We rescheduled to the 19th. Writing it now, will be an hour or so.
Yeah, was just reminded in the chat. No worries!
|# ? Dec 20, 2019 09:05|
|# ? Sep 30, 2023 14:54|
Lived here my whole life
Juan checked his wallet, passport, and pack again; safe, safe, and safe. He’d done it two minutes before and they had not come into any obvious peril in the interim, but it made him feel in control. He was going a long way away, his poo poo needed to be tight. He pulled the pack onto his lap, just in case and leaned out into the aisle to see if the driver had woken up yet.
In fact, he hadn’t; he was lying, slumped back in his seat, with his DOS HERMANOS cap pulled down over his eyes.
“This your first trip?” said the wiry old man seated across the row. "Good weather for a traveller."
Juan couldn't stop the smile. "Yep. Heading out from this town. Don't know if I'll come back, and all."
The old man made a complicated face, like he was remembering something he used to love a lot, but wished he wasn’t. Juan looked out the window.
Outside the plaza was still, and dusty and bone dry. Menendez the fruit man was standing behind his stall, flapping his cloth at the flies. Next to him was Walesa the Pole, squatting with his back to one of the dusty yellow brick walls that ringed the plaza. He’d arrived before the sun was properly up, and taken his position. A wine jug was nestled in his arm. Juan had a sudden impression of days upon days, stretching out forever, clamped together like the bricks in the wall. His jaw set and he turned back to the scratched vinyl of the seat in front of him.
“I set out like you, once,” said the old man.
Juan hesitated before turning his head. He’d heard a lot about the risks of travel, and one of them was certainly being marked out by robbers for murder and burglary; it was possible that this was some kind of prelude to that. The contrawise thought that making friends on the road was important for enrichment and general wellbeing made him turn his head, if slowly.
“When was that? Are you from here?”
The man smirked, an expression like he was remembering something he didn’t love but had gotten used to pretending that he did. “Oh, yes. From here. Long ago. I travelled the, the world. Buses, and trains, automobiles, bicycles too I suppose. An aeroplane, once.”
Juan was impressed, but determined not to show it. “Why did you end up back here?”
“We all do, young fellow. You carry it with you, like your rear end. Can’t leave your rear end behind, heh!” The old man laughed, a sudden grinding cackle that made Juan recoil. “Can’t run away from your rear end now, can you!” His eyes were full of malice as he laughed.
Juan swivelled back to the window like he was on a turntable and clutched his pack closer to him. The old man was evil, it was the only explanation. He had certainly marked out Juan for destruction and robbery at the first stop, which was, huh. Juan frowned.
What was the first stop on the long, long bus journey that led him out of this town and into the life that was waiting for him somewhere far away? He was sure he’d spent hours poring over maps, so long they’d almost disintegrated; he could see the feathery edges of the paper where the folds had ripped. There were names on the map, and towns, perhaps the old man’s laughter had driven them from his mind.
“rear end!” chortled the man one last time then fell silent. The bus rocked slightly in a gust of wind curling over the high wall behind the fruit stall.
Juan lifted his head up so he could see whether the driver had woken up without leaning any closer to the contemptible old man. The top of his cap was visible, moving ever so gently.
“So where are you going young fellow? Just a cork on the waves? Stone through the water? Where does your travel lead you?” Juan wasn’t looking but there was a harsh edge to the horrible old man’s voice now, like someone who resented having to pretend to love anything at all.
“I’m going, and not coming back.” Juan’s voice chopped the words out like carrot slices on a chopping board. “There’s a life out there for me a, a long way away, and I’m going to find it.”
“That’s inspirational,” breathed the old man. “And when it fails, what will you do? When you step in failure like a foot into donkey poo poo, feel it squishy and hot between your toes?"
Juan didn't answer. There were only a few other people on the bus so he decided he would move when the bus started going, that way it wouldn't look like he was running away. He tried to remember the departure time, but couldn’t bring that to mind either. It was the old man, he was the trouble, he’d fllummoxed his brain.
“I’ll tell you, young fellow, because that’s one of the joys of age.” There was no joy in his voice, which was cold and low like a snake in a tunnel. “When, not if, you fail then you will be back here. Because you’re really never going to leave here, and even if you think you do, then you’re going to carry it with you. It will be a weight that you cart around getting heavier every day until you realise the only way to let it off is to come back.”
Juan could feel tears inside him, a clogging and thickening of his mucous membranes. He didn’t cry. Instead he turned back to the old man and stared at him, cold and low. “I don’t need your opinion, sir. This is my world now, not yours. I’m going to go, and I’m never coming back, and i’m going to do something great.
They stared at each other. Juan’s hands were tight on the buckles of his pack, the metal edges digging painfully into his fingers.
Finally, the old man shrugged. “I’m sure you know best, it’s your life.” Then, with a smile like someone who’s trying to remember why he’d walked into the room, he looked out the window at the other side of the yellow brick plaza.
It was very hot in the bus.
Juan shifted his legs under the weight of his pack and tried to convince himself he’d won the encounter. It was hard, not least because he was now entirely certain he had no idea of where the bus was going, and more importantly, if it was ever going to leave at all. He thought of all the places he was going to go, and things he would see, and they had the primary coloured unreality of vaguely remembered cartoons.
The old man was breathing loudly across the aisle, a rasping sound. Juan looked out the window at Walesa, crouched by the yellow wall made of bricks that had been formed and placed, it occurred to him with sudden and nauseating force, with the utmost skill and care to stay exactly where they were put and nowhere else.
|# ? Dec 20, 2019 10:15|
Signups closed*, I await your lab protocols in 48 hours.
*if you were on the fence and got shocked by this being early for overseas, I might be convinced to let you in if you sign up quickly while I sleep.
|# ? Dec 21, 2019 00:26|
The Roommate Solution
The house Diane and James bought in the fat years was cavernous. Some part of it was always cold, somehow, despite the central air. It seemed to James that, lying down on the floor, he could see the curvature of the earth bending towards the far wall of the living room. He spent countless scattered hours down there, stoned and pretending to think. Diane was the one who worked - James was the creative one.
Diane came home late that night. Her cheeks were hazy black from wiped-away mascara streaks. Her hand shook as the car keys slipped into their designated dish. “Babe,” called James. “I made a couple apps. But I held off on the main since I didn't know when... It’s all in there. Let me know if you wanna—“
“James?” She stood in the doorway to his studio, strappy pumps dangling from her finger. He slapped a handful of clay onto an indeterminate mass and smoothed it out.
The company’s valuation had tanked, and they cut salaries across the board. James didn’t panic - he wouldn’t have known to panic, not until she told him to. Diane lost her poo poo for a while. She wanted to quit, but the brand was toxic - she’d be in the wilderness for months before HR departments could laugh it off and see her as a real option again. She redirected her frustration onto James. No amount of taste or aloof charm could stop her from seeing what was right in front of her. The numbers said Diane and James would lose the house.
So, James and Diane, in their infinite wisdom, said gently caress the numbers.
Five bedrooms or bedroom-style spaces. Four massive panes of glass opening onto the best view in the city. Three online listings, idealized and inviting. Two off-street parking spots! One giant house, filled with artifacts of travel and tasteful touches, which they wouldn't give up for anything if they could help it. Dozens and dozens of applications to sort through.
James left it all to Diane, while he promised to finish a piece that he could actually sell, for the first time in years. She steamed at that, but the original Spanish tile in the master bath told her she should've expected it, and the morning reading nook she fit into perfectly told her to forget it and get to work.
She told herself to be ready to compromise, that the perfect candidates didn't exist. But they presented themselves anyway, emerging from the mess of desperation like twin beacons of stability. Phil and Lila Alders - "the Alders," as they introduced themselves. Their building downtown was set to be demolished. They could easily pay the rent Diane had specified, and neither one worked from home. No pets. Didn't want kids. Parents just outside the city so there'd be no reason for a visiting Dad to sleep on the couch. A happy marriage, by all appearances. And the photos from their old place showed off a sense of style that meshed well with what James had put together at the house, without adding too much extraneous furniture besides. The Alders moved in at the end of the month.
For weeks, Diane thought she'd made a terrible mistake. James was annoyed, glaring around the corners from their side of the house while the Alders moved their things in. He criticised Diane for choosing such "normies," even though he'd clearly abdicated any role in the choice. Diane wasn't prepared either, for the feeling of strange eyes moving across the material of her life around the house. Taking in, as the Alders must have been, the omens of doom that loomed all around her relationship with James.
James wasn't working. The clay mass sat inert in his studio, gouged-out and run through with unwound clothes hangers. During the day he'd lay in the grass, smoke a joint, and run through the numbers Diane had given him, gloating to himself that he and Diane were only responsible for forty-five percent of the mortgage. At night, he'd putter around their side of the house, doing little chores to avoid the bigger ones, and most of all avoiding the Alders. When James and Diane laid down to go to sleep, they both felt the Alders laying between them, being what they could never be.
James was folding laundry in the basement when he heard them through the vent. The Alders were discussing something inconsequential. James scoffed at their pet names and inside jokes, wondering to himself if there was some place where boring people like them went to meet each other. But the longer he listened, the more he heard. The Alders had something that he knew he and Diane simply didn't. It wasn't romantic, or even beautiful, but it was solid, and simple, and they'd have it if they left this house and wound up in a cardboard box. The Alders wondered aloud whether that might actually happen - they thought James and Diane were days away from a blow-up.
James proposed a dinner. Diane was skeptical, as she had every right to be. The Alders were surprised, but warmly accepted the invitation. James made a spread. The Alders brought home a few bottles of wine from their friend's uncle's vineyard. Diane left work early so she could take a bath and decompress. She wanted to be her best self at dinner.
The wine helped, as did James' magic touch in the kitchen. The conversation moved well, thanks to Lila's inquisitive nature and Phil's knack for arcing a story as simple as running into an old friend at the grocery store. He'd been a novelist, or so he had thought, but selling one novel sometimes meant you had to then put in a decade-plus as a copywriter for an ad agency. Lila worked in sales for a company that did held team-building events for corporations. Highschool sweethearts, even though they spent some time apart in their twenties.
James tried to soak it all in, and Diane noticed his attentiveness. She also caught him gazing at her, while the Alders related some simple note of sweetness from their life together. They all did the dishes together, played a game and laughed together, and went to bed at a reasonable hour. James and Diane made love that night.
The dinner was the start of something. Using the Alders as his model, James began to shape himself into a different kind of man - one who could be happy, truly. Without having to talk about, Diane reacted, trying to be the woman who fit with the man James was becoming. And then they talked about a lot of things, and grew together. Above all, they invited the Alders to join them more and more, and before long they didn't have to invite anymore, it just happened. James connected to Phil connected to Diane to Lila to James and every way inbetween. James even confided in Phil that he'd overheard them through the vent that time. They laughed it off.
The house felt much cozier in those days, and they didn't have any more trouble heating it.
|# ? Dec 21, 2019 23:48|
Space opera brawl vs. JonJoe
I drum my fingers on the expo counter of the mess hall aboard The Volzon while I wait for my order. A thin layer of grease coats my fingers and I wipe them off on my apron. I fidget, as I have countless times, with my sav-all stick. I dance the thin bit of metal up and down my fingers until I hear the click-clack of officer shoes approaching down the adjacent hall. I’ve been reamed out one time too many for playing with the sav-all stick. “It’s a not a toy!” I’ve been told. But, we never see any action on The Volzon, so it mostly seems like one to me.
“Don’t forget, Fuckstick, the captain likes a dusting of nutmeg on his cocoa. If you don’t get it right, it’s not just your rear end, it’s mine.”
I roll my eyes. It's as if Ensign Jordash, who is sitting down at a nearby booth with a cast around his ankle, blames me for slipping and falling while he was trying to impress a barmaid back at Unzono. I was perfectly content tending to the latrines, but no, he had to go and think with his cock and now I’m the one who has to bring Captain “The Stache” Holloway his nightly cocoa. gently caress me.
