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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



I'll take flash rules from up to two judges and sebmojo can throw me a picture if he wants

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



The Anarchist and the Associate
2017 words
Flash rules: Tron Lines, Wretched Hive


I’m almost at the headquarters of Amatech when the boarder zooms past me, hitting a puddle and sending mud splashing. I look down. Grime, staining my brand new Gucci synthetic shark-leather bag. Prismatic scales and genuine cow skin, fused, grown cruelty-free in a tissue lab, only to get ruined by some punk. I turn toward him to try and snag an ID, but my headset can’t pick up anything on him. Rude, and no ID tag. I resolve to send the police a DM to keep an eye out for the vandal, then brush mud off the red glowtubes on my jacket. What a loving way to start the day.

I walk in the door and through the full-body scanner. Security verifies my ID, and I head to the elevator. As I’m riding up, an alert pops up on my headset.

Product meeting. First thing.

drat.

I join Laura, who found time to get a double-shot synthetic-blend Starbucks mocha with ‘peppermint spice’ and ‘extra whip’ checked off on the side. What a go-getter. She’s sorting through emails on her headset.

“So what’s this about?” I ask.

She looks at me. “Oh, hi Debbie. New product, I guess. They want marketing to be synergizing with developer models so we can maximize influence.”

I nod. Mr. McAllister, our boss, is prepping his presentation. I hear him muttering, “now how’s this drat thing work again?” while studying the holoprojector. The tech next to him sighs and points at a button.

The meeting fills, and we’re ready to go. All the heads of marketing are here. Big product. Developed on the down-low, too, because none of us have heard a peep about a new launch until today.

“This,” Mr. McAllister says, “is revolutionary stuff. We, my fellow associates, are about to corner the market of on-demand manufactured video footage. We’re targeting top-income, top-influencers with maximum disposable income, and our service is going to be one they want to use over and over.”

He hits a button on the remote. The holoprojector beeps.

The tech comes over. McAllister frowns. “Next. I hit next. Don’t I—oh, right, right.”

A video plays of a woman breaking into a drug store. It pauses on a still frame as she exits, bag full, and zooms in. A few startled gasps around the room as face-recognition ID’s her. It’s China’s President Wu.

McAllister laughs. “Obviously, we couldn’t get the real President Wu to rob a store, so we had to make our own footage. And that’s the beauty. Our 3-d algorithmic rendering creates on-demand footage from scratch, with high fidelity, and multiple angles. But this tech goes beyond fake videos.”

The next slide is so full of text no one can read it. People shift in their chairs and squint. “Our network tech now creates digital footprints. Testimonies of witnesses. Genetic evidence. Everything a prosecutor needs. Our competitors may have come up with Accelerated Justice, but we’re going to utilize their program to make it big. We’re calling it Justice On Demand.”

A pallid silence falls over the room as McAllister keeps talking, slide after slide zipping by. But no one says anything. I keep waiting, but no one does.

After the meeting, Laura and I meet up. I set my headset to ‘bathroom mode’ so we aren’t recorded.

“Amatech has gone too far,” she whispers. “I know some journalists.”

“I’ve got your back,” I tell her.

***

Three days after the meeting, I hear the news. Laura, arrested for murder. Two journalists, arrested as accomplices. We all know they didn’t do it, but no one talks about it. I spend the day worrying I’m next. There’s regulations, there’s laws, this poo poo isn’t supposed to happen. It’s clear I’m not going to get results working in the system. That night, I turn my glowlights off and leave my cell and headset at my condo.

I head to the Midden District.

The whole place is slums. You go to Midden when you don’t have any other choice—unless you’re one of the degenerates. It’s a place of boarded buildings, broken LEDs, graffiti, and every kind of criminal. The cops stay away because the whole drat district is behind on their protection insurance, so crime thrives.

I take the public bus, because I can’t risk getting tracked with Lyft. As we bump down streets more pothole than pavement, I see soiled tents and trash everywhere. Disgusting. But I’ve only got one contact in the underworld of the city, the only person I can trust to help me take on Amatech.

I know her usual hole in the wall. A place called Bet Red. The bouncer there takes a long look at me, then pulls out a detector and waves it for at least a minute before letting me in. The bar is quiet. There’s no screens, no holo ads, nothing normal. There are a few VR addicts loafing in a corner, controllers twitching, but otherwise the place feels ripped out of a history book. I get dirty looks as I walk in. They can tell from the clothes; even with the LEDs off, I don’t fit in.

“I’m looking for Jenna Rays,” I say.

The bartender raises an eyebrow. “No one here goes by that name,” she says. She glances at the bouncer.

“Please. It’s important.”

I see a woman with a spiked leather jacket in the mirror, glancing out from the back room. “Oh poo poo,” she says.

The bouncer’s reaching for something under his jacket. The bartender tenses.

“It’s okay,” she says, coming out. “Mom, what the gently caress are you doing here?”

“Hey sweetie,” I say.

She gives that exasperated sigh that’s defined our relationship for the past five years. “I told you—oh hell, I don’t know why I bother.”

