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Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






:toot: :siren: Thunderdome week 400: If you lived here, you'd be Void by now! :siren: :toot:



Previous Voidmart weeks:
Voidmart 1
Voidmart 2
Voidmart 3
Voidmart 4




The setting

VoidTower One by Voidmart is the world's first completely self-sufficient residential megatower, boasting thousands of housing units, nearly two hundred restaurants, several grocery stores, and all the shopping and entertainment amenities a 21st century consumer could dream of. It was designed with centuries of residency in mind, funded by the limitless resources of Voidmart, and built to withstand virtually anything that man, nature, or god can muster.


The situation

A mysterious, anomalous event in tower security has caused the impenetrable blast shields to activate, trapping staff, residents, and [redacted] inside. Your character(s) will fall into one of two factions:

Team Jailbreaker: Human(oid)s of various origins, trapped inside the vertical city with nothing to do except cower in their units or ascend to the top of the tower and solve the mystery of the anomaly.

Team Voidstricken: Maybe they're human, maybe they're management, maybe they're something quite other; either way, they probably know what's up at the top of the tower, and will stop at nothing to prevent the jailbreakers from reaching it.


Common areas

This information is only here to help you visualize the setting. You don't have to set your stories in these locations if you don't want to. Since the world of Voidmart is a somewhat magical place, it's entirely possible that the tower looks a little different from story to story ;)

The mezzanine

Located just above the grand entrance, the mezzanine is the lowest floor currently accessible to Jailbreakers and Voidstricken alike. Fountains and gardens give the space a park-like feel, while various shops and restaurants scattered throughout the greenery offer residents an unobtrusive retail experience. Notable shops include the Golden Bean Cafe, a beloved staple of the Void Inc. family.

The big shaft

The big shaft is a bank of public elevators that extends from the mezzanine all the way to the top of VoidTower One. Presently, the elevators are not operational due to a small hiccup in the security system :)

Emergency stairs

For the strong of calf and thigh, there is a series of emergency stairwells that could, theoretically, allow residents (and others) to move between floors, though the fire exits themselves are blocked by the blast shields.

Residential units

The thousands of virtually identical residential units are populated by virtually identical furniture and trinkets—all lovingly crafted Void Inc. merchandise, of course. Each unit comes standard with a VOID virtual reality device, which residents are regularly encouraged to utilize.

The observation deck, AKA "The Top"

Under normal circumstances, this verdant rooftop garden offers the most spectacular view in the world. As of this writing, residents have been strongly warned to make no attempt whatsoever to reach the observation deck. This seems to be the source of the anomaly that tripped the security system and activated the blast shields.

Team Jailbreak: you don't know what the hell is going on up there, but you might be able to reach the top with great difficulty.

Team Voidstricken: you know what's going on at the top (or at least, you have some idea), can go there at your leisure, and will stop at nothing to prevent the Jailbreakers from getting there.


:siren: THIS PART IS THE RULES, READ THIS PART EVEN IF YOU SKIMMED ALL THE ABOVE WORDS :siren:

After you sign up, I will assign you to one of the two teams mentioned above: Jailbreaker or Voidstricken. You don't get to choose. I will tell you which team you're on.

If you are on Team Jailbreaker: Your character(s) is trying to get to the top of VoidTower One and solve the mystery of the anomaly. They don't have to necessarily reach the top, but that's the general idea.

If you are on Team Voidstricken: Your character(s) are trying to prevent the Jailbreakers from reaching the top of VoidTower One.

Along with a winner of the week, there will be a winning team—the group that I feel told the highest number of good stories. The winner of the week does not necessarily have to come from the winning team, though.

Collaboration is encouraged, but by no means mandatory. You are free to tell the story of VoidTower One however you like, so long as you follow the basic guidelines in this post.

Flash rules available on request. See PAQ below for details.

See the bottom of the post for wordcount and deadlines.


Preemptively Answered Questions (PAQ)

Q: What is Voidmart?

Voidmart is a shared setting that has been the subject of four previous prompts, which are linked near the top of this post. In short: it is sort of a Lovecraftian parody of the chain big box store—an unholy amalgam of retail giants, sprinkled with a dusting of sinister magic. This prompt is the first to not take place in the megastore itself, so it's a great place to get in on the ground floor, as it were.

Stories in this setting can be any genre and any tone, so long as you incorporate some of the reasonably vague setting details I've offered you in this post.

Q: Do the details of my story have to match up with other people's stories?

No! You can tell a story that is completely your own. You get to decide all of the major details, such as: the truth about what's happening at the top of the building, whether or not the residents ultimately escape, who the antagonist is (if there is one), and so on.

You can also choose to collaborate with others if you want; there will be special event channels on Discord to facilitate this, but it's not mandatory.

Q: Did you steal the premise and flavor image from the 2012 film Dredd, starring Karl Urban?

Yes! Yes I very much did!

Q: Can my story take place outside the tower?

No! Emphatic no. I will accept endings where characters somehow escape, but otherwise everything needs to take place within or on top of the tower.

Q: So let me get this straight—the Jailbreakers are the good guys, and the Voidstricken are the bad guys?

No! Members of Team Voidstricken may have very good reasons for limiting access to the top of the tower, while Team Jailbreaker may have sinister reasons for wanting to gain access. You, the writer, get to decide!

Q: Are you assigning flashrules?

Yes! If you want one, just ask. Flashrules might offer your character a secondary goal, a unique Voidmart brand device, or a unique role within VoidTower One.

Q: Can I set my story inside a Voidmart inside VoidTower One?

Please don't. You could, but...don't.

Q: What do I get if I win this week?

Unlike regular weeks, the winner of this week will not judge the following week. Instead, you will receive a prize!

Q: You have said a lot of stuff in this post. How uptight are you about prompt adherence?

This is a party week so people should have fun. As long as I can tell you made a good faith effort to get into the spirit of the week, I'm not going to penalize a little bit of coloring outside of the lines.


Boilerplate stuff

No erotica, fanfic, poetry, political screeds, Google docs, or weird formatting.

Signup deadline: Friday, April 3, at 11:59:59PM PST
Submission deadline: Sunday, April 5, at 11:59:59 PM PST
Wordcount: 1500 words
Discord: Keep an eye out for special event channels on the Thunderdome Discord! PM me or a goon you trust for an invite, or tell us in-thread how to contact you if you don't have PMs.

Management
:)
COO Djeser
Muffin

Teams:

Something Else posted:

I'm in, flash me

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who's seen too much (veteran janitor)!

Pththya-lyi posted:

In with a flash!

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the OculOrb GO!, often called the Oculo by users. This plug-and-play mobile eyeball can be worn in-socket OR remotely operated using any smart phone.

sparksbloom posted:

In and flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

Armack posted:

In, flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! new from Voidmart, it's the Peacemaker! This state-of-the-art chest implant uses the electrical activity of the heart to project a calming (or potentially stupefying) field around the user. Does not affect the wearer. Can be controlled using any smart phone, effective in a seven foot radius.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to preserve a rare plant or animal specimen.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator. Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.

Simply Simon posted:

Into the Void, in a flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!

QuoProQuid posted:

In and flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to get an important message to the outside.



Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Universal Fingerprint! This baby didn't come cheap. Can bypass most fingerprint-based security measures, including those on smartphones and keypads.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to hide the evidence!


Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the SpectrAway Spray! Also known as ghost spray or ghost repellant. Does what it says on the can; eliminates ghosts in a minute or less.

Doctor Eckhart posted:

I’m holding up both hands in enthusiasm!

Also flash me pls.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to end a secret conflict.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to obtain recognition from management.

Staggy posted:

In, flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to control an item of great value or power.

steeltoedsneakers posted:

Ugh fine. Flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one member of VoidTower One management, the unholy minds behind the megatower.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one entertainer or member of an entertainment group.

sebmojo posted:

In flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find the music hidden in the vents.

Adam Vegas posted:

In and flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the PhoTonic Flask! This handsome vessel can capture and store light.

Chairchucker posted:

in

edit: also flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who has seen too little (they're new on the job).

flerp posted:

in flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one visitor to the tower. They're not a resident at all!

Thranguy posted:

In, flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the return of the classic Void-in-a-Can! An all-purpose void, ready to deploy anywhere, any time.

Yoruichi posted:

in flash gimme gimme

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find eternal life.

Antivehicular posted:

In and flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

Flesnolk posted:

In, flash.

prompt

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one psychic or medium. They're the real deal!

Applewhite posted:

In, flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Etho-Optics emotion-seeking goggles! Find any feeling within a thirty yard diameter.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one indie journalist.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to establish a sovereign nation within the tower.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator! Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.

Carl Killer Miller posted:

Failed two weeks in a row, gotta get in this time.

Flash rule, please.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the InfiniBreeze Ring! Unleash a personal mini-tornado from the comfort and convenience of your hand!

SlipUp posted:

In, flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Health Pilot BioDrone! The latest in quantum drone computing, this baby not only reads the user's biometrics but stores them safely inside its memory, rendering the user virtually invincible so long as the drone remains operational.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to take revenge on someone else in the tower.

crimea posted:

In Flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
you get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Handheld Repeater! Point the unit at anything you might want a second chance at.


Ceighk posted:

In, flash, :toxx:

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!

Hawklad posted:

IN, flash me!

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one acrobat or stunt person.

Pththya-lyi posted:

In with a flash!

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Special Edition Deluxe Fluxator! "Cause and effect"? Boring. Mix up your timeline with the Fluxator! Effective in a radius of fifteen feet. Can flux up to five minutes at a time.
I hosed this up and quoted Pththya twice. They are on team jailbreaker. For simplicity's sake, everything else will stay the same.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one occult practitioner.


Team: Voidstricken

Azza Bamboo posted:

In and flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to defy the programming.

dmboogie posted:

good a time as any to poke my head back in with a flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to work with someone difficult.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 22:59 on Apr 8, 2020

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Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






I am using a RNG to tell me which of the three types of flash rules on offer you'll get: Secondary motivation, special item, or character role. Note: some of the character roles may be given to multiple people.

If you receive an item: Feel free to not use my product name if it doesn't fit the mood of your story. The item still has to do basically what it says in the description, but I don't want to wreck your gritty noir story with the VoidTots WhackyDoodler Whimsy Pen, or whatever.


Something Else posted:

I'm in, flash me

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who's seen too much (veteran janitor)!

Pththya-lyi posted:

In with a flash!

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the OculOrb GO!, often called the Oculo by users. This plug-and-play mobile eyeball can be worn in-socket OR remotely operated using any smart phone.

sparksbloom posted:

In and flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

Armack posted:

In, flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! new from Voidmart, it's the Peacemaker! This state-of-the-art chest implant uses the electrical activity of the heart to project a calming (or potentially stupefying) field around the user. Does not affect the wearer. Can be controlled using any smart phone, effective in a seven foot radius.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to preserve a rare plant or animal specimen.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator. Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.

Simply Simon posted:

Into the Void, in a flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!

QuoProQuid posted:

In and flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to get an important message to the outside.



Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Universal Fingerprint! This baby didn't come cheap. Can bypass most fingerprint-based security measures, including those on smartphones and keypads.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to hide the evidence!


Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the SpectrAway Spray! Also known as ghost spray or ghost repellant. Does what it says on the can; eliminates ghosts in a minute or less.

Doctor Eckhart posted:

I’m holding up both hands in enthusiasm!

Also flash me pls.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to end a secret conflict.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to obtain recognition from management.

Staggy posted:

In, flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to control an item of great value or power.

steeltoedsneakers posted:

Ugh fine. Flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one member of VoidTower One management, the unholy minds behind the megatower.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one entertainer or member of an entertainment group.

sebmojo posted:

In flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find the music hidden in the vents.

Adam Vegas posted:

In and flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the PhoTonic Flask! This handsome vessel can capture and store light.

Chairchucker posted:

in

edit: also flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who has seen too little (they're new on the job).

flerp posted:

in flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one visitor to the tower. They're not a resident at all!

Thranguy posted:

In, flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the return of the classic Void-in-a-Can! An all-purpose void, ready to deploy anywhere, any time.

Yoruichi posted:

in flash gimme gimme

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find eternal life.

Antivehicular posted:

In and flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

Flesnolk posted:

In, flash.

prompt

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one psychic or medium. They're the real deal!

Applewhite posted:

In, flash.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Etho-Optics emotion-seeking goggles! Find any feeling within a thirty yard diameter.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one indie journalist.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to establish a sovereign nation within the tower.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator! Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.

Carl Killer Miller posted:

Failed two weeks in a row, gotta get in this time.

Flash rule, please.

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the InfiniBreeze Ring! Unleash a personal mini-tornado from the comfort and convenience of your hand!

SlipUp posted:

In, flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Health Pilot BioDrone! The latest in quantum drone computing, this baby not only reads the user's biometrics but stores them safely inside its memory, rendering the user virtually invincible so long as the drone remains operational.


Team: Voidstricken
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to take revenge on someone else in the tower.

crimea posted:

In Flash.

Team: Jailbreaker
you get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Handheld Repeater! Point the unit at anything you might want a second chance at.


Ceighk posted:

In, flash, :toxx:

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!

Hawklad posted:

IN, flash me!

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one acrobat or stunt person.

Pththya-lyi posted:

In with a flash!

Team: Voidstricken
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Special Edition Deluxe Fluxator! "Cause and effect"? Boring. Mix up your timeline with the Fluxator! Effective in a radius of fifteen feet. Can flux up to five minutes at a time.
I hosed this up and quoted Pththya twice. They are on team jailbreaker. For simplicity's sake, everything else will stay the same.


Team: Jailbreaker
You get a character role! Your story features at least one occult practitioner.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 21:30 on Mar 30, 2020

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






I have assigned team roles in discord!

If you are on the Discord server, please make sure your role matches what I assigned you in-thread. If you're on the server and don't have a team role, it's because I don't know your username on Discord.

If you want to join the server, let me know via PM or tell me in-thread how to send you a link.

If you don't want to participate in Discord at all, don't worry about it, and enjoy writing your story!

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







Team: Voidstricken

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






Azza Bamboo posted:

In and flash

Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to defy the programming.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






dmboogie posted:

good a time as any to poke my head back in with a flash

Team: Voidstricken
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 12:17 on Apr 1, 2020

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME







Team: Jailbreaker
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to work with someone difficult.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






i wrote 80% of an entry while waiting for my cojudges to read so i'm in

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






make that 100% i guess

See-Sayer
1500 words

Thun saw the hunters off with the rest of the grandmothers, her face hard and solemn as any matron’s should be when witnessing the departure of the clan’s youngest and strongest. It was only when the headstrong mob had set off at a thundering jog that she and the other grandmothers permitted themselves to giggle and discuss among themselves what they might do with this short reprieve from the perpetual drama of youth.

The clan was settled in their summer home—a long river valley nestled cozily between two high ridges. Life in the valley was abundant and generous; silt deposited by winter floods nourished fat berries and crunchy roots. The river, her rage soothed by the coming of the long, warm sun, flowed gently and delivered her finned children readily unto the clan’s spears and nets. In return for this tenderness, the clan remembered the valley as 'mother', and sang of her often around winter fires.

After a bit of deliberation, the matrons agreed that they would spend the day weaving and eating in the birth cave. Thun smiled to herself; there was never any real debate. Any time the hunters left, it was off to the cave and all the delights therein. The matrons, after all, had lived long enough to earn their secrets.

A few clanfolk remained by the huddle of hide tents: child-tenders and their wards, mostly, but a few injured hunters, too. All of them pretended to be preoccupied with their chores as the tittering group of matrons left the camp. It was forbidden to know the comings and goings of grandmothers, and the price of nosiness was a severe public scolding. Even the most seasoned hunters agreed: they’d rather face a wolf with the frothing sickness than the righteous rage of a grandmother.

Thun closed her eyes and tilted her head back as she walked, trusting her feet to feel their way along the familiar grooves of the ancient trail. Fragments of sunlight slipped through the thick tree canopy, sparked against her eyelids, made the secret birth cave inside her skull glow with flashes of blood-red light—

faster and faster the flashes of fragmented sunlight come, as though Thun is running at the speed of a panicked deer, head flung back, eyes blind to everything but the flickering cave within.

Where are her feet?

Faster than a deer now, faster than the wind, faster than life. Thun has no name for this terrible speed, the dizzying flicker of lights against her eyelids and, oh, why can’t she open her eyes?

Too fast too soon too fast too soon too—


Thun collided with the matron in front of her—stout old Wepa. Wepa-most-ancient. Wepa-stone-hands. Wepa-of-the-hunters’-tears. Wepa was the grandmother of grandmothers, and the only creature whose wrath the other matrons feared. The eldest elder grunted, did a shuffling about-face to see who had plowed into her backside, her expression dark as wet slate. When she saw it was Thun, however, her stony look softened to something merely leathery.

“You slipped into the dreaming again,” Wepa observed.

The rest of the small procession had shuffled to a stop, and were watching the exchange with wary interest.

Thun shook her head in vigorous denial. “No, grandmother. I was watching the branches above for birds.”

“And what,” Wepa said, “is a crone like you going to do with a bird in a tree, hmm? Did you bring one of the children’s slingshots?”

Thun said nothing. Lying to Wepa was like trying to put out a fire by feeding it more wood. The other grandmothers murmured to each other, the same things they always said when Thun did something strange: Why won’t she be our see-sayer? Why won’t she drink the bitterwater?

After a protracted moment, Wepa said, “Keep your eyes in this world, little crone.”

And the grandmothers shambled on, up the sun-dappled cave path. Thun’s own name followed her like a swarm of gnats—Thun the selfish. Thun the cowardly. Thun the wasteful.

Venerable grandmother Thun had helped deliver half the living clanfolk from their mothers’ bodies, but had never birthed children from her own. She made water while standing up, and instead of bleeding at puberty, she’d sprouted a dark, wiry beard. The first time she witnessed a birth, she sobbed against Wepa’s shoulder; the space between her legs was not a place of blood and fire and screaming life. The mysterious agonies of birth were not hers to understand.

After that first birth, once the new mother was wrapped in furs, cooing to her newborn, Wepa had comforted Thun, saying: There are mothers of all kinds, dear one. Your words are your children—the stories you tell, the pictures you give us when we listen.

Those words had comforted Thun for a time, until she was old enough to understand their portent.

It had been three generations since the clan had a mother of stories—a see-sayer. She who went far into the dreaming and brought back songs of what was to come: floods, famines, feasts, great migrations, deaths, births, and births, and always more births. In the endless song of clan history, the refrain of the see-sayers never changed. The see-sayer lived with one foot in the dreaming, one foot in the world of the hunt. She birthed stories from her mouth and spilled seed from her loins, and never coupled with another.

