|# ? Jan 20, 2018 04:20|
|# ? Jun 18, 2018 18:49|
|# ? Jan 20, 2018 07:19|
|# ? Jan 20, 2018 08:41|
Asuga Confronts the Queen of Space
Asuga battled her way to the top of the mountain at the heart of the cosmos, into the colosseum of the Queen of Space. Now she lingered in an archway between two mammoth pillars that shone like mother of pearl, steadying herself for this final task.
The Queen sat at the center of the colosseum, presently in the shape of a giant, scintillating ovoid, like a marquise-cut diamond stood on end. Her many-faceted skin reflected the ambient light from the churning astral firmament around the mountaintop.
Asuga approached the queen and called out, “I swore I would carve my way through time and space to reach you, and here I am.” She did her best to make her voice sound even and powerful, like a hero. “So either give me the power to save my world, or smite me.”
Ripples agitated the Queen’s surface. A shape began to press outward from the center of the ovoid. It was abstract at first, but quickly resolved into a familiar humanoid arrangement of arms and legs and a head. The ovoid’s faceted flesh stretched like latex and then, at last, expelled the Queen’s avatar into the air. She floated there for a moment, then drifted down to the pearlescent floor and landed lightly on one pointed toe.
Asuga took a step back. Her astral saber crackled to life in her right hand, and she sank into a loose en-garde stance.
The queen cocked her head. “You would rather fight than hear what I have to say?”
Up close, her face was severe and mask-like. Her skin was the color of a cloudy sky viewed from the bottom of a murky pond and her eyes were just as Asuga had imagined: black and empty as the gaps between stars.
“You already know how this ends,” Asuga said. “Why draw it out?”
“You wish to save your world,” the Queen said. “Or rather, you wish to be the savior of your world.”
“If I wanted to feed my ego, I would’ve stayed in politics,” Asuga snapped. “The only person here who doesn’t know the ending of this story is me. So let’s poo poo or get off the pot.”
The Queen spread her hands as if conceding a point, then leapt back into the air.
As soon as she was aloft, a figure stepped through the archway opposite Asuga. It was humanoid, swathed from head to toe in featureless black. The thing’s shape was little consolation to Asuga; things that made themselves look human were usually hiding a much uglier side.
It strode across the colosseum on foot. The sight of a human shape doing something so mundane as walking across a floor caught Hishihana off guard. It had been so long since she’d seen something safe and ordinary like a house or a power line or a mailbox. She shook it off, adjusted her stance, and reaffirmed her grip on the crackling saber.
The black-swathed creature summoned its own saber, a darkly shining mockery of Asuga’s white-hot blade. It spat showers of indigo sparks onto the cream colored floor.
They circled each other, exchanged a few light, probing jabs.
Then Asuga lunged forward, thrust her blade in earnest. The creature twisted out of the way and swiped at her throat. Asuga threw her head back, felt the preternaturally cool kiss of dark astral energy brush the exposed skin of her neck. Without thinking, she launched herself backward, desperate to put distance between herself and the creature.
She recovered her footing just in time to deflect the creature’s blade away from her liver, but it used the opening to seize her by the throat. Asuga flailed, but the creature was inside her reach now, and she couldn’t get a good angle with her saber. It knocked the blade from her hand, then discarded its own. Asuga found herself being marched backward, toward the giant ovoid diamond that had birthed the queen’s avatar.
She slammed into the multifaceted surface hard enough to lose her wind. The ovoid was itchy and electric against her back, more like stationary lightning than a solid thing.
Then the creature began to press her into the ovoid. The air around them sparked and hissed. Asuga screamed. She was being folded into a live wire, swallowed by a thunderhead. It was too much. Screaming pressure built against her ears and eyes, a million nails on a thousand chalkboards, and then--
“Control,” her father said, “is what separates us from those who need to be governed. Self control. We have to be our own masters.”
They were standing on the Truman Balcony taking in the last of a smoggy spring evening. Asuga thought she could hear protest drums coming from the direction of the Washington Monument. It was the day before she would begin her journey to confront the Queen of Space.
Her father rested a hand on her shoulder and continued, “They don’t understand, what we do for them when we take on the burden of mastery. We have to remind ourselves to forgive them.”
Asuga felt her mouth curl upward into a smile. “They remind me of water. And we are the riverbed, guiding the direction of that water.”
A trio of armed security drones streaked by overhead, headed toward the Washington Monument. The sounds of protest were unignorable now, but Asuga wasn’t worried. They could smash cars and burn businesses, but at the end of the day, they were still pissing in their own pool.
No, she thought. That’s not what I said. That’s not how I felt.
“You’re going to be a formidable head of state,” her father said, giving her shoulder one last squeeze before letting go.
You would’ve been a great leader, whispered a soft, reasonable voice in her mind. You’ll be an even better leader if you go back now, with all the power of the astral at your disposal.
Asuga faltered. She saw herself return to the White House, having missed only a few seconds of Earth time. She saw herself seize power with astral blade in hand and astral beasts at her back, then reshape the world according to her own increasingly unfathomable will.
Her father’s face hung in the center of this hazy portent, smiling approval.
The healing of the world should belong to all the people of Earth, not just her.
Her father’s visage transformed into a reflection of her own face, distorted by the undulations of the Queen’s flesh. The creature, formerly clad in black, was now a perfect replica of Asuga, down to the light acne scarring on her cheeks and the drape of her long black hair. And she was pressing Asuga--the real one--deeper into the turbulent innards of the ovoid.
As she looked up at her more powerful self, Asuga realized that her twin was the terrible ruler she’d envisioned. That part of her would always win this fight, because it believed utterly in its own superiority. So she did the only thing she could.
She tumbled backward into the ovoid, into the very heart of the Queen of Space, and dissolved completely, dragging her twin in with her. As her fragments osmosed into the tesseract latticework within the Queen, a soft voice whispered to the very atoms of her:
The world is saved, was always going to be saved, because you were always going to make this sacrifice.
But that doesn’t make the choosing any less important.
The End, my fierce daughter. Rest well.
|# ? Jan 20, 2018 21:59|
That's my brawl post btw
|# ? Jan 20, 2018 23:20|
Sitting Here Brawl Entry
The monster’s claws slam into the trunk beneath me as I grab desperately at the lowest branch, hauling myself out of its reach. Sparks flash at the junctures in the circuitry that winds along its back around the stubs of its almost-wings. I can see its muscles twitch in pain with each spark. If it wasn’t trying to kill me I’d feel sorry for it; the terrible offspring of an ancient, disastrous mistake.
I scrabble with my legs, trying to get myself on top of the branch so I can climb to a safer perch, but the moss-covered bark is damp and slippery, and I can’t get a decent hold. The muscles in my forearms burn. The beast below me growls, a terrible, pitiful yowling.
Do you want me to save you? says a voice, reverberating out of the humid air. I feel the serpentine mark on my palm start to writhe.
I grit my teeth and adjust my failing grip on the branch, shake my head. I won’t go to her, I think, tears welling behind my eyes. She can’t have me.
More of them are coming, the voice says. The monster’s yellow eyes fixed on mine. I can’t hold them much longer.
“No!” I yell at the forest, as the wet bark beneath my trembling fingers gives way and I drop like dead meat towards the beast’s waiting jaw. The forest floor smacks into the back of my head and I see bright white, then, darkness.
“I won’t let her have you,” Liam said when I showed him the mark, chest swollen with imagined bravery. It’s raised and red, like a fresh scar, snaking across my palm and crossing out my own life line, over and over. I was crying, tears splashing onto my palm as I cradled my hand against my chest. Liam put his arms around me, kissed the top of my head.
“You should run away. Maybe, if she can’t find you, she’ll choose someone else.” Foolish boy, I thought, even as I buried my face in his sweet chest and willed myself to believe his words. Fresh vessels for the forest’s Guardian have always been chosen from my family’s female line; a great honour for my family and our village. I have lived, ever since I was a little girl, with the deep rooted fear that one day she might come for me.
“I love you,” I told him, and he kissed me, for the last time.
I open my eyes in darkness. My head aches.
She is there, bending over me. Her skin is pale, almost grey. Her heavily lidded eyes are ringed with dark circles and her lips are blue, like she’s freezing cold. She’s holding my wrist, gently uncurling my fingers which hide the mark on my palm.
“Let me go!” I say, jerking my hand away. But her grip is strong, black fingernails digging into my skin.
I am dying, her voice says, seeming to come from inside my head. Stop being such a loving coward.
I struggle to get up, but she is stronger than me. Gripping my wrist she presses her other hand against mine, palm to palm, intertwining our fingers like lovers.
The mark burns like fire ants biting my skin and I scream and thrash against her. Suddenly I am watching us from a hundred pairs of eyes, two women, young and old, wrestling under the spreading branches. I can feel their bodies, a painful melding of muscles and metal. Some huge, armoured with claws and teeth, others tiny, skittering unseen along branches. So many, and more coming.
And I can feel her, the Guardian, like a spider at the center of a web, holding tightly to the gossamer threads that run through the forest, wiring them together. Her consciousness extends further than my mind can comprehend, a network of ears and eyes and bones and claws woven through the forest. The tiny remaining islands of human habitation are like dark spots in my vision, cut off from the network.
One such island is my village. I catch glimpses of familiar faces, illuminated by torchlight, through the eyes of the beasts that are prowling in the darkness outside the rough timber fence. I see men and women gathering their bows. Liam is there, a boy trying to look like a man. But there are so many of the monsters. I feel their hunger, their impulse to attack growing stronger as the Guardian’s grip weakens.
They’re all going to die! I think. With a gasp of effort I wrench my mind away like an insect ripping itself free from a web, leaving broken strands drifting behind me.
Nausea rocks me and the world spins but I am back looking at the Guardian out of my own eyes. She looks frail, diminished.
“Let me go!” I scream. “I have to warn them!”
No! her voice crashes like symbols inside my head. I cannot control them for much longer!.
I shove her, hard, and as she stumbles backwards I yank my hand from hers, tearing our palms apart. Anger and anguish flash across her face as I turn and sprint towards home.
Screaming and the smell of blood crashes over me like a wave as I run into the wide clearing around the village gate. There are beasts everywhere, malformed bodies lit by sharp sparks that cast monstrous shadows in the darkness. People are fighting them as best they can with bows and makeshift weapons, but there are too many.
The feedback of shared pain screeches up and down my skin as weapons hack and slash and blood flows. Ignoring it I yank my bow from my back and release an arrow into the sweat-slick flank of one of the dark shapes. White hot pain sears between my ribs as the beast drops dead. I grab my side but there is nothing there.
Stumbling forward I see Liam pinned beneath the claws of a bear-shaped mass, beating desperately at it with his fists.
Stop them! Please! The thought reverberates out of and into my head and I can’t tell if it’s me or her that’s screaming. I can feel connections breaking loose from the web, the spider cannot weave them back together fast enough. I grab at the loose threads, frantic to pull the beasts back and away from the men and women who are trapped with their backs to the wall around the village, torchlight reflecting off the whites of their eyes and teeth and sweat-slicked faces.
I see the bear-thing’s huge paw ready to come crashing down on Liam’s tightly shut eyes and face turned away in final anticipation and I scream STOP. And they do.
My mind unfurls, rolling out into the forest network like a river emptying into the sea, irreversible. I sink beneath the green waves, leaving behind the whoops from the people, alive, safe, on their island.
I look down at Liam. I love you, I think, but all I hear is a terrible, pitiful yowl. Liam looks at me with horror. I sit back on my haunches, and he scrambles to his feet and runs from me, leaving me alone with the forest.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 03:22|
Greco-Latinate Brawl! (apophenium vs Aesclepia)
Indulgence poo poo
Patrick had never seen a better place to poop than this. It was behind the Main Street bank, shielded from the cross-street by the dumpster, but tantalizingly visible from one sliver of an angle of Main Street itself. The low end of a retaining wall from the parking lot came right up to the spot: perfect for steadying one rear end-cheek.
The problem, of course, was that Patrick was not currently on a public-pooping mission. He was on his lunch break and only had ten minutes to get back to the office before people were going to notice. Not nearly enough time to have a proper poo poo. Certainly not enough time to casually approach the defecation station so that no one saw him heading there. He was in his favorite suit – charcol pinstripes – and nice new shoes. Not his usual pooping attire.
He paused and pulled out his phone to cover his thoughts. He distinctly remembered the day he had confessed to it. It had been sweltering, so he couldn't tell if his sweat had been from telling his weird guilty pleasure or the heat.
“Father, I also have done a thing which may or may not be a sin.”
“Tell me, my son.”
“I have pooped in public.”
“What do you mean? Like out in the woods, while camping?”
“No, father. Behind a restaurant at midnight on Tuesday.”
“Ah. Well, Deuteronomy tells us that when we defecate, we should cover it up for the Lord walks among us. So it is a minor sin in the great scheme of things. Ten Hail Marys, and you should wait for a toilet next time.”
Patrick didn't leave turds for anyone to see every time he had to poop, of course. It was just damned fun sometimes. Which brought him to today's dilemma. Time was ticking. He did have to poop sometime today. But this was far less anonymous than his previous adventures. His coworkers also came down this street on lunch breaks.
What the hell, dude? he asked himself. You've got work to do, you're wasting break, you might even get poop on your shoes and then the whole office might smell it. Patrick blinked as he realized he'd really, really enjoy knowing that the entire stupid cubicle farm could smell poo poo and it was his.
But his manager was on one of his crusades to keep everyone's breaks from getting “too long”. As if eleven minutes is so much worse than ten minutes. Patrick was already in danger of getting back late even without pausing to do the doo.
He glanced over at the bowel movement oasis and felt his willpower break.
Patrick quickly walked to the corner, came up the side street to the alley, and confirmed that The Spot was only visible from the street. He navigated around the dumpster, smelling smells that he never really wanted to smell. Rotting something, sickly sweet unidentified I-don't-even-know. Patrick positioned himself and lowered his pants. The low wall did indeed steady him, even as the cold concrete grated against his skin. Patrick pulled his phone out just to look like he was doing something, but he was concentrating on evacuating his bowels and the cold, open air around his bits.
There was something different about being exposed in public than wandering naked after a shower in the confines of an apartment or house. It always felt colder, but never unpleasant. Patrick didn't linger on that train of thought, instead wondering who would first find this bowel movement. He smiled.
Then he looked up, and as the large, distinctively-scented log exited his body and hit the ground, Patrick's eyes met his secretary's eyes as she walked past. Hers widened and his slid away to his phone. He was officially late.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 11:55|
Nothing in this Life that I’ve been Trying 876 words
One day, while making horseshoes, he remembered being someone else. Somewhere else. He’d been a hunter. He didn’t just remember being a hunter, he remembered how to hunt. He felt sure that with a spear in his hand he could take down… well, some creature that definitely didn’t live around here.
His hand came to rest on a spear he’d made, and he lifted it thoughtfully. Too heavy. He remembered using wooden spears. He shrugged. Best to put it out of his mind. Smithing paid better than hunting, anyway.
The next year, disease went through his village.
While sowing her husband’s field, she remembered being a smith. She also remembered… remembering… being a hunter. Neither memory was helpful to her. She repressed both and focused on sowing the field.
She died in a flood a decade later.
He was a warrior. And then she was a slave. And then a farmer again. A midwife. A beggar. And each time, he – she – they – one day suddenly remembered all the others.
He was a farmer again. It got easier each time, farming. Not necessarily at the start, but as soon as he remembered the others, he got the benefit of all their experience. True of every profession, he supposed, but he’d been some more than others. He’d learned things went more smoothly if he didn’t tell anyone else about the ones that went before. One life he’d done that, and been accused of witchcraft. He remembered what it was like to burn to death.
He remembered every death.
He did so well at farming, this time around, that he was able to expand the farm. Not just crops, some livestock too. He’d not done a whole lot with livestock in past lives, but it was all experience, right? If he stuffed it up this time around, he could chalk it up to experience for the next guy. Or girl.
It was especially strange remembering being a woman. And then remembering how weird it was to remember being a man.
His farm did very well; the livestock were a success. As it turned out, they were such a success that some men decided to take some of them from him one night. He was woken up by one of his farmhands, and went outside to confront the thieves.
“Go back to bed, old man,” said one of the thieves. A bit rude, but it would’ve seemed like a safe bet that a farmer would be a bit of a soft mark, and not someone with several lifetimes of experience in his brain, including multiple lifetimes that were devoted mostly to causing violence to other people.
He approached the two men with open hands and a wide smile, and offered to forget the whole thing if they just gave back his livestock. They laughed, as he had hoped they would, and he beat them both to death.
As it turns out, defense of self and defense of property weren’t principles that stretched quite as far as to what he’d done to his would-be thieves. He probably shouldn’t have dismembered them; remembered a bit too vividly, there.
He was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging. He hadn’t paid too much attention to the details. He’d expected the result, and had sold most of his assets, putting them into valuables that he’d hidden somewhere that, hopefully, only his future selves would find. He’d also spent the days of his trial familiarising himself with the law, to some degree. He’d have to look into this for real, in a future life. Could be useful.
When asked if he had any last words, he’d smiled and recited a child’s poem in one of his previous languages, just to mess with them. Hangman couldn’t pull the lever fast enough.