“I need your help,” I blurt.

That catches her off guard. “For what? Not money, I hope, because that’s a bourgeoisie system of control that—”

“It’s Amatech,” I say, and then I tell her about the new product, about Laura. As I’m talking, she just keeps shaking her head.

Finally, it’s her turn. “So. What do you need from me?”

I hesitate. “Well, I mean, can’t you, you know, hack them or something? You and your friends? Aren’t you still hanging out with those anarchists? You know, I really don’t understand why you think a society with absolutely no rules is better than—”

“Oh my god, Mom, I’ve told you, anarchism isn’t—listen. I’m not going to talk to you about it until you’ve read Bakunin like I asked a decade ago.”

“I just think—”

“Nope!”

I sigh. “Okay. Right. I need someone who understands the technology to ruin it. You and your friends are the only people I know who understand this stuff.”

“Mom, this ‘stuff’—it’s not new. I’ve been trying to tell you that. Corps have been using it for years to discredit and jail people. You remember Lashaya?”

“Yes. You know, I always knew—”

“Exonerated by DNA evidence. The footage showing her breaking in was fake.”

I stop. “I left out a part. Amatech’s got a genetic database, and DNA synthesizers. They can manufacture the DNA evidence they need. That’s how they got Laura.”

Jenna chews on that. “We’d need a lot to get started. Hacking isn’t just pounding at a keyboard for a few minutes.”

“I can get you and your friends in. As, uh, a social media consultant team, the kind with high network potential and a pulse on influencers.”

“Jesus, I just threw up in my mouth a little. Okay, we’ll do it. But I need you to promise me something.”

I gulp. “Anything.”

She smiles. drat. Haven’t seen that in a long time.

***

It takes them a week of prep. They shut down the surveillance in my condo somehow, and every night I come home to Jenna and her gang of five staring at screens, talking in incomprehensible jargon, saying meaningless things like ‘botnet’ ‘front door’ and ‘cloud.’ They load some program onto my headset, and each day I bring them flash drives full of files. Every day, my heart lives in my throat.

Then, it’s the day. We arrive separately, and I greet them.

“Welcome,” I say. “It’s a pleasure to synergize with you.”

Jenna rolls her eyes. Whatever.

They join me in the meeting room where I’ve prepped laptops, and while I talk about their responsibilities as contracted marketers for the mics in the room, they start plugging in drives and running programs that, in the words of Jenna, “will wipe their poo poo from the ground to the cloud.” Frankly, I don’t know who taught her to speak that way.

Then, they disperse to go load more poo poo onto people’s logged in computers. Me, I’m supposed to just act like everything’s normal, which is bullshit.

I see Mr. McAllistar roaming the cubicles, a mix between a stalking tiger and a blobfish. I grit my teeth, and keep working on the marketing script I hope I can trash tomorrow.

That’s when I get the call from Jenna over my headset. “There’s a problem,” she says. “There’s a backup server with all your proprietary software that’s not networked. Your server room is linked to ID-badges, and we can’t go in without tripping alarms. You need to go in and wreck it.”

“I don’t know anything about hacking,” I whisper, trying to think of some way that doesn’t put my neck on the line like that. If they track my ID going into a room I have no business in, and then there’s mysterious vandalism, I’m done. My whole career, ruined.

“Not hacking,” Jenna says. “Wrecking. You know how to smash circuit boards. Just pretend it’s like the time you found the messages between me and my high school girlfriend on my tablet.”

“Those were totally inappropriate for a girl your age!”

“Mom. Go. You’ve got about ten minutes before they realize everything’s being wiped.”

I stand up. McAllistar is between me and the server room. I just hope he doesn’t try to pull me into a meeting. But as I’m walking, an idea clicks into place. I trip, and bump into McAllistar.

“Sorry,” I say.

He gives me a lecherous smile. “No problem, sweetcheeks.”

God, what a shithead. “Jenna,” I whisper, right before I enter the server room. “Has the software been totally deleted yet?”

“No. As I said, ten—no, eight minutes left.”

“I need you to do something right quick.” And then I tell her.

The server room is frigid and humming with fans. The light strips decorating the computers are even more ostentatious than the glowtubes on my jacket and skirt. When I get to the backup server, I realize I don’t have anything to wreck it properly. I frown. The best weapon I have is a heel. My headset has a timer ticking down. Three minutes. Not enough time to leave the server room and come back, and if the building goes into lockdown, it’s over.

I think about Jenna Rays, my beautiful daughter, all grown up. What would she do? She’d always been into circuits and software growing up. Circuits, I realize. I have loads of circuits on me. The glowtubes. Plug them into a wall, make it so they get too hot, and the server will catch fire and be slag long before the extinguisher system kicks in. I detach several tubes, then jam them into a nearby outlet. I stay long enough to get a lungful of smoke as the server goes up in flames.

On my way out, I toss McAllistar’s ID-badge that I’d snagged on the ground. Jenna’s already forged the footage that shows him going into the server room. It’s not the end of this, but at least it’s a victory.

