Any Port In A C-Storm
Week 312, A major character needs to be very unlikeable and doesn't receive any level of proper comeuppance by the end of it because they're rich.
The night guard locking up Abernathy’s office tower doesn’t notice the four additional people in the room with him. Were he the kind of person who notices details, he might have taken stock of the fact that the state-of-the art thermostat put in place to make sure the temperature in the room he just left stays at a certain range shows a readout slightly higher than it should be, and if he possessed more intelligence than your average rock he would have put two and two together and figured out there were more bodies in the room with him, bodies currently cloaked with state-of-the-art camouflage.
But he didn’t, and that worked out in their favor. Besides, it turns out rocks are surprisingly smart.
Once the lock engaged, the four people who weren’t supposed to be there dropped their active camo and took stock of the situation.
“That was easy.” Said a voice that almost immediately regretted it.
“There we go. I was waiting for something to go wrong. Good thing you come in clutch as always, Al.” The voice belonged to a bespectacled young woman, who was studying the situation with quick, nervous eyes.
The young man who had spoken first took an ironic bow.
“You can snipe at each other later. Right now we have a job to do.” An irritated voice spoke up from somewhere by the girl’s knee, seemingly emanating from a small tea kettle.
“Tabitha, you’re up.”
The young woman nodded and stepped over to the room’s back wall. She pulled something that resembled a wall stud finder from a clip on her belt. The device lit up as she swept it around the perimeter.
“He’s definitely around here somewhere.”
The kettle hopped over to her in what might be described as a state of agitation. She picked it up and held it out in front of her like a divining rod as she explored the room, its voice rising and falling as she swept it around the area.
“Nope. Nope. Nothing. Nada. No— wait, go back. Desk.”
Tabitha whistled a low sharp note at Al, nodding toward the desk. He cast his eyes over the bits of seeming detritus. Foolscrap, pens, pencils, a coffee mug. His eyes narrowed.
Tabitha deftly snatched the mug off the table and placed it inside a small satchel. They activated their camouflage and jimmied the lock, slipped down the fire escape and emerged into the lobby. They could see the c-storm raging outside.
“Al, you’re the anchor.” The kettle spoke up. “Tab, you follow Al. If you feel yourself start to unravel, keep your eyes on Al and focus on what your body is feeling. Remember. Ground yourselves.”
“You’re not even my real brother.” Al quipped
“Tab, forget everything I told you. Don’t listen to this idiot. If I had a real body I’d smack him upside the head.”
Tabitha turned and hit Al gently with the edge of the kettle.
“A true artist is unafraid of suffering” Al muttered as he rubbed his head.
“Okay. Let’s shake a leg.”
They rushed out the door as the consciousness winds picked up. Tabitha felt herself slipping away, forced herself to keep her eyes on her brother. With each step, experiences crashed into her psyche. She was a flower on the sidewalk, a ray of light, pure heat burning all that she touched. Every step seemed to drag on as the c-winds began to unravel her temporality. She was the sidewalk, she was a cloud in the sky, she was the storm. She felt herself slipping away…
Al’s voice brought her back to the present moment.
Tabitha redoubled her efforts. Before too long they found themselves on the other side of the c-storm.
“Everyone okay?” The Kettle asked.
Tabitha ran her hands briefly over her body, checking for abnormalities.
“Seems okay here.”
“I’m good.” Al muttered.
“We got what we came for. Let’s book it back to the lab.”
Tabitha unzipped her satchel, checking that the mug remained unbroken.
“Howdy Grandpa.” She muttered.
The chipped, off-white mug that was Marcellus Abernathy sat in a chair, strapped in to an electrode array. Al was sweeping through the frequencies, trying to isolate the neural correlates.
“Got the footprint” He turned to the others.
Tabitha picked up a small hammer, used it to shatter the mug into pieces.
“How many left in this timeline?” She asked.
“That’s it. We’re gonna have to jump to the next one.”
Al sighed. “And I was just getting used to reality again.”
They gathered around him as he closed his eyes. The room folded into itself and they were tumbling through a void. Tabitha tried to hold on, her self breaking up into the background and reforming like waves upon a shore.
She was space, she was time she was everything and nothing, she was the air in the room and the fly on the wall, a glitch in the hardware and the crumpled up paper in an elementary school wastebasket. She tried to hold on but the c-winds pushed her out further from herself, until she spun out and woke up in a familiar place, but at an unfamiliar time.
“Are you all right young lady?”
The man standing in front of her was Marcellus Abernathy, albeit much younger. Tabitha looked at him. He had the soulless eyes of a clone. Her heart sank. Abernathy had done his research a little too well, parlayed his influence into footholds in all the major industries. She wouldn’t be surprised to find his consciousness signature in the background radiation of space itself. Their quest to close Pandora’s box had failed.
“Cheer up dear.” Abernathy smiled, “It could always be worse.”
Somewhere, it probably was.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 04:22|
|# ? Jan 25, 2022 04:26|
Week 119: Oh, Calamity
Daggers, a recovering magic-addict, and a clown gangster.
“poo poo!” Igor stood alone in the circus tent, surrounded by cut flowers, staring at a mouse and swearing.
The ropes that had bound him to the spinning target had turned into snakes and slithered away, leaving Igor to stand and take in the scene. A banner above the stage announced Hawk-Eye Harold and his Deadly Daggers, an act that Igor had volunteered to be in, and subsequently ruined during the first rehearsal.
“Oh, calm down. That could have been much worse.” A sleek black cat sauntered up to Igor, rubbing against his leg.
“How could it possibly be worse?” Igor looked down at his familiar incredulously. “Harold’s a mouse! I was supposed to be part of a knife-throwing act, not a disastrous magic show! There aren’t even any daggers left!” He kicked the nearest flower away in frustration.
“You could have turned him into something much less appetizing,” the cat said, creeping towards the mouse.
“Don’t you dare!” Igor grabbed a discarded popcorn tub from under one of the audience benches and set it over the stunned Harold. “I’m going to fix this!”
“I don’t know!” Igor sank down into a squat, burying his head in his hands. How had he ever thought that he could handle being the target in a knife-thrower’s act? The second the first knife was in the air he had panicked, and panic always meant magic. How could he be so stupid?
“You know, if you used your magic occasionally, it wouldn’t spill out like this,” the cat said.
“But I don’t want to do that anymore!” Igor squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that when he opened them, everything would be fixed. “God, why can’t I be normal?”
“Look,” said the cat after a moment. “Self-pity isn’t going to turn Harold back. Also, I don’t know what you’re planning on telling our friend Mr. Squiggly, but I’m pretty sure this falls under the category of ‘trouble.’ You do remember what he said he’d do if you caused trouble, right?”
“Of course I remember!” Igor said, opening his eyes to glare at the cat. “I’ve been having nightmares about it ever since!” He stood up, taking a deep breath. “I’m going to have to magic him back, aren’t I?”
“Mm-hmm,” said the cat.
“Okay,” Igor said, reaching for the popcorn tub. “Let’s just- poo poo!”
He dropped the tub and took a step backwards. Lying on the ground was a no-longer-rope snake, midway through swallowing the no-longer-human Harold. Igor stared in horror.
“What are you doing?” hissed the cat. “Hurry and turn him back before the drat snake finishes the job!”
“Oh poo poo, uh- Eremanst!” Igor shouted, pointing at the mouse-snake tangle. The snake grew slightly larger, working its mouth further around the mouse.
“What, did you forget how to do magic not on accident?” the cat said.
“Shut up!” Igor closed his eyes. “Aminaro!”
To his great relief, the mouse began to grow larger and more human-shaped. The snake also grew more rope-shaped, which might have been a relief if it wasn’t quickly tightening around Harold’s neck.
Harold was now back to his proper shape, eyes wide in his purpling face, and his mouth opened and shut like a fish as he gripped the strangling rope.
Igor’ eye fell on one of the many daggers on the ground, changed now from their flower form. He grabbed one and managed to get the blade in between the rope and Harold’s neck, trying not to slit his throat in the process.
Harold didn’t make it easy, flailing around in panic, but Igor eventually managed to cut the last of the sisal. The two fell apart, Harold lying on his stomach gasping for air, and Igor climbing to his feet behind him.
“You-” Harold said, his voice a hoarse whisper. “You’re a witch!”
“I-” Igor said, before the cat cut him off.
“Don’t bother arguing, just erase his memory!”
“But- poo poo, alright! Marianatus!” Purple light bloomed from his Igor’s hand and struck Harold in the face. The knife-thrower flopped back onto the ground, stunned.
“What- what happened?” the man said as Igor peered down at him.
“Well, that’s promising,” the cat murmured from Igor’s heels.
“Who are you?” Harold continued, staring around in confusion at the circus tent. “Where am I?”
