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Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

IN

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Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Beast: He-Goat.

Goats in the Shell
~799 words

I was halfway to Ganymede when the goat alarm went off. With a sigh I disengaged my flight webbing and headed aft to investigate. Pushing though the final hatch I saw the containment shell had ruptured, spilling its contents all over the cargo hold.

Goats. loving everywhere.

Typical Govcorp bullshit. Shoddy construction, stuff the shell with more goats than it can handle, then shoot me off to the far moons of Jupiter and hope for the best. Now I'm stuck, fifty million klicks from nowhere with a hot mess to clean up.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and pictured that beach on Mare Crisium, watching Earthrise with a tequila in one hand and a cheap moonwhore in the other. No goats there, just sunshine, sand, and all the alcohol my liver augments could handle. That's what I signed up for—not this. Not interplanetary goat herding.

I shook my head. The Diaspora had begun with so much hope. But when we populated the solar system, it wasn't tardigrades or astrobacteria there to greet us—it was goddamned goats. Moongoats, first: dusty shadows bounding across the dry lunar plains. Elusive as hell. Took the first settlers two months to capture one and see that it was, in fact, a goat. Then Mars, Venus, Mercury; stubborn herds scattered through the asteroid belt and even out into the moons of Jupiter. Wherever we went, their goddamned beady eyes were there waiting, telling us they got there first.

I opened my eyes. When I said the goats were loving everywhere I meant it. Now free to mix, the males were going after the does with gusto, and a hot musky stench hung heavy in the enclosed space. Others were chewing conduit and cables, or bounding from floor to ceiling and back again across the cargo hold.

Above me I heard a loud clang. gently caress. They were in the maintenance tunnels. Popping the hatch I poked my head through to see a large male calmly chewing through a liquid oxygen tank. They'd destroy the ship if I didn't do something—my wristcomp was already ablaze with more warning lights than an Enceladus geyser party. Too late to round them up: even in the unlikely event I could catch them all, the shattered containment shell gave me no way to hold them.

That left one way to stop them: knock them cold. Not easy, though—space goats were notoriously hardy. Tokamak proteins in their blood generated enough heat, heavy oxygen, and magnetic shielding to easily survive the frigid vacuum of space. They were tough.

But not indestructible.

Grabbing a pressure suit from my locker I pushed back to the cockpit. The goat onslaught reached critical mass as ship systems failed left and right. I punched a new trajectory into the computer and jammed the throttle forward. The barge pitched hard, plummeting down the gravity well of the gas giant below. Fighting g-forces, I crawled into my pressure suit as alarms and goats bleated around me.

We hit Jupiter's radiation belt hard and I jammed the emergency vent switch. Charged particles would flood the cargo hold and into the ship, overwhelming the goats magnetic shielding. Should be enough to trigger them to hibernate, except—

Nothing happened.

gently caress. A goat must have chewed the connection. With the ship bucking and swaying around me I again pushed aft through a dizzying maelstrom of goats, loose cables, and shrieking alarms. Reaching the cargo bay I yanked the manual override. The doors split to reveal the violent, swirling starscape of Jupiter's radiation torus. Charged ions swept through the interior of the spacecraft, and goats stiffened and dropped under the electromagnetic onslaught.

Even through my protective suit I could feel my skin burn and peel. I was going to need some serious radiation meds—and definitely some downtime on Mare Crisium—when this was all over. The deed done, I cranked the door closed, used my wristcomp to order the ship back to normal trajectory, and collected the now torpid goats back into the cargo hold.

Thirty minutes later I was in the cockpit, peeling off my pressure suit. Patchwork repairs had given the cockpit basic life support, but goat damage had bled away the last of the ship's fuel. I was dead in the water. As I pressed the emergency beacon to signal Govcorp rescue, I heard a soft sound from behind me.

"Baa," it said.

Tangled in my flight webbing was a baby goat. It's soft eyes looked at me quizzically, then it shook off the protective straps. Straps that had shielded it from the radiation burst.

I sighed. It was a cute little fucker. I scratched it behind the ears, it licked my hand, and together we waited for the rescue ships to arrive.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

IN

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice



The Lake Cabin
~1190 words

"Get me out of here!" she screams. I lay my hands on her shoulders. Steady and reassuring. Her muscles are iron cords, quivering under my grasp.

"I don't know what you saw," I say.

"He's there. In that loving chair—" she snaps her arm towards the other room.

"Nobody's there," I say. I breathe softly and keep my voice even. "It's just us."

She twists out of my grasp and her eyes are wild, feral. "I know what I saw." Her voice falters. "Please."

"It’s just you and I, Amanda," I say. "Our special weekend together." I reach to her, pleading, arms outstretched.

She shakes her head, looks down at her feet. "I saw it—" her voice is low, whispering now "—in the chair."

"There's nobody there." I take her hand. "Let's go look together."

Amanda doesn't resist as I lead her from the kitchen into the front room of the cabin. The single lamp casts long shadows across the spartan room. Wood paneled walls, stained with age, hung with oil paintings of idyllic lake scenery; a single couch facing the fireplace; a ragged, dust-filled bookshelf; and antique mirror; and, of course, the chair. His chair.

She points to it. "He was there. The man from the picture—" she points the the photograph on the mantle—"only his head was...half gone."