The see-sayer alone drank the bitterwater and lived. The see-sayer alone underwent a madness more painful than birth, clawing her way into the womb of the dreaming to glimpse the unborn future. The see-sayer suffered for the good of the clan, and eventually the dreaming stole her mind, leaving a moaning, drooling shell for the hunters to put down.

Thun liked the present, and refused to drown her experience of it in the madness of the future.

The mood shifted once the matrons arrived at the birth cave. All was forgotten, and forgiven. A pile of stones was shifted, revealing baskets filled with dried fruit and fish. Two of the more spry grandmothers crouched by the firepit at the cave mouth, coaxing flame out of wood still damp from spring’s torrential rain, while others spread piled furs thickly on the ground, tittering amongst themselves at how the clan youths would fight each other for such luxurious trappings.

Thun walked deeper into the cave, stooping and then crouching as the roof sloped down to meet the rough stone floor. There, nestled in a natural elbow of rock, was a heap of dry grass, pine bows, and furs, painted black by the dried gore of a hundred births. Though it had been nearly a full turn of the seasons since any of the clan had conceived a child, Thun could smell the tangy, organoid odor of blood and tissue, hear the echoing wail of newborn confusion, and the final moans of those mothers whose bodies could not withstand the trauma of birth.

Crouched before the birthing nest, Thun wrapped her arms around her shins and rested her chin on her knees, wincing at a twinge in her back. She didn’t need the bitterwater to predict what awaited the clan in the coming seasons; it was all there in the cave, in the little nest of furs stained brown-black by birth and death. In her long life, Thun had starved in harsh seasons and grown fat in bountiful seasons, and had no reason to think things would be any different for generations to come.

Someone called from the mouth of the cave: “Wepa, what’s that in the sky?”

Thun clambered backward, hissing at the pain in her back, until she could stand and join Wepa and the others at the cave’s entrance.

At first it seemed to Thun that she was witnessing a fireside ceremony in the sky—a gathering of star people, perhaps. A cluster of lights encircled a central sphere that shone brightly enough to leave splotches of discoloration in Thun’s field of vision, a second sun hanging in the clear blue sky. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The star people didn’t come out during the day, and they didn’t drift across the sky like a leaf atop a river current, which is what the light in the distance was doing.

faster and faster and—

The thing in the sky glided low along the horizon, dipping and bobbing like a wounded bird in flight.

Too much too fast, too much too fast—

“Wepa? What is it?” The other grandmothers clamored for an explanation, plaintive as children wondering at the sound of thunder. Wepa stood beside Thun, lips drawn into a tight, flat line.

Too much—

The thing in the sky dipped once more, seemed to correct course, and then plummeted down between the nearby foothills.

Too fast—

“It’s the future,” Thun said, just before the deafening boom of impact sent birds screaming into the sky, each of them a herald of birth and death to come.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






:toot: Week 400 Results! :toot:



:)

Thank you everyone who participated in Thunderdome's 400th week! Your violations have been recorded and punishments will be distributed upon the completion of this post :)

Two factions competed for their lives and the fate of their home. Two factions leveraged their sizable assets against one another, vying to push the other team beyond their margins. Please note: my team commentary here is not designed to address every story. Stories were considered on their individual merits during judgment.

Team Voidstricken

While there was no evidence of collusion between the members of the Voidstricken, these stories shared a common theme of resigned everyman-ism. Some of that is because of the flash rules assigned to individual writers, but even when a role wasn't imposed, the characters generally read as resigned or unwilling participants in a system they recognized to be heartless or evil. No one, it seemed, saw their characters as the puppet master or the man behind the curtain; even those characters with some power within the system generally seemed apathetic, resentful, or indifferent.

It's sort of funny because when I was considering the two teams, I thought Voidstricken would be the easier, more exciting side to write for. Except for some reason you guys don't like stepping into the shoes of heartless Lovecraftian oligarchs and the administrative assistants who attend to them???

Anyway, your team mustered up THREE(3) mentions:

Team winner: Thranguy! You get a limited edition week 400 avatar (or you can choose a team member to receive it instead).


Original art: Curlingiron

Honorable Mention: The Saddest Rhino!

Loser of the week: PTSDeedly Do! You get a limited edition week 400 losertar!


GIF contributed by: Djeser


Team Jailbreaker

You guys clearly talked about some common elements to share between stories, which is fun. Recurring characters and a reasonably interesting conceit about a tower within a tower within a tower within a etcetera gave your stories a connectivity that (for those of us who read front to back) enhanced the reading experience. Thematically, you told stories about the isolation and avarice instilled by consumer culture; your characters were manipulated, goaded into greed and obsession, and in some cases literally controlled by a higher power with no sincere interest in their wellbeing. Thanks to the conceit of the nested towers, their struggles were not only bleak, but futile.

Team Jailbreaker earned a whopping FIVE(5) mentions!

Team Winner: QuoProQuid! You get a limited edition week 400 avatar (or you can choose a team member to receive it instead)!


GIF contributed by: Djeser

Honorable mention: Adam Vegas!

Honorable mention: Yoruichi!

Dishonorable mention: Pththya-lyi

Dishonorable mention: SlipUp

The Team victory of the week goes to :toot: Team Jailbreaker! :toot:

Archival note: If possible, please count both Thranguy and QuoProQuid as winners. If not, please count the Jailbreaker victory as a tie-breaker and assign the win to QuoProQuid. Canonically, they are both winners, however.

:toxx: that I will finish my crits by WednesdayFriday next week, before I go to bed (I changed this because today we are shuffling our house around to make more workspace for two people, which has been an obstacle to crits). The first ten will be along shortly.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 20:50 on Apr 15, 2020

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






Week 400 crits part 1

Armack - Whatever Happened to the Maintenance Guy?

Competencies:

The premise is great. I loved the image of this daschund toddling around with this bearded human face because a baby AI has no concept of what is effectively ‘cute’. It’s 100% something I could see popping up on of those neural network-generated image sites like TheseCatsDoNotExist and the like. In that same vein, I loved the moment when the narrative reveals the protagonist’s counterpart: a daschund’s head on her old body.

The way you used your flashrule was cool, too. I sort of always imagine what people might do with the rules I assign, and I have to say, it didn’t occur to me that the mood-altering device would essentially be a patch for a deficiently cute horror of science.

I think the voice works reasonably well. You’ve got the dutiful terrifying mascot persona, but it’s clear that the janitor was a different person before the AI’s operation. Layers! Layers are good. I think in general there are some spots where you choose the more refined or formal language choice where maybe an idiom or looser turn of phrase might’ve given the voice a little more texture, but that is a super subjective crit. It basically works.

Finally, I liked the mechanics of love vs hate at the very end. Love doesn’t quite conquer all at the end of this piece, but the logic of the “battle” made sense to me. Cool stuff.


Demerits

The bottom line is: I like the story, but I’m not 100% on board with the chief of security’s motivation for shutting the blast doors (keeping the janitor as a pet). I could have been! The problem is that we don’t see the narrator try to escape or anything like that. He’s...not entirely happy about his situation, but he seems to fulfil his duties with some gusto. Would have been nice if you’d used a few more words to show us a bit more about the relationship between the janitor and the chief of security OR showing the reader an escape attempt by the janitor. Something along those lines.

I’ll elaborate more on my comments on some of the phrasing. I like this bit!

quote:

How may I serve you? Allow me, I beg. I need your joy; yours is all I have. There now, doesn’t that feel—

!

But now the blast walls rise and klaxon pierces our ears. The tower is in lockdown and the denizens grow agitated. I don’t care what caused it; I will make it stop. My denizens will be calm.

This is zippy and energetic. I didn’t know I had assumptions about what a human-headed daschund would sound like, but apparently I did, and it’s this.

The following lines I don’t dislike, they just stuck out to me as a missed opportunity to refine the voice of this character. Note: it’s not bad writing, this is good wordsmithing. I just wanted something a little more colloquial or conversational or manic from this character.

quote:


She becalms.



I knot my heart, and the calming waves sway forth.



This is madness, I think. And for a moment I contemplate acquiescing to being her personal pet.


I usually like your verb shortcuts (“unreef”!), but becalm just feels, well, too fancy here. Same with “sway forth”. It’s lovely language and I would love to set my eyeballs on those words in a different piece, but at this point in the story I was craving something different.

The third passage I quoted is, again, a perfectly respectable couple of sentences! I would sip tea with them. But I don’t want to sip tea with the sentences of this story, I want them to come at me fast and weird, or to show me something crazy that I could only see in this story, like the daschund hybrid people. Note: I am not asking for zaney, dear god. Nor wacky. I just think, since I’m in the business of critting this story, that it could have withstood a minor calibration in the narrator’s voice.


PTSDeedly Do - One Morning

Competencies
I’ll give you this: you killed your character very fast, and without dragging me through 1500 words of flimflam.

Demerits

I’m not sure how valuable a crit of this piece is, but here goes.

So, sometimes you sign up for thunderdome and decide, for whatever reason, that your story needs to be very short. That’s perfectly fine! Micro fiction is valid. Vignettes are valid. This doesn’t feel like a story or a vignette, though. It feels like a sequence of events that punctuate in the death of a character I don’t have any feelings about.

You’ve done some things here that I see in a lot of science fiction stories, such as giving your character a name that’s basically a string of numbers, or including a [redacted] in an email that is ostensibly being sent en mass to staff (so why wouldn’t they just, you know, edit the email to omit the redaction-worthy bit?). If this piece were longer, you would absolutely need to give the character a nickname of some sort, and maybe give a little more thought to how people communicate with each other.

The ending filled me with a little bit of vague nihilism and not in the good way. Like, if you really wanted to do exactly this piece with only one change, you may as well have leaned into the anti-story quality of it and had Employee 69420 literally just stand guard uneventfully while horrific things happen off camera, or something along those lines. There is a certain wry appeal in that sort of thing (when it works).

Oh, and for future reference—you didn’t need to capitalize The Company in this case. VoidTower/Voidmart are the proper nouns, “company” is just a regular noun.



Simply Simon - Team Spirit

Note: These crits are for the forums version of the story. I will add commentary on the formatted document AFTER I do the standard crits.

Competencies

The drones’ names are cool (though you might’ve called them by a nickname after the first couple times you use their full names).

Initially, I think I enjoy the crystal character. I enjoy their attempt to embellish their report to the user. I’m sympathetic; clearly this computer(?) is in the care of someone who doesn’t give any fucks about their sapience or agency.

Initially—again—I liked that the computer(??) sort of tries to restrain its personality, but ultimately fails.

Initially.

There is a ton of potential in this piece and my head is abuzz with things I wish you’d done with your premise!

Demerits

I’ll elaborate on the reservations I implied in my above points in a moment. First, I gotta say: I found it very perplexing that the user is listening to a dictated report rather than just watching footage from the drones.

Now, I think I can guess a possible reason for this. I keep calling your crystal guardian a ‘computer,’ but they are obviously not quite your standard Windows desktop, or whatever. Maybe they don’t display video because they’re more like a sentient being than a typical computer with a user interface. I dunno. I’m doing headcanon at this point.

I could overlook that, tbh, except that I’m not sure the premise of this piece really pays off. You break your story up into little action vignettes as the drones thwart the humans’ progress, one by one, but after a while the eye wants to start skimming for something other than drone murder. I would have LOVED more dialog between the user and the crystal guardian, especially as the guardian lapses back into narrative embellishments. As it is, the user has far too little dialog and seems to exist simply to be the bad guy. A missed opportunity!

You may have noticed that I used the qualifying word ‘initially’ in my competencies notes. That’s because the stuff that worked in the beginning of this story got a bit stale after 1500 words. The guardian’s heavily editorialized account of events via the eyes of the drones is very detailed but feels very cold and removed from the events of the story. You could have absolutely given us some of the actual dialog as spoken by the humans. Because all the dialog is glossed over and the action is not, the whole story has a weird, slightly out of focus quality—I’m seeing some things in a lot of detail (epic drone strikez) and some things in hardly any detail at all (who are these people climbing the building?? What are they saying as this is happening to them?).

Finally, the ending is sort of just cruel and depressing. It’s not clear why the user is so pissed off about the elevator, and if there is some crucial detail I missed, it’s most certainly buried in the extensive action sections.

Crit of the formatted version

So the formatted doc separates each drone POV into its own column, which I suppose is meant to help the reader visualize the multifaceted perspective of the guardian crystal.

I...think this is a case of the format wagging the story dog. What I mean is, your story ended up serving your gimmick instead of your gimmick serving the story. The three-columned approach forced you to write three essentially identical drone sequences, but they all go on far too long.

The column format invites the eye to skim; there’s almost something to that. When I look at the columns without intentionally reading one over another, certain words jump out at me: blood loss, disintegrated, shards, etc. It becomes much less like reading a story and more like skimming a word cloud; if the drone sections had been much shorter and the conversation between the user and the guardian more developed, I could almost see the makings of an interesting thing.



Ceighk - It’s the poo poo that Makes You Unique

Competencies

Your dialog and characters are the stars of this piece, though I was inexplicably amused that the character referred to as ‘you’ was in fact named Frank. World’s first Manic Pixie Dream Frank?

The dynamic is solid. The narrator is believably smitten with Frank, and Frank is just never going to return those feelings because the narrator is not his priority; the poo poo and the thing at the top of the tower are. I think a lot of people have been there, albeit without the fantastical elements. It’s a nice bit of realism in a setting that often seems to evoke wackiness in a lot of writers.

The time echoing stuff was pretty cool; I like how you tied it into Frank’s obsession with uniqueness.

I have some notes about the ending in the next section, but in general I found the descriptions to be pretty cool; the image of all of the trees bursting out of nearby towers was very cinematic! And I like that the narrator has seemingly chosen to go with Frank into this brave new world of BLAARRGHGHGH MY FACE OH GOD IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL :swoon:

Demerits

I don’t have much to complain about, honestly, except your ending kind of muddies the emotional realism of the piece with this very abrupt moment of body horror. It’s not badly written, it’s just...we see Frank tossing back poo poo like there’s no tomorrow, right? But then he gets to the roof and, because it’s the ending, all it takes is one final drink to initiate the face-splosion. Reading into the scene a little bit, it’s clear that Frank is not as unique as he thinks, and that the escalation of both his addiction and obsession with the Thing At The Top Of The Tower is part of a whole synchronized parasitic takeover of all the towers. It just sort of undermines the realistic depiction of addiction in the earlier parts of the piece.

Other than that, uhh...it’s weird how the narrator goes from referring to ‘you’ to referring to ‘Frank’ in the final paragraph. I was confused and thought you’d introduced another character because I initially skimmed over the narrator calling ‘you’ Frank.

Oh and your last line is in present tense when the rest of your story is in past tense. There are likely other tense errors but I was not reading with the intention of doing line crits.


Staggy - Mind the Step

Competencies

This story resonated on an extremely personal level because I have been listening to podcasts and doing breathing exercises like there’s no tomorrow, so you have spoken v deeply to at least one reader.

Carla’s whole deal is pretty sympathetic; she’s trying to overcome both the oppressive monotony of her external environment and the cruel nay-saying of her anxieties, using only the power of her mind, basically. She challenges her own comfort zone, refusing to go back to what is safe and mind numbing even though it would be much the much easier thing to do.

Demerits

So, you did a reasonably accurate depiction of both mindfulness exercises and the internal experience of mindfulness. The problem is, an accurate depiction of those things tends to get a bit repetitive. Carla follows the security guard up the stairs. She starts to slip out of the present and into anxiety and self doubt, then brings her mind back to the present. Repeat. Like I said, accurate! But after a while I was craving some change in the pace of things.

Unfortunately, that change of pace was not in the cards. Carla essentially wins a war of attrition, puffing her way to the top of the tower, arriving just in time to find the security guard exhausted to the point of uselessness. The plot basically progresses, unimpeded, in a straight line, and the mindfulness element is not doing a very good job as the centerpiece of the story.

And then we don’t even find out what’s at the top of the tower! I have a personal rule about this sort of ending: if you want to be coy at the end of your story, you have to offer the reader a lot of intrigue in the beginning and middle. “Intrigue” could be vivid imagery, plot swerves, character building—anything that allows your reader to feel like the journey is more important to the destination (the ending).

Because of the repetitive nature of this story, I was reading to get to the end, rather than savoring the experience of the story itself. That would have been okay if you had offered me something compelling at the end, but Carla leaves us behind the moment she experiences something new! Rude.



Adam Vegas - Time Jazz

Competencies

This is fun. The narrator’s voice conveys a mounting comedic frustration that carries over well into the latter part of the story when it becomes clear something truly nightmarish is going on.

Interesting flashrule prop use! I admit that some of my unique items were a little goofy, but yours felt right at home in this plot.

Also: I love how the narrator is initially fine with just drinking and plugging into VOIDTV. They aren’t trying to escape or start a revolution; they are happy to follow directions, right up until the point where it becomes clear that something extraordinary bad is happening and the head-in-the-sand approach isn’t going to work. In the beginning they are effectively passive/stationary. Then they become reactive. Then they become proactive, taking ownership of their situation. This is a good way to develop a character without delving deep into their angsty backstory, or whatever.

Demerits

I like pretty much everything about this except the ending. Full disclosure: as I write these initial crits, I am approaching each story as a standalone piece so I can talk more directly about the individual authors’ choices. This ending, though, reads like it’s meant to hook up with someone else’s story. Forgive me if I’m wrong about that, but it’s such a big TO BE CONTINUED in a week where collaboration was invited, so it’s hard not to wonder.

Either way, this ending would kind of be a problem. Why? You have this nice, tight little bottle of a main story. One protag, one problem, one escalating sequence of events. And then at the very end, you introduce a whole new conflict that is not specifically foreshadowed at any point earlier in the story (rebels trying to take the tower). I can sort of headcanon that maybe the lockdown and the time loop are somehow related to the rebelling residents, but it’s not really in the text anywhere. The easiest fix would simply be to find a way to foreshadow the rebel residents.

A light nitpick: who sees a guy plop into a pool from on high and goes “you look like someone who should join our ragtag assault force!”??



Something Else - Cleaning Up

Competencies

This is great. The wry tone works really well, and there’s just a drizzle of commentary on the empty aspirations of the middle and upper-middle class. Our janitor kind of seems a little detached from that hollow craving, but in the end, even they want to take out the trash in higher places. It’s a nice little bit of hypocrisy, especially given how the janitor handles the deranged woman (“ "Now you're not where you're supposed to be. You're no use to anybody on this level…”).