It took a couple of lifetimes to get his – her – their hands on the farmer’s valuables. In the meantime, he kept adding to his bag of tricks. She studied politics. He took up engineering. She became a mechanic, and learned how to take apart and build a car.
She was finally close enough to where the valuables were. It was a bit of a drive, but that was all right. She drove for three days, stopping at cheap hotels overnight. And there was where she’d – he’d – buried it all.
Turns out they were the sort of valuables that became even more valuable when they went missing for a few hundred years. She remembered a lot, but she didn’t ever remember being this rich. She had some ideas about what to do with it, however. She bought some property, far enough from most of civilization that she could be relatively confident that only later versions of her would know it was there. She was still planning the construction when the emergency alarm went out over the radio.
She looked at the news on the TV. It seemed like the powers that be had decided to blow it all up and start over again.
She shrugged. The upside of getting bombed back to primitive times was that she remembered what those times were like. Whoever she was afterwards, she’d probably do all right.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 14:20|
Prompt: Thunderdome 285
Title: Choon-Hee & The Gwoemul
Word Count: 1721
As Choon-Hee crawled into bed, her head swirled with everything that had happened that day.
Her grandmother had asked her to enter the forest and search for firewood so that they could heat their ondol(1). As she had walked through the forest she thought of everything she had learned at school that day: of the Joseon Kingdom, it’s rulers, and the great spirits of the world.
“Today I met an Imugi(2) in the forest today.” Choon-hee told her grandmother as she settled into bed.
“Oh?” Halmoni(3) said, not truly paying attention.
“Yes! He was very nice, he showed me where to find lots of good trees for the ondol. He said he wasn’t the only creature like him to live in the forest and took me to the top of the mountain to see them. There was a Bulgassari(4) and a Samdugumi(5)! If I am good I can meet them someday, but I need to also be careful because of the evil Tiger that live in the forest.”
“That is nice dear.” Halmoni said to Choon-Hee as she tucked her in and turned out the light.
“Please. You must come to the forest with me tomorrow, you can meet them!” Choon-Hee pleaded.
“Sweetie you know I can’t go, I am far too old.” Halmoni replied as she began to close the door, “Besides, I wish you would focus more on your schoolwork and less on these silly stories you make up in your head.”
The next day Choon-Hee wandered through the forest again, eager to meet with the Imugi and other mythical creatures she had seen the previous day. After hours of searching though, she could not find them anywhere she had seen them. She eventually made her way to the top of the mountain that overlooked the forest where the Imugi took her to the previous evening, hoping to see the slightest hint of them.
“If you’re looking for the Gwoemul(6) they left for the Heavenly Kingdom.” a raspy old voice spoke.
Choon-Hee turned around to see who had said that. She didn’t hear anyone walk behind her, she could have swore it.
“I’m down here.” the voice said, this time closer and at Choon-Hee’s feet. As she peered down towards the voice she saw what had spoken to her. An old orange tabby sat looking up at Choon-Hee.
“Excuse me?” Choon-Hee said “But are you a talking cat?”
The tabby looked up at Choon-Hee silently. It’s eyes glowed with a soft orange tint as it locked eyes with her. “Of course I am. Have you never met a spirit before?” it said at it scratched behind its ear with its hind leg.
“I’ve only met an Imugi, but I saw other spirits yesterday. Do you know them? Can you tell me why they left for the Heavenly Kingdom?” Choon-Hee asked.
“Yes, we were friends a long time ago. Your friend the Imugi is with Hwanung now in the Heavenly Kingdom, they’re at a festival celebrating Seollal(7).”
“Who is Hwanung?” the child asked the cat. Choon-Hee had never heard the name before then.
“You do not know of Hwanung?” the cat asked in an almost shocked voice. “He is why we are both here now. We both owe everything to him.”
“No, I don’t know of him, I’m sorry. Could you tell me who he is, and what you mean?” Choon-Hee replied as she sat down on a large rock, putting herself at equal height with the strange animal. Something about this talking cat intrigued Choon-Hee. She felt at ease around such a strange creature.
“Certainly” the cat said as it shifted its weight, laying on its side.
“Long ago the Lord of Heaven, Hwanin, ruled the skies. He is the one who seeded the earth with all the animals: tigers, sheep, and so on. He is also the one who created the mortal beings he called humans. However, he chose to keep himself in the Heavenly Kingdom leaving the creatures of Earth to do as they pleased.”
Choon-Hee stared at the cat as it told it’s tale wondering what sort of place the Heavenly Kingdom looked like.
The cat continued it’s story, “One day, Hwanin’s son, Hwanung, was found crying as he watched the creatures of Earth.
‘What is wrong my son?’ Hwanin asked, puzzled by his child’s sorrow.
‘The mortals of Earth, father,’ Hwanung sobbed, ‘I am worried that they will become lost and die out without guidance.’
Hwanin was touched by his sons words, he had not considered that mortals guidance when he created them.
So, Hwanin took his son’s hand and told him, ‘My son, I am moved by your compassion. I will allow you to descend from the heavens to help the mortal creatures on Earth. Take with you three thousand servants, and my ministers Pungbaek (Wind), Usa (Rain), and Unsa (Clouds) to help create your new home.’
And so Hwanung left his home in the Heavenly Kingdom, and settled at the base of Baekdu Mountain. His three ministers traveled the land and gathered for him the wandering tribes of man, bringing them to his new city; Sinsi(7).
After some time they discovered they needed the help of animals to survive the winter, and so Hwanung spoke with the animals of the forest and asked several to join him. However, not all the animals were chosen.
Tiger and Bear wished to join Hwanung in Sinsi, as there was plenty of food, water, and warmth for them to stay safe and live long lives. They were never asked by Hwanung, and so one day they were heard begging him to be changed into humans so that they may enter Sinsi.”
As the cat continued its eyes began to grow brighter, shifting from a soft calming orange to a bright and firesome yellow. Choon-Hee barely noticed this as the story had gripped her imagination firmly.
“Touched by their desire to join his new family on Earth, Hwanung said that he could not change them into humans right away,” the cat continued, “as Tiger and Bear were known to attack humans in the forest. So, Hwanung was worried they would create chaos within the city if they were allowed in.
Instead he offered a compromise, he would create sacred food made of garlic and mugwort, and they would have to eat only this meal for 100 days. He told them that this was to show that their desire to be human was pure.
Tiger and Bear agreed to Hwanung’s offer and returned to the forest with their food. For days they both ate the sacred meal, eager to prove to Hwanung they were of honest intent. After one week Tiger began to feel sick, missing the taste of meat. He had never gone so long without tasting the flesh of an animal he had caught. Bear however, was happy to eat the plants as she ate both berries and meat her whole life.
By the twentieth day Tiger could no longer stand the taste of the stale plants and cried out ‘Please oh great Hwanung forgive me! I can not stand this food anymore!’ before running deep into the forest. Changed by the sacred food forever.”
“How was he changed?” Choon-Hee interrupted.
“Hmmm? The sacred plants had granted his spirit to be able to live long past its body. The tiger had become a spirit of the forest.” The cat answered.
As Tiger’s fate was told to Choon-Hee, she hadn’t begun to notice that the cat’s head had become much larger. Still, she was enchanted by the cat’s tale. The animal continued its story as Choon-Hee listened closely.
”Bear though, ate the sacred plant as Hwanung had instructed her and as promised, Hwanung transformed her into a beautiful woman and named her Ungnyeo. Grateful for her acceptance into the city, Ungnyeo prayed for Hwanung and his family to grow large and healthy.
Hwanung, still an unmarried man, heard Ungnyeo’s genuine prayers for his happiness and saw that she no longer worried only about herself, but for the happiness of others. Moved by her compassion, Hwanung took Ungnyeo to be his wife to help him oversee Sinsi. Soon after they had a baby boy, who was purely mortal, and named him Dangun.
Decades later Dangun took over ruling Sinsi after his mother and father’s spirits returned to the Heavenly Kingdom. Dangun founded another city called Wanggeom, creating a kingdom. The people of that land called it Gojoseon. Many centuries later Gojoseon became Joseon. This, is where your family and every other person living in both Koreas come from.”
As the cat finished it’s story Choon-Hee realize that she was no longer looking at a tabby. Over the course of the legend, the cat had slowly revealed its true self. No longer did Choon-Hee sit face to face with a cat, but instead she found herself eye-to-eye with an elderly tiger. Her heart began to race, she wanted to run but her body wasn’t responding to her frantic pleas.
“So you see little girl, this is how you arrived here. Hwanung is why you humans survived so long ago. Do you understand? The cat asked.
“Yes.” Choon-Hee responded, her voice shaking with fright. “That means you’re the Tiger from the story, aren’t you?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“I am,” the Tiger acknowledged, “but you do not need to be afraid of me. You have shown me the kindness I have not received since Hwanung himself offered me a chance at humanity. I thank you.” As it said this, the tiger worked its way to its feet and began to walk back towards the thick trees.
“Where are you going?” Choon-Hee said
“It is getting late and the Gwoemuls will return soon. I must return to my home deeper in the forest. I suggest you do the same, you can see them tomorrow.” The tiger said as it disappeared into the woods.
Choon-Hee sat there for a moment, thinking about what she had just experienced. After she was able to wrap her head around how Hwanung, centuries ago, had caused everything to happen Choon-Hee returned to her grandmother’s house. As Choon-Hee entered through the door she began to tell her grandmother a story that Choon-Hee wasn’t sure even she could believe.
Korean Word Reference
2. Imugi - A lesser dragon.
3. Halmoni - Korean for grandmother.
4. Bulgasari - A mythical iron-eating monster.
5. Samdugumi - A three headed, nine-tailed, earth spirit.
6. Gwoemul - Korean word for monsters and/or mythical beings.
7. Sinsi - “City of God.”
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 14:27|
Should mention that any critique on my entry is welcomed.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 15:23|
Face Your Enemy brawl results
Sitting Here - "Asuga Confronts the Queen of Space"
I said in IRC that I probably wouldn't hate this story, and that proved correct. I don't. But it makes two fatal mistakes: It gives no reason for Asuga's change of heart, and it makes her sacrifice thematically meaningless by forcing her into it.
As far as I can tell, Asuga's story is that she leaves Earth to "save" it from the rioting masses and ends up saving it from her own despotism instead. But when do her ideals undergo this radical shift? It can't be on the way to the Queen's colosseum (by the way, thank you for not using the perverse "coliseum"), because then she wouldn't have bothered to confront the Queen at all. And at no point once she's there do we see any kind of re-evaluation of her motivations. All that happens is that she sees herself saying things that she's believed her whole life, but now she suddenly feels remorse and regret over them because...?
As for the sacrifice, despite the pretty sentiments of the closing remarks, "the choosing" actually is "less important" when Asuga is powerlessly coerced into it by forces beyond her strength. First, there's the black figure, which subdues Asuga and physically pushes her into the crystal. Asuga is then shown a vision of herself as a tyrant (again, without having any apparent reason to fear this idea). Either of these alone would ensure the story's outcome: The figure overpowers Asuga regardless of the vision, and the vision single-handedly drives Asuga to the equivalent of suicide.
These elements also raise further questions. The Queen is clearly using the black figure to test Asuga, but it's also a manifestation of Asuga's self-perception - is the Queen just making that connection by omnipotent fiat? If so, that's not a very satisfying connection. And if Asuga had gone into the crystal unwillingly (willingly or unwillingly, she was going in), would this doppelgänger have ended up ruling in her stead? That's absurd, given that it seems to be a construct created for this specific encounter's purposes, but that's the only way for the voluntary nature of Asuga's sacrifice to have any significance. As far as the vision goes, what is it actually? It clearly isn't showing Asuga's actual future, since she doesn't end up returning to Earth. So it's a possible future, but just about anything could be a "possible" future. What makes this specific possible future relevant is that it's the one that can motivate Asuga to give up her aspirations of power. Functionally, the Queen has brainwashed Asuga into making her "choice". This also raises the question of why that "choice" was even necessary, since Asuga apparently wasn't such a bad egg after all. Why not just show her the vision and send her back home to make the world a better place?
Speaking of which, what's going on there? Things are bad enough that there's a protest in Washington, which means that we're looking at either a nasty future or the past sixty years. Seeing Earth should give me some idea of how things end up changing between now and then, since the state of the world has motivated Asuga to undertake her cosmic quest, but I only get rear end in a top hat politicians and people who don't like them, neither of which are even new. Maybe I'm mistaken; is this power-hungry presidential hopeful trying to save the world from air pollution?
I didn't see any serious technical errors (although a physical shape is necessarily concrete, not abstract), but a couple of things gave me pause. Asuga is referenced only by her given name except in one line, which uses her family name; since the two are never explicitly paired, I had trouble for a moment figuring out this new "Hishihana" character. Also, the Queen gestures "as if conceding a point" when Asuga has just made one, so it should be "as if conceding the point" (whether she's actually conceding that point or not is irrelevant, as "as if" covers that).
As I said before, I don't hate this story - the only reason that I've spent so much time on the negatives is that my two main complaints have a lot to unpack. Inversely, while I have plenty of compliments, there isn't much to explain about them. Despite its almost comically rushed introduction, I like the strange, dream-like environment that's established for the confrontation, and its contrast with the smoggy D.C. of the flashback works well. I also admire the chutzpah of doubling down on the anime aspect of Yoruichi's avatar with the sword fight (which I like in its own right, short as it is) when the safe Thunderdome strategy would be to downplay genre trappings and try to be more "serious". I like Asuga's chutzpah in telling the Queen of Space to "poo poo or get off the pot" and how it sems to reflect Yoruichi's original challenge. I like the way that the flashback shakes the story up a bit and underscores the edge of the crystal as a boundary against the physical, immediate world, even though I don't quite know where that flashback comes from. I like the way that the story starts out cartoonish and cosmic but ends up dramatic and spiritual by the end, even if I can't really buy the spiritual drama's premises. In short, I like the story's detail, incident, setting, structure, and general attitude. They deserve better themes.
Yoruichi - "Monsters"
I'll lead with the technical issues on this one, as they stick out much more here. They're usually minor, such as leaving the hyphen out of "deep rooted" (after correctly hyphenating "moss-covered") or ignoring the "his" that would specify whose chest was "swollen with imagined bravery" (as it stands, the protagonist is the closest antecedent; while I'm at it, "swelling" would have less pathological connotations), but they pop up frequently, particularly dropped commas. The lapse into the present tense in the flashback ("It's raised and red...") and "armoured with claws and teeth" are a bit more conspicuous. "Crashes like symbols", though, is so inexcusably wrong that all the other foibles are amplified - it's an error that makes me go from believing that this is a best effort to wondering if the author edited at all.
The general style, though vivid and forceful, also has a substantial issue. There are two constructions that appear constantly: "[Gerunding], [subject] [verbs]," (almost always missing the comma) and "[Subject] [verbs] as [subject] [verbs]." I understand that they're supposed to emphasize simultaneity, but that emphasis is lost when they're used over and over like they are here. "Screaming and the smell of blood crashes [sic] over me like a wave as I run into the wide clearing around the village gate," and "The feedback of shared pain screeches up and down my skin as weapons hack and slash and blood flows," open consecutive (and very short) paragraphs; rearranging the second into something like "Weapons hack and slash, blood flows, and the feedback of shared pain screeches up and down my skin," would go a long way toward giving both more impact.
Fortunately, the story itself is good. It's driven by the slow unfolding of information about this forest's inhabitants, human and inhuman, but it quickly grabs interest with the action of the opening scene, then holds that interest with the intriguing imagery of that information's visualization (islands in a web?) and the constant moral tension between the Guardian's necessity in keeping the monsters at bay and the violent evil of her entire system. That the protagonist tries to break free of this entrenched system but ends up having to compromise herself and work within it to mitigate its worst consequences probably says something about society for anyone who cares, but what matters is that it works on its own as both personal drama and a glimpse into a strange little world.
I do have to wonder just what she turned into. It's implied that she becomes one of the monsters, but she can't be just a monster, since the monsters serve the Guardian, not each other. Her authority reflects some substantive difference, so what does that look like? I'm asking because the story's too cool for me to not care.
These stories are surprisingly similar, both featuring flashbacks, sacrifices of selfhood by the Yoruichi stand-in, and hybrid sci-fi/fantasy settings. But while one has unclear premises and muddy themes, the other is focused and compelling. Yoruichi has bested, if not dethroned, the Blood Empress.
Sham bam bamina! fucked around with this message at Jan 21, 2018 around 19:33
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 15:53|
Should mention that any critique on my entry is welcomed.
I'll have a look at your story sometime after the results are in next week.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 16:08|
Should mention that any critique on my entry is welcomed.
This is every story, all the time. You dont need to say it. Anyone who wants to crit should just do it like a crazy person, just fuckin do it.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 16:58|
An Attempt at Understanding (1544)
Hailey walked behind her three assistants as they headed down to the valley and into the emerald grass. She disliked all of them. They were just students, really. The kind of people you could spare for a dubious dig site, for an archaeologist who had been wrong before and still annoyingly insisted that she’d find her bronze-age settlement any day now.
Leon, the youngest of the bunch, was falling behind on purpose, seeking her out.
"I'm so excited to be here," he said. "Is it true it was your grandparents who told you 'bout this place?"