“Well, at least he remembered how to talk this time!” said the cat cheerfully. “Come on, Igor, time to go.”
“But I…” Igor stood looking at Harold, then the dagger still in his hands. Somewhere outside the tent there came a mournful honk, the sound of an angry clown coming closer, sure to be displeased by his opening act’s sudden amnesia.
“poo poo,” Igor said again, and ran after his familiar.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 04:46|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 20:21 on Jan 10, 2021
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 04:57|
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 05:01|
Nothing sucked! It's a Festivus miracle! This was a solid, solid week. Flerp, sadly, takes the loss for a story that probably would have no mentioned in another week. Zero dms. Three hms: Staggy, Yoruichi, Entenzahn. And, of course, one winner: Barnaby Profane.
Happy Festivus! See everybody next year!
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 05:50|
This was a tough week to judge, as a lot of the stories were all pretty solid. We really got down to the particulars when it came to judging, and even then ended up going back and forth on a couple of configurations before deciding on the mentions for the week. I will offer the caveat that for all of these, I didn't really read the individual prompts from whatever week you chose because lol that was never going to happen, so most of these crits were written blind based entirely on your entry.
Nae - A List of People I've Never Loved
This was a tough one to get through. The sense of loss really emanated from this in a way that felt honest and real, but it was pretty unrelenting. Given the prompt, it’s an understandable direction, but I think this lacked some focus. It benefitted from being in some way true, or at least feeling that way, if it wasn’t. There was an honesty to what the narrator was experiencing and their recollection of lost loved ones, but the best nonfiction, creative or not, finds a way to distill that personal depth into something that feels both specific and universal. This felt like an idea in search of a central theme. Overall I thought it was solid, just a little unfocused.
Tree Bucket - The Darkhouse Keeper
So this was a rough hellrule, to be sure, but I think maybe it was a mistake to take it quite so literally as you did. Frontloading it with a contextless (but pretty funny) action scene was a bold move that I don’t think paid off for you in any way. I didn’t have any idea who these characters were, and there wasn’t much meat on these bones to point me in the right direction, which means I was quickly skimming a bunch of description of action and funny names almost right from the beginning of the story. I needed much more in the way of relatable stakes and some sense of who these characters were for me to care at all about what was happening.
Unfortunately I don’t think I really got any of that in the second (first?) half of the entry either. I’d already formed an image of kind of bland superhero(?) characters with funny names by the time I was “introduced” to them, which didn’t make it any easier to buy into the story. Some of the moment-to-moment writing here wasn’t too bad (though I really hate/loved the word “Groverian”) but there just wasn't a lot here to grab me and make me care about who these people were or what was going on.
to the moon - Angelvapes
If you want a crit on this or your other entry, let me know.
brotherly - Monopoly Status
This was a fairly solid entry. I liked the conceit, I thought you handled multiple viewpoints pretty well, and it felt complete. I don’t think it blew me away, but I enjoyed it. I think if it has any major errors, imo, I’d say the “hell yeah I’m awesome” tone of the second POV is a bit too over-the-top. After all, he just hacked somebody’s brain, so some degree of swagger is justified, but the tone of that section felt to me like you as the writer thought this was some idiot whose braggadocio wasn’t justified. Not a major issue, just felt a little discordant. I do feel like having three sections left Mika a little underdeveloped as a character too. She didn’t really feel as though she had much bearing on what was happening in the story, just that she was there as an outsider perspective in the story, which made the back third of the story drag.
Simply Simon - Stuka
Your story started pretty strong, and had some really nice imagery and turns of phrase, but I think it lost me as it went on, roughly from the second paper plane on. You’d already hooked me with the idea of the poisoned plane, I wanted you to reel me in quickly, but there was a little too much hesitation and stop-start internal monologue that really dragged the pace of the latter part of the story. The “antidote” being a sandwich was a neat gimmick but I think the chemistry explanation required to justify it drew too much attention and made it stick out in a way that read awkwardly. I do really like the concept of this story, I think it just needed some polish and some reconfiguring/tightening around everything with the second plane.
Barnaby Profane - The Ones Who Sing For The Sharks
I loved this, a lot of the language here just reached out and grabbed me. Some of the imagery was great and evocative (lights the color of fishbellies, the gum tree). It’s a great example of how even just a little scattering of specific detail adds a ton to a TD entry. I also appreciate that this is a story that really feels like it’s got something to say without feeling the need to lay it out explicitly. There’s a lot of subtlety here, executed very well. Thank you for this.
to the moon - autism hive
Same as above, if you want a crit, let me know.
Staggy - Weight and Life
This got to me. I usually don’t like stories like this, where the motive force is largely recollection rather than something happening in the moment, but you did such a good job of tying all of these disparate elements together with the thread of finality and mortality. This felt like someone who was looking back to see all the parts of their life that would, collectively, lead inexorably to the end. I don’t think it’s flawless, and there are times where these recollections feel a bit hazy, a bit too cosmic to feel really real or relatable, but even those moments have something indisputably human about them. Well done.
Weltlich - Funkademics
So I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the prompt from the week you chose because I’m tiresome and pedantic and think the prompt is a distant second in importance to the actual story being told. With that caveat in mind, I’ll say: I didn’t really have any clue what was happening here, but it was fun anyway. You clearly had fun writing it, and while I’m not sure of the specifics of the funk references you had throughout I think I got enough of the gist to enjoy it. That said, I think there’s not a whole lot of story going on here. There’s conflict, sure, and stakes, but when I got to the end of this I didn’t feel so much like a conflict had been resolved in one way or another, just that a little dance number had been played out in front of me. Still entertaining, but could have used a little more substance to make it stick.
Yoruichi - Time was always neutral to everyone, regardless what Anyone had said to her.
This was a fun trip. I’m not 100% certain I knew what was going on throughout, but I got the general thru-line of the story, and the magical haziness of some of the events kind of contributed to the sense of magic here. I felt like I had a pretty good sense of who Xanthe was and what she needed here, and that carried me through enough. This was solid.
a friendly penguin - Love at First Bite: An Original Hallmarchaeological Christmas Story
I just loving loved this. It’s extremely silly but never behaves like it is, and I always appreciate a funny story that’s delivered with po-faced seriousness. There were some great little touches here, like “sitting in a loveseat surrounded by people with the same nose as Heather” or the family asking to hear how they met to see if Heather had lied. It all screamed stereotypical meeting-your-SO’s-extended-family uncomfortable in a way that rang true and added a lot to the story. That title, though… woof. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but lol.
Entenzahn - The War on Christmas
Oh god. I didn’t really want to like this but it won me over. Just all the loving Folgers. I think the comedic conceit didn’t always manage to carry the story all that well, though. After the intro I think some of the writing started to flag or meander, though you got me back interested around “the elf turned on his warbulbs” because who isn’t here for that nonsense? I think there could have been a little more narrative meat on these bones, but as is, it was pretty funny and entertaining enough.
Hawklad - Enlightenment
This was okay. The moment-to-moment writing was fine, sometimes pretty good, but I feel that behind the setting and set dressing, there wasn’t a very compelling story here. I’ll admit I really don’t like second person POV unless there’s a strong argument for it, or when a story wouldn’t work without it, and I don’t feel like either was the case here. If anything, I think it undermined the story pretty badly by shifting the POV to the reader rather than giving us a more rounded and defined protagonist. Without a character to feel invested in, this sometimes dips into just action for the sake of action. I felt like the setting was pretty well supported--I couldn’t tell if this was a setting or culture or history you personally are familiar with, so if you aren’t, you convinced someone who knows very little about it.
Thranguy - The Wheel
Ahh the classic “gold in a wheel of cheese” trick. Overall this was a decent entry, it was an entertaining story that was pretty satisfying to read. I admit I sort of expected a little more depth from a story of this wordcount, though. In particular I felt some of the characters were a little thin; Arkham in particular felt a bit undeveloped, which is a pity given that I felt like I had a strong sense of who Zeke was, and even Ezra, who didn’t seem to be all that major of a character, had some real flavor to him at moments. Still, I dig this kind of story and it ticked all the boxes of a fun Old West heist type story, so it’s hard to complain about much.