Demerits

None, really. I think I could find things if I was editing this with a keener eye, but in general I enjoy this piece with few reservations. Something spectacular could knock this out of the running, but at the time of this reading, this is my first solid HM candidate for the week.



Sparksbloom - The Groomers

Competencies

There is something darkly interesting about the eyes behind the camera—the person who activates the toxic gas or the collapsing stairs. This story is very much a look behind the curtain, so to speak, and I enjoy that.

The narrator is dispassionate about the huge body count she’s racking up, but she’s not a robot or a cardboard cutout. She’s just not afflicted by the same guilt as Carrow because she is doing a job with easily-defined parameters. Carrow comes across as a bit of a hypocrite (in an interesting way) because 1) she does the same job as the narrator, so she’s killed plenty of people herself 2) she’s fine with the mysterious “grooming” procedure because she gets to be in a state of drugged out bliss, and 3) the ending suggests that she’s put herself and the narrator in significant danger by the end, so it’s not like she’s a life-saving force of benevolence.

It’s weird because I think Carrow is a lot like the typical protagonist of a sci-fi story; she’s rebellious, asks questions, and ultimately defies authority. Except I found myself more sympathetic to the narrator because her reasoning is more logical within the setting—which is good! Since the narrator is who we’re riding along with.

Demerits

I think this story assumes the reader knows a lot about the setting and the flash rule. Which is a reasonable assumption in Thunderdome! But even so, there was a bunch of stuff that was more vague than necessary.

I’m a big believer in putting a nice “establishing shot” somewhere near your opener. Something as simple as “I sat in my ergonomic desk chair, surrounded on all sides by CCTV screens,” or something. Here is a rough play-by-play of how my brain handled your first few paragraphs:

“Students”. So this is a school? Is the narrator in a classroom environment?

“Extinguished nineteen”. Nineteen what? Extinguished how?

Carrow’s entry doesn’t seem poetic, but the narration tells me it is. What am I missing? What’s poetic about it?

Ah. The narrator is on-shift at work. Is it a vocational school? Why are students also CCTV operators?

On my first read, I think it took me until the bit with the people getting off the elevator before I grokked that the narrator was a security camera/death trap operator. It’s not that I needed you to come out and tell me that, but I needed a sentence or two to set the scene, give me a little more context about where the narrator is and what she's doing, even if I don’t understand the ‘why’ of it.


QuoProQui - Eggshell

Competencies

I don’t have a lot to say about this, in the good way. Every time I read it, my eyes sort of just glide happily along the words, enjoying the nightmarish escalation of Greta’s obsession. You could choose to read this simply as a well-crafted science fiction/horror yarn, or you could look deeper and choose to see a statement about the isolating effect of a consumer culture that drives us to envy and jealousy.

This is, I believe, the first of the stories to reference the tower within the tower (within the tower, etc), but you sneak mention of it into the story almost in passing—a bit of dream logic in a story that reads like a nightmare. I think you did the subsequent stories a favor because I was primed for the idea of the nested towers without feeling like someone was shouting LOOK MA, WE’RE COLLABORATIN’ in my face.

Demerits

None, really. I mean, with stories like this, where the writing is solid and the premise is interesting, I would say maybe take a stronger point of view? I’m not asking for your characters to stand up and give the john galt speech, but since you’re in the business of holding up an unflattering mirror to your readers (at least those of us who are capitalist pigdogs), you may as well tell us something about ourselves.



Tyrannosaurus - every man would pray in the belly of the whale

Competencies

I gotta say, Trex, that it does tickle my balls that a junkie has a literal monkey on his back, tyvm. It’s a sight gag but you pull it off well enough.

Over all, this is a jaunty ride along with a very self-aware junkie as he rails against his own lack of agency as well as the useless cliches of a system that doesn’t actually want him to get better. Like, same. You do this neat thing with the character; he’s kind of nihilistic and resigned, pragmatic about his situation. And yet at the end he finally makes himself vulnerable to his desire for absolution, proof that he is not in control of his own fate. I found myself wanting the closure of seeing that little tendril of smoke drift up from the model tower, so when it didn’t happen, I was left feeling empathy for the protagonist’s despair.

Sidenote: I have no idea whether or not you and QPQ coordinated this, but your entry springboards nicely off of his oblique mention of the nested towers.

Demerits

I typed out a few nitpicky notes and deleted them.

I guess my only minor critique would be that I found myself accidentally skimming through sections heavy with a bunch of Narconon satire. I wasn’t entirely sure if you were parodying Narconon specifically (Void Inc. would absolutely run a Scientology-esque substance abuse program) or just the general idea of twelve step programs. Either way, I feel like authors almost always reach for the exact same tone when satirizing self help, and this story doesn’t really break the mold in that regard. Writing bad therapy/self-help is a lot like acting drunk on film, in that it’s hard to do realistically.

That said, there is a lot of bad-on-purpose self-help dialog this week, so I think I might be suffering from a mild overdose of it. Too bad I don’t have a monkey on my back.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






here are some more Week 400 crits. I'm trying to have all of them done tomorrow but my home "workspace" is not great so it's been very slow going. sorry!

a friendly penguin - Level Two

Competencies

This is a really cool second layer to T-rex’s story. It’s a mirror image, an inversion, and a nested story all in one. They really do read like who halves of a whole, and the ending of your piece does a lot to validate T’rex’s piece; it really paid off in the moment where Daniel is at the edge of the roof asking the monkey if he’s going to kill himself, and the final image in the story, when Daniel’s failure to light the match causes a crisis of faith in in at least two tower-layers (if I understand the logic of the nester towers correctly, it seems as though Daniel’s perceived failure would have a huge ripple effect up and down the tower layers). Such a cool little inversion. Overall, this is the highlight of the collaborative efforts of Team Jailbreaker. Good job!

As for the individual strengths of this story: The writing is pretty good. I never feel particularly close to Daniel because we’re watching him from the robot monkey’s POV, but he is an interesting character, a little evocative of the biblical Job. He is living out a nightmare scenario—his faith is truly meaningless, and he literally is being manipulated by uncaring “gods”. His hunger for piety and absolution will never be meaningfully sated.

Demerits

Similar to how I was a little underwhelmed by T-rex’s presentation of 12-step/Narconon-style therapy, I wish the religious elements here were not so on-the-nose Christian and puritanical. This story is good, but if I think too hard about the religion-as-control element, I feel sort of like I’m having a conversation with a teenager who has decided they are no longer going to attend church. The story looks at me very earnestly and rebelliously and says, “Religion is the opiate of the masses, dad.” I think it was a missed opportunity (as with T-rex’s story) to utilize the fantastical nature of the setting to imagine a more unique mechanism of religious/chemical control.

Ultimately, both of these stories leaned a little too heavily on my knowledge of the prompts and setting to tell their stories, so it put them at a little bit of a disadvantage to those stories that had more standalone power. Still, entries like these are what make the “world” of these shared prompts feel more persistent and lived-in, so thank you (you too, T-rex, if you read this)!



Uranium Phoenix - When Life Gives You Radioactive Potato Snacks, You Should Figure Out What To Do With Them

Competencies

The opening is great. We are dropped immediately into the jaunty POV of a journalist who just got chucked into the deep end of the pool. She immediately scans as confident and plucky, and I want to read more about her. This is how you set up an adventure story protagonist. Loryin’s (lol)studious attention to code violations is a nice touch—it’s a good way to lampoon the comically dystopian Voidmart setting while instilling your character with a useful quirk.

Sidenote: thank you for writing a customer-facing email that doesn’t include inexplicable redactions!

I love the way that Rosa Kool-Aid Mans onto the scene, literally crashing through a wall, ready to offer The Scoop to the intrepid journalist. There’s a gleefulness in the way you make the story happen—a brief, on-the-move dialog exchange establishes that both characters believe they have good reasons for doing what they’re doing, and that it’s only natural that they should team up.

I like Rosa as an affectionate parody of an aimlessly outraged activist. I think anyone who does activism or attends protest is familiar with the sort of personality who thinks wanton destruction is the same thing as effecting meaningful change. Loryin is a little more sensible, but she definitely has an overinflated idea of her importance of her investigative journalist activities; you get the sense that she kind of hopes the powers that be will come down on her because that would legitimize her presence in the tower and make her a true whistleblower.

Demerits

As for the ending: lol I’ve seen the episode of TNG where Picard rules lawyers the xenophobic aliens too. That’s not a critique, but it seemed too quippy to include in the ‘competencies’ section.

I think your title does the story a bit of a disservice. The titular tots aren’t really that important to the story, and the way they’re used at the very end takes the story over the edge from “pleasantly implausible” to “ACME brand cartoon climax”. It absolutely reads like a wordcount crunch issue, and I found myself wishing that you’d found a way to resolve the story using a pre-existing element (Loryin’s rules lawyering) rather than a last-minute prop (radium-infused tater tots). It’s like a weird inversion of Chekov’s gun; it’s rarely satisfying when the protagonists win a fight with a tool acquired in the final act, unless attaining that tool was the purpose of the previous acts.

Rather than a slapstick fight scene, it might’ve been nice to lean into Loryin’s encyclopedic knowledge of code violations and had her go toe-to-toe with an AI or something (in this headcanon Rosa sneaks around and smashes the CPU just before Loryin wins her rigorous battle of logic.

I dunno. I really loved the first 2/3rds of this, but the final fight scene felt a little two slapstick, even though it did contain some of the elements I wanted to see.



Black Griffon - Double dipping

The standout feature of this story is the interaction between Siren and Pint. Pint is clearly horrifying, but Siren’s affectionate way of addressing him is very endearing. The ending of the story is bizarrely hilarious, with pint having consumed some or all of the eldritch symbiote that seems to be part of the tower—which is made evident when both he and the tower light up with friendship feelings for Siren.

This gets points for creativity; I largely don’t know what the gently caress is going on, but I love the idea of this carnivorous horror rippling through the tower walls and floors in the form of hundreds of mouths and impaling metal stakes. Siren is caught in the middle of a little bit of a kaiju battle sort of situation, though she is firmly on the side of both monsters and is mainly trying to mediate between them. I like how she has a dramatically different relationship to the structure vs Pint; in same ways, her connection to the structure is stronger, since she seems to have the ability to link with it and direct its actions, while her relationship with Pint is part handler, part colleague, and part friend.

Demerits

I don’t think you needed Siren’s dialog with Parasol. Their exchanges seem to exist to tell the reader what’s going on, and are fairly generic. You could easily have conveyed the same information through the narration instead of dialog. There’s some cool stuff about how she’s starting to hear Parasol before its transmissions actually reach her, but it’s kind of one weird and freaky detail in a story that is comprised at the atomic level of weird and freaky details.

Like many stories this week, you leaned a little too hard on the judge’s knowledge of the setting, and skimped out on some essential description. For example, the third sentence in your story is this:

quote:

One to fifty has been silent for hours, fifty one to seventy three has gone silent over the past twenty minutes.
Now, I know you’re talking about levels in the tower, but you should still do a little “establishing shot”—a sentence or two of description that lets the reader envision your character’s position within the set and setting.

In general, this story had a lot of that sort of vagueness—the things I could imagine were very cool, but it took a little bit of rereading to piece together what was going on because you glossed over a lot of description.



dmboogie - ..way down, all the way down, all the…

Competencies

Did you sneak a peek at the Jailbreaker chat somehow?? Your towers-within-towers mention is eerily similar to their shared premise if not. Intentional or not, it added to my sense of a shared world.

Anyway. I’m a sucker for stories about impossible love, and the narrator’s fascination with Loewe manages to stay just on the endearing side of creepy. It’s a little bit like the contemporary phenomenon of parasocial friendships—a listener’s one-sided affection for a podcaster, for example. It’s easy for me to believe that the narrator would, in the end, be strongly motivated by a desire to protect Loewe from the futility of trying to escape to the next level. I like that there is an almost protective quality to the narrator’s fixation on Loewe; they are a little horrified at the revelation of the multi-layered nature of their reality, but that horror is overriden by love~

I also enjoyed the narrator's monologues at their own overseer. It makes it easier to believe that Loewe is fully keen on the idea of being crushed on by the person in the next surveillance room up. It’s easy to imagine a long chain of these silent relationships, with all the operatives putting on little performances for their unseen observers.

Demerits

I’m going to give you the crit that all authors hate getting, which is that this story is basically fine. What makes it fine, instead of great, is the way you allocate words to the different elements of your plot. You spent a decent chunk of the story lovingly crafting the whole watchmen-watching-the-watchmen security deal, as well as the narrator’s infatuation with Loewe. It’s not bad stuff, but at a story this length, it’s better to start closer to the climax—the moment when alternate Loewe bursts through the door with other escapees from the next tower down.

For example, it doesn’t matter that the narrator’s infatuation started “precisely two weeks after” they started working as a security tech. A lot of the narrator’s idle musings about the security apparatus don’t [i]initially[/] matter—it would be more effective if they were sprinkled throughout the story. There’s nothing wrong with the first few hundred words, they just aren’t very efficient at this length.

So maybe you give us one moment that crystalizes the narrator’s affection for Loewe; watching him sing could be it. Rather than give us the whole backstory, show the readers one small (one-sided) interaction that implies a pattern of such interactions. The actual conflict of this story is the alternate Loewe’s appearance. That is when it becomes personal for the narrator, and really weird for “our” Loewe, who presumably is really fuckin weirded out by seeing his terrified doppleganger.

You could have gone so many directions with that. Maybe the narrator ends up helping the alt-Loewe, interfering with security measures to keep him safe. Maybe Loewe tries to save his other self, and the narrator has to choose whether or not to stop him. I could think of a million things.

Alternatively: choose a story climax that fits the tone of your opening. Instead of having this bombastic invasion of dopplegangers from another tower, maybe the primary conflict is something more personal and mundane (even if cataclysmic tower drama is still happening in the background).



Applewhite - Neighborhood watch

Competencies

I like the way you described the mechanic of the emotion-seeking goggles! Specifically, I like that objects carried the residue of their use (and mistreatment). Also, I enjoy that the person using it is apparently very low on empathy; seeing emotional residue would be incredible, but this guy doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate that.

Sasha is a pretty good unreliable POV character. For a little while I genuinely thought he was stalking some idiot kids, and the things hinting otherwise were subtle enough that they could have been part of the general void weirdness.

The ending feels very Twighlight Zone. Sasha’s ultimate fate feels justified, and it’s easy to feel good about because he didn’t actually hurt anyone. I don’t think turning someone into a living security camera is something any government or organization should do, but in Sasha’s case, it’s poetic, and he’s not exactly miserable. He has been fully assimilated by the fascists! Albeit in a dehumanizing way. But that is the price we pay for safety and security.

Demerits

Sasha as a character is fairly unnuanced, so while the ending does feel like a payoff of sorts, I can’t say I really enjoyed riding along with his POV. I don’t have to like him, don’t have to condone his actions, can find him totally repugnant, but since we spend the whole story with him, I was hoping for something more developed than “delusional wannabe cop”. He’s kind of one note the whole time, so while it’s satisfying to see him get his comeuppance, it’s also kind of a tidy tale about a bad thing happening to a flatly bad person.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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Here are a few more week 400 crits. sorry these are still going slow. I'll try to make it up with quality??


Schneider Heim - What is home, but each other?

Competencies

I really enjoy that your two characters have their own story—a pair of fantasy protagonists plopped into a dystopian Voidmart setting. This kind of feels like another in a string of adventures, which is refreshing in a week where stories were tightly focused on the conflict as described in the prompt (which is good, don’t get me wrong, but a little variation is nice). Building on that, it’s nice to read about a couple of friends. Not even best friends, just amiable roommates. This week was full of chance encounters, one-sided interactions, betrayals, and jealousy, so the empathy and concern your characters show each other was a nice palate cleanser.

The central conflict is personal and reasonably realistic. Being a fantasy adventurer is pretty cool, but Eyja isn’t wrong for wanting a life where she can pursue her music in relative comfort and safety. I enjoy that Eyja and Maril don’t consider each other, like, ride-or-die lifelong buddies, either, because it gives this moment a quiet dynamism: you get the sense that both roommates are kind of just now realizing that maybe their friendship matters more than either of them thought.

A couple bits made me smile. I like the bit near the beginning where they’re talking about their possibly-deceased friends and time fuckery, and a couple lines later Eyja is thinking about doing a Nudist Lutist cover. The fact that she’s not taking this very seriously gives the impression that this has come up a bunch. And of course the ending, which Maril reveals herself to have been waiting outside for Eyja the whole time. It’s a very cute story, and you can’t help but feel happy that Ayja and Maril are sticking together.

Demerits

It’s hard to avoid a little bit of as-you-know-Bob dialog as exposition when you’re writing this sort of story. The primary conflict is between two friends, so the primary means of plot advancement is going to be through dialog. But then you get lines like:

quote:

You’ve been a vagabond all your life, not by choice but by necessity.

That might be something you say about someone, but it’s unlikely that you’d say that to them. It’s dialog that’s purely for the reader’s benefit, so it weakens the believability of the conversation. Have you ever listened to two strangers talk and realized you could basically piece together the subject of their conversation? Sometimes it’s obvious, of course, but a lot of the time, any given statement is carrying in a lot more information than the surface meaning of the words. Generally speaking, when people talk about one thing, they are implying a whole bunch of other things—it could be how they choose their words, their tone of voice, their body language, the life experience implied by an anecdote. Anything, really.

I can’t really advise eavesdropping, but maybe next time you’re in public (uuuuuh maybe not now, though), you could let yourself hear the conversations happening around you and see if you can piece together something of the bigger story of the people conversing.



Thranguy - Void: ‘Where’ Prohibited

Competencies

Everyone tends to be very THE VOID when writing for this week, but few stories ever really explore the void conceptually or thematically. You do both! This is probably the writerliest story of the week; as the story progresses, there are musings on the nature of the void, and those musings culminate in the narrator’s understanding of what they must become at the end.

Big points for creative use of the tower setting. The levels aren’t just up and down but seemingly arrayed across all of time and space. One of the coolest bits is when our protagonist finds themself injured in an old battle in a far away place, but a version of that battle where nonsensical things are happening. I’m not drawing a comparison, because you’re clearly doing your own thing here, but I recently read This Is How You Lose the Time War and was reminded pleasantly of that book at points in this story.

I predictably liked that Good Vibrations was playing in the elevator. I like to think that traversing the transfinite floors takes exactly the runtime of that song. I was reminded pleasantly of one of my favorite details in the film Dredd, which was the inclusion of Matt Berry’s Snuff Box theme song at a couple points in the movie (and particularly, in relation to a sympathetic character). There’s something about a well-placed anachronism that bridges the gap between the world of the reader and the world of the story.