"My geepaw? Sweetie, he's been dead five, six years now." It was five years this exact weekend. "Not here, of course. Downstate. In a nursing home." In this very room.

"I know what I saw," she whispers. "I wish we'd never come here."

That hurts. This was a special weekend. Our special weekend.

"Baby, it's been a long day. A long drive up here. You're tired. Must’ve hallucinated." I attempt a light chuckle. "Why don't we go to bed and get some rest?"

Her eyes dart around the room, but shades of doubt are creeping in.

"We'll have a laugh about it in the morning," I say, and squeeze her hand.



Dawn spreads like a bruise across the sky, and a heavy fog lies across the lake. The aging cookstove has produced some lukewarm oatmeal, which she picks at quietly. "Let's go for a boat ride. Lake's beautiful this time of day."

She looks at me doubtfully. "It looks freezing."

"I'll grab some extra blankets out of the Jeep. C'mon, it'll be nice. It's our special weekend."

Ten minutes later I’m pushing the oars through the black water. As we glide around the lake I tell her stories of my youth: how my geepaw would tie a rope from the dock to this very boat so I couldn't go very far; tall tales of the monsters I battled under the lake with my plastic Graco fishing rod; the fragrant cookies grandma would always have ready for me upon my return. I can see the warmth return to her; she smiles and even giggles at some of my stupid jokes. As we pull back to the dock I can see the drowsiness start to take over her.

"Why don't we take a nap inside," I suggest.

"Sounds good," she says, clumsily climbing onto the dock. "I'll put the blankets away and meet you...inside."

She rounds the side of the house as I push through the screen door, whistling. It has barely slammed shut behind me when she screams. I rush out front and see her at the Jeep, blankets discarded, tugging at the door handle. I run towards her and she shrinks back, eyes wild. Slowing my pace I hold out my hands, imploring. "Baby, what happened?"

"I saw it," she pants, "He was there! In the garden—" she points to the ragged plot at the side of the cabin.

I see nothing but the dissipating mist in the trees. "Look—"

"I don't care what you say! I saw him. It. It spoke to me."

"Amanda, please."

"It said run." She scrabbles at the locked door, sobs. "Let’s go. Please"

"Amanda. You're being silly. Our weekend—"

"I don't give a poo poo..." her voice slurs and her knees start to buckle as the oatmeal digests further. Her eyes close. "I just want to...let me..."

I carry her inside and lay her on the bed.


I stoke the fireplace, lost in my thoughts, while she sleeps away the afternoon. Soon long shadows again paint the walls with memories. I don’t look towards his chair, focusing instead on the small warmth from the fire. I go back in time. This cabin, the only place I’ve ever felt safe: the smell of geepaws cigar, grandma puttering in the kitchen, me by the fire in scratchy wool pajamas. At peace. Together.

I can’t take back what I did. But I can be with them again, on this special weekend.

I hear feet hit the wood floor and shuffle into the kitchen. She's awake. I pocket the knife I've been using to poke at the fire, and stand as she frames the doorway to the front room. Her eyes are red, hair disheveled.

"Why are we here?" she asks.

I stand and move towards her.

"Stop." Her voice rises. Her gaze moves to the chair. "He was in my dreams. And he told me. What you did."

I pull the knife from my pocket and move quickly around the couch..

And I see him in the antique mirror, reflection rising from the chair. Blood covers his face, his head half staved in from where I struck him with the fireplace poker. He reaches towards me and then I'm on the ground, knife chattering across the old wood floor. Amanda whirls, runs through the kitchen and out the front door. Cursing, I stumble to my feet and follow.

We're too far from the road. She'll never make it.

The shed door slams shut—she's not going for the road. Knife in hand I push into the small wood structure. She's leaning against the workbench, gripping a hammer. Memories flood in, geepaw patiently sanding wood to build his chair, the scent of sawdust and oil, and look! He's here—bent over the workbench in his soft flannel shirt, crafting and shaping the wood, ever patient. He turns but it’s not him anymore, it’s Amanda, but she's got his gray eyes, and she raises the hammer and in my confusion I can't act, I'm frozen, and the hammer comes down again and again and again


and it's pitch black and cold, I’m soaking wet, flat on my back in the dirt. Time slips away. Blue and red lights dance across the shivering trees, getting closer. My blood seeps into the dirt. I’ve somehow made it to the garden. My blood percolates down, down, through the granules of cold dirt, through frozen moss and decomposing humus and worm tracks, reaching down to mix with the bones of my geepaw: his old gray bones and the fireplace poker I buried with them. I'm with him again. I’m safe. As the lights approach he reaches up to me, in forgiveness or to pull me down I don't know, but I take his hand.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Cuisine? I'm CuisIN

Hawklad fucked around with this message at 06:05 on Feb 22, 2019

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

The Community
~1500 words

My eyes float inside a jar. Occasionally one will drift a little higher than the other and a wave of dizziness washes over me. They can't get too far because I see through the reflection of the glass that a Y-shaped cord of tissue extends out the back of the jar towards someplace else. Presumably wherever my brain is.

Sorry to wake you, but the way these instructions are encoded is mysterious. So many scattered endogenous viruses and atavisms. I've got the basic idea but the details are tricky. Did you have feathers? Wiggle your eye up and down if you dd. No? I can't tell if you're wiggling or not. Ah, this isn't going to work. Hold on.