Pththya-lyi - On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Sobaka
I enjoyed this well enough. I think it fell into a common style for this sort of prompt, where it becomes more about recounting an unusual event like a news report, rather than really standing as a complete story. There’s not a lot to drive the story you’re telling here, which unfortunately leaves it as a quaint, if charming and amusing, anecdote.
flerp - Star Song
I’ll start this crit with the caveat that I don’t really know anything about prose poetry, but this just didn’t work for me. There was a thread of legacy and displacement and the burden of history that gave this piece a feeling of gravity, and some of the language you used really shined, but overall I felt somewhat lost. The repeated motif of the stars screaming never felt to me like it developed into something more meaningful, and I think I really wanted it to be more. There were also some moments where the imagery kind of contended with the established tone (particularly the heavy metal singer). Between those moments and the screaming stars sort of sticking out, this piece sort of left me feeling let down by the end. I’ll admit I argued for the loss here, but this was overall such a solid week that it ended up being a loss by exclusion, rather than this one sticking out from the pack.
magic cactus - Any Port In A C-Storm
Overall a fine, functional story that left me kind of underwhelmed. I liked the core idea of a sort of reality-twisting trip through consciousness to try and unmake your own evil(?) family member, but this felt a bit half-baked in execution. Partially I think it’s an idea that really begs for more exploration, and a tighter explanation. As is, I didn’t have a fantastic sense of who these characters were (though the banter and sibling relationship worked as a decent shorthand) and I don’t feel like I have any sense of the stakes behind whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish by destroying objects that are also their grandpa. I don’t know whether or not there is really a way to pull off this story in a short wordcount, but I’d be interested to see what it could become with some more breathing room, honestly.
curlingiron - Magic Show
Well that was fun! Not the deepest story in the world but I felt like the banter between Igor and the cat was fun, and carried the story along well enough. Nothing about the story blew me away, and it did feel a bit like it was just a series of Igor reacting to some unfortunate events, but for what it was, it was well executed and entertaining.
sebmojo - Lacrimosa dies illa
I really like what you did with this hellrule. It was compelling to see what is generally regarded as a sort of classic hellrule not only handled, but really made central to the conceit of the story. I think the middle section lost me a little--it just wasn’t as tightly written or compelling as the other two sections, and felt less tied to the core idea of the story you were telling here. Other than that, I liked this a lot
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 06:04|
all you failures: get your entry in soon(ish?) and I'll give you a crit (probably?)
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 06:06|
f e s t i v u s . c r i t s
I can’t think of the right word for it. My problems here are… structural? I think? Most of the piece talks about people that aren’t important to the main character (based on the prompt I’m assuming said main character is literally you). I know we’re dealing with autobiographical inspired stuff here so your hands can be a bit tied but what you’ve done is not good form for story writing. If something’s not important to the character then why should it be important to me, the reader? Also, you hold back revealing the information that the person you want to return from the dead isn’t a human but is actually a pet until the very end. Which makes the reveal feel a little like an unintentional punchline. Oh ho ho I like pets more than people. I know that’s not what you were shooting for and there are a lot of folks in my life that I like a helluva lot less than certain animals so I feel you but the issue is there all the same. You could probably fix this if instead of listing people of equal unimportance you don’t care about, you slowly up the ante: each new person is a closer relationship and closer relationship and a closer relationship but never the choice. Now the reveal (hopefully) lands with an emotional punch rather than feeling like a punchline.
I liked that you didn’t explain why you could bring someone back. Not important! Lot of people would feel the need to talk it out. Well done you.
Ooookay I’m three sentences in and this seems loving batshit but I’m kinda digging it.
Ahahaha goddamnit what the poo poo this is the dumbest most rules-lawyery way of fulfilling this hell rule possible. Fortunately for your stupid rear end, my stupid rear end is amused by it! You juggle the presence of multiple characters pretty well. You do need a little something more for the motivation of the bad guys -- “the Darkhouse had no power against the brute simplicity of forty angry men with sticks” is a dope line but why are they angry? I need something more there. Also, is the Vinewitch now driving a mecha-Darkhouse? That’s what I’m assuming (and what it probably should be) but you could make this more clear with like… three extra words. I’d recommend doing that.
“Oh yeah? Well: cats like cream.” -- Nice
“That’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said,” -- Unnecessary. You hit a stupid joke in a stupid joke story and you know it. So own it. Don’t pull the rug out from underneath it. Just have the Moth-Pope nod or something.
take the moon
Is this heart-warming? I don’t think it is? That’s kind of a bummer and it is kind of a bummer. Your story strikes me more as tragic than anything else. The writing does remind me, though, of an Temple Grandin interview I read some time ago. So well done with that.
This develops way better than it starts. You start with a very boring, very blatant Hamlet knock-off but you morph into something quite fascinating, a something that questions the nature of reality and truth in a technological future where one can no longer trust their eyes. That first shift from Hugh to
A creative use of the opening sentence. Though the writing was a bit too convoluted to understand exactly what you were going on about. It took me a couple of paragraphs to understand things as you meant them.
I think this needs a rewrite. The professor is such a drab, boring stick in the mud that he isn't very fun to read about. He's much better as an obstacle to be overcome and when you turn him into that, your story clicks. But he's also not really an obstacle, is he? He's just kind of boring. Also, you introduce him first. It makes me think he's the focus rather than Mathias. And then you reference the plane-thrower as "the student" which makes me think there's a third as of yet unknown character. It's all very confusing and unnecessarily so. There's no relationship between the girl and Mathias. No understanding why she did what she did. You have a lot of opportunities to make personal connections between these characters (which would make your story pop) but you don't take advantage of them. These are essentially three strangers. Very low stakes. Your metaphors with the plane are interesting and fun but overall this feels very unfocused and that's a shame.
Dope. Though, as a critique, the folklore talk feels a little stilted. Like, do I believe this is a real conversation? Not super entirely. There's a bit of that unrealistic dialogue trope here where characters overly explain things for the benefit of the audience. But Malcolm is an excellent foil and his bored teenage dismissiveness feels very real. I've experienced similar situations and talks. Also, the characterizations you've created help me suspend any lingering doubts about the naturalness of the topic at hand so well done with that. The uncles and aunties existing more as general entities than people also fits both the setting and the fact that your characters are teenagers. Nice use of mixing the folklore with "reality" and leaving things suggested yet open ended. Overall, this was quite good and I'm being very nitpicky and I enjoyed it.
take the moon (again)
You're fine. Chill. The worst thing you can do is write a story. Even the worst story is a success because you actually took the time to write it.
Was this heart-warming? No. Did it fulfill the prompt? No, not really. Was it interesting? Yes. Am I glad I read it? I am.
Mmm. loving dig a story that can make me feel something. This so tenderly well written that it feels like it could be a real letter and not something submitted for a silly internet writing contest -- and I'm not sure I can give it a higher compliment. It is loving but it is also so, so tragic. No doubt, the child will be left with exactly the kind of weight the parent doesn't want to burden them with. There will be no opportunity to say goodbye. No place in a cemetery to visit and to grieve. Maybe it is for the best but the weight will also be there. Always.
Delightful piece of writing.
Oh I didn't read any of your stories. That's not where the flash rule came from. Also, this should have been a story about sky burials.
One time I was tripping balls and this dude put on a concept album he described as "a guy keeps going back in time to collect versions of himself because he is/was the greatest of all musician ever and together with his band of himselves he is going to bring. Us. The. Funk." I don't know how much of that actually happened but, long story short, it's my only experience with funk and I think I need more to appreciate what you've done here. As is, I don't really care enough about the music style on a personal level to be super invested. Also, while the inclusion of an Inquisitor is interesting I found the remaining members of the committee to be about as dull as your main character did. What was the purpose of making the Inquisitor dance? It was quite an amusing conclusion but feels underdeveloped for clearly being pre-planned. Maybe a little extra polish and you've got something solid.
Ahaha what a way to loving subvert the prompt. You sly, sly dog. You know I'm a sucker for loving around with titles as part of the story.
I like the motivation. I like that the witch is named Anyone. And that she turns into an octopus. The drowning threat is cool and good. However, and this is extremely nitpicky and.a little dumb, I don't really like the names of the other two characters. Etymologically, "Xanthe" and "Elsa" seem to clash .They don't give me a good idea of the setting (as opposed to if they were both more distinctly or vaguely Irish/Norse/Italian/fantasy). And Xanthe is very unique while Elsa immediately makes me think of Frozen -- something you could have avoided if you'd leaned harder into a specific cultural direction.
One thing that I think SH would have done that you didn't was give me just a little bit more with the intro. Are witches in this world inherently hostile? Did Xanthe knowingly come here to die? Did Xanthe do or possess something that would make the witch try to kill her? I don't know! Questions questions…
Good poo poo, though. Good read.
a friendly penguin
You could have gone way crazier. Nothing really wrong here. Everyone with Heather's nose was good at establishing family in a creative way. Just, you know, wished you'd really gone nuts with the opportunity you were given.
HELL YEAH THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT
Oooh second person. Always a bold choice. But when it works, it works. And it works here. This is really good. You could cut the entire first paragraph, though, because the first sentence of the second paragraph is a perfect opener. It tells me something important and it gives me some stakes and it draws me in to read more and, impressively, it's super simple. I think you should have ended on "full of demons."
And there's the cheese wheel! Honestly, my guy, I had no idea where the cheese wheel was going to play into this and I'm so happy with how it showed up.