Finally, I love the scope of the ending. To stop the jailbreakers, Voidmart has to create another God. Writing this crit, it occurs to me that this story is probably the closest we’ll get to understanding the void behind the mart. The revelation that void+voice=God is as good an explanation as any for the limitless capacity of Voidmart to produce goods and infrastructure. I loved the detail that God, as far as Voidmart is concerned, is just another position that can be made redundant (even if it takes a few centuries).

Demerits

This story is mighty in many ways but none of the characters feel particularly ‘present’. The narrator is more or less a camera, though there is a little bit of wryness when they are ruminating about their fellow combatants (like the lady who got her brain put in a GUN DINOSAUR). The jailbreakers are sort of just a background presence, like persistent flooding or a strong wind. Even the leader is indistinct, appearing only to fail at the hands of a new God. The CEO is the only character with a little spark, but I think that is largely because she is kind of an established character within the shared setting. You had words to spare; I didn’t need a detailed character portrait, but a little more texture to your narrator would have more solidly grounded me in their POV.

And since I commented on Good Vibrations above: I am not sure the Vonnegut comparison serves quite as well, because you’re kind of just saying “I was unstuck in time, like a character who was also unstuck in time”. This is absolutely a nitpick though and may or may not be skewed by my love of the beach boys.



Yoruichi - Immaculate

Competencies

I enjoyed this Voidmart take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. This story has a strong, albeit depressing point of view: anyone given the opportunity to displace the consequences of their behavior onto someone else would do so, even someone who knows what it’s like to be the recipient.

I like the penultimate bit of the story, when Linda realizes, in her nearly dissolute state, that she can escape downward into another later of VoidTower One. It’s whimsical and almost hopeful, like maybe Linda will use this opportunity to live out life as a good person on her own terms. You could imagine her finding a better version of the tower, where victims of the PerfectLife package might stop the cycle of exploitation. But of course it’s just another of Void inc.’s layers of ensnarement.

Looking back at the story though, I guess it’s Linda own (very rational) self-interest that saves her—she lusts for her own perfect life, and that lust for life seems to be what pulls her into the next tower “down”. So while the ending is a little bit cynical, I think it works for Linda’s character.

Demerits

I think my only real problem with this story is that it’s not really clear what Linda is doing most of the time. Is she following Linda around? Is she sort of disembodied, like a living shadow? I think a few words might’ve been spent describing Linda’s physical or non-physical presence within the setting. I think she has a physical body because she bends down to look at the tower model, which is difficult to do when you don’t have a body. If that’s the case, I think you missed an opportunity for some cool, macabre imagery—what’s it like, having all these agonized doubles hanging around?

Lastly, I would’ve liked to have Linda have at least a moment of conflict at the end. At no point does she consider what she’s about to do to another being. You had the words to spare, so it would have been a great opportunity to draw out some internal conflict.



Anomalous Amalgam - New Beginnings

Competencies

Well, I’ll say this: you did something because Surreptitious Muffin threw himself bodily in front of a DM for this story. I happen to think Muffin is pretty clever, so I decided to call in the stay of execution and give it some more thought. Nobody likes to DM a story that they end up liking later, once the pressure of judging is off.

So, now that I’ve had more time to consider this piece on its own, do I like it?

I don’t know. I’m going to type out what I think happens and maybe that will help one of us out.

So you’ve got the quadrilliard and they’ve got some big ideas. Somewhere in the pandimensional VoidTower One (I assume the “many-layered reality manifold” is VoidTower One) is an unoccupied residential zone where thought and reality are a lot more fluid. The quadrilliard sees the potential in this: they want to create a thoughtform with godlike powers, then shape it for their own purposes, or according to the purposes of the High Concept, maybe.

So, part of the creation of the quadrilliard’s thoughtform involves the painful transformation of an ‘organic’ into this moldable godlike thoughtform. I don’t actually know what’s going on with that, so here’s some headcanon: the quadrilliard became the sovereign of the abandoned residential zone where the freaky psychic poo poo was happening and repopulated it with residents. As a consequence of the leaky brainwaves, the residents have fused together into one gestalt being? And the quadrilliard sort of creates a pocket reality to comfort it as it undergoes the agony of total amalgamation??? IDK man I’m doing my best over here.

Anyway they have a conversation about free will or something, it’s very oblique. Ultimately, the quadrilliard seems to decide that it would be better to disperse the thoughtform across all “mind and life”, seemingly imbuing all living things with the agency of the thoughtform, and call it a day.

The denouement sees quadrilliard’s people acting as liaisons between i guess humanity and whatever the gently caress the quadrilliard made the “Organic” into (or allowed to become? It’s unclear). I’m still not sure about that aspect, though I like the idea that whatever the quadrilliard created has hosed up the upper levels of the tower to the point where even void-infused beings can’t meaningfully inhabit them. It certainly offers a terrifying answer, from the jailbreakers’ perspective, to the mystery at the top of the tower.

If I’m off base with any of the above, it’s not for lack of trying. I appreciate the ambition of this story—in a way I’m reminded a little bit of Thranguy’s story, since he also conceived of the tower on a pandimensional scope. I think that’s a cool thing to do with the setting and I don’t think the idea is totally irredeemable, but...well, meet me down in demerits.

Demerits

Oh hi there, thanks for coming.

Let’s start at the top. Your first sentence sets a pretty dismal tone. I understand why you would write a sentence like that; you want to let the reader know that we’re dealing with beings who operate outside of our concrete, linear mode of reality. But guess what bucko, your words still have to mean something. What’s an ‘abstract schism’? What am I supposed to imagine when I see that word pairing? Why is this qudrilliard addressing an ‘abstract schism’ with a ‘fleeting memory’? A fleeting memory doesn’t sound very important.

Your second paragraph is actually fine. The reason it works is because, yes, you introduce us to the quadrilliard of ideation, which is very whimsical, but you pair that with something easy for me to understand: the quadrilliard has a motivation! And that motivation is to become a sovereign of a place so they can accomplish a task. That’s something I can wrap my head around, even though I don’t fully understand what the quadrilliard is or what their world is like. There’s not a set ratio for this sort of thing, but in general, every time you introduce something weird or highly specific to the world of your story, you should also offer the reader something familiar—a relatable character, an understandable (if not relatable) motivation, some concrete setting detail. Something along those lines.

I have no idea what the Organic is. Same with the High Concept. They’re referred to throughout the story as though the reader should be able to infer what they are, but there aren’t enough context clues. Like, the thoughtform seems to be part of the quadrilliard, but somehow is also the Organic? The High Concept could be the design for, or the will of, the tower itself. I just don’t know.

Bottom line, I feel as though this story is sort of a take on the creation of God and the generation of free will, but I almost hope I’m wrong because that makes this a long, arduous road to a small, overcrowded house.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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A few more week 400 crits

Pththya-lyi

Competencies

Since I read the week from the beginning, I knew about Emma from other stories, so it was neat that she got to be center stage.

You took on a pretty challenging format! Telling a story via transcript is hard because it takes some common tools out of your tool box. You have to tell the story entirely through Emma's monologue—no scenery description, no blocking of the characters in space. On the other hand, telling your story entirely through the voice of your protagonist gives you ample opportunity to characterize them through their word choice and overall tone. Emma comes through very strong in this transcript: she's perky, she's peppy, she is full of all the cliches you'd expect from a frivolous YouTube personality. There's also a disingenuousness to her, the sense that she's kind of just doing a job to sell her products and generate ad revenue. In short, Emma is the distillation of modern-day influencers, which is good if you don't particularly want your reader to empathize with her.

Demerits

So, like I said above, you took on a challenging format! I question the wisdom in telling this story this way. As I mentioned above, an advantage of this type of transcript format is that it's essentially all about your character's voice. Emma isn't very interesting to ride along with because she's such a boilerplate instagram influencer type; she's not even hawking dubious Void products (other than the one I assigned you), it's all just tea and hair color, pretty standard fair for someone in her "industry".

Here's the thing. It's not enough to take a thing from reality and plop it into your story without zesting it up. In this case, the YouTube shill. You have to take that character and slap some exaggerated stage makeup on them, twiddle the knobs until they are not a 1:1 likeness of a contemporary internet cliche. Emma doesn't really reflect anything about the setting or her situation; you could imagine this character getting by just as happily in a real-world setting rather than a sci-fi one. It's not bad to write about realistic types of people, but internet celebrities are associated with a particular sort of vacuousness, and Emma doesn't break that mold at all, which doesn't make her a very compelling character to read about.

The confrontation with her other self is another opportunity to imbue Emma with some unique flaws. Her other self would know all her deep dark secrets, yeah? The stuff about her resenting her fans isn't really news to the reader; not only is it obvious on the page, it's what we expect from this type of character. The whole conversation needs a little bit of tuning up to get away from the cliches define Emma throughout the whole piece. The confrontation also strains the realism of the piece (which is ironic to say since I was just talking about getting away from boring real world cliches); it's hard to believe this usurper would just step into Emma's place when there is an audience and a transcript showing an assault and presumably murder.

Bottom line, I think telling this story via transcript was a tall order!



Antivehicular - Hanging Fire

Competencies

I’m a sucker for stories that find a reason to do color porn. The differently colored smokes added a lot of pop to this story, which is like candy for those readers who are highly visual. The VoitTower setting lends itself to steely colors—gunmetal, black, grey, rust red—so I appreciated the multichromatic set pieces. I like the concept of the smoke room because, while I don’t have any idea what Charlie is accomplishing when she correctly racks the smoke, I don’t really need to understand it. There’s a specificity to her chore, but also a compelling mysteriousness.

Demerits

I’m hard pressed to pin down why this wasn’t on my HM shortlist. It’s technically good, and there are a bunch of little details I like.

Charlie herself is part of it, and I think it’s more of a POV issue than a Charlie issue. I think this story needed a tighter third person limited POV—more acute emotional data, more of Charlie doing things “on screen”. The first section never really places Charlie in a specific set or moment—it’s kind of a general rundown of her situation at the time of the story. It’s not bad, as exposition goes, but I think it might’ve been more effective, in this case, to show Charlie compulsively checking her wrist monitor in between racking up the smokes (or something like that). I think “show, don’t tell” is prescriptive bullshit but you got to admit that sometimes show is the way to go.

Fortunately, the second, longer section has Charlie moving around on screen, as it were.

That brings me to my other issue: I love the image at the ending. The void swaddled in multi-color smokes, surrounded by the melted stumps of broken pipes is cool as poo poo to imagine. I’m just...not sure what I’m supposed to take away from it. I’m okay with not knowing the purpose of the smoke, but I’m not sure what it means that the pipes are broken, or whether the void is operating as expected. Since nothing really changes for Charlie (well, aside from her deep deep anxiety), it’s hard for me to put my finger on the implications of what happened at the top of the tower.



Profane - Employee of the Monad

Competencies

Boy this story just kinds of bounds forward like a happy golden retriever, and the confident humor of the voice instantly demands attention. The pacing is great; it goes down like a 500 word story even though you used the full 1500 word count. I didn’t feel an urge to skim or tab away while reading. There are a ton of fairly quotable lines, too. I think my favorites are:

quote:

I close the door, turn around, and experience a multidimensional butthole clench that I only recently learned was possible when I see, on my countertop, a prettily wrapped box with a bow on it.

quote:

It feels like I’ve touched my exposed frontal lobe to a frozen pole all Christmas Story style because wrenching my gaze away leaves me feeling like I’ve torn my brain in half.

I think what drives this piece is the narrator’s sheer gently caress YEAH even when he’s more or less aware that he’s being manipulated by Voidmart technology. He’s not exactly a flag-waving company man, as such, but he knows that he has to play one and he does it with the gusto of a born shill. And from Void inc.’s perspective, he does everything right! Unfortunately, ‘right’ in Voidmart’s book is ‘morally repugnant’ in everyone else’s, and poor Patrick gets chucked down the long cornhole of a stairwell.

Demerits

I only have one real criticism but it’s kind of a fatal flaw. As soon as Patrick is set loose in the hallways, it’s clear that he’s going on a gamified killing spree. Aaaand...that is where the momentum of the plot runs out of steam. Yeah he’s smashing his way through brand mascots, but there’s a low hanging fruit quality to it; like the story is nudging me in the ribs going “hey, hey, it’s that capitalism thing you’ve heard of, getting PUNCHED.” I think Jeff Bezos was officially the point of overkill for me. Bezos is a little bit like Elon Musk or Trump, who are themselves like a pungent fish sauce: a little bit in the pan will stink up your whole house, so you better be using it for a real good reason. They tend to overpower stories in which they appear.

I would have accepted a paragraph or so of mascot antics, but I think the story needed to do one more pivot before the end.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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What's all this then?

:toot: Thunderdome has a zine now! :toot:

The above link is work and family-safe.

We selected 12 stories out of those contributed by writers in TD. This was the seat-of-our pants effort, so a huge thank you to those who have been patiently bearing with us! Shout out to Steeltoedsneakers, who actually made this happen, and our assistant editor, Obliterati!

Issue two will feature

  • A submission form!
  • A team of motivated editors!
  • Formal acceptances/rejections, just like a real magazine!
  • Reasonable time tables!

Keep your eyes on the thread for more info.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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im going to be in and write a story about tube worms and you can either flash me a philosophy or not

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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tube worms, flash: psychological egoism.

This is how Bret and Lorelai became tube worms:
1311 words

Bret from organizational organization swept onto the airy comunal coworking floor with an edict. “Medial. Product. Tivity,” he said, smacking his fist on his open palm with every syllable. “First quarter has been very lateral, productivity-wise. Exceptionally lateral. Thanks to your hard work, the lateral bar has been raised.”

He held up a finger, shushing the already silent room, a showman’s smirk on his face. Lorelai was overly conscious of the hum of the air conditioner, the dry chill in her nostrils.

“Productivity is like a staircase,” Bret continued. “Lateral periods—that’s where you put your feet. You have to have something to set your feet on before you can climb.” He made a wide, flat gesture, as though he were sweeping paperwork off a desk.

It was impossible to look away from Bret when he got like this. Some days Lorelai found herself hoping that he would descend into the coworking space with one of his logistical action plans, just so she could shudder with the unbearable fremdscham, that delicious just-dislodged-a-big-booger feeling of watching someone make an rear end of themselves.

“Medial! Productivity!” he boomed, making a few team members jump. “Periods of medial productivity are like the uppy-go bits of the staircase.”

The rest of the team nodded their heads and muttered affirmatively amongst themselves.

”The uppy-go bits. That makes sense to me.”

“This is exactly what I’ve been saying. We’ve been on the steppy-foot bit for too long. What we need is an uppy-go strategy.


The contempt Lorelai felt for everyone and everything in that office was orgasmic. And yet she heard herself say, as if compelled by some hypnotist’s trick: “Our team is primed for an uppy-go approach to productivity.”

She felt her face making a poo poo-eating grin and forced it into a frown. It was a slow, uncomfortable process, like unsticking a cramped foot at bedtime. She hated what the office made her into—a begrudging fecal microbe in the guts of corporate megafauna.

“Since we’re all very excited about this strategy pivot,” Bret said, “I thought we could allocate today for a little competitive teamwork exercise.”

He swept off the coworking floor as imperiously as he’d come in, and the team all fell into his wake. Lorelai went last, silently fuming at her reflexive compliance.

.

The office was three blocks from the Santa Cruz Beach; Lorelai and the others followed Bret there, a long line of cautiously optimistic ducklings.

Once the whole team was arrayed on the sand, the nature of the exercise was revealed: groups of five team members would each receive a bucket of long, thick, multicolored straws and one roll of Scotch tape. Using these materials, the teams of team members would attempt to craft the tallest, sturdiest, most uppy-goest staircase possible in the two remaining hours of the workday.

“Remember, this is a teamwork exercise!” Bret called over the wind, which gleefully whipped his tie up and over his shoulder. “And everyone here is competing to be the hardest teamworker!” He flattened the tie against his chest, held it there with one hand. “Performance reviews to follow!”

As soon as Lorelai’s team got to work, it became clear that Estelle from streamlining and optimization styled herself a contender for hardest teamworker.

“I think we should go as vertical as possible,” Estelle said. “Let’s think medially. Picture this: an infinitely tall staircase, with only one step.”

Just as Lorelai opened her mouth to point out the finite number of straws at their disposal, the wind made off with several of those straws, twirling and dancing them up the beach. She knew an out when she saw one and trotted off after them, slow enough that the wind kept them just a little out of reach.

“That’s great,” Estelle called after her. “You can be our straw-getter. Straw-getting is a key role!”

Of course, with Lorelai mostly out of the way, Estelle only had to compete with three other people for the title of hardest teamworker, but Lorelai didn’t mind. Estelle was terrible at being a teammate, but very good at doing things that looked like good teamwork, and the other three were shades of the same.

The straws came to rest against a leg of driftwood, neon pink and green plastic contrasting with bone-white wood. Lorelai halted, a portentous knot in her stomach. The straws looked clumsy and inelegant compared to the diverse texture of the sand, the gouges and knots in the weathered wood. A seagull preened itself nearby, oblivious and indifferent to the qualities of uppy-go and teamworkmanship.

This was the real world, Lorelai decided. Chaotic and scattered about, irregular and unintentional. And there she was, a big neon-pink plastic straw jutting out of the beach. A teammate. A straw-getter. A lateral-moving, medial-minded uppy-go strategist. She felt all the hyper-specific descriptors enclosing her like layers of rigid keratin, thick and hard as an overgrown toenail.

“Hey teamarooni,” Bret said from behind her. “You working on a top secret strategy over here?”

She turned to face him, wobbling a little in the sand. “No, Bret, I’m not.”

He made a face like a perplexed golden retriever. “I’ll bet your team sure wishes you were over there helping out.”

Lorelai glanced back at the activity area. Estelle, it seemed, had annexed all the other teams, and appeared to be overseeing the construction of one enormous mono-stair. A few beachgoers had stopped to video the process with their phones. Viewed from afar, the whole tableau looked like a scene from an extraterrestrial theater production—something inscrutable and nonsensical.

“I don’t think I’m going to help them out, actually,” Lorelai said. “I think I’m going to walk to the bottom of the bay and become a tube worm instead. I’ll live in the dark and never think about anything again.”

Bret’s eyes went wide. “I don’t think that’s allowed,” He said, then frowned. “Is it allowed?”

“It should be,” Lorelai said. “Maybe if I do it, they’ll have to ease up restrictions.”

“But—” Bret gestured back at the mono-stair tableau. “Wouldn’t that be a little self-oriented of you? You’re a major team resource.”

“I’ll be a tube worm. I won’t have a self.”