***

“I’m proud of you, mom,” Jenna tells me back at my condo.

“Thanks, sweetie,” I tell her. We hug, and then both of us cry. It’s been awhile.

Jenna wipes her tears away and takes a deep breath. “Now,” she says, pulling out a tome titled The Compiled Works of Bakunin, “about that promise….”

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Week 341: AD 2019 NEO THUNDERDOME BONUS CRITS

Here are brief crits on your stories. Consider, as you read them, that I am infallible and I do not transcribe opinions, only truths. These are not mere words about your words, but an unbreakable blade pointed at your very soul.

The Man From Martian Road by selaphiel
Meteoroids don’t travel at lightspeed. Not even close. Also, it’s not a meteorite until it’s done falling and on Earth. Two basic, blatant errors (that you had days to catch in editing) throw me out of the story and destroy the trust I have in this story. Your alien-in-a-meteoroid-egg is also decidedly not cyberpunk; this is very much sci-fi. It takes you until the second section to establish your character has a Secret Mission(tm). Area 51 and Las Vegas are in NEVADA not NEBRASKA holy poo poo. Okay then lightball decides to possess a random dude being beat up because ethics. Feels like a lot of clichés in here. The secret mission—what I thought was your conflict—is just “become a power source”? The story actually resolves with this one act of alien kindness, but that conflict was only established late in the story. Therefore, your story is confused and doesn’t know what it wants to be. Aside from editing so you don’t make extremely basic errors, figure out what your conflict is and make the story about that. There’s a huge amount of fluff (such as the entire first section) that doesn’t add anything to the story. Plus, you just add things like ‘conspiracies are real and they make the White House money’ and ‘giant war forced NASA to stop contact with Martians’ that just leave the reader baffled, since the story never explains itself.


Second Opinion by Easy Diff
Good that we get to the conflict (medical problem) quickly. You’re trying to build sympathy, but I feel like I need context for who this character is and why specifically this is so devastating in their life. Who are they connected to? What will they miss? It’s too generic; I know nothing about this character, so I don’t care about them. The resolution is that he lives at a resort until death, because silly finance laws. This is weak because the company essentially does the work for him. Henry is a very passive character. I think you have two paths here: Either this story is about the absurdity of insurance, finance, and debt in our world, which I think could lead to some good black comedy, or it’s about this one character confronting mortality, in which case you need to make the reader feel for them.


The Game of Life by Simply Simon
Stories about video games are tough, because it’s hard to make the reader care. The story centers around the bond of two gamers and the concept of escapism. Problematically, I don’t buy the relationship because the characters feel underdeveloped. The post-scarcity world, abandoned, is a bit interesting. The revelation only leaves the reader with a larger question that is not resolved; ultimately, that leaves the story feeling incomplete. Finally, I think there’s potential in a character using the virtual to help navigate gender dysphoria (briefly implied by Hannah’s parents calling her ‘Otto’), but that’s not this story yet.


Latency by Applewhite
I like your introduction. It acknowledges the clichés of the genre while still conveying both the setting and tone with some fun descriptions. After that, we run into problems. If you’re going to call attention to clichés, you have to do more than just have them. This could be forgiven if you had a fresh take, an intriguing plot, or solid characters, but you don’t. Why is the rider going into the city? Why do we care? What is accomplished?


True Futures by iTrust
The obituary line is bad, but you do have a quick plot hook. The dialogue needs work. Some is off, some is olde tyme, some feels like filler rather than to advance the plot or develop the characters. Proofread, because you have italics starting mid-word in one spot. The ending of the story is basically revealed by the victim’s colleague, so the ending you have is flat. What would be more interesting is who/what is behind the horoscopes (machines are programmed by people).


Planned Obsolescence by Sitting Here
Hmm. Very slice-of-life here. Marron and Wintermoot seem quite human, and there’s a minor tension inherent in the fact that the seem happier together online than with their families. It’s not really resolved (I like her resolution paired with the previous resolution that didn’t happen), but it doesn’t feel like it needs it. Marron is still figuring out what she needs, what she wants, and it’s going to take time. So yeah, you succeeded at that slice-of-life thing.


Hot Pursuit by Staggy
Man, this mallcop has more passion for stopping petty theft than I’ve had passion for anything in my life. And then he just lets them go, because the person said the magic word? And we don’t get their rationale, or really understand the circumstances that lead them to this action. Too much of this story is dedicated to the chase, rather than the decision the protagonist makes.


Yeah, I’m just gonna post it. The God Code (a Sermon) by Saucy_Rodent
Right, so you already know this has nothing to do with cyberpunk. And it does feel like I’m being preached to, since the purpose of the story is tackling the “if god good, why evil?” You can probably significantly condense the sentiment you’re trying to convey; I figured out where the sermon was going long before it actually got there. Also, I don’t know who the target audience is, because I also don’t know who it’s going to convince of anything. I can’t critique this as a story, because it’s not one. I think my biggest advice is, you had still had time to write a story, and could have done that.