For being long, I blazed through this. Characters were numerous yet distinct. Good setting not normally touched upon the dome -- not that that's important, I just wanted to point it out. You could maybe, MAYBE have emphasized leaving Zeke alive but bleeding out to amp up the revenge angle but that's pretty minor.
Best like: temptation is a mocker. I want to find a way to use that in real life.
You were supposed to write about sky burials.
Fascinating idea. Especially because even if in this world it's true it is completely and totally unbelievable. There's so many dumbass conspiracy theories these days that this would barely make anyone blink (and would make some people go nuts). Very fun. Excellent use of your hell rule. And great ending. Maybe the best I've read of the week so far. Still, you know, sky burials.
This doesn't seem like a prose poem. I also (still) don't know what a prose poem is. So yeah.
Not a lot happens here. A man is angry and yells at the stars. He goes through some reflection of his paternal line. There's emotionality that comes through powerfully but I don't have enough of something . Something that would keep me invested and interested. The lines about father leaving and selling the farm are almost throwaways amongst all the star talk.
You introduced your characters in a really roundabout way. I didn't like that. "Seemingly emanating from a small tea kettle." Except she was a tea kettle. She wasn't throwing her voice. I had to reread several times to understand and it kinda killed the joke. Why did Al say that "you're not even my real brother"? Who is the you in you're? Isn't he the only guy present? Lot of continuity issues, that's what I'm saying. And what's infuriating is I REALLY want to like this. But you there's so much here that is muddled and confusing or just plain unnecessary. For instance, why spend all those words describing the janitor? I get that it's funny but if he's not going to be important later on then it's space that could be used to serve another purpose. If this was cleaner, it would have been a contender for the win.
This was fun! It's not particularly deep but it's fun. And, honestly, it's hard to ask for much more than that. I like the characters. I dig the cat. The unseen angry clown is nice. My only recommendation for change would have been to cut the magic words (unnecessary) and give the clown and much stupider name.
Solid use of your hell rule. And I do mean your hell rule because you were the one that originally wrote it. For me. For a story I didn't submit because I couldn't figure out how to wrangle it. You lost me a bit in the middle but overall a snappy piece of writing. The surrealist aspects were subtle. I never go subtle. It's cool to see it done and done well.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 06:14|
Week 100, The Black Attache Case
The Beggar's Choice
Today, Tom had strayed further away from God. Again.
As he staggered towards that man's hiding place, he felt a need to express his shame. As soon as he had a bit of money, he had failed to uphold his promise, and right now, after one of the highest highs, the self-loathing was settling in.
He saw a sleeping bag at the usual place and hesitated. Before he could decide anything though, the bag stirred and a big head popped out of it.
"Sorry Jay, did I wake you up?" Tom stuttered.
"No way. Not with your rusty cart squeaking loudly every other step you take."
"Jay, I failed again. What can I do so God forgives me?"
The other man slowly passed a hand on his face and his hair, and stared at Tom with unfocused eyes.
"You know what to do. You don't have to ask me." Jay said.
"But it's so hard! I don't know which one to choose!"
"Listen, Tom. We had a promise. Every time you lapse into gluttony, you have to give up something to balance it. If you don't, you would be partaking in greed as well. Now let me sleep, please."
Tom left Jay while grumbling excuses and started to walk aimlessly in the streets of Los Grano D'oro. All he could see was his treasure trove right in front of him. The perfectly smooth pebbles. The shiny metal pieces. The red cloth. All of it had a place in his cart and his heart. Every piece had memories attached.
He stopped to play with his trinkets. Maybe it would be easier to think it out this way. He scratched his short beard with one hand while grabbing one of the pebbles. As he rubbed its smooth surface, he could smell the sea shore where he had found it. He sat down and allowed himself to relax in the light of a street lamp.
Then he grabbed something he didn't recognize. It was too clean and felt odd in his hands. Suddenly he knew. It was a sign from God. As he raised his eyes he could see an open trunk. This was no coincidence. He left his treasure, looking behind him at times. The vehicle was black, like the briefcase. Nobody in sight, so he just dropped it in the trunk and closed it silently.
As Tom walked back to his cart, he could feel a weight lifting off his shoulders. He had done a good deed.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 09:50|
Thank you for the extremely speedy judgement and crits!
Disclaimer at this point: please do not gently caress around with thallium if you are ever in a position to do so. I based that part of my story on an urban legend that someone wanted to play a sick prank bro on someone, because thallium does cause hair loss; it's however also very toxic in addition to that. There was an actual case at a German university where someone laced orange juice with it and poisoned twelve people, motive still unclear.
And no, you cannot neutralize it with cheese. Matthias is very wrong about chemistry.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 10:11|
TD437: The Dome Who Came In From The Cold
Let’s pour one out for John le Carré.
Give me 1200 words of Cold War style spy intrigue, and let’s keep it focused on suspense and coded language. To assist with tone, this means no on-screen violence.
Sign-ups due December 18th, 2359 PST.
Entries due December 20th, 2359 PST.
All standard rules apply.
a friendly penguin
Tinkers, Tailors, Soldiers, Spies:
Barnaby Profane fucked around with this message at 08:21 on Dec 21, 2020
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 11:39|
aaaahh poo poo im in in honour of m. le carre may he rip
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 11:43|
In. I hate when I only read an author after they’re dead.
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 14:06|
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 16:26|
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 16:40|
RIP and in
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 16:54|
R.I.P. it's been a while since I read any of his stuff but IN
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 17:37|
ugh sure in
|# ? Dec 14, 2020 18:56|
|# ? Dec 15, 2020 17:28|
Crit for Simply Simon's Stuka
This is really slow to get going. I like what you did with the opening line and the premise of the story is a good one. It's a very wordy story and the POV reads as distant. We get Matthias's thoughts, but not much of a connection. Not that it's truly necessary in order to sympathize with a student being bored with class but it doesn't really help me feel the same embarrassment and anxiety when the second plane plan goes awry.
Although Matthias gets his comeuppance in the end, I think I'd rather have seen him grow a little bit more. He obviously felt some empathy when he thought of what would happen to his not intended target, but we never get to see him have a revelation about how what he did was stupid, how he might be the one having all the wrong thoughts. Just taking his mental process one step further with some self-reflection.
With the mundane setting and interesting but simple actions, this needed to have strong characters to have impact. Matthias's characterization is spot on. He's definitely someone I can picture. But as mentioned before, he doesn't go through much of a meaningful change. And the unnamed woman and the professor are tantalizingly close to being interesting with just a few more details (what made the woman confess? was the professor really as boring as Matthias imagined?) and even if they didn't need to have a greater part in the story, how they answered these or other questions might help the reader understand just a little bit more about Matthias in the end.
|# ? Dec 15, 2020 17:38|
|# ? Dec 15, 2020 23:06|
The War on Christmas
After last year’s Christmas epic, I couldn’t resist doing something this year too. I hope you like it!
I guess I’m also in, and this must therefore be my entry for this week, god help me.
The War on Christmas
Episode 2: All is Calm, All is FIGHT
Bob-Santa stood in the shadow of a subway entrance and watched the bomber-sleighs disappear into the darkness. Sleety rain was falling, and the city rang with sirens. Bob-Santa looked again at his watch, took one last draw on his cigarette, and flicked the butt into the gutter. On the watch face was a picture of Rudolph, the minute hand passing inexorably across his red nose. Bob-Santa undid the plastic strap and stuffed the watch into the pocket of his Santa suit. Sugarfloppemlollops was never late.
Terri Taylor crept up the stairs to the subway’s exit. She couldn’t believe her luck. Her enemy’s unmistakable silhouette was framed in the streetlights’ yellow glow. Santa. Terri squeezed her daughter Tammy’s hand, and held one finger to her lips in a silent entreaty for silence. In her other hand Terri held the green and white striped pistol she’d taken from the elf who’d jumped them in the tunnels, now hog-tied in the deserted station below. Terri was going to save the city for her daughter’s sake, even if it meant war. War, on Christmas.
Mr Krozsarsky crawled from the bombed-out ruins of his apartment building in nothing but his underwear. He probably should have been more judicious with the fake coordinates he’d given that fool elf, but Krozsarsky would have gotten his own home bombed a hundred times over if it meant that Christmas and its vile trappings would be banned for good. He had to get a message to the ultra-othordox Russian headquarters in the occupied North Pole: midshipman cools ices. With this success, Krozsarsky’s commitment was beyond dispute. He could almost feel the weight of his forthcoming medal around his unshaven neck. Krozsarsky slapped his hands against his shivering biceps and hurried along the empty sidewalk.