Lorelai let Bret grapple with that one and turned to face the bay, where the wind teased little white caps out of the waves. The keratin layers of labels she wore on her soul had become too heavy to carry, so now she was going to shed them. She took a step toward the water, then another, then another, already feeling a lightness, a spaciousness between her molecules.

“Wait,” Bret called after her. “I want to be a tube worm, too.”

Lorelai faltered mid-step, covered it up by pivoting around to face Bret again.

He shuffled toward her, kicking up sand with his loafers as he went. “Yeah,” he said defiantly, reading the surprise on her face. “Do you know what it’s like to have a whole room of people agree with you just because they think it’ll help them get ahead? Even when you know you’re saying nothing at all? I’ll bet tube worms don’t have that problem.”

Lorelai knew; she’d been one of those people right up until the wind had carried the plastic straws up the beach. She chewed her lip, supposing that if she were a tube worm, it wouldn’t much matter whether Bret was one, too.

“Alright,” she said. “We can go together.

Everyone on the beach was so enamored by Estelle’s mono-stair project that Bret and Lorelai slipped unnoticed into the waves, shedding their skin in curling whisps as they went, leaving toenails of ego bobbing on the surface as they vanished.

A little while later, a whale carcass bloomed with strings like living boogers: bone-eating worms doing the blue collar work of eating the ocean’s refuse, untroubled by the absurdities beyond the shoreline.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






I'm in

Yoruichi posted:

Bret from organizational organization NO. Just, no. I suppose you think this is funny but what is actually does is declare to me that this is a story that is going to make fun of tedious bureaucractic bs and this is such a soft and obvious target that I am already mad at this story oh boy here we go swept onto the airy comunal coworking floor with an edict. “Medial. Product. Tivity,” he said, smacking his fist on his open palm with every syllable. “First quarter has been very lateral, productivity-wise. Exceptionally lateral. Thanks to your hard work, the lateral bar has been raised.” Thank you Mr Nonsense man for this nonsense opening.

He held up a finger, shushing the already silent room, a showman’s smirk on his face. Lorelai was overly conscious of the hum of the air conditioner, the dry chill in her nostrils.

“Productivity is like a staircase,” Bret continued. “Lateral periods—that’s where you put your feet. You have to have something to set your feet on before you can climb.” He made a wide, flat gesture, as though he were sweeping paperwork off a desk.

It was impossible to look away from Bret when he got like this. Some days Lorelai found herself hoping that he would descend into the coworking space with one of his logistical action plans, just so she could shudder with the unbearable fremdscham, that delicious just-dislodged-a-big-booger feeling of watching someone make an rear end of themselves.

“Medial! Productivity!” he boomed, making a few team members jump. “Periods of medial productivity are like the uppy-go bits of the staircase.”

The rest of the team nodded their heads and muttered affirmatively amongst themselves.

”The uppy-go bits. That makes sense to me.”

“This is exactly what I’ve been saying. We’ve been on the steppy-foot bit for too long. What we need is an uppy-go strategy.
Ok so "uppy-go" and "steppy-foot" are funny sounding words but all this oh no Lorelai's colleagues are all just boring drones is just trite. I mean, what a cow.

The contempt Lorelai felt for everyone and everything in that office was orgasmic. And yet she heard herself say, as if compelled by some hypnotist’s trick: “Our team is primed for an uppy-go approach to productivity.”

She felt her face making a poo poo-eating grin and forced it into a frown. It was a slow, uncomfortable process, like unsticking a cramped foot at bedtime. She hated what the office made her into—a begrudging fecal microbe in the guts of corporate megafauna. First world problems, Lorelai.

“Since we’re all very excited about this strategy pivot,” Bret said, “I thought we could allocate today for a little competitive teamwork exercise.” Yay Bret, what a nice thing to do for your team. Bret probably lies awake at night worrying about how to make his team feel good about their jobs, because he cares.

He swept off the coworking floor as imperiously as he’d come in, and the team all fell into his wake. Lorelai went last, silently fuming at her reflexive compliance.

.

The office was three blocks from the Santa Cruz Beach; Lorelai and the others followed Bret there, a long line of cautiously optimistic ducklings.

Once the whole team was arrayed on the sand, the nature of the exercise was revealed: groups of five team members would each receive a bucket of long, thick, multicolored straws and one roll of Scotch tape. Using these materials, the teams of team members would attempt to craft the tallest, sturdiest, most uppy-goest staircase possible in the two remaining hours of the workday. So this job that Lorelai hates so much involves 2 hour trips to the beach to play with straws? I agree, yes that sounds awful, just awful.

“Remember, this is a teamwork exercise!” Bret called over the wind, which gleefully whipped his tie up and over his shoulder. “And everyone here is competing to be the hardest teamworker!” He flattened the tie against his chest, held it there with one hand. “Performance reviews to follow!”

As soon as Lorelai’s team got to work, it became clear that Estelle from streamlining and optimization styled herself a contender for hardest teamworker.

“I think we should go as vertical as possible,” Estelle said. “Let’s think medially. Picture this: an infinitely tall staircase, with only one step.” Good on you for trying to make the best of a daft situation, Estelle.

Just as Lorelai opened her mouth to point out the finite number of straws at their disposal, the wind made off with several of those straws, twirling and dancing them up the beach. She knew an out when she saw one and trotted off after them, slow enough that the wind kept them just a little out of reach.

“That’s great,” Estelle called after her. “You can be our straw-getter. Straw-getting is a key role!”

Of course, with Lorelai mostly out of the way, Estelle only had to compete with three other people for the title of hardest teamworker, but Lorelai didn’t mind. Estelle was terrible at being a teammate, but very good at doing things that looked like good teamwork, and the other three were shades of the same.

The straws came to rest against a leg of driftwood, neon pink and green plastic contrasting with bone-white wood. Lorelai halted, a portentous knot in her stomach. The straws looked clumsy and inelegant compared to the diverse texture of the sand, the gouges and knots in the weathered wood. A seagull preened itself nearby, oblivious and indifferent to the qualities of uppy-go and teamworkmanship.

This was the real world, Lorelai decided. Chaotic and scattered about, irregular and unintentional. And there she was, a big neon-pink plastic straw jutting out of the beach. A teammate. A straw-getter. A lateral-moving, medial-minded uppy-go strategist. She felt all the hyper-specific descriptors enclosing her like layers of rigid keratin, thick and hard as an overgrown toenail.

“Hey teamarooni,” Bret said from behind her. “You working on a top secret strategy over here?”

She turned to face him, wobbling a little in the sand. “No, Bret, I’m not.”

He made a face like a perplexed golden retriever. “I’ll bet your team sure wishes you were over there helping out.” Honestly Bret sounds like he's trying really hard to be a good manager, why can't Lorelai cut the dude some slack?

Lorelai glanced back at the activity area. Estelle, it seemed, had annexed all the other teams, and appeared to be overseeing the construction of one enormous mono-stair. A few beachgoers had stopped to video the process with their phones. Viewed from afar, the whole tableau looked like a scene from an extraterrestrial theater production—something inscrutable and nonsensical. OH NO WHAT A TERRIBLE DAY IN THE OFFICE YOU WENT TO THE BEACH AND MADE A SCULPTURE OH NO OH DEAR HOW YOU MUST HAVE SUFFERED

“I don’t think I’m going to help them out, actually,” Lorelai said. “I think I’m going to walk to the bottom of the bay and become a tube worm instead. WHY? Why does she suddenly want to be a tube worm? What even is a tube worm? This behaviour puts Lorelai one rank below horses in the hierarchy of stupid creatures. At least it wasn't Freckles' fault that he thought of ants and died. Poor Lorelai, thought about doing a little bit of easy work and became a tube worm. What the actual gently caress. I’ll live in the dark and never think about anything again.”

Bret’s eyes went wide. “I don’t think that’s allowed,” He said, then frowned. “Is it allowed?”

“It should be,” Lorelai said. “Maybe if I do it, they’ll have to ease up restrictions.”

“But—” Bret gestured back at the mono-stair tableau. “Wouldn’t that be a little self-oriented of you? You’re a major team resource.”

“I’ll be a tube worm. I won’t have a self.” This is rude to tube worms.

Lorelai let Bret grapple with that one and turned to face the bay, where the wind teased little white caps out of the waves. The keratin layers of labels she wore on her soul had become too heavy to carry, so now she was going to shed them. She took a step toward the water, then another, then another, already feeling a lightness, a spaciousness between her molecules.

“Wait,” Bret called after her. “I want to be a tube worm, too.” WHY?

Lorelai faltered mid-step, covered it up by pivoting around to face Bret again.

He shuffled toward her, kicking up sand with his loafers as he went. “Yeah,” he said defiantly, reading the surprise on her face. “Do you know what it’s like to have a whole room of people agree with you just because they think it’ll help them get ahead? Even when you know you’re saying nothing at all? I’ll bet tube worms don’t have that problem.” See? Have a little bit more sympathy for loving middle managers, they're just as much cogs as everyone else.

Lorelai knew; she’d been one of those people right up until the wind had carried the plastic straws up the beach. She chewed her lip, supposing that if she were a tube worm, it wouldn’t much matter whether Bret was one, too.

“Alright,” she said. “We can go together.

Everyone on the beach was so enamored by Estelle’s mono-stair project that Bret and Lorelai slipped unnoticed into the waves, shedding their skin in curling whisps as they went, leaving toenails of ego bobbing on the surface as they vanished.

A little while later, a whale carcass bloomed with strings like living boogers: bone-eating worms doing the blue collar work of eating the ocean’s refuse, untroubled by the absurdities beyond the shoreline. Great, yes, well done Lorelai, you've solved everything. You have successfully shed the complexities of adulthood for the simplicity of being a living booger killing a whale. Good for you.

This story makes no sense, has nothing to do with a circus or a train wreck, except that it is itself a train wreck I guess idk.


ty for the crit

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

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THUDNER-DOME






bread week

Mrs. and Mr. Andino are doing fine.
1500 words

The four poster bed was steeped in afternoon sunlight and crusted in black blood. Morghan oiled her bone saw, checked Guillermo’s morphine drip, and got to work on the old man’s leg.

The teeth of the saw glided through the meat of Guillermo’s thigh with buttery ease. Morghan sang while she worked, sang to soothe Guillermo and to cover up the gasps and whimpers he made as the saw chewed through his femur. How could any wife listen to her husband make those sounds?

Guillermo once suggested she get headphones for when she worked on him, but Morghan had never got the hang of portable, pre-recorded music, and didn’t have any intention of picking up the habit. Besides, she liked singing the old songs; the music of the present day peacocked around on the airwaves, all noise and no power. Morghan’s songs stank of charnel places and tasted of milk. They made dogs bay and cats go into heat. They—

Bing-bong! said the doorbell.

Morghan stopped sawing and gave Guillermo a pensive look.

Guillermo—drenched in sweat, swathed in brown-crusted bandages—spat the strip of leather from between his teeth and said, “It’s that fool from the state again. Don’t answer.”

“He could bring the police, love,” Morghan said, setting her bone saw on the metal tray beside the four poster bed. “I’ve got to tell him something.”

Bing-bong!

Guillermo made a dismissive old man noise and waved her off, then collapsed against his pillows, panting and groaning. Morghan sighed and divested herself of her bloodied apron, wishing that just once she could hook herself up to the morphine drip and let Guillermo take care of everything. It was an unkind thought—Guillermo sacrificed much to keep them in their preferred lifestyle—but that didn’t stop her from thinking it.

She made her way down the steep staircase to the front door, pleased at how her knees no longer ached as she went. That was something, at least.

The man from the state was smiling congenially when she opened the door, but frowned when he laid eyes on Morghan.

“Erm, hello,” he said. “I’m Zane with Adult Protective Services. I’m looking for...Morghan and Guillermo Andino?”

“I'm Morghan. We spoke when you visited last month,” Morghan said kindly. “And the month before.”

Zane looked down at the clipboard in his hands, then back at Morghan. “I have it here that Mrs. Andino is—I’m not trying to be rude—but it says on the documents that she’s ninety-four years old? The woman I spoke to last month was of, ah, advanced years.”

“Born on the twenty-first of June in 1926, yes that’s me,” Morghan said. “You came by to discuss Guillermo’s welfare. You were wearing a burgundy shirt. I made olive-focaccia tea sandwiches, of which you enjoyed a generous helping. Mo was in satisfactory condition, so you left. The situation hasn’t changed since then, except today your shirt is blue.”

“Right. Well,” Zane began, but it appeared that he couldn’t quite get his footing in any particular thought. “There are concerns that Mr. Andino is—but I’ll need to go back and verify a few things at the office. Sorry to have bothered you.”

He beat a hasty retreat back to his car, casting a few uneasy glances back at Morghan as he went. Morghan smiled at his retreating tail lights, then went back upstairs to finish off Guillermo’s femur.

.

Morghan was a fine surgeon, but she was a better baker. Her kitchen was busy with colorful jars, each containing samples of yeast, flour, and salt from all the world over. Her larder was stocked with a bounty of nuts, spices, honeys, and dried fruit, much of which had been gathered by Morghan herself on her many sojourns to the liminal gardens of her mothers.

She stripped the meat from Guillermo’s leg, cleaned the bone, and cleaved it into smaller segments which she then fed into the ancient cast iron meat grinder. She sang as she ground bone into powder, this time for joy. Kitchen songs, unlike the songs of the cutting room, were confectionary and bright, evocative of rising bread and swelling wombs. She tapped her foot in time with the rotations of the crank, lost for a while in song and the rhythm of her task.

When the bone was the velvety consistency of dust, she combined it with bread flour. With this mixture she formed a dough, to which she added honey, walnuts, and raisins; Guillermo preferred a rough, salty bread, but today her heart craved sweetness, and what Morghan’s heart craved, her hands kneaded into being.

She set the femur dough aside to rise, then went to retrieve the half-loaf of tibia sourdough from the larder, along with a wedge of strong, acidic sheep’s cheese. These she carried on a tray to where Guillermo lay on the blood-caked bed, little more than a head and torso swaddled in soiled bandages.

Guillermo turned his cloudy eyes toward Morghan as she entered, took a great sniff through his bulbous old man nose. “Ah,” he murmured, his voice thick with opiates. “Vlach cheese. You’ve been to market. Tell me—what flags flew over the port? I’ve been waiting for a missive from—” he lapsed into incoherent mumbling, his chin drooping toward his chest.

Morghan tutted as she placed the tray of food beside the bed. “It’s been a long time since Constantinople, love. This cheese came from the grocer up the road, remember?”

Guillermo lifted his head a fraction, giving her a look of pained incomprehension. “But I hear the gulls over the Propontis.”

Morghan found she had no longer had an appetite for the cheese. She broke a segment of tibia bread into pieces small enough for a pigeon's beak and set them one by one on Guillermo’s dry tongue, making sure he’d swallowed each morsel before feeding him the next.

After finishing her own portion of the bone bread, Morghan went about checking on Guillermo’s growths. She gingerly peeled away the bandages from his ribs, shoulders, and hip sockets, singing the old songs over Guillermo’s agonized wails as she exposed his newborn flesh to the air.

“There now,” she said with false levity. “You’re coming along nicely!”

Guillermo looked down at his body—the nest of exposed, child-sized ribs around his lungs, the nubs of clammy meat and bone jutting from his shoulders, the one tiny femur sprouting from the right side of his pelvis—and let out a guttural sob. Morghan worked quickly to apply fresh bandages, ignoring the tears that streamed down her own cheeks, the churning of the tibia bread in her stomach.

“Just another week, love,” she told the shuddering old man.

.

Five days later, Zane from Adult Protective Services was at the front door.

“I need to see Mr. or Mrs. Andino,” Zane said in what Morghan supposed was meant to be an authoritative tone.

“I’m Mrs. Andino, as we previously established,” she said wearily. “But I suppose you won’t leave until you’ve seen my husband. Come in.”

Zane followed her up the stairs, saying, “There are serious concerns about Mr. Andino’s safety, miss. Are you the Andinos’ daughter? If so, I don’t have you on my list of—”

They reached the door to the blood-spattered bedroom, which was open; Guillermo was propped up against the pillows, muscular legs stretched out on the blankets, his tan, hairy arms resting at his sides. On top of his shoulders was a small hillock of bandages concealing a growth the size of a grapefruit.

“Here is the ever-popular Mr. Andino,” Morghan said, striding over to the bed to undo Guillermo’s bandages.

Zane swayed in the doorway. “He’s—He—you—his head is—”

Morghan finished unwinding the bandages, revealing the tiny, glistening head jutting up from the man-sized shoulders. A meaty face regarded Zane with infantile wonder, its mouth suckling reflexively at nothing.

“He won’t be verbal for two more days,” Morghan said, “but you can see he’s quite happy and healthy.”

Zane’s face was the color of ash and he couldn’t seem to stop swallowing. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but was seized instead by a series of dry heaves; he doubled over, hands on his thighs, gasping and gagging while Guillermo’s tiny head grinned and giggled.

“I’m sorry you had to see this,” Morghan said ruefully. She reached into her apron pocket and withdrew a small wrapped parcel, which she held out to Zane. “I suspected you might come by, so I made a Lethe cake. It’ll let you forget what you’ve witnessed here today.”

Zane looked at the wrapped cake with watery eyes.

Morghan took his hand and placed the parcel in his upturned palm. “You can thank me by noting on your clipboard there that Mr. and Mrs. Andino are doing just fine, thank you very much.”

After Zane fled the house with the cake, Morghan returned to Guillermo and gently swaddled his head in bandages once more, thinking on what names they might choose in their next life.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






in.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






just a reminder that signups/subs are UTC which means they both close early as gently caress for americans

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


BLO OD E M PR E SS

of

THUDNER-DOME






flash: dimension hopping and trippy 70s sci-fi visuals

Sudoku
2500 words

|#|

You are ten years old, resolute, standing wide-armed in the driveway of your family home. Late sunlight collides with your small back, bruising the gravel before you dark with your t-shaped shadow. The old Volvo flashes its brake lights, backs toward you a few inches, stops when you don’t move. Your dad gets out but he can’t catch you, and you’re right back behind the car again as soon as he disengages the emergency brake.

There’s a sleeping bag in the passenger seat, a backpack full of clothes. You understand in an abstract way that he’s betrayed your mom, but they’re both the villains in your ten year old mind. You—unoccluded, not stinking of sweat and guilt—are going to sort them out. You can play this game with the Volvo all night, until mom comes out to get you and sees that dad hasn’t really gone, and she’ll soften and have a change of heart.

Here is where you are farthest from yourself: lonely little outpost, a cairn to memorialize what that will come to be.

|#|

You are goaded by memories of Armageddon—the place at the end of time.

