“This is the story of your mom’s life. As well as I know it, anyway, and that’s better than most.”
The voice is the same voice that echoes through the city, propelled by battered bullhorns. On the tape, he is much younger. More vulnerable, unsure of himself. The man they now call the Mongoose. The minister of the city. Her father.
The buttons on the ancient tape recorder are worn smooth, but Asa’s fingers know their way across them. She clutches the recorder to her chest. The volume is low, so low that even Asa can barely hear. Asa sits in the darkness. She listens to her father’s tiny voice. She thinks of how she will kill him.
Her father, as a young man on the tape, talks about dossiers read again and again, grainy photographs memorized, hollow static recordings of intercepted calls. She had been his greatest target, his ultimate goal, for years. His nemesis. Her mother.
“I spent hours on this stuff. I knew her better than I knew any of the real people in my life. We called her the Cobra, and we were terrified of her.”
Asa’s lips move silently along with the little voice. She knows these words by heart. She clicks down the fast forward button, and the tape machine whirs while she counts her breaths. She clicks play.
“—lways a step behind. She always knew, somehow, when we’d tracked her down, when we were coming after her, and she’d be gone by the time we got there.” Her young father’s voice is incredulous. Asa huddles below a steel grate. Above her, on the surface, the propaganda bullhorns begin blaring her father’s voice, older. Demanding submission, demanding surrender, from the tunnelers. Asa has learned by now to tune out the sound of the voice, just as she has tuned out the explosions, tuned out the gunfire. She presses the tape machine closer to her ear.
“We got lucky, plain and simple. We didn’t even know the Cobra was going to be there, I was just leading one of the strike teams. The fighting was bad, worse than I expected, and I had this feeling, I just knew she was there. I led a small group down into the catacombs, into this warm, pitch black hole. We weren’t using lights, to keep ourselves secret. It smelled like old bones. But I could feel her nearby, somehow. Like a sixth sense. I felt myself being drawn towards her. And I think she knew I was there too.”
Asa knows what her father is talking about. She has spent most of her life in dark tunnels. You feel the presence of things, like a bat. Her father’s voice grows excited as he recalls the memory, the two of them moving quietly in the darkness, knowing that the other was just feet away, smelling each other’s breath in the black, burning with anticipation.
“My heart was rattling in my chest like an old diesel engine. I lunged forward, putting everything I had into my legs. I was airborne, hoping to connect with something, anything, and I was lucky. I collided with her, wrapped my arms around her, dragged her down splashing into the standing water of the tunnels. She was a fighter, no doubt. I caught a few elbows to the jaw, fast, like a jackhammer, and I saw bright white stars explode in the darkness, but I kept my grip, kept squeezing, crushing.
“And then something changed. All I had been thinking about up until that point was killing the Cobra, how much hate I had for her, for the resistance, but in those tunnels, our bodies pressed together, I felt something different. And she felt it too.”
Asa smiles, listening to the tape. When she had been a small child, this part of the tape had felt confusing, awkward, and alien. When she was a teenager, this part of the tape made her feel hot and embarrassed, ashamed without knowing exactly why. Now that she was a woman grown, this part made her laugh.
“We lay for a while afterwards, breathing heavily, our limbs still tangled. I lit a cigarette, and I saw her face for the first time in real life by the light of that tiny flame. She was beautiful… I’d never realized until then. She smiled at me, a soft smile, maybe even a little apologetic, and then I felt the needle prick.”
“I came to some time later, still woozy, the Cobra nowhere to be found. I dragged myself through those catacombs, reached my team. I said I’d been overpowered.”
Asa hears footsteps nearby, pauses the tape, letting the button out slowly to prevent it from making noise. She holds her breath. Heavy steps, someone wearing boots. They don’t realise that Asa is there, and continue their patrol. She waits for the steps to fall away. She almost puts the recorder away, but her time is approaching, and she needs to hear her father speak the words one last time. One last time before she kills him.