It wouldn’t be all that bad if the man I now assist weren’t such an officious shitstain. But, he is, and I don’t need Jordahs telling me that The Stache is particular about his beverages. I learned that firsthand when he tossed his morning coffee at me because it wasn’t acidic enough.
They bring out the cocoa after a minute and I top it to the proper specifications--a dollop of heavy whipping cream, a single chocolate chip in the center of said cream, and, of course, the dusting of nutmeg. I neatly place it on my serving tray, jam my earbuds in, and crank up the metal as I head off to the deck.
Moving from the back to the front of the ship is depressing as poo poo. The Volzon’s air filtration system is top flite. But, to save on power, only the front gets the good stuff. It would have been the holiday season back home, so there’s a hint of orange and cinnamon invading my nose.
Nicer and nicer it gets. I’m drat certain their piping inane holiday music throughout the speakers on the ship but I’ll never know thanks to the Anon Amarth that’s currently soothing my soul. Finally, I arrive at the door leading to the deck. I don my most professional smile and tilt my hit up towards the holo scanner. It considers me for a moment, and the doors to the bridge slide apart.
The bridge is impressive, and even if The Volzon is on the most boring conceivable mission, a jaded prick like me can appreciate the tech behind it. The entirety of the perimeter wall is a fully 3-dimensional screen. Its default presentation is the space behind it, making it seem like it’s one giant window. In reality, there are one-to-one cameras on the outside of the ship, capturing the image of what we should be seeing. Because it’s a screen, scores of the crew sit around it with their own portions segmented off as they attend to poo poo that I certainly can’t understand. They’re all busier than usual, staring intently into their segments.
I see The Stache standing at the command deck and I trudge up to him. I take out my earbuds, rescrunch the professional smile onto my face and say:
“Your libation, sir.”
Suddenly, all eyes are on me and I realize that I have just interrupted an intense silence in the bridge. The Stache turns to me with fire in his eyes and I wonder what in the gently caress I’ve done wrong now. He doesn’t regard me further though and turns his head forward. I peak out behind his shoulder and I finally realize what I just walked into.
Front and center on the Volzon’s wraparound is Araime Strogonar, the emperor of the Zeytons. The mere mention of this foul creature prickles the hairs on the back of my neck. But, there he is, staring directly at me, seemingly amused by ignorant, and accidental disruption. His deep maroon scaling parts widely around his pitch black eyes as his front pincers wriggle with glee.
“You there!” He shouts.
I drop the cocoa and the mug shatters into shards.
What might be a smile twists on his face. I’m too busy struggling to keep my poo poo inside my rear end to tell. His scales quiver and it seems like he’s amused.
“Your name?” He asks.
The Stache looks down at me, a cocktail of dread and bewilderment pools in his eyes. What is my name? I… I try to think and I can’t remember. Sweat beads on brow and falls into my eyes. I try my best to recall how I was last addressed.
The Stache blinks at me and looks back towards Strogonar. Apparently, he’s unfamiliar with our jargon, because he continues to address me as though I said my name was Adam, which it is, of course. I remember that now.
“Fuckstick, I am tired of your captain. I am about to murder him, right where he stands. At that point, you are the only one aboard The Volzon that I will talk to. If you flee from this responsibility, or if anyone dares question your authority as Captain, I will use my Race Laser to shred through The Volzon and kill every last one of you. Do you understand?”
The Stache turns his head to look back at me, but as he does he falls limp onto my shoulder. I do my best to catch him, but he’s a big son of a bitch and his uniform is so drat silky his body slips right through my arms and he falls with a thud. I touch my face as I feel a burn on my cheek—a parting gift courtesy of the friction from The Stache’s stache— and I look back towards Strogonar.
“What do you want from me, sir?” I plead.
Strogonar seems more at ease now. He’s speaking more slowly and his plating is unlocking a bit. “I want you, Fuckstick, to represent humanity’s final moments with some honor and dignity. Unlike your previous superior.”
“Final moments, sir?” I ask.
“Yes.” His stare becomes more piercing. “Of course, you had to know this was a possibility.”
I look around me and find that the entire crew has their attention fixed on the screens in front of them, not daring to offer me any assistance or support. But, more importantly, nobody is challenging me. I guess I’m the captain now.
“Sir, space is unknown and dangerous, but I thought our mission was relatively safe, and routine.”
“It was routine, yes. We have watched you ransack and pillage our nursery planet seventeen times. And always, we’ve been at too far a distance to intervene. My kind hoped that your people would stop after they obtained what they needed. We sent messages to your captain, pleading that they leave us be, but they kept coming back for more.”
I sigh, Strogonar notices. “This surprises you?” He asks.
“I’m more embarrassed, sir. I know enough about people to know that getting what you need is only the beginning. We’re all about wants. I was told these missions were necessary, and the thing you don’t understand, and my superiors don’t understand, is that, for humans, getting what we want is always necessary. It’s an unfortunate way of living and you can only really see the consequences of it clearly, if you live in the bottom.”
“The bottom?” He asks.
“Aye.” He seems comfortable with me, so I drop down my formal tone down to something a bit more familiar. I’m hoping there’s a way for me to save my rear end here. “I mostly clean the poo poo on The Volzon. You’re currently talking to the guy who may well be the lowest ranked member aboard this thing.”
His pincers continue to shake with glee. “I had hoped for as much. First I killed the top amongst you and now, you shall be the last human I ever address. Your species is ripe for culling.”
I lean back and place my hands in my pockets. “Y’know?” I pause, pretending to think, feeling some confidence swell within me. “I kinda get it. It’s not as though we treat anything particularly well. We exploited your species, and who knows how many others. And gently caress, we’re barely even good to ourselves. I can see how you might think we deserve to be wiped out.”
“Forgive me, human, but it feels like you’re building to some kind of contradictory point here.”
“Can you blame me for trying?” I ask, flashing my most hammy matinee smile.
“Go on, human.”
“Thing about us? We don’t give up. Plagues have befallen us, cataclysms have erupted and threatened to wipe us out, time and time again. Yet, we’re still here. We may have had to abandon our home and search for a new one now and again but of all of the species I’ve come to learn about and understand as I’ve traveled around the cosmos, there is something special about humans.”
“Well, if what you say is true, a cutting of my Race Laser should hardly put a dent in your race’s quest for existence. So long, Fuckstick.”
I see him raise a claw towards a lever, I shout out but I know it’s too late.
The heat of the Race Laser emanates from god knows how far away, but it will be on us in moments.
I slam on a button I pray is an intercom. “Sav-All sticks out!” I bark at anyone who is lucky enough to hear. Just in time, too. The white hot laser rends through the bridge and the rest of The Volzon, I brandish my Sav-All stick and pull it apart as I was trained. A thin, impenetrable bubble surrounds me and I watch from the safety of my vessel as a circus of destruction rains down in front of my eyes. Bits of metal and flesh alike swirl about in a dizzying array of terror and in a single moment, there is nothing.
Then, there is everything.
Space. As far as I can see. Empty blackness shouts at me with an occasional twinkling of hope off in the distance. There is no more Volzon. A quick scan below me reveals that about a dozen or so of my fellow crewmates heeded my warning in time to protect themselves. I watch as they use their precious, suit-lined, concentrated fuels reserves to push themselves towards one another.
I flip my com switch on my left breast pocket and breathe a short sigh of relief as I hear the chatter. Scads of profanity and panic fills my ears, but at least it’s not Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Our captain is dead, and from the looks of the colors of the jumpers of my remaining crew, nobody above Sergeant survived.
Strogonar put me in charge just before he damned us to the cold belly of space. It’s my time.
“Quiet down, all of you!” I bellow into the bubble. The lack of echo catches me off guard, crazy tech, this bubble.
A silence falls over the chatter. They were waiting for a leader; they were waiting for me.
I inhale and gather myself: “This is Captain Fuckstick, grand general of absolutely nothing except for you dozen or so men or women who had the wherewithal to save your skins when the chips were fuckin’ down.”
I look down and see that all of them have found me and are looking up as I continue.
“Switch off your fuel reserves. I’m coming down and we’ll figure this poo poo out.”
I check my gauge on my wrist screen. 97.6% full, enough to carry me about 1.5 AU’s. I spend a drop of it to propel myself to the remaining crew.
One of the crew switches on their magnalock and pulls me into the center of the huddle. The looks that surround me belong on a poster for anti-anxiety medication. I doubt I look much better, but in a situation like this, everyone is most relieved if they don’t have to lead. I’ll poo poo myself later when I’m not in a sealed bubble. I spend a touch more fuel to slowly rotate myself so that I’m shifting my gaze from soldier to soldier.
“Find a home, stay alive. Your orders are simple, but they’ll be tough to follow.”
“But what about Strogonar?” One of them asks.
“He don’t give us a poo poo about us now.” I mean it. As far as Strogonar’s concerned we’re just floating chunks of carbon. He found us because of the Volzon’s embarrassingly large heat signature, we’re but blips on a radar like this.
“Now listen up. We have a mission and that mission is to get somewhere with air so that when our bubbles burst in 200 hours, we won’t die and punch humanity’s last ticket.”
One of the survivors pipes up. “Holy poo poo, it’s just us, isn’t?” He looks at me with his trademark vacancy and only now do I recognize him, it’s Ensign Jordash. He seems to have forgotten that he held rank over me.
“Looks that way. So we find somewhere to land, with air to breathe, water to drink, and things to gently caress I guess.”
It gets a chuckle and I’m thankful that my crew is being easy on me.
“We’ll use the Monson method,” I continue, “and make sure that we rotate our fuel use to get us where we need to go.”
I check my wrist guide.
“The closest known habitable planet is about 9 AU’s away. We don’t have enough fuel, or water to make it there. But, we’re going for it, understand?”
They all nod.
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 01:34|
The Chili Jon Brawl - Space Opera
Regarding Politics Aboard The Warship-Class Trümmelbach
Captain Starbeam was in charge, but only nominally. She didn’t really do anything most days, preferring instead to enjoy her free time to the fullest. This left the task of actually running the ship to her second-in-command, Ivan.
Ivan was very managerial, but not in the micromanaging way. Most crew members liked him, though he wouldn’t hesitate to get on somebody’s rear end for not doing their job. His most frequent arguments were with Captain Starbeam and her partner in lazy crime, ‘Fronz’, the janitor.
Fronz wasn’t his real name, which was information only the captain had access to, but she had lost her key card to the ship’s computer system on her first day and never bothered to get a replacement. In order to avoid cleaning, Fronz convinced a ship engineer, Gertrude, to manufacture some cleaning bots. They worked perfectly except that Fronz had to hide that he was using them from Ivan, because they’d be the perfect excuse to fire Fronz.
All of the crew knew about the cleaning bots, in fact. Although they liked Ivan, they weren’t going to get Fronz fired for nothing, since they also liked Fronz. Even Ivan knew about the cleaning bots, or at least enough to suspect their existence, but had no proof to bring to the captain, who was the only person who didn’t know despite how much time she spent with Fronz. She wouldn’t have fired him for it anyway, but having done his diligence Ivan could then go around her and appeal directly to the Greater Collective of Autonomous Fleets with evidence.
Gertrude didn’t like Fronz, but she had gone along with his plan because who she did like was Captain Starbeam, romantically speaking, and Fronz promised to help matchmake them. Fronz was very bad at matchmaking, and through sheer incompetence managed to land Gertrude a date. With Ivan.
Ivan didn’t fancy Gertrude and also wasn’t a fan of non-professional relationships, but wanted to let her down gently because he thought she liked him. For help, he visited the ship psychologist, Dr. Yevin.
Also bound by professionalism, Dr. Yevin couldn’t share what she knew about Gertrude, but suggested that Ivan state what he thought and felt directly.
Gertrude played along because she didn’t want Ivan to know she liked Captain Starbeam, but this lead to the spreading of rumor that she really did like him, which in turn lead to Captain Starbeam hearing about those rumors and, in the hangouts with Ivan that Gertrude was now invited to, giving her advice on how to convince him otherwise.