My eyes are back in their sockets. I can move them around a bit, but everything is hazy and there's a delay between when I wish them to move and when they do and then sometimes they move too far, or out of sync, and the world lurches and spins around me. But they're in my face (or wherever my eye sockets currently are) so at least that's an improvement.

I'm putting your brain together, but it's absurd! Unnecessarily complicated. So many connections that you aren't even using! It's hard to know which matter and which do not. Can you feel your toes? Do you remember the smell of strawberries?


It dips into view. A mass of flesh extrudes endless tentacles, each tipped with an eye and razor claw. They whip and probe the room, bustling, grabbing, discarding. Through liquid and glass the room swims in and out of focus and it's terrifying: lumps of glistening organ tissues; ropy viscera suspended in bubbling tanks; a large roller which churns out flat sheets of what looks like skin. Fleshy bit and pieces everywhere I can see.

So many membranes, so much surface area! If your enzymes were more efficient, it would free up so much space. But no bother, I'll resist the urge to improve them. They're quaint, in their own way, delightfully primitive. I'm rather enjoying this challenge.


Memories start to come back. Faces appear and disappear in flashes, gleaming white architecture and glistening waterfalls spin across my vision. Fleeting and full of gaps, but darker visions as well: fire, death, people screaming and running. Buildings fold in on themselves and crumple to the ground. Something terrible happened.

I hope I recovered enough brain from your escape pod! It was smeared everywhere so I'm sure I missed some. Lucky it was so well preserved—the coldness of space will do that—and I got plenty of genetic material. The chance to rebuild on your type doesn't come along every day now, does it? Hold steady, I think I'm getting close.

A longer darkness, then I blink awake. I have eyes and ears and a mouth. Sensory input floods my newly formed brain. I can see and taste and smell and feel. And I have a body. It's lying flat on a cold metal table. I think very hard about moving my right hand. My left leg twitches slightly.

Look at you, trying to move! I had to consult some very old records to get your body right. That nervous system of yours is a real puzzler—meter-long axons? Those neocortical dendrites alone took me weeks to get right. Or maybe close. Can you raise your forelimbs? Ah, well, don't worry. We have plenty of time before your presentation to work on that.


The burbling of fluids and wet tissues fills the laboratory. I try not to look at the rows of machines around me, churning and extruding bits of flesh and bone. I close my eyes and imagine the taste of food—juicy hamburgers, meat bursting with hot drippings—

You are hungry, of course! Your food tube needs to be filled. Hold on, I have just the thing.

—and it smears a foul paste into my mouth, which I eagerly slurp up, my tongue clumsily guiding the slimy bolus towards my throat. I try to avoid thinking about which machine it came from. Once cleared, I open my mouth and speak.

"Gnaarglblargh."

No need to talk, Earthling. I left equipment in your mind so we can communicate in a less primitive fashion. Just think and I'll get your message.

—Who am I?

You're the last. Well, in a way the first. Homo sapiens nova, rebuilt from scraps. One of a kind, a revenant of an extinct race.

Synapses connect and more memories push inward. The arcology, humanity's last hope, flees a dying Earth—but ambushed by alien raiders long before it reaches Alpha Centauri. Total destruction. A few escape pods drift away from the wreckage, carrying with them the last of humanity. Used as target practice.

—How long?

Centuries? Millennia? Many of your lifetimes. What matters is you're here now. And we need to get you strong before I present you. Get back to what you were.

For weeks I spend my time growing stronger. From a few wobbly steps to sprints on the zero-g treadmill. I train my body and brain to become human again, digesting calories, alien literature, and puzzles. I discover I’m on a Community Ship, an enormous conglomerate of space-faring cultures all working together for mutual survival. My benefactor is a Muurg, a octopoid species renowned for their interests in arcane and lost civilizations. He ensures that I get plenty of food—much better than the foul paste he fed me that first day—whatever exotic meats I wish he commands into existence, and I feast. But I can't leave the laboratory area, and it begins to feel like a prison.

—When can I get out here? I'm ready to explore. To be free.

Soon, Earthling. You need to be presented to the Community first. The presentation ceremony is in three more cycles. You must be healthy and strong. Our work will pay off for us. Don't worry. In the meantime I have something to show you.

The Muurg leads me into the lab in which I was reborn. The gurgling machines are quiet, and laid out in row after row are still forms, chests rising and falling. Dozens of human bodies, quietly asleep. All with my face.

We are looking for more DNA, I assure you. There must be more of those escape pods out there. We're even considering a collection voyage to Earth! Think of the possibilities—to rebuild humanity from the ash heap of history! The Community will be ecstatic at our progress.

I feel a stirring in my heart. The days have been long and lonely. To have companions, friends, family, even mates! It is almost too much to wish for. I fall to my knees before my alien benefactor.

—I can't thank you enough. Why are doing this for me, for us?

Every species has value, Earthling. All can benefit the Community.