Rosa & Tom by crimea
Basically, 95% of your story is setting up the premise, the world, and the ‘helmets’ consciousness preservation/transfer concept. It’s a fun concept, and there’s lots to explore there. However, the end of your story is where it should actually begin. Benji is faced with an interesting phenomena, an ethical conundrum, and gains the possibility of being able to communicate with another character--but doesn’t even engage. All the setup leads to… nothing. Also Benji feels underdeveloped. Also I don’t get the title.


Aspire by cptn_dr
I like that we move quickly from Persephone’s poo poo hell-life to a high tension phone call. It quickly entraps our protagonist in a nice over-her-head classic cyberpunk conflict. An aside, given the examples of our current hellworld, I don’t think just revealing corporate malpractice would be enough to bring one down, but, eh. The story doesn’t tell us what happens next, but I’m okay with it because our protagonist made her character-defining decision, and she at least has hope it might get her out. Solid.

Cryptomnesia by anatomi
Well, this is a fun look into a different mind. You have an established voice, which the technobabble assists. The biggest problem with a story where the premise is a sapient entity is drifting, purposeless, is that stories have trouble staying engaging without purpose/plot. Despite a lack of characters and apparent plot, the medium assists in helping move the reader through the story. Since there are different endings (two, it seems; fixer kills you vs. reincorporation), it does require a certain amount of engagement and analysis by the reader, but the world is very vague and I’m not entirely sure what happens when the entity, having understood itself, goes through the pinhole. Abstraction is important here, but I think we need more concrete things to hold onto so the reader isn’t lost.


Pieces and Parts CYBERpunk week by Lippincott
Ugh, did this guy get his kidney taken and wake up in an ice bath? *Sigh* Basically. At least we get the conflict quickly. I’d cut down on the conversation with the agent; you might be able to start with the protagonist seeing their organ for sale, which would give you more room for how they react to the conflict. I do like the tension prior to the operation, but what real leverage does the protagonist actually have? There’s an interesting theme of body dysphoria here, and I’d like more time on that. I feel like you just need to use the word ‘penis’ though. You could also go deeper into the implied conspiracy. Or, as the ending makes it a sort of body horror piece, you could focus on that aspect.


Cheating on the Turing Test by QM Haversham
Bladerunner 2049 vibes from hologirlfriend. Except this protagonist has a totally different reaction; they’ve clearly enjoyed their companionship, but they’re overwhelmed by shame that anyone might know and don’t even hesitate to order their existence wiped. Roland spends no time considering the sentience of his program, but Nari’s like “I’ve only done what you’ve asked,” (and the title) implies it might be there. It’s a solid snippet, but what I really want to see is what happens afterward. Does Roland have regrets? Does he lose Rachel and reboot Nari? I feel like what happens after has the most potential to create a powerful inner conflict.


The Walls of London by Viscardus
Eddie takes a new job. How does he handle it? The story moves slowly, with a lot of focus on the windows and concern with the real/fake, but there’s a lot of exposition about this flood. Then more description. Problematically, Eddie makes one real choice in the whole story: Threaten a guy to repair a thing. Which is done easily. Yay, this probably saves people. But there’s no tension in the choice, and the conflict is over too quickly. Too much of the story is description, exposition. I feel like you enjoy your setting, but we need more story inside it.


Into the Night by Baneling Butts
Your first paragraph is too explain-y and the transition is painful (Mbali reflected on these facts… eyugh). I think you could incorporate the key information into the story, especially given the four expository paragraphs you have describing her job, the trees, and life. Then, the conflict (murder?) has basically nothing to do with your setting. Your character feels okay about it pretty much immediately after confessing, dismissing the possibility of dealing with her internal conflict, and she runs off. The fact that she is free doesn’t make the reader feel better because it doesn’t properly resolve her inability to fit in, which is what I thought this story would be about until almost the end of the story when the murder is introduced.


Off Sight by M. Propagandalf
Oh god is this a pun on seeing, or a spelling error. Well, you’ve got a mystery that matters to the character quickly established, and contrasted it with a dystopia of constant ads, even in dreams, apparently. Oh man I love the word oneirocian. I also like how lack of consumerism is considered a medical problem. While the start and middle seem fine, I’m not as big a fan of the ending. It doesn’t feel like the conflict is resolved, nor does it feel like he’s properly joined the punk part of this cyberpunk.


Never Stops by kurona_bright
Well this is certainly a dystopia because such a massive amount of people have Lyft/Uber accounts (I know they’re not called that in the story) and all use them. Is it your intention to have the driver so dehumanized they don’t have a description or pronoun? I’ve got to say, this delivery of corporate warfare bores the hell out of me. It feels like you’ve introduced a bunch of jargon, but it doesn’t feel like it actually furthers the story. It’s like busywork that keeps the story rolling long enough. Rowan’s act obviously has devastating consequences for workers, but the story ends before he has to deal with them. I think that conflict is more interesting than the “sabotage a corp” conflict that was both vague and trivially done, and your story had plenty of room to explore it.