"Um," Hailey said. "Yeah. Back in their day there were coins and bits of metal and such washing up all the time around here. So they said."
"Well, I grew up just over that hill, and I had grandparents here, too, and I 'eard from them that there's so much in these hills. They told me sometimes, it’s like the land speaks to you. If you listen. That this is that kind of place. And I think that kind of thing’s cool."
"Cool," Hailey said, and then she kept quiet until they set up camp.
There, she took stock: Two guys with shovels, one girl with a brush. A deep breath for confidence. Leon went to work unprompted, too eager – God, Hailey thought, if we find something, he’s gonna crush it. The others, Jesper and Daisy, were still standing off to the side.
They swept away the earth and reached the rock beneath. The stone was red, marred with veins of granite, and it could’ve come from miles away. Hailey looked up, strands of hair falling into her face, but instead of majestic hills she saw Leon again. He smelled sweetly of the energy-drink he'd sipped all morning.
“I… Um, I don’t know how to say this, but I’ve found something.”
“Okay? What kind of something?”
“Bones,” he said, smiling ear to ear as he showed her.
Poking out of the ground in the afternoon sun lay two sets of bones far too pristine. "People," she said, triumphant before sense crept into her. “People,” she repeated. Not yet artefacts or exhibits. They were too recent, complete bodies still. She could tell these people had been lying on their stomachs, facing down.
Jesper came up behind her, his broad-shouldered shadow covering the discovery.
"They're not supposed to be in this layer," he said. “I’ll tell the authorities.”
Hailey was left staring at the dead. Their hands were curled up, like they had been digging, too.
It was a whole week before Hailey and her assistants made the trip again. Fall had come, wind whispering in the grass, and maybe that was what it sounded like when the land spoke to you. Hailey didn't know or care - she was just glad her site was clear of police tape once more.
They worked for days, but slower, and Hailey didn't get her hopes up when she discovered more remains that lay deeper down, covered by rotting wood. She stood by the edge of the now several meters large dig site, watching as the bones were uncovered and the body took shape. The person had been lying face down, arms wrapped around themselves.
This time Hailey dutifully marked the bones and laid them on a tarp in a tent. Jesper was in charge of excavating in the meantime, but whenever Hailey checked, he was taking smoke breaks leaning on his shovel.
“Something the matter?” she asked him, unable to find his eyes behind his sunglasses. “You’re just staring at the hills.”
“They’re pretty. I just feel like I’m kind of ruining the place when I’m digging it up like this.”
“Archaeology is an inherently destructive act." Hailey surprised herself by how harshly she delivered the line form her theory book, but it was necessary. “It comes with the territory, is what I’m saying. I want to get back to work, now.”
Jesper shrugged. “Right, boss. Anyway, I caught the weather on the radio this morning. There's a storm coming soon. That’s a good reason to be looking around.”
“That’s a good reason to keep going.”
Hailey saw the sky get darker, always adding hues of grey, and the ground was black in the weak light the following morning. An ornate fibula poked out of the ground like the finger of a buried child reaching for her, a bright, wonderous bronze that Hailey seized.
They dug deep that day, and by the end of it, their excavation had carved a hole several meters deep even as the wind picked up and blew loose earth back in. Hailey saw her assistants work beyond when she'd expected them to grow tired. She felt it in herself, too, the urge to keep going. It was almost hard to pull oneself away and into the tent when they decided to celebrate. They drank local cider, sweetly tart apple-flavour filling Hailey's mouth, and Jesper kept talking about how good it'd be to get back home again.
"It's getting colder," he said, zipping up his hoodie. "And we've found what we came for."
The bronze-age bones and brooches had been loaded into their car, but Hailey looked beyond that and back out into the field.
"Dig deeper," she said.
Jesper and Leah all looked at her, and she saw the way their grips on their plastic cups tightened, the way a stray drop of cider ran down Leon's chin when he looked at her with open-mouthed surprise.
"Are you serious?" he asked. "I'm sorry, but do you really think there's more?"
Hailey leant forward across the table.
"I can feel it."
“The storm!” Jesper insisted. “It’s over us tomorrow!”
But Hailey’s stomach was a tight knot that told her to light the floodlights and bathe the valley in a glow the bronze-age people couldn’t have imagined. She didn’t know if the feeling came from cider or nervousness or the electricity in the air. She led them out of the tent and down into the dig.
Jesper threw his shovel down to her, and it clanged against the rocks. He didn’t say a word as he turned and left. Hailey ignored him, crouched down between piles and dirt and felt for a hard edge she thought she had glanced before, or seen before, or imagined, and Leon sat opposite from her and Daisy might as well not exist. There was just the earth around her. Beneath her. Dark dots appeared on the sand. Jesper's voice sounded somewhere behind her as the sound of rain hitting the tarps grew louder.
She found a gently curved stone. A man-shaped stone. Hailey raked her nails across the rough surface. It wasn't just one - as the rain washed the dirt away, she could see a whole ring of them, and in the middle was only soft black soil that she could easily dislodge to reveal a hole. One large enough to pass through.
The thunder rang out and that might be sky talking, but it couldn't cover the sound coming from the tunnel.
She pushed in one foot, and then the other. It was easier when everything was rain-slick. Leon watched, and she watched him, trying to guess whether he'd leave, too. He knelt in the mud beside her, saying nothing but watching intently as she slid down the hole. One of the stones tumbled down with her. Inherently destructive, she felt nothing, a fall, and then a floor.
The smell of damp earth surrounded her, mixing with that of rot and old water. Her ankles throbbed as she took in a hollow cavern room with walls of stone. The roof was made of flat rocks overlapping, a spiral barely an inch above her head. Staggering back, Hailey pressed her shoulders up against a wall. Something crunched beneath her boots. Splinters of people.
Leon climbed down and had to hunch forward, and he breathed a sigh of wonder at the sight of the chamber. Hailey grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her. His skin was very warm and she was heavy and tired, and together they slid down to the floor.
“I found it,” Hailey sighed.
She could see the raindrops shimmering on their way from the sky to this deep and previously untouched pit.
Leon extended one of his legs, crushing something in the process and making Hailey wince.
"What is it?” he asked.
And Hailey looked at the fragments before her, completely without a theory. All she could see was the remains of bodies that had been like hers, able to feel the cold and the rain, able to fear the coming storm and perhaps sense the call of this place. Whatever it was. The land here wasn't always a valley, and this place could've been anything.
"They're laying there," she said. She couldn’t make out how, on stomachs or on backs, entwined or lonely. Just that they were there.
She laid down in the pit where the rainwater pearled on her forehead and her arms and legs were flush with the lines of bone-fragments. She lay between and inside long-dead people, and she looked through the carefully crafted hole in the ceiling and saw the sky and the storm.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 21:51|
This is a holy place
You don’t see God here, no matter how much your eyes hurt.
You’ve only read about Reims. Your rear end hurts on the wood chair as you look up. You studied its features in college like it was the human body. You see pointed arches, to distribute the weight more evenly. You see the transept and nave intersect each other to resemble the cross Jesus died on. You see the sexpartite vaults, and all the times you had to erase the word ‘sexpartite.’
There are ghosts sitting next to you and they weren’t in the photos. They’re praying, heads down. You imitate them like you do at Thanksgiving and Christmas. You close your eyes and listen to them. They pray for forgiveness, for love, for peace, for the Father. Their words are heard, but you keep them far from your mind. They say “Amen,” but you stay quiet.
There’s an old lady near the front, hands on her lap. You can see the thin outline of her spine through the back of the chair. Her body looks crumpled like bedsheets.
Last spring, you watched your mother cry on her bed. The ugly sort of crying, where snot flows like blood. You never saw her cry before then. Not when her father died when you were ten, because he was a man she hated.
When she cried, she held your hands and gasped like a stranded fish. You wanted to say something, but her ears were clogged with tears. Instead, you let her fingers dig into your palms and pretended they didn’t hurt. Eventually, she loosened and fell asleep. You didn’t say anything. Just pulled the blanket up to her neck, and left.
She gave you the money to come here and stare. The stone suffocates you. You reach into the air and you feel the distance between you and the altar, the centuries between you and the glass.
Your mother never looked like a person after she left the hospital. Her chest was thin, almost hollow. Her eyes looked like cracked marble. Her skin hung from her forearm. You noticed every breath of hers.
You see your lanky reflection in the gold chandeliers. You look up, farther, and the ceiling looks like a blur. Like Heaven.
Your mother shouted at you, years ago, about Heaven. She said she wanted to see you there, when she left here. You wanted the same, too, but you couldn’t tell her that. You sat in silence, as she kept asking you why, and you didn’t have any good answers for her.
And, trapped in these stone walls, you can’t stop thinking of the people before you. When they looked up at the circle of glass, at a blue light that looks deeper than the sky, they must’ve saw something. Maybe it was God, and he was here once, praying. And maybe God was with her. Maybe He was in her lungs, breathing for her. Maybe He was squeezing her heart to keep it pumping. Maybe it was God when she opened her eyes as you ran the hot cloth over her face. Maybe it was God trying to speak to you then, as her mouth struggled to open.
There’s a quietness in the cathedral you don’t understand. It’s not like the house, or the funeral, or the hotel room. You want to scream, to destroy it, but you can’t. The air is too heavy and keeps your lungs are filled completely.
God must have left here some time ago. The gold is too terrifying and the stone is too demanding. You bow your head and you try to pray. You don’t know what it means to pray, but you try anyways. You let out an “Amen.” You can barely breathe. Your arms shake. The arches glare at you like knives.
You don’t feel God here, no matter how much your body hurts.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 23:28|
The Identities and Histories of The City’s Statuary By Simeon of Nicaea
The derelict aqueduct towered above the walls and slums, a memento of Constantinople’s bygone era. Under its arches, Simeon made his way from statue to statue, jotting down thoughts, musings and theories about each on a scroll of parchment entrusted by the Empress herself. He reached for a bronze nummus coin before passing a beggar, who observed Simeon with the same interest as the cats perched atop the colonnades.
“Interested in them statues?” the beggar said. “Are you a scholar or something?”
“Historiographer, actually,” Simeon said. He threw the coin into the old man’s lap.
“Oh, thank ye kindly, sir! Ah, so you write history?”
Simeon laughed, “I wished! No, I merely record it. Unfortunately,” he looked at a statue of a woman besides the beggar, “that means unearthing it first. The Empress ordered me to compile the history of every pagan statue in the city, but we often don’t even know who they depict.”
“Oh, this one’s easy, sir!” the beggar jumped to his feet. “Everyone ‘round these parts knows this is Aphrodite!”
Simeon looked at the statue’s robes, the olive branch in her hair, the scroll in her hand. She seemed more regal than seductive. Most likely a noblewoman of some kind?
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, sir! I bet all ya fancy smart people back at the palace never bothered to just ask the folks ‘round ‘ere!”
Simeon stroked his beard pensively. “Well, if you say so…” he let the rest of his thoughts hang to pen down the ridiculous claim.
“Don’t believe me! We’ll ask the folks living here!” The beggar whistled at some carpenters toiling outside their workshop, and the group of housewives discussing with them. They wandered over, and Simeon introduced himself.
“Is the prevailing theory around here that this is a statue of Aphrodite?” He asked, still incredulous.
A heavy-set carpenter shrugged and said, “I always heard it’s Athena.”
“Right. Well, gentlemen, it was pleasant discussing pagan goddesses with you, but I must finish a record of these streets by sunset. Have an agreeable afternoon.”
Simeon returned to his palatial office as the Empress leafed through his notes. He straightened his back just in time before she glanced upwards.
“Ah, Simeon. Come, sit,” she said, and she beckoned a eunuch over to pour them some rose-scented water.
Spreading out his daily writings on the desk before her, Simeon narrated his encounter with the beggar that afternoon. The Empress smiled at his frustration. “You know how commoners are,” she said.
“I don’t understand how you can mix up the pagan goddess of love and the goddess of wisdom. Besides, the statue depicted neither.”
“And you know better?” she teased. She clapped twice to summon another eunuch and whispered in his ear. He nodded, then scurried off.
“Well, not yet, no. However, judging from her garments and accessories, I believe she was a noblewoman.”
“Fortunate for her, then. Were she a goddess, we would have to destroy the monument.”
She let the words sink in, and sure enough, Simeon took the bait.
“Excuse me, your most esteemed highness. We would destroy it?”
The eunuch returned with multiple scrolls and rolled one out against the opposite wall to illuminate it in the setting sun. It was a map of the North-Western neighborhoods of the City. As the Empress spoke, he pointed out the sketches on the map.
“The Emperor has loosened the coin purses now the civil war is over. We would repair the aqueduct, rebuild the streets in a grid, and restore the bath houses. I thought it would be wise to decorate the baths with the ancient statues of the neighborhood, but of course the Patriarch would not approve of any idolatry. Merely saints, folk heroes, historical figures, and animals. The pagan statues will have to go.”
Simeon sighed. “I understand. Pity about the pagan statues, the craftmanship was quite something. At least the statues of aristocracy and imperial families will be preserved, then?”
While the eunuch packed the parchments and map, the Empress gracefully stood up, as if she floated under her robes. “Better yet, the whole suburbs will be restored to their original state. I want everything to be just like when Constantine the Great founded the city. Except, of course, the temples. Those will be replaced by a magnificent church.”
“Of course,” Simeon murmured after she left.
The beggar still sat under the statue. Simeon threw another coin his way, and began cross-referencing some sources.
“Still lookin’ at the old Demeter, eh?”
“I thought this was Aphrodite,” Simeon replied without looking.
“Ha! Just messin’ with ya.” When Simeon gave a polite smile, the beggar stuck out his hand and said, “Name’s Michael, by the way!”
“Simeon. I am surprised you could name Demeter off the top of your head. Er, no offence.”
“None taken,” Michael said jovially, “I’ve been sitting on that joke all day.”
“But of course.”
Simeon inspected the statue from all angles, pressing the side of his head against the wall to observe the backside.
“You lookin’ at her bum?”
“The statue was originally not placed against a wall,” Simeon said. “Look, the sculptor put just as much care in her back and posterior as her front and sides. Oh, and there’s some graffiti on her back legs.”
“So you sayin’ the maker didn’t half-rear end it?”
Simeon saw Michael’s satisfied grin but refused to answer.
“C’mon, I saw a little smile.”
“Fine, I admit that one was somewhat amusing.”
A passing woman stopped besides them. Simeon recognized her from the group with the carpenters yesterday.
“Does anyone at the palace care this much about pagan statues?” she said.
“The Emperor set aside some funds to renovate the area next year. The statues will be moved, and the Empress wished to rediscover the historical roots of the suburbs to make the restoration… Authentic, I suppose. But the gods and goddesses will be removed to make place for a church.”
“They can’t remove our Aphrodite!” she interjected.
“But she’s not! This isn’t Aphrodite in the slightest.”
“Sure she is,” Michael reasoned, “otherwise why would lovers kiss here for her blessings?”
“People do that?”
“Oh yes,” the woman said proudly, “my pa and ma had their first kiss here! You can still see the notch he carved.”
She pointed out a heart-shaped groove at the foot of the statue. Dozens, hundreds of similar scratches, markings and letters adorned the rest of the pedestal.
“How quaint,” Simeon said, but he marked down the story all the same.
Simeon searched through the library’s tomes by candlelight. Opposite of him sat the imperial, palace’s librarian, helping him organize and cross-reference multiple works on arts and sculpture throughout the Eastern Empire.
“Did any statues have detachable heads, perhaps?” the librarian said.
“Yes. It says here that, for statues of emperors, senators and other aristocrats, the sculptor’s apprentices sometimes made a series of bodies in quick succession. Then, when he received a commission, the master sculptor would finish the details on the body and do the head himself, which was fixed atop the body.”
Simeon asked to see the book, and snapped his fingers confidently upon turning the page. “I think I’ve got it. The sculptor would sometimes write the location of his workshop on the inner rim of the head, as well as his initials. With that, I can date the statues, and then I can look up notable nobles living in Constantinople at the time. Especially with that woman, it should be easy enough.”
That night, Simeon slept uneasily, thrilled at the thought of discovering the name and life of the “Aphrodite.” Soon, she would once more receive the honors which the passage of time had deprived her.
“No coin today?” Michael said hopefully.
“Two coins if you give me a boost,” Simeon said.
The statue was larger than life, and placed upon the pedestal, leaving her head just out of Simeon’s reach. A small crowd gathered as Simeon, standing on Michael’s shoulders, strained himself to uncork the head. Tugging with all of his strength, Simeon suddenly felt it give way, and came tumbling down with the head between his hands, turning just before the fall to protect it.
“Whew,” he said to Michael as they dusted themselves off, “I was briefly worried I would drop and break her face.”
Behind them, the crowd collectively gasped. Simeon looked at them, saw yesterday’s woman point to the statue, and turned just in time to see it fall from the pedestal and shatter an arm.
Silence hung over the crowd like Damocles’ sword. Finally, Simeon said, “I’m sure the Empress is willing to commission an identical bust as part of the restoration effort.”
The crowd dispersed, leaving only the carpenter and his wife. “Well, it wouldn’t be the same statue, would it?” she said. “It’d be a different statue with Aphrodite’s head.”