“I felt so stupid, so humiliated. Angry. More than angry. Furious. I had had her, right there, I could have finished it then. And I’d let myself be tricked.”
Yes, you did, Asa whispers.
“I threw myself back into my work, spending all my waking hours scouring for traces of her, shaking down contacts. But as far as anyone knew, she’d just disappeared. Some said dead, even. But I didn’t believe them.”
The propaganda bullhorns start again. The Mongoose warns of the menace from below. Citizens should immediately report any unfamiliar persons to the nearest patrol. Never speak with a tunnel dweller. Burn any literature they give you, for they are lies. Possession of tunnel literature is a serious crime.
“I finally found her, almost a year later, holed up in a safehouse on the south side. You were there with her, a baby. She begged for mercy. Told me you were mine, that she was done with the tunnelers, that all she wanted was to get out of the City, to start again.
“I didn’t believe her. How could I? Who would? And she knew, she knew I couldn’t believe her, I could never let her go. She said to me then: I’ll prove it to you. She bit down hard. And that was the last thing she ever said.”
Asa clicks off the tape recorder, looks up through the grate, feels the cool night mist filter downwards. Her father had not yet been the Mongoose, not then. He had been celebrated as a hero, following the Cobra’s death, had risen through the ranks, accumulated power. But he had been weak, once. He had saved Asa, the baby. He had taken her to a place where she would be found by tunnelers, recognized as one of their own. And he had left her the tape.
It is almost time. Asa puts the tape recorder away in her bag, and loosens the bolts on the grate. She feels for the tiny knife in her pocket.
In her heart she knows that her father’s weakness is still there, somewhere under the surface.
"Mongoose-to-cobra, two serpentine forms, he was my rival; are we fighting in these holes, or are we really making love?"
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 06:51|
|# ? Jun 12, 2021 23:49|
Beautiful and Terrible As the Dawn
We write the year 2347, a world abound with nuclear alacrity, when suddenly Frank enters with a smile. It’s unnerving. Frank never smiles. We always thought that when they made him an editor they surgically removed the muscles required to go past a smirk. “Arsenic Scorpio,” he says, syrup-sweet, “A word of advice. Lead with the severed head.” He’s so singular and linear. The kind tone still strikes most of us as strange. “Also, if you don't make deadline with something human beings can understand I will personally rip off your legs and feed them to my pet crocodile.”
That's more like Frank. We're Arsenic Scorpio, or rather, we're the collective of headmates and identities that used to delude themselves into considering themselves that they were just one woman. For the next sixteen hours we are all completely aware of each other, no secrets and no lies. All thanks to the Academy's latest drug, which they’re just a catchy street name away from releasing. And that's only the third most disruptive thing they’re up to.
We were at the Academy for the party. You might think that a bunch of pencil-necked geeks aren’t your best party choice, but you’d be wrong. They get all of the new weird drugs before the Pharma syndicate gets rid of the fun side effects. (Our eyes are bright violet right now. We know that’s not going to be part of the finished product.) On top of that, they’ve got a “monogamy, but outsiders don’t count” sex culture, just like the Teamsters and the Bards, but they don’t have as much contact with other syndicates as those people, so when they do host a party they gently caress like eager greasy weasels. We were just getting used to being a collective ourselves. Our libido is distributed over nine different voices in here, and it took us most of the first day to realize that democracy just wasn’t going to work.
So after voices of self-preservation and curiosity finally staged a coup, we dragged ourselves away from the pile, through a shower and over to the office of Alabaster Jonas. He was our source. Told us about the Academy’s latest moves quietly lining up contracts with most of the major mercenary Syndarchs. He was going to tell us all about it, tell us the why of it. Except when we got to his office his body was sitting at his desk, but his head was nowhere to be found.
Now, had we been a monadic consciousness organized on patently unjust traditional governing structures, we’d probably have gone into a panic right then. Discovering dead people, in our experience, usually involves getting blamed for them. But we had a quick internal synod and approached the matter rationally. We examined the wound. No blood, with signs of freezer burn. We calmly alerted the campus security subcontract police and told them what we had found. “Find the head and you'll have found the killer,” we said helpfully.