You come of age in a time of buffering smut and rough polygons. Now you’re sitting on your best friend’s floor, her tongue-wetted thumb rubbing teary runs of makeup off your cheek. Now you’re standing on a rolling, trackless plain of grass pressed down into a dusty cake of dried blood—all the blood that will ever be spilled. Now you’re sucking your belly in, hating what you see in the mirror. Now you’re gazing into the primordial west, where the red sun keeps motionless vigil, a burning widow weeping rusty rays.

Try to imagine the miles and miles of veins implied by all this dried blood. Whole universes of tangled, ruptured arteries.

Bloody grass, unchanging sunset, and the tower. The tower is squat, maybe a dozen stories tall in all, standing between you and the widowed sun, patient and resolute. It is a thing that will change the course of other things, just by virtue of being a silhouette in the ever-late light.

|#|

Now is the feral summer of your sixteenth year, spent eating fire-charred meat off of sticks, filling your belly with huckleberries, salmonberries, marionberries, and blackberries. Your dad—mom has gone away—lets home go into foreclosure, and so the disappearing furniture, the electric work done under the table for the cost of liquor, the well water that turns your hair orange, and so on, and so forth. Your ten-year-old self’s Pyrrhic stand against the Volvo is a repulsive memory; you would erase that choice if you could.

|#|

You are the immortal god-queen of a thousand planets, terrifying and beautiful, your bowstring body armored in the radiation-resistant scales of Oort dragons. You have a hundred lovers, all of them conditioned to read your every sigh as though it were an imperial missive. You are cold, divine, and you do not lose wars.

Your frost-colored interstellar citadels are emblazoned with your symbol: a blackly burning tree whose branches extend both skyward and earthward.

Only one thing eludes you. A someone, the terrible watcher from far behind your eyes. She has witnessed your secret tears, your quiet indignities, those small battles lost before your ascension. Witnessed, and done nothing but mutely haunt you. In the late hours of your opalescent quarters you rage at the specter of her, stalking back and forth, demanding she show herself and explain. You can almost taste her, this anti-interceder, this voyeur, this atrocity tourist.

You went back, once: Earth, the forgotten hump of Tel Megiddo, just to see. But it’s just a place in time, obliterated by time. Nothing there was familiar to you—no blood-crusted grass or rust-scented air, no widow sun, no squat tower. All wrong.

Every morning, bag-eyed, sipping coffee, you command your citadels in ever-growing sweeps of the galaxy, hunting the eyes that watch you from a place unknowable. You carry in your secret, hidden heart the longing of a girl for a tree, a tower, a refuge.

|#|

The kids from the trailer park down the street tell you about a place. At fourteen, you’re young enough to be one of them, old enough to regard them with fond insight; kids have a preternatural sense of the sacred, the singular.

So they tell you there’s an abandoned lot just down the road, gone mostly to forest, the burned-down house there long since interred beneath the brush. The place where the house rests is marked by a stand of venerable old douglas-fir trees, a steepled peak in the otherwise low roof of the forest. Old washing machine, bits of colorful glass flecking the forest floor with little winks of green, blue, red, and white. The footprint of a house, mostly holes but a few corners of foundation remain, mythy ruins of another world.

And at the easternmost edge of the funereal fir grove is the tree. The tree is a hard-leafed holly with a red alder grafted seamlessly on top. The hundreds of holly branches have been trained back down to the ground—a domed, woody cave, too low-ceilinged for adults but perfect for you and the trailer kids. Above the dome of holly bows, the alder portion of the hybridized tree rises another fifty feet into the sky, sturdy and climbable.

A refuge. A tower.

In the late summer the setting sun perches just so on the horizon, sending its brief, hot fingers into the grove, reaching into your little tree cave, into the pin pricks of your pupils, and reminds you of Armageddon.

|#|

You emerge from hell and take a walk in a primitive forest, following your own amethyst footsteps, a trail of breadcrumbs scattered in a dream. This way. The watcher at Armageddon is this way. You drink in the draped moss, the mycosweet air. Newly liberated, you have nothing to believe in except your own power; you know you can pass between trees like doors, traverse the stars and even journey back to hell, if you want to. The devil’s ambrosia has left you deathless, forever potent with youth. Weightless and infinitely mobile.

You can go anywhere and anywhen, but Armageddon is whereless and whenless. Nowhere. She’s watching you from nowhere. The answer, then, is to search every where, until there is only nowhere left to go.

|#|

Dad’s house has long since been seized by the bank, no longer an anchor to the place with the tree. The man himself is living in a hunched cottage by the Puyallup river. Still peppers your life with unhinged phone calls.

Work overtime, get an apartment. Exist. The watcher creeps up on you in the frozen food aisle, turning your eyes into cameras. No, that’s not right; your eyes have always been cameras, and she’s always been behind them. It’s a horror movie reveal: someone was watching the whole time.

There are words that do their best to encompass this feeling. Dissociation. Derealization. Depersonalization. It’s tempting to believe that the watcher behind your eyes is an unmoored bit of self dislodged by the tribulations of childhood. But that makes the watcher a metaphorical thing, an analogy for some interior pathology. That doesn’t explain the stamp of bloodied grass on your mind, the rust-scented yearning to go there.

August brings fire to the foothills of your birth. For two weeks, red-eyed skies and ash. You live under the sun of your Armageddon.

September intercedes, washing the fight out of the flames with a week of heavy rain. You have to know, so you drive out to the mountains, to the place that was your father’s house. You barely notice the house is still standing—grateful family outside surveying the surrounding damage—in your hurry to get to the tree.

The hybrid tree and its attendant firs are gone. Not charred-but-different, not a skeleton of its former self. Gone. You probably breathed it in when things were still burning, when the ghosts of whole forests were thick in the air. No tower. No refuge.

|#|

The devil sits at a parlor table, a sympathetic furrow in his brow. He listens to your sad story, then makes you an offer.

“You can stay as long as you like,” he says. “There’s no suffering down here.”

So you take up in a room in a long hallway of rooms. Velvet shackles are shut around your wrists, and around your neck goes heaps of pearls and diamonds, silver and gold, the pleasant weight of these pressing you down into a pile of feather cushions. There are demons to fill your mouth with ambrosia, and the devil himself to bring you torques and bracelets, necklaces and crowns. His eyes are bluer than you could have ever imagined, bottomless decanters of a compassion that encompasses and contains you—willing little amber-trapped mosquito.

The precious gems and metals flatten your soul, hollow thing that it is. There is no you. The demons come, a mouth opens to receive. The devil comes, a body is interred more deeply beneath the hillock of treasures. The final straw is a golden camel inlaid with rubies that glitter like hellfire. The devil crowns the pile with it, completing the compression of your soul into nothing. Nothing is shackled in velvet manacles, nothing lies beneath the crush of gold. Nothing windsweeps across the floor of the room, under the crack beneath the door, down the long hallways of other rooms where other souls reside in gluttony, arriving at last at another, final door. This door is smaller than an atom: only a little larger than nothing.

As nothing passes out of hell, there is a bump and a scrape against the subatomic door frame—Armageddon, persisting like the faintest of quantum fluctuations in a post-heat death universe.

|#|

You, lovely god-queen, have plumbed every nebula, overturned every stone, brought to heel every opposing empire that you might peruse their secrets for evidence of the watcher at Armageddon. Your frosty star citadels populate every quadrant of every galaxy and all the wide, trackless places in between. The burning tree standard, with its earthward and skyward branches, waves on every planet. Scarcity ended. Cool, incisive justice effected. The people not adoring, but content.

Nowhere: nowhere to be found.

Amidst your search for Armageddon, apocalypse finds you. Your most far-flung citadel reports it first: a thing excreting itself into your universe by way of a geriatric black hole—cephalopodan clot sphinctering outward from the event horizon, smooth and bulbous until the tentacles win through, a googolplex of them extending from a central mass that glows like the heart of a star. But stars are sandgrains next to this creature, your citadels subatomic motes.

Still. There is no other god-queen but you. This universe has weathered with relative grace your relentless hunt for the watcher behind your own eyes. Do the decent thing. Save the world.

Muster every citadel from all the far-flung regions of the universe, fall on the apocalypse squid in nanobot trillions, a scintillating dust cloud with tachyon beam bristles; tentacle the size of a galaxy arm lazily wagging, brushing away your forces like crumbs off a table; your face, framed by the mandibles of your Oort dragon armor, snarling at the viewscreen, your voice shredded by weeks of desperate orders given; tablecloth of timespace bowing around the mass of the apocalypse squid, whole solar systems tipped toward its bulk, utopian worlds falling into their own suns as all life in the universe is chain-ganged toward annihilation.

Hell left you immortal, ephemeral, hypermobile. Jump from citadel to citadel, regroup, reframe, galvanize your broken warriors. Everyone is a warrior, now. Everywhere a battlefield.

The apocalypse squid is defeated in the end not by you but by its own bulk. Was this the oversight of an intelligent creature, or the blunder of a mindless one? It doesn’t matter. It’s too big, the universe too taut. The cosmic constants will not bend, so they break, and everything else breaks with them to the a cappella sound of keening.

|0|

Poor, immortal girlchild. Where do you go when there’s nowhere to be?

You fall onto the blood-crusted grass of Armageddon and howl at the never-setting sun, bruise the earth behind you black with your shadow. In the near distance: a tower, squat refuge of rough stone. You despise the shape of it, the way it diverts the sun around itself. You get to your feet, compelled by the desire to do some sort of mischief to the hateful thing. Piss on it, throw clods of bloody dirt at it.

Your anguished rage is thwarted by the simplest of mysteries: a door set in the side of the tower, unassuming and irresistible. Where else is there to go, in this dead, timeless place, if not through the door?

The tower is not a tower, but a sheath for a tree, whose lower branches dome down to root in cool, hardpacked earth, whose upper trunk extends toward the high above circle of red sky. Too much like a burning corona for you. You look down; she’s seated with her back to you beneath the branches, hands busy with something on the ground before her—

You look over your shoulder, see yourself standing in the doorway to the refuge, see yourself seeing yourself seeing yourself. Entangled particles, clockwise and counter clockwise. You return to yourself, embrace yourself, collapse into your own arms and comfort yourself as you shake and hyperventilate around the nova-hot core of anguish that churns beneath your breast. You gently remove your dragon scale helmet, stroke your hair. Give yourself space to feel both the grief of a defeated warrior and the long-ago child that you were.

After a timeless interval, you gently rouse yourself and say, “Look.”

Here is what you were busy with when you entered your refuge: on the ground beside you, a loose mosaic of painted glass pieces, each the size of your palm, no two alike, Faberge-egglike in their intricacy. All but one of these show moments in the long story of your life: war and fire, hell and ambrosia, Earth and far beyond. In the center of the mosaic, a cracked black shard whose face is wormed with wiggles of gold paint like tentacles.

“Look,” you say again, and draw your finger along the length of the crack in the black shard. “Next configuration, we’ll win.” You grin at yourself.

The stained glass pieces of your life are arrayed around the squid shard in a cutting lattice, a living snare for would-be doom. Before, you didn’t know the time or place of the squid’s arrival; in the configuration before that, you knew even less. But now you see it, the problem square in the grand Sudoku game of the universe, and understand how to solve around it.

You pick up a shard painted evening orange, streaked by the late shadow of a defiant young girl, and begin again.

Sitting Here
Dec 31, 2007


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FYI there are three hours left as of the time of this post

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rubber loving stamped <3

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I'm going to try to parse this for the people reading the thread!

You want us to write retrospectives from the perspective of people in 2028, yes?

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411 crits

AlmightyDerelict

Lord Albrand is a caricature of a gregarious lord, Ophelia is a caricature of the entitled royal heir. I was confused by the relationship between Myrtle and Dorian; half-sister is still a sister after all. The journey to the west is the most potentially interesting part and it’s glossed right over. Albrand’s good humor at the end seems non sequitur, considering Myrtle has been locked up in a dungeon and rape allegations have been put on the table.

Saucy_rodent

This is...pretty darn decent, a story that really has fun with its own premise. I feel like bringing out a legion of Nazis as a manifestation of ultimate primal fear was a little on the nose but I guess I can’t blame you, given givens. I will say, there is a lot of explaining. Your character and her various iterations spend a fair amount of time explaining the concept behind the story to each other. There is no ambiguity about what’s happening, which is good! but I would like to see a version of this story where you let action and description do a little bit of the expository legwork for you.

Ceighk

This drags a little bit at points, but the narrator has a tragic, droll way about them that I like, and there are some sincere feelings nuggeted deep in this piece like cookie dough chunks in ice cream. The ending is satisfyingly despondent.

Simply Simon

This had me genuinely smiling at some parts. “Zach” the necromancer is great, him getting told off by his own zombie even better. In the end, they come together to do some good, leaving with with surprisingly warm feelings for a story about forcing a spirit back into its desiccated corpse and then murdering a serial murderer.

sparksbloom

I was very curious about where this story was going to go...and then curiouser, and curiouser, and curiouser, until I was at the end and Wes was kind of just stuck in the hole he dug for himself. If I’m being generous, I would say the story contains a message about how it’s not enough for an individual to recognize their own abusive behavior when they still benefit from a system that tries to protect that behavior. If that was the point, it needed to be refined a little bit. I will say, you manage to walk a pretty narrow line with Wes; I don’t hate him, but I don’t sympathize with him, either. I was curious as to what might happen to him, but I don’t know that the story resolved that satisfyingly, even though most of us in 2020 can imagine what comes next both for Wes and his victims.

Doctor Idle

Oh buddy you tried to stuff a bigger-than-a-breadbox novel idea into a breadbox-sized flash fiction piece. This is a 20 pound story in a 5 pound bag, and because of this, you couldn’t resolve any of your plot elements satisfyingly. Maybe you could have done something with this at 5K words, but this idea was simply TOO BIG for this format. That said, I would absolutely read more about lacrimosal space concubine-librarians.

AntiV

A good reflective piece about reclaiming one’s life from trauma. The descriptions are really good; I felt guilty for wanting funnel cake while I was reading, but you got me there.

Something Else

This is like...cozy scifi? Of course there’s a war offscreen, but the whole thing is very charming and polite. I really liked the detail that a flushed human face scans like singing to these cephalopod-like aliens. I will say, the last couple lines really fumbled the landing. I don’t think it was the right move to end the story on a note of indifference.

kiyoshimon

There are far too many characters in this; the story doesn’t really focus on any individual (except the antagonist), but it also fails to use the community as a character (you tell us who they are, but I wouldn’t have been able to guess who these people were specifically if it hadn’t been explicitly mentioned). Your omniscient point of view fails to accomplish much. There’s no reason this story couldn’t have been written with a tighter point of view. The dialog near the beginning drags. I did some googling and there was indeed a historical Andres Quintana who was killed by indigenous people because he was an rear end in a top hat, though I didn’t see anything about smashing his balls in my (admittedly brief) googling. The thing about retelling historical events in the form of a narrative is that you get to bring them to life through characters and description. In this piece you have too many characters for the reader to connect with any of them individually, and not enough description to bring the moment to life for contemporary readers.

Blowout

There’s a hosed up wish-fulfilment element to this story that I like a lot. Uber for bodies: great for people experiencing a phobia or mobility issue, but as the story hints, there is certainly a darker potential for bodies-for-hire. Even so, the story leads us confidently to what I think is a feel-good ending? Dorothea helps a neglected dog and there are hints that this might be the thing that allows her to go outside in spite of her trauma-induced agoraphobia. But what if she can’t? What if the brownouts mentioned early in the story prevent loaner bodies from getting to her home so the dog can go for walks, use the bathroom, and etc? What about when the previous owners notice familiar barking coming from across the way? I don’t want to nitpick, but I feel there was a slight shadow cast by this ending that the story doesn’t acknowledge one way or another. This story had some concepts that were ripe for exploration, but I felt a lot was left on the table.

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 03:59 on Jun 23, 2020

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:siren: IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING TOXXES :siren:

As of right now, I am removing the requirement from this thread that people :toxx: to brawl. With the current news about Lowtax, it seems unreasonable to cling to a rule that would put people at odds with their own morals re: giving money to an abuser.

HOWEVER. People still like a little bit of external motivation, so allow me to introduce a little idea we've workshopped in Discord: :toot: The donation toxx! :toot:

Basically, you will toxx, but if you fail your toxx, instead of getting banned you will post a screenshot of a $10+ dollar donation to the charity/org of your choice.

do not do not do no DO NOT use this thread to discuss this. Do that in discord. if there are questions that need to be resolved in-thread, I will post an update.

Discord link: https://discord.gg/nkFUKt

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 19:39 on Jun 24, 2020

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in because i love you all and if i never post here again i'm going to literally cry. hit me with with a flash please.

Thunderdome and the people who make it up helped me get out of a very dark time in my life, and the process of becoming a better writer with you all has made me a better person. i don't know if this is the end of SA, but I don't want to miss a chance to tell people who matter that i love 'em.

:black101: :black101: :black101: WRITE, DRINK, AND BE MERRY, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE :black101: :black101: :black101:

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Dorothea Tanning - Some Roses and Their Phantoms
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artwork...phantoms-t07987

Flash: Your story takes place IN SPACE


Universe is Here
1200 words

There’s a dark intimacy to this: you and I poised on the cusp of the superluminal currents of emspace, eyeing the quantum waters like nervous divers at the swimming hole. In just a few moments, we’ll give ourselves over to that flow and become the first humans to bypass the speed of light, or die trying. It’s the little interval before a first kiss, the long look in the eyes, a knowing felt in the body.

I speak these thoughts into the cramped cockpit but they come out like I’m reading from a book. Stilted. Affected. I’m still not good at being candid.

You reach out, your gloved hand resting over mine on the console, and tell me that the only way to know if the universe can love us back is to offer our love to it first, without reservation. When was the last time I touched your bare skin? Back on Earth, maybe.

Five years ago, I and the rest of academia laughed at your proposal that the universe itself contained a property of emotional intelligence, that it responded to love and hate, tenderness and cruelty, indifference and empathy. But then you persuaded the universe to confide in you one of her secrets: emotional space, the neurotransmitter-analog of the stars.

I hated working with you on the ‘RelationShip’ project at first. Not just because of the twee crowdsourced name, but because I knew you were right, knew that I had spent my entire career under the assumption that the universe was an expansive laboratory, an interesting environment to interrogate and model but never love; that would be absurd. My resentment was born of guilt. What must it feel like, to be lovelessly explored, charted, labeled, and dissected, but never truly understood?

I got into an argument with the RelationShip marketing team, who thought we should take a break from our sixteen hour days to do more crowd engagement. You backed me up; we fended them off. Over post-meeting beers, I said to hell with it and kissed you very hard, as though I could press all the love I never allotted the universe into your lips.