Dr. Yevin got to hear how mortified and embarrassed Gertrude was over the misunderstanding. Although she tried to convince her to be more open and direct with her feelings, Gertrude was the shy type. Most of the time, when she wasn’t working, she sat in silence in the corner of the mess hall, by the window where Chord, lead chef, would wordlessly converse with her and then hand her comfort food.
Chord didn’t speak much in general, somehow knowing what was on people’s minds and responding accordingly. Some people thought he was a psychic alien disguised as a human, which wasn’t true. He was your average and ordinary psychic human who had escaped experimentation in a secret laboratory and through sheer coincidence ended up aboard the Trümmelbach. He couldn’t read thoughts, but he could read emotions, and prepared food accordingly.
The other chef, Kimmel, was an undercover agent trying to recapture the escaped experiment, which she only knew was aboard the ship. But where?
Fronz liked Kimmel, romantically speaking, and unlike some people he wasn’t shy about it.
He was her top suspect.
After all, he so perfectly knew how to evoke feelings in her, which clearly could only because of his status as the experiment. Guilt followed by anger would pour out of her every time she fell for one of his romantic gestures, as she remembered what she was dealing with. Still, she had to endure it. For the mission.
Coincidentally, a decidedly not-psychic alien was aboard the ship, but it was very good at avoiding detection, and thus unimportant to ship politics save for its tendency to steal objects. On one such occasion it took Dr. Yevin’s computer, with all her important case notes inside. This sent her into a panic and she approached the ship’s security expert, Monitoring AI Model: Kinetic Infrared Luxury License.
MAIM KILL didn’t like being in charge of security, it just wanted to express itself through painting, which was why whenever someone request access to camera logs, it would digitally recreate the images. However, its technique was amateur at best, so Dr. Yevin was left with a stick figure drawing.
She complained to Ivan, who convinced MAIM KILL to access the actual camera logs. In exchange, he would later listen to it talk about art theory.
Due to the aforementioned ability to avoid detection, the alien was not on video. However, shown sneaking into the office was Kimmel, who was trying to gather information on Fronz. The computer had already been stolen by the time she got there, but it was enough evidence for Ivan to approach her.
Potentially losing her opportunity to spend time with Fr— complete her mission, Kimmel did the only thing she could. She told the truth and asked Ivan to help her find evidence of Fronz’s psychic ability. Although Ivan doubted that Fronz had any kind of ability, he nonetheless wanted remove Fronz from the ship, thus agreed.
Due to Kimmel and Ivan spending more time together, Captain Starbeam was convinced they were dating, which left her in the precarious situation of breaking the news to both Fronz and Gertrude.
Gertrude cried in frustration, which Captain Starbeam misunderstood. Meanwhile, Fronz became despondent. He hid in his room for a day.
The next day, during a busy lunch time during which most of the ship was present, including Captain Starbeam, Gertrude, Dr. Yevin, Chord, Kimmel, the alien hiding in a vent, and nominally MAIM KILL monitoring the area, Fronz approached Ivan and said, “I admit it.”
Which led to a whole blow up of Kimmel attempting to put Fronz in lasercuffs on the spot as Ivan shouted for the crew to stay back, constructing a plausible lie that Kimmel was an undercover cop and Fronz a wanted criminal. The cleaning bot, which Fronz had brought with him in his jacket as proof of his admittance, fell out during the hullabaloo.
Someone shouted, “He has a bomb!”, which noticeably increased the hullabaloo levels according to MAIM KILL’s internal evaluator.
The only one who could approximate a rough truth of the situation was Chord who, unwilling to let someone else be punished due to a misunderstanding, strained his mind to unlock his full psychic potential. Then he slammed the truth into everyone else’s mind.
It was nearly everything he knew, not just those related to the immediate situation. Everyone knew the feelings and intentions of everyone else.
Dr. Yevin was mortified by the unethical breach of privacy.
Everyone else, though, became much calmer. Even Captain Starbeam, who had just learned of Gertrude’s desires, smiled. Gertrude smiled back.
The alien was not excluded from this. Having just witnessed and felt the massive burden of combined human experience, it thought something along the lines of ‘what the hell is wrong with people’, stuck a claw out from the vent while everyone was distracted, stole the cleaning bot, and scurried away.
Unable to lie to herself any longer, Kimmel renounced her mission, let Chord stay free, and decided to stay with Fronz.
Ivan still wanted to fire him, but the cleaning bot had gone missing, and psychic visions were not considered evidence according to the treaty of the Greater Collective of Autonomous Fleets.
Most importantly, with Ivan’s help, MAIM KILL made marginal artistic progress.
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 06:52|
Space opera judgement commencing.
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 08:21|
Tessellating Chiral Bonds
Of all the geometries known to the Far-Arcologies, the purest are those that conformally map to the Adherent’s flesh.
The ancient verse sits in Soleil’s thoughts as she lopes through the airlock, out of harsh starlight and into inky arcological shade. Black soil and clotted ammonia clings to the soles and gauntlets of her hardsuit as she reaches to undo her collar plugs, watching the figure hunched in the narrow corridor ahead.
“Adjutant-Terraformer Yang-seon,” she says stiffly, her voice crackling on his suit radio. The figure turns, his own helmet slung underarm, looking upon her with a wry smile.
Her hands fumble at her collar as her gaze lingers on the sacred geometries laid upon his face, aglow with purity in the dim light.
“…Yes?” Yang-seon finally asks, pulling at respiration plugs on the trunk of his hardsuit.
“I…” Soleil bites her lip as she finally tugs her helmet off, shaking her hair loose from its pressurised confines. “It… it was good to work with you again.”
“Only as good as the last fifty-two times, Ensign-Instrumentationist Soleil.”
Soleil feels her cheeks redden, and wishes she hadn’t been so quick to remove her helm. “Ha, of course. I… how many hours are left on your mandate?”
Soleil’s heart sinks as she hears herself. This is not a comfortable topic for Yang-seon. As a proud son of the Far-Arcologies, he is quick to hide his dismay. “Well… after this, only nine. The next assignment will be the last.”
Yang-seon steps forth, and the door flashes open at his touch. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
The door clamps shut behind him. Soleil sighs in the ensuing quiet.
The central refectory is quiet, a low hour in Arcology scheduling. Only a few off-duty citizens sit here and there at the long tables, irregular-shift workers and those returning from surface assignment.
Yang-seon places his tray down opposite Soleil’s, dropping into his seat with a profound sense of exhaustion. His smile, however, is broad and carefree- it is the exact same smile she has seen him wear since he was a little boy.
She looks down to her meal, but glances up again before long, hoping to see more of that smile. Like the years, though, it is suddenly gone; as he eats, Yang-seon’s features are marked with a deep, defeated tiredness.
Soleil has witnessed the gradient of his spirit, the downturn of his vigour with each passing assignment. Every now and then, as she furtively glances across the table, she sees him look up to the night sky and its innumerable stars, his eyes searching for some form of escape.
Soleil wanders, ghostlike, up through the floors of the Arcology towards her residence sector. Every few floors, she pauses to look out on the raw, half-formed planetary surface outside, at the islands and bays that she and Yang-seon have helped form into rich, fertile land.
She lingers on Floor Twenty-two, Yang-seon’s assigned residence. He is probably all but packed up and ready to go by now. His probationary assignment nearly done, bound for larger continents and harsher lands to tame.
Later, floating into her own cabin, she pauses to regard herself in the shimmering mirrors that line her walls. Clad only in an indoor skinsuit, she reaches to unseam the garment from collar to navel, stepping out of its matte contours with little grace or dignity.
She looks upon her own naked form. The lines lay etched in her skin, streaming from scalp to sole in hallowed topologies. Every inch gleams with undisturbed bioluminescence, wrought from birth into those born to the purity of the Far-Arcologies.
This is the proof of her own sanctity, never touched by another living being.
Soleil wraps her arms around herself, cold and empty air prickling her skin.
In a bed wide enough to bear a single human body, Soleil lays tangled in white sheets as she drifts in and out of sleep. Her dreams are vivid and tense, as though she were gripped by fever.
Hazily, her dream shifts towards memory. Citizen upon citizen packed into the great assembly hall, standing amongst row upon row of stiffly uniformed citizens, as though called to Catechism.
Upon the frontal stage stand two young Terraformers, their heads hung low in shame. The Arcology Deacon upon the dais, grave as a thunderstorm, castigates the two and their sins. He bellows of their impending expulsion and exile, the shuttle that would drive them from the Far-Arcologies, their lives now at the mercy of the stars above.
In truth, barely anything needed to be said. Their crimes were written into their etched skin, stained black with symmetric oxidation where their bodies had found one another.
Soleil remembers herself back then, only a child, pulling her collar up and shrinking back from her neighbours in the crowded hall. She recalls, simultaneously, the shade of loneliness that reached out to her from the score-lines in the flesh of the two sinners, opening a wound somewhere deep in her spirit where even the Arcological doctrine could not reach.
It is only a dream, but one that Soleil cannot ever seem to awaken from.
Soleil’s senses return with the glare of corridor lights in her eyes, her limbs stiff and unwieldy. It is not unlike being in a hardsuit with a failing reactor module.
Her vision warbles in and out of focus, settling just in time for her to blearily read the corridor label overhead:
Soleil realises she is walking. Her step falters.
Turn back, an old voice says. Perhaps that of the old Deacon. Turn back, and absolve yourself of this imminent sin.
She looks down, pushing back the cascade of hair that falls over her face. The corridor plating is cold beneath her bare feet. Her skinsuit sits unevenly on her body, split open down to her clavicle, her quivering hands pale and ungloved.
Her legs begin to shake, her mind in flames as to where she would place her next step.
She turns to the voice, nearly falling over. Yang-seon stands outside his door, shock and concern on his face.
“Yang-seon,” she hears herself say, walking towards him. She sees his gaze trace to her wild hair, her skinsuit, her naked hands.
This is it. He’s going to turn and shut the door.
Her legs grow weak.
This is sin. I deserve this.
She feels herself topple, closing her eyes in resignation.
When she opens them again, Yang-Seon is crouched over her. She feels his arms through her skinsuit, holding her up, refusing to let her fall.
Then, she sees her own hands around his shoulders, her fingers pressed into the bare skin around his loose collar.
“Oh,” Soleil breathes in sudden terror, as the sacred lines begin to wither and blacken on his neck. On her palms. “I- Yang-seon, I’m sorry, I- I-”
But Yang-seon only shakes his head, reaching up to take her hand in his. He places it across his cheek, a broad smile spreading as the etched loci begin to darken.
His eyes look on her with unburdened youth and energy, gleaming like the innumerable stars above.
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 21:59|
Better hurry on up if you want to still submit your lab protocols! Just two hours left!
...is what I would say if it wasn't Christmas soon.
Deadline is, in fact, extended until I wake up tomorrow so the Americans don't cry.
If you've done your time management well and stressed to finish your story within two hours, great! You get aaaall this time to edit it and make it good. If you hosed up and didn't write yet, great! You can actually get this done. Either way, submit. Your weapon against the cruel and uncaring supervisor with the unfair decided-on-a-whim rules is to make him do more work. And read and critique your terrible offerings!
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 22:16|
prompt: Wittig reaction: Important process (read: also used industrially) to make unsaturated (double) bonds, using a special phosphorus compound as a reagent.
Mitch looks down at his left hand, still surprised to find the pale band of skin where his wedding ring used to sit. Ripples of grief spread outward from his chest; Ashley was good to him for their four years together, had smiled through her tears when he explained why he couldn’t be her husband anymore. She supported him when he came out to his family, helped him through the more obscure machinations of divorce. Mitch’s gratitude to his ex-wife, his best friend, is overwhelming, but so far he’s only repaid her with choked up thanks.