Sugarfloppemlollops’s eyes rolled back and his chin was sticky with peppermint drool. That bitch woman and her awful child had made one, fatal mistake. Trying not to breathe the intoxicating fumes he tongued the candy cane they’d left behind. Sugarfloppemlollops sucked and rubbed enough of an edge into the shaft to cut through his bonds. His head jerked as his handwork caught his lip, and he tasted blood. poo poo, he thought, and spat out the cane. But it was too late. The subway station began to spin as the juice hit Sugarfloppemlollops’s bloodstream. He had maybe 30 seconds before he was transported to elf paradise for the next, oh, three to five hours. The tremors from the bombing had stopped; Sugarfloppemlollops knew that Bob-Santa was waiting for him. He pictured his partner… No, Bob-Santa was more than just his partner, though in all these years of hiding together Sugarfloppemlollops had never been able to confess his true feelings. He couldn’t let Bob-Santa down now. There was only one option. His bound limbs and imminent candy-delirium made movement almost impossible, but with gritted teeth Sugarfloppemlollops wormed his way to the packet of Nescafé that the child had dropped. Colours were waterfalling over his vision as he tore it open with his teeth, and took a huge snort of the world’s worst instant coffee--
Terri was trembling. She counted the stairs. Seven… five… Three from the top she lost her nerve and ran, so that the fat man heard her coming, and turned… Terri found herself with her stolen pistol rammed not into the small of his back but into his red velvet gut, his surprised eyes staring straight into hers and his hands held out, palms forward and fingers splayed.
“Ho, ho, who are you?” said Bob-Santa. He could see from her woollen jersey with a Christmas tree knitted into the front that the woman was no ultra-orthodox Russian.
“Cut the crap, Santa,” said Terri. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Tammy staring at her, hands clenched around the straps of her backpack. Like most modern parents, Terri was terrified of being judged by her children. She took a deep breath, and jabbed the pistol against Santa’s stomach. “Why are you attacking New York? It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!”
Bob-Santa spread his hands a little wider. He needed this chick to calm down, to give him a moment to think. They were supposed to be attacking the North Pole!
“That jersey,” he said. “How did you manage to keep it hidden from the ultra-orthodox Russians all these years?”
“The U-Os? Where have you been, living in a secret bunker or something?”
(Bob-Santa had indeed been living in a secret bunker).
Terri sighed, and continued, “The ultra-orthodox Russians don’t have any territory outside the North Pole. Why do you think they call it the cold war?”
Bob-Santa’s mouth was suddenly dry, and he struggled to swallow. “So… Christmas isn’t banned?” he said, hopeful and terrified all at once.
Christmas is so banned, you jingly gently caress! thought Mr Krozsarsky. He was huddled behind a dumpster, standing on a flattened cardboard box to stop his feet from freezing. He did not leap out from behind said dumpster and yell, “Christmas is so banned, you jingly gently caress!” because he was armed with nothing but his underpants, and he was wearing those. Better to watch from the shadows, and wait for his opportunity to--
“AARRRRGHL!” Sugarfloppemlollops’s voice reverberated up the stairs, followed closely by the elf himself. The coffee powder stuck to the sugar slobber on his chin gave him a weird Nescafé goatee and his pupils were dilated from the cane.
“Thatonetimeinthebunkerthatyoukissedmewasthatjusttosavemylifewithelfmagicorwasitsomethingmore?” Sugarfloppemlollops said to Bob-Santa.
“Sugarfloppemlollops!” Bob-Santa exclaimed. “Thank god, I was so worried. This woman says this is New York! Who gave you the coordinates?”
“My god,” said Bob-Santa, the pistol in his belly all but forgotten. “Sugarfloppemlollops, I’m afraid we may have been infiltrated.”
Behind the dumpster Mr Krozsarsky, who was by now definitely hypothermic, let out a snort of laughter.
Sugarfloppemlollops keeled over. “I’msosorryBobit’sallmyfault.” The elf hugged his knees and began to sob. “Howwillwedefeattheultra-orthodoxRussiansandsaveChristmasnow?”
“Here,” said a small voice. Tammy had crept up the stairs and was holding out a steaming thermos mug to Sugarfloppemlollops. “Mom always makes me get her a cup of Folgers when she’s ‘under the weather’…”
Tammy put air quotes around this last bit, and Terri twitched involuntarily.
The elf took the mug in both hands and inhaled deeply. His pupils contracted slightly. Colours stopped gyrating. He took a deep draught, then handed the mug to Bob.
Bob-Santa brought the mug to his lips and the smell of Folgers filled his nose. It was the smell of Christmas morning, a smell he hadn’t smelt for so many years. Tears spilled from his eyes.
“Merry… Christmas…?” he said to Terri. The long-disused words tasted like delicious cranberry sauce on his tongue.
“I guess there’s no war on Christmas after all,” Terri said. She looked ruefully at the striped pistol, then tucked it into the back of her jeans.
“Except for the war on the ultra-orthodox Russians who have illegally occupied the North Pole,” said Sugarfloppemlollops.
“Which, given it’s Christmas, is on Christmas,” said Tammy.
Terri, Bob-Santa and Sugarfloppemlollops all burst out laughing. Terri hugged her daughter. Bob-Santa bent down and scooped up Sugarfloppemlollops, and held the smaller elf so that they were forehead to forehead.
“That kiss in the bunker,” Bob-Santa whispered, “that meant everything.”
Behind the dumpster Mr Krozsarsky passed out from the cold, but Terri found him and revived him with a hot cup of Folgers.
|# ? Dec 18, 2020 04:22|
Profane made his way across the wet grass and sat down at the end of the bench. His counterpart, T.D. Bot, had been there for some time already, judging by the pile of crumpled Gauloises by his feet. He continued looking out over the water, where a squadron of ducks squabbled over scraps of bread.
“Look at them,” said T.D. Bot. “What a life it must be, to be untroubled by bad words.”
“It’s too cold for your non-sequiturs,” Profane grumbled. “Do you have them? The signups?”
T.D. Bot sighed. He slid a manila envelope along the bench, and then tapped a cigarette from an almost empty packet.
Profane lifted the envelope. “Feels light.”
T.D. Bot shrugged. “Cold war spy intrigue… It is not, as you say, honey pot.”
“Those things will kill you, you know,” said Profane, as he tucked the envelope into his coat.
T.D. Bot snorted, and pulled heavily on his cigarette. “If only it were that simple.”
“I’ll put the call in,” said Profane. “See you in forty eight hours.”
T.D. Bot said nothing as Profane left.
In the phone booth, Profane lifted the receiver and punched in the number for the drop line. “Sign-ups are closed,” he said, and hung up.
|# ? Dec 19, 2020 08:32|
Water overflowed the old curbs which meant the city’s pumps had failed again. Marjoram sloshed through puddles and kept her head down as she shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her trousers. The contact surfaces kept her fingers busy as she trawled the net for pie recipes, leaving troves of data trails in her wake. She swiped through advertisements for sweaters she couldn’t afford and let the profile build—it was better than staying quiet. Around her the chatter of private nodes mixed with the slosh of her shoes, and it kept her focused. She was transmitting like everyone else, and her noise mixed in with the noise all around, and helped to keep her hidden.
The craft was changing. Years ago she dealt mostly with wetworkers, nameless, voiceless, young constructs with enhancements she only ever glimpsed from afar, and prayed she’d never learn about in detail. Now though, the workers were out, and the jackers took over. She had no direct implants herself, too many years of paranoia kept her from taking the leap, but they’d become so ubiquitous that base had decided this new method of disposal was faster and cleaner.
Her day had started like any other: breakfast, exercise, check the drops, which were normally empty, except taped beneath the railing of an abandoned warehouse nearby she’d found a small chip barely larger than her pinky nail. It contained an image coded with a set of instructions. She read the message then burned the chip and wiped her hard drive. This had to be done in person, which was why base sent for her. Encryption wasn’t good enough. The existence of a signal could tip them off as well as the content itself.
She stopped near Rittenhouse park, her back against the wall of an apartment building, barely beneath its portico overhang. She had clear lines of sight, and an escape through the door if necessary, but she hoped it wouldn’t be. She looked down at her wrist like she was engaged with another surface, but watched the crowds stream past, all their data practically screaming at her. That’d been the first thing she had to get used to, back when she was a young field agent: all that data all the time. Civilians could choose to shut it out, but she had to be wide open to the world.
Messages pinged around her and she was tempted to intercept them. She was technically allowed to gather anything that was “relevant to craft and other tradecraft during specialized field outings,” whatever the hell that meant, but nobody would check either way. She watched the water roll down along the street instead, and spotted her buddy from a mile away as he turned a corner, swept his vision left to right, then stalked toward her with his hands shoved into his pockets.
He was young. She knew he would be, but it surprised her all the same: fluffy brown hair, light brown skin, boring eyes, plain clothes. His hands brushed over a contact surface and she felt him transmitting something, probably a smoke screen of data like her own. He leaned up against the wall next to her and let out a breath, almost as if he was uncomfortable.