You kissed me back and, well. Here we are, about to have a kind of menage et trois with the neural pathways of time and space.

The entry point to emspace doesn’t look like anything special to human eyes—just another parsec of inscrutable vacuum—but our instruments tell a different story. For six months we traveled through the idle small talk of background radiation and errant particles; here at the mouth of emotional space is a festival of data, a celebratory cheer of readings, as though the fabric of the universe has unfurled into a giant welcome home banner.

I can’t wipe the wetness from my eyes through my helmet. You squeeze my hand once more, and then it’s time to go.

As we work in tandem to initiate the RelationShip’s entry sequence, I consider that these might be some of the last actions I ever take; unmanned craft sent into emspace jumped light years in the space of a picosecond, and reported nothing in between. There is simply no way to know what’s inside without going in, no reason to believe the cosmos would peacefully abide intruders in her thoughts—and no reason, you often point out, to think she wouldn’t welcome us.

There’s no blurring stars into warp-speed lines, no gauzy, luminous portal of light. Our visual feed is black and featureless as ever, except—

The viewscreen is looking back at me, though there hasn’t been any change in the content of the feed.

No. Everything is looking back at me, like the entire ship has been imbued with a conscious watchfulness. The bulkheads, the conduits, the panels, you.

You. You are still yourself, not a part of this sudden and ubiquitous observer. We lock eyes and stay that way, clinging to the reality of each other.

I ask if we’re inside emspace, but my voice becomes part of the watcher as soon as it leaves my throat, growing like a hair into the living space of the cockpit.

You think we’re in emspace. Your voice amalgamates with the watcher, another hair on its hide.

How do we—?

I can barely speak around the impossible sensation of my own voice watching me.

It’s the universe.

I can’t tell whether this is a thing you’re saying, a thing I know, or a thing that is being imparted onto me by the universe itself. It’s simply the truth. The universe is here. It is here. Here is the universe.

We’re on a rocky plane over which two moons hang, red and dignified. We’re in the creche of a nebula, watching the birth of stars. We are out on the frontier of time-space, where raw creation churns tirelessly, painting itself over the blank canvas of the void. We’re atop a desolate mountain on a superheated planet, watching bismuthinite fall like snow onto the high peak. We are inside a dew drop.

I keep my eyes locked on yours as we blink from place to place, terrified that if I look away, if I let myself get lost in the grandeur of it all, I’ll get whisked away on some cosmic thought tangent and spat out light years away from you, left to suffocate in my suit in the dead of space.

We are in the bar where I first kissed you, our past selves sitting together on one side of a booth, talking conspiratorially over their beers, you and I standing beside ourselves like ghosts.

I can’t stop myself; I look away from you, into your eyes, just as I kiss you, just as you disappear, just as I realize that the people at the table in the bar are not us at all.

The table is a grassy hill in a busy park, the place where you first took my hand. The hill is the bow of a ship, where you told me your name. The ship is a colony transport, the two of us exchanging an embrace before a long cryosleep. The colony transport is my royal audience chamber, where your clever tongue won my heart and stayed my royal wrath. A hundred trillion trillion acts of love arrayed across all of time, and we’ve been them. Are them. Will be them.

As I pass through these many selves I realize: I never could have lost you. We have been, and will always be, an expression of love, the universe knowing and caring for itself. I am the ground, and you fall toward me as rain.

We burst back into regular space, millions of light years from home, a joyful re-entry into familiar, unknown territory. As the material world resolves around us, I hear you say it: I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. And I know you mean all of me, and all of you, all across time, forever.

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I hosed up my wrist. It hurts. If your story is good, I will probably say fewer words. If your story makes me say more words because it is bad, I will be angry.

My ratings are almost completely arbitrary don't read too much into them

Yoruichi

Sometimes it is ok to tell a simple story. Be careful though, because sometimes the story is too simple, and then it isn’t very satisfying. I liked the beginning of this! My problem is that you establish that Cas can’t project his psychic call far enough to summon help. That’s a good pickle for your space capybara to be in! Rather than have him cleverly solve his problem, however, it turns out he just needs to try very hard to overcome that limitation, which makes the resolution not so satisfying. Also, you can omit ‘space’ from ‘space capybara’. If I could I would make a thunderdome rule against putting ‘space’ in front of beings/objects that exist in outer space.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow


MockingQuantum

Swamp Fremen. Cool. Well-written sci-fi, though the whole climax feels a little contrived. I was wondering why the alien went out alone, considering there’s enough of a rebel human population to justify all sorts of sci-fi security measures. Personal pet peeve: I do not like it when characters run at the baddies with an anime BLARGH, only to be predictably cut down. It didn’t seem like a tactical choice, though Laita ends up using Jonas’s sacrifice tactically.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow O


sparksbloom

Could stand a line edit, but overall well executed. You hit on an insight: clinging to the past is masochistic, but as I was reading this, I had to admit to myself that I would probably do exactly Alyssa does in this story.

Wrist rating: O


Simply Simon

Watch out for things like this:

quote:

Steven’s arm lunged to the side, making Mark jump back.

A lunge is a whole-body motion propelled by the legs. In general, it weakens your prose to describe limbs as acting separately from their owners like you’ve done in the above example. We can tweak the quoted sentence just a little bit to read a lot stronger, using a better verb for the motion of Steven’s arm:

quote:

Steven swept his arm out to the side, making Mark jump back.

But of course, the most important thing in that paragraph isn’t that Mark jumps back, it’s that Steven sweeps aside the paperwork obscuring the stopped clock, revealing that Mark is attempting to stall!

I actually like the premise and escalating tension of this story quite a lot, but there was a little bit of awkwardness in the execution.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow Ow (-2 ‘ow’ modifier because my arm verb tangent was totally voluntary)


AlmightyDerelict

The premise is pretty decent. A mute black protester finds a way to make their voice heard through an awesomely putrid combination of smells. I’m in. A lot of people would have been tempted to go science fiction a la the Elcor from Mass Effect, which would have annoyed this particular judge. In theory, grounding your story in the real world is a good choice, since you don’t have to burn words on worldbuilding and can focus instead on developing character/conflict.

In theory.

In execution, the tone of this submission awkwardly straddles the line between thinkpiece and fiction. In general, I think it’s impossible to separate fiction from the cultural, political, and economic context in which it’s conceived. I don’t think writers in 2020 should necessarily shy away from topical subject matter, and I don’t believe they are obligated to create an “escape” for their readers. That said, I didn’t like reading this entry because it’s half soapbox, half wish-fulfilment. I would have rather spent time with this character in a proper story, with dialog and description. I think “show, don’t tell” is prescriptive garbage, but in this case your story is all tell, to the point where it reads more like a Medium article than a narrative.

Finally, let’s assume that you are brilliant—enough so that you could conceivably submit a pseudo-thinkpiece to a fiction competition and force the judges to admit it’s the best piece of writing of the bunch. poo poo, this is Thunderdome, anything could happen. You still didn’t hit the mark with this piece, because most of the words are spent telling the reader things that anyone who’s been paying even a little attention in 2020 would know. There wasn’t anything especially thought-provoking here, as much as I wanted to feel invested in the narrator’s justified rage and anguish. A piece like this needs an angle or a central metaphor—an allegorical underpinning that speaks to something true about the human experience.

Wrist rating Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow


crimea

I hate to be like “this is what I would do” but your first sentence kinda begs a “this is what I would do.” You can ignore this part of the crit if you want.

quote:

The lash cut the air and sliced through the skin on my back.

This is fine. But as I was reading it, I thought it would be more slick if it read:

quote:

The lash cut the air then the skin on my back.

Eh? Eh??

Anyway.

Man IDK what to say about this so I’m gonna start by telling your story back to you as I understand it. 3000ish years ago a philistine dude obtains the Ark of the Covenant after a battle with Isrealites. Opening the Ark makes him seemingly immortal; the second half of the story takes place immediately after his release from a contemporary prison, whereupon he meets his parole officer on the beach. There are a lot more little details, some of them nicely described, but they’re poorly focused and don’t offer me much insight beyond the broad summary I just gave.

This leans way too heavily on historical (maybe pseudo-historical I guess) events; it feels too “plotty” to be a satisfying pair of vignettes, and too vignetty to be a satisfying plot.

I am curious how much outlining you did. I am not an outliner myself, but this is a story that would have benefitted from what I’ve seen described as a “reverse outline”, where you take what you’ve written and distill it back down to the key beats. I would have cut the first section down a LOT, possibly broken the story up into a few vignettes across time and developed the character that way.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow Ow Ow Ow (-1 ‘ow’ modifier because my opening sentence tangent was totally voluntary)


Profane

This was nice, and funny. It gave me a good and sad feeling. Thank you friend.

Wrist rating: O


Something Else

I want to like this because it’s a truly unique POV. But I don’t understand why the clouds hate people so much. I don’t understand why the narrator rejected Cane’s orders, only to turn around to be pointlessly cruel themselves. I don’t understand why Cane has a name when nothing and no one else in this story does. There’s just a lot I don’t understand, even though in theory I want to like this story a whole lot.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Ceighk

Pretty good concept, thin characters, rushed ending. Fast read, pretty good writing.

Wrist rating: O


BurningBeard

This is written like a slow-burning horror film and the ending visuals are kind of incredible. That said, as I was reading I got antsy for any sort of dynamism—a change in mood, in pace, in the actions of the characters, but the story kind of holds one pitch until the bright crescendo at the end. The son feels like a non-entity who is there purely to be the object of scorn and disappointment.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Pththya-Lyi

The other judges liked this a lot. I liked it okay, mostly at the end, though. I thought the family was too “as you know, Bob” about the history and lore of their heritage. I would have rather more of those words go toward the conflict between Dimi and their grandfather.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Applewhite

You got a fairly insane hellrule and I’m impressed by what you did with it. The characters were kinda flat, relying heavily on outlaw tropes to distinguish themselves from each other, and I had trouble picturing a lot of what was happening around them but...given your prompt, I think you did pretty good! I physically recoiled at the ending line, though. THANKS DAD.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


flerp

I love this, very real.

Wrist rating: O


Thranguy

This was a really cool nibble of dystopia that made excellent use of its flash rule. I think Pace himself is the weak point; I fully acknowledge the limitations imposed by your prompt, but he’s less a character and more of a vehicle for the unfolding situation. Which is kind of appropriate, given the premise of the story, but...even so, both the character and the situation felt a little remote.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


Anomalous Blowout

Nice prose, a vivid bad guy...until he gets snatched up by a badder bad guy, whose motivations and qualities are a lot less distinct (well, other than the “being a terrifying moving light” bit, that is a very distinct quality). The narrator…call me cynical but as soon as they self-described as a coward, I felt pretty confident they were going to make an uncharacteristically noble last stand, and when it happened I felt frustrated that they didn’t listen to their cowardice at a moment when running away was probably the wisest option (sorry Tanser, RIP).

Wrist rating: Ow Ow


BabyRyoga

Okay, so: on a line-by-line level, there are a lot of things I would change. Conceptually...I think I liked this a lot more than my co-judges. You attempted to describe a world unimaginable to humans, populated by beings we could never hope to relate to. I liked the sense of an ebb and flow to life in the void, a sort of equilibrium between eldritch horrors.

Wrist rating: Ow O


Rhino

This was good and funny why did you DQ you bad man!!!

Wrist rating: :|


Kurona_Bright

Your first paragraph unspools information in a really weird way. It takes a few sentences to establish what’s happening: a stranger has Horado pressed against the wall by his throat. Horado has trouble hearing what the stranger is saying because he’s preoccupied with the hand strangling him. The hand is cool to the touch, but with an odd patch of warmth in the palm—Horado speculates that the skin is not artificial, indicating that the stranger is likely not an employee of ‘Mariposa’.

The above summary is the order in which I would have set the scene. In the case of this story, you start with the unheard words, then move to the hand around Horado’s throat. We don’t actually get confirmation that a dude is pressing him against the wall until *checks* the third paragraph.

As for the rest of the story: It’s pretty decent, though Horado’s dialog is almost entirely asking questions and saying “oh”. Arnall shows up, is bad, then dies. Eryl is the most interesting thing about this story; he’s trying very hard to act selfishly, but ultimately can’t bring himself to be that way in the end. The thing with the pocket watch came out of left field, so I was left feeling like I missed something.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow Ow


Saucy_Rodent

This is...a ride. On the one hand, I can’t say I wasn’t on the hook to see what happened. On the other hand, both of the characters have such weird reactions to everything happening in this scene, like the murder-ranger shouting “Nice!” when he gets hotsauced in the eyes. In my headcanon she’s a serial murderer too, and will take up the mantle of murder-ranger.

Wrist rating: Ow Ow

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 23:29 on Jul 7, 2020

Sitting Here
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fuckit in :toxx: for a sound

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Prompt: Ocean Waves at Point Reyes

Sea to Sea
750 words

Morgan wakes in the pit of night and licks salty sea foam from her lips. Not a dream, then. The slitted eye of the ocean-mother is passing over the world.

Down to the waterfront, where the ferris wheel is quiet, where the fish ‘n chip shops rest their eyes behind barred facades. She pauses, breeze ruffling her skirt, and considers the locked gate that stands between her and the end of a particularly long pier—her destination.

Too many shapes in this world. Paths and the gates that block them. Bodies and the clothes that restrain them. If only she were water, unencumbered by skin and bone...

She rests her palm against the chain links of the gate and whispers, “Please, let me be like water.” There’s a sympathetic slap-slosh of waves against the pilings below the pier, but Morgan remains as she is: solid, and useless.

It takes her the better part of an hour to shove the dumpster—pungent with the remnants of fried fish—over to the gate. It’s just tall enough that she can alley-oop to the other side, skirt umbrellaing out around her legs. Once over, she strides toward the end of the pier under a bright and bulbous moon.

Finally: as far out over the bay as she can get without stealing a boat. The steady rolling applause of the waves fortifies her, lets her forget, for a moment, the imbecilic audacity of what she’s about to do. She closes her eyes, aims the thresher of her attention at the ocean’s ovation.

The populous din of the waves is like a stick of string cheese; she peels it apart, the sound of each eddy and current coming away like strands of mozzarella. Once separated, the strings of individual sounds hang in her mind’s eye, undulating like sunlight seen from below the water’s surface. There are thousands of them, coiling licks of noise, aquatic morphemes—the materials with which she’ll build an offering worthy of Tiamat, mother of oceans.

Working with her eyes closed, Morgan takes a few luminous threads of sound and braids them together into a pillar. She hears the water around the pier respond in kind: the slither of conflicting currents coming together, shaping themselves according to her will. The braided pillar of water heaves itself skyward, kicking up a cold, wet wind that crackles against Morgan’s eardrums.

The changing soundscape gives her new language to play with: morphemes building into words building into ideas building into structure. There’s a sad irony to imposing a shape on water when she herself wishes to embody its shapelessness, but the cathedral is the only symbol in the human lexicon powerful enough to provoke the attention of a god.

So Morgan describes a cathedral, sound by sound, pillar by braided pillar, ignoring the growing pressure between her ears. She opens her eyes a crack, finds herself staring down the center of a translucent colonnade, the pillars backlit by the full moon. In the distance, the red baying of sirens; even in the deepest part of night, her work was never going to go unnoticed.

Morgan closes her eyes once more, thrusts her arms into the air for emphasis, and bends the oscillating sound threads in her mind's eye into graceful arcs. The pillars of water respond in kind, jetting up and over, a series of perfect bell curves, forming a tunnel of archways whose feet come stomping down in unison on the surface of the bay.

A shockwave of water slurps up and over the pier, knocking Morgan off her feet. She pushes herself onto hands and knees. Fatigue blackens the edges of her vision and her head feels like a bowling ball on a daisy stem, but she raises her gaze to witness the success or failure of her offering.

The moon is a handspan above the horizon, perfectly framed by the cathedral vault of the row of arches. Slowly, languidly, the cratered lunar facade rolls back, revealing a sky-blue marble bisected by a vertical slit. A draconic eye—Tiamat’s eye.

“Please, Mother,” Morgan begs, too exhausted to fully articulate her desire.

Blood gushes from her nose and over her lips, and doesn’t stop. Under the eye of the ocean-mother, Morgan bleeds out of herself, tricking down between the slats of the pier, dripping into the churning water below, leaving a smiling shell in her wake.

The great slitted eye closes, the cathedral falls, and Morgan spills joyfully over a city that can no longer contain her.

Sitting Here
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hmmm in

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Prompt: https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/381/rivals


Magical Nega-Girl: Triskelion!
1800 words

There’s a huge pile of sentient tentacles ravaging downtown nega-Las Angeles, and I’m feeling pretty good about my decision to stay home watching it on livestream.

Well, okay, there’s a huge asterisk on that ‘good’—I’d be a monster if I felt ‘good’ about the fact that all of L.A. is trapped under an impenetrable nega-dome of purple nega-energy, the people living in constant terror of nega-demon attacks—but I’m sure as hell not going down there to deal with the thing myself. The San Francisco-based therapist assigned to work remotely with me during the crisis thinks I’m self-flagellating by watching the demon battle streams, but it’s even more egotistical than that: I don’t want to help, but I feel like if I look away, that’s when something really bad will happen.

So I’m watching the destruction of my city by the latest nega-demon, which looks kind of like a mountain of angry spaghetti. And then Olivia just straight up kicks her way into my apartment. Like, door-flying-off-hinges, why-didn’t-you-just-knock? kicks her way in.

“Get off your rear end and help us,” she says, to me, in my own apartment, having just roundhoused my door.

She’s partially transformed into battle mode—the most she can manage without the other members of her triad. I make a show of craning my neck to look past her, at the gaping door frame.

“If we ever get back to the normal world, that’s coming out of my deposit.”

Olivia glares down at me, eyes backlit by purple nega-energy. “Do not pull your don’t-give-a-gently caress routine today, Petra. I just watched that demon murder three triads. Nine people, bloody smears on pavement.”

I take a crunchy bite of uncooked ramen. “Sounds like a good reason to stay home.”

“Help me help this city. You know I can’t do it without you.”

“And you know you can’t guilt me into getting back in the fight.”

It’s the same impasse as always, though I’ve never seen Olivia this fired up before.

She gives me a rueful look. “You’d help if Celeste asked you.”

The livestream is still going on my phone; there’s the tinny sound of rising screams from the speakers. I reach over and shut it off with a swipe of my thumb.

“Celeste wouldn’t ask," I say.
.

It’s an hour later and I’ve just finished putting the door back up. I can only bring myself to watch the demon battle streams in short bursts. Enough to know the fight isn’t going well.

BOOM!

“Hi again, Olivia,” I say without looking at the entryway.