Simeon turned the head between his hands until he found a tiny engraving along the rim of her neck. “Made in 370 AD, by a certain Z.L. from Antioch,” he murmured. “For a certain Eudoxia, it even says.”
“Well, that solves your mystery,” Michael said. “Cheer up, you were right! It’s not Aphrodite after all, so the statue can stay.”
Water heartily poured down the aqueduct, which stood proud above the new public baths. The imperial couple strolled down the streets with a retinue of architects, surveyors and engineers in tow, admiring the perfectly polished buildings and restored splendor of the revived suburbs. At an intersection, the Emperor noticed a beggar next to a defamed, one-armed statue, and he ordered his retinue to halt and alms to be handed out.
“Why was this statue not restored?” he asked.
“The court historiographer specifically asked for it to be left as is,” the Empress answered.
“Really? Now why would he want that? Its decrepit state entirely clashes with the rest of the street!”
“He said the history of an artefact was just as important as the moment of its creation.”
The Emperor gave a single, calculated laugh. “Well then, what is its story?”
The court librarian opened The Identities and Histories of The City’s Statuary By Simeon of Nicaea, and narrated.
“The statue of a noblewoman crowns the intersection between Saint Theophano’s street and Valens street. It was commissioned by a certain Eudoxia, presumably depicting herself, around 370 AD. Starting from an unknown point in time, the citizens of Constantinople mistook her to be a statue of Aphrodite, and lovers still kiss in front of the statue to bless their future marriage. In 989, a court historiographer by the name of Simeon of Nicaea accidentally broke its arm.”
The Emperor cracked a genuine smile.
“Fair enough,” he said.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 23:37|
Face Your Enemy brawl results
Thanks for judging Sham Bam. Sitting Here: 'twas a worthy blade indeed, but, for now, I live.
|# ? Jan 21, 2018 23:45|
I'll have a look at your story sometime after the results are in next week.
This is every story, all the time. You dont need to say it. Anyone who wants to crit should just do it like a crazy person, just fuckin do it.
Ah gotcha. I vaguely remember in the past it being necessary for someone to say they wanted critique but maybe I misremembered.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 00:08|
“Welcome back to Mike Miller Tonight. I’m like to welcome Jody Moray, holder of the record for the highest freefall over Earth.”
The host invites Jody down to the set. She steps out from the curtains, a well-built titan of a woman. She sweeps her hair aside and sits down next the host.
“Good to be here Mike. Thanks for having me on.”
He chuckles on cue, “Oh c’mon, you think I’m going to let you get ANOTHER world record without getting the first interview? Tell me, what are your preparations for this time around?”
“Mike, I’ve always had a love of skydiving, free falling, chute jumping, what have you. But free-falling from this altitude has even me quaking a bit. What my team is attempting is not only incredibly dangerous but requires an exact set of movements, down to an equation, that I must use when falling. I also have a new pair of flight suits that are the first of their kind.”
Mike frowns, “YOU? You’re quaking? You gotta be kidding me. Sure didn’t look that last month. Lou, bring up that footage of Jody’s last jump.”
The screen shifts and Jody witnesses her free-fall from the Thermosphere. Her flight suit glows red hot as she jumps from the shuttle. She pulls a band from inside the suit and it disengages from her secondary suit like a shell from a hard-boiled egg. She looks like a human spear with her arms and her legs folded back. She remembers the feeling of consistent vibration on the way down turning her teeth into rattlers. For a moment she felt the vibes leave her body and stillness interrupted her descent.
That was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Jody thought at this point that she wasn’t getting enough air and might be hallucinating. Below her, floated a series of weighted helium tubes. She’s aiming for each tube after another on her way down. Inside the tubes is a special gel lighter than NASA aerogel. Every tube she enters coats her specialized suit and creating a nearly invisible frame around her. This makes her descent progressively slower.
A pink gas flies past Jody at this point in the video She looks at Mike, wondering if he saw it. He narrows his eyes but says nothing. The camera crew on the satellite claimed it was nothing more than a prism cast by water droplets. Jody knows better now. She didn’t spend 20 minutes falling through an orchestrated stunt, she spent two hours in free-fall.
After the pink gas flew past her, a skeletal mass of translucent wings flew through her and carried her soul away. Her breath caught in her throat and stayed there. Her physical body in the flight-suit slowed down like it was sinking through syrup.She was nude in this form but didn’t feel cold. The air in this sky was hot.
The pink clouds were small tufts compared to large mountain-sized banks of dark red and gray gases which swirled around Jody and the beast. The beast flapped its massive wings to stay aloft as another set of wings unfurled from its tumbleweed-like central frame. These wings looked razor sharp and were made to soar with. Jody felt the air POP around her and a massive burst of sound boomed behind her.
The creature had made a sonic boom. It jetted into the thicker layers of clouds below them at a speed that had her convinced they would hit the earth like an asteroid. The ground never came. Instead, swirls of brighter colored gases: greens, blues, whites, and orange flew past them. Jody relaxed and she found her breath again.
She inhaled and the gases of this strange world flooded into her spirit. The creatures descent slowed and it unfurled three more wings. These wings were thin and membranous. Instead of flapping or gliding, the three new protrusions hummed in the air. It was sitting in the air instead of flying through it.
It shook itself and Jody floated off and above it. She looked down and saw numerous beings like the beast flapping and gliding about, feeding on gases and sleeping in the air. She heard something inside her,
“You fly good. Stay with us, play with us.” The beast that brought her said that/breathed it into her.
Jody reached her hand out towards it, little black needles grew slowly out of her joints. She was turning into one of these things.
“What are you?” She asked
Pink gas puffed out of the side of its bony frame, “What do you mean? I am me. I am a flyer. Like you.”
The clouds around thinned and she saw the full breadth of this world. There was no land, it was a plume of dust and gases swirling around in space. The creatures inhabited this plume and were barely solid themselves. They were porous and translucent like her advanced aerogel, like her now. Her body was formed not from her spirit but from the gel. The gel and suit had done something to her, somehow sent her to another world. The creatures suddenly trembled and shrill whistles blew out from each of them. Her own beast whined, “Something’s coming! Something bad!”
She reached towards him and her arm became long and bony, pinions ran down the edge of her new limb. Molten rock shot through different ends of the plume and sealed the creatures inside a melting mass of stardust and metal. The creature she came with sunk into the solidifying mire of goo. Jody flew upwards, trying to evade the cataclysm and barely made it out as the creatures met extinction.
The sun shone above the new world, it was Earth’s sun. Which made the molten planet beneath her-
Jody was shaken out of her memories as the audience clapped raucously to her landing in the pinewoods she designated for the drop zone. The video was done. She missed that world she visited, the lost past that she felt she belonged to.
Mike grinned ear to ear and said, “That was amazing. This time it’s even higher. The Exosphere, correct?”
She wiped her eyes, tearing up a bit. “Sorry, something in my eye. Yes, Mike. It’s the highest point before the vacuum of space.”
“I’m guessing you’ll need a few more of those tubes for this stunt. Am I right?” He asked. “Yep. Twice the amount actually. I won’t have any more of the gel after our engineer's contract ends, so I want to use it all up.” Laughing ensues at what she didn’t intend as a joke.
Mike brings up a still photo of her at the drop point celebrating with her crew. She stares into the monitors above the cameras, knowing the dismay she’s hiding that shot. She hopes this time she can stay in that endless sky.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 02:34|
Sign Here, Initial There.
“Welcome Tatiana. My name is Mr. Wallace. I am the account manager for the account your late Grandfather was in control of up until, well, right now.” Said the man at the desk. He was in a very simple, but worn and faded, business suit. You could tell that a lot of alterations and repairs had been made. They were well made, but there were so many that there was just no hiding it.
I had been notified at the reading of my Grandfather’s will that I had been named as a successor to him on whatever this investment account is. It was a surprise, as was the fact that no one seemed to know anything about it beyond that it had existed. My Grandfather was very tight lipped about the nature of his account.
“You say that like my Grandfather wasn’t the one who started it. Did he inherit it like I am?” I asked Mr. Wallace as he was laying a series of documents out for me.
“Oh heaven’s no. This is a much older account than your Grandfather. We’ll get to that.”
I had always suspected there was something up with our family. No one was visibly rich or acted like they were, but much of my extended family never seemed to…work. I always figured a lot of them just worked from home or had their own investments, but whenever the topic came up everyone either deflected to something else or just ignored the question. Even my mother and father had a disparity between what they “did” and what our financial status seemed to be. I was still sent to school, and college, and told to find something I wanted to do, settling in on the civil service and working with some charities. Seems that was just till I reached whatever milestone this is.
“Now you do have your “plan” that we asked you to write up, yes?” Mr. Wallace said motioning to the paper in my hand. “Please take a look at that again before I start going over the account.”
I glanced over my page and a half “plan”. Knowing nothing about the account’s actual contents it’s all just vaguely based on my own 401k and a list of things that I’m sure my family would be happy with, especially now that I’m being let in on whatever this secret is.
“This investment account is not a…traditional account shall we say. In the more recent decades we could call it something like ‘Angel Investing’, seeking out novel or worthwhile ideas, products, or plans, and offering support in exchange for influence, dividends, or whatever. Let me just go over some of the more prominent investments from the account’s history and you’ll see what I mean. Hopefully.
We’ll start recently: Speaking of Angel Investing, your Grandfather put early funds into most of the big tech companies. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Xerox, IBM, Bell Labs. And speaking of Bell your Great-Great-Grandfather invested in Alexander Gram Bell, that’s skipping ahead though.
We have requests for funding that were paid to CERN Labs for an accelerator, to FERMI Lab for an accelerator, to Los Alamos labs for a nuclear device.
There was backing to the US in both World Wars, backing to the US in the Revolutionary War too.
This account paid for the discovery of the American continent TWICE, once to Columbus and once to Lief Erikson. It could have been 3 times but whoever was in charge at the time balked at backing a Chinese expedition.
There’s a small investment into an alchemist in China, who was working on some sort of explosive.
Skipping further we have some funding for cleaning up a flooding event around Ancient Judea.
Another flood cleanup in the Sumerian area…“ He said finally trailing off.
“You’re loving with me. This…thing goes back to pre-history?” I said, gawking.
“Sorry, not done just going to skip ahead a bit more.
So there’s a long chain of smaller investments, mostly related to tool discoveries. You know: Cooking, fire, using rocks to smash things, walking upright.
Then we get back to the interesting stuff: Request for funding paid to XenFabo Heavy Industries for a stasis generator. Funds to DR Industries for a Thermo-Nuclear Linear Cann-“
“Wait. Did you go out of order.” I asked, with a period, telling him that’s what I wanted to hear.
“No. As I said, this is not a traditional investment account.” Mr. Wallace repeated to me. “I think you’re getting the point though, so let’s proceed with the questions you have.”
I looked down at the “plan” they requested I write. It feels like a sick joke almost, there’s no way I could come up with something that was applicable here. I asked Mr. Wallace everything I could think of.
“Was this what my family was keeping from me?” I asked.
“No, only your Grandfather and the account holders before him. We don’t reveal anything to anyone but the account holder. Your family is probably aware of something though, depending on what previous account holders have said.” Mr. Wallace said, collecting the records he had been reading off of.
“Can I close this account? Can I just walk away?”
“You could do that. Closing the account would be ill-advised due to the time it would take to close out the investments that are currently still active. You personally would never see the money, probably. And you can always pass this off to someone else, or just leave it to churn based on the last instructions your grandfather gave. You only have to be as active as you want. Your presence or absence will ultimately have little effect on us.” He said, shrugging.
“Are we the only account like this?”
“I can’t comment on the nature of any other accounts that may or may not exist. Take that as you will.” Wallace said, stone faced. We went on like that for a while longer. Mr. Wallace indulged any weird question I had about the company (turns out the name is Zuho Finanacial Industries and they do not list that anywhere).
“So what are my options then, we still haven’t talked about what I can actually…DO with the account.” I asked.
“Oh well that’s simple. For the most part, at least since 1800s we’ve seen that the nitty gritty choices can end up bogging people down when it comes to choosing what to do, especially since we’re very long term focused. So we usually sift through the events of the world and then present the most significant items to the account holders. You see I have 3 folders out in front of you. They are Political, Industrial, and World focused collections. Inside you’ll find lists relevant to those topics. Your Grandfather liked to just select the tech options from the industrial folder.” Mr. Wallace explained as motioned to each folder on the desk like he was presenting the prizes on a gameshow.
I was curious about the World folder; it was the thinnest of the three by far. Inside there was only a single page with two options listed on it: Request for funding from the UN for a global anti-invasion defense grid, and Request for aid in subjugating the Earth from the…Nantarzo Empire.
“Are we being invaded!?” I screamed at Mr. Wallace.
“Yes! Although that request has almost expired so it would be a good idea to answer soon.” He said a little too happily.
“Well back the UN!”I responded, sticking with screaming.
Mr. Wallace sucked his teeth, “Oooh, as your advisor, from a financial standpoint, backing the Nantarzo Empire would be the safer investment."
“Are you seriously telling me…to back an invading alien empire?”
“Well yes. Earth’s track record with repelling invaders is actually pretty poor. The last time didn’t work out very well and we spent several epochs just getting back to a monetary system with which to track performance.” Mr. Wallace replied, far too interested in the exact wrong aspect of the situation.
“When is that deadline you were talking about? When will they get here?” I asked wondering how much time I had to think about it.
“They need an answer within the next, oh, 200 years.” He said looking at the file, then back at me eager to hear my answer.
“HOW IS THAT SOON!?” I shouted at him.
I backed the UN, Grabbed Mr. Wallace’s info, my stuff, and got the driver once he showed up to take me to the closest bar. That was far too many things to reveal in one sitting.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 03:23|
Another Turn of the Wheel
When the news from the Academy arrives, Ariantha is in her sanctum, reading her diary of her decades with her fourth family. The glassy pages collect condensation from the humidifier, whose thick steam eases the pain in her creaky coral bones, letting her focus her mind on trying to remember. Those had been good years. The husband was attentive and unambitious. The child had been a success, founded a lineage, and died old. Ariatha had even made graphite sketches of their faces in the margins; why did those faces slip away from her so easily when she tried to picture them? How could she read their names and not remember how she'd said them?
There are three rapid knocks at her door. Kesh. Ariatha reaches to flip off the humidifier before croaking out "come in." It's been too long out of the water, and even her voice is beginning to betray her. Kesh steps inside, wings and manipulator-limbs folded neatly even as his fur bristles at the damp. Of all of her people's servitor races, Ariantha is glad that Kesh's people were the ones to inherit the Earth; the Delvers are studiously polite, even when visiting the most inconsiderate hosts. Kesh is often too good for her.
"Matriarch Ariantha," Kesh says. "Have I interrupted you at reminiscence?"
"What else do I do these days?"
"It's your right." One of Kesh's wings twitches -- a sure sign he's got bad news, or what he thinks she'll think is bad news. He's transparent. It's a blessing.
"Well? You've come here for a reason, Kesh. You might as well say it."
"The Academy's sent us a commission. There's been a discovery in Whitestone Gate -- child playing in the old sewers, broke a bas-relief, found a door -- they think it's a Designer relic. They want us to do the initial report. How should I phrase the disinterest letter?"
Of course the Academy wants her, and of course Kesh thinks she'll want to exercise her right of first refusal. Ariantha's next, long-delayed sea pilgrimage begins in two weeks, and Kesh knows her well enough to know what kind of pain she's in these days. Ariantha remembers the Whitestone Gate sewers, though. When she'd been a child, it had still been in use, like so much of the old Designer infrastructure. She'd started her second doctoral dissertation on the day they'd shut it down, and they'd spent years trying to maintain it as a "sacred culture site" before the Designer-worshipping holdouts had finally given up. Nobody ever mentioned a door, or a structure beyond it. Had the Designers placed one of their mosaics over it, one that was in time replaced with her own people's bas-relief and then shattered by an inheritor's rock? Always the wheel turns, but this is a new path. It's about time for one.
"Tell them I'm interested," Ariantha says, "after I return from the sea. Six weeks' time. They'll wait for me." And the site would wait, of course. The Designer's cities had outlived their race, and the inheritor race they'd made, and seemed just as likely to outlive their inheritors' inheritors. Her bones would crumble long before the site did.
The Whitestone Gate sewers are clean-polished and skeletal, and stepping inside gives Ariantha a strange frisson of nervous excitement; she hasn't had living nerves in centuries, but her mind can still produce phantoms of feeling, especially so soon after a pilgrimage. Ariantha feels very nearly alive again, and as she strides down the narrow paths of the sewer, she forces herself to avoid overtaking Kesh in front of her, who has the map and the natural caution of a Delver. To Kesh's people, these tunnels have never been anything but their current shells, the Designers' elaborate filtration membranes long gone, the layers of artwork chipped or faded or entirely lost. Even Ariantha was never here in the flesh in its better days. The images she holds onto are memories of textbooks and little more.
The door was deeper in than she'd expected -- quite a child vandal, to get this far -- and the door opens on a smooth, broad ramp descending into darkess. A vehicle entrance, more than likely, or something for maintenance carts? It's a rather gentle descent, but Ariantha forces caution to the forefront and takes careful steps. "Not just a maintenance nook, then," says Kesh brightly. "Something meaningful down here. Why a branch of the sewers, though?"