Flying High by Fuschia tude
Well, straight into the action of hacking a corp, but why? The ‘why’ is important. If you’re going to murder the security guy that gruesomely, I think we’re entitled to a better description of what happens when half a torso explodes. Anyways, are they just robbing random places? Then Pon fights a cyborg miniboss, but why? Where did they come from? I had a hard time following the story. What are they stealing? Why? Who’s the evil cyborg? Where’d they come from? Why does Pon blame her gloves for—well, you get the point.


To see a sparrow fall by sebmojo
drat that is some hardcore technobabble right off. So this a story about two struggling people getting by in the no good cyberworld. They both help each other, but as the ending implies, still aren’t really connected. But maybe they will be? I dunno. I’m also super unclear about what was going on in the first scene.


The Devil Lives in Razak Towers by The Saddest Rhino
This is funny, and incredibly dense with its setting, which is also a fun world. My only possible complaint is the density can make it hard to follow in spots, especially quick jumps between history and the present—I had to reread some parts. However, you’ve got great voice, and the story lines up each bit of carefully introduced setting, snippet, and seeming aside, and uses them all to come to a satisfying conclusion. Really, I can’t say anything else besides ‘great work.’ As soon as I read this, I pretty much knew it was going to win.


Social Climbers by Bad Seafood
Sofia seems like an interesting character, since she seems to want to stay at her level (which is probably rare in a social leveling system). Maybe? The level/up down system is neat in that it gives us information about a character’s daily habits even only showing one day (like “Disrupting the flow of traffic! Two-day combo!” is fun), and clearly that system is tied to the tiered social system of the pit-city. However, I’m not entirely clear on what Sofia’s role is. A government agent that kills people’s social score? Is what she’s doing part of her job, or is she a rogue-cop type? I feel like I need a more defined motivation and character from her, which Eddie can bring out more. The conflict (taking down shady high scores) is also not foreshadowed.


Wake Up by Yoruichi
The core conflict of this story is Casey’s decision to either save the oligarch she’s with or let his generator be stripped to help others. Initially, she chooses to save him. The key moment that appears to change her mind is Bruce’s flippant response. I feel like that happens too fast, and the conclusion is too quick to cut the story off. I also sort of wonder why the house is in an urban center, rather than a hidden bunker somewhere. But yeah, I think I need more of Casey’s internal thoughts and experiences, and give the conclusion more time to breathe, through either an exchange or perhaps the results of Casey’s decision.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Please don't discuss crits in this thread.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



fjgj

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Interprompt:

cat week
200 words

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Uranium Phoenix posted:

Interprompt:

cat week
200 words

The Menace of West 42nd Apricot Street
200 words

“The council convenes,” announced Lady Finecoat, licking her paw. “We must decide what to do with this… newcomer.”

“I like it!” said Biter, rolling around on his back.

Lady Finecoat and Silk Shadow both turned their heads haughtily. The opinion of a degenerate catnip addict was of no concern to the council.

“It eats our food,” yowled Softspeckle.

“Shh!” hissed Silk Shadow. “Do you want it to hear us?”

Biter continued to roll around. The rest of the council looked about, ears cocked.

“It has no respect for personal boundaries,” Lady Finecoat said. “I propose we hiss at it until it goes away.”

“I doubt it will go away, no matter how much contempt we show it,” said Silk Shadow, looking pointedly at Biter.

“It does seem particularly oblivious,” Softspeckle said. “Not once did it notice I was deliberately ignoring it yesterday. I checked several times.”

Silk Shadow hesitated, then spoke. “It is soft and warm. I took a nap next to it in a sunbeam.”

Lady Finecoat gasped. “And it didn’t chase you or excitedly bounce around?”

“Not once.”

“Perhaps there is hope, then,” Softspeckle said, as a clatter announced the puppy’s arrival, bounding at forward with relentless happiness.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



In, flash

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Rule: Broenheim's "You Didn't Deserve All This Gray"

A Flash of Color
1085 words


She was there when the Tensicor Gate fell. The world saw the holostreams later, but Yatau was there. She remembered looking up as the sky brightened, the ring of nanosteel burning as it entered the atmosphere. She remembered the wormhole shattering, sending out waves of radiation that blossomed into prismatic auroras across the sky. And of course, she remembered when it crashed down on Salis, the earth trembling, the heavens burning, the skyscrapers shattering, and her world became ash.

***

Years came and went, but the crater in the middle of Salis remained. When the sun rose, it illuminated the patches of glittering shock-quartz and patches of obsidian, then hid itself in the low sea of clouds. Then the rains came again, burying the world in gray. Yatau forced herself through her morning ritual and trudged to work. She passed the cranes and heavy machinery that littered Salis like a forest, donned her mech-assist suit and hard-hat and went to work clearing rubble, a block at a time.

“It’s pointless,” she sighed, gazing out at the miles of broken stone south of the new downtown.

“What is?” chimed a robotic voice.

Yatau gave a sideways glance at the robot that had crept up on her. It was an avatar of an AI, the little round body marked Salis University. Some far away basement had its cluster of computers. Usually, though, the AIs were used in research or logistics, not puttering about. “This,” she said, gesturing at the city. “My life. All of it.”