“Not a bad morning,” he said.
“Rain never bothered me. Makes my bones aches though.”
He nodded once and shifted closer. She tried not to cringe, but couldn’t quite manage. If anyone was watching—but then that was the point.
His hand reached out and brushed against the contact surface on her thigh. He held it there for the briefest of seconds, and she felt the data pulse: transfer complete.
The file was encrypted with her public key. That was good, it would’ve been foolish to walk around with this out in the open. Still, no jacker would be able to intercept a direct transfer like that, as if over wire.
He pulled his hand back and put it in his pocket.
“I hope later today’s a little better,” she said.
He nodded once. “The sun will come out tomorrow. You know that old saying.” He flashed a smile, all teeth and awkwardness, then turned and walked away.
She let out a sigh and squeezed her eyes shut.
Bad tradecraft made her want to scream.
The buddy probably had no clue how awful that’d been. He was green, and she bet this was his first assignment, given how twitchy he seemed. She gave a silent ten-count, waiting for him to put some distance between them, then pushed off the wall and followed.
He walked head-down through crowds, shoulders hunched, and did a fine enough job blending in. She kept her distance, stopped once or twice, crossed the street, and kept him in her peripheral. He wasn’t transmitting: that was good and bad. Meant he wasn’t the final mark, but he also wasn’t keeping up his data cloud.
Bad craft all around.
He led her down a few blocks and around a corner, heading toward the bridge that led into west Philly. She hesitated—the bridge lacked cover. He’d have to cross first, and her second, and she’d hope to find him on the other side.
But he didn’t make it that far. When he stepped toward the footpath, she felt it: huge data, nearly overwhelming. He stopped dead in his tracks, paralyzed by the transfer.
It would only last seconds, she knew. Whoever it was, the jacker had to be nearby. That was her drat mark, making his move. Direct uploads of that size and speed had to be local. She scanned the area, dropping all pretense, her heart hammering in her chest, sweat beading along her underarms.
There: a ping twenty feet off the path, lurking between the buildings.
She ran, sucking in breath hard as she went. The upload continued, and her buddy’s face was locked in a shocked grimace. She almost felt bad. She could’ve warned him.
But this was the whole point.
She turned the corner and almost crashed into a stack of trashcans. She stumbled forward and felt the connection break off. Ahead, a person turned, dark hair, light eyes, and began to run. She held her wrist to her mouth and transmitted.
“Mark moving north along the river, away from the South Street bridge.”
She ran hard, chest heaving. Ahead the mark barreled into a dense pack of people out for an early afternoon walk, sloshing through the overflowed Schuylkill along the river path. She gritted her jaw and waded into the polluted water, shoving people aside wildly, only to come through the other side to nothing.
“Lost him on the river path,” she transmitted. “Overlord, copy?”
Silence from the Overlord, which was standard operating procedure.
She wanted to chase, but she knew her role: honey pot, then support. She turned from the river and gingerly stepped back out, heading to check on her buddy, and hoping that jack hadn’t been too aggressive. Otherwise, she’d have a body to lug back to a safe house, and she wasn’t looking forward to it.
Let Overlord deal with the double, the bastard. Her part was finished.
|# ? Dec 20, 2020 11:23|
The Way Things Used To Be
Breakfast for Victor Onslo came with a vodka and tonic at half strength; he would drink many more that contained double the hard stuff throughout the day. Ed Willow did his best to keep some perspective. After all, who knew what the man had seen during so many years in the field, what he’d been asked to do? Much as he and everyone at Langley admired the man, it was hard to see his arching posture, his blank gaze, the deep, dark bags under his eyes. A dilapidated wreck in a powder blue bathrobe.
Onslo’s head jerked up. “Eddie boy. Haven’t I told you my heart’s not well? This tuna sandwich is swimming in mayonnaise.”
“Sorry, Mr. Onslo. Would you like me to make you another one?”
Onslo scowled. “My appetite has gone. Bet you hoped I might cram it down my gullet without noticing, huh? Christ, I don’t know what to do with you. Slathered in mayonnaise.”
“I’ll go very light on it in the future. Freshen your drink?”
“You would want to freshen it. Drive one more nail into my liver.”
“I’ll get you a glass of water.”
“Hold on, Eddie, one more thing.”
“Yes, Mr. Onslo.”
“Go to the motel. Ask about the man with the telescope.”
“I’ll go today. But I’m sure you don’t have a thing to worry about.”
* * * * *
And what in hell made him so sure? What did Boy Wonder know that he didn’t? Crammed into the cabinet under the stairs, Victor Onslo pressed a button and spun the tape back, watching it fly from the second reel to the first. He played their conversation back. Once it finished, he was silent for a moment. Then he wound the tape back again.
* * * * *
Ed Willow stood in the entryway and took in everything the motel lobby had to offer - chipped furniture, a stoic clerk behind the desk, and plenty of dense, humid Florida air. He heard a rustling sound off to his right. Ed turned to see a silver-haired man in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt fold a newspaper. His pointed mustache sat above a sardonic grin.
“You work for the man across the street, don’t you? In that pretty house set back in the trees?”
“Excuse me, who are you?”
“Someone who knows your employer, Mr. Willow. Here about the telescope?” He stood, not waiting for an answer. “Come over to my room. We need to talk.”
The silver-haired man led him around the corner of the building, stopping at Room 9. He unlocked the door and walked in. Ed peered inside and saw an ordinary motel room with a Wild Turkey bottle on the desk and a long, black case resting on the bed. “Welcome to my office,” the man said with a smirk. He poured them drinks. “Telescope’s in the case.”
Ed opened it up and looked inside; it was, indeed, a telescope. “So, he’s right? You’re spying on him?”
“Why would I want to spy on Vic? He doesn’t do a thing all day except sit on his rear end and drink.”
“But why… why would you…”
The man shrugged. “I don’t like seeing a friend miserable. Think about it, son. Ever since he spotted me across the street, hasn’t he had a little extra spark to him? You want a spy to feel alive, make him think he’s being watched.”
“So you’re lying to him. You’re sending a man who’s not well in the head into a paranoid spiral.”
The silver-haired man lit a cigarette. “Don’t take this the wrong way, sonny, but you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about. Vic and I spent years in the muck. We know how good it can feel.”
“What am I supposed to tell him.?
“Not a thing. You want to be a spy, kid? Start by keeping your lips shut.”
* * * * *
Victor Onslo had never fired the gun before. It was, after all, just a symbol. A token of thanks for decades of loyal service. Today it would serve a purpose. Shut away in a closet for years and years, it would finally see the sun.
* * * * *
Ed Willow set down the bag of groceries. Onslo glowered at him. “Well, what in hell did they say? About the man with the telescope.”
Ed turned away, stashing boxes and cans in the pantry. “There wasn’t any man with a telescope. Apparently nobody’s booked that room for months.”
“Tell me, do you think I’m senile, Eddie?”
“Of course not, sir.”
“So you think I’m lying to you, then. Inventing some phantom telescope. But I’m not lying and I haven’t lost my mind. So you’re going to tell me what you really found.”
“I don’t like what you’re implying, sir.”
“Then prove me wrong and tell the truth. And while you’re up, pour me a drink.”
Ed crossed to the bar without a word and mixed up a vodka and tonic. He set it on the end table. “I’ll be up in my room if you need anything.”
“Hold on just a minute, Eddie. Come and sit with me for a moment.”
Glumly, Ed Willow sat.
“Thank you.” Onslo smiled, sipped his drink. “You know, Mr. Willow… I know what you see when you look at me. A dried-out old husk whose best days are behind him. And you know what? You’re one hundred percent right. I’m an ornery old pill, and you put up with me.”
“Put up with you? You’re Victor Onslo, anyone back at headquarters would kill to be where I am right now.”
Onslo reached out a wrinkled hand and patted Ed’s. “Thank you, young man. That does my old heart a lot of good. Say, have I ever shown you my piece?”
Onslo picked up a rich mahogany box and opened it up to reveal a bright, glittering revolver. He picked it up, weighed it gingerly.
Ed Willow smiled. “It’s beautiful, sir.”
“It was a retirement gift. But I was just thinking… what good is a present if you don’t use it now and then?” He switched off the safety, jammed the barrel under his chin, and flicked back the hammer.
Ed Willow’s face went a strange ashy green.
“I have enemies everywhere, Eddie. Enemies across the street, peeping at me from a motel room. And enemies at home. Lying to my face. Frankly, I’m fed up with it, but I’ll give you one more chance. What the hell did you see over there?”
A dull stammer escaped Ed’s mouth.
“My patience is running out, Eddie. And so is your future. Langley will not be too happy if you let me blow my head off, believe me.”