The train hums forward on its tracks, its route unchanged in spite of the upheaval in Mitch’s world, carrying him to an office where nothing changes, nothing matters. The buoyant swell of freedom he felt when he first came out is deflating, leaving in its wake a yawning emptiness of the soul.
The compartment fills up with commuters, more people piling in at every stop. Someone flops into the seat across from Mitch, and though he doesn’t look directly at them, he perceives lots of loud colors and patterns in his periphery, smells incense and weed.
He sighs, reflexively annoyed by the existence of this whimsical being at the edge of his field of vision. Why, he thinks, can’t they just suffer in monotony like everyone else?
Then Mitch is airborne, hurled forward at the speed of a moving train—
—until a fraction of a second later he collides with something warm: a body.
The passengers scream. The train’s wheels scream on the tracks.
Everything goes still.
Passengers who were standing pick themselves up off the floor, some silent, some hysterical with tears. Mitch pushes himself off the person on whom he’s landed, getting his first good look at the colorful individual in the opposite seat. They are slight of build, their face a delicate blend of masculine and feminine—or maybe something fey, something altogether outside the polarity of gender. A mess of bright blue hair hangs just to the tips of their ears. Their eyes are forest green and wild with shock.
“It’s okay,” they tell Mitch, half-smiling in spite of the panic in their eyes. “We’re okay.”
Mitch realizes he’s breathing quite hard, shaking from the adrenaline of impact.
An automated voice speaks serenely over the intercom: Please do not attempt to de-board until directed by emergency personnel.
There’s a burst of angry, fearful chatter among the passengers, which quickly subsides when a real human voice comes crackling over the compartment speakers.
“Folks, this is the conductor. Sorry about the sudden stop, but there was some kinda auto collision on the tracks ahead and we got word just in time to hit the breaks. Emergency responders are on the way, but if anyone is having a serious medical emergency…”
Mitch repeats after blue-hair: “We’re okay.” He grins. “We didn’t crash. We’re okay!”
Blue-hair nods, then winces. “Yeah, man. Next time though could you collide into me at slightly less than train-speed?”
Mitch cackles like a hyena, then cuts himself short. “Sorry. You’re probably not being funny. I’m just. This is—” he gestures around at the compartment, the pained and pensive huddles of people. “Ha! Look. My hands are shaking. My hands don’t shake. Except when I came out to my family. God, this is just like…” He trails off, abruptly ashamed of his babbling.
“No, I was definitely being funny,” says blue-hair. “It’s how I cope with being collided into at the speed of a train.”
“Are you—I mean, where does it hurt? Does it feel serious?” Mitch is powerfully conscious of his own uselessness. He couldn’t be there for Ashley, doesn’t even know how to properly thank her for remaining poised as he gently broke her heart, and there’s certainly nothing he can do for this blue-haired stranger.
“I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure I’m not dead.” They flash him another half-smile. “Don’t freak out man, I know it’s not your fault. Also: grats on coming out to your family. That’s like, a whole Thing.”
Mitch looks away from their mossy eyes. “Yeah. Well. A little irrelevant right now.”
Blue-hair shrugs, then winces again. “We’re in emergency purgatory. There’s nothing we’re supposed to be doing, except wait for this situation to turn into a different situation.”
“Oh poo poo, I don’t have to go to work,” Mitch says. “I’m not even going to call. I’ll just turn up tomorrow like, I was in a train emergency.” The buoyant freedom balloon inside him reinflates, just a little.
“Good for you. I’m going to miss a crucial meeting.”
Mitch raises an eyebrow. “Are you being funny at me again?”
“I’m always incredibly funny. But no. I’m trying to make a big sale to some corporate building—I do art, obviously.” Blue-hair gestures at their eccentric getup. “This was gonna be the biggest sale of my career. A few of us have been vying for it for, gently caress, like, a year? The local commercial art scene is ruthless, just a hellscape of art Judases.”
Something about this rings familiar to Mitch. He fishes out his phone, opens his work email, navigates to a subfolder labeled Pointless Mass Emails. And there it is, a multi-week back and forth about renovations in the office building’s lobby, including a rigorous debate over what sort of art should decorate the cavernous white space.
“So,” he says as he skims the messages. “Would you be...Alex Keen or—” he doesn’t manage to stifle a laugh. “Or Finley Lennon Moon.”
Blue-hair gives him a look. “You don’t know me, but I sure hope you don’t peg me as a ‘Finley Lennon Moon’. Christ.”
“Nice to meet you, Alex.”
“Nice to meet you, Mitchell,” Alex says, glancing pointedly at the access badge hanging from his belt loop. “It’s been kinda awkward because I’ve known your name for the last, like, five minutes, but then we sort of dove straight into the gay art woe stuff and names seemed a little trite.”
Mitch makes himself meet Alex’s eyes, feels an echo of the adrenal rush of their earlier collision.
He hears himself say, “I think we can help each other out.”
Alex frowns. “I look out for myself. I don’t need a sugar daddy, I’m not your manic pixie dream queer.”
“No, no-no-no,” Mitch says, panicking. “I know the lady you were going to meet with—Jill. We do cocktails. I can advocate for you, especially given...this.” He gestures around the chaotic compartment again, hands steadier this time.
Alex narrows their eyes. “And what’s my side of the bargain?”
“You do a piece for me. For my ex-wife. To thank her for letting me go.”
Alex’s face softens. “Yeah. Yep. Okay.” They pause, seeming to search for words. “Sorry. It’s a lovely world, you know? And a few minutes ago you were just some guy on a train.”
“We’ll call it payback for me slamming into you at the speed of a moving train.” Mitch extends his hand. “Deal?”
“Deal,” Alex says, and they shake on it, just as the sirens and flashing lights arrive, just as emergency responders come to ferry them out of emergency purgatory.
|# ? Dec 22, 2019 23:58|
Rhymes With Spiral
Prompt: Sharpless Expoxidation
I can't say I wasn't warned. By my Gran, of course. My Mum's wonderful, but she's got all the magic of a bucket of bleach. Gran, though, she was a proper witch, and she saw it in me, right round when she was near to passing and me near to going into high school. She gave me three pieces of advice. "Never get with a boy named Billy," she said. "Never tell someone you wouldn't die for what you can do, and for the love of the Mother, the Daughter, and all their wayward kin, never try to work at mirror magic."
There's a certain kind of girl, not unrelated to the kind who has the right sort of granite-hard will that make for a serious witch, who's going to look at advice like that as less of a warning and more of a life plan. But let's be honest: I was lost about thirty minutes after meeting Will Clover.
It was my first day, coming in after ten years of homeschooling, being the strange new kid with the name nobody knew how to spell. (It's Alyss.) And he did me a kindness, introducing me to new friends, all the while smiling a crooked smile beneath dark tousled hair. Then he took out the dagger, came round to Estelle. His girlfriend.
The worst of it was that she was, well, cool. Kind, open, fun to know. She couldn't fit into the enemy-shaped box no matter how much I wanted to put her there. She, too, was a friend.
Some time later things came to a head. A party, Will's birthday, a dozen or so kids, late into the evening. A game of secrets and challenges. Caylen, a blond boy who loved science and grapefruit, both beyond reason, was rude enough to mention the rumors about my family, ask me if they were true. "Are you really a witch?"
I might have lied. I might have shaded the truth, said something about old religions and dangerous stereotypes. But I didn't. Drunk on sugar-water, attention and camaraderie, I told the truth, even gave demonstrations.
On Estelle's urging, I took the game further. We dispensed with the challenges and made the truth binding. I charged a contract with aniseed and fire, and we bound each other to speak only pure and total truth for an hour. "It's only fair," she said. "We all know your biggest secret. You should know ours."
We wasted the spell, to be honest. Learning trivial past misdeeds, old crushes they weren't half as secret as the holders thought. Nobody had any crimes more serious than shoplifting or driving unlicensed, no family secrets deeper than debt and struggles with bills and appearances. And when time came for me to tell on my feelings for William, he and Estelle were less than surprised.
"If there were two of me," Will said, dismissive and wistful.
"Could there be?" asked Estelle.
Without the spell of truth it probably wouldn't have even occurred to me. But when I started talking about mirrors, I knew I was going to do it, warnings be damned.
"Wait, you said it was forbidden," said Caylen. "That must be for a reason." But I was beyond listening to reason's voice. There was an enthusiasm spreading that was unstoppable. And I did not know the whys of the ban, so could not divulge them under the spell.
We found a tall mirror, and had William stand before it. I invoked silver and lavender and a left-handed spiral. Will touched the mirror surface, clasped hands with his other self, and drew him through the glass.
The other William was confused at first. He was silent as a reflection, had not yet learned to speak. But he could write, Will's own keen handwriting, perfectly reversed. At first we had to hold it up to the mirror to read it, until we learned the trick of reading backwards.
William decided that we should call the other one Billy, to avoid confusion, and I was too busy with other feelings and the exhaustion of potent magic to object. Billy's smile was just the reverse of William's, crooked in the other direction. Billy liked me, right away. His kisses tasted like sour candy, like sweet tiny pain, like a rolling crackle of explosions.
There was trouble, very soon. Billy couldn't eat food from our side. It just sat in his stomach and made him sicken. I could do the spell again, bring over a plateful, but it was hard work, too much to do every day. I went to Cayden for help.
"You should send him back," he said. "Even if it weren't for this. There's something off about him." The boy had picked up a monster of a crush on me by then. I pushed.
He understood the problem. He explained it to me. The molecules in real food weren't the same as their reflection, in ways that matter.
You need words, proper words to make a spell. 'Enantiomer' was a science word, no good for spellwork. But 'chiral', that was proper, had the feel of the old words. Deasil. Widdershins. I learned to invoke sweeteners and pyramids, made a simple spell to flip a meal around, and things were good. For a while.
William went out for football. That was the problem. The locker room at the field had a great big mirror, and William didn't appear in it. Most days the older students on the real team used that, and the gymnasium's room had fewer mirrors, was less perilous. But on game days for the junior league, they were in the real room, with that huge unavoidable mirror. "So if anyone notices who knows what will happen. Someone might take him for a vampire, put a stick through his heart," I said.
Billy was skeptical, but we talked him around. I did the spell, sent him back behind the mirror, and the game went on. William lead us to victory over Crosswinds High. But Billy was angry when I brought him back. He sulked. He snapped. "Never again," he said. We fought. He seemed to give in.
The next game day arrived. When I cast the spell, when the mirror shimmered clear and I lost all strength, he grabbed my arm, and pulled me with him.
"I won't be in a world without you," he said.
"My magic won't work there," I pleaded. "I'll be stuck forever."
Billy smiled, and for the first time I saw the cruelty in that reversed crooked curl of the lip. He vanished, into the mirror, pulling on my hand.
Caylen grabbed me, arms around my chest awkwardly, and pulled. My hand came free, and the mirror froze shut.
My fingers are still reversed. I had to do the food spell quickly, to keep the tips from dying and rotting off, but that only swapped the molecules. My right hand's fingerprints spiral the wrong way, now.
Caylen finally asked me out in Junior year, and we were together l, mostly, until graduation. We're at different colleges now, barely in touch, but I've had visions and augurs that our paths will cross and join again, eventually.
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 00:06|
Ethically Sourced Future Food
Enrico slumped onto the cool surface of the lab table and whined. He had just gotten news from the director that he was to accompany Dr. Bhatt on a PR tour of the plant and was less than excited about being a glorified scapegoat for the ire of the community.
Dr. Bhatt leaned into Enrico’s office confirming he was there and turned back to the hall, “Just a moment, please. Let me ensure that Dr. Sabaut is ready for the tour and we will be on our way.”
Bhatt stepped into the lab and let the door close behind him. “Showtime, Sabaut. We’ve got a full group and they already seem to be in a mood. Let’s just get this over with.”
Enrico let out another sigh and grabbed his belongings.
The two exited the room, facing down an unenthused audience with cartoonish grins.
12 nondescript steel cylinders encapsulated in scaffolding and interconnected walkways ruptured out of the ground with specific purpose.