Cycles pass and soon it is the morning of my presentation. I don a soft white robe with iridescent silver trim. My body is lithe, muscular; my mind sharp. I am the paragon of humanity, ready to take my first steps into the interstellar community. A door irises open and I step confidently into the chamber. Rows upon rows of alien life line the gallery, tentacles and beaks and gelatinous forms murmuring and jostling in anticipation. I am not alone; two other initiate species are lined up already, with their Muurg chaperones behind them. I take my place beside them as I hear the Muurgs voice together in unison:

On this special occasion, our Community Ship prepares to leave this outer spiral arm and continue our voyage into new, uncharted regions of the galaxy. We, the Muurg, would like to present to you the fruit of our labors:

An Adrena, from Epsilon Eridani!
On cue, a reptilian slug creature oozes forward.

A Fenelzi’ir, from Tau Ceti! An enormous arachnid clatters forward, mandibles outstretched.

And finally. A rare treat—brought back from extinction, we present Homo Sapiens, from Sol!
I step out and bow deeply. I feel hundreds of alien eyes upon me. I clear my throat to begin my speech, but the Muurg cut me off. Their voices rise dramatically.

Together, we present to you, our faithful Community, the Cuisine of the Inner Orion Spur!

The alien mass descends upon me, gibbering and drooling. Before I can scream, my newly formed flesh is torn away in a feeding frenzy of teeth and beaks and razor claws.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty more, plenty more!

My bones are crushed and my muscles torn away, consumed by alien appetites. As I fall I see more of me being wheeled through the doorway on metal gurneys, again set upon by the hungry masses.

Gorge yourselves! Feast on our labors!

Before my head gets ripped off I turn towards the Muurg, pleading—why? Why?

My last thoughts are his: Every species has value in the Community, Earthling. It's not your fault your's is being delicious.


Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

In
http://blogfiles.wfmu.org/BU/Phil_Celia_-_The_Atom_Dynomic_Dance.mp3
(The Atom Dynomic Dance)

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

In

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Shelter
~999 words

I search the dirt for anything to fill my empty stomach. Three days with nothing to eat, and I'm tired. Nearly done. They're close. I hear them pushing though the thick trees behind me.

Time to move.

It's easier on all fours. The wet ground gives way beneath blood covered knees but still I move on. A new life lies ahead of me, if I can find it. A place I can be free, for the first time. Acadia, they call it. A free city of white men. They say it lies just beyond the mountains to the south. That is where I must go.

In England I was never free. A life of hard work for little pay, a sad and angry wife waiting at home. I took three pieces of iron from my job--I was sure they wouldn't be missed--to be sold for a little bread or beer, but they found out. Put me in irons and sent me across the world to be a slave.

I don't want for my wife, or my family, or bread or beer. Just the one thing I've never had: to be free.

Getting away from Sydney Bay was easy. It's large and nobody can watch everyone all the time. Many had tried, and either been caught alive or their dead, broken bodies found days later covered in blood or poo poo or worse. Animals live out here that no man has seen and lived to tell about. All around me, now.

I move forward, one low step at a time. A quick sound behind, and I turn, but it's already on me: all yellow teeth and green skin and it's got my leg. I try to get free, but it pulls me down into the cold water. I try and try but can't get away, my blood turns the water red but I have to stay quiet so I bite down a scream and keep pulling. A soft noise blows past my ear and an arrow lands between its eyes. The creature lets go and disappears into the dark water.

I turn, and see a girl, mouth and wood bow both pulled tight, looking at me. Her skin is brown, her hair black, her eyes wild. She smiles.

More loud noises from behind. They’re getting closer.

She waves at me to follow, turns, and moves into the trees. Dragging my broken leg behind me, I follow. The sounds behind us fade. Soon, grass huts appear among the trees. She pushes me through the door of the closest. In the dark I see an old woman holding a child. She watches close as the girl moves past me to the corner of the small room. She pushes the wood floor to the side and reveals a dark hole. Her eyes meet mine. I hear the shouts of Englishmen reach the outside of the village.

I slip down into the hole. She nods. I ask her name, but she says nothing. She pulls the floor closed over me.

The men push through the village, looking for me. I hear shouts and cries of pain; they are not kind. It goes on for a long time. At some point I fall asleep, or pass out from the lost blood.


Light from above wakes me. She is smiling down at me. I climb out.

The old woman holding the baby still watches. They offer me a plate of simple food. "Acadia?" I ask. "Do you know where it is? How I get there?" They look at each other and whisper words in their own language, then look back at me. The girl looks worried.


She shows me around their village. Many women and children are about, washing clothes, creating rich smelling food over small fires. There are no men. Voices drop to whispers when we move near. The girl says things in reply, and they sometimes nod, or shake their heads, or shrug their shoulders

A river cuts through the village, and simple boats are pulled up beside it. I try to ask her where the men are, using my hands. She points to the boats, and acts out a simple story: the men left on a hunt, and never returned. Now they are alone and do the best they can. She smiles at me, but her eyes are sad. She has lost loved ones.

I point to my chest. "John," I say. I repeat it several times. Her eyes light up and she and points to herself.

"Inala."


I stay a week, help gather food and water, try to help. Inala is never far away. I learn a few simple words. Life in the village is easy, there is always fresh food and water. I use my hands to act out stories for the children beside the fire each night. I catch the eye of a young woman and she look away, smiling. I learn Inala lives with her grandmother and baby brother. Her mother died when she was young, and her father went missing on the river. Inala uses her bow to catch small game to bring back to her family.