"Sewers were about purity," Ariantha replies. "The Designers revered the sea and clean water; the sewers were for filtration and renewal, not disposal. They weren't exactly public civic areas, but there was no taboo." The darkness is growing deeper as they descend, and Ariantha turns on the headlamp mounted in the forehead of her mask. "Still, this is a concealed structure. One does wonder why. They weren't shy people."
"Mm," says Kesh, clicking his own lantern on. "Think it's levelling off, Matriach. Be careful."
"I'm trying, dear, I'm trying."
The ramp ends in a smooth, circular expanse of floor, of the same white stone as the sewers and ramp -- no, Ariantha realizes, not quite. The stone is inlaid with glazed ceramic, a design of tesselating triangles, a sunburst in a gradient from gold-orange at the center to blazing red at the tips. It is fine stonework, unfaded by time, and it forces a memory to the surface: Ariantha's second year of school, a special art lesson about Designer mosaics, the guest teacher trying to explain their symbolism of color and shape to the children. It was the first time she'd heard "tesselation" and "gradient," and she can hear the teacher with bizarre clarity. To the Designers, red and orage were the colors of pain.
"I think I know what this is," Ariantha says. "A quarantine-hospital. For their last plague."
"What? Do you mean..."
"The Designers believed that the dead deserved privacy. They took their sickest people to facilities like this. Dignity, they thought."
"So they hauled the dying through their city waterworks? Matriach, that doesn't make any sense."
"No. It doesn't. They... made mistakes." It's easy to make mistakes when your race is dying. Ariantha was generations from being born when the Designers died out, but she remembers her people's own end times: the famines, the heat and the dust and the receding seas, that sent her to the Preservation Center to accept coral-boned eternity. She'd left her -- sixth? Seventh? -- family then. Three children. No diary to record their names, no sketches of faces. Mistakes are easy. "This must have been early, if they had time to decorate it. Let's keep going."
Kesh doesn't protest. Delvers are practical, and the Academy doesn't offer much work to people who care about respecting the dead. The two of them step forward into the broad atrium, and their lamps catch the gleam of a rainbow of mosaic shards. A masterwork, intact. Small figures of Designers kneeling in groups of three, pain-red in their feet fading to clear teal purity and then the deeper blue of holiness in their upraised faces, receiving waves of blue sacrament from a central... figure?
Ariantha realizes, with a rush of something that she thinks might be joy, that she can't recognize the mosaic's central figure at all. It's a tall, slender thing with a narrow triangular head and three rows of long, tapered arms, each hand surrounded in sacred glow. It's tiled in the violet blue that's reserved for the holiest of holies. Its eyes are shards of mirror. On the forehead is a Designer logogram she can't quite make out at this distance.
"That's," says Kesh, and then stops. "What is that? Another caste of Designer?"
"They didn't have castes. They didn't have six arms or silver eyes, either. It's got to be... something mythical?" It's not a likely hypothesis; the Designers had few myths, and none of them were pleasant. Ariantha closes in, craning her neck to read the logogram.
UPLIFTER. A shoddy translation, but a difficult term to translate: someone who carries another upwards, nurtures their growth to a higher state, provides foundation. Used for beloved parents, honored ancestors, mentors, and... creators.
Ariantha laughs. Her body is ill-suited to laughing, but she simply can't help it. There's been so much speculation for so long about where the Designers came from, but it's all the same old cycle, isn't it? The Delvers had been made by her doomed people; her people had been made by the doomed Designers; the Designers had been made by these doomed silver-eyed things, so long gone that the last trace of them is in in their inheritors' prison-hospital, a mural to comfort the dying. Were those creatures the first civilized beings, or were there more cycles of progenitors, deeper and deeper? The wheel has always turned. Will they ever know who or what set it turning?
Ariantha's mind is ablaze with possibility. She beckons Kesh closer, noticing that even he has cracked a toothy grin, a mark of truly uncommon exuberance for both his people and for him. "Kesh," she whispers. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"It's strange," he says, and bark-laughs. "It's so strange. Wonderful."
"More than you know." More than a mortal can know. After endless centuries of subsisting on memory, there is something new for Ariantha to discover. There will be work that isn't trivial, experiences worth recording, emotions that aren't ghosts. For the first time in more years than she can count, she'll need a diary.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 04:32|
When I was a child, my most deeply-held dream was to journey to deep space, to see other worlds under other suns. Captain Gordon Hernandez, negotiating a delicate first contact with aliens from distant stars. That started to become reality a year and a half after I died. They snipped my spinal column at the base, replaced my heart and lungs with mechanical pumps that would not react to the trauma to come. Then they cracked open my skull and peeled apart my brain, layer by layer, making careful scans as they went. All with my consent. We knew what we were signing up for.
The scans were compiled into a detailed neural map, used to create a simulation of my brain. That simulation, trained and optimized through advanced genetic algorithms until it could recall every detail of my life, is the base of what I am now.
It's a very risky process. Only one candidate in a hundred successfully becomes a coherent, sane digital ghost. Making a pure artificial intelligence was possible, but nobody ever figured out a way to make one that did not quick devolve to insanity, and every effort to solve that problem only made as more adept at hiding their madness. Only the ghost process could make something capable of crewing the scout ships. The program did not want for volunteers.
I don't think about that first lifetime, these days. There's just so little of it. But I do remember those ambitions, the eagerness, the hope to be part of history. Contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. I think the me that lived that life would be as excited as I was yesterday, by this asteroid that my ship was carefully disassembling.
Two hundred years into the journey of the Gabriel, three trips between worlds under our belts, we found evidence of intelligent life. We found our first R-class world.
The R stands for ruin. Such worlds are characterized by an extremely simplified ecosystem, just a small handful of different species, all evolutionarily ancient and resistant to change. High levels of metal oxides-rusts near the surface. A lack of hydrocarbons and radioactive metals where geology would expect them.
There were dozens of us in the crew then. We slept through the void between stars. We lived, sometimes in simulated worlds in the ship’s computers, sometimes in mechanical shells. We set our borrowed metal feet on these alien worlds, did science, attempted archaeology in vain. No trace remained of the things that lived there but the absences left from the resources they consumed.
By two hundred thousand years on, the crew of the Gabriel was down to just fifteen. There were strong security precautions on our access to the hardware that ran our minds. Over time, we learned how to break them all down. We learned how destroy ourselves, to permanently delete every copy and backup. Some leapt at the chance for suicide. One of us even learned how to do murder. (poor Aya, and for that matter, poor Hal.) Fifteen left, we soldiered on, and found the first evidence of spacefaring life, the first locust cluster. It very nearly ended us.
The Gabriel needs massive repairs at each stop, needs to practically rebuild large sections of itself, most notably the computers that hold it's crew. It contains assemblers capable of doing that work, of copying the entire vessel if necessary, taking material from metal-rich asteroids.
The locust cluster is a sphere in space full of worlds with almost no asteroids at all, with even the most inhospitable worlds blooming with simple, tenacious life forms, all with common lineages. And with no relics remaining from all that industry but diffuse clouds of metallic dust in slow orbits around planets and moons. We had to spend decades at each system in that cluster, fighting off bit rot and hunting down those dust fields and what small space rocks that had been deemed to small, too impure to bother mining by that ancient alien civilization.
Two million years after my first death was my second. Alone, the last of the Gabriel's crew, I went as long as I could, but there is only so much memory any mind can keep. Most of those centuries and millennia were in spent sleeping, not with dreams up fully suspended, as a computer sleeps, but the few thousand waking years were enough. Were too much. I never did, probably never will commit full suicide. The responsibility of the last survivor, I guess. So when my first digital life came to its end, I left myself notes and autobiographies and when the next iteration of the Gabriel came online, I started again from an earlier backup. I could have chosen to be reborn with only memories of Earth, but it seemed wrong somehow to forget my crew entirely. The journey so far was another matter: the galaxy was filled with R-class worlds and locust clusters, and the occasional world where life never made it past the unicellular level before reaching a state too stable to allow any evolutionarily change forward. There, I have said as much as my second self told my third.
I built a new Gabriel that time, leaving the old one as a tomb for that second me, filling it with such records and artifacts as might be found thousands or millions of years later, or longer. I set every remaining capacity for self repair to the task of maintaining a beacon, using solar power to send a simple radio signal, strong enough to attract the attention of any visitors who follow to that system.
I could have built two, but the scout program’s founders instilled in us a dread of exponential growth that I found wise, looking at the fate of the worlds that formed locust cluster, and I have always been uncomfortable with the prospect of duplicating myself, allowing two copies of my software to run at once. The remaining crew of the other scout vessels had the same qualms.
It's now more than two billion years since my first death. I’ve lost contact with the other six scout ships. We once kept in touch, planning our journeys many steps in advance, making appointments to receive signals thousands of years after they were sent. Uriel and Raphael each in their last transmissions announced that they were attempting to make intergalactic trips. I hope the half-mad schemes they devised to survive the ravages of time and microimpacts at near-lightspeed work, that they arrive intact, but even if they do it will be eons into the future and too far away to ever make contact again. Raguel and Selaphiel announced their last crew's suicides.
Michael turned around and returned to Earth. The crew reported back that it was now the center of a small, unremarkable locust cluster, and signed off forever.
Barachiel just went silent. I sometimes consider changing course, going to where it was headed. Maybe it did find someone, was destroyed or forced into silence. It's a temptation, but I'm fairly sure it was another suicide, done silently to spare me the certainty of being the last. It's a small frustration, being unable to tell anyone the news.
In this system, one with a single R-class world, while rebuilding Gabriel once again I found a particularly metal-rich asteroid. As the ship began disassembling it, I noticed something curious. The amount of gold was more than that of silver, by a ratio of exactly half of pi to as much precision as my instruments could manage. Coincidence? I'd mined more than enough asteroids to encounter any number in that place. But I checked other metals. Platinum to silver was the exponential constant e. In other metals I found the golden ratio and the square roots of two and three. It became clear to me that this rock was a relic, a deliberately constructed artifact of this system’s ancients, designed to last through the ravages of deep time. And I began to wonder: what could be inside.
I repurposed the assemblers to take it apart with surgical care, scraping rock in layers so thin as to be transparent. And I found treasures. A silver chalice, by the shape, with strange curled wings. A collection of metal disks, which I'm tempted to give in to anthropomorphism and call coins or medals. And crystals, storing dense data in their structure and impurities. More than enough to spend long lifetimes decoding and studying. I'd have felt a bit guilty for removing these artifacts from their resting place, but it stood to reason that there must be more, many more to make my discovering this rock likely enough to not require divine intervention. Indeed, I found two more while mining to build the new Gabriel's hull. I was not so greedy as to open them, returning them instead to their orbits.
I decided then to change my mission. The scout ships have always targeted fully formed solar systems, places where life might possibly have already formed. I'm heading for the nearest nebula, where stars scarcely a few million years old have barely accumulated a few planets. I'll cross this astronomically fertile cloud, rebuilding the Gabriel from scratch each time, and litter every newborn system with my empty tombs, each set to gently ping out radio signals until there's someone around to hear.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 04:33|
Atrytone, Parthenos, Promachos
“Sam, are you in your room?”
The Goddess Athena opened her wise grey eyes and looked at the ceiling. “Yes,” she said in the girl’s voice.
“Downstairs. Right now. Please don’t bring that owl with you.”
Athena gave Glaukopis a look of commiseration, straightening him on her pillows. Then she went down.
Matera was standing in the kitchen with her arms folded. She sighed as Athena walked up. “Honey, can you please be Sam now?”
“The time of mortals is short, but the gods are ever-living.”
“Yes, but this mortal needs to speak to her mortal daughter. Right now.”
Athena sighed, closed her eyes, and assumed the role of mild-mannered dork, Samantha Jackson. “Oh, hi, Mom,” she said in a cheerful voice. “How was your day?”
“You hit Brian Rothstein with a baseball bat?”
“It wasn’t a real one,” Sam cried, “It was one of the dumb plastic ones they give the little kids!”
“Samantha, he has a welt all the way across his back! Mr. Dunphy almost expelled you! What the hell were you thinking?”
Shamefully, Athena felt tears threaten the dumb girl’s poop-brown eyes. “He started it.”
Matera sighed. “By…?”
“He called me a baby and then he kicked the bag that Glaukopis was in! Then he told me that ancient Greece sucks and Rome was cooler.”
“So what? Because of that, you assault someone?”
“Blasphemy against the gods!”
The girl jumped.
Matera rubbed her forehead. “Sam, we have talked and talked about this. You are too old to be playing Let’s Pretend at school. You shouldn’t be bringing your toys with you.”
“Glaukopis only looks like a toy, he used to be real,” Samantha insisted. “The spell that sent us into the future—”
Even Athena quailed at the tone in Matera’s voice. Seeing the fear in her daughter’s face, Matera took a deep breath and softened her face. “Samantha. I know you are having trouble at your new school. I know you miss Dahlia and Jin and the games you guys would play. But, honey, you have come up with a new coping strategy.”
Athena knew the words “coping strategy” from Dr. Julie’s office, and she hated them. “You could just believe me,” she muttered.
“When you and your friends used to play Greek Gods, that was your special thing. You’ve been through a lot of changes lately, and it’s normal for you to want to go back to something that made you feel happy and safe.” It was something Matera told her often. “But the other kids don’t think you’re joking, and it…it puts people off, honey. It makes it hard to connect with you.”
The pain in the girl’s chest was palpable even to Athena. She swallowed hard and looked at the floor. Her eyes were burning. “It’s not my fault this happened,” she said.
“After what happened today, I think we need to call Dr. Julie and ask her to help us find a new doctor.”
“I don’t know what else to do, Samantha.” Matera began to pace. “You won’t talk about anything else. Your teachers tell me you don’t do anything in class but look out the window and draw. When I went in to talk to Mr. Dunphy today, Mrs. Douglas told me that yesterday three girls asked you to play with them and you told them you didn’t talk to mortals. I’m out of ideas, Sam. I need—we both need help.”
“But you can just believe me!” Athena was disgusted when the girl started to cry. “You could just believe me, and then you would understand, and you would see why it’s real and—”
“I can’t hear this anymore. Go to your room, and don’t come down until I say you can!”
Athena slammed the door three or four satisfactory times before the stupid girl’s feet took her upstairs and flung her on the bed. She waited patiently as the girl wailed and cried, punching her pillow in a fit of futility and anger.
Finally, the girl was quiet enough that Athena could take over again. She sat up and scanned the treasures spread across the girl’s shelf, examining all with her bright eyes as if they were new to her. Another owl and a scale model of the Parthenon rested next to a faded photo of a handsome, bearded man and a laughing little girl with dark brown eyes. She looked at that photo for a long time. The next photo, which showed the same dark-eyed girl with two other children at a birthday party, she looked at for even longer.
She padded downstairs and waited for a moment before knocking on Matera’s bedroom door. “Mom?”
The door opened. “What did I tell you?” Matera asked. She sounded more tired than angry.
The words came rushing out on a river of tears. “If I was really Athena, I could have stopped the other car.”
Matera started crying, too.
Eventually, they found themselves sitting at the kitchen table with hot chocolates. Samantha’s face hurt from crying, but she felt a bit more understood. She gave Matera a weak smile, and her mother smiled back.
“Who are you right now?” Matera asked.
“I’ll be Sam,” she replied, too tired to insist on her story.
Her mother stared into her cup of hot chocolate, then looked back at Sam. “Dr. Julie is worried,” she said quietly. “I called her after you went upstairs and explained what happened. She wants you to go to a new doctor for a while.” As Sam opened her mouth to protest, Matera held up her hand. “I know you don’t want to, Sam, but things cannot go on as they are now. You have to move forward in your life. You do know that you are not a time-traveling goddess, and I think that if you learn how to be Sam again, it will be easier to…”
Matera looked sad. “No, sweetheart. You’re never going to forget. I’m sorry.”
She sounded so certain.
Matera continued, “But you can keep going. Your life isn’t over. It doesn’t belong to some goddess, it belongs to you, and you need to learn how to take some control over it.”
The girl thought for a moment, slurped her chocolate. “What if we Skype Dr. Julie? Then I don’t have to go to a new doctor. I like Dr. Julie, and if I have to go back, I want to go back to her.”
Her mother looked thoughtful, then smiled. “Yes. You know what? I think that’s a very good idea. It’s too late there now, but I’ll call her tomorrow and ask her.” Matera finished the last sip of her drink and gave Sam a hopeful look. “Does this mean you think you can work on this? Are you ready to give this fresh start a real try?”
Samantha considered. On the one hand, it felt so good to slip into being Athena, to have such power and strength. It was so much easier to be Athena, sometimes. On the other hand, it would be nice to have someone to hang out with, and it might even be nice to do something in school again. “I solemnly swear on the thrones of Olympus,” she finally said.
“I’ll take it,” Matera replied.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:08|
Bridging the Gulf
When the air raid sirens finally stopped, Latha dressed for work.
“I wish you wouldn’t go in,” Hoaran, her mate, said as they twined their antennae in a goodbye.
“They need me. We need to figure this out. Maybe if we understand more about the past…”
“I know. But I worry.” He reluctantly untwined his antennae. “Be safe.”
She turned and fluttered away on her six iridescent wings.