Enrico walked with a clipboard clasped between clammy hands. Empirical had only recently acquired this old facility, but its poor design was apparent. There was significant backlash from community officials when the plant reopened which is why director Singh put the PR tour together, but Enrico knew tours weren’t going to fix their image.
“So we are coming up on of the distillation chambers used for the separation and collection of polyols.” Dr. Bhatt explained to onlookers that offered perfunctory smiles.
Enrico swallowed hard hearing the reverse signal of an invisible bus preparing to back over him.
“Dr. Sabaut, how about you explain some of the uses of the polyols we collect?”
…and there it went, rolling over his still living corpse.
Enrico blinked at Dr. Bhatt and the motley collection of officials.
“Well… this distillation chamber is specifically used for condensation collection of polyols used in the synthesis of resins, varnish, and other cheaply produced products with wide commercial use.”
“So, nothing that DOW, Cargill or Repsol can’t offer us at their better equipped plants?”
Enrico turned back towards Dr. Bhatt who felt the awkward of the silence looming over them.
“It is true that our facility may be a bit older, but Empirical Chemicals has taken all the necessary steps to bring the plant to modern standards, and our wholesale industrial solutions would operate at a fraction of the cost while still offering just as many work opportunities, and outreach programs as any of the older, more established companies that operate in your country.” Bhatt finally replied.
The officials looked unconvinced, and the sweltering heat of the sun didn’t provide any extra leverage.
Enrico saw an opportunity and took it.
“That’s not all we do here though.” He said meekly.
Bhatt turned towards Enrico and shook his head ‘No’.
“Oh, you have something to show us other than your clipboard and pipes?” someone asked, soliciting laughter from a mostly unamused crowd.
Enrico cleared his throat.
“If you’ll follow me back to the labs, I can show you something that I believe is truly impressive.”
Dr. Bhatt wanted to protest, but the officials seemed eager to be out of the heat and followed without hesitation.
Bhatt pulled up alongside Enrico as they navigated the engineer filled corridors and leaned in conspiratorially, “Are you seriously going to show them your foam?”
“Well, I mean, yeah… Singh put us on this crap detail, and if these are the type of people who can make or break us, we might as well show them something worth talking about.”
Bhatt looked at Enrico incredulously, “I don’t disagree, but you can’t be serious? It’s edible plastic!”
“Partially-digested, sweet, protein-based pseudo-plastic.”
Dr. Bhatt just blinked at Enrico.
Eventually, the group came upon an iconic double-doored lab crammed with flasks, beakers and paths of titrating tubes across multiple blacktop tables. The splayed equipment ultimately converged upon a single 1000 ml Pyrex beaker.
“So… what are we looking at here?” an official asked.
“The future!” Enrico said enthusiastically as the elastic band of safety goggles snapped along the side of his face. He signaled for Dr. Bhatt to provide lab coats and goggles to the others. If nothing else, he could at least make them feel like they were a part of something.
Bhatt rolled his eyes but didn’t protest and passed out equipment to the guests.
Enrico darted between the glass arrays turning valves and activating warmers, and in minutes beakers began to fizzle with fluids that changed colors as they sluiced over and through the purposefully arranged tubes.
Eventually, a brown slurry dripped into the central 1000 ml beaker and Enrico waves a hand towards it.
“In the beaker in front of you is the solution to world hunger.” He said proudly.
Disbelief was written plainly on everyone’s faces except Enrico’s.
Then something happened, as the beaker reached 100 ml of contents, Enrico closed the valves and produced a glass stirrer which he used to vigorously whisk the slurry. The officials whom had been playing along up to that point did little to conceal their boredom and irritation, but their waiting paid off as a cylinder of yellow foam expanded out of the beaker by a good 3 feet and hardened within seconds into an airy loaf.
Everyone in the room looked startled, including Bhatt, but his surprise stemmed from Dr. Sabaut snapping off a piece of the loaf and shoving it into his mouth. He smiled as crumbs fizzled around his mouth.
“Anyone hungry?” he said breaking the substance into shareable portions.
“That… that can’t be safe to eat.” A concerned official remarked.
Dr. Bhatt shrunk to the back of the audience, panicked.
“Well, I can guarantee it’s not FDA approved, but it is edible.”
“What is it? Doesn’t exactly seem… safe.”
“Nonsense, it’s completely safe. Made from protein-based organic substrate and polyol derivative compounds, you can literally grow an abundance of edible, fat-free, ethically sourced, ‘food’, you need only expand your definition of what food can be!”
There were mixed reactions in the group, and one daring official stepped forward ready to try the food of the future.
“I’ll have a piece.”
“That’s the spirit!” Enrico said passing a piece.
Dr. Bhatt, mortified, interjected.
“This is very impressive work, I’m sure you’ll all agree, but as Dr. Sabaut was saying… it is not FDA approved, not even remotely tested, and certainly not ready for human consumption or distribution!” he finished plucking the piece away from the official.
“However, in time, I do believe the work that we are doing here, headed by the sometimes too ambitious, Dr. Sabaut, will truly have an impact on the world. Now… let’s conclude the tour back with director Singh.”
Bhatt guided the official out of the lab and turned his head slowly in abject terror towards Sabaut.
He mouthed, 'What are you thinking?' with raised eyebrows and bulged out eyes before ushering the group away.
Enrico clasped at his stomach that roiled and groaned with strange chemical nutrient swirling in it.
“Still some kinks to work out.” He said as he shoved another piece in his mouth and made his way towards a bathroom.
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 03:45|
Above the Grid
Guillaume closes the door softly behind him. An overabundance of caution: Fran is on the couch, deep in a fever dream, mumbling and giggling muted euphorics. Guillaume creeps down the iron stairs to the street below. The comm burps to life inside his ear, a soft tone signals the start of the evening umpol.
“You are born of the light. Breathe deep the air and take your pill after your workday ends. Know that your efforts will be rewarded--you’ll soon rise to join us. Until then: work, play, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The umpol brings us together. We will know you soon. You are born of the light. Breathe deep the air and take your pill…”
The smell of musty hay settles on the street like a sodden blanket. Guillaume brings a flask to his lips as the recording loops in his head and the gas falls around him. He swirls the sharp liquid in his mouth, and draws a shallow breath across it. The old man said the booze would neutralize the umpol, and it does help a little: he feels no warm rush, no sudden burst of gratitude for those that live above the grid. Instead, just a heaviness in his lungs and the unblunted headache since he’d stopped taking his pill. Holding back the panic, for now.
Guillaume works his way along the street, moving from shadow to shadow, listening through the soft rain for the warble of the surveillance drones running along their tracks. They’ve been more active since the disturbances; the umpol gas more frequent.
The factory looms gray and still ahead. Sheets of rain stain concrete walls that rise through the grid above.
He’s played this in his head a thousand times: wait for the night guard to pass, then move quickly to back door. The keycard the old man gave him would get him inside.
A guard turns the corner towards him, his light sweeping across a broken concrete canvas. Guillaume crouches low behind a dumpster, heart hammering in his throat. He pushes down the rising panic. Just wait for the patrol to round the corner, then go. But his panic isn’t listening—it’s time to move, so he does, stumbling forward. He knows it’s too soon, the guard is still there, but somehow in the darkness and rain Guillaume makes it to the door and swipes his way inside. Dizzy, he leans against the time clock and tries to steady his hammering heart. Count backwards from ten. Think about Fran. His legs are weak but he forces them onward, towards the Synthesis Lab.
The old man is already there, staring intently at the contents of a round-bottom flask fitted with a Claisen connector; attached to the top are a separation funnel and a Liebig condenser. Guillaume recognizes it all: he washes this labware every day after the pills are collected and sent to distribution.
“This is the best I can do with such limited supplies,” the old man says. “The intermediary is very explosive. No air, no water.” He raises a thin eyebrow at Guillaume and raps the refluxing flask with a withered knuckle. “We’ll give it both.”
Guillaume nods, his stomach a tangle of fear and anxiety. The old man goes back to his work as Guillaume waits, damp clothes hanging heavy on his thin frame.
The old man removes the Claisen, cools the flask in an ice bath, and screws a stopper onto the top. He places it carefully into a leather satchel and hands it to Guillaume.
“Thread the fuse into the flask, then seal it loosely. Just like we practiced. The fuse will give you about thirty seconds before it ignites the vapor; that’ll kick off the rest of the reaction. You don’t want to be anywhere close when the reagent ignites.”
The old man looks at him with watery eyes. “I hate that it’s come to this. What we’ve done to you. All of you.”
Guillaume swallows. Years of gas and pills have made his thoughts slippery, ghosts that flicker at the edge of consciousness.
“Has diluting the pills helped? Do you feel different? Better?” The old man looks at him closely.
Maybe. Maybe his thoughts have felt more real. Fran has gotten into the emergency pills, taking two, three at a time. She’s been desperate, begging for more. Guillaume isn’t sure how to respond to the question, so he nods.
“That’s good.” He puts a hand on Guillaume’s shoulder. “I trust you. You’re scared, I know, and rightly so. Do as we practiced—”
A noise in the hallway. A voice, then the sound of footsteps. Guillaume tries to think: did he close the door to the street? He can’t remember. Panic bubbles up.
“Go!” the old man hisses, and pushes him towards the Production room. Guillaume knows what to do: climb the conveyor, open the panel into the ventilation duct. Move quietly and don’t stop.
He hears shouts from behind as he pushes through the ventilation panel. Chemical cargo tucked into his coveralls, Guillaume hauls himself up into the darkness. The air carries the taste of sour almonds—the smell of the pills, but intensified. The fans are off, and the staleness fills his weakened lungs as he crawls through the narrow passage. Abruptly, it turns upward. He feels the walls of the vertical shaft, grasps a seam, and pulls himself up. By pushing against the sides for leverage, Guillaume is able to worm his way up the ventilation tube. Progress is slow and measured in long, hard-earned inches, but he persists. Don’t stop. Finally, with what seems the last of his energy, he pushes aside the screen and flops onto the factory roof. Rising to his knees, the light of dawn illuminates an expanse that stops his breath.
For the first time, Guillaume is above the grid. It extends outward as far as he can see. A maze of dark metal girders that divide the world into above and below. All he has ever seen and done, his entire life has played out beneath its iron trusses. Gas lines loop through it like swarms of venomous snakes, radiating out from the factory roof. Above, gleaming skyscrapers reach through the clouds as aircars flit between them like crystal butterflies. The immensity of the sky makes him woozy: nothing in the world should be so vast.
Guillaume pulls out the satchel and wedges it beneath the base of the massive gas storage tank behind him. Fingers numb, he fumbles the fuse into the flask and seals it loosely. He strikes a match and looks around. The old man’s message echoes in his ears: light the fuse, find somewhere to hide. He looks at the open ventilation shaft. No. That won’t do.
Instead he lights the fuse, walks to the edge of the roof, and sits. The rising sun warms his face and he thinks of Fran, down below. He’ll give her freedom. There’s no more fear, no pain. He closes his eyes and whispers softly towards the sky.
“Born of the light, our efforts will be rewarded. The umpol brings us together. We’ll know you soon.”
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 03:51|
The Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer
Randy flipped to the comics and began examining them under his Dizzy Wizard decoder ring. He looked close at The Potter Family, past some stupid thing about mashed peas for dinner, then peered at the last panel. The family was hugging around the dining table. Randy looked at their legs through the ring.
'Don't you wish your family was happy?'
He pushed back from the table a little, then looked at the comic again without his ring. Mr. Potter was smiling at his children. He slid the film from the ring over the comic again.
'Don't you wish your family was happy?'
Randy bounced off his chair and ran to his Dad's office. He checked the knob. Locked, like usual. He knocked on the door heavily and heard his father roar from inside.
"Nadine, can you tell your brother I'm working?"
Randy kept knocking. His Dad yelled again, louder.
"Randy! Knock that poo poo off! Nadine! Your brother! Now!"