Something snapped in Ed Willow, and he sprung back to life. “It’s an old friend of yours. A thin man with gray hair and a mustache, he didn’t say his name. He’s just trying to make you feel like a spy again.”
“Did he drink Wild Turkey?”
“Oh, Monty. That’s sweet of you, you old devil.”
Onslo flipped the revolver open, shook it loose - not a single bullet fell out. He tossed the empty gun onto the couch.
“Hate to break it to you, Eddie, but you wouldn’t have lasted a day in Berlin.”
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 03:15|
flerp fucked around with this message at 01:24 on Jan 1, 2021
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 05:00|
Once Called Mine
I found my enemy counterpart in the park, sitting unguarded by the koi pond, head down, shoulders drooped. I hadn’t even been looking for him, so of course there he was, apparently preoccupied with the luminous reflection of Saturn’s broad curvature, looking for all the world like a man who craved a discreet plas to the back of the head.
I noted my irrational anger, filed it away for later consideration. I had to decide whether the dejected-looking operative silhouetted against the pond was a lure, a potential asset, or a no-brainer target. It was his style to work shrewdly but openly, carefully curating his allegiances; any overt move against him would expose the delicate lattice of covert anti-counterreactionary forces on Enceladus. He was a celebrity corporate sabo if there ever was one.
I heard a sound, an inward hiss of static. My hand went to the pulser holstered at my hip as peripheral neuroids activated in response to the spike in my adrenaline. The sound came again and I realized with rising horror that it was a sniffle. Issuing from my counterpart.
The neatly compartmentalized anger I’d been suppressing decompartmentalized. Where did this smug Earther get off, leaving himself so vulnerable? It was a trap. A stupid, obvious trap. And it was working. I was incensed, indignant.
He put his head in his hands and muttered under his breath: Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god. His shoulders hitched and shuddered.
My hand fell away from my pulser.
Corporate sabos on Enceladus didn’t play on trust or empathy. It was a waste of time. The whole moon colony was the main theater in a proxy war between oligarchs; natals like me learned dissembling at the same time as speech, and by three years old we understood the concept of leverage.
And yet the Earther sabo was honest-to-god crying by Saturnlight like a character from some ectonoir sim.
I approached him having run through all of this in my head; he, having no time at all to consider my approach, looked up and drew his pulser, but his eyes were watery and his aim was vague.
“Oh,” he said when he realized it was me. “Good.” He lowered his weapon and his head.
“All according to plan?” I asked wryly.
“My employers would consider my public assassination by you or one of your operatives to be a tactical windfall,” he said. “They’d retaliate openly without fear of sanctions, force your people out of the shadows they love so much.”
I grunted with distaste. He wasn’t wrong, but it was such an Earther tactic to drag perfectly civil private warfare down to the level of a street brawl.
He went on: “I don’t care if you kill me. Your people already killed my heart.”
“Perhaps you should have left your heart back on Earth.”
“She followed me here. Wanted to be just like me when she grew up — and we told her yes, yes of course you can, because it seemed she would never grow up. But she did, and she came, and now she’s gone.”
I considered how old my counterpart looked: pillowy bags under his eyes, broken capillaries around his nose. No Enceladan natal would let themselves ever get so old. You either died fabulously or pickled yourself with neuroids.
“Your daughter?” I ventured.
Something stirred in me at that. The nagging precipitant of revelation. I compartmentalized that nagging. I was an opportunist collecting intel on a rival; no one paid me to feel things.
Sensing an opening, I sat beside my counterpart on the bench. Saturn made a luminous yellow field out of the placid water before us.
“Will you tell me about her?”
He scoffed, glanced at me with naked contempt. But whatever he saw on my face seemed to mollify him a bit; maybe it was the fact that I was genuinely curious.
“Keen. Clever. Wit like a diamond saw.” He laughed ruefully. “She almost could have been one of you people. Had that innate sense of subterfuge. But no — she had a sweetness, too. None of you moon people have that.”
Now I felt something in my stomach, the first flutterings of nausea. An image came to my mind: a young Earther freshly arrived on Enceladus, come to study corporate politics at the tactical college. Dark hair splayed across my pillows. A wicked smile, her teeth glinting in the Saturnlight. Holding her own amidst the opaque banter of Enceladan natals.
I said a name. My counterpart looked like he’d just taken a plas to the gut.
“You,” he growled.
“I had nothing to do with it,” I say before he can accuse me of the obvious. “I…”
The words died in my throat. Black spots danced at the corners of my vision. I’d cut her loose as soon as I felt the stirrings of affection. Affection was a liability, leverage to be used against me by enemies and colleagues alike. I had nothing to do with her death. Nothing to do with it.
Now my counterpart was looking at me with the expression of someone who’d just witnessed the effects of explosive decompression on the human body.
“You knew her,” he said with a kind of wonder. “You felt something for her. Didn’t know you could.”
For the first time in our rivalry we gazed into each other’s faces. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to be far away in some boardroom, expressionless, listening to some neuroid-pickled functionary report on quarterly casualties. I wanted anything but this nausea that had clawed its way out of my stomach and into the fibers of my cells.
“What are you going to do?” I heard myself ask, briefly envisioning the older sabo waging a one-man assault on our headquarters. I wasn’t sure I’d stop him if he tried.
“Retire. That’s what your people wanted when they killed her. It’s what they’re getting.”
“Think they’ll let you make it back to Earth?”
He shrugged. “gently caress if I care. One way or another, I’m out.”
There was little to say after that. We sat, watching the slow shift of Saturn’s reflection across the surface of the pond. Once in a while, koi would nip at the surface, searching for bugs that weren’t there. He didn’t say a word to me when he finally left; just a look, a nod, and then he was gone, receding into the bokeh lightscape of the city beyond the park.
And just like that, I was compromised. I sat a beat longer on the bench, body churning with rage, grief, and neuroids. And then I got up and followed him, rushing after the soft tap of his footsteps.
I’d make sure he got back to Earth. And then there would be a reckoning with the people I once called mine.
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 06:15|
Conflict of Interests
Winter opened the door. His clothes from head to foot were white, impossibly clean for the weather outside, just like his hair: white, pure white without a hint of shine or reflection. He walked to the empty chair and sat down.
"It's about time, isn't it?" said Ruby.
"No need to rush," said the man in brown tinted glasses. I didn't have a name for him yet, not even one as transparently false as the others. I was in another room, in another building, three blocks away, watching the video feed from a camera inside the light fixtures and listening to audio pieced together from five listening devices buried in the building's concrete, watching and listening to the people who thought they ran the world.
I took my notes by hand. Hard won lessons from my predecessor, Mr. Desmond. The Interests have power over their own images. Recordings don't last long enough to cross the whole city. I'd rather be a lot further away. Getting hazard pay, but it's never worth it. Time and a half didn't help Mr. Desmond, not really
"Things have gotten out of hand," said Winter. "I'm sure we can all agree-"
"I don't," said the man in the brown-tinted glasses. "Agree. Not a bit. Far as I think, we're just getting started."
Hand-written notes. Not typed. Uses ribbons reveal secrets. Could burn them, but that's just asking for someone to intercept them between hand and flame. So handwriting, pen and ink on paper, each single page resting on hard steel, Ieaving no impressions.
There was a fourth person in the room. Golden-hair over dark skin, younger than the rest. Ms Wilder. She spoke up. "What did you have in mind?"
Winter snorted. "More of the same, no doubt."
"Doing next to nothing hasn't worked," said Ms Wilder. " I say let chaos reign a while longer."
There are four armed guards at my location. One here with me. One outside the door. Two more outside the building. I'm sure each of them has specific instructions as to under what circumstances they should shoot me. Observing the Interests is dangerous, top priority business.
"You've been quiet," said the anonymous man. "Ruby, where do you stand?"
"Winter and I crossed over for a reason, you know," she said. The camera captured her eyes, bright red pupils dancing like flame.
"And what reason was that?" he drawled.
"You wouldn't understand, Gambler," she said. Finally, a name for that Interest. "The stakes got too high."
"I've agreed all along," said the Gambler. "Nuclear exchanges are still as far off the table as we can manage."
"And that gets less each time you turn up the heat." She drummed the table with her nails.
We had hints, of course. Before he went, Mr. Desmond had managed to learn bits of their plan. But there wasn't much we could do about it without working for one of them. Get an advantage over our enemies? Ruby would own us. Turn a profit? The Gambler would collect his due. Ms Wilder's domain, at least, was alien and repellant to our organization. We did not rebel in chaos. And Winter, well, we all do Winter's work eventually.
"Well," said Winter. "We appear to be deadlocked."
"There should be five of us," said Ms Wilder.
"Indeed," said Ruby.