There was a lot of activity. Nobody even considered us as a suspect. In fact, everyone was much more worried about finding the head. We went looking for someone who knew what was going on. We found Dr. Jonas’ assistant, Dracula Winner.
“Oh, hello again,” he said, confusing us for a moment.
“Have we,” we said.
“Um,” he said. “Last night.” We remembered. Six of the nine judges had given him high marks for eagerness and attention.
“Right,” we said. “Arsenic Scorpio, we didn't exactly have an introduction.”
“You're Arsenic Scorpio?” he said. “Wow. If I'd known who you are, well...” We raised our eyebrows. He trailed off into a mumble, then started again. “I'm the one who recommended to Archimedes that he leak through your feed.”
Did he give us the scoop? Yes, he did. Archimedes and a few other researchers accidentally discovered something world-changing. The figured out a way to start a fusion reaction up from nothing, just using a sequence of carefully aimed lasers and magnets. “Accidentally,” we said. He assured us it was just that. That’s the way science works, he said. The drug we’re on right now was supposed to be a memory enhancer. We’re in disagreement over whether we believe him about this.
“The thing is,” he goes on, “Is that it’s easy. No need to go mining and purifying uranium for years while every other syndicate watching you can tell exactly what you’re up to. The fundamental technology can be done by just about anyone. You know what this means, right?”
We all spoke at the same time. We said “We’re hosed,” while he said “We have to take over.”
It almost makes sense. If anyone and their dog can make a weapon of mass destruction now, the only hope is mutually assured destruction, and that only works with a small handful of superpowers. About a hundred independent syndicates and guilds, each with access to the sun’s own nuclear fires? Recipe for disaster. So it’s time to consolidate. Worst thing about it is that if every collective that doesn’t want the academy running the continent gets together to try and stop them, well, that works for their plan, too.
They never did find old Archimedes’ head, and that’s bad news too. While whoever took it can’t sew it onto someone else’s body, they can extract a lot of technical data from it. And everyone there kept looking at us like we were stupid for not knowing the difference between the one, which was a perfectly reasonable application of science, and the other, which was an insane fantasy. So someone else is likely to know how to make laser-induced fusion bombs very soon. Maybe they’ll try to lead the anti-academy bloc. So expect a year or two of eager nucleation around the world. In fact, if we read between the lines of the news from overseas, the Pan-African League and the Southern Cross Alliance, it starts to look like they’re not pre-collapse throwbacks at all, but that we’re the ones running behind.
We’re going to be joining the trend. When this dose wears off we’re going back to being an individual, for good. Getting through this year is going to take a lot of being able to not think about the things we’re worried about.
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 07:42|
Ben slams the packet down by the Officer. 'These are my kids don’t you see?' His own dear flesh, his dear old blood. He squeezes the packet tighter, his knuckles whitening. The packet’s contents swirl and seep in between his fingers and around the creases of his palm, threatening to burst. Just like his only dear wish, all under the control of the woman sitting at the desk before him. He ignores her scrutinising, judgmental eyes, with the brows all furrowed, and the yaw of her mouth slowly opening to form words to hurt him. Does she not see it? Does no one in this accursed facility see it? This is his. He deserves it. His dear old flesh.
“This isn’t your flesh,” the Medical Officer says with a forced calm, poking a pen at the transculescent packet. It shifts form as the fluid, squeezed, oozes with a tired sigh. “Sir.”
Behind him Ben can feel the breeze of the outside air, cold and heartless, swirling in between and freezing the follicles of his exposed skin which his blue t-shirt and jeans do not cover. The door to the gynaecology ward still swivels after his forceful pushing. He can hear the screams of the nurses outside, echoing and silencing as the door swivels. The sirens are louder now.