He heard his dad walk back to his desk. Nadine came around the corner and popped out her earbuds.
"Randy, can you leave him alone? I'm trying to do homework and he's busy being an rear end in a top hat."
Randy looked down. "I just wanted to show you guys something in the comics," he said sheepishly. Nadine was already walking away.
Randy headed back to the dinner table and pushed the newspaper aside. He chewed the soggy cereal while studying the back of the Dizzy Wizard Puffs box.
'The Complete Dizzy Wizard Magician Kit! Astound Your Friends! Perplex Your Enemies! Order Today!!!'
Twenty dollars? Where was he going to get that kind of money?
He pulled the film from the decoder ring and began to scan the ad closely. Under the thin sheet of plastic, the ad changed.
'The Complete Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer! Family Need a Little Chemistry? Adorify your Parents! Friendify your siblings!'
A much more reasonable three dollars. Under the decoder ring, he filled out the form, stuffed it in an envelope with the money, and put it in the mailbox. His father's office door stayed closed long after Randy had gone to bed.
Randy woke up early. The house was silent. Nadine was out and his dad was still in the office. He opened his bedroom door and almost tripped.
There was a plain brown box just outside his door. Before stooping to pick it up, Randy looked around. The hallway was quiet. He examined the box and noticed the small stars and wands printed all along its sides. The Dizzy Wizard had done it again.
Randy went back into his bedroom and tore open the box. He looked at the contents with confusion. A small pink box, empty, and a greeting card with a father and son embracing on the front. He dug into the packing peanuts. There, at the bottom, were three blank index cards. Randy spread out his Family Fixer on the bed, then turned the blank notecards around in his hands, thinking.
"Oh!" Randy exclaimed. He pulled the film from the decoder ring and ran it over the first card. The text appeared like magic.
'The Complete Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer! Everything You Need Is Inside, Junior Wizard! Just Follow The Instructions!'
He flipped to the second card and read it under the decoder ring.
'Show Your Sister You Care! Make Her Something Nice! Wizard Tip: Girls Love Flowers!'
Randy grinned. Flowers, huh? He could do that! He turned to the third card.
'Let Your Dad Know You Care! Write Something Nice! Wizard Tip: I Bet He Wants To Be Your Pal!'
Randy chuckled. Easy! First, to the front yard! Randy pretended that he was trailed by a whirling cape and ran onto the lawn. He gathered a few dandelions and hummed to himself as he wove them into a small bracelet. Satisfied, he tucked it into the box. Now, for dad. He went back to his bedroom, grabbed a pen, and put the tip in his mouth, deep in thought. Then he began to write.
'Dear Dad, I think you're super cool! I wish we could play army again and get pizza for dinner like we did before. Love, your son Randy.'
He thought for a moment, then crossed out 'son' and wrote 'pal'. Perfect.
A few hours later, he heard Nadine come into the house. Randy bounded down the stairs and handed her the pretty pink box. Nadine looked at it quizzically.
"Uh, what's this supposed to be?"
"It's a present! Just open it!"
"Ok, calm down," she said, then lifted the corner of the box. Her expression started surprised, then shifted to horror. She threw the box onto the floor.
"Are these from the front yard? There's a loving spider in there, Randy! What the hell is wrong with you?"
Randy's lip quivered. The Dizzy Wizard had promised! He tried to apologize to Nadine and knelt to scoop the flowers back into the box, but she was already gone. He started to call after her, but stopped. Randy took a deep breath. He wasn't a baby. He wasn't going to let his dad see him cry. Dejected, he walked to his dad's office. The card had to work. The Dizzy Wizard said it would. Randy knocked on the door.
He heard a shuffling inside, then a thud and his dad cursing. His father opened the door, still in his clothes from yesterday, his eyes bloodshot.
"What do you want, Randy?"
Randy almost apologized right then, but steeled himself. He handed his dad the card. His father rubbed his eyes, then opened the card, barely looking at the drawing on the front. He scanned the card briefly, then looked down at Randy.
"Did your mother put you up to this poo poo?"
Randy didn't have an answer for him. His father continued, but Randy got the feeling that he wasn't talking to him anymore.
"She's the one that left. She can't just waltz in here with this loving poo poo."
He was still talking when he slammed the door in Randy's face.
That was the last straw. Randy ran upstairs, crying soft and low. He threw himself under his covers. So much for the Dizzy Wizard. So much for the Family Fixer.
Nothing happened the next few days. Nadine came and went. Dad stayed locked in his office. Randy didn't do much at all.
A week later, Randy cleaned his cereal bowl after lunch. The house was quiet. He was about to head into the living room when he heard a brief rattle up the stairs. He went up to his room. Just outside the door, he saw another box. This time, there was a notecard on top of it.
Randy left the box in the hallway and examined the notecard under his ring.
'The Dizzy Wizard offers his deepest apologies. Please find our gift enclosed. We hope it will solve your family fracas, once and for all. Your friend, The Dizzy Wizard.'
Randy picked up the box. It was heavy and cold as ice. The box emitted a low, mean growl. Something inside thumped against his hands.
Randy opened the box.
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 06:30|
Good morning! Hope the deadline extension was helpful, because now it's time to prostrate to to reviewers' whims.
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 08:02|
They are making a list and checking it twice, seeing if you submitted or not! Umaru-Chan avatars are coming toniiiiiiight!
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 18:29|
Chemistrydome 385: Grade announcement
First of all, I want to congratulate any of you who actually are able to attend this ceremony. This means you, unlike half the people you met in your first semester, were able to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. These numbers match up with my own class (56% success rate) back then, so it’s expected but nevertheless always disappointing.
What’s also disappointing, however, is that I can really give none of you the highest praise, a full recommendation for an elite scholarship, without adding a “but”. If you were getting your PhD, that’s at most a Summa Cum Laude, but not a Maxima.
This is mostly due to the fact that most of you were slacking at the finish line. I know, classes pile up and lab work still needs to be finished, protocols need to be corrected and resubmitted and corrected again, and suddenly you have five tests in ten days and barely studied. You did pass them, but it shows in your final grades how much you ran out of steam. What I’m saying is that you all sucked at ending your stories, and the winner is one where I thought it was at least unexpected in an interesting surprise way, and not a “wow that came out of nowhere and was unearned” way. There wasn’t even consensus amongst the evaluation committee regarding that but, well, I’m the one giving this speech.
But let’s start at the bottom. Anomalous Amalgam, I’m sorry to tell you that you’ll probably end up in...ugh...industry. With a story that completely lacked focus, theme and sensible motivation, you lose this week.
From the rest of the mediocre results of your efforts, one other entry made all committee members agree that it just kind of blew, and that is Something Else’s. It is the dishonorable mention among our “at least we got our degree” graduates. Quit after your Master’s and lead a private lab somewhere, I don’t care.
Escaping from the swamp, but pretty much just in comparison, are Sitting Here and Chainmail Onesie, who get honorable mentions. The former for just being able to write really well (you know it by now), but a failure to stick the landing prevents you from reaching the throne. You can write proposals for me as a PhD candidate. The latter impressed us with a world that seemed extremely interesting but just kind of refused to be fully built, and I grant you the second HM despite the story not actually being very good for making us all frustrated and wanting more. You’re going to have a great idea once, blab about it and have someone else publish a fantastic paper in a high-ranking journal with it. If you hustle, you’ll be on the author list at least.
Oh wait, I’m getting a note here…
Onesie and Hawklad had the audacity of using imperial units in their story and should therefore be instantly disqualified, nay, executed?
Eeeh it’s Christmas soon, we’ll let it slide for now and remember this when it comes to evaluating grant proposals. Don’t ever ask me for a letter of recommendation either.
Anyway, this week’s winner is Carl Killer Miller, not because you wrote a flawless story, but because it’s probably the most consistent of this week’s lot. In other words, you delivered an extremely solid thesis with all the pieces in place, it’s not going to set the scientific community aflame, but everyone will be happy to have you as a workmanlike synthetist cooking new compounds 24/7. If you keep up putting a little extra twist on your work, you might even develop a new method and make your supervisor proud!
Take your title and start educating the next generation of Chemistrydomers! For the rest of you: hope you enjoyed this foray into the hard sciences, I’ll post detailed judgecrits including a science perspective for each of you soon. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and have a wonderful transition into a new year!
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 20:25|
Judgecrits for TD385
As I said, the yield didn't wow me at all this week, sad to say. Therefore, this will be pretty grumpy, sorry! I judged these in a random order, so I hope I avoided "as with many other stories this week," style sentences that force you to read all the other crits you don't care about. Generally, I was dissatisfied with a lot of the endings, but also many of the stories didn't end up deviating at all from what I felt was a very well trodden formula. So I did end up judging entries higher just for trying something.
I did choose to not include my "HM or DM or loss" musings because they don't matter much, and I don't want to be overly mean because they were very spur-of-the-moment "yeah this is LOW and this is BAD and this is JUST MEDIOCRE". That's why the "Overall" summaries are so anemic, but I wrote enough in the main part I'm sure.
Do read the Scientific accuracy sections, we're here to learn something after all. If it's not writing then at least it's science.
Something Else - The Roommate Solution
I used to read the r/relationships mock thread on SA a lot, and the first half of this story reads like many reddit stories posted by desperate women about their frustrations with terrible boyfriends and husbands who are lazy pieces of poo poo, don’t contribute anything to the housework and usually don’t wash themselves. What I’m saying is that you might have laid it on a little bit too thick there, because despite James apparently trying just a tiny bit (something about doing small chores to avoid the big ones, but at least he’s doing them, and he’s a good cook) he’s still a loser and I hate him. This makes his later redemption and transformation into what is apparently a decent partner more unbelievable for me, because that rarely ever happens.
A bigger issue with making this work is that I don’t quite get a sense of your characters. James gets the biggest spotlight as the viewpoint one, but aside from “useless and proud of it” there’s little there, and Diane is a cardboard cut-out of “long-suffering wife of a loser idiot”. There’s glimpses there of what made them attracted to each other in the first place - Diane’s apparent love for their shared house with all the doodads, for example, and she probably loves his cooking (but that one positive trait of his comes way too late in the story) - but you’d need to flesh this out, to make the “what about Breakfast for Tiffany” parts of the story tell me that there is actual hope for these two based on what brought them together.
Similarly, the Alders remain A Perfect Couple without anything but that, and that’s a major failing. You hint at things that make them work, and the strongest part of your story is the part where you describe them sharing something that would hold them together even if they had to move “into a cardboard box”, but it stays too ephemeral to make them believable as characters for me.
As you only have ciphers, the ending feels unearned, James learns from the platonic ideal of a relationship that he Has To Change, but apparently Diane also Has To Change because that’s what you write (but don’t show), and it’s honestly a little insulting because there’s nothing in the story so far hinting at her doing anything wrong except for staying with her piece of poo poo husband.
Overall: Four non-characters in a story that doesn’t make me believe in it for one second.
Scientific accuracy: This is probably (dunno haven’t read the last three yet) closest “chemistry means people fitting together like reaction partners” translation of my prompt, so there’s not much actual chemistry in there. The Diels-Alder reaction (cute that you took the name but not quite) is, in fact, about connecting two disparate reagents that end up forming a beautifully stable product, so you did take it a little bit further and I commend you for that.
You still gotta heat up that reaction mixture to make it work, though (or apply lots of pressure or other external biases), and I doubt “an overheard conversation” would provide enough starting energy. So back to my critique of the story: this seems like a bad synthesis.
Chainmail Onesie - Tessellating Chiral Bonds
This is sadly a bit clumsy to read, because with a bit more levity, it could be quite good. I’m referring to word constructs like “Ensign-Instrumentationist” and “Far-Arcologies”, but also sentences like “The central refectory is quiet, a low hour in Arcology scheduling.” which take a bit to parse (at least for me), and break up the atmosphere of melancholy that you do manage to invoke more often than not.