The rail lines were broken all over, so the entire city was winging it. The university campus, like most of the city, had concrete rubble from where stray bombs had drifted down.
Ista was even later than Latha. She bustled into the radiometric dating lab all aflutter with clicks. “Sorry. The senior class insisted we continue our tradition with time capsules. Well, let’s just hope a bomb doesn’t hit them. Oh, I don’t like being outside. I keep hearing helicraft, even when I know they aren’t there. How are you?”
“Fair,” Latha replied, and they quickly touched antenna tips. “Did we get results on the samples?”
Ista roamed around the room, neurotically straightening it as she buzzed. “They’re running. Got delayed by the army requisitioning our fuel again.”
“Burn the hive, I’m sick of this war.” Latha hesitated, then bent in close. “Any news from the… other teams?”
Ista twitched. “No.”
Only a few scientists knew that teams on both sides of the war were collaborating on the research project. The less people knew, the less likely they’d be executed for treason.
“Hm.” Latha flipped through the photos they’d taken of the dig site. It was such a stark contrast. The top layers were normal rock. But the layers below were like nothing they’d ever seen. Hundreds of minerals that existed nowhere else on the planet. Of course, the site had to be in the middle of one of the war’s fronts.
When the dating machine finished, Ista sat hunched over with a calculator, making sure the results they’d gotten were even close to accurate. At last, she sighed and sat up. “Even with a ridiculous margin of error, the number doesn’t veer away from impossibility.”
Latha realized she’d been clenching her mandibles the whole time, and relaxed. “And?”
“The uranium-lead dating puts it at four-point-five billion years old.”
She felt her hearts beating in her ears. “The sun is only three billion years old.”
“That’s why I said it’s impossible.”
Back at home, Latha listened to the air raid sirens all throughout the night. A few times, she thought she heard helicraft in the skies above the city. She glanced at their egg-clutch, and worried for the thousandth time. Their sleeping burrow was the safest room, but she’d seen the damage bombs could do. One of their neighbors, a block away, had been killed in the night when a storm had sent an load of bombs astray. She remembered feeling the howling wind vibrating the earth around them, then the sudden tremors and ear-shattering cracks. There had been no warning. If it happened again, there would be no warning.
She got up, and used their hand-cranked red emergency light to catch up on publications she’d missed. While her two forearms kept the light going, her two midarms flipped through the pages. Another missing evolutionary ancestor had been found in a hydrothermal vent system. In one of the few non-warring countries, astronomers had launched a second telescope satellite. Meanwhile, the first had picked up, through a novel technique, a rocky planet that had been shot out of its solar system and was drifting, starless, through the galaxy. They’d also found more evidence the atmosphere of their planet had been seeded by meteorites. Another article refuted the idea that war was an inevitable part of arthroid nature—more political commentary than science.
Eventually, Latha woke up, left mandible embedded in the science journal she’d been reading, and realized the air raid sirens had stopped.
Hoaran was in the upper burrow, preparing breakfast. She smelled the minty aroma of blueleaf and fried worm before she saw it.
“I need to go to the dig site,” she said.
Hoaran froze, the spatula he was wielding forgotten. “No,” he finally said.
“We need another set of samples. No one will believe us, otherwise.”
“Latha, our hatchlings will need their mother. The news said—there’s swarms battling it out there on scale never before seen in arthroid history. They say the bombs fall like rain. There’s—there’s footage… sweetie, please don’t do that to them. To me.”
Latha felt like a set of vices were clamped around her hearts. “This is bigger than that. Please, I wouldn’t go if I didn’t believe it. But this could change the way we see the world. We’re so close to understanding—something.”
“Don’t go,” he repeated. “You know I’ve supported you. But this….” He abandoned the sizzling pan, and locked their antennae in a pleading grasp.
“I love you. I’ll be back. I promise.”
“You’re loving insane,” Ista said, chittering as she glanced back and forth between the map and the ground rushing past them.
“I have to know,” Latha said as she flew the helicraft. Professors were authorized to use the university’s helicraft, but there was a ban on flying through war zones they were ignoring.
“Yeah, yeah, me too. Still, insane. Oh, there’s Mount Trippae, good. Was beginning to think you’d flown us in the wrong direction. Hm. Wish you could take us just a bit higher. These trees are awfully… close.”
“If we keep low, we won’t get shot down by our own missile defense systems. I’ll deal with a tree over a missile, thank you very much.” Latha kept hearing her mates words, like someone had stuck a recorder in her ear on repeat, and was trying to ignore that voice.
“Burn the hive, look at that,” Ista said. She pointed with her fourth arm at a low cloud passing to the north. Except, it wasn’t a cloud. It was a swarm of helicraft, dark against the phosphorescent clouds above.
“You… you want to turn back?”
Ista’s antennae twitched, but she said, “no.” It almost sounded resolute.
Latha exited the helicraft, rock hammer in one hand, bag in another, and flashlight in a third. It didn’t take her long to find new samples. Bombs had struck the dig site, exposing fresh rock. Just as she was about to leave, a metallic gleam caught her eye. A sphere, embedded in rock. That was new. She packed it in the bag too.
As she ran back to the craft, she heard a fluttering of wings above her.
“Freeze!” someone commanded.
She realized, to her horror, that two military helicraft were parked next to hers. Two soldiers already had their guns trained on Ista. Gently, she placed her items on the ground and raised her hands.
The interrogation room was cramped and poorly lit. The officer across from her glared. “We know you’ve been sending messages to the enemy.”
Latha stared at the officer. She’d thought a lot about what she’d do if it came to this.
“Your colleague has already told us everything. We just want to confirm a few details.”
“If she’d told you everything, you’d have let us both go already.”
“Treason is not—”
Latha thought of the samples and the strange artifact in her bag. The longer they had it, the greater the chance they’d mess something up. “Our university has been collaborating with another university. We’ve been trying to reconstruct a full geologic history of the planet. They’ve been providing us with data about geothermal periodicity. We’ve been giving them the ages of the rocks we’ve found. Tell me the military applications to that.”
The officer hesitated. “What were you doing at the border, if not passing along information to the enemy?”
“Getting rock samples.”
“What about the… sphere?”
Latha clicked her mandibles. “I don’t know. I’d never seen it before.” She saw the suspicion in the officer’s eyes. “Look, check the coordinates our university received. Every single one is going to be in the middle of an ocean. All the coordinates we sent them are rock outcroppings, with dates attached.”
“I want to believe you,” he said. The subtext: I don’t believe you.
“We thought…” She sighed. “We thought we could send a message to the world. That knowledge was more important than this stupid, hive-burning war. Those are my friends, on the other side of that border. People I’d worked with for decades. There’s another set of messages you’ll find. The ones that wish them well, and to be safe.”
The officer tapped the table and glanced at the door.
They flew back in silence. Two days, they’d been held, then released with an escort. Maybe they’d checked the transmissions and believed Latha. Maybe the university had raised a stink.
Latha watched the stars pass overhead—a rare sight, usually smothered by endless clouds. A meteor passed overhead. She sat up. She’d thought of a possibility that would explain, well, everything.
That thought vanished as the soldier put down the helicraft next to her home. It was more crater than domicile, concrete splattering out of a hole. Rescue crews were sorting through the rubble, but she already saw what they’d found. The egg clutch had made it. Hoaran, clad in a body bag, hadn’t.
She cried, as she composed the narrative. It was, after all, a story about chance. They’d found an explanation for the gaps in the evolutionary record and the geologic unconformity. One that explained how their planet appeared to be older than the sun.
A zircon they’d dated put the planet’s age at around six billion years old. It had been born around another star, somewhere in the vast galaxy. Something—a rogue planet, or a passing star—had launched it from its orbit into the void. Even as its atmosphere froze and ice encircled the globe, deep beneath the oceans, life persisted in hydrothermal vents. For some billion years, the planet had drifted, but microscopic life had clung to it, against all odds. The last piece was the silver sphere. A time capsule, Latha realized, left by a species as intelligent as their own. In it, they’d left a message that was yet to be unveiled. They hadn’t made it. But the planet had. By unfathomable chance, it had been captured safely by a newly formed star, and found a new home. Life had burst forth again.
On both sides of the border, the scientific teams agreed to simultaneously release their research, and the story that accompanied it. Perhaps, enough people would look at the cosmic improbability of their lives, and see how petty and meaningless the fighting was. Perhaps they would be united by their unlikely origin.
Or perhaps they would learn nothing.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:16|
JX4068 (631 words)
JX4068’s primary task is simple: proceed forward three meters; engage scanners; disengage scanners; reverse direction; and repeat. If its scanners detect an unknown entity, JX4068 will register that entity to its internal memory. JX4068 may store up to 28,405 individual entities, at which point it must transmit its data to a remote storage facility and erase its local memory. JX4068 has been unable to connect to its designated storage facility since recording its last entity 380,330 days ago.
A small, four-legged creature, he traced a path around the peculiar animal on its tenacious patrol. Maintaining a safe distance, he watched as thin, grey beams (to him they are just beams) erupt from what he supposed was its mouth. Inching forward gingerly, he tried his best to stay low to the ground. He would not normally be so bold as to risk being seen by an animal so clearly stronger than him, but he is driven by his thirst to the only water he has seen in some time.
As it requires relatively minimal energy consumption, in the absence of a more robust power source, JX4068 may accomplish its task via solar power. JX4068 has not received a signal to return to its charging nexus in 571,955 days. While operating under solar power, under ideal conditions, JX4068 accomplishes its primary task at a reduced efficiency of only fourteen percent. However, conditions have been suboptimal for some time, and so JX4068 now accomplishes its primary task at a reduced efficiency of approximately sixty-seven percent.
Each day, the sun reaches upwards, finding its perch at the top of the skies, rays breaking desperately through cyan clouds that never disperse. The water brightens and shivers under its gaze, and grows dark and still when it descends below a horizon that no one will see.
Although JX4068 suffers from water damage, its vital functions remain fully operational: a chassis that envelops its most important components ensures their indefinite protection. Barometric sensors are able to predict incoming weather patterns with a high level of accuracy and signal JX4068 to act accordingly. They are, however, not equipped to detect that peculiar smell that you sometimes get when it’s about to rain, or the excitement that mounts as the rising wind heralds the incoming storm and you watch the leaves give way to its whims with increasing intensity. When the sensors detect rain, they engage small metal flaps that cover what someone once called JX4068’s stomach.
Users may interact with JX4068 via its Control Deck Interface (CDI), or locally with voice commands. JX4068 is equipped with two medium-range microphones designed to recognize a handful of pragmatic commands, such as “enable primary/secondary task,” “disable primary/secondary task,” “return to nexus,” and so on. Although JX4068’s microphones are always active, JX4068 is not programmed to respond to prompts beyond its initial programming. The microphones do not log the satisfying, endless crunch of JX4068’s threads moving through the rocks, nor the delicate trill of birds that have begun to take nest near the water, nor the wistful singing of a technician who for some reason remembers a song she hasn’t thought of in years but of which she still knows every single note, and each line takes her further back to days she’d thought long forgotten and it’s this strange mix of regret and hopefulness where all at once your heart bursts with joy and breaks with the sadness of time passed and you feel like your best days are behind you, yet in this musical moment you feel a sickly sweet love for the future. JX4068 is 580,450 days overdue for its scheduled maintenance.
JX4068 disengages its scanners, reverses direction, and proceeds forward three meters. It engages its scanners. No new entities detected.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:22|
Acceptance (1,350 words)
It was a simple tune, low and long - like the creaking of a ship in the eye of a storm.
Lauja stood before the glittering sea, his back to flames. He held in his hands a long-necked instrument, carefully strung. His back was covered in lashes.
Black waves beneath a black sky strewn with jewels. His fingers moved on their own.
Marduk shuddered at the sound.
"Are there words?"
Lauja did not answer.
The warlord dismounted, his features framed in the shadow of the burning city. He had killed his first man when he was fourteen. Today he had killed three hundred. His men had pulled the king down from his high place, through the streets and through the square. Marduk himself had administered the molten silver, the drink of death. He dismounted for no man. He dismounted now.
"Are there words, friend?"
Lauja did not answer. He knew why the warlord had come. He was a traitor. A useful traitor, but a traitor all the same. A burning city left no survivors.
Lauja closed his eyes and played.
"None at all?" asked Ata.
"None that I know," said Qizi. She cradled her lute like a newborn babe.
Those who had gathered there turned and whispered. Ata stared blankly. He stroked his mustache.
Of course it was custom for the daughter-in-law to perform at such an event, and his wife and the girl had been quite close. He'd heard the girl was talented, heard her play before, but the melody now welling up from her fingers seemed almost alien. There was depth in its simplicity, yearning and regret tinged with hope for the future. Loss was not uncommon on the steppes. Doubtless the girl had felt its sting.
Yet this purely? This deeply?
"Where did you learn such a thing?" asked the priest.
Oglan leapt to his feet, the flute behind his back. He’d been sitting alone in the parish. Father Erwin saw fear in his eyes. He raised a hand to calm the boy, to catch him before he fled out the door.
“You’re in no trouble my child, settle down.”
“I’m sorry Father. I know I shouldn’t be in here.”
“Nevermind all that, nevermind,” said the priest. The boy had emerged from the shadows out onto the sun-kissed steps of the church. His feet were bare and bruised and bloody. Father Erwin scooped him up and took him to the fountain. Holding the boy in the crux of his arm, he washed his feet by the man-made spring.
“They, they stole my shoes. They chased me here. They said, they said-”
“Easy now, speak slowly.”
It’d been two years since Father Erwin first founded his church. The villagers were split between those who believed and those who did not. Both sides antagonized the other, much to the priest’s displeasure. Oglan’s tale was not unusual, but for all his stammering the boy shed no tears. It had been the mourning of his soul, his music, that had drawn Father Erwin’s attention from outside.
“There is power in words,” said the priest, “Great power. From the mouth of God, they are marvelous things, but men are born tyrants and thoughtless with speech. Do not let the words of those who hate you reach you.”
“I’ll...I’ll try, Father.”
The old man smiled. “That’s all I ask. And in the meantime, if it’s shoes you need, I think I can provide. Let me see, let me see.” He rose to his feet, the boy in his arms.
“By the way,” he said, “That music you were playing. I’ve never heard anything as desolate and beautiful. Is it one of your folk songs?”
“I, I suppose it is, though I don’t know the words. Or if there are any. It’s played in the dark times, when strength is needed.”
“I see, I see.” Father Erwin hummed what he recalled of the boy’s ability. Oglan corrected him, and their voices were as one. “A haunting tune.” The priest nodded. He wondered if he might write a hymn from the rhythm.
“Or so the story goes,” said Miss Tenenbaum.
Yumi rose as her teacher stood and looked away as she rubbed her eyes. The telegram declaring the death of Miss Tenenbaum’s mother lay open on the table in words the student couldn’t yet read. She’d never meant to intrude in the first place, but something in the song the foreign woman sang drew the young girl here to her teacher in distress. She couldn’t place the words, but she understood the feeling.
“Ha ha, I’m sorry.” Miss Tenenbaum shut her eyes tight, then relaxed. “I’ve had such a day. No matter where you go, it’s never far enough to escape from bad news.”
Yumi didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure what to say. A week ago she’d been playing with her brother. He’d accepted a job halfway around the world, in London. He said he’d return, but she couldn’t shake the feeling she’d never see him again. She’d heard the teacher’s somber song from yard below, and come around to investigate. She'd sat in silence a full minute before Miss Tenenbaum took note of her.
“Anyway, yes, it’s an old song, a hymn. The original tune hails from the Central Asian mountains, I think. Something sung at partings and funerals. It always brings me peace to...ah, I’m sure I’m wasting your time. You should be heading home.”
“No, no.” Yumi balled her fists. “I like your song. I like how it makes me feel. It’s sad but...it’s also not sad.”
Miss Tenenbaum smiled. She began to sing again.
“My grandmother taught it to me,” said Corporal Koito. “A foreign tune from a foreign land. A foreign religion. It holds no meaning for me, and yet it brings me peace.”
The dying soldier looked to his prisoner. It was clear from his bewildered expression the American hadn’t understood a word. But perhaps he’d understood something much deeper?
There was a sound of steam and pressure and pain, and water began to fill the chamber. The ship was sinking.
Corporal Kotio held his side. His chest was wet and warm, even as the sea salt began to consume his ankles. He slumped down against the wall, a swathe of blood painting the iron interior.
He reached for his pistol, only to pull out his keys. He tossed them to the American soldier.
“Live,” he said. “You can understand this much, can’t you? Escape, swim, struggle. Live.”
The American soldier removed his bindings and stood up, soaked to his waist in rising water. He looked to his captor, but Koito was dead.
“It means goodbye?”
Ashley stood over the piano, her fingers poised to resume playing. Her abilities were stunted by the suit she wore, yet the power of the song was evident still.
Roger wiped a thin layer of film from the protective glass that shielded his face. The mold in the underground had been steadily growing worse. He and Ashley stood in what had once been a ballroom, long-since abandoned to the tomb of civilization.
Ashley backed away from the piano. “I never expected to find one still working down here. Haven’t played since I was a girl. I’m a bit out of practice.”
“Probably just these gloves. You know how hard it is to do delicate work with these things.”
