down his moustache and splashing onto his white, hairless belly. He belched, then smiled. Joel smiled back, warmly, had a drink himself, and the pair let the warm camaraderie of beer wash through them. Outside the rain began pelting down in earnest.

"How's work?" asked Joel.

"The mechanic's job? Packed it in," said Simon. "Fixing tractors and lawnmowers for a bunch of illiterate farmers just wasn't doing it for me any more. I've got a blog now. Keeps me pretty busy 24/7."

"Do people still have blogs?" asked Joel. "I thought it was all facebook live, snapchat and helmet cams now. Or pretty young fellas with vlogs angling for TV guest shots."

"Oh no," said Simon. "That's strictly for the kids. Blogging is a very mature medium now. Besides, with the crappy internet speed we get out here it's the only option."

"True," said Joel, sipping his beer. "So, what is it you blog about?"

"Tech stuff. I follow the big tech stories and provide commentary."

"That sounds reasonable. You like it?"

"The best thing is you can do it in your underwear, and nobody cares" said Simon. Joel nodded appreciatively. "And the worst thing is, unless you crack a really big story, nobody cares. Had to take the last of my wardrobe to the op shop today to cover this month's rent. But I'm just about to publish a story that's gonna send my pageviews skyrocketing!"

A flash of lightning illuminated the both of them, followed by a dull rumbling sound seconds later.

"Sweet," said Joel, turning away from the gathering storm. "What it's about?"

Simon met Joel's gaze for an intense moment, then shrugged and took another swig. "Do you remember, back on your Commodore 64, there used to be a game called Little Computer People?"

"Sure - you had a little pixelly fellow, and he would take showers and play chiptunes and stuff."

"That's the one. Didn't you ever wonder what happened to all those little computer people, once they outgrew all those crappy 8-bit systems?"

"To be honest, mate, I never gave it a moment's thought."

"Well, I reckoned they must have gone somewhere. They were all over the world, and then nowhere. So where did they go? Turns out there were plenty of clues, if you knew where to look. I tracked the LCPs down through encrypted bulletin board service archives, usenet signature files and the like." Simon leaned in, conspiratorially, and his skin made a sucking sound as it separated from the pleather booth. "But it wasn't until the full flowering of the internet that they truly came out from the digital underground, to sink or swim in the age of info-capitalism."

"Christ," said Joel, taken aback by Simon's wordy mixture of coherence and incoherence. "And did they? Sink or swim?"

"They swam, Joel, oh how they swam. They formed their own little computer company. A minor concern, you might have heard of it, called..." Simon looked left, then right, and finally whispered "...Google."

Joel's eyes widened. "No poo poo!"

Pleased at the reaction, Simon poured himself more beer and nodded. "That's what my post's about. A scoop you won't find in the mainstream media."

"I bet. Hang on, though" said Joel, narrowing his eyes. "Is this just the Little Computer People, or everything? Are like, The Sims in on this?"

"Good theory," said Simon, beaming like a pleased parent. "But the timelines are entirely wrong. I'll tell you something else. All the stuff they're doing now, the LCPs - well, the name Google was based on a number, a one followed by a page full of zeroes, called a googol. And when they formed a parent company, they called it Alphabet. They've gone from numbers to letters, showing their Little Computerness has gone from digital to real-world analog. And those balloons they've been putting up - the ones that will deliver internet to the remotest corners of the world. What could be better for an LCP transportation system? They could travel all over, invisibly, bypassing border-checks."

"I've heard about those balloons," said Joel, looking out the window and upward. The sky was dark with heavy clouds and the rain was even more fierce than before. "They're even doing a trial here."

"What?" said Simon.

"It was in the local paper." Joel turned a couple of pages away from the crossword and showed Simon an article. The Mayor was apparently delighted to welcome his new Google pals in bringing rural Mulmorton into the twenty-first century.

"poo poo," said Simon. "poo poo poo poo shitshitSHIT! Listen, Joel, do you have a car?"

"Sure, outside. Why? Is something wrong?"

"It's not just balloons for transporting LCPs, Joel. It's everything. Wireless, Weather, Weapons. Maybe even mind control. I thought I was safe until I published, until word got out from my blog and something was done, but if the LCPs are here..."

Another flash, and the thunder was quicker to arrive this time.

"And what does that have to do with my car?"

"A car can act as a Faraday cage. It's the safest place for me. Quick! Give me your keys."

Joel saw the panic on Simon's face. Slowly he reached for his keys and slid them across the table. "It's the Mazda."

Simon grabbed them, said "Thanks, Joel, you're a lifesaver," and raced to the door.

Joel watched him through the booth window, saw him sprinting through the puddles to the other side of the carpark, observed the bolt of lightning strike a only a few metres away from the car as Simon tried to get the key into the lock. The boom of thunder that followed immediately was almost deafening. Simon wrestled the door open, jumped into the driver's seat and slammed the door behind him. The Mazda sped away, deeper into the storm.

The bartender came over, peered through the booth window. "He's got a point about the cages."

"That's why we had to install those self-driving modules," said Joel. He poured some more beer, then turned back to his crossword, idly whistling an 80s video game theme A sudden, judgemental silence in the bar made Joel look up from the paper and toward the entrance where he saw Simon waving at him.

"Joel!" Simon said as he approached. "How are you going?"

Joel put down the page he'd been failing to complete the crossword on. A few drops of rain hit the window beside him. "Ah, good, mate " he called. "Been a while. How are you?"

"Actually, I'm feeling a tad underdressed."

Joel looked Simon up and down. "Could be because you're in your knickers."

Simon raised a foot with one hand and pointed at it with the other. "And my slippers. I'm not a total barbarian."

"Oh," said Joel. "Good?"