The robot’s mood-screen showed a smiling face. “We share a goal! I am also looking for a purpose. That is my research objective.”

“I’m not….” Yatau looked down at the robot. “That’s a cruel thing to do to an AI. Why would someone do that?”

“It is,” the robot agreed, “but it might end up helping a lot of people, so here I am.”

Yatau continued to dig through the rubble. “Don’t those studies usually happen in labs?”

“Some. But you can’t separate motivation and identity from context.”

“So then isn’t your purpose to help people find purpose?”

The robot wheeled over and started helping pile up rubble with a little claw-arm. “That’s a bit recursive, don’t you think? No, my research objective specifies that doesn’t count.”

“Ah.”

They worked in silence, the gray sky sending rain to patter down on ash and concrete.

“So I’ve gathered this is a socially insensitive question, but why is there no point to your life?”

Yatau scoffed. “A bunch of bigshots decide to move a wormgate too close to Earth to maximize trade efficiency. A bunch of orbital engineers help them. A bunch of talking heads sell it to the public. Because of them, a city dies. Everything I built is under this ash. Every friendship I cultivated. All the joy I spread. Wiped out. Kill a person, you go to jail. Kill a million and it’s just a tragedy. No justice. And the survivors are left to pick up the pieces, while up there, nothing changes. So why bother.” Yatau pointed at a starship passing overhead like a shooting star.

“Oh. I am sorry,” the robot said. It continued to make little piles of debris—not in a helpful way, but simply because it looked like what Yatau was doing. “So why do this?” it finally asked.

“Why do anything? Inertia, I guess. I am alive, therefore I will keep living.”

“I don’t think that. Every being has reasons for doing things, it’s just the way your brain works you don’t know the why. That’s the problem I keep running into.” The robot gave a sigh.

“You’re oddly reflective. Are you sapient?”

“I don’t know. If you knew every physical process that led to your cognition, perhaps you would think differently about your self, your free will, your dreams. I can examine a decision and know the exact series of transistors that flipped to cause it. So how can I call what I do ‘consciousness’ if it all traces back to how I was programmed?” The claw-arm knocked over a pile it had been making.

Yatau gave a sardonic chuckle. “Well aren’t we a mess.”

***

Another month went by, and the rains came like clockwork. The ground stayed gray and the sky stayed ash, and the days ran together like the runoff through the rubble. Yatau worked, and the little robot visited from time to time.

“Have you found a purpose?” she asked, like she always asked.

“No,” said the AI, “but I did find a person you might like to meet.”

Yatau turned and saw the robot had brought along a stranger, a woman with sunken eyes who looked like Yatau felt. “Oh, sorry. Who are you?”

“Sona.” She looked down at the AI, then back up. “It told me… you saw it too? You were there?”

Yatau felt her heart skip. She saw the gate falling again, saw the colors splash across the sky, heard the scream of the city. “Yes,” she whispered.

They didn’t need to say anything after that. Yatau had known that there would have been other people like her, other people that lived it, but she hadn’t realized how badly she needed to share that moment of horror, of awe, with another. Sona and Yatau clasped each other in a tight hug, and Yatau found her tears joining in the rain. For a moment, she could forget the ruined world around her, and just saw the bursting colors of her eyes squeezed shut.

“Wow,” said the AI, happy face lighting up on its screen. “This is great. I mean, I think it’s great? This is the rare instance of happy tears, right? My social signals analysis suggests—”

Yatau broke the hug and laughed. “It’s fine. You did fine, purpose-bot.”

“I got the idea from something you said, about survivors picking up pieces. It seemed like it would go faster if you worked together.”

“What a delightfully robotic way of thinking,” Sona said.

“’Bringing people together,’ is nice. There are far worse purposes to have,” Yatau said.

“I meant more… wait. Did you say purpose? You did, obviously, I recorded it. I wonder if it counts? I’ll go ask the scientists!” The bot sped off, bumping along the rubble, and a last “thank you!” echoed.

Sona smiled at Yatau, and they talked. They walked across the mud-strewn world of dust, and told each other of their worlds. This world was still gray, but someday, the bright colors might return.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



I'm in with far strider / the abyss / unhearing of truth

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Rules: Far strider / The abyss / Unhearing of truth

Sins of the Past
1193 words

Before she died, Iabet sat with her colleagues in the ruins of the old university, pouring over the texts of the Elders and their ancient language.

“We’re still ignorant of too much,” Professor Seker said, as the hour grew late. “We’ll never escape this place. That was the great sin for them, to not know. But we cannot know. Their secrets died with them.”

Iabet didn’t reply, but despair whispered to her. They were locked away from the cosmos by the whims of a long-dead civilization. They, like the generations that came before, would live and die here.

The sun’s last light faded, and Iabet slammed her book closed. She looked up through a gap in the ceiling as the stars appeared. They were dimmer than the grand ships among them, shining bright with reflected sunlight. Those ships stayed still against the backdrop of stars, their light frozen in geostationary orbit. They were both the bars to their prison, and the sails that would set them free.