My leg grows stronger. I think often about the city beyond the mountains: Acadia. The white city full of free men. It calls to me in my dreams. I must find it.


I stand outside the village, bag in hand, ready to leave. Inala is there. She hands me her bow as a gift. She says something in her strange, bright language. I have nothing to give her in return.

She takes my hand, and I look down at her dark, wild eyes, now full of tears. My heart drops.

A bright sun rises from behind the mountains, but I turn away. I let my bag slip to the ground and drop to a knee. Inala wipes away a tear, smiles at me. As I hold her close I understand: I’ve found it.

It’s right here.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

In

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

The Tower
985 words


Long before the ice ran out Myla could see the Tower. A silver needle rising from the South Pole to pierce the broiling ochre clouds above. The lone physical connection between the Earth and the Web that ensnared it.

The rusted iron runners ground to a stop. Myla handed the captain a pocketful of wrinkled credits, stepped out onto the icepack, and nodded goodbye. Without a word he drew the sails taut and the ice barge ground away towards the northern horizon.

Her only companions now were the wind, and her purpose. Gathering her cloak about her, she walked south.

*
746 watched her approach through a cracked monocular. Brown hair whipped around the woman’s face, eyes downcast as each heavy step brought her closer to the base of the Tower. Something familiar there--wrinkles around the eyes, a dusting of freckles on her forehead. An old memory bubbled up (as they often do during the long watch): his sister had hair like that, the same young-old face. Before. The memory swam out of focus.

Her arms wrapped around her abdomen, as if cradling a weight. A click and buzz in his brain and his free hand moved to the frozen metal of the gun at his side. He didn't see others very often. But some came for a purpose. Another click: pregnant female, it translated for him. All births require monitoring.

Another memory: a squad of black-clad men pushing through the hab door, his mother screaming as they grabbed him, forced the capsule down his throat, his brown-haired sister pulling at them, pleading to take her instead. The slow, pinching ascent as the embryo climbed his esophagus to the back of his tongue, the searing pain as it clamped down on nerves and arteries and began to feed. And grow.

The old memories flowed freely; recent ones clouded and confused him. Sneaking out to collect rusted salvage, daring each other to go the farthest past the perimeter fence,his mother singing him to sleep to keep the aliens away--felt like only yesterday. But 746 knew had been at the Tower yesterday, watching. And a thousand yesterdays before.

*

The Tower hummed with energy, enough to melt the ice at its base. For the first time in her life Myla walked on solid bedrock, not icepack. Three Infected waited for her, guns drawn. One stepped forward. '746' was tattooed in black ink tattooed across his forehead.

"Please," Myla said. "It's time." She kept her eyes down.

746 opened his mouth to reply, and she couldn’t help glance up at what lie within. In place of a tongue, a black mass, writhing and twisting.

"C-card." His voice was thick, unnatural,. The others stood by, stone still. Myla had seen the Infected before, squads sweeping through scattered villages, collecting contraband, foodstuffs, and children. She knew what they were, for whom they were made to serve.

She looked down and from a pocket produced a card and passed it to 746. it was stamped with evidence of examinations, vital statistics about the mother and child, expected birth date, a smudged and grainy photo. It was not of her.

*

746 turned it over, scanned the data imprinted on the back. The clicking and buzzing in his brain rose in pitch, messages coming and going between his symbiont, those of his squadmates, and the alien minds above. Somewhere, a decision was made. A dull pinch at the base of where his tongue used to be, and he turned and keyed the code into the entrance portal. A door irised open, and he motioned the woman inside. A quick scan found her free of weapons. 746 ushered her into the elevator car for delivery upsky. To the Web, a thousand kilometers above.

He sat behind her. Memories of his sister again pushed at the outside of his mind, her brown hair and eyes so much like hers, together riding battered old bicycles through the collective, salvaging scrap and begging handouts. Her name scratched at his mind, but he couldn’t grab it. It had been too long. Too much had changed.
With a lurch the car moved onto the cable, then a heavy pressure on his shoulders indicated they’d begun their ascent. 746 felt like he’d done this before, but he couldn’t say when, or why, or how many times. The alien noise in his head was too much: memories flowed from him like water through open hands. He looked down at the card in his hand.

The woman’s face—so familiar. So like his sister. The name beneath: Leora. His lips wordlessly formed the name, so sweet, as sweet at the old booze he and Leora used to steal to drink behind the cantina. The symboint squirmed and slithered across his teeth, pinching him. He’d known a Leora, once. He was sure, for a moment. His brain crackled and buzzed, and the thought slid away with the rest.

*

Myla counted silently in her head. She thought of all that had sacrificed to get her here, but most of all she thought of that wild, brown-haired girl looking for revenge. Seven months pregnant from a bartender’s son, she’d quickly grown to become their leader. It was her audacious plan, but it required sacrifice. The others would be ready below, gathered with their makeshift mortars and bombs. Waiting for her signal.

She counted some more, then turned to Infected 746 and brought the carbon blade up into this throat, piecing skin and blood and bone and alien tissue. He whispered her name as she twisted the knife, his eyes wide and wild, then slowly fading to glass.

Myla laid him gently to the ground, then took the ball of explosive paste and the detonator from her belly and placed it between her feet. The capsule shook as its ascent accelerated.

She would give the signal. The Tower would fall.