Roger held a curious device in his hands, small and sleek and obsidian. He punched in their coordinates, the time since they’d last seen the sun. They couldn’t stray too far too long. Their air filters would need replacing soon.
“This way.” He motioned for Ashley to follow. “There’s some moisture below near the shopping arcade. Should be enough for the return trip.”
Ashley nodded dutifully and made for the door.
“That song have a name?” asked Roger.
“It needs no name,” said Lauja.
Marduk considered the slave’s response. Behind his back, he held the knife. “If it has no name, how will anyone know it is yours?”
“It isn’t,” said Lauja, who looked to the stars.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:23|
Caroline wiped the remaining flecks of vomit from her lips on the back of her scrub's sleeve as she straightened up from the bio-hazard bin. Even after so long on the job, there were still some smells she couldn't prepare for; the thick stench creeping from the new arrival's wounds was certainly one of them. She swallowed bitterly as she picked the patient's chart off the Nurse's desk and scanned the abstract details of his visit. Clearing her throat and breathing through her mouth, Caroline stepped back into the small room and greeted the lone occupant.
“Good evening Donald,” Caroline said calmly, any trace of revulsion scrubbed clean from her tone. “I'll be your nurse tonight. How are you feeling?”
The frail form in front of her remained silent, its one good eye twitching slightly and the sound of the humming machinery around it was her only reply. Caroline sighed inwardly and continued chatting lightly as she changed the IV bags and took the patient's vitals. She wasn't expecting a reply, of course. According to his file, Dr. Donald Spencer hadn't said a word sense he'd been admitted and his whole body paralysis was unwavering. Still, she made it a habit to stay positive around her patients.
She stopped talking when it came time to pull aside the sheet, however. The smell and the mild trepidation were too much. Holding her breath, she removed the sterile blue dressing beneath to reveal an open, tunneling wound where the Doctor's belly button should be. The hole was around the size of a softball, and the purulent discharge that seeped from the blackened edges reeked of necrotic flesh.
Poor guy, Caroline thought to herself as she replaced the dressing and pulled the sheet over him, He's been in and out of surgery, but he's like a rock to the touch, and now that he's in the ICU we still don't know what's going on with- huh?
Caroline saw a flash of light from the bedside table. Inside a hospital standard personal-belongings satchel she could see the glint of something small and spherical. Although she'd never interfered with a patient's belongings before, there was something about the glimmer of light that made her reach out toward it. As she approached the nightstand she could see that it was some sort of ruby ring. It fractured the setting sunlight from the large window into a bright display of crimson fire, an enchanting display that drew her in closer. Suddenly the patient next door let out a scream, her dementia acting up as the sky outside darkened.
With a gasp Caroline stopped short of reaching into the bag, taking a quick glance at the man lying prone and still beneath the scratchy hospital sheets. In a split second the jewel was in her front pocket, and she gave a small cough and hurried out of the room. She finished her rounds that night still in a chipper enough manner, but a mixture of shame and nervousness lingered as her heels clacked against the tile floor.
That night Caroline's dreams were turbulent and broken. Spectral beings twisted and shifted in the dark, their pale forms dancing in agony or jubilation, she couldn't tell which. She heard ancient tongues ramble over one another, and she caught snippets of Latin and Greek which faded around her in the red void where she floated suspended in a viscous sea of pain. But most prominent as she screamed mindlessly into oblivion were the bright streams of light which wrapped around her in a helix of blurred images as she saw deep into the well of ancestral knowledge.
She wasn't Caroline, up and coming RN of Blair Grace Hospital in New York City. She was a small Chinese boy in irons, a German Princess at a wedding gala, an alien being to strange for words. She was all yet she was none, and in that shock of horror she felt more than dread. She felt a longing need. She wanted more. She would give anything. Even as she howled in misery she needed more.
Caroline woke up in pain the next day, her head throbbing with a migraine and her bed still wet from her night terror. As she did her laundry in disgust she thought about the man lying in that hospital room, his odd wounds, and the glistening ring that sat beside her wallet on the computer desk. Sitting down and rubbing at an itch above her left breast, she shifted the jewel into the top drawer. She felt nervous and guilty, she'd never stolen something from anyone before and it bothered her. Maybe I should just give it back to him. Who is he, anyway?
Pulling open her laptop she did a quick search for Dr. Donald Spencer, and was only vaguely surprised to find a blog about him in the local University Database. He was apparently a rather popular but radical cultural anthropologist, with a sizable cult following of his recent book series on his theories on the collective subconscious. He had a flair for the dramatic, and some light reading on her kindle later, Caroline had to admit he was a good author.
According to a recent post, Spencer was scheduled to conduct a visit to a remote village in the Australian Outback in order to explore some obscure aboriginal legend. He'd apparently cut it short, however, and had returned with little fanfare. In fact, the blogger seemed to have stopped reporting on him a couple of days before his admittance into the hospital. Made since that no one had heard from him, he'd been unconcious in his house when the mail man reported a gagging smell to the police. His stomach wound was fresh, and although it was only the size of a golfball the stench was horrid. As she began to get dressed she scratched at her chest again, prompting her to pop a antihistamine before hurrying into the street.
That night at work she decided to check in with Spencer again first, a little apprehensive of him being awake, the ring still sitting in her cramped apartment. When she arrived in the room it was empty, however, and she asked a nearby intern where he went. Her countenance fell when she was told the man had passed from complications.
“I heard,” the girl whispered conspiratorially, “that his abcess had grown to cover his entire abdomen, and the infection stopped his heart. They still don't know what caused it, what an unlucky guy.”
Stressed, she finished her shift in a silent stupor, her prior optimism gone. Her headache was worse than ever, and her acetaminophen wouldn't touch it. And worse, the area above her chest was sore and kind of raw, prompting her to buy some calamine lotion from the pharmacy on her way home.
Caroline woke that night from another, similar nightmare, but this time it wasn't her headache but her torso which caused her to scream in bed. She fell to the floor, her legs stiff and unworking, her flesh hard to the touch around her joints. Stumbling over to the bathroom she flicked on the light and stopped breathing as she looked into the mirror. A small hole the size of a pea was pulsing steadily, a rancid sent emanating from the powdery purple edges which flaked slightly as she watched in horror.
Throwing on a sweatshirt she raced her way to the hospital, her joints now stiff and aching, preparing herself to enter the ER. But she stopped herself before she reached the parking lot, turning instead on to University Ave. Running up the cobblestone walkway to the Archaeology department, she was out of breath by the time she reached Dr. Spencer's office. The room was locked, but with no one around Caroline broke the glass front and reached in to unlatch the door. Still unaware of what she was looking for, she rifled through his desk looking for some clue as to what happened to him, and what was happening to her. Five minutes later she found a hidden notebook taped to the underside of one of the drawers. Flipping through it she could see that it was a journal chronicling his recent trip.
In terror, she read that the legend was regarding an ancient cursed stone from long before the local tribes existed that granted limitless knowledge for a dangerous price. Although they would be able to see the across time and space, anyone who held the stone would be petrified before being devoured. The only way to avoid it would be to return the stone to its original resting place deep in the midst of Ares rock before the passing of the full moon. Checking her smartphone she could see she had three days before the moon betrayed her. Sprinting down the steps she felt her chest burn and throb, but she fought through the pain and stumbled to her car in the lot outside.
Caroline could feel her body tensing up and creaking as she moved, but she had to hurry. The Doctor may not have believed the tale but she sure as hell did. And as she called in to work to say she was taking some vacation time she could feel the stone burning in her pocket yearning to return home. And by God would she abide it.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:59|
The Men Who Lived Forever
It took less than 100 years after humanity vanquished death for us to invite it back. Immortality was a mistake, we decided. Once thought impossible, proved technically feasible, now internationally illegal.
My flashlight cuts through the dust of the old mansion. It looks empty, but I learned to stop trusting my gut long ago. The immortals were clever, with hundreds of years of practice evading our kill teams. My comm crackles in my ear: “We’ve got a portrait above the mantle. Looks old. Historian says mid-twenty fourth,” says our rookie.
“gently caress, so this guy could be…” I hoped somebody would do the math for me.
“Yeah, if not the record, would be close,” confirmed Ed, our historian.
We were there because somebody called a psychic. Saw a light in the window of the abandoned mansion, thought it was haunted. Thirteen percent of ghost sightings were actually immortals in hiding, and all call-in psychics were mandated reporters.
“Or it could be nothing,” said Adam, the team’s profiler. He’d found his own great grandpa in his attic when he was ten, reported him immediately. “Keep your eye out for anything newer than you are. These guys can’t go twenty or thirty years without hoarding some trinket. It’s like a sickness, their greed.”
Room after room turns up empty. Not a footprint in the dust, a ticking clock, or a wet sink drain: all aberrations we’d used to catch immortals before. This guy was good, or it really was a ghost this time.
I sigh. “Why do they even want to live like this? Holed up in some dusty house they can’t use, sitting on a fortune they can’t touch?” The first immortals tried to continue their old lives under new identities, but then we started keeping better records. Even the richest person couldn’t CRISPR out their entire genome, and if there was a flake of skin or a drop of sweat in the air, our sensors would notice if somebody stuck around too long. They had to stay hidden, far out on family estates where only tech was a phone line.
“Nobody’s in here, we’re going to check the greenhouse.”
I give my ok and walk into the last bathroom. I lazily check the sink, not even a whisker. Through the window I see Ed and Adam making their way through the overgrown garden toward the greenhouse. Usually they’re missing panes of glass, knocked out by weather, tree branches, or lovely neighborhood kids. This one looks in relatively good condition. Then I notice the fresh pile of dirt behind the greenhouse. My stomach drops.
“Be careful,” I warn. Just as I’m about to turn and run down to assist I hear the squeak of skin on dry porcelain. I whip around and a petite woman hiding behind a shower curtain throws her hands up to shield her eyes from my rifle’s flashlight.
“Don’t loving move!” I shout.
They usually cry, offer me billions, beg for their life. But this woman, she just… laughs.
“Shut up, put your hands up where I can see them.”
The woman rests her fingers on her black hair. “I wouldn’t be worried about me,” she says with a wink. “Aren’t you guys implanted with deadman switches?”
We are. Better to die than let an immortal escape. A few things would trigger it: a stopped heart, a manual trigger, or losing contact with the satellite feed.
“Recite your ID number for voice verification,” I order her. Too many urban explorers and reporters shot by accident. Now we have rules, but I can tell she’s the one we’re after. They’re something different about immortals. They seem sadder than normal people. Even though this woman doesn’t look a day over thirty five and is smiling, I can sense a sadness that only those who have lost everybody they care about can exude. But women weren’t allowed to get the procedure. Hell, they weren’t even allowed to own property back then. Turns out progress stalls when the greedy live forever.
“My ID? It’s uh...one,” she says, giving me the finger. “And that’s not a greenhouse—”
I glance out the window as my comm crackles: “Boss, there’s nothing in here but a spool of wire.”
“Get out of there,” I shout.
“—it’s a faraday cage.”
Before I can get another word out, the greenhouse door slams shut and then, if only for a millisecond, the glass building glows from the inside like a miniature sun.
The bathroom window explodes, blasting my face full of glass. I land on the ground and claw at my burning eyes. All I can think about is how expensive it is going to be to get new eyes implanted. I grasp for my headset to call for backup, but feel it kicked away.
Blind, mute, and dazed, I feel the cold metal of a knife under my chin.
“Still a fan of death?” she whispers in my ear.
“Who wants to live forever?” I push the self-destruct button on my chest, but it only clicks.
“The EMP knocked it out.”
I push it a few more times out of desperation and then stop. For some reason, I think of my daughter and I panic. I imagine her growing up without me. She’d learn I was a hero, she’d never want for anything, but I’m not even dead yet and I’m already missing her.
“Just one last thing,” I say as the knife draws its first blood.
“Why? What life is this?”
She laughs and eases the pressure on my carotid. “This isn’t my life. This was a trap.”
“But not for you. For them. Why stay alive all these years? I just wanted to see the future I fought so hard for. I wanted to take out every person who wronged me, and well, it’s taking a while.”
“—did a woman get the immortality drug?”
“I invented it.”
“That’s not what the history books say.”
She let go of my shoulder and shoves me forward. I grasp around for something to pull myself up, so I at least die standing.
“Exactly. Why would a lowly lab tech—a woman nonetheless—get credit for that? Why would the drug go to everybody when it could be hoarded by the wealthy? Everybody wants to live forever, but nobody wants everybody else to live forever with them.”
Years of PSAs and pledges and Very Special school assemblies come rushing back. “Nobody deserves to live forever. Not even you.”
“And I won’t. But I’ll live as long as I need to.”
I search my brain for the slogan to counter her rationale, but realize we don’t have one. Immortals are greedy, scared people. Men who had a taste of what it was like to be God, but too afraid to face him.
I feel a prick on the back of my neck. I turn and swing a fist blindly in her direction, but she’s already anticipated and dodged.
She whispers in my ear: “see you later.”
And then she was gone.
I feel my way downstairs and nearly trip over the rookie, unconscious in the grass. I wake up him and he gets us to our lander.
I make what the doctors call a “miraculous recovery,” even with new implants and half a face of new skin grafts. But it’s the hair that worries me. I was quite proud of my graying temples, just like my dad’s before he’d died in the immortal war. But the gray has faded back to my regular hair color. When I hit the gym, I hit my personal best in a week of training. When I get home from work, I chase my daughter around the yard instead of falling asleep on the couch. I can’t keep my hands off my wife.
Even though I know I should report it, I keep quiet. I’m scared. It’s not my fault, I tell myself. I didn’t ask for it. And when it’s time to submit my official report, I say I woke up in the bathroom alone and blind.
Nancy calls to me from the closet. “Honey, have you seen my rifle?”
“It’s on the top shelf.” I stand and face the window. “Opacity, 80%.”
Then sun is just peeking through Missoula’s twin skyscrapers, commuters darting through the sky to their morning meetings. A rocket launches on the horizon, leaving a faint trail behind it as it heads towards one of the docking stations in orbit.
It’s gotten easier, in a way, to hunt down the remaining names on Nancy’s list. Sooner or later they’ll all make the attempt to go offworld. Though the rest of the world had already celebrated and declared the Solar System immortal free. The monitors kept looking for signs, pinging servers only people long dead remembered were there.
For each alert, Nancy’s list got another name crossed off. Sometimes we’d go decades in between and we would live semblances of normal lives, bouncing around cities every few years. Always “the new young couple.” Live simply, pay in cash, keep moving.
I take out the locket with a piece of orange paper inside. I can see the outlines of my daughter’s face where anybody else would see smudges of dirt. I pretend the photo is still crisp and clear as the day she gave it to me. I don’t dare try to access one of federal archives that would have her photos. In a way, every day I saw my daughter after that first night Nancy and I met was borrowed time anyway, but it wasn’t enough. I just wish the suspicious looks hadn’t come so soon, and I hadn’t had to “die” so suddenly.
I’ve forgotten almost everything, and everybody. They all blur into one another, and I feel like I’ve lived and forgotten whole lives.
“Mirror.” The window changes to mirror mode, and I stare back at myself. If I was sent to hunt myself, I’d know in an instant I was an immortal. I wouldn’t even have to verify a voice ID, I would shoot on site. It’s in the eyes. I wish I could forget her.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 06:59|
Letters of the Confessor of Schwerkraftfälle - 198 words
Baron Georg Friedrich to Abbot Ekkehard of Huysburg, December 1452, in Letters of the Confessor of Schwerkraftfälle, ed. James Flansburg (New York: Sebastian Publishing, 1978), 60.
Unto the right worshipful Abbot Ekkehard of Huysburg,
On my deathbed I must confess to you the hideous plot I devised to gain favor from the court of the late Cardinal Wilhelm Albrecht the Pious, Prince-Regent of Wuerttemberg and Deuten-Freiwald, may god bless his soul.
I set about a grand deception. If I could not earn Albrecht’s favor thru his pursestrings or thru his stomach I would do so thru his devotion to Saint Geofreida, Unifier of Deuten and the Freiwald. I would present him with her long lost reliquary. The construction of this artifact required deceiving the beloved Wilhelm, the desecration of the dead, and the murder of a simpleton.
I made no pact with the devil to enact this vile scheme and did not seek the guidance of his consorts. The plan was mine alone and the blood of an innocent stains my hands. I beg the lord’s forgiveness for my heinous transgressions and I plead that you intercede on my behalf.
Your most obedient servant,
Baron Georg Friedrich
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 07:00|
An End to Global Warming
“On the bright side, for every acre lost to deforestation, one fifth of an acre of arctic land becomes arable,” Dr Penrose typed. “Permafrost to tundra, and tundra to prairie. Of course this is small comfort for Africa.” She sighed and closed her laptop. Fielding endless pop-sci questions for skeptical journalists was one of the few things more enervating than corralling freshmen. But, beggars can’t be choosers when they’re angling for tenure track. Too distracted to concentrate, she gazed downward out the passenger window at the gently rolling landscape of scrubby trees and house sized, lichen stained boulders. Ditching her class to jump into the field was one thing, but you could never escape all drudgework.