“Sir, you should return that to the biowaste truck -” the officer says, pointing to her left at the entrance, but Ben is already running deeper into the hospital. The plastic packet feels heavy. Too heavy. It’s his flesh and blood.
“These are my kids!” He shrieks and runs past nurses and orderlies, all too shocked to register his grief. There is a pinprick - perhaps from his incessant squeezing - and already he can feel warm liquid flowing down his hands. “My children, you hear! My children. Mine.”
He runs towards a door, the most familiar of doors, the door that he has been opening and closing for the past forty eight hours. That treacherous, horrible door. He can already touch the peeling and fading lime paint at the corners, and the tiny rust particles of its handle. Once that door leads to hope, but now it leads to one of many broken promises.
He hates the door.
It opens before he reaches and a doctor walks out, stethoscope around his neck, clipboard in his left hand. “Can I help you? “ says the doctor before stepping back. “You’re bleeding!”
“It’s my flesh and blood!” Ben screams at him. “Do you not see it? My own dear flesh, my dear old blood!”
But the doctor looks at him again, and refuses to see it. “That does not belong to you!” he says, his right palm open. He is lying. Ben knows it. “There are rules -”
The rules do not apply to Ben anymore. These are just things made by people to control other people. These are not things of nature. These are not his children. Not his own flesh, nor his old blood. The blood is flowing down his hands on to the floor. It puddles at his feet. Ben tries to scream, but the pool of blood reflecting his face shows the same visage of grimace he had been stuck in since he entered the hospital.
Behind him, he can hear more heavy footsteps. They are here for him. They are here for the packet. They are here for his kids. He does not look back. Ben shoves the doctor, too hard, that his head hits the wall and he crumbles down to the floor. Ben does not care. Nobody in this hospital cares for him and he has to be selfish, just this once. He pushes a bloodied hand onto the rusty handle and push it open.
The woman inside is lying in bed, facing the window away from him. His hands hover over her. The woman whose touch has been so familiar yet so far away now. His fingers tremble. Blood splatters over her.
“Mmmm?” the woman mutters, turning around. “What’s going - what the hell!?”
“Ben, what are you doing?” She crawls back, up into a sitting position at her bed. “Why are you... are you bleeding?” Suddenly she pauses. A pregnant pause, yet the pregnancy lingers, even though it is no longer there. She stares at the bleeding packet in Ben’s hands. “Is that. Oh. Oh my God.”
“Lindy, it’s okay,” he says, taking one of his bloody hands to her cheeks stained with tears of pain. “I’ve gotten -”
“Don’t touch me!” she screams, slapping his hand away. Blood splatters on the wall.
The orderlies and the security guard are now in the room. They surround him. Ben tries not to cry. “But you said-”
“It was a joke!” Lindy yells. Beside her, another voice - then two voices - scream out. “Ben! You absolute moron! Now the twins are crying!”
The burly arms of the security wrap around Ben. One has him around the neck in a chokehold. Another takes his hands, doing a quiet “ugh” as blood smears his own shirt. The doctor who Ben pushed earlier is standing beside him, his hands in surgical gloves, now going for the packet in Ben’s hands.
“No!” Ben says, with abject futility. “It’s mine! My flesh and blood! My dear, dear old flesh and blood!”
“It’s mine, Ben!” Lindy says. The newborn children continue to wail.
The biohazard bag, filled with blood and a bag made of human flesh, is snatched off Ben’s hands. “Lindy, we promise -”
“My placenta does NOT belong to you!” Lindy shouts.
The darkness is creeping in now. The arm around his neck tightens. His vision is fading. “We were going to make a chili,” he whines.
“Ben, just. Just stop,” he can hear Lindy say.
But it was just one voice in the darkness of a heartless and uncaring universe. A black, starless night where all things that are good are sucked into and none shall grieve them. His own dear flesh. His dear old blood. His kids. They are his kids.
“I would have left out the beans for you,” he tried to tell Lindy, but there is nothing left except the blood on his hands, silently going cold as all things descend into a voiding, crushing sense of loss.
