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After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


In with

Thranguy posted:

24) Don't Let's Start (TMBG)

and a :toxx: for my poor showing in Startup Week.

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After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Prompt: "Don't Let's Start" (They Might Be Giants)


They Want What They’re Not (1,185 words)
As he boards the subway, he catches a glimpse of her on the crowded platform and sighs. Soon, the argument will begin again, just as so many times before. But there won’t be many after this, he’s just left the cardiologist’s office with the diagnosis. And sure enough, as he dangles limply from the handstrap, body swaying with the rattling train, his attention drifts for a moment. Suddenly she’s there, as if she’d been next to him all along. He’d never understood how she did it, but there was so much about her he didn’t understand. She looks up at him, her twelve-year-old’s eyes wet with care.

“What did he say?” she asks. As always, he knows it will be impossible to ignore her, but he’s tired and unready for the routine. Once the argument has achieved momentum, it will become easier. But this is the worst part, when he has to force himself to believe that it’s happening at all. Worse still is forcing himself to believe what he’s saying.

“Don’t…” He takes a breath. “Don’t let’s start.” Even after all this time, he has to fight the impulse to believe that it really is his daughter standing next to him. “Not now. He says my heart’s… that I don’t have much time left.” It occurs to him that it will be easier if he can’t see her, so closes his eyes and says “Please. Later, I promise.”

For once, she must have listened, because when he opens them again, she’s gone.

-

He’d been dreaming about her and her mother the night she first appeared, just as he had every night of the twenty years since they left. Somewhere between sleep and consciousness, he could tell she was there at the bedroom door, peering in. It was a habit she’d picked up, he remembered, from checking each morning to see if he’d made it home the night before. There was a ringing in his head as he tried to comprehend her presence in this tiny house she had never stepped foot in. When she spoke, he stopped trying. “Dad?”

Even if this was a dream, he had to respond. In an instant, he had launched himself from the bed and she was in his arms. Just as solid as the night her mother took her and left, and he’d never been able to touch her in dreams. Maybe all those years alone had been the dream, but seeing her his arms he was aware of their thinness, of how much looser his skin was than it had been the last time.

They spent the day reliving the past, he had so many stories to share from their first time together. It was always him, though, she had nothing to contribute. Somehow, he realized, she had no memories to share. Trying to think of what could jar her them, he remembered the photo albums he’d stashed away. They’d be difficult to get, he’d done it so that he’d have time to recover his senses should he be overcome with a mad desire to face his past.

When he returned, she was no longer there. For a moment he was frozen by this loss as sudden as her arrival, and was statled when he heard a hiss from the other side of the room. His cat, sole companion of these last years, was glaring at its exact double. He dropped the dusty album in surprise, his eyes instinctively follwing it to the floor. When he looked back up, one of the cats was gone and there she was, grinning as if she’d been there the entire time, waiting for him.

Over the following weeks, he worked out the rules of her presence. She was his daughter when she was around him, exactly as he’d remembered. But in his absence she’d become something, anything else. She would take different forms around the house, now the television, now the phone. When he asked, she said she liked being his little girl the best. That comforted him for a time.

-

Soon, though, something began to gnaw at him. The more time he spent with her, the harder it became to reconcile who he was now with the man his daughter, his real daughter, had known. At first, hat man seemed little more than a half-remembered acquaintance, characteristics broadly summarized in the stories he told her. But the longer she stayed, the clearer that man became, and it horrified him.

The first time he asked her to leave, he had to have the words written in shaky hand on an index card. It did not go well.

-

When he arrives at home, he seats himself at the kitchen table and waits. When he finds her suddenly in the chair next to him, he steels himself. This time, it has to be for real. It has to count.

“You need to go,” he says.

Just as every time before, she seems confused. “Why?”

He places his hand on her knee, hoping that it comes across more as a fatherly gesture than an attempt at steadying himself. “Because you’re a ghost, or a spirit, or a figment, or… something. Something from the past that shouldn’t be here.”

She frowns at him. “But we’ve had so little time together.”

He struggles to meet her gaze. “More than I ever thought I could get. More than I ever deserved.” He takes a deep breath. “You can go help someone else now.”

She jumps from her seat. “It wouldn’t be fair! It wouldn’t be fair to leave you!”

This time, though, he’s ready for this. “No. It wasn’t fair for you to come in the first place. When you... when she left, I made a choice to change my life. So maybe I could be something more than the man who drove his family away. If I really did make myself into a new person, that person deserves his own chance to live.”

He, too, stands up and takes her hand. “I never realized that before you came. But I know it now. You have to go.”

“But you told me you’re dying! That you don’t have much time left!You spent twenty years wanting your girl to come back, and here I am! You can actually have what you’ve wanted!”

Somehow, he feels ready for this. “It’s not right for me to be singled out. No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.”

He takes her hand up to his mouth, kisses it. “That’s how it needs to be, the same thing everybody else has. Everyone, except you. And you need to experience that. I don’t want you to fall into my past either. You’ve spent enough time being my girl. But I’ve become someone other than the father she despised, and you need to become someone else. I know you can.”

She nods and releases his hand. He gives her a soft, sad smile and looks down, knowing that, this time, when he looks up she’ll be gone.

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Pham Nuwen posted:

WEEK 184 JUDGEBURPS: YEAR OF THE RAM MORE LIKE YEAR OF THE POO


Thranguy posted:

TD 184 Crits

Thanks for the crits, guys.