“What the gently caress?” says Celeste’s voice. “Olivia, you told me we were rescuing a cat.”

In one incredibly smooth motion I stuff the pack of uncooked ramen under a couch cushion, attempt to rise, realize I’m sitting on my own thigh-length hair. Cool. I settle for staying seated.

Celeste is perfectly framed in the doorway, her stance that of an action hero, moss-green eyes bright against dark skin. Even dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt like she is, you could stick her on the cover of a magazine and no one would bat an eye. In the span of a second, I’ve reverted back to the high school girl who has a confused pseudo-crush on her worst enemy—do I want her, or do I want to be her?

A bunch of memories strobe through my head in the span of a breath. Growing up with Celeste, playdates and sleepovers. Her dad: an abuser. Me: her confidant. Also me: spreading Celeste’s trauma around in the form of gossip, just to prove to everyone that I was best friends with one of the cool kids. After that, it was total war, all the way to graduation.

Our ten year reunion, coinciding with the arrival of the nega-dome. Celeste, Olivia, and I backed into a corner, working together to fend off the demons. Our first transformations.
Those early battles; the thrill of turning friendship into power.

Our first argument as adults.

The realization that some wounds, no matter how juvenile, go too deep to forgive and forget.

I snap back to the present, realize Olivia is talking: “You two are selfish and stubborn and impossible to get into the same room, but I kind of need the hell out of you right now. Sorry for taking a shortcut.”

Celeste turns her green glare on Olivia, maximum intensity. “So you figured you’d trick us into the same room, and—what? We’d have no choice but to help you?”

“All the best teams are built around lies and manipulation,” I say, impressed at how droll I sound, because seeing Celeste has kind of sent me reeling.

Olivia looks between Celeste and I, pungent disgust on her face. “Demons are destroying our city. You two need to figure out your weird frenemy thing and then get back in the fight.”

.

To our credit, Celeste and I try.

We go up onto the roof of my building and do our whole battle mode transformation thing. I’m not gonna lie, having seen myself transform on recordings of livestream broadcasts, I’ll be the first to say that it looks really, really cool.

A bystander would see the following: As I activate the nega-energy inside me, I lift into the air on an unseen column of power. My hair stands on end, swaying like kelp in a current, then fans out into a pearlescent corona around my head, the strands fusing together to form a smooth, shiny mass. Meanwhile, my body is cocooned in a layer of light, which resolves into my battle outfit—a cream-colored dress with a tight bodice and a short, flared skirt, matching knee-high boots, and a mask of silver silk that drapes softly over the bridge of my nose.

The hardened corona of my hair glows with unearthly runes, whose nega-energetic emanations I feel as a constant tingle in my scalp.

Olivia and Celeste undergo similarly glamorous transformations. Olivia sprouts cool super-speed wings from her ankles, Celeste pulls twin rapiers out of her eyes. All three of us look fantastic, except—

I inspect myself in my phone’s selfie cam and frown. “I didn’t transform all the way. No hair gems.”

“None of us did,” Olivia says miserably. Her ankle-wings are missing their customary gems, too, as are the pommels of Celeste’s swords.

“So much for the power of friendship,” Celeste says.

The rapidly-emerging field of nega-energy science has deduced a few things about the freaky purple stuff. Ambient nega-energy is dangerous; it forms L.A.-sized domes, traps thousands of californians, and spawns giant demons from thin air. You take that same stuff and expose it to a human brain doing friendship? Magic. Literal magic—flying, throwing fireballs, summoning a rain of meteors from nowhere, shooting lasers out of your hair corona. You name it.

Three friends is the optimal number for full transformation, and once you lock in a triad, it’s impossible to fully transform with anyone else. I’ve tried.

In the distance, a skyscraper slumps to its knees behind a rising shroud of dust. Soon what’s left of downtown will be a crater, and the demon will move out into the neighborhoods where people like me are hiding out, praying for this to pass.

“I hate this city,” Olivia says, fists clenching and unclenching. “We could save it, if only people would get over themselves and be real friends for longer than ten seconds.”

“We could at least fly over to the front lines, see if we can pull any wounded out,” Celeste offers. I sneak a peek at her; she looks regretful behind her shimmering green mask.

“‘At least’,” Olivia echoes, then leaps into the air and takes off in the direction of the nega-demon’s cloud of destruction, leaving Celeste and I to follow.

.

We hit the battleground a solid two minutes behind Olivia. It’s clear she never had any intention of playing ambulance for the wounded; she’s fully engaged with the nega-demon by the time we catch up, flitting between its thrashing tentacles with hummingbird speed, flinging fistfuls of blue magic into the center of the thing’s mass. I can see it from here: she’s too slow, her magical volleys too weak to have any effect.

She needs the full transformative power of real friendship.

Celeste and I come to a stop mid-air, take in the scope of the destruction. I can’t even tell what neighborhood I’m looking at; it’s like the whole city has been pulsed in a food processor. Other triads fly around the demon in little squadrons, all of them in various states of semi-transformation. We’re not the only ones having trouble doing friendship under fire.

A tentacle grazes Olivia, sending her spinning through the air; she recovers, barely. Celeste brandishes her rapiers. “We have to pull her out of there.”

“Good luck,” I say. “You’d have an easier time just fighting the demon.”

“I envy you,” Celeste says, looking directly at me for the first time. “You never feel obligated to do the right thing.”

“How many times have I told you I’m sorry?” I snap. “I think you’re holding onto this teenage grudge because it excuses you from fighting.”

“Says the grown woman who hides in her nasty studio eating uncooked ramen.”

We glare at each other, on the verge of blows. Then—a shadow over head, something huge sweeping down from my top periphery. Celeste and I dart aside just in time to avoid the crushing power of an impossibly huge tentacle.

We share a wild-eyed glance, then burst into laughter, high and maniacal and taut with adrenaline.

“You’re not wrong,” Celeste says, dabbing tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. “I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to die, and I hate that being your friend makes me powerful enough to matter.”

“My studio is pretty gross,” I concede. “And the ramen thing has got to stop.”

The runic itching in my scalp intensifies, and is accompanied by a pleasant ache in my hair corona.

“Well, shoot,” Celeste says, a wry half-smile on her face. “Looks like your gems are coming in.”

“Yours too,” I say, nodding at the pommels of her rapiers, where two moss-green nega-gems have appeared.

“I still kind of hate you,” Celeste says, though there’s no malice in her voice.

“Yeah, well,” I say, “the best friendships are the ones you can burn down and start over again.”

Olivia zips up to us, bloodied and breathing hard, her ankle-wings glittering with azure gems. In spite of her injuries, she’s smiling.

“Finally,” she says. “Now are you two ready to smite the hell out of that spaghetti monster with the power of friendship?”

We are, and we do, and it rules.

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Dec 31, 2007


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Noah posted:

Hello, I would like to post a story in this thread, please.

wb

Sitting Here
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Dear Thunderdome,

Click this link.

For those of you who like to know what's behind links before you click them: :siren: WEEK 420 IS COMING UP :siren: in a little under two weeks. We are preparing a prompt for your writing pleasure.

Normally we do special event prompts on Thunderdome's birthday, but this year the community agreed that we'd celebrate on week 420 because...I don't have a great reason for you, except that we made it to a weed number of weeks of TD, and that is a major loving accomplishment. You have clawed your fiction words from the rabid, snapping chaos of 2020 and you should feel loving good about yourselves.

To that end, let's have some fun. We are commissioning stories (thank you Yoruichi for the prompt idea)! Using the link above, you will spend a couple minutes answering some questions on a Google form. When you are done, you will have created a rudimentary story outline. I will collect these outlines and use them for nefarious 420 prompt purposes.

It's simple. Do it. Don't think, just do it!

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled week! Don't forget to sign up for Hawklad's great prompt too!!!

e: because this was asked on Discord: Submitting entries to the above form does NOT constitute signing up. You can contribute outlines without signing up, though it's probably more fun if you do :)

Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 02:52 on Aug 6, 2020

Sitting Here
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ingredient me bb

Sitting Here
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:siren: REMINDER: THE WINNER OF WEEK 419 WILL JUDGE WEEK 421. WEEK 420 IS GOING TO BE A SPECIAL WEEK, THE WINNER OF WHICH WILL GET A PRIZE! :siren:

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crabrock posted:

Hey everybody. A few things.

A while ago, Kaishai, Twist, Sitting Here and Djeser (and friends!) often did audio recaps of the weeks. During these ____________ times, we thought it'd be fun to get them going again. They're a lot of work so we're trying a rotating schedule of different people, formats, and styles. This week, Uranium Phoenix, Sparksbloom, and Mocking Quantum and myself sat down with the loft goal of talking about EVERY story from Week 418: Ancillary Action. I think we did a decent job, so if you entered that week you might want to check it out. Sorry I sound like a nerd, it's congenital.

https://thunderdome.cc/recaps.php?week=418

Secondly, I've added a feature to the Unofficial Thunderdome Archive called "collections" where you can... collect... different stories. Maybe all the stories that mention butts or whatever. Anyway, goons have already started some, so maybe soon we'll have some nice curated sets of Thunderdome stories.

https://thunderdome.cc/collections.php

:toot: :swoon: :black101:

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Ingredient: Preserved oranges

Salt and Acid, Sugar and Rind
2K words

Shelby won’t stop preserving citrus fruits and it’s kind of started to become a problem for Britt.

Their shared kitchen is busy with mason jars, bags of lemons, blood oranges, tangerines, and clementines, exotic sea salts, and a witch’s cupboard’s worth of herbs and spices. Any space that isn’t being used for citrus preparation has been colonized by jars of fermenting fruit awaiting transference to the fridge. Britt can’t deny that it smells fantastic—like weirdly summery, but also Christmasy—but she wants her roommate and her counter space back.

Shelby is busy with something steaming and burbling on the stove, apparently indifferent to Britt’s repeated sighs and throat-clearings.

Finally, Britt resorts to speech. “Hey roooooomie,” she says. “I was thinking we could, like, set the fruit aside for a minute and laugh at a bad movie together, or something?”

“Doing a hot brine right now,” Shelby says without looking at Britt. “Maybe later.”

“Yeah so the thing is that it’s like eleven at night,” Britt says. “We’ve sort of hit the ‘later’ portion of the day.”

Shelby glances up at the kitchen clock and frowns. “If we watch a movie now you’ll fall asleep,” She says. “It sucks starting a movie with you after ten.” With a slatted spoon, she fishes lemons from the boiling pot one by one, transferring them to a sloshing bowl of ice water.

Britt steeples her fingers together in front of her mouth, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath through her nose. No use getting defensive when Shelby is in the brinezone.

Eight months ago, when Shelby first moved in, Britt was elated; a long streak of bad roommates had left her considering a serious housing downgrade. There was the one who never flushed, the one with the weird ex, the one who wanted to jointly host sex parties, the one with the smell, and, at long last, Shelby.

Wry, tidy, good-taste-in-films-having Shelby. Shelby, who Britt actually looked forward to seeing when she got home from work.

She loiters uncertainly, feeling awkward and out of place in her own kitchen. Shelby’s indifference is withering and strange, and has only gotten worse over the last few weeks. Fed up, Britt plops herself down at one of the two chairs in the little breakfast nook—the ricketty one that groans like an old lady in protest of its use. Shelby ignores both the chair’s lamentation and Britt.

The kitchen is sweltering, the hot summer night made hotter by stovetop emanations. Britt looks with envy at the lemons resting in their ice bath.

“I don’t know how you can stand being next to that stove,” she says.

“Dang. Yeah. Life is full of mysteries. I don’t know how I do it.” Shelby turns off the burner and pours the steaming lemon water into a big pyrex measuring cup.

“What do you do with the water?”

Shelby glances at Britt from under her short mop of brown-black hair and then looks away. “Sorry. I can be out of the kitchen in a few. You probably want to fix yourself something, I guess”

“I want to hang out,” Britt says, “like we used to. And to not feel like there is this huge orange-filled mason jar elephant in the room.”

Shelby looks at Britt for real this time, the dark hazelnuts of her eyes perched over her sharp cheekbones, her face falconish in its intensity. Britt isn’t prepared for this; her brain sends an urgent communique to her heart, advising a strong flutter and just a touch of tachycardia. She is very conscious of all the places where the heat of the kitchen touches her skin.

“Will you do something for me?” Shelby asks.

Britt opens her mouth, croaks, clears her throat, and says very smoothly, “Yeah, sure.”

Shelby goes to the refrigerator and gets one of her jars, this one crammed with blood oranges steeped in their own ruby juices. The red brine and curved fruit flesh have an organoid look to them, as though Shelby holds in her hands a scientific specimen, some poor dead critter mashed into a jar too small for its bits.

Britt realizes her face must be broadcasting disgust because Shelby cracks approximately one quarter of a smile and says, “They’re way better than they look.”

“I believe you,” Britt says, swallowing the salty excess of pre-vomit saliva that’s accumulated in her mouth.

Shelby uncaps the jar and uses a small pair of tongs to fish out a single dripping wedge of blood orange, which she offers to Britt on a paper towel. “Put this in your mouth, but don’t chew it.”

“Um,” says Britt.

Shelby’s face softens from hawkish to sparrow-like. “Please? I mean, you don’t have to. Whatever. But you could humor me, I guess?”

Britt can’t stand the way the orange looks, how it sits on the paper towel in a bloody bloom of its own brine, but on the other hand, this is the most interesting conversation she and Shelby have had in a month, and it probably tastes fine, anyway. She takes the slice, lays it on her tongue, and closes her mouth so the rind of the orange rests against backs of her teeth.

“Don’t chew. Don’t talk,” Shelby says. “If you hold your mouth very still, it’ll melt. Like magic.”

It takes a lot of concentration to not chew, so Britt overrides that urge by focusing instead on the cool gradient of flavors playing across her tongue. At first it’s equal parts fruit-sweet and pickle-salty, but as the preserved orange generously leaks its juices into her mouth, other flavors arise: the faint bitterness of the rind, tempered to a satisfying love bite by the salt and sugar; a savoriness that Britt identifies as fennel seed, and the cozy taste of nutmeg.

The blood orange begins to soften, flattening out against her palate.

“You have to promise you won’t talk or open your mouth until the orange is gone,” Shelby says. “Nod if you do.”

Mollified by the flavor and intrigued by Shelby’s insistence, Britt nods.

“When you’re preserving citrus, the important thing is to have enough acid in the jar to soften the rind.” Shelby says. She takes a deep breath. “You’re the acid to my rind, Britt. So—remember, you promised—I’m going to be moving out at the end of the month. I’m sorry. I love it here. But. Well. I also love you, and that’s a problem.” Shelby’s voice breaks on the last few words.

Britt is a million miles away from her body, pondering Shelby’s words as if from a distance. They’re the sort of words she sometimes likes to imagine hearing, but usually in her imagination Shelby isn’t telling her that she’s going to move out. Out of politeness, her imagination has never gone much further than this moment, actually, but Britt supposes her version of things might have involved some kissing and cuddling, not the dissolution of a perfectly good roommateship.

The blood orange is like gelatin on her tongue. Her teeth are clenched tight.

“I appreciate when you try to be nice to me and hang out and all that stuff,” Shelby says, speaking in a rushed tumble of words, “but every time you fall asleep on the couch, I catch myself staring at you, thinking about how nice your face looks in the TV light, and then I feel like a huge creep, and…”

Britt is shaking her head as vigorously as she can without disturbing the orange slice on her tongue, but Shelby ignores the gesture.

“Anyway, I got a friend I can stay with for a while. I’ll give you the last four month’s rent, and—”

Britt swallows the orange and opens her mouth, intending to tell Britt to stay, you silly idiot. Stay, and let’s work this out. But what happens instead is the balanced play of flavors on her tongue sharpen into something painfully sour, a brutal tang that stings the insides of her cheeks.

Shelby stops her from going for a glass of water. “That won’t help,” she says. “I’ve got an antidote enchantment, hold on…” She rummages through the refrigerator,

“What are you talking about?” Britt moans through a mouthful of weaponized saliva.

Shelby withdraws from the fridge, jar of lemons in hand and a triumphant look on her face. “Yeah. So. The thing is, I’m a witch. Here, hold this in your mouth for a little while. It’ll clear up the sour hex.” She offers Britt a lemon with the tongs.

Britt can’t think about anything other than the burning green sensation in her tongue. Green, like cartoon acid. She takes the lemon from the tongs and crams it in her mouth; instant relief, a sugary balm that soothes away the acidic bite.

She swallows the remains of the lemon slice and says, “You’re loving with me.”

Shelby gives her a long, strange look. “I do magic, Britt. I make things happen with my mind. I can give you all the proof you want, but the bottom line is, a witch shouldn’t live with someone they’re in love with, for reasons that I hope are now obvious.”

“What if that someone loves them back?” Britt says fiercely, wiping spit off her lower lip.

Shelby cocks her head. “Are you ignoring the ‘witch’ part because you don’t believe me? Because—” she raises a hand and a moderate breeze begins to circulate around the kitchen, stirring dish towels and napkins.

“I believed you when you mouthfucked me with pickled fruit,” Britt says. “And I think it is so cool that you can do that. And I can’t imagine coming home and you not being here. So whatever. You’re a witch. I love you.”

Her entire body is trembling with something she’s never felt before, the revelatory sensation of finding out that love and magic are real and in her life and standing in front of her in the form of Shelby, who’s got one dark eyebrow raised.

“You love me,” Shelby says as though she’s trying the idea on for size.

“And you love me,” Britt says. “Sorted. So you’re staying.”

Shelby runs her hand through her dark hair, then looks around the kitchen as if seeing it for the first time. “Man, this whole time I’ve been ignoring you because I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to even think about using magic to make you like me, but. I mean, that sort of thing is always there in the mind of every witch. Just this once. The temptation to use magic selfishly just this once is—”

Britt cuts her off with a passionate kiss that tastes of salt, sugar, and rind.

“You didn’t ensorcel me,” Britt says. “But you can sure make up for all the time you spent ignoring me.” She gives Shelby what she hopes is a coquettish grin.

Shelby’s face is red, her mouth a lopsided three quarters smile. “Why don’t we start with a movie, huh? And maybe if you feel like falling asleep, do it on my shoulder?”

“Deal,” Britt says, looping her arm around Shelby’s and guiding her toward the living room. “So all this fruit preserving—is that a witch thing?”

“Mostly no,” Shelby says wistfully, “that was all angst brining. But then you didn’t say anything about it, and I just sort of went on brining, and…”

The infatuated new couple recede into the living room, leaving jars of lemons, blood oranges, clementines, and tangerines to sweat in the dense summer heat, their rinds softening for the sweet love of their acidic brine.

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