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 07:57|
[Edited post-competition to fix a typo even worse than the story it was in.]
The town was built in the lowlands, risking flood, as if the founders dared the mighty mountains surrounding the town by asking for giant rivulets of detritus, saying, "Give me them," to the mountains. Yet the lowlands were not so deluged. Years upon years, the mountains had disdained our challenge – my challenge, for the decision to settle the rich land here had been mine – and for years we had lived in complacent peace.
I creakingly woke one morning to the sound of new rain and thunder from the distance. Such was spring in our valley; such was the way of all years. Agatha still slumbered at my side; our well-feathered bed, like our great lodge itself, was a sign of our station in the village, the last of the founders alive. The rain swept on apace, and with the rising wind rose our village, heedless, to set about the day's work.
The rain continued throughout the day, but instead of the gentle showers that had anchored our farming, the torrents only mounted. It was Harold who first heeded aloud the water upon the grasses at our feet, some hours into the dark late afternoon. I heard his cry of shock from across the village. Soon, he and his had gathered with others and theirs to bring this problem to me. It was now drenching night, and our lamps struggled against the darkness.
His words were harsh, not in themselves but in their weight. "You said to my father that it was safe to build in this valley."
Lionel, the stonelayer, was quick to follow. "I have been telling you for years that we have to build a levy against the rain from the mountains! You ignored me every time, and now we are all paying for your pride!"
Robert's words cut deepest, strangely. "How long did you believe God would spool out His good grace for this folly?" How long, indeed? That was why this was worst to hear – I might have been mistaken, might have been proud... but the simple truth was that I was lazy. Every year had gone as well as those before it, and I had done nothing with this gift of vital time.
I couldn't blame the men for the beating they gave me. I stumbled home to prepare for departure with my wife and whatever we could carry.
"What's left?" Agatha asked quietly. "Where do we go? What do we do there, starting with nothing?"
I couldn't say. I was done leading our village; I had determined to simply follow wherever they decided to go. I would bring only a day's clothing with me in penance – no, I suddenly had a better idea.
Against my wife's protests, I dragged the table from the center of the lodge outside and drove its legs deep into the mud, then ran back in to bring the rest of my possessions out and laid what I could on it; books were piled safely under the tablecloth, gold candlesticks and silver knives sat beside a figure of a hunter, and a stack of bowls stood neatly among all sorts of other niceties.
"This is for you!" I yelled to the shapes trudging in the dark through water that rushed at their ankles. "I have no need for anything! Take it all!"
"We don't need your poo poo either!" a shape shouted back. "And we don't need you!"
I knew. God, I knew. After a few minutes' silence, I wandered back, wheezing, to the door, where Agatha stood in sad anger.
"What's wrong with you? Did you think they were selling a pardon? Don't be stupid about this."
"I didn't... didn't think anything," I muttered as best I could. "I just needed to do something."
"There's nothing to do. Just be who they need you to be. Nobody needs a saint right now."
I realized that my performance of generosity hadn't been for nothing – seeing my complete pointlessness in hanging on to prominence, she knew that I was not going to lead us to safety, was not going to lead us at all. My time was up.
The water was roaring now, snaring our calves as we trekked at the tail of the crowd. The downpour tried to douse our lamps, but they were old, brave little things that wouldn't have it. We were headed northeast, walking toward the eastern side of the valley and against the water from the north, doing our best to follow an uphill course. I had a cracked rib from my beating earlier, and I intermittently caught words of disapproval from those ahead. Agatha and I took each new step in silence.
"You are in pain; both physical and emotional," my heart informed me.
"And what of it?" my mind retorted. "This is a passing trial. It is yours to surmount, the only thing that is yours now."
The flood flowed shallower and shallower as we drew near the valley's slope, and we were eventually hiking. The pull of weight was less burdensome than water's grasp, and I let my thoughts drift to the future. I was hated, but everything was going to be rebuilt, and we would find a new place in the new town.