I think this piece would profit from a higher word limit, allowing you to set up more things and give them room to breathe. This seems like it wants to be a slow burn of a story and almost manages, but then you stumble too quickly through some scenes that would benefit from a slower buildup - for example the flashback to the punished sinners that dared gently caress. In fact, the entire world you’re building of a purity cult that has definite proof of virginity built into their very bodies is fascinating - if a bit of a heavy subject, should you choose to tackle that more in-depth - and pairs extremely well with their stated mission of fertilizing other worlds, while staying “unfertilized” (if you excuse the very crude analogy) themselves.
It is therefore also a bit sad that it ends as it starts, with a little awkward scene between two people who do not, pardon the pun, appear to share any chemistry - and culminating in wish-fulfilment, drat the consequences, for the protagonist who simply wants to gently caress, and who can blame her. Because you weren’t given enough space to set up your complex and interesting world more, I don’t quite know HOW big of a transgression this is, how high their fall will be, and what this moment of intimacy ultimately means for them. But you made me curious, so good job!
Overall: It’s interesting at the very least, for all its flaws.
Scientific accuracy: This story features no chirality whatsoever, so I’m not sure why your title mentions is. In fact, there are no “chiral bonds”, only chiral centers (the concept is about two molecules that have the same atoms in them bound the same general way, but are mirrors of each other - thus cannot be rotated to align no matter what you do). A chiral center is e.g. a carbon atom with four different bonds, if you switch two of them you cannot rotate the resulting tetrahedron to achieve the un-switched form. Anyway, ammonia isn’t chiral, it has a lone pair and three times the same atom (hydrogen) on the nitrogen. Also, how would it “clot”? Maybe if they were in space before and it’s frozen...I did say you make fertilizer from ammonia, but you’re not actually pouring that on the fields, there’s steps in between. Look up ammonium nitrate if you want to know more!
Also, you used “inches” in your story so sorry, disqualified.
Sitting Here - Staggered Conformation
This is a pleasant read, and I enjoyed it up until the end. You do have a way with words (as you well know), and are especially good at believable dialogue. I get a strong sense of character from your protagonists, with Mitch being believably flustered and feeling guilty over too many things, and Alex being more abrasive and abrupt than you might think from their first introduction. It’s good because you don’t fall into clichés of the colored-hair hippie art person.
I also found it well done how Mitch’s guilt is all in his head, considering that breaking up with his wife amenably was probably the fairest course of action and he couldn’t really influence the train accident happening as it did, there’s a nice parallel there. Both sources of guilt and in the end neatly resolved at the same time, so you have a tidy package, right?
Well, not quite. It’s a bit too neat and convenient, and I don’t really buy it. In fact, it’s taking the easy way out in many aspects: you set up a contrivance (Alex being affected by Mitch professionally), and use that to allow Mitch to absolve himself of guilt re: his ex-wife, but the point of the story, at least to me, is that Mitch has NOTHING to feel guilty of. I’d rather have seen him accept that sometimes, poo poo just happens and you’ll hurt people but you’re going to have to live with it. You can’t undo that hurt with nice gestures. And the rescue vehicles won’t come and get you out of the purgatory of your own making. So you lose heavily on messaging.
A similar too-neat-to-be-true moment is when Mitch just spills to this perfect stranger that he recently had a life-changing coming out event. I mean, I get it, he seems at least a little attracted to the queer-coded (and later confirmed) person across from him, and he’s full of adrenaline, but it’s still again a little too convenient.
The story’s still written quite well and as I said I enjoyed it, but I encourage you to work on messaging and stronger themes.
Overall: Yeah, this is just fine especially considering the competition
Scientific accuracy: No science in the story itself, but I accept that the Wittig reaction is a bit of a hard sell. I’m wondering about your title, though, where did you get that from? Staggered conformation describes how a polymer looks (alternating two geometric shapes in its chain), and Wittig is not a polymerization reaction. You probably interpreted the unusual phosphorus reagent as the “queer” molecule, which makes sense to me, but again not with the title. So points docked for that.
Thranguy - Rhymes With Spiral
This is a somewhat typical story about a teenage witch dabbling in powers she shouldn’t. It’s not automatically bad to go back to tried-and-true concepts, if it’s told well, and you mostly manage. I do have some issues with the story, however.
Firstly, I’m not sure about granny’s Chekov’s warnings at the start. While they might add tension in a will-she-won’t-she way, it ends up just spoiling major parts of the plot. You don’t need someone to spell out that cloning someone through the mirror dimension is probably a Bad Idea, and the “Billy, no not WILLY” thing is laughable, sorry. This issue is exacerbated by some clumsy setups, like when you divulge in two half-sentences that Alyss has been talking about mirrors apparently for a bit until the others urge her to do the spell, and that she ALSO has mentioned that she was warned to not do it but goes ahead anyway.
Her coming up with and then deciding to do the mirror thing despite it being a very obviously idiotic idea should be a major turning point in the story, not something introduced after she has already made up her mind.
Another thing I take issue with is the language used. The characters act like teenagers and you probably want them to be, like them talking about driving without a license and shoplifting and so on, so I’m thinking 15-17 years old. But you’re also saying something like “high on sugary drinks” and “putting a stick through his heart” which just sounds super childish, and takes me out of the mood you’re setting up.
Those are not the only clumsy sentences: “I was beyond listening to reason’s voice” is so terribly clumsy, and the less said about “silent as a reflection”, the better. You also have two small spelling errors, so this could have used the extra time I gave you to edit, though I appreciate you keeping to the original deadline.
This might have also led you to delete the abysmal last sentence, like what the hell is that supposed to add, am I expected to be happy that the nerdy guy got the girl he was crushing on and “at least she wasn’t alone after losing the mirror rear end in a top hat”? Come on.
Overall: Could have been much better. Ends up being mediocre. But I feel like slamming it because of the idiotic end.
Scientific accuracy: Bringing in chirality is a smart move, and I’m pretty sure that you did it correctly. Most sugars are chiral, and only one form is natural, which plays into only that enantiomer being digestible by enzymes. So L-Glucose, for example, the mirror image of the “normal” D-Glucose (see also: Dextrose), is not harmful but indigestible, which would in fact probably cause stomach pains and definitely malnutrition (you can’t gain energy from it). I can’t go much further into that (e.g. suggest non-chiral alternatives, though I suspect there won’t be much because starch is also broken down into sugars, proteins are made from amino acids which are ALSO chiral, and there isn’t much else left. Water isn’t chiral at least lol, boy won’t die of thirst) because I’m not a food scientist, but it’s fine.
Anomalous Amalgam - Ethically Sourced Future Food
Let me start by saying that I didn’t really understand the point of this story. It starts on a wrong note because you establish the visitors as part of the “community”, which makes me think of concerned citizens, and the PR tour makes sense for that, but then they suddenly bust out hardcore knowledge about industry rivals and profit margins and they’re “officials”, and it instead makes me think about investors. What is it?
And all potential conflicts - either people who don’t want a lovely plant to blow up in their neighborhood, OR finance guys who don’t want to waste their money on a failing company - are not followed up on, because in the end nothing happens. I guess we are led to assume that the visitor will start making GBS threads his guts soon as well and Enrico fails with his idiotic idea? Generally, I don’t get a grasp of our protagonist - he is afraid of the visitors because he knows the plant only produces crap, which sounds reasonable the way you establish it, but it morphs into him having some delusions of being a great inventor of food slurry, and because you start out with him having reasonable concerns, it remains ambiguous to me if he actually did invent something great-but-unappealing or if it’s just total crap and he’s in way over his head.
Similarly, Bhatt goes from annoying colleague to the straight man and manages to not establish any character in-between.
Therefore, ultimately, I’m left with a mess of a story that changes focus about three times and ends extremely dissatisfactory. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is clunky, and some of the sentences are just bad. Just from internal arrangement:
“Then something happened, as the beaker reached 100 ml of contents, Enrico closed the valves…”
“Well, I can guarantee it’s not FDA approved, but it is edible.”
It should be “As the beaker reached and Enrico closed, SUDDENLY something happened”, and “It’s not FDA approved...but it’s edible!”, otherwise you break your flow hard. These seem like amateur mistakes, bewildering considering your experience, sorry.
Random asides I couldn’t fit into a crit flow: I hate it when people are introduced with their first names, then someone else refers to them by last, and I have to puzzle the pieces together. Just start with “Enrico Sabaut slumped…”. And the bus reversing over a still living corpse imagery is terrible argh
Overall: Sadly, this is a well-deserved loss. Just too many critical issues.
Scientific accuracy: I’m gonna have to deduct a bunch of points here as well (let me stress here thought that this is for fun, does not affect your rating at all). Your lab setup reeks of something you saw in a movie, and you throw words together without thinking what they mean. A beaker is an open container, something can drip into it and you can heat it up, but it cannot be part of a setup that converges somewhere. The same is true for a “titration tube” (a burette?), a titration is an analytical method you have to supervise really closely, it cannot be automated.
In a similar vein, you throw together compound names that really do not mean what you might want to evoke. Polyols are not polymers, it just means they contain more than one alcohol group - that means that they have nothing to do with plastic (regular polymers), and in fact making plastic edible would be a momentous discovery. Protein-based would also mean that it contains amino acids, funnily enough those can be polymeric (in fact, proteins are folded-up irregular biological polymers) but are an entirely different class of compounds from polyols and plastics. One could imagine a reaction combining all of these disparate elements - e.g. converting long-chain plastic waste into fatty acids (which are also long-chain compounds), esterificating those with a polyol like glycol to form a pseudo-fat [but then it’s not fat-free as Enrico claims] and have that be edible and maybe sweet if some aroma compounds (also esters, or sugars, which ARE polyols) are formed on the side.
But yeah this is all science fiction.
Random aside: lab goggles don’t have a strap. You want to be able to get them off in a right drat hurry if you need to e.g. wash acid out of your eyes, and yes it can always happen that something splashes through somehow. These are not skin-tight, you have to be able to wear them for hours on end.
Hawklad - Above the Grid
The story you tell is sadly nothing special. I wouldn’t exactly call it cliché, but it comes dangerously close. You draw deeply from a well of familiar topics - wide-scale oppression using manufactured drugs, like a fluoride conspiracy theory but real, man, real, and someone is brave enough to stand up to the system and blow it (literally) wide open. A dash of self-sacrifice, some romance to add stakes, and you have a steak, starch, veggie meal. It’s filling but not enough to remember even the day after.
Your liberal usage of tropes comes to a head in the end, when you introduce the titular grid in the fourth-to-last paragraph, and we now learn that it’s literally a two-layered society/city, like, dunno, Final Fantasy 7, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and probably a lot of literary works as well but I choose videogames because I’m nerdy like that and want to shame you.
Overall: Just mediocre. What can I say.
Scientific accuracy: The noun is “Umpolung”. The verb would be “umpolen” but I don’t expect German conjugation of a loan word - the noun should be correct, though. I admit that I had to look up what a Liebig condenser and Claisen connector are, we tend to not name those things properly in the lab, haha. But it’s believable enough as a setup.
However, a volatile stepping stone compound in a reaction is called an “intermediate”, not intermediary. Also, you don’t screw a stopper, you stopper a stopper.
In story-related nitpicking, it’s a bit weird that you add a gas to the pill that does not do anything for the plot, considering that only the pill synthesis is what is used by the protagonist as the bomb, and it seems like overkill. You evoke cyanide with the smell of almonds (bitter, not sour, if you want to be super correct), then the pills would be a bit more threatening, but not really useful for years of mind-numbing…
All moot though because you’re disqualified for using “inches”, come on man.
Carl Killer Miller - The Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer
This is a bit depressing. Nothing particularly wrong with it, especially if you were going for that, so congrats on evoking A Mood. I think you’re doing a good job here with contrasting Randy’s hopes for a quick fix for his problems at the start and the harsh reality of his horrible sister and dad reacting to his honest attempts. Despite the Dizzy Wizard offering outside advice, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t something tepid like “just sacrifice a mouse and it’s going to be fine, oooh you made a demon eat your family!! Be careful what you wish for little Randy!!!”. Instead, it’s advice column level suggestions, which we all know are useless, and well, they are.