.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

A crit for Yoriuchi since he bested me:

Yoriuchi destroyed Hawklad when he posted:

Florence’s heavy shipwright’s mallet was mid-swing when a child screamed in the alleyway outside the workshop. The mallet clanged off the side of the boat-frame, and Gruul glared at her with his mean orc eyes. Full-orc, he constantly reminded her. Half-blooded and clanless, Florence should be grateful to Gruul for taking her on as an apprentice.

“Got you, you little magic-using bitch,” came a man’s voice though the open doorway. You establish setting, main characters, and a central conflist in a little over a short paragraph. Stop showing off.
Florence got abruptly to her feet. Magic. Officially prohibited, the sick and the desperate still went to the magic-wielders in secret. As a child, Florence’s grandmother had read her incantations instead of bedtime stories in their tiny shared bedroom. Her grandmother said that when the time was right, Florence’s magic would rise within her. But it hadn’t. Not when the soldiers came and took her grandmother. Not when she nearly froze to death in the streets. Not when Gruul came at her with his ale-breath and fists. Nice exposition, might be better slightly later in the story b/c we are already absorbing setting, characters, etc.

“Sit. Down!” said Gruul, barking the words around his protruding lower canines.

The bruises from last week’s beating urged her to obey. Bile rose up the back of Florence’s throat. She hated feeling so afraid. Gruul saw her hesitate, and a cruel smile twisted his fat lips. A little on the nose but he’s an orc so I don’t know

Outside, there was a crackle of light and a man yelped in pain. The light burned through Florence’s body like a shot of Valkurian rum. A little jarring but ok In her head she heard a single word wordy, HELP!” Without thinking Florence dropped her mallet and ran.

Outside a goblin child with bleeding feet and a filthy dress was crying on the cobbles. Golden light pulsed through the delicate tracery of her veins. A man wearing a ragged soldier’s uniform clutched his burnt hand. His companions’ gaunt faces were blanched with shock, gloved fingers reaching for well-worn sword hilts. Good description of the scene

Florence met the girl’s eyes, red-rimmed and wide with fear. In one motion she bent, scooped the child up and sprinted for the harbour. Half-blood she might be but she was still six feet tall and orc strong. She twisted and turned through familiar alleyways and quickly lost the sounds of pursuit. At the edge of the dockside market she stopped, heart pounding, and set the girl down behind a stack of barrels.

The goblin was shaking, the afterglow of magic-use still visible through her pale skin.

“They, came, for my, mother, but she wasn’t, home, so they, chased, me, and I - ” she said, her speech punctuated by sobs.

“Shush now,” said Florence, pulling the girl close. Florence’s home was on the other side of the market, in a warren of huts that sprouted like mushrooms from the base of the city’s wall. If she could just make it there she could work out what to do.

“Stay here,” Florence said. “I’m going to go buy you a cloak.” This is great I’m into the chase.

Florence stepped from the alleyway into the river of people flowing into the marketplace, and froze.

“Told you she’d come this way,” said Gruul to the man with the burnt hand.

The man grinned. “What’ve you done with my sweet bounty?” he said to Florence.

As he spoke his men spread out into a semicircle around her. People hurried out of their way, eyes averted, and Florence found herself alone on the cobblestones. It was just like when they came for her grandmother. Nice call back No one would help, and there was nothing Florence could do.

With shaking hands she pulled a caulking iron is that a thing? from her tool-belt and brandished it in front of her.

“Have it your way,” said the burnt man, and drew his sword.

Florence felt the world collapse into the single dark point at the tip of the blade. She was 11 years old again, powerless and alone. Her arms were shaking so badly she could barely hold the iron. Nice words here

Suddenly Florence felt a pair of hands on the small of her back. “I’m sorry,” she heard the girl whisper.great line, love that she apologizes since it’s a curse Fire rushed up her spine and Florence screamed. It raced through the bones in her arms and fingers and the caulking iron burst into a cone of flame. Florence gritted her teeth and stepped forward, swinging the iron in an arc of burning light that cut through the bounty hunters’ leather armour like butter you can do better. They fled, shoving roughly through the crowd in their panic.

From across the market came the shrill whistle of the city watch, plumed helmets bobbing above the tide of people.

Florence dropped the iron and the fire vanished. She grabbed the girl’s hand and pulled her across the marketplace. The crowd parted to let her through and then immediately closed behind her, confounding the searching watchmen. Florence quickly reached the edge of the warren, where she found a group of goblins waiting.

“Papa!” the girl cried, and rushed into a male goblin’s arms.

“I cannot thank you enough,” he said, holding his daughter tight. A little stilted

“You don’t need to,” said Florence. The veins on the backs of her hands still pulsed with golden light, and she felt a curl of flame settle in her belly. In her head she heard her grandmother’s voice, When the time is right, your magic will rise. Aw yeah revenge time

***

Gruul was pressing a chisel against the sharpening wheel, the metal making a tortured whine, when Florence stepped into the workshop. He kicked the wheel aside and slashed the air with the chisel.

“I should kill you for that stunt!” His spittle hit Florence’s face. She wiped it away with the back of her glove in disgust.

“Leave,” she told him. “This is my workshop now.”

Gruul laughed, a harsh, barking sound, and raised one huge fist.

Florence stepped towards him, unafraid. Golden light pulsed along her veins and flames flickered from her fingertips.