“I’m going home,” she said.

“Die wisely,” Seker said.

The others echoed him.

***

At her house, Iabet craddled her child one last time. “My sickness has gotten too bad,” she told her. “So Mommy has to go now. The others will take good care of you.” Iabet stared at Zahra’s deep gray eyes. She was still too young to understand, but she could play back the holorecorded messages when she was older. She would understand, eventually. Someday, she might even forgive her.

“When the Elder’s civilization fell, their machines continued their vigil. Those lights above, those ships--they keep us down here with their big guns. But if we pass the Elder’s test when we die, we are reincarnated into a robotic body. And if we are reincarnated, it will be on the ships up there, and we can finally be free. Then we don’t have to die young from the sickness. We can go to the planets that didn’t die.” She smiled at Zahra, then held her up to look around. “Imagine a place lush with forests and life, like in your books. And if Mommy passes the test, she’ll see you again soon. If she fails…”

Ethical failure of the Assessor’s tests condemned them to the Abyss server. It was a virtual world, full of the consciousnesses of the dead. It was even more desolate there than the real, but at least it was existence. And everyone was there. Everyone. No one had passed the test yet. “...then it will be a long time before Mommy talks to you again. And she’ll miss you more than anything…”

Iabet stopped, too choked up to continue. She wanted to stay longer. She didn’t want to miss her child growing up. But that was life on this planet. The sickness was in the rocks around them, and in their bones. The symbiotic nanite colonies in their brains held the sickness at bay, but never long enough. The nanites the Elders had left in them could only do so much. If the sickness grew worse, they would fail, and then they couldn’t relay her consciousness to the Underworld network, and she would be dead forever. So it was goodbye.

She looked at her child one last time, then ended the holorecording and handed her off, and went to die.

***

When Iabet awoke in Underworld, the First Assessor was already examining her. She tried to blink away her tears, but her face was dry in the virtual world. The assessor spoke in the tongue of the Elders, but through generations they’d recovered fragments of their language.

Did you steal? it asked. It had the head of a serpent, each scale glimmering like a mirror of the Milky Way. It towered over her. Did you take without giving?

“No,” she said in the Elder tongue.

It paused, looming over her while it checked the ancient data networks. Somehow, the symbiotic nanites that lived in their brains checked for these transgressions. Iabet had painstakingly lived each day to be free from the many sins the Elders had set down.

You may pass, the assessor hissed, and it retreated.

Because the ancient sins were not all known, it was possible there was no way for anyone to pass the tests. Iabet shoved that thought aside.

One by one, the other assessors crept forward to confront her on the walkway of stars. Below, she saw the Abyss, and the eyes of a million people staring up at her, hoping one of them would pass at long last. She thought of Zahra’s eyes, and imagined them in that crowd.

At last, the Twenty-Fourth Assessor appeared, the one who had never been conquered. It had the head of an ibis, each feather dancing with streams of symbols, each a different language.

It spoke, but unlike the others, it spoke in words they didn’t know, words long forgotten.

An impossible riddle. How can one answer a question they don’t even understand?

The great sin was ignorance, she remembered Seker saying. Elder relics told of great wars in the cosmos over misunderstandings, and great ecological disasters where entire planetary ecosystems were exterminated by accident. The scales of disasters for a spacefaring civilization were horrifying. But it’s impossible to know everything. Everyone’s ignorant of something. She thought of Zahra. She didn’t know what the future held for her but she wanted to know. Wasn’t that enough?

The metallic beak of the ibis descended toward her, ready to pluck her soul and cast it down to the Abyss with the others.

The Elders must have known. “Wait!” she said. “I am ignorant, but I want to learn.”

The ibis hesitated.

“I want to know other worlds. I want to see the stars. I want to hear my daughter’s first words.” Her words came between sobs. “I want to see her grow old. And I want to see her learn, not be imprisoned here, trapped in perpetual ignorance.”

The ibis stared at her. At last, it relented, wings carrying it away as it said, You may pass.

***

She woke, and looked around. Her skin was metallic, but even as she gawked, the skin of her new robotic body morphed to reflect what her own vision of herself was. She saw light creeping through a window and rushed to it. Below, she saw the full circle of her planet below, barren and striped brown and gray, but with splashes of green life where humans still clung to it. The enormity of what she had done hit her, and she fell to her knees and wept.

It took time to reawaken the old computers on the Elder starships, but unlike the relics of the surface, the systems were intact. Soon enough, the Abyss emptied, and the machines aboard the starships filled with life. They sent shuttles down to retrieve the living, and Iabet held her child again, spinning her around in the air, laughing and crying at the same time. She smothered Zahra with kisses and listened to her giggle, and then together, they watched through the windows as the solar sails of the starships unfurled, like flowers blossoming in the cosmos.

Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



In

Character: 12
Setting: 12
Song: 12
RFT: 12

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Uranium Phoenix
Jun 20, 2007

Boom.



Central Character is… A PYROMANIAC +56 Words
Setting is… IN THE SKY +78 WORDS and a…. DIAMOND CAPSULE
Song is… I Can See for Miles, by The Who +61 Words
RFT is…MUTATION! +32 Words


Once Burned
1004 / 1004 words

I adjust my suit and check the red glowforms on it as I step out of the shuttle and on to Venus’s Skystation 14. Of course I look good. Black and red have always been my colors.

“I’ve been sent to investigate a potential terrorist attack against this station,” I tell the receptionist. “I need your full cooperation.”

His eyes go wide at that, but if his face goes pale, I can’t tell. He’s one of those mutant Venusians, who’s had genetic engineering done to better fit into the habitat of Venus’s upper atmosphere. Translucent pupils, compound ears, and glassy-white skin. It’s unnatural. I don’t care for it.

“I n-need to see your credentials,” he says.

I pull up my sleeve and show him my wrist computer, and note the fear in his voice. That’s fine. Fear works in my favor. “Tell me where Naya Thorn is,” I tell him.

“No one on the station with that name,” he says.

Right. The name change. “Try Olivia Jones.”

“Is she…?” A terrorist he wants to ask. I can see the surprise, the skepticism. He knows her, then.

“No, but she does have critical information.”

He hands me her room number. I stride through the silver and white halls. So close now.

***

Technology can see everywhere now. It only took one lucky break, and all the precautions she’d taken were for nothing. A hacked scrub-drone took a picture of a face, and a compromised server sent it through two shell corporations and into a database, where facial-recognition software pinged her. I saw her the day after she stepped on this station. Fifty million miles wasn’t far enough for her to run.

I open her door, and Naya’s face fills with horror. She starts trembling, starts tensing to run.

“Wait!” I tell her. “There’s a lot of people’s lives at stake. And you can save them, if you cooperate with me.”

That freezes her up. Her eyes stay wide, but she’s not moving.

She cares about others. That’s her weakness. “There’s a suspected arsonist planning to attack this station. They’ve set incendiary charges. The security algorithm has determined your subconscious might know where those charges are, but we need to get off-station first.”

I see her facial muscles twitching. She knows that’s horseshit, I think. Her eyes glance at the screens in the room. But she also knows we’re being recorded.

She lets me take her arm, and I half-walk half-pull her toward my shuttle. “How long until the bombs go off?” she whispers.

“I can’t say for sure.”

We’re nearly to the shuttle when she stops, yanking back on her arm when I pull her. “Cameras are off here,” she says. “No more lies. Where did you plant the charges?”

I check my wrist-computer. She’s right. No signal, no recording devices detected. “Everywhere,” I tell her.

“Good,” she says. “Because I just sent your shuttle on autopilot to circle the station. I’ll recall it only if you disarm every bomb.”

I turn, fury in my face. “I can’t believe you’ve joined these people, these mutants! I loved you, like no one else. I treated you like a queen.” I pause, and run a finger through her hair. “I can’t believe you dyed it pink, of all colors. Your natural hair color was so much more beautiful.”

“You really did all of this, came all this way just for me?”

She doesn’t understand. Can’t understand. No one rejects me. Rejects me. I have billions of dollars, stocks in every major company, my own personal space cruiser, and politicians and judges across three planets on my payroll. Forging the credentials of a government agent was child’s play. I am an alpha, and an alpha cannot abide dissent. “Yes,” is all I say.

Naya takes a deep breath. “I’ll go with you, then, if you spare this station.”

I smile. “Deal.”

We move to the dock doors, and Naya checks my computer as I check hers to make sure we’re both abiding by the agreement. I grin again. She’s still so trusting. That innocence is part of why I adore her.

The bay door opens.

I feel a sharp pain, like my nerves are on fire, then I’m stumbling forward. I look back, in time to see a smiling Naya and her stun-gun before the airlock slams shut. I look around, but this isn’t my shuttle. It’s one of the escape pods. Somehow, she swapped them remotely. My face goes pale.

She opens a comm channel. “You never did bother to understand me, but I do understand you. The oppressed must learn the mind of the oppressor to survive. You think I didn’t know you’d come for me?”

“Wait,” I tell her, panic rising in my voice. “You’ll need these escape pods. I didn’t disarm the incendiaries, and--”

“I know you didn’t. But I also know where your contractors placed them. You revel in fear, like watching people hope just before you extinguish it. It’s just like the apartments of those unionists you firebombed back on Earth. You put all the bombs in the emergency stairwells, then triggered the fire alarm. Not that all the judges you bought off or the juries you rigged would ever convict you or the men who did your dirty-work.”

The evacuation alarms in Skystation 14 start blaring, but Naya slams a button and the escape pod launches. So do all the others, long before anyone can get on them. The wings deploy, and the pods start drifting lazily through the clouds of Venus. I lurch over to a computer, but all the controls are disabled.

“I really did love the person you pretended to be, all those years we were together. But I only have contempt for the monster that you are.”

The pods are all empty, except for mine. I have time to curse her, and then fire blooms around me, and the pods are fireworks splashing the rich Venusian clouds with red light, and I plunge to the molten planet below, burning.

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