My fantasy was broken by a sudden scream beside me – I turned and saw Agatha slip from a wet rock and tumble downhill, and without knowing what I was doing, I ran-slid after her. Before I could do anything, I saw her head meet another stone, and her scream cut short as she came to rest at the edge of the flood. She had stopped breathing when I came to her. I shivered and could not make a sound.
Lamplight slowly lit up the area around me. I turned and saw two of the younger men and a girl; they had nothing to say either. Then, one man – I think he was Nathan – broke the silence.
I knew that I could not go with them. I turned back to my wife, then picked her light, old body up and went back through the water we had left.
Many of the houses had already been washed away, but mine, of course, remained. I hated it. I roughly brushed the trinkets from the table, sat down on it above the water, and seated Agatha next to me.
And I looked up at the mountains, at their great rivulets coursing down to dash the houses still standing, and said,
"Give me them."
Sham bam bamina! fucked around with this message at 11:20 on Jan 6, 2018
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 07:59|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 21:23 on Jan 8, 2018
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 07:59|
Submissions are closed.
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 08:03|
judging: why not done?
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 08:14|
judging: why not done?
I hear that fast judging is good judging.
|# ? Jan 2, 2018 22:56|
THUNDERDOME CCLXXXII: THE RESULTS
All in all, this was a pretty good week, with a lot of strong stories and nobody really falling on their dark and stormy sword. Stories were spun, and most of them were better than their inspiration!
Unfortunately, not everyone was a perfect success, so let's start with the bad news. Your Loser this week was flerp, with "Distance," which we found to be flavorless and dull in a week with very strong flavor otherwise. Further Dishonorable Mentions go to Sham bam bamina!, whose "Floodplain" took way too many pains to emulate the dire prose of its starter sentence, and The Saddest Rhino, who kneecapped himself with the twin cudgels of topical forums humor and a "Loss" reference.
On to the better news. This was a strong week, so we have three Honorable Mentions for you: apophenium's unnerving "Gobolinks," Benny Profane's evocative "From Below,", and Yoruichi's strong silver-medal effort "Hope Springs Eternal." Your Winner, and first ascendant to the Blood Throne for 2018, is Tyrannosaurus, whose "In the Blood" had a strong emotional throughline that won the day. Congratulations, T-Rex, and be sure to throw us a prompt as soon as the 2018 post opens!
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 03:15|
Oh, and I nearly forgot, we have SPECIAL PRIZES, as donated by Exmond!
Two of them are Steam keys, one for Dragon Age: Origins and one for Gunpoint. I'll offer these to the positive-mention pool, first come first serve -- positive mention folks, hit me up if you want one.
The second is a 30-day Crunchyroll subscription, to be given to the "most anime" story, per Exmond. I'm, uh... I'm just gonna let Exmond pick the winner there.
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 03:17|
hey trex, grats, make sure to put the new prompt in the new thread when it goes up
That's a wrap for the 2017 thread. Feel free to shitpost, sincerepost, or not post here as your heart desires. You have until midnight PST on Friday, January 5th to edit out any stories you may wish to remove from this thread.
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 03:20|
Finally judged, good job!
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 03:23|
okay so Exmond says I have to pick the anime winner
the anime winner is Thranguy because he has characters in his story named "Arsenic Scorpio" and "Dracula Winner," and if anime has taught me anything, it's that that's how anime writers name characters who are supposed to be from Western countries
Thranguy, if you want some free Crunchyroll, hit me up
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 03:30|
deepest condolences on winning the anime, thranguy
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 04:06|
new thread is here
get in early for that new thread smell and start some loving fights you amiable buffoons
|# ? Jan 3, 2018 09:29|
Good night, sweet thread. May your contributions to the world of literature never be forgotten.
|# ? Jan 6, 2018 13:07|
|# ? Jan 6, 2018 14:35|
|# ? Jun 12, 2021 23:49|
|# ? Jan 6, 2018 14:50|