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Let's see, playing a show on Saturday, so no practice after work at weekend job on Sunday... sure, give me an Ignobel that's as good an idea as me taking part this week.

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Prompt: NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

Further Upstream, 1,000 words
Every time I checked, the fish was still dead. Not that I expected this fact to change, but it didn’t stop me from compulsively opening the motel fridge. The fish was dead and, unless I could think of something, so was any chance I had of lasting in the Agency.

“Receive delivery of one (1) Atlantic Salmon. Transport to arranged location and release into available river, stream, or brook. Ensure Salmon’s ability to leave under own power and navigation.” Not the strangest assignment they’d given me. Miscommunication was unavoidable in this line of work, but somewhere before me the word “alive” had been dropped from “deliver fish.” Even as I handed the bored delivery man an overgenerous tip, my mind was already racing. Inside the wrapped newspaper, the salmon’s frozen eyes stared in reproach. Even a dead fish knew I’d get the blame.

I’d alrady paced a few miles around the motel room when I remembered the Professor. I had engaged his services on some previous job, and the tiny notebook hidden in the leather covering of my agency briefcase still had his information. Phone number, address, blackmail material summary should he prove reluctant. Even through the voice scrambler, he sounded eager, simply for the intellectual excitement. No threats needed, after all.

“I suppose they didn’t tell you what this fish was for,” he said as I set it in front of him.

“Of course not. They tell me to take a fish somewhere and let it go, that’s what I do. They pay me to not ask questions.”

He peered at me over his thick spectacles. “Of course, of course. So it could be anything. They could have fed it a capsule containing Soviet secrets. There could be microfilm printed on its fins. The important thing was it was supposed to be released in a particular region. But no specific waterway?”

“No. In fact, they were remarkably unspecific.” I was worried he was going to suggest cutting the thing open, which would be as good as radioing my resignation directly to Headquarters.

He stepped to the window, saw the birds picking at trash in the parking lot. Then he spun back towards me, grinning. “Carrier pigeons!”

Not what I expected. “What about them?”

“Why do you think they used them? Do you think they were easy to train? No, it was because they could always find their way back to their home nest. And what else is compelled to return home and perform its natural function, regardless of distance?”

“Congress?”

“Salmon! Everyone knows they always return home to spawn! Somebody must be waiting to receive this fellow and divest him of whatever he’s carrying. Virtually untraceable. Ingenious, really.”

“But this guy’s spawning days are over. Any idea how we can figure out his intended destination? How do they know where they’re going, anyway?”

The Professor shrugged. “That’s still one of the great mysteries, even in the Space Age. They just know. Now we need a way for him to tell us. And you know, I just read a paper recently that...” As he trailed off, I considered the feasibility of faking my death. obviously insane.

“That might just work,” he finally said as I was considering potential aliases. “Now, had this salmon been delivered alive, it would have to be in a tank, and I doubt it would have tolerated that for long. Therefore, the drop-off point must be somewhere close. Correct?”

“Correct.”

“And time is still of the essence, if for a different reason. Dead fish are not known for their durability. Could we leave immediately? I’ll need some things from the lab.”

-

We’d been stomping through the woods for hours, him wathing the dials and meters attached to the dead salmon while I navigated from one water source to another. If we neared its birthplace, he assured me, we’d see a reaction. The entire time rambling about “the significance of our scientific breakthrough” despite me saying that it all would be highly classified, even if I allowed him to keep his data. Fish-based communication was just dumb enough to become adopted, and the last thing we’d need was someone trying to find out exactly why a couple idiots had jammed electrodes in a dead salmon’s brain.

“Ultimately changing the way we think about mortality and...” He stopped. “It’s moving! It’s actually moving!” I found the nearest stream on the map. As the readings became stronger, I began looking for our contact.

Finally, we reached it. The Professor sat on the bank, furiously scribbling while watching the meters. I was contemplating how to steal his notepad when a sound come from behind us. Not a roar, exactly, but a tired attempt at maintaining the appearance of ferocity. We turned to see something tall, furry, and brown, far too scrawny to be a bear. It groaned again and, when we failed to reply, gestured towards the fish, late afternoon light glimmering on its zipper. I shrugged, unplugged our salmon and placed it in the outstretched mitts. Like I said, I’ve seen worse. In an instant, it was gone, much faster than you’d think someone in a bear suit could run.

We were headed back, hoping to make it to the Professor’s car by sundown, when we heard another noise. A definite human shout this time. Another brown shape came jogging to us, but this time the headpiece was up, the wearer’s face exposed. I recognized him, another Agency man, sweaty and out of breath.

“Oh, you... you brought it yourself?” he managed. “Defeats the purpose, but as long as we get it safely, we...” He looked us over. “Where’s the fish? Did you let it go?”

I rubbed my head. “We, uh...”

“We gave it to the other guy. How many of you are there?”

Horror and realization crept over the Agency man’s face. “But there aren’t... I’m the only... Oh no. No, no!” And he too was upstream like a shot, leaving us alone in the dying light.

After The War fucked around with this message at 05:05 on Feb 29, 2016

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Additional crit thanks.

After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


In with Tallowpunk.

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After The War
Apr 12, 2005

to all of my Architects
let me be traitor


Out, gently caress this weekend.

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