Gruul’s jaw dropped open a bit cliche. Florence met his eyes, saw the fear that lived in him.

“Run, Gruul,” she said, as he backed away from her. “Never let me see your face again.”

Florence gazed around the workshop in the silence left by Gruul’s retreating footsteps. Soft sunlight filtered through the grime-encrusted windows. The half-finished boat-frame waited. Florence grinned. She had work to do.

Great little character arc piece with some memorable action and characterization. A fun but surprisingly touching read. I like the conceit of the magic being something that can be passed between people and the way it is shunned by society. But, since Flo gets magic maybe she should be a little more conflicted at the end, instead of the happy ending? Anyway, a well deserved win, good words.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

IN

Setting 14
Genre 5
and if you do more RFTs I'll take one of those.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Prompts:
Setting is… ON A FARM +104 word
Genre is… MYTH +43 words
RFT is… A UKULELE! +99 words


Mendocino
1019 Words

A heavy boot punches the door off its hinges and before we can blink the room’s full of uniformed men with guns. Long, black guns, cold metal pushing us to the back wall of the small farmhouse. When we have nowhere left to retreat the sheriff—it’s Russell, of course, he’s been after us for months--throws some papers at me and puts his gun in my face.

“Got you now, motherfucker!” His breath is ragged and spittle batters my cheek.

If I reply I don’t recall, because at that moment one of those giant cargo type helicopters drops on top of us with a roar that splits the sky and blows out the windows. Celia screams as the wind from the turbines whips around us, turning the once quiet house into a maelstrom of papers and trash and shouting.

It was the fall of 1986, and Reagan’s drug war was in full swing. Townie cops and National Guard and off-duty LAPD had descended on Mendocino and Humboldt counties with full force, gently caress the rules, gently caress due process, and gently caress anyone who got in their way.

I look over and a goon has a gun pressed into Celia’s forehead, and I’m furious, helpless, about to do something stupid, and then I see him. He’s just there, suddenly, on the sofa. Uke, we called him. We didn’t use real names with the itinerant workers who come to harvest buds each fall. This guy showed up from Alaska carrying a ukulele on his back, so Uke it was. He’d set up camp out back, didn’t cause any trouble, and worked hard. Pale as snow, long tangled dreadlocks. Always wore the same too-small shirt with weird runes scrawled across it.

What happened next you won’t believe. You’ll say that I smoked too much of what we were growing in the back forty. And hell, you might be right.

Uke has his little guitar slung across his chest and he strums out a chord. The sound from this tiny instrument cuts through everything. It’s louder than all the shouting and screaming and cussing and helicopter blades. All those sounds simply fade away. He strums again, and we’re all frozen in place, staring at this scrawny kid on the couch with his ridiculous, tiny guitar.

And he starts to sing.

His voice is low, impossibly deep, vibrating air molecules at some fundamental level like the lowest bass note you can imagine. He’s chanting a melody in a language long lost, evoking old magics and ancient battles on frost-rimed mountaintops, sonorous and mournful, profoundly sad but filled with power. Sounds crazy, I know--but that’s when it gets really weird. We’re all staring at Uke, still singing, as he slowly gets to his feet. From out of nowhere a frozen wind blows through the farmhouse and sweeps everything away. The house is suddenly just gone. The farm, the roads, power lines, the helicopter—all gone. Just forest all around, the trees taller and more gnarled, covered in snow and ice.

Uke looks taller, too. More powerful. And that ukulele he’s carrying isn’t a ukulele anymore. Instead he’s holding a giant hammer, like some sort of Norse god. I turn back to the sheriff and stumble backwards in horror: he’s changed, too. They all have. They’re at least eight feet tall, with sallow skin, monstrous faces twisted into grotesque sneers. Scraps of uniforms still hang off their bodies; I can see his name--”Russell”--neatly embroidered on his chest. His gun has become a great, rune-encrusted spear made of dark metal. There’s five of them and only three of us. They move to encircle us, spears pointed inward. The wind howls and my mind reels in shock. Celia grabs my arm. I hold her close.

“Begone, cursed jötnar!” Uke’s voice commands from behind me. I turn to see him raise the hammer into the air. My whole body buzzes as electricity pulses through it, and the cold wind whips into a furious blizzard. Lightning rips the air as five bolts discharge from the hammer. The trolls make a horrible sound as they are struck, falling backwards and down into the snow. Uke lowers the hammer, the winds die, and the world blurs once again.

The farmhouse swims back into focus. The forest is gone. Everything is quiet and still, but a haze of acrid smoke fills the air. The bodies of the troopers lie all around us. Dark blood stains their uniforms, their eyes fixed open in shock.

I hear the back door slam shut, an engine start, and watch Uke’s old Volkswagen bus pick its way down the hillside. Celia collapses into a chair, sobbing. I set down the gun I didn’t realize I was holding and go to her.

#

“That’s the last I saw him.” The old man takes a deep sip from the whiskey glass in front of him. “Sure was lucky he was there that day. Things might’ve turned out real different.”

The bartender’s face is carefully neutral. “You’re right. I don’t believe it. Not a word.”

“I told ya.” The man puts some faded bills and a scrap of paper on the counter and walks to the door. A lone Inuit man looks up from his drink briefly, face inscrutable. “Anyways, if you ever see a guy matching that description come through, let me know.”