But what this did was allow Randy to develop ideas of his own, make up his own gifts, and therefore inform us about his character naturally. That’s a great thing.
Furthermore, you surprised me again with the ending that DID invoke something way more sinister, but left it open. In a week with a lot of by-the-numbers plots, subverting my expectations twice should be applauded.
It’s not all perfect: like is often the case, the beginning would need the biggest work, because it’s not clear at all to me that Randy is sitting at the kitchen table decoding...a newspaper comic...that’s the same brand as his cereal? It sadly hurts an actually pretty good tale that I have to re-read the start a bunch to get what’s going on. It seems like you have a very clear idea of a boy sitting there using a “decoder ring”, which might be based on your actual childhood memories (condolences if more of the story is, hope you’re doing fine), or on some common trope, but it just leaves me scratching my head. Part of that is that I’m thinking of a decoder ring as a thing where you turn some wheels and it shows you A = X or something similar, nothing involving a plastic pane to look through, so that also made me a bit ???. These are minor things that you could easily touch up though, so good job.
Overall: Well-written tale of a terrible childhood that still allows the poor protagonist hope and agency.
Scientific accuracy: I don’t see much of the Friedel-Crafts functionalizations in the story, but I admit that this is one of the less...evocative reactions I chose. Let’s instead talk about the decoder technology. You might think of 3D glasses, where either a color or polarization filter blocks one part of an offset image for each eye, giving you the effect; however, both of those images are there when you put the glasses down, so that’s not how you would make words appear out of nowhere. Ignoring the issue of erasing the normally visible script, this could still work however: many molecules absorb UV light and not visible light, so they’re colorless to humans, or transparent if put on a surface. But they can emit light when irradiated that can be at a higher wavelength, up to the visible region (UV light has a low wavelength).
Of course, if you’re shining a ceiling light on the hidden script and it starts glowing, that won’t do much. I therefore propose that the hidden script is a UV absorber AND emitter, and the decoder pane contains a dye that absorbs the emitted wavelength, emitting light in turn but now it’s visible. To make this a little more realistic (because you lose a lot of energy in every step), the ring holding the pane could have a UV lamp integrated to irradiate the original compound and make it emit more strongly - as there is very little UV component in ceiling lights. And there we go, your magic makes sense (not the magic package delivery but hey I don’t know how the post office works, but I am a dye chemist).
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 20:39|
They are making a list and checking it twice, seeing if you submitted or not! Umaru-Chan avatars are coming toniiiiiiight!
This is annoying, because you have hardly been a regular participant yourself recently.
I thusly invite you to choose from one of the following options:
i) Cease and desist with the handing out of terrible umaru-tars
ii) Enter this week
iii) fite me
iv) All of the above
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 21:23|
Crits for chemistry week
Here is my overall assessment of the week: everyone who entered is good. Everyone who failed is bad.
The Roommate Solution by Something Else
Weird bougie couple run into money trouble, get housemates, continue to be weird for a bit, but because their housemates are nice normal people everything turns out alright in the end.
There is nothing actively bad about this story, and the ending is sweet, but I didn't find it very engaging. The first couple have a bit of personality but the housemates are cardboard cutouts. The protags face some challenges - money issues, adjusting to life with housemates, becoming better people - but they overcome all of this very easily, so there's no real tension in the story; at no point did I feel like I was rooting for the main character to get what they wanted.
I think this would have been better if you'd focussed on a single scene, such as the dinner party where James has his revelation that he can be a better person.
Tessellating Chiral Bonds by Chainmail Onesie
Ow your first sentence hurt my brain. Actually the whole opening section is quite hard going - it’s not immediately clear to me what sort of scene I should be picturing; I’m tripping up over words like “arcological” and “Ensign-Instrumentationist” rather than being pulled into the story.
Sections 2, 3 and 4 have some tantalising details about the world you’re creating, but your characters don’t do anything apart from walking around and feeling sad, so this is not interesting reading. I already know that this is a story about unrealised love, so these sections add nothing.
The story finally starts in the last section, aaaand then it’s over.
Ok so this is a story about a man and a woman who love each other but cannot be together because of the rules of the society they live in. Tale as old as time, should be an easy one to write. But, you’ve missed out all the good bits - there’s no tension, no turning point when something happens to make them decide to throw it all away and be together.
That said, the sci fi backdrop is cool.
Staggered Conformation by Sitting Here
This is a sweet, weird little interaction, but it fell a bit flat for me. The blend of realism-realism and magical-realism felt like one of those cocktails where all the ingredients are great but the combination tastes like blue jellybeans or something. Not that I think this story was as bad as blue jellybeans (which are the worst ones apart from the black ones); I just felt like the wondrousness of this encounter was made less wondrous by the business-deal-esque ending.
However, this was the most competently written in a week were basic competence was lacking; well done on your HM.
Rhymes with Spiral by Thranguy
I liked this. I think you capture the vibe of teenagers doing something they shouldn’t really well. The seriousness of the consequences, and the way that they have to grow up, just a little, in order to deal with them, was nicely done.
I wasn’t really feeling the relationship with Caylen though, so the ending is a bit of a flop.
Ethically Sourced Future Food by Anomalous Amalgam
This suffers some of the same problems as Chainmail Onesie’s in that it is a lot of words in which the characters do not very much. Your protag wants to show someone his invention. Then he does, then that’s the end. Oh except for the implied diarrhea.
The crux of the story is the protag’s decision to show the guests the foam; what happens to make him make this decision? What does this mean to him? It would have been more interesting if you had given this moment a lot more weight.
The details of the setting are cool but not enough to make up for the lack of characters feeling feelings and doing things.
Above the Grid by Hawklad
I was digging this right up to the ending. Where’s the rest! What happens next? Does he just blow up the thing and commit suicide? Why?
This feels like the opening section of an awesome sci fi novel, not a self-contained story.
The Dizzy Wizard Family Fixer by Carl Killer Miller
The ending killed this for me. I was digging the magical realism vibe to this story about a boy trying to cope with his dysfunctional family, but the super dark ending comes out of nowhere. I think you needed to foreshadow that something sinister was up, and make it clearer why he would chose to open the box. As it is, he is so sugary-sweet that this choice didn’t seem to fit.
That said, this story was the most effective of the week in making me feel feelings, which is what made it a win candidate in an otherwise tedious week. Well done.
|# ? Dec 23, 2019 21:40|
Thunderdome 386: TD, I just can't quit you
I'm not going to ask you to write some holiday drivel. No Christmas conundrums, Hannukah happenings, or Kwanzaa kerfuffles. Instead, I'm going to ask you to write about what the holidays conjure up for me.
This week's Thunderdome is about addiction.
Why do we stick with things that bring us nothing but pain? Is it for a moment of fleeting pleasure, is it for ignorance of guilt, shame, and regret, or is it just because it feels so goddamn great in the moment?
But it's never about the object itself. Alcohol, sweet lady PCP, love, food, pain, power, and a million more. For the addict, they share the craving, the giving in, the inevitable relapses, and perhaps the brightness of a thorough recovery?
If you request a flash rule or a toxx, I will give you an addiction. How you use it is up to you.
Signups close at 11:59PM CST on December 27th
Submissions close at 11:59 CST on December 29th
Counselor to be determined
I swear to God, it'll never happen again:
Carl Killer Miller fucked around with this message at 20:07 on Dec 29, 2019
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 02:09|
Great prompt. In.
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 02:15|
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 02:23|
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 02:26|
(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 03:20|
In. Give me a flash.
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 04:53|
i am in
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 05:09|
An addiction to family
An addiction to failure
In. Give me a flash.
An addiction to faith
In with flash
An addiction to strength
Need to make up for my abysmal failure to submit last week.
An addiction to darkness
Hello I am in this week give me an addiction please.
An addiction to escape
Count me in. Could I have an addiction please?
An addiction to knowledge
Carl Killer Miller fucked around with this message at 01:32 on Dec 28, 2019
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 06:00|
In with flash
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 07:14|
to have crits for the last 2 weeks i failed done by 3/1/20
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 09:10|
Baby and kbright, if you would like to change your av back, holler at ya boy. I'll send over a cert.
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 17:04|
Need to make up for my abysmal failure to submit last week.
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 18:10|
Also, brawl judgement will be coming soon. If not today then tomorrow, christmas miracle etc.
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 18:45|
SH, my dearest friend. My confidant. Dare I say, my soul mate (sorry mojo). Make me the happiest man alive?
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 23:32|
SH, my dearest friend. My confidant. Dare I say, my soul mate (sorry mojo). Make me the happiest man alive?
After you, mi amour~
|# ? Dec 24, 2019 23:44|
I don't know how to quit you, TD.
|# ? Dec 25, 2019 00:00|
Sitting Merc Heredes Brawl
SH, my dearest friend. My confidant. Dare I say, my soul mate (sorry mojo). Make me the happiest man alive?
After you, mi amour~
Alright you two lovebirds, you seem in the mood. Write me a love story, but the protagonists never interact.
Another bird has peeped me that you want to write in each other's styles, which is disgustingly sappy but okay! I can be that. You called it broadly "humor" (Merc) vs "dreamy" (sh), so I guess something like that. You'll fail if you don't make me laugh (sh) or write something I don't get (Merc).
Your deadline is the 7th of January 2020, which is when I'll start working again. Give me something to do on an unplanned-labwork Monday (judge your messes).
EDIT: 2412 words.
Simply Simon fucked around with this message at 10:09 on Dec 25, 2019
|# ? Dec 25, 2019 00:00|
merry christmas you monstrous creatures, goodwill to all men even the stupid and terrible ones. as a present I've turned off kayfabe or whatever tattered shreds of it remain. now is the time to say what you like, what you hate, what should change or stay the same in this dumb dome that we love so much
have the gently caress at it
|# ? Dec 25, 2019 05:14|
Hello Dome merry Christmas
|# ? Dec 25, 2019 07:41|
|# ? Sep 30, 2023 14:54|
AA and Seb, begin where it ends brawl judgement
Both of these entries were flawed, but AA's far more so due to cumbersome and gimmicky structure that hurt the story far more than it helped. Seb takes it, accordingly.
I've provided detailed crits here for AA : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OBxslyibnQnU8BTGeRCqTGwSx-wKofkLomKl0oz8Px4/edit?usp=sharing
And here for Seb: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AEmfLe8PuceWBSavQbKnikMqkH7SES_ky5lWCSjcU0g/edit?usp=sharing
But the capsule crit for AA is:
OK, I think I see what you were going for here. And I think you let this prompt kinda kick your rear end. This story didn’t fit it but you did a lot to make it fit and it ended up turning everything into a mess that lacked tension when there should have been plenty. It also lacked clarity which is always necessary when you’re trying to block action. This didn’t really work but there are good bits here. I’d like to see this story retold as a straight-up sci-fi underwater thriller. Lose the talking heads and found footage and you might have something here. As it is, you don’t have much.
And the capsule for Seb is:
So not a ton happens here, but that isn’t necessarily a ding against you. The big question: Is the dialogue captivating? Kinda. I’m on board for most of it, the power dynamic does change here and there and I always like that. There’s some decent humor and it does feel real. As most of your story lives between these two people that kinda matters a lot. As far as what happens outside of the conversation. I almost feel like it’s unnecessary. I’m glad you didn’t spend a lot of time there but I think I would have preferred none at all. As this story stands it feels like the old man’s prediction is entirely inevitable. He seems to know more and is so confident in his expression that the ending seems entirely predictable. I would’ve liked to perhaps see some more brimming confidence and energy from Juan that maybe made it feel like he had more of a chance to buck the prediction.
I guess this kinda works with the prompt though, and in that sense, you’re limited to resign him to failure. In a sense, I think this story also suffered because of the prompt.
|# ? Dec 25, 2019 08:59|