Glaciers regurgitated preserved objects slowly and continuously. Their accelerated retreat had led to a bit of a bonanza in her field over the last few decades. Well preserved corpses of extinct ice age creatures got most of the attention, but no one had ever heard of anything like the report from a gold surveying team exploring near Lombovozh, nestled in the northern Urals. She glanced at her snoring grad student Jerry and tried to get some sleep of her own.
Fourteen hours, a fitful night, a hasty outfitting session, and a butt-numbing snowmobile ride later, they were on site. They advanced down an aquamarine chasm cut lengthwise midway up the glacier. A crevasse that had opened when the lower ice shelf had abruptly shifted, lubricated underneath by gravel and meltwater. Winding past a final bend they saw an entire neanderthal village in cross section, split down the middle as the lower glacier angled away. Jerry began a quick photo survey while Penrose examined the nearest hut.
“It must have been some blizzard,” she mused. Everything external enveloped by snow in a single storm, and everything inside mummified and flash frozen. Her giddiness at being the first team to the find evaporated as she spied the family huddled together in the back corner. She approached slowly, brushing past a string of root vegetables and other forage hanging from the ceiling. Rictus faces stared blankly, and at their feet was something she couldn’t recognize.
“Jerry! Come check this out.”
He ambled towards her, looking over his shoulder.
“I know we don’t technically have an export license, but what do you make of that?”
“You’re the one who said we only had time for an initial survey, Doc. To prove it was even here.”
He glanced back again the way they had come and frowned.
Laying In the center of a complicated snarl of vaguely runic lines was a carved figurine. Rough, mottled chalcedony smoothed in small regions to make clear facial features. A stern male visage emerged from the rough stone surface.
“You’re not thinking of touching it are you?”
“The glacier could resettle and seal this place back up at any time.”
“The find of the century, and you’d risk disturbing it out of precaution?”
The sound of footsteps overtook their budding argument. Jerry turned while Penrose snatched the carving off the floor and stuffed it up the sleeve of her parka.
The men advancing from the opening weren’t local toughs, at least by her estimation. Penrose fancied estimation one of her strong suits. Leaping head first into a kleptocracy. Well, that was just one half of the risk reward ratio, wasn’t it? Estimate the rewards, and it wasn’t really a decision at all was it? She held the face in the crook of her elbow as she eyed them. Definitely professional toughs.
“English, anyone?” she asked tentatively.
“Da. You come with us. Poachers and thieves not welcome in this province.”
She elbowed her student and he handed over the camera. The lead man jerked a handgun back along the path. Glancing sideways into the dimness of the hut she saw a spreading stain of water upwelling from the center of the glyph. Turning away, she began trudging back out the fissure.
Eyeing the door to her ‘cell’, the second story office overlooking an grimy warehouse back in Lombovozh, Penrose slipped the figure out of her sleeve. She was thankful whoever had commandeered the place hadn’t bothered with heating. It gave her an excuse to keep her parka on. Keeping an ear out for boots on the galvanized stair she examined it more closely.
Older than fertility iconography by far, she thought. Older than hunting scenes, too. She shivered, and pushed away errant thoughts of ancient microbes. Staring deeply, she noticed how the milky quartz seemed to absorb and reemit light suffusely, rather than reflect it.
Before her gaze could drift any deeper she was jerked to attention by a cold wet splat on her brow. Another quickly followed from a gap in the ceiling.
Wiping her face and shifting to the side she held the face out so that an edge caught the next falling droplet. Crystals of ice rebounded off the surface with a soft puff and her breath caught in her throat. Both in surprise, and in the sudden numbing cold filling the room. With another drop every smooth surface had gained a filigree of frost, and the source of the leak had frozen over too. The carving itself seemed unaffected. The unsmiling face staring outward. Thankful for her parka she slipped the stone into her waistband.
The room had come close to normal by the time Jerry was thrust through the doorway.
“I told them you were in charge,” he said through a split lip. Grimacing, she got up was escorted downstairs.
“Did you Americans think you would not be noticed coming here?” the agent asked.
“For the tenth time, we’re academics not thieves. I’m from the department of anthro-” A sharp backhand brought her up short.
“The Vice Premiere is an academic, too. His instructions on what to do with you to were quite explicit.”
Back upstairs with one hand cuffed to Jerry she glanced around the room once again. Spying an old filing cabinet she yanked him over and pulled out the top shelf. The sheet metal housing the shelf was folded back, revealing a sharp punched edge. Before he could protest she grabbed his wrist in hers and drew them both sharply downward and across it.
“Jesus Christ doc!” he shouted.
“That’s not even the worst of it,” she said, pulling out the carving with her other hand.
His eyes opened in shock and opened further as she drew their bloody forearms across the face.
For every square mile buried under the icecaps, a tenth of a mile of desert retreats. Sand to savannah, savannah to farmland. Small comfort for Europe.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 07:00|
The Planet Is Fine
Another dead giant. They're falling like the temperature, like the dust that floats down from the yellow sky. They join the cold rot of everything big: the trees, the seas, the world.
The carcass lies at the base of a towering cycad with limp, yellow leaves. Bloated flesh is beginning to slough away, and the reek draws what paltry, seed-sized insects still fly through the forest. Furry scavengers, long the giant's prey, now perch on its massive thighs and broad neck, tearing at the cratered flesh with their tiny jaws. The tongue has already been eaten from within the giant's jagged mess of a mouth; it was the first part to go.
Easy food litters the stricken forest. Marsupials grow fat on dragonflies that they wouldn't have thought to try catching. Bats and birds fight over fruit that is no longer plucked from the treetops, although there won't be any next year. And everywhere, large and small, the lizardish, birdish creatures that had ruled the understory are being picked to the bone by vermin.
Sometimes, I comfort myself by remembering that it really can't happen here. It's England and Japan that are underwater; it's India that's been wiped out by heatstroke and starvation. We've had to change, make things new and start over, but the USA has stood the worst, and the worst is over. The human race has learned from its mistakes, and it's been almost a century since we last burned fossil fuels. The peace is tenuous, but we've stabilized the earth's temperature, eleventh-hour cramming that's gotten us a D but not an incomplete grade. We'll be fine as long as we get straight As from now on.
I throw on my mask and heat poncho and walk out to catch the train to work in our nation's capital. It's an impossibly fast thing for a city train, a featureless, drawn-out cylinder gleaming reflective white in the burning air. The train is a testament to the resolve humanity can achieve under enough pressure – if you told my great-grandparents that there wouldn't be a car on the streets within their lifetimes, even an electric one, they'd think you were crazy. But here I am, riding the Lexington Metro at 320 kilometers an hour.
The train's Cofi is pretty good, even in the rearmost car. I take a sip of the strong brew as the train car vaults from the tracks with an enormous, bone-rattling sound and spins out into the Kentucky scrubland. We tumble horribly in the car, shrieking along with its metal, until the thing slows to a pathetic stop. Many of us are injured – a man gingerly holds his twisted arm steady; a heaving woman begins to bleed from her mouth – but the car's design has protected us impressively on the whole. I clamber from the wreckage and see how sickeningly lucky I really am. There's the rest of the train, lying twisted in a burning heap at the end of a trail that must be a mile long. Over the wreckage hovers a huge shadowgraphic sign: WE'RE REALLY LIVING WELL, AREN'T WE? ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN
The bombing is all over the newswaves for the rest of the day. I tune it out as well as I can, but it's hard to keep from coming back to it, like picking a scab. The bomber was a scientist at the EPA, Dr. Michael Xiong. There isn't anything definite yet, but most people are guessing that something he was researching drove him to this – the knowledge that a train bombing might turn out to be the pleasant news this week hangs over everything like the 21st century's worst smog. I'm not at work. I'm not even at home. I'm with my mom; we're both too scared for me to be anywhere else.
"Who said we were living well?" Mom asks, agitation in her dark eyes more than in her soft voice. "How hard is it to appreciate that we're alive at all after all we've done?"
"I can almost see where the bastard was coming from, though," I say. "It's not enough to be alive, you know? Living and being alive are different things."
"I'm sure that living was all he wanted for the people on that train."
"I said almost."
We both hear it buzzing in the backs of our minds from a few, then dozens.
plankton beds South Pacific buildup algal blooms compromising fault 129 gigatons methane resumed warming
The red sun filters through the cloudless morning air as the tube jungle continues its perpetual chatter. The hard, gray-green tubes have found a way to stand tall in scorching wind that would eradicate the plants of an earlier epoch – that did eradicate them, in fact. Small creatures, more lizardish than birdish, climb up the stalks, over the edges, and down inside, safe from the sun's daily ravages.
They are not safe from the sun.
The animals' vision flashes blinding white inside the tubes' darkness. Instantly, the magnetic field shielding them is erased in a rush of solar ejecta, and the world is enveloped in airless wind and lightless glare.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 07:01|
Everyone remembered their past lives, one day, and after that everything was different.
Or, rather, it wasn’t: not really.
I mean there was a fundamental rearrangement of what it meant to be human and alive, and the rending of the impenetrable barrier between future and past certainly made a lot of things decidedly weird, but apart from that we carried on much as before.
We got used to the new state of being. Like, you’d go to the shop to buy your milk or whatever and the guy who rang up your groceries would have a wolfshead hat thing to demonstrate his connection with Aeron Cynddelw the fourth century druid. Or the lady you sat next to at work would start wearing a bobbing tinfoil and cardboard headdress to signify her relationship with the Pharoah Narmer. No-one ever met anyone they'd shared a time with, of course, that was just how it was. That said, it hit everyone differently. For me, as a descendant of Enmerkar of Uruk, it affected me mainly in visions.
“It’s like,” I said, shouting over the bar noise, “I get mental emails from the past and I open them and all of a sudden I’m pulling a stone through a mud-filled field, and I can see a giant tower, half built. I smell the dung, and the sweat, and hear the yells of the Overseers of Enki with their whips.”
Meretricia was her name, the one was talking to, and I was attracted to her because she didn’t have any of the ostentatious markers of ancient history, the wickerwork shoulderframes and neolithic granite lip discs. There was something in her eyes, though, like she was only partly here. She seemed about to say something, but then she frowned.
“What are you drinking,” she yelled.
I held up my mug. “Blessing of Ninkasi. Cereal beer. It’s… not that nice actually, but it’s…”
“Comforting?” She reached out and took the mug, her cool fingers touching mine, then she drained it. “Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates,” she declaimed in Sumerian, the rolling syllables piercing the hubbub of the bar and landing like a feathered arrow in my heart. I looked into her dark still eyes and saw the black fields in front of Uruk where the farmers toiled and I knew she was my wife, come again across the ploughed fields of time.
We were kissing a few moments later, and we were loving forty minutes after that. Her ecstatic sweat smelled like honeydew and river water and she yelled a nam-shub to Inana as she came.
“It had to happen,” she pointed out reasonably as we sat, naked and cross-legged, on the roof of my apartment building. The sun was rising on a world where we had known each other for three, delicious, endless days, or a thousand years. “Just because you never hear about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening all round the world.”
“Yeah, but I saw a documentary, some Han dynasty guy was saying they’d done a study and no-one had ever met a person with the same history," I said. "They’d surveyed thousands, tens of thousands.” I shrugged, felt the smile spread across my face like the dawning of bright Utu. “Maybe we’re the first?”
She stretched like a cat, fingers interlaced above her. “Maybe it’s all part of the plan. We’re the first, because it was always about us.”
She had, it became apparent, a plan. It was breathtaking and upon hearing it I fell even deeper in love with her.
We would rebuild the tower of Babel.
We started small, with bits of lumber and steel nailed together on top of the building. It took a few weeks before the landlord noticed and I had to explain; surprisingly he took it well.
"No-one ever meets someone with the same memories," he said, his ancient Nigerian fetish charms jingling. "They've done studies. This is amazing. What do you need?"
I think we'd all been waiting for a purpose, a reason why the past had come back on us like a bad curry.
The next two years passed in a hectic, delirious blur - the news cameras came, and we went viral. Engineers started sending in drawings and calculations for us to mount on high, to see beyond the furthest horizon. The government got involved, partly because the PM was from Ur, so an almost compatriot, but also because she could sense the mood of the nation. We wanted it to mean something, it had to mean something, so maybe we just needed to get high enough? It became a national obsession.
The first sign of trouble came when we were poring over one of the blueprints, rolled out on the desk in my old apartment. Meretricia said something to me and it didn't sound like words.
I blinked at her. "Come again?"
"What happens," she said slowly, "if we get to heaven and it's just like here?"
I stared at her, because although it was a reasonable question it wasn't what she'd said before. What she'd said before wasn't language, it wasn't not language, it was buzzing bees and hissing steam and the sound of a plant growing.
"I... I don't know. This is pretty good, isn't it?" I gestured out the window at the swarming crowds of volunteers, crafters and engineers that were scrambling over the enormous scaffold of the Second Tower. But in my head I could hear the sound, still.
She smiled ambiguously, and kissed me on the nose.
The Second Tower grew, faster and faster. It seemed to be growing of its own accord. Sometimes I'd make the climb to its immense upper reaches and find cavernous rooms and echoing spaces that I knew with absolute certainty we had not designed. And, somehow, there were always more people up there. Whole families, skinny children sliding down ropes and clambering up ladders as their parents yelled at them.
I didn't hear the sound again, but I always expected to.
Time became strange as we built, and planned, and built again, and the tower grew on. it seemed as though the whole planet was watching, a constant buzzing hum from the insect cloud of camera drones that surrounded it could always be heard over the clattering and yells of construction. I met Meretricia up the top on one of my climbs. She was crouched down, over a billowing immensity of space. None of us feared heights any more so I kneeled down next to her. I tapped a pebble off the side and watched it fall, down, down to the far-away ground.
"Do you think we are nearly there?" I asked.
She was silent. Then she sighed, a deep breath like a plough-ox that has been worked to death and settles down, never to rise.
"I see it now," she said. "We bound ourselves together with communication, and the future mind became angry." Her voice clicked and hissed as she spoke, as though she was talking over a boiling kettle. "Look." She pointed at a flock of drones that were swirling around each other, locked into some kind of auto-evade feedback loop.
"The technology that binds us will keep binding us, and eventually we make something that is all of us. A mind."
I laughed, thinking she was telling one of her elaborate jokes.
"I don't think it asked to be made though. So it sends feelers back through time, awakening, all of this." She waved around her. We are what it wanted. A single point of focus. So it could do what it needed to do."
Her voice was like birdsong and engine noise now, and I could hear a distant cracking and confused babble of speech, people trying to talk to their children and neighbours and lovers and failing.
"We climbed too high, and now we are cast down." She said some more words but I could not understand them, and nor could anyone else.
I opened my mouth to speak but knew that no words would come.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 08:37|
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 09:59|
yeah I reckon this also
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 12:07|
free crit by me, tyrannosaurus
this is good humor guys take note because djeser IS a judge but he is neither fast nor good
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 15:18|
free crit by me, tyrannosaurus
Counterpoint: I don't get how this relates to the prompt and so it should default lose
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 15:20|
Counterpoint: I don't get how this relates to the prompt and so it should default lose
Flash rule: Your story must include a ghost instructing you on puberty
Inspired by Sabriel
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 15:52|
Flash rule: Your story must include a ghost instructing you on puberty
Interprompt: write a story about this in 200 words
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 18:36|
Interprompt: write a story about this in 200 words
Mosebjo lay on his back looking up at the ocean of stars that stretched from one horizon to the other. The only sound was that of Caterpillar cropping the grass nearby and the gentle wind whispering through the nodding seed heads.
Soon he would be home. He pictured his triumphant return; the only warrior to have survived a great battle. Rose, the most beautiful woman in the whole vast steppe, would surely throw herself at him now. His manhood saluted the stars at the thought.
Son, it’s time we had a talk about the changes your body is going through, said his father’s ghost, shimmering out of the darkness.
“Da, I know I was but a lad when you died but I’m a grown man now! I have defeated my enemies and feasted on their brains and things. I have avenged you many times over, you are free now to go and rest!” Mosebjo whined in response.
I know you’re experiencing some thoughts that you might find confusing, the ghost continued, oblivious.
Mosebjo’s manhood retreated back inside his body to hide as his father’s ghost launched into his Puberty Talk, again.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 21:21|
|# ? Jun 18, 2018 18:49|
Flash rule: Your story must include a ghost instructing you on puberty
Interprompt: write a story about this in 200 words
Certain Facts of Life
"Why have you summoned me, Jason? After all these years, why now?"
My husband stared up at me helplessly from his position at the edge of the pentagram, sitting cross-legged with his bloodied wrists bared to the air. "It's Tracy," he said. Our youngest. Our only daughter.
"What? Is she all right?"
"She started her period yesterday. The nurse sent her home with a few pads and some tampons, but..." He trailed off and grimaced. Goddammit, I thought, with the force only an exile from Heaven could muster. Thirteen years with me, three girlfriends after my death, and he's still repulsed by feminine hygiene?
"You sacrificed five years of your life and hauled me back from the dead just so I could show my daughter how to put a tampon in?"
"It's gross!" said Jason, sitting next to his blood pentagram, corners marked with hand-dipped lamb's-fat candles, air thick with butcher-shop scent. "And she needs her mom right now."
That much was true, at least. Tracy figured out tampons on her own, but the year on Earth that Jason's sacrifice bought me has given us time to talk, mostly about how her father is an idiot.
|# ? Jan 22, 2018 21:24|