There was an awkward silence, Simon lowered his foot and toyed unconsciously with his belly fat. Joel looked at the second of the two large 2-for-1 jugs of beer. The first, now empty jug was still on the table, its delicious innards now inside Joel. He sighed. "Beer, mate?"

"Sure, thanks a mil," said Simon, sitting down in the booth. "Getting served might be a bit hit-or-miss at the moment."

Joel poured some of the beer from his full jug into the empty one and pushed it towards Simon. "There you go, wrap your giggle gear around that."

Simon drank thirstily, a few dribbles of amber fluid escaping the rim, cascading down his moustache and splashing onto his white, hairless belly. He belched, then smiled. Joel smiled back, warmly, had a drink himself, and the pair let the warm camaraderie of beer wash through them. Outside the rain began pelting down in earnest.

"How's work?" asked Joel.

"The mechanic's job? Packed it in," said Simon. "Fixing tractors and lawnmowers for a bunch of illiterate farmers just wasn't doing it for me any more. I've got a blog now. Keeps me pretty busy 24/7."

"Do people still have blogs?" asked Joel. "I thought it was all facebook live, snapchat and helmet cams now. Or pretty young fellas with vlogs angling for TV guest shots."

"Oh no," said Simon. "That's strictly for the kids. Blogging is a very mature medium now. Besides, with the crappy internet speed we get out here it's the only option."

"True," said Joel, sipping his beer. "So, what is it you blog about?"

"Tech stuff. I follow the big tech stories and provide commentary."

"That sounds reasonable. You like it?"

"The best thing is you can do it in your underwear, and nobody cares" said Simon. Joel nodded appreciatively. "And the worst thing is, unless you crack a really big story, nobody cares. Had to take the last of my wardrobe to the op shop today to cover this month's rent. But I'm just about to publish a story that's gonna send my pageviews skyrocketing!"

A flash of lightning illuminated the both of them, followed by a dull rumbling sound seconds later.

"Sweet," said Joel, turning away from the gathering storm. "What it's about?"

Simon met Joel's gaze for an intense moment, then shrugged and took another swig. "Do you remember, back on your Commodore 64, there used to be a game called Little Computer People?"

"Sure - you had a little pixelly fellow, and he would take showers and play chiptunes and stuff."

"That's the one. Didn't you ever wonder what happened to all those little computer people, once they outgrew all those crappy 8-bit systems?"

"To be honest, mate, I never gave it a moment's thought."

"Well, I reckoned they must have gone somewhere. They were all over the world, and then nowhere. So where did they go? Turns out there were plenty of clues, if you knew where to look. I tracked the LCPs down through encrypted bulletin board service archives, usenet signature files and the like." Simon leaned in, conspiratorially, and his skin made a sucking sound as it separated from the pleather booth. "But it wasn't until the full flowering of the internet that they truly came out from the digital underground, to sink or swim in the age of info-capitalism."

"Christ," said Joel, taken aback by Simon's wordy mixture of coherence and incoherence. "And did they? Sink or swim?"

"They swam, Joel, oh how they swam. They formed their own little computer company. A minor concern, you might have heard of it, called..." Simon looked left, then right, and finally whispered "...Google."

Joel's eyes widened. "No poo poo!"

Pleased at the reaction, Simon poured himself more beer and nodded. "That's what my post's about. A scoop you won't find in the mainstream media."

"I bet. Hang on, though" said Joel, narrowing his eyes. "Is this just the Little Computer People, or everything? Are like, The Sims in on this?"

"Good theory," said Simon, beaming like a pleased parent. "But the timelines are entirely wrong. I'll tell you something else. All the stuff they're doing now, the LCPs - well, the name Google was based on a number, a one followed by a page full of zeroes, called a googol. And when they formed a parent company, they called it Alphabet. They've gone from numbers to letters, showing their Little Computerness has gone from digital to real-world analog. And those balloons they've been putting up - the ones that will deliver internet to the remotest corners of the world. What could be better for an LCP transportation system? They could travel all over, invisibly, bypassing border-checks."

"I've heard about those balloons," said Joel, looking out the window and upward. The sky was dark with heavy clouds and the rain was even more fierce than before. "They're even doing a trial here."

"What?" said Simon.

"It was in the local paper." Joel turned a couple of pages away from the crossword and showed Simon an article. The Mayor was apparently delighted to welcome his new Google pals in bringing rural Mulmorton into the twenty-first century.

"poo poo," said Simon. "poo poo poo poo shitshitSHIT! Listen, Joel, do you have a car?"

"Sure, outside. Why? Is something wrong?"

"It's not just balloons for transporting LCPs, Joel. It's everything. Wireless, Weather, Weapons. Maybe even mind control. I thought I was safe until I published, until word got out from my blog and something was done, but if the LCPs are here..."

Another flash, and the thunder was quicker to arrive this time.

"And what does that have to do with my car?"

"A car can act as a Faraday cage. It's the safest place for me. Quick! Give me your keys."

Joel saw the panic on Simon's face. Slowly he reached for his keys and slid them across the table. "It's the Mazda."

Simon grabbed them, said "Thanks, Joel, you're a lifesaver," and raced to the door.

Joel watched him through the booth window, saw him sprinting through the puddles to the other side of the carpark, observed the bolt of lightning strike a only a few metres away from the car as Simon tried to get the key into the lock. The boom of thunder that followed immediately was almost deafening. Simon wrestled the door open, jumped into the driver's seat and slammed the door behind him. The Mazda sped away, deeper into the storm.

The bartender came over, peered through the booth window. "He's got a point about the cages."

"That's why we had to install all those self-driving modules," said Joel. He poured some more beer and returned to his crossword, idly whistling an 80s video game theme and contemplating how nice a shower would be when he got home.

  • Locked thread