"Then on that we are agreed," said the Gambler. He stood up, then climbed on his chair, then onto the table. He walked straight to the camera and smiled, staring right at me. Then he reached through the screen and pulled me through faster than my guard could draw his weapon.
The experience of being squeezed into an electron stream crossing a kilometer of copper wiring and then extruded through a microengineered lens is even more unpleasant than it sounds.
"Do you understand what you've observed?" asked Ruby once I stopped hyperventilating. "What our goal is?"
"Chaos," I said.
"That's the hammer," said Ms Wilder. "What's the nail?"
"The end," I said. "Of the world."
"Go on," said Winter.
"What more is there?" I said.
"We're not for it," said the Gambler. "Quite the opposite. We've got a good dozen nightmares coming down the line."
"We need a fifth," said Ruby. "To break ties, sure. But also your aspect. Information. Secrets and lies."
I thought quickly. Was this what happened to Mr. Desmond? What would happen to me if I said no? Or if said yes? I would, in a sense, own my agency, and the others. Become a proxy for them at least, with incredible independence. If I was tempted, the next man would likely fall. There wasn't in inexhaustible supply of Mr. Desmonds.
"I'm in," I said.
"What should we call you?" asked Ms Wilder. "Alex doesn't quite fit."
"Call me Rumor," I said, and assumed my aspect. Knowledge flooded to me, flooded through me, and I processed it, knew the state of the world better than anyone, better even than the other Interests. "And I vote with the old riders, with Winter and Ruby, for a time of respite."
"Are you sure?" asked the Gambler.
"Never," I said. "But my vote stands."
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 07:33|
sebmojo fucked around with this message at 20:21 on Jan 10, 2021
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 08:00|
"That's it. You can close the gate now," said T.D. Bot.
"But -- but no," said Profane. "There were supposed to be three more. Three more, T.D. Bot."
"They're not coming. Close the gate, you'll draw attention."
Profane pinched the skin between his eyebrows and signalled to the guards, who pulled the gate into position. The sign on the gate, half-obscured by the falling snow, read Submissions Closed.
|# ? Dec 21, 2020 08:30|
Hi everybody! It's me, Entenzahn. Just stopping by to say, this is canon. Well, bye!
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 14:32|
Interprompt: it's christmas! But it's gone wrong! 250 words.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 18:38|
Also lets turn the tattered remnants of kayfabe off for the year, as is tradition: now is the time for real talk and heart warming nonsense and saying things you like and don't like about the wordmachine that is the dome.
I'm also wanting to replace the losertar for 2021, so I'm inviting submissions. It's ok if it's a bit bigger in file size than the standard requirements, say up to 3x that.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 18:42|
Also we need a gang tag
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 19:12|
Interprompt: it's christmas! But it's gone wrong! 250 words.
Remember the Spirit of Christmas, and Keep it With You All Year Long
The ham roast has spoken: There will be no merriment this year. Clawing its way from the center oven rack, it sets its gaze upon us each in turn—peering into our beings with eyes of clove to find values of naughty and nice. Pineapple tainted breath soon carries words of our misdeeds, our shames. It squats, dripping beneath the Christmas Tree while muttering revelations that Father has been visiting harlots on his business trips, and that Mother has sought comfort in the arms of Reverend Pike. Sister’s sadism has crossed the threshold from maiming her dolls to spiking her sibling’s pudding with laxatives. Brother has made a vocation of onanism and casual blasphemy.
Soon it paces the floor, frightening and enticing the dogs in equal measure, as it enumerates the things which we covet in a wretched, spittle choked voice. There will be no roller skates, no whale bone corset stays, no holiday cottage-upon-the-Tyne, no material succor from our dismal lives. Lurching onto the hearth, it climbs and picks its way up the mantle. One-by-one, it unpins and drops our stockings into the fire as the rising flames lick and melt the glaze covering its charred hide. After one final, eyeless, hateful stare, it scuttles into the flue, and climbs up and out of our home while making grim prophecies of our mediocre, unfulfilled existence.
The fruitcake awakens, still dreaming.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 20:34|
This was a pretty middling sort of week -- the highs weren't particularly high, and the lows had plenty to redeem them.
sebmojo wins by virtue of coming closest to the le Carré eye for detail.
Sitting Here HMs by giving us a protagonist with real vulnerability.
Thranguy DMs with a confusing but intriguing mess.
flerp loses with a bafflingly resentful voicing that lands far astray of the prompt.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 21:07|
Here's my submission for Losertar 2021:
It weighs in at 250kb, but I can definitely get it lower than that if needed.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 21:09|
The War On Christmas // Episode 2: All is Calm, All is FIGHT
This one obviously wasn’t exactly crafted with the prompt in mind, but the occasional nods to classic spy story tropes really only serve as occasional distractions from the extremely on-brand Thunderdome wackiness. Which is too bad, because I’d love to read a story about Santa thwarting a Russian plot to steal the rich and complex flavours that only come from Folger’s instant coffee.
This one takes way too long to get going, but I was interested by the end of it. I think you want to clip off the first third or so, and then use that reclaimed space to build some better stakes for the ending. The main character doesn’t ever really seem to have any skin in the game, isn’t ever surprised by what’s going on, and so they end up missing that vulnerability and uncertainty that gives the classic spy story protagonists their appeal.
The Way Things Used To Be
It’s a bit light -- there are good pieces here, a classic kind of setup, but I’m left wanting quite a bit more from it. The bulk of the weight of the story is taken up with the relationship between Eddie and Victor, and there isn’t really a feeling of a meaningful shift in that relationship. Nor is there any real delving into the relationship between Victor and Monty, which is a shame, because it feels like there’s some real meat there -- is this a codependency thing? Does Monty need to be spying on Victor for his own sake?
Character instincts are good, and focus is kept tight, setup is fine -- it just needs an injection of momentum, a sense of movement for the narrative to follow.
I think the clarity of this piece suffers from the aggressiveness of the voicing -- I wasn’t ever sure what the relationship was between the narrator and Z, or why the narrator had built up so much obvious resentment for someone who had clearly been a part of their life for some time. Z comes off a lot better here than the narrator, obviously, but he also has all of the vulnerability in this story -- not only did he lose his mother in an awful way, but he also dies of cancer. The narrator, on the other hand, we don’t know much about, but I feel like the narrator’s resentment is the core mystery of this piece, and I don’t think there are sufficient clues here to unlock that puzzle.
Once Called Mine
I like this quite a bit, and the primary reason why I think this piece works better than the others I’ve read before it is that we’re seeing real vulnerability in the point-of-view character. I did feel like the sci-fi setting tended to get in the way of the story rather than enhance it, but props for folding in a bit of seasonal conjunction into the week. I was hoping that the story might fold in a bit more detail about the narrator’s role within the politics of Enceladus, and see a bit of reflection in the way their conversation with the counterpart unfolded, which would help knit the setting and the narrative together. I was also a bit surprised to see the story play the counterpart’s position as genuine; I was expecting a double cross or triple cross ending, and while on the whole I liked this story, I felt a bit let down by its relatively straightforward approach. On the plus side, I was grabbed by the dialogue immediately, and thought that the voicing here was especially good.
Conflict of Interests
It’s a bit high-concept for my taste, and feels overstuffed. There are at least six characters jostling for position here, and the characterization is oblique and vague. Plus, there’s just some weirdness about the story details that feels a bit first-drafty -- like, if there’s a whole organization dedicated to monitoring the Interests, the idea that Gambler was previously known only as “brown-tinted glasses” makes it sound like this monitoring agency doesn’t exactly have their finger on the Interest pulse. The sucking down through the wires thing has a pleasant 90s cyberpunk fantasy thing going on, but again raises a bunch of questions that go unanswered -- is this a thing that’s known to happen? If so, then why wouldn’t the spy org know that the Interests were certainly aware that they were being watched? And if not, why is this the moment that the Interests decided to turn the tables? It feels like they suck Alex down the tubes on a whim, or because the story needed something interesting to happen.
You cannot betray what you do not love
This is pretty fun, but I think you could do more to twist the narrative around to make the ending feel a bit less telegraphed -- I got a bit suspicious around the halfway mark, when the bus passenger wasn’t responding at all to Malthus pouring his heart out. Also, I think in the grand spy tradition, Malthus should probably assume that they already know all of his secrets, no? Still, there are a few nice details in here that have a pleasing le Carré feel to them, and of all the pieces this week this one comes the closest to what I’d hoped for.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 21:24|
Here's my submission for Losertar 2021:
Voting against this because it makes me uncomfortable. It's a well-crafted avatar, but could we avoid graphic gore in something multiple posters in the thread will have active at once? Thanks -- sorry for being squeamish.
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 21:39|
|# ? Jan 25, 2022 04:26|
That is totally fair, and thank you for saying something!
|# ? Dec 22, 2020 21:54|