The bartender looks down. A phone number is scribbled on the paper. “Will do,” he says.

“I just want to thank him.” The door closes behind the old man and he disappears into the cold Alaskan night.

The bartender stuffs the bills into the ancient till and goes back to cleaning glassware. His reflection in the glass looks different than he appeared to the old man; instead of a ruddy, bearded face his reflected image is pale white with long dreadlocks. A faint smile brushes his lips.

An hour later, work done, he pulls the ukulele out from behind the bar. He sits by the hearth and strums idly to himself until the Inuit man shuffles over to join him.

Together, they sing sad songs until dawn.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Thanks for taking the time to organize all of this frivolity!

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

In, and toss me a a line please!

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Line: Butchers we are, that is true.

Hellrule - your story contains no dialogue.

The Old Ways
~925 words

Anak crept along the riverbank, wooden spear in one hand, shotgun in the other. The tsantsas tied about his neck rasped their soft, leathery song as he moved, adding their voices to the melody of the jungle. The enemy village was close; the achu in their swamp huts would not expect a raid so soon after the last. But Anak was thirsty.

When he was younger, Anak had been led into the forest and left alone for several days. He’d eaten of the maikua leaves and drunk deep from the waterfall. This was customary training to become an uwishin, a warrior-shaman. On the third night a mermaid surfaced. She took him under the river, became his wife, and fed him the meat of the boa. This was sacrilege, for the boa was a sacred animal: its spirit entered him and gave him strength and stealth. But it also cursed him with a thirst that could not be quenched. This was his secret.

Anak had been fasting for two days, chewing only tobacco leaves and drinking natum tea, to prepare for the attack. The tea had given him uneasy dreams. Spirits of his ancestors visited many times, delivering cryptic and conflicting messages. Disquiet filled his soul. The achu raids had increased, driven by the desire of the inkis for trophies, which they traded for guns, which in turn made the raids easier. But Anak’s spirit was unsettled. He sensed his ancestors were not happy. The old ways change.

Jaguar-silent, he slipped through the brush around the achu village. He circled twice, scouting defenses. Children were playing next to the doorways of their huts. Mothers held their infants close. The few men he saw looked out into the dense jungle with fear in their eyes. Satisfied, Anak filled his waterskin from the river and nestled into the embrace of a kapok tree to wait for nightfall. He chewed bitter maikua leaves and painted his face with leopard designs. Idly, he inspected each of the tsantsas looped around him; each a dark, fist-sized relic of sewn shut eyes and lips and blackened skin. Their strength flowed into him. When their power eventually waned he could give them to the inkis for more weapons. He could always make more tsantsas. More would be made tonight; his thirst again quenched, for he is a kakáram: a great warrior.

The high sun made the jungle hot, and Anak must have slept for a while. He awakened to hot breath on his face. A jaguar, perched on the root of the kapok tree, its golden eyes staring at him intently. So close he could reach out and touch it. He tried to feel the ground for his spear, his shotgun, but his arms wouldn’t move. The jaguar moved closer. Its whiskers brushed his chest as the beast sniffed at the tsantsas around his neck. Still he couldn’t move. The beast drew a sharp breath, then blew onto his face. Anak’s mind swam. A vision overpowered him.

The forest is gone. A motionless storm hangs low in the sky, fueled by towers that belch black soot from flaming mouths. Bones and scraps of broken metal objects litter the dead landscape. Anak sees through the jaguar’s eyes as it paces along a dry river, stirring up flakes of ash that drift aimlessly before settling back down onto dead soil. The jaguar is thirsty, but there’s no water in this parched land. A voice calls out in a strange tongue. The jaguar turns, and sees an inki—a white man—holding a shotgun aimed for her eyes. No expression, no fear or anger, no pity or remorse, the inki just narrows his eyes slightly and a there’s a flash of light followed by a concussive boom and--

Anak opened his eyes and the jaguar was gone. He took an unsteady breath and tasted the forest. It was as it was: the soft hum of insects wreathed him and small blue frog scampered away from his foot. For the first time since he was a boy, sitting by a waterfall, waiting for a spirit to visit him, he was unsure. It was not as it was. Even the embrace of the kapok tree did nothing to give him strength. He had seen the future that the inkis would bring. He grimaced, and then cut the powerless tsantas from him and threw them in the river. The old ways change.

He turned his back on the achu village and after two days travel he reached the inkis settlement. Along the way he fasted and chanted to the spirits. They sung through him with one voice, one message. Anak’s heart was lifted and his steps were sure and light.

The inkis had set up camp by the river. Hides of many sacred animals hung from metal pegs, including boas, sloths, and jaguars. The inkis were few in number and unprepared. Their metal tools and weapons were scattered about the camp as they slumbered under canvas tarps. When the full moon rose he attacked: it was over quickly.

The next morning Anak built a fire by the river and began heating small pebbles. With his knife he removed the skin from the first of the inki heads. New tsantsas would be created, for he still had the thirst of the boa. He bowed his head and thought of his wife, the boa, the jaguar, the inkis, and his people.

The old ways change.

Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

In. Gimme a reaction.

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Hawklad
May 3, 2003


College Slice

Above the Grid
~1195